Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Tried To Like Nu Trek, But They Wouldn't Let Me


It's been a week since I begrudgingly gave JJ Abrams 10 hard earned dollars to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. My initial thought upon exiting the theater was "well, that went off the rails into hopeless dumb-fuckery at the end there, but I found it less enraging than the first one." Then I remembered that I wasn't immediately enraged by the first one. I had to reflect on it a bit. The longer I thought about '09 Trek, the more it poked the angry nerd in me with a sharp stick, but it took at least a year for that to build to a genuine loathing. Into Darkness, on the other hand, became the focal point of full blown nerd rage in the time it took to drive home from the theater.
You have to understand, my mother watched Trek reruns regularly while pregnant with me, and I started watching the original series in reruns before I was old enough to form memories, so I don't remember the first time I saw Star Trek. It's something that has simply always been, as far as my own personal reality is concerned. I also watched every single episode of every new series as it aired. Yes, even Enterprise, ye of little faith, and saw every movie since Voyage Home in the theater. Suffice to say, Star Trek is important to me. Important enough that this is the 3rd time I've started writing this. The first two quickly devolved into petty, vitriolic nerd rants. The first actually included this line: "FUCK YOU, JJ ABRAMS, YOU BESPECTACLED CUNT" pretty early on.
It's worth pointing out that I was 100% on board with this whole reboot idea. Star Trek had been overexposed and overworked for well over a decade by the time Enterprise finally got itself cancelled and Nemesis left even the most die hard fans groaning as they left the theater. The franchise needed a long hiatus that it may or may not have ever come back from, or it needed to be thoroughly shaken up. I was happy to take my chances with the latter. Sure, it was clearly going to be more slick looking and action oriented, but that's just the world we live in. Much as I personally would appreciate another film along the lines of The Motion Picture, that would be box office death. It's never going to happen. Get over it.
I loved that they tied the whole thing together with a time traveling Spock and that they clearly established, with the destruction of Vulcan more than anything else, that everything has changed and no one is safe. Prequels are dumb, but they actually figured out a way to do it where the stakes aren't always transparently bogus because you know these characters all survive to do all  the things you've already seen them do. Also, the cast is brilliant. Top to bottom, I love every choice they made.
The point is that I didn't go into Nu Trek wanting to hate it. I went in wanting to love it, but those bastards just wouldn't let me.


One of the great things about Star Trek is that no other franchise has had so much official material created for it. (Official as in movies and TV series, not expanded universe. I saw you Star Wars nerds getting antsy over there.) Over close to fifty years, there have been 5 series (not counting the animated version) and 10 movies. Some have been... less than spectacular, but they all, for the most part, carefully followed established rules and canon, even going so far as to explain why the low budget original series Klingons looked so different. Regardless of your feelings about their solution to that problem, the fact that they even acknowledged it denotes a high level of care and respect for the franchise from the people running it.
It's also always been the smart SciFi franchise for smart fans. Trek has always been the show that had some sort of scientific explanation for everything, at least as best as our present day knowledge could allow. They actually went to the trouble of finding out how a warp drive might work and how you might generate the monstrous power necessary to run it. They went to the trouble of making blueprints for the ship, and then having the trip from one section of the ship to another by turbolift take the appropriate amount of time. When there was some bit of science we did have current understanding of, they made every effort to get it right. Here are a few things, off the top of my head, that would NEVER happen in the worst movie or episode of old Star Trek:

  • Supernovae that threaten to destroy the entire galaxy
  • Starship construction on Earth or any other planet
  • Cadets getting promoted to Captain, let alone Captain of the Federation flagship 
  • A "cold fusion" bomb that freezes things
  • Magic blood that cures death with absolutely no explanation
  • Doctor McCoy not figuring out he could use the magic blood from one of the 72 other supermen he's got RIGHT NEXT TO HIM
  • A transporter the size of a suitcase that beams you across the galaxy, thus making starships obsolete and turning Star Trek into Stargate
  • A huge area of Qo'noS that is conveniently uninhabited
  • Qo'noS being spelled Kronos
  • Qo'noS being traveled to in a few minutes (it's 4 days away at warp 5)
  • 72 antimatter torpedoes going off inside a starship and not completely vaporizing it

This list is by no means fully inclusive. These may seem like minor quibbles, but every one of these points contradicts or disregards  established rules of the universe, basic science, or common sense. What's worse, most of them could easily be corrected without having much impact on the story at all. The writers just can't be bothered to respect the work of all the people who carefully kept the franchise coherent for 50 years, but what they can do is try to placate me with...


