Monday, November 02, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One more dip into Mundaneland...

Once more, I find myself having to address the fevered dreams and machinations of our esteemed President Nitwit. Specifically, the matter of alleged "health care reform."

I'm looking at this more from the stance of not really considering the idea of universal health care particularly bad or evil (the inclination to want to cover everyone is natural), and not even from the stance that we simply can't afford it (we can't, by any stretch of the imagination, but that's another discussion).

No, I'm looking at this from the view that, as an Air Force veteran and staunch conservative, I DON'T TRUST THE U.S. GOVERNMENT TO RUN A LEMONADE STAND, NEVER MIND ONE EIGHTH OF THE NATION'S ECONOMY! The Federal government is, on fairly complicated matters like these, fundamentally incompetent, and this is partially by design (to force us to fend for ourselves rather than waiting on some government bureaucrat to give us our daily bread), and partially just the nature of government bureaucracies (if these clowns were any good at running things, they wouldn't be in government).

I'll take it as a given, if only for the sake of argument, that the Canadian system isn't as bad as has been alleged by some folks on my side of the aisle, that the decisions really are made by doctors and not pencil pushing morons a thousand miles away.

Do you really trust Washington to do that? To keep their grubby little fingers out of the pie? Especially since we have TEN TIMES Canada's population, which really throws the economics of this thing into the blender.

I also don't like the idea of trying to ram something this big through the Congress before anyone has a realistic chance to read it. That just smells of a major power grab on somebody's part.

Truth be told, most of the problems in the health care system were cause by government intervention in the first place. You wanna fix the thing, get Washington out of the bloody way and put 'em back in a watchdog capacity to prevent abuses, but for the love of all that's holy, don't actually put them in charge of anything!

Unless you'd like to recreate the joy a trip to the DMV the next time you visit the doctor.

There's also a real fundamental issue here besides how well or badly the government can run anything.

Simply put, we're Americans. This nation was founded following a revolution from what was then the mightiest nation on Earth at the time. Distrust of the government is one of the primal underpinnings of our whole society. And considering some of the horrific abuses that seem to come with strong, centralized governments, that mistrust is pretty well founded.

There are ways to get health insurance rates down to affordable levels that don't involve having the government take direct control, like letting insurance companies cross state lines to broaden the pool of policy holders, which spreads the costs and lowers the rates. There's tort reform, to reduce the ridiculous number of frivolous lawsuits (simply passing a "loser pays court costs" law would go a long ways towards that goal). We could also allow for medical savings accounts, allowing people to control their own medical expenditures, along with introducing some much needed market competition into the process, which would also reduce costs.

However, let the government control the process (which is the dictionary definition of "socialism," direct government control over the means of production), and you effectively cede control over how you live your life to a laundry list of government restrictions and guidelines. With a nation this big, they'll have no choice but to ration care, because everyone and their uncle will be beating down the hospital doors to take advantage of the suddenly free health care. Just take a look at the "cash for clunkers" debacle. A program that was supposed to last three months nearly crashes and burns after a couple of weeks, simply because the government bureaucrats haven't got a clue about the concept of supply and demand.

The ultimate conclusion of this nightmare scenario is some government board somewhere deciding the criteria on who gets priority on certain life saving or life sustaining treatments and procedures.

In other words, Governor Palin's "death panels" aren't so far fetched, although I'm sure they'll be given names far more comforting and family friendly.

Bottom line, if you want to everyone to have affordable health care, you need a system in place that keeps costs in line naturally.

If you want universal health coverage, which is not the same thing, you will wind up condemning this country to nothing less than servitude and slavery. Because, just out of necessity, care will be determined based upon your behavior (do you smoke? take drugs? engage in risky behavior?) and whether or not you're worth saving (under 40? Sure. Over 60 with a heart condition? Don't hold your breath). How you live your life will be controlled by the government, and while it may be relatively warm and fuzzy, it's still slavery.

"But, Bob," the earnest universal health care supporter says, "people are being denied care now, by heartless insurance companies."

1) never said it wasn't, 2) it's bad no matter who's doing it, and 3) do you think some government bureaucrat, without even a profit motive to encourage giving the customer, a.k.a, the patient, what he wants or needs, is going to be any more compassionate than the guy at the insurance company? You're basically screwed either way, but at least you can kind of understand the slightly twisted reasoning of the insurance company.

The only thing the current proposal does is take all the problems of our current system and put them on a massive dose of steroids by federalizing the whole mess. And since, as a wise man once said, the closest thing in this world to eternal life is a government program, it'll be next to impossible to get rid of once implemented.

Think about it for a second. If we're right, and this is the equivalent of treating athlete's foot with a shotgun, and we let this plan pass, then we will have done grievous harm to our nation, all under the argument of "well, we need to do SOMETHING!" Not when that "something" is worse than doing nothing.

