Star Trek: Discovery Is Just Somebody’s R-Rated Simm

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, and some of the links contain spoilers to some of the best bits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

PICTURED FROM TOP LEFT: A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S YOUNG, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S A WOMAN, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S THE BEST, THE FIRST REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER, A GRADUATE OF THE VULCAN SCIENCE ACADEMY WITH A TRAGIC PAST WHO SOMEHOW HAS A HIGH-RANKING STARFLEET COMMISSION AND NEARLY BECAME THE YOUNGEST CAPTAIN IN THE FLEET WITHOUT EVER APPARENTLY GOING TO STARFLEET ACADEMY OH AND ALSO SHE'S SPOCK SECRET ADOPTIVE SISTER HE NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE TALKED ABOUT
PICTURED FROM TOP LEFT: A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S YOUNG FOR HIS RANK; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S A WOMAN; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S THE BEST; THE FIRST REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER; AND A GRADUATE OF THE VULCAN SCIENCE ACADEMY WITH A TRAGIC TALE OF ORPHANHOOD WHO SOMEHOW HAD A HIGH-RANKING STARFLEET POSITION AND NEARLY BECAME THE YOUNGEST CAPTAIN IN THE FLEET WITHOUT EVER APPARENTLY GOING TO STARFLEET ACADEMY OH AND ALSO SHE’S SPOCK SECRET ADOPTIVE SISTER HE NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE TALKED ABOUT

I don’t talk much on De Civ about my personal life, but I am an enormous Trekkie and always have been. I once memorized a song listing all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more or less in order, and the most damning thing of all is that I routinely find it genuinely useful to have this song memorized.

I even used to run a Star Trek roleplaying game online.  A dozen or so players from around the world came up with Star Trek characters they could pretend to be aboard my “starship” and we all wrote Star Trek adventures with each other, using short chapters called “posts.” I played the captain, a bitter Bolian war hero, and I was ultimately responsible for coming up with good plots for the other characters to play through. The game ran for several years, and we had a lot of fun.

This is called “simming.” There’s a whole subculture around it. People who like the Original Series simm ships from Kirk and Spock’s time, people who want to “continue” Star Trek make simms that share the time period and feel of Voyager and Next Generation, and so on. People who want to make Star Trekdark and gritty” make restricted “R-rated” simms which are inspired by Star Trek but with cussing, dark and pessimistic storylines, character death, and a lot more sex. There are even a few who like the J.J. Abrams movies enough to make simms based in the “Abramsverse.” Simms often organize into federations of dozens of different simms called fleets, which allows them to share stories across a large shared multiverse.

Of course, because of Sturgeon’s Law, most simms are terrible, repetitive, joyless, and unstable. But some aren’t. (Mine, for instance!) Even a few of the R-rated games were surprisingly decent.

There was one R-rated game in my fleet called, I think, Deep Space 17. It was captained by a chipper 16-year-old girl named Penny whose character (in one of the Mary Sue flourishes for which simms are justly famous) was also a 16-year-old girl named Penny, the youngest captain in Starfleet, an absolute prodigy. When she decided to make her game more “mature,” I think she had some genetic virus infect her that turned her into a 21-year-old, and then she added an R-rating to her game and the characters started angsting a lot more. Her game had a lot of people shouting at each other and having sex and making Difficult Choices because Every Episode Needs To Be Dark, but, for a simm, she had good writers, and she became a good writer herself. It was different enough from everything else in my fleet that I honestly enjoyed reading their adventures.

Fast-forward to today. I’m no longer a simmer, but I am faithfully watching every episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery (currently paywalled for American viewers at CBS All Access). It’s unlike any Star Trek that has ever been televised before. And yet, every week, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’ve seen this all before. None of the shocking twists have made me even bat an eye. Several of them have made me roll my eyes. But so much of Discovery is new and different, where could that feeling be coming from? And why do I feel so disappointed in a show that is so bold and fresh and new–all things I’ve long believed a new Star Trek needed to be?

It finally clicked with me when this happened in episode 5, “Choose Your Pain”:

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A New Party: Why It Ain’t Happening, One Year (ish) Later

I haven’t blogged in months, because I haven’t quite known what to say.

In May 2016, I wrote a pretty radical piece calling for the formation of a new political party in the wake of the Trump candidacy (now presidency). I had several follow-ups throughout the year, encouraging voters in “safe” states to vote for third-party candidates and talking about the early goings of the new party I happened to join, the American Solidarity Party — among other things. I received quite a lot of kind and supportive mail from readers, many of whom indicated that you were ready to pick up a flag and follow me. Thank you for that.

And yet, while American politics are somehow even more obviously dysfunctional than they were this time last year, it’s obvious to everyone that the viable New Party I called for and predicted has not actually emerged. The Republicans and Democrats are still the only game in town, and (unless somebody with a lot of money has a BIG trick up his sleeve) they’ll still be the only viable parties on Election Day 2018. I felt I couldn’t continue this blog until I had come to grips with that. I owed some explanation to all of you who supported me.

So what happened?

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies!

HONESTLY, THIS WHOLE POST IS JUST AN EXCUSE FOR ME TO POST A SCREENCAP FROM THE FIRST EPISODE OF THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, WHICH WAS ALSO TITLED “FLY THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES”**

In response to the United fiasco of this weekend (read up here if you’ve been living under a rock, or are an Internet archaeologist reading this post from the 23rd century), I’ve seen more than one person call for the airlines to be “re-regulated.”

It just so happens that I was flying this weekend, so this was on my mind already. Also, the fact that I have hated United for many years is a matter of public record (look at the date on that one! PRESCIENCE!), so I really can’t resist posting about this.

Besides, airline regulation isn’t as simple as either “side” makes it out to be. Rolling back the Reagan-era reforms of airline regulations, as some left-wingers want to do, would be a disaster. But, then, so would eliminating all airline regulations, as some right-wingers want to do. Airline regulation is a tricky business, and deserves a tiny bit of close scrutiny before we pass judgment.

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Re-Up: Just War Theory Tested in Syria

Four years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog analyzing proposed military strikes against Syria.

Back in 2013, ISIS didn’t really exist in Syria yet; the major rebel group was the al-Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaeda. The President was still Obama. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had just launched illegal and immoral chemical attacks against his own people, which crossed what President Obama had called a “red line.” The President had already waged an illegal war in Libya, but he had painted himself into a corner on Syria, he did not want to upset negotiations with Iran, and so he decided to submit the question of Syrian war to Congress (which the Constitution requires anyway). Following my blog post, Congress declined the invitation to war, and here we are today.

Thing is, not that much has actually changed in Syria, so my post then holds up pretty well today. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a short excerpt:

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How Anyone Could Do Such a Thing

A lotta people think that there are certain crimes that are really hard to commit. Even if you manage to commit one of these extra-terrible crimes, they are (supposedly) even harder to live with. Guilt, people think, eventually consumes the criminal.

Gosh, this is a good show.
From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 2, Episode 19: “Blood Oath”

Hollywood agrees. For example, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there’s a really good scene where Lieutenant Dax, who is considering killing someone, asks Major Kira about what it’s like. It runs like this:

DAX: How many people did you kill?
KIRA: What?
DAX: While you were in the underground.
KIRA: Too many.
DAX: Were they all faceless Cardassians or did you know who you were killing?
KIRA: Why are we talking about this?
DAX: If it bothers you, we can stop.
KIRA: It bothers me.
DAX: I’m sorry.
KIRA: Why, are you thinking about killing somebody?
DAX: Me?
(Kira realizes)
[…] 

KIRA: Jadzia. Your questions about my experience with killing. If you’re wondering what it’s like. When you take someone’s life, you lose a part of your own as well.

You’ve probably never seen this one scene from a particularly obscure episode of Star Trek, but you’ve probably seen a hundred others like it. This exchange is everywhere in our media, from MacGyver‘s speeches to Harry Potter’s Horcruxes. There’s a deep, deep belief in our culture that most of us are incapable of committing murder, because we would just feel too guilty about it. Murder is supposed to feel different from other crimes. We are therefore shocked when we see unrepentant murderers in courtrooms, and we have never, as a culture, been able to come to grips with the way murderous governments can rise to power and enlist their own citizens in committing atrocities. “How could anyone do such a thing?!” we ask.

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Justice Gorsuch and Net Neutrality

Credit: /u/Dunkizle
Credit: /u/Dunkizle

Nobody seems to have pointed this out yet, so I guess I might as well put something up quick.

