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Eric: What do I do when Wednesday leaves? Here's four thousand words about Star Trek. Geeks cope with absence in geeky ways.

Since there's a (really well laid out, nicely paced, and pleasant) discussion on ID and evolution going on in the comments of the last snark, I thought I'd follow it up with a post that...

...actually, might make everyone mad. But on the positive side, it's about absolutely nothing that matters, and that's the best kind of angry.

See, I was thinking about evolution, and I was thinking about science fiction. After all, science fiction is where some truly hardcore speculation both about scientific debate and the consequences of that debate get played out. And it occurs to me that there's a very prominent example of science fiction tackling evolution. And in so doing, it's not doing evolution or societal development any favors.

The science fiction in question? Star Trek. All of them.

Star Trek fetishizes evolution.

All kinds of evolution. Biological evolution. Microevolution. Macroevolution. Societal evolution. Technological evolution. Even Intelligent Design gets into the act.

And it does so in a wholly incoherent way. It simultaneously buys into a divine plan -- never so stated, but implicit -- and wholly uncontrolled evolution. And it blurs the lines of evolution of society, technology, and species until they all end up being the same thing.

The first example is one of the most prominent. The Prime Directive states that the United Federation of Planets "cannot interfere" with the proper development of an "immature" world. The Prime Directive is social Darwinism of the first order -- if a planet hasn't independently come up with Warp Drive, then the Federation isn't supposed to help them do anything. Warp Drive is the magic bullet for inclusion in galactic culture. Without it, that society is supposed to sink or swim on its own merits.

Of course, the Prime Directive gets violated constantly. Almost casually. In a first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard said (paraphrased) that "Starfleet takes violations of the Prime Directive very seriously." And ten million Trek fans around the world fell off their chairs, laughing. As near as we can tell, no one has ever taken the Prime Directive seriously. It's there to provide dramatic tension before the given Captain of a given starship goes in and does whatever the Hell he wants.

But, we're discussing the theory. And the theory, passionately defended on countless episodes, is that each species and society must be allowed its "natural development" to reach out for the stars. Until then, they're not even supposed to know there's a galactic culture out there. And if they should find out, then they're essentially treated like backwards tribes. The Outrageous Okana -- one of the worst episodes of Next Generation written -- detailed a number of backward starships who knew all about the Federation (and at one point, Worf snorts about how a ship is locking 'lasers' on target at them -- lasers that wouldn't even penetrate their navigational deflectors, much less the shields) but who limp along generations behind galactic culture because "they're not ready" to join it. It also featured a spectacularly unoutrageous Okana nailing Transporter Chief Teri Hatcher, but I digress.

The pairing of societal and technological evolution goes back to the original series. Remember the episode of Star Trek where the Klingons started arming a bunch of American Indians aliens with flintlocks, so Captain Kirk began doing the same with a different tribe. And the two groups began doing an arms race, each pacing the other? At no point did the Federation say "okay. The Klingons have already poisoned the well. It's time to land Federation observers and teach these people something about the universe they live in and how to survive in it." No, instead, they gave them rifled barrels "just to keep things fair." At this point, societal and technological evolution is as much out the window as using the cheat system in Civilization IV to give your Civilization musketeers because your enemies has them. However, they're not "interfering." They're "balancing the interference the Klingons already started."

Next Generation had an answer to this, by the by. In one first season episode, a decrepit Starfleet Admiral goes to mediate a peace on a world he "interfered" with a generation before. That time, when a demand for advanced weapons was given to one faction, he gave them those weapons -- but also armed their enemies. "My own interpretation of the Prime Directive," he said. And when we remember that the Prime Directive really is just enforced Social Darwinism -- if they get smart enough, survive and emerge in a Warp 1.1 ship, then they get the keys to the Kingdom -- I suppose he has a point. Though it's a point that seems to contradict everything else we've seen to date.

This variable (and capricious) enforcement of a Prime Directive that states that the Federation must not interfere in "natural development of species and cultures" was highlighted extremely well in an episode of Next Generation. In this episode, it turned out that David Marcus from Star Trek II was an alien whose planet had a "disease" and Khan's aide Joachim from the same movie was from a world whose entire economy was devoted to selling them medicine. Only, of course, we were actually talking about drugs. And their ships were breaking down. So, the Enterprise started rendering aid to fix the ships. Then, of course, the Federation determined that this was all a drug run and there was an entire planet of addicts on their hands. But Joachim laughed in their faces. "Your own Prime Directive says you can't interfere with our development," he laughed. "So you can't tell David Marcus that we're just pushers and they're a planet full of bitches. Hah hah hah!"

And Picard agreed with them, but then announced that they couldn't actually fix the starships. Prime Directive, don't you know. If they can't fix them themselves, they can't fix them at all.

Are you seriously telling me this policy isn't insane? These are two cultures who know about the Federation. If anything, Picard should never have been able to offer to help fix their ships in the first place, but should have been able to say "you know you're not sick, right? I mean, you're addicted to that medicine. That's all." Certainly, there's no possible justification to perpetuating a lie against a culture aware of space and of the Federation to begin with.

Except, of course, the cold justification of social Darwinism. If David Marcus's alien race is strong enough, they'll survive the withdrawal symptoms, and figure out they've been duped. Of course, if Joachim's race is strong and smart enough, they'll figure out how to fix their own starship, and the next thing you know it all starts back up again. That's life in the cold universe!

"Okay, fine," you say. "A disproportionate number of Star Trek episodes are dedicated to an inconsistently applied policy of social Darwinism. That's hardly the same thing as fetishizing biological evolution." Ah, but it is. It certainly is. Because biology -- and genetic engineering -- are also a recurring theme in Star Trek. An eeeeeeeeevil theme.

We learned, back in the original series, that humanity had a "eugenics war." This was when well-meaning but critically blind scientists gengineered a superior life form out of humanity. That life form, specifically bred for aggressiveness -- man, that's some careful genome mapping they did -- turned around and with their superior brains, their superior speed, their superior coordination, their superior strength, and their superior accents (dude, we are discussing Ricardo Montelban here) they killed millions of people, conquered most of the earth, and were only beaten back by humanity's innate pluck, vim, vigor and superior numbers. And, after all of that, humanity swore to never again tamper in God's domain try to genetically enhance humanity.

We also know that a generation or two later, Data's creator's progenitor, Dr. Arik Soong, tried to revive the whole thing, and made a whole new generation of feral adonises. And at the end, of course, he too had decided -- despite a lifetime of work thinking of ways to safely enhance humanity and unprecedented genius -- that it would be better to make androids.

Only... one of the things he mentioned to Captain Archer by Doctor Soong was that Archer's father died of a genetic disorder. One that they could apparently have cured through genetic engineering. Only, all such programs have been stopped. Which means, they didn't just foreswear the creation of genetic supermen capable of destroying humanity, they shut down all genetic engineering, regardless of reason. If mankind were to evolve, it would evolve in its own way.

Including enhancements that somehow, magically, would work on everyday people. The smooth foreheaded Klingons of the original series turn out to have genetic damage after augmented human DNA was turned into a disease that made Klingon supermen who were dying. As a result, Klingons looked human for a long time. Who knew you could catch superpowers?

One link I find staggeringly hideous between the philosophies happened on a different Enterprise episode. The Enterprise comes across a sublight ship crewed by a couple of people desperately looking for help. (And dying of a disease.) Visiting the world, they discover there are two species of sentients on the planet. One species is fully intelligent and sapient. The other species is far less intelligent. The former species is the one with the disease. They have been desperately seeking a cure, but -- as they know there are more advanced civilizations out there -- they have also been sending out missions to find faster than light travel or otherwise bring compassionate people to their world to help.

Doctor Phlox isolates a cure inside of a day, proving this race was right to do what they were doing. But he also realized that the inferior species is evolving up... and it seemed likely that the dominant species was meant to die out so the inferior species could replace them.

As a result... the Enterprise didn't help them find other worlds and didn't share the cure with them. They had to let the natural order of things go through. They couldn't tamper with the natural order.

I'm sorry, but what respect I had for what would, later in Star Trek's chronology, become "the Prime Directive" died right there. That's like a team of scientists discovering a cure for a plague affecting a tribe of Australian aborigines, only to withhold it from them until they developed microbiology and cured themselves, or died out trying. It's absurd. It's obscene. It's unjustifiable, given that Starfleet does, now and in all future iterations, "interfere" with cultures that have passed their acid test by getting warp drive.

Well, almost unjustifiable. There's one justification that can be used... and that brings an interesting specter into the room: it's justifiable -- and even morally defensible -- if one assumes that evolution is meant to occur the way it is.

In other words, the Prime Directive -- and its Enterprise antecedent discussions -- is moral and justifiable as it is, if one presumes Intelligent Design.

While you think about that, let's move ahead a few hundred years, and consider the case of Doctor Julian Bashir.

Lieutenant Bashir was an absolutely brilliant, albeit young doctor. Second in his class at Starfleet Medical -- and embarrassed at coming in second. One of the finest minds ever seen. Nominated for awards that only went to people after decades more service than he had shown. You know the drill.

And several seasons in (in what was a clear and somewhat clumsy retcon, given that before then Bashir 'wasn't good enough' to be a professional tennis player, but was a champion racquetball player at the Academy -- and then not a good enough actor to fake being beaten by O'Brien, even though by definition he would need to have been an expert at downgrading his own athletic performance) we discovered that Bashir's parents subjected him to a highly black market series of genetic enhancements as a child. He is an augmented human.

As a side note: Khan Noonian Singh. Doctor Arik Soong. Doctor Julian Bashir. Is there a particular reason that all the genetics/augmentation stuff is coming out of the Indian Subcontinent in the Star Trek universe?

And, decades later, Bashir almost lost his position in Starfleet as a result, and his father ended up going to prison for it. And we learned that other black market augmentations had been performed, with varying levels of success -- but that in almost every case, the augmented humans turned out to have a staggering level of brilliance. As Bashir himself had. And working with other augments led to stunningly powerful work.

In other words... from Khan's time through Bashir's time, what has been shown time and time again is that genetic engineering and augmentation techniques work and can be applied retroactively. And that the results are human beings who are stronger, faster, healthier and -- and this is the crucial point -- smarter.

But, not only doesn't the Federation pursue this technology... but neither do the Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, Ferengi or anyone else.

(As a side note -- why aren't the Ferengi making an absolute killing going to every planet the Federation won't give the time of day and giving them technological doodahs right up until the planet is bereft of valuable resources. And then at that point give them warp drive and tell them to go ask the Federation for help with their environment and economy. I mean, if the Federation is going to give them an opportunity like that, why wouldn't the Ferengi of all races take it. But I'm digressing.)

The only galactic culture to use genetic engineering are the Dominion, from the other side of the Wormhole. And they use it both as a weapon and to build their tools. The Jem'Hadar have been built as genetic supersoldiers, tailored for absolutely loyalty and absolute dependence. The Vorta have been augmented and built up into the perfect aides de camp for the Dominion. Both species are cloned to keep their numbers up, and brain-transfer technology allows one clone to remember what the last clone did. (What Car Wars fans think of as the Gold Cross option.) We also know that the Dominion uses it to curse a race with "the quickening--" a genetic disease that is killing off an entire species, slowly and horribly, over many generations.

(Please note -- there may have been genetic engineering episodes of Star Trek: Voyager I'm not referencing here, on the principle that why in God's name would I have watched Star Trek: Voyager?)

