Saturday, December 13, 2008

What the Ferengi Can Teach Wall Street

Known in the Star Trek series canon as an ultra-capitalist race of beings, will the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition provide guidance for Wall Street as a way out of it’s current economic slump?

By: Vanessa Uy

The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition is probably the closest thing that passes for as moral law for this “fictitious” ultra-capitalist race of beings. Given that in the Star Trek universe their greediness has not driven their entire race and civilization into extinction, can the Ferengi offer Wall Street some advice – no matter how inane – on how it can get out of it’s current economic slump? But first, here’s a brief primer and refresher on the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

Given that their home world – Ferenginar – seems like being forever trapped in an eternal monsoon downpour, the Ferengi’s native environment probably shaped their drive into ultra-capitalism as a “way to get out of the rain”. As their civilization advances the first ad hoc Ferengi Rules of Acquisition was formulated by the first Grand Nagus (sort of like the president of the Ferengi home world) of the Ferengi Alliance named Gint. Primarily as a code of conduct in conducting business transactions with other alien races who are members of the Ferengi Alliance. Grand Nagus Gint chose the title “Rules of Acquisition” as a clever marketing ploy since for all intents and purposes these are just “mere guidelines”.

In the Star Trek series canon, there is a “creative” / “literary” consensus that Grand Nagus Gint numbered his first rule as #162, in order to create a demand for the other 161 rules that had not yet been written. The rules – according to the Ferengi – are said to be divinely inspired and sacred, and thus serve as the closest thing that passes for as a religion in Ferengi society. Also, the profit-obsessed Ferengi’s funeral rights revolved around vacuum-desiccating their “mortal remains” after they die and various mounted slice remains sold to the highest bidder. The amount of funds earned during the sale of their mortal remains determines their status on the “Divine Treasury” – the Ferengi equivalent of Paradise in their afterlife. Here, every Ferengi is held accountable for their adherence to the rules during their “living years”. If the sale of a Ferengi’s vacuum-desiccated mortal remains who has passed-on generates scant revenue, their “souls” are sentenced into “Eternal Destitution” their equivalent of hell in the thereafter.

When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – the particular Star Trek series which highlighted the Ferengi culture and societal structure – aired, there were already 285 Rules of Acquisition currently in place. The “quirky” ones include Rules of Acquisition #34 stating that “War is good for business.” while #35 states that “Peace is good for business.” Which only highlight’s the Ferengi’s acumen for flexibility when it comes to making a profit; Especially on Rules of Acquisition #177 states that “Know your enemies…but do business with them.” Serving as a twist on Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War” – which can also be applied on our existing corporate world. Even the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition #285 – currently their last – stating that “A good deed is it’s own reward.” Only epitomizes the Ferengi’s constant acquisition of profit as their society’s “moral center”. Even the Ferengi Quark – owner and proprietor of DS-9’s “Quark’s Bar” even irreverently created his own Ferengi Rules of Acquisition #286 stating that “When Morn leaves (his best customer with an extremely high-tolerance for intoxicating drinks) it’s all over, highlighting profits above all.

During their darker moments, when the Dominion declared war on the Federation / United Federation of Planets, Quark only mentioned that his home world only has known one major economic collapse. But during the time of the episodes airing, Japan was already reeling in from a recession when their Go-Go 80’s economic bubble went bust, investment guru George Soros was accused of breaking the Bank of England. Plus, Sumitomo was resorting to unfair means of cornering the copper market in the London Metals Exchange and so on. Even though we humans only knew 1929 as our only major market collapse (what about that Carter Administration era “economic malaise”? Reaganomics?), the Ferengi has indeed something to teach us, and even Wall Street. Greed is good, but if profits are acquired at the expense of Main Street, the market will surely collapse.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Of Gene Roddenberry and the Geneva Convention

Using one of his episodes on the original 1960’s Star Trek series as an example, does Gene Roddenberry have reservations about our currently existing Geneva Convention?

By: Vanessa Uy

I hope that the Gene Roddenberry estate won’t sue me for doing a long-distance psychoanalysis on him akin to what some shrinks did with Barry Goldwater back in the 1960’s. But more often than not, the question whether Gene Roddenberry has reservations about the Geneva Convention does come up in hardcore Trekkie circles.
For the benefit of those Trekkies who still don’t know what Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry does for a living before the success of Star Trek, here are the pertinent facts, which could also serves as a basis in support of our current discussion.

