Ranking Star Trek Movies I-X   2 comments

Above:  A Scene from Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)

A screen capture

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Preliminary Statements

  1. This post flows from my brief reviews of movies I-VI and VII-X.  I refer you, O reader, to those posts, in which I have ranked I-VI in context of each other and VII-X in context of each other.
  2. As I have written in those posts, my most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.

Rankings

  1. Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  2. Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  3. Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home (1986)
  4. Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock (1984)
  5. Star Trek:  Insurrection (1998)
  6. Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)
  7. Star Trek:  Generations (1994)
  8. Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)
  9. Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier (1989)
  10. Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002)

Analysis

  1. My five favorite Star Trek movies are those I want to watch without skipping any scenes.
  2. The top three films are those with which Nicholas Meyer was involved.
  3. My least favorite Star Trek movies are those that were nearly franchise killers.
  4. Original series movies are generally better than Next Generation movies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

Brief Reviews: Star Trek Movies VII-X   2 comments

Above:  The U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-E, from Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A Screen Capture

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Preliminary Statements

A few preliminary statements will prove helpful before I get into the meat of this post:

  1. I have been a fan of Star Trek for a long time.  I used to watch the original series in reruns–sometimes on weekends and, when possible, weekdays–and record episodes.  I remember stumbling upon an occasional episode of the animated series (1973-1975) on cable television in the early 1990s.  I recall when I could count the number of movies on one hand and have fingers left over.  I remember watching The Next Generation (1987-1994) in first run.  I have watched every Star Trek movie and most episodes.  I watched every episode all the way through Voyager (1995-2001).  I abandoned Star Trek:  Enterprise (2001-2005) early in the third season, for I was tired of subjecting myself to that series after two years.
  2. Certain Star Trek fans are fanatical to the point of leaving vicious comments online.  I have no use for such behavior.  This is entertainment, not a matter of life and death.  William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch from Saturday Night Live (1986) rings true for many people.
  3. One can find many podcasts and videos regarding Star Trek episodes and movies.  Unfortunately, many of the creators of these media (A) swear enough to embarrass even the most profane sailors, (B) are hyper-critical, to the point of pettiness, and/or (C) speak out of their ignorance.  All of this irritates me.  I respond by ceasing to watch such videos and listen to such podcasts.
  4. On the other hand, many reviewers, working in written, audio, and audio-visual media, do speak and write out of their knowledge.  I am especially fond of the reviews at tor.com, for example.
  5. My intention in this post is neither to write all that I know regarding four Star Trek:  The Next Generation movies nor to replicate the work of others.  (I know far more about these movies than I have written here.)  No, I plan to be concise and to contextualize these films according to each other.  My most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.
  6. No work of human beings is perfect, of course, but it can be enjoyable and well-crafted.  I seek to find the good and praise it, imperfect as it might be.

Star Trek:  Generations (1994)

A screen capture

I recall reading Federation (1994), a novel by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, in which two Enterprises–those of Kirk and Picard–encounter each other.  I acknowledge that this was years ago, so my memories of the plot are sketchy, but I assert without a shadow of a doubt that a movie closer to that novel would have been superior to Star Trek:  Generations.

Next Generation writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga wrote the screenplay for Generations over a period of a year and a half.  Toward the end of that time they also wrote All Good Things… (1994), the series finale of The Next Generation, in a handful of weeks.  The latter work, they have admitted on their commentary track for Generations, was superior to the former.  Moore and Braga had a difficult assignment, one which came with a studio-issued list of plot elements to include.  Paramount Pictures contributed to the lackluster nature of this movie.  The Nexus, for example, never worked well.  Neither did the death of Captain Kirk.  Furthermore, Kirk and Picard scrambling eggs was an anticlimax.

My main complaint, however, pertains to the destruction of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, a capital ship.  The Enterprise-D being vulnerable to an antiquated Klingon Bird of Prey is beyond ridiculous.  But at least we have the scene in which Data, with his emotion chip installed, swears once as the saucer section falls toward Veridian III.  That is entertaining, but the previous scene in which he sings a ditty about scanning for lifeforms is better.

