Tuesday, June 16, 2015

No More Love Lockdown

Happy Summer, TrekkieWonk readers! How are all of you?! I've been pretty busy since I last posted. I'm doing great at work, I've started roller derby training, and I'm getting ready to go back overseas (though only for a short-term assignment — one month). That said, I wanted to take a minute to address a piece of news that hit me harder than expected.


All of you know how much I dislike Kanye West, but trust me — this song is the best accompaniment for the news I'm about to share. 

At the end of May, Paris officials announced that they would remove all of the locks from the famed Pont des Arts or "Love Lock" bridge. For years, couples have expressed their devotion for each other by writing their names on a padlock, fixing the lock to the bridge, and throwing the key into the Seine River. The following three photos are from my visit to this bridge in July 2012.

While the trend symbolizes undying love, officials have said that the thousands of locks have now become safety hazards. "This phenomenon generates two problems: a lasting degradation of the heritage of Paris and also a risk to the safety of visitors, Parisians and tourists," city hall said in a statement. 

Paris authorities had tried asking nicely for tourists and others to refrain from attaching locks to bridges and public monuments. But officials "admitted that the campaign to get couples to take selfies and post their "love lock" online had not been successful."

Photo courtesy of CNN
According to BBC News, part of the Pont des Arts bridge collapsed under the weight of the locks last year. As of June 1, Paris city employees began removing the padlocks. When they began the removal process, Paris officials estimated almost one million locks were attached to the bridge, with a collective weight of 45 tons (about 20 elephants). 

Photo courtesy of CNN
Sadly, there will be no more love locks in the future. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Pont des Arts metal railings are to be covered with glass panels that are padlock-proof and easy to clean. Meanwhile, the scene is rather gloomy, as mangled locks and twisted pieces of fence are removed (more photos of the removal process are HERE, courtesy of CNN).

The Wall Street Journal tracked the love lock phenomenon to an Italian teen novel that featured two Roman lovers who immortalized their bond on a bridge and threw the key in the Tiber. The padlock tradition has since manifested in other cities around the world, but not nearly as much as in Paris. 

While I understand the real danger this trend presented to the structural integrity of this bridge, I would have liked to see a solution that maintained this lovely tradition and huge tourist draw. Perhaps reinforce the bridge, maybe add fences along the shore specifically for locks. Paris still is the City of Love, but it will lose some romantic sparkle without the famed locks.

Photo courtesy of CNN

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Good-bye For Now

Dear TrekkieWonk readers, 

This will be my last post of 2014, and it may be my last post for a very long time. To be frank, sometime in the middle of this year, I got a little burnt out on blogging. Working on TrekkieWonk went from being an outlet and mode of expression to a homework assignment. 

I love this blog, and I liked being able to say that I had just posted something, so I kept going -- and on top of that, I kept coming up with multi-segment posts to force myself to continue blogging. But promised posts or not, it's definitely time for me to move on. TW will always be here if I feel the itch to return. 

Thanks to all of you for reading, commenting on, and sharing my writing. I'm very proud of what this little blog turned out to be. TW has become a digital scrapbook of sorts, and as I get back into actual [analog?] scrapbooking, perhaps that's yet another reason that I need to let go of blogging for a while. Until next time, dear readers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Quark & Family: Ferengi in Star Trek (Ode to DS9 & Voyager, Part 2)

Happy Sunday, TW readers! What a beautiful weekend here in Washington, DC. It's been sunny and warm during the day, and clear and cool at night -- no complaints from me. It's also the birthday weekend of two of my sisters: one yesterday and one today. 

It's interesting how you think about the passage of time when it relates to your own age, versus time as it relates to the age of your siblings. It's crazy to me that my sisters are now in their mid- to late-twenties. It seems like yesterday that we were all just barely entering our twenties and making our way in the world.

