to boldly go

Space: the Final Frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations.To boldly go where no man has gone before!  – Star Trek

Watching the first episode of season One of a Sci-Fi drama last night, The Expanse, on my smart TV (via the internet),  I  was enjoying how this first episode piqued my interest.   Stories of  an unconventional cop,  political intrigue –  the 23rd Century is apparently just as full of plots, terrorists, and manipulation as the 21st is;  interplanetary social unrest, and human drama in space.  These are all elements of shows I’ve watched for decades.  It must continue to be well-acted and well-written as I find it is beginning its third season.

theexpanse_gallery_101recap_15
image courtesy SyFy Channel

Perhaps it is the era I grew up in.   Star Trek (the original series),  NASA moon landings, Space Shuttles and the Voyager satellites that left earth in the 1970s are now (2018)  in interstellar space.  The future held great promise, but the vast expanse of space seems beyond the reach of humanity.  The solar system  and non-warp technology is much more credible.  What was the stuff of science fiction- tiny personal communication devices,  automated  purchases,  computer surveillance systems,  self-driving vehicles and electromechanical replacement body parts are reality or in development.   With Elon Musk’s plan, people living on other planets in our system are a soon-to-be reality,  or not too fantastic for the near future.   The future predicted by television shows and movies in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, was often visited by alien races that wanted to eat us (Alien franchise) or obliterate us ( Independence Day).

1_mClp0CFXBTDUpGyVhT6hmg
image courtesy Wikipedia

The Day the Earth Stood Still in the 1950s, Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET were the rare exception.  In the 1960s, 2001: A  Space Odyssey was another where people were the beneficiaries of an alien encounter,  but the technology predicted forty years ago for the year 2000 in the story and movie is not far-fetched for 2018. In the 1970s,  Silent Running, remains one of my favorites, if it was very heavy with environmentalist commentary ( the last plants on Earth were propelled into space on greenhouse spaceships tended by men who really didn’t want to be there.) The Terminator was a future of artificial intelligence that wanted and kept trying over several sequels and a TV series, to wipe out humans. And many Sci-Fi movies over the years were set in a post-nuclear war ravaged Earth.  Totalitarian societies controlled the future.  Or the Earth was polluted,  or frozen, or flooded,  or a barren desert.  While a worldwide epidemic that renders apes (or more likely, cockroaches) inheriting the earth, is also sci-fi,  I prefer thinking more down-to-earth.

5454
Image courtesy nasa.gov

 

 

from sails to “the Force”

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke,  via brainyquote.com

Today I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi.  But this is not intended as a review of a movie that has been seen and reviewed by others.  My thoughts run to (technological) life imitating (science fiction) art.   Here’s what I will say about the movie: I enjoyed it.  Humor, blasters,  evil empires, love and courage.  Okay, so some of the plot does mimic a progression that I saw in the original trilogy.  And the feel is different from those original Star Wars  (non-remastered, CGI -modified rework by Lucas) films I saw in the 1970s  and 1980s.

I started thinking how science fiction,  particularly Star Trek and then Star Wars, have given us a world where we have satellite-beamed entertainment,  video-communicators in everyone’s pocket (Iphone and android),  and space travel that is so routine, few are awed anymore.  Yet we all yearn to visit other planets, other stars and engage with whomever is “out there”.  How many were fascinated by the flyby of Pluto, and the still-communicating Voyager satellites entering interstellar space.  We have started to change our view of aliens from those wanting to eat us to visitors.

What lists can you come up with of the science fiction later becoming science fact?   Mine starts with writings from a hundred-fifty years ago.

  • From the Earth to the Moon,  Jules Verne (1865) a vessel in which men travel to the moon.

Science: Sputnik, Soviet launch a man-made satellite into orbit.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur C. Clarke (1951)  Origins of man. Finding alien technology and a depiction of space travel (10 years before it became reality) with a supercomputer pilot to Jupiter

Science: NASA space program ( Project Apollo, 1963 -1972) overcoming technical hurdles and developing tools and systems to travel to the Moon, land and then safely return to earth.

  • Star Trek  ( TV series, 1966 -1969) Drama and adventure at faster than light-speed. Stories on the difficulty of maintaining unity in the galaxy.  Racial diversity, Love, loss, greed, lust, and alien civilizations.

Science: Apollo – Soyuz, Skylab (1973 –  1979)  Initial efforts at cooperation in space,  long-term habitation in space orbit, and coexistence on Earth.

  •  Star Wars  (1977).   This story of good versus evil,  love, journey to discover one’s identity and high-tech shoot ’em ups, started what became one of the world’s top-earning movie franchises in history.  Planet-vaporizing weapons and plasma-laser light-sabers.

