Federation Government Structure
| So'na Shielding | Personal
So'na Attack Drones | Transport Inhibitors | Helm Control | Ground Weapons
Federation Targeting | Subspace Weapons
General Reaction to Film | Miscellaneous Notes
Last Revised: 1999.10.06
Federation Government Structure
"The So'na have developed a procedure to collect the metaphasic particles from the planet's rings."- Admiral Dougherty
"A planet in Federation space."- Picard
"That's right. We have the planet, they have the technology. A technology we can't duplicate."- Dougherty
"With metaphasics, life spans will be doubled. An entire new medical science will evolve."- Dougherty
"There are metaphasic particles all over the Briar Patch. Why does it have to be this one planet?"- Picard
"It's the concentration in the rings that makes the whole damned thing work. Don't ask me to explain it- I only know they inject something into the rings that starts a thermolitic reaction. When it's over, the planet will be uninhabitable for generations."- Admiral
We learned something very interesting about the Federation government structure in STI: the Federation considers all star systems within its borders to be its property, even if the Federation has never explored these systems and has established no contact whatsoever with their native societies. "We have the planet, they have the technology". Admiral Dougherty was not acting on his own- he had the approval of the Federation Council. This indicates that the decision to remove the Ba'ku from their world and render it uninhabitable to harvest the life-extending "metaphasic particles" was actually sanctioned at the highest levels of the Federation government.
The implications of this fact are far-ranging: the Federation, due to the limitations of warp drive, has not explored the vast majority of star systems in its own territory, particularly the regions of its territory which are far from its heavily populated areas (near their borders with the Romulan Star Empire and the Klingon Empire). However, they have arbitrarily drawn borders around a large region of space and they have staked sovereign claim to all of the systems in this territory!
This is very similar to the European colonists' behaviour when they invaded North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They staked sovereign claim to most of the continent in the name of their monarch, simply by virtue of declaring that it belonged to them. They had not explored this land, nor had they negotiated any sort of ownership transfer with the natives. When they found natives occupying the land that they had unreasonably staked claim to, they simply removed them by force (sometimes sanctifying their behaviour by talking them into signing treaties they didn't understand, so they would have paper justification). Similarly, the Federation has apparently staked claim to a large region of space even though it has not explored or colonized most of it, and inconvenient occupants of that territory can be forcibly moved out of their homes if the Federation decides to seize control of their systems.
A star system does not automatically become a Federation "member" simply by virtue of existing in Federation territory- there is an admissions process. However, even though star systems are not necessarily members (ie- no representation), they are still considered Federation property! In other words, it is possible to be subject to Federation government edict without having any representation in that government. This is not democracy- it is democracy only for the chosen few: those who fit a narrowly defined profile of "acceptable" cultural values.
On 20th century Earth, an analogous situation would be if your country forced every citizen to pass a test of political correctness before being permitted to vote. You would still be subject to government edict- if they wanted to, they could still seize your land, force you to obey their laws, etc. But you would have no representation in the government. In real life, such an arbitrary (and elitist) restriction of voting privileges and representation would essentially destroy the entire concept of democracy.
Is this inconsistent with other aspects of Federation policy? The Federation prides itself on being a highly ethical organization, and in fact, Starfleet's so-called "Prime Directive" is based on moral imperatives rather than expediency or pragmatism. However, its government structure has inherent weaknesses, in that there is no practical way to limit citizenship to pre-selected subsets of the population within your territory, while simultaneously expecting to be able to enforce laws in your territory under a truly democratic system. There are only two ways to deal with non-member star systems within your territory which are refusing to obey your edict:
Military force. Enforce your laws on non-member systems even though they have no voting power. This is undemocratic but if the needs of the state and the wishes of a non-member system conflict too dramatically, it may become the only option.
Hands off. Allow non-member systems total autonomy over their own operations, regardless of whether their actions violate your laws or principles, or whether they are creating serious problems for your government (for example, squatting on a piece of territory which has minerals that are crucial to your government's operation, or attacking neighbouring systems).
It is clear that when one considers the principle of the Prime Directive, option #2 is what the Federation politicians would invariably describe as their preferred option. However, when the needs of the state and the desires of a non-member system are in direct conflict, option #1 can sometimes become the only viable option. This is a serious inherent weakness of the Federation's government structure- they profess to adhere to option #2 but the Prime Directive cannot always be obeyed. There are bound to be times when the state simply needs to ignore the Prime Directive in order to ensure its own survival or protect its interests.
It must be noted that all real-life governments reserve clauses and restrictions in their articles of governance, so that they can violate their own most cherished principles when warranted. In the United States, the phrase is "clear and present danger". When a "clear and present danger" to the state has been identified, all bets are quite literally off. The state suddenly gains the legal right to do virtually anything they want- imprison large groups of people without due process, censor all media, seize property without warning or trial, etc. This may seem draconian but as mentioned previously, there are times when such measures are necessary.
The difference between real-life governments and the Federation is the internal vs external nature of such conflicts. A real-life government does not arbitrarily restrict voting privileges through the enforcement of elitist cultural criteria. Therefore, any morally questionable activities directed toward people living within its borders is directed at the same people who voted the government into power. It may not be perfect, but there is some sense of symmetry. In the Federation, it chooses whether to obey or ignore its own Prime Directive as it applies to people living in within its borders, but in the case of non-member star systems, the people whose lives are affected by these decisions never had the right to vote in the elections which brought the government into power.
The Federation has revealed dangerously self-contradictory policies which can potentially lead to the centrifugal disintegration of their society given enough time and the right external stimuli. Enough non-member star systems in its territory would render the entire Federation government structure highly unstable, particularly if those non-member systems choose to follow activist policies.
How many other societies will they find in their territory which foolishly expect to have independence of action and sovereign territorial rights? What if some of these societies are as advanced as the Federation? What if they are more advanced? In the scale of Federation technology and warp drive, Federation space is vast. Much of it remains unexplored. How can the Federation expect to maintain order and law within their own territory if they permit non-member star systems total autonomy? If they do not permit non-member star systems total autonomy, how can they call themselves a true democracy? Perhaps more importantly, what right do they have to stake claim to territory which they do not occupy, and in some cases have barely explored?
These inherent flaws in the Federation's government structure will inevitably lead to conflicts, such as the conflict seen in STI. But more conflicts are inevitable- the signs are all in place: the Maquis betrayal, the treacherous deception of the Romulan government to bring them into the Dominion War, the use of biological warfare against the Founders, and evidence of a decidedly undemocratic "democracy" add up to a growing body of evidence that the Federation's government cares less and less about moral imperative, while giving more and more emphasis to military and strategic expediency. It is inevitable that advanced non-member systems, and/or other governments in the quadrant, will take notice of this fact and react accordingly.
So'na shielding and armour
"Geordi, are those pockets of metryon gas?"- Riker
"Yes sir- highly volatile. I recommend we keep our distance."- Laforge
"Negative. I want to use the ramscoop to collect as much as we can."- Riker
"The purpose being?"- Laforge
"The purpose being, I want to shove it down the So'na's throats."- Riker.
In the above scene, we see a tankful of "unstable metryon gas" being inadvertently detonated by a So'na warship. The resulting chemical incendiary reaction destroys the lead ship completely, and heavily damages the trailing ship. This is very interesting for two reasons:
This pair of ships were collectively more powerful than the Federation's top-of-the-line Sovereign-class flagship, the Enterprise-E. This was demonstrated by the fact that Commander Riker immediately ran from them when attacked, without even considering the possibility of confronting them directly.
These ships easily withstood direct hits from quantum torpedoes, as we saw when the Enterprise launched a pair of quantum torpedoes from its aft launcher, hitting one of the two pursuers.
Why would a ship which is capable of withstanding direct hits from nuclear-yield weaponry be destroyed by a mere chemical incendiary reaction? Could a 20th century incendiary weapon like napalm be used to destroy So'na warships, and by extension, Federation warships which have similar technology levels and tactical effectiveness? There are several possibilities:
Super-powerful gas: Impossible. No makeshift incendiary chemical weapon can possibly produce energy yields which even remotely approach those produced by multi-megaton nuclear fusion or matter/antimatter annihilation reactions. The Enterprise would need to collect many times its own mass in "metryon gas", and then somehow deploy it in such a manner that it impacts against the enemy ships' shields without dispersing, in order to produce a weapon as dangerous as a nuclear or matter/antimatter device. In fact, it's amazing that the reaction occurred at all- in a normal nebula, the inter-atomic spacing would be far too large to permit a chemical incendiary chain reaction. Even if the Enterprise were releasing highly pressurized gas, it would disperse into uselessly low concentrations within seconds. Therefore, the Briar Patch gas cloud could not possibly have been a normal nebula. Perhaps it was a gas planet in the process of forming, which would be consistent with the fact that the Enterprise created cavitation trails as it moved.
