Month: May 2015

If we can only elect one president in this world who would you vote for?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

I would probably choose Chris Rock. Not only is he incredibly funny, he has a really nuanced understanding of race in this country. He has the ability to be critical, yet hopeful, about the fragile state of race relations in this country. Racial tension is clearly one of the most divisive and corrosive problems plaguing our country at the moment, as well as several other ‘culture wars.’ We don’t necessarily need a Commander in Chief with 20 years crafting legislation in the Senate, but someone who’s been on the streets, and in neighborhoods all over this country, drawing the lifeblood from the people they perform for. Chris Rock is actually incredibly intelligent, and has a very pragmatic and sensical approach to a lot of what ails this country.

I actually feel the same way about another comedian, Louis C.K. They both use self-depracating observational humor to critique our peculiar ways and questionable choices, while celebrating life and all its infinite diversity. Their comedy is quite philosophical, and often practical. They view this country as great, but just in need of a swift kick in the pants. We need to get out of our own way. It’s not unpatriotic to criticize your country. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A true patriot knows the principles this country was founded upon, and how far we still have to go to get there. As Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp…” and the worth is in the trying. These two men understand the great work we still have left to do, but choose to use their art to help us laugh (and cry) ourselves all the way there. That kind of vision is skeptical optimism, and something Washington is sadly in need of.

Although many might think I am joking, or simply crazy to propose that a comedian occupy the most powerful seat in the land, I actually think we could use some levity in the office. Although they have both shocked and offended at times, they use it pointedly, and know when to turn it off. They can scrap with the best of them, but also know how to clean up nice, and play fair. I think we could use someone who looks at the world creatively, and sees the value and worth of each person on the planet, regardless of skin color, sexual preference, wealth, or whatever our superficial differences or deeply divisive serious conflicts. A comic is an observer and innate communicator. They seek to probe our flaws and foibles, and examine what divides us, while also using the healing salve of comedy to bridge our cultural differences, and find a way to laugh as one.

Obviously, there would be questions of foreign policy experience, domestic aptitude, executive experience, blah, blah, blah… But we’ve had plenty of those guys in the White House, and where has that gotten us? And the precedent is there, since we have had an actor, after all.

I would enthusiastically endorse a Rock/ C.K. ticket in 2016!
(“Rock the Vote”)

If we can only elect one president in this world who would you vote for?

How did Shakespeare know about the activities in the royal court?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

We all know that Shakespeare had a vivid imagination, and much of the details of royal intrigue undoubtedly sprung from his genius mind. Furthermore, Shakespeare was evidently a voracious reader, and more importantly, he was a purposeful reader. He mined historical accounts, literature, and plays for plot lines and the details and protocol of court etiquette. With a few exceptions, Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays. Sometimes he used old stories (Hamlet, Pericles). Sometimes he worked from the stories of near-contemporary Italian writers, such as Boccaccio—using both popular stories (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing) and lesser-known ones (Othello). He used the popular prose fictions of his peers in As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale. In writing his historical plays, he drew largely from Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for the Roman plays and the chronicles of Edward Hall and Holinshed for the plays based upon English history. Shakespeare was unscrupulous when it came to stealing from his predecessors and contemporaries, and he often took the lead from them.

Finally, Shakespeare was familiar with the Royal Court because he had been there, on several occasions. And sometimes, the court came to him. Throughout his life, Shakespeare was greatly indebted to the patronage and support of royal and noble personages; his royal patrons were Queen Elizabeth and King James I, both of whom greatly loved the drama. The virgin queen used her influence in the progress of the English drama, and fostered the unmatched genius of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was supremely attracted to Elizabeth and her Court, and proved a faithful servant. He was, in addition to being a genius, an opportunist, and was unyielding in his self-promotion and solicitation of support for his theatre company.

According to historical fact, Shakespeare first performed two comedies before the Queen in December, 1594, at the Royal Palace at Greenwich. By that time, Shakespeare had only written five of the thirty-eight plays he would write in his lifetime. Over the course of his career, he would go on to perform as an actor or appear as a playwright before Queen Elizabeth, and later, James I, dozens of times. Undoubtedly, he studied the inner workings of the royal court, and incorporated it into his writing.

