Amoeba’s Lorica: May the Fourth Be Not A Stardate

Once upon a time in America, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba recalls, it was considered inappropriate to make fun of, or otherwise disrespect, anyone with a lisp or other speech impediment.

Unless you were a Muppet or something.

At the most daring, you could commiserate with the sufferers, and point them in the direction of the appropriate health care. Which they might accept, having some dwindling hope of being able to afford it.

Or, they might, with some measure of security and even pride, choose to carry on regardless. Hence the annual spectacle of millions of people shamelessly demonstrating their inability to pronounce the word “force”, and turning that calamity into a litany, a prostrate worship of the media behemoth that vacuumed their wallets and purses dry while they grunted in ecstasy. A behemoth welded to the most colossal mouse turd in history.

That was then. This is now, snowflakes. It’s open season on lispers (and all other foreign languages), as it is on melanin, vaginas, logic, and all science not applied to computer toys for us (and big-data election manipulation for our masters), steroid abuse masquerading as professional sports (NCAA this means you), and coal extraction. Of course ‘speech impediments’ are on that list of pre-existing conditions that we’re excluding from national healthcare, and from private insurance too as soon as we can manage it. You were born to be a scapegoat, and we’re going to make sure you stay a scapegoat, for as long as we, your rich white male betters, choose to tolerate you and make what use we can of you. Deal with it, wuss.

… what was that? You’re trademarking “May the Fourth Be With You”? So this is a financial opportunity? That’s different. Send us a copy of your prospectus, and let us know when you’re scheduling your IPO. If we like what we see, we may invest.

                              *                                        *                                        *

If you’re coming in late to all this, dear readers, you aren’t alone; YFNA had himself forgotten about the phenomenon until it infiltrated his Facebook feed like nanites and whacked him back to consciousness of the entertainment topics that constitute the entirety of what really matters to people. “The phenomenon”, as you may know, is the ongoing Star Wars media franchise and profit machine, complete with its catchphrase “May the Force Be With You”. May 4th each year is Star Wars Day, an unofficial holiday (“May the Fourth …”).

To YFNA’s knowledge, no Star Wars fan has yet suggested use of the Death Star (in any of its incarnations) to sink the mayo, thereby making more room for the [ahem] Fourth. This would seem to The Amoeba to constitute an excessive use of Fourth. Not that such matters matter anymore to the American Imperial Dignity. However, since the calendar this year (2017) did not pass directly from the 4th to the 6th of May, nor did the 4th extend over more than its usual 24 hours, it seems a moot question. For now.

Speaking of franchises. There are two stars in the space opera firmament. Yes, there are, and since they both have “Star” in their names, the aforementioned Star Wars and its competitor, Star Trek, a little confusion among those not already fans is perhaps to be expected. So what’s the diff? Let’s find out, yeah?

* Star Trek started in 1966, on TV.
* Star Wars started in 1977 (more than ten years after Star Trek), in theaters.

* Star Trek features humans, their planet Earth, and their Milky Way galaxy, two to four centuries in Earth’s future.
* Star Wars is set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”. The similarity of its (NB) dominant species with Homo sapiens on Earth is [ahem] a happy coincidence.

* The protagonists in Star Trek represent a galactic federal republic (United Federation of Planets), which is prosperous, stable, and peaceable.
* The protagonists in Star Wars represent a fragmented opposition to a Galactic Empire – an opposition which is economically marginal, unstable, and constantly at war.

* The principal themes of Star Trek are peaceful exploration and conflict resolution.
* The principal themes of Star Wars are violent conquest, and violent resistance to conquest.

* Religion is peripheral to Star Trek, used, when it occurs, to highlight the acceptance of political and social diversity within the Federation, and the absence of such acceptance among the antagonists which the Federation routinely defeats and/or assimilates.
* Religion is central to Star Wars, and Force-s its conflicts.

