Saturday, October 1, 2011

Everything I Need To Know About Democracy, I Learned From Star Trek


You ever watch Star Trek?

Sure you did.

Each Trekkie has their own favorite flavor, from The Awesome Original Series to the excretable Enterprise.

Whenever I think of Star Trek, I think of the Captain James T. “I can’t hear you over the clanging of my enormous testicles” Kirk version, but for the purpose of this discussion any of the various iterations will do. 

Now I love me some Star Trek, I do, but if you watched the show you were forced to accept a lot of outright absurdity: convenient time travel (until it wasn’t), critical equipment that always malfunctioned when you really needed it but otherwise worked without a hitch especially that damned unreliable transporter (Windows Vista is apparently still with us in the 25th Century), physics better suited to a Road Runner cartoon, biology that defied the basic laws of nature including pervasive inter-species breeding resembling the social norm of Appalachian hillbillies (or Scottish sheep herders, depending on which continent you happen to be reading this from), selective causality (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Redshirt beam down to the planet, guess which one gets his insides liquefied into a thin gruel), miniskirts and fishnet stockings and the Twin Torpedoes Miracle Bra (Who designed the TOS Starfleet Girl Uniform? Hugh Hefner? Of course, that was way better than that “unitard” uniform all the girls in later generations wore. Ugh), the utterly predictable moral failing of the frailer sex (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Suzy beam over to the Burly Barbarian Ship, guess which one will succumb to her hormones and sell them out), the  techno-babble verging on gibberish disguised by pig Latin, and engineering usually indistinguishable from magic (and not the cool Arthur C. Clarke kind of magic technology either). 

And then there was the Prime Directive – which the heroes managed to boldly disregard with such predictable regularity that you really had to wonder if that wasn’t the whole damned purpose of their five year mission in the first place.

But hell, Trekkies didn’t watch the show for any of that.

See, they say that enjoyment of science fiction stems from the willing suspension of disbelief.  And while Star Trek often stretched that idea to truly ridiculous proportions, it was a great show anyway (well, except for the aforementioned excretable Enterprise).

We watched the show for the characters.  And as a diehard science fiction fan, I could happily suspend my disbelief for an hour each week and the enjoy the show. 

Except for one little thing.

There was always one thing that bugged the ever living green blood out of me.

And that was this: Anybody, and I mean anybody, could relieve the Captain of his command.

Seriously, embarked admirals, Starfleet Commodores, the First Officer, the doctor, Starfleet cadets, visiting politicians, the Computer, random passengers, time travelers, potted plants, anybody, could relieve the Captain of a Federation Starship. Robot Space Janitor 3rd Class Roomba could relieve the Captain whenever it felt like it.  Hell, I’m pretty sure I remember an episode of the excretable Enterprise where Captain Archer was removed from his command by his pet beagle (Just go with me on this. Besides, it could be true, it’s not like anybody actually watched Enterprise anyway).  Every single time the captain did something that somebody didn’t like, he was threatened with being removed from command – but in the end, somehow, he (or she, if you’re one of those weirdo Voyager types) always managed to just squeak through and hold onto the Captaincy.


Pithy observation, Nerd Boy, I hear you say in that dubiously apprehensive tone you use when you suddenly find yourself sharing a hotel elevator with a bunch of drunken Appalachian hillbillies dressed up as a Klingon war party. What brings this up?


Well, see, I was reminded of that bit of Trek trivia over the last three days as I watched various politicians threaten, yet again, to shut down the US Government.

Honestly, is it just me? Or does it seem government shutdown is the go-to threat these days?

Better do it my way, or I’ll shut down the government! Yes, Sir, I will and don’t think I won’t! I’ll shut it right the hell down, turn off the lights, take my toys and go home.

Seems anybody can threaten a government shutdown. Don’t like the president? We’ll show him, let’s shut down the government!  Don’t want to compromise? It’s my way or I’ll shut down the government!  Need to score some political points? Hey, if I have to shut down the government it’s not my fault, it’s those other guys they made me do it!  Junior Freshman Congressman? Make your mark, get national recognition, become a household name, shut down the government! Running for president and want to grab some free attention? Look at me shutting down the government! Congressional dining room made your roast lamb filet medium-well instead of medium-rare? The filthy Nazi bastards! Shut down the government! Come on, who’s with me? Let’s shut her down!

Shut down the US Government?

Honestly, when did that become an option?

And not only an option, but the option?

Every damned week it’s another threatened government shutdown. Thursday, the media announced with breathless relief that the House had managed to pass another stopgap spending bill. Yay! The government can stay open!

Right.  Big whooptee fucking doo.

The bill managed to avoid shutdown for a whole week. And then? Well, next week lawmakers will have to drag their raggedy asses back from vacation and pass another stopgap bill, or – wait for it, waaaaaaiiiit for it – the government will shut down! 

Oh noes! 

That bill, if it passes, will keep the government clunking along for seven more whole weeks.  And then? Well, then the real show begins, because that’s when next year’s budget is due. And, man, if we can’t pass that, well you know what happens then, right?  

Congress is already making noises about how they might have to shut the government down, oh noes Captain! I dinnae think she can take it! Woop! Woop! Woop! Red Alert!

Frankly, I’m getting more than a little sick of this bullshit.  Since 1977, the House has threatened government shutdown, with varying degrees of will, more than one hundred and fifty times – one hundred and fifty seven times, to be precise, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. That’s an average of four times a year.  In fact, since 1978, Congress has managed to complete and pass the annual appropriates bill, i.e. the federal budget, by the due date only three times

Three times out thirty-three. 

You should be able to do the math in your head, but for those who went to the schools where they teach that cavemen frolicked with dinosaurs, your sworn representatives have managed to meet what is arguably their most important constitutionally mandated obligation a bit less than ten percent of the time.

Honestly, what employer would put up with that kind of  piss-poor performance?

The federal budget has been due in October every single year for more than two centuries – it’s not like it’s a surprise.

Sure it’s complicated.

Sure it’s fraught with partisan passion.

Sure, about half the time you have to compromise with parties and a president you don’t like.

Sure it’s damned hard and it gets harder and more complex and passionate every year. So what? That’s the job. That’s what congress gets paid to do.  That’s why, and I’m just saying here, maybe they ought to get ahead of it, instead of waiting until the last minute, instead of grandstanding and chest beating, instead of threatening us with yet another goddamned government shutdown.

It’s always something. It’s always a crisis.  There’s always a growing national debt or communists or terrorists or a war to be fought or an evil empire to be contained or an election to be won or jobs to be created or a bunch of earmarks in states that don’t deserve them or foreign aid to some blighted place. And, hey, if none of that can be used to threaten government shutdown, well then guaranteed Jesus is pissed off about something or other involving a poor woman’s uterus and healthcare for solar powered gay environmentalist weapons manufactures.  There’s always some goddamned thing Congress can find to fight over instead of getting the job done on time. Honestly, who acts like this?

The issue this time was disaster funding for victims of the recent east coast hurricane. 

Now, to be clear and before we go any further, I do think that we have to get federal spending under control.  I don’t think that we can just keep borrowing money from our kid’s future.  I do think that American taxpayers have every right to be pissed that their hard earned money went to bankrupted companies or industries that don’t, in fact, need the money. I do think that FEMA and other federal agencies should be held accountable.

However, try as I might, I fail to understand how repeatedly threatening to shut down the government accomplishes any of that.

Just like the bit with the Enterprise’s Captain, this shutdown threat has become a trope – something that happens so often that it’s become a predictable cliché.  They have come to the point where they disregard their Prime Directive so often that it’s business as usual. That’s what the US Congress has become, a tired dysfunctional cliché.  With every day that passes, it takes a greater and greater suspension of disbelief to put up with exponentially increasing levels of absurdity. 

Honestly, it’s really starting to look like a recycled science fiction TV show.

Yesterday there was the mirror universe episode, the one where everybody has a Fu Manchu mustache and is the reverse copy of themselves. You know, the one where the sissy liberal gave the orders to zap the terrorists inside the boarders of an allied country and the conservatives rail about the civil rights of Americans and fair trials.

The day before it was the time travel episode, the one where they go back to Earth in the 1960’s and there are missiles in Cuba – and, of course, it all turns out to be an alien plot.

The week before that it was the bizarro world episode where nothing makes sense – like a rich guy demanding to be taxed more and the greedy politicians demanding to see his tax returns because they think he should give them less money. Meanwhile, banks that were bailed out by taxpayers after cutting  30,000 jobs imposed new fees on the same people in kind of a crucifixion and lions bit of irony, charging them to use their own money while giving the rich a free pass along with the same assholes who caused this mess in the first place.  The only thing missing was a large rabbit and the Black Knight.

There was the episode where the smarmy bastard with good hair raises an army of shambling Yahoos with protruding brows in order to overthrow the government, or in this case the Department of Education. My favorite part was the impassioned comment by the Yahoo King where he explained why the masses don’t need no education, “i keep reading ‘republicans don't want education’ i dont think they are the ones who need it, some of you dems do. read this piece and then look at our education levels compaired to the rest of the world. we spend more per child than most and we are producing dummer than most. does this make sence to you, it does not to me. [sic]”  It didn’t make sence to me either, they must have let Shatner direct again.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Star Trek if there wasn’t one of those weird sexual mores episodes – you know, the one where they beam down to planet Santorum  and the entire army is supposed to be celibate, then Riker causes an interstellar incident by boning some nubile Lieutenant.


You know, I’d be willing to suspend my disbelief, I really would, if the cast was at least likeable.  Or if they at least advanced the story. But, seriously, the same damned clichéd crap week after week, a disagreeable cast of b-string actors, and a ten percent accomplishment rate?

If this was Star Trek, these childish idiots would have been dumped unceremoniously out the airlock and left on the planet of ravenous flesh eating space zombies long, long ago.

Of course, if it was left up to me, I’d beam a whole bunch of tribbles right into their …

Uh, never mind.


  1. Yeah, that tribble thing - sounds good to me too. With no Dr. McCoy to give them a much needed enema afterward.

    On second thought, poor tribbles, those fuzzy bastards don't deserve that kind of treatment.

  2. Unfortunately reversing the tachyon flow isn't going to help us here.

  3. You wrote "It’s always something. It’s always a crisis. There’s always a growing national debt or..." and, keeping with the science fiction theme of your post, I suddenly thought of a similar speech in the movie MiB.

    "There's always an Alien Battle Cruiser...or a Korlian Death Ray, or...an intergalactic plague about to wipe out life on this planet, and the only thing that lets people get on with their hopeful little lives is that they don't know about it."

    There never used to be problems like this every single week and I don't think it's because there used to be a more noble breed of politicians at the helm.

    Along the lines of "If a tree falls in the forest..." I often wonder how often these urgent crises would arise naturally if they weren't being fed by the fuel of the modern instant news cycle.

  4. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Suzy beam over to the Burly Barbarian Ship, guess which one will succumb to her hormones and sell them out

    I must take exception to this. Kirk may have found a way out of trouble but he wouldn't have been in trouble so often if he'd have just vetoed Russell the one-eyed wonder muscle every once in a while. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was Seven of Nine--"Prepare to be gelded. Resistance is futile". And her uniform was fabulous.

  5. Jim, another good one. I hate to be picky and pedantic but...while some of the Enterprise stuff was pretty sh...ty, and therefore excretable...I'm guessing that you really meant wretched and therefor execrable. But I might be wrong. You are a much better wordsmith than I, after all is said and done.

  6. You can always spot the Voyager fans. The sad, sad, Voyager fans.

  7. Gee for once I disagree with you...I liked Enterprise!!
    But on our Govenment and the shut down threat, ya, I agree. Well except that I think, we the people should march on Washington and SHUT DOWN the government and make those idiots we elected DO THEIR JOBS!

  8. Ya' know, the idea that we should march on WA is getting more and more attractive to me. Seems there are some who are making, finally, some headway in the MSM down around Wall Street.

    Great coinckidink on my word verification - Bumminie: What all this assholes are doing.

  9. Hi:

    Can I copy this into an email? I want to send it to my reps and senators in Washington. In fact, if you allow it, I think everyone who reads this should send a copy to washington.

    and I won't do it unless you say ok, as I did read the rules, but really, it is great!

  10. You don't actually think they'd read it, do you?

    Feel free to email it to your congresscritter.

  11. Vacation homes. That's what you meant by that beam tribbles thing, right? You'd beam the tribbles right into their first, second, third, fourth, and fifth vacation homes, the one in the Hamptons, the one in the Catskills, the one in Aspen, the one in the Bahamas...

    Of course, these being vile lizard people from Planet Sociopath, they'd probably just eat the g*dd*mn tribbles. And if ya beamed the tribbles that *other* place you sorta inferred, the poor tribbles would probably turn into an instant puff of smoke due to the sheer bile that fills these pathetic excuses for sentient beings.

    Regarding marching on Washington and sending these folks to the gallows for the crime of being sociopathic jerkwads, there's one problem with that: Every single one of these assholes in Washington got electorated fair and square by the majority of voters in his or her district. As long as 50% of people are below average, and average ain't too smart, vile lizard people from Planet Sociopath are gonna have not a bit of trouble rounding up 50%+1 votes to get put back in office again. If we sent'em home, one of their cousins from Planet Sociopath would just take their place during the next election cycle.

    Problem is, only solution I have to that problem looks a helluva lot like the Iranian solution (where they don't let ya run for office until they make sure that you're, like, not some un-Islamic heathen or somethin'). Ends up turning the little body of folks that decide who can run for office or not into basically dictators. Who shall guard the guardians (or Guardian Council, heh) indeed...

    - Badtux the Lizard-observin' Penguin

  12. You're succumbing to false-equivalency syndrome. It is not Congress.

    It's the Republicans-slash-Tea Partiers, and the Speaker of the House who is an utter failure at his job.

  13. The captain of a starship in Star Trek was easy to replace for a very good reason; he was a totally expendable figurehead. All the real work was done by Scottie's engineering crew, Mr Spock and the red shirts. It's the same reason they put the captain in the nice pretty target, er, bridge on warships. All the fighting that matters happens in the turrets and engine rooms.

    Congress and the Presidency, totally expendable. The real decision making happens in corporate board rooms and golf courses. Yeah we elect 'em but the election process is corrupted so thoroughly by corporate media that we get to choose between two flavors of ice cream; both pumpkin.

    As to the peccadilloes of starship captains and presidents........do you want to put nuclear launch codes in the hands of somebody who isnt' getting any? This country ran much better when Monika was helping ol Bill Clinton with the stress I'll tell you that.

  14. I vote Tribbles for Congress! To replace them, I mean, not to inhabit them. At least for the obstructionist Tea-anderthals and Blue Dogs.

  15. sorry I could not get past "Russell, the one eyed wonder muscle" still on the floor LMAO

  16. who says Voyager fans are sad, sad?
    i liked Voyager.
    in fact, i have a voyager flying in my club-room. it's a toilet ball-flapper doo-hickey, and with the price tag still on it, i tell folks it's got a Klingon on board.
    as to our govt. being shut down, i am befuddled by the whole thing.

  17. moxie (Patricia Crawford)October 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Jim, seriously, send it in to the NY Times and/or other papers, this is fantastic and needs to be seen!

  18. Speaking of suspension of disbelief, this whole election cycle has already given me a bad taste in my mouth. Between the Dark Knight morphing into the Emperor Without any Clothes and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I'm thinking of just trying to hold down the fort and keeping the kids fed, clothed and sheltered and letting the rest of the SNAFU carry on without me this time. I've always prided myself on "doing my civic duty" since I was old enough to do so -- using the rubric of "Who can do the least amount of damage/who wierds me out the least?" to pick a candidate. This time I may just sit it out. Depressing. Keep the faith, Gunney.

  19. 721_ You wake up to find a sheep and a goat chomping away on your garden. Only a damn fool chases the sheep first. If you're stupid enough to sit back and watch both do their thing don't be surprised if you're going hungry later.

    That is why I hold my nose a pick a candidate for every office in every election. Hell, I write in candidates for any election that's uncontested.

    I don't care if we're voting for dishwasher I'm voting. I've suffered "revenge of the burrito" too many times to think little things don't matter.

  20. It's a good thing this really isn't Star Trek (well, DS9, at least), or We Would Not Speak Of Such Things [/Worf]

    As usual, lots of fun, some snorts and LOLs, and some hopes that, just like Galaxy Quest, we can have a successful revival of working government sometime soon.

  21. Great article! May I send this in an email to my politicians as well?

    John Gilmore

  22. I read this after watching 'Prohibition' on PBS...

    ... and anyone who says that all this government foom-ra (I have small kids in the house and am trying to clean up my sailor-talk) is new is wrong. It's just been sped up a bit by near instantaneous news.

    Politics has NEVER been polite. Politics has NEVER been clean.
    Politics has ALWAYS been about keeping your own power while doing away with that of your enemies... and by enemies, I mean your own countrymen because the foreigners are so far away.

  23. Jim,

    Great article, love your work.

    I am emailing it to my CongressMonster - Marsha the Moron Blackburn (Ridiculous-TN) who is so mindlessly hatefilled and now SKEERED, she won't even come up to Ft. Campbell (101st Aor Assault - same town as Clarksville, TN)for a photo-op when the soldiers come home...she's SKEERED they are going to.........they have been deployed for TEN DAYUM YEARS and she hides in Williamson County (wealthiest county in TN) telling everyone that Obama has taken away their lightbulbs when it was done in 2007 under Dubya. Help us here in Tennessee.....

  24. California has had a chronic problem in getting the budget passed on a timely basis- in 2010, it actually ran into October. This year, it passed almost on time- within a week or so of the start of the fiscal year. The difference- an initiative that made sure that the Assembly and Senate lost pay for every day past the deadline that the budget wasn't passed. (Yes, I agree that the initiative process can be used for evil, but I actually liked this one)

  25. Jim, good article. Congress, the R version anyway, does like to blow off the Prime Directive. The only reason they exist, to govern, seems secondary to them.
    @Pamela I missed that one. Very nice!
    Does congress get paid if the Gov shuts down? Do they still get their healthcare? Franking privilege?

  26. Now Hear This | My Ready Room

    Stonekettle Station’s take on the shutdown shenanigans. Will make you...

  27. Obama's style of governance does seem to oscillate between channeling Piccard's "make it so" and Archer's "let's ask the aliens what they want." We could use a little more Kirk.

    Still, since the repubs are only offering up versions of Harry Mudd, Quark, Kai Winn, and gracelessly aging Orion slave girls, I guess I'll stick with Obama.

  28. Okra God ,

    " Still, since the repubs are only offering up versions of Harry Mudd, Quark, Kai Winn, and gracelessly aging Orion slave girls, I guess I'll stick with Obama. "

    Quark was great in dealing with difficult situations. He got things done. Quark would've been a great Republican President . Harry Mudd is definitely a Bill Clinton type . He always had beautiful women around him

  29. Well, hell, Jim, before 1976 the gov'mint fiscal year started JULY 1. The reason they changed it to October was that they could never make THAT date. So they contrived to give themselves three more months. That worked nicely for lessee ... never.

  30. Actually, it ain't that complicated. Never forget the prime directive: There Is Nothing More Important Than My Re-Election. It's that simple.

  31. Heh! I blame media. Not THE Media per se, just the existance of a voracious 24/7/365 news vortext that abhors a vaccuum.

    ANY silly statement by someone even remotely in power gets sucked in, stretched, distorted and flung back with such velocity and energy that you cannot escape it. And thus is born a new stimulus-response cycle. Politicians love headlines - they can't get elected without them. So when a simple threat generates lots of headlines, they will naturally try to re-use it as often as possible. Which then puts that phrase back into the vortex to be recycled and multiplied. Soon, that's all that you can see or hear.

    Next week, or next month, there'll be a new theme.
    Until just recently it's been "Shut It Down!" Currently, it seems to be "Occupy it and Tear it Down!" Who knows what it will be next week? Something equally silly and one-dimensional, I'm sure.

  32. Jim, I recently discovered your blog and have been perusing your post archives.Today is January 16, 2013.
    Having just read the above post, all I can say is to quote the late, great Yogi Berra: "It's like Deja Vu, all over again!"


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