Friday, 19 December 2014

Post#205 Some thoughts on Star Trek.

I often peruse science fiction topics on the Web and I find the old Star Trek series to be a constant source of new memorabilia. As the years have passed from its creation in the mid-1960s an ever-more detailed history of the making of the programme has been woven out of participant's memoirs and the extraordinarily tenacious efforts of fans to dig out concealed truths. I don't care so much about the actual particulars of a lot of these things. What interests me is what it reveals about the business of making a television show; its complexity and endless demands for attention to detail. Anyone can see the flaws in the sets, costumes and scripts when they're viewing the finished product. When the full scope of the task is revealed, including the personalities and their interactions, it becomes a matter of wonder that anything was cobbled together at all.

One of the things I've come to see over the years is that Gene Roddenberry wasn't really a very nice guy. Little things add up; a social evening at a colleague's house where he insists on playing poker for cash stakes, then turns nasty when he loses, obliging the host to drop the boom and oblige everyone to take their money back and call it quits; accepting free gifts of labour and props from associates and then secretly billing the studio. And a few dozen more like that. It puts William Shatner's coolness towards him in a different light.

And what about Shatner? I recently read his autobiography, 'Up Till Now'. I've heard all the stuff about the Doohan/Takei feud with Shatner and I think the two aggrieved ones made more of it than it's worth. So the guy has an ego and hogs the camera. That's a novelty in the business.

In the book he tells a few things about himself unwittingly. He keeps using the phrase "leading man" to describe his roles and his insistence on pre-eminence. He also shows what is a commonplace concern in his profession; a desperate fear of never working again. No amount of employment ever seems to cure actors of this. A phrase he repeats quite casually is, "of course I had no friends". He also apparently didn't notice that one of the few he might justifiably call a friend, Leonard Nimoy, was an alcoholic. He married a woman who he failed to notice was an alcoholic. That's the one he couldn't trust to take to family gatherings and who drowned drunk in their swimming pool while he was away at such a gathering.

I started to see signs of Asperger's Syndrome in this pattern of behaviour and I don't think that's a far-fetched call. It would explain a lot of the sparks he's struck off some people.

On the subject of the drowned wife, I thought, "He can't catch a break." A day or two after the dismal event, he left his home when a media pack was present. As he approached them he picked up a newspaper from the lawn outside his house and carried it with him. This simple, reflexive act brought criticism. Picking up the paper showed casual indifference to the deceased. Of course, what incited the media was the casual indifference to them. If he had come outside to speak with them and picked the paper up as an afterthought on the way back, no harm done. Apparently coming out for the purpose of collecting the paper and then speaking to the media in passing was unforgivable. Anyway, proper mourning requires that newspapers accumulate and mail isn't collected for at least a month. And sackcloth and ashes and cutting yourself with sharp stones and keening, etc. In truth, none of this is indicative of the suffering felt by the truly bereft. If you want a real example of callousness, see if you can find a video of Michael Jackson's father (at the funeral) telling the camera relentlessly about the 'record company' he was setting up.

The recent 'reboot' of Star Trek doesn't interest me at all. I suppose I would endure it if I was in a waiting room situation with it showing on a television, but that's the limit. I know enough from reading about it that it's made with the same disregard for continuity as the last incarnation of the show on television. Time travel is the great poison of continuity and once it enters the scenario, disaster is close. It should be used sparingly and with the same care given to nitroglycerine. Using a time travel gimmick to create a completely inconsistent past is folly. One look at the sets is enough. A real brewery was used as the set for the Enterprise engineering division. (You can believe it easily from the images on the Web.) Khan has become a person of European appearance. Because they don't want to disparage a person from Asia in the current climate of international tension. Much better to just make up their own completely original, 21st Century drivel and refrain from abusing something a lot of people remember with fondness.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Post#204: BDS - A post from ABC's Drum opinion site

Here is a post from The ABC's Drum opinion site:

Silencing BDS supporters in the land of the free

By Antony Loewenstein

Posted Thu 13 Mar 2014, 3:49pm AEDT
The BDS movement is a logical and non-violent response to human rights abuses in Palestine, so why is it being threatened in a country like America that prides itself on free speech, asks Antony Loewenstein.
It seems barely a week passes without a student union or corporation somewhere in the world taking a public stand against Israel's occupation of Palestine. Many now state that they're following the dictates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a way to protest ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza which remains in breach of international law. In America, where free speech is a long-held tradition, BDS faces multiple attacks against its legitimacy and legal right to be heard, as well as allegations of anti-Semitism.
Today it's clear that the US political system and, in my view, the sham "peace process" is little more than cover for ongoing and illegal settlement expansion; BDS is rising globally in popularity and coverage partly due to this fact. Even The Australian's Middle East reporter John Lyons in his paper, the most pro-Israel publication in the country, last weekend accused Australian Zionist leaders of ignoring the human cost of the occupation. For some citizens BDS is seen as a logical, humane and non-violent response to these abuses in Palestine (abuses which countries like the US, UK, and Australia only denounce through lip service). This right, to condemn Israeli actions, should be a fundamental tenet of any democracy.
The only official answer, offered by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, is falsely accusing BDS of anti-Semitism. At the recent Israel lobby AIPAC conference in Washington, Netanyahumentioned BDS many times - so much for it being irrelevant and ineffectual as Zionists often claim - and said its adherents were just the latest believers in anti-Semitism. It's a slur that many people dismiss, hence the gradual rise in BDS support.
Concerned Israeli businesspeople are already feeling the strain and Israeli commentators are worrying that Israel is not winning the war over narrative.
Just this week the National University of Galway passed a motion in support of BDS and therefore became Ireland's first student union to get on-board. The reason for this move was made clear in the public statement: "Institutional collusion between NUI Galway and Israeli oppression, such as NUI Galway's use of G4S, the international security company notorious for its provision of security and incarceration 'services' to Israel's inhumane prison regime."
Last month the student union at the University of Kent decided to sever its ties with G4S and find another provider for assisting the union with a cash handling role. The complicity of G4S in breaching human rights is global, from Australian-run detention centres to poorly run British immigration houses, and cutting ties with the English multinational is gathering steam. The message is clear; hit a company and its shareholders where it hurts, the bottom line.
In the US, politicians and conservative commentators are arguing for the criminalisation of BDS. This would have a chilling effect on free speech in a nation that likes to pride itself on the sanctity of the First Amendment. Perhaps surprisingly, given the American press insulates Americans from the brutal, daily reality of Israeli actions, opposition has been encouragingly strong.
Back in December the American Studies Association (ASA) endorsed BDS and the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities due to their complicity in the Israeli infrastructure of occupation. Individual Israeli academics would not be targeted but any official association with the Israeli state would end until "Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law".
As a result of this strong and principled stance, echoing the campaign against apartheid South Africa, other state legislatures pledged to help Israel. New York politicians wanted to pass a bill that would have blocked the state from funding academic groups that supported the idea. I wonder if this political enthusiasm was more about securing funding for future political campaigns than an actual belief in Israel. Whatever the case, free speech was threatened and many politicians are still pledging to take action.
The New York Times editorialised (before the bill failed) and wrote that it "would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent. Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel".
The Maryland General Assembly also recently moved to insulate Israel from criticism with a similar bill and even the Washington Post, a strident backer of Israel, condemned it. Maryland may well still back this bill - it has not been quashed.
There are countless other moves to silence free speech over legitimate criticism of Israel, including members of Northeastern University's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) being told in early March that their chapter had been suspended for at least a year. The reason that university administrators said the students needed to undergo training was principally due to the group distributing notices across campus that parodied similar eviction notices placed on Palestinian homes targeted for Israeli demolition. Astoundingly, the police were called in to investigate. And this all for just distributing brochures.
This example and many others are why a number of US academics, including Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi, signed a recent statement that read in part:
It is important to recognise that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression ... We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible.
This message must be the core of any reasonable public debate over BDS. Disagreeing with its aim is a legitimate position, of course, but a free society, in America or beyond, is defined by the ability to both tolerate and encourage speech and views that some may find repugnant. American Jewish leaders are waking up to the BDS "threat" and aiming to counter with a pro-Israel message. It's unlikely that slicker PR will be enough.
The strength of BDS, explained by Jewish Voice for Peace head Rebecca Vilkomerson this month, is that it's forcing self-described liberals to struggle with the once accepted idea that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic when all the evidence is proving its impossibility. "As a people who have experienced over and over the trauma of refugee-hood and longing for homeland," she argues, "how can we possibly deny the validity of the right of return for Palestinians? And which do we value more: our fears or our respect for the universality of rights for all people?"
The building debate over Israel/Palestine, with Jews and Arabs, is increasingly about enlarging the tent of public discussion and articulating why virtually all points of view (except for Holocaust denial) must be integral to mature contemporary debate.
A society that believes in free speech would welcome a multitude of views over the Middle East. Trying to intimidate or silence critics of Israel, and its ongoing occupation, is not the way to engender support for the Jewish state.
Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author, photographer and blogger. His latest book is Profits Of Doom