Letters to the Editor

"Star Trek" is no more utopia than "Star Wars"; Cintra should try looking in the wrong places.

Topics: Microsoft, Star Trek, Linux, Star Wars


“Star Wars” despots vs. “Star Trek” populists

BY DAVID BRIN
(06/15/99)

David Brin missed one of the most glaring flaws of the “Star Trek”
universe, which George Lucas’ “Star Wars” accounted for.
Gene Roddenberry’s “vision” is a childlike, naive utopia of the future,
in which all things are provided for by pristine technological wonders, all
people live in an enlightened, secular, areligious environment and a
federation ensures peace and happiness to all people.

In the “Star Wars” universe, the large institutions
that supposedly ensure peace in the universe break down, wars flare up,
technology fails and old sages ramble on about a spiritual reality that
no one else believes, but proves in the end to be crucial in the defeat of the
Empire. Even in the pre-imperial “Eden” of Episode One, we see power
struggles, the corrupt frontier of Tatooine and institutions like the
“Trade Federation” existing to expand their power and enforce their
vision of dominance and conformity.

We’ve finally stopped buying into the idea that the
next technological marvel will bring us utopia. Institutions rise and
fall, people take advantage of events to make themselves more powerful and
wars are fought over it. We need only look around us to see why this sort of
storytelling resonates better with people than Gene Roddenberry’s “logical” utopia.

– Dean Christakos

Cambridge, Mass.

The mythological archetypes in the “Star Wars” saga are just
that, not some kind of sign of the downfall of our civilization. “Star
Wars” is a ripping good yarn, not sociological commentary. No one with any
sense is saying that it should have any more significance. Suggesting that the story of
Vader’s downfall and redemption is like forgiving Hitler is simply
offensive. Why not complain about Lucas’ plagiarism? The descendents of
Homer, Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Malory should be preparing their
lawsuits right now.



– Victoria Martin

Brin has written a cogent, powerful essay with an important message.
But he has oversimplified his presentation of Romanticism and the
Enlightenment. Romanticism isn’t the only historical movement to have a
dark shadow. The Enlightenment has one too. The Enlightenment aims toward
human perfectibility, which can be a horribly dangerous idea in practice.
Thinkers like Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault have correctly blamed the
Enlightenment for anthropometry (scientific racism), eugenics (the breeding
of humans) and euthanasia (practiced by the Nazis on “unfit” people). This
does not mean that the Enlightenment itself is bad. But it is essential to recognize that it does have two
faces, and one of them is really ugly. If you want to blame 18th and
19th century historical movements for Nazism and communism, you can make
every bit as strong a case that the Enlightenment is to blame as that
Romanticism is to blame.

Conversely, there’s a lot to be said for Romanticism. Romanticism
insists on the importance of things that rationalism has no use
for — dreams, visions, art, genius. And Romanticism is not necessarily a
friend to power; it was actually Romanticism that destroyed the patronage
system by encouraging artists to write or paint whatever they wanted and
sell their works on the open market. The good side of Romanticism is just as important to human freedom
as the good side of the Enlightenment is. As Brin all too briefly suggests,
we really need both of them for any real future.

– Savannah Jahrling

Brin’s central claim that “Star Trek” is better for you than the
stealthy pro-elitism poison of George Lucas and his “Star Wars” movies is
itself elitist and hypocritical. The universe of “Star Trek” is a utopian
people’s republic where every collectivist fantasy is realized — science has
solved everything that knee-jerk Hollywood leftism tells us is
wrong with humanity: poverty, environmental waste, racism, red-meat eating,
etc. — and where the cost of realizing one’s potential is simply membership in
the party, oops, Starfleet. Not a whole lot of room for nonconformity in
Roddenberry’s inner circle of heroes and heroines. I’ll leave “Star Trek’s”
neatly scrubbed New Frontier communards, thank you, and take instead Lucas’
scrappy universe of space junk, rugged individualists, opportunistic
scoundrels and divinely appointed heroes — they don’t need no stinking
(Starfleet) badges.

– Steve Lee


Looking for life in all the wrong places

BY CINTRA WILSON
(06/16/99)

The closest Cintra Wilson got to the truth in her article was in the
title. Mainstream comedy today is a tired, haggard whore, “blowing sailors
for spare change and candy bars,” in the words of one of the primary
architects of the new comedy, Patton Oswalt. To find the real comedy, one
must travel off the circuit, away from the Improvs and the Laugh Factorys.
Real comedy is happening in small clubs and coffeehouses, away from the
glare of TV and dumbing-down of network executives.

