Tag Archives: volunteer

All (Federation) Politics Are Local

14 Jun

I’ve become a little obsessed about the Star Trek universe lately (not sorry), starting with economics, which leads to volunteer leadership, but that leads us to Federation politics. How do politics work in the 24th Century?

Star Trek stays incredibly silent on this issue, because let’s face it, politics would ruin the entire socialist utopia theme. No one wants to see how the replicator is made. We do see politics within Starfleet, usually with admirals trying to screw each other over, or screw over the captain , but office politics is understandable and expected. But the civilian in the street who didn’t make it to Academy? How are they run?

The easy answer is… they’re not. Or at least, not at a level that is readily apparent. It’s also very clear that in the Federation, the individual member states can run their local politics however they want. So I imagine that the Andorians still have a Queen, the Vulcans probably have the most efficient unelected meritocracy imaginable, and Earth has sloppy, sloppy democracy. Earth doesn’t have much of an administration because they don’t need one. Computers put you instantly in contact with anyone on planet (and probably in the solar system, thanks to nutrinos), and a time delay with your video letter outside of your solar system. However, someone still needs to fix the roads, or at least, the replicator so you can do it yourself.

Even in our modern day, politicians will spend millions to get a job that pays thousands, because the power involved is worth it. So I imagine that Earth has a single local government, because when you can breakfast in San Francisco and immediately teleport for lunch in Paris, why would you have single-member districts? Of course, that’s kinda true today, and we still have them. Regardless, I imagine that there’s elections to become a planetary selectman (select-being?).

Just like local politics today, the Federation man on the street will have no clue who this person is until you need them. In the volunteer economy of Star Trek, their entire job will be to beg, borrow, or steal people to fix or build stuff. I’m guessing that they do that through the distribution of perks (see previous posts). How many of these people are there? It depends. My town of Phoenix has one council member per 650,000 citizens. Chicago has one alderman per 50,000. New York City has one alderman per 300,000, and they have borough governments as well. So it could be evenly distributed based on region, or multiple selectmen based on population, or possibly both.

Then you’ve got the selectmen’s boss who administer the elected officials. I’m guessing these aren’t elected directly, but rather elected from the officials themselves, like electing a Speaker of the House. They handle the big projects like the “Probably Going to Kill Us Machine ™” that will expand Science! That leaves the Federation itself, which has a Council. But the two times we’ve seen the Council (in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), it’s like… thirty people, mostly aliens. Which I imply means humans get one seat on the Council, like the United Nations. So somewhere, there’s a Human Assembly (and doesn’t that sound racist) or Convention that meets on local human issues among their colonies. Those are elected from the planetary leadership and they elect their representative on the Council.

In the clips from Star Trek IV & VI, you see Starfleet represented there, but for the most part, Starfleet operates with very little civilian oversight. Like city employees today, sure, I bet the Council decides who to go with war with, but by the time the Romulans cross the Neutral Zone, it’s probably a moot point. So what does the Council do? Probably what the United Nations does now; a lot of speeches about human species rights and not much else.

Side Note: That does make me wonder about the implications of the beginning meeting in Star Trek VI… why would we mothball Starfleet? If there’s no money to count, people are dying (sometimes literally) to get into the Academy, why would we lower our military stance at all?!

So what did I forget? I’m sure there’s a copy of the Federation Charter online, but it is never covered in the shows, so… how canon is it? Let me know what I missed in the comments below!

Veterans of the Dominion War, Post #1701

13 Jun

I’ve had way too much fun talking Star Trek last week – but it did get me to a concept – the volunteer economy. We don’t have to wait for the 24th century, it already exists. So how does it work? Does it work?

I’ve been in many volunteer organizations, often as an officer, so I have a pretty good idea of how they work. It is a perfect example of a world without money functions. So let’s guesstimate what the Star Trek future is like by creating a veterans organization – since I’m a member of one today.

Okay, let’s say that you want to create the local chapter of the Veterans of the Dominion War, and you get the local (Earth) authorities to grant you a meeting hall. You decide to elect officers and have a bar/lounge area where veterans can come together and eat and drink. Officers organize events and decide the rules to the bar.

