Socialist Snowplows and the Minimum Standards of Capitalism

There have been a few amusing images circling on the internet, with captions along the lines of “A socialist snowplow just went past my house. When will this tyranny end?” Or “Evil socialism at work”.

Evil Socialism at Work

Socialist Snowplows at Work

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Lest We Forget: Internment Camps in North America

Every year in November, I make an effort to watch at least some of the Band of Brothers series. It’s not a perfect series, but it stands as a reminder of the human cost paid by those serving in the war.

This year, I watched episode 9, “Why We Fight”. In this episode, Easy Company liberates one of the satellite work camps around the Dachau concentration camp. There is some artistic license in place: Easy Company did not liberate any of the camps, although they did see Dachau after it was liberated. It’s a very emotional episode.

Jews at the gates

Band of Brothers: Jews at the gates

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Star Trek DS9 Reviews: The Storyteller

The Storyteller isn’t nearly as compelling of an episode as it could be. Of the two main plots, I found that of Jake and Nog to be amusing, while that of Bashir and O’Brien fell a bit short. I can understand and appreciate the message the writers were working on, but it was really poorly executed, and just didn’t work for me.

O’Brien the Uninspiring

O'Brien wearing a funny robe

O’Brien at his least inspiring.


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Star Trek DS9 Reviews: Battle Lines

I think that Battle Lines is the third episode to give us a peek behind the curtains of the wormhole. Along with Captive Pursuit, and Vortex, we start to see glimpses of galactic civilization on the other side.

Myths and Legends

From Captive Pursuit, we get a genetically engineered version of The Most Dangerous Game: hunting sentient creatures for sport.

In Vortex, aside from exploring some of Odo’s origins, we see a planetary government which punishes dissent with the death of the entire family.

In Battle Lines, two warring factions, the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, are raised from the dead to continue their fight, without any hope for eventual victory. They claim this is done as a form of punishment. This bears echoes of Tartarus, the Greek abyss used to imprison and torment the worst of the villains and gods.

Sisko stands against warriors with edged weapons

Darkness, fire, and weapons.

Just like with Sisyphus’ boulder, the war is not something that can ever be resolved. Its an eternal torment. There is a similar battle in Norse myth where the warriors are continually resurrected to fight the next day.

The Kai and Prophecy

Kai Opaka views the wormhole

Kai Opaka surveys the wormhole, and her destiny

From this basis in myth, we get to the story. Kai Opaka, the religious leader from Bajor who named Sisko the Emissary to the Prophets, has arrived on the station. She’s obviously preoccupied with the wormhole, and shows every sign that she won’t return, even giving jewelry to O’Brien’s daughter.

Kai Opaka gives a gift to O'Brien

The Kai gives O’Brien’s daughter a gift

When the runabout crashes, the Kai dies in the impact. It seems a pointless death, bringing to mind Tasha Yar’s passing. Just like Tasha in Yesterday’s Enterprise, the Kai is resurrected, although without the whole temporal displacement thing happening. Like the Ennis and Nol-Ennis, she becomes trapped in the world, but with a different purpose.

The runabout goes through the wormhole

The crew takes Kai Opaka through the wormhole

Kira

We see the most change in this episode from Kira. The opening has a great scene where she reads the Cardassian report on her, where she is described as a minor operator who runs errands for the resistance. We haven’t yet seen direct evidence of the Bajoran resistance, but Kira clearly sees herself defined by her actions and her perseverance during those times.

Busted while viewing Kira's file

Dax, O’Brien and Sisko are interrupted while reading Kira’s Cardassian file

With her insecurity brought to the surface with the Cardassian report, Kira fan girls over the Kai. She’s desperately seeking her approval, perhaps to reaffirm that she’s followed the correct path.

Kira idolizes Kai OPaka

Kira fangirls over Kai Opaka

Kira sees the struggle of her own people, mirrored in the fight between the Ennis and Nol-Ennis. It’s not a perfect mirror, as Kira is quick to point out. The Bajorans fought for life, for a future. The warring factions in this episode are locked in a battle to the death, without even the hope of death.

On Technobabble

There’s a great line in this episode referring to technobabble. O’Brien starts spouting off that he can send a probe to find the runabout’s magnetic fields using a differential magnetometer. Without missing a beat, Dax says that she’s never heard of it before, and asks how it works. Star Trek has always made terminology up to “sound like science”. It’s the Maltese Falcon of science fiction: the terminology is very rarely important, in storytelling terms. What it enables is the ability to move the plot forward. In this case, the technobabble serves a few useful purposes:

  • Shows how O’Brien can innovate as an engineer, instead of just fixing things on the station. Engineering is important on Star Trek. While he may have started as the Transporter chief on TNG, O’Brien is well within the engineering tradition.
  • gives Dax and O’Brien a reason for taking so long to find the Runabout.
  • allows a meta-reference to the pointlessness of technobabble.
  • a way to solve the problem of getting a transporter lock through the dampening field to make a rescue

Bashir’s Dilemma

While researching the technology responsible for resurrecting the dead on the planet, Bashir wonders if it would be best to alter the programming to once again permit the release of final death. When the Ennis hear of this possibility, they instead see an actual victory, where they can finally wipe out the enemy for good. Rather than be party to this, Sisko, Kira and Bashir are transported back to the roundabout, leaving those imprisoned behind.