So. You have to go fifty thousand light years to find a galactic power that doesn't "naturally" assume that genetic augmentation is wrong and bad. Fifty thousand light years.... or travel through time. Remember, the Suliban were cooperating in the Temporal Cold War because the future alien people thingies were giving them genetic enhancements. Useful ones, like being able to deflate. And of course, Archer derided their "impatience" with "natural" evolution.

We have a more "natural" example of the conflation of racial evolution, societal evolution and technological evolution as well, by the by. The Pakled race, in The Next Generation, was dumber than a bunch of hammers. "We like him! We are strong! We make things go! We like power! He is smart! Make us strong!" But, recognizing that other races had stuff that would make them powerful, they went out and stole what technology they could get their hands on. (And somehow managed not to blow themselves up, in the process.) They were clearly meant as a (humorous) cautionary tale, underscoring the essential truth of the Prime Directive. Step outside the natural order, and you end up playing with things you dassn't understand.

So. Bad guys genetically engineer. Typically, genetically engineered people are bad guys, or else have to continually atone for their superiority. It is better to let a race die out so someone else can take their place than help them "unnaturally." It's okay to fix a sublight cruiser's flat tire, but not tell a galactic culture they're being abused by another culture of drug pushers. If your enemies give new technology to one tribe on a world, it's "balancing" to give another tribe the same technology, so long as you don't overcompensate. This restores the "natural" balance. In all ways and all times there is the sense that there is a proper form of evolution, and that subverting it subverts the implicit design.

A design, by the by, which was demonstrated during the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was discovered that, back in prehistory, a race of progenitors visited worlds all over the quadrant and uplifted and genetically modified them -- encoding their genetic code with a sequence which could ultimately be decoded into a freaking Quicktime movie. (It's a good thing those genes never... you know, mutated in any way during the evolutionary process. If they had, they might have gotten compression errors or something.) This is why, canonically, so many races look like human beings wearing prosthetic foreheads. (It's know that the Cardassians, the Romulans -- and therefore the Vulcans -- the Klingons and the Humans all were augmented in these ways.) I wonder if Khan had the message in his genes too, or if it was unnaturally and evilly eliminated when he was augmented.

(Actually, had Khan's DNA been used, the movie's narrator would have had his glorious Mexican accent. And you know, that would have made the line read superior.)

(Yes, Mexican, not hispanic or spanish. Ricardo Montalbán was born in Mexico City. But I digress.)

There is even a reward for all of this. There is even a Heaven -- a brass ring -- being held out for the good races of the universe who patiently wait for evolution to take its course. If you wait long enough... you become immortal beings of energy. The Q and the Organians alike said that they were once corporeal "much like you are." Evolution let them be vastly more, after they passed all their tests and ate their vegetables. And Wesley Crusher is clearly meant to be a precursor for humanity's own evolution into higher beings.

If, you know, he manages to pass his genes on to another generation.

I kid. I kid.

In the end, it comes back to the natural order of things. Societies progress. Technology improves. And different species will, left to their own devices, either die out or manage to struggle their way to the stars, whereupon they can be welcomed into galactic society. Species themselves will evolve, from slime all the way up to divine beings, in this selfsame process. Anyone who tries to shortcut these processes -- through stealing technology, infecting young cultures with mature ideas, or genetic engineering -- are sinning against the natural order... the unwritten plan. They are wrong. They are bad. And they don't get to become omnipotent letters of the alphabet.

Which, in a lot of ways, makes no sense. I mean, when you know that it is possible for corporeal beings to ultimately evolve into balls of light capable of stopping the Klingons and Federation from going to war, wouldn't you immediately start trying to figure out the mechanisms for doing it? Wouldn't you go on the fast track to posthumanity, lest the Klingons become superpowerful balls of light imposing a thirst for blood wine and gutteral opera on your entire species?

Not, it seems, in the Star Trek universe.

Here, at the end of this essay, I want to talk about one last episode of Star Trek. One last episode dealing with evolution. Not the ones where Picard or Kirk or Sisko talk about how when a culture is "ready," they get to sit at the big boys' table in the Federation. Not the ones where savage races with magical healing herbs or drugs never seem to be able to say "give us your warp drive, your computer database and membership in your Federation before we give you our life giving vaccine," but instead decide they want Denise Crosby's hot bod.

No, this was an episode that seemed to fly absolutely in the face of everything I've said above. An episode that has never been referred to again, despite a ton of philosophical and practical questions raised.

That episode's name was "Unnatural Selection" -- which should be a giveaway. And it featured the U.S.S. Enterprise being summoned to the Darwin Genetic Research Station on Gagarin IV. There, despite rules against eugenics and genetic engineering (rules which put Julian Bashir's father in prison years later), we find a funded research group building a race of superchildren. These superchildren are telepathic, telekinetic, and have active immune systems capable of sending antibodies out of their bodies to kill germs from across the room.

Sadly, those antibodies are lethal to normal humans, causing them to age rapidly and die tragically. Because... um....

...oh, right. Because tampering with the natural order is wrong, and bad. And because genetic researchers are apparently dumb enough to think they could create an aggressive immune system and then never suspect it might have some effect on the immediate environment surrounding the child.

We never hear from the superchildren again, of course. Nor do we hear of the transporter's use to reverse the aging process, reverting Doctor Pulaski back to a younger self. You'd think that would make the news or something, but apparently not, as people continue to get old and die in the Star Trek universe. But that's an entirely different discussion.

No, it's the children I'm thinking of. See, we knew that they were going to be put into isolation, to protect others from their deadly immune systems. (I get stupider just typing "deadly immune systems.") And we know, implicitly, that all such research will end. The superchildren will be studied, but that's it. No more messing up the natural order. No more messing up the plan.

Babylon 5, in the meantime, postulated a world where many different races have many different technological levels. These become matters of intense concern, militarily. Exploration vessels seek out new life and new civilizations so that technology can be stolen and sold from them. In the end, an Intersteller Alliance is founded. One of its first acts is to start sharing advanced technology like artificial gravity with many other races and worlds as an inducement for joining.

In the course of Babylon 5's run, we met a race called the Lumati. The Lumati were being courted by Earth Force, for diplomatic relations. But the Lumati wouldn't treat with Earth -- wouldn't even directly speak to Earth representatives -- until they determined that humanity was sufficiently evolved, as a race and as a society. It was buried, somewhat, but it was also clear that they stood for Star Trek's Prime Directive -- inverted, because it was now being directed at humanity instead of by humanity.

That episode said, far entertainingly, everything I said above.

If you need proof that it was a Star Trek reference, remember: at the end of the negotiation, the Lumati ambassador immediately sealed the deal with sex. The single finest sex ever performed on American Television, in fact.

Jim Kirk would have been proud.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 21, 2005 1:01 PM

Comments

Comment from: shane posted at December 21, 2005 3:14 PM

this is why i love this website.

shane

Comment from: Rosicrucian posted at December 21, 2005 3:25 PM

See, the transporter thing is pretty easily rationalized. The transporter buffer probably doesn't go back so far, so while it can be used for an "oops" like "oops I'm being hyper-aged by mutant antibodies" or "oops I accelerated to Warp 10 and turned into a salamander," you can use it as an "undo button" MacGuffin.

The data involved in the transporter buffer records is probably rather massive, and thus prohibitive to keep people in the buffer for more than the last few transports.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 21, 2005 3:30 PM

Rosicrucian -- I'd agree, except they actually contacted Pulaski's last ship to see if they still had her pattern. When it turned out they didn't -- not because they don't keep those records, but because she never used the thing while there -- they went to her quarters and extrapolated her pattern from her hairbrush.

I swear to Christ I'm not making this up.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 21, 2005 3:30 PM

All you need is to have your own private transporter storing a buffer of your body when you were 22, 25, 28, 32, whatever you choose... and just keep using it every few years.

You'll need a surge protector and a UPS of course.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 21, 2005 3:33 PM

Treatment of the Prime Directive has been inconsistent over the years. If you want to read a terrific argument showing that nothing James T. Kirk did during the action of the original series was a violation of a just Prime Directive, read the novel by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Steves (yes, two of the people behind season four of Enterprise) (How do you think they got the job?) titled, of all things, Prime Directive.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at December 21, 2005 3:36 PM

That's nothin'. Don't forget, the Transporter can also make you a kid. Not just lengthen your telemeres so you get back a decade or so of age biologically, but also shrink you down, rearrange your gross anatomy, give you hair again, etc.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at December 21, 2005 3:37 PM

Oh, and without affecting your memories, IIRC. So I guess those are really stored in your immortal soul.

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at December 21, 2005 3:39 PM

The single finest sex ever performed on American Television, in fact.

We need more sex like that on American TV.

Comment from: Lyndon W posted at December 21, 2005 3:43 PM

What's sad is that I recall all of the Star Trek references. Never should have watched my Trekkie relatives' collections of every episode...

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 21, 2005 3:58 PM

I'm a fan of the the original series much more than the rest of them, and one of the things I liked about the original was the tacit admission, in-story, that the Federation was not a *perfect* society -- just one that was trying to constantly get better. And so the people in the Federation would do all kinds of stupid things, like putting the Enterprise in the control of a homicidal computer, and then they say "oh, gee, we really screwed the pooch there." Or they're faced with a situation in a remote alien colony and they see that they need to violate the prime directive in order to correct something, and they say "well, it's a good guideline, but good guidelines don't always apply to the situation" and they start an arms race... OR they come across a planet where a well-meaning guy turned an alien race into a carbon copy of Nazi Germany and they say "see, THIS is why the Prime Directive is a good guideline."

Comment from: Dave Menendez posted at December 21, 2005 4:01 PM

A friend of mine wrote a comic wherein all species that hadn't developed interstellar travel were classified as wildlife. It was set in the present, so Earth had the status of a wildlife refuge.

I don't know if there was ever any explanation of the rationale behind the Prime Directive within Star Trek, but I'd guess they originally wanted to prevent exploitation of the less technologically-advanced. There are plenty of cautionary examples in our own history.

The Culture from Iain M. Banks's books is probably a good representation of what the Federation would be like if the creators of Star Trek had extrapolated things out a bit further. Of course, the Culture is mostly run by super-intelligent machines, and we know James Kirk won't stand for that.

Comment from: Lyndon W posted at December 21, 2005 4:05 PM

Oh, and the method for inter-species deal settling? That was in Nivens "Ringworld" series.

Comment from: Scarybug posted at December 21, 2005 4:16 PM

Star Trek is among one of the best examples of Bad Science in Science Fiction. It works wonderfully as an excercise in speculative anthropology, but most of the Trek Tech falls into the "Fantasy" category of fiction.

The absolute worst violator was an episode of Voyager in which Captain Katherine Hepburn discovers a race of humanoids that "evolved from hadrosaurs"

She does this by going to the holodeck, loading the Hadrosaur genome, and telling the computer to extrapolate how the hadrosaur would evolve in 65 billion or so years.

"How the hadrosaur WOULD evolve."

That shows you that the writer of that episode had absolutely no concept of evolution.

At least the Cat People from Red Dwarf evolved humanoid forms because their environment was specifically designed to be optimal for humans.

Comment from: Dave Menendez posted at December 21, 2005 4:21 PM

I'm a fan of the the original series much more than the rest of them, and one of the things I liked about the original was the tacit admission, in-story, that the Federation was not a *perfect* society -- just one that was trying to constantly get better.

Unfortunately, for the Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry decided that by then humanity would have perfected itself. Man, nothing makes for exciting stories like perfect people living in utopia

OR they come across a planet where a well-meaning guy turned an alien race into a carbon copy of Nazi Germany and they say "see, THIS is why the Prime Directive is a good guideline."

One imagines that after a few well-intentioned disasters, the Federation leadership threw up its hands and said, "No more help for the underdeveloped! From now on, if some species blows itself up, it sure as hell won't be our fault!"

