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Mirror, Mirror
Of all the plot devices in all the Star Trek episodes and movies, none persists in my memory like the Tantalus Field. It appeared in “Mirror, Mirror,” an installment in which Captain Kirk is accidentally switched with his alter ego in another universe.

That episode is perhaps most famous for its depiction of a parallel, goateed Mr. Spock looking like Mandrake the Magician with Vulcan bangs. I think the makeover was meant to make him look badass, because this particular parallel universe is a very badass (albeit more stylish) place. He, like everyone else in his world, is so ambitious that torture and murder are seen as savvy career choices. What better way to get ahead than to kill your rival? No effort is made to assess the effect of such cutthroat competition on Starfleet morale, but hey, this is Star Trek.

It is in this dangerous culture of ruthlessness that our Captain Kirk suddenly finds himself. Fortunately for him, his twin possesses the perfect weapon for these circumstances: the Tantalus Field. Let’s not worry about how it works (Gene Roddenberry didn’t); it looks like a small TV with an array of knobs and buttons. Somehow, the user can summon a live video feed of a potential victim; then, by simply pressing one of the buttons, make that person disappear — forever.

This is what I find provocative. Here is a machine that allows you to get rid of people instantly and without fear of ever being held responsible. No muss, no fuss, no collateral damage, and no one to answer to other than your own conscience. What if such a device really existed? What if I had one? Would I use it?

I can certainly imagine using it. There are some cruel and murderous people in the world whom we would all be better off without. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is on my list, as are Than Shwe of Burma and Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. Kim Jong Il also comes to mind, but he kakked before I could get my Tantalus up and running.

But could I push the button? And if I did, could I set the Tantalus Field aside and never use it again? If killing evildoers were that easy, wouldn’t I be tempted to keep using it? And why stop with evildoers? What would prevent me from disappearing people just because I didn’t like the cuts of their jibs?

I do not have satisfactory answers for these questions. I’d like to think I would do the right thing if such an absolute power were placed in my hands, but that is by no means certain.

Kirk himself never used it, even though doing so might have made his situation easier. But he didn’t destroy it, either. In the end, he decides to give it to the parallel Spock. He trusts that Spock will find the wisdom to use the Tantalus Field in a way that will serve the greater good.

I wouldn’t be so sure, Jimbo.

Rooting Posture
“Root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win, it’s a shame…”

The Philadelphia Phillies are a fine team. They have a proud tradition, and their rivalry with my San Francisco Giants is spirited without being unfriendly. My problem is with their fans.

Phillies fans, like fans from many East Coast cities, often get credit for being “knowledgeable.” That is code, of course, for “abusive.” They regularly booed the greatest player in Philly history, hometown boy and first ballot Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. That is only the most famous example of their scoliotic rooting posture.

As a sports fan, there’s not a whole lot you can do to affect the outcome on the field. Scream, cheer, stamp your feet, boo, pray. You want to think it will help your team, but it would be hard to prove that any of that makes a difference. Very rarely do players pay attention to anyone in the stands; they are rightly focused on the ball, their own execution, and the actions of other players.

If you are at home, your connection to the action is even more remote, and your participation in the web of causality even more imaginary. Often, no one can see you, much less hear your shouts and moans. It would only be natural to feel that your rooting counts for nothing and that you are powerless to help your team.

I reject this notion of helplessness. In doing so, I rely on no less an authority than the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. For our purposes, that principle holds that mere observation of phenomena, no matter from what distance, can affect it.

On a quantum level we are not only at the game, but we are actively participating in it in a meaningful way just by paying attention to it. In fact, we are members of the quantum team we root for.

I’ll admit that, under the Heisenberg Principle, we are also members of the other team, a face in the crowd at the game, part of the umpiring crew, and also intimately connected to every blade of grass on the field. Even so, I think we are bound to have the greatest effect on the things we pay the closest attention to: the play on the field, and particularly, the thoughts and actions of our (quantum) teammates.

It is important, therefore, for us to be good teammates by adopting an appropriate rooting posture — a positive one. A team riven by backbiting, finger pointing, and dissension is not a team but a collection of losers. I’m talking to you, Phillies fans.

But no hard feelings, Phillies — whatever your quantum status. Bottom line, it’s hard to bear ill will against a team that the Giants regularly thump with such gusto in the playoffs.
The Future Is Bright
And hot, and really crowded, too, thanks to us and our technology. But climate change doesn’t have to be a bummer, even if we do have to give up some of the things we love:

Like meat. Animals are just too inefficient as food sources, requiring way too much water and space per ounce of nourishment provided. Plus all that fat is bad for us, and cow farts contribute mightily to global warming.

No more war, either. It’s always been painfully obvious that, if we really want to save humanity, we should probably stop blowing each other up. Now it’s become a necessity; even if the bombs don’t get us, the massive release of greenhouse gases would eventually finish us off.

No more privacy, of course, but you already know that; I can tell by the look on your face.

All of this is inconvenient, but look at the unexpected benefits. Earth, it appears, will be inhabited by healthy, peaceful vegetarians who have to be open and honest with each other.

And they’ll need to be. All six billion of them will be living together in Antarctica.
Hate
I did a Deep Cover cartoon a couple of weeks ago (7/19/12) that dealt with hate. It’s a topic that has interested me for a long time, both others’ and my own. Later, I saw comments on the web suggesting that I had “played the race card” by bringing up race as a possible reason for the crazed antipathy some people have toward Barack Obama.

My point, however, was not that racism was the reason for peoples’ hatred. I was simply saying that it’s the one motivation they will rarely cop to. They’ll admit to believing he’s the antichrist, or an alien, or a commie, or any other of the nutcase theories about him, but never to flat-out racial bigotry. I don’t think racism is necessarily at the bottom of their hatred, though it might be. The reason people hate Obama is because they like hating him. They get off on it. The rationale behind the hatred is irrelevant.

As an emotion, hatred provides a pretty attractive up side. It unplugs the rational mind and all the pesky nuances rationality can introduce into your thinking. Giving in to hatred, in other words, simplifies things. All considerations become binary: bad, not bad. Any logic, no matter how false or simple-minded, will do fine.

Hatred brings its own special rush, as well. The feelings of righteousness, of empowerment, ferocity, and clarity of purpose are all part of the hate high. For those reasons, hate can be positively addictive.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this addiction; it is deadly poisonous. Ask the members of the Sikh temple or the workers in the federal building in Oklahoma City. The killers in those situations were poisoned by their addiction, and so were the innocent people they killed.

I confess that I still hate George W. Bush. I’m not proud of that, though in my defense I consider it a completely rational hatred (if there is such a thing). He did, after all, start a foolish war that killed a million civilians. If there were ever a good reason to hate, that would be it. But what’s the point? He’s out of power, and I’m not getting the hate high anymore. All it does now is make me feel lousy.

More enlightened people than me might suggest love as the antidote to all this hate, and they might be right. That approach sounds so rational and sane, but I can’t get there with W; not yet, anyway. So I try not to think about him, because to do otherwise would only poison my state of mind. I guess that’s my solution to the hate epidemic, whether it’s racial or not: admit you’re an addict, and resolve to avoid the drug. Then hunker down and wait for sanity to return.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee