We Have a New President

This is a repost of an entry from four years ago.

As an additional thought this morning after. Even though he was not my choice, I will do eveything in my power to help our new President succeed. To wish for or work towards this or any U.S. President’s failure because he wasn’t your candidate is to work towards the failure of our Nation. No one wants that.  I WANT this President to succeed because when our President succeeds, so do we all. 

To all my politically inclined Facebook friends:

election2016Good morning!  Either congratulations are in order or condolences. Either way, our Nation has chosen its leader without war, without bloodshed and without a change in the fundamental way our Nation is governed.  Our system — the American system of government defined in the Constitution of the United States did its job and a peaceful selection of a leader by the masses has occurred.

Do not take this for granted.

There are many nations around the world in which a transition of any kind results in death, destruction and the suppression of rights. As I write this at 9:25 AM on the day after election day, my cable TV is still working, my Internet access is still blazingly fast (according to Comcast) and I can still search for and find opposing views on any issue my meager brain can conjure.

Do not take this for granted.

Yes, there ought to be election reform. Yes, there ought to be less pissing and moaning between candidates for any office.  Yes, it would be lovely if the candidates focused on ideas for the Nation instead of on how to get elected.  And yes, the governed need to feel as though their vote actually impacts the election; that they’re closer to their government than they are now.  But I would not trade this system of government for any other system of government in the world.

I will not take this for granted.

I’ve listened to the sniping among my friends and colleagues.  I’ve seen the anger over whose candidate is better, more qualified, more personable and more competent, and most of that has really turned me off to the political process.  But I voted.  I’ve had my say. And now it’s time for all of us who are far more alike than we are different to recognize that we are Americans FIRST.  Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Yellow, Purple, Chartreuse — frankly I’m not interested in your partisan rants.  We are Americans, dammit, and we can and should come together and stay together regardless of who won last night.  We are stronger, better, more productive and more compassionate when we concentrate on our similarities than our differences.

So today, instead of gloating or drinking heavily, look at that person on my Facebook page whose posts you hate to read ’cause it really gets on your nerves and think to yourself “We’re both Americans.  I’ll bet that person likes ice cream just like I do.”  Find the commonalities.  Find the things that make us alike rather than the things that make us different.  You’re all my friends for a reason: I’ve found something in each of you that is similar to something I find in myself.  You all, my Facebook friends, have me in common. (And there’s no one more common than me!)

See if you can find what else you have in common with one another. You might just be surprised that you’re far more alike than you think.

And never take that for granted.

Dan

Things I’m Keeping in Mind Today

1. In spite of the political flame throwing, Facebook is still fun.

2. Regardless of who wins, we’ll all be OK.

3. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” notwithstanding, the Three Laws of Thermodynamics still apply.

4. Exercise still sucks.

5. News hasn’t been news for years.

benedict-cumberbatch-filming-doctor-strange-set-pictures6. Benedict Cumberbatch is a tremendous actor.

7. So is Tilda Swinton.

8. I’m the worst political pundit ever. I’m not making any political predictions because I’ve been surprised at every turn.

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9. Life cereal is a gift from whatever gods there may be.

10. Emmett, the family Dachshund, is still a jackass.

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Yes, he’s wearing a bow tie.

We’re Down to the Wire Now

new-election-day-2016It’s nearly Election Day and hopefully, blessed relief from all the noise, anger and bitterness that has characterized this presidential election season.  To my knowledge, no party and no one can be held harmless in directing invective at their opponent.  Every side has engaged in election tactics and behaviors that are genuinely disheartening to any rational person.  I, for one, will be relieved to see this election in the history books no matter who winds up with the Presidency.  I just want it to be over with at this point.

And shame on us as a nation for buying into this.  Voting is supposed to be largely an intellectual exercise not a visceral one.  We should be deciding the Presidency based on fact and logic not innuendo and hype.  Yet this is what 2016 has come to.  Hell, even rabid Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians fans in the midst of the 2016 World Series, one of the closest and most exciting in history, sounded almost Spockishly rational compared to the candidates and their surrogates. Since when are Americans more rational about the outcome of sporting events than the outcome of presidential politics?  That’s bass ackwards.

Yet here we are.

I keep reminding myself that it’ll all be over soon but that’s not very comforting considering the slate of candidates with which we have been presented.  Yes, as a nation, we screwed up by buying into the hype and the leaks and the sound bites, but the political parties also screwed up by giving us less than their best.  If this is the best that they can offer up, I really do fear for the future of the United States and its Constitution.

signingconstitutionMy high school history instructor at Valley Forge Military Academy, one Air Force Colonel George Rickert, drilled into us that the collection of minds that created the Constitution of the United States was the single greatest collection of minds ever assembled and that even in the midst of the compromises that were necessary to create it, the product of their work would stand the test of time because of those great minds.

I agree.  So much so that I and millions of other veterans have sworn to support and defend it.  It’s the one thing that gives me hope not just for the outcome of this election but for its aftermath as well.  Yes, we’ve been pissing in each others’ lunch boxes for nearly two years’ worth of run-up to this election, but in the end, the checks and balances created by that greatest collection of minds will keep things from imploding.  The Constitution and its authors created a system of government which is highly resilient — resilient enough to handle whatever comes of this Nation and no matter who winds up in the White House in January.