Comment from: Alkari posted at December 21, 2005 4:33 PM

Was that B5 the one with Ivanova being tapped to seal the deal?

If so, "woo hoo."

Comment from: Montykins posted at December 21, 2005 4:39 PM

Nice work!

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 21, 2005 4:45 PM

"Who knew you could catch superpowers?"

GURPS Wild Card, that's who.

"Is there a particular reason that all the genetics/augmentation stuff is coming out of the Indian Subcontinent in the Star Trek universe?"

To be fair, I always thought Bashi was an Armenian name. Still, I always wondered if there was some implied racism there, myself.

"...why in God's name would I have watched Star Trek: Voyager?"

Coming from someone who watched multiple episodes of Enterprise, that seems more than a little odd. After all, it's because of Voyager and how hard that sucked that I refused to touch Enterprise.

But in all this, to be honest, I can't look that deeply into Star Trek. Basically, because it really has never felt like anything more than very blatant wish-fulfillment exercises on the part of the people involved. I mean, is it any coincidence that two of the most infamous forms of fanfiction derive names from Star Trek? Heck, you mentioned the most blatant Mary Sue of all time in this piece, with appropriately scathing commentary about the character.

It always felt that the various creators' wishes were paramount over consistency and logic in the worldview of the characters. Sure, it was sometimes entertaining (I love early DS9 myself). But because it was so blatant, I could never take it seriously.

Though since he was mentioned, a brief anecdote from me. Growing up, due to having the English equivalent of the actor's first name and my grandmother really liking him, I was called Ricardo Montelbaum in my youth. I never could duplicate that accent, and I never could figure out what Corinthian leather was. But in a weird coincidence, I married a woman with the same first name as Montelbaum's wife. Ever since then, I've been hoping that one day, someone will shout "Khan!" at me unprompted. (Hint: if you do it right now, it would be prompted.)

Comment from: Dave Menendez posted at December 21, 2005 4:54 PM

Is there a particular reason that all the genetics/augmentation stuff is coming out of the Indian Subcontinent in the Star Trek universe?

To be fair, I always thought Bashir was an Armenian name. Still, I always wondered if there was some implied racism there, myself.

I vaguely recall hearing that Roddenberry named Khan and Data's creator after an old friend he had lost touch with, in an attempt to attract his attention.

From Wikipedia:

The characters of both Noonien Soong and Khan Noonien Singh were named after a man named Kim Noonien Singh whom Gene Roddenberry knew during World War 2.

Comment from: Rosicrucian posted at December 21, 2005 4:55 PM

"I'd agree, except they actually contacted Pulaski's last ship to see if they still had her pattern. When it turned out they didn't -- not because they don't keep those records, but because she never used the thing while there -- they went to her quarters and extrapolated her pattern from her hairbrush."



Ah. This I had missed. Sorry for giving the standard Star Trek apologist's answer :)

Comment from: Kludge posted at December 21, 2005 4:57 PM

I seem to remember that the universe of the RPG Traveller (in the first edition, at least), had a concept of Major and Minor races. Major races were those that had invented FTL drives on their own, Minor races those that had been given the technology in some way.

It didn't have any legal effect (the major races fought among themselves anyway, and didn't really have any scruples about arming up client planets), but the whole system was terribly depressing for the Minors - races that would have invented FTL on their own if they hadn't been contacted by older races were forever consigned to this imaginary second table.

The Terracentricity of Traveller, incidentally, is reflected in the fact that no less than three of the Major races were human (and one other was descended from other terrestrial animals). But still - an excellent example of how this kind of granfalloon doesn't need any legal or philosophical backing to have an adverse affect.

Comment from: Clint H posted at December 21, 2005 5:08 PM

I was going to comment on enjoying many of the Voyage episodes I saw, but then I said to myself... "Dide! You're about to go on the internet and argue about Star Trek!"

I quickly left the room for an hour. To breathe.

Comment from: Akilika posted at December 21, 2005 5:12 PM

And I say, "Bounce a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish.
Thats the way we do things, lad; we're making shit up as we wish.
The Klingons and the Romulans pose no threat to us
'Cause if we find we're in a bind, we just make some shit up!

No, I really don't have anything relevant to add . . . I haven't watched nearly enough Star Trek. Le sigh.

But it's an awesome song.

Comment from: PatMan posted at December 21, 2005 5:18 PM

It's always facinating to listen to Eric disect Star Trek. Truly facinating.

But enough about that, let's talk about something REALLY interesting, like that Voyager episode where they sent a ship through hyperspace and had to wait 3 hours for the "we're okay!"-reply to make it back to the ship, but they were somehow able to have a Q&A in real-time.

Because, obviously, lag only affects the initial connection. Obviously.

Comment from: jpcardier posted at December 21, 2005 5:28 PM

"A friend of mine wrote a comic wherein all species that hadn't developed interstellar travel were classified as wildlife. It was set in the present, so Earth had the status of a wildlife refuge."

If you want to read a hilarious take on this, read Nick Pollata's Illegal Aliens. Funny, funny story where intergalactic criminals come to modern day Earth. They end up getting into a brawl with a "Road Maintence Crew", aka a street gang. After the aliens get offed, the galactic cops refuse to give advanced technology to the humans (Rule 148: "Dont"). So of course, the humans have to figure out how to steal it....

Comment from: abb3w posted at December 21, 2005 5:31 PM

Quibble 1: I always assumed, given the choice of Siddig El Fadil as the actor, that Julian Bashir was from somewhere in the mid-east area, as opposed to India.

Quibble 2: GURPS Wild Card sprang from the Wild Card shared world anthologies, edited by GRRM of later "A Song of Ice and Fire" fame. I think the idea for Xenovirus Takis-A was his originally, but I'd have to re-read the introductions to see who came up with what.

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at December 21, 2005 5:42 PM

This almost makes me glad the only exposure I've had to Star Trek was through the works of Eyrie Productions.

(Even though the Eyrie works are held in contempt in some circles of the anime fanfic community, I happen to like them.)

Comment from: Benor posted at December 21, 2005 5:48 PM

See, Star Trek is so weird in its ideas, that it forced me to come up with my own word to describe the behavior.

To Kirk (verb): To reveal that a society or belief system is founded on a false assumption and/or inaccurate information.

Ex: "The Erolians were Kirked when they found out their god-king was just a man named Bob."

Comment from: Ghastly posted at December 21, 2005 5:49 PM


As an anthropology major let me just go on record as saying I freaking cringed each and every time Star Trek did an episode centering on the science of evolution. So much bad science. So very much bad science.

The Voyager episode where Paris reached Warp 10 and thus magically began to transform into the ultimate biologically predetermined form of human evolution. Yes, appearently our DNA has determined that our ultimate evolutionary form is going to be methane breathing, tongue-less lizards in about 10 million years. Wow... that really sucks when you stop to think about it because our atmosphere isn't really likely to be all that different in only 10 million years time. One day a bunch of tongue-less lizards are going to wake up cursing evolution for suddenly and inexplicably making them methane breathers on a planet without a methane atmosphere. Oh that whacky evolution.

Oh jeeze, and don't even get me started on the episode where Barclay turns into a spider.

I swear there's a creationist on the Star Trek staff in charge of every evolution episode trying to make the science of biological evolution look so increadably rediculous that people will begin to think that the idea the world was created as-is 6kya by a magical dead jew on a stick and his invisible dad makes perfect logical sense.

Comment from: Ghastly posted at December 21, 2005 5:55 PM

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 21, 2005 03:36 PM

That's nothin'. Don't forget, the Transporter can also make you a kid. Not just lengthen your telemeres so you get back a decade or so of age biologically, but also shrink you down, rearrange your gross anatomy, give you hair again, etc.

Oh god yes, I'd forgotten all about that episode. I remember being horribly creeped out by the scenes of O'Brien and his now 12 year old wife Keiko. It was sort of a "I don't want to read the erotic fanfics this episode is going to inspire" kind of moment.

I still think the episode would have been funnier had it been Riker instead of Piccard in the transporter. He materializes as his 12 year old self... immediately pulls open the wasteband of his pants, looks down in shock and yells out "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!"

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 21, 2005 6:06 PM

One of the many things that bothered me about that episode is that apparently, young Picard was a eunuch. I mean, he didn't eye up a single woman right at the cusp of puberty? To hell with a transporter making your DNA longer - that was the biggest leap of faith I'd ever seen in Star Trek.

Comment from: Ghastly posted at December 21, 2005 6:07 PM

Um... waistband.

Then again, we never did see anyone go to the toilet in Star Trek.

Comment from: Brendan posted at December 21, 2005 6:14 PM

Don't put the Dominion on a pedestal too quickly. Sure, they cured an alien race, but that race really wrought havoc on Earth back in the 1980's. I've heard they're Queen fans.

(I'm sorry, I couldn't resist...)

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at December 21, 2005 6:15 PM

Unfortunately, for the Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry decided that by then humanity would have perfected itself. Man, nothing makes for exciting stories like perfect people living in utopia

Yes, but wasn't Andromeda originally intended to be about what happened when the Federation's so-called perfect society fell apart?

Comment from: John Lynch posted at December 21, 2005 6:23 PM

I always saw the reason for Warp drive capability, as the Federation being forced to deal with the species (oh sure, individuals might get excited over it, but as a collective it seemed like they did their best to avoid the lower lifeforms). After all, once they get warp drive, the species can head over to Earth, or the Klingon homeworld. Better to start chatting with the new species and get them on your side.

Having said that, I can see some of the reasoning behind wanting a Prime Directive. Applied as a blanket rule (even if it is a rule that's constantly broken) is bad. But look at our own history. We've destroyed many ways of life, such as the tribes of America and the Aboriginees. If we hadn't come along and conquered them, they could have continued quite happily. America went along and destroyed the Samurai of Japan. I see these as tragic events in history, that shouldn't have occurred.

Having said that, there has to be a better way then the Prime Directive.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at December 21, 2005 6:25 PM

And let's not forget that great evolutionary lesson from Old Trek--If you're a philosophically advanced race, and you go through a time machine, no matter how personally enlightened you are, you begin to regress into savagery, eat meat, and make out with the local women.

Because evolution is presumably some kind of hundredth monkey thing, and if you're transported back to a time before monkeys, you are screwed.

Comment from: Denyer posted at December 21, 2005 6:26 PM

In all matters Prime Direction, I tend to follow Calhoun... it's a check that may occasionally be viewed as existing with legitimate reason, but first and foremost it's something to be worked around.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 21, 2005 6:33 PM

I think this is why I prefer writing my own science fiction rather than watching it on television.

Except for Babylon 5. Because B5 rocked.

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Denyer posted at December 21, 2005 6:38 PM

I thought I'd follow it up with a post that...

...actually, might make everyone mad.

Coming soon on Websnark... the sanctity of life debate:

EVERY TIME A LOAF OF BREAD IS BAKED,
APPROXIMATELY
150,000,000 YEASTS ARE
KILLED

Come to the award-winning 1987 film,
"The Very Small and Quiet Screams"
-- a cinematic electromicrograph of yeasts being baked.

A must for those who care about yeast, and especially for those who don't.

SPONSORED BY
Brown Anaerobe Rights Coalition (BARC)
Student Bakers for Social Responsibility
Coalition for the ELevation of Life (CELL)
Campus Crusade for Fetal Matters

Defend all life: "From greatest to least, from human to yeast!"

I completely forget where I stole that from...

Comment from: Luggage posted at December 21, 2005 6:47 PM

The Prime directive if there to make you think before you break it.

