Friday, May 20, 2022

Star Trek: Chain of Command, Part II

Episode: "Chain of Command, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 11
Original Air Date: December 21, 1992

In a continuation of last week's episode, Captain Picard has been captured by the Cardassians and is now at the mercy of his torturer, Gul Madred (David Warner).  Meanwhile, Captain Jellico continues to rankle on the Enterprise, though he delivers some badass moments in the diplomatic chess match with the Cardassian emissaries.  

This is one of NextGen's great sit-back-and-watch-Patrick-Stewart-work episodes.  Stewart and screenwriter Frank Abatemarco both did extensive research with Amnesty International to get the torture scenes right.  Warner did not have the same benefit, hired for the job on three-days notice.  He read his lines off of cue cards over Stewart's shoulder.  Watching on screen, you'd never know he was under-prepared.  The two actors spar brilliantly.  Seriously, is there anyone who plays Man Pushed to the Edge of Madness better than Stewart?  It's such an astonishing contrast with the dependably stoic, controlled Picard.  No doubt: a master of his craft.

Food Notes

In one of several chilling scenes, Picard and Madred share breakfast.  The Cardassian gives our Captain a raw, fertilized taspar egg, a Cardassian delicacy.  Of course, delicacy generally translates to "revolting to anyone outside its home culture."  Picard eats it anyway and the scene becomes a turning point in the power struggle between the two men.

Acting Notes

Ronny Cox (Captain Jellico) was born July 23, 1938 in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.  The story of his marriage is way too sweet not to share.  He met his wife, Mary, when she was in fifth grade, he in seventh.  They were married for 46 years until she died, 50 years to the day after their first date. They had two children.

Cox went to Eastern New Mexico University where he double-majored in theater and speech correction.  His screen debut was in Deliverance as Drew.  He is the guitarist in the iconic dueling banjos scene.  His guitar skills got him the job.  He wrote a book about his experiences on set, Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew.  Other films include the Beverly Hills Cop movies, RoboCop and Total Recall.  

He is a successful and active musician, playing over 100 shows a year with his band.  In 2019, he was inducted into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Squid Mixes: Cider Battles III

Our D-Day Swizzle exploration continues with a throwdown between two Woodchuck Cider products: 

Rosé vs. Amber  

The Rosé is our reigning sipping champion.  The Amber is the company's original offering, first launched in 1991.  We tried them in the swizzles first.  The Rosé is the sweeter of the two which, for whatever reason, worked better this time.  We're still looking for a more appley flavor.

Winner, Swizzle Mixer Category: Rosé

Sipping them, my wife felt the Amber didn't really have much flavor at all.  I found it more tart than the Rosé.

Winner and Still Champion, Sipping Cider Category: Rosé

Friday, May 13, 2022

Star Trek: Chain of Command, Part I

Episode: "Chain of Command, Part I"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 10
Original Air Date: December 14, 1992

"Chain of Command" begins with a jolt as Captain Picard is relieved of command and replaced by Captain Jelico whose manner is far more abrupt and his approach to the job by-the-book.  There is a reason why, though that reason is not revealed to the crew: Picard, Worf and Dr. Crusher are sent on a covert mission against the Cardassians.  While the Enterprise adjusts uneasily to new leadership, Picard & Co. are lured into a trap.

This two-part episode was intended as part of the bridge between The Next Generation and a new spinoff series, Deep Space Nine.  The Cardassians are the primary adversaries in the new series and "Chain of Command" helped to establish the depths of their cruelty.  Initially, Quark, one of DS9's principals, was supposed to be featured in the episode but the timing didn't work out.

While Jelico is set up to be an off-putting character, he brought a couple of permanent changes to the Enterprise.  First, he asks that Livingston, the resident lionfish, is removed from the captain's ready room.  Later, he asks Counselor Troi to wear a standard uniform.  Interestingly, both of these were welcome changes for actors Patrick Stewart and Marina Sirtis respectively.  Stewart never liked the fish, feeling it was un-Trek to keep a captive animal on the ship.  Meanwhile, Sirtis was delighted to no longer be "on display" all the time.

"Chain of Command" is a popular choice for best-of lists and it's definitely strong.  The second part, in particular, is rock-solid Patrick Stewart.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Acting Notes

David Warner played the role of Gul Madred, Picard's Cardassian interrogator.  He isn't introduced until the end of the first part.  His character will be far more important in the second. 

Warner was born July 29, 1941 in Manchester, England.  He was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.  Like Patrick Stewart, he is a Royal Shakespeare Company alum.  His Shakespearean credits alone are extensive, including the title roles in Henry VI, Hamlet and Richard II.  He made his film debut in 1963's Tom Jones.  Other movies include The Omen, Tron and Titanic.   For Trek, he appeared in both Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  He won an Emmy in 1981 for the role of Pomponius Falco in Masada.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Squid Eats: Black Flannel

When we first moved to Vermont 20 years ago, the Essex Outlets and Cinema was an outdoor mall arrangement of brand name clothing stores.  In particular, it was a popular destination for the Quebecois just to our north.  The world has changed quite a lot in the time since.  Retail has been in decline for ages and, of course, COVID changed the playing field for everyone.  The transformation in Essex, already underway, was greatly accelerated.  Most of the stores are gone.  Restaurants have been moving in to take their place - nice restaurants, too.  The landlords have re-branded as an evening destination with the movie theater still the cornerstone.  The area is now called The Essex Experience.