In Dr. Soran we have a villain whose plans do not make sense.  What is to stop him from flying a ship into the Nexus?  Instead he destroys stars and, by extension, solar systems, to alter the course of the Nexus.  I do not emphasize the irrationality of Dr. Soran too much, for I know from history and current events that people are frequently irrational.  I know what has happened, but cannot make logical sense of those events because they are illogical.

All things considered, I have no desire to watch this movie from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A screen capture

Star Trek:  First Contact, the best of the Next Generation movies, according to conventional wisdom, is a film I have difficulty watching.  The movie is too intense for my comfort, due to the Borg, in their silver screen budget incarnation.  They creep me out.  I tend to skip scenes in First Contact, therefore.

First Contact does have its great merits, however.  The black-and-gray uniforms are superior to the immediately preceding uniforms.  Also, the Sovereign Class Enterprise-E is gorgeous.  The characters are in fine form, with Picard having his Captain Ahab phase and Worf being a full Klingon, as when he tells Picard,

If you were any other man, I would kill you where you stand.

I do, however, have a quibble regarding the Borg Queen.  She exists because of a directive from someone at Paramount Pictures.  The Borg are better without a queen, I insist, for putting a face on the Collective raises certain difficult questions in universe.  Does she follow the will of the Collective or does she direct it?  And how is it possible that she was on the Borg cube that blew up in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II?

Star Trek:  Insurrection (1998)

A screen capture

I have listened to podcasts and watched video reviews about Star Trek:  Insurrection.  The creators of some of these media have erupted in frustration and frequent profanity.  These have been overreactions.  I have never objected to the fact that some people do not like the film, but I have always insisted that one should express oneself in the style of an adult whose vocabulary is considerably larger than a collection of curse words.

This is my favorite Next Generation movie.  Yes, it feels like a two-parter from the Next Generation series, but it feels like a good two-parter, specifically what Journey’s End (1994), in which Picard presides over the forced relocation of Native Americans, should have been.  In Insurrection Picard occupies what screen writer Michael Piller called “the moral center of the universe.”  Besides, why is the Federation in league with the Son’a, allies of the Dominion (which is trying to conquer the Federation) in the Dominion War?  The answer comes from an earlier draft of the script:  Admiral Dougherty is affiliated with Section 31.

Of all the Next Generation movies, this is the only one I choose to watch from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002)

A screen capture

Star Trek:  Nemesis, in the words of Marina Sirtis, “sucks.”  The best Star Trek stories are character-focused.  In this movie, however, the best character moments are absent from the theatrical cut and are available in the deleted scenes section of the second disc of the set.  Those facts contribute to the poor critical reception of the movie at the time and the disappointing box office results.  This is the movie that, along with Star Trek:  Enterprise, killed the prime universe of Star Trek on screen.

Above:  The Enterprise-E and the Scimitar, after the Enterprise-E rammed the Scimitar

A screen capture

This was, according to the trailer, the final voyage of the Next Generation crew.  Data died, Riker and Troi married and transferred to the U.S.S. Titan, and Crusher left to lead Starfleet Medical.  However, the downloaded memories of Data began to surface in the primitive android B-4 by the end of the movie.  According to Countdown, the comic book prequel to Star Trek (2009), B-4 became Data (Mark II) and the Captain of the Enterprise-E in time.  There might have been subsequent prime universe movies with characters from various series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), but the failure of Nemesis prevented that.

The plot of the movie depends too much on coincidence.  What is the probability that Romulan agents would plot to clone Picard?  What are the odds that the Enterprise-E would detect the disassembled B-4?  And what is the likelihood that Starfleet would send the Enterprise-E to Romulus?

The script of Nemesis, like that of Generations, tackles ponderous themes ambitiously and fails.  The fault does not reside in the purview of the main Next Generation cast.  Patrick Stewart, for example, is so great an actor that he elevates subpar material.  The fault falls upon the writer, John Logan, whose script does not give the characters a proper send off.  Maybe he should take lessons from Nicholas Meyer, co-author of The Undiscovered Country (1991).

I choose not to dwell too much on the illogical plans of Shinzon, the clone of Picard.  Shinzon, for a man who is dying, wastes plenty of time.  Furthermore, why would the destruction of Earth cripple the Federation?  For an explanation of why I am not making more of the irrationality of Shinzon, consult my remarks about Dr. Soran in Generations.

Above:  The Enterprise-E, Undergoing Repairs

A screen capture

Nemesis gives me no satisfaction; I watch only parts of the movie.

Rankings

Ranking these four movies is relatively easy for me:

  1. Star Trek:  Insurrection
  2. Star Trek:  First Contact
  3. Star Trek:  Generations
  4. Star Trek:  Nemesis

The original series movies, taken together, are superior to the Next Generation movies, taken together.

My overall rankings of movies I-X are here.

Special Note:  Abramsverse Movies and Contemporary Star Trek 

Nevertheless, the Next Generation movies, taken together, are superior to the Abramsverse reboot movies #1-3, taken together.  (Movie #4 is in development as I write this.)  Of the three Abramsverse films so far, Star Trek Beyond (2016) is the best and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) is the worst.

Furthermore, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, from the end of Star Trek Beyond, is ugly.  I like the Constitution Class refit from the first six Star Trek movies.

I agree with Simon Pegg that prime Spock and Nero entered the past of another parallel universe, not that of the prime universe.  This is obvious to me due to the technology and uniforms.  Besides, the existence of a multiverse in Star Trek has been part of canon since Mirror, Mirror, in the original series.  One might even argue convincingly that Star Trek:  Enterprise occurs in a parallel universe.

Regardless of what CBS/Paramount says, the trailer for Star Trek:  Discovery (2017-) makes the setting of that series look like the Abramsverse.  As Doug Drexler, who knows more about Star Trek than most people, says, Star Trek is a period drama.  A particular era of Star Trek has a certain look.  Why not, therefore, just state plainly that this is an Abramsverse series?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

Brief Reviews: Star Trek Movies I-VI   2 comments

Above:  The Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701, from Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)

A Screen Capture

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Preliminary Statements

A few preliminary statements will prove helpful before I get into the meat of this post:

  1. I have been a fan of Star Trek for a long time.  I used to watch the original series in reruns–sometimes on weekends and, when possible, weekdays–and record episodes.  I remember stumbling upon an occasional episode of the animated series (1973-1975) on cable television in the early 1990s.  I recall when I could count the number of movies on one hand and have fingers left over.  I remember watching The Next Generation (1987-1994) in first run.  I have watched every Star Trek movie and most episodes.  I watched every episode all the way through Voyager (1995-2001).  I abandoned Star Trek:  Enterprise (2001-2005) early in the third season, for I was tired of subjecting myself to that series after two years.
  2. Certain Star Trek fans are fanatical to the point of leaving vicious comments online.  I have no use for such behavior.  This is entertainment, not a matter of life and death.  William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch from Saturday Night Live (1986) rings true for many people.
  3. One can find many podcasts and videos regarding Star Trek episodes and movies.  Unfortunately, many of the creators of these media (A) swear enough to embarrass even the most profane sailors, (B) are hyper-critical, to the point of pettiness, and/or (C) speak out of their ignorance.  All of this irritates me.  I respond by ceasing to watch such videos and listen to such podcasts.
  4. On the other hand, many reviewers, working in written, audio, and audio-visual media, do speak and write out of their knowledge.  I am especially fond of the reviews at tor.com, for example.
  5. My intention in this post is neither to write all that I know regarding the first six Star Trek movies nor to replicate the work of others.  (I know far more about these movies than I have written here.)  No, I plan to be concise and to contextualize these films according to each other.  My most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.
  6. No work of human beings is perfect, of course, but it can be enjoyable and well-crafted.  I seek to find the good and praise it, imperfect as it might be.

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)

A Screen Capture

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture exists in various versions, all of which suffer from the same problems, with their origins in the story itself.  The story, such as it is, is an adaptation of a pilot for a television series Paramount never made.  The movie also overextends the plot and focuses more on special effects than on characters.  The best Star Trek stories have to do with characters.  In this movie, however, characters in pastel pajama-like uniforms gaze at special effects for long periods of time.  Speaking of the story, I like the concise version of it–The Changeling, an episode of the original series.

