Friday, November 30, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Back for the Season Two BluRay Celebration

I met my friend Joe in the lobby of our local Celebration Cinema with a pair of pre-purchased tickets in hand. We greeted one another and then made our way over to cushy Theater One for show time as I called attention to my Star Trek: The Next Generation communicator badge, which hung from my t-shirt. There we were two Trek fans on their way to bask in the glow of the big screen upon which the beloved science-fiction wonder show of our youth would be projected in marvelously remastered, high definition. It was time to take part in welcoming the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Two to the BluRay format.

After attending Fathom Event's July special for Season One (TNG Season 1 Event Blog) I knew that I would eventually have to make my way back. The chance to sit with fellow Trek fans and watch the care with which CBS Digital and the incredible Michael and Denise Okuda restored and updated our beloved television show could not be ignored. Star Trek, in my opinion, is one of those things in life that deserves one's attention. It's like the friend who's always given you the time of day or supported you during a rough patch. Basically, I owe it to Star Trek to always be a fan because it's meant so much to me for so long and I'm glad to bear that in mind. Also, I go to show my appreciation for all the efforts made to keep The Next Generation alive and well for the future.

There were several fans in attendance, though the event was far from being sold out. As Trek trivia questions boomed on to the screen, backed by the glorious, familiar theme music, I could hear folks all over the room discussing them. It was through and through a Trek event for Trek fans by, from what I could tell from the restoration documentaries and what I've experienced from Michael and Denise Okuda, Trek fans. As I stated in my review of the previous event, it was as good and as close to a micro-Trek Con as I'll ever get where I'm located.

Before the first episode, which was "Q Who?," we were shown restoration comparisons which, I must admit, surprised me. "Q Who?" was introduced by some folks at CBS Digital, Michael and Denise Okuda, and director Rob Bowman (Star Trek, The X-Files, The X-Files: Fight the Future). The first appearance of The Borg was as great to watch as ever. Remastered, it looked crisp, and as with the First Season episodes, the new and enhanced special effects were very much faithful to the originals.

Between the first and second episode we were given a chance to see some hilarious bloopers, mostly those displaying Michael Dorn's inability to keep a straight face during another actor's lines. Following the bloopers we had a long-awaited cast reunion, the reason I was most looking forward to this event. The gang was all there and their discussions, had they not been edited down for the time restraints of the event, could have kept me engaged and entertained for hours.

The final episode of the evening, preceding the Season Three preview which concluded the night, was a showing of an extended cut of the episode "The Measure of a Man," written by television scribe Melinda M. Snodgrass. This version featured thirteen extra minutes, all of them necessary as far as I'm concerned. What was most amazing about this version of the episode, beyond its thoughtful plot and all-important reflection upon the concepts of sentience and identity, was the fact that the additional scenes were retrieved from a VHS of a rough cut of the full episode gifted to Ms. Snodgrass before it aired and yet it still looked amazing in HD. The remastering was so effective that Joe and I were unable to find apparent video quality differences throughout the episode.

So, having now attended two of the Star Trek: The Next Generation BluRay release events I am more than certain that I shall continue this tradition. I look forward to the release of Season Three and hopefully what will be the theatrical showing of a remastered edition of "Best of Both Worlds Part One," a powerful episode for fans of this series. My thanks go again to the amazing restoration staff at CBS Digital. They know their stuff and they have skillfully maintained the heart of my favorite television series whilst beautifying it for modern audio/visual entertainment. I also wish to thank Michael and Denise Okuda who were kind enough to share my blog review of the previous event, and who tirelessly tend to the well being of the Star Trek universe in their way. They are the keepers of the flame and they deserve all the praise they can stand and then some.

Until Season Three, fellow Trek fans!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

America's Black Friday Monsters and A Holiday Diminished

Thanksgiving is typically a time for friends and family to come together and share in a feast. They express their thankfulness for the good in their lives and for each other. It's usually a positive and passive event. Unfortunately corporate greed has found a way to ruin this holiday by playing to the greediest, basest side of humanity.

