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Category: Culture

Back (Again) to the Future
There was a time when I fretted that the proliferation of Star Trek spin-offs would dilute the glory of the original series. Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Voyager never matched the boldly go that Kirk and Spock delivered. The aliens in these shows, moreover, were substandard. A human with an ugly rubber forehead is not my idea of a little green man…even if he is painted green. Some of the science ideas were kind of interesting, but that’s only one out of the three legs needed to support my footstool of science fiction fandom. If you know what I mean.

I do not include the The Next Generation in that string of disappointments. It boldly went, and the acting wasn’t half bad for a space opera. It also got points for upgrading the aliens from the original (hi, Warf), and for introducing a high quality android character in Data. It also kept the nifty science themes coming, so I rate it right up there with Gene Roddenberry’s original creation from the 60s.

Discovery, sadly, did nothing to stem the tide of my despair. After Season 1, I had hailed it as the best Star Trek ever. I see now that my judgment was tainted by wishful thinking. The alien upgrades were good, and in Season 1 the science was cool, but the whole mess collapsed in Season 2. Spectacularly, in my view.

I was devastated. A long time had passed since the last TV Star Trek, and I was really hoping it would succeed. In the end, it did worse than fail. It killed my hope and badly damaged my love of science fiction itself. Until last night, I had even imagined that my inner trekkie might wither and die.

Enter Star Trek: Picard, and with it a new hope for the 24th century. I am on guard this time, but I can’t help but be encouraged by this new take on Roddenberry’s aging version of the future. For starters, the show logo uses the familiar Federation logo for the “a” in Picard. I bit hard on that. Then there’s Jean-Luc himself. Thanks to Patrick Stewart and his Shakespearean training, the now-retired Admiral Picard channels some of the best acting ever to grace the Star Trek universe. Plus, he’s a geezer now, which I count as a plus. Stewart, it should be noted, is also the show’s executive producer. What’s more, the writing is top notch. None other than the Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning Michael Chabon is at the helm, and his chops are clearly evident…at least in the first episode.

As I have said, I am reserving judgment this time. Once phasered, twice shy, as they say. I see from the previews of Episode 2 that Picard will be accompanied on his current effort to save the universe by what appears to be a crew of misfits and oddballs. That concerns me. These characters may provide entertainment, but I worry that they might do something stupid and upend my footstool of fanhood.

Furthermore, there hasn’t been much of an alien presence as yet (unless you count Romulans, who are practically human anyway). Until I see what they’re offering as little green men this time, I am hesitant to go all in. There hasn’t been much in the way of science, either. Most of the quasi tech talk has involved android technology, and that brand of science gets pretty thin pretty fast.

And so, I wait…until the next episode. Hope is alive, but it will take more than flashy CGI and a parade of old actors from series past to win me over. I must be careful; I don’t think my inner trekkie can survive another letdown.
A Leg Up
If you’re like most folks, you feel a rush of sympathy when you see a three-legged dog. You might see one trotting along, limping badly but still moving pretty fast…for a disabled dog. “Poor guy,” you might say, automatically assigning a male gender to a dog. “I wonder what happened to him.” You can’t help but admire his pluck, though. He doesn’t want, doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy, thank you very much.

He might wish he had that missing leg back (if indeed dogs have such longings), but he is getting on with his life and making the best of it. What a good boy! What if, however, some other tragic misfortune were to befall him? What if, God forbid, he were to lose another leg?

Put yourself, for a moment, in Fido’s place. You’ve got three good legs. The two back legs are fine, but (let’s say) one of the front legs is missing. Now, here is the question I’d like to ask you, my furry friend: if you knew that you were going to lose another leg, which one would you prefer it to be? Take your time, please, because you’ll be living the rest of your life with just two legs. Which two you choose could make all the difference.

Before you make such a big decision, why don’t we take a careful look at the options? I”m not a dog myself, but I’ve done a bit of experimenting in my living room to suss out the issues a four-footed creature might face if it had only half that many. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The main function of legs, as we know, is to move us around. For that reason, the obvious choice would seem to be losing the other front leg. There in my living room, I found it quite easy to move around on just two legs. Now, you might point out I am used to walking on two legs, but I have to tell you that it just feels so natural to me. I’m surprised, in fact, that dogs — or any quadrupeds — don’t do this more often. It would leave your forepaws available gesturing or shaking hands (a normal doggie activity, thanks to us) or games of pattycake.

You might further suggest that the hind legs of a dog aren’t really suited to upright walking. That is hard to deny, but I’ll bet those legs could be retrained to accommodate hopping. Kangaroos do it, and so do bunnies. Why not double amputee dogs? Then, instead of walking our dogs, we could “hop” them.

