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Space Noir
SPOILER ALERT: If you are planning to wait until the end of Season One of Star Trek: Discovery, then take advantage of CBS All Access’s one-week free trial, and binge watch all fifteen episodes in a week, then God help you. Be aware also that reading this will ruin your devious little plan.

Star Trek: Discovery, the latest star in the constellation of Star Trek space operas, has boldly gone…well, you know. While the show takes care to adhere to the canon of history laid down by its predecessors, it dares to break new ground on a number of fronts. I am so impressed with this new show, in fact, that I am declaring it the best Star Trek yet.

I do not take this position lightly. Kirk and Spock are written into the deepest level of my cultural DNA. Whenever I've wanted to seek out new life and new civilizations, the Enterprise has always been my starship of choice. And yet, the Discovery beckons. For one thing, it’s snazzier than either Kirk’s NCC-1701 or Picard’s NCC-1701-D and E — even though it pre-dates those starships. That is not a complaint. While this new Star Trek series has gone backward ten years into the original’s past, my personal timeline has continued to move forward. During that time my expectations regarding production values have matured along with me. Consequently, I'm willing to overlook this break in continuity.

The aliens are also better, especially the Klingons. If you are any kind of trekkie at all, you are aware that the Klingon look has undergone an odd evolution over the years. They’ve always looked bony and angry, but this purple, hairless version is more, well, alien-looking. They could actually be creatures from outer space rather than humans with rubber foreheads. They’ve even got their own font (Trajan Pro Bold, if I’m not mistaken) for the English subtitles. Add to all this a new complexity of character that goes beyond the simple badass of previous Klingons, and you have a truly worthy adversary for the Federation.

It is in the characters on Discovery, moreover, that we find its clearest superiority over other Treks. Prior series had casts of characters whose personas remained essentially the same from episode to episode. With a few exceptions, each installment stood on its own, each time with the cast regulars placed in some new situation. I’m only a few episodes into Discovery, but already individual characters are evolving as the series progresses. A couple have even died. It’s more of a Game of Thrones miniseries approach to sci-fi. Episodes are not so much individual stories as chapters in an unfolding drama, and the roles are growing and changing as we watch. That’s new, too, and I like it.

There is something else that is new about these characters. Most are flawed and troubled — sometimes deeply. Past Star Trek personae have had their little hang-ups, of course, but nothing like these tortured souls. Michael Burnham, the Vulcan-trained Earther who is the series’ protagonist, set off a galactic war with the Klingons while killing her mentor in the process. Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, is kind of an asshole. Burnham’s love interest has some serious kinks of his own thanks to an abusive relationship…with a Klingon. And so on. They are all fighting on the side of good, I suppose, but battling their own demons at the same time. Those demons are among the engines that drive the show, and I prefer this space noir format to the old, two-dimensional band-of-heroes model.

Writing a show with this premise has got to be challenging, though. The number of variables that have to be accounted for every week would be daunting. Not only does some fresh scientific element have to be introduced and explained (or over-explained, as is sometimes the case), but the larger arc of the story has to be moved forward. The individual struggles of ever-changing characters have to be managed as well. On top of all that, the producers have decided to supply a credible cliff-hanger every week that is coherent within the larger arc of the series. With all these balls in the air, sometimes the stories can get a little thin. On the other hand, Star Trek — and science fiction in general — has never been known for phaser-proof plotting. As long as I get my aliens and some zippy science, I’m pretty much good.

In that last regard — the zippy science — Discovery is also making a better effort than its forbears. Two of the early episodes include a tardigrade, a normally microscopic space-dweller that weighs in on Discovery at half a ton. They explained why, but I sort of lost the thread. In one episode, they give a technical explanation for an invisibility cloak that borders on the plausible. In another, they accomplish near-instantaneous interstellar travel using…spores. Oh, yeah.

If you are a trekkie but still holding out on Discovery, I get it. It’s about the money, right? Then let me share with you some wisdom from Jean Luc Picard: “Money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Don’t you feel a little bit silly now?
Take This Blame and Shove It
Of all the spectator sports we watch or play, is there any less enjoyable, less satisfying than The Blame Game? It may be unique among all such pastimes in that there are no actual “fans,” as such, of the sport. We watch it with the same grim fascination we reserve for multi-car pileups on the Interstate. We just can’t tear our eyes away from the unfolding pageant of horror.

Other than that sick obsession, there is really no reason to watch. The play is always dirty, there are no rules to speak of, and there are no feats of individual skill or daring to admire. None of the players is worth rooting for, and we are all debased by our participation in the awful spectacle.

Worst of all, there is never a clear winner. No thrill of victory, no agony of defeat, no genuine human feeling of any kind. Just endless polling and punditry and egregious flapdoodling to fill our moments of idle dread. And yet, these contests are thought to have real world consequences, especially in the political realm. Although that proposition remains unproven, those of us who follow The Blame Game never doubt for a moment the solemn importance of this bloodsport.

The recent shutdown drama is a case in point. There was some light chatter about the human consequences of interrupting vital government services, but most of the energy was spent on divining who the winners and the losers would be. And was there some point to all of that? No… because no one could agree on what the score was. It was an utterly meaningless exercise.

It is past time that we do something to address this situation. We need an exact time when the clock runs out, — a moment when we can clearly discern who the winners and the losers are. Come to think of it, I don’t care that much about the winners. It’s the losers I want to know about. In other words, when all is said and done, who can I blame?

