PETTY THUGS


I, having read some of the choicier excerpts of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez’ speeches to the U.N. earlier this week, could not help but think of (think of is too light a word – act out would be stronger) a terrific scene from the ninth Star Trek film, “Star Trek Insurrection.”

I suppose I’ve written about this film before, but I’ll try to bore everyone (emphasis on “one”) this time by focusing on a branch of this movie, instead of trying to describe the forest.

The Enterprise, as the film opens, is in a region of space called “The Briar Patch,” so named because this region has various stellar flotsam – toxic gases and the like – that make visibility and communication difficult. Thus, a ship can be “stuck” in it – say, if it gets smashed in a fight, as it is forced to wait that much longer for an S.O.S. comminique to be received by a sister ship out of the region.

The film opens with Data seemingly going berserk, as he starts running across the terrain of a granola-bar earthy planet inside the Briar Patch like a madroid, knocking fellow Starfleet personnel down, seemingly in relentless pursuit of…. something. Finally, Data disengages from his chase, and fires a phaser at a duckblind, revealing that Starfleet personnel, within the duckblind are watching… watching the planet’s inhabitants, and studying them. Since the duckblind has now been exposed, the inhabitants (known as the Ba’ku) now are aware that the Federation has been spying on them. The fact that the spying was done for seemingly benevolent (i.e. as a prelude to “first contact”) purposes does not salve the Ba’ku’s displeasure over the spying.

Nor is the displeasure salved when the Ba’ku learn why the spying was conducted…. It was conducted, you see, under Federation orders, so that Starfleet could understand how the Ba’ku interacted with their environment. Starfleet needs this understanding to replicate that environment – using holodeck technology. Specifically, it wants to, in the middle of the night, beam the Ba’ku off the planet and “relocate” them to a holographic projection of that environment, hoping they will never realize they’ve been moved.

“Why,” as Data asks, would anyone wish to deceive the Ba’ku in this fashion? It turns out that one of the first things the Starfleet scientists learned about the Ba’ku planet (which is a planet in Federation space, and thus, considered by the Federation to be its property) is that there is a high concentration of “metaphasic radiation” around the planet’s rings. This radiation bathes the planet’s inhabitants, continuously regenerating their cellular structure, so that once the inhabitants reach maturity, they never age. The Federation, believing it has found an elixir of youth, wants the planet all for itself – hence, the reason for why the Ba’ku are the target of a forced relocation.

Enter the So’na, another apostrophied race, one that was admitted to the Federation several years ago. The partnership was forged over a deal that both parties literally couldn’t resist: the So’na, before joining, knew about the planet’s magical properties, and had developed a way to harness the metaphasic radiation involving solar shield technology. Harnessing the radiation in this way – collecting it onto a ship’s shields – could allow for the radiation to be brought to other planets, which would then develop into their own fountains of youth; as the Federation learned how to replicate the solar harvesting techonology, it could bring the gift of eternal life to Federation citizens across the galaxy. Of course, there’s one little catch: once all of the radiation hsa been collected from planet Ba’ku, the planet will be rendered uninhabitable. Both the Federation and the So’na, guessing that the Ba’ku neither want to be forcibly leave their homeworld, nor want to have it laid waste without their knowledge, thus decided to come up with the idea of replicating the Ba’ku homeworld under stealth of night. Once such a replication was effected, the planet could then be harvested, and the fountains would spring…

The So’na, as we quickly discover, are not a nice group of people. They arm their ships with sub-space weapons (weapons whose usage was banned by a recent peace treaty); they’re selfish, they’re vain, they conquer other species to satisfy their vanity, and so on. Their “culture,” such as it is, consists of superficial opulence. The only reason the Federation has allied itself with these people is because the former itself is crumbling, having been ravaged in recent years by war, so as to have left itself exposed as old, vulnerable and weak. But if eternal life could be brought to its citizens…..

Midway through the film, Captain Picard finds out about the arrangement the Federation has entered into with the So’na – an arrangement which is immoral, unethical, and one which – oh by the way – violates Starfleet General Order #1 – “The Prime Directive” – an order which forbids Starfleet from interfering with the evolution of a planetary society. Forcing the Ba’ku onto land that will cause them to lose their eternality certainly qualifies as violating the Prime Directive.

Starfleet’s point man for the illegal operation is Admiral Daugherty. Picard, when he finds out about the arrangement, confronts Daugherty, who, oblivious to the immorality of what he is doing, prattles on about the benefits the So’na Federation arrangement will bring.

“We have the planet, they have the technology. A technology we can duplicate. You know what that makes us? Partners,” Daughtery crows.

“Our partners,” Picard says, with perfectly snotty intonation, “are nothing more than petty thugs.”

Daugherty does not disagree with this description – indeed he embraces it. “On Earth, petroleum once turned petty thugs into world leaders.”

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Only at an organization like the U.N. would two men who a) are not statesmen; b) are not politicians, even of the bottom of the barrell, scraping Duke Cunningham’s sludge variety, be able to make such speeches demonizing not just the President of the United States but each and every American citizen – and receive thunderous applause for doing so.

And why – why, oh why, are these two men even given the time of day? How is it that they can afford the cost of their jackboots and tinhorns, much less afford the luxury of leading pampered lives while their “people” live in abject poverty?

It’s simple. Because have petroleum, and thus are not just any petty thugs. They’re petty thugs with pretensions of being world leaders. And their pretensions, sadly, are not dismissed out of hand, solely because their countries happen to be sitting upon this one resource.

We have no intention of becoming “partners” with either of them – but other countries certainly do – and such partnerships, suffice it to say, threaten not just the United States but people opposed to barbarism, not bathing, and brutality everywhere.

So, to all of the Americans who find the idea of these men even entering the General Assembly room repugnant, here’s your solution: let’s get serious about kicking our habit -our addiction to foreign oil. For if we do not, the petty thugs will be coming out of the woodworks – and they’ll be coming not to extend our lives, but with the intent of ruining them.


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