In honor of ALL of my sisters, but especially the birthday girl today, I'd like to share one of my favorite songs from the Queen B, Grown Woman:

[STAR TREK] I am going to write about Quark today, and yes I'm talking about the Ferengi character on Star Trek and not one of the fundamental particles of matter (a proton is comprised of two "up quarks" and one "down quark"). Before we get into that, I want to first make sure you saw Part 1 of this series (CLICK HERE) and the original "Why Star Trek?" post (CLICK HERE). If you're ready to move on, just keep reading! This post will highlight the Ferengi species through a handful of characters surrounding Quark, starting, of course, with Quark himself.

In the photos above, you see actor Armin Shimmerman in and out of make up as Quark, the snarky bartender and smuggler on Star Trek: The Next Generation AND Deep Space 9. Over time, through excellent writing and excellent acting on the part of Shimmerman, Quark became the epitome of Ferengi characters on Star Trek. He follows the traditional philosophies of his people as best he can, even while he lives and works among humans and other aliens who don't share his point of view.

Armin Shimmerman greatly influenced how Ferengi characters evolved on Trek. He actually played Letek, one of the very first Ferengi to appear on Star Trek (see right). A few seasons later, the character of Quark was specifically created for Armin Shimmerman, because Trek producers and directors were so impressed with him.

In the fifth episode of Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Ferengi were introduced as an antagonistic species to humans and to Starfleet. But it quickly became clear to viewers that the Ferengi did not pose a threat to the Federation as Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians did. Trek episodes involving Ferengi are typically comedic in nature, as Ferengi motivations are almost always profit- and/or pleasure-based, and Ferengi actions are almost always bumbling and mischievous rather than violent or malicious.   

Armin Shimmerman mused at a recent convention that while Starfleet and the Federation represents what humanity has the potential to become, the Ferengi species seems to reflect what humanity is today. In a separate interview almost ten years ago, Shimmerman said, "my character is basically my adolescence." Both of Armin's observations align with Roddenberry's 1986 quote that “[Humanity] still just a child creature: we’re still being nasty to each other. And all children go through those phases. We’re growing up, we’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up — man, we’re going to be something!”

Shimmerman described Ferengi as the capitalists of the future -- the capitalists of space. EVERY other alien species featured on Trek looked down on Ferengi for having such low motivations. No honor, no logic, no drive to learn, no drive for anything but wealth. Indeed, Ferengi culture is centered on greed, and almost every Ferengi character is motivated by making profit.

Deeply embedded in Ferengi culture are the life principles called "The Rules of Acquisition." There are 285 Rules of Acquisition, and throughout The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager, the audience learns several, though not all, of the rules. Star Trek writers used Ferengi and especially their "Rules" to portray the backwardness of current capitalist realities, especially the exploitation of employees, the use of war for monetary gain, and the pursuit of profit without any consideration of family, the environment, or general decency.

Beyond profit, Ferengi culture promotes sexual pleasure and the subjugation of women. There are many scenes of Ferengi seeking sexual gratification through "oo-mox," the massaging of their "lobes" (ears), which is their erogenous zone. Ferengi women are not allowed to work or go into business for themselves, and Ferengi law also demands that women remain naked at all times, thus they are not normally seen outside of the home. Ferengi women are referred to as "females" by Ferengi men, i.e. "You let your females leave the house clothed?!"

In the above GIF, you see actor Wallace Shawn delivering what is probably his most famous line EVER, from the film, The Princess Bride. At left is Wallace Shawn as Zek, the ruler of Ferenginar, known as "the Grand Nagus." As soon as Grand Nagus Zek speaks, you'll recognize his voice, and don't worry, there is a video below where you can hear him interact at length.

When the Nagus is introduced, he is as focused as ever on money. He is, after all, the leader of Ferenginar: his job is to channel the greed of his planet and maintain a growing economy. Zek also maintains the patriarchal themes introduced through other characters. He berates and shames a Ferengi woman who disguised herself as a man in order to prove herself as a business leader, even though she helped bring great profit to Ferenginar. All of that changes however, when he meets and falls in love with Ishka, Quark's mother (see right).