On Tuesday, the Nation makes its choice.  Perhaps reluctantly, but we will choose.  And while we have failed as a Nation to uphold our responsibility to be a well informed electorate, while our political parties have failed to provide us with the best, brightest and truly inspirational leaders, and while our Fourth Estate has failed to act as an objective check on American politics, we will survive this. The United States of America will be just fine, thank you very much.

The road to excellence in politics is bumpy right now but the GPS was set in 1789 by people who really knew what they were doing. They had faith in the future of the Nation and I have faith in what they created.

I hope that their faith is us is warranted.

It Was 30 Years Ago Today

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We told Andy to smile at a family photo and this is what we got. That’ll give you an idea of what Andy’s all about.

This is undoubtedly a day for great celebration.

Today is my son, Andy’s 30th birthday.

Well, technically it’s a celebration of the anniversary of the day of his birth, which was October 26th, 1986.  But you know what I mean.

30 years old.  Damn, you’re old.  You’re over the hill now.

Andy was born at 9:03pm at the long since demolished old U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital at Elmendorf Air Force Base, so the party doesn’t start until 9:03 tonight when it’s officially official.  As you may know, Andy still lives in Alaska and really loves it up there.  Like anyone’s hometown, it’s home to him and that’s as it should be.

While October 26th is the recorded date of arrival, it was very nearly a week earlier.

About two weeks before Andy made his grand entrance, the whole family got sick with the flu.  I mean REALLY sick.  Violently so.  At two years old, Andy’s older brother Jonathon probably got the worst of it, constantly throwing up, ingesting replacement fluids so that he didn’t get dehydrated, and then barfing it up all over again before he could blink.  I remember him crying and crying and crying because he was so ill.

I was equally stricken, and for a week or so, I was in the same boat as poor little Jon was, but I swore a lot more.

Their Mom, Deborah, was also horribly sick.  Same symptoms, same threat of dehydration, and even more swearing, except that she was probably the sickest of the three of us because she was puking for two.

Taking care of Jon was hard enough when he alone was sick, but when Deb, Jon and I all got sick at the same time, there was hardly any energy to do much beyond the basics for any of us.  We were expending all our energy just being sick.  It was a miserable ten days or so for the three of us.

The Sunday before the Sunday Andy was born, I came downstairs after finally getting Jon to sleep.  I discovered Deborah sitting motionless on the couch in the living room of our quarters on 520-B 7th Street at Fort Richardson, dazed with what the Army calls “the thousand yard stare.” Actually it was closer to two thousand.  Just looking at her, you could tell that the lights were on, but nobody was home.

“Deb?” I asked tentatively.  “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” She replied weakly, speech slurred, “but I think I’m starting to have contractions.”

“Are you sure?” I asked stupidly full well knowing that she knew what contractions were better than I did.

She rolled her eyes and looked at me with an unusually weak look of disdain.  “Let’s just sit here for a couple of minutes and see,” she added weakly and went back to being really out of it.  Her demeanor was so weak that it genuinely scared me but she was the boss so we waited a little while.  When her condition didn’t improve and the contractions increased, she said that we’d better go to the hospital.  So we packed her up and got her off to the emergency room at Elmendorf.

She was immediately brought in and given IV fluids to counter the dehydration from which she had been suffering.  Once she got sufficient fluids in her, the contractions weakened and eventually stopped and after a time, she was released to go home with strict orders to hydrate.

During the next week, the three of us finally got well enough that we were getting back to normal.  The next Sunday, on the 26th, Andy arrived.  No problems, no complications.  Just a happy, healthy small redheaded human.

After all the commotion at the hospital, two-year-old Jon, sufficiently recovered, came over to meet his brother.  Deb and I thought ahead and pre-positioned a toy car in the hospital room that Jon could ride around on as a gift from his new brother, hopefully mitigating the attention that Andy was about to get.  It worked and they’ve been virtually inseparable ever since.

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Jon and Andy, circa 1988.

Some weeks later, Robin Baizel, one of our friends who had appeared in a stage play that Deborah and I worked out in Eagle River, Alaska, came over to meet the new human.  When Deb brought Andy downstairs, she started laughing, pointed at him and then at me and said “Oh my god, it’s a clone!”  I just remember her laughing so hard that she could barely choke out the words.*

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Charlie on C-SPAN.

In 2004, he and his brother came to promote me to colonel at the Pentagon.  Attending the ceremony were the two general officers from Army Public Affairs, many of my colleagues and friends, and one Charles Krohn.  Charlie was a very accomplished member of the Senior Executive Service and the senior civilian in Army Public Affairs.

After the ceremony, Charlie came up to me and said “I was really impressed with your younger son.”

“Andy?” I said.

“Yeah, the redheaded one” he confirmed.  “He’s a pretty heads up kid.  He and I talked for quite a while and he was able to hold his own with me. Very impressive!”

That’s Andy.  From the time he was little, he was always able to mix it up in whichever group he found himself.

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Me, Andy’s Step-mom, Janice, brother Jonathon and the birthday boy at the Pentagon in 2003.