Kirk didn't think that much.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 21, 2005 6:59 PM

(Even though the Eyrie works are held in contempt in some circles of the anime fanfic community, I happen to like them.)

I don't think I count as the anime fanfic community, but I like the EPU stuff too.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 21, 2005 6:59 PM

I'm glad I came to this discussion after it already started, so I won't feel compelled to mention quite as many things. First:

David Marcus from Star Trek II was an alien whose planet had a "disease" and Khan's aide Joachim from the same movie was from a world whose entire economy was devoted to selling them medicine.

Dude. I get what you did there, now, but I've never actually seen that episode, and you were freaking me out for a second. "But he died 80 years ago! What the hell?!"

The TNG episode with Barclay as a spider wasn't just bad evolution. It is stated that the crew is *de*volving. So, you know, start looking for those spiderhuman fossils, kids.

It's probably a good thing you didn't watch Voyager, Eric, or you never would have finished your essay. "Fun With DNA" (TM) was pretty much a weekly feature of the show. I also like how we get to see "ourselves" a few times on Voyager 500 years in *their* future. It's a bunch of ordinary humans, only now they obsess over *ancient* (to them) humans.

Picard was a real ass when it came to the Prime Directive. I think, even given all the arguments one can come up with for screwing up the development of alien cultures in unforeseen ways, that when the choice is "intervene, or they'll all die", any sane person would intervene. Not Picard, on at least two occasions. (Yeah, he backed down or they found ways around it by the ends of the episodes, but the answer was never "Picard's an ass--beam them up, Chief.")

Oh, and Voyager couldn't even keep the Prime Directive straight. In the first season, Janeway memorably would not trade technology, even with warp-drive capable groups, because it would "interfere". Yeah, you probably shouldn't give it to the Kazon, but that's because they're Klingon ripoffs, and are therefore the "bad guys". Janeway was proven tremendously right, of course, when they discover that a Kazon ship suffered a horrible explosion due to poor integration of a smuggled replicator. It's definitely not an indication that the Kazon were dumb enough that an explosion of some sort was inevitable, or that there should maybe be some more safeguards on these incredibly common appliances found in homes throughout the Federation. Noooo.

(gasp, pant, wheeze)

Oh, and Dear Doctor (the Enterprise episode about Phlox dooming millions to die because he's apparently an ID proponent) holds the record for the one Trekverse episode that I truly hate. It's easy to dislike an episode because of bad acting or a stupid plot, or because it has Klingons in it (but I repeat myself). But that episode made the only ENT character I was really getting to like into a willfully ignorant mass murderer. Blech, blech, blech.

Okay, I think I'm done.

Oh, and I really enjoyed your essay. You should be missing your girlfriend more oft--NO CARRIER

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 21, 2005 7:01 PM

Jesus. I was interjecting self-deprecating stuff about how long-winded I was, but I swear that I didn't consciously write "Oh, and" three separate times.

Comment from: Tim Tylor posted at December 21, 2005 7:05 PM

Then again, we never did see anyone go to the toilet in Star Trek.

Or in most swords-and-sorcery fantasies, for that matter. Probably for the best: the WCs in Mordor were surely beyond description and continually out of paper.

Comment from: kirabug posted at December 21, 2005 7:05 PM

Ah, nothing like a close look at that fiction meme that says, "Take whatever you're most frightened of in today's society, stretch it out to its most ridiculous extremes, and then turn it into sci fi." Star Trek is so good at this because they just take whatever the latest announcement from the scientific or medical communities is, and then try to scare the everloving shit out of us with it. After all, we don't want to improve our lives NOW, do we?

Comment from: PatMan posted at December 21, 2005 7:05 PM

Hey, remember that episode where the diplomat turned a planet into Nazi Germany to save it from societal collapse? And Spock agreed that it was logical? Yet no one pointed out that the unite the warring factions excuse was phony. You see, the Nazis seized control of the country by playing off the German's longing for their faded past, while this new planet had replaced its entire culture with German culture. They even went so far as to teach everyone German! With German accents!


Boy, I'm ripping mad over this Trek stuff. Grrrr... Look what you've started Eric!

Comment from: PatMan posted at December 21, 2005 7:11 PM

Or in most swords-and-sorcery fantasies, for that matter. Probably for the best: the WCs in Mordor were surely beyond description and continually out of paper.

There are water closets all over Azeroth. Warcraft teaches you good hygene!

(Except the Ogres. They just go anywhere! Oh god... oh god... I can't believe I got a camera full of that stuff!! Make the nightmares go away!)

Comment from: chalcara posted at December 21, 2005 7:21 PM

B5 > Star Treck.

Storywise and everthing else.

On a tangent:

It's kinda interesting that Babylon 5 had a girl-girl love (even if it was shortlived and very subtle - damn you Winters!), while Star Treck... Did you notice that every (good guy) human in that perfect world was monogam and heterosexual? Surly the human society was so perfect that only imperfect aliens had the need for alternate lifestyles.

~chalcara
*has still a crush on Ivanova*

Comment from: JSigala posted at December 21, 2005 7:27 PM

nerd!

Comment from: exit posted at December 21, 2005 7:42 PM

In one of those little coincidences that life is always spitting out, right this minute (4:41 pm, west coast time), the episode with David Marcus as the drug pusher is on Spike TV.

Awesome.

Comment from: Tyck posted at December 21, 2005 7:42 PM

I would like to take this opportunity to state that Final Fantasy VI has toilets all over the place. Many of the later games also have them, although fewer.

Also,

nerd!

Well, duh.

Comment from: quiller posted at December 21, 2005 7:49 PM

You think it is bad watching Star Trek as an anthropology major, trying watching it when you are an Astrophysics major! Everytime they were going to crash into the planet out of a stable orbit because their engines were offline...

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 21, 2005 7:55 PM

Quiller -- don't we just assume Sulu isn't very good at setting orbits? I always assumed he came in too low, so without adjustment, ground got lost on each revolution.

Comment from: Moe Lane posted at December 21, 2005 7:59 PM

Your post was Trekkish; my response shall be the same.

Chekov stood up, slapping sand from himself. "Yes, Mr. Scott, I do know! 'Mr. Chekov, you are the worse caddy in the explored uniwerse!' Isn't that what you were going to say? Isn't that what you always say? 'Recheck those sensor readings, Mr. Chekov.' 'I said, steady as she goes, Mr. Chekov.' Ever since I am a little chelloveck, this goes on! 'Pavel Andreivich, eat your groats.' 'Pavel Andreivich, you are a disgrace to the Pioneer Railroad Porters' Corps.' Well, Pavel Andreivich is having no more of this!"
He reached to the golf bag, seized a 7-iron, raised it over his head. An artillery shell exploded brilliantly in midair, and the light caught the club like a bolt of lightning. Chekov shouted "Urrah!" and charged from the sandtrap into the furious night.
Korth stood up, pointed a finger after Chekov and one at Maglus. "What he... what he said, double." Korth grabbed a club in each hand and ran after Chekov, shouting and flailing.

- John M Ford, How Much For Just The Planet?

Maybe even triple.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 21, 2005 7:59 PM

while Star Treck... Did you notice that every (good guy) human in that perfect world was monogam and heterosexual? Surly the human society was so perfect that only imperfect aliens had the need for alternate lifestyles.

Well which Star Trek are you talking about? Because the first one was shot in the SIXTIES, man... and they received death threats and station cancellations because they had a show where a white man was being FORCED to kiss a black woman by evil psychics.

Can you IMAGINE what would have happened if they'd tried anything else?

Comment from: lucastds posted at December 21, 2005 8:13 PM

Hm. I never really took Star Trek all that seriously, personally. Breaking it down like this, into small chunks, is like eating bread crumb by crumb. Somehow less enjoyable.

Comment from: Merus posted at December 21, 2005 8:26 PM

I've always wondered why almost every fantasy novel conveniently forgets food production.

Take a look: from the highest to the lowest fantasy, not a single bloody wheat field. Or cotton field. Or flax, or linen. What the hell do they wear and eat?

(I just read "Guns, Germs and Steel", so here's an additional contention - Star Trek is actually pretty racist. A society that can use FTL travel has probably evolved enough to be able to use it effectively. It's merely a question of getting all the intermediate technologies. Lack of getting those intermediate technologies doesn't necessarily mean that those interstellar minority groups are too stupid to be of use to the Federation, considering that their worlds may have simply been less abundant. In fact, you'd expect that natural selection on less abundant worlds would actually result in a better gene pool, thanks to the increased difficulty of survival, but the technology required to progress would be harder to come by - food production and animal husbandry, for instance.)

Comment from: Montykins posted at December 21, 2005 9:04 PM

Take a look: from the highest to the lowest fantasy, not a single bloody wheat field. Or cotton field. Or flax, or linen. What the hell do they wear and eat?
Ah, yeah, well, whenever you notice something like that, a wizard did it.

Comment from: Scarybug posted at December 21, 2005 9:19 PM

Merus: What? Hobbiton was FULL of agriculture!

Comment from: LurkerWithout posted at December 21, 2005 9:25 PM

Congratulations Eric, you're now King of the Nerds...

*hands over crown*

ALL HAIL!

Comment from: okaynowa posted at December 21, 2005 9:28 PM

What about quatrotriticeilidh? (Or however it's spelled.) There's agriculture and Chekov for you in the same breath.

On the subject of Star Trek-inspired slang, I've heard kids on the bus using "Kirk out" to describe rapid departure (as in, "Aw man, I can't stand this, I'm gonna Kirk out").

Comment from: sqbr posted at December 21, 2005 9:33 PM

Fantastic essay! After reading "Lifes Grandeur"/"Full house" (the title is different here) by Stephen Jay Gould(*) I've been extra specially aware of the complete directionlessness of evolution and have thus been extra specially bugged by things like Star Trek. The problem with the subconsiously-ID approach to evolution is that it effects public opinion on important issies, and can easily lead to "scientific" justifications for racism and eugenics, as well as some of the less valid arguments against fiddling with our own genes. (Not to say there aren't also some good reasons not to do it :) )

(*)I was really taken by the ideas in this book so I'm going to rant a little now :) He makes the point that since it's evolution a cuppla bilion years ago, by pretty much any measure the main lifeform on this planet has been bacteria. Over time there has been a tendency for a slight increase in the variety of life on the planet which amongst other things has led to increasingly complex and intelligent life. But any given species is as likely to "devolve" into a smaller, dumber, less complex species as not. As a seperate point, all life on the planet right now is equally "highly evolved", it's just some species have spent a billion years getting really good at being invertebrates.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 21, 2005 9:39 PM

In one of those little coincidences that life is always spitting out, right this minute (4:41 pm, west coast time), the episode with David Marcus as the drug pusher is on Spike TV.

...holy crap. My Tivo recorded it. As a suggestion, because I don't have a season pass for it.

I am now going to watch it. Because I *have* to.

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at December 21, 2005 9:50 PM

Take a look: from the highest to the lowest fantasy, not a single bloody wheat field. Or cotton field. Or flax, or linen. What the hell do they wear and eat?

I seem to recall several occurences of such things in Wheel of Time and Eddings assorted (mostly identical) books. And on the Discworld, you can't turn around without tripping over a field of some kind of agricultural product.

Usually with a couple Making Their Own Entertainment in it, but hay.

Pratchett even makes a point of how the biggest city in his setting is surrounded by mile upon mile of cabbage fields. Because the population needs to eat, and cabbages are the only things that'll grow there...

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 21, 2005 9:57 PM

These are Fan'om worship words! You must not speak them!