This is new territory for Star Trek. The suggestion of death as the answer, brought forth by a Starfleet medical officer doesn’t exactly jive with Roddenberry’s vision. Its interesting to see how while the characters explore ways to effect meaningful change on the planet, yet instead hightail it out of there. It seems unusual, but perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that sometimes, people just aren’t ready for change. As a piece of social commentary, this can bring some heavy implications to the state of international relations. This is the kind of thing people mean when they say that DS9 is a darker show than TOS or TNG.

Changes

The changes from this episode are deeper than what they first appear. While Kai Opaka was a minor character on the show, she was influential, as well as peaceful and supportive of Sisko in particular. The honeymoon’s over, sweetheart. Opaka’s replacement isn’t going to be all sugar and spice. Also of note is that Kira’s sense of awe for the Kai is not alone. Many other Bajorans would feel similarly. Now not only is the Kai gone, but she was left on the other side of the wormhole by the Federation, in the eyes of some.

Battle Lines first aired 25 April 1993. Teleplay by Richard Danus and Evan Carlos Somers. Story by Hilary J. Bader. Directed by Paul Lynch.

On Passion in Sales and Customer Disservice

The other day, I willingly walked into a Future Shop. I had a particular need, a new BluRay player that was smaller than my 10 year old DVD player that had been in the basement. It needed to fit on a much smaller shelf, and the old unit was a behemoth. Upgrading to a device that used HDMI would also free up the only component input, so I could connect the Gamecube for the kids.


20130910-123221.jpg

The future is friendly. It just isn't particularly helpful.

Another family was looking at the BluRay players, being “helped” by their sales vulture. Apparently, they had just bought a $3000 television, and needed a player as well. I don’t know why, but he directed them to the cheaper Sony model on the shelf. Maybe because he could offer it on a greater discount for them. The confusing thing for me was that he wasn’t talking about any of the features any of these players had. The model he was recommending did not have built in WIFI, requiring an ethernet cable to the television location. When he explained why the Sony was so great, he essentially said

When we have televisions out on the floor, we always choose Sony models, because they’re super reliable. Unless it’s for a Samsung television, when we use the Samsung player.

Excuse me? They’re “super-reliable”? At this price point, it’s commodity hardware. You’re not going to get a more “reliable” model by brand. I was of course standing there, holding a non-Sony device.

Was he trying to shame me into changing brands? Unlikely, as his name wasn’t going to find itself attached to my receipt.

Why didn’t he ask more questions about what they wanted? Maybe he asked the questions while in the television section of the store, but I doubt it. Why didn’t he try to upsell to a model with better features. In his own words

“You already spent $3000 on the television”

So what’s the difference between a $69 and $89 model? $20. If you have a $3000 television, are you really going to quibble on 0.67% of your cost, if it gets you useful features? Maybe some might. But this sales guy didn’t even try to match features (benefit to the customer). The only reason I can come up with is that there’s a higher store margin (or personal bonus) for this particular model.

Retail is a very strange business. It’s been we’ll over a decade since I did my time, and I’m reasonably certain that I had slightly more integrity at the time.

I used to try and see if I could get to the far side of the home theatre section without being accosted by a “sales associate”. In the high end area of the store, they usually want to see if you want to buy something. I asked on where the BluRay players were (the other side of the store? Really?) Once he realized that I wasn’t going to be buying a TV, he lost interest fast.

This isn’t the case for all stores, but I’ve found that employees at Best Buy, Future Shop, and other big box stores are in general, don’t really provide that great of service. They can direct you to where things are in the store, and can answer questions about what’s on sale, but often aren’t very good at answering even basic product knowledge questions. Ask them to compare two products? Good luck getting a useful answer! There are obviously exceptions to this rule, and I’ve likely avoided any chance of discovering those valuable salespeople, mainly due to my disgust with those who don’t try. Show some passion about the products!

The Ethics of Prison Architect: A Case Study

Simulation games have a long history in computing. From SimCity to the Sims, gamers have dragged and dropped trees, houses, streets and street lamps rebuilding their own utopia.

But what about simulations of dystopias? Enter Prison Architect, where you build and manage a prison facility. It’s for profit, of course, because that’s how you get money to expand your prison.
Prison Architect

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