Month: November 2015

Restoring dignity

In light of the craptastic voter turnout in the general election earlier this month, I’d think that the infusion of 140,000 voters who likely will not take for granted the privilege would be a good thing.

Today, though, following Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order restoring voting rights to certain classifications of former felons, I’ve seen commentary suggesting that this is a defiance of the “will of the people” and putting forth the idea that felons who have been released from prison should wait five years before having their voting rights reinstated.

The “will of the people” argument is so asinine I’m not going to explore it, except to say that it might be possible that the will of the people has been wrong before (Jim Crow, the Red Scare, National Socialism).

I find the idea of a five-year waiting period interesting. What exactly is it that proponents of this idea hope to accomplish? What’s supposed to happen in those five years? Training the former felon how to use the new voting machines? A refresher on high school civics? That’s about four months there. What are they supposed to do for the remaining 56 months?

It is doubtful either of those things will happen. They would cost money. The only other reason I can think of that anyone would impose a waiting period on regaining such a fundamental human right is as a punitive measure.

And punishment for what? For successfully completing a prison sentence? For repaying a debt to society?

Never having been to prison, I can only speculate what it’s like coming out into “the world” again. I have talked with some former felons in my previous professional life, and I know there are, not surprisingly, obstacles to re-entering society. It can be difficult with a felony record to find a job or secure housing. The social stigma of having served time follows the former felon almost everywhere. I’m not going to argue that it’s wrong. You can’t legislate peoples’ thoughts and perceptions. Society should choose to nurture former felons, but if people fear or are distrustful of former felons, there isn’t a law that will make people trust a former felon. That’s a justifiable position, by the way. I’ll give a former felon a chance, but I’ll also defend someone’s right not to. You went to jail for a reason. Life’s going to be a little bit hard when you come out.

Even though society is not obligated to welcome the former felon with open arms, they ought not feel further disenfranchised by being treated like second class citizens. After all, they have served their time. They are square with the house. By imposing a waiting period of five years (or three, or ten, because it seems so completely arbitrary), we may as well just send the former felon back to prison.

My senior year in college, a roommate stole my credit cards and went on a shopping spree around Morehead. He was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to the crime, and afterward served time in prison. I’m not sorry that he went to jail, and I hope it gave him time to reflect on what he had done. If he had a hard time regaining his footing when he got out, I’m not sorry. But, I’m glad he can vote now. It doesn’t hurt me at all.

Critics have suggested this executive order is a good thing for Democrats. It is what it is. Liberals have been championing this issue for a long time, and have delivered on it. If that puts Democrats in the good graces of former felons who can now vote, then all I can say is that Republicans could have done the same thing and been seen as the champion of civil rights for former felons, and maybe they could have welcomed those voters into their fold. They didn’t.

Why? That’s a good question. Was it to maintain the image of being tough on crime? Is the definition of being tough on crime is breaking someone even after they’ve served their time and paid their restitution? Was it to “protect us”? From what? Hordes of registered voters showing up at the polls?

To release a person from prison, call them reformed, tell them they’ve repaid their debt, and then to withhold a basic human right is setting a bad example. It’s beating someone when they’re down. It’s bullying.

It’s not the kind of society I want to live in. At least I don’t have to now, and neither do 140,000 former felons.

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Star Dreck: The Next Degradation

This story is primarily about Star Wars, but there are statements in it about Star Trek that have gotten up the dander in this middle-aged Trekkie.

We’ll start with this one:

“I often think about the areas of the Star Trek universe that haven’t been taken advantage of,” Paramount’s (Marc) Evans says. “Like, I’ll be ridiculous with you, but what would ‘Star Trek: Zero Dark Thirty’ look like? Where is the SEAL Team Six of the Star Trek universe? That fascinates me.”

If Gene Roddenberry hadn’t been cremated, he’d be rolling over in his motherfucking grave right now.

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Starfleet’s Seal Team 6. They’d be recasting every week.

Starfleet, the quasi-military organization depicted in the multiple television and film incarnations of Star Trek, was never intended to be a shoot-‘em-up instrument of gunboat diplomacy. Yes, every incarnation of Trek on television and on the big screen has capitalized on a rougher, tougher rendition of Starfleet, but that was never part of Roddenberry’s vision. Indeed, he is said to have hated the uniforms introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, (the so-called “monster maroons,” the coolest uniforms in sci-fi, in my opinion) because they were too militaristic compared to the simpler uniforms of the 1966 television series and the one-piece pajama uniforms of the 1979 feature film (which were god-awful).

I’ll make a confession now. I actually did enjoy the Dominion War story arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) at the time it aired. Some years later, though, I started watching reruns of the original series, and realized how far Trek had strayed from its original intent, which was to tell the story of a “wagon train to the stars.” The opening monologue, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) spelled it out clearly. “Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” In the late 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation amended the monologue, replacing the word “man” with “one,” art imitating life. That show continued the tradition set forth by the original series, but subsequent series drifted away from that premise. DS9 started out with promise, with its complex and diverse characters and distinctively non-Starfleet alien environment, but took a darker turn with the introduction of a new adversary threatening the United Federation of Planets, spiraling into full-scale war, a first for any incarnation of Star Trek.

Before any of you fanboys and girls get apoplectic, let me qualify that last statement. Yes, the Dominion War was the first war that ever played out in the Star Trek universe. The conflict with the Klingons, which was portrayed in a handful of episodes during the three-year run of the original series and depicted in three of the six movies featuring the original series cast exclusively (not including Star Trek: Generations), was, at best, a cold war. Think about it. Did we ever hear details about massive armed conflicts between the Klingon Empire and United Federation of Planets during the years 2266-2269 (the 23rd century calendar years in which the original series were set)? The Klingons merely showed up every so often, there was tension, conflict and resolution. The closest it ever got to escalation was in the episode “Errand of Mercy,” when the Klingons inflicted martial law on the peaceful neutral zone world of Organia. One could argue that this was the 23rd century political equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which, at the time that episode aired, was probably still fresh in the minds of American television viewers. There was documentation of the Romulan War, but until the episode “Balance of Terror,” occurring in 2266 on the Star Trek calendar, the Romulans had been reclusive for more than a century, following a brutal war that brought both sides to its knees and resulted in a treaty establishing a neutral zone between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire.

Indeed, war and other armed conflict is in the backstory of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, but, until DS9 it had not taken a front row seat. Roddenberry would not have wanted it, preferring a more optimistic depiction of human development in the 23rd century, a story of humans who would attempt all other avenues to solve problems before resorting to armed conflict. For all the talk of Kirk vs. Picard, and the popular notion that Kirk was tougher (if he was, it was a reflection of the historical period in which the respective series were created), Kirk was reliant on and tempered by the other half of his brain, first officer and science officer Mr. Spock. NATO could use a Mr. Spock.

In recent years, J.J. Abrams’ reboots of Star Trek have further drifted from Roddenberry’s original intent, with a pair of movies that put the Federation under siege from a Romulan from the past with a most decidely non-Romulan-looking ship (do some homework J.J.) and again, rebooting a popular character from the original series and the movies, Khan Noonien Singh, and injecting him into his spinoff Trek universe. The two movies were action-packed, to be sure, but they were not Trek, and that may have been by design.

Again from the above-mentioned article.

“Abrams’ Star Trek movies were fine. But he acknowledges, now, that the rational, scientific, boldly-going Trek paracosm didn’t resonate with him when he was a kid.”

Here’s an idea, J.J.: if Trek didn’t resonate with you, then why don’t you just leave it the hell alone?

Abrams’ two Trek movies were, in my opinion, well-funded fan fiction, and they have had the unfortunate effect of bringing into the Trekkie fold new fans who like Star Trek for all the wrong reasons. I have no use for those movies or the new “fans.”

Because of this slippery slope, though, we now have a Paramount executive speculating on the possibility of a Starfleet equivalent of Seal Team 6. I know it’s just a TV show, and that I should just go out and get a girlfriend, but assassinating heads of state or other leading threat force operatives is not in the character of the United Federation of Planets. Starfleet was never meant to be an equivalent of the American military, but rather a multicultural exploration and peacekeeping organization.

If Paramount’s intent is to take Star Trek down this treacherous and morally questionable road, it may as well just let the Trek franchise die.

Requiem aeternam…

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Todd and me, ca. 1977 or ’78.

I’ll be honest. When I looked at the concert schedule at the beginning of the season I didn’t notice the proximity of the dates. When I read this story, though, in the Lexington Herald-Leader and learned how personal this “Requiem” is to composer Gregory Partain, it took me back to the very early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000, when my brother Todd died.

I don’t say “passed away,” “passed on,” “went on to his reward,” or anything else like that because 1) I’m a journalist and we don’t use two words when one will do and 2) no parsing of language will bring him back. Almost six months after his 24th birthday, Todd died.

Writing about it has never been my strong suit, though. It could be because we often had a strained relationship, stemming from the fact that we were about 180 degrees apart in personality. Todd was never afraid to talk to girls, he had a casual attitude toward “the rules” as set forth by my parents, he excelled in sports. I reserved my first swear word in front of my mom and dad for after I turned 18 (on my birthday, in fact). Todd heard that, saw that I got away with it, and, at 15, decided to add “bad” words to the lexicon of what was acceptable to say in front of Zena and Tom Sr. I was very much the oldest child, and Todd was the quintessential middle child.

Still, he was my brother. I’m the only person in the world, aside from mom and dad, who knew him his whole life. We were getting along toward the end of his life. I had started working for a collegiate sports marketing company in Lexington, so I could actually manage a conversation about sports with him. Todd is the only person I know who ever used the phrase “die hard blueneck” to describe University of Kentucky athletics fans while on a radio call-in show, whose audience was made up primarily of University of Kentucky athletics fans. I sometimes display an irreverence toward societal norms, which, I suppose, I can attribute to me trying to memorialize him. That’s the sentimental answer. The real answer is that it took me longer to figure out a concept he mastered early on: it’s much more fun to be naughty. If he were alive today, I’d thank him for the lesson, but I’d add that it’s even more fun to be naughty when no one expects it from you. I’m still the big brother, after all.

This is the most I’ve ever written publicly about Todd since I wrote his obituary, and probably the most I’ll ever write in this space about how his death has affected me. Not everything in this life has to be shared with strangers. I will say that having to cope with losing a sibling made me tougher for the challenges I had yet to face. It taught me not to mourn solitude so much, even if that was a lesson I sometimes chose to ignore.

Following Dr. Partain’s example, I will be thinking of my brother, Todd Louis Musgrave, as we perform the “In Paradisum” movement of Dr. Partain’s “Requiem” on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, 15 years and two days after my brother’s death.

Love the one you’re with

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Oh, Amy Gardner, for you I will be the guy dancing around at the end of the prize fight.

I enjoy my solitude and have settled into a lifestyle where I do not depend on another person’s presence to define my life. I am a complete person on my own, and adding a similarly complete woman to the picture would only serve to enhance us both. Bachelorhood is not so bad.

Having said that…

Tonight is one of those nights where it would be nice to be dating a liberal Democratic woman. What good is having your party stereotyped as being godless and of loose moral character if you can’t act on it to take your mind off a disappointing election night?

As always, if there are references here you do not understand, please click here.