The day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday" as it's known, and the weekend which follows up to "Cyber Monday," another consumer day of shame, have become more important to Americans than their holiday of gratefulness. No longer do the people of this country seem to have a respect for acknowledging the good in life. Instead they constantly play at grabbing each other's wallets through the guise of one-time sales and "Must have" items. The people abandon their families (or worse, they drag their children along) to run out into the cold night to wait in store lines, like religious zealots running to temple to light the offering pyres. This year they've gone shopping on the holiday itself. They disregard a time of reflection upon the finer points of existence with the people they care about the most to rush about assaulting their fellow citizens for the last item of tremendous pseudo-rarity. One might say that Americans have sullied the word "holiday" like they've sullied the word "patriotism."

What many of them don't seem to understand, or horrifically, what they understand but manage to ignore, is that they're surrendering themselves and forsaking what one would hope is truly important to them to bow to the whip crack of their corporate masters. Corporations prepare all year for their chance to convince the impressionable populace that they're offering them rare discounts on items they've hyped to the point that Americans believe those things will give their lives greater meaning or value. People are admitting their stupidity by flying out to the local (insert name here)-Mart to buy things they might never use just because the sale has been inflated in importance to seem irresistible.

This corporately advertised rarity is, of course, false. It's akin to the comic publishers of the 1990s who would release several versions of a book and spread the word that the limited print versions would one day be worth enough to pay college tuitions. Those promises didn't pan out, naturally, and the comic industry suffered greatly. Granted, their tactics happened within a small community where many were in a position to see the damaging nature of such fake value. Corporations who plaster the email inboxes and mailboxes of the people of America are no different than Marvel Comics and DC Comics in the 90s. Except their tactics are better veiled and employed in such a way, on products which have been hyped by playing on consumer insecurities, that people are for the most part incapable of detecting any foul play. When will a great attention be called to this? When will people wake up? When will the floor fall out from beneath these corrupt, money-hungry corporations?

If you're reading this and you don't completely agree, or outright disagree, then please try this. Watch a "Black Friday" commercial. Let's use the Best Buy commercial below. It completely employs the tactics I've mentioned above, and it goes as far as to insult the average person, assuming that person has considered the cons of "Black Friday," by pointing out their hypocrisy and impressionability. How can you not be insulted by this commercial? Why would you give this company your money? Why would you, if you have considered the horrible nature of such a period of corporate greed in the first place, not look at other companies and assume the same?

It's time to think, America. Don't act. Think. Why do you let this happen to yourselves?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Another Thanksgiving

Why not take the opportunity to think about being thankful for a change? Ranting and complaining does become tiring. Now for the positive.

I'm incredibly thankful for my beautiful and loving wife. Without her I wouldn't be able to pursue my dreams, and even more important, my life would lack the joy which fuels my ability to dream.

I'm also thankful for the home I share with my wife. It's comfortable and suits us almost perfectly. We just need a few robots, maybe.

Beyond those two things I'm kind of lukewarm as far as feelings go. Oh, well.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans. Everyone else in the world, I hope you're having a terrific day. Feel free to take a few jabs at all the self-satisfied Americans.

Now for some imagery. I drew this quickly a few years ago. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Long Nighttime Road and Failed Good Deeds

A text came in this afternoon from an acquaintance who occupies the stained fringes of society. It was a request for a kindness. I was needed to transport him from a great distance outside of town into the belly of the shadiest region of the urban hellscape so that he might join with his friend in a decadent and depressing bastardization of Thanksgiving. I convinced myself that it was a good deed worth doing, bit the bullet, and drove North. There was a certain unmentionable incentive, so the weight of any personal opposition on my part was slightly lessened.

After a great while, making my way out into the middle of almost nowhere, I finally arrived at the fellow's door. He came down from his quarters lugging several overnight bags, cursing social networking and its inherent drama. Offering me a cigarette he launched into a drawn out explanation of his recent pastimes, occasionally taking an opportunity to curse this person or that. The return journey, thanks to his deluge of babble, was incredibly tiring.

