Quotes: Today’s Young People Are Proud to Be Smart and Curious

“What’s remarkable is the way ‘nerd’ is such a badge of honor now. Growing up, I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who read Spider-Man comics and learned how to do the Vulcan salute, but it wasn’t like it is today. I get the sense that today’s young people are proud to be smart and curious, to design new things, and tackle big problems in unexpected ways. I think America’s a nerdier country than it was when I was a kid—and that’s a good thing!”

– President Barack Obama

Smart and curious people designing new things and tackling big problems is exactly what’s needed at the moment. Proud of my fellow geeks and nerds!

Ransom, Cliff. “President Barack Obama on How to Win the Future: Questions and Answers with Popular Science.” Popular Science

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Klingons, Homer, Falstaff, and the Dread Pirate Roberts: Understanding Honor

161024klingonsIf you grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation like me, you’re probably most used to hearing the word “honor” come out of the mouths of Klingons, especially our beloved Lt. Worf. Star Trek offers one of the most brilliant portrayals of honor in fiction. As you watch Worf’s story unfold over the seasons of TNG and Deep Space Nine, it seems like, for all that Klingons like to talk about honor, Worf is the only one who actually cares about it. Worf always makes the honorable choice, even when it’s not the smart one. Other Klingons are cynical and self-serving. They pay lip service to the idea of honor, but they don’t follow it.

But what is honor? It seems like such a simple word, but what does it really mean? When we say that a person, either someone in the real world or a fictional character, is driven by a sense of honor, what actually motivates them? I often put this question to my students when we read the the quarrel of Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad. They usually answer something like: “Pride,” or “Following a code.” Those are ideas related to honor. They are honor-adjacent. But at its core, honor is something else: honor is reputation.

Agamemnon and Achilles are warrior kings in a world where there is no one to enforce rules. There are no police, no courts, barely anything we would recognize as law. What is it that stops people from being constantly at war with one another? How can Achilles or Agamemnon have a single moment’s rest from every other warrior in the world trying to take away their homes, families, and treasures? Because of their reputation. Because everyone knows that if you hurt them, they will come after you and they will not stop until they have destroyed you. That’s what honor is. It’s the first line of defense.

161024achillesHonor is not an emotion, a code, or an abstract concept. It is a practical tool that Homer’s warrior kings and people in similarly lawless societies use to keep control of their homes and property. When Agamemnon and Achilles break into a fight at the beginning of the Iliad, it’s not because they’re being petty or overly sensitive about wounded feelings. It’s because neither one of them can afford to look weak. A warrior who gets a reputation for giving up easily or not standing up to defend his property is a warrior who will soon be dead.

Honor is what people believe about you. Honor is why, when the Trojans had almost routed the Greeks, Achilles was able to turn the tide of battle just by showing up—unarmed—on the battlefield and yelling his warcry. In other words, honor is like the dread pirate Roberts.

161024robertsWhich also means that there is something artificial about honor. It’s sort of a bluff. The greater a warrior’s reputation as an unbeatable fighter, the less actual fighting they have to do. At the same time, anyone who lets slip that they may not live up to their reputation is just inviting attack, which is why, like in the Iliad, warriors often fight hardest not for the things they want but for the reputation itself.

Honor only matters if it is seen, and it is only what is seen that matters. What makes honor is not what kind of person you are but what kind of person people think you are. What happens in the darkness does not matter to honor. It’s easy to get cynical about honor and call it out as a kind of bullshit. Falstaff, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, does just that:

Can honor set to a leg? no. Or an arm? no. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honor? A word. What is in that word “honor”? What is that “honor”? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon.

– Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, act 5, scene 1

Falstaff isn’t wrong. Neither are Achilles and Agamemnon. Honor is a kind of game that everyone plays along with. The wise understand that it’s a game and what seems like cynicism is really just practicality. Only the naive think that honor is real.

This is what makes Star Trek‘s take on honor so brilliant. It seems at first that Worf is the only Klingon who understands honor, but really it’s the other way around: Worf is the only Klingon who doesn’t understand honor. Worf thinks that honor is real. Other Klingons know it’s a game—a game with the highest of stakes that they play for all they’re worth, but a game nonetheless.

Images: Worf and Martok via Memory Alpha. Achilles battling Memnon, photograph by Bibi Saint-Pol via Wikimedia (Vulci, currently Staatliche Antiknesammlungen, Munich; c. 510 BCE; black-figure pottery). Dread Pirate Roberts via History Mine.

