Archive

September 17th, 2016

The top 10 'Star Trek' episodes ever

    This month marks 50 years since "Star Trek" first hit the airwaves as a television show. I've been devoted to the franchise, so as someone who holds strong opinions about the show and about pop culture lists, it seems appropriate to rank the 10 best "Trek" episodes ever aired on television.

    And just to make things more interesting and controversial, I've chosen from the entire non-animated pool of "Trek" episodes: "Star Trek" (TOS), "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (TNG), "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (DS9), "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Star Trek: Enterprise."

    Spoiler alert: Nothing from the last two shows listed made the top 10. And I'll confess at the outset a likely bias toward episodes that focused on interplanetary statecraft, as it were.

    In ascending order of greatness: 

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'Star Trek' was a chronicle of human nature

    It's not often that after a half-century, a television show sparks a national celebration (including a set of commemorative stamps from the U.S. Postal Service). What accounts for "Star Trek's" enduring appeal?

    The answer lies in its portrayal of experiences and societies that, by virtue of their radical differences from our own, allow us to see the most familiar things in a new light. That's what the best science fiction does. It offers a topsy-turvy world, or a twisted version of reality, which uncovers neglected truths (about, say, what really matters in human life), or which shows the contingency of how things are (and how with a small turn, a nation's politics could go horribly wrong).

    With that point in mind, here's an account of three iconic Star Trek episodes -- ones you'd show someone who wants to know what the fuss is about.

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'Star Trek' was silly. That's why we loved it.

    Despite all of last week's hoopla, true "Star Trek" wonks know that the 50th anniversary of the premiere actually falls this week. In the parlance of the era, what aired on Sept. 8, 1966, was called a preview -- an appetizer to increase the audience for the actual premiere, which, in the case of "Star Trek," came the following Thursday. (Thus "The Man Trap" was the preview; the premiere was "Charlie X.")

    Serious Trekkers care about things like that.

    When "Star Trek" first beamed down, I was a schoolboy in Washington, D.C. Two years later, I joined the legion of teenagers who wrote "Dear NBC" letters to protest the network's plans to cancel the show we had come to love. The program was cheesy. It was preachy. Now and then it was downright silly. But mostly it was grandly optimistic fun, and we were proud to have played a role in its rescue.

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My thoughts as a Big League Supporter of Trump

    In recent months, Donald J. Trump, his family and staff have been among my most frequent correspondents. Their messages have clogged my mailbox. They've been asking me for money, selling me stuff, complaining about the liberal media and venting their anger at Hillary Clinton.

    I've seen the Trumps only from a distance, while reporting on the primary campaign earlier this year. That's probably how I got on their mailing list. I didn't sign up for some of the events as a member of the press. Instead, I used the Eventbrite app to register for some of Trump's early rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire as a member of the general public so I could stand in line and get a sense of who else would show up. I did the same with other candidates, but apart from the Trumps only Marco Rubio, now running for senator in Florida, has been a loyal correspondent with increasingly desperate messages about missing fundraising goals.

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Hillary Clinton’s Sick Days

    Before we delve any further into the coughs heard round the world and the swoon that changed history, some perspective:

    Running for president isn’t hard. It’s brutal. The oddity isn’t that one of the candidates would succumb to illness and be forced off the trail for a few days. The oddity is that all of the candidates don’t drop like flies.

    What we ask of them is less preparation than mortification, physical as well as psychological. Between formal speeches and informal rallies and briefings and fundraisers and long flights and short bus rides and coffee-shop huddles and state-fairground scrums, they endure 20-hour days in which they cram in twice that many hours of work. They’re miracles of perseverance, so much so that a certain 68-year-old Democratic nominee can get a pneumonia diagnosis and deliver a big (if cloddishly rendered) speech at a fundraiser that same night.

    Their stamina isn’t at issue, just their sanity.

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Five things the presidential debate moderators must do

    Whatever you may think of Donald Trump's politics, fitness for office and character, you have to admit he's a genius communicator, especially on television.

    That's why it comes as no surprise that he floated the idea Monday that the three scheduled presidential debates feature no interference in the form of a moderator who might inhibit his penchant for fact-challenged showmanship.

    Here's how the Republican nominee put it in a CNBC interview: "Let Hillary and I sit there and just debate, because I think the system is being rigged so it's going to be a very unfair debate."

    Trump said he fears that the widespread criticism of Matt Lauer, who moderated NBC's recent "Commander in Chief Forum," means that debate moderators will come out loaded for bear. Lauer was thoroughly pummeled - especially for letting Trump go unchallenged when he said he opposed the war in Iraq from the start, which is false.

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First Amendment may protect shady sex ads, too

    A Senate panel has called the online advertising site Backpage.com a clearinghouse for sex trafficking in minors, and has subpoenaed its policies and records. The company says it's a canary in the coal mine for government intrusion into the editorial decisions of journalists -- and has asked the Supreme Court to block the subpoena. Chief Justice John Roberts has stayed the subpoena to read briefs from the opposing parties. When he digs into the details, he may find that both sides are at least partly right.

    The case began as an inquiry into Internet-driven sex trafficking of minors conducted by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican (Claire McCaskill of Missouri is the ranking Democrat). The committee suspects that Backpage's online classified service is used as a vehicle for such trafficking. It issued a broad subpoena to the company, which it subsequently narrowed and directed to Chief Executive Officer Carl Ferrer.

    The particular focus of the inquiry is now whether and how Backpage may have edited or filtered certain ads to hide the fact that were being used for trafficking minors.

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Donald Trump’s Putin Crush

    When it comes to rebutting Donald Trump’s idiotic observation that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader — “far more than our president has been a leader” — it is hard to top the assessment of Russian-born Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, which The Times’ Andrew Higgins quoted in his story from Moscow: “Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink. Praising a brutal KGB dictator, especially as preferable to a democratically elected U.S. president, whether you like Obama or hate him, is despicable and dangerous.”

    Indeed, Kasparov’s point cuts to the core of what is so scary about a Trump presidency: Trump is what The Economist has called “the leading exponent of ‘post-truth’ politics — a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact,” and, sadly, “his brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.” When politics becomes “like pro-wrestling,” society pays a huge cost, The Economist added, because any complex explanation of any problem is dismissed as experts just trying “to bamboozle everyone else.”

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September 16th

Thugs and Kisses

    First of all, let’s get this straight: The Russian Federation of 2016 is not the Soviet Union of 1986. True, it covers most of the same territory and is run by some of the same thugs. But the Marxist ideology is gone, and so is the superpower status. We’re talking about a more or less ordinary corrupt petrostate here, although admittedly a big one that happens to have nukes.

    I mention all of this because Donald Trump’s effusive praise for Vladimir Putin — which actually reflects a fairly common sentiment on the right — seems to have confused some people.

    On one side, some express puzzlement over the spectacle of right-wingers — the kind of people who used to yell “America, love it or leave it!” — praising a Russian regime. On the other side, a few people on the left are anti-anti-Putinists, denouncing criticism of Trump’s Putin-love as “red-baiting.” But today’s Russia isn’t communist, or even leftist; it’s just an authoritarian state, with a cult of personality around its strongman, that showers benefits on an immensely wealthy oligarchy while brutally suppressing opposition and criticism.

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Don't compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. It belittles Hitler.

    Before their recent meeting -- and I suspect a few times after -- Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. He wasn't the first to do so, even in his own country. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, has also compared Trump to Hitler. Cher has compared Trump to Hitler. Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has compared Trump to Hitler (although in fairness, that's kind of his whole brand). Even Glenn Beck compared Trump to Hitler. We'll no doubt hear it again many times before this election is over, and, to be honest, it's a comparison that bothers me for two reasons.

    I am a Jew -- a New York Writer Liberal Jew, the scariest Jew of all -- and from a very young age, I was taught about an unimaginable horror called the Holocaust and about an evil man named Adolf Hitler. The elderly man who sat beside me every Saturday morning in synagogue was a Holocaust survivor, as was his wife. And so the first reason the comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler bothers me is not because it belittles the deaths of millions of innocents, but because, frankly, it belittles Adolf Hitler.

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