Ishka is a strong Ferengi woman with a knack for businesss. So much so that in the episode where she first appears, she is being investigated by the Ferengi Commerce Authority for illegally doing business (as a female), and Quark must go to his home planet to address the issue (since he is male). Ishka shocks Quark further when he finds that she has taken to wearing clothing around the home and refuses to undress. As Zek's significant other, Ishka ultimately guides the Grand Nagus to create reforms on Ferenginar that include a progressive income tax to support social services for the poor and elderly, as well as extending Ferengi women the right to wear clothes wherever they want.

Nog quickly proves himself to be a dutiful and resourceful Starfleet cadet (seen left) before transitioning to service as an Ensign. As a Starfleet officer, Nog fights on the front lines of the war with the Dominion and loses a leg. By the end of Deep Space 9, Quark is no longer trying trying to talk Nog out of Starfleet. Everyone -- including Quark -- can see that Nog has made a significant contribution to the DS9 crew. 

I leave you now with a scene between Quark and Garak, a Cardassian whom I will feature in due time later in this series. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Captain Janeway (Ode to DS9 & Voyager, Part 1)

Hi there, TrekkieWonk readers. How have you been? It's been a long time since my last post, I know. I'm sure you also know that I'm not lazying around, either. I'm making great strides at work, in my athletic activities, and in my own personal goals. Unfortunately, something had to give to allow all of that to happen.

Today, however, is the 48th anniversary of the very first episode of Star Trek. I couldn't let that occasion slide by without a Trekkie post of some kind, and this post will in fact be the first of a significant series. To read my introductory post on "Why Star Trek" is such a cultural phenomenon, CLICK HERE. If you're ready for Deep Space 9 and Voyager, read on. 

[STAR TREK] I finished watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9) -- from start to finish -- for the first time a few weeks ago (it originally aired from 1993-1999). I also finished Star Trek: Voyager from start to finish for the first time about two years ago (it originally aired from 1995-2001). I refused to watch these shows when they debuted, because at that time, I saw them as nothing more than poor copies of my beloved TNG (Star Trek: The Next Generation).

With Netflix, all of the Star Trek series' were suddenly available to me, so I gave DS9 and Voyager a real try over the last few years, and I'm glad I did. The shows did not capture me like TNG, but TNG had a real uniqueness AND a special place in my childhood. Still, DS9 and Voyager impressed me, as they were not mere copies of TNG with a black captain and a female captain. They had distinct missions, memorable characters, and most importantly, story lines that added depth to the Star Trek universe.

With that in mind, this post is the first of a ten-part series (trust me, it will be worth it) that will highlight some of my favorite DS9 and Voyager characters. Whether main characters or side characters, the beings I am about to introduce to you brought a unique life to their shows and faced many interesting, often ethical, dilemmas. Through them, the audience saw the spectrum of humanity and ultimately the potential of humanity. Gene Roddenberry would have been proud.

[STAR TREK: VOYAGER] Captain Janeway

After Captain Picard, I didn't think that any Trek captain would be able to inspire me. I had even less hope for a woman as captain, because it's such a delicate task to successfully portray a powerful female character. Too often, the woman in charge is seen as nothing more than a bitch, regardless of her convictions. Thankfully, the writers on Voyager understood that balance, and Captain Kathryn Janeway played by Kate Mulgrew was a welcome surprise.

When I started watching Voyager, I was initially afraid that Kathryn Janeway would be an overly brash captain, having to make up for any perceived "womanly" weaknesses. But Captain Janeway was remarkably well-rounded and relatable even while she was strong and compelling. Captain Janeway had the spunk of Kirk, the technological know-how of Geordi LaForge, and the diplomatic tact of Picard. She was no one to be trifled with, regardless of gender, and fans recognized that. In fact, Janeway was voted Captain of the ideal Trek crew at a recent Star Trek convention.

Voyager stood out from TNG, because the Voyager mission was never meant to be one of long-term exploration. In the first episode, the starship Voyager has an accident of sorts that causes it to end up on the other side of the galaxy. Janeway leads a crew in an effort to return to Earth, even though the journey is forecast to take around 70 years. In Star Trek: Voyager, I watched a much smaller crew with much less experience band together, make the most of limited resources (you never saw Picard scrambling for dilithium!), and most importantly, overcome the fear inherent in taking on a task that seems impossible.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A "Real" Job

With my recent job change, some of my former co-workers commented as I left that I was getting “a real job.” They chose those words because I was moving from a job with an hourly wage and odd hours to a salaried job during normal business hours. I was transitioning from a part of society that works during holidays -- even during the wee hours of the morning -- to a part of society that is paid for holidays, without having to work.

Here in the United States, most people accept this classist division, because – well, what else can you do? If you’re on the lower end of the income scale, you can’t say you won’t work over the holiday or overnight if that’s your only way to pay rent and feed your family. And if you’re on the higher end of the income scale, it’s hard to protest over other people having to work weekends and holidays, when it means you can go to the store almost any time you want.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Hobby Lobby to refuse coverage of certain kinds of contraception, we see another blow to low-income workers and their families, except this time, it's anti-woman too! In order to maintain the religious freedom of a corporation, actual human beings now have less freedom when it comes to their own health. It's ridiculous, it's preposterous, and yet this decision somehow made sense to five of our nine Supreme Court justices. (Reminds me of when Texas closed all those abortion clinics "to protect women.")

A Hobby Lobby employee upset by this news could potentially quit and find a job elsewhere, but most are not going to be able to make that switch very quickly. Meanwhile, the lack of healthcare and the precedent remains. If this corporation can religiously object to A LAW mandating coverage of women's healthcare, what's to keep another corporation from religiously opposing goodness-knows-what other law? A friend summed it up this way: "It's now ok to be a dick -- [and break the law] -- as long as you believe in it!"

But that's not all. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court released another ruling, this time dealing a blow to public unions. The Supreme Court ruled that "public sector unions cannot collect “fair share” fees from non-union-members." While this ruling does not gut public sector unions entirely, it will make it very difficult for them to grow further.

So, to recap -- the United States Supreme Court just allowed a for-profit corporation to ignore a law mandating certain provisions for employees, while weakening the very organizations that stand up for employees' rights. On top of that, SCOTUS continued the political trend of reducing women's access to the reproductive healthcare that ultimately helps prevent abortions. Let that marinade for a while.

Now, a month into my new job, I mentioned to my supervisor that I would have to finish a certain assignment the following day, because I had a few out-of-office meetings that particular day. One of my colleagues overheard part of that conversation and thought I was going on vacation. When she giddily asked where I was going, I was mystified.

I explained that I had some meetings and then asked what she meant. "How could I go on vacation? I've only been working here a month. I don't have any vacation time yet." "Yeah, but maybe you had something already planned," she explained. "If you had a vacation or a wedding to attend, you might not get paid time off, but they couldn't stop you if you needed time off."

My mind was blown. If you need significant time off in retail or in the service industry, tough luck. You suck it up and go to work. You take the time off you're given, and if you need more, oh well. You find a way to get through it and show up to work, or you lose your job. And no one can afford to lose their jobs on that end of the income scale.  

In Brazil, even the lowest of low-wage workers are not expected to work late on Sundays and usually never on holidays -- and Brazil has a LOT of holidays. Not only that, but having a job -- even if you're just the guy who works for the guy who peddles sunglasses on the beach -- means that your employer is paying for your lunch. Any job that does not include a paid lunch is seen as a scam, according to a Brazilian friend of mine. 

When I explained that all of my internships for the United Nations and the US government had been completely unpaid, my Brazilian friends were again flabbergasted. "But that's illegal here!" The cherry on top of all of these unpaid US government and UN internships is that transitioning from student-intern to paid professional is nearly impossible. There are just too many layers of bureaucracy.

Before I started my current job, my work hours were typically 4 or 5pm until midnight or 1am. I worked five nights a week, I almost never had two days off in a row, and I definitely never got any paid lunches. The job wasn't ideal, but it was actually much better than many retail and service jobs out there. Besides, I needed an income while I waded through HR processes that were taking much longer than I had hoped

During one of my breaks on a long Sunday night shift, I got a text message from a friend in Brazil. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I told him that I had to get back to work. "This late?" he asked. He was flabbergasted, and it was only 10 or 11pm. 

My Brazilian friend didn't know that I had to work until 1am, and I didn't really want to explain my schedule at that moment. I assured him that I had to get back to work, but he didn't seem to believe me. "But it's Sunday!" he protested. "I know" was all I could reply. Here in the home of Wall Street and mega-capitalism, I had to work whatever schedule I was given on whatever days my bosses needed.

This map shows the rise of income inequality over time. Red means lower inequality, green means higher inequality
When I changed jobs, I gave some of my old colleagues my number, hoping we could still hang out. But they all have to work during my free time and vice versa. In fact, many of my old colleagues have multiple jobs and almost no free time at all. 

I made a leap from one class to another, and I'm proud. Sadly, in spite of "the American Dream," the US culture of individualism, capitalism, and over-consumption makes it hard to bridge the gap between people of significantly different income levels. But that is no reason to ignore hardship or accept inequality.

Those of us lucky enough to be doing fairly well in life are shortchanging ourselves if we think the financial struggle of so many Americans doesn't affect us. A friend said, "It's amazing to me that the GOP spends so much money and effort keeping people from voting, and so many volunteer to help simply by not showing up." It's time to show up: we all need to register to vote and commit to voting in the upcoming Midterm elections. There is much more at stake than being able to shop until midnight any day of the year. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where Did I Go?

Hello, dear TrekkieWonk readers. How are you? How have you been? It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but like you, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs. Life just got VERY busy.

In the last few weeks, I changed jobs, and in so doing, I flipped my entire schedule, commute, and even wardrobe upside down. My responsibilities are now almost exactly in line with my career trajectory, and every day is full of interest and challenge. I could not be more content with the situation. In fact, I'm feeling Beyoncé-level awesome about this job!

In this new job, I have the tools to productively work outside of business hours if needed. Being brand new to my position, I have a lot of research to do to bring me up to speed on the issues my coworkers and clients expect me to help resolve. Basically, I have homework to do on a regular basis, and that’s kept me from blogging at my usual pace.

That said, from this point on, my blogposts are not going to be as regular as they have been in previous months. When I returned from Brazil, I aimed for three posts a month. Now, I plan to devote my time to writing longer, more in-depth posts, regardless of how how many posts I can publish per month. Shorter “Saturday Top 3”-type posts will basically be eliminated.

For those who want to know what I’m up to on a more regular basis, you can always follow me on Twitter. I am already a fairly active tweeter, but now, any content that I would have shared in a shorter blogpost will also end up in my Twitter feed. Check it out HERE.

I have a few upcoming blogposts already in the works, and that’s exciting. At least one will be on Brasília (that place is way too fascinating), and one or more posts will most likely be on the US culture of (over)work and over-consumption. I wanted to publish another post on Street Art as well, but I had to get my last two smartphones replaced (a manufacturer’s defect), and in the process, I lost a bunch of photos that were destined for blog publication. Aah well. All in good time.

In the meantime, THE WORLD CUP officially begins tomorrow! I’m not excited about how much it’s costing the Brazilian public, but I am excited for athleticism at the international level. 

I will be sporting US colors for a little bit, and then I’ll switch over to Brazil colors. One of my new coworkers said that he couldn’t wait to see me come into work with my face completely painted in green and yellow. 

I’m not sure I would ever paint my face for a sporting event (especially at work), but as colors go, I actually really like green, yellow, and blue. It shouldn’t be that hard to coordinate Brazil-themed outfits, but I definitely wouldn’t mind wearing red, white, and blue longer than one game. We’ll see how it goes.

That’s it for now. Happy Wednesday, and much love to everyone. Thanks for the continued support, and thanks for reading!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Walking the Eixo Monumental in Brasília (a.k.a. How Far Away is the Next Monument?)

[BRASÍLIA] People who who live in Brasília or know Brasília well would typically tour the Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis) by car. It's a decent distance from one end of the Axis to the other, and Brasília really is made for car travel. I, however, set about seeing the monuments of Brasília on foot. This meant that I spent a lot of time NOT looking at monuments, as I slowly but surely made my way along the Eixo. 

Right after I passed by the TV Tower and its accompanying artisanal fair, Brasília's National Stadium came into view. Constructed in 1974, The Mané Garrincha National Stadium holds just under 73,000 people.

I snapped a few photos, made a note of where I was on the map, and continued on. The National Stadium, though impressive, is just another example of how much public money the Brazilian government has put into athletics in the recent past. The final cost of this stadium's 2013 renovation was USD $900 million -- THREE times the original renovation budget of USD $300 million

I'm not against spending public money on stadiums, but the expenditures do very little to serve the greater population. If Brazilian (and American, for that matter) spending on public education and public healthcare were more in line with need, the outrageous cost of professional sporting facilities might not bother me so much. Brasília's Mané Garrincha National Stadium is currently the second most expensive soccer stadium in the WORLD.

I passed large buildings that looked like they could be used for conventions, large sporting events, or concerts.

Above: There was a concert going on inside this building. The main signage you see (on the left building) says, "Tickets."

The above building is the Federal District Audit Court. It is a part of Buriti Plaza, which encompasses a grassy plaza as well as a few government buildings. Below is the sign and map that accompanied this area. The English half of this sign was rather weirdly translated, so my re-translation is below.

"Inaugurated on August 25, 1969, Buriti Plaza was originally conceived by architect and urbanist, Lucio Costa, as part of the 1957 Pilot Plan of Brasília. At that time, this space was called the "Plaza of the Municipality." In 1959, at the request of engineer Israel Pinheiro, the plaza was renamed after the trees planted there, officially becoming Buriti Plaza.

Structures: 1. Buriti Palace; 2. Federal District Audit Court; 3. Federal District and Territories Justice Court; 4. District Attorney Main Office; 5. Indigenous Peoples Memorial.

Other Points of Interest: 6. Sculpture - Roman SheWolf; 7. Buriti (palm tree); 8. Cruls Mission Landmark." 

Above and below: I rather liked the plaza, but nobody else was there. Considering how hot it was, I could understand why people wouldn't flock to a plaza with almost zero trees (ironic, considering that the plaza is named after trees). Buriti Plaza was obviously a public space that was largely ignored, regardless of city planners' intent. 

After Buriti Plaza, I came upon a grouping of busts of people important to Brazil and Latin America. Shortly after seeing the first one, however, I realized that most of the statues/busts in this area were vandalized.

Above: "I didn't come to conquer, but to free peoples." - General José de San Martín, Grand Captain of the Army of the Andes. Liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

Above: "Miguel Hidalgo, Liberator of México. Born in 1753, started the war for independence in 1810, abolished slavery in November of 1810, died in 1811." - Brasília, November 12, 1998 

Above: The quote and name of this person is too difficult for me to read, but the graffiti says, "challenges everyone."

In the photo above, you see a monument in the foreground and a monument in the background that are completely bare of any explanation for their existence. There are two more stone pillars in the photo below, also lacking busts and the signage to explain why they were first installed. 

After a while, these memorials to famous men of Latin America reminded me more of grave stones and less of public art. Case in point: