Friday, July 10, 2020

Star Trek: Samaritan Snare

Episode: "Samaritan Snare"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 17
Original Air Date: May 15, 1989
Samaritan Snare (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Picard leaves for Starbase 515 for a heart transplant, embarrassed to have Pulaski do the procedure on the Enterprise.  Wesley is along for the ride so he can take another stab at the Starfleet exams.  Meanwhile, Geordi is abducted by the relatively primitive Pakleds, led by Grebnedlog.

"Samaritan Snare" is widely panned for admittedly weak writing.  The Picard story is especially clunky and feels rather tacked on to boot, not good for what is supposedly meant to be the primary narrative.  And there's something a little embarrassing about the simplicity of the Pakleds.  However, to me the dialogue between Picard and Wesley en route to 515 brings a small measure of redemption to the episode.  Picard tells a story of his reckless youth, adding some dimension to our captain.  There's also a nice glimpse of Riker's leadership style in Picard's absence.  It's not so unlike Jean-Luc's in sounding out others for their opinions, and he decides on a good old Kirk-style bluff.

Acting Notes
Christopher Collins (Grebnedlog - Goldenberg backwards - haha, just got that) was born Christopher Lawrence Lotta, August 30, 1949 in Orange, New Jersey, though he grew up in Manhattan.  He attended NYU for a year.  He is better known for his voice work than his on-screen credits, having voiced Cobra Commander in GI Joe and Starscream in the original Transformers series.  This was his second of four Trek appearances between TNG and DS9.  He was Captain Kargan in "A Matter of Honor."

Collins voiced the roles of Mr. Burns and Moe during the first season of The Simpsons.  He was let go during that season because, in Matt Groening's words, "he was just kind of jerky to everyone." From that point on, Mr. Burns was voiced by Harry Shearer, Moe by Hank Azaria.  When asked about Collins, Azaria said "That guy could have been on The Simpsons his whole life. Lesson to you kids: always be nice!"

Collins died of a brain hemorrhage, June 12, 1994.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Vermouth Battles: Tribuno vs. Martini & Rossi

Full disclosure: I went into this project assuming the vermouth was the least important ingredient in a Manhattan.  After all, most of the flavor comes from the whiskey and the bitters.  Even switching to a higher grade of cherries made more of a difference than I would have expected from a change in vermouth.

Long story short: I was wrong.

Let's back up a little.  What is vermouth and what is its function in my favorite cocktail?  Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine.  The fortification distinguishes vermouth from brandy which is distilled wine.  Vermouth came from Italy originally but, naturally, the French can never resist a good Italian food idea so they started making it, too.  Generally, the product comes in one of two forms: sweet and dry.  They are occasionally listed as Italian and French vermouth respectively or red and white vermouth respectively.  There are additional varieties but most of what you'll find in a liquor store sits under one of those two umbrellas.

A traditional cocktail is built upon three legs: base, sweetener and bitters.  While there are some drinks which use vermouth as the base liquor, it more typically serves as the sweetener.  Such is the case with the sweet vermouth in a Manhattan.

As noted in this post, I recently made a discovery about vermouth.  I'd long perceived a wheaty aftertaste in our Manhattans which I'd assumed derived from the barley-based whiskey.  But then I tasted the same in a completely different cocktail which didn't involve whiskey but did include sweet vermouth.  I wouldn't exactly describe the taste as a flaw but given the choice, I could do without it.  As such, trying out different vermouths became a more meaningful exercise.

Martini & Rossi has been our brand of choice for a while.  It was recommended by one author or another - I can't remember whom - and has served us just fine.  The company is based in Turin and has been producing vermouth since 1863.  Tribuno is our first challenger, an American product, originally from New York City, 1938.  Vermouth is relatively cheap so price is not a major consideration but for the record, Tribuno is the less expensive of the two.

The Manhattan Test

Without a doubt, the Martini & Rossi is the culprit in the aftertaste mystery.  It went away with the Tribuno.  Merely sniffing the bottles revealed a significant difference.  Tribuno smells and tastes simply more like, well, wine.  The resulting cocktail is fruitier and, at least to our palettes, better.

Winner and New Champion: Tribuno

Squid on the Vine

Azienda Vinicola I Pastini, Antico Locorotondo White Blend 2019
Starts sweet, finishes sour
A not quite ripe green apple
My rating: 8.0

Denavolo Catavela Malvasia di Candida Blend 2018
An orange wine
Smells of peach, tastes like apricot
Quite dry
Smells better than it tastes
My rating: 8.1

La Garagista Ci Confonde Pétillant Naturel Rosé Blend
Sour cherry
Floral nose
My rating: 8.1

Domaine d'E Croce (Yves Leccia) Ile de Beauté Biancu Gentile 2019
Delicate fruity nose, a hint of metal
Dry but with a kick at the end
My rating 8.5

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Please Understand Me

Title: Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types
Authors: David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types: Keirsey ...
via Amazon
Before we go further, the material of the book, and my post, will be more meaningful if you know your Myers-Briggs (MBTI) personality type.  I am INFJ.  If you don't know yours yet, I recommend the following quick online quiz:

I also recommend reading the type descriptions on the site.  Please share your result in the comments!  I find this stuff fascinating.

Keirsey and Bates's survey of the MBTI types was first published in 1978.  Their particular angle is relating the 16 types to Carl Jung's four temperaments.  They classify the SPs (sensing-perceiving) as Dionysian.  The SJs (sensing-judging) are Epimethean.  The NTs (intuiting-thinking) are Promethean.  The NFs (intuiting-feeling), like me, are Apollonian.  More of the book is devoted to delineating between these four temperaments than the 16 types, though each of those is afforded its due in the appendix.

The book is excellent, though dated.  The sex and gender politics reflect a very different era.  The working woman was not yet a normalized concept and the possibility of homosexuality not even considered.  The text also deals in absolutes and, of course, real people are a lot more complicated than that.  All of that acknowledged, I found the material quite insightful.

A quick rundown of the four dichotomies measured by the MBTI:

Extroverted vs. Introverted
Sensing vs. iNtuiting
Feeling vs. Thinking
Judging vs. Perceiving

To add to my own personal context, I asked everyone in my life to share their types.  I sent out solicitous emails and also posted on Facebook.  The responses were fascinating.  Additionally, I looked into those who have assigned types to characters within various fictional universes, specifically Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Cheers, M*A*S*H and the Muppets

A modest sampling of my findings:

SPs, the Dionysians, those who love freedom
Sam Malone | Cheers Wiki | Fandom
via Cheers Wiki
ISTP: Harry Potter, Chewbacca
ESTP: Han Solo, Sam Malone
ISFP: my best friend, Hagrid
ESFP: Will Riker, Maxwell Klinger

SJs, the Epimetheans, those devoted to duty
Walter "Radar" O'Reilly | Monster M*A*S*H | Fandom
via The Monster M*A*S*H Wiki
ISTJ: Spock, Margaret Houlihan
ESTJ: Darth Vader, Carla Tortelli
ISFJ: Worf, C-3PO, Radar O'Reilly
ESFJ: my father, Dr. McCoy

NTs, the Prometheans, those who seek power
Tom Riddle | Harry Potter Wiki | Fandom
via Wikipedia
INTP: Data, Yoda, Hermione Granger
ENTP: my daughter, Dr. Crusher, R2-D2
INTJ: Jean-Luc Picard, Draco Malfoy
ENTJ: Leia Organa, Miss Piggy, Lord Voldemort

NFs, the Apollonians, those who strive for self-actualization
Kermit the Frog | Muppet Wiki | Fandom
via Muppet Wiki
INFJ: The Armchair Squid, Deonna Troi, Obi-Wan Kenobi
ENFJ: Diane Chambers, Albus Dumbledore
INFP: my wife, Luke Skywalker, Kermit
ENFP: my sister, James Kirk, Hawkeye Pierce, Animal

My most interesting discovery in the fictional world was that I could see the types most clearly in M*A*S*H.  I'm sure it helped that we'd recently binged the show as a family but I also think the series is particularly rich in clearly drawn and differentiated characters.  In my personal life, I was initially surprised to find the prevalence of NTs and especially NFs.  We are in the minority in terms of the broader population.  However, it was less surprising once I learned the NTs and NFs are more likely to go to college.  I expect they're also more likely to spend time on social media and more likely to answer personal, probing questions from me.

My biggest surprise, though, was the importance of SFJs in my life, both E and I.  I don't know so many of them but nearly all whom I do know have played meaningful roles in my personal history - even comparable roles.  I'm sure this fact says more about me than it does about them.  It says plenty about the sorts of people I've been drawn to, and even those who have been drawn to me.

And yes, INFJ has me nailed perfectly.  There are some interesting insights to share there, too.  I was an INFP for years, or at least I thought I was.  In reading the book's type descriptions, I'm not sure I was ever actually a P.  In the past, I may have answered the questions as to how I wanted to be as opposed to how I actually am.  Age has brought greater self-awareness.  The only one of the four factors I'm close on is F/T.  In fact, technically, I was INXJ according to the test in the book, meaning I was evenly split between the two.  However, in the test linked above, I'm an F and I can say with confidence that's closer to who I am.  Noneteless, the T tendencies are there and not insignificant to the broader picture that is me.

The Facebook thread got especially interesting.  One friend asserted that Myers-Briggs is inherently racist and thus unfairly used in hiring practices.  Poking around, there are strong arguments on both sides: it's racist and it's not.  I'm not sure what I think yet.  Obviously, I am fascinated by the types.  However, I can see the capacity for misuse.  Are the questions themselves culturally biased?  I have to acknowledge that's worth examining.  It depends on the particular test, of course, and there are plenty of different ones around.