Metal Cover of Star Trek: Voyager Theme

YouTuber Captain Meatshield arranged a heavy metal cover of the Star Trek: Voyager theme, and it’s fantastic:

Star Trek: Voyager Theme – Metal Cover by Captain_Meatshield

How do I know it’s great? Like the original, Captain Meatshield’s arrangement passed the goosebump test. Good job, sir!

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Legal Brief Partly in Klingon to Counter a Big Movie Studio

The copyright infringement case filed by Paramount Pictures Corporation against the Star Trek fan production Axanar has been in the news a bit this spring. I have a mild interest in it, but I don’t spend much time following the reports—with one marvellous, excellent, and hilarious exception.

Attorney Marc Randazza wrote an amicus curiae brief for Language Creation Society (i.e., for the defendant’s benefit) to counter a copyright claim by Paramount “over the entire Klingon language, not any particular words or portions of dialogue from any episodes of Star Trek, but in the entire vocabulary, graphemes, and grammar rules of Klingon.”

His friend and co-blogger Ken White at Popehat shared the story and the brief itself (as a .pdf file). (The full docket for the case is also available via the U.S. Courts Archive.)

Mr. Randazza not only argues that one cannot copyright an entire language, invented or not; he also briefly summarizes the history and some current uses of Klingon. (Did you know, for example, that the Klingon Language Institute has overseen Klingon wordplay contests? I didn’t. Check them out; the palindromes are especially awesome.)

The best thing about the brief, however, is how Mr. Randazza uses Klingon—complete with the Klingon font, transliterations to the Latin alphabet, and translations—to illustrate his arguments.

I’ve copied three examples below without the Klingon font, using the Latin transliterations instead and adding the English translations Mr. Randazza provides. It’s worthwhile to visit the .pdf brief available online (here or here) for the full effect, though.

“Plaintiff Paramount Pictures Corporation (“Paramount”) has claimed this copyright interest for many years, but has not actually asserted it in court before now – most likely because the notion of it is [meq Hutlh / it lacks reasons].”

[p. 9 of 26]

“Just as poker jargon is unprotectable, so is Klingon. To grant such protection would be to attempt to leash that which Plaintiffs have no right to control. Plaintiffs will learn that [Suvlu’taHvIS yapbe’ HoS neH / brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight].”

[pp. 16-17 of 26]

“Plaintiffs attempt to downplay the significance of their claim of ownership over the Klingon language by arguing that ‘a language is only useful if it can be used to communication [sic] with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate.’ […]

“A language is not constrained to a given ethnic or racial group. By their logic, Ancient Greek is not ‘useful’ because the Ancient Greeks are no longer with us, and the language has no native speakers, despite it being the original language of some of the seminal literary and philosophical works of the western world. Plaintiffs’ logic would seem to dictate that French is not ‘useful’ if spoken by a native German. [qoH vuvbe’ SuS / The wind does not respect a fool.]”

[pp. 23-24 of 26]

At the very least, do yourself a favor and check out how the first line of the Sesame Street theme song translates into Klingon (pp. 23-24). Ha!

Randazza Amicus Curiae Paramount v Axanar

Mr. Randazza’s straightforward and humorous writing not only counters stereotypes about legal language, but it’s also very informative. (And he did it pro bono!) Qapla’, sir!

Image: Screencap from Brief of Amicus Curiae by Marc J. Randazza for Paramount v. Axanar (case no. 2:15-cv-09938-RGK-E) filed April 26, 2016

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

A Star Trek Spin Pumps It Up

I seem to be in a Star Trek frame of mind. Having just finished (re)watching all of TNG, I guess that’s to be expected. Here’s a new spin on “Pump Up the Volume” by MARRS á la every Star Trek franchise:

Star Trek Pump up the Volume MARRS by Vernon Wilmer Video. Found via Tor.com.

I’ve certainly been bobbing my head and tapping my foot to this!

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

World’s First Android Phone

According to the fount of all human knowledge, the Wikipedia, the world’s first android phone was the HTC Dream, released on October 22, 2008.

I beg to differ. Undoubtedly, the first android phone appeared exactly 15 years prior, on October 23, 1993 in a tv broadcast:

Screencap from Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 7, episode 6: “Phantasms”.
Screencap from Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 7, episode 6: “Phantasms”.

The screencap above is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 7, episode 6: “Phantasms” where the android Data has to adjust to suddenly being capable of experiencing nightmares.

P.S. Yes, the joke is really, really, REALLY dumb. Sleep deprived brain is sleep deprived. 🙂

P.P.S. Incidentally, The HTC Dream would make a great name for a spaceship, don’t you think? If I ever got to name one, it would be an iteration of the northern lights – aurora borealis, nordlys (Danish), goleuadau gogleddol (Welsh – wow, looks so fun), or something in that vein. You?

Some things are just too silly not to share!

Q&A: Which Starship Would You Command

Quiz time! We took the Which Starship Would You Command quiz. Here are the results:

1) What do you think is the most important quality or feature for a starship?

Erik: Ability to withstand powerful forces [‘Cause, you know, I bet there’s a lot of those in space.]

Eppu: A good collection of scientific instruments, weapons, and engineering tools. [Be prepared! Things are going to break, and in space you want to be very, very prepared when something breaks.]

2) What kind of crew would you want to have on your starship?

Eppu: I’d like a well-balanced crew on my ship; diplomats, security experts, scientists, doctors, etc. [Again, be prepared!]

Erik: A family of versatile and multi-talented members with a strong purpose. [I figure being versatile with a strong sense of purpose is important if you’re in danger of being stranded millions of light years out in space.]

3) Pick a vehicle.

Green compact carErik: Green compact car. [It’s cute!]

Eppu: Same [A good-enough compromise between looks and utility; also, I don’t need that question answered.]

 

4) You’re out exploring space, when you come across a ship belonging to a new alien species you’ve never encountered before. What would you do?

Eppu: Stealthily observe them from afar to determine if they’re hostile before opening communications. [I guess one of these days I’ll find myself in a “bath” that’s getting hotter in minute increments… 😉 ]

Erik: Same [I don’t like talking to people to begin with. Even more so if they’re hostile.]

5) You’re out patrolling the stars when you get a distress call from a civilian freighter that has been damaged somehow and drifted into the territory of a hostile, angry alien race. They’re asking for help. What do you do?

Erik: Approach the border cautiously, broadcasting to the hostile alien empire that we come on a mission of mercy. [But if I have to deal with hostile folks I’m going to let them know that I’m not here to cause trouble.]

Eppu: See if there’s any way I can quietly and sneakily cross the border to try and reach the freighter. [Quick, before the hyena come!]

6) Pick which uniform you’d like your crew to wear.

Han Solo's outfitEppu: Han Solo’s outfit [‘Cause pockets! This is a pet peeve of mine. We’ll need pockets in the future, too. So many sci-fi outfits are ridiculously lacking in practical details.]

 

 

 

 

Battlestar Galactica uniformErik: Battlestar Galactica uniform. [Eh. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a nice sash.]

 

 

 

 

7) What kind of captain would you like to be?

Erik: Wait, lead? I’m in charge? Whose idea was that? [I’m like the guy who sits three chairs down from the navigator in the staff meeting and has one line explaining why the people on this planet are offended by the color orange. Don’t put me in charge of nothin’.]

Eppu: Same [Uhh…]

8) Pick a color scheme for your ship’s hull.

Grey, subtly pixelatedEppu: Grey, subtly pixelated [In space, no-one can hear you complain about hull color.]

 

 

 

Grey with bright stripeErik: Grey with bright stripe [Ooh, it’s so shiny and spacey!]

 

 

9) Pick a bridge.

Traditional Far-Eastern bridgeErik: Traditional Chinese bridge. [It’s elegant and tranquil. I go for that.]

 

 

 

Gracefully curved bridgeEppu: Graceful curves and loop at one end [Loop-de-doo!]

 

 

 

10) You receive a communication from an off-world colony, which says they’ve encountered a new life form and would like you to assist. What would you do?

Eppu: I’d bring a science team to investigate the new life form. [No word on danger, so study it is!]

Erik: Same. [Because that’s what I do: I investigate the heck out of things.]

So, apparently we both would command…

USS Enterprise D

USS Enterprise D. “Let’s see what’s out there.”

Q&A is an occasional feature in which we share our responses to quizzes, questions, and quirky ideas for your entertainment.

Favorite Characters: Star Trek Edition

Favorite Star Trek characters. Go!

Star Trek (Original Series)

Spock,_2267Erik: Mr. Spock. Hands down, Spock. When I first discovered the original Star Trek in afternoon reruns, I was in elementary school, the shy, quiet kid who spent recess reading and didn’t understand the social rules hat other kids lived by. I identified with Spock so hard. After growing up on cartoons that always stigmatized the smart characters as snooty, unsympathetic Brainy Smurf types, Spock was proof that being the thoughtful, unemotional observer of humanity could be awesome, too.