A long while passed until we eventually crossed into the neighborhood in which his friend resided. Sodium lights stained what the night failed to hide and cast a jaundiced look upon the surrounding industrial wasteland. Passing through areas of dilapidated 1960s architecture, which had been plastered over with Spanish signage, and junkyard after junkyard we eventually found the correct street. Standing before the domicile, which my passenger announced as his destination, was a haggard-looking woman whose lifestyle, apparent from her face, attire and the appearance of her home, added at least a decade to her age. She approached the vehicle and made to enter through one of the rear passenger doors. I stepped out to assist her entry, attempting some decency there amongst the shambles, and saw her smile widely at me as she made to rub her breasts against my door-holding hand as she lowered herself into the vehicle. I shuddered in spite of myself and took to the wheel yet again.

The drive continued, this time to a grocer at which the pair hoped to purchase their holiday groceries. This was an addition to the initial arrangement which was sprung upon me after I had traveled a considerable distance towards my acquaintance's home. I found that the protective layer of ignorance in which I draped myself and the constant self-reminding of an investment in good deed-doing were failing. It lasted long enough to take us to the grocer and back, though.

I tagged along through the brightly lit grocery store at near midnight, trailing behind my acquaintance and his rudely behaved lady-friend. Many store attendants were given grief by the woman, and I began to feel, as I beheld her unrepressed disrespect for others, that my good deeds, if there were truly any, were being tremendously outweighed. Thankfully we eventually left the store and set the minds of the attendants, and one badly harassed cashier, at ease with our exit.

Walking back to the car I was questioned by my incredibly tasteless acquaintance about my thoughts on the bouncing ass of his female friend who flaunted herself before us during the return trek. I shrugged off the question and watched as she made eyes back towards the both of us. I dug deeper into the bliss of ignorance and kept reminding myself that it was all almost over. I helped load up the car, experienced another physical flirtation from the woman, and then drove off back to her home to deposit all the garbage of the night which I had allowed to cling to me. On the drive back to her house she made mention of sex acts with both my acquaintance and myself, this coming after her discussion about her children and the fact that she possesses ample amounts of government food stamps from her status as a "Single mother." I shuddered violently and applied myself more fiercely to the act of accelerating back to her residence.

Whilst returning home after ridding myself of the spoiled fruits of good deeds I encountered some hostility at a local gas station. I beheld a man, typified as a "Bro" by most in the modern know, dressed in the clothes of a sloven sports fanatic married with the garb of a hobby hunter. He was photographing his over-sized pickup truck with his cell phone while his friend sat behind the wheel. I shook my head in disgust at the sight and pumped gas into my vehicle. Before I was finished I looked up to see the pair drive by, the sporty hunter hanging out the window inquiring, "What are you looking at, bitch?" I responded with "Red neck, deer-fucker," and finished pumping my gas as they drove off.

Arriving back home I took an opportunity to reflect upon my active wade through the trash of the night. I had set out to aid a person who stood to remain in solitude during a holiday and ended the night with lessons learned and ripe, blistering fury. I'm calm now, here at home with my loving wife and my familiar things. I know now why I prefer the life of a shut-in. May it never become as horrific as what I involved myself in this evening. Now to plan a use for the incentive. I guess that I am not as entirely wholesome as I believe myself to be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Intelligence and Delusion

I'm an intelligent guy. I can confess that truth after denying it out of shame for so long. For quite some time I felt like I had to doubt that fact and ask the pardon of others who might have called attention to it. No longer will I humble myself to the point of crippling my intellect.

As I revisit educational subjects of interest and refresh long-dormant knowledge I'm finding that my adult mind is adopting past perspectives and creating a solid wall of doubt which blocks me from any and all extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence. In other words, any belief that I might have once held about the possible existence of a deity or the invisible presence of the spirit world has been almost completely removed from me. In considering the void which remains I have found my denial process slowed, though.

To think that the universe is the result of reaction after reaction and the evolution of life in the chaos of the ever changing cosmos leaves little room for the fanciful notion that a considerably powerful, invisible being is flipping switches behind some unseen curtain. What else is there then for a sensitive, feeling human mind to consider? Where does one turn when they realize that life is nothing more than the product of chemical reactions and evolution doing their thing until whatever makes life possible ceases to be?

I wonder if I'm comfortable accepting that each human life is a one off event where energy is processed through a human organism until that organism ceases to function and is turned back over to the natural world to surrender the borrowed energy. Can I cope with death truly being the end without any hope of a persistence of my essence beyond? I'm struggling to answer that question.

