Tag Archives: Star Trek

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

I discovered Star Trek in my early teen years, sneaking watching the show when my fundamentalist parents were away. It was everything I could ask for in television–spaceships, adventures to new worlds, a universe of characters who showed that life still has meaning, even when surrounded by and built on machines. And more than that, when it was at its best, the series asked deep questions about philosophy, morality, politics, and science.

With that in mind, it comes as a shock–not an unexpected one, alas–to see the death of Leonard Nimoy. He was, of course, many things–a photographer, poet, director, and actor in many roles on stage and screen, but just as with other people who became icons for one role, he will always be remembered first for one character he brought to life:

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In these last few years, he also made his mark on Twitter @TheRealNimoy. His final tweet, found here, reminiscent of Candide, sums up how we must all now feel:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Live long and prosper in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. You will be remembered.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

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Getting Out of Condition White

One of my places to get out into the open air and take a constitutional is Lake Fayetteville on the north end of the town of the same name in Arkansas. Some fellow on Youtube provides a tour of the soft trail:

and for rainy days like today, there’s a paved path. But in addition to staying in shape, the trails offer another opportunity–namely to get out of Condition White.

“What do I mean by that?” you ask. Well, you ask if you don’t know Saint Jeff of the Corps (Jeff Cooper, if you really don’t know). To review, he identified four conditions of awareness:

Condition White: Oblivious. Your response to being attacked is, “How can this be happening to me?” In fact, very little of the world around you enters into your attention without forcing its way in.

Condition Yellow: Relaxed alert. Nothing is threatening you at the moment, but you’re aware that something could come along at any time. You’re aware of your environment and what’s going on in it.

Condition Orange: Specific alert. Something is wrong. You’ve spotted a specific danger and have a plan for how to respond to it, while not losing track of the rest of the world around you. At this point, if possible and sensible, you should put distance between yourself and the danger.

Condition Red: Fight. You are fighting for your life, perhaps based on the plan you had in Orange, but be aware that few if any plans survive contact with the enemy.

We Trekkers understand the concept here.

At any rate, a lot of people talking about self-defense discuss these conditions, but what I don’t see is much on how to get over the Condition White that most people spend their lives in. The point of this article is to fill that gap.

1. Lose the gadgets.

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The world is an interesting place. If you can’t enjoy it without being absorbed into technology (another Star Trek reference), this article and blog isn’t for you. But cell phones, iPods, and other such foolishness take your attention away from what’s going on around you. With ear buds, you can’t hear what’s coming up behind or to the sides. If you’re sending messages (not texting, as there’s no such word), you might as well be safe at home under your covers. At the very least, look up and around from the toys now and then and again.

2. Clear your baffles.

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The baffles are the deaf spot for the sonar behind a submarine. Fighter pilots call it the six, as in check six. The idea here is that you can’t see behind you, so turn around periodically to see what’s back there. Prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads to make this happen naturally, while predator species have forward-mounted eyes to provide stereoscopic vision and have to check astern. As the image of the poker hand should remind you, James Butler Hickok died when he sat with his back turned to the entrance to the saloon. Don’t make that error. Sometimes the path or the terrain gives you the chance to see a lot of where you came from. Use that. Use it also if there’s a long view ahead.

3. Keep your eyes open and your head up.

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The ground immediately around you may be interesting, but that’s not the sum of your environment. Look at the scenery. Trees have low branches that want to grab you. A copperhead may be crossing the path, or an armadillo could be rooting about on the hillside. I’ve seen both, and they were beautiful, showing that many things are simply a pleasure to notice. Deer fade into the background when you’re not looking.

4. Don’t fixate.

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You aren’t looking for anything in particular. You are just looking. You can appreciate the attractive person who just passed by, but don’t be a boor, and don’t forget that using a distraction is a smart tactic for an attacker. And there are interesting things all over to see.

5. Don’t fret.

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Your attention will wander. That’s fine, so long as you bring it back and keep bringing it back. At first, someone will pop into existence near you where no one was a moment before, but the more you practice paying attention, the farther out things will appear suddenly, and distance is your friend.

And that’s the idea. It’s not hard in concept, but it does take attending to what you’re doing. And it does get easier.

Or you can be surprised.

2014

Wednesday will be the 1st of January 2014. This may seem trivially obvious, but in thinking about it, I find this date astonishing.

I was born in 1972. (Yes, this is going to be one of those essays.) The world at the time was divided among two major powers and a number of nations that wished just to be left alone. That latter group is still with us, but Russia and the United States are struggling. When I was born, we were almost done with landing on the Moon. Now, we’ve dropped our ambitions to low orbit, figuring that robot probes are a sufficient substitute for human footprints. We communicate at a much more rapid pace, but whether what we say is said as well or with as much meaning is something our judges in centuries to come must decide.

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Much like Dr. Heywood Floyd, we can see images of each other saying inane things while rushing to somewhere else, though most of us cannot do that from a space station.

My conception of the future came in large part from watching reruns of Star Trek. It is a strange thing to realize that I am now living in a world of instantaneous communication with all points, of computers that store the libraries of all time and talk to each other, of virtual images that seem more real than the physical world. The technological change over the last four decades has been enormous. When we did land on the Moon, the computer on board the lander had less computational power than a desk calculator today and much less than the typical cell phone.

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But more than the new gadgets, there is also the wonder of living in the third millennium.

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That always felt far away until the changeover in 2001 (not 2000!), but now the years rush on without so many zeroes to look forward to. After all, the end of the world as we know it didn’t come, so we’re back to living day to day until the next promise of a revolution. Certainly, we’re not making regular trips to the Moon and have only vague prospects of bases and colonists living there any time soon.

Of course, much of my mind lives in the past, anyway. I teach World Literature I–that’s the beginning of writing to 1650 C.E., and yes, that’s crazy–so many days I can honestly quote the line from Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez” that I’ve seen nothing later than the fifteenth century today. Or since I write westerns, I’m often wandering the lands to the left of the Mississippi with my character, Henry Dowland.

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So what does the change to the new year mean to me? It’s an excuse to stay up late, drink something spirited (however willing or otherwise), and feel waves of nostalgia. In other words, a typical day.

How We Remember the Future

My fellow Star Trek enthusiasts are surely familiar with the various iterations of the phaser. There’s the version found in the original series:

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The infamous dustbuster of the Next Generation:

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that was later modified to a sleaker form:

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and the phase pistol of Enterprise:

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Notice anything about all of those? I see no sights on any of them. When fired, Starfleet personnel and others typically use a one-handed duelist stance or some variation on hip shooting.

There’s a reason for this. Gene Roddenberry was writing long before Jeff Cooper and the Modern Pistol Technique became well known. The version of the future that Roddenberry and his successors remembered for us (J. J. Abrams, you may stick your version somewhere dark and smelly–oh, wait, you already did that) came before a better future was invented, at least with regard to small arms technique.

Why does this matter? Those of us who write science fiction, and I include myself in that list, have to bear in mind that what we are writing is an imagined future, subject to all the limitations that our imaginations come with. The writing of such futures is really about us. That being said, we owe it to ourselves to know as much as we can and to explore as far as we can. Having done that, we then must write, hoping that people who come afterward will forgive us our limitations.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.