Gene Roddenberry acquired first-hand knowledge on the action-adventure workings of Star Trek when he joined the US Army Air Corps back in 1941 (the US Air Force is a post-WW II entity). He flew many combat missions on board the B-17 Flying Fortress over the Pacific theatre with the 394th Bomb Squadron 5th Bomber Group which he was honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. After World War II, he enlisted in the police force before quitting to find a more lucrative job to support his family. Then came the successful breakthrough of Star Trek, and the rest is history – so to speak.

Many Trekkies that I know of harbor a belief that Gene Roddenberry is somewhat dissatisfied with our current Geneva Convention because of an episode on the original Star Trek series titled “A Taste of Armageddon”. On this particular episode, two warring parties – through a binding but arcane agreement or treaty – made war neat and painless. Especially when it comes to damage inflicted on their respective cultures and civilizations by sending their citizens – who were designated as dead by a supercomputer modeling a thermonuclear attack – into a “disintegration chamber” were they are killed and their bodies disposed of in a neat and efficient manner. When Captain Kirk, who visited this particular civilization became one of the casualties and was sentenced / designated to die for real in their civilization-safe arcane war. This resulted in Captain Kirk breaking the Prime Directive (a set of protocols Starfleet Personnel must follow like non-interference of alien cultures and practices etc.) to save his crew members who got embroiled in the arcane conflict. Captain Kirk’s “cowboy diplomacy” caused the war between the two civilizations to turn real – as opposed to being just a simulation on a supercomputer. Sadly, Gene Roddenberry have not shown on that particular episode how Starfleet Headquarters reacted on Captain Kirk’s “cowboy diplomacy” or if the captain is ever punished or reprimanded.

Using this example, one might conclude that this is Gene Roddenberry’s critique on the Geneva Convention and it’s effects on every post-World War II low-level conflicts. I too believe that our current Geneva Convention is somewhat hypocritical in it’s oversight and the arbitrary legislation of “Rules of War” on every number of low-level civil conflicts that happen after World War II. Like the prohibition of soldiers to use tear gas to flush out entrenched combatants. The US Army was reprimanded for their violation of the Geneva Convention on their use of tear gas on NVA regulars and the Vietcong during the Vietnam War, while the use of dioxin contaminated defoliants like Agent Orange were allowed. Or why the 5.56mm X 45mm rounds used in M-16 rifles weren’t banned by the Geneva Convention despite causing inhumane levels of suffering by allowing personnel hit by the said round to die slowly. The legal precedents of banning the use of the 5.56mm X 45mm round is already established – i.e. the legislation of banning the use of dum-dum bullets back in 1901 for example. This example even has an analogue in the Star Trek universe like Klingon and Romulan Disruptor-type weapons killing “inhumanely” compared to Federation approved Phasers.

An excellent example of the arcane way the Geneva Convention legislates laws – which gained widespread press exposure during the late 1990’s – was the ban on the use of laser-based weapons in the battlefield that temporarily blinds enemy combatants. Which to me is utter hypocrisy. If I was a soldier for example, it is ok for me to stab my enemy in the heart with a shovel or trowel. But under the Geneva Convention, it is illegal for me to temporarily blind my enemy for half an hour or so that I can take my enemy as a prisoner. During the 1990’s the Geneva Convention’s adverts are all over the major news channels like BBC and CNN with the tagline: “Even wars have limits.” Wars have limits all right, but it is the poor enforcement of existing Geneva Convention legislated laws (the sensible one’s anyway) that’s killing civilians. The April 1994 incident in Rwanda is a case in point.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Star Trek-Based Airsoft Game Scenarios

Since Star Trek-style “Holodeck” technology is still probably many years off, Trekkies had been content with recreating their favorite battle scenes via airsoft weapons systems. Where no one has gone before?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since the release Star Trek-based shoot-em-up type video games like Star Trek Elite Force and it’s subsequent incarnations, Trekkies lucky enough to possess airsoft weapons systems had been replicating their favorite battle scenes found in Star Trek episodes for sometime now. Noting that Star Trek: The Next Generation style holodeck technology - based on photons and force fields - is for all intents and purposes probably centuries off, then airsoft military simulation battle scenarios will have to suffice.

Presently, the leading manufacturer of replica Star Trek weapons and official Starfleet Armory – Masterpiece Models – haven’t yet licensed their Star Trek-based weapons for airsoft use to the major manufacturers of airsoft weapons systems. Like the Type III Phaser Rifle used in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Compression Rifle used in Star Trek: Voyager would be great as a platform in airsoft design given their somewhat large internal volume in comparison to contemporary infantry weapons. Given that the M 41 A Pulse Rifle used in the movie Aliens by the US Marine Expeditionary Force accompanying Lt. Ellen Ripley is already widely available in airsoft gaming world, the dearth of Star Trek based airsoft weapons systems needs to be addressed. Maybe it’s high time for us Trekkies who are airsoft enthusiasts to contact them at on their views about our requests.