I know a lot of people like the little nods to the original series. I would appreciate a couple of them if they were cleverly worked into the story, but when you jam that round tribble into that square plot hole, I just get the impression you think I'm stupid, and I'll be so excited by your little easter egg that I won't notice all the dumb shit that's going on. Speaking of tribbles, no one knew what a tribble was until Cyrano Jones sold them to Uhura years after this movie takes place. And why in the world does McCoy just happen to have a dead one lying around sick bay? And why is injecting Khan's blood into it going to help him understand why his cells regenerate so fast? And why... Oh never mind. Where was I?
There's no REASON for McCoy to have a dead tribble. There's no REASON for someone to announce over the intercom that they'll be using the ship confiscated in "the Mudd incident". There's no REASON for Carol Marcus to drop Nurse Chapel's name (or for Carol Marcus to be Carol Marcus, for that matter). Some people find this shit charming. I find it completely out of place and awkward. You want to do some good fanwank? Have Harry Mudd actually show up and play some small but crucial role in the story. Bonus points for an awesome actor cameo. Bill Murray?
And these are the most innocuous bits of fanwank. Little easter eggs are one thing, but recreating big chunks of Wrath Of Khan is just gross, and a little pathetic. You know what they were trying desperately to do in Generations, Insurrection, and Nemesis that fell flat and just ended up looking sad every single time? Trying to recapture Wrath Of Khan's magic. So, now that you have a beautifully rebooted franchise where anything can happen and the sky's the limit, what should you do? Recapture Wrath Of Khan's magic! Of course! It's so idiotic, it will seem brilliant! We'll do the whole "someone has to get irradiated to save the ship" thing again, but we'll make it new and exciting by having it be Kirk this time! And Spock will be outside the glass! And then he'll scream Khan's name, just like Kirk did before! Ok, ok, so without Kirk and Spock spending decades becoming best friends, and in fact, not even seeming to like each other very much, this scene will have none of the weight of the original, and it's impact will be lessened even further by the fact that everyone knows there's a vial of magic, death curing blood waiting for the star of the franchise who we're absolutely not going to kill off, and it doesn't even really make sense that Spock is screaming "Khan", since Admiral Robocop is really responsible for all of this, but hey, the audience is full of idiots. They'll just be happy to see a thing from that movie that they liked 30 years ago.
Fuck. You.
What really gets me about all of this is that the broader audience they're trying to appeal to won't get any of these references, and the die hard fans that will get them will almost certainly find the blatant pandering offensive. Anyway lets get to the real elephant in the room, namely


I don't even know where to start. How about here: These dickholes had the script more or less done, then decided after the fact to change the villain to Khan. That explains a lot. I hate every single thing about Khan's inclusion in this movie, other than Benedict Cumberbatch, who manages to still be awesome, despite having little to work with.
First off, Khan is a Sikh from northern India. I know Ricardo Montalban is Mexican, but I don't imagine there were a lot of imposing Indian actors to choose from at the time, and Mexican is a lot closer than British.
Second, Khan was a notorious figure in history, having ruled tyrannically over a quarter of the Earth's population along with other genetically engineered supermen who had to be overthrown in a horribly bloody world war. Having John Harrison turn out to be Khan Noonien Singh is tantamount to finding out you've got Adolph Hitler in the brig, but no one bats an eye. Remember those fans you guys were trying to placate by saying the name "Mudd"? We notice shit like this, stupid.
And the secrecy. Oh, the secrecy. So, you didn't change the villain to Khan after the fact to make it more marketable, because you did your damndest to keep it a secret. So you did it to give the fans a pleasant surprise? I guess? The fans who were all immediately pissing and moaning all over the internet about what a terrible idea it would be to have the sequel to your bold reimagining be a rehash of the movie they've been trying to ape for twenty years? Those fans? Yeesh.
Meanwhile, Old Spock told New Spock that he'd never give him any more information about his past/future so he can live his own life, so of course, the first sticky situation he gets into, he engages in


Spock is somewhat suspicious of the uneasy alliance they have with this superhuman former brutal dictator, so he calls Old Spock and asks him how they defeated him before. We don't get to see his answer, but I imagine it went something like this:
"Well, we defeated him twice. The first time, Kirk got into a fist fight with him. He more or less held his own until he could pull a plastic tube out of a console and hit him in the stomach with it, so you could try that.
The second time, he attacked us in a stolen starship and kicked the shit out of us until we lured him into a nebula. He was intelligent, but inexperienced, and his pattern suggested two dimensional thinking, so we attacked him from above. Then, all I had to do was sacrifice myself by twisting some knob or something in a glowy radiation tube so we could go to warp before he set off the Genesis device which would turn the nebula into an entire solar system, even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be able to do that. So yeah, he probably doesn't even have a Genesis device, so if the fist fight/plastic tube thing doesn't work, let him steal the Starship Revenge and then lure him into a nebula."
I know, now I'm picking on the Star Trek II that's actually good. The point is Old Spock can't have much to offer here. It's just an opportunity to stuff Nimoy into this film. Ok, ok, so I was happy to see the guy. Visually, Nimoy dressed up as Spock was substantially more entertaining to me than all the lens flarey 'splosions. Doesn't mean it's not dumb.