 

Eppu: This is a tough one. I don’t think I really have one. In general, I’m more drawn to the supporting characters in stories than the main character / protagonist, and ST:TOS is most definitely one of those cases. I find Kirk intolerable and McCoy a little too emotional for my preference, but the rest of the core cast offers more qualities I like: Spock’s cool head and nuggets of extremely dry humor; Uhura’s patience and dedication; Sulu’s enjoyment of life; Checkov’s nonchalance and ability to roll with the punches; Scotty’s inventiveness and flexibility in the face of an unrelenting barrage of technical problems.

The Next Generation

Picard2379Erik: Captain Picard. I’ll admit, it’s mostly Patrick Stewart’s acting chops that make the character for me, but I love Picard’s gravitas, his cool head in a crisis, and his humanity. I came of age with Next Generation, in the post-Cold-War world that believed in hope and human progress, and despite what we have lived through in the last few decades, I still carry some of that optimism with me. Picard’s compassion and level-headedness are the solid ground on which the moral universe of Next Generation rests.

Memory Alpha GuinanEppu: Guinan! She stares in the face of her people’s diaspora and stays serene, but is not shy about pulling out the rifle stashed behind the bar when needed. Even if she was written as a supporting cast member, Guinan gets some brilliant moments of character development, like when she begins to question her black-or-white attitude to the Borg in the season 5 episode I Borg. Also, Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is fa-bu-lous. Every scene where Patrick Stewart and Goldberg appear together, no matter how simple, is golden.

Deep Space Nine

JadziaDax2374Erik: Jadzia Dax. Specifically the later-seasons’ Jadzia Dax: not the ethereal above-it-all beauty of the first season, but the wise-cracking, tongo-playing, bat’leth-slinging, unflappable smart-ass and scientist extraordinaire that she developed into by the third. Not that I’m much for practicing Klingon martial arts or playing Ferengi card games into the wee hours, but I love the self-possession with which she does everything. She reminds me of some of the great professors I had in college, the ones who loved teaching their subjects, did it with passion and commitment, and didn’t much care what anyone outside the classroom thought of them.

Eppu: Doctor Bashir. We rarely get to see such a full personal growth arc as we see with Bashir. When he arrived to the station, he was so wet behind the ears his whole being basically emanated green. To follow him from firmly planting his foot in his mouth in those early episodes, to his worshipful puppy-love towards Dax, to his growing confidence in his position and friendships, to adjusting to the fact that his much-appreciated intellectual abilities were grafted onto him in an illegal procedure and not in-born, to maturing into a confident, capable officer, supportive and loyal to his friends, is a delight. I also love Bashir’s relationship with Garak, and how the spy-turned-tailor educates our man Bashir about the larger world beyond the Federation.

Voyager

Tuvok2377Erik: Tuvok. Tim Russ did a masterful job taking up the Vulcan mantle from Leonard Nimoy. While many actors cast as Vulcans come off as robotic or bored, Russ’s Tuvok showed us that self-control can be just as interesting as unbridled passion. As someone who isn’t often emotionally expressive, it’s nice to see a similar character on screen (and without the presumption that he is damaged or needs to “loosen up.”)

 

 

Eppu: Chakotay. He embodies quiet get-it-done effectiveness and deep emotions without being abrasive. Respectful towards and supportive of – even if not always in complete agreement with – Captain Janeway through thick and thin. It’s also very refreshing that no romance was artificially forced into the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay: they just slowly became and remained friends.

Enterprise

Erik: I don’t have one. The show never really worked for me, which is too bad, because I love the concept and some of the details. I kind of wish whoever owns the franchise now would stuff Enterprise into the memory black hole and start over from the basic concept of humanity’s first interstellar exploration and the founding of the Federation instead of the soulless reboot movies we’re getting.

Eppu: Never saw all of it, and I don’t remember it well. As much as I can have a favorite character, it’s a three-way tie between Hoshi Sato, T’Pol, and Tucker.

Mashup Eppu Enterprise Favorites

Who are your favorites and why? Share in the comments!

Images: Spock via Memory Alpha. Picard via Memory Alpha. Guinan via Memory Alpha. Jadzia Dax via Memory Alpha. Julian Bashir via TrekCore. Tuvok via Memory Alpha. Chakotay via Memory Alpha. Hoshi Sato via Memory Alpha. T’Pol via Memory Alpha. Tucker via Memory Alpha

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.