Comment from: Ghastly posted at December 21, 2005 10:15 PM

Comment from: quiller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 21, 2005 07:49 PM

You think it is bad watching Star Trek as an anthropology major, trying watching it when you are an Astrophysics major! Everytime they were going to crash into the planet out of a stable orbit because their engines were offline...

Oh yes. And let us not forget the "the impulse engines are down, we're dead in the water" because somehow the natural inertia of the ship is automatically cancelled if the impulse engines suddenly stop functioning. I can easily buy the dropping out of warp when the warp engines fail, but c'mon, at sublight speeds they should still be heading straight on their last vector when the impulse engines fail instead of slowing to a dead stop and then ever so slowly drifting in a random direction.

Comment from: Tyck posted at December 21, 2005 10:17 PM

Pratchett even makes a point of how the biggest city in his setting is surrounded by mile upon mile of cabbage fields. Because the population needs to eat, and cabbages are the only things that'll grow there...

And cartloads upon cartloads of dairy products, eggs, poultry, herds of cattle and swine. Pratchett has said, in some interview or another, that although Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld started out as generic fantasy satire, it's no longer just a fantasy setting. It's a real place that just happens to have dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolfs, witches, virgins, and other fantastical beings living on it. Makes for better stories, in my opinion.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at December 21, 2005 10:31 PM

Well, thanks, Eric. Now I'm just not gonna be able to enjoy Stargate anymore. Or Star Trek.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 21, 2005 10:49 PM

I'm still trying to figure out what's a cable channel like Sci-Fi doing showing horror movies? (And, do not get me started on Andromeda. Worst. Sci-Fi series. Ever.)

Comment from: Chris Doucette posted at December 21, 2005 10:53 PM

Hey hey hey, let's not jump on Stargate. They don't *pretend* their science is reasonable. Hell, everyone in the universe speaks English without explanation - nothing can justify it, so why bother?

Also, the Replicators would totally take the Borg in a fight.

Comment from: Tevorcet posted at December 21, 2005 10:56 PM

Even the good Trek episodes exhibit questionable science. During the whole Arik Soong saga, there was one point where Archer explosively decompressed a Jefferies Tube and was sent into space, at which point he was transported to safety, appearing on the transporter pad with nothing worse than bloodshot eyes and a wicked shiver. It would have been the funniest episode ever if the transporter hadn't somehow cancelled his momentum, and he went flying through the ceiling of the transporter room...

Comment from: inkbrush posted at December 21, 2005 10:56 PM

Y'know, I read an article once in the American Journal of Popular Culture (out of Bowling Green University) an article about Racism in Star Trek.

This is a slightly tangential point, but it relates back to the "natural order" point in this post.

See, in this article, the author points out that in Star Trek, mulattoes are prdominantly depicted as possessing all of the flaws of the two races that sired them, with few if any of the advantages. This dovetails into the notion of the "natural order" playing such a big part in Star Trek. The "natural order" is not for a Klingon and a Human to have a child together, but if they do, then that child will be neither as strong as a Klingon, nor as resourceful as a human. If a Vulcan and a Human have a child, that child will never feel completely at home in the world of humans or in the world of Vulcans.

Interesting, I think.

Just in case anyone's interested, the American Journal of Popular Culture is really neat, with articles covering every imaginable facet of Pop Culture.

I read an article in an issue once describing how the Lion King was in many ways a rip-off of Tezuka's Kimba: the White Lion. Of course, Tezuka dimissed any claims that Disney ever ripped him off before he died, saying something to the effect of: if he stole from me, big deal... I stole plenty from them.

PS: That same article had some fascinating notes on comics in Japan. Like the little factoid that over 70% of the population reads some comics every single day.

Just sayin'...

Comment from: John Lynch posted at December 21, 2005 10:57 PM

It's a real place that just happens to have dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolfs, witches, virgins, and other fantastical beings living on it.

After all, there aren't any virgins in real life.

Comment from: Rachi posted at December 21, 2005 11:28 PM

Eric... I love you. Articles like this make a day of crotch-bleeding and cramps so much better.
That's all.

Comment from: Tyck posted at December 21, 2005 11:32 PM

After all, there aren't any virgins in real life.

Obligatory joke. As near as I can tell it has to be said any time anybody starts talking about myth.

Comment from: Tevorcet posted at December 21, 2005 11:32 PM

Wait, I take that back. The absolute way to get laughs out of the transporter would be to use genuine Trek-brand Red Shirts. Anyone else remember the episode of TNG with Data's crazy "gradfather," Ira Graves? The one in which they use the dangerous "near warp transport?" Imagine, if in addition to sending along the main characters, they sent some poor security sap whose only purpose in life is to show how dangerous the process is...by rematerializing with all of his momentum, moving at upwards of fifty percent the speed of light. Of course, most people wouldn't want to know how dangerous air is when you move that fast... But knowing Starfleet, they really wouldn't care, as they continue to build ships where the highly caustic coolant moves through Plexiglas (er...transparent aluminum) pipes that shatter (?!) so readily, you'd think that Starfleet was performing some bizarre Darwininian tests on its engineers (Okay, if he's too fat and slow to do a running roll to get through a slowly closing door while shouting, "We've got a coolant leak!" at the top of his lungs, he has no place aboard a Federation ship!)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 21, 2005 11:42 PM

I dunno about Kimba: The White Lion, but I've always said Disney's "first full-length original animated story" was just Hamlet with a happy ending. (Which makes The Lion King 1 1/2 just Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with a happy ending.)

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at December 21, 2005 11:48 PM

Excellent essay. It reminds me of my favorite Prime Directive idiot-plot-related pet peeve episode. I forget the title of it, but it's the one that had me muttering at the screen, "Why the hell don't you just sleepgas the damn holodeck?!" I'm sure you know the one I mean. The one where Picard refused to rescue the tribe of people whose star was about to go supernova because the Prime Directive forbid interference.

I mean, what the hell, Picard? Geez.

Comment from: diGriz posted at December 22, 2005 12:14 AM

(Great. I've been reading the site for over a year, and the thing that finally convinces me to create an account is a discussion on Star Trek, for crying out loud.)

Robotech: I believe the episode you are referencing is Homeward, one of the (many) bad episodes from the final season. Picard refuses to rescue them, but they end up on the holodeck anyway due to some trickery by (*sigh*) Worf's brother, the planet is destroyed, and then they have to transport the entire tribe to a new planet before the holodeck implodes or something.

I swear, for something designed as an entertainment and research tool, the holodeck was the focus of *far* too many episodes.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at December 22, 2005 12:25 AM

I think the Prime Directive started out as a sensible concept. The Federation doesn't want to cause cargo cults and damage the development of primitive socities. You can even justify this in a sensible manner - in a thoughtful SF setting, intelligent species of different worlds have different instincts, different brain structures, and different ways of thinking. The well-intentioned solution that did fine by humans or Vulcans might just not work for the people of This Week's Planet. After banging their heads on this issue, the Federation would wise up and stop trying to tell aliens how to live their lives. (And at some point, stop manly starship captains from destroying computers running planets.)

In fact, if you take the "humans are kinda tired of Vulcans" theme of early Enterprise, you could play with the idea that humans don't want to end up as the Obnoxious Humorless Prats telling client species that they're too foolish to leave their home planet...

But, ultimately, this idea was presented sketchily and evolved through the telephone game of series writing into, "Well, too bad their planet's about to blow up. But that's Nature's Way."

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer posted at December 22, 2005 12:26 AM

Wait Paul, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead didn't have a happy ending? I think getting away from all those nutjobs and into nice comfy caskets was the best thing that could have happened to those two).

It's interesting that so many see racist underpinnings to Trek, as it originally was one of the first shows to embrace multinationality (note the multiethnic crew, including a RUSSIAN in a show made during the late sixties). It's said that Trek was the only show that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. let his children watch, as it treated blacks with dignity (although Uhura now looks like a glorified switchboard opporator.

I think where ST fails is that it takes blacks and chinese out of their old stereotypical roles in TV (primitive cultures to be patronizing towards and mystic outsiders), and gives that shorthand to fictional alien cultures instead. Creating well thought out, developed cultures would take more than the 3 minutes every episode they devote to introducing the new guest stars, so they rely on the old shorthands. They just have people wearing styrofoam on their face replace the tribesmen with spears.

(Oh, and Chalcara-- ST has been ahead of its time on sexuality concerns. There was an episode in the late eighties were Riker interacted with a member of a genderless species that had "discovered" that it was in fact female (clear stand in for homosexuality). There was also an episode of DS9 where Dax meets an old flame from a previous incarnation, and they are both female at this point. They didn't have any clear homosexual main characters, but they've still been ahead of their times.)

As to evolution: This teleological evolution is really annoying. It is used so often in Sci fi (Earth: Final Conflict and Mutant X each constantly referenced things being the, "next step in human evolution".) Would someone please explain to these writers that living creatures are not in a "stage" of evolving INTO something, but instead are evolving FROM their current state in response to some current stimulus. This is really important, especially to the ID issue. In the time of Darwin, it was the fact that his theory was non-teleological that made people consider it heresy, NOT because it violated the biblical creation story (which everyone already considered a parable at best).

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 22, 2005 12:36 AM

Excellent essay. It reminds me of my favorite Prime Directive idiot-plot-related pet peeve episode. I forget the title of it, but it's the one that had me muttering at the screen, "Why the hell don't you just sleepgas the damn holodeck?!" I'm sure you know the one I mean. The one where Picard refused to rescue the tribe of people whose star was about to go supernova because the Prime Directive forbid interference.

Oh God, I forgot that one, R_M. Yeah -- that's one of the pinnacle moments of "we can't disrupt God's Will the natural order of things. If those people are going to survive, they'e going to have to develop warp drive... and space travel... and flight... and ships... and electricity... and chemistry... et al in the next twenty four hours or we can't interfere.

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at December 22, 2005 12:37 AM

Incidentally...it occurs to me that the Time Lords from Doctor Who had some kind of non-interference policy of their own for similar reasons—I recall a reference being made to it in an episode involving a starship on quest for lost genetic material that somehow involved a proto-planet forming inside a nebula. Apparently these people had taken to worshipping the Time Lords as gods or some such.

The difference being that the Doctor wasn't bound by the Time Lords' policies so much, and rather liked interfering where he felt it to be necessary...

Comment from: William_G posted at December 22, 2005 12:44 AM

Yes, appearently our DNA has determined that our ultimate evolutionary form is going to be methane breathing, tongue-less lizards in about 10 million years.

If the current occupants of the White House are anything to go by, this has already happened.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at December 22, 2005 12:45 AM

The difference being that the Doctor wasn't bound by the Time Lords' policies so much, and rather liked interfering where he felt it to be necessary...

Unless it was the history of Earth, IIRC.

Comment from: diGriz posted at December 22, 2005 1:05 AM

Oddly enough, Picard's concern over the Prime Directive in Homeward *may* actually have a documented reason. There's an episode in season 5 of Next Generation, called The Masterpiece Society, that starts essentially the same way.

While investigating a large chunk of stellar debris or something, the crew discover that one of the planets in the way of the fragment is inhabited. By an enclosed, self-sufficient, genetically engineered tribe of people. These people have lived liked this for ages. They don't have warp drive, or transporters, or basically anything that relates to travel or dealing with the outside world. (Although, the leader apparently has modern communication equipment. I suppose this is the equivalent of an Amish family having a telephone.)

Despite all of this, and the well-documented dislike of genetic engineering, Picard doesn't even hesitate for a second to offer help in evacuation. The offer was refused, because moving the colony would rip its social structure apart, yet the crew is allowed to help design a way to avert the stellar fragment.