One of the relatively new tenants is Black Flannel, a microbrew pub and distillery.  We've been twice now, both times when my parents were here to visit.  The space is nice: high ceilings and lots of windows, both of which help to make the place feel bigger.  Not too noisy - always an important consideration for my parents.  Friendly service.  Food is good, too.  I got the steak on our most recent visit while everyone else ordered fish.  All were satisfied.  We didn't get dessert this time though we have before and it's also good.

It's a microbrewery so the beer is an important consideration - even more so than usual.  I'm happy with the IPA and it's a little floral, too, which would make my wife happy.  It's also hoppy enough for my mother.  They have a decent range on flavors.  Wife favors the more sour beers and got a gose, I believe.  We haven't tried the spirits yet.  As is often the case with such local products, they are a bit pricey.

Overall, a positive experience.  We'll be back.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Star Trek: The Quality of Life

Episode: "The Quality of Life"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 14, 1992

The Enterprise visits a mining operation at Tyrus 7A.  The engineer, Dr. Fallaron introduces the crew to the Exocomps, remarkably adaptable machines she has created to aid in the work.  In fact, their adaptability includes an instinct for self-preservation which Data argues means they're technically alive.

I enjoy Star Trek stories that challenge the idea of what qualifies as a living being: "The Devil in the Dark," "Home Soil," etc.  After all, it's part of the stated mission from the very beginning: "to seek out new life."  "The Quality of Life" does not generally fair well with critics, but I find both Data's sympathy for the Exocomps and the willingness of one to sacrifice itself for the others to be genuinely touching.  It is admittedly techno-babble heavy, even more so than most.

Game Notes

Oddly, the episode's comic relief comes in the beginning.  The story ran short on time so the writers tacked on a poker scene for padding.  Episode director Jonathan Frakes was disappointed that they never returned to the game in the script.

Acting Notes

Ellen Bry (Dr. Fallaron) was born in New York, February 13, 1951.  She graduated from Tufts University.  She made her screen debut in a sentimental favorite of mine: To Fly, the National Air and Space Museum's long-running IMAX feature.  

Interestingly, quite a lot of Bry's early work came as a stunt double, notably in 1978's Superman.  She is best known for the role of Nurse Shirley Daniels on St. Elsewhere.  Other television guest appearances include MacGyver, Murder, She Wrote and Renegade.  Films include Bye Bye Love, Deep Impact and Mission: Impossible III.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Author: Charles Duhigg

via Amazon

Habits rule our lives in ways we don't even notice.  That's the point, after all.  Habits are the things we do without thinking.  It's the simple routines: you floss before you brush, you put on the right sock before the left, you always leave your keys in the same place so you can find them easily, etc.  It's the more complex operations, too: you always follow the same route when you walk your dog.  Some of them, like smoking after a meal or always having dessert even if you're not exactly hungry for it, are deeply unhealthy.  Others, like eating fruits and vegetables every day, can prolong your life.  Charles Duhigg explores all of this and more.  Most importantly, and optimistically, he demonstrates how bad habits can be transformed into good ones.

Duhigg devotes a lot of the book to self-destructive personal habits: alcoholism, gambling addiction, overeating, etc.  However, he also explores how the manipulation of habits - on both the individual and interpersonal levels - can transform organizations like Starbucks, Alcoa or the Indianapolis Colts.  Further, he chronicles how all-time champion swimmer Michael Phelps used the power of habit to excel.  On the Big Brother end of things, he exposes how companies, particularly Target, are able to monitor customers' habits in order to successfully predict who is likely to buy what and when.  

A couple of principles were particularly interesting to me.  The first is the idea of "keystone" habits.  Exercise is a good example.  When someone successfully establishes a habit of regular exercise, they start to form other good habits along with it.  They sleep better.  They eat better.  I can confirm: my life definitely feels better balanced when I am exercising regularly.  Other keystone habits are less appealing to me: bed making, for instance.  I don't believe in it.

"Inflection points" are moments when an individual is confronted with a choice.  For instance, a Starbucks barista is chewed out by an angry customer.  The employee can react in a variety of ways, many of them reflexive and counterproductive.  But if such an employee plans a different, healthier reaction ahead of time, the likelihood of a positive outcome increases significantly.  The possible applications to public education, my own profession, are obvious.

I'll definitely be keeping The Power of Habit around.  I didn't read the book's appendix (I usually skip that, along with any Roman numeral pages in the beginning) but I expect I will at some point as it's all about how to use Duhigg's principals in one's own life.  

But I'm still not going to make my bed.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Jamaican No. 1

Bittercube Slow Crafted Bitters hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The bottle for their Jamaican No. 1 formula boasts a "robust" flavor profile of allspice, ginger and black pepper.  Cloves (from the allspice) are the most forward for me, reminiscent of the occasional, inadvisable clove cigarettes of my youth.  The pepper is also prominent, though not as strong as in Arcana Botanica's Brimstone Bitters.  It's recommended for "tropical" drinks so we might be playing with Mai Tais soon.