Super-low yield torpedoes: This explanation is almost as poor as the super-powerful gas theory. There was no reason that the Enterprise would be running for its life, shuddering from multiple torpedo hits and taking serious damage, if it could have ended the battle at any time with one or two full-yield torpedoes.
Shields knocked out by Briar Patch gases: Federation ships' shields have been disrupted by seemingly benign phenomena like nebula gases and unusual ambient radiation before. What if the Briar Patch had the same effect on the So'na? This is a distinct possibility, but it suffers from the same weakness as the super-low yield torpedo explanation: if it is true, then the Enterprise could have simply eliminated its pursuers with a pair of quantum torpedoes. Furthermore, we clearly saw the Enterprise's shields dispersing a So'na photon torpedo earlier in the battle. If the So'na shield technology was similar to Federation shield technology (which seems likely), then their shields should also have been up.
Shields knocked out by Enterprise return-fire: This theory suffers from the same weakness as the two previous theories: if the So'na ships' shields were knocked out by return fire, the Enterprise could have finished off the ships with a couple of quantum torpedoes.
Shield over-optimization: It is obvious that there was something about the chemical reaction which made it more dangerous than phasers or quantum torpedoes, otherwise Commander Riker would not have taken unusual measures to utilize it. But if it couldn't possibly be superior energy yield, and if the So'na ships had strong defenses as surmised above, then what was it? One possibility is that the shields are highly optimized for known threats, such as phasers and photon torpedoes, and are essentially useless against an unexpected threat. This theory is not without some justification- when confronted by new forms of weaponry such as Breen energy dissipation weapons, Dominion phased-poleron beams, and even the simple low energy nucleonic particle beams of primitive societies as seen in "Conundrum", alpha quadrant starship shield technologies consistently fail to perform. It is only after they are painstakingly adjusted and optimized for a new threat that they are effective against it. Since the chemical incendiary weapon was an unexpected and unprecedented form of attack, the So'na ships' shields may have been completely useless against it.
In this scene, we can see flying debris from the first ship impacting upon the second ship. The impact cripples the second ship, literally tearing almost one half of it off. This screenshot, in conjunction with the previous screenshot, depict a sequence of events which disproves certain long-standing (but totally unsupported) Federation cultist claims about Federation armour being many orders of magnitude stronger than any material known to 20th century science. Their armour is not as weak or as thin as paper of course, but it cannot possibly be orders of magnitude stronger than 20th century materials to be so badly impacted by chemical incendiary reactions.
There are two possible interpretations of this event:
The yield of Federation weaponry has been greatly exaggerated (unlikely- any advanced space faring society should be able to deploy multimegaton weapons)
Alpha quadrant defensive technologies are so highly optimized for known threats that they are virtually useless against unexpected threats.
Personal Cloaking Devices
Much has been made of the personal cloaking devices which were seen in the opening sequence of STI. However, we can see in the film that they are actually not true cloaking devices. Instead, they are using some sort of large-scale hologram system, to create the illusion of invisibility. How do we arrive at this conclusion, which will undoubtedly be hotly contested? There are two critical pieces of substantiating evidence.
When the observation post's camouflage hologram was disrupted by Data's phaser fire, all of the operatives simultaneously became visible. This indicates that the invisibility of all operatives was dependent upon a central facility.
"Cloaked" operatives still cast shadows, as seen in the first screenshot below. This indicates that the objects are not truly invisible. If they were, they would not cast shadows, even when viewed using an advanced sensor system. One could always argue that the "cloaked" operatives are blocking something other than visible light (such as one of the Federation cultists' never-ending new forms of technobabble subspace-related radiation), but the shadows are clearly being cast in the same direction as the shadows being cast by the buildings, plants, etc. They are therefore being caused by the blockage of light being emitted by that planet's sun.
The importance of this evidence cannot be overstated. The camouflage hologram, which was concealing the observation post, disintegrated in a chain reaction after being damaged by Data's phaser (thus leading to some interesting questions on the nature of Federation holograms). As it disintegrated, so too did the invisibility of the Federation operatives in the Ba'ku village.
The hologram system must do more than merely create the illusion of invisibility. It must also "paint out" shadows, so that the Ba'ku villagers would be unaware of both the operatives and their shadows. We must conclude that the system is capable of producing light of any arbitrary frequency and direction, so that it can simulate the effect of light passing through a person even though it is actually being stopped. It can also simulate sunlight incident upon the ground even when the sunlight is actually being blocked. This is not surprising- Federation holodecks require precise control over the frequency and direction of projected photons in order to create believable illusions, and it is not inconceivable that they could be manipulated to create this illusion.
can see that a damaged suit exhibits partial visibility, and full
visibility in the region where the fabric has actually been torn
Data began removing his suit, portions of his body became completely
visible while the portions inside the orange suit were still hidden.
The preceding screenshots would appear to suggest that the suits themselves do contribute to the invisibility effect, even though they are still dependent upon the central projection system. It is possible that the orange colour was not an arbitrary choice. Since a bright orange hue like that is highly unnatural, it is unlikely to be found in the village. The hologram system may be cueing on the orange colour, to help it "paint out" the operatives. This would be analogous to the "blue-screen" technique used in 20th century film making, to seamlessly insert a two dimensional image into a background.
We can predict numerous operational limitations of this technology:
Invisible operatives will still visible to advanced sensor systems, as demonstrated by the fact that they could be easily seen on the observation post's view screen. They are only invisible to the naked eye.
Since the system depends on the operation of a central facility, these suits cannot simply be donned and used as portable cloaking devices for landing parties or boarding parties.
Since the system "paints over" operatives and their shadows to create the illusion of invisibility, anything which disrupts holograms would also disrupt the cloaking effect.
So'na Attack Drones
In their wasteful efforts to capture the Ba'ku villagers (as opposed to an efficient orbital bombardment, which any Imperial officer would have used), the So'na employed attack drones armed with tagging devices. The drones would approach to short range and launch a physical device at individual Ba'ku or Federation targets. The device, an "isolinear tag" only a few centimetres wide, would adhere to the skin or clothing of its target, thus allowing the So'na transporters to lock onto their targets (it must be noted that veins of a natural ore called "kelvanite" ran throughout the mountain range and made transport "virtually impossible" according to Picard, thus necessitating this measure).
This idea was suggested by Gallantin shortly before it was deployed, which suggests that these drones are not normally employed for this purpose. It is most likely that the drone is normally fitted with a weapon of some sort, perhaps a small phaser.
damaged drone. Some sort of turbine-like device (probably propulsion
related, since it resembles a 20th century jet turbine) is visible in
its centre, along with one of its fold-out flaps. The purpose of the
flaps is unknown.
about to attack a drone by swinging his phaser rifle like a baseball
bat. Luckily, he appears to be distantly related to Mark McGwire.
Even more luckily, the drone's maneuverability and combat AI
is so poor that it actually gets within arm's length of a target
without tagging him.
drone exploding from the impact with Worf's phaser rifle. It may be
noteworthy that the explosion of the drone was no less violent at the
explosion of drones that were hit with phaser blasts in previous
An alternate theory has been advanced: perhaps the drones were actually RPV's (remote-piloted vehicles), being controlled by So'na crewmen aboard their launch platforms. This is an interesting theory because it could potentially explain several examples of illogical behaviour on the part of the drones (eg- lining up for the "showdown at the OK corral" sequence, or moving so close to Worf that he could strike one physically).
So'na attack drones are amusing to look at, but tactically unimpressive. They are so big and slow that they can be easily hit with one-handed phaser shots, or even (in one case) a phaser rifle being swung like a baseball bat. In battle, they could potentially overcome this weakness if they are deployed in very large numbers, since they can probably be manufactured quite cheaply.
Without making any attempt to explain how they work, the crew of the Enterprise-E deployed devices called "transport inhibitors" to stop So'na ships from beaming the Ba'ku off the planet. In general appearance, they seemed to be similar to 20th century radio/television aerial antennae. They apparently contained independent power sources, and had a fairly short range (perhaps a few hundred metres). We know this because they were installing them a few hundred metres apart, without any support equipment.
This is actually one of the less objectionable technobabble devices seen in Star Trek. It is better to simply describe what something does, and what its limitations are, than to invent a meaningless "explanation" of how it might work (would it have really helped audience comprehension to hear something like "it produces a covariant subspace field that attenuates the transport carrier signal through the use of coherent tetryon pulse emissions"?)
It should be noted that these devices permitted energy weapons and physical spaceships (and people on foot) to pass effortlessly, but blocked transporters. It obviously wasn't a full-blown shield.
Starship helm control
Commander Riker's "manual steering column" was the subject of much derision among Federation cultists when STI came out. It is ironic that they would choose to criticize one of the least objectionable aspects of STI.
There is nothing wrong with a joystick as a method of controlling a starship. It isn't very precise, but it is fast. Much faster than verbally instructing helmsmen to "change course to 158 mark 60", and far more intuitive. Extreme precision is necessary for long-distance navigation and weapons fire, but it is secondary to speed of response when it comes to hard maneuvering. Speed of response is critical in hard maneuvers, and it is unattainable with a naval helm control scheme in which an officer barks verbal direction changes to a helmsman.
The purpose of the trigger appears to be some form of throttle control.
Federation ground weapons
We saw a few interesting revelations about Federation ground combat weaponry in STI. First, we saw some more positive confirmation that phasers work without thermal effects (as if that needed to be further proven).
the accompanying screenshot, two pulse phaser bursts and a beam
phaser are about to strike a rock wall. We finally get to see a good
example of the infamous "explosive uncoupling" phenomenon
associated with Federation hand phasers.
we can see, the effect lives up to its name. The rock explodes from
within, almost as if explosive charges were placed in a lightly-built
wall by Hollywood special-effects technicians :)
the dust has even settled, the rock face walls are completely cold.
There is no evidence of molten rock (which would still be glowing and
flowing at this point if there had ever been any at all). In fact,
the rock is fully hardened, as people are able to step through the
tunnel on solid footing.
This indicates that the effect is definitely not thermal- the phasers do not melt or vapourize anything. What they do is a matter of conjecture, although it clearly must involve the sort of quasi-magical "disappearing act" reactions described in the phaser page (albeit with some explosive effects).
prepares to fire a shoulder mounted energy weapon at some So'na
troops on a ridge, several hundred metres away. They attempt to fire
at him while he sets up his shot, but they miss by (as they say in
the States) "a country mile".
energy bolt impacts with the yield of a small grenade (not exactly
the TJ-range blast attributed to Federation weapons by certain
irrational cultists), knocking the So'na troops off their feet and
The fact that Worf switched to a cumbersome shoulder fired weapon is yet another indicator that phasers are not meant for long-range use. This particular weapon appears to have some sort of eyepiece, and fairly accurate targeting, to hit So'na troops several hundred metres away. The obvious question is: "why aren't phasers any good at that range?" The beam doesn't dissipate, but we can surmise that its inherent accuracy is too low to be useful at such long range.
STI demonstrates, again, that phasers do not operate on thermal effects, and that they are not useful at long ranges. However, it also demonstrates that the Federation does have some long-range weapons. Unfortunately for them, they rarely seem to bring these weapons along with them. It should be noted that this is not necessarily a design aspect of all phasers; just the units we have seen in use.
It has long been claimed that Federation targeting systems are near-perfect. These claims come from the sort of individuals who are not exactly known for intellectual rigour of course, but unlike so many other illogical claims, this particular claim is accepted by many. Even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary (such as DS9 torpedoes missing a large Klingon Negh'var heavy carrier by hundreds of metres in "Way of the Warrior"), these fans doggedly cling to their delusion, inventing fanciful and often comical excuses for these apparent flaws in "perfection". Without trying to explain why it is illogical to declare that anything is "perfect" or "near-perfect" instead of trying to determine what its limitations are, we can easily refute these claims by simply examining the events of STI.
aft-launched torpedo, fired from a Federation shuttle craft being
piloted by Jean-Luc Picard and Worf. The target is another Federation
scout ship, being flown by Data.
torpedo misses easily, even though Data has flown his ship in an
almost totally straight line throughout this sequence.
two ships. Data's scout is definitely larger than the Enterprise
shuttle- this allows us to establish the size of the target that
Picard and Worf were shooting at.
view of Data's ship, again to establish scale. This also helps
describe the frontal profile that Picard and Worf were shooting at
(Data's head is clearly visible in the cockpit).
quantum torpedo striking one of two pursuing So'na warships (top,
middle- it looks like a yellow flare). A second torpedo is headed
toward the second So'na warship, which is slightly down and to the
right of the first ship.
second torpedo misses, passing the So'na ship over its port side.
Note that these So'na ships are hundreds of metres long (707m long
according to Star Trek Magazine, which pegs the science vessel and
flagship at 1524m and 354m lengths respectively).
We have two clear examples now, of Federation weaponry failing to strike its target. One example involves a So'na shuttle craft, and the other example involves a full-sized So'na warship. There are no mysterious invisibly distant targets at which these torpedoes might have been aimed (the stock excuse for "Way of the Warrior"). In fact, the second sequence allows us to estimate the range at which the Enterprise-E failed to hit its pursuer, because the So'na ship is less than 10 kilometres behind the Enterprise-E at the time this happens.
Although it becomes tiresome to continually justify this statement, it bears repeating anyway: Federation targeting systems are not perfect! STI merely piles more evidence upon the pile, refuting an idea which shouldn't exist in the first place. Frankly, if it weren't for certain people who insist on propagating obviously silly ideas like "perfect targeting", none of this would be necessary.