Shakespeare may have been a commoner, but he held a very important place in Elizabethan society. He was an actor-playwright, and part owner of the hottest theatre in town. In a time when the average distractions were bear-baiting and catching the plague, theatre was THE entertainment source for both commoners and royalty. Everyone went to see plays! Shakespeare was the hot young writer, and was in popular demand. His status skyrocketed from commoner to darling artist of the court, complete with a royal patronage. He was no ordinary commoner. He had access to the crown, and it all ended up in his plays.

How did Shakespeare know about the activities in the royal court?

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

When approaching your daughter about the virtues and joy of being a Star Trek viewer, I would start with explaining that despite being set in the future, it is a pointed reflection of our contemporary society, with all its injustices and social inequities. It addresses our prejudices, and all the work we still have left to do. But it’s projected through the lens of the future, replete with dazzling technology and a truly egalitarian society, free of greed, enmity, and exploitation. And yet, the show is not about gadgets and technobabble, but rather, the human condition. It is about us —  more evolved and enlightened — yet still facing the struggles of overcoming the corrosive and dangerous elements in ourselves, regardless of how accepting and magnanimous we’ve become. The future is about personal responsibility, and being responsible citizens of the galaxy. The characters on Star Trek are stewards of the universe, and their ongoing mission is one of exploration and making peaceful contact with new species. Roddenberry had a very touchy-feely idealism, but examined the human condition with great depth and philosophical rigor.

In order for your daughter to understand the spirit of Star Trek, she must first understand the guiding principle by which every Federation/ Starfleet character lives by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. Undoubtedly, Roddenberry was thinking of European’s treatment of Native Americans and subsequent genocide, African Americans path to slavery, the forced conversions of Amazonian tribes, and every other act of subjugation, even when governed by the best intentions. Gene wanted socially conscious explorers who didn’t ‘conquer’ space, but respected the aliens they came in contact with, and didn’t impose their technology, morality, or belief systems on those unlike us. It’s the very essence of tolerance and cultural communication and exchange. Star Trek embodies the good in each of us, and the simple commitment to empathize with others. You can point to the bitter and acrimonious culture wars and race riots ripping apart our country today. It’s found in the urban streets of Baltimore and the lofty halls of Congress. In the words of Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Roddenberry saw the same division and unrest out his window in 1960s America. An unpopular war was waged in some far-flung country we didn’t belong, and the streets were erupting in peaceful and violent Civil Rights protest. Star Trek was not some cold, distant, and alien fantasy, but an introspective work of art targeted at the very heart of our society.

The obvious first place to start is with the original series — Star Trek: TOS. Although the production qualities are abysmal, and the acting broad and overblown, the stories are some of the best Science Fiction has ever produced. Famous Sci-Fi writers wrote for the show, and often explored complex issues like race relations, intolerance, prison reform and rehabilitation, the darkness found in each of us, imposing their views on other species, ethnic cleansing, genocide, keeping peace and upholding justice without interfering or meddling in others’ affairs. You might have to directly address the fact that although the show is very progressive and enlightened, there is still rampant sexism on the show. Apparently, there is a limit to how far into the future you can see the evolution of your society. We are all products of our time. A good lesson, and undoubtedly, a teachable moment.

Once you’ve worked your way through the sadly brief three seasons of TOS, you should probably move on to the first six films. In many ways, these films add depth and credibility to the franchise, and counter the cheesy distractions of the poor production qualities of the original series.

From there, the other series vary in quality and efficacy. In my opinion, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most mature, profound, cerebral, consistently high quality, well written, and exquisitely acted. But there is much to love about Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. The other two series have great episodes and memorable characters, but aren’t always consistent in quality and delivering the signature Star Trek philosophy and world view.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to convey to your daughter is that Star Trek is so popular and has such a devoted fan base because it meets so many of our human needs. It is a nourishing and visceral combination of ideas, action, story, philosophy, morality, ethics, and social commentary, and it has the ability to inspire us to be the evolved and enlightened society we should all aspire to. It is thrilling and action packed, yet cerebral and thought-provoking. Star Trek dares us all to boldly go where no one has gone before. To be our better selves.

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?