President Trump is not a big fan of net neutrality, and his new FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, is, uh… really not a fan. Mr. Pai is already working on rolling back the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which were passed under President Obama. Most conservatives agree with Trump. Judge Gorsuch, of course, is a conservative nominee appointed by an anti-net neutrality president. So the going assumption is that Gorsuch will hurt the cause of net neutrality if confirmed to the Supreme Court. That he will not protect the open internet.

This is a mistake.

“Net neutrality,” for those of you who have never read my gigantic posts about it, is the principle that internet service providers (such as Comcast) have to allow their users equal access to the entire Internet. Under net neutrality, Comcast can have its own video service that competes with YouTube, but it cannot block YouTube from its network to force you (the Comcast subscriber) to use the Comcast video service. Nor can it treat its videos differently from YouTube videos as they travel down the wire to your computer: you get both videos as fast as possible, based on whatever data rate you are paying for. Nor can Comcast force YouTube to pay extra to connect with its network. And so forth.

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The Bishop’s Lament: Apb. Chaput’s New Book

My review of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new book, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Faith in a Post-Christian World, is up at The Federalist today.  Here is the link, and here is an excerpt:

Chaput repeatedly refers to the Supreme Court’s lawless decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as a watershed moment, but it seems clear from his litany of evils that the walls have been closing on American Catholics in for years. Obergefell was thus not a radical transformation of the American order, but the culmination of a culture that has been transforming for a long time now. After all, as Chaput writes, “Culture precedes and informs politics. And American culture has moved miles from the assumptions of the Founders.”

What Obergefell seems to have provided is clarity. “It can’t be like it was” anymore, Chaput laments. At one point, he favorably quotes Rod Dreher’s writing on the so-called “Benedict Option,” which sees Christians as besieged resistance cells in America. Chaput insists, like Chesterton’s Adam Wayne, that natural patriotism—love of the land that raised you—is a virtue. The love he still bears for his country, even as he mourns it, is obvious, and cuts a sharp contrast with anti-liberals like Ferrara. Yet Chaput’s anticipation of a “Dark Age” in America is a far cry from Archbishop Ireland calling America “liberty’s native home” and “the highest billow in humanity’s evolution.” Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, since the book is literally titled Strangers in a Strange Land, but the Archbishop of Philadelphia losing his faith in the American project seems like a watershed of its own.

It’s not as dark as all that, but it made for a good excerpt. It’s a pretty good book on the whole!  Read the whole review at The Federalist, or you can grab the book itself on Amazon.

Longtime readers of this blog will notice a little “easter egg”: in this review, I mention Christopher Ferrara’s Liberty: The God That Failed… which I also reviewed, on this blog, back in 2012 or something.  My review of Liberty: TGTF is here.

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Betsy DeVos is Not the Schoolpocalypse

The past few weeks, I’ve been forced to spend a lot of time playing the game “Not That Bad.”

The rules of this game are simple: President Trump implements a bad policy, makes a bad decision, or says a bad thing, which is worthy of condemnation. The Cathedral then reacts by describing that policy, decision, or quote in apocalyptic terms, becomes hysterical, and then questions not the wisdom of the policy but its very legitimacy–its legality, its authority, and its membership in the set of things that may be reasonably discussed by reasonable people. In most cases, this overreaction is (in my opinion as a hardcore Rule-of-Law guy) more dangerous to the American system of government than the actual bad things Trump is doing. So then I need to stand up and say, “Hey, guys, it’s Not That Bad,” explain why it’s Not That Bad, and then remember to still mention somewhere that it’s still bad, because the last thing I want is for people to think I’ve turned into a pro-Trumper (or even an anti-anti-Trumper).

This overreaction to Trump’s policies should not surprise me as much as it does, since we saw something similar in the right-wing fever swamps whenever Pres. Obama did… well, just about anything. Indeed, the birther controversy, which was exploited by our new President, rapidly devolved into nothing but a blanket assault on Pres. Obama’s legitimacy. However, the right-wing fever swamps do not control the commanding heights of culture the way, say, Joss Whedon does, so the Trump Freakouts are more dangerous than the Obama Freakouts. Besides, if the election taught me anything, it’s that I substantially underestimated the threat of Obama Freakouts (and the concomitant crisis of truth in conservatism), and should have done more to stand up against them at the time.

So, onto today’s Trump Freakout, about something that is Not That Bad.

