In the last post, I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected me personally -- which [thankfully] was not much. This time, I want to present some of my thoughts and opinions on the response to the pandemic from a policy and societal perspective, as well as what I perceive to be the lessons that we (as a society) should have learned.

Some of the most essential workers in our economy are the ones who are paid the least. Health care workers, delivery persons, postal workers, grocery clerks, warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and so forth were the people who had to keep going to work because our economy and lifestyles would grind to a complete halt without them. The median wages among employed individuals in the United States is around $49k per year. Yet according to Salary.com, the average salary for a professional truck driver is only around $42k. Contract or gig drivers (such as Amazon couriers) make far, far less.

Restaurant and grocery store workers also make far less than delivery drivers, often earning minimum wage (or less than minimum wage if you also make tips). Those who maybe kept their jobs, but were reliant on tips were especially hurt during the lockdowns, due to a lack of business and in-person contact.

Low-paid delivery persons and fast food workers were essential,
and had to keep working while the rest of us stayed home and safe.

And then there's the healthcare workers, who were literally putting their lives on the line every day, helping to take care of sick people and possibly exposing themselves to infection on a daily basis. Registered nurses (usually employed in hospitals) make decent pay, but the majority of support staff in private clinics are not necessarily registered nurses. This includes receptionists, phlebotomist, clerical staff, and other assistants. As of 2018, medical support staff earned an average of less than $40k per year!

Remember, these are the people who, during a pandemic, were considered "essential" workers who had to keep working (while everyone else stayed home) in order to keep a bare minimum economy running, and to allow the rest of us to continue to go about our daily lives. When shit hit the fan, we didn't look to lawyers, or corporate CEOs, or hedge fund managers, or brokers, or realtors, or movie stars, or athletes. Aside from doctors, we didn't need any of the traditionally highest-paid classes of workers. We needed truck drivers, postal workers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, and food service workers, and of course medical staff. So I hope you remember this next time you hear someone say that these workers deserve higher pay, or that minimum wage should be increased.

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So what the heck happened to Picard's dog?! Number One was my favorite character in the premiere, but then he completely disappeared from the entire rest of the show and hasn't even been mentioned since. Were his inclusions in the premiere nothing more than reshoots that were thrown in at the last minute, after much of the rest of the show had been scripted and filmed?

Picard's home was broken into and Picard physically assaulted. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Guess he's not much of a guard dog, huh? I don't even think Picard bothered to ask if Number One was alive after the attack. For all he knew, the Romulan assassins murdered his dog. There's also no tearful "good bye" when Picard has to leave the planet on a potentially dangerous mission, or talk of who might take care of the dog if Picard doesn't return. On the upside, at least the writers didn't kill the dog as an excuse to turn Picard into "space John Wick", in the same fashion that the TNG movies used Picard as a "space John McClane".

Then again, bringing up an idea or character, only to completely drop it by the end of an episode with no real exploration of the concept or character seems to be the modus operandi of Star Trek: Picard.

I gave a lot of leeway to the premiere. I even said that I want to "delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate". Well that lack of hatred didn't last long. Each episode of Picard just got progressively worse and worse.

If not for the fact that I intended to write a full season review, I would have stopped watching the show by episode 4.

What happened to Picard's dog, Number One? He just disappears from the show after the first episode!

Just as I feared, Star Trek; Picard isn't about the rights of androids or the moral imperative to provide humanitarian relief to refugees (whether those refugees happen to be Romulans or ex-Borg). These things are dominant themes, but they aren't what the plot or story is actually about, nor does it ever become the ultimate message of the show. I think the overall message was supposed to be to not let your fear and prejudice turn you into a genocidal monster, but even that happens in a lazy, eleventh-hour "twist" that I thought made no sense. The actual plot is about conspiracies to cover up the existence of robot Lovecraft monsters from another dimension, and to stop androids from inevitably summoning them to kill all humans. Yep, that's Star Trek canon now. Go figure...

Picard facepalm

In the meantime, the episode-by-episode (and minute-to-minute) scripting is trying too hard to be like Firefly or any other grungy sci-fi series from the past 20 years. Now, I love Firefly. I also praise The Mandalorian for taking cues from Firefly. But The Mandalorian is set in the Star Wars universe, which was always a grungy universe that contained lovable rogues and scrappy survivors. Star Trek has never been that kind of universe. It's the antithesis of that kind of universe. If I wanted to watch a dark and gritty cowboy / ronin space adventure, then I'll watch The Mandalorian, or I'll go back and watch Firefly or Battlestar Galactica again. Or I'll check out The Expanse or Dark Matter or Altered Carbon or Westworld, or any one of a dozen other sci fi shows that have come and gone in the past 20 years and have borrowed heavily from that same aesthetic. Or I'll play Mass Effect 3, which Picard seems to have blatantly plagerized.

I don't watch Star Trek for that. I watch Star Trek for thought-out, uplifting, cerebral science fiction about an optimistic future that I hope humanity eventually achieves.

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My biggest concern going into this new Twilight Zone reboot was with the hour-long format of its premiere. The first episode, "The Comedian" (which was available on YouTube for free as a preview of the show to come), was a bit overlong and dragged considerably in the second half. It had made its point by about halfway through, we could all see where the episode was going, and it insisted on going on for another 20 minutes despite not really having anything left to say.

OK, yeah sure, in the past I've complained about shows like Fox's Cosmos reboot being too short. Commercials cutting Niel DeGrasse Tyson's Cosmos reboot to only 45-ish minutes was simply not enough time for Tyson to give more than an elementary overview of the grandeur of nature or science.

However, The Twilight Zone isn't an educational show about "all that is, or ever was, or ever will be"; it's an anthology of science fiction parables and allegories. Parables and allegories are usually short and simple stories intended to convey a moral or lesson or insight into the human condition. The Twilight Zone doesn't really need a full hour to tell its stories. The twists are easy enough to see coming. This isn't The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club, or American Psycho, or Se7en, or something similar that actually needs a two-hour runtime to build up suspense and intrigue and dot the entire runtime with clues for its twist ending.

The pilot episode "The Comedian" felt over-long.

I was happy to see that episodes later in the first season have variable runtimes. The second episode, "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" (which is actually a totally different story than the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" classic that it is homaging with its title), is under 40 minutes, filled out its runtime better, and enjoyed much tighter overall pacing. The following episode, "Replay", clocked in at 45 minutes, and also enjoyed a much tighter script.

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Logan movie poster

You've probably already heard this, but Logan is not a typical comic book movie. In fact, this movie feels less like a comic book movie, and more like a western combined with Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Last of Us. This last analogy is particularly apt, considering that Logan deals with the extinction of mutants from the X-Men film universe.

The X-Men comics and movies have always been known for being topical, with their themes of racism, bigotry, and so forth, and Logan manages to to also be surprisingly topical regarding its storyline of a child fleeing [what amounts to] a violent drug cartel in Mexico, being unwelcome in the United States, and having to flee even further to Canada.

And this movie is laden with so much more possible metaphor. Logan's rejection of the comics' fallacious telling of events may symbolize our own need to let go of our childhood nostalgia regarding these fictional universes and characters and accept new and different interpretations. The final scene, with the child clutching the action figure, just so perfectly captures this bittersweet sentiment. And thank goodness that there isn't an end-credits scene, because I would have been pissed if anything had come up to ruin that perfect final shot. Or maybe it symbolizes the gradual and steady loss of our own real-world heroes. The last astronaut to walk on the moon died this year. We've lost civil rights leaders, WWII veterans are becoming increasingly rare, our 20th century pop culture icons are slowly kicking the bucket. What kinds of heroes will replace them? There's a lot to unpack here.

Logan - X-Men comics
The X-Men are revered, mythical figures within the film's universe.

And by avoiding any strong, direct connections to other X-Men movies, Logan not only allows non X-Men fans to get into the movie without all the extra baggage, but it also kind of implies that maybe the previous movies aren't to be taken seriously either...

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Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 celebration event poster

I had the opportunity last night to attend the Fathom Events Celebration of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 movie event. I attended the first season event as well, but wasn't terribly impressed with what I saw other than the simple nostalgia factor. I'm not a huge fan of the first two seasons of Next Gen, but I was really looking forward to the season 2 event because Fathom and Paramount chose my two favorite episodes from the season: "Q Who" and "The Measure of a Man".

In addition, the version of "The Measure of a Man" being shown was actually an extended cut of the episode. According to the behind-the-scenes featurette, the original script was very dialogue-heavy, and the producers underestimated how long the episode would end up being. The original version ended up being too long for network TV and was cut in editing by about 13 minutes. The full version of the episode, however, was retained on a VHS cassette given to the writer, and is going to be included on the Season 2 blu-ray.

"The Measure of a Man" is easily (in my opinion) the single, best episode of the first two seasons of Next Generation, and is arguably one of the best episodes of the entire series. It marks the point at which the show really started to turn a corner and elevate its storytelling and presentation. Seeing an extended cut (that I'd never before seen) on the big screen was a real treat!

I was very ambivalent about purchasing the Next Gen blu-rays. I had initially expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the packages, but was later informed that some special effect shots were replaced and/or augmented with CGI. I purchased the blu-ray sample disc, and was not terribly impressed with what I saw. The visual quality didn't seem all that much better than watching the regular DVDs on my PS3 (which has a pretty good upscaler). The only real positive points for the blu-ray sample disc was that colors were a bit more vivid, and sound quality had increased dramatically. So I wasn't totally sold on the new blu-rays, especially since I already have the full DVD collection and seasons one and two don't impress me all that much anyway. I was kind of in a position of waiting to see if seasons 3 and 4 would impress me.

But then I saw the extended cut of "The Measure of a Man", and now I am considering picking up the season two blu-ray.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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