Even if most of us will have to settle with contemporary limited production infantry weapons systems that are already manufactured as airsoft replica guns – like the P90 and the XM8 – it does pass muster as a “science fictioney” military simulation a few years before the Captain Archer-era Enterprise. Though, to me at least, the airsoft version of the XM8 is probably the one with the closest resemblance of a Next Generation period Type III Phaser Rifle.

Maybe it is churlish to complain, because even airsoft models that are ubiquitous – like the Operation Iraqi Freedom-era M-4 Carbines can be used in simulating Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict’s Sino-Indian War flashback scenarios. Or if airsoft gaming Trekkies can’t wait a few centuries, they can develop their own holodeck technology right here and right now. All they need is probably a few years of intellectually taxing hard work and countless millions of dollars burning a hole in their pockets.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Anthropology of Star Trek

Ever since the newer incarnations of the TV series Star Trek evolved from the “recycled” prop and set portrayal of alien cultures in the original series only made the franchise better. But can it pass muster a cultural anthropologist’s peer review?

By: Vanessa Uy

The cultural anthropologist Franz Boas has shaped modern anthropology by emphasizing the collection of facts about primitive cultures, instead of resorting to mere speculation. But when it comes to the study of alien or extraterrestrial cultures that live on planets maybe light-years away from us, one can’t help but resort to mere speculation since the technology that allows us to travel to this worlds might still be centuries off. Yet this hasn’t stop science fiction authors from transforming mere speculation into one of the best-loved forms of literature in the past 200 years.

When the science fiction visionary Gene Roddenberry conceptualized the alien beings and their cultures populating on one of his famous works like Star Trek. He did so with an uncannily believable accuracy that many of Roddenberry’s fans probably think that he works as a university-tenured anthropologist as his day job. By just using the data collected by cultural anthropologists of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Gene Roddenberry populated his Star Trek universe with beings that are not only pass muster as speculative anthropological constructs of an organized culture. But also as accurate predictive models of our own still-existing-somewhat-primitive-cultures evolving without outside help into a space-faring civilization.

Take for instance the Vulcans, which Mr. Spock – the famous science officer in the first Star Trek series – is a good example, is based on a prediction on what if post-WWII Tibet and Bhutan were allowed to evolve into a space-faring civilization without outside help or interference.

A race in the Star Trek universe that could qualify as the polar opposite to the Zen-like society of the Vulcans is the one of the Klingons. The Klingon society is based on martial bravado epitomized by their motto “Today is a good day to die”. Despite their bloodthirsty attitude, the Klingon language is probably the only fictional language used in science fiction literature that has developed like a living language. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has even been successfully translated into Klingon. Unlike the more interesting language of the Romulans with its complex system of verb roots would serve as a formidable challenge for linguists that have a “Trekkie” streak to develop. Could make that German verb wheel seems like child’s play by comparison.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Ferengi is also one of the most interesting alien races inhabiting Roddenberry’s fictional Star Trek universe. Probably one of the few extraterrestrial / alien races whose creation Roddenberry oversaw before his passing in 1991. The Ferengi may not be pretty by Madison Avenue fashion-ethic standards, but their society is shaped by a ruthless business / mercantile acumen where an individual’s self-worth is measured by how much gold-pressed latinum (the Ferengi monetary standard) they have or can earn. Except that they take their chauvinism to the extreme. Ferengi women are not only subservient they have to chew first the food of the Ferengi men they are indentured to. Also they do not let their women wear clothes which to other races tolerate since Ferengi’s keep their women sequestered in their homes.

But to me the most interesting alien race of all in the Star Trek universe is the Kreetassans. The Kreetassans debuted on the Star Trek TV 's (I hope not) final franchise Enterprise and are well-known for their relatively “eccentric” customs compared to ours like eating in public to a Kreetassan is taboo. Since most Star Trek writers at this point probably pass muster as university tenured cultural anthropologist, the way they created the Kreetassans’ homeworld’s architectural structure. Especially of their buildings is really reminiscent of what might have happened if Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest region were allowed to independently develop into a space faring civilization.

Sadly, Star Trek writers have not yet created an alien civilization who developed in the southern hemisphere of an Earth-like planet and possessing analog watches / steam gauges that move counter-clockwise. Sadder still, Enterprise was forced to end due to lack of viewer support and escalating costs of production. I wonder how Star Trek writers would have shoehorned into the Star Trek universe the recent Mecca Mean Time controversy as a launching pad for a very interesting Star Trek TV episode?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Klingon Language: Another Useless Trekkie Extravagance?