The more important consideration, though, is how this sort of classification might be used.  Does an employer go into a candidate search with the assumption that some types are better than others or better-suited to particular roles?  Keirsey and Bates certainly devote plenty of material to the latter, if not the former.  To the authors' credit, they imply rather that a variety of types within an organization is ideal.  Also, the types do nothing to measure strengths or skills.  Being extroverted, for instance, does not mean you have better social skills than an introvert.  The differentiation merely identifies a preference in one's social interactions.  One can certainly see how an employer who misinterprets the data could use it unreasonably - if not intentionally unfairly - in hiring decisions.

Before leaving this topic, let me make very clear that there is plenty of racial bias in hiring practices.  That much is demonstrable fact.  I'm just not convinced MBTI is part of the problem.  I'm also not convinced it isn't.

Keirsey, who died in 2013, wrote several more books on the subject.  I'm definitely interested in reading more.

So, what's your type?  Do you think it describes you accurately?  Do you think MBTI is inherently racist?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: The Amazing Spider-Man #91-92, #121-122 and Howard the Duck #1-3

We have a lot to talk about - best we jump right in.

My Recent Reads

The Amazing Spider-Man #91
Originally Published December 1, 1970
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gil Kane
  • Spidey/Peter Parker struggles to come to terms with George Stacy's death while also dealing with the fact that everyone, most importantly his own girlfriend, blames him for the accident.
  • Nemesis: Sam Bullit, a crooked lawyer running for district attorney, looking to capitalize on Spidey's current unpopularity in his own "tough on crime" campaign
Robbie Robertson (comics) - Wikipedia
Robbie Robertson via Wikipedia
  • Featured: Robbie Robertson, the editor of The Daily Bugle and one of the first recurring Black characters in a major comic book series

The Amazing Spider-Man #92
January 1, 1971
  • Featured: Iceman, who picks a fight when he misinterprets (sort of) Spidey's kidnapping of Gwen.  The kidnapping is part of an effort to preserve his secret identity.  It's a little icky.  As much as we want our man to always be right, Iceman was probably correct to interfere.
  • Sam Bullit's evils are exposed.
Gil Kane - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Artist Gil Kane was born Eli Katz in Riga, Latvia on April 6, 1926.  His family emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1929.  He started working in the comics industry at age 16.  Over his career, he worked with every major publisher, including Archie, DC and, of course, Marvel.  He was co-creator of the Silver Age Green Lantern, Atom and Iron Fist.  He was also an early pioneer in the graphic novel format.  Kane passed away in 2000 from complications of lymphoma.
  • Catch your breath.  Here we go...

The Amazing Spider-Man #121
June 1, 1973
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Kane
  • Probably the single most important issue in the history of the American comic book industry.
  • Gwen Stacy dies.
  • It's difficult to overstate the significance of Gwen Stacy's death.  Since 1954, the entire medium had been living under the Comics Code Authority (CCA) which imposed even more stifling restrictions than the comparable code employed for motion pictures.  The lack of dimension in comic books of the 1950s and '60s can largely blamed on the CCA.
  • As a result, the readership had come to have certain expectations about superheroes and their stories.  Marvel had already begun to push the limits with The Amazing Spider-Man.  In issues #96-98, Harry Osborn took LSD and his friends struggled to help him with his drug problem.  They had back up on that one, the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare having asked them to run an anti-drug story.  
  • George Stacy's death in issue #90 was ground-breaking in itself but Gwen's death went a step further as Spidey's own role in the accident is less clear.  Yes, the Green Goblin threw her off the top of the George Washington Bridge but her neck snapped when Spidey tried to save her with his webbing.  In effect, Spider-Man accidentally caused her death.  Interestingly, the Green Goblin himself lets Spidey off the hook, asserting that the fall itself had likely already killed her.  Nonetheless, the question remains.
Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 121 | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Gwen Stacy's death is broadly considered to be the moment when the American comic book medium lost its innocence.  Spider-Man's good guy identity ultimately survived but the door was kicked open for morally ambiguous heroes and edgier storylines.
  • This issue is also considered by many to mark the ending of the Silver Age of comic books.
  • As if that weren't enough, Harry has his second bad acid trip in this issue.  Norman Osborn (alias: Green Goblin - boy has that story gotten complicated!) blames Harry's friends, including Peter, and kicks them out of the house when they come around to check on him.
Mary Jane Watson - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Featured: Mary Jane Watson. When I left the series after #38, we hadn't even seen her face yet.

The Amazing Spider-Man #122
July 1, 1973
  • Peter/Spidey is enraged over Gwen Stacy's death. 
  • Peter walks out on Harry while the latter is in need, still freaking out over his bad trip.
  • Mary Jane, however, turns out to be a better friend.  Peter is horrible to her when she meets him at his apartment and he sends her away.  In the issue's final frame, we see she's sticking around to tough it out with him.
Gerry Conway | Spiderman animated Wikia | Fandom
via Spiderman animated Wikia
  • Writer Gerry Conway was born September 10, 1952 in New York City.  A comic book wunderkind, he published his first professional work at age 16 and succeeded Stan Lee as lead writer for The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's flagship, at 19.   He also co-created The Punisher for Marvel and Firestorm for DC, where he was the writer for Justice League of America for eight years.
  • Before moving on, I'd like to quickly reaffirm that The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely the best series Marvel had going in the Silver Age and the Peter Parker side of the story is largely the reason why.

Howard the Duck #1
January 1, 1976
Steve Gerber/Frank Brunner
  • And now for something completely different...
Howard the Duck - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Howard the Duck was the co-creation of Gerber and artist Val Mayerik.  The character first appeared in Adventure into Fear #19 in December 1973.  In 1976, he got his own series.  He is a talking and cigar-smoking duck from outer space.  He's angry.  He's depressed, opening with suicidal thoughts in this initial offering.  Howard's stories are dark satire, spoofing their own genre in the process.  Unsubtle social commentary drips from the (digital) pages.
  • Unlike most of the New York-based Marvel Universe, Howard dwells in the decidedly less glamorous Cleveland, Ohio, an easily maligned city in the mid-'70s.  At one point, Howard accidentally sets fire to the deeply polluted Cuyahoga River.  That happened in the real world, too.  Several times.  Today, there's a beer from the region called Burning River Pale Ale.
  • Well worth noting, though, Cleveland is a very important city to comic book history.  For starters, it was the early stomping ground of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman.  It has been home to a thriving indy industry for decades.
  • The city also boasts a top-notch art museum and one of the finest symphony orchestras in the world.  All of that steel money was good for something.
  • It's also where my mom's from so back off!
Beverly Switzler (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • In #1, Howard meets his scantily clad sidekick, though not yet girlfriend, Beverly Switzler.
  • Beverly has been kidnapped by Pro-Rata, a deranged super-villain accountant in a Dr. Strange-esque dreamscape.  Nope, not kidding.  Welcome to Howard the Duck.

Howard the Duck #2
March 1, 1976
  • Villain: Turnip-Man, created when Arthur Winslow, Beverly's friend-but-not-boyfriend, is possessed by an extra-terrestrial root vegetable.
  • James Bond reference!  The Man with the Golden Gun was, at the time, the most recent film release:

Howard the Duck #3
May 1, 1976
Gerber/John Buscema
  • Villain: Count Macho
  • Horrified by a street brawl turned deadly, and the glorification of violence in general, Howard learns the martial art of Quack-Fu.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Star Trek: Q Who

Episode: "Q Who"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 16
Original Air Date: May 8, 1989

Q Who (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha

The mischievous Q sends the Enterprise careening into a new, distant part of the galaxy and into contact with the Borg, the ultimate in heartless, irresistible conquerors.  The Borg would become the primary adversary for TNG, the Ferengi having failed miserably in that capacity.  Despite their significance, the Borg only appear in six series episodes.  This is not unusual for Trek.  After all, the Klingons only appeared in seven TOS episodes, the Romulans only two.  In the dying days of the Cold War, a metaphorical threat to individuality and free will was still topical.  In this, the Borg were comparable to Doctor Who's Cybermen.

In the years since, there has been much discussion over how much of a "favor" Q did for our friends in bringing them into early contact with the Borg.  At the end of the episode, it is acknowledged that the collective will be heading to Earth now that they know it's there.  Damn Q!  But were they headed that way already and Q was providing early warning to prepare?  Had they, in fact, already been to Earth?  Later stories would imply both.  History can be revised to suit needs in a storytelling context.

Q Who (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha

"Q Who" is also a rare development episode for Guinan.  We learn a lot - and yet not much at all - in Q's standoff with Gunian on Ten Forward.  Q knows her and, far more interestingly, fears her.  And if she is truly as dangerous as he claims, it's revealing that he didn't realize she was aboard the Enterprise - omniscient entity fail.  The series has already hinted that there's a lot more to our favorite bartender than meets the eye and this is the first story that probes.  We never make it far down that thread which is too bad. 

Acting Notes

Image result for john de lancie first nights
via Wikipedia

John de Lancie (Q) was born November 13, 1948 in Philadelphia.  His father was the principal oboist for the Philadelphia Orchestra for 23 years.  He struggled in school due to un-diagnosed dyslexia but was encouraged by a teacher to pursue acting, eventually winning a scholarship to Julliard.

De Lancie made 12 appearances as Q on three different Star Trek series.  Even though his is only a recurring role, he has acknowledged that the association opened quite a lot of doors for him.  In addition to his acting, he's done significant work in the classical music realm.  He has written and directed ten symphonic plays, hosted an adult concert series at Disneyland and even directed Tosca with the Atlanta Opera company.  He toured with Star Trek: Music, a concert series devoted to music from the franchise, narrated by him and Robert Picardo.  He is also a successful voice actor, most prominently as Discord in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Bitters of the Month: Peychaud's

Like Angostura, Peychaud's bitters is gentian-based.  However, Peychaud's has a distinctive anise flavor that sets it apart.  It's also sweeter than either Angostura or orange bitters.  My wife described it as herbal in flavor.  It's a pretty, dark pink in the glass as well.

Peychaud's bitters was invented by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole apothecary, in 1830.  Peychaud is also credited with inventing the Sazerac cocktail, the bitters being one of its key ingredients.  The product was historically produced in New Orleans, though the current parent company, Sazerac, is now headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.

Squid on the Vine

Cave Saint Cyr, Pet Nat Beujolais Gamay Rosé
Delicate nose
My rating: 8.3

Corte Gardoni, Greoto Bianco di Custoza Garganega Blend 2019
A little sour
My rating: 8.0

Monday, June 29, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: The Avengers #92-97 and The Amazing Spider-Man #90

The Avengers definitely is not the series for me.  As discussed last week, there are simply too many characters and, not coincidentally, too many narrative threads running simultaneously.  Frankly, by the time I got to the end of The Kree/Skrull War series, the story had gotten so complicated and been spread so wide that I barely cared how it ended.  Good guys won.  That's all that matters, I guess.  I get the importance for future stories.  I get the solid topical efforts regarding war, nuclear weapons and the demonization of ethnic groups during times of crisis.  None of that was enough to save it for me.  I won't be returning to The Avengers anytime soon.

On the other hand...

I now return to The Amazing Spider-Man for two short but profoundly relevant stories, not just for Spidey and Marvel but for the entire American comic book industry.  Yes, I've been hinting about this one for a while and we're finally here.

Getting back to Spidey feels like I have come home.  While I would say both Silver Surfer and Black Bolt are more inherently interesting characters, Spider-Man's world is the most satisfying of Marvel's Silver Age and therefore generates the most consistently satisfying narratives.  I've been away for 52 issues and was keenly aware of how much I'd missed and how eagerly I want to go back and fill in my own gaps.  I will at some point.

Before we move on, a quick acknowledgement for the main writer of The Kree/Skrull War series.  I don't think he's the one to blame for the broader mess that is the Avengers.  Or maybe he is.  Regardless, he put in the hours and I shall give credit where it is due.

Roy Thomas - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia

Roy Thomas was born November 22, 1940 in Jackson, Missouri.  He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1961.  Probably his most important contribution to the industry was the introduction of Conan the Barbarian, previously a pulp magazine hero, to comic books.  He is the co-creator of many characters, including Wolverine, Luke Cage, Ultron and Red Sonja.  He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 201l.

My Recent Reads

The Avengers #92
Originally Published September 10, 1971
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema
  • A guilty by suspicion story as H.W. Craddock accuses the Avengers, and particularly Captain Marvel, of befriending the invading Kree.
  • Col. Fury draws a parallel with the Japanese Internment Camps during World War II.
  • Jarvis, the Avengers' butler, is featured.
Edwin Jarvis - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Joe Cocker reference!

  • The Big Three (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor), disgraced by the accusations, disband the Avengers on the final page.

The Avengers #93
November 10, 1971
Artist: Neal Adams
  • Hank Pym, now appearing as Ant-Man, journeys through Vision's android body to find what ails him.
Henry Pym (Earth-20051) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash are the names of Pym's ants in this adventure.

  • The Big Three who dropped the bomb at the end of the last issue were actually shapeshifting Skrulls in disguise.  The same Skrulls, lead by the Super Skrull, kidnap Captain Marvel, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksliver.
  • "Fire and Rain" reference: the James Taylor song was released in February 1970.

  • David and Goliath reference.

The Avengers #94
December 10, 1971
Artists: Neal Adams (parts 1 & 3) and John Buscema (part 2)
  • The Inhumans are featured, and fortunately they survive a WMD attack by Super Skrull.
  • The Super Skrull brings his three captives to the Skrull king.  The king tortures the twins in an effort to extort Kree tech secrets from Captain Marvel.
  • Triton appears in the last frame.

The Avengers #95
January 10, 1972
  • An Inhumans story!  The Avengers save Black Bolt in San Francisco, then take him back to the Great Refuge where he, once again, wrests power away from Maximus.  
  • Maximus, wouldn't you know it, has aligned himself with the Kree.  There are implications, in fact, that all of the Inhumans are descended from the Kree.  In the years since, that interconnected history has evolved into something a bit more complicated.
Supreme Intelligence - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Featured: Supreme Intelligence

The Avengers #96
February 10, 1972
  • The Avengers head to the Skrull world to help their kidnapped friends.
  • Mar-vell wasn't really helping after all.  He hoodwinked the Skrulls!
  • However, a nuclear warhead is heading toward Earth.
  • Rick Jones is kidnapped by the Kree.
  • Supreme Intelligence sends him into the Negative Zone.

The Avengers #97
March 10, 1972
Lee/Thomas/J. Buscema
  • You know what this story needs?  More characters.
  • It turns out Rick Jones has a superpower, or at least one the Supreme Intelligence has granted him temporarily.  He is able to summon Marvel superheroes from the 1940s.  Included are the old Human Torch and a different Vision, one with a similar costume but a different color scheme (seriously?).  Other blasts from the past:
    • The Patriot
Jeffrey Mace - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Blazing Skull
Blazing Skull | Superhero Wiki | Fandom
via Superhero Wiki
    • The Fin
Peter Noble (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • Angel
Angel (Thomas Halloway) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Through means I don't entirely understand, the powers of both sides are diffused.  
  • Craddock is unmasked as a Skrull.
  • All is well. 

The Amazing Spider-Man #90
November 1, 1970
Lee/Gil Kane
  • Villain: Doctor Octopus
  • Featured: George Stacy, father of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's current girlfriend.
George Stacy - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • George Stacy dies in this issue and Spidey/Peter blames himself.  This is a big deal.  The readership is put on notice: recurring characters within the Marvel Universe can die, permanently.
  • The death would be shocking enough in itself but add to it George's final revelation to Spider-Man while dying in the web slinger's arms: he knew Spidey was Peter.
  • I have been away from this series for 52 issues.  This was my own introduction to George Stacy - I barely met him before having to let him go.  Yet, the emotional impact for me is far beyond anything I've experienced in my time exploring other Marvel series. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Star Trek: Pen Pals

Episode: "Pen Pals"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 15
Original Air Date: May 1, 1989

Pen Pals (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Data makes contact with Sarjenka, a little girl on Drema IV.  Her planet is in great peril.  If the Enterprise doesn't intervene, it's likely Sarjenka will die, along with the entire population of her world.  The complication: Drema IV is a pre-warp civilization and Starfleet interference would violate the Prime Directive.

I love the Prime Directive dilemma stories!  In my opinion, the PD is the best science fiction narrative device after Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.  However, unlike the Laws which are absolutely rock sold, the PD is often no sooner mentioned than violated.  Still, the dilemma gets to the heart of the uniqueness of the Trek universe.  The TNG stories in this vein tend to be more effective than the TOS ones. 

The episode's secondary story - a Wesley tale, groan... - is also worthy of note.  Riker feels it's time for the young lad to experience command.  He assigns Acting Enign Crusher to lead a science team.  As always, there's the little voice in the back of my head nagging, "he doesn't deserve this."  That said, it is an interesting exploration of the dynamics of leadership and what it takes to learn the necessary skills.  Riker also emphasizes for Wesley the strong model available to him:
Riker: In your position, it's important to ask yourself one question.  What would Picard do?
Wesley: He'd listen to everyone's opinion, then make his own decision.
Wise man.

Food Notes

For the first time, Captain Picard succeeds in ordering and drinking his trademark "tea, Earl Gray, hot" from the replicator.

Acting Notes

Image result for nicholas cascone
via Memory Alpha

Nicholas Cascone (Ensign Davies) was born April 20, 1963 in New York City.  This was his first of two Star Trek appearances, also clocking in for DS9's "Equilibrium" as Timor.  Since Trek, he has appeared in Titanic, The West Wing and Dragonfly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Squid Mixes: A Whiskey Champion Emerges

Two untested rye whiskeys in our price range are on sale in Vermont liquor stores for June: Jack Daniels Tennessee Rye and Ezra Brooks Straight Rye.  We picked up a bottle of each setting up, for now, our final whiskey battles...

George Dickel vs. Jack Daniels Tennessee Rye

Jack Daniels was fruitier.

Winner: George Dickel

George Dickel vs. Ezra Brooks

This was a particularly important battle.  Brooks is definitely a lower-shelf brand than most of the others we've tested.  At full price for each, Brooks is $12 cheaper than Dickel.  Brooks is a perfectly nice whiskey, having already triumphed over Old Overholt, our original favorite (read here).  And $12 really is rather a lot.  So, even if Dickel should win, it's likely only going to be our "when it's on sale" choice while Brooks remains our staple.

George Dickel is smokier.

Winner: Ezra Brooks

Well, what do you know?

My wife was quite surprised to find that she preferred the Brooks in the blind test.  What's interesting is that she'd never described Dickel as smoky before and, in fact, wouldn't have considered the word a redeeming adjective for a whiskey.  Nonetheless, her choice was clear.

No complaints here.  The preference will save us money.  While I think the other brands might be nice for a change of pace once in a while, our rye of choice is both tasty and affordable.  Everybody wins!

Next up: Vermouth Battles

Squid on the Vine

Fondo Bozzole, Giano Lambrusco Mantovano
A bubbly red
Cherry nose
Cherry, bubblegum taste
My rating: 8.1

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Family Book Swap: The Secret Commonwealth

Title: The Secret Commonwealth
Author: Philip Pullman The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of ...
via Amazon
As expected, my wife gave me The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust trilogy for our latest book swap.  Here is my reflection on Book One.  The story is set some 20 years after La Belle Sauvage and about 10 years after His Dark Materials.

Lyra is a university student at Oxford, though in a different college from Jordan, the one that essentially raised her.  Pantalaimon, her separable daemon (long story - read the books!), witnesses a murder while out wandering one evening.  This sets off a chain of events that leads to Pantalaimon running away and Lyra setting off to find him, sending both on an adventure across Europe to what we know as Turkey.

Malcolm, whom we met in Book One of this series, still sees himself as Lyra's protector.  What's more, he's in love with her.  So, when she runs off after Pan, Mal runs off after her.  Luckily for all involved, he's become even more of a badass with age.  Seriously, George Smiley would be proud!

There's a lot more to all of this but it's complicated.  However, it's well worth immersing oneself in this world.  I wasn't too sure about this second trilogy, having enjoyed the original so much, but the second book has me convinced.  While it is set in the same world with, for the most part, the same protagonist, the story is not a feeble attempt to rehash the old.  With more adult characters comes a more adult atmosphere and a more adult adventure.  As with Book One, not a read aloud for the tots.

Perhaps most importantly, Pullman tests the limits of the very world he created, specifically the limits of the daemon-human bond.  The original series portrays the relationship as invariably blissful.  In the new, Lyra learns quite a lot about how different the reality can be, and not merely between herself and Pan.  While His Dark Materials begins with the "I am not what I seem" premise of so many fantasy tales, The Book of Dust revolves more around "The world is not quite what I've always assumed it was."  If anything, it makes the concept more believable.

One other thing I really like:  Lyra, whom we've now known at three life stages, is acknowledged as a sexual being.  She has had sex.  She enjoyed it.  No big deal.  At no point is she shamed for this.  Nice.

In fact, the story is so different that I wonder how well it would stand on its own.  I love His Dark Materials and would certainly encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do so but I don't think it's necessarily a pre-requisite.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #145-146, The Avengers #89-91

This week, I say goodbye to Dr. Strange and move on to a quick tour with The Avengers, issues #89-97, a run known collectively as The Kree/Skrull War.  I have previously hinted (here, for instance) at my main gripe with the Avengers: way too many characters!  The group started with five founding members in 1963: Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk.  Things got messy quickly.  Hank Pym switched from Ant-Man to Giant Man in issue #2 and Hulk quit.  Captain America joined in #4 and was granted founding member status.  By the time we get to our story, launched in 1971, the Avengers had seemingly become a catch-all to include the stars of discontinued series and any other character the Marvel creators couldn't put anywhere else.  I'd intended to begin my own reflection with a rundown of the roster at the time of #89 but even now, 49 years later in an age of thorough Wikis and numerous other reliable sources, figuring that out is maddeningly complicated.  Who was in?  Who was out?  Who had been in but had left?  Who had been invited but refused?  Who was included in the stories but not an official Avenger?  Nothing in the issue itself provides any clarity.  You get the characters you get for a given story.  Either you're already supposed to know the rest or it doesn't really matter.  Just shut up and enjoy the comic book, stupid!

That's not easy for me...

I will do my best to put my discomfort aside for now.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #145
Originally Published June 1, 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
  • Nemesis: Mr. Rasputin

Strange Tales #146
July 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Artist: Jack Kirby
Advanced Idea Mechanics (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
    • Nemesis: A.I.M., Advanced Idea Mechanics, first appearance
  • Doctor Strange
    • Artist: Ditko.  This is his final Doctor Strange issue.
    • Nemesis: Dormammu
    • Includes appearances by both Eternity and Mordo.
Clea (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • A mysterious woman has been aiding Strange in his struggle against Dormammu for nearly two years-worth of issues.  She finally gets a name: Clea.

The Avengers #89
June 10, 1971
Editor: Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema

Vision (Marvel Comics) - Wikipedia
Vision via Wikipedia
Rick Jones (character) - Wikipedia
Rick Jones via Wikipedia

  • Vision, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Rick Jones capture Captain Marvel.  Mar-vell doesn't realize it yet but the Avengers are actually trying to save him, and the world, from the radiation building up in his body.
Annihilus (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Annihilus via Marvel Database

  • Nemesis of all of the above: Annihilus
Ronan the Accuser - Wikipedia
Ronan via Wikipedia
  • We see trouble brewing in the Kree world.  Ronan the Accuser has sent a Kree Sentry to Earth in order to kill Captain Marvel.
Kree Sentries | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database

The Avengers #90
July 10, 1971
  • After battling the Kree Sentry, the Avengers head to the Arctic, responding to a call for help from the Pyms.
Avengers Vol 1 28 | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
Wasp (comics) - Wikipedia
Wasp via Wikipedia
Henry Pym (Earth-8096) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Yellowjacket via Marvel Database
  • Avengers added to the mix: Goliath, Wasp and Yellowjacket
Captain America - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Avengers also featured, though briefly: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man
Carol Danvers - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Also featured: Carol Danvers (pre-Ms. Marvel)

The Avengers #91
August 10, 1971
  • Ronan reveals his plan: to reduce all humans to their pre-historic, Neanderthal state.  Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) has already fallen victim.
  • Ronan receives word from the Kree galaxy that the Skrulls have attacked, leading him to abandon his plans for Earth.
  • After Ronan leaves, all, including Pym, revert back to normal.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Star Trek: The Icarus Factor

Episode: "The Icarus Factor"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 14
Original Air Date: April 24, 1989
The Icarus Factor (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Riker has a big decision to make.  He has been offered command of the Aries.  As if that weren't enough, his estranged father Kyle is sent to give him a briefing on the ship's mission.  Meanwhile, Worf is grumpy.  It's the 10th anniversary of his Rite of Ascension and his disconnection from his Klingon heritage is hitting him hard.

I actually liked this episode a lot.  The Will-Kyle troubles are resolved far too easily at the last minute but otherwise, it offers great development for several characters: Will and Worf certainly but also for Dr. Pulaski, whose romantic past with Kyle is revealed, and Troi who admits to difficult feelings regarding Will's proposed departure.  The parallels between the two stories are clearly evident as is the implied father-figure Will sees in Picard that he no longer does in his own dad.  One can feel the relationship lines aboard the Enterprise settling a bit.

Oh, and spoiler: Riker stays.  However, his proposed new ship doesn't blow up this time!

Acting Notes

Image result for mitchell ryan
via Wikipedia

Mitchell Ryan (Kyle Riker) was born January 11, 1934 in Cincinnati.  He is a war veteran, serving in the Navy in Korea.  Over a half-century career, his most famous roles were as Burke Devlin in the '60s soap opera Dark Shadows, Greg's father Edward on Dharma & Greg and General McAllister in the original Lethal Weapon film.  His was a career compromised by alcoholism, a disease which got him fired from Dark Shadows.  He was in better shape by the late '80s, though, and was an early candidate for the role of Captain Picard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Squid Mixes: White Lady

The White Lady combines gin, Cointreau and lemon juice.  I got my recipe from David Lebovitz.  It tastes kind of like Crystal Lite with gin.  Except better.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #138-144

I will be moving on from Doctor Strange soon for a relatively brief visit with the Avengers.  Strange is certainly a different sort of character but I can't say the stories themselves did much for me.  Nick Fury was a bit more exciting, at least in the beginning.  However, that series was less interesting once it reverted to the typical villain-of-the-month formula.

I'm ready for something new.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #138
Originally Published November 1, 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
  • Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Artist: Jack Kirby
    • Hydra kidnaps Fury while threatening the world with a Betatron bomb.
  • Doctor Strange
    • Artist: Steve Ditko
    • Part 9 of Dormammu/Mordo story 
    • For those who admire the series for its artwork, #138 is seen as the pinnacle of the Ditko run because...
    • Strange meets Eternity
Eternity (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database

Strange Tales #139
December 1, 1965
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Agent G, also Imperial Hydra's daughter, helps Fury escape.
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 10 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange confronts Mordo directly.

Strange Tales #140
January 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Arnold Brown is revealed as Imperial Hydra.
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 11 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange and Dormammu spar.

Strange Tales #141
February 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemeses: The Fixer and an unnamed potential collaborator 
Fixer (comics) - Wikipedia
The Fixer via Wikipedia
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 12 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange finally triumphs.

Strange Tales #142
March 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemeses: The Fixer and his now identified collaborator, Mentallo
Marvin Flumm (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Mentallo via Marvel Database
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Nemeses: three agents sent by Mordo, including Demonicus and a mysterious enchantress

Strange Tales #143
April 1, 1966
  • Doctor Strange's trouble with Mordo's three agents continues.

Strange Tales #144
May 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  •  Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemesis: The Druid, eventually to be known as Dredmund the Druid
Dredmund the Druid | Captain America Wiki | Fandom
via Captain America Wiki
    • Agent Jasper Sitwell is introduced.
Jasper Sitwell - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Strange seeks to help a mysterious woman held captive by Dormammu.
    • Nemesis: Tazza