Quark and Odo huggingS2E15, “Paradise” (story: Jim Trombetta and James Crocker)

What is the archetypical first-world problem? Here are some possible runners-up:

  • Starbucks barista misspells your name on your coffee cup
  • It’s not eligible for Prime shipping
  • It’s not on Netflix/Spotify
  • Cash only

But I don’t think the Number One answer is much of a discussion: it’s when the wi-fi goes down. Of course there’s always something else to do..for a while. Even if you were just about to go do yardwork all afternoon, you peek at the router every time you come back in. Even if you were just headed out to dinner, someone eventually broaches the topic: what are we gonna do if it’s still down when we get back? Did you restart the modem? Naturally. Did you check for area outages? Of course. What can we do? The ISP basically controls our lives. Maybe we should ditch them for satellite. Or maybe we should get off the grid entirely, take back control of these absurd modern lives. This isn’t how people were meant to live. Oh, hey, it’s back on! All good again.

“Paradise” is a story of the wi-fi never coming back on. Sisko and O’Brien are doing some surveying and come across a planet with a peaceful idyllic village. We’ve been around the block with Trek enough times to learn to fear all peaceful idyllic villages. Everyone is under the influence of spores or there’s a giant stone snake head that you have to constantly feed and worship. Or it’s some kind of cult. But this bunch just has no technology. No electronic gadgets work, in theory because of some weird interference from local ore deposits generating a weird EM-disabling field. Sure, that sounds like a thing that can happen. But they’ve adjusted and flourished. The village boss, Alixus, actually turns out to have written philosophical tomes about humanity’s overreliance on technology, and haha wow what a coincidence that she ended up being stranded on a planet without it!

Well, O’Brien and Sisko aren’t all that interested in staying on full-time, eventually someone will come looking for them. I asked myself at that point how rescue was even going to work, because naturally they’d beam down and then be stranded. Then someone else would come, and they’d beam down and be stranded. Stranded landing parties all the way down. It’d be like the Monty Python gag about the fatal joke. But in the meantime, O’Brien’s in “maybe the wi-fi is back?” mode and restlessly investigating the cause, while Sisko is not working or playing well with the boss. One way to look at this is that they break down the slim facade of the false paradise both technologically and socially, making everyone self-aware, so they were free to choose what sort of life to have with full information. Another way is to say that they broke everything, and obliterated the Prime Directive doing it. But I’m not sure anyone has even mentioned the Prime Directive this entire series, so I guess we are all good.

Overall: Pretty familiar territory for Trek, but well done. Part of postmodern life is wondering, basically daily, if we’d be better off with a significant technological pullback. Maybe let’s keep Prime Shipping though. 4 out of 5.

S2E16, “Shadowplay” (story: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

At this point I’m writing several weeks behind viewing and my memory is not always great about how I felt about each episode. But I remember this one: it was great. I keep watching more Star Trek shows because they have an ability to kick out a purely great SF episode at any time, but they also never fail to emphasize characters. As an excellent example of Trek at its best, I’d like to welcome “Shadowplay” to my 5-star club.

Three threads here. Primarily it’s a story about a small village that presents an interesting SF mystery: the mystery of why aren’t these people wanting to ever leave some dumpy village in the middle of nowhere, where the best available toy is a top. Plus a bunch of people are missing but like, where would they even go? Weirdly it never occurs to any of the locals that they might leave this place for somewhere with, I dunno, Xboxes. The writing is very strong, the crew works through the problem in an interesting way, and eventually we learn there is sort of a portable holodeck problem happening. Of course, all holodecks break eventually and need to get turned off and turned back on. I just realized I got tricked into liking a holodeck episode!

While the SF story is interesting, Odo’s friendship with one of the villagers, a young girl named Taya, ends up being the bigger character takeaway. He assumes she will either be scared of him or expect him to do tricks like any other jerk kid, but she doesn’t judge him at all. So, the perpetually lonely Odo’s best new friend ends up being a holographic young girl. He likes her enough that he does a cool spinning top trick for her after all. (Luckily she’s easily impressed.) It was all very sweet but also extremely sad for Odo. I kind of thought he should get a copy of Taya so they could keep being friends back on DS9, but that’s probably even more sad.