Let's step back a step and really take a look at where we really are, not where the pundits SAY we are. That's the only way to fix the problems that do exist without destroying a system that, while byzantine in structure and baffling more often that not, does work for the most part.

As it stands now, nobody is being denied treatment in ER's, patients are being treated, even if it takes screaming at administrators and threats of lawsuits, there are programs in place to take care of the truly destitute, and the quality of available care is, for the most part, the envy of the world.

Let's fix what's actually broke, not what works.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Star Trek: Moral Compass Or Dog & Pony Show In Space?

Recently, the topic came up on TrekBBS, "Star Trek was my moral compass growing up- was it yours?" The responses were rather fascinating. Some agreed wholeheartedly with the statement, others were dismayed at the very concept of a cheesy sci-fi show being anybody's moral compass.

Apparently, a lot of how you answer this question depends on when you first saw TOS and how old you were at the time. If you were an adolescent when the show ran on NBC, you were already well on the road to being the curmudgeons you are now and probably fall into the group that views Star Trek as a better-than-average bit of entertainment, but not much more.

I, on the other hand, was 2 1/2 when the show premiered and not quite 5 when it was cancelled. When my dad watched it on NBC, I was little more than a toddler, and while I do have some memories from those years, watching Star Trek on NBC is not among them. Yet, I knew of the show and knew I liked it. When I watched the animated show in '73, even then I knew it wasn't my first exposure to this stuff. It wasn't until the show hit strip syndication in '74 that I was able to sit down and really watch it and understand it.

Now, think for a moment about what the world was like in 1974. The Vietnam War isn't quite completely over, Watergate is just starting to boil over, the Soviet Union is as big a threat as ever, racial issues are still in the forefront, and since this is now after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, things are even more tense than during Star Trek's original run, there are still protests in the streets and hippies running around (I remember many a fire drill at school because some idiot called in a bomb threat), and the space program is still chugging along, even though the momentum is starting to slow down. In other words, not all that different from 1966-69, better in some ways, worse in others.

Factor in the home situation, Dad's at work, sometimes on a business trip somewhere, Mom's working and won't be back for another hour or so by the time I hit the door just before 4, so guess what the only influence in the house is for little ol' ten year old me? A certain starship captain and his half-Vulcan science officer.

In a time where the world is still making noises about going off the deep end, at an age where you're still trying to figure out just what the hell is going on anyway, Star Trek had a profound influence on those of us in that age group. The quaint morality plays weren't yet considered all that quaint at that point in history, at least not by all the eager ten-year olds watching at the time. The messages of racial and sexual equality, of avoiding violence whenever possible, the commentaries on issues that were still as current in '74 as they were in '67, this was pretty heavy stuff, and a helluva lot more engaging than the typical Sunday School lesson (certainly more fun to memorize).

By the time TNG came along, most of the heavy cultural lifting had already been done, the heavy moral issues of TOS were pretty much taken for granted, so it's not really a surprise that those who grew up with Picard and Co. look back at TOS and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Doesn't make me any less likely to smack 'em with a cane and tell 'em to get the hell off my lawn, but it's not surprising.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sean Connery's Wife Was Right

After starring in "Diamonds Are Forever", Sean Connery vowed he would never star in another James Bond film.

Then another production company got the rights to make their own Bond film, following some of the monkey business involving "Thunderball", and Connery was signed to reprise the role of Agent 007.

It was Connery's wife who suggested the title, "Never Say Never Again".

Well, I vowed I would never see the new Star Trek movie, partly because I have no interest in alternate timeline stories, but mostly because of a lot of the misleading buildup to this thing and some of the behind the scenes crap, particularly the firing of Geoffery Mandel from the production staff because he was "too attached to the original ship."

Then, I wound up winning passes to a press screening.

No problem, I have class that night, so I can't go anyway. And we're talking broadcasting school, no way am I ditching training in my beloved chosen career field for this misbegotten flick.

Then I found out the subject that night was going to be sales.

I hate sales.

Guess I was going after all. At least I could rest easy that I can still say that I'll never pay to see this atrocity.

So, I went ahead and saw it at the press screening, and all I can say is that I'm oh, so glad that I didn't have to pay for it.

Suffice it to say that I was massively underwhelmed. Plot contrivances, shaky camera, even in the CGI stuff, cringe inducing dialogue, a "Look at MEEE!" glory shot of the ship every five minutes, all capped off with a closing credit sequence ripped off from the Lost in Space movie....well, let's just say that just about everything I said before I saw it, stands.

Some of the more minor annoyances:

Pink skinned Vulcans: Y'know, JJ, there was a reason they painted Nimoy yellow way back when, and it's because of that green Vulcan blood.