I was proud of him then and I’m proud of him now.  He handled himself adeptly during his Mom’s recent illness in South Carolina, spending every day for weeks at the hospital with her, while in his spare time, assisting Deb’s family in the aftermath of Andy’s grandfather’s death just days before.

So that’s the story of how Andy almost arrived a week early.  It’s also the story of why I always get my flu shot.  (You should, too.)

But the real reason for this post is that Andy, you’re 30 today.  It’s one of those milestones that make you think you’re old.  And you are.  Very, very old now.  Ancient.  Almost decrepit.  Make no mistake about it.  On the upside, you’re never REALLY old until you’re as old as me.  Or Methuselah. And if you get to be as old as he was, think how much interest will be in your 401k!

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Happy birthday, sir!  Enjoy this great day!

Love you, dude!

* Quick sidebar — Deborah Ginsburg, Andy’s mom, remembered Robin’s exclamation more accurately than I did and the verbiage contained herein was corrected to so reflect.  Thanks, Deb!

Guest Post: “My Mom and the Cleveland Indians”

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Jefferson Wolfe

My brother, Jefferson, penned this on Facebook and it doesn’t get any better than this. Thanks for permitting me the honor of posting this here.

My mom, Mary Jo, died in July at age 86. She was a faithful Indians fan until about a year ago when Alzheimer’s disease started to take hold.

For many years, she worked the 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift as an emergency room nurse at hospitals in Fostoria and Bowling Green, which meant she always got home late and stayed up into the early hours of the morning.

Many nights, I would give up on the Indians and either go to bed early or go do something else. Even after she retired, she was so used to staying awake, she would regularly watch until the bitter end. Some years, there were a lot of bitter ends.

When they lost, she would always say something like, “Well, they screwed up again.”

If they won, the next day she was always happy to tell me she stayed up to watch, long after I bailed out.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” she would say.

Mom was in college at Ohio State in 1948 when the Indians last won the World Series. She remembered how every radio on campus seemed to be tuned to the Indians and classes were cancelled during the games.

It was largely because of her I started watching baseball many years later.

I got interested when I was in fifth grade and our family got cable TV. We could watch the Indians regularly on channel 43.

My mom insisted on watching the games, so I had to watch too. We only had one TV.

In those days, her favorite players were Rick Manning, Von Hayes, and Brook Jacoby.

Mary Jo holding Tess, one of our sister's many dogs.

Mary Jo holding Tess, one of our sister’s many dogs.

My mom never went to a major league game but she always followed on TV or radio. When I was younger, my dad took me to Cleveland Stadium a few times.

My dad enjoyed watching baseball, too, but he typically fell asleep in his chair when the game was on and/or went to bed even before I did.

Especially after my dad died, my mom passed a lot of time watching the Indians during baseball season and the Browns (and also probably every Monday Night Football game ever) during football season.

Early last summer, I called her and she said she hadn’t been paying attention to the Indians that year. I knew something was wrong.

I stayed at her house for a couple of weeks in October to help out as her mind got foggier. I was there during baseball’s divisional series and league championships, so I watched a lot of baseball.

Even though I had games on the TV, she never really noticed, which was very unusual. She always watched the baseball playoffs, usually rooting for players who weren’t famous but who played hard.

She would be enjoying this Indians team, with what seems like a new hero every night.

I’m certain she would love Roberto Perez’s hustle after the first game with Boston, especially the way he tagged up at first to advance to second on a fly ball. I’m also sure she would have loved watching Jose Ramirez all year long.

And, last night, there was Ryan Merritt.

The game didn’t start until 10 p.m. here in Germany, where I live now. I went to bed kind of early and didn’t wake up until 11:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. back in Ohio.

I came out to the couch and turned on the TV quietly so I didn’t wake up my wife or my three daughters, and started watching the game just as Terry Francona shook Merritt’s hand as he left the mound.

I’m pretty sure my mom would have rooted for Merritt, who was the kind of player she always liked.

For that matter, I’m pretty sure my mom watched the whole game, whether I did or not.

Win or lose, she’ll be watching the World Series, too.

Jefferson Wolfe is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany.

Frank Simons and the Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part Two Redux

In honor of last week’s fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek on NBC, here’s a post from exactly two years ago — part two of the series. Thanks to Frank, of course, who continues to delight readers on Facebook!  

As Dan pointed out in his intro, we’ve known each other “since before your sun burned hot in space.”  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, 1990-ish.  We hit it off right away, discovering there were a number of interests we shared, but perhaps none as passionate as our mutual love  of Star Trek, especially what has become known as “TOS,” – the original series.

Me (left) and Dan Wolfe at Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles. "Arena" was filmed here.

Me (left) and Dan Wolfe at Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles. “Arena” was filmed here.

Now as anyone who knows Dan will tell you, he’s smart.  He’s somewhat modest about it, but Dan is a card carrying member of that super brains only club – MENSA.  If you’re having a discussion with Dan on just about any topic – but especially one he’s interested in – well, you had better know your stuff.  Having met or interviewed many of TOS actors, having written about Trek 5 or 6 times over the last 5 or 6 years for a major news wire, I can say with some confidence Dan and I “reach,”  on Star Trek, but more about that “reach” reference later.     

