Friday, September 22, 2006

Another STAR TREK Plot

I think the people of Athens of 40 AD were a lot like American politicians and media types of the 21st century.
According to Acts 17:21, "For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." (King James version)
Nowadays, we have whole TV channels (E!, CNN, FNC, MTV, etc) devoted to nothing else!
Now, in my storyline for ST:TNG, Riker, Troi, and Data would be leading an Evaluation Away Team on an undercover visit to a planet whose technological level is roughly half-way between ours, and Picard's Federation. The job of Riker's party is to surreptitiously evaluate the social development of the planet's (single) culture. The planet has had contact with the Federation over the past couple of centuries -- off and on -- but only to a small extent. The decision whether or not to offer Federation membership to these people will depend, to a large degree, on Riker's report.
Now, all this is background. The conflict is, somehow Riker & crew are discovered, unmasked, and it falls to the Continental Administrator to decide what to do with them. Local laws may be construed as to call for the Death Penalty. It's up to the ConAdmin to decide.
Picard, on the Enterprise, becomes mostly a spectator, arguing like a defense lawyer with the ConAdmin's staff that his ship (and Federation) have only good intentions in SPYING on the planet.
The problem is, this planet's society is TOO MUCH like Earth 21C (21st-Century Earth that is). Specifically, too much like the worst side of the Media/Politics interface of 21C America. The people of the planet have solved their material needs, so their worldwide economy is mostly driven by the vampirelike spectator audience at home. This planet's culture is the logical extension of 21C-America's Survivor-E! Entertainment News-CNN-Entertainment addiction. The entire culture and political system is built on watching, "waiting for the latest tidbit on mostly anything," as The Message's version of Acts 17:21 states. It's a nightmare combination of YouTube and Entertainment Tonight. George Clooney and Charlton Heston are running the planet! Metaphorically.
So we have a bunch of interplanetary spies -- Riker and crew -- being held captive, on trial for their lives, before a global audience. And the "judge" of this "really big show" is a career politician who is AFRAID TO MAKE A MOVE until he hears the latest polls and focus-group interviews (sound like some politicians we've heard of, yes?).
At the crux, some BIG BAD THING happens -- maybe an asteroid coming in to smite the planet-- and Riker very bluntly takes over the "show trial" as a bully pulpit to make suggestions (ACTUALLY MAKING DECISIONS) that somehow avert the disaster.
Riker's decisiveness impress so much of the worldwide audience that they vote that they would like a leader who actually will lead without asking permission first. They vote to drop the whole polling-goverment thing and take a moratorium on it.
At least, that's what Picard says in the debriefing of his released crew, back on the Enterprise. Also at the debriefing, Troi notes that earlier Federation estimates of this planet's citizens are right in line with what she observed: Very influenced by new ideas, and very imitative. They seemed to seize on Riker's quick man-of-action behavior as a new planetary ideal.
Picard observes, "Well, if they can make such well-implemented decisions as yours, Will, their planet will soon be eligible for Federation membership."
Data puts in, "I would imagine that any administrator could govern more efficiently if he weren't in the habit of sharing the decisions with his subordinates first."
The briefing room goes strangely silent. Data doesn't understnad what the others, and the TV audience, do -- that Picard's Captaincy style is, exactly, one of "sharing the decisions with his subordinates first."
In case you hadn't figured out, this episode would be a sequel (without saying so) to the ST:TOS episode, "A Piece of the Action," which ended with the inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II finding the communicator left behind accidentally by McCoy. Here we see that the Iotians used it to establish a worldwide communications network, whose instant communications led them to a govermment paralyzed with indecision as at "refreshed" its latest screen with the latest poll numbers.
Also, of course this was framed to make a caustic comment on 20C-21C American media frenzy-style politics, of course.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Dad's Almost Younger Than Me

A few months ago, in June, my dad had a big ol' birthday. He turned 80!
And if not for the inattention and criminal negligence of some staff members at the Muskogee (OK) VA hospital, Dad would still be playing 9-18 holes of golf the way he did until about three years ago. It's a long story, and I won't go into it here, except to report that under VA treatment he went in for a colonoscopy and came out only after threats from our hometown physician. In the meanwhile, due to lousy care, he woke up all doped up, pulled out all his IVs, had at least one ministroke, and went FOR HOURS without being helped.
Not a good way to treat a WWII veteran, the son of a WWI veteran.
However, as I said, Dad turned 80, and when we drove up for the day and attended his party (organized by a bunch of old gold cronies), I wanted to come up with something "special." So I rewrote Irving Berlin's "Grand Old Flag." If it appeals to you, feel free to share it with your Grand Old Dad.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If I Could Change Some Systems

Sometimes, I wish I could "take over" and peremptorily change a few things. Keep in mind that some of these changes are impossible, given our current technological status. These are just pie-in-the-sky wishes! My main intent is to "force" personal responsibility on people -- a feat impossible in our free-will world!
FOOD AID RECIPIENTS: Anybody who was receiving "food stamps" or the equivalent would , as a condition of the program, submit to up to 12 UNSCHEDULED and UNANNOUNCED Surprise Checks during the year. These checks would test the receipient for traces of alcohol or tobacco consumption. If the recipient showed recent consumption of either (much less any illegal substances), they would be barred from the program for a specified time. RATIONALE: Since alcohol and tobacco must be purchased with cash, their presence in the recipient's system indicates that the person had cash with which to purchase these items. If they have cash to pay for cigarettes and alcohol, then they don't need MY MONEY paying for their food. They have some money, but they're spending it on alcohol or tobacco, not on food!
Similarly, "food stamps" or their equivalent should NOT BE ALLOWED to purchase any forms of "soda pop," or candy/snack items. These are luxury items (by my personal fiat, remember), and "food stamps" should not be used for luxuries.

SPEED LIMITS AND DRIVING: In this section I assume a lot of technology we don't have, so bear with me anyway.
Cars would automatically sense the speed limit (ESPECIALLY SCHOOL ZONES) for any street. They would be allowed to surpass that limit by up to 10 MPH for a total of one minute per hour (in case of needing to pass a slowpoke, etc). The next two further attempts would lead to a 30-second automatic triggering of the car's horn and all lights would flash for 30 seconds. The 3rd attempt would result in the vehicle being automatically locked at 2 miles below the speed limit for 5 miles.

Well, kiddies, that's all the evil, repressive ideas I have for tonight. Tune in next time for more "if I ran the world" ideas.
All original content
© by Mark Alfred