Long story short, a number of the colonists at the end decide to leave the colony for the stars, in effect ripping it apart as much as evacuation - or not interfering in the first place - would have done. (And, from what I remember, the episode was about as boring as I've described. And includes one of those wonderfully infamous Star Trek "uh oh, we've written ourselves into a corner, let's use some bizarre technological cop-out to fix it" moments. Namely, the disaster is averted more or less due to Geordie's Visor.)

Having said all of that, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Picard's decision in Homeward was just the standard fare of each episode's writers making stuff up on the spot, and ignoring everything else that came before.

Comment from: Merus posted at December 22, 2005 1:21 AM

If the current occupants of the White House are anything to go by, this has already happened.

Oh no, I've tongued George W.

Mental image time, if you please.

Comment from: batcok posted at December 22, 2005 1:29 AM

It seems to me that the Prime Directive is applied along the lines of the Pirate's Code from Pirates of the Caribbean:

Barbossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I must do nothin'. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the Pirate's Code to apply, and you're not. And thirdly, the Code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 22, 2005 1:36 AM

One other little point about the Prime Directive. It would never ever be instituted in our real world, should we somehow develop the ability to travel into outer space and discover intelligent life. History is chocked full of civilizations who given the chance after conquering other nations would somehow all their technology to be learned by them.
Even if we still allow native cultures to live as they always had (i.e. the Amazonian indians, a few tribes in central Africa), they'd know about or hear about our tech, the Gods Are Crazy notwithstanding.
It is even more futile if you consider the culture shock of different civilizations, meeting each other for the first time. If the Prime Directive was seriously enforced, the Federation would forbid exploration completely and make sure every ship has cloaking abilities, just to be sure.
And besides, there wasn't anything that said that the Federation had to shun or not acknowledge ships with technology superior than the Federation to keep the Prime Directive pristine, eh?

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 22, 2005 1:37 AM

Aaand that should have been the word "allow" in "allow their technology to be learned by them."

Comment from: Abby L. posted at December 22, 2005 2:24 AM

...It also featured a spectacularly unoutrageous Okana nailing Transporter Chief Teri Hatcher, but I digress.

Unoutrageous or no, you have to admit that he was totally, totally hot.

As much as I love Star Trek, I can't really find it in myself to be anything but excited at how fun it usually is. The technology's sometimes completely counter-reality, and the values are sometimes skewed, but I still can't do anything but love it. (That, and debating Star Trek online is always a bad idea for someone whose comparatively a casual fan, like me.

Comment from: Merus posted at December 22, 2005 2:44 AM

I mean, look at the American Indians. They mastered technology they'd never seen before (horseback riding, for instance) in a very short space of time. One would have to assume, then, that some violations of the Prime Directive don't cause any harm because those races will learn the ethics of it just as quickly. One could even go so far as to say that the Prime Directive is simply a super-bad idea: in less-advanced civilisation's eyes, the Federation are a bunch of blowhards who can't actually come through when needed, and the way in which a FTL drive will be employed depends upon a species' temprement and culture than their technology level. Look at the Klingons or the Borg. It seems a far better idea to assess a civilisation on a bunch of quickly-determined key factors to decide whether assistance is likely to help to harm the civilisation in question than to use a blanket policy that runs the risk of alienating possible future allies.

Now there's a Star Trek plot: a civilisation has a crisis, which they barely survive, just as they invent the FTL drive, and decide to attack the Federation for being bastards about things.

Comment from: Benor posted at December 22, 2005 2:59 AM

The upshot of this, to me, is this:

Picard is faced with yet another culture that will be destroyed if he doesn't violate the Prime Directive.

Picard: It's unfortunate, but we can't interfere. It would violate the Prime Directive.

Geordi/Wesley/Riker/Beverly: But sir, they'll die!

Picard: I know that.

Troi: Their lives are worth just as much as ours!

PIcard. Yes, counsel *snrk* counselor, I...I agre-BWAAHAHA!

Picard laughs uncontrollably for another three minutes before he regains control.

Picard: Ohoho..yes...um, I agree. Let's watch the dumb bastards bur-I mean, we must honor their culture by observing its passing.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 22, 2005 4:10 AM

Now there's a Star Trek plot: a civilisation has a crisis, which they barely survive, just as they invent the FTL drive, and decide to attack the Federation for being bastards about things.

Which will probably the next Star Trek: The Next Generation Movie, subtitled, It's All Wesley's Fault!

Comment from: chalcara posted at December 22, 2005 4:13 AM

@Wistful Dreamer:
This is exactly why I referred to the perfection of HUMANITY. Aliens of course are allowed to have flaws. I seriously would NOT call that ahead of it's times.

And I know that the old StarTreck was ahead of it's days, I know about how much trouble they have gotten for having Uhura on the bridge; or how about Spock originally was supposed to be a female character, who had to be written out since the audience got in a sputter about it.

Just a question from the top of my head:
How many federation captains have we seen in this series that are not white humans?

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 22, 2005 4:29 AM

2: Sisko and one admiral from one of the Original Star Trek movies who turned out to be bad.

I think the bigger travesty is how they turned Captain Janeway into an almost universally despised Captain by most Star Trek geeks.

Comment from: chalcara posted at December 22, 2005 4:53 AM

Yeah, Janeway had potential.

I watched the first eps of Voyager and was delighted to see her - her and the half-klingon engeneer. B'lala, way that her name? However, my liking of Janeway changed soon. She was rather... indecive, is that the right word?

Comment from: Rojim posted at December 22, 2005 4:57 AM

Re: non-white, non-human captains:


As mentioned, Sisko and Adm. Cartwright (though whether he ever commanded a starship is unclear).


Admiral Morrow (Star Trek 3, also unclear whether he ever captained a ship). Hikaru Sulu. Geordi LaForge (in a Voyager ep taking place in the future). Geordi LaForge's mother (science ship, lost in action). Kassidy Yates (not a Starfleet captian, but captain of a civilian freighter). Worf in "Star Trek: First Contact" (not holding captain-the-rank, but commanding a starship). Maybe the captain of the Saratoga in Star Trek IV and the captain of Dr. Pulaski's ship before she transferred to the Enterprise (I'm not 100% sure of their skin-colors). Capt. Terrell in Star Trek 2. The captain of the Intrepid in the "Space Amoeba" episode was a Vulcan, as was the rest of the crew.


Probably there are more; this is just a list from the top of my head.

Comment from: William_G posted at December 22, 2005 5:05 AM

Oh no, I've tongued George W.

I'm hoping that tonguing a bush will be on the agenda this Christmas.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 22, 2005 6:48 AM

Well, there was the let's have Q fall in love with Janeway plot. That was pretty much it with me and watching Voyager.

Comment from: Doug posted at December 22, 2005 7:17 AM

Personally, I'm still waiting to see what happens when a certain race of highly intelligent and imitative beings show up at Star Fleet's door asking for a piece of the action.

("What do you mean it's an offer we can't refuse?")

Comment from: Fangz posted at December 22, 2005 7:47 AM

Well said, Eric. I see the Prime Directive as mostly a policy of political expedience - the Federation being an inwardly liberal but outwardly intensely paranoid society.

I wonder, though, how the borg fit into this. In terms of the Prime Directive, the Borg seem to be the precise antithesis of the Feds. The borg don't believe in 'natural development', but a dramatic uplift of encountered species. The borg believe in creating a galactic unity. The only problem is that they happen to be, well, evil.

Just imagine if borg assimilation was consensual.

Comment from: Doc posted at December 22, 2005 7:59 AM

The difference being that the Doctor wasn't bound by the Time Lords' policies so much, and rather liked interfering where he felt it to be necessary...

Unless it was the history of Earth, IIRC.

Technically the rule was that you couldn't change history as you knew it, so if he was in the middle of events he wasn't familiar with or events unfolding other than he knew them to it was fair game.
For the record the Time Lords had a non-intervention policy too which they actually prosecuted the Doctor for violating on a couple of occasions, something I can't remember happening to a main character in Trek, though my Trek lore is rather sparse.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 22, 2005 8:00 AM

It's said that Trek was the only show that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. let his children watch, as it treated blacks with dignity (although Uhura now looks like a glorified switchboard opporator.

Nichelle Nichols' favorite story is about telling Dr. King that she was thinking of quitting because all she ever got to do was open hailing frequencies. Dr. King asked her not to, because just by appearing there on the screen every week as an unremarkable spaceman of the future she was the best role model for black kids on tv at the time. That may sound sad to us today, but forty years ago it was revolutionary.

Personally, I'm still waiting to see what happens when a certain race of highly intelligent and imitative beings show up at Star Fleet's door asking for a piece of the action.

I've drawn that cartoon.

Comment from: Tovias posted at December 22, 2005 9:04 AM

" Maybe the captain of the Saratoga in Star Trek IV and..."

Just a quick uber-geek moment, let's not forget the Captain of the Yorktown also in ST:IV as portrayed by Vijay Amritraj the Indian born Tennis star

He was also in Octopussy

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at December 22, 2005 9:35 AM

On the issue of genetically superior humans (Khan, et al) always being bad or a bad idea;

Naturally. This is TV, remember. The idea is to get people to watch, so you can sell more dish soap. People are uncomfortable with the idea of being 'inferior', so you have to make sure that being superior is a bad thing. As long as you can make sure people are happy with their own inferiority by making them feel superior, even to a genetically 'superior' form, and not challenge that person's view of themselves as 'superior', you'll make them feel good and they'll buy your soap.

It's the same paradigm which makes religious fundamentalists argue that we coudn't possibly be descended from apes, and that we are alone in the universe. They're incapable (or at least uncomfortable with the idea) of dealing with the possibility of NOT being God's 'chosen', or of NOT being the most important thing in the universe.

(And yes, I realize that the statement that we're 'descended from apes' is a highly inaccurate comment which originates in the creationist school of argument. My point, exactly.)

Comment from: Pseudowolf posted at December 22, 2005 9:45 AM

the WCs in Mordor were surely beyond description and continually out of paper.

I keep laughing over the idea of Boromir stating dramatically, "One does not simply...*walk* into a Portopotty"

Comment from: Minivet posted at December 22, 2005 11:10 AM

>Just imagine if borg assimilation was consensual.

That's been done too.

Comment from: larksilver posted at December 22, 2005 11:51 AM

batcok: I'm so glad I'm not the only one who read this (very excellent) essay and got a visual of Jeoffrey Rush in Starfleet uniform saying "well... they more like Guidelines, really."

It's nice not to be alone in my psychosis.

Comment from: theliel posted at December 22, 2005 12:03 PM

@Tevorcet

umm. Transparent aluminum's been invented. It's pretty strong, and nifty.
It's spooky.

@Prime Directive...
before the whole, y'know, enterprise *thing*, the story was that the federation showed up and talked to the klingons in a particularly naughty way. They somehow interfeared and pissed them off right good, in diplomatic terms sticking thier thumb right up thier butt, and that because of this misunderstanding of the nature of klingon world view there was a cold war.

which is oddly insightfull about the real cold war, but I digress.

So, originally according to the non-cannon (or expanded universe. i forget which is star wars and which is trek), the prime directive was because of a number of incidents, not the least of which was the current ongoing hostilities with a major local power.

but yha. try writing an RPG for trek. they can't keep anything static or decide how something actually works...it's all shoddy writing.
I look forward to the day computers can re-shoot each and every episode and JMS' Brain-Inna-Box along with Peter 'cyborg' Jackson re-shoot the series from beginning to end.....
but i tihnk i'm confusing howard's "i want a jetpack ye bastards" sentiment with trek being horrifically racist and reactionary.