The Kelvin: 800 people made it off, after getting the crap kicked out it, which killed how many? And this is supposed to be a pre-TOS ship? Sorry, but that bucket reeked more of TNG, both in capacity, the instrumentation, and in the crew complement, which apparently included families, another TNG contrivance that didn't make it past "Generations" (the Enterprise-E doesn't have families on board). The interiors also indicated a much more massive ship, on the order of a Galaxy class starship. And what in the hell is with plastic sheeting in the shuttlecraft? Does it double as a meat locker?

The technology: Compared to TOS, most it, quite frankly, sucked. The numbskull front window/viewscreen was blurry and distorted, the transporter didn't work half as well as even the NX-01's, and the phasers, both shipboard and handheld, all behaved more like Star Wars blasters and turbolasers than their TOS predecessors. And need I mention Sulu's automatically unfolding katana, which helped him in his dashing impression of Luke Skywalker in the barge scene in "Return of the Jedi"? Or how the ships going to warp bore an uncanny resemblence to SW ships going to hyperspace? Should George Lucas be flattered or should he be calling his lawyers?

Delta Vega: As an astute poster over on pointed out, the name of the neighboring planet that Spock was stranded on really didn't have any bearing on the story, but by invoking the name of Delta Vega, the writers shined a big bright spotlight on this bit, making it quite clear that, deep down, they don't know what they're doing. A big part of "honoring canon" is getting the details right; otherwise, it's just meaningless name dropping and pandering.

Chekov: Excuse me, but exactly when did Chekov turn into Wesley Crusher? He was never any kind of wunderkind in TOS, just an eager young ensign trying to impress his superior officers. Also, at age seventeen, he should be starting his first year at the Academy, not already be a commissioned officer. But then, these clowns clearly don't know a thing about military protocol, since they also take a guy who was an undisciplined cadet facing some serious charges a couple of days earlier and give him command of their biggest and most advanced ship. Never mind the hundreds of seasoned officers who've been waiting God knows how long for a command of their own, let's give it to the hotshot kid with the rap sheet, because he's just so gosh darned dreamy. At the very least, it's clear they wouldn't know the chain of command if someone came up and beat 'em about the head and shoulders with it.

And my complaint about Spock still remains: He knows how to achieve a time warp, and he knows precisely what happened when, why it happened, what went wrong the first time, and how to circumvent those events. So why doesn't he get a ship, do a few time jumps, and fix everything that got screwed up? He could not only restore the timeline, but finally cement a lasting peace between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. So why doesn't he do this?

Because Spock has to have a sudden attack of the stupids in order for JJ to get his own Star Trek universe to run amok in.

Urban was good as McCoy, Pine was okay as Kirk, can't really grade Greenwood as Pike since we never got that much from Jeffery Hunter to form a basis of comparison, but taken on it's own, he gives a good performance, Yelchin was downright embarrassing as Chekov, Quinto just seemed to be PMSing all the time, and the rest of the cast was just sort of there.

The ship still looks stupid, and the decision to build it on the surface is the singlemost idiotic move in the entire history of the franchise.

It didn't help that the "Riverside shipyards" were clearly a present day industrial facility, either an oil refinery or electrical substation. Engineering looking alternately like a water treatment plant and, like it is in real life, a brewery, only adds insult to injury.

If this an example of just how dumbed down Star Trek has to be in order to appeal to that elusive mass general audience, then I am very content for Star Trek to remain a small niche market.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Short Stop In Mundaneland

As I sit here, watching "Trekkies 2" for the umpteenth time, studiously avoiding the insane overhyping of the Obama coronation, I feel I would be amiss if I didn't offer up at least a few comments on this allegedly historic date.

Actually, that's a bit unfair. It is a historic event.

We have responded to an unfairly criticized administration by electing a man who isn't qualified to be dog catcher, all so we can pat ourselves on our collective backs for electing a black man to the highest office in the land.

Well, now that we've gotten that out of our systems, the day is now fast approaching where those same self-congratulatory cheers will turn into a collective groan of, "Oh my God, what have we done?" and Bush's Trumanesque rehabilitation will be upon us before we know it.

A part of me is going get a big kick when Obambi's incompetence becomes glaringly clear to everyone. Unfortunately, that will be tempered by outrage over the level of damage President Nitwit will be doing in his futile quest to be the next Lincoln. Or FDR. Or Kennedy. Or whatever quasi-messianic figure he's trying to channel that week.

I only hope the stupidity becomes glaringly clear within the next couple years. So that the GOP can get its act together and begin the process of dragging the country back from the edge of the cliff by retaking Congress.

Then in 2012, we can set another historic precedent by electing the first woman president.

You betcha.