Last week, in yet another non-planned but just can’t help it discussion of Trekology, Dan suggested it might be fun as a part his always interesting blog, we pick our ten favorite TOS episodes. Not the 10 most culturally significant – not the ones that casual fans might know – “the one with the tribbles,” or “the one with that famous kiss,” or “the one where Spock did that one thing” but our favorites. The episodes we love. A countdown from 10 to 1, with one guilty pleasure episode – one we love, but hate admitting in public because most of the Trek universe would ask us if we were out of our Vulcan minds to like.

So 10 to 1.

10: Arena.

Gorn captain.

Gorn captain.

The Gorn episode. I love this episode because it has my favorite Trek space race sequence. After the Gorns have destroyed an Earth outpost and flee the planet, Kirk orders the Enterprise in hot pursuit. The Gorns are at warp 5, so Kirk and crew go to warp 6, the Gorns go to warp 6, the Enterprise goes to warp 7, and so on – two species comparing the size of their warp drives.  As the ships race by a certain solar system, a superior race, the Metron’s, step in to put an end to this caveman fight by staging a caveman fight between the 2 ship captains – win and you and your crew survive, lose, you, your ship, and crew are destroyed. High stakes for our Captain. Kirk makes a cannon, brain beats brawn. Kirk displays mercy. Metrons think our species might be worth talking to in several thousand years. And it’s always fun to hiss and talk like a Gorn.

9: Bread and Circuses.

trekbreadandcircuses5The Roman Empire episode. How can you not be fascinated by the concept of what an Earth would be like if the Roman Empire never fell.  A planet wide Empire, in the 20th Century, having ruled for 400 years without war. A boast our planet cannot make. The evolution of slavery as an institution with benefits, televised Gladiator games – just love the idea of this episode!  Bring down TV ratings in this empire and you get killed.  Just like on our planet. Well, not yet. Kirk gets one last night to be “a man.” Spock and McCoy have a breakthrough in their love/hate relationship.  Our hero’s barely escape with their lives just as “the Son” is dawning on a new day for this Rome.

8: Mirror, Mirror.

Spock_(mirror)The Spock has a beard episode. Opposites attract in this one, and Bad Guys Rule.  Our good guys, courtesy of a magnetic storm are transported to an opposite universe where the Federation is an Empire, Kirk is a bad guy with ambitions of Cesar-hood, and Spock has that famous goatee – and couldn’t look cooler. Uhura gets to go full sexy.  Sulu full villain. Chekov tries to assassinate Kirk, and we are introduced to “The Agonizer.”  We get to briefly see our hero’s play the bad-guy versions of themselves – could this be more fun?  In this bad-guys-rule universe, Kirk makes Spock invincible, if he’ll only seize the day – to end this reign of terror. Spock as a leader of a revolution? He’ll consider it.  And yeah, I’ve got that cool Sword through the Earth logo, as a pin, doesn’t everyone?

Star-Trek--Empire-pin-sm

7: The Changeling.

The episode that is the better version of Star Trek – The Motion Picture.  There are a number of Kirk vs. the computer episodes, but this one is my favorite.  Nomad, the probe that’s on a mission to destroy any life form it doesn’t think is perfect (because its brain is broken and it kept all the wrong lessons it learned in life), is all set to destroy the Enterprise first and ask questions later, you know, kind of our first taste of a resistance is futile fate.  But Nomad, in its broken brain state – thinks Kirk is its mother. Whew. Mom buys some time. Spock mind-melds with this messed up computer (could it be love), Scotty is killed, Uhura sings, and Kirk gives us a dazzlingly display of logic that even impresses Spock.  How often did that happen. 

6: Errand of Mercy.

TV Trek audiences meet the Soviets, I mean the Russians, I mean the Klingons, for the first time.  Wow. We get a big sense of the geo-political and military reality of this universe that Roddenberry created, and goodness, it looks a lot like our own.  Fascinating. There are political rivals, with the military means to challenge our happy Universal Order even in the future.  The Klingon’s hate us for our freedoms, and aren’t afraid to take what they think they can get – so war, with a determined foe of equal military prowess, is upon us. Armenia, Belgium, and now Organia – innocents on the natural invasion routes. But a funny thing happens on the road to Universal Armageddon.  Don’t you hate it when the sheep won’t let the wolves fight.  

5: The Naked Time.

So, there are communicable space viruses, who knew, and  if you get this bug, you are stripped naked, emotionally and otherwise. Catch this off a handshake and you get all the worst parts of drunk – and when that happens, people can and will die, because as Scotty tells us, you can’t change the laws of physics.  naked_timeOur leads get a chance to act – and we get to see some of the core traits that will make us love Kirk and Spock forever – a glimpse of their insecurities and what makes them tick at their core. Spock’s emotion is there, controlled, but we learn at an apparent huge cost to his psyche. And when Captain Kirk looks up at his ship, as he’s leaving the conference room and says “Never lose you. Never”  – you forever fall in male-bonding like love of the commander that will do whatever it takes to save his ship, his people – you know, true blue medal of honor to the mat mode of existence.  This episode will make a little boy want to grow-up and be Captain Kirk. Not to worry parents, he’ll get over it in 70 or 80 years.