(note that the one bit of prase for The matrix sequals was that unlike star trek there were actually people of all colours in the future.
Even andromeda had a pretty multi-cultueral krew...)

@language and stargate
the orginal stargate did it right actually, and that's the reason they had a linguist along. Unfortunatly one of the comprimises for TV was the "everyone speaking language" bit, because they really didn't have time to spend 20 min of ever 44min episode learning the local lanugage.

I accept common in D&D, It's no worse in star gate...

@ds9
i find the last seasons of ds9 to be pretty good. the look at what a supposedly 'moral' society is willing to do in wartime to be oddly apropos for our current world existance.

anyway. I like star trek as an idea, and a mythos. I enjoy it. The same way I enjoy 'die hard', because the trope is familiar and serene, not because it's 'good' or meaningful, aside from accuratly reflecting the deeper flaws of the writers....

my 2 newyen.

Comment from: baf posted at December 22, 2005 1:28 PM

Re Doctor Who:

Yes, the Time Lords have a nonintervention policy. The Doctor explicitly rejects this policy, but the other time lords make a point of never violating it overtly. Not that they don't violate it, but one gets the impression that there would be a big scandal if folks back home found out.

I explain this so I can describe why I like what was done with this in the "Doctor Who: The New Adventures" novels.

One of these novels introduced The People, which are a blatant rip-off of Ian Banks' Culture. The nonintervention policy was retconned into part of a treaty between the People and the Time Lords -- essentially, the Time Lords agreed stay off the People's turf (the universe outside of Gallifrey), and the People agreed to not develop time travel.

The brilliant thing about this is that it turns it into a matter of compromise rather than a matter of principle. And, as such, it's completely natural that both sides are secretly cheating like mad.

Comment from: Tim Tylor posted at December 22, 2005 2:03 PM

The difference being that the Doctor wasn't bound by the Time Lords' policies so much, and rather liked interfering where he felt it to be necessary...

And I finally understand Petey's design sense. :D

Comment from: Tice with a J posted at December 22, 2005 2:43 PM

diGriz? I kinda liked The Masterpiece Society, for that one moment you didn't like. It was a triumph of creativity over societal engineering, saying: "We accept our problems and work with them instead of eradicating them, and we turned out better than you. We've got brains in our head and feet in our shoes, and we'll take ourselves any direction we choose, without the help of eugenics." Why yes, I do like to mix Dr. Seuss and Star Trek. Don't you?
Mind you, the episode was played slowly and rather poorly, but that moment worked for me.

I have nothing to add on the prime directive, having been preemptively out-geeked by all of you, but I do have something to say about Star Trek science: it's like comic book science. It is a source of ideas, not a source of rules.

And by the way, the comparison between The Lion King 1 1/2 and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was really, really funny. It reminded me of an idea one of my friends had: what if the Lion King dvd came with the optional Hamlet-style ending, where Scar dies, Simba dies, Sarabi dies, Nala dies (after going crazy), and the hyenas take over?
I'd buy it.

Comment from: Tevorcet posted at December 22, 2005 2:51 PM

theliel, the current material is technically transparent alumina, and it's really more translucent than transparent. But you really wouldn't expect a piece of any kind of aluminum to shatter, would you? Unless the coolant is really cold (and considering that it is probably extremely hot), there would be no reason for the pipe to shatter like a piece of Plexiglas--really, Data should have just dented the pipe until a breach appeared, not shatter it like plastic or glass.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 22, 2005 2:56 PM

And by the way, the comparison between The Lion King 1 1/2 and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was really, really funny. It reminded me of an idea one of my friends had: what if the Lion King dvd came with the optional Hamlet-style ending, where Scar dies, Simba dies, Sarabi dies, Nala dies (after going crazy), and the hyenas take over?

You're welcome. And you have totally repaid me whatever joy I may have caused you by letting me know that not only I saw the parallel from the beginning.

Comment from: One Timer posted at December 22, 2005 3:15 PM

Some perspective before I comment. I have never watched a complete episode of Star Trek (I've never really found the time to follow a televsion show, not because I dislike Star Trek). Nevertheless, I find this conversation very interesting.

Perhaps the show isn't meant to showcase a model future society, but provide social commentary on the way our society exists. US foreign policy has both pros and cons and it seems that some of these episodes highlight those. How many times have you heard the view that America should stay out of other peoples affairs? In essence, Iraq is a prime showcase in the side effects of applying "superior" world view on people that haven't asked for it (well, not overwhelmingly as a whole that is). I'm sure there are a few people that have posted and "bashed" the Prime Directive who would wish that Bush would let other countries determine their own fate to some extent.

Secondly, we see the result of technology jumps resulting in a changed way of life for many cultures. For example, Canada's (I'm guessing America's also) relationship with the First Nations peoples. Both natives (less PC than "First Nations individuals", but helluva lot easier to read/write) and non-natives decry the loss of culture brought about by the new ways of doing things. In addition many find it difficult to integrate into this new society. Note, I'm not advocating that natives switch over to the European way of things, but in order to function in what is now considered society, it seems somewhat inevitable. A lot of these issues would have been avoided with a Prime Directive, although surely others would have arisen. (Also, someone already brought up horses, which is a good counter example of taking a new "technology" and integrating it well)

Another thing that happened during colonization, was rival European countries arming the different newly discovered cultures to support their side. It seems concievable that in Star Trek the Prime Directive is somewhat of an anti-proliferation agreement, so that no one culture gains hundreds of new allies in a gold rush of sorts.

Also, something that struck me was that anti-globalization propenants, would most likely be closer to a Prime Directive than they think.

Bit of a rambling post, but I just found that while I thought the examples of the Prime Directive being blindly implemented were objectional, it made me somewhat of a hypocrite, because my current world view may side with the Prime Directive more than I think. I.E. direct interference with other cultures usually has many negative results. ...just something to think about.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at December 22, 2005 3:34 PM

Tevorcet: I would expect that it's actually more of an aluminum-based polymer or somesuch thing.

Comment from: theliel posted at December 22, 2005 3:51 PM

@Trevorcet: sorry, didn't realize we were talking about a specific incident. Either way, don't items under pressure tend to shatter as opposed to breech when the force comes oppotite the direction of containment? I'll have to ask my metalurgist GF over xmass break...I can hear it now "hey honey, could you help me out for an internet question..."

Comment from: Kail Panille posted at December 22, 2005 4:20 PM

On the fantasy fields tangent: Wheel of Time's been mentioned, appropriately, since half the subplots revolve around the Dark One messing with the food supply, and so has Hobbiton, but there was a bit in Return of the King that I remembered on reading this. As Frodo and Sam were trudging across Mordor, Tolkien threw in a bit of exposition in which he said something like "It might seem a bit odd that Sauron can feed all these orcs and such when all we've seen of Mordor is blackened volcanic wasteland, but don't worry! There are lots and lots of nice big fields to the south and east, I promise!"

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 22, 2005 5:00 PM

"Well, there was the let's have Q fall in love with Janeway plot."

Excuse me one moment, I need to get a drink so that I may then proceed to choke on it.

I gave up on Voyager before that happened. Please tell me that this is some cruel joke. Tell me that this wasn't actually an episode.

Among other things, you're telling me that Janeway had a potential omnipotent sugar daddy and didn't try to seduce a ticket back to the Alpha quadrant out of him? What kind of crappy captain was Janeway?

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 22, 2005 5:23 PM

He only wanted her for her uterus.

Comment from: Ferrous Buller posted at December 22, 2005 5:25 PM

Random noise, as that's all my sleep-depped brain can manage:

First off, a disclaimer: my Trek-fu ain't what it used to be and there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I watched little Voyager, maybe half of Enterprise and Next Gen, all of DS9 and TOS - none of which I claim to remember now. But never let it be said I need the facts to be able to mouth off!

Second: never read too much into bad science or poor writing. Trek has long had a bad habit of introducing concepts which had the potential to radically alter the face of its own universe - and then marginalizing or ignoring its own creations in favor of a cheap denouement. Anyone remember the episode where it's proven that warp travel is eroding the time-space fabric of the universe? Anybody remember any fallout from that episode? Me neither.

Third: debates about the Prime Directive are akin to debates about Asimov's Three Laws, insofar as both are inherently flawed (by design or accident) and lend themselves well to such discussions. I.e., we all know the PD is flawed, but it's the law and it's what Starfleet captains have to work with; and they routinely discover that what made sense in the halls of the Federation Council or Starfleet Command don't necessarily work in the universe at large.

Now, onto more specifics:

In Bashir's time, the point is made that most gengineered humans end up psychologically unstable - as we see in his brilliant but erratic cohorts in other episodes. To my mind, the likely chain of Trek logic is: human genetic engineering can't be perfected without making a lot of mistakes along the way (i.e., creating a whole bunch of crazy folks, inc. Khan); it is ethically immoral (not to mention potentially dangerous) to tamper with humans in this way; therefore, we will ban all genetic engineering. In that case, it's a bit like the legalizing-drugs debate: there's a lot of argument on both sides, but at some point a decision is made - "this is wrong and we won't allow it." The Trekverse did a cost-benefit analysis on messing with human DNA and decided it wasn't worth the risk.

Now, is this stance based on a realistic understanding of genetic research? Oh hell no! Neither is disassembling people into pure energy, beaming that energy thousands of miles, then magically reassembling them based on quantum physics. What's your point? :-)

[Think such a hardline stance against potentially life-saving scientific research is a huge mistake? Have a little chat with our president about embryonic stem cells, then...]

Another interesting Next Gen episode was about Worf's adoptive brother, a cultural anthropologist studying a primitive race of humanoids. Their planet is about to spontaneously combust (in layman's terms) and the Enterprise is there to evacuate Worf's bro - and no one else. Prime Directive and all that. Well, Worf's bro is none too pleased with this, so he takes it upon himself to smuggle the humanoids onto the Enterprise into a holodeck. When Picard finds out, he's none too pleased either, but he agrees to move the people elsewhere.

Now, the question this episode should have (but didn't really) broach was: how is leaving these people to die on their homeworld different from flushing them out the nearest airlock as soon as you discover they've stowed away on your ship? In both cases their homeworld is dead; in both cases the people are all dead. The main difference seems to be intent and action (or lack thereof): in the former case, you stand idly by while these people perish, allowing the "natural order of things" to kill them off; in the latter, you put them to death yourself.

Well, I don't know what they call it in the Federation, but I'm pretty sure we call the former criminal negligence: if it's in your power to save someone's life and you don't, you're partly responsible for their death; and you don't usually stop to see if they're an illegal immigrant first. And I would've loved to see Worf's brother get into that debate with Picard - which, sadly, didn't happen, IIRC.

Finally, minor point: IIRC, the "quickening" disease wasn't meant to finish off the afflicted alien race, it was meant to punish them for past offenses against the Dominion. No one lived past a certain age (to the point where euthanasia had become ritualized social custom), everyone was born infected - and cruelest of all, the energy fields from modern devices (like, say, a tricorder) just accelerate the disease's progression, forcing the entire populace to go low-tech.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 22, 2005 5:34 PM

Anyone remember the episode where it's proven that warp travel is eroding the time-space fabric of the universe? Anybody remember any fallout from that episode?

In fact, yes. There was at least one later episode when an Enterprise-D log entry noted requesting and receiving special dispensation from Starfleet to exceed warp four (or whatever the recommended limit now was) on account of the urgency of the current plot development.

However I don't recall ever hearing about it again after TNG left the air. Maybe Wesley and the Traveler fixed it?