What else is going on:

  • Sisko puts a little light pressure on Jake to start thinking about his future with Starfleet by making him intern with O’Brien. Jake already feels like Starfleet isn’t for him, and a baffling day sorting out problems with isolinear rods with O’Brien somehow doesn’t sway him. We learn that O’Brien was similarly almost steered into a nightmarish career as a cello player by his father, where he would probably never get to work with isolinear rods. But he had a heart-to-heart with his father, who eventually came around, and he tells Jake that Benjamin probably would be more supportive than disappointed. Later Jake talks to him, and he’s fine with it. I mean, of course he would be. He’s a good dude. Jake and Benjamin are so nice I sometimes think they are there just to have one conflict-free relationship in the show.
  • Quark is engaged in some kind of smuggling scheme and Kira’s onto him. Quark gets out of it by setting her up with Vedek Bareil. It seems like an un-Kira thing to forget about dealing with a serious problem because she’s feeling all mushy, but Quark is an expert at getting out of trouble, so there we go.
  • We get a very disappointing tease that Bashir has been learning about surveillance techniques from Garak, and Kira wants him to use them on Quark, but then she forgets all about it when Bareil shows up. Ugh, that guy. Got a party you want to make awkward fast? This is your dude. He’s the opposite of charisma. He’s watered-down 7-Up. He’s a beige ball of boring. Luckily his relationship with Kira is more of a setup here that will be more relevant later.

Overall: 5 out of 5. Lots happening and a great story. Really liked this one.

S2E17, “Playing God” (story: Jim Trombetta)

This one didn’t stick with me as much, so just some notes:

  • It’s most about Dax and Arjin, her Trill initiate. Like Jake from the previous episode, he’s sort of just playing out the string on what his family wants him to do, but since we don’t know his character, I’m not sure we care about him too much. It’s a better episode for Dax, who is pretty interesting when she’s not being the science officer. The problem with her actual job is that I’m actually not even totally sure what it is. In TOS they always needed a science officer to analyze stuff, but mostly she’s just waiting around for things to come to DS9. Outside of work, she gambles with Ferengi, she likes Klingon food (make mine extra squirmy!), she tries to get Arjin to loosen up by not constantly giving her his resume, and also walking around in just a towel. (Which was not actually a good way to get him to relax.)
  • Some weeks later, I’m not really sure what the heck was actually going on in this one. Definitely leaning on the technobabble: some kinda weird field, some made-up particles, a proto-universe that doesn’t seem to respond to physical laws. This is typically a proxy for “listen, we just need something to happen and move things along” and rarely works. Not sure why. Too fantastic? It’s just a hazy danger that will kill everyone.
  • Also the space voles were super gross and I’m not sure it’s that interesting to push the plot forward on account of vole hijinks like having them eat some critical wiring, although if we’re being realistic about a universe with a lot of animal life, shouldn’t this kind of thing be a constant nuisance? At present we live on one planet, and there’s no end of invasive species. My house always has bugs. DS9 is a major port! I know their decontamination technology is way ahead of ours, but they should be constantly dealing with some kind of weeds or viruses. Like tribbles! The universe must be loaded with stuff like that, except usually grosser.

Overall: Not terrible, just didn’t stick with me. 2 out of 5.

S2E18, “Profit and Loss” (story: Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus)

When I see upcoming episode summaries, I’m probably most excited by Quark’s name. Maybe they’ll get old if he doesn’t develop any more as a character and just continues to be a semi-bungling schemer. I liked the first few holodeck episodes of TNG I saw, too. But for now, he’s easily the most lively character and I can expect something other than depressing interstellar politics. (I should make it clear DS9 is doing some fantastic stuff with depressing interstellar politics. It’s not that they aren’t good viewing, just not what one would call “fun.” As a show that can be light on laughs, Quark is a pretty vital character.)

The premise: a small group of Cardassians reluctantly board the station when their ship is damaged–“reluctant” because they are political radicals on the run from Cardassia. Which normally wouldn’t involve Quark, except that he’d try to sell them some kind of black market weapon or fake IDs or something. But he gets involved because it turns out their leader Natima is an old flame he’s still desperately in love with. So we have Quark AND interstellar politics. Which I, I don’t know. Maybe? Does that work?

It follows that it only sort of does. Most of the episode is various forms of negotiation (1) between DS9 and Cardassia about how to handle the situation, or (2) between Quark and Natima about whether they can make things work when she’s got bigger problems. The former makes for pretty typical DS9 fare. It’s tense and complex and handled well, if a bit slow-developing. The Quark part, I’m not sure. Felt a little off to me. Quark drifts fairly well outside of his usual boundaries, namely by displaying actual courage. He’s done it before–as recently as “Rules of Acquisition“–and if he’s not careful he’s going to wreck his reputation as a money-grubbing sleaze merchant. But I didn’t feel like it was out of character for him in “Rules of Acquisition.” It just made sense to keep up the ruse, it was making him money. Here he’s just a lovestruck doofus, which is fine for a human or betazoid or something but for a Ferengi? Ferengi males don’t seem to be in the habit of grand gestures.

Trivia bit: Memory Alpha tells me the writers are a wife & husband team that wrote a bunch of straight-to-video Disney sequels.

Overall: The premise is an interesting experiment, but the outcome is mixed. 3 out of 5.

The ultimate privilege of developed-world living is that you may devote exactly as much of your mental bandwidth as you wish to basic biological functions. We largely transform them from their pure function into pleasurable rituals. Food is a tasty daily highlight–not only delicious but it’s family time, a break from work, a prime opportunity for socializing. Trips to the bathroom are also “breaks”. Bathrooms accomplish exactly what you need them for, are clean, climate-controlled and plentiful, with locking doors and pipes that blissfully carry everything away. And sleep! The ultimate break. On a bed, comfortably alone or with extremely select company.

Now what if I told you there exists a place within this privileged society in which people go, quite regularly, usually on purpose, where all of this is taken away. We call those places airports.

Airports are the Western world’s closest non-war-zone approximation of Hell, though the torture is more subtle. Food: decidedly not fun, but pure sustenance gathering, joyless calorie acquisition. Forget finding something you would like to eat, the goal is to find anything you are willing to eat, at scarcity pricing. Bathrooms: oh there are plenty, especially if you like them crowded and vile. Sleep: oh goodness, no.

What could make this nightmare even worse? A flight delay. Now it’s still the airport, but for longer. The airport as a place has already stripped you of physical comforts. Flight delays work on your emotions. “Why is this happening?” “I’m never getting home.” “I’m stupid to have paid for this, should have driven.” “I’m suing everybody.” You’re mad if you can blame someone (overbooking, airline trying to stretch out a crew) you’re mad if you can’t (weather, mechanical issues). Further, you’re surrounded by dozens of people in the same state.

Now we are at the true dark heart of all this: all of the above, but also enduring everyone else. Usually in life you can ignore almost everyone almost all the time but in this situation, you are trapped overhearing all the little comments, everyone’s lizard-brain opinions, fears, questions, non sequiturs.

“This is the worst airline ever. Never flying them again.”

[Cable news blaring on TV]

[Commercials for cable news blaring on TV]

“I heard this airport can keep a flight on the runway for six hours.”

“Why won’t they tell us what’s happening?!”

Outraged business guy on earpiece phone at maximum volume for the third straight hour: “Still delayed! They say it’s paperwork! What a joke! Paperwork! Anyway, better get back to these sales reports.”

“You see Game of Thrones last night? I thought it sucked.”

[Kid screaming. Then laughing. Then screaming again. Now parent screaming too.]

This. This is what Twitter is like.

Every minor thought that anyone ever thought about everything, many under stress, no matter how reactionary, inconsiderate, fear mongering, insipid, all presented in an endless scroll**. Of course there are some nuggets in the firehose. Good Twitter exists. Funny Twitter exists. You can also try following only people who are smart and you whose opinion you’d actually want. Ideally you’d think that is how to stifle the flight delay-level comments, but that’s not what really happens. Instead Twitter is a sewer-like platform where the worst of the worst rises to the top. Even the well-meaning re-tweet all the terrible. They see something stupid, it makes them mad, they re-tweet to get confirmation on how truly terrible it is. Also they have a good joke about it that would be killer if the offender ever saw it. (They won’t see it.) This is the same as being the passenger in a car that just got cut off and the driver is yelling at the other idiot. Of course the other idiot can’t hear that, but all the afflicted passengers get to. Similarly, one can never escape the cascades of re-tweets and .@s. The general theme being: “Wow, look at this asshole!”