Nevertheless, The Motion Picture does have its virtues.  The overture, Ilia’s Theme, is gorgeous, the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith is majestic, and the Enterprise receives all the respect due such an august vessel.  I enjoy looking at the Enterprise, so I like the sequence in which Kirk, Scotty, and, by extension, the audience members, look at the refit ship’s exterior for six minutes.  This is a movie for people with long attention spans, not individuals with the attention spans of fleas with ADHD.

I rank The Motion Picture near the bottom of the first six Star Trek movies, for, after the ship leaves the orbit of Earth, I start skipping scenes.  To paraphrase George Lucas from a Star Wars documentary from the 1980s, a special effect without a story is boring.

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)

A Screen Capture

I thrill to play this movie from beginning to end, without interruption.

The Wrath of Khan also exists in various editions.  I prefer the director’s cut, for that version includes nice character moments and background information absent from the theatrical edition.

The Wrath of Khan, the first installment in the accidental trilogy, is a movie I have memorized.  I can anticipate every line of dialogue while watching it.  Also, whenever I listen to the soundtrack, I can visualize the germane scene.  This is my favorite Star Trek film.  It is the favorite Star Trek movie of many people.  It is so popular and influential, in fact, that Paramount Pictures has released remakes and bastardizations of it, namely Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), both of which I consider barely watchable.

The stars align in The Wrath of Khan.  Ricardo Montalban is excellent as the poetic and insane Khan, the “majestic maroon” uniforms are wonderful, the theme of aging resonates well, the death of Spock is gut-wrenching, and Admiral Kirk realizes the truth of his statement that

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

I cannot heap enough praise on this film, for its flaws are minor.

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock (1984)

A screen capture

Leonard Nimoy’s debut as a cinematic director is a wonderful story of self-sacrifice for a friend.  Admiral Kirk and the other heroes from the original series risk their careers and destroy the decommisioned Enterprise to reunite Spock’s body (regenerating on the Genesis Planet) with his katra (resident in Dr. McCoy).

Here is another movie I enjoy watching from beginning to end, without skipping any scenes.  Yes, Star Trek III is not as good as Star Trek II.  Yes, the leisure wear is horrid.  Yes, the chairs on the bridge of the U.S.S. Grissom are pink.  Nevertheless, the Excelsior and Oberth Classes of starships debut in this film.  They, in combination with the Miranda Class (from Star Trek II) add up to three new classes of starships, thereby expanding the Starfleet on-screen.  Furthermore, the enclosed Spacedock makes its first appearance in Star Trek III.

My favorite aspect of Star Trek III is the character work.  Out of friendship Kirk and company make themselves criminals to rescue Spock, who had sacrificed himself to ensure that the Enterprise could escape from the Genesis Wave in Star Trek II.  Star Trek III has plenty of heart.

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home (1986)

A screen capture

The Voyage Home, for all of its plot holes and a few pointless scenes, is fun.  I have no difficulty watching it from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Much of the appeal of Star Trek IV is the fish-out-of-water plot for our heroes.  Watching Admiral Kirk and company in San Francisco in 1986 is hilarious.  Spock discovers profanity and curses badly, inserting “the hell” awkwardly into sentences.  (“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.”)  Kirk does not know the difference between LSD and LDS.   (“He did too much LDS in the Sixties.”)  Scotty speaks to a computer.  Chekov and Uhura seek “nuclear wessels” during the Cold War.  All of this is fun.

“Home” has a double meaning.  “Home” refers to Earth, which the crew saves from an alien probe with a warped sense of logic.  The probe, having lost contact with humpback whales, proceeds to begin to vaporize oceans.  Huh? (Whales are aquatic lifeforms.) “Home” also refers to the Enterprise-A, presumably the Yorktown (the ship whose chief engineer rigged a solar sail at the beginning of the movie), Kirk’s new command after demotion to the rank of captain.