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 22, 2005 6:00 PM

I think they realized rather quickly that it wasn't interesting as a recurring plot point. There wasn't much difference in even most fans' minds between Warp 4 and Warp 6, and if they needed to get somewhere fast, they were going to be allowed to anyway. It wasn't on-air, but Voyager's engines were supposed to be designed to no longer cause any damage.

Sisko had a Vulcan captain in the Wolf 359 flashbacks that kicked off DS9. And if we're counting time travel, in the future, Harry Kim is a cap-- Harry Kim is-- hee hee HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh God, I can't say that with a straight face.

Comment from: Tim Tylor posted at December 22, 2005 7:15 PM

The ethics of the holodecks bothered me a bit. They kept creating and then erasing holopeople who clearly passed the Turing test, and nobody seemed to have any trouble with this (except the holopeople themselves when they occasionally found out). But I liked the way Voyager's doctor graduated from a bit of eccentric software to a full-fledged if slightly silly crewmember.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 22, 2005 8:52 PM

The ethics of the holodecks bothered me a bit.

The implications of the interactions of Voyager crew with holographic beings disturbed me too, along with the way the crew didn't seem to pick up on them the way I did. I finally fixed it in fanfiction, in a story set after Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant but posted to Usenet before the airing of Author, Author!, and I still have the post headers to prove it. I think it generated more comments than anything else I ever posted to alt.drwho.creative (it was a crossover).

(Yeah, I'm no STAR TREK apologist, my previous comments on this snark notwithstanding. STAR TREK has its flaws, tops with me being the notion that The Voyage Home is part three of a trilogy, but its virtues outwiegh its flaws is all.)

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at December 22, 2005 8:53 PM

Even andromeda had a pretty multi-cultueral krew...

Well, let's see. We've got the white techno-geek. We've got the hot white male captain and the hot white female 1st officer, but they're both genetically engineered. He's heavy-worlder, she's got augmented reflexes. We've got the genetically engineered hyper-aggressive lunatic, who's also black-ish. We've got the ship mind, who is female and aggressively logical. We've got an android who's also usually part of the ship-mind (but doesn't particularly like it, especially the logical-ness), and is female and kicks more ass than all but one other member of the crew. And we've got Trance, who is probably a devil, and is the single most badass person on the ship.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at December 22, 2005 11:25 PM

Anyone remember the episode where it's proven that warp travel is eroding the time-space fabric of the universe? Anybody remember any fallout from that episode? Me neither.

It was followed up very sloppily at times, and outright retconned a few times. Remember that the original episode had high-warp travel damaging a particular region of space, not all space. (And not to mention a scientist who decides to prove this by creating a disasterous rent in space that almost kills thousands of people.) This became "warp travel damages space", even if mostly ignored.

Then, in Voyager of all places, they completely retcon it. The regional sensitivity of space to high-warp travel became due to the damage to spacetime by experiments with something mysterious known as "Omega". The only thing explained about it was that it's really interesting - even the Borg are fascinated by it - but so incredibly dangerous that a top-secret directive exists about it: if a Federation starship captain finds evidence of any species anywhere experimenting with it, he or she is to drop everything and take out that research project.

And it may have been retconned further, but that's far and kooky enough for me.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 23, 2005 9:39 AM

32: Yes, Q falling in love with Janeway was an actual episode. I can even remember the camera zooming out to view the Enterprise, and then there was a small flash of light about where Janeway's quarter probably is and then Janeway gasping, "Oh, my..." or something like that. I may be joining you in that drink, 32.

Tim & Paul: The whole holodeck ethics thing spawned into like the last part of Voyager's seasons plots, and so much so they pretty much abandoned the need for androids like Data.

I think in short, the best thing that has come out from the whole Star Trek: Next Generation and Beyond group is the Pinball game. That is one heck of a pinball game.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 23, 2005 9:47 AM

Yeah, that Star Trek: TNG pinball table ruled. Though in my opinion, no table could top the Addams Family table introduced after the first movie.

As for holopeople... not to be an apologist or anything, but aren't they, for the most part, just the ship's main computer acting a role out? If so, then they aren't being destroyed at all. The computer is just abandoning the role. You'd only be destroying a thinking being if you destroyed the entire computer.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 23, 2005 10:37 AM

As for holopeople... [...] You'd only be destroying a thinking being if you destroyed the entire computer.

As the JAG in Measure of a Man observes, the real question is: Can a constructed being have a soul, and when or when not? Like Data, there were many holographic characters in Voyager - most obviously the ship's doctor - who were written as if they did. (So in my story I had an expert witness testify on the subject at a Starfleet court martial.)

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 23, 2005 3:14 PM

I think the point re: warp drive was that the damage was showing up in that particular region because it was one of the most-used "warp corridors" in that whole region of the galaxy.

Voyager simply could not make up its mind about holographic characters. One "memorable" episode had Kim and Paris (stupidly) get taken hostage by the formerly friendly inhabitants of a town the whole crew had been visiting in the holodeck. Everyone gets together to try to figure out a plan. We hear about sneaking people in, trying to beam them out, etc. Finally Torres throws up her hands and says, "Hey, guys? How about TURNING OFF THE HOLODECK?" But, no, those are now our friends, and we can't do that.

We can turn our "friends" into moo cows, though, earlier in the same episode. Because that's funny.

Comment from: Doug posted at December 23, 2005 8:32 PM

[Cross essay alert]

I must be getting slow in my old age, but I finally figured it out.

In the Schlockiverse, the Prime Directive is more, "Interfere all you want, but watch your back if you do so. It might not be a plasma strike from orbit, but a sharp, pointy stick can still ruin your health permanently if it turns out that they aren't all that grateful for your interference. You never, NEVER give less technologically sophisticated races the benefit of _your_ wondrous high tech: You SELL it to them, charge large and always keep the best of it all to yourself, just in case they get ideas about reneging on payment or of interfering with _your_ natural cultural development."

Petey would give Star Fleet FITS, I tell you!

I think I prefer that Prime Directive over the Star Trek universe's if for no other reason than, in the long run, there'd be a lot fewer casualties. Not that there wouldn't be any, mind.

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 24, 2005 5:20 AM

Star Trek has never bothered to explore (or even really address) the social consequences of their technology. I mean, given transporter technology it should be possible to make a million copies of a single person, and to manufacture nearly anything on demand. But this would result in a society that would be very foreign to viewers, so that when the subject is mentioned at all it's dismissed with handwaving (replicators are supposedly a more experimental technology than transporters, even though, logically, analysing an object, breaking it down into a particle beam, and rebuilding it based on the template should be more complicated than simply building something from a template, since the latter is just the last two steps of the former) or supernatural silliness (you can't replicate a person because there's only one soul, or something like that). Supernatural stuff happening behind the scenes is frequently assumed.

I recommend checking out Justin B. Rye's Star Trek Rant. He has some interesting ideas about the consequences of various technologies. I especially like his other uses for transporter technology ("Attacked by Romulans? Insert chunks of Faster-Than-Light antineutronium into their engines! Convert every tenth atom into energy and just leave it where it is! Subtract the fire button from their control console! Seize their ship by beaming guerrilla nanites into its TP computers! Suck them straight up into your batteries and throw away the pattern!") and illustration programs for the holodeck (my favorites are Horror, Mindwarp, Brains trust, and of course Turing test: "tell the computer to simulate Alan Turing, then ask him whether he really is an intelligent being or 'just a simulation'").

BTW, the best pinball machine ever is Medieval Madness.

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 24, 2005 5:38 AM

Incidentally, that's one reason why I like Grant Morrison's writing. He gives some thought to consequences, and the worlds he works in feel much more fleshed-out because of it. For example, in New X-Men, he took the basic premise of Marvel's mutants (superpowered, but feared and descriminated against), and created the Mutant Town ghetto, mutant slang, "mutant names" (a plausible explanation for superhero codenames among people who are not, in general, hiding their identities: the superhero codename as subcultural construct), and "Magneto Was Right" t-shirts. In his recent Bulleteer series, set in (some form of) the DC Universe, a doctor talks about how hospitals are full of people who have deliberately exposed themselves to radiation, toxic substances, and dangerous animals in hopes of gaining powers. It feels like a plausible consequence of a world where superpowered people with implausible origins are common, that some (desperate? deluded?) people would try to replicate their results.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 24, 2005 10:25 AM

Here's two questions related to the Bulleteer series.

One, do people with powers start hiding the origins of their powers? I mean, if nobody knows that they got their powers from radiation, not as many people would expose themselves to it. If the heroes started the company line that they were all born with the powers or given them by another sentient entity, it would cut down on people doing stupid things.

Two, do the people who do stupid things for powers ever succeed? I mean, you have to figure if more people are putting themselves into stereotypical "I got my powers this way" scenarios, more of them are going to start succeeding.

And what do you mean, Medieval Madness was the best table ever? The ramps are poorly constructed and the table layout creates a drop chute that makes it impossible to recover the ball after some very basic shots. Also, it doesn't have nearly the range of targets that other pinball machines, even of the era, have. I mean, just compare it to Attack From Mars. Now that was a well-balanced table.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at December 24, 2005 2:01 PM

Ok, now someone has to make a comic about stupid idiots who actually managed to get poweres that way. I'd read it, and I don't really read superhero comics (besides Plastic Man).

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 24, 2005 4:11 PM

I'm pretty sure several metahumans' origins are public knowledge. Not all, of course, but enough that people can conclude it's possible to get powers that way.

It doesn't say if any succeed. It's possible that occasionally they do...but the ones who do aren't the ones clogging up hospitals.

Medieval Madness is the best table ever because I kick ass at it.

Attack from Mars...is that one of those video-pinball hybrids? I really don't like those. They're like a mediocre video game married to an uninteresting pinball table.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 24, 2005 5:46 PM

Actually, I'd think that a few that succeed end up in the hospital anyways. I mean, just because you got powers doesn't mean they're instantly effective against the trauma you just underwent.

Though White Wolf's Abberrant was interesting in that they actually dealt with real people abusing themselves to get powers.

Well, if that's you're rules for saying a pinball table was great, then Rollergames is the best, because that's the table I'm best at. Granted, I haven't seen that table in around 10 years, but I was great at it.

Attack From Mars was a classic table, although one that had a video screen showing the score that would occasionally play a mini-game (like several other tables of the 90's, including Medieval Madness). It had a really good balance between shots to make, things to do, and how to do them.

It was one of the last really successful tables; so much so that it spawned a video game/pinball hybrid, Revenge From Mars. You're probably thinking of that one. And yes, that table was mediocre. Video games and pinball have almost never mixed well.

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 25, 2005 1:47 AM

Ah, okay. I was getting it mixed up with a table called Invaders From Mars or something like that. It's one of those ones where an upside-down CRT over the table proper reflects off of the glass so it looks sort of like the ball is interacting with stuff on screen.

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 25, 2005 1:48 AM

Durr, Revenge From Mars. Me no literate tonight.

Comment from: The_Prof posted at December 26, 2005 11:22 PM

It would have been the funniest episode ever if the transporter hadn't somehow cancelled his momentum, and he went flying through the ceiling of the transporter room...

Of course the transporter has to cancel momentum! How likely is it that the Enterprise and a man on the surface are always going to be at rest w.r.t. each other, even if the big E is in geostationary orbit? :)

Niven actually does think about the issue in his teleportation stories, particularly All The Bridges Rusting, which I like as a story because it's also one of the few I can think of off the top of my head that looks at technological obscelence.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 27, 2005 9:52 AM

Actually, think about it this way - the entire mass of the ship is moving at its slowest at sub-light speeds. If anything, the teleporter has to add momentum to keep from having everyone slam into the teleporter walls.

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