  • Never have I heard anything about photon torpedo launches having any potential impact on the warp core. It's a stupid thing for Scotty to resign over, but not as stupid as
  • Kirk accepting Scotty's resignation over the torpedoes, then immediately deciding they're not going to use them
  • You know what would have been a good fanwank? Having Khan's attack leave Pike in his beep-once-for-yes wheel chair, except
  • Khan's magic blood would have just fixed him up anyway, and by the way
  • I'm terrible at seeing plot twists coming, and I saw Kirk getting resurrected with that stupid blood coming the second Kirk started thinking about going into the warp core
  • I know Khan's a genius and all, but having him design your state of the art Starship is sort of like getting Genghis Khan to design your new fighter jet
  • The Klingons looked weird, largely because they had no beards. Another piece of good fanwank? Smooth headed Klingons, or maybe just one or two of them mixed in to acknowledge the established canon that at least some of them looked like that at the time.
  • All you have to do to sneak into the super secret Starship MurderKill is hang out and wait for someone else to come and open the door, just like when your friend doesn't know the code to his apartment's stupid, pointless gate.
  • I already covered this, but when Spock screamed "KHHAAAAANNNN", I got legitimately angry. Everyone saw it coming, and everyone was hoping they were wrong. Everyone who hadn't seen Wrath Of Khan probably found it a little odd, everyone who had seen it thought it was completely ridiculous
  • I assume that in the next movie, every ship will be stocked with superman blood so that no one ever has to die again
  • I still think Spock dating Uhura is weird
  • I still think about that goddamn Kobayashi Maru test sequence and want to shit in the hat of whoever thought that was a good idea
  • Some people like to make themselves feel better by arguing that Spock's time travel created a new timeline, and this is all basically a parallel universe. Wrong. This may be more in line with the latest theoretical physics, but it's firmly established in Trek lore that there is one time line, and if you alter it, you alter it. Otherwise, the Borg could go back and prevent first contact with no repercussions, and going back in time to get 2 humpback whales wouldn't do any good unless you could not only travel forward in time, but cross back into your original universe. It's all the same universe, and yes, Nu Trek has erased every story you love from every movie and show but Enterprise.

I have to say, these sorts of things matter less with Star Wars than with Star Trek, so I'm still optimistic that Abrams can do something great with Episode VII. At the very least, I'm happy that he'll probably be too busy with that to do the next Trek movie. I'm glad it's more or less popular again, now let's get someone who's actually a fan of the show to make the next one. Please?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

You Know What I Don't Like? SXSW.