First gained widespread popularity beyond the Trekkie fanbase due to the release of the last Star Trek Original Series motion picture titled The Undiscovered Country. Is the Klingon language useful in our everyday life?

By: Vanessa Uy

Being the last movie of the original series Star Trek, my first impressions of The Undiscovered Country was that William Shatner, who plays Captain James T. Kirk, and the rest of the original series cast, were allowed to have free reign to prove that they are as literate about Shakespeare as Patrick Stewart was. Given that the Next Generation captain was a well-known Shakespearean actor. But it changed further into the thick of things when the Klingons in the Undiscovered Country were unabashed Shakespeare fans and freely quoting his works in both English and Klingon. Given that English language has penetrated every corner of the world, why would anyone bother to learn another language, especially a supposedly fictitious one and not of this Earth?

If you’re concerned that during the last thirty years, half of the world’s 6,000 languages that we no of are either extinct (the native speakers have all passed away) or is dying due to the pressures of globalization to learn the English language at all costs. Or if you live in a “culturally despotic” country like the Philippines were teaching various dialects – especially ones spoken by ethnic Muslims – is about as illegal as making high explosives using household cleaners, then yes, you should be concerned. The good news is that in learning dialects spoken by ethnic Filipino Muslims is possible if you get enrolled in a CIA “spyschool” in Langley, Virginia or study for yourself in the US Library of Congress.

The question now is why learn – as the actors who played Klingon characters on a Star Trek set frequently describe it as - the guttural spit-spaying, made up language? Well, it does lead to authenticity even if it’s “only a movie” to someone who is naturally born for a penchant for languages, my ears (and brain) can easily discern a genuine language with real syntax and grammatical structure as opposed to mere gibberish used in very early Hollywood movies.

And believe it or not, there is already a plethora of Klingon language learning schemes. Plus books like the Klingon Dictionary by Pocket Books, also, an audio-tape by Simon & Schuster on how to learn Conversational Klingon. And also correspondence courses like the Philadelphia-based Klingon Language Institute. Lawrence Schoen, a linguist, psychologist and founder of the Klingon Language Institute has described many of the Institute’s members as those who want to be more authentic while role playing in Klingon persona. Though some of them had played as extra Klingons on an actual Star Trek set, most of them are just happy to wow their fellow Trekkies in Star Trek conventions by performing works of Shakespeare – like Hamlet - in the Klingon language or by giving lessons to interested parties. Lawrence Schoen summarizes their work in the Klingon Language Institute akin to that of a typical linguist approach it’s study to that of a dead language with no living speakers.

The foremost authority of the Klingon language – given actual involvement on an actual shooting of a typical Star Trek episode – is linguist Marc Okrand. He created Klingon for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, a time before Trekkies dressed as Klingons were performing Shakespeare in their native tongue at Star Trek conventions. Marc Okrand created the Klingon with a much-increased lexicon for Star Trek III based on snippets of Klingon heard in the Original Series and the first Star Trek movie and went from there. By combining sounds heard in Arabic, Yiddish, Japanese, Native American / First Nations tongues, and more. Okrand picked real human sounds, but mixed them in a way that is kind of “ergonomically difficult” for us native earthlings to utter. According to Okrand, the still-limited Klingon vocabulary will keep on expanding as is normal on a still-living language. Or as long as Klingons stay active in the Star Trek universe. Even Klingon enthusiasts are using the existing lexicon to write Klingon fiction based on the anthropological background and history of the Klingon race portrayed in Star Trek. Given the current progress, anthropologists and sociologist thousands of years in the future might probably conclude that the Klingons are a real and distinct race with their own culture if existing records doesn’t state that they are just works of late 20th Century science fiction.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Star Trek Versus Babylon 5: A Futurists Utopian Conflict?

The two most popular science fiction television series of the 1990’s, did the fan feud between them made these two science fiction series even more popular or did it hurt the respective science fiction enthusiasts’ image as a whole?

By: Vanessa Uy

To outsiders ignorant of the science fiction genre, motion pictures about space faring civilizations in the distant future may look all the same to them. They probably can’t tell the difference between Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek from George Lucas’ Star Wars, and humanity is much poorer because of this oversight. But seriously though, has anyone remembered or still care about that famous feud between fans of Star Trek and Babylon 5 back in the mid-1990’s where everyone is vandalizing each other’s web page with digital graffiti with “BABYLON 5 RULES” or “STAR TREK RULES”? The past might now seemed as if a foreign country to most of those fans but does the reason behind the feud hold something much deeper?

