Ted Cruz Thinks Captain Kirk Would Be A Republican – He’s Wrong and Here’s Why

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Captain James T. Kirk

According to a recent New York Times interview, Ted Cruz thinks Captain James T. Kirk would have been a Republican. He’s wrong – and here’s why. (Naturally, we’ll file this is one of the more important topics I’ve written about.)

I’ll skip the pedantry of pointing out that Republicans and Democrats no longer exist in the future depicted in Star Trek. Instead, let’s get right to the heart of the matter – James T. Kirk is the captain of a starship on a mission of exploration for a socialist government, and Star Trek itself is a rosy-eyed depiction of a socialist utopia, crafted by and populated with humanists. The very essence of Star Trek should be anathema to the modern Republican.

For the woefully uninitiated, here’s bit of a primer. Star Trek takes place in the 23rd – 24th centuries, following the adventures of men, women, various aliens, and even a few androids, operating on behalf of Starfleet, the exploratory/defensive wing of a massive, centralized bureaucracy called the United Federation of Planets. Member planets in the UFP are in many ways autonomous, but are nonetheless bound by the dictates of the central authority of the Federation. Society is classless, and the economy operates without the exchange of money.

Star Trek depicts a world in which values closely aligned with progressive humanism have triumphed. The Vulcan philosophy of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” is celebrated, and collectivist phrases like “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” carry the weight of moral compunction. The motivating force behind the mission(s) of the starship(s) Enterprise is a search for knowledge simply for sake of knowledge – and at great personal risk and material cost.

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The Vulcan symbol for diversity. Spock describes it as follows: “The triangle and the circle – different shapes, materials, and textures – represent any two diverse things which come together to create truth or beauty – represented by the jewel.”

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, put the spirit of diversity that drives Star Trek quite forcefully:

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms… If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

One can be forgiven for thinking these are values individuals inclined toward conservatism – at least as expressed by the modern GOP – don’t really appreciate. People who think members of the LGBT community do not deserve to share the same rights as everyone else are miles away from delighting in “those small differences”. They are expressing the sort of regressive attitude that will forever keep the most plausible, most reachable aspects of the future depicted in Star Trek forever grounded in the world of science-fiction.

Likewise, Republican rhetoric is often firmly rooted in a celebration of individual self-interest and anti-establishment sentiments that are contrary to the submission of individual needs to the collective good. Nor can it be said that people who cut funding to organizations like NASA and the National Science Foundation come off as particularly big fans of the quest for knowledge.

Hell, even free market capitalism, approached with near religious reverence by the modern GOP, is portrayed as an artifact of humanity’s childish past in the universe of Star Trek. Its primary practitioners are the Ferengi, hideous aliens who are variously treated as predatory, lascivious villains and greedy, bumbling clowns. The Koch brothers, Donald Trumps, Mitt Romneys and Herman Cains of the Star Trek universe are greeted with scorn and distrust. Their motivations are viewed as sordid and puerile. But for the modern Republican, capitalism and the quest for profit is the glue holding the moral architecture of the universe together.

So why does Ted Cruz think James T. Kirk, the equivalent of a NASA mission commander working for the government of the Netherlands, is a Republican? To begin with, there seems to be a natural human tendency to paint our heroes and role-models in the subjective palette of our individual values. Cruz is projecting his ideals on the charming space-rogue that is Captain Kirk. According to Cruz, Kirk is “working class” and “a passionate fighter for justice”. What exactly “working class” means in a classless society is, and shall remain, mysterious. But Cruz is dead-on when he describes Kirk as a passionate fighter for justice. He’s just wrong in thinking that characteristic makes him a Republican. There are passionate crusaders for justice on both sides of the aisle – they just have a few differences of opinion concerning what qualifies as “justice”. I have a strong suspicion that Kirk might be a little more sympathetic to the liberal/progressive perspective on justice than the conservative one.

In the interview Cruz says that “readers of science fiction are interested and attracted to the future. And politics is a battle for framing that future.” The future depicted in Star Trek is one in which the pillars of modern Republican ideology – Christian theology, free market capitalism, nationalism, traditionalism – have been cast aside in favor of the ideals espoused by progressive humanists. Christianity is properly viewed as a collection of myths – a comfort blanket for humanity’s infancy. Economic and monetary interests have been entirely subordinated to the will of the state and the society it serves. Multiculturalism is the rule of the day and the shackles of tradition have been broken away and replaced by context-sensitive humanistic ethics.

Let me reiterate: there’s no reason the conservatively inclined shouldn’t like Star Trek. The world depicted in Mad Max is a morose and violent hellscape. But those movies – the latest entry in particular – are great entertainment. I just wouldn’t want to live in that world. Based purely on observations of their behavior and stated political beliefs, I suspect something along those lines captures a person like Ted Cruz’s appreciation of Star Trek. It’s fine from a distance, but he sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, his political record is that of a man who works diligently to prevent it from ever happening.

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Wise words from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

Seveneves

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I’m not typically drawn to the business of writing book reviews, and I’d hate for this to be the start. So let’s just call this a book “celebration”, spawned by my immense – possibly even fawning – admiration for Neal Stephenson’s most recent book, Seveneves.

I’d audiobooked Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon during some long, tedious hours spent using super-neat laser scanners to digitize archaeological remains in a creaky old lab festooned with dusty cabinets and rusty steam pipes, and was considerably impressed. Sprawling and thoroughly researched, Cryptonomicon provided food-for-thought and compelling entertainment in roughly equal measures, so I was intrigued when I read an early review for Seveneves that suggested Stephenson was tackling nothing short of the apocalypse.

The novel opens with the violent destruction of the moon, an event that will cascade into the eventual death of earth. It’s a pretty drastic event, and makes for an excellent hook. At first the sudden destruction of the moon (never fully explained, but possibly the work of a high-speed impactor) is greeted by the novel’s protagonists – mostly scientists and engineers, dynamically and idiosyncratically portrayed by a man who has clearly spent a fair amount of time hanging around scientists and engineers – with a sense of wonder and curiosity. But it quickly becomes clear that one of the more salient consequences of the event will be the incineration of everything on the earth’s surface, including humanity.

Thereafter, the story – told in three parts – deals almost mechanistically with the likely ramifications of a situation in which life on earth becomes untenable. It should go without saying that no one can predict what would actually happen in a scenario like the one at the core of Seveneves, but Stephenson does a good job of making the reader forget this little caveat and think that he not only can, but has. This is rock-solid speculative fiction, and the plot – especially in the first two thirds of the book – is driven by a practical assessment of the challenges humanity would face in evacuating earth, and how those challenges might be met within the bounds of the scientifically and technologically possible.

  • What type of vehicle is best for navigating a space filled with an increasing amount of fast moving debris? A swarm of small, semi-autonomous capsules perhaps?
  • How do you avoid getting toasted by cosmic radiation? How do you manufacture fuel? Maybe capture a comet as a partial solution to both?
  • How do you grow enough food to sustain even a small population? Genetically modified crops and hydroponics, supplemented with a bit of human flesh when times get tough?
  • Where do you go when the planet on which your species evolved and has perpetually depended for survival is unlivable? Start anew on Mars? Shelter in a large chunk of the moon’s newly exposed iron core?
  • How do you govern a population under conditions in which survival necessitates a restriction of what have come to be viewed as natural human rights? Who gets to make these decisions?

Seveneves is not, to be clear, a story about the mass migration of humanity from the terrestrial to the celestial realm. In a very real sense, it is about the destruction and reconstruction of humanity. The world’s sharpest minds come together to solve the aforementioned problems, and the solution they come up with is a long shot at best. Only about 1500 people make it off the earth before its surface is consumed in an inferno that will last millennia and render it unlivable for even the hardiest of extremophiles. In space, they face a vast array of challenges posed by the realities of life in an extreme environment, compounded by humanity’s perpetual tendency to create new problems as a byproduct of the interaction between people with different ideas, beliefs, and opinions about what is best. Stephenson doesn’t shrink from depicting the hardships humanity might face in attempting to survive in space, and the result is often brutal and harrowing. But it is never anything less than compelling.

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Seveneves author Neal Stephenson

The Martian: Sciencing the Shit Out of It

Today, 20th Century Fox released an official trailer for Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s superb novel, The Martian. Frankly, I’ve been awaiting this film with something like giddy trepidation. As previously indicated, Weir’s novel was excellent, and Ridley Scott has done some strong work in the past, particularly in the realm of science fiction (Alien, Blade Runner). Scott’s more recent work, however, has been a little lackluster. Here, I’m thinking particularly of Prometheus, a film that presented a characterization of scientists that was borderline egregious: the ranks of a crack scientific team engaged in what must certainly be a monumentally expensive and risky mission to uncover traces of alien life on a distant planet are populated with bumbling idiots and religious fanatics. Peter Weyland might easily have stocked his crew with the Three Stooges or Keystone Cops and encountered less ineptitude. And don’t get me started on the science itself…

Anyway, the point is that Andy Weir wrote a monumental work of hard science fiction. Indeed, the verisimilitude of the science gives the story much of its propulsive energy. The protagonist, Mark Watney, is put through a crucible of maddening, dangerous, and immensely practical challenges as he attempts to survive on Mars. Likewise, he and the NASA specialists on earth must find practical solutions using extremely limited resources. The result is a thrilling story, a celebration of human ingenuity and determination. Weir’s fiction builds upon the factors behind Apollo 13’s persistence as a compelling survival story, and why a film that deviated little from the historical record of the events in question worked so well. Brass tacks, I was worried Scott might find a way to inject the story with his brand of superstitious woo-woo nonsense or cloud the science with unnecessary rubbish.

Which is why I find myself incredibly relieved excited by this trailer. The cast is top-notch, and it looks like Scott and his production team have done an excellent job capturing the spirit of Weir’s book. As Damon’s Watney explains in the trailer, “in the face of overwhelming odds, [he’s] going have to science the shit out of this.” Here’s hoping the film makes good on the trailer’s promise.

Leonard Nimoy Passes Away at 83

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I grew up with Star Trek. I have vague memories of my father taking my brother and I to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at a theater. It must have been part of some kind of commemorative re-release, since the film came out in 1982 – three years before I was born. Later, he took us to see Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which remains my favorite Star Trek film to date (for which Nimoy helped develop the story). Throughout elementary school and into middle-school, my brother and I watched early afternoon reruns of the Star Trek: Original Series. Despite its many flaws and more misguided moves (the entirety of Star Trek: Voyager, for instance) Star Trek is my favorite science fiction franchise, period. It is absolutely brimming with a refreshing eagerness to explore new frontiers, to transgress the boundaries of the unknown. Especially in its earliest iterations, Star Trek was often a source of insightful and thought provoking social commentary and small but invaluable lessons about humanist values.

At the very center of all this was Star Trek’s Holy Trinity: James T. Kirk, Leornard McCoy, and – of course – Mr. Spock. The relationship between these characters evolved as the series progressed, especially as the franchise expanded into cinemas in the late ’70s, throughout the 1980s, and into a fantastic denouement with 1991’s The Undiscovered Country. These were fictional characters, but their influence on my personal worldview was entirely real. In particular, they informed my ideas about the value of friendship and the importance of loyalty. Leonard Nimoy’s iconic portrayal of Spock was central to that. So, though Leonard Nimoy was – to me – a complete stranger, I do feel a sense of loss at the news of his passing. His portrayal of Spock helped shape the early development of some of my most strongly held values: curiosity, skepticism, critical thought, friendship, and loyalty. He will be missed.

The closing scene from The Undiscovered Country. Nimoy’s line as Spock really makes the scene.

Wanderers

Bellow is an impressive bit of imagination and artistry, produced by a fellow named Erik Wernquist. It is filled with absolutely gorgeous imagery, set to the inspirational narration of Carl Sagan, and brilliantly captures the spirit of hope and wonder that beckons us beyond the horizon.

Wernquist describes the film as follows:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.
Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

Wildlife Photos: Intermountain Spring to Alaskan Summer to Intermountain Fall

Below, you’ll find a collection of wildlife photographs I took between April and October of 2014 – something of a brief and partial photo-journal for my travels throughout Southeastern Idaho and the Alaskan Peninsula.

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A sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus sp.). Taken off of Cusick Creek trail, near Pocatello, ID.

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Wasp. Cusick Creek, near Pocatello, ID.

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Ant on flower. Cusick Creek, near Pocatello, ID.

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Bee on flower. West of Arbon Valley, Southern Idaho.

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Spider on flower. Boundary Trail, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near Big Springs Camp Ground.

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Garter snake (Thamnophis elegans sp.) in my wife’s (then fiance’s) hand. Boundary Trail, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near Big Springs Camp Ground.

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Garter snake (Thamnophis elegans sp.). Boundary Trail, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near Big Spring Camp Ground.

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Baby spiders. Pocatello, ID.

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Juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Near Port Moller, Alaska.

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Juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Near Port Moller, Alaska.

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A fluffy bird on top of Pushki (Heracleum maximum). Near Port Moller, Alaska.

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Wooly bumble bee. Near Port Moller, Alaska.

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Dragon fly. Cusick Creek, near Pocatello, ID.

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Cat-faced spider (Araneus gemmoides) eating garden tiger moth (Arctia caja). Mink Creek, near Pocatello, ID.

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Garter snake (Thamnophis elegans sp.). Goodenough Creek, near McCammon, ID.

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Garter snake (Thamnophis elegans sp.). Goodenough Creek, near McCammon, ID.

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American dagger moth (Acronicta americana sp.) caterpillar(?). Goodenough Creek, near McCammon, ID.

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Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Near McCammon, ID.

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Cat-faced spider (Araneus gemmoides). Goodenough Creek, near McCammon, ID.

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Utility sign, modified in the traditional manner of the Idaho redneck.