Science:  the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 (called mockingly, Star Wars).  Intent was to develop – particle beams, lasers and  missile defense systems

  • Star Wars movie trilogy  and Star Trek movie/ television  franchises, (1980s -2009)  Food synthesizers, medical diagnostics, hibernation, and transporter “beaming”

Science:   naval electromagnetic rail gun, launching projectiles at supersonic speeds  (since 2007)

Science:  quantum teleportation experiments and transporting particles in 2017 (“beam me up, Scotty!”) With quadrillions of calculations needed to beam Kirk about,  the technology is still in a galaxy, far, far away.

 

bezpomoshten (stranded)!

Watching the movie “Castaway”,  I think anyone got a little emotional when “Wilson”, the soccer ball with the hand-stained face,  was adrift in the open ocean.  It might have been the character’s (loose) connection with sanity.   Now,  I’ve never really had that one thing that I held onto for dear life;  I’ve never been stranded either.    Yet,  I have been known to leave ballcaps,  bluejeans, and engraved Zippo lighters behind when leaving port.  Most of the time, it was a voluntary trade for something unusual such as a Soviet Navy belt buckle.  Or a Turkish lighter, an Ecuadorian fishnet hammock and even an Egyptian thobe (male one piece garment).

The USS PETERSON visited the Black Sea on the way back from a Red Sea deployment.  We  were unaccustomed to being welcomed as tourists; however, the Ukrainians were just as welcoming to American ships visiting Sevastopol.  And we had cameras openly, not the kind you see in spy movies set in Eastern Europe, but like tourists from Scotland to Burundi: Japanese models.   Like everything else marketed in the early 1990s.   DD969

Taking my new camera,  I went out to look for amber  .  I tried to order a Black Russian (vodka and coffee liqueur) in a  hotel bar that looked out upon the Black Sea; I had an equally impossible time finding an ice-cold Pepsi.  And there were other distractions.  Several of us ventured into a nightclub that was a bit of a circus.  It featured a woman doing an acrobatic dance floor show that might have been a strip show.  Who spoke or read Bulgarian to know from the marquee?  Later, I was looking at some Russian znachki,  these enameled badges or pins, that were collected in Russia like sports memorabilia or Hard Rock Cafe pins, back in the early 1990s.  And  walked away only to realize that I didn’t have my camera over my shoulder.

maxresdefaultAt the waterfront, I found a Port official to report my loss.  He spoke no English and I spoke no Bulgarian.  But nearly a dozen years after my last college class in Russian,  we could haltingly converse about my missing camera in a common language.   A few months later, the reply to my inquiry sent to the Canon marketing office in Sophia, Bulgaria was not promising.   How many regular people could possibly own a Canon SLR camera in a nation that only had capitalism (glasnost?)  for five or so years?

Bulgaria became a hot destination for inexpensive vacations by young western Europeans staying in hotels and hostels. Beachgoers enjoying the Black Sea.  varna_beachPerhaps some young entrepreneur used my camera to start a business.  (Babes of the Black Sea?)  Marketing ads for amber jewelry.   Fashion images for the newest Yuppies.  And perhaps my old camera is living there still.  Twenty-three years ago I left my heart in Varna, Bulgaria.  Well, not really.  But I did leave my  camera there.

“Wilson!!!!”

 

does a yellow submarine count as sea-time?

I think Walt Disney had something to do with my life choices.  My earliest Disneyland visit was more than 50 years ago.  My latest was yesterday, and nearly 18 years since I last visited.   Long ago,  I enjoying the rafting rides, the submarine adventure,  exploring the future and the past.  As I grew older,  I studied more about the science behind the animated figures and attractions.  I found myself yesterday in awe, and then wondering about the maintenance and the mechanics of these animated attractions. DSC_0190

As a kid, I was fascinated by the steamboat in Frontierland; perhaps that is why in school when we read Mark Twain, I had something to relate it to.  (There were no paddle wheel steamers I saw where I grew up).  Frontierland and steamboats still hold some interest, but there is so much more enjoyment when you go with someone with little kids.

dsc_0149.jpg
don’t think these young’uns are Groot fans?

Before Star Wars, kids my age grew up with NASA , and sci-fi television like Lost In Space, the cartoon Jetsons, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  In the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a very cool view of approaching new Millennium. Once we all got here,  it had been somewhat close but also  “quaint” sci-fi.  Now Tomorrowland has a very 3D action/  Star Wars feel.  dsc_0218.jpg

Of course, every Sailor has a little pirate in them so Pirates of The Caribbean was a must-do.  Now though it has a very  Cap’n Jack Sparrow/ POTC  movie tie-in.  But it was the original inspiration for multi-billion dollar franchise for Disney, so I guess it had to be somewhat updated.   DSC_0214But perhaps, I need to do a little plundering before I go off adventuring again.    We bought the year Pass for both parks when I last visited.   I think my stash of gold, rubies, and the lot was traded away for 12 monthly payments.

Now that is piracy, but if Capt’n Jack Sparrow trades you a year’s worth of Yellow Submarines, Mater Tow-rides (California Adventure), and a pirate adventure it is fine.  And while walking seven or eight miles just inside the parks, as well as places for grog, chow, fireworks, and music spectacles, I have entertainment AND exercise.   Maybe if the sea dog’s wife continues to prod me,  I  can resist the impulse to buy a little Mickey swag.  Resist at least until grandchildren accompany us.

dsc_0144.jpg

the naked and the dead

Thirty years ago, I read several of Norman Mailer’s work.  It was a time of controversy during the maturing of society in the post-Vietnam era.  The Death Penalty, scandals in Government,  Presidents and Senators losing their positions.  Foreign revolutions.  Domestic terrorism.  Sex.  Religious charlatans.  While my thoughts today run to the passing of an old letch, Hugh Hefner, yesterday, the impact of Hefner’s life’s work cannot be left unmentioned.  Playboy  followed the American culture in the last half of the Twentieth Century, and over fifty years the culture, unfortunately for Hefner, matured past him.   But military lockers,  battlefields, firehouses, and little boy’s attic cubbyholes in the 1960s and 1970s were adorned with centerfold images.  Some stolen from their dad’s collection.  With the sexual revolution of the Flower Children which became the hedonistic ’80s, the age of AIDS, and then the gay culture, everything about the onetime bedroom subject  can now  be taught in grade school.   Talk about a real life satire.

I was in the 1980’s  a fan of satire, particularly on the military.  M.A.S.H was still popular on television,  Joseph Heller’s Catch-22,  the war movie Kelly’s Heroes was often on television.  In the mid-1980s, I had several friends ( some I regularly talk with today) who served in Vietnam.    I was mentored by World War II and Korean War vets.   I spent twenty-six years over a thirty-two year span in a Navy uniform.  I saw a lot of things about bureaucracy, opportunists, and the occasional subject satirized in these stories happening through the experiences of my friends and from my personal observation.

Hefner’s Playboy – and then its competitors,  and with new technology, brought sex out into the mainstream, made it a commodity, and cheapened it, from a wonderful bonding relationship between two under God’s blessing, to a mainstream yardstick for judging maturity.   As America matured,  women and men very often were colleagues or competed in the same profession,  and just as the race identity was removed by the military,  the gender barrier also came down.  This is not to say that it was a smooth transition.  Change takes a generation or two to fully be accepted.   And perhaps, the nation is on the verge or putting it back into the bedroom.  When “taboo” becomes the mainstream, a new counter-culture icon may find a new audience.    Hefner is dead.  The Playboy Mansion, already sold, has lost its previous occupant.   And now, with a few truckloads of Lysol,  scrub brushes, and an army of health control professionals can sanitize fifty years of the “cosmopolitan” stains away.   Wonder if Helen Gurly Brown or Hilary Clinton might shed a tear.   There’s one less Neanderthal in the world.

Dunkirk, the movie

Watching the movie, Dunkirk, on Saturday was not a traditional rendering of the epic war-story.  The rescue of hundreds of thousands of British and French troops on the beach in May, 1940 was told in intersecting story lines.

But what I got out of it as a military veteran, was both the unspoken fear of many young soldiers who were looking at the empty sea for rescue, strafing, bombing and the ships they were able to find and board,  being sunk.    It had little dialogue- the courage of those who were defending the retreating soldiers, pilots and the naval personnel who were trying to protect these troops made the film even more desperate.   At one point, one of the characters makes the observation that England was not mobilizing a lot of their navy in order to preserve it for the expected invasion from Hitler.  But they were mobilizing a civilian fleet to sail for Dunkirk.   That early war period, when the Germans were rolling across Europe seemed hopeless.  There was courage, particularly in those who sailed across the English Channel in thousands of boats to rescue the men.

My mother grew up near Belfast in now Northern Ireland.  I never heard stories about living during the war and only learned how difficult it was from history and publications I obtained when we visited there.  Perhaps as she was quite young early in the war, but it might well have been that spirit the British exhibited.   You see, the Germans during the Battle of Britain, especially in 1940 -41,  were bombing the shipyards, factories and sinking merchant fleets to isolate Britain.   The heroism of the troops that eventually defeated Hitler’s armies was not the stuff of epic war movies, but courage expressed in action of ordinary people doing the extraordinary.   The scene in Dunkirk I appreciated was the young soldier riding in the train once back in Britain about Winston Churchill’s stirring words to rally the Britons.  And the people far from being negative about their rescued troops, were rallying and supportive and welcoming.

Navy S/ELEPHANT and other tactical mammals

While I admit to watching only parts of the movie, Life of Pi, is a survival adventure novel of a young Indian man lost at sea sharing a lifeboat with a tiger.  Can you think of a better anti-piracy agent?   Yet, perhaps land animals at sea is not entirely an uncommon phenomenon?tg1As reported by several news sources *,  the Sri Lankan Navy a couple days ago rescued an elephant at sea — in a great demonstration of compassion.  Leave no elephant behind!   This elephant was crossing a shallow channel and was swept out to sea where it eventually was rescued — nine or ten miles out in the ocean!    Continue reading