Friday, May 29, 2020

Star Trek: Contagion

Episode: "Contagion"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 11
Original Air Date: March 20, 1989

Image result for contagion tng
via Wikipedia

Captain Picard gets a call from an old friend, Donald Varley (Thalmus Rasulala), captain of the Yamato, the Enterprise's sister ship.  A fellow archaeology enthusiast, Varley had been investigating a world rumored to be the home of the legendary Iconians.  Two problems: the planet is inconveniently located in the neutral zone, the Yamoto's trespassing drawing the attention of the Romulans, and the ship seems to have picked up a tech virus in the process.  The virus destroys the Yamato as the Enterprise bridge crew looks on in horror.  Now the same condition has infected the Enterprise.

The story idea came from Beth Woods who was an IT tech at the Star Trek offices at the time.  Some of the ideas used are ones we've seen before.  The ship being attacked by an abandoned planet is reminiscent of "Arsenal of Freedom."  The portal room on the Iconian world is not entirely unlike the one we saw in TOS's "All Our Yesterdays," the penultimate episode of the originals.  A quick side note: the latter is an installment I think about a lot.  I didn't initially include it on my top 10 list but in hindsight, I might - certainly top 15.  It's such a great Spock story.

Food Note

This episode marks the first time Picard orders his trademark "Tea, Earl Gray, hot" from the replicator, though the machine messes up the order.

Acting Notes

Image result for thalmus rasulala
via Good Times Wiki

Thalmus Rasulala was born Jack Crowder, November 15, 1939 in Miami.  He graduated from the University of Redlands in California.  He had a long career on both stage and screen.  In 1967, he played the role of Cornelius Hackl in an all-black cast of Hello, Dolly!, a production which also featured Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.

On the big screen, his biggest starring roles were in blaxploitation films of the early '70s: Cool Breeze, Blacula and Willie Dynamite.  He also has an assistant director credit for The Slams.  On television, he was in the original cast for One Life to Live, then had guest roles on numerous major shows in the '70s and '80s.  TNG was not his first gig with Levar Burton.  Both were in Roots, Rasulala playing the part of Omoro Kinte, father of Kunta Kinte, Burton's character.

Thalmus Rasulala passed away on October 9, 1991 from a heart attack.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Squid Mixes: Algonquin

The Algonquin combines whiskey, dry vermouth and pineapple juice.  We tried two different recipes: the one from The New York Bartender's Guide which calls for American blended whiskey (I used Canadian) and David Lebovitz's which favors rye.  The proportions are slightly different, too, though I think the choice of whiskey made the bigger difference in taste.  We both preferred Lebovitz's combo as the rye flavor came through more strongly.

Pineapple seems a strange choice to me for a drink named for an indigenous people from eastern Canada.  Maple would seem a more appropriate flavoring.  However, the drink is actually named after the iconic hotel in Manhattan where it was invented.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #118-124

I'm still undecided as to how I feel about Doctor Strange as a character.  While I will grant that he is refreshingly different from his Marvel contemporaries, I don't find his stories as compelling as those of others.  At this point, I would rate him above the Fantastic Four but below the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man.

Dr Strange 1
via Thoughtful Mirth

However, there's no denying the artwork is something special.  As promised last week, I've done a little research into the fascinating links between Steve Ditko's illustrations and the psychedelic art that emerged from the counter-culture of the mid-to-late 1960s.  This week, I will share a quick look at the common roots for both...

Dr Strange 2
via Thoughtful Mirth

In creating a mystical character with connections to the Far East, Ditko deliberately drew inspiration from Asian mystical art.  The most commonly found expression of that art in modern society is the mandala:

Painted 17th century Tibetan 'Five Deity Mandala', in the center is Rakta Yamari (the Red Enemy of Death) embracing his consort Vajra Vetali, in the corners are the Red, Green White and Yellow Yamari.jpg
By Anonymous - Rubin Museum of Art, Public Domain, Link

Buddha mandala.jpg
By Kamal Ratna Tuladhar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Asian mystcism, and the trappings thereof, were popular among the counter-culture as well.  The Beatles, among others, being drawn to Indian sitar music at the time was a different manifestation of the same phenomenon.