Listen, I *know* they’re out there. I don’t need reminders. It’s why flight delays are so bad, way beyond any inconveniences. Nothing good will come from me absorbing everyone else’s reactions other than to start wondering, in the absence of facts, whether they might all somehow be right? At least I can put on headphones, or take a walk. But Twitter makes sure I notice. Whether it’s some unfathomably horrendous human in an actual elected job who engenders so little trust I wouldn’t ask them to water my plants for a weekend (e.g., the current President of the United States), or some Fox News talking head, or Martin Shkreli, or a Twitter egg who created an account just to rant at SportsCenter anchors: I *know*. I don’t read tabloids or eat batteries either. I have a general sense of things that are good and bad for me. But Twitter became a place where the worse you are, the more attention you will get. And the effect is that the object of scorn just sees all the re-tweets and thinks, “The people are with me on this.”

I have never hate-followed anyone. Especially not *rump because I am unclear on the appeal of reading the incoherent spew of a incendiary senile idiot. There are a million Twitter users with bald eagle avatars saying the same garbage. Only the cosmic coincidence of his birth into wealth has put him into a situation where anyone knows his name, otherwise he’d be stuck distributing his rants on moist pamphlets from a dingy street corner like a normal crazy person. Since it’s later than 2010, he isn’t confined to the crackliest corners of AM radio, either. Instead, the ultra-privileged son-of-a-millionaire with a gift for the attention grab became of the voice of angry old white America because that’s the way Twitter works. It follows that the ultimate mechanism for identifying assholes would eventually surface their King.

We learn more and more about the toxic effect of social media daily. […he blogs. But I think blogs never had the same problems: they require more energy and focus, so they aren’t just emotional car honks. Blogging is also a medium without the constant reward-generating effect of the endless scroll. It doesn’t have any of the same horrifying privacy issues. It can have a similarly isolating bubble effect, but it’s not so baked in.] We know that social media makes you depressed. It cuts you off from opposing views and in fact, is downright awesome at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs. People legitimately thought Hilary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza place–they wanted to believe she was doing something, anything, illegal. Then they received evidence, via social media. Fox News invents some similar rumor every time the Democrats have a good day, no doubt they hope each will spread on Facebook in the same way. And somehow social media is still managing to get worse. We’re only just starting to learn how thoroughly it’s been compromised by trolls and bots. Facebook’s money-grubbing algorithms have been insidiously helping polarize people for years. Millions of Twitter bots retweet everything *rump says to millions of users. Even back when they were both just feeds of humans posting, you are always seeing people at their best or worst. No wonder everything started to feel black or white.

This obviously starts getting tied up with more deeply frustrating problems. Social media can only partially explain how a thoroughly incompetent out-of-touch millionaire with no policies and no experience gets elected president with millions fewer votes thanks to extreme tribalism and a broken electoral college system. Whether Hilary was a good choice or not, if he had been running against a bucket of warm barf no one should have voted for him. Almost a year in, a theoretical President Barf Bucket would have done exactly as much to create blue collar jobs, wouldn’t have appointed a transparently corrupt cabinet, and wouldn’t be pointlessly taunting a rogue nuclear state. But certainly Twitter’s propensity for normalizing crazy by constant, repeated exposure should get some of the blame for how that insane thing actually happened. Just the fact that *rump loves it tells you it’s probably bad. It’s the perfect medium to eschew nuance, avoid criticism, and yell at strangers. It’s made for politics.

Social media has its positives. I’ve had some laughs. I did occasionally connect with old friends or make new ones. In spite of its limitations it’s an amazing window into real ongoing issues which I never properly understood as a white, middle class, cisgendered dude. Likewise I found solidarity knowing there were others with the same baggage as me. That’s some genuine good.

But I think the moment is past for me. Speaking of baggage, Twitter is overloaded with it now. They just upped it to 280 characters, which I don’t imagine is going to add nuance as much as provide the ignorant the ability to double down on stupid. Also years of Twitter memes are about to resurface and be twice as tiresome. Blogging, even very occasionally, and sticking with RSS on a few vetted sites has a lot more value for me. I think we got it right getting away from mainstream dominance for all media with some bits of the internet. But not having to listen to EVERYONE is the happy medium. So that’s why I’m quitting.

Also because of Awards Show Twitter.

** I have also seen Twitter compared to the river of hate-slime from Ghostbusters 2. Exactly what I’m talking about.