To the uninitiated, Star Trek and Babylon 5 may seem the same. Both are about the future of our civilization a few centuries into the future, and yet these two demarcate the two differing philosophies of the 20th Century, namely the Humanist’s view and the supernaturalism of Protestant Calvinism. And each of these TV series displaying the good – and bad – parts of the social contracts of the two differing philosophies, for better or for worse.

Gene Roddenberry was an unabashed Humanist and his Humanist views are part and parcel of Star Trek since the original series back in the 1960’s. He typified an idealized altruism-leaning version of Marxist-Leninist Socialism that was embraced in Star Trek’s time, even though this ideology is prone to bureaucratic corruption and very much open to abuse at present. Roddenberry’s utopian future would probably be hell for Ayn Rand.

While in Babylon 5, the complexities of laissez-faire mercantile Calvinism / 20th Century American Capitalism is alive and well from wrongful death lawsuits, litigious mindsets (a man suing an alien for damages for abducting his great grandfather and for performing traumatic medical experiments) and more. Plus, the various organized religions that existed in the 20th Century managed to survive in Babylon 5’s time, unashamedly displayed in full glory.

Though I am a fan of both Star Trek and Babylon 5, there seems to be something that these two works seem to agree on, war. Yep, war will still be around in the future with means and complexities that rival what humanity had been dishing out with each other for centuries. It seems as if to make a science fiction serial interesting, there should be a political power struggle to secure the continued existence of a certain sentient race.

Other thing common to the two is ingenious ways to overcome the speed-of-light restrictions of interstellar travel. Though Babylon 5’s jumpgate is somewhat reminiscent of the Panama Canal-type technology by being very dependent on fixed incumbent technological structures, I find it more plausible given current advances in quantum physics. Star Trek’s warp-drive technology has a certain sexy-ness in it though because works without dependence of incumbent structures like exit apertures of artificially created wormholes and Casimir vacuum technology.

As a hole, I have to agree with what the 2007 Nobel Literature laureate Doris Lessing said about science fiction. In that science fiction deals more on the probable social conditions of the future and less on the technology that might be in common use then. I wonder what kind of science fiction stories Friedrich Nietzsche would write if he just had the time?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Captain April: Star Trek’s Man of Mystery?

Despite the preexisting assumption that Captain April does not belong to the official canon of the Star Trek lore, fans that occasionally miss him have been clamoring for answers lately. But the question is, will Captain April be finally included in the official Star Trek canon?

By: Vanessa Uy

Majority of the Star Trek fans that I know on a first hand basis, first gained acquaintance of Captain Robert T. April when he first appeared in Star Trek: The Animated Series back in 1974. And every time they reminisce about this elusive Captain, they always start to ponder on what ever happened to him. But before we delve any deeper, lets discuss first about the concepts governing behind the official Star Trek canon.

The history of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek now spans a little over 40 years, and its evolutionary development has no end yet in site despite of the latest “Enterprise” series’ somewhat premature conclusion back in 2005. This evolution is more or less (with the emphasis on more) kept true to the creative vision of the “Original Series”. The continuing evolution of the Star Trek series was not only kept in line because Gene Roddenberry wants it to but because the people who belong to Roddenberry’s “creative circle” really loved his vision. To me, it’s a love reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Humanist” description of love. You know the kind that’s beyond the confines of the dichotomy of good and evil. In short only characters who had appeared in a live action television episode or film. The bad news is, if you use this “ironclad” rule as a guide, a lot of other very interesting characters will be excluded from the official Star Trek canon. This includes characters from the 1974 animated series, those comic books and novels published between the end of the original Star Trek series onwards. Even though the animated series, the comics and the various novels featured characters that are always part and parcel of the official Star Trek canon like Captain Kirk, Spock, and Captain Picard to mention just a few.

Another explanation on why the story lines featured in the 1974 animated series, the comics and some of the various novels will never see the “light of the script” never mind being played out in the live action environment of TV and film. This is due to the harsh reality that in the movie and TV world, the final frontier is not space but the budget to be spent on those whiz-bang special effects. The costs might be lower compared to 40 years ago and of much better quality, but these special effects – especially the very good ones – will never ever be cheap. But going back to the “ironclad” rule that I’ve mentioned governing the official Star Trek canon, in practice it’s more of a voluntary code of conduct practiced by writers when contributing to the Star Trek lore. Unfortunately, Captain April’s “shaky” status can also be blamed on one of Gene Roddenberry’s “peculiar habits”.

During the early part of the 1960’s before Roddenberry made Star Trek, he has a peculiar habit of “recycling” his own works – especially when it comes to character’s names. One of these names is April, whose surname made an episodic appearance in Roddenberry’s pre Star Trek TV series “The Lieutenant”. And also on his mid 1960’s TV pilot entitled “The Long Hunt of April Savage”.