In fine, Star Trek is a utopia, one that strives to find the best in all of our galaxy’s myriad sentient lifeforms, and the society in the name of which they labor. Star Wars is a dystopia, in which even its best are focused on personal power, and periodically – and disastrously – succumb to its temptations.

A sensible populace would prefer the utopia, would it not? A stable hope for itself based on the achievement of a cherished balance between logic and feelings, rather than a ‘new’ and fleeting hope based on solo [heh] heroes at constant risk of losing control of their gifts and betraying the cause? Right?

It’s not as if the Star Trek franchise hasn’t provided the populace plenty of opportunities to express a preference for it. The video runtime of all Star Trek products to date is a colossal 513 hours. That’s nearly three full weeks worth of non-stop viewing. And counting. The gross earnings from all that runtime? A tidy US$10 billion for Paramount Studios as of 2016.

The video runtime of all Star Wars products to date is a comparatively paltry 18 hours. You can watch the whole catalogue on a Saturday, including trailers for the new stuff that’s coming out, and still show up to work on Monday morning more or less functional. How much has that earned for Lucasfilm Ltd. and Disney? $42 billion! As of 2015.

The “Original Series” of Star Trek attracted a Who’s Who of Science Fiction to write scripts for them. To little avail; the show lasted just three years (1966-1969) on NBC, teetering on the brink of cancellation the whole time due to miserably low numbers of viewers. An animated version (1973-74) fared little better.

When the first Star Wars movie was released, the lines to get into the theaters showing it brought entire cities to a standstill – and this went on for months. (Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba was in Seattle as this was happening, and no he didn’t, he couldn’t spare the time to wait in those lines, or the money for the privilege of spending that time.) Star Trek didn’t begin to catch on until after Star Wars busted down the gates of popular attention – and Gene Roddenberry’s creation never has caught up with George Lucas’s upstart.

Which means … We the People of the American Republic consider Star Trek and its pointy-eared Vulcan utopian logic as quaint as the computer keyboard which Scotty, transported from a 23rd century stardate back to a common-era date in the 20th, had to deal with. Nay, give us the twisted space knight with the three-ball voice, leading hordes of white troops to victory against those scruffy, squabbly little liberal freaks. And we’ll just wipe out any North Korea planet they think they can hide out on. We’ll sink their mayo for them!

And when we’re done with that, We the People can go back to fantasizing about our exalted positions in the hereditary aristocracies of Middle-Earth.

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Dude and Dude: Fee Lyin’

“Here, kitty, kitty …”

“[…] Whut?”

“I ain’t talkin’ ta you, dude. Here, kitty …”

“Needs mo’ orange, dude.”

“[…]Whut?

“Uh uh, no fair, I used that line first. Come up wit’ yer own.”

“I don’ need no line, dude, I need a rope. Fer yer neck! What is yer problem?

Me?!? Yo, dude, I ain’t tha dude what’s been callin’ out ‘here, kitty’ ta empty space for tha last three hours. An’ I’m tellin’ ya, it needs mo’ orange!

What does?!?”

“Yer makeup, dude. Ya gonna try talkin’ up chicks like tha Presadent a tha United States, ya gotta look tha part, yeah?”

“Riiiight. I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna need somethin’ else too, and ya gotta help me out wit’ it.”

“I don’t do combovers, dude.”

“Wouldn’ trust ya wit’ one if ya said ya did, dude. Nah, I want ya ta go inta yer bedroom an’ gimme yer wallet.”

“My wallet?!?

“Yeah. Tha one wit’ tha couple billion bucks innit.”

“Riiiiiight.”

“Hey. Yer tha one who, like, wants me ta look tha part.”

“I told ya. I don’ do combovers!!

“Is that yer partin’ shot, dude?”

“Ya c’n get shot down by tha chicks all by yerself, dude.”

What chicks?”

“Tha ones ya been callin’ out tha last three hours!”

Chill, dude. I ain’t been callin’ chicks. I been callin’ a cat!

“A cat?!? Y’mean, like, wit’ a tail an’ fur an’ claws an’ meows an’ stuff like that? Since when do ya have a cat?

“Since like I took a gig cat-sittin’. Speakin’ a bucks.”

“Cat runnin’, ya mean. Judgin’ from all tha runnin’ ’round ya been doin’ this aftanoon lookin’ fer tha thing, there ain’t no sit-down ta this job.”

“‘Specially if’n I lose tha damned animal like on tha first day!

“Yeah, that would suck.”

Rocks, dude. I gotta figger out where this glorified hairball is hidin’, an’ soon.”

“So’s ya c’n get it ta come out?

“So’s I can get in wit’ it! Any hidin’ place what’s that good is good ’nuff fer me ta duck inta, any time some dude wants me ta adult, ta be (jeez!) responsable ‘r somethin’.”

Not responsible! Park an’ lock it!”

“Say what?!? You got a locket? You tha dude what’s been lecturin’ me ’bout chicks all this time?!? What’cha got ta tell me, dude, huh, huh?!?”

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Kris an’ Murphy: Giving Science the Birds

Murphy: “So where’d you find this, Kris?”

Kris: “The internet. One of the signs being carried about by various “March for Science” marchers yesterday. I gather there was a fair number of them.”

Murphy: “Marchers?”

Kris: “Signs. Not so sure about the marchers. Some places yes, some no. I think.”

Murphy: “Will be interesting to see if the scientists are more forthcoming about their numbers than, say, Mr Trump was about his inauguration numbers.”

Kris: “You would think they would be!”

Murphy: “You would. And then you realize that they’ve enlisted themselves in the political-pressure-group game now, and the political scientists among them – if, of course, the darlings have allowed any into their fold – will tell them what they need to know. We’ll see if they’re any better at listening to that, rather than what they want to hear, than any other political pressure group. And what they need to know is that, in this game, spin trumps data.”

Kris: “Ew. Watch your mouth!

Murphy: “No. You watch yours. Mr Trump spun his data far more effectively, and cheaply, than his opponents in the last election. You aren’t going to like hearing this any better than the scientists will, but Mr Trump had better science for his purposes, and made better use of it. And he’s now calling the shots. We might, if we’re lucky, have the stomach for them. But back to that sign. Did they ask them?”

Kris: “[…] You’ve been reading a lot of old Greek manuscripts today?”

Murphy: “Complete with all their ambiguous pronouns. Touch√©. Did the scientists ask the birds about their preferences?”

Kris: “I’d like to know how.”

Murphy: “Precisely. But they said they did!”

Kris: “They were speaking symbolically. Just ask them.”

Murphy: “Oh, right, sorry, I forgot. This was a march. We should expect symbols clashing. Can we make any sense out of this one? How many kinds of birds are there?”

Kris: “Well, lessee … the University of Google says about 10,000. In several different places.”

Murphy: “That’s all?!? A measly 10,000? There’s like 400,000 species of beetles in the world, and probably that many species of bacteria in a single football field! Why don’t we pay more attention to them?

Kris: “Yeah, well, good luck with your Great Backyard Beetle Count. And aren’t we already having enough trouble asking the birds how come they prefer science?”

Murphy: “Or don’t.”

Kris: “Y’know, that might actually be easier. Says here that about 1,200 of those bird species are in danger of extinction, with about 190 already gone. Like that dodo on the sign. I suppose that’s close enough to a 9:1 ratio to satisfy some scientists, anyway.”

Murphy: “Science poseurs, you mean. So let me get this straight. Because a bird – a bird – didn’t get a Ph.D. in Chemistry from U. Cal. Berkeley and didn’t see the value of getting one, it was anti-science, went extinct because of that, and deserved to go extinct because of that??”

Kris: “Speaking symbolically, of course.”

Murphy: “Yes, yes, I get it. Some two-foots have the bird brains but not the bird feathers. Like the politicians. Spelled V-O-T-E-R-S.”

Kris: “You going to get around to telling me how you really feel some time before the faculty club closes tonight?”

Murphy: “Watch me. The dodo lived on the island of Mauritius, off the east coast of Africa, and nowhere else. It says here that the dodo was first seen in 1598, and last seen in 1662. By whom? Dutch sailors and settlers. And how did these Europeans get to Mauritius?”

Kris: “Sailing ships.”

Murphy: “Exactly. Which means … wait for it … science! You got any idea how much trigonometry captains had to master before they could be trusted to guide a square-rigged ship out of harbor, never mind halfway and more around the world? And those captains brought their axes to destroy the dodo habitat, and the cats and dogs and rats to steal the dodo’s food and eggs and chicks, at the same time that they and their crews were throwing the adults into stewpots. Of course the dodos would be anti-science if you asked them. Science killed them!

“Here in the USA, the passenger pigeon was amongst the most common of all birds before the 20th century. In 1914, the last of them died. What killed them? Science! Better guns. Better nets. Refrigeration. Railroads to transport the refrigerated meat to all parts of the country. The telegraph to advertise to those parts of the country the availability of cheap pigeon meat. To feed to your pigs! Of course the passenger pigeons would be anti-science. Science killed them!

Kris: “And it also saves them, bald eagle fans.”

Murphy: “Yes, yes, the whole DDT mess. Which would never have occurred in the first place without science! And don’t bother telling me about how science pulled the black robin back from extinction in New Zealand. After scientific advances in ‘land management’, plus the introduction of invasive species to make the european settlers feel more at home, made the bloody rescue necessary in the first place!”

Kris: “So we should throw out all science and send ourselves back to the Stone Age or earlier so we don’t have to worry about the bad things that might happen. Happy Malaria to you too.”

Murphy: “Dammit, Kris, don’t you get it? Science is a tool. People use it to do work. It’s the best set of tools for doing work that humans have ever come up with. Set a job, and the science toolkit can find a way to do the job, far better than any other toolkit. But who sets the job? Dammit, who pays for the job?!? Marching for Science is about as nonsensical as marching for a set of socket wrenches. They’re going to get used. But by whom?? You want them to be used by a good mechanic who sees jobs all the way through, rather than a clueless one who blindly attacks bolts without understanding what loosening that particular bolt will do.”

Kris: “Good luck with that, Murphy. People want jobs done now. They don’t want to have to wait for your mechanic to see through a brick wall in time. Who knows how thick that wall really is? And they sure as hell don’t want to pay for the privilege of waiting and seeing. They want those swamps drained, those condos built, those forests cleared so that the whole of Patagonia can be used for the cows that wind up as McDonald’s so-called hamburgers, and who cares what happens to hyacinth macaws so long as I can get a Big Mac when I want one? Even the scientists who scream the loudest about global warming don’t want the finger pointed at their own driving and flying habits. Science is going to get used to keep people fat and distracted, and the best you can hope for is that you get to see some of the train wrecks coming in time to avert the worst of the damage.”

Murphy: “Like the no-funding-for-the-EPA train wreck?”

Kris: “Murphy. I was in Maine when the last of the mills closed. The EPA copped the blame for that, the businesses moved or folded rather than have to spend money they didn’t have to satisfy the new regulations – or at least that’s what they claimed, and the claim stuck so whether that’s the whole story or not doesn’t matter. The grandchildren of those mill workers are working in laundromats, mopping hotel rooms, and flipping burgers because that’s all that’s left for them to try to make a living on. And it ain’t much of a living. That’s forty years of pissed off to deal with. These people don’t have a problem with science. They want it to do jobs for them. Not Dilbert. Not the city kids blowing off college to play computer games in their dorm rooms with the rainbow shades pulled down. They’ll trade pulp stink and the furbish lousewort for jobs that will actually pay the bills. Speaking of birds.”

Murphy: “As in ‘chickens coming home to roost’?”

Kris: “Yeah. That.”

Murphy: “Which means we can do, exactly, what?

Kris: “The bottle was opened half an hour ago. You can pour.”

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