If you find nothing compelling about the two-hind-leg configuration, let’s examine the other two possibilities. Again, our main concern is locomotion, so which combination of one leg back and one leg forward would work best for such a purpose? In the course of my experiments, I found that it was much easier to stay upright having one limb on either side of my body. This arrangement is more stable for standing up, then, but what about for walking? How exactly would that work?

Not very well, I have discovered. Maybe if I practiced more I wouldn’t lurch into the furniture so often. In my mind’s eye, I can see a hypothetical dog tearing along at breakneck speed with one leg on either side of its body, but I have to admit that my mind’s eye will sometimes play tricks on me. So let’s try your minds eye. Okay, here we go…first the right front leg goes down, then it pushes off. The left rear has to hit right after that, or else the whole process will end in failure. And the right front has got to follow quickly after that, and so on. My mind’s eye is picking up something like an inchworm dancing the Lambada. How about you?

You’ve probably guessed that the last configuration — two legs on one side of the body — would present you with an even greater challenge. According to my research, you would be forced to run with exactly the same style and rhythm as you’d use with four legs… only twice as fast and twice as hard. Still, not impossible, assuming you were able to get started — which I was never able to do. For one thing, I had to tilt over to one side to keep my balance. If my calculations are correct, you could actually run that way, but it would only be in circles. Which, come to think of it, would be great for playing fetch. That, or two-legged dog racing, should it ever become popular.

So that’s it. Under the terms of our hypothetical, those are the only options available. We won’t talk about the two-front-leg configuration because, frankly, that might be thought of as cruel. So make your choice, if you will, and let me know what you come up with. All responses are strictly confidential. And if you are, in fact, a dog…thank you for your participation. Good boy!
No, Thank You!
It seems to be widely accepted these days that Thanksgiving is the absolute best holiday. The feasting, the uncomplicated, non-religious camaraderie, and of course, the thanking are often cited as the reasons for its superiority. Yeah, well maybe.

Such assessments are relative in nature, of course. Every feast is sure to be accompanied by uncomfortable bloating. The camaraderie can be a bit forced. And the thanking…if it’s such a good thing to do, why aren’t we doing it every day? Now, I certainly don’t want to be ungrateful about Thanksgiving, but if it’s the best we’ve got, then our other holidays can’t really be that special. One has only to look at such unnecessary calendar-stops as Father’s Day to see what I’m talking about. As a self-respecting father, I am embarrassed by this afterthought of a celebration. It took almost 60 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day to get around to officially honoring dear ol’ Dad. Pardon me if I don’t dissolve into tears of joy. And don’t get me started about Christmas.

There is one exception in this parade of underwhelmingness. First, it’s a real day off, unlike most “special” days. Even better, it always falls on the same date, giving it a comforting predictability. There is no guilt or emotional investment of any kind associated with it. It is, in fact, the only purely free day on the calendar.

I speak, my friends, of New Year’s Day. Consider: it’s non-sectarian, it’s universal, and it’s surprisingly humane as holidays go. It might well have been called National Hangover Day, but that condition is not a requirement for its enjoyment. Here (it seems to say) is a completely unstructured day for you, citizen. If you want to plod around in your PJs all day, if you don’t want to answer the phone, if you just want to stay in bed and sleep it off — that’s okay. You don’t have to take part in a feast, interact with your fellow humans, or do anything you don’t feel like doing. Your government understands, and even approves. You don’t even have to go out to the mailbox and collect the mail…because there isn’t any.

In short, there are zero expectations for New Year’s Day. Feel free to sit around and contemplate the year just past. But no pressure. Cast your thoughts to the future, perhaps to examine your place in the cosmos, or to make resolutions…it’s all good. Or just be in the moment, whatever moment you like. Go for it…or don’t. Your call. You could even give thanks if you want to — silently, all by yourself, coiled up in a fetal position.

I almost hesitate to heap praise on New Year’s for fear it might attract too much attention. The last thing I want is for this quiet moment in our lives to be ransacked by commercialization or co-opted by God or loaded up with assumptions about what I am supposed to do. So please take this hint, and leave me alone. For one day, anyway.

Thank you.
Wind Breaking
Okay, my power’s still on. Including my wifi, which tells me that 800,000 of my fellow Californians are currently without power. Mine, they tell me, will be cut off soon. Please pardon me if I stifle a yawn.

To my city friends I say, chill out. This stuff happens all the time up here, and it’s no big deal. So just kick back, pop a brewski, and enjoy this nice bit of quiet time.

And don’t worry. By this time tomorrow, this whole thing will have blown ov
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon