Thursday, February 13, 2014

Star Trek Continues: Lolani. A Review from the Village Elliot

     The second episode of Star Trek Continues is available on Youtube (link at the end of this blog).
     First of all I love this show and it's commitment to continue the tradition of the original show.  It really does have the look and feel of Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley et al. 

Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy have a second chance to complete their original five year mission.  

    In its second try, the show's acting was noticeably improved as the cast has gotten more familiar with their parts.  In particular, Todd Haberkorn was much improved in his portrayal of Spock.  I believe the key to playing Spock is first of all to realize that Nimoy was not just an actor, but a genius, so give up trying to compete with him.  Also, the Spock character is said to have no emotions, but in reality Nimoy's Spock was perpetually struggling to suppress his emotions.  Yet one raised eyebrow might display more emotion  than an entire tirade by Dr. McCoy.   And by the way Larry Nemecek did much better with McCoy this time also.  McCoy used to talk out of the side of his mouth just a little bit, and in my opinion,  Larry was trying too  hard to copy his facial expressions.   This time he just relaxed a little bit and it worked much better.

   Lolani is brilliantly played by Fiona Vroom.  Lolani is an Orion slave girl who inadvertently crosses paths with the Enterprise.  Orion slave girls were  created as kind of an afterthought in the original pilot (the Cage), and I've often thought that the Orionite people deserved some more examination.  The Orionites might be a people with more active libidos than earthlings (if that is possible!). In this episode  we are led to view them as similar in many respects to earthlings, although perhaps earthlings are more attracted to Orionites than Orionites are to earthlings.  This is partly due to special pheromone love hormones that they give off.   Earthlings seem not to possess such hormones, or at least I don't.   
    So the Enterprise, after  finding Lolani, debates her status.  Is she property?  Or is she a person? 
     Here then, is my complaint.  The episode depends critically on believing that the Federation has some incredibly backward regulations for an advanced civilization. 
      One of the fantastic things about Star Trek, in my opinion, is that creator Gene Roddenberry provided a vision that humanity would someday grow and overcome some of the petty idiocy that we are currently afflicted with.  In short, Star Trek is prophetic vision of hope for the future.   I think this is summarized well in a dialogue between Alexander of Platonius and Kirk.  Alexander was born with a form of dwarfism (and an inability to inherit the telekinesis powers of his contemporaries) and thus has  been bullied his entire life.  Captain Kirk and his Federation colleagues from the Enterprise convince him that he is just as important as his normal sized contemporaries.
"Alexander, where I come from, size, shape or color make no difference!"

I invite you to read an excellent blog from Dan Madzen, who also was born with a type of dwarfism, and how this show made a great difference in his life. It's very moving, and lets your recognize just how powerful this apocalyptic sci-fi  stuff really is. 

Well, ok, so much for that.  We just don't see this Federation in this episode.  Rather, the Federation seems to be dominated by members of a futuristic Tea Party, which has decided to honor the 1854 Dred Scott decision, affirming that slaves are property.   

This is a horrible tactical decision. C'mon folks. Anything but that.  Perhaps what they could have done would be to have the Orionites offer some kind of tempting deal... like a cure for a dread disease or more powerful dilithium crystals in exchange for recognition of their eccentric social policies. But no.  Face it, this Federation is just corrupt and run by small minded individuals mired in the 19th century instead of the 23rd,  with Captain Kirk and his crew being the lone moral individuals in the Federation. 

 Similarly, there is a young officer who decides to violate orders in order to help Lolani.  This is also disappointing, although perhaps it was simply the Orionite pheromones that caused his moral failure (after all, we sell aftershave and colognes that are supposed to do the same thing). But I think it would be better if we could look up to people from the future the way Alexander did, at least for the most part, rather than finding that the future is populated by wackos and tea party fanatics. 

    Apart from those major flaws, there was much to like about the episode.  One saving grace was that Lou Ferrigno made a guest appearance, and he was terrific.  I had never heard him speak before, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he has a great voice and is very believable  in his character. It helps that he had several years experience in being green.
"Kirk, you are such a wimp!"

Definitely well worth watching overall.  I hope their five year mission is extended for a long time.

...and here's the link to the video:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Femi Olajide

My dear friend Olufemi Anthony Olajide passed away last week, much before his time.  

Femi was an amazing person, very talented.  He loved Nigeria, the land of his birth, and he also loved his adopted homeland America, and West Virginia and West Virginia University.  We was a skilled mathematician, mining engineer, and chemical engineer.   He was also one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet, always smiling and laughing.

Everyone knew Femi, it seems, from the University President to the hourly workers on campus.   It was widely assumed that Femi was actually immortal, because even when he was sixty, he could still pass for a graduate student.  

The Femmeister.  We will all miss you, buddy!

     He was a prodigiously hard worker, often staying late in order to work in the labs. Yet, one word he never learned to say is "no."   People would always be coming to him to help with different projects, and Femi could never turn them down.   

      What a lot of people don't know is that he would stay also till nine or ten o'clock tutoring students. As far as I know, he never charged anyone any money for it.  He just wanted to help people.  

     Femi worked with me for much of the past dozen or so years on a variety of projects ranging from coal conversion to pitch, coke and crude oil. We were always seeking processes that were cleaner than the current processes.   Our team really did develop a process for making heavy crude oil using coal.  

      We figured that coal is just a solid form of crude oil, and so if we could get it to flow, it could be processed more cleanly in an oil refinery, rather than burning it.  And we were able to do that, ironically with the assistance of biomass products that seemed to make the coal easier to convert to a liquid form.  

     When the BP Horizon explosion and oil spill occurred, Femi and I went with two graduate students to Texas in order to work with a company interested in remediating waste water.  We operated a centrifuge suitable for separating oil from water.  

    Femi saved my life on that trip.  We rented a truck to carry the centrifuge, and I was impatient to get started.  Normally I am a stickler for measuring tire pressure before travelling, but this time I said "We'll wait till we stop for gas."  Well, we never made it that far, as one tire burst after about an hour on the road.  Femi skillfully brought the truck to a stop, and we were able to make it to a garage and change the tire. I think what may have happened is that the person who rented the truck before us may have stolen the tires and replaced them with bald ones.   

     We learned something about real chemical engineering on that trip, working in 100 degree heat with 90% humidity.  I was very proud of Priyanka Dixit and Ravinder Garlapali, who endured those conditions just fine.  "It's easy, Mr. Kennel.  We're used to this in India!" they explained.  And so it was.  Femi led the team in setting up the centrifuge and got it working.    You can see him in action on this video: 

     (it's not all that exciting, but it shows that yeah, we actually did something).

     Back in the day, we assumed that a success would one day lead to us being financially well off or at least having steady jobs.  But instead, coal research has been cut back worldwide, as natural gas and alternative energy have become more popular.  Right now it is much easier to add to the nation's oil supply by using new discoveries in shale gas and oil.  So perhaps our ideas might have to wait for another opportunity.  

     Between 2002 and 2012, we worked on coal liquefaction processes, which basically convert coal to a heavy liquid crude as a first step, and then on to other value added products.  It is demanding, nasty work.  But we did it, believing that one day America would want to produce its own crude oil rather than buying more than half of it from overseas sources as we do now.  

Me, former Governor Joe Manchin and Femi.  The football jersey refers to the fact that the first oil we tested as fuel was rated at 134 Octane, which in some ways is good and other ways not so good.

Elliot, Femi and former Governor (now Senator) Joe Manchin discuss the importance of coal liquefaction to the state economy. 


Did we really make all that stuff out of coal?  Yeah, we did...(Joe Smith, Josh, Manoj Katakdaunde, Morgan Summers, Mike Bergen, Al Stiller, Liviu Magean, Femi, Abbas Assadi, Benson Njoroge, me.)

Femi also did some great work in coal cleaning and making products from clay and rock that accumulate from the tailings from coal wash plant. We figured that if this waste product can be used for any useful purpose, it must be better than storing it in some type of impoundment.  Femi found that the rock and clay residue can actually be very effective materials for construction materials.  Maybe we may yet see the commercialization of some of these processes.

Dick Wolfe, Elliot Kennel, Femi Olajide and Helen Cummiskey studied the use of specialized binders to produce metallurgical grade coke, used in the steel industry.   

Femi and Tony Golden.  I believe that the lady in the center was also from WVU. 

John Zondlo, Femi, Tony Golden, Elliot, Al Stiller in Charleston, about 2008.  

    Femi had a million stories, ranging from his time in Nigeria attending boarding school, to helping to load oil tankers with crude oil, to being an exchange student at WVU, being a tutor for football players, and delivering pizzas or driving the late bus back to the dorms on the weekends.   

     Femi was also a fan of West Virginia Old Time music.  I admit I corrupted him.  I play mandolin and guitar a little bit, and Femi liked to come out to our Wednesday Night Jam at the Morgantown Brewing Company.  Femi was my only fan!  People would come out to see the other, more talented members of our group, but Femi would actually come out to see me play with them.  

    Sometimes he would be the only person of African descent there.  He would get challenged a little bit.  "You ain't from around here, are you?" someone might ask.  "Oh no!"  Femi would reply.  "I am from Logan County!"  and everyone would laugh.  Yet some people figured he might really be from Logan County.  What are they like in Logan County?  Hmm.    

    I'm going to compile some of Femi's stories.  I hope his friends will be kind enough to send me what they know.  Here to get us started is one of the most famous stories, about Femi's first encounter in America with a wonderful juice from a mysterious fruit.  

Femi and the Wonderful Juice.

   One time Femi and four of his African friends (two guys and two girls) decided to go on a grand road trip to New York City.  They had only a vague idea of what America was like, in any case, one student had a car, and so away they went.  But on the way out of the state, they stopped at a roadside vegetable stand and bought a jug of fruit juice.  They had no idea what it was, but it was absolutely wonderful, one of the best tasting juices that any of them had ever had, they all agreed.  So, so they passed it around and quaffed the entire gallon jug between the five of them.  Well after several minutes, Femi started to beg the driver to please stop.  Soon the other passengers were developing abdominal cramps, and finally the driver realized that it was indeed time to stop the car, so they pulled over and ran into the woods. Soon there were five very sick African students in the woods.  What had happened?  This must have been some kind of terrible trick played on them, probably because the vegetable stand guy must hate Africans!
    Then a State Highway patrol car pulled up, and the young patrolman was treated to the sight of five Africans wobbling out of the woods toward him, getting dressed as they wobbled.  "What's this?"  he wondered.
       Well, Femi and his friends were by this time in a complete panic. "Officer!  You must help us! The West Virginians---they have POISONED us! You must take us to the hospital before we die!" The five students were understandably very upset, sincerely afraid that they were going to die. The Highway Patrolmen asked to see the fatal jug, now empty. Then when he figured out that it had contained prune juice, he started to laugh.  Soon he was shaking with uncontrollable laughter. 
     "What's so funny?"  the students demanded to know.
    "They never taught me at the Academy what to do about something like this!"  gasped the Patrolman.  Finally composing himself, the Patrolman explained what prune juice is and what its uses are.  Then he asked, "how did you come to have toilet paper in the car?"

    "We didn't--we used leaves!"  explained poor Femi.  More uncontrollable laughter.  

      Eventually however, the students got things back under control and went on their way, from then on a little more careful about sampling strange beverages.   

    The best part of the story, though, was watching Femi tell it.  He would always start laughing so much that he could hardly finish the story.  He would have to take off his glasses to wipe away the tears. But you know, I never did find out what happened on the rest of the road trip. That probably would have been the subject of another story. 

Femi and the Vermiculite

     Another time Femi was working for a certain Professor who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.  This professor is definitely a genius, and in fact one of the greatest chemical engineers I have ever met,  but he  has the habit of always building things that are too big to fit in the assigned space.  It didn't matter how big the space was, and in fact it could have been as big as Puskar Stadium, and this professor would always build something that wouldn't fit.  

    Well, anyway, this professor had designed a furnace or something that was too big and it needed some additional ventillation.  "Well, Femi, just drill a hole in the wall!"  suggested the Professor.

    "Gee professor, do you think it is okay to just drill a hole in the wall?"  Femis asked.     

    "Of course it's okay!   This is a very important project!"  So dutifully Femi drilled a hole in the wall, which happened to be about 20 feet high, only to find that the entire wall was filled with powdery vermiculite in order to provide insulation for the wintertime.  Well, all the vermiculite came pouring out of the wall, and Femi was soon covered in white powder.  Nothing serious, right?  Well, but it turned out that some of the vermiculite got airborne and was actually sucked into the ventillation system for the adjacent offices.   

    This happened to be about the time that there was an anthrax scare around the country because some kook was sending fake anthrax to politicians and famous people.  But in any case, imagine the reaction of the people when a mysterious white powder started to come out of the vents in all the offices!  As you can guess, they all thought they were being poisoned by anthrax. 

   The building had to be evacuated, and poor Femi thought he would surely be fired and probably deported.  
    But eventually everything was straightened out and the good professor was counselled to never again drill a hole in the wall without asking.  It didn't work, but it was a nice thought. 
Why Not Everyone Likes Gerber's Baby Food
    According to Femi, not everyone back home likes Gerber baby food.  The reason is that not everyone knows how to read, especially in the rural areas.  Accordingly, in order to sell packaged food in the stores, the sellers put pictures of the food on the label.  So, for example, a jar of beans has a picture of beans on the label.  A jar of pineapple has a picture of a pineapple on it.   Imagine how horrible it was, then,  when the people saw a can with a picture of a baby on it!  Why, those terrible Americans must be killing babies and putting them in a jar!

What is in the Gerber's jar anyway?  It's  pureed, that's all we know for sure....

I'm not sure if this story is completely true or if Femi was exaggerating, but you have to admit it is very funny.

Petroleum Madness in Nigeria

     Not all of Femi's stories were funny.  He told us that the people there would sometimes try to drill holes in the pipelines in order to obtain different amounts of crude oil.  You can read about this in the news media, by the way.  Some are medium sized crooks trying to steal thousands of dollars worth of crude oil and resell it.  But others are trying to steal a few gallons by drilling holes with portable drills or even cutting torches.  Sometimes these acts of petty thievery succeed, and sometimes they result in fires or explosions, and of course they always result in spilling of oil to the environment.  Sometimes the would-be thieves are killed in accidents.   Sometimes we talked about such things in a humorous way over chicken wings at Kegler's restaurant in Morgantown, but in reality it is not very  funny.