Life for a human, I find, is a series of experiments randomly performed until inquisitiveness is snuffed out by the breakdown of the body and mind over time. We're conceived, we're born, we become aware, we develop, we learn, we apply our knowledge, we age, and then we die. There doesn't need to be an epilogue or a second volume to existence. The finality of the obvious end should be enough. It can enrich the time prior and drive one to do the best for as long as they can. It's tragic, in a way, that humanity has despaired at such a thought often enough to have generated several imagined ways out of the eventual end.

The concept of a god or an afterlife is a cushion for the fragile mind which struggles to consider the possibility of a bare universe in which one is no more significant than any other component of the grand cosmic machine. Such a bogus concept comes from weakness coupled with our long-developed ability to dream of possibilities beyond our base perceptions. God and the existence beyond life are a crutches for those who can't escape the safety of intense denial. Aren't they?

Again, I still struggle to accept obvious truths and deny what can only be hopeful delusions. My intelligence, I think, won't let me give up or give in. Thank goodness for that, at least.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

America, I'm Proud of Us

I wanted to write about my first trip to the polls. I wanted to comment on the feelings surrounding the experience of being an active citizen. I even, for a brief period of confusion and slight despair, thought that I'd have to post my anger and disappointment. That was until the later hours of Eastern Standard Time rolled around and an overwhelming relief followed.

Instead, my friends and fellow citizens, I'll just share one of the best acceptance speeches I've ever heard and encourage you to drink deep the spirit of hope which now surrounds us. The future is in front of us and we, in the tradition of those who brought us to this wondrous present, need to tap into our potentials and walk boldly forward. To the light we forward march and to its brilliance we do lend the flames of our individual magnificences. Towards a better tomorrow we now head.

Thank you, dear people. You make me proud.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and my personal intellectual renaissance

There's a potential future in which human beings in general, not just citizens clinging to outdated Nationalist ideals and their inherent bigotry, are not only scientifically literate and intentionally well-informed but also eager to expand their presence in the universe. Could we actually realize such a future? The optimist in me wants to say yes, we most certainly can and will. The pessimist in me wants to scoff at such a notion, writing it off as mere fancy, and rant about how we're being helplessly thrust into another long period of anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance.

We as a species are at an impressive point in our development, and the decisions of the majority will, as always, steer our course. Let's put aside the easy mindset of the pessimist and hope beyond hope that the movers in our world will drive us into an age of advancement in which everyone will be able to tap into their full potential and bring humanity into a tomorrow of promise and tremendous growth. Better yet, let's all grab the reins, become the movers, and take each other into that wondrous future world.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the internet radio series StarTalk, is one person who's inspired me and bolstered my inner-optimist. He's one of the voices in the titanic world of the media who has drawn us an outline to a brighter future and fiercely demanded a shift towards progressive intellectualism. He's the man who is responsible for my recent return to the foundations of my education.

Listening to Dr. Tyson and StarTalk has reinvigorated the inquisitive, logical mind I often anxiously employed. There was a long period in which I allowed self-doubt and apathy to bar me from realizing my intellectual potential. I didn't feel support in my efforts to flex my smart, and I felt like there was no visible path towards becoming a fuller more intelligent person. To put it plainly, I felt lost and gave up.

Hearing the wonderful messages from the good doctor and allowing myself to ponder the points made on his radio talk show have shaken me out of my mental slumber. I once again feel like I can tackle anything, and I feel like my mind can grow and deserves to do so. I'm opening myself up to learning anything and everything I possibly can. I'm challenging myself in ways in which I should have been challenging myself every day of my life from the beginning to the current. My efforts are now wholly focused on revisiting the foggy points of my education and committing to learning the things I once wrote off as too challenging or simply beyond me. I feel not only hope and confidence; I also feel that the world is ready to share in my revelations.

The people of the world, no matter where they are or where they fall in any of the various stagnant, close-minded systems, deserve to feel my hope and also be allowed to make an effort to better themselves as people and as intellects. I truly feel that if we revolutionize the minds of all, the coming days will be the best we've ever had.

Let's take inspiration from people like Dr. Tyson and work to improve ourselves and the world in which we live. Let's strive for the best in everything. Don't lose hope in yourself or in your fellow human beings. The future is counting on us.