Friday, July 30, 2021

Star Trek: The Host

Episode: "The Host"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 23
Original Air Date: May 11, 1991

Dr. Crusher has fallen in love with Odan (Franc Luz), a visiting Trill ambassador.  When Odan is "killed," the symbiotic relationship between the parasitic Trill and their hosts is revealed.  The symbiont must be implanted in Riker while a more suitable host is rushed to the scene.

"The Host" is an important episode for a couple reasons.  In-story, the introduction of the Trill makes it an essential prequel to Deep Space Nine, though the concept went through significant development between this first appearance and the debut of Jadzia Dax.  In the broader world, it was the rare story of that television era to address homosexuality and the attendant homophobia, though not directly.  The eventual Trill host, you see, is female.  We know from future stories that switching genders from one host to the next is common for Trill.  But it's a bridge too far for Beverly.

Beverly never actually states that the problem with the new host is that she's female, though it's strongly implied.  Her explanation is certainly a cop out.  She refers to her discomfort as a "human failing."  The better choice might have been for her to acknowledge her personal feelings rather than blaming society.  After all, there are plenty of bi- and pansexuals among humans now.  Surely, the same will be true in the 24th century.  Nonetheless, in 1991, that would have been a far more taboo conversation than it is in 2021.  

In light of all this, "The Host" provides an essential set up for the best Star Trek episode I've ever seen.

Stay tuned.

Acting Notes

Franc Luz was born December 22, 1950 in Chambridge, Massachusetts.  He graduated from New Mexico State University.  Over twenty years, he had a respectable career across theater, film and television.

On stage, he was the original dentist in the Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors.  On TV, he was a lead actor on the soap opera Doctors, for which he was nominated for an Emmy.  On the big screen, his best-known credits were in The Nest, Ghost Town and When Harry Met Sally...

Retired since 1999, Luz devotes his time to several fine art museums in and around New York City, for which he serves as both a trustee and a tour guide.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Squid Mixes: Lillet Reviver

A Lillet Reviver combines gin, Grand Marnier (or Coinreau or triple sec), Lillet blanc, lemon juice and absinthe (or Pastis) with a lemon (or orange) twist garnish.  I got my recipe from David Lebovitz's Drinking French.  Lebovitz admits the drink is also known as a Corpse Reviver No. 2 but he changed the name to emphasize the Lillet.  

Fortunately, absinthe is no longer illegal in the United States, its long-rumored hallucinatory properties disproved.  Even so, my wife has been skeptical as she is not a huge fan of anise flavoring.  It's not my favorite either though I'm less reluctant to experiment with it.  There's actually very little absinthe in the drink.  You pour a half-teaspoon into the empty glass, swirl it around, then dump out the excess.  There's just enough for a light scent and an even lighter flavor.  In my wife's words, it's a good drink for the absinthe shy.

She also suggested The Absinthe Shy would be a fantastic band name.

Otherwise, the drink is intensely lemony.  If I make it again, I might cut back a little on the lemon juice.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Xinran

Title: The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
Author: Xinran

via Amazon

In the late 1980s, Chinese journalist Xinran started a radio program entitled Words on the Night Breeze.  She asked women of all walks of life to share their stories with her in order to explore the lives of women in China.  At the time, the country was beginning to open up, though many were still recovering from their experiences in the Cultural Revolution.  The program proved extremely popular and Xinran received hundreds of stories every single day.  In The Good Women of China, Xinran includes several of these stories along with her own experience in collecting them.  Some had been censored by Communist Party-controlled media and had to wait until Xinran moved to the West in order to be published.

As in most of Asia - indeed, much of the world - the status of women in China is very poor.  Even the egalitarian promises of Maoism did little to change that reality.  Men own everything.  Women have severely limited rights.  Culturally speaking, the best thing a woman can do in her life is bear a son.  None of this should come as a surprise to the reader.  The personal narratives Xinran shares reveal how it all plays out on an individual level.  There are stories of rape, sexual abuse, neglect, public shaming and more.  It is by no means an easy read but it's undeniably important.