One thing I don’t want to hear is this lame pronouncement: “There’s plenty of blame to go round.” No, there isn’t. I want the name of the s.o.b. who screwed up and I want him to take all of the heat. I need a specific individual so that I’m not diluting my aggrievement by spreading it around. Who killed the Kennedys? Contrary to what the Rolling Stones might tell you, it was not you and me. Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan did it, and those are the guys I blame. That’s the kind of specificity I want. Names and stats — especially the final score. I want a head for that dunce cap, a neck for that noose.

But how do we make these determinations? Ordinarily, I would suggest a blue-ribbon commission for such a task, sober and considered people to weigh all the evidence. I fear, however, that we would be taking its members away from more important duties. So how about a red-ribbon commission? I’d settle for that. Red-ribbon commissioners probably wouldn’t be doing anything so vital that we couldn’t convene them as celebrity judges on The Blame Game. They’d be like a Supreme Court for blaming. The difference is that there are no money or rights or jail time on the line — just the reputations of the guilty parties.

Episode One of the Shutdown Blame Game has now come to an end. Surely there will be an Episode Two, but I’d rather not wait to start assigning blame. If our red-ribbon commission actually existed, we would have their verdict already. We could place the blame accordingly, get back to our lives, and resume our worry about things that actually matter. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Sweat Logic
Don’t sweat
The small stuff
That’s what
People say

And don’t sweat
The big stuff
It’s hopeless
Anyway

Only if it’s
Middle-sized
Should you
Even try

And even then
It’s better when
You stay
Completely dry
A Roll of the Dice
We have never witnessed anything quite like the spectacle now unfolding in our nation’s capital. The drama is not limited to the White House, though the president does impart an orange stain to everything he touches. Perhaps the most riveting act in this three-ring circus is the show being staged in Congress.

There have been comparisons of the Trump-Russia story to Watergate and to the Clinton impeachment saga, but this one is different. Neither of those crises involved our national security or struck at the heart of our democratic system. There was wrongdoing, but a third-rate burglary and lying under oath are just not in the same category as Trump’s quasi-treason or the massive corruption of our right to vote. What’s more, in those cases the wrongdoing was over and done with by the time Congress stepped in. The Russian attack on our rights and sovereignty continues to grow even now. And our Republican Congress has done nothing to stop it.

It is hard to explain exactly why that is. You don’t have to be a cynic to know that politicians will abandon their principles to hang onto power, but most people would predict that even the most shameless pol would balk at foreign powers taking control our government. Lindsey Graham, for instance, is not likely to land a job in a Putin administration. Why, then, are he and his GOP colleagues treating this dire situation with such casual partisanship?

None of us really knows the answer to that, but I have a theory. There are some crazies in Congress, especially in the Freedom Caucus of the House of Representatives, but I don’t think Lindsey and his co-conspirators are among them. I don’t even think he has abandoned his long-held suspicion and dislike of the Evil Empire. He has served the interests of Vladimir Putin by trying to discredit any investigation of the Trump-Russia entanglements, but I sense a larger plan at work here.

It all comes back to that orange stain. I believe that the Republicans (the craven-but-not-crazy ones) are almost as anxious to expunge it as most Americans. But that’s not so easy for them. His base, after all, is their base. That group includes the nationalists, racists, alt-righters, conspiracists, and a lot of other nutcases that they have cynically nurtured over the last few decades. If Lindsey and company were to try to dump the Orange One without a solid reason, the base would surely dump them.

So what to do? To me, their despicable tactics are part of a big, dangerous gamble. They are daring to defend the indefensible now, protecting Trump on every front, but they are looking for the perfect time to pivot and help drive him out of the White House. That moment, according to their plan, will be provided by the Mueller investigation. They will undermine his credibility, but they are betting that it won’t stick. Mueller and his band of cold-eyed prosecutors will find plenty — plenty — of impeachable offenses. When that day comes, Republicans will solemnly, and with the deepest sadness, give in to the mountain of indisputable proof. They will choose country over party and join the Democrats in the impeachment and conviction of Donald J. Trump.

It is a gamble, though. For one thing, the base might desert them anyway. Even if Trump goes, the orange stain will still be there, and some of it will be on them. Whatever honor they can claim now will surely be compromised. Lindsey Graham will be stuck with a record that not only includes comforting Vladimir Putin, but also undermining our justice system and abetting the largest single instance of voter fraud in U.S. history. He and his friends are rolling the dice and hoping it won’t make any difference to the voters. And it could work. All of these issues may be at the very heart of Republican orthodoxy, but hey, they’re just principles. As we have said, the lust for power often trumps such concerns.

There is always a chance, of course, that they overplay their hand and end up seeing their efforts to discredit Mueller succeed. The investigation would end, Trump would still be there, and so would the massive Russian intrusion into our democracy. But heck...nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I admit that all of this is an ugly scenario. If true, it would be a dark episode for our republic. Honestly, though, my theory is really very Pollyanna-ish. It assumes the absolute best about Lindsey Graham, given what he has already done. The truth could be much, much darker. His complicity could be even deeper, his crime against the common good even more reprehensible.

But I really don’t think so. Or maybe I just prefer an explanation based on ugliness rather than full-out criminal insanity. I guess that is my gamble.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon