Now that Gnat can carry on a conversation, we have interesting little discussions as we drive along.
“Daddy, could we put everything into the fire?”

Uh - no, sweetie. Good Lord, where did that come from? Did her mother check out “Richard Scarry’s Best Gotterdamerung Ever” from the library?

“Just the lamps? Put the lamps in the fire?”

We need the lamps, honey. This is possibly from one of her books; she’ll often recount plot details she got from a book her mommy read to her the previous night. “The bunny gave a flower to the chicken,” she said today, looking out the car window. I suppose if a toddler hallucinates, this is what they would see. (I later found the book that described this very event. Whew.)

Today, however, she said something that just pierced my heart. Yesterday at the park she’d been playing with a girl she knows, a kid who’s almost a year older. Another girl of the same age came along, and as kids will do, the two children formed their own clique and left Gnat out of it. She hung around and tried to play, but they just ignored her. Finally she just burst out crying.

All was well by bedtime, of course. But today as we drove to Target, she said:

“If I say I’m big, will big kids play with me?”

Aww, gees, as Moe Sizlak would said. Awww gees. I explained that sometimes kids played with kids their own age, and sometimes they didn’t, and it didn’t mean they didn’t like her, but sometimes that was just the way it was. And besides, Jasper would always want to play with her.

“Jabber is a good dog.”

Yes he is, and when we get home he’ll be happy to see us.

“Will Mommy be home?”

Not yet. Mommy’s at work, but she’ll come home soon. Maybe we could pick a flower for her. Wouldn’t that be great?

She nodded. Long pause. “Daddy?”

Yes, honey?

“What are we talking about?”

Nothing in particular, kid. Not that it matters. It’s just enough that we’re talking.

Enterprise finale. It was all about 9/11. Proves my point, which isn’t really mine at all and is crushingly obvious besides, but one I’ve been making for years anyway: Star Trek TV shows explicitly mirror the geopolitical climate of its times. Each one is an analogy for the era in which it’s conceived. I’ve written this before but I’m too lazy to find it in the archives, so I’ll repeat myself. Warning: this will contain small fragments of unbelievably dorky insider references. Apology: I know this is of limited interest. Explanation: it’s my website. Accusation: you think I’ve cared one whit about Buffy for seven years? No. Have I said one word against the Slayer? No. I respect people’s adoration of the show. I understand these things. Hell, I still watch Twin Peaks reruns. (Right now, Hugh Hewitt is sending an email to his producer, telling him to get the TP soundtrack. Today Mr. Dub-Aitch’s daily libel accused me of being a comic-book / Star Trek geek - well, duh. Let’s prove him right.)

The original show was your post-Kennedy New Frontier view of the future, with an oversexed cowboy at the helm. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Kirk’s first command had been the NCC-109. We all know what that show was about; it’s been pecked to death, so let’s move on.

Next Generation was the New World Order version of Trek. The Enterprise wasn’t a warship threading its way through uncharted seas - it was a space-faring UN agency with a career diplomat in the captain’s chair. A French diplomat, for heaven’s sake.

Geek moment coming down in three . . . two . . . one:

I always half-expected to find that the rest of the Galaxy class ships were named after Secretary Generals.

“Sir, the U Thant and the Hammarskjold are en route to assist.”

“And the Kofi?”

“Last seen in the neutral zone, adrift. . . I’m getting a message from the Waldheim, sir - it’s still in combat maneuvers over Zeon.”

Oh, you want an even more obscure reference? Okay, try this: the Prometheus' modules were named Boutrous, Boutrous, and Ghali. Top that.

Okay, back to a somewhat general-knowledge discussion:

In the original series, the Klingons were the Soviets. In the Next Generation, they were still the Soviets, but now there was a chilly entente. This was a smart move, dramatically speaking; it allowed the show to more time with the Klingons, who were far more fun than any of the stuffy wads-o-rectitude on the Enterprise. (You can trace the entire Klingon subculture to the episode where Riker has a brief tour of duty on a Bird of Prey.) All of a sudden everyone realized these guys were actually alcoholic pirates with a mean sense of humor and a complex social code. And who were the humans? Sober missionaries who never got involved, just showed up to sign treaties. Booooring.

Oh, NextGen did give us a new species: a villainous bunch of misshapen dwarves called the Ferengi, whose social system was ordered entirely around profit. Capitalists.