If you're prepared to be shocked out of your comfort zone, The Good Women of China is certainly a worthwhile read.  Westerners tend to see Asia as culturally monochrome, often failing to recognize the diversity among its cultures, not to mention within individual nations.  China is enormous, the culture of any one region vastly different from others.  Indeed, Xinran's project expands her own concept, putting her in contact with parts of the country she would probably never have seen otherwise.  While Wild Swans by Jung Chang adheres to many of the same themes, Xinran's book covers a much broader cross-section of society.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Crimson Empire #2-3, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #27, Shadows of the Empire - Evolution #1

Crimson Empire is a strong series so far.  It appeals to me for much the same reason Rogue Squadron does: it offers the perspective of a military grunt, though this one plays for the other side.  Development of the protagonist Carnor Jax is gradual which I also appreciate.

Shadows of the Empire - Evolution is about a droid.  No thanks.

My Recent Reads

Crimson Empire #2
Originally published January 28, 1998
Writers: Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley
Artist: Paul Gulacy
In-Story Timeline: 11 ABY

Crimson Empire #3
February 18, 1998
Richardson and Stradley/Gulacy

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #27: Family Ties, Part 2
February 4, 1998
Michael A. Stackpole/Jim Hall and Drew Johnson

Shadows of the Empire - Evolution #1
February 11, 1998
Steve Perry/Ron Randall

Friday, July 23, 2021

Star Trek: Half a Life

Episode: "Half a Life"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 22
Original Air Date: May 6, 1991

"Counselor Deanna Troi, personal log, stardate 44805.3. My mother is on board."

That might be the single greatest log entry of the entire franchise.

Yes, indeed, the generally intolerable Lwaxanna Troi is paying a visit.  But this is different from all previous Lwaxanna episodes in that it's not about Deanna, the eternally suffering daughter.  In fact, it's not about any of the principals.  Lwaxanna falls in love with Timcin (David Ogden Stiers), a visiting scientist from a dying world.  The trial run on an experiment to save his planet doesn't go well but that's not even the story's deepest tragedy.  Timcin is 60 years old, the age at which those in his culture must submit to ritual suicide.

Lwaxanna is crushed by the revelation but Picard won't do anything about it as it would violate the Prime Directive.  Timcin, wanting more time with Lwaxanna and also to continue his work, asks for asylum.  Picard grants it but, naturally, that leads to further issues.  An appeal from his daughter (Michelle Forbes, the future Ensign Ro) turns the tide.

"Half a Life" is a deeply sad episode, a new emotional note for the franchise.  It fleshes out Lwaxanna, too, and she desperately needed that.  The affection between her and Timcin is entirely believable and there's something satisfying, from a narrative perspective, in how things work out.  The tough choice is made and the loss is real.  Trek doesn't usually take us to that edge.  It's refreshing.

And of course, Stiers is wonderful.

Acting Notes

David Ogden Stiers... just thinking the name makes me smile.

Stiers was born October 31, 1942 in Peoria, Illinois.  As with so many in this space, the theater work came first.  He got his start in San Francisco, then moved to New York to study at Julliard.  He made his Broadway debut in 1974 as Feldman in The Magic Show.

The big break came in 1977 when he was cast as Charles Emerson Winchester III in M*A*S*H, replacing Frank Burns.  M*A*S*H was a masterful show for so many reasons, not least for the fact that whenever they replaced principal characters - and they did it three times - the series actually improved.  Each replacement brought new dimension.  Charles was not Frank just as Potter was not Blake and BJ was not Trapper.  They were never intended to be carbon copies of the originals.  Not only was Charles a more worthy foil for Hawkeye.  He had more range than Frank, by a long shot.  As arrogant and obnoxious as he certainly was, Charles was also compassionate, elegant and occasionally even vulnerable.  The character brought Stiers two Emmy nominations.  It's a shame he never won.

Right, this is a Star Trek post...

Later, Stiers played a recurring character on Perry Mason TV movies and a principal in The Dead Zone.  A third Emmy nomination came with his work in The First Olympics: Athens 1896.  There was ample film work over the years, too, most memorably for me as the father in Better Off Dead (read here).  His voice resume is impressive.  In fact, after Charles, his best known role is probably Cogsworth in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Stiers came out as gay in 2009.  Huzzah!

He passed away in 2018 from complications due to bladder cancer.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Yakitate!! Japan

Title: Yakitate!! Japan, Volume 1
Writer and Artist: Takashi Hashiguchi

via Amazon

Yakitate!! Japan is a food manga, originally published 2001-2007.  The protagonist Kazuma Azuma is young man out to convert the rice-loving Japanese to bread.  He wants to create Ja-Pan.  Pan is the Japanese word for bread, you see, and Kazuma feels the Japanese need a national bread like so many found in Europe.  A small town boy, he goes to Tokyo to follow his dreams.

It's fun - sort of like an inspiring sports story except it's about food.  His job interview is rather Great British Bake Off-like... or is it Iron Chef?  There's Kawachi, the goofy sidekick, and Tsukino, the (one presumes eventual) love interest who's also technically Kazuma's boss.  In the last chapter of this collection, we meet Matsushiro, the guru genius bakery manager.  He's a bit of a mess.  He'd be the Dennis Hopper character.  Kazuma even has a baking superpower: unnaturally warm hands that give him an advantage in kneading dough.

On top of it all, the text is genuinely informative about bread.

I'm definitely up for more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Squid Mixes: Prairie Fire

A Prairie Fire combines white tequila and Tabasco sauce in a shot glass.  I got my recipe from The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr.  Technically, because of the tequila, this is a Mexican or Texas Prairie Fire.  According to Knorr, it was invented as a punishment for losing a bar bet.

It definitely brings some heat!  The hot sauce creates a pretty little cloud at the top of the glass - you may be able to see it in the photo.  My wife said the drink looks like a heavily watered down Bloody Mary.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Michael Pollan

Title: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Author: Michael Pollan

via Amazon

Before his career-defining treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma (read here), Michael Pollan wrote a book called The Botany of Desire.  He examines the complex and fascinating relationships between humans and four plant-based products: apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes.  The book also inspired a PBS documentary hosted by Pollan.  We'd already watched it several years ago so I was already familiar with the material.  As is often the case, the book probes a bit deeper than the movie.

The basic premise: domestication is a two-way street.  Plants (and animals) often have as much to gain from their associations with humans as we do.  The four botanical stars of the book have been especially successful.  Each began in a remote corner of the globe (the first three in Asia, the fourth in South America).  Each has become world-famous, one even world-essential.  All four have been transformed biologically by the contact and each has a magnificent story to tell.


Johnny Appleseed was real.  Born John Chapman, he transported thousands of apple seeds into what was, in the early 19th century, the great American wilderness of Ohio and Indiana.  At the time, the greatest value in an apple was the cider, though alcoholic still safer for even children to drink than the local water supply.  The genius of an apple is its adaptability, allowing it to adjust to each new environment it enters.  However, over time, the capitalistic efficiency of monocultures has greatly reduced the varieties available to eat.  We'll come back to this problem in a bit.


Flowers (like fruit) exist entirely as an advertisement to animals: here, come swim around in my loveliness in order to help me reproduce.  As such, it's no surprise the relationship between humans and flowers goes back a long time.  Tulips are particularly interesting for the mania they inspired, particularly among the Dutch, in the 17th century.  


Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the most interesting chapter.  Humanity's history with intoxicating plants is long and intimate.  Quite convincingly, Pollan draws a direct line between intoxicants and the development of all major world religions.  The recent history of the plant itself is fascinating.  Harsh crackdowns in 1980s America forced growers underground where they developed new, more potent strains in the greenhouse than ever could have been raised in the garden.  Once a niche segment of the overall market, domestically-grown pot now dominates the American industry.


Potatoes kick the snot out of grains as an efficient food source.  They're easier to grow, easier to convert into food and more nutritious.  World history and human geography reflect this basic truth pretty clearly.  They are also a primary focus for biotech.  Pollan's exploration revolves around NewLeaf, a potato genetically-engineered by Monsanto to resist pests.  Whether chemically or genetically facilitated, the potato industry's biggest vulnerability is a result of monoculture.  All those McDonald's fries, not to mention all of the other corporately produced potato-based products that rule the snack food industry, all come from the same spud: the Russet Burbank.  Since all Russet Burbanks are susceptible to the same diseases and pests, the entire world food supply is vulnerable to them.  This is not an exaggeration.  This is exactly what happened in the Irish Potato Famine.  A farmer's entire field could be wiped out by blight, literally overnight.

The world has changed in the 20 years since Pollan wrote the book.  Marijuana is now comfortably on the road to legalization in the United States and many other countries.  Also, pushback against GMOs has been strong.  Pollan and others like him have actually had some political impact.  Still, one should never underestimate corporate power over our food supply.  Monsanto survived the lawsuits to be bought out by Bayer in 2016 for a cool $66 billion.  The broader concept isn't going anywhere.

Our daughter has both a strong interest in biology and a strong altruistic drive, though she doesn't yet know what she wants to do with either.  I think it's time to sell her on responsible agriculture as a cause.  I'll be giving her this book in a pile with Omnivore's Dilemma, Fast Food Nation and The Third Plate (read here).  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Dark Force Rising #5-6, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #23-26, Shadow Stalker, Crimson Empire #1

Mara Jade, Baron Fel, Jix, Kir Kanos: the best characters are morally ambiguous characters.

My Recent Reads

Dark Force Rising #5
Originally published September 24, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn
Writer: Mike Baron
Artist: Terry Dodson
In-Story Timeline: 9 ABY

Dark Force Rising #6
October 29, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #23: In the Empire's Service, Part 3
October 1, 1997
Michael A. Stackpole/John Nadeau

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #24: In the Empire's Service, Part 4
November 5, 1997

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #25: The Making of Baron Fel
December 3, 1997
Stackpole/Steve Crespo

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #26: Family Ties, Part 1
January 7, 1998
Stackpole/Jim Hall

Shadow Stalker
November 19, 1997
Ryder Windham/Nick Choles

Crimson Empire #1
December 7, 1997
Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley/Paul Gulacy
11 ABY

Friday, July 16, 2021

Star Trek: The Drumhead

Episode: "The Drumhead"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 21
Original Air Date: April 29, 1991

There's been an explosion aboard the Enterprise and in the course of the investigation, a Klingon sabateur is exposed.  Starfleet Command suspects a broader conspiracy and they send Admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons) to investigate.  Unfortunately, she's a McCarthyesque character, suspicious of everyone including, eventually, Captain Picard himself.

"The Drumhead" is generally regarded as one of Star Trek's best episodes.  Simmons is amazing and as usual, so is Patrick Stewart.  Sadly, the witch hunt scenario is timeless as is the not so subtle racism.  Deep mistrust is the driving force on the American political landscape these days and much of the rhetoric in the episode still cuts close to the quick.

Acting Notes

Jonathan Frakes, who directed the episode, considers Jean Simmons to be the classiest actor they ever had on the show.  The resume speaks for itself and apparently she was genuinely a devoted Trekkie.

Simmons was born in London, January 31, 1929.  During the War, her family evacuated to Somerset.  When they returned to London, Jean enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance.  She got her first film role at age 15 in Give Us the Moon.  Stardom, at least in Britain, came when she was cast in Great Expectations in 1946.

She married fellow actor Stewart Granger, then went with him to Hollywood.  She signed with RKO Pictures, then owned by Howard Hughes.  She spurned Hughes's sexual advances and he, in turn, did everything he could to ruin both her career and Granger's.  She was supposed to get Audrey Hepburn's part in Roman Holiday but Hughes wouldn't allow it.  Fortunately, she survived the abusive treatment and eventually signed with MGM where things got a lot better.  

Simmons was twice nominated for Academy Awards: once for Hamlet in 1948 and once for The Happy Ending in 1969.  These days, she's probably recognized most as Sarah in Guys and Dolls.  In that case, she got the last laugh.  Grace Kelly had turned down the part.  The film was a hit and Simmons won a Golden Globe to boot.  Simmons also starred in such classics as The Robe, Elmer Gantry and Spartacus.  In 1983, she won an Emmy for her role in The Thorn Birds.

In 2002, she received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II.  She passed away in 2010 from lung cancer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Squid Mixes: Bee's Knees

A Bee's Knees is a Prohibition-era cocktail invented by Frank Meier, head bartender at the Ritz in Paris in 1921.  I've seen a lot of different recipes around.  I got mine from David Lebovitz: gin, honey syrup, lemon juice and "Covert, amaretto or another liqueur" with a lemon twist garnish.  With such vague specifications for the liqueur, this is a drink that invites broad experimentation.  

The first night we tried it (a few months ago at this point), we did two rounds.  For the first, we did amaretto which was lovely.  I'm a big fan of almond flavoring in general and it brought a warmth to the party here.  The honey is quite expressive.  Overall, I'd say the flavor is reminiscent of baby aspirin, though that sounds less enjoyable than it actually is.  For round two, I didn't have enough amaretto so I split it with triple sec.  It was still nice but there was more depth with amaretto alone.  The lemon was more prominent in round two.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Dark Force Rising #3-4, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #20-22

My Recent Reads

Dark Force Rising #3
Originally Published July 30, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn
Writer: Mike Baron
Artist: Terry Dodson
In-Story Timeline: 9 ABY

  • Luke meets C'Baoth who starts training him in the ways of the Force... the Dark Side of the Force.
  • Han and Lando are on New Cov trying to dig up evidence on a spy among Senator Borsk Fey'lya's advisers.  Their efforts are interrupted when Thrawn's forces arrive on the planet.  A couple of new friends help them to escape.
  • Thrawn threatens the Noghri who are hiding Leia, Chewie and Threepio.  So far, they haven't caved but Leia's getting nervous.
  • Kirk, Spock and McCoy make a cameo in one of the panels.  I never would have seen it without the heads up from Wookieepedia but it's there.  If you're curious, page 18, fourth panel from the top, lower left.

Dark Force Rising #4
August 27, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn

  • Mara Jade is back!  But whose side is she on?  
    • Thrawn's?  She cuts a deal with him to get information but then he betrays her.  
    • Talon Karrde's?  She does seem inclined to protect him.
    • Luke's?  Well, that seems unlikely at this stage but when the our favorite Jedi finally catches on that C'Baoth isn't such a great guy, Mara helps him escape.
  • Han and Lando meet with Garm Bel Iblis, a former Senator and a General with the Rebellion.  Unfortunately, he refuses to help them.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #20: Requiem for a Rogue, Part 4
June 2, 1997
Michael A. Stackpole and Jan Strnad/Gary Erskine

  • The good guys win.
  • But not without high cost.  Dllr and Herian sacrifice themselves for the good of the cause.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #21: In the Empire's Service, Part 1
August 6, 1997
Stackpole/John Nadeau

  • It turns out the Empire has their own cracker jack pilot, one Baron Fel.  The character is an obvious homage to the Red Baron.
  • He is being sent to destroy Rogue Squadron.  And apparently he has a personal beef with Wedge, too, though we don't yet know what it is.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #22: In the Empire's Service, Part 2
September 3, 1997

  • We learn more about Baron Fel.  In truth, he seems a decent guy.  He's faithful to his wife.  He's motivated by the idea of protecting the citizens of the empire.  I always appreciate characters like this - a sympathetic face on the enemy.  Lux Bonteri is a good example from Clone Wars.
  • He's certainly a more honorable man than his general on Brentaal IV, Soto.  The latter is mostly interested in protecting himself.
  • Rogue Squadron and the Imperials, led by Fel, square off over Brentaal.  Several are shot down, but survive.  Janson and Ibtisam are taken prisoner.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Star Trek: Qpid

Episode: "Qpid"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 20
Original Air Date: April 22, 1991

Captain Picard is invited to give a speech at an archaeology symposium to be held aboard the Enterprise.  Surprise, his old flame Vash also shows up for the conference, technically uninvited but welcomed by our Captain.  Further surprise, Q arrives as well in hopes of granting his old pal Jean-Luc a favor.  Picard tries to send him away but we all know how that usually works out.  Q sends all of our friends to Sherwood Forest with Picard as Robin Hood, Vash as Maid Marian, the crew as the Merry Men and himself as Sheriff of Nottingham.  Q's purpose is to show Picard his own vulnerability in the face of love.

Gee thanks, Q...

I don't like Q and I don't like Vash so this episode was never going to be a favorite for me.  For the record, cast and crew all loved it.  A few interesting points of note:
  • Patrick Stewart and Jennifer Hetrick (Vash) were engaged to be married at the time.  They started dating after his first divorce in 1990.  It didn't work out.
  • Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) and Marina Sirtis (Troi) were the only two in the principal cast with actual fencing experience yet in the climactic fight scene, they were the only ones without swords - reduced to hitting people over the heads with pots instead.
  • In one scene, Marian trips over her own dress.  It wasn't intentional but the directors kept it, figuring it was in character for Vash, likely uncomfortable in period costume.

Acting Notes

Clive Revill played the role of Sir Guy of Gisbourne who kidnaps Marian/Vash and demands that she marry him.  Revill was born April 13, 1930 in Wellington, New Zealand.  He originally trained to be an accountant before his acting career took off.

He went to London at age 20, then New York at 22.  He was the original Fagan in the Broadway production of Oliver!, garnering a Tony nomination.  Film credits include A Fine Madness and two Billy Wilder films: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Avanti!  Numerous television guest appearances encompass a broad range, including Columbo, Newhart and Babylon 5.

Best of all for this scifi-loving blogger, his was the original voice of Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back.  Ian McDiarmid's voice is used in later DVD edits, though Revill is still credited.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Miriam Katin

Title: Letting It Go
Writer and Artist: Miriam Katin

via Amazon

Letting It Go is an autobiographical graphic novel, the author's second.  Miriam and her husband live in New York.  Their adult son Ilan has decided to settle in Berlin, much to Miriam's dismay.  She is a Holocaust survivor and therefore has understandable anxieties regarding Germany and Germans.  Over the course of the book, she and her husband visit Berlin twice and we get a ringside seat as she reconciles the new, repentant Germany with the horrors of the past.

Obviously, the story gets heavy at times but not actually as much as one might expect.  It's hopeful by the end.  Katin's artwork is lovely, colored crayon her chosen medium, allowing a certain softness in the images.  Very human.

I'm definitely interested in her previous book, We Are on Our Own, the story of her mother's and her experiences during World War II.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Bitters of the Month: Spiced Cherry

Woodford Reserve, based in Kentucky, produces a Spiced Cherry Bitters.  It's definitely spicy, similar to the Aztec Chocolate we tried a while back.  In fact, I wonder if the two might work well in combination.  

We tried the Spiced Cherry in a Manhattan.  I was disappointed.  Apart from a tingle on the lips, the spice didn't come through very well.  It was less orangey than Angostura - not necessarily a bad thing but a noticeable difference.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

On the Coffee Table: James S. Hirsch

Title: Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend
Author: James S. Hirsch
Authorized by Willie Mays

via Amazon

Okay, so let's get one point out of the way right off the bat. Willie Mays is the greatest baseball player who ever lived.  Some have been better hitters: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds (Mays's godson) certainly.  Perhaps some have been better baserunners.  Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock have the best arguments there.  Some may have been better center f...  Nope, I can't even complete the sentence in good faith.  That one's easy.  There has never been a better center fielder.  His 12 Gold Gloves are tied for most all-time for an outfielder with Roberto Clemente and the only reason Mays didn't win more is that the award wasn't introduced until 1957, six years into his career.  Whether there's ever been a better fielder at any position is a more reasonable question.  Maybe Brooks Robinson at third base.  Maybe one should argue that the best fielding catcher ever is the best fielder ever because it's by far the most difficult position so maybe Ivan Rodriguez.  But probably not.

The complete package?  Willie Mays.  Every time.  The term 5-tool player (hit for average, hit for power, run, catch, throw) was essentially invented to describe him.

The numbers tell part of the story.  The traditional stats...
  • 3,005 games played (8th all-time)
  • 10,924 at bats (14th)
  • 3,293 hits (12th)
  • 660 home runs (6th)
  • .301 lifetime batting average
  • 2,068 runs scored (7th)
  • 1,909 RBI (runs batted in) (12th)
  • 338 stolen bases
  • .384 on-base percentage
  • .557 slugging percentage
  • 2,989 games played at center field (CF) (1st)
  • 7,024 putouts at CF (1st)
  • 188 assists at CF (7th)
Then there's Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the most universally accepted sabermetric measure of a player's overall value to a team.  Willie Mays's career WAR is 156.1 which puts him at #5 on the all-time list behind Ruth and Bonds plus pitchers Walter Johnson and Cy Young.  No matter how you slice it, that's elite company.  But how you slice it matters.  Ruth, Johnson and Young all played in the age of segregation and therefore it cannot be said they were always playing against the best available competition.  That's not their fault but it deserves an asterisk.  Meanwhile, Bonds's late-career statistics were almost certainly inflated due to steroid use.  One also must consider the fact that Mays played nearly his entire career in home stadiums - the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park - that were unfriendly to right-handed hitters with gap power.  His career totals might have been a lot higher in a more hitter-friendly stadium.

But like I said, the numbers are only part of the story.  Willie Mays was the most exciting player in baseball for 20 years.  Even his elite contemporaries - Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial - were in awe of him.  He hit the Majors in 1951 just as television brought top flight baseball into people's homes for the first time.  At the plate, on the bases and especially in the field, he was practically guaranteed to do something memorable a couple times per game.  He was just as big a draw on the road as he was at home.  He was the face of baseball's western migration.  He was the biggest star on what became baseball's most integrated team, the San Francisco Giants.  He was the best.  Period.

Hirsch's book covers all of that and more.  Indeed, he makes the "best ever" argument better than I have.  It's worth noting that it's an authorized biography so one could hardly expect an even-handed expose.  That said, Mays, who just turned 90 this year, has stayed pretty well clear of serious scandal all along - not easy for such a public figure.

Baseball books always leave me wanting to learn more.  In particular, I want to know more about the Negro Leagues.  Mays was playing for the Birmingham Black Barons when the big league scouts first got wind of him in the late 1940s.  I have read about pre-integration baseball before but learning about Willie Mays has renewed my curiosity.  Names new to me that have reignited my interest include Ray Dandridge and Piper Davis.

If you're looking for a more colorful, even-handed read, I would suggest Leigh Montville's Ted Williams instead.  But if you want to read a loving ode to an American hero who is thoroughly deserving of the adulation, you could hardly do better than Willie Mays.

A few treats for the road:

Monday, July 5, 2021

Star Wars Comics: X-Wing Rogue Squadron #15-19, Dark Force Rising #1-2

My Recent Reads

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #15: The Warrior Princess, Part 3
Originally Released January 1, 1997
Writers: Michael A. Stackpole and Scott Tolson
Artist: John Nadeau
In-Story Timeline: 4 ABY

  • Princess Plourr and Count Rial bond but then are attacked by resistance soldiers.
  • The rest of Rogue Squadron is captured by Stormtroopers.
  • Well, all except for Wedge and Tycho who find Plourr and Rial just after the latter two have kicked the snot out of the soldiers who attacked them.
  • Plourr reveals she knows Harran is not her real brother... because she killed her real brother.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #16: The Warrior Princess, Part 4
February 1, 1997
Stackpole and Tolson/Nadeau

  • Plourr tells the story of her brother, the one driven by cruelty who became enamored of Darth Vader and the ways of the Sith.  She killed him in self-defense.  He wanted to turn her over to the nobles  when they rebelled so he could watch them kill her.  By killing him, she managed to get away.
  • Tavira, the imposter Harran's Imperialist lover, holds several members of Rogue Squadron captive and reveals her sinister plans to them.  As you do.  She plans to kill them so she figures there's no harm in spilling her guts.
  • The good guys win and Harran is revealed as a fraud.
  • Plourr decides to say and help set her world in order.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #17: Requiem for a Rogue, Part 1
March 1, 1997
Stackpole and Jan Strnad/Gary Erskine