      What possible use could there be for crude oil?   This was something that was hard to understand on American terms.   But it might be that people want to use such fuel simply for cooking, as a "free" replacement of charcoal, which is still in use there.    

     Femi also explained to us that Nigerian ports would be open to all sorts of oil tankers.  The ones from the West, operated by major oil companies, were generally very efficient operations.  But other tankers were often in bad shape.  Femi told us that back in the day it was not uncommon for tankers to have severe leaks.  But if they could take on crude oil and transport at least half of it to a petroleum refinery somewhere, it was worth it.  Like wow, man, talk about water pollution. 




Friday, December 27, 2013

Star Trek: This Side of Paradise: Leonard Nimoy's Tragic Figure of Spock

    One of my favorite Star Trek episodes was this Side of Paradise, which aired in Season 1, and perhaps more than any other defined Spock's character.   I started thinking about this episode after watching the new internet series Star Trek Continues.   How challenging it must be to play characters that others took to very high levels, especially the character of Spock.  

    In this episode, the Enterprise encounter an earth colony that had become infected with an alien spore, which made them physically healthy but which made them lose their desire to serve the Federation.

    Most importantly, Mr. Spock is re-introduced to Leila Kalomi, the only woman he ever loved.  They had first met at the Academy.  Mr Spock's stoic, emotionless demeanor prevented him from ever declaring his love for her.  Yet Leila apparently could see through Spock's outer shell and recognize beautiful inner qualities that no one else could see.  After all, Spock is one of the most truly noble and good characters in the universe. Leila continued to be in love with him, even after joining the Omicron Ceti III Colony led by Elias Sandoval.   

Because of the effect of the spores, Spock's emotional defenses are removed and he realizes for the first time how deeply in love he is with Leila.  

    Leonard Nimoy is brilliant as Spock.  It should be recalled that Spock's character was not formed instantaneously with the first show.  Rather there were a huge number of acting decisions that needed to be made.  What was Star Trek, anyway? Was it a kid's show?   Was the pointy eared alien character going to be a sideshow freak, or what?  

In the Star Trek pilot, Mr. Spock was more like other members of the crew, displaying emotions shown here amusing himself with musical alien flora.   

     Ironically, Nimoy himself famously despaired of the ridiculousness of Spock, and only decades later realized that his legacy will be as one of the greatest actors in history.  Far from a mere children's fantasy, I believe that Star Trek will be regarded by future generations as a prophetic vision of the progression of the human spirit.

     I am quite sure that if we manage to avoid blowing our selves up, one day humans will leave the galaxy, and those colonist astronauts  will all have seen Star Trek. They may not recall their Shakespeare, but they will be intimately familiar with their Roddenberry.  

     Nimoy's sensitive portrayal reveals Spock's inner self, and how his life has been spent denying himself the ability to feel human emotions.  As he attempted to explain to Leila, "If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's."

To me Spock's repressed feelings are almost a metaphor for aloscence.   Perhaps for that reason we find it easy to identify with Spock and his terrible aloneness.

Nimoy's show of emotion was almost shocking to those of us who had become accustomed to Spock as an emotionless alien up to that point in the show.  Yet when Kirk is able to return Spock to "normal,"  we can see that Spock is not totally comfortable with the result.  Part of him longs to return to state of being afflicted with the spores. But his friend Kirk seems oblivious to Spock's pain, concentrating only on the immediate task at hand. 

     Leila was played by Jill Ireland who passed away years before her time due to cancer. Her performance was brilliant, playing a character that defied, um, logic, almost to the same extent as Nimoy's Spock. Consider a beautiful young PhD falling in love with an emotionless alien, and managing to live without male companionship for years until the same alien again halfway across the galaxy.  The odds against this are so high that they could only be overcome by television scriptwriters.   

Moreover, in the script Leila was supposed to have been Hawaiian, whereas Jill was a fair skinned blonde with an English accent.   Nevertheless, she turned out to be perfect for the role. 

Jill Ireland was totally convincing in professing (Leila's) love for Spock, despite the fact that Spock was utterly incapable of returning it. Likewise we feel her pain when she realizes ultimately that she has lost Spock again.  We can completely understand Spock's love for the intelligent, scientifically oriented yet very sensitive woman who supplies the emotion that Spock desperately lacks.  

     I'm glad that they didn't make Leila too overtly sexy, like many of the half naked women that populate the Star Trek universe.  In this case, Jill's portrayal of a highly intellectual and sensitive young woman was perfect as the lost love of Mr. Spock. 

     At the end of the show, Spock admits that the entire experience at Omicron Ceti III was quite unsettling and yet memorable.  "I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life...I was happy."

     We are left to ponder how that must have felt. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Defense of Biblical Barbarism

        Many American Christians are perplexed that God seems to act in a very unenlightened way in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.  Why, this backward God seems to be against 21st Century American morals concerning homosexuality!  And what is to be made of the Israelites receiving Divine permission to invade Canann and to kill all the Canaanites?

     Some assume that since God is good, it must indeed be a good thing to exterminate Canaanites, pull out the hair of non-Jewish women and persecute homosexuals.  Others assume that since these actions appear evil, and God is not capable of evil, then the Bible must be wrong.  

     However, the Village believes that neither interpretative method (or hermaneutic, if you prefer) is at all on the right track.   Not at all.

        Let us ask what the Bible is.  Bible is Greek for "book"  and the "Testament" is literally the testimony of those who have gone before us.  Thus the Bible testifies to what happened.  It does not claim to be some kind of rule book, nor can one assume that the ancient Israelites are to be held up as some sort of shining example for the rest of us to follow.  After all, the Bible and especially the Old Testament was created when the world was still barbaric and scarcely civilized at all.  To put it bluntly, if the ancient Israelites jumped in a lake, does that mean that modern Christians  have a moral duty to jump in a lake too?  Obviously not!

     In fact, we are supposed to learn from some of the events and especially the mistakes that are recorded in the Bible, rather than repeat them over and over and over.   

    The needs of an ancient barbaric people may very well differ from the needs of 21st Century America.  In an ancient barbaric society it was vitally important to win wars and even to annihilate the opposition if possible.  This requires a growing population.  With the average life expectancy of about forty, it was vitally important for girls to begin having children at the onset of puberty and to continue doing so for the rest of her life. This may have been vital to the survival of a barbaric society in the year 1000 BC, but it is alien to our thinking today.  Hence girls were married as soon as possible, usually when they were in their early teens (see West, Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs).  

    Male barbarians, on the other hand, are expendable.  It is acceptable to lose males in combat as long as they kill more males for rival societies with them.  In military terms, this is known as optimizing the kill ratio, or opponent deaths divided by the losses of the society's own warriors.  It leads to a deficit in the male population, but harms the opponents more.  
      The goal was to outnumber and dominate the opposition, rather than providing fulfilling romances and sex for the members of an ancient barbaric society.   

     Moreover, the reproductive capacity of an attritted  male can be easily replaced if males are allowed to mate with multiple wives.  Indeed this was the case in Biblical times. Males were routinely permitted to take additional wives.        

     Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, hardly the ideal of one man and one woman per marriage that many of us espouse today. The one man and one woman model is not actually Biblical. 

     As incomprehensible as it may seem to modern Americans, ancient barbaric societies simply did not have a vested interest in fulfilling the romantic desires of its members, whether heterosexual or homosexual.  What they did want to ensure is the maximum reproductive rate and this is accomplished by heterosexual intercourse, beginning at the earliest possible opportunity and continuing as long as possible.  

     Hence, if we wish to adhere to the concept of marriage in the Old Testament, we should consider supporting various practices now considered barbaric, including the marriage of young girls (say age 12 to 14) to older men, especially in situations in which females out number males due to combat losses.  Multiple wives for prosperous males should certainly be supported, and definitely same-sex relationships do .  Such arrangements can probably be most stable if there is a substantial casualty rate from hand to hand combat with neighboring tribes in order to maintain a high ratio of females to males.  

    Please don't quote me out of context, but based on the needs of an ancient society, I recognize potentially valid reasons for various barbaric atrocities, including banning of homosexuality, forced marriage of adolescent females and even genocide.  

    That was simply the common sense reality of ancient life.  But is not a blueprint for modern life at all.   

    This in no way implies that modern Americans are supposed to emulate the barbaric behavior of the Israelites.  Rather, we are supposed to read the records of what they did and learn from them, not emulate them!

   The alternative is to recognize that the Bible is a living document.  I like to say that the Bible is "Divine Grace and human response."  Paul certainly suggests that spiritual growth is a process rather than a fait accompli:   "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."

    I believe that Jesus Christ called humanity to put aside its barbaric ways, and to become more tolerant and to live our lives out of love for God rather than fear of Divine Wrath.  

      It should be obvious that we no longer need to kill our neighbors and steal their land.  Likewise we are free from the need to steal their women and force them to reproduce as often as possible.   This ancient code of conduct simply does not apply to modern life.  Hence there is a major problem if one tries to use the Biblical description of the ancient Israelites as a model for the ideal modern American.  

   Jesus Christ was sent to humanity to lead us to a more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31).  It's up to us to decide whether to follow that way, or to stay in our familiar childish ways. 

     Now, if for the moment the reader is willing to acquiesce to my suggestion that we relieve our societies from the need to act like the barbaric societies, does that mean the Bible is pro gay?  Is there some commandment that causes us to recognize the religious correctness of homosexuality.  

    I don't think it means that either.  The Bible is simply not meant to act as a simple rulebook, and thus when we try to use it as a rulebook it is like operating a machine outside of its design specifications.  It just does not work very well.   

     Hence it is presumptuous to say that any particular form of sexual conduct is necessarily sanctioned by the Bible.  Being a Christian does not entitle me to do whatever I want whenever I want to.  Personally, I find that if I pray for guidance, and study the bible I almost always receive it.  Even if that is not as simple as some simple rulebook, there are real limits, and real direction for living life is in fact provided.  

     Whatever we decide to do, it should be done with the guidance of the Holy Spirt, in which case we should expect to see some evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), which is "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

     So I would say that even in today's context we don't have an automatic license to do everything we want to, whether homosexual or heterosexual. We probably can not use the Bible effectively to provide simple answers about, say, supporting or opposing specific legislative actions.   The Bible does not prohibit a modern society from addressing such issues in a way that differs from ancient practice, but neither does it offer carte blanche support, either. For example, perhaps we should take the Bible out of the sexuality debate altogether. 

    In  any case, it is very dubious whether a cosmic imbalance will be righted if we return to the laws and codes of ancient Barbarism.  To some extent we can afford to be very sympathetic to the actions of the ancient barbaric peoples, but 21st Century America is not the place to re-establish them.  


Monday, December 23, 2013

Star Trek: Klingon Star Ship Kronos

   Space....the Final Conquest.  These are the Voyages of the Klingon Star Ship Kronos.  It's enduring mission:  to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly conquer where no Klingon has gone before!

     Klingon Trek is my idea for a new Star Trek show.  The premise is that,since the Klingons and Federation have signed a peace treaty, the Federation and the Empire have started some exchange programs.  In particular, the Klingon starship Imperial has a crew of mixed Klingon and Federation crewpersons, but the persons with command authority are mainly Klingon, with Federation assistants and advisors. Sometimes they work well together, and sometimes not so well. 

    Here are some samples.  I've borrowed some from past Star Treks to help you visualize what they might be like.

Klingon Characters:  Captain (Klingon male), Vice Commander (human female), Councillor (Betzoid male),  Chief Engineer (Vulcan female),  Chief Medical Officer (Deltan female),  Security Chief (Klingon female), Tactical Officer (Klingon male), 
Navigator (human male), redshirts (mostly Klingon).  

File:TOS-day of the dove klingons.png
Frankly we Klingons do not like serving with Federation crew members.  But since we have been ordered to do so, we will do so with honor and do our utmost to bring glory to the Klingon Empire (as Worf tells us,  this picture was taken during an era in which plastic surgery was common).  

The highest ranking Federation Officer is based on Roddenberry's "Number One" character.  This character was rejected, probably because the studios felt that audiences of 1966 were not ready for a competent female officer.  But hey, it's been 47 years, let's let Number One finally do her job, shall we?

The Betazoid Advisor is very good at discerning the true intentions of potential adversaries and is highly ethical.  The Klingons are not totally sure whetheer they can place their trust in a mind reader, however. 

Star Trek T'Pol. Free Star Trek computer desktop wallpaper, images, pictures download
A Vulcan woman could certainly be a good engineer, and could likely figure out the inner workings of a Romulan Cloaking Device (hint:  it probably uses Apple's Operating System rather than Windows).  But let's lose the Burger King uniforms, shall we?  Yech!

Deltans have usually appeared in a Burger King uniform, but bathrobes are also used and are easier on the eyes.  In any case, I think a Deltan might be good as the Medical Officer, and the crewperson who is most uncomfortable with the course taken by the Klingons.  

The Federation Navigator and Klingon Tactical Officer are among the quickest to build up a rapport with one another.  

The younger officers are often part of the away team, and learn to cooperate in hand to hand combat (yes there is going to be sex and violence if it is my show).  Hence they build trust for one another more readily than the older officers.  In particular, the young Federation Officers like the idea of solving problems with phasers (disruptors) instead of rules and regulations.  Yeah, baby!


Orion Females are known to be prolific, yet are disciplined enough to serve well on Federation Starships.   They say no human male can resist them. I wonder how the Klingons might fare?  Stay tuned.  An Orion woman is the ship's Communications Officer (if it is my show, you can most def count on there being some green booty).  

Synopsis of Episode I

     The Klingon Starship Kronos observes that a heavily damaged  Romulan starship has made a brief incursion into Klingon Space.  The Federation observers, especially the Betazoid Advisor, are quick to point out the reasons that this was in all probability unintentional and unavoidable, given that the Romulan ship was heavily damaged, likely from an encounter with the Cardassians.  They explain how several incidents were solved successfully in the past by negotiation, and strongly urge the Klingon leadership not to seek a military solution.

     This puts the Klingons in a difficult situation.  They are uncomfortable at being viewed as taking orders from the Federation.   Hence, accident or not, the Klingons feel honor bound to fire upon the defenseless Romulan ship.  After all the Romulan crew should be happy to die for their planet and preserve their honor, right?  So they attack with their disruptors, and destroy it easily, much to the horror of the Federation crew members.  In addition, they are able to salvage some of the weaponry, including--amazingly enough--the latest Romulan cloaking device.  
     The Romulan High Command is not amused by this, and they send SIX Romulan warships to destroy the Imperial.  However, with the aid of information gained from examining the new Cloaking Device--partly with the aid of the Federation engineers--the crew of the Imperial is able to see through the cloaking deception.  By knowing where the Romulan warships are, the Imperial maneuvers via an end-around (a modified Picard maneuver) to fight the six Romulan starships one at a time rather than all at once.  By so doing, their superior firepower is able to completely destroy the Romulan starships, a catastrophic loss for the Romulans.   Moreover, the Imperial is now able to threaten other nearby Romulan colonies which are now undefended.   

"NOW we will negotiate,"  explains the Starship Captain to the dumfounded Federation crewpersons. Indeed, the Klingon Captain is able to force the  Romulan High Command  to cede control of the entire region of space in return for some minor face-saving diplomatic concession. 

The Federation crew has great misgivings about the way the entire incident has been handled, but they grudgingly admire the efficiency of the Klingon way.  They also realize belatedly that by helping to install the Cloaking Device, they have become accessories to whatever wrongs might have been committed.  
   At the end of the show, Star Fleet Command commends the crewpersons for following the will of their Klingon Superiors, who after all did not violate Klingon laws,  thus preserving the union which they intend to forge.  However, the Deltan Medical Officer resigns her commission and reports to the brig rather than be a part of what the Federation and Klingon Empire are doing.  

     Just as all this is winding down, Number One asks again how the first  Romulan ship came to be in such distress in the first place.   Then the Tactical  Officer mentions that a Cardassian vessel has just now been detected along the perimeter of Klingon space....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Withering Churches

I have been to a number of churches, partly by moving a lot but also because of my desire to find a place that will be there for my family ten, twenty or even fifty years in the future. 

However, so many churches are content to lose their vitality and die.   Oh, they think they want to grow.  In particular I remember one small church that my family and I attended which was always wringing their hands about diminishing attendance. 

 They would say that church growth was very important to the congregation, but the fact of the matter is that they did almost nothing to promote it, and the numbers had been going steadily down since their heyday in the 1950s.   

    I was kind of drafted into being the Youth Director of that Church on the basis that I've been academically trained for such activities, and I was one of the young parents in the congregation?  Young?  At that time I was in my mid 40s.  Kids would normally identify better with someone that was in their 20s.  

    One time we had a big self assessment initiative, and we gave ourselves a favorable rating on how hard we were working and so on.   We hoped that our visitors would like our 19th century church music played by talented musicians, and actually quite proud that our music was not entertainment, as the bigger growing churches liked to provide.  

      I dissented mildly, not wishing to create much of a stir.  But I thought that my job could be done better by someone closer in age to the kids, and I thought our 19th century music program was not likely to appeal to newcomers, and that we needed to make better use of the internet in order to allow new people to find us, and stuff like that.  Well, people listened politely but it was clear that they thought I was from another planet.  

   But a few weeks later a visitor came to the church.  A visitor! It was then that I realized that the church had no brochures to hand out, no one set up to welcome visitors, no newcomers packets, no nothing.  We liked worrying about diminishing attendance, but were not really interested in welcoming strangers come to our church, thank you very much.  

Young people may struggle with the idea of attending church.  Attending a rock concert is an easier first step for many to make (Thank you Chad Griffith Photgraphy!).

   Frankly this is not Biblical.  Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission, tells us that we need to reach out and spread the Good News.   Well, ok. 

 Flash forward to another church, which was growing rapidly.  The first time we visited, the minister explained that altough church growth was great, it would certainly change in the future.  In particular the church needs to greet the next generation of worshippers, and we don't know yet how they will communicate (Twitter? Facebook? something else?) or what kind of music they will like.  "We have ten years to figure out how to minister to people who are presently ten years old!"   I thought long and hard about that one.  

     Future worshippers will  probably prefer music that oldsters like me don't especially like.  But I'll put up with it if my kids and future grandkids are coming to church.  One of my friends put it this way:  "You know, the Apostle Paul never sang The Old Rugged Cross or any of our familiar hymns.  So as long as the theological content of the hymns is sound, what's the problem?"

     Exactly right.  If they want to sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing in a rock mode, who cares?  At least they are in church singing and celebrating, which is what they are supposed to do.   But I know many of my friends of withering churches are very put off by the idea.   

    I might also mention that I have been blesse to have been able to visit Seoul, Korea, home of the MEGA Mega Church.  One church I visited had seven services on Sunday, and the church was the size of a basketball arena with a full orchestra and choir, AND they had to build a second santuary next door with a closed circuit TV link to handle the overflow.   The total seating was some 30,000, and I can attest that the first service at 6 AM was FULL.  So I would have to say that it is very plausible that 200,000 people attend church there on Sunday.  

That church was Yoido Full Gospel, but it is not particularly anomalous.  The Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and others have churches in Seoul which claim over 100,000 worshippers on a given Sunday.  

Yup, that's the way I remember it.  It's hard for me to understand why many churches prefer to wither away and don't realize that there is anything wrong with doing that.  

Kumnan Methodist Church in Seoul is also a very large church with multiple services on Sunday.   

   It's not necessarily the case that bigger is always better, but if a church is small, there had better be some reason for it.  Otherwise, the natural tendency of the church is to grow and to spread the message and the love.  

 This point was brought home to me, when one time a young man with autism got lost in a huge state nature preserve.  Well, a withering church would have said prayers for him and that would be that. Our minister did that too, but also told the congregation, "Now go find him!" And so we sent 300 people to the other side of the state to help look for him.   And find him we did! 

    That's why you have to grow, Church!  There are certain things that you simply can not accomplish without growth.  In particular, withering churches everywhere often have some kind of wonderful rationale why withering away is the best that can be hoped for.  And in some cases I'm sure that that is true. But for most of us, there are a few things that God wants us to accomplish while we are here on this earth.  And that process of fulfilling God's will leads to spreading the word and growing as an organization!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Star Trek Continues (Really!)

Star Trek Continues?  Oh YES it does!

     Somehow I found this amazing video on, the first installment of a web series called Star Trek Continues.  It's 51 minutes of a show that looks incredibly like the original show from circa 1966.  For the most part the actors not only act, but do remarkable impressions of the original cast.   Vic Mignogna has mastered Shatner's body language to an extent that is just amazing as well as his....dramatic...pauses!  

     But more importantly, the show has the look and feel of the original show.  It is a relatively low budget affair and does not spend a lot of money on special effects.  But Star Trek was never about special effects.  Rather it was a prophetic vision of the future.  There will come a time, I believe, when humanity really will start to explore the worlds around us and we will look back on these shows as something much more than entertainment.   

   Back to Star Trek.  Special kudos to Chris Doohan, who does a perfect Scotty (perhaps not surprising since James Doohan was his dad!).   I was also very impressed with Grant Imahara, who also appears on Myth Busters, who sounds exactly like George Takei's Lt Sulu.   

   We are also introduced to some new characters, notably Dr. Elise McKenna (Michele Specht, who is Vic's real life leading lady, incidentally).  

"Say, you new around here?  I'm Captain Kirk..."

    The first episode is about a character that was encountered in the original show.  The alien known as Apollo revisits the Enterprise, but has mysteriously has aged some 47 years while the Enterprise crew has been only two years removed from the first encounter, shown below.

Note:  Most actors are shorter than they appear on TV.  Can you guess which one is Apollo?

The old boy actually is very well preserved, I'd say, though under restraint in Sick Bay.  

    Apollo actually looks great (maybe he really does come from Olympus?).  I mean, when I first saw him I assumed that this show must have been shot 20 years ago, but no.  This is a 2013 production.   

Anyway, Apollo tells us that the realm that the Gods had created for themselves--a kind of Obamacare realm for the Gods--didn't actually work as well as they thought when they commissioned it, and for that reason he now wants to become human and live out his remaining days in obscurity.  

But how can he be happy to live down on the farm after being Apollo?  Can he be trusted?

Then there is the business of the mysterious extra organ he has (familiar to devotees of the original show).  Should McCoy operate on it?  He seems quite eager to slice and dice.  Maybe I have a corrupted mind, but the solemn discussion of Apollo's mysterious organ made me laugh.  It's probably just a prostate problem, gang.  

In any case, it is a fitting sequel to the original episode, and Michael Forest is fantastic in reprising his role as Apollo.   

The link to the episode appears here:  

     The show has asked independent bloggers (like me) and fans (like me and you also, hopefully) to consider contributing to the production of the next show.   This show a labor of love.  Like the original, none of the networks or even independents wanted it, but doggone it, these renegade TV actors wanted to do it, and I think it is great.    I waited 44 years for this, and so I've sent a few bucks their way.  I hope you do too. You can use the "Kirkstarter" here, and if you are a Trek blogger you can paste it on your site.  They've already made their goal, but I say let's keep the funding going! Let's get this show into syndication at least!   What the heck, set phasers to kill!