4: The Omega Glory.

The American Patriotic episode.  Lets face it, Star Trek is the projection of American ideals into the future, period. The Federation is a functioning UN in space, united in concepts of democratic principles, individual liberty, inclusion, tolerance, and rule of law – and lead by America, I mean Earth.   “In a world (spoken in best movie promo voice-over voice), where Earth fought THE war with the communists, America lost – the Chinese Communists prevailed.  

Kirk reads the Constitution to Cloud William.

Kirk reads the Constitution to Cloud William.

But did that war give us the key to immortality? Is that worth destroying a civilization for?” – End movie promo voice-over voice.  If you’re an American patriot you love this episode. Kirk reads the preamble to the constitution, and says the pledge of allegiance to the flag – yeah, Kirk gets all “E-ed Plebnista” on us.  An American gives back to future Americans the meaning of Americas past, as a way to find America’s future. Did I note that this is the patriotic episode? Sooner or later, America always wins. E-ed Plebnista – Hell Yeah!

3: A Taste of Armageddon.

A taste of Mutually Assured Destruction?  War is messy, so why wouldn’t the future of war be all logical and cleaned up. Kind of what the neutron bomb is supposed to be – a society’s culture, civilization, even its buildings, survive – it’s people, well, wrong place at the wrong time, and you head off to the suicide chambers. My favorite war movies are Anti-War movies, and that’s the message of this episode. Let’s not make the “cost” of war so easy to pay that we never bother to stop paying it. With the technology and tactics we use now, this question is more relevant today than ever before.  This is a message episode, and I love this message – let’s keep war messy, so that we have an incentive to NOT wage it.  We learn that the Federation has a “destroy the planet” order – General Order 24 – Capital Punishment on a world wide scale.  And Kirk reminds us of our truth – we’re killers, but we can choose not to kill, today.   This episode is one of the finest moment in all of Trek.

2: The Doomsday Machine.

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The Doomsday Machine

This episode isn’t a taste of mutually assured destruction – it’s a huge helping of it, with seconds.  Star Trek loves Melville, versions of Captain Ahab pop up all the time – including into the feature films. But Commodore Decker might be my favorite. And this is one of the few episodes where the lead guest star’s (William Windom) performance stands toe to toe with our regulars.  A past civilization, from a neighboring galaxy, used its “H Bomb,” and it did what any Doomsday Machine would do – it not only killed the enemy, but also, the beings that used it.  Only this civilizations weapon, as long as it has planets to destroy and consume, has no off switch –and now it has wandered into our galaxy burning a path through the Milky Way’s most densely populated section. Thanks neighbors. A broken transporter, a ticking clock, Spock relieved of command, Kirk defies his superior officer.  Wonderful acting, great story, tension, suspense – this episode still works on every level.

1: The City on the Edge of Forever.

Star Trek City on the edge of foreverBefore the Guardians of the Galaxy, there was The Guardian of Forever.  Machine or Being?  Both and Neither. To this day, one of the most fascinating characters in the entire Trek Universe – and on screen, we only see him/it here, and in the animated series episode “Yesteryear.”

This episode regularly ranks as the fans favorite. And yes, for me too.  “City” has every element of what makes Star Trek great. A big story – a story that effects all human-kind, the course of Earth’s history, the history of the universe.  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  

Edith Keeler and Jim Kirk in "City on the Edge of Forever"

Edith Keeler and Jim Kirk in “City on the Edge of Forever”

The first time Star Trek, in so many words, gives us this quandary.   FDR, Hitler, WW2, depression era New York, how to explain a Vulcan’s ears to someone that has never seen them before – it’s all here.  A love interest for Kirk that is lost in time.  It is the best of all the time change episodes, period.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy all have their moments, all true to character, but Shatner in all his wonder, delivers here – yes, I mean on the acting part.  Does Kirk know what he just did? Yeah, he knows. The City on the Edge of Forever is quite simply Star Trek at its finest.

Guilty Pleasure: The Way to Eden.

waytoeden_275This is the Space Hippies episode. Yes, I admit, this is a bad episode, but like watching an act in a French circus, you’re kind of disgusted at what they look like and appear to be doing but you can’t look away.  Lots to not like here – including some of the weirdest looking alien ears in all of Trek – and that’s saying something.  We do see Spock rock out, a pretty girl play the spokes of bicycle wheel, a flipped screen shot that for a brief second puts Kirk’s insignia on the wrong side of his chest,  and of course we find out that to be called a “Herbert” is a bad thing.  Idealistic youth corrupted and mislead by an evil man, in pursuit of a crazy idea  – find Eden. The one take away I have for this episode, and why it’s still pops up in my mind is the idea of “reach.” I mentioned this at the top of this far too long list, as to the fact that Dan and I “reach” on Star Trek.  The Space Hippies use this as a kind of bonding phrase, if you and someone else understand a subject, a thing, an idea, in the same way – a way that is deeper than just logically, but goes to who you are – then you “reach.” 

Dan and I, and millions of people all around the world, “reach” on Star Trek.

Frank Simons
www.franksimons.net

Dan writing here:  Frank’s too modest to post his work for Reuters here, so I will since I can.  In my opinion, Frank’s the definitive authority on TOS and I should publicly thank him for correcting an error in fact on my post yesterday.  Well played, sir!  Well played!

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/30/entertainment-us-books-startrek-idUSBRE8AT1C620121130

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/13/us-startrek-tricorder-idUSBRE83C1FK20120413

Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses – Part One Redux

This is a repost from precisely two years ago. Since Star Trek is now fifty years old as of last week, I thought I’d revisit this essay today and Frank’s essay tomorrow.   

Frank Simons, Trek Genius

Frank Simons, Trek Genius

Frank Simons and I can never spend more than five minutes in conversation without talking about Star Trek. Once we start, it doesn’t stop. We can and have discussed in the finest detail pretty much everything there is to talk about and then we discussed it again. Multiple times.

Dodger Spock? Ask Frank about it.

This has gone on between us since 1990-ish.

Frank and I watched the debut of ST:DS9 together at our mutual friend, Casey’s house. I don’t remember but we HAD to have watched ST:Voyager’s debut, though I may have been working. I was on the prime-time shift at E! Entertainment Television at the time, so that’s probably where I was when it debuted on the United Paramount Network. (Remember UPN? It’s ok. No one does.) Regardless, Frank and I have enjoyed each other’s company during countless TV airings of the different series and movies. And I couldn’t be more delighted each and every time we get to talk about Trek. *

So a few days back, I wrote a blog post entitled “Random Thoughts” in which I made a Star Trek reference. Naturally, Frank responded and well, see paragraph one. We were off to the races.

We decided that it would be fun to compare our ten most favorite episodes of the original series. Not the ones we thought were best, most socially significant or well written, just the top ten of those we LIKED the most. So we’re putting them in this blog.

So there too.

If you’re not a Star Trek fan, if you don’t know a Denebian slime devil from a Wookie, then these may not be the blog posts for you. Please DO come back when the regularly scheduled nonsense returns. However, if you recognize the words “Denebian slime devil” and can tell me who might have said it, then I recommend you read on.

My Ten Most Favorite Star Trek: The Original Series Episodes

10. “A Taste of Armageddon”

To this day, I don’t know why I like this one except to say that as a youngster, I totally understood the point of this episode. It made me feel smart that I got it. It also had cool, flashy computers in it. It was easy for a little kid like me to understand why Kirk and Spock would want to stop a computer-managed war in which people so designated by the computers “voluntarily” walked to their disintegration. By simulating the “war” and calculating “casualties” from simulated attacks, the computers saved their society’s infrastructure and survivors from the horrors of a REAL war. By destroying their warring computers, Kirk gambles that they’ll avoid the real horrors of war by actually embracing peace and ending the unnecessary loss of life once and for all:

“Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided.”   – Kirk

Of course, he’s right and the warring factions go to the negotiating table with the assistance of the Federation.

Highlight of this episode: Scotty in command of the Enterprise while Kirk, et. al. are being held on Eminiar VII against their will. It’s one of the few times we see Scotty’s competency beyond engineering. Good performance by Jimmy Doohan. Unfortunately, much of the time, Scotty was written over the top and occasionally downright goofy. (“The Lights of Zetar”)   I like the professional, iron-willed Scotty much better.

9.  “Tomorrow is Yesterday”

“That ought to be… just about right.”

Ep21_ent_above_midwestTime travel episodes always get my attention but this one was particularly fun. Especially so since the re-mastered version makes the Enterprise’s presence in Earth’s atmosphere look remarkably real when compared to the original graphics. The unintended presence of a twentieth-century fighter pilot aboard the Enterprise makes for a difficult moral and technical problem which, of course, they solve quite readily.

Most time travel stories break down with even limited scrutiny. (A rare exception: ST:TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” which gets time travel about as right as you can.)   Causality is often cast to the wind in favor of story and in this case, the story is strong enough to overshadow any cause/effect paradoxes which arise from the crew’s arrival in 1967.

And that quote? Shatner delivers it perfectly and memorably.

8.  “A Piece of the Action”

This is ST:TOS’s comedy. It’s a “planet of the week” story which by and large I really hate. But some great comedic performances by the guest cast (especially Vic Tayback) make this a really fun episode. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is really at his best here when trying to fit in with the Iotains. He plays it perfectly.

Of course, in this episode, we’re introduced to the game of Fizzbin:

How can you NOT like that?

7.  “Amok Time”

Another “Nimoy gets to act” episode. I like those because they’re different and because the actors get to act. Yeah, it’s kinda what they’re supposed to do, but when actors get to do something different from what you expect of a character, it automatically gets my attention.

Of course, this episode has it all: tested loyalties, sacrifice, a hot Vulcan woman, an uncontrollably horny Spock, a twenty-third century fragging, sorta.

TPringBottom line: Vulcans must mate every seven years and half-human Spock is not spared this ordeal during which intense, often violent emotions take over the eminently logical Star Fleet officer. In the process, we meet T’Pring, his betrothed, who has grown up since childhood to be supermodel hot. Drama and intrigue ensue and Spock kills Kirk in his Vulcan-hormone-induced rage.