Psychedelic 60s | Graphic Design History
via Graphic Design History
While the artist himself would not have been thrilled, there were counter-culture enthusiasts who embraced Dr. Strange comics as an element of their movement.  Next week, I'll look at some of the direct links.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #118
Originally Published March 1, 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
  • Villains: The Possessors

Strange Tales #119
April 1, 1964

Wong (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Dr. Strange's servant gets a name: Wong.
  • Strange travels to the Purple Dimension where he frees the enslaved minions of a being called Aggamon. 

Strange Tales #120
May 1, 1964

Iceman | X-Men Wiki | Fandom
via X-Men Wiki
  • In the primary Human Torch story (artist: Jack Kirby), Iceman of the X-Men teams up with Johnny Storm for the first time.
  • Dr. Strange's nemesis: a haunted house 

Strange Tales #121
June 1, 1964

Plantman | Villains Wiki | Fandom
via Villains Wiki
  • Human Torch (artist: Dick Ayers) villain: Plantman
  • Dr. Strange nemesis: Baron Mordo
  • We learn an important limitation of the doctor's powers: he can only stay in his ectoplasmic form for 24 hours.

Strange Tales #122
July 1, 1964

Terrible Trio (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Human Torch (artist: Ayers) villains: a group who would eventually be known as the Terrible Trio, including Handsome Harry Phillips, Yogi Dakor and Bill Brogin
  • Dr. Strange nemesis: Nightmare

Strange Tales #123
August 1, 1964
  • Beatles allusion!

  • Dr. Strange nemesis: Loki
  • Cameos by Thor and Odin
Odin Borson (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Odin via Marvel Database

Strange Tales #124
September 1, 1964

Zota of Pergamum (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Nemesis: Zota
  • Cameos by Cleopatra and Mark Antony

Friday, May 22, 2020

Star Trek: The Dauphin

Episode: "The Dauphin"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 10
Original Air Date: February 20, 1989

Image result for dauphin star trek
via Memory Alpha

Wesley falls in love.  The Enterprise is transporting what appears to be a young woman to a world where she is to become their new leader.  I say appears because as it transpires, she and her escort are shapeshifters.  Troubling for young Master Crusher, he doesn't learn of this talent until after he's smooched her and thus feels betrayed by the revelation.

My wife's reaction: "Boys are stupid."

It's a Wesley story so one naturally approaches with apprehension.  However, I didn't think it was so bad.  In truth, it's more the sort of narrative I would want Trek to have for him: awkward teenager, hold the wunderkind.  The writing isn't exactly sparkling but there have definitely been less stellar episodes so far in the second season.

Along the way, there is good development for others as Wes seeks advice from his friends.  Worf's recounting of Klingon courtship rituals is wonderful.  The flirtation demonstration between Riker and Guinan is also memorable.  Whoopi Goldberg gets to flex her comedy muscles with a sharp "Shut up, kid" when the young ensign interrupts.  The prominence of chocolate was much appreciated, too.

Acting Notes

Image result for paddi edwards
via Memory Alpha

Paddi Edwards played the role of Anya, the escort to Salia (Jaime Hubbard), the Dauphin herself.  Ms. Edwards was born Particia Mary Ursula Edwards, March 8, 1931 in Bristol, UK.  Her family moved to the United States when she was a child.  She grew up in Waban, Massachusetts and she became a naturalized citizen in 1952.  

Most of her work was in television, mostly guest roles.  In addition to Trek, she made appearances on Night Court, Murder, She Wrote and Murphy Brown among others.  If anything, she had a more successful voiceover career.  She was the voice of Gozer in the original Ghostbusters film.  Later in life, she caught on with Disney, voicing characters in such blockbusters as The Little Mermaid and Hercules.

Edwards died of respiratory failure in 1999.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Squid Mixes: Virgin Mary

When you have a Zoom meeting scheduled with an old friend in Sydney for 8 a.m. EDT, an alcoholic cocktail is a bit much.  However, I love a Bloody Mary so a Virgin Mary is just the thing!  Besides, if I leave out the alcohol, our tomato juice loving daughter can have one, too.

I got my recipe from Mocktails by Kester Thompson: tomato juice, lemon wedge, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and black pepper (which I skipped in favor of a pinch of salt - shhh...) in a shaker, then celery to garnish.  Thompson doesn't use horseradish which I appreciate.  My wife and I both felt the drink could use more heat, our daughter thought perhaps a little less.  Otherwise, the drinks were pleasant.