"They've detonated an isolitic burst! A subspace tear is forming!"- unidentified bridge officer
"Our warp core's acting like a magnet to the tear! We're pulling it like a magnet across space!"- Laforge
During the So'na pursuit of the Enterprise, the So'na fired an "isolitic subspace weapon" which detonated behind its target. It caused a "subspace tear", which glowed brilliantly and caused a lot of turbulence aboard the Enterprise but which had no other known characteristics. It is entirely possible that the weapon would have had little or no effect on an object which was not so dependent on subspace technology- in ST6, the Excelsior was violently impacted by a subspace shock wave that originated light-years away at the Quo'nos moon called "Praxis". This shock wave merely depleted the ozone layer of Quo'nos, yet it hurled a Federation starship about like a leaf on a windy day!
The tear was actually attracted to the starship's warp core- another piece of evidence that the peculiar subspace based technology of Alpha Quadrant starships creates as many vulnerabilities as strengths.
The Federation's heavy reliance on subspace technology makes them extremely vulnerable to subspace phenomena and weaponry. Ships without all of this silly "subspace" equipment would neither need subspace weapons or be vulnerable to them.
General Reaction to Film
In one of the earliest sequences of the film, Picard asks rhetorically: "can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?" That lament was a reference to the activities of the fictional Federation, which has increasingly been embroiled in territorial disputes and wars. However, it could just as easily have been a lament about the Star Trek franchise itself. Roger Ebert called this film "inert and unconvincing," and I found that I agreed with him. Where STFC was exciting, STI was drab. Where STFC's villains were frightening and dangerous, STI's villains seem ridiculous and contrived. But most importantly of all, where it was easy to tell good from evil in STFC, the lines are much more blurred in STI.
In many films, this would not be a bad thing- it would be considered "realism" and "grittiness". But in STI, the bombastic sermonizing continued unabated in spite of massive moral ambiguities. That is what I found so irritating- I detested the Ba'ku, and as a result, I found Picard's wholehearted defense of them to be more offensive than inspiring.
Why did I hate the Ba'ku? Where can I start? What did Sojef say? Oh yes- he said:
"Our technological abilities are not apparent because we have chosen not to employ them in our daily lives. We believe that when you create a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man."
How quaint. How wonderful. How nauseating. Yessir, boys and girls, we have yet another anti-technology sermon from Hollywood, this time from a Star Trek film, of all places! At least Star Wars' anti-technology sermons are hidden in plot developments. Sojef simply preaches at the audience. Not only is it annoyingly preachy, but it's downright stupid. The adage "if you don't use it, you lose it" applies to technological capabilities every bit as much as it applies to any other skill. These people have supposedly lived without any kind of technology for hundreds of years, yet they still know how to repair a positronic processor? That doesn't just stretch credibility- that pulls it apart.
If the only problem with the Ba'ku were an annoyingly self-righteous character in Sojef and the ridiculous "we don't use technology but we still remember every aspect of it" motif, that would be marginally acceptable. But those are hardly the only problems with the Ba'ku. They are the most irritating cliché in all of fiction: the Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People.
Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People are everywhere in fiction. You see them in Westerns: they are the wonderful quaint little villages whose inhabitants get along fabulously with the native Indians and who need rescuing from evil land barons who want to take their land. You see them in sitcoms: they are the good-hearted out-of-towners who visit the city and don't understand strange alien concepts like "violence" and "crime". You hear about them in songs: John Cougar Mellencamp waxed poetic about life in small towns, and he wasn't exactly the only singer to do so. There's no escaping Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People. They till the land. They love their children. They never swear, they don't commit crimes, they are never violent. They hate technology. They live the wholesome life, as a shining example to all of us, the unwashed masses.
The problem is that they're a myth. In real life, small-town people really aren't that much different from big city people. I've lived in both large cities (~5 million inhabitants) and very small towns (<3000 inhabitants), and I'm speaking from experience. Once you account for the huge population difference, there is just as much crime, violence, drug use, teen pregnancy, etc. in small towns as there is in big cities (note that I'm talking about decent suburbs, not the burned out cores of certain American cities- I drove through Detroit once and I must admit that I was scared).