Kirk’s demotion to Captain makes sense.  In The Motion Picture he seizes command of the newly refit Enterprise awa from Willard Decker, who goes off to merge with V’Ger.  In The Wrath of Khan both Spock and McCoy tell Kirk that he ought to be a starship captain.  Kirk is bored when he is not commanding a starship. His demotion from Admiral to Captain is not a punishment, but a reward.

The Voyage Home‘s financial success is the reason Paramount Pictures greenlit The Next Generation (1987-1994), thereby launching a period of 18 years during which at least one Star Trek series was in production at any given time.  That is a fine legacy.

Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier (1989)

A Screen Capture

I know that The Final Frontier makes plain that the Enterprise-A is a new, poorly constructed ship, but I refuse to consider this movie to be part of Star Trek canon.  The film tramples continuity, makes a mockery of the Enterprise-A (until it ceases to do so, without explanation), and portrays most of our beloved characters in inconsistent and unflattering ways.  How is it that characters who were prepared, in universe, less than a year prior to this movies, to throw away their careers to rescue Spock, betray Kirk so casually in Star Trek V?

This is cinematic excrement with an occasional nice character moment.  But who are these characters?  They are certainly not the Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov I have come to know via episodes and movies.

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”–John Masefield

A screen capture

At least the Enterprise-A, being a refit Constitution Class vessel, has graceful lines.  (The refit Constitution Class is my favorite starship design.)  However, the vessel, according to deck plans, has 21 decks, with the Bridge being on Deck A, at the top of the saucer.  In the movie the ship has at least 84 decks.  That is quite an error in the The Final Frontier.

Furthermore, Kirk and crew have been to the center of galaxy.  In The Majicks of Megus-Tu, an episode of the animated series, the Enterprise journeyed to the center of the galaxy, where Kirk and crew met Satan, who seems to have been a horribly misunderstood character, according to the story.  In this movie they just met a disgruntled and imprisoned spirit vulnerable to Klingon weapons.  Both stories were garbage.

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)

A screen capture

Star Trek VI gives our heroes a proper send-off, complete with a warmongering Klingon general who quotes Shakespeare, sometimes in, as Chancellor Gorkon puts it, “in the original Klingon.”  Kirk and crew save the day and the life of the President of the United Federation of Planets, but not before events force them to confront their own prejudices first.  Even the best of us harbor nasty prejudices, after all.  The difference between the best of us and the worst of us is that the best of us acknowledge and resist those prejudices.

Change is frequently difficult, even when the change in question is necessary and proper.  In this case the change is the end the Federation-Klingon Cold War, in parallel to the Cold War of the twentieth century.  When we define ourselves according to who our enemies are, the question of how we will define ourselves when our enemies cease to be our enemies becomes a psychologically difficult one.  Some individuals become so frightened of change in Star Trek VI that they conspire to assassinate.

Above:  The Enterprise-A and the Excelsior

Sulu is wonderful as Captain of the Excelsior, a ship he would have commanded since Star Trek III, except for William Shatner’s behind-the-scenes machinations in the 1980s.  I wonder how different certain preceding movies would have been with Sulu aboard the Excelsior.  I am convinced that the supporting characters, such as Sulu, always deserved more to do in the original series and in the first six Star Trek movies.

I have no difficulty watching Star Trek VI from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Rankings

As I have pondered these movies again during the last few days, I have changed my mind several times regarding the relative rankings.  I have arrived at the following rankings, from best to worst:

  1. Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country
  3. Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home
  4. Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock
  5. Star Trek:  The Motion Picture
  6. Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier

Nicholas Meyer directed my two favorite Star Trek movies and partially wrote the top three.  He was a great asset to this series of films, after all, so this ranking has not proven to be accidental.

My overall rankings of movies I-X are here.

Looking Ahead

Next I plan to ponder and rank the four Next Generation movies.

I choose make one point of comparison plain here:  The original series movies were, taken together, superior to the Next Generation films, taken together.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2018 COMMON ERA

The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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Regarding Political Incivility and the Denial of the Humanity of the Opposition   Leave a comment

On Tuesday, June 6, 2017, Eric Trump, son of Donald Trump, appeared on the alleged FOX News Channel (perhaps the greatest oxymoron since jumbo shrimp, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) and denied the humanity of Democrats, especially those pressing the Russia investigation:

I’ve never seen hatred like this.  I mean to me, they’re not even people.

I, writing as a member of the resistance to Donald Trump, a man with a disturbing affinity for strong men (such as those of Turkey, the Russian Federation, and the Philippines), affirm the humanity and corresponding dignity of all people, including those with the surname “Trump.”  I refuse to stoop to the mean-spirited level of Eric Trump, who, in that interview, went on to accuse Tom Perez, the new Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, “a total whack job” then to decry the increase in political name calling.  I am well-acquainted with the desire to engage in political name calling, for I have done so.  I conclude, however, that I ought to be a better person than that.  This is a spiritual discipline.

I do not know what the conclusions of a full, professional investigation of the Russia-related allegations will be or what paths for further investigation they will open.  No, I reserve judgment, for I prefer to stand on the solid ground of objective reality.  I wish for people to recognize me as being what I am–one who speaks and writes cautiously, based on accurate information.  More information relevant to the Russia issue and its spin-offs seems to become available daily, as the stories develop.  Objective reality is what it is; so be it; I side with it.  To insist on a full disclosure of objective reality in matters affecting the governance of the republic then to follow objective reality where it points is wise and patriotic, although inconvenient for many.  I, as a patriot, hope that there is nothing detrimental to the United States for any investigation to unearth; I do not want my country to suffer a political trauma needlessly.  If, however, such skullduggery is reality, may it become public knowledge and the chips fall where they may.  I support the integrity of the constitutional system, which is greater than any person or persons.

I do write and speak of what I know.  Donald Trump is his own worst enemy.  He, despite his advanced age, is immature.  He is also impulsive.  He uses Twitter too much, doubles down on inaccurate Tweets, demonstrates his affinity for hare-brained conspiracy theories.  He, behaving immaturely and impulsively, undercuts the efforts of his staff and cabinet secretaries, appalls not only Democrats but principled conservatives, makes life more difficult for himself by giving political ammunition to his opponents, and complicates the efforts of many supporters to defend him.

Regardless of what professional investigators will learn, Donald Trump will remain his own worst enemy.  Will he learn this lesson and cease to blame others and not himself?  The passage of time will tell.

If publishing this post places me in the class of people whose humanity Eric Trump denies, so be it.  I continue to affirm his humanity and his corresponding dignity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2017 COMMON ERA

Feast of Andre, Magda, and Daniel Trocme (April 12)   Leave a comment

Above:  France, 1941

Image Source = Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1957)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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DANIEL TROCMÉ (APRIL 28, 1912-APRIL 6, 1944)

French Educator, Humanitarian, and Martyr

nephew of

ANDRÉ TROCMÉ (APRIL 7, 1901-JUNE 5, 1971)

French Reformed Minister and Humanitarian

husband of

MAGDA TROCMÉ (NOVEMBER 2, 1902-OCTOBER 10, 1996)

French Humanitarian

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RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

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You have to think like a hero merely to behave like a decent human being.

–Bartholomew Scott Blair in The Russia House (1990)

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Only to your fathers was YHWH attached, to love them, so he chose their seed after them,

you, above all (other) peoples,

as (is) this (very) day.

So circumcise the foreskin of your heart,

your neck you are not to keep-hard anymore;

for YHWH your God,

he is the God of gods and the Lord of lords,

the God great, powerful, and awe-inspiring,

he who lifts up no face (in favor) and takes no bribe,

providing justice (for) orphan and widow,

loving the sojourner, by giving him food and clothing.

So you are to love the sojourner,

for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt;

YHWH your God, you are to hold-in-awe,

him you are to serve,

to him you are to cling,

by his name you are to swear!

–Deuteronomy 19:15-20, Translated by Everett Fox (1995)

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It is very dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

–Voltaire

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Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), lists April 7 as the feast of André Trocmé.  One could, I suppose, also choose April 6, April 28, June 5, October 10, or November 2, if one were restricting oneself to birth and death dates.  However, on this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, April 12 works fine.