Even after everything I’ve seen the past few weeks, I’m still taken aback by the amount of sturm und drang I’m seeing the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. A representative comment I just saw:

“This is great. Now I can feel secure my future children will be force-fed Creationism, even though I’m a Jew. And they can forego…let’s see…..math. Perfect.”

Another:

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Is Trump’s Immigration Order Legal?

I am not a fan of President Trump’s controversial Executive Order on immigration. I think it contains good provisions, such as prioritizing the resettlement of religious-minority refugees who are at the greatest risk of being killed in their homelands, and the global visa requirements review is a fine idea. However, I considered its chaotic rollout and broad application to green card and SIV-holders extremely reckless, and I think suspending the Syrian refugee program without first establishing an alternative is unconscionable. “America First” is good insofar as it recognizes that the primary responsibility of a nation is to its citizens (not the global community), but this must not descend into an amoral realpolitik that repudiates our secondary (but nevertheless real) responsibilities to do what we can to help the world’s most vulnerable non-citizens.

Let's be really clear here: this is a dry abstract legal post about an issue that impacts some very real, suffering people. Never forget that our immigration policy determines the fate of people like this young Syrian girl in Atmeh refugee camp. (Credit: Tom Pilston/Times of London)
Syrian girl in Atmeh refugee camp. Let’s be really clear here: this is a dry abstract post about an order that impacts concrete, suffering human beings. (Photo Credit: Tom Pilston/Times of London)

However, a great many people have already weighed in on the substance of Trump’s Executive Order, and I don’t have much to add to the global conversation. On the other hand, a friend asked me the other day whether Trump’s EO is legal, and I think that that discussion has been badly neglected by almost everyone.

Those who are talking about the law are largely talking nonsense. While protesters chant that the order is “unconstitutional” simply because it “advances prejudice” (as one Facebook commenter put it to me), a surprising amount of the discussion by the Great and Wise has revolved around loose comments by private citizen Rudy Giuliani about a so-called “Muslim ban,” which critics have tried to tie to the EO and thus to the Establishment Clause. Even if they succeeded in this, it’s a thin case against the EO’s legality, since potential immigrants (who are not persons under U.S. jurisdiction) have very few constitutional rights in the first place. In light of the fact that many of President Trump’s harshest critics positively applauded President Obama’s actually unconstitutional orders on immigration and health care, one suspects there may be some motivated thinking at work here.

Right-wing defenses of the EO, by contrast, have relied (in my opinion) far too heavily on the President’s constitutional foreign-affairs power, which does give the President broad authority to act in the national interest, but with the caveat that Congress can severely limit it by statute.

Congress has done just that. The legality of the EO is not primarily a constitutional issue, but a statutory one. The best attack on the EO so far, proposed by David Bier for the New York Times and expanded on by Patterico at RedState, revolves around the statutes in question, and attacks the EO solely on the basis of those statutes. My favorite Congressman, Justin Amash, has endorsed these attacks.

However, those attacks are mistaken. Solely on the basis of the statutes in question, it is clear that the EO is perfectly legal.

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Size of the March for Life

People’ve been arguing a lot about crowd size lately, and these arguments have now spilled over into debates about the size of the annual March for Life compared to the (truly enormous) size of the Women’s March on Washington. March for Life organizers and friendly press routinely claim the March for Life draws crowds well into the hundreds of thousands. Yesterday, President Trump himself argued, as many conservatives have, that the media ignores large crowds at the March for Life while heavily promoting large crowds at pro-abortion rights rallies like the Women’s March.

There is no doubt considerable truth to that. The March for Life is an annual comedy of news bias in which reporters routinely pay as much or more attention to a few dozen pro-choice counter-protesters than to the thousands and thousands of pro-lifers on the Mall… and that’s assuming they notice the March at all. Media crowd size estimates at the March for Life are routinely ridiculous lowballs (“hundreds”? seriously?). This despite the fact that the March for Life, even given conservative assumptions, is routinely the largest march on Washington of the year… and it happens every single year.

However, the crowd at the March for Life is almost certainly much smaller than the enormous (400,000+) estimates routinely given by its supporters. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a lovely image of the 2013 March (in their pre-March rally), courtesy of Iowans For Life:

CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters (Jan. 25, 2013) (click for full size)
CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters (Jan. 25, 2013) (click for full size)

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