Despite being slated as the first to captain the Starship Enterprise, Gene Roddenberry unfortunately chose to drop the Robert T. April name during the shooting of the first Star Trek pilot. Instead, Roddenberry chose the name Christopher R. Pike as the Enterprise’s first captain prior to James T. Kirk becoming captain during the regular run of the original Star Trek series. It seems that the name: Robert T. April - will only be known to Gene Roddenberry and his “creative inner circle” who made the original Star Trek series possible.

Despite of its unfavorable start, the Robert T. April name wasn’t dead yet. Gene Roddenberry’s “choice” for this particular captain’s name was well documented during his formulation of an early outlines of the Star Trek TV series. This well documented fact even made it into Stephen E. Whitfield’s 1968 book “The Making of Star Trek” which has become - by default - as the first reference book defining Gene Roddenberry’s creative vision. This book was also extensively used as a reference during the making of the 1974 Star Trek: The Animated Series - which served as Captain Robert T. April’s debut to the Star Trek fan community. Also, Whitfield’s “The Making of Star Trek” is the oft- quoted book in defending whether or not Captain Robert T. April is part of the official Star Trek canon despite of April’s lack of live-action TV episode or film appearance.

“The Counter- Clock Incident” episode of the 1974 animated Star Trek TV series might be where Captain April made his debut appearance to the “Trekkie Fandom” but it won’t be his last. He appeared in a number of comics and novels during the intervening years. One of Captain April’s finest portrayals – according to a majority of “Trekkies” - is on the novel “Final Frontier” written by Diane Carey, which was published in 1988. And Captain April’s claim as a part of the official Star Trek canon was further reinforced during the publication of Star Trek Chronology: The History of The Future – a “companion” / guidebook of the Star Trek lore written by Michael and Denise Okuda – back in 1993.

A few years ago when a new Star Trek TV series was proposed pertaining to the time in the Trek universe before the time of Captain Kirk. Trekkies around the world were expecting it to be about the adventures of Captain April, yet it was about an even earlier captain, before there was even a “United Federation of Planets” hence Captain Jonathan Archer. But as the current / latest Enterprise series ended in 2005, will we – the Trek community – be finally be able to meet a live action Robert T. April?

Unfortunately, not anytime soon because - to me at least – science fiction is very, very much dependent on the prevailing “social condition”. A few years back, the creators of the movie “Independence Day” were asked if they could have made the movie in post-9/11 America, and their answer is a definite no. I also agree with them because given the austere fiscal environment of the early 1990’s; the move “Independence Day” is more or less paying homage-like “thanks” to the men and women of the US Armed Forces. A thanks for defending our freedom during the first Gulf War despite of the fact that “Uncle Sam” has no money to thoroughly investigate this thing we call Gulf War Syndrome throughout the 1990’s.

To me, the same thing also applies to the Star Trek franchise. Given that the prevailing social condition in Captain April’s time is much, much, much, better and rational than the one we have. And would very much alienate any potential new viewers who can’t very much relate to the series because it’s too far removed from the social conditions that the “new viewer” is accustomed to. It would be a certain financial disaster to network executives if they choose to release a new Star Trek TV series in 2008 that pertains to Captain April’s adventures and times. Star Trek reference books and companion guides are not exactly a part of the US Board of Education’s current curricula. Maybe after Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have sorted out the mess created by the Bush Administration whose neo-conservatives have very much made White / Aryan Supremacy the official state religion and “Creationism” the official state science of the United States.

Also, delaying the Captain April Star Trek for a few years can benefit the advances that would be made in special effects technology. Maybe a few years from now a realistic looking tail special effects like the ones used in the X-Men trilogy will become cost-effective enough for network TV. Imagine M’Res and the Caitians from the 1974 animated series can finally appear in a live-action Star Trek TV series with organic / realistic looking tails. Realistic looking tails on humanoids can be a pig to reproduce, especially on a network TV special effects budget. I think it’s the primary reason why Trance Gemini – a humanoid alien found in another Gene Roddenberry series titled “Andromeda” – had her tail cut off in a close quarter gunfight in the story line due to special effects budget constraints. Excellent special effects should go hand in hand with the very excellent story line, don’t you think?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Star Trek: The Dallas Connection…and Beyond

Despite the recent writer’s strike and economic slowdown, can the Star Trek franchise survive such challenges or is it trapped by delusions of a past “Golden Age”?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since the Star Trek original series aired in the 1960’s, many have questioned – especially the network executives – about the TV series’ economic viability. Science fiction stories that tackle high brow philosophical debates is the last thing market researchers of the 1960’s will call as “salable” and popular. And yet the series bucked the trend even though it gained fame posthumously through syndicated reruns. Nonetheless, the actors who worked in the original Star Trek series seem to have no trouble in getting lucrative roles once it became part and parcel of their respective CV’s.