Being a merely decent human being can be difficult and mortally perilous.  Those who behave as decent people during such circumstances are moral giants.

André Trocmé, born in Saint-Quentin-en-Tourment, France, on April 7, 1901, identified with the downtrodden and understood the Biblical mandate to care for them.  He, of Huguenot (properly pronounced U-guh-NO; the “t” and “s” are silent) stock, knew the history of the persecution of French Calvinists.  André had also been a poor refugee during World War I.  He studied theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, where Henry Sloane Coffin taught and, in 1926, became the president of the institution.  In New York City André met and fell in love with Magda Grilli, Italian-born yet of Russian ancestry.  Members of her family had resisted authority in both Italy and Russia.  The couple married in 1925.

In 1934 André became the pastor in the Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Vignon, or Le Chambon, for short.  He, Magda, and their children settled in the town, whose population went on in just a few years to commit great and unfortunately rare acts of morality and heroism.  For Pastor Trocmé  the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ was to live according to the ethical standards of the Sermon on the Mount–to love God and one’s neighbors.  He also emphasized the portion of Deuteronomy I have quoted at the beginning of this post.  He was also a pacifist.

Pacifism, of course, does not necessarily mean surrender to injustice.  No, it means resisting injustice by nonviolent means.  This is a fact that some of the college students to whom I teach U.S. history fail to grasp.  I recall, for example, one pupil who, even after I corrected him in writing, insisted on describing Quakers as “passive-aggressive,” not pacifistic.

Above:  A Portion of Southern France

Image Source = Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1957)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The location of Le Chambon-sur-Vignon is slightly to the southeast of Yssingeau, in Haute-Loire.

The inhabitants of Le Chambon were neither passive nor aggressive.  No, they were Christian and merely decent.  In 1940, after the Third Reich took over France, the German government established a puppet state (the French State, in English), commonly called Vichy France.  The rest of France fell under direct German rule.  Le Chambon fell within the borders of Vichy France.  The Trocmés resisted the ultranationalism of the French State.  Resisting authority came naturally to them, especially Magda.

So did sheltering refugees.  As I have written, André had been one.  Also, Magda had worked in a camp for refugees from Francisco Franco’s Spanish Christian Fascists (Falangists, technically), officially neutral during World War II yet sympathetic to the Nazis.  Starting in 1940, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, the Trocmés led the village in resisting the laws of the Third Reich and of Vichy France while obeying the laws of God.  Le Chambon and the neighboring farms became centers for sheltering Jews, many of them illegal aliens.  In 1942 the order to deport French Jews took effect.  The body count of that order exceeded 83,000.  In Paris alone, in the summer of 1942, the number of deported Jews was about 28,000.  Over years, however, the villagers of Le Chambon, led by the Trocmés, sheltered and saved no fewer than 2,500 Jews–perhaps as many as 5,000.  Vichy and Nazi authorities noticed yet never could capture any Jews there.  A doctor who forged documents died in a concentration camp.  Starting in early 1942 André had to go on the run, so Magda, who had helped him lead the village’s efforts, performed more duties.  There were, after all, documents to forge and deliveries of food and clothing to make.

The villagers of Le Chambon did not consider their actions in sheltering Jews remarkable.  This was an expression of their faith, after all.  Those actions were, however, relatively rare in France during World War II.  They also met with the disapproval of the leader of André’s denomination.

Daniel Trocmé, born on April 28, 1912, was André’s nephew.  Daniel, a science teacher and a compassionate man, had fragile health, including a heart condition.  He taught at Masion Les Roches, a Huguenot boarding school, in Verneuil.  In 1941 he accepted his uncle’s invitation to become the principal of Les Grillons, the boarding school for Jewish children at Le Chambon founded by the American Friends Service Committee.  Daniel was a kind and conscientious educator.  Eventually he left to assume the leadership of Maison Les Roches.  There Daniel sheltered Jewish youth.  Agents of the Gestaop raided the school on June 29, 1943.  Our saint did not flee the authorities, who detained him, along with 18 pupils.  He did not deny sheltering Jews.  No, Daniel told the agents that sheltering Jews was the morally correct action.  He spent the rest of his brief life as a prisoner, dying, aged 31 years, at Maidanek Concentration Camp, Lublin, Poland, on April 6, 1944.