Whiskey Battles: George Dickel vs. Redemption Rye

Like George Dickel, Redemption Rye is on sale in Vermont liquor stores this month.  It's time to pit the two against one another.  Important consideration: at full price, Dickel is $3 cheaper.  As previously noted, I have decided the Manhattan Test is the only one that really matters.  And so...

I liked both about the same.  In fact, I didn't think they were too different from each other.  My wife preferred the Dickel once again.  She felt the Redemption had a more chemical flavor.

Decision: George Dickel

Dickel's reign continues.  I have a couple more whiskey tests to go, then we'll start working on vermouths.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Silver Surfer #18 and Strange Tales #110-111, #114-117

Doctor Strange - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
This week, I leave the Silver Surfer and move on to Doctor Strange.  This shift involves a step back in time a few years, the Surfer ending in 1970, Strange launching in 1963.  In some ways, it is disappointing to retreat from the '70s, an era in which Marvel busted through the boundaries of what a superhero comic could be.  With Strange Tales, we're back to the villain-of-the week model.

However, Doctor Strange is definitely different.  His origin story of redemption is nothing new, nor is the basic good vs. evil moral landscape upon which his adventures are set.  But there's a darkness to the character that separates him from others at this point in comic history, perhaps closer to the radio drama heroes of an earlier era.  He also romps through wild, mystical dreamscapes in favor of the more realistic New York streets where we encounter Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.  Plus, there's the artwork...

Dr. Strange, more than Spidey, was Steve Ditko's baby.  Ditko, a straight-laced conservative who probably never went near an illicit drug in his life, was a psychedelic artist before the word went mainstream.  His art for Dr. Strange, while perhaps not an influence, was certainly a harbinger of what was to come, leading me to wonder if perhaps the art world was heading in this direction even without the counter-cultural forces with which it's associated.

I will readily admit, I am out of my depths on this topic.  But it is intriguing and I'll be hanging out with Strange for a few weeks, plenty of time for me to learn more.  I promise to share the highlights.

My Recent Reads

Silver Surfer #18
Originally published September 1, 1970
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby (back to close out the series)
  • The Surfer meets the Inhumans!  It would seem there have been significant developments since the last time I encountered this band.  There are now two factions to keep track of: the royal family who live with Black Bolt in the Great Refuge and the Outsiders who roam in exile with Maximus.  The Surfer meets both.
  • The encounter doesn't go well.  The issue, and the series, end with a message of rage and despair.
  • So ends an excellent first solo series for an outstanding character.  Although there were many guest appearances and a couple of one-shots, the Silver Surfer didn't get his next solo series until 1987.

Strange Tales #110
July 1, 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
  • The lead stories at this point in the Strange Tales run star the Human Torch (artist: Dick Ayers).  However, the reason for my interest is the secondary tale.  In #110, Doctor Strange is introduced!
Ancient One - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Also introduced is The Master, to be referred to in later stories as The Ancient One.   He is Strange's guru.
Nightmare (Marvel Comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • We get a new villain, too: Nightmare.

Strange Tales #111
August 1, 1963
Asbestos Man - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • This month's Human Torch story (artist: Ayers) is worthy of note for the introduction of a new villain: Asbestos Man.
Karl Mordo (Earth-101) | Marvel Fanon | Fandom
via Marvel Fanon
  • We meet Dr. Strange's arch-nemesis: Baron Mordo. 

Strange Tales #114
November 1, 1963
  • New character: Victoria Bently, an ally with mystical power potential

Strange Tales #115
December 1, 1963
  • The Doctor Strange origin story

Strange Tales #116
January 1, 1964
  • Human Torch story (artist: Ayers) 
    • Villain: The Puppet Master
Phillip Masters (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • Cameos by the rest of the FF, particularly Thing who brawls with Torch
    • Alicia Masters also features.  It turns out she's the Puppet Master's step-daughter!
  • Dr. Strange story
    • Villain: Nightmare

Strange Tales #117
February 1, 1964

Leopold Stryke (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Human Torch villain: The Eel (artist: Ayers)
  • Dr. Strange villain: Baron Mordo

Friday, May 15, 2020

Star Trek: The Measure of a Man

Episode: "The Measure of a Man"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 9
Original Air Date: February 13, 1989

Image result for the measure of a man star trek
via Memory Alpha
Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy), a cyberneticist, has come aboard the Enterprise with the intention of stealing Data away so he can dismantle him for study.  Data attempts to resign from Starfleet in order to decline the transfer order but Maddox fights it.  In a legal hearing with the JAG - Captain Philippa Luvios, another old flame of Jean Luc's - Picard argues for Data's rights as a sentient being to make his own choices.  As second-in-command, Riker is assigned to argue for Maddox, an awkward position to say the least.

"The Measure of a Man" is a popular choice for all-time best lists and has, in fact, been called TNG's first truly great episode.  It is certainly one with reach beyond Star Trek.  The parallel drawn to human slavery provides a provocative historical perspective, of course.  Additionally, the story has been referenced in real-world computer ethics academia.  Within big-franchise sci-fi, I perceive influence - from Data in general and from "The Measure of a Man" specifically - on The Clone Wars.  As I have written before (here, among several posts), the most interesting stories in that series revolve around the plight of the clone troopers themselves in their complicated relationship with the Jedi who lead them.  The issues are rarely if ever confronted as directly as they are regarding Data but the moral tension is implied throughout.  Perhaps the episode "The Deserter" relates most closely.

As for being the best so far, it's a strong candidate but not a slam dunk for me.  In "Elementary, Dear Data," I find Moriarty to be a more appealing adversary than Maddox and nothing in "The Measure of a Man" offers the same visual dazzle as the Sherlock Holmes-scape of the earlier story.  However, this week's episode presents the strongest statement yet for the moral compass of TNG - certainly compatible with TOS's but different in important ways.  With the more developed principal characters, TNG allows for a deeper exploration of the challenges for the individual in a pluralistic society.  Data's arc has, to this point, brought the most opportunities for such questions but we've seen it with others, too: Worf reconciling his Klingon identity with the life he has lived among humans, Geordi's conflicted feelings about his disability, Deanna's choice to keep her baby as well as her sense of responsibility to her family and culture, Beverly's parenting challenges and so forth.  For TOS, the moral dilemmas generally revolve around confronting the new.  In TNG, while we still get the awkward alien encounters from time to time, the more interesting stories involve our heroes' struggles with more personal matters.  While the specific threat to Data's autonomy is new in this story, the prejudices behind it are not.

Game Notes

The story opens with a poker game, the first of many over the TNG run.  These games offer important character insights and critical lessons for Data in understanding human nature.  This time, Data falls for a bluff by Riker, greatly confusing for our favorite android.

Acting Notes

Image result for amanda mcbroom
via Memory Alpha
Amanda McBroom (Captain Luvois) was born August 9, 1947 in Woodland Hills, California.  While she has numerous acting credits, she is more accomplished as a musician, especially as a songwriter, particularly as the writer of "The Rose," the Bette Midler classic.  The song brought a Golden Globe award for McBroom and a Grammy for Midler:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Squid Mixes: Trinidad Sour

A Trinidad Sour is an unusual cocktail for the fact that it uses the bitters as the base liquor.  Bitters are, after all, potently alcoholic: 44.7% in the case of Angostura.  However, the flavor is so intense that a little bit is usually plenty.  Invented by Giuseppe Gonzalez, bartender at Brooklyn's Clover Club at the time, the Trinidad Sour calls for a full 1.5 oz of Angostura bitters.  For reference, that's approximately 16 times what I typically put in a Manhattan and I love my bitters!  Even the Gin and Bitters from last week only uses a teaspoon.  For that matter, there are only 4 ounces in a standard bottle, usually enough to last a hobbyist years.  The recipe I found on Punch also includes orgeat syrup, lemon juice and rye whiskey.

"Wow!" was my wife's initial, wide-eyed reaction.  It's definitely interesting - a bit chewy in texture, I would say.  There's an awful lot of flavors going on.  The bitters are strong and the almond, lemon and rye aren't exactly shy either.  I don't know if I'd want one again.  A major aspect of this hobby is ingredient management and that's an awful lot of bitters to devote to one drink.  My wife, though?  She was impressed, so maybe.  If so, we might need to start buying Angostura two bottles at a time.

Squid on the Vine

Our most recent wine class was an Old Country-New Country comparison.  The four bottles up for examination: 

Vincent Mothe, Chablis Chardonnay 2017
Medium+ aroma, ripe pear.
Off-dry, a little sour.
My rating: 8.0

Presqu'ile Winery, Presqu'ile Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
My rating: 8.0

Bruno Colin, Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2016
Medium color, chubby legs
Delicate, buttery, cat pee aroma
My rating: 8.0

Failla, Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018
Medium color, chubby legs
Less delicate aroma than the Burgundy
High acidity
My rating: 8.0

I'm ready for more surgical strikes with wine, to pursue the varieties I prefer: Alsatian rielsings an vinho verdes for the whites along with the spicier reds.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Silver Surfer #12-17

I'll be leaving the Silver Surfer soon.   The original solo series only ran for 18 issues.  I'll be moving on to Doctor Strange.  Before I go, a quick tribute to the man who eventually became the primary artist for the Silver Surfer series: 
John Buscema - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
John Buscema was born Giovanni Natale Buscema, December 11, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York.  Beyond The Silver Surfer,  he is best known for his work on The Avengers and over 200 stories featuring Conan the Barbarian.  He died of stomach cancer on January 10, 2002.  He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame the same year.

My Recent Reads

Silver Surfer #12
Originally Published January 1, 1970 (new decade)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema

Abomination (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Nemesis: The Abomination, summoned by a coven of witches and warlocks, led by Nigel Carruthers
  • We learn that among his many talents, the Silver Surfer has healing powers.  What's more, he's willing to use this power to save his own adversaries.

Silver Surfer #13
February 1, 1970

Doomsday Man (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Nemesis: The Doomsday Man

Silver Surfer #14
March 1, 1970
  • Crossover: Spider-Man
  • We are reminded, Earth's super-hero community still isn't sure what to make of the Surfer.  Spidey sees him as a threat and picks a fight.
  • In the course of the battle, the Surfer jeopardizes his own safety to rescue a boy, causing both Spidey and the ordinary human onlookers to reconsider their preconceptions. 

Silver Surfer #15
April 1, 1970
  • Crossover: The Fantastic Four
  • For the second month in a row, the Surfer shares his cover with another Marvel superhero: the Human Torch this time.  Cancellation was looming.  Sales for the title probably weren't so great at this point.  Leveraging the more established characters was likely an effort to boost the appeal.
  • An exploration of the Surfer's deep trust issues.

Silver Surfer #16
May 1, 1970
  • Nemesis: Mephisto
  • The Surfer's least favorite demon holds Shalla Bal hostage, forcing the Surfer to attack S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Nick Fury.  I learned some interesting history about that character in researching this post.  In 1970, Fury was still white:
Nicholas Fury (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database

  • When Marvel re-invented Fury for Marvel Unlimited, the character's image was patterned after Samuel L. Jackson, several years before the actor was cast in the role for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Meanwhile, in Marvel's main canon storyline, Nick Fury, Jr. is the original Fury's African-American son - naturally, also based on Samuel L. Jackson:
Nick Fury Jr. - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia

Silver Surfer #17
June 1, 1970
  • Part 2 of the Mephisto/S.H.I.E.L.D. story
  • The Surfer manages to get out of his Faustian bargain, though he still makes a mess of S.H.I.E.L.D. 
  • Shalla Bal slips away yet again.
  • We are left with a cliffhanger and a tease: the Inhumans will be featured in the next issue.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Star Trek: A Matter of Honor

Episode: "A Matter of Honor"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 8
Original Air Date: February 6, 1989

Image result for matter of honor
via Memory Alpha
Good galactic citizens that they are, the crew are participating in an officer exchange program.  Riker serves on the Pagh, a Klingon ship, while Mendon, a Benzite played by John Putch, is assigned to the Enterprise.  Both storylines explore the challenges and rewards of intercultural contact.

This is the best Riker development story since "11001001."  We see him as a man eager for a challenge and one with both the flexibility and the sense of humor to survive tense exchanges with his Klingon shipmates.  To this point in the series, the characteristic which best defines Riker is his sense of duty.  That quality is strongly tested in this episode as he must reconcile his responsibilities to two different captains.

As I have written before, the best window to another culture apart from language is food, both the fare on offer and the customs and rituals by which it is consumed.  Riker prepares himself for the exchange by gorging upon a wide range of Klingon delicacies at Ten Forward.

While on board the Pagh, Riker's most intimate and meaningful interactions occur in the mess hall.

The gagh is actually long brown noodles, the rokeg blood pie is turnips in pumpkin pie and the pipius claws are chicken feet.  Prop master Alan Sims picked up most of the necessary ingredients at an Asian grocery store. 

Acting Notes

Image result for john putch
via Memory Alpha

John Putch was born July 27, 1961 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He is the son of Jean Stapleton of All in the Family fame, a fact which certainly didn't hurt his own Hollywood career.  After a guest appearance on Mom's show at age 12, legendary producer Norman Lear cast Putch in the recurring role of Bob Norton on One Day at a Time, appearing in 14 episodes over seven seasons.  Since the mid-'80s, Putch has been primarily a director rather than an actor, with numerous credits in both television and independent film.

Putch also played the role of Mordock in "Coming of Age."  In fact, the script pokes fun at the resemblance between the two characters.  Putch was initially flattered to be invited back.  It was only later he realized it was a cost-saving measure: they wouldn't have to redo the Benzite mask if they used the same actor again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bitters of the Month: Angostura

Introducing a new series for The Armchair Squid: Bitters of the Month!

Bitters are the wonderful and mysterious third leg of the traditional cocktail combo.  You start with your base liquor: whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.  Then you add your sweetener: often fruit juice, vermouth or a liqueur.  Finally, a dash or three of a concentrated elixir descended from the apothecary's cabinet.  The tiny 4 oz. bottles with the oversized labels are essential bar supplies for the professional and hobbyist alike.  They add the signature accents to such classic drinks as the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the Zombie, the Sazerac and many others.  Bitters collecting can be a satisfying sub-hobby in itself and it's not so complicated to make one's own.  (I don't think I'm heading in the latter direction just yet but you never know.)

We begin with the old workhorse, Angostura aromatic bitters.  The product was invented by Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German surgeon general in Simon Bolivar's army.  Siegert first started selling it in 1824.  While the bitters were originally produced in Venezuela, the company has been based in Trinidad since 1875.  Gentian root is the primary flavoring, though the exact recipe is a closely guarded family secret.  Only one person knows the full formula.  It used to be two and they famously weren't allowed to fly together on the same plane for fear both would be killed in a crash.

To kick off the month, I feel it's important to isolate the flavor of the bitters, not always easy in the context of a cocktail and tasting the stuff straight is too overpowering.  I think the best way to manage it is with a Gin and Bitters (read here).  Gin is a particularly nice liquor, in my experience, for enhancing rather than hiding or diluting other flavors.

My wife and I sensed the following characteristics in Angostura bitters:
  • Orange peel aroma with floral hints.  To me, it was almost as if I'd licked the outside of an orange.
  • Wood.
  • Warm like cinnamon.
We'll move on to a particularly bitters-heavy cocktail next week.

Whiskey Battles: George Dickel vs. Jim Beam

With our current $20-30 range champion rye, George Dickel, on sale this month, it was a good time to pit it against the ranking challenger, Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition.  I have decided the Manhattan Test is the only one we really need to determine a winner moving forward as it's the most likely way we'll both consume rye.  The results...

Mixed.  My wife preferred the Manhattan with George Dickel but I preferred the Jim Beam.  The difference to my mind: the Dickel is more bitter, the Beam more fruity.   At full price, the Jim Beam is $2 cheaper.  However, the customer is always right.  So, while I don't think my wife would turn up her nose at a Manhattan made with Jim Beam, there can only be one winner.

Decision: George Dickel

Monday, May 4, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Silver Surfer #5-11

Norrin Radd (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
The Silver Surfer was conceived as a different kind of superhero, or at least quite different from the sort who usually appeared in Marvel comic books.  He was out to save the world, and not merely one supervillain at a time.  He saw humankind as a threat to itself: war, prejudice, crime, etc.  He was trapped on Earth but rather than lashing out in resentment, he took the opportunity to learn more and appointed himself world protector, albeit a misunderstood and under-appreciated one.

The character's creators never intended him as a Christ figure per se.  However, there is no mistaking the more spiritual aspects of the Surfer saga, including some Biblical parallels whether intentional or otherwise.  According to the origin story, the Silver Surfer attained his powers through an act of self-sacrifice in protecting his own home world.  The Surfer battles Mephisto, clearly a Satan character, to defend the world and also his own soul.  Twice in this week's stretch, an "enemy" is not merely defeated but redeemed.

My Recent Reads

Silver Surfer #5
Originally Published April 1, 1969
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Howard Purcell

Stranger (Cosmic Being) (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Villain: The Stranger, who first appeared in X-Men #11.
  • Ill-fated new friend, only appearance: Al B. Harper

Silver Surfer #6
June 1, 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Syd Shores
  • A time travel narrative.  The Surfer goes to the future where Earth, Zenn-La, indeed the known universe stands in ruins, all having fallen to a monstrous tyrant known as The Overlord.

Silver Surfer #7
August 1, 1969
  • A descendant of Frankenstein is up to the family's usual tricks, trying to generate life.
  • He creates a double of the Surfer, then commands him to battle the original.
  • Important recurring theme: drawing strength from compassion.  Frankenstein's assistant, Borgo, turns against the mad scientist and kills him.

Silver Surfer #8
September 1, 1969 (note the switch to monthly issues)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema

Joost van Straaten (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Flying Dutchman via Marvel Database
  • Mephisto enlists the ghost of the Flying Dutchman to help him capture the Surfer's soul
  • Part 1 of 2.  There's a note at the end of the issue indicating the switch to monthly release came rather abruptly.  As such, the transition from the first half to the second isn't the smoothest.

Silver Surfer #9
October 1, 1969
  • Part 2 of 2.
  • Not surprisingly, the Surfer's soul remains his own by story's end.  More surprising is the fact that the Dutchman gets a measure of redemption, too, courtesy of a "tear of forgiveness" shed by the Surfer.

Silver Surfer #10
November 1, 1969
  • Yarro Gort, a powerful man on Zenn-La, attempts to win over Shalla-Bal by taking her to Earth and showing her the Surfer has taken up with someone else.
  • Seeking to learn more about humankind, the Surfer goes to a war-torn, unnamed South American country where he quickly gets caught up in the drama on the streets.
  • He is helped by a woman named Donna Maria Perez.  He later saves her life and she kisses him in gratitude, giving Shalla-Bal the wrong idea.

Silver Surfer #11
December 1, 1969
  • The Yarro Gort/Donna Maria Perez story concludes.
  • Gort dies and Shalla-Bal is wounded.  The Surfer must send her back to Zenn-La, alone, in order to save her.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Star Trek: Unnatural Selection

Episode: "Unnatural Selection"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 7
Original Air Date: January 30, 1989

Image result for unnatural selection tng
via Memory Alpha
Our friends encounter a Starfleet supply ship, upon which all aboard have died from rapid aging.  Scientists at Gagarin IV, the supply ship's last port of call, appear doomed to the same.  The scientists, resigned to their own fate, are more concerned about the future of their genetically-engineered children, who seem unaffected by whatever is causing the aging in the adults.

Aging and death again.

"Unnatural Selection" is a Pulaski story.  In the teaser, Picard expresses his concern to Troi that the doctor's obvious dedication to the medical work may occasionally cloud her judgment.  Throughout the story, we observe the tension between captain and doctor.  By episode's end, they both seem to have gained a greater appreciation for one another. 
Image result for miles o'brien star trek
via Memory Alpha
This is not an especially memorable episode though there is one meaningful development for the long-term: the emergence of Transporter Chief O'Brien (Colm Meany).  Meany played the recurring character from the beginning of the series but this is the first time he is given a title or even a name.  I'll have more on Meany soon.  Suffice to say for now: his overall Trek appearance tally is exceeded only by Michael Dorn's.

Acting Notes

Image result for patricia smith
via Wikipedia
Patricia Smith played the role of Dr. Sara Kingsley, the lead scientist on Gagarin IV.  She was born February 20, 1930 in New Haven, Connecticut.  She had film credits early in her career in The Bachelor Party and The Spirit of St. Louis, both released in 1957.  However, most of her work was guest appearances on television, including Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive and Hawaii Five-O.  She did have a principal role on The Debbie Reynolds Show as Debbie's sister, Charlotte, and a recurring one on the Bob Newhart Show.

Smith died of heart failure in 2011, age 80.