Then came the soap opera “Dallas” whose then very famous catchphrase “Who shot JR?” referring to the unexplained crime that concluded the show’s 1979 – 1980 season immortalized the soap in the record books as one of the most watched soap opera of the 20th Century. Coincidentally, quite a number of actors working in “Dallas” first appeared in the original 1960’s Star Trek. And also, a number of actors developed their acting chops in “Dallas” before moving on to more challenging roles in the new generation of Star Trek series like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager. And later the pre-United Federation of Planets era Star Trek: Enterprise TV series.

On the original Star Trek series, four would later play important roles in “Dallas”. Like Glenn Corbett who portrayed the warp-drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane on the original Star Trek series will later cater to a different audience when he appears as Paul Morgan on “Dallas”. Morgan Woodward, who appears as Captain Tracey and Dr. Van Gelder on the original Star Trek series would later give life to the character of Marvin "Punk” Anderson on “Dallas”. Barbara Babcock who made Philana and Mea 3 unforgettable in the original Star Trek TV series was the star behind Liz Craig of “Dallas”. And who can forget Susan Howard who played Mara on the original Star Trek series showed her versatility when she later played Donna Krebbs’ character in “Dallas”.

Interestingly, a number of actors that appeared in newfangled incarnations of the Star Trek TV series franchise first developed there respective acting chops on the famous soap opera “Dallas”. Most famous of the “Dallas” alumnus is Kate Mulgrew who played the country singer Garnet McGee before she played Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager which brought out her now famous trademark "Irish Passion" of her acting roles. Kate Mulgrew later appears in Star Trek Nemesis playing the same role. Her latest appearance is in the TV mini-series “The Black Donnelys”.

James Cromwell is probably the most prolific actor of the “Dallas” alumnus. As the actor behind Dallas’ Gerald Kane, James Cromwell later became the actor of choice when it comes to portraying the warp-drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane in the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie “First Contact” and the Enterprise TV series. Plus various other Star Trek: The Next Generation characters like Nayrock, Jaglom Shrek, and the “Dominion” business representative Hano in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not content with his Star Trek roles, James Cromwell seems to like scripts with “conspiracies” involved like his starring role on the movie “Babe”, “The People Versus Larry Flynt” as the Reagan-era Savings & Loan chairman Charles Keating, and Jack Bauer’s dad on the latest season of 24.

Chris Demetral who played the role of Christopher Ewing in “Dallas” would later appear as Jean-Luc Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mary Crosby who gave life to Dallas’ Kristin Shepherd would later play the character of Natima Lang in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Leigh McCloskey who played as Mitch Cooper in “Dallas” would later give life to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Joran Belar and Tieran of Star Trek: Voyager. And almost as prolific as James Cromwell, Lance Le Gault who appears as Al Halliday in “Dallas” would later don Klingon make-up and prosthetics when he plays Captain K’Temoc in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Plus, Lance Le Gault also plays Col. Decker in the famous 1980’s TV series “The A-Team”.

This just goes to show that “old time” Trekkies and newbies should be forever thankful to the soap opera “Dallas” despite the soap’s rather tenuous connection to succeeding Star Trek franchise that began in the late 1980’s. Because without “Dallas” the casting of actors for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager would be much harder without the actors exposure on “Dallas”. The two are more common than you think if you are familiar with the drama behind “Shakespearean Power Politics”. These two TV series remind us of an “Golden Age” of the American entertainment industry that is now undermined primarily by on-line media piracy.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Gene Roddenberry and the Sino - Indian War: An Unexplained Fixation?

Is Gene Roddenberry’s somewhat frequent (though never overwrought) references to the Sino – Indian war on his various works somewhat propped up his mythical status?

By: Vanessa Uy

From Star Trek to the Earth: Final Conflict TV series, Gene Roddenberry’s use of the “apocryphal escalation” of the Sino – Indian Border Conflict of late 1962 which he refers to as the “S-I War” has become one of his most distinctive “literary tools”. The “SI War” always fires up my personal imagination because none of the Trekkies (Star Trek fans) I met so far (except one) really know what started this conflict and it’s historical significance. Have I finally found a topic that should be a “required reading” by all Trekkies, yet majority of them squirm away from it? But first, allow me to discuss the historically factual version of the Sino – Indian Conflict.