People LOVE becoming the commander/captain/president of the chapter, few want to do the work. So out of an executive committee of nine, two people do the actual work, whether they have the title or not. But that’s okay in this case because the post kinda runs itself; after all, it’s a building and the drinks are free. Except if something breaks down, which it does even in Star Trek, then you either need to wait for the civilian administration to fix it (which they never explain, but I bet it SUCKS), or you hope you’ve got a retired engineer in your chapter and beg him to fix the replicator. Or climate control. Or the roof. Thankfully, there usually is, and they do it… but it ain’t what you call quick.

Okay, but I’m betting these vets aren’t going to be satisfied with synthahol, and they know how to play the black market game that obviously exists. That means organizing a rotation of bartenders to make sure that Barry doesn’t drink up all the booze. (Yeah, Barry! Leave some for the rest of us!) Plus a system to ensure that Barry doesn’t drink too much at one sitting. Also, although bartenders aren’t supposed to drink while on duty, can you tell the smell difference between synthetic scotch and the real stuff?

So you may have a bartender who drinks all the good stuff or simply takes it home without permission. Even without the allure of money (we had a post commander who embezzled funds), I can think of two bartenders we’ve had at our post who were just BAD, and they were all volunteers. They drove members away, they drove volunteers away, and… you better have a disciplinary system in place. But no one wants to do that, so it’s always too little, too late. Many members will move down the street and found VDW Post… let’s call it 1701-A. 🙂

Removing money does not remove resource scarcity, which means you have to have a system to deal with it, and volunteer officers may or may not have the skills to handle it. I’ve been a chapter president and I lost most of my members because I didn’t tell one to stay home. This is the problem of running things without the authority to back it up.

Can you come up with better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

Giving Up the DM Chair

3 Feb

After two years, I finally decided to give up the dungeon master’s role in our Monday night group and just be a player. Although I had been burned out for quite some time, I still feel sad letting it go. Why?

For those of you who’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a role playing game (the original RPG) where everyone takes a character and pretends to be them while walking around fantasy universes. The difference is that you’re telling a story–not showing them one. You have maps and miniatures, but in the end, it happens all in your mind. And the one who makes it happen is the dungeon master.

Two years ago, when my son Asher was 11, he got SUPER into D&D. So I figured the only way to slack his thirst was to actually go to someone else’s table and experience the game as a not-family activity. So the local game store had Adventurers’ League going (a system that allows folks to come in or out with characters and not dedicate themselves to a single campaign) and we sat down at a table.

Asher had a lot of fun for a couple weeks. The problem was–there got to be WAY too many people at the time and we needed several folks to break off and form a new table. Which meant, someone needed to run it, and I volunteered. In the end, it was a good move, because I enjoy running a game far more than I do playing a game. There’s too much downtime, whereas the DM never has any; always engaged.

I was able to build up a following of dedicated players at the game store and frequently had eight people around the table (about the max I could handle). A few came and left, but over time, there was about four or five core people I could count on. Then COVID happened last year (about this time) and I offered to move the game online to Roll20. We kept it going–lost three players, gained two more–but that was to be expected. Online is simply not the same as tabletop in person and it takes a different perspective.

But I was fading in my joy of this and I knew it. Part of me just wanted to keep the group going until the game store reopened–then the store decided it wasn’t going to stay open–at least, not with a gaming area. But I loved hanging with these folks, so I didn’t want to lose that. I just didn’t love running the game anymore. So I offered the DM’s chair to someone else and decided to simply play. True, it’s not as engaging, but I get to still hang out with my gaming friends, and I can simply enjoy being there… instead of dreading it until I actually get there. I might get the chair back at some time, but I should simply enjoy not having to do the prep work.

So it’s the right decision, but I don’t feel great about it. Have you had this situation? You keep something going even though your heart isn’t in it anymore? Share with me on the comments below!

Living in Fictional Universes

18 Dec

I’ve lost track of how many fandoms I’ve signed up for. They are wild, wonderful worlds full of interesting people in the real world. However, the reason we are fans also becomes the reason why many of these fandom decline or die.

For those not familiar with the term, “fandom” just means the world of (usually) sci-fi/fantasy fans. It can also used in plural to refer to a particular fan base, such as Star Trek fans, Star Wars fans, et al. Myself, I am primarily involved with The Royal Manticoran Navy, a David Weber fan group. After that, I’m in the Colonial Ministry of Defense, which is a Battlestar Galactica fan group, and I’ve recently become inactive in STARFLEET International, a Star Trek fan club. I also signed up for The Mercenary Guild, which is a Four Horseman fan group, but I just watch the FB posts for that. I used to be in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, but not because I don’t like the Middle Ages any more, just a lack of time.

Look at that smiling idiot with the shades and all that bling–that was me after I finally gave up my ship command and became a commodore. I had run the local chapter (our “ship”) of TRMN for three and a half years and was glad to turn that responsibility to someone else… specifically the two folks in white hats to my left.

You’d think, “Why would you give up being the captain? That sounds pretty cool.” And it is cool–I liked the title, I like the bling, I liked setting the meetings. At the same time, you have to deal with problems with your members. Which gets back to the point I started with–the reason a lot of these organizations decline is because of the kind of people you attract. People are fans of science fiction because this world does not appeal to them.

That applies to me as well. We’re all socially awkward, occasionally successful, fans who wish they could be in a different universe where their talents would be respected and adored. Who wants to be an instructional designer with a mortgage when you can be an admiral leading ships into battle against a devious foe?

However, now you combine people who are socially awkward and throw them together in an organization. By the time I was done with being a captain, I had a couple members who drove me crazy. I didn’t enjoy hanging out with them, they lived too far away, and they were driving away members that I liked to hang out with. So when I got the chance at a promotion, I took advantage of it, and let the local chapter slowly die.

Not proud of that last part, but because I didn’t exclude those problem children, it was inevitable. Of course, having had experience being in a veteran’s organization, this may be a problem with any volunteer group. You join, you get really excited, and you have a personality conflict with one of the members. That either gets resolved or one of you leaves. When the conflict gets really bad, you break off and form a new chapter. My post/bar is only a mile away from another post/bar. Why? Because the members of one couldn’t STAND the members of the other.

That doesn’t mean I don’t participate, but certainly the gleam has dulled from fandom for me, so I don’t participate as much as I used to… even before COVID. Am I right? Is this a problem with any volunteer group? Or is it specific to fandom? Let me know in the comments below!

Blood is Spiritual Currency

10 Dec

I’m the guy that blood banks love; on the plump side, rare blood type, willing to come in monthly. However, as the years go on from when I started donating blood, then platelets, my patience with blood donation has gotten thin.

I started donating blood in college, and did it enough to earn my first 1 gallon pin from the Red Cross. I was very proud of that–I still have that pin. Then I went overseas for a while, came back, went back, came back and wasn’t in a situation to give regularly. Then I started work at a hospital and that changed. The local blood bank held a blood drive and because I have… not the rarest blood type (AB+), but pretty scarce, they asked me to donate platelets.

On the surface, this can be a real pain-in-the-end. You offer to be plugged into a machine for an hour plus, they sort through your blood, and they take out the platelets and plasma. Platelets are used to help cancer patients, and they usually have to extract them from whole blood bags, which means losing most of that valuable fluid to do it. So providing them separately is very useful.

…and you can do it once a week. You can actually only do it every other week, since there’s a limit on how many times they can puncture your veins in a year, but it can be rather useful. I started earning t-shirts, pins, and of course, snacks. I had a wonderful phlebotomist that had the same last name as me and we got along great. I did that consistently for almost two years.

Then little things happened. The blood bank changed the shape of the pins from these cute little things you can put on your lanyard to big bulky ones… not as fun. I had a bike accident which broke my hand, so I was out for a while. Then we moved to a different city. There the phlebotomists were not that friendly and it was a different blood bank so my “gallon credits” had to be reset at zero. Then I had a job that had me leaving town every week, and “wasting” my time at home at the blood bank became less and less appealing.

I didn’t go back for years. Eventually, I became consistent once I was working from home, but… I’m getting older. My platelet count can’t reach the desired amount more than once a month. And then COVID hit and… okay, we wear the masks thing, but I swear they have a lot less personnel. Which leads to my main gripe. I’m used to sitting in the chair hooked to the machine for an hour and a half–I’m NOT used to waiting to get to the chair for an hour. So a 12:30 pm appointment means I don’t get in the chair until 1:15-30. Which means when I have to leave at 3 pm to pick up my daughter from school, I’m barely finishing up!

So now, I’m just donating whole blood. It only takes 15 minutes in the chair and they can’t bug me for six weeks. I don’t care if it’s not as useful, they’ve made it more difficult to be a donor, and it was already a pain-in-the-end. So you’re stuck with what I’m willing to give you, rather than what I -can- give you, because you decided to streamline your staffing. Oh well.

Do you have this problem? Would you like to give but the blood bank makes it a hurdle too high? Let me know in the comments below!

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