But I loved the show anyway. We all did. It had its charms, although I could probably do without 70% of the episodes.

Then there’s Deep Space Nine. Standard reaction: I never got into that one. I understand why; as with Next Generation, the first two seasons chewed donkey bris. But it had better characters, and under the guiding hand of Ronald Moore these characters flourished into the most well-rounded cast of all three shows. The show started slowly - Avery Brooks played Sisko as though he was attempting to hypnotize everyone, and it didn’t help that the space station didn’t go anywhere. But the idea was, again, a reflection of the time: an outpost on the edge of a crumbled empire. An embassy in the Balkans, in other words. The space station had a bar, which served as a future version of Rick’s Cafe in “Casablanca.”

The Enterprise had a lunch counter run by Whoopi Goldberg.

In the last few years DS9 just got better and better - a four-year story arc, complex politics, exceptionally acted secondary characters & villains. I still think it’s the gold standard for Star Trek shows.

Voyager. Sigh. Inert, cautious. A show about a ship going home. Some fine moments, but as I said before not one character changed over seven years. And they weren’t really interesting characters to begin with. There will not be a Voyager movie in 2009 that ends with the shocking death of Harry Kim. So how did this sum up the Clinton era? Um . . . it didn’t. But you can see a culture adrift, less concerned with pushing out than pulling back. Yes, yes, “Lost in Space” had the same concept, and it was contemporeanous with the original Trek series, so I suppose my idea falls apart. No - wait! The Borg had a big role in Voyager. They were joyless cyborgs intent on crushing all cultural differences. They were the Republicans! And Cap’t Janeway was Clinton, finding a third way home, striking a deal to free her people! Yes, that’s it!

You think I’m nuts? Look at the series finale. She pardoned, like, 50 Borgs before she left the Delta Quadrant, and I hear she took some china and a chair from Voyager, too. Read it on Drudge!

Which brings us to Enterprise. It’s had some wincingly PC moments, but overall I like it. Sharp characters, with a couple exceptions. Best doctor since McCoy. The obligatory hotcha dame in spandex - Jolene Blalock as the Vulcan T’Pau - can radiate about six things at once just with her posture, and her take on Vulcanism makes Tuvok look like Rip Taylor.

So how is this Trek a reflection of the zeitgeist? Well, it was different right out of the box; it’s set before the Federation was incoporated. It gives us the future as pre-history. The only other aliens on Earth’s side are the Vulcans, who are in this context the Europeans - the older, more cynical, “wiser” culture attempting to restrain this brash upstart planet. There’s no way the show’s creators could have anticipated how prescient this would seem when they thought of the show, but after 9/11 this theme stood out in hot glowing letters. And then came the season finale:

Earth is attacked by a suicide bomber. There's much death and devastation. The Enterprise is sent to a far-off place to retaliate. The Vulcans refuse to help.

It gets better: the area into which the Enterprise heads is called “the Expanse,” which shares the same vowels as “Levant,” and the same concept as “the Empty Quarter.” But that’s probably unintentional. And it’s probably unintentional that the Expanse is known for causing absolute madness to all who go there. We even see a fragment of a log from a Vulcan ship - they’re all at each other’s throats, screaming, drinking blood, etc. Unintentional or not, there’s no other way to read this: the Enterprise is going to the galaxy’s cradle of suicide bombers, and it’s a place where everyone goes absolutely nuts.

No, I’m not saying that’s how the writers regard the Middle East, nor am I saying that the very air of the region makes rational decent people feel stabby. But popular art reflects the era in which it’s born. Time pares away the artfice. Ten years later a nuanced, complex simile is a big white bone on the desert floor.

So the Enteirprise is a few days out of port; Captain Archer and his First Officer are sitting up late at night drinking scotch. (!) The First Officer lost a sister in the suicide attack. He’s not exactly the cheerful fellow he used to be. He kills his drink and glares at the captain with angry, haunted eyes. “Tell me we’re not going to pussyfoot around when we get in there,” he says. “None of that noninterference crap.”

Archer stares out the window. “Whatever it takes,” he says, and he drains his glass.

This is not your father’s Star Trek, you might think. But it is. We’re back to the sixties’ vision of the future. All Kirked up and ready to roll.