During the annexation of Tibet by the Peoples Republic of China back in 1951, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet was forced into exile in India. The Dalai Lama’s choice of seeking political / spiritual asylum in India where many of his followers live angered Beijing because the Dalai Lama’s status as a spiritual leader still continues and thus Beijing labeled him as a “strategic threat”. The Beijing government threatened the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to surrender the Dalai Lama to them or suffer the consequences. Prime Minister Nehru held his ground even when thousands of Chinese troops massed along the Chinese – Indian border which lead to the largely forgotten Sino – Indian Conflict of late 1962. But it is a big deal back then because the worlds largest democracy by population namely: India and the worlds largest Socialist / Communist country by population namely: China. Are on the brink of full-scale war, which is likely to attract intervention by Cold War era superpowers namely the US and the then USSR.

Does the Sino – Indian Border Conflict of 1962 remind you of how the Trojan War started? The war supposedly revolves around Helen of Troy but in truth the war was really about vying control of the lucrative “trade routes” of the Mediterranean Sea. Adventure stories from the Ancient Greeks which violates every rule of Sun Tsu’s “Art of War” – like conserving precious resources when conducting a campaign – seems to gain “blockbuster status” to us in the Western World. Mao Zedong’s famous “Red Book” was purportedly based on “The Art of War” by Sun Tsu, and yet even the Beijing Government fell into this trap by engaging a border conflict with India with the threat of the US and NATO being drawn into the conflict. Didn’t Sun Tsu point out that the best way to win a war is to deny a battle? By labeling His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet a greater threat than he actually is, China would have squandered precious manpower and materiel on a conflict with dubious political significance. Even today, the Sino – Indian War / Border Conflict of 1962 is largely forgotten unless you are a hard core “Trekky” with serious interest on the subject. The row over the Dalai Lama between China and India did inspire many a Star Trek TV episodes from the Original Series to Star Trek: The Next Generation and other related Star Trek TV series like Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the latest Enterprise TV series which stars Scott Bakula.

But the “apocryphal escalation” of the Sino – Indian war of 1962 – which is often used by Gene Roddenberry – is what gave the world the story about the “Eugenics Wars” that gave rise to Ricardo Montalban’s character “Khan” of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan. The “S-I War” in Earth: Final Conflict and related variants of the theme that is used in Enterprise. Like the three – part episode “Borderland,” “Cold Station 12,” and “The Augments” which explained the origin of various Star Trek characters like Khan, Dr. Arik Soong, the great – great – great – grandfather of Data’s creator Dr. Noonien Soong.

In my opinion, every one of us – not just “Trekkies” should re-examine the events surrounding the Sino – Indian War of 1962. This is so because our current “operation” to capture Osama Bin Laden and to restore the Rule of Law in Afghanistan is fought in a terrain not unlike that of the Sino – Indian War of 1962. This terrain is so hostile even for casual tourist and explorers that to conduct military maneuvers on such an environment borders on insanity. I once played a military simulation exercise / game similar to the terrain found on the Khyber pass and trust me, if the overexertion doesn’t wear you down the resulting “minor” injuries will. And we haven’t yet taken into account the low prevailing barometric pressure.

In Gene Roddenberry’s lifetime (sadly, he passed away on October 24, 1991) the geopolitical antics of China almost drove anyone - who cares about these events – into a nervous breakdown of sorts because China invaded Vietnam on February 17, 1979 by launching a major attack along their 500 mile border. Chinese forces supported by artillery and tanks were able to invade four Vietnamese provinces. Plus China’s subsequent claim of the oil rich Spratley Islands which almost give the Beijing Government “reasons” to annex the Philippines. Even at present with the Beijing Government’s complicity of the ongoing genocide in the Darfur Region of Sudan. Yet despite threats of boycotting the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, China continues her intransigence with regards to her “Foreign Policy”. If Gene Roddenberry is following these events from the afterlife, his “I told you so” could probably create a new Sci-Fi TV series.

Some “Trekkies” would be asking right now ”What does this all mean?” Well, even though Gene Roddenberry was only seen as an “entertainer” during the 1960’s. To me, he did contribute something to resolve the bitter issues in one of the most tumultuous period of America’s history. Gene Roddenberry might not be as vocal as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when it comes to Civil Rights issues, yet most of the issues presented in the original Star Trek series were about Civil Rights issues. When the late President John F. Kennedy inspired Americans to go to the Moon, Gene Roddenberry did his part too in inspiring not just the American people but everyone who saw Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s views about the Sino – Indian War of 1962 was probably his way of reminding all of us not to forget what George Santayana said about studying history.