Except that he really doesn’t because Dr. McCoy is a freakin’ genius. Three words: Tri. Ox. Compound.

Best moment: When Spock discovers that he hasn’t killed his captain after all.   The look on his face reveals so much about Spock and his half-human side. It’s a pure Trek moment and one of my favorites in the franchise.

6.  “Balance of Terror”

Romulans.

I love Romulans. They’re like Vulcans but with emotion, intrigue and too many hidden conspiratorial agendas to count. But they are interesting. Cool. Calculating. You always wonder what they’re REALLY up to. I always thought the Romulans were far better, subtler villains than the Klingons.

Klingons? I’m not a fan.

But Romulans? They’re crafty, manipulative, smart, sneaky, political bastards and I love ‘em all. If I could be another species other than Q, I’d be a Romulan. They’re badass and they don’t have to eat gagh. (In the interest of accuracy, I’d be a Gene Roddenberry Romulan not a J.J. Abrams Romulan. They’re just dicks.)

This is basically like every submarine movie you’ve ever seen except it’s in space. And it’s the first appearance of the Romulans who go on to do nasty things in some time line or another later/earlier on. (Another damnable time travel thingy.)

MarkLenardThe Romulan commander, played by Mark Lenard, who also played Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek throughout the franchise, is compelling and his respect for his adversary in Kirk is admirable.

Romulans.

Yeah, that says it all.

5.  “The Enterprise Incident”

More Romulans. (See “Balance of Terror.”)

Scott_recognizes_Kirk_as_RomulanKirk as a Romulan. Another horny Spock, but this time, he doesn’t really mean it. (He’s doing it for the Federation.) A cloaking device. A Romulan raised in Brooklyn. (Seriously.) The Vulcan Death Grip.

Intrigue, espionage and great performances all around make this a really exciting episode.

Sidebar: The Vulcan Death Grip has become a staple around our house. Nate and Garrett will often come up to me, place their fingers on the sides of my face and expect me to scream. (I know, Kirk doesn’t scream when he gets the Vulcan Death Grip like he does when Nancy Crater does something similar in “The Man Trap.” But that’s how they learned it from me, and I regret the error on my part.)

4.  “The Ultimate Computer”

daystromHard to believe that the actor who played genius Dr. Richard Daystrom in this episode of TOS is also the actor who starred in the title role in 1972’s “Blacula!” William Marshall was a highly respected Broadway and Shakespearean actor who didn’t become a name, so to speak, until “Blacula” and its sequel. I enjoy Marshall’s Dr. Daystrom in this episode. And later in the episode, Marshall gives what I consider to be the best reaction ever to a Vulcan nerve pinch.

In “The Ultimate Computer,” Marshall plays the computer genius who, decades before, invented duotronics, the Treknology behind computers of the Star Trek universe. Now, many years later, Daystrom has upgraded and his new computer, M-5, uses multitronic technology modeled after his own human brain. Problem is: Daystrom’s nuts. Turns out, so is M-5.

The Enterprise under the control of M-5 is pitted against four other Constitution-class starships in war games that M-5 doesn’t know are games. Believing it to be under a real attack, M5 kills the entire crew of one starship and many others are injured and killed before Kirk and Spock get it figured out. This is one of four episodes in which Kirk talks a computer to death.

This one’s a fav because of the starship battle scenes and it takes Kirk’s human intuition and experience to save himself and the rest of the crew aboard Enterprise. Oh, and this line’s a winner:

“Compassion. That’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.” – Dr. McCoy, on why Commodore Wesley did not attack the Enterprise

3.  “The Menagerie” (Parts 1 and 2)

ST:TOS’s only two-part episode and their epic. As a cost saving measure, Roddenberry et. Al. wrote this around the original Star Trek pilot that was rejected by NBC and turned it into a genuinely beautiful, thoughtful story.

It’s the story of the Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike played by Jeffrey Hunter. It’s noticeably different in many ways but similar enough to be believable as a flashback. It establishes much about the Trek universe but is occasionally contradictory. It’s fun to see Spock as a slightly different character, Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) as Number One, a TOTALLY different character, and a whole starship of different faces. And the crew of Jim Kirk’s Enterprise was far more diverse than that of Chris Pike.Susan Oliver 'Star Trek' (1966) 1.0

Did I mention guest star Susan Oliver is beautiful? Stunningly beautiful? And occasionally green? It’s enough to make a man want to head to Orion at first opportunity.

I count this as one episode ‘cause it’s one story. If you think I’m wrong, feel free to let me know how that works out for you, k?

2.  “The Omega Glory”

I’ve always liked seeing and hearing about other ships and crews of the fleet. This episode is no exception.

The USS Exeter is found abandoned around planet Omega IV. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a couple of red shirts head down to investigate. (Don’t know what a “red shirt” is? Google is your friend.)

The sole survivor is Exeter Captain Ronald Tracey whose survival is a mystery. Bottom line: he thinks he’s found the fountain of youth.

He hasn’t. And now he’s nuts. (Kinda like Daystrom, but with serious homicidal tendencies.)

Drama ensues and the ending is satisfying yet surprisingly hokey. However, Kirk’s speech at the end I believe to be just as valid today and it was/will be in the twenty-third century:

“Hear me! Hear this! Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before or since. Tall words proudly saying We the People. That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people! Down the centuries, you have slurred the meaning of the words, ‘We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.’ These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well!”

Ronald_Tracey

Morgan Woodward as Capt. Ronald Tracey

What makes this episode for me is Morgan Woodward’s performance as Captain Tracey. He plays the best homicidal maniac in the business and no actor sweats better than he does – and I mean that as a compliment. He’s a delight in this role and I absolutely love watching him work. I should really hit YouTube and see if I can find other things in which Woodward appeared. I suspect he’s got serious acting chops. I’ve often wondered if he was considered for the part of Captain Kirk when Roddenberry was casting TOS. He was probably too old to play Kirk, but he would have been a terrific admiral or some such character. I think he would have been a good choice for another starship-based spinoff series had Trek taken off back then.

Before I get to number one…

Guilty Pleasure Episode: “Spock’s Brain”

Universally accepted as the worst of all the TOS episodes, “Spock’s Brain” is so bad from beginning to end that you can’t stop watching it even though you know you’re going to lose ten IQ points just for having it on the TV in the first place.

Aliens steal Spock’s brain – literally. Remove that sucker from his Vulcan cranium and use it as a sort of a central operating computer for their planet or ship or whatever. His brain is running heating, air conditioning for the society. Hell, it’s probably doing the laundry too, but that’s not the worst of it.

McCoy hooks up some sort of device around Spock’s head so he can walk around by remote control. (Even as kid, I thought this was the dumbest thing ever. So far, I have yet to find anything worse.) Later on, of course, they find Spock’s brain and McCoy has to reattach it. But he forgets how in the middle of surgery and Spock, brain half in and half out, talks him through it.

Awful. Just plain ridiculous. But if it’s on, I’ll watch it.

 

And finally…

1.  “The Doomsday Machine”

Reread the first sentence of #2 above. I’ll wait.

ConstellationThis is another one where we see another ship of the line, in this case, the USS Constellation, severely damaged and adrift near the remains of a star system. The lone survivor is Commodore Matt Decker played expertly by William Windom. Decker’s beamed his crew down to the third planet of the system in the hope of saving them from death from a gigantic robotic planet killer. By the time Kirk and the Enterprise arrive on board Constellation after receiving its automated distress call, there is no third planet anymore and no crew. And Decker is just sick about it. Literally.

USS_Enterprise_tractored_into_planet_killer,_remastered

Decker is beamed aboard the Enterprise and as senior line officer, assumes command there against Spock’s wishes. Decker proceeds to put the Enterprise in harm’s way in the hope of destroying the planet killer, as he was unable to do with his ship.

This is the one episode that I watch all the way though from beginning to end every time. It’s got everything: another starship, an unbeatable enemy, ship-to-ship combat, Kirk and the away team in grave danger. When Kirk flips the switch giving him 30 seconds to beam away from the Constellation before it explodes inside the Doomsday Machine, it’s nail-biting action as the transporter fails while the clock literally ticks down the last seconds until the Constellation is destroyed with Kirk still aboard.

Matt_decker

William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker

Windom’s Matt Decker is completely over the top and huge at times, but it is spot on for the circumstance and he is a compelling presence. He owns the screen whenever he’s on it. This is probably why he was such a big part of 60’s and 70’s television. William Windom had a long and distinguished career and even reprised his role as Commodore Decker in 2004 for “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.”

This is to my knowledge, the only episode of the original series in which pay for service in Star Fleet is mentioned:

“If I only had some phasers.”
“Phasers? You got ’em. I have one bank recharged.”
“Scotty, you’ve just earned your pay for the week.”
– Kirk and Scott, as the Enterprise is pulled closer to the doomsday machine

This may not be the best Star Trek episode from the original network run, but it is unquestionably my favorite and always has been.   Toledo, Ohio only had two TV stations in the mid 60’s (WSPD and WTOL) and they shared the NBC affiliation. Star Trek was not one of the NBC shows that made it on the air in Toledo back then so I wasn’t able to see very many of the original NBC episodes unless I went to my grandparents’ house. (They had cable TV that carried Cleveland and Detroit stations.) This is one of the episodes I remember seeing on NBC during its original run. I remember this line from the trailer and from the episode as well:

“Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard.” – Kirk at about T minus 5 seconds

Well, there you have it! My ten favorite episodes from the original 79 of Star Trek. Comments? Leave ‘em here. I’d love to hear about your ten favorites.

Tomorrow the aforementioned Frank Simons, actor, occasional Reuters journalist and Star Trek Genius, will be guest blogging his top ten.   Read it. That’s an order.

*  I would be remiss were I to fail to acknowledge the hospitality of one Thunder Levin, also a HUGE Trek fan who hosted me and my then spousal unit at his Santa Monica abode for the debut of Star Trek: Enterprise. Thunder is an accomplished writer and director who recently wrote a couple of things, movies, actually, involving sharks in tornadoes – something like that – you may have heard about it. At the time, Anthony Montgomery, who played Ensign Travis Mayweather on Enterprise, lived in my apartment building in Los Angeles. Good guy!