André continued to live out his faith after the liberation of France.  He served as the European secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.  And, during the Algerian War, our saint cooperated with Mennonites to help French conscientious objectors.  He died, aged 70 years, at Geneva, Switzerland, on June 5, 1971.

Magda died, aged 91 years, in Paris on October 10, 1996.  She lived long enough to witness the villagers, her husband, Daniel, and herself recognized formally as Righteous Gentiles.

Some of the passages of scripture that trouble me the most are those that counsel submission to authority–especially, in historical context, that of the Roman Empire.  Although freedom cannot exist amid anarchy, there are times when defying “legitimate” political authority is the only morally correct course of action.  This is a nuance I do not detect in the germane New Testament passages.

The Trocmés understood that nuance well, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUIS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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The Folly and Immorality of Campus Carry   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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On July 1, in the State of Georgia, the new “campus carry” law will go into effect.

As long as this law (as well as the previous, vetoed version) has been on the legislative table, it has concerned me.  I, as a classroom instructor on a university campus, have become jaded about postsecondary students overall over the years.  This fact, added to my negative view of human nature (depravity as objective reality, not an article of faith), has caused me to conclude that this law is a recipe for very bad–even lethal–results.

The version of the law that passed the General Assembly and received Governor Nathan Deal’s signature does include certain exemptions, such as residence halls, sports venues, day care centers, and offices.  But what constitutes an office?  This matter is not always clear for certain employees of the University System of Georgia.  Another exemption is any classroom in which, at the time, a dual-enrolled high school student is present.  Yet, if a high school student not dual-enrolled is present in that classroom, that space is not exempt from the “campus carry” law.  Furthermore, any common space–such as a dining hall or a lobby–is a space in which someone with a concealed gun permit may legally carry a concealed gun, even if a high school student is present.  Regarding sports venues, guns are forbidden there, but, as of today, there will no University System of Georgia policy allowing the posting of signage indicating this.  Drunken tailgaters outside the sports venues will have the right of carry guns, however.

This morning I attended a town hall meeting led by the university chief of police.  He, for professional reasons, did not express his opinion.  He read the text of the law and of the statement from the office of the Chancellor of the University System.  He also went over established questions and answers.  Many of the answers were indefinite, indicating that the University System had yet to provide guidance regarding that particular circumstance.  Then the chief answered new questions.  As I listened intently, I became more concerned.  Professors and staff members asked about their particular and practical circumstances, ranging from chemistry labs to testing centers to the blurring of the lines between common space and office space in the library.  The chief had no answer other than the University System had yet to provide guidance.  After the meeting I heard some professors indicate that they were going on the job market.

The chief will lead more campus town hall meetings–later this month and again in August, as the University System offers more guidance.

Those who voted for this law and the governor who signed it did not think through the plethora of details sufficiently.  They created a huge mess, one that is leading campus police departments to develop programs to train faculty and staff to talk down armed and emotionally disturbed students.

I am cautious by nature.  For this reason I tend not to make wild predictions or embrace conspiracy theories.  I do make two predictions, however:

  1. Lawsuits will ensue as the University System offers guidance, faculty and staff members follow it, and individuals carrying concealed guns object to the rules, claiming that these rules violate the law.  The United States does have a litigious society, after all.
  2. More than one person will die or suffer injury because of this law.

Legislators and the Governor will be morally responsible for those deaths and injuries.

The gun culture is alive and well in the State of Georgia.  For example, we have a law permitting people to carry weapons onto church property unless the church forbids it.  Fortunately, the Episcopal Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta have such a ban.  I reject the idea that the answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns.  Adding guns to the equation makes as much sense to me as pouring gasoline on a fire and mistaking the gasoline for flame retardant.

May God deliver us from ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted June 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Political Statements

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