  • Rogue Squadron has been sent to find a lost Bothan cruise ship.
  • They find the ship on Malrev IV, a presumably uncivilized war.  Once there, they're unexpectedly attacked by TIE Fighters.
  • Wedge is shot down and feared lost.
  • Then the planet's native attack them on the ground.  Presumed primitives, they wield Imperial weapons.
  • Wedge has been captured by a Devaronian, as yet unidentified.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #18: Requiem for a Rogue, Part 2
April 1, 1997
Stackpole and Strnad/Erskine

  • The Devaronian reveals to Wedge that he was once an Imperial officer, left behind when the Empire abandoned the planet.  He has learned to bend the natives to his own will.
  • Our heroes find the temple where Wedge is being held and attack it.
  • Meanwhile, Wedge escapes to rejoin them.
  • Girov Dza'tey, the leader of the Bothans is not what he seems.  His sympathies lie with the Empire.  
  • They found the temple because Dllr has been drawn to it by mysterious music.  Now, breaking away from the group, he enters the temple, only to be taken prisoner by the Devaronian, himself.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #19: Requiem for a Rogue, Part 3
May 1, 1997
Stackpole and Strnad/Erskine

  • The Devaronian is finally named: Cartariun.
  • The Rogues win an air battle against TIE-Fighters piloted by Cartariun's minions.
  • At last, Dllr sees through the music which drew him to the temple and is able to rebel against Cartariun's control.  
  • Then he digs into the Dark Side in order to fight Cartariun.
  • But on the last page, Girov turns up and shoots Dllr in the back.

Dark Force Rising #1
May 1, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn
Mike Baron/Terry Dodson

  • The Thrawn Trilogy continues.  Dark Force Rising is book #2.
  • Talon Karrde, Mara Jade and their band are now on the run with Admiral Thrawn in pursuit.
  • Leia, accompanied by Chewie and Threepio, heads to the Noghri homeland to try to convert them to the Rebel cause.

Dark Force Rising #2
June 25, 1997
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn

  • Luke (with Artoo) heads off to meet C'baoth on Jormak, not knowing yet that the older Jedi is in kahoots with Thrawn.
  • Han and Lando are headed to New Cov to find evidence of a spy network.
  • Leia, Chewie and Threepio arrive on the Noghri homeworld of Honoghr.  Thrawn is there, too, and suspects their presence.  So far, though, their hosts have managed to keep them hidden.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Star Trek: The Nth Degree

Episode: "The Nth Degree"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 19
Original Air Date: April 1, 1991

It's a Barclay episode!

Our heroes encounter a mysterious probe while trying to repair an Argus Array telescope.  An energy surge from the probe grants the perpetually nervous Lieutenant Barclay super-human intelligence and the confidence to match.  The abrupt change inspires both amazement and concern in his crewmates.  Worry mounts as Barclay merges his brain with the ship's computer.

The story is based on Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, a novel that blew me away when I read it as a teenager.  Sadly, it is no longer typically assigned reading in American high schools.  "The Nth Degree" is a strong episode - Barclay vehicles typically are.  Dwight Schultz brings considerable range to the part.  The story's resolution is delightfully Trek.

Acting Notes

Jim Norton plays the role of Albert Einstein.  Barclay engages the great scientist in an all-night theoretical physics binge on the holodeck.  Norton was born January 4, 1938 in Dublin.  

Once again, the actor's greatest accomplishments have come on the stage.  He has a long-standing professional relationship with Irish playwright/director Conor McPherson, originating roles in six of his plays.  He won both a Tony and an Olivier for his supporting role in The Seafarer in 2008.

Evidently, he has played clergymen a lot.  I frequently wonder if there's an Irish actor who hasn't as they are the typical go-to casting choice for Catholic priests in British television and film.  His biggest television role was Bishop Brennan, a recurring character on the sitcom Father Ted.