I am lucky to live in Los Angeles, and I can name a comedy show worth seeing
for every night of the week — new faces and longtime talents, brutally
media-savvy, not afraid to take on an issue like Columbine or Kosovo with a
twinkle in their eye and rage in their hearts. There are comedians like Cynthia Levin,
whose honesty and fearlessness are awe-inspiring, or Maria Bamford, who
frames issues of gender and power in a way so engaging and powerful that one
can’t help but be astonished; comedians like Joe Wilson, whose searing
impression of a Littleton Hallmark store owner the day of the massacre
makes you laugh and cry at the same time. People like Zach Galifianakis, with
his finely honed sense of the absurd, and Dana Gould, with a gift for
catharsis and weird whimsy, make it happen on little stages, sometimes just
bare floors. Don’t look for what you want in the maw of the beast, but know
it is out there, happening every day, for us lucky few with the
willingness to search it out.

Don’t go to industry showcases, don’t go to big-name clubs if you want to
see people and ideas that challenge and move you. Rather, seek out the
places where people confront their dreams and ambitions head-on, where they
lay out a vision of the madness that faces us all. Don’t blame real comedy
for not being where it was never going to be in the first place. Get out and
find it — it’s waiting for you.

– Andrew Solmssen

Santa Monica, Calif.

Wilson has it wrong; it’s not that there isn’t any more comedy out there,
she’s just looking in the wrong places. The best comedy isn’t being pumped out by censoring
corporations, but by individuals with a little bit of cash and a little bit
of motivation, striking out on their own on the Web, where the barriers to
entry are nil. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there, but there are some
jewels, waiting to be discovered.

– Jonathan Rosenberg


Linux and Microsoft — together at last


BY ANDREW LEONARD

(06/16/99)

Andrew Leonard writes: “Every now and then, a strain of thought
surfaces in the debate about open source that suggests
that the dynamic between Linux and Microsoft doesn’t have
to be an either-or, zero-sum equation — that there is plenty
of room in the world for multiple operating systems.”

Wait a minute! Let’s look at the record. Which of these supports open interfaces and
interoperability, and which supports closed, proprietary-only operation?

Even in the installation process, Windows attempts to stamp out all
other operating systems on a computer. Linux does not (in fact, Linux even
supports access to the Windows file systems on dual-boot machines). Linux supports open interface standards and interoperability, whereas
Microsoft supports “embrace and extinguish” by using closed proprietary
interfaces where possible, and making proprietary and incompatible
extensions to open standards where it isn’t (consider, for example,
what they’ve tried to do with HTML and Java). If I were in a mood to
rant, I’d say that Microsoft isn’t even compatible with itself, as
evidenced by the inability of the original Office97 to write Office95
formats.

– Carlie J. Coats Jr.

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Leonard writes, “Microsoft customers had already demonstrated
a distinct lack of interest in having a version of Microsoft Office that worked on Linux, so
Microsoft had no plans to push forward in that market.” Well, they never asked me. I am an Office customer and I would buy 50 for-Linux
copies within the next three years, if it was available with Microsoft Access and Front Page.

Microsoft knows that the only thing holding many corporate customers back is the lack of Microsoft Office for Linux. Access is a great tool and as a Linux user
I wish I had it. However, I hate Windows more than I like Access so I am living without it.

Microsoft has the monopoly on Office, and they are using it to protect
their monopoly on Windows. They are of course going to claim that their customers displayed a lack
of interest in Office for Linux, whether or not it’s true. They will
resist until the very last possible second — giving WordPerfect and Star a chance to make a credible alternative on Linux
and have an untapped market. I hope this strategy backfires.

– Mark Lehrer


Drama Queen for a Day: Mr. Mom

(06/15/99)

Perhaps it is funny to look at the ineptness of fathers who try to become mothers
for a day. But it seems to perpetuate this stereotype of men who
don’t know how to be mothers. It’s not really that they can’t, it’s
that they haven’t bothered to learn how, or they weren’t paying
attention. I don’t necessarily find that funny. I think it’s tragic.

It’s like printing stories of women who run into failure while
trying to do their own engine work on their cars. It’s not to say that
women aren’t capable of doing a traditionally man’s job, it’s that they
were constantly told they couldn’t.

When I hear stories about men who can’t
cook or don’t know where to purchase a nipple for their child’s
bottle, I see passivity. What they are really saying is, I don’t want this job, so I’m going to pretend that I can’t do
it, so that someone else will see my ineptitude and take over. That’s not funny.

– Amy Castor

The best anti-virus defense: Knowledge
BY SCOTT ROSENBERG
(06/16/99)

Scott Rosenberg mentions that zipped files end in .zip, not
.exe. This is not always true. So-called “self-extracting”
archives are in fact zip files with an extension of .exe,
and do not require a program like Winzip to open.

It is also important to note that some versions of Microsoft
Outlook activate attachments automatically, without giving
you a chance to look at the file name. While this is
probably No. 1 on the Microsoft blunder list (next to
automatically running Word macros), it is possible to turn
off this feature.

– Owen Williams

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