But there's a darker aspect of the wonderful Wholesome Small-Town Life: racism. No, I'm not just being hyper-sensitive and seeing sinister intent in casual glances. I'm talking about being asked (dozens of times) what it's like in China (my answer? "If you ever visit there, let me know"). I'm talking about being told by numerous people that my children, the product of a mixed race relationship, might suffer serious birth defects because "the genes don't match". I'm talking about listening to some guy use the word "nigger" over and over in casual conversation, assuming that I wouldn't be offended because he was attacking a different visible minority from my own. I'm talking about a woman telling me, to my face: "you should stay with your own kind." I haven't been hallucinating after watching civil rights documentaries: these incidents actually happened. And every one of them happened in a small town, surrounded by Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People.
Why do I bring this up in a discussion of STI? Well, I admit that I didn't check the film over frame-by-frame, but I don't recall seeing any non-white members of the Wholesome Small-Town Folksy Ba'ku community. If you have never been the victim of racial slurs or discrimination, you may not appreciate the sinister overtones of this omission. But I do- while I was watching the film, I became slowly more and more irritated. This was not an accidental omission- in the opening sequence, we seamlessly transition from the all-white Ba'ku village to the multicultural Federation crew in the observation post- why did they remember to include visible minorities in the Federation observation post, but not among the the spiritually enlightened ranks of the Ba'ku?
The film makes it very clear that these Wholesome Small-Town People are supposedly better than us. "They have incredible mental discipline", according to Counsellor Troi. They are smarter than us. They are more enlightened than us. They are healthier. They will live forever, thanks to the disease-curing, genetic defect-fixing, life-extending effect of the "metaphasic particles" in the planet's rings. Their kids play wonderful non-competitive games. The weather is perfect every day. The landscape is perfect. The architecture is classical and flawless. Yessir, they've found paradise, and we are given the distinct impression that they deserve to be there.
And why not? They're superior to us in every way, right? They've eliminated all sorts of "bad" things- hatred, violence, crime, technology, pollution, old age, disease, racial impurity ...
Maybe that's why they deserve immortality while the rest of us must suffer from the ravages of disease and age. Maybe that's why, when faced with a choice between preserving a society of 600 Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People and providing doubled life spans and improved health to billions, the obvious choice is to preserve the society of the 600 Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People. Why should they lose their homes just so that billions of us dirty, unwashed, technology-using, racially impure people can enjoy doubled life spans and freedom from disease? Even Captain Picard himself is destined to suffer from a serious disease later in his life (as revealed in the TNG final episode), but he will gladly sacrifice himself to help these people maintain their idyllic, worry-free, pain-free, disease-free, ageless lives. Clearly, he understands the inherent superiority of the Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People- why don't I understand it?
Maybe, as some have suggested, I'm just mean spirited. Maybe, as others have suggested, I'm over-sensitive to race issues (although it's pretty damned easy for a white person to tell a visible minority that he's oversensitive to race issues). Maybe, as still others have suggested, I just don't like Star Trek and I try to find excuses to say bad things about it (although I never had this reaction to STFC or better yet, ST6, which was the pinnacle of all that Star Trek represented).
But maybe, just maybe, I have a point. If you can find pictures of non-white members of the Wholesome Small-Town Folksy Ba'ku People, feel free to let me know. If you disagree with my interpretation of the film, feel free to let me know. If you feel that there is some intelligent reason why the immortality and happiness of 600 people should outweigh doubled life spans and freedom from disease for billions, feel free to let me know. But I honestly can't imagine any conceivable reason not to detest people who intend to hog the greatest medical miracle in history, all for themselves.
"Some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involve the forced relocation of a small group of people, to satisfy the demands of a large one."- Captain Picard.
Patrick Stewart, to his credit, tries his best to invest his fictional captain's moral position with conviction. Unfortunately, there's only so much that an actor can do with a fundamentally untenable situation. Leonard Nimoy hit a lot closer to home when he said that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." In real life, people are moved for the good of society all the time. How many people have been ousted from their land to make way for something as mundane as a highway? Relocation is not particularly heinous- it certainly is not so horrible that an incredible boon like these "metaphasic particles" should be kept from billions. Picard may be referring to slavery, WW2 concentration camps, or perhaps native American Indian relocations when he makes his statement, but regardless of what he is referring to, there is no similarity to this situation:
The Ba'ku relocation promises to benefit billions while hurting a mere 600. On the other hand, the aforementioned incidents benefited no more people (if any) than they hurt.
The Ba'ku relocation is just that- a relocation, without any of the enslavement, torture, execution, massacres, or other atrocities that went along with the aforementioned historical incidents.
Let's face reality- if the Indian relocations hadn't involved rapes or massacres, and if they had somehow brought about the elimination of disease and caused the average lifespan to jump to 160, would we look back on them as one of the darkest chapters in our history? Or would we look back on them as the moment when we took an unfortunate but necessary action to usher in a golden age? You can try very hard to make a simple relocation seem heinous, but it just doesn't work, especially in the context of the potential gains.
Yes, the So'na are demonized in the film's script- just to make sure we know who the good guys are, the So'na behave more and more villainously as the movie drags on, until they become homicidal maniacs near the end. But the So'na are mere window-dressing. If they don't grab this resource and boot this little Wholesome Small-Town Folksy Community off their land (gee whiz- where have we seen this cliché before? Oh yes- about two hundred westerns, just replace "metaphasic particles" with "gold"), then someone else will. The dilemma remains. In real life, if a community of 600 people discovered a magic elixir that could double life spans and cure all diseases, how long do you think the world's governments would let them keep it all to themselves? How much sympathy would you have for them?
The mere fact that they hog it all to themselves demonstrates that they are selfish and callous- wouldn't it occur to them how much suffering is going on in the outside world, that they could stop? They understood what the "metaphasic radiation" was doing to them, they possessed warp drive at one time, and they still had the means to leave (which is how the So'na left). Surely, if they were one tenth as moral and caring as they claimed to be, they would have shared their incredible discovery. But instead, they chose to secretly hoard it, and ignore the billions of people who could have benefited.
If your son was dying, would you feel comfortable explaining to him that "yes, you're going to die, but when you go, please remember that there are 600 people out there who are enjoying wonderful, immortal, pain-free, idyllic lives thanks to your sacrifice."? Frankly, if it were my son, I would go to that little community and gun down those crass, self-righteous, holier-than-thou Wholesome Small-Town Folksy People myself. As far as I'm concerned, if they've been creeping around for hundreds of years, they're way past their natural expiry date already. Lock and load.
During their attempt to locate Data, Worf stated that "he must be using the planet's rings to mask his approach". Why would a vessel that is visible to the naked eye be completely cloaked from Federation sensors, simply by virtue of proximity to a source of "metaphasic radiation"?
The Federation cloaked ship in the lake. Why bother cloaking it, if it's underwater? One possibility is concern about intrepid snorkelers.
During their attempt to evade capture, Picard informed the Ba'ku villagers that "these veins of kelvanite running through the hills will interfere with their transporters. And when the terrain forces us away from the deposits, then we'll use transport inhibitors as a compensation. The mountains have the heaviest concentration of kelvanite. Once there, it will make transport virtually impossible." Why would natural ores like this "kelvanite" substance make transport virtually impossible? How many other substances exist with this property?
At one point, a Ba'ku kid says "don't you ever get tired?" to Data. Data responds with "my power cells continuously recharge themselves." What? Data is a perpetual motion machine? How can power cells continuously recharge themselves? Can anyone say "thermodynamics?" Is there some kind of contest among Star Trek writers to see who can write the most scientifically offensive statement in the fewest words?
When running from So'na warships, Riker orders "full impulse!" Laforge responds, "the manifolds can't handle full impulse in the Patch, Commander," to which Riker says "if we don't outrun them, the manifolds will be the only thing left of this ship." Why would a starship require manifolds which interact with gases in space? What happened to the navigational deflectors?
Sparks shoot from damaged components all through this film, from the So'na drones to the instrument panels on the Enterprise when it is hit. Apparently, the Federation has finally realized that good ol' electricity is much safer than volatile conduits carrying pressurized superheated gas, and is perfectly adequate for instrumentation purposes. Something that any engineer could have explained to the writers long ago.
Holograms can be shot at and damaged, as if they were physical objects. It is possible that the observation-post hologram was a forcefield/hologram construct, and energy from Data's phaser blast may have fed back into the generator system, overloading it. This may explain the apparently contradictory behaviour.
In the crew's second confrontation with the So'na drones, the drones appeared, formed up a few dozen metres away from the crew's position, and then waited more than ten seconds so that the camera could pan over our brave heroes for the "showdown at the OK corral" shot! The drones even politely gave Picard enough time to gently lay down Anij- how chivalrous! Why would a bunch of machines play this silly "showdown at the OK corral" game?
Boris Skrbic, for discussion about Federation government policy, the underwater cloaked ship, the nature of holograms, the sizes of the So'na ships, and for pointing out that Data's shuttlecraft was actually a Federation vessel rather than a So'na vessel as I had initially assumed.
Frank Gerratana, for discussion about historical relocations.
Robert Wilson, for pointing out that the So'na drones might have been RPV's.
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