So, it's that time of year again. The time of year when I gripe and grumble about how much I don't like South By Southwest. For those that don't know, I am a casual musician. While I'd love to make at least a partial living off music, I have absolutely zero ambition to play any arena tours or judge anyone's singing ability on TV. In case you're thinking this is a case of sour grapes because they've never selected any band I've been in to play their awful festival, let me make it clear that I've never submitted to their awful festival, and I have no plans to in the future. I'm also not the type of cynical prick who simply hates anything popular. I mean, well, I am a cynical prick, but I'm not that type of cynical prick.
I'm not saying the festival is 100% pure evil, and I'm not demanding anyone with a conscience boycott it or occupy it or any dumb shit like that. I'm just saying I really, really don't like it. Also, I know nothing of the film/interactive/comedy/gaming aspects of it. I assume that stuff is just as much of an exploitative corporate behemoth as the music end, but who knows, maybe all that's great.
It's only fair to point out that even if this whole thing was just as awesome as everyone says it was back in the late 80's, I still probably wouldn't like it. Standing out in the sun all day with thousands of other members of the general public (who I, as a rule, try to avoid whenever possible), drinking shitty beer and listening to so many bands in a week that they all blur together and I don't even remember which ones were great and which ones sucked with a vigorous fury does not sound like a good time to me. Clearly, there's an awful goddamn lot of people who disagree, and let's be honest, they're probably not the assholes here, but it is what it is.
So, you ask, what then elevates this from something you'd just as soon not engage in to something you feel the need to piss and moan about every year?
SXSW makes giant piles of cash off of the independent artist community I love and doesn't offer much in return. Now, I'm no communist. The people who thought up this idea and put a lot of work into it every year certainly deserve to make some money off of it, and of course it costs a lot to put this thing together, but this has gotten a little out of hand.
For starters, every band that wants to be considered for the festival pays $30-40 to apply. The purpose of this is to discourage the bands who have absolutely no chance of getting in from clogging up the works by submitting for the hell of it, and to pay whatever poor bastard has to sift through all of them. Still, thousands upon thousands of bands submit every year, and those $40 do add up to a lot of money.
There's also merch. All your SXSW t-shirts and coozies and mouse pads and ball caps and duffel bags and whatever else you can silk screen a logo onto.
Then there are the corporate sponsorships. SXSW is sponsored by companies like Chevy, Monster Energy Drinks, Pepsi, Doritos, American Airlines, Miller Lite, etc. I don't know how much money they pour into it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Scrooge McDuck could swim around in it.
Actually, none of that would be all that bad if they didn't then gouge the ever loving fuck out of you for the price of admission. The absolute least you could pay for a badge for just the music portion of the festival was $625. That's if you planned waaaay ahead and bought it in early September. Today, a music badge will cost you $795, and an all access platinum badge will cost a completely insane $1595.
I can't find figures on how much of a profit SXSW makes (to be honest, I didn't really look all that hard.) According to Wikipedia, though, "SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011."
Of course, that money being injected into our economy is good for Austin as a whole, and particularly the music venues who do a huge amount of business during the week in question. They're not seeing any of that $1600 badge money, though. I suspect Most of that $167 million has to do with people coming in from out of town and spending their money at bars, restaurants, and hotels, and they'd probably make even more money if more people came to town because the badges were actually affordable.
The 2500 or so independent bands who this festival would be absolutely nothing without? They mostly play for free. They have the option to get $250 (really $210, if you consider the $40 you spent to submit) or get wristbands that get them into the official events for free. Being music fans themselves, I suspect a strong majority of them take the wristbands, and I suspect the organizers count on this, as it costs them nothing at all. If you're an Austin based band, $250 isn't bad for one gig. If you're from out of state, or better yet, another country, you're probably taking a loss, maybe a really big one, to help make these people lots and lots of money. Fuck that.
But what about the enormous exposure opportunity? You can't put a price on that, right? Yeah, here's the thing.... In the last 10 years, how many bands who were complete unknowns do you think got signed to a major label because of a SXSW performance? The answer (and even this is probably debatable) is 3. They were Hanson, John Mayer, and James Blunt. Think your quirky, original band is going to get spotted by some record executive? Good luck with that.
Really, if you're just 3-5 guys in a van booking gigs yourselves, you're better off booking a bunch of unofficial shows during the week, especially since scoring an official showcase means agreeing not to play any other night time shows all week. Even then, though, you may play to 100 people or 5 at any given gig, and those people just saw 40 bands yesterday, and they're going to see 200 more in the next few days, probably while pounding beers the whole time. If you don't light yourself on fire on stage, odds are that they won't remember you, even if they really liked you at the time. I did mention I'm a cynical prick, right?
Anyway, look, if you think it's the most fun you have all year, go for it. It's a good thing for Austin overall, and there's plenty of stuff to do that doesn't require a $1600 badge. I just find the idea of a festival that depends entirely on independent artists to make a huge profit, but then doesn't pay most of those artists anything at all unsavory at best. Plus, I prefer my beloved Red River district sans giant throngs of L.A. douchebags, but that's just me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Sandy Hook Hoax Part 1: For The Novice Conspiracy Nut

I've been meaning to start a blog for a while, and what finally got me off my ass? The bizarre prevalence of the "Sandy Hook was a hoax" conspiracy theory. What makes this particular crackpot idea special, you ask? Well, it's become so widely shared on social networks that people who don't generally pay attention to conspiracy theories are giving it consideration, simply because they're seeing it so much. Does this sound like you? Read on! For the already initiated Alex Jones devotees, I'll throw up an almost certainly pointless Part 2 for you later.

I don't feel the need to debunk the whole mess piece by piece. That's already been done thoroughly by lots of people with way more spare time on their hands than I. For example: Snopes has this one, and if you don't trust them, a quick Google search for "Sandy Hook hoax debunked" will provide you with 356,000 other results.
I'm not here to judge. I understand that the reason so many people are getting fitted for their tin foil hats these days is that the theories are compelling on the surface, and because there is some very real fuckery afoot with our government, but if this is your first conspiracy theory, allow me to point out a couple of things before you dive headlong into it.

I: Occam's Razor

Simply put, if your choices are "lone nut went on killing spree" or "evil fascist government hired 50 actors and got thousands of people in a small town to agree to carry out an elaborate hoax so they can steal your guns and enslave us all", the former is more likely to be true, you know, like, scientifically and shit.

II: People Make Shit Up On The Internet

Really, they do. Some people enjoy making up complete nonsense, perhaps even going so far as to fabricate evidence for it, just for the entertainment value of watching a bunch of rubes run around like beheaded chickens freaking out about it. These people are called trolls, and there are an awful lot of them out there. For example.

III: They Know You Won't Look It Up

Throughout the most popular video on the "hoax" the narrator tells you something is true, and says "look it up for yourself" when he could easily insert the alleged evidence into the video. People like this know that their invitation to check it out for yourself is almost as good as actual evidence. For example, Alex Jones frequently tells his listeners that the government admits to having Anwar Al Awlaki over for dinner at the Pentagon specifically to conspire together for more false flag terror attacks. They not only admit this, but it's even reported by CBS news! Look it up yourself! I did, and, um, not so much. I suspect very few of his listeners have looked it up, and I suspect he's very aware of that.

IV: Successful Conspiracies Are Small Conspiracies

The first question to ask yourself about any conspiracy theory is how many people had to be recruited and depended upon to keep their mouths shut. In the case of Sandy Hook, it would be half of the town, including cops, paramedics, hospital staff, school staff, and a whole buttload (technical term) of professional actors. This more or less leads us to:

V: When In Doubt, Ask HOW They Did It

A lot of conspiracies are quite compelling until you ask just how "They" pulled it off. Sandy Hook completely falls apart under this scrutiny. The primary theory seems to be that no one was actually killed, and the whole thing was faked. There's only one still pic of children at the school, and it's probably from some other event. So here's how this has to work:
  • All the kids had to not be there on a school day, but none of their parents can be allowed to point out their kids had the day off. I'm sure that won't be a problem.
  • A substantial number of professional actors had to be approached, hired, and depended upon to never speak of this. Sorry, you can never appear in movies or on TV, and we can't keep hiring you for further government hoaxes. Both would destroy the illusion.
  • Most of the police in this small town had to be on board with this plan. Lucky that worked out.
  • The guy that found six kids on his lawn? Actor. They totally had that guy buy that house and live there for years in preparation.
  • Not one person in this fairly small town actually knows anybody that lost a child in this fake tragedy, but surely no one will notice. I'm sure they also won't notice that no one in their relatively small community seems to know these not-sad-enough parents who are all over TV. 

VI: With Every Major Disaster Comes Conflicting Reports

Unfortunately, our news media is driven by ratings, and therefore is not always (read: pretty much never) completely responsible in these situations. In the struggle to keep you watching their network, reporters will blurt out every new piece of information they get without properly vetting it. What you get is a bunch of reports that don't add up. Was there a second shooter, or just the one? Did he leave the AR-15 in the car, or was it the only weapon used? These inconsistencies are not evidence of conspiracy. They're evidence of our news media being a broken, ridiculous mess. 

VII: Finally, And Most Importantly, 


This shouldn't even need to be said, but clearly, it does. The kind of person that devotes their time to making a video like this is the kind of person that believes everything Alex Jones says. In case you're not aware, Alex thinks EVERYTHING is a government plot, including Hurricane Katrina and Fukushima. Whenever there is a tragic event, tune in to his show, and I guarantee you, he will be pondering the possibilities of a government plot. 
So much of the "evidence" for the hoax theory is simply bad research (such as Gene Rosen, the found-6-kids-on-his-lawn guy having the same name as a professional actor, but clearly not being the same person), or taken from seriously whack job sources, such as (which I'm not linking to, because it keeps making by browser freeze. Copy and paste at your own risk), which, as Snopes says, is also trying to convince everyone that Hitler and Walt Disney were not real people, but rather Theodore Roosevelt's son playing both parts. Cool story, bro.

In Conclusion

Believe it or not, I watched the video in question with a completely open mind, as I do with any other theory. I found it to be the most laughably ridiculous crock of shit in recent memory, but if you still have your doubts, you're entitled to that, I suppose. Can I get you to consider one thing though? That if you're wrong, and the official story is 100% true, that the families who just had their friends, family, and 20 small children murdered probably don't need a horde of assholes on the internet accusing them of being actors to boot? If you just have some doubts, maybe keep them to yourself until some actual evidence comes out. That is all.