Friday, May 27, 2022

Star Trek: Emissary

Episode: "Emissary"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Original Air Date: January 3, 1993

Commander Benjamin Sisko takes charge of Deep Space 9, an abandoned Cardassian space station orbiting Bajor.  The Cardassians' long, brutal occupation of Bajor is finally over.  Starfleet hopes to preserve the fragile peace and prepare Bajor for admission to the Federation.  Unfortunately, Sisko isn't initially thrilled with the assignment.  He lost his wife three years before in the battle with the Borg at Wolf 359.  He still has not recovered emotionally and is understandably bitter, particularly towards Captain Picard (series-bridging cameo by Patrick Stewart).  

But there are a couple game-changing surprises in store for Sisko and his new crew.  First, Kai Opaka, the Barjoans' spiritual leader, tells Sisko he's the "Emissary," destined to find the Prophets' Celestial Temple.  Next, a stable wormhole is discovered nearby (Suez Canal equivalent?).  These two revelations, along with Sisko's spiritual experience within said wormhole, change the commander's outlook substantially on both the space station's significance and his own role to play in protecting it.

Yup, there's a lot going on in this first episode.  DS9 requires significant set up. It's a lot to take in and I haven't even gotten into the introductions of the other principals yet.  Long term, it's all worth it.  I'll spoil the surprise.  I adore DS9.  It's easily my favorite of the NextGen era series.  It's become a family favorite for all of us.  

The faithful were skeptical at first.  What's the point of a Star Trek show that mostly stays in one place?  But the faithful missed a weakness in the established premise of the franchise.  The Enterprise never sits with a problem for long.  Seemingly each week, our heroes visit a new planet, resolve a surface-level dilemma and move on.  Somebody will need to do the arduous, long-term work but it ain't gonna be us, suckers.

DS9 changed the rules.  Our new friends are stuck in the muck with the Bajorans and the answers aren't going to come cheap.  The new series lives on an emotional edge NextGen inches towards infrequently.  And it embraces a significant cultural element Trek has mostly avoided to this point: religion.  

The cast, almost across the board, is an upgrade.  With TNG's success, Star Trek was a much safer bet for an actor in 1993 than it had been six years earlier.  The writing is also improved, led by NextGen veterans ready to fly with new ideas, no longer limited by the Roddenberry vision.  Perhaps most importantly - and of course, it's impossible to see this in the premiere - adherence to concept was rock solid through seven seasons.

Okay, now it's time to play my game, as good a means as any for introducing the new characters.  When I started my NextGen posts, I matched each of the newbies with his/her closest predecessor in the original series.  Now, I'll take the next step and find each of the TNG leads a successor in DS9.  The older series still has more than a season left to go so passing the torch isn't quite the right metaphor.  Even so, for a character-driven operation, a touch of familiarity eases the transition.  As before, I will do my best to make my choice based on what we know from this first offering, setting aside future developments until their proper time.  And please remember, I am looking for similarities in narrative purpose as much as in personalities or professional roles.  This is an admittedly subjective and inexact science.  My matches are not always perfect, and it's worth noting the obvious differences plant seeds for new and exciting possibilities for Trek, just as they did with TNG.  I welcome debate.

Picard = Benjamin Sisko
Protagonist becomes protagonist.  Yet, right off the bat, Sisko is granted a reluctant hero narrative that sets him on a divergent path from that of the Enterprise captain.  Ben is also a family man, one with an obvious emotional life.  We don't see genuine, human vulnerability out of Jean-Luc until Season 4.  Sisko's composure doesn't even survive the first teaser.  

Patrick Stewart is probably a more skilled actor than Avery Brooks, an important exception to DS9's generally superior cast.  It's particularly difficult to deny that after Stewart's masterful performance in "Chain of Command, Part II."  But it's not exactly a slam dunk.  It's no stretch at all to assert that Sisko is a more interesting and dynamic character than Picard.  Brooks was given a lot more room to play and he made the most of it.

The overall lineage thus far: Kirk = Picard = Sisko

Riker = Kira
By the middle of Season 6, TNG is clearly a Picard-centric story.  Sure, plenty of episodes focus on other characters but for the overall scheme, each of the supporting principals is defined by their relationship with the captain.  Over time, DS9 feels less that way but for this first night experience, I'll try to follow the TNG model.

For me, Riker is the most difficult NextGen character to pin down but his relevance to the captain, at least, is clear from the beginning.  Riker is the friendly foil, the final check before Picard makes a decision.  Kira is the obvious equivalent for Sisko though initially, she's not so friendly.  Kira's not Starfleet.  She's a Bajoran freedom fighter and while the war is over, her rage hasn't dissipated much.  There's a lot of trust to build here.  Interpersonal tension among the Enterprise crew was deliberately avoided as a pillar of concept.  We're going to get plenty of it on Deep Space 9.

Kira's character was initially intended to be Ensign Ro Laren but actress Michelle Forbes didn't want to commit to a series.  For my money, Kira's an improvement - less pouty.

Scotty = Tasha Yar = Riker (née Willard Decker line) = Kira

Data = Bashir
This match is the trickiest.  Data does not have an obvious equivalent in DS9.  Bashir is a romantic, something Data could never be.  So, why the match?  Data is TNG's know-it-all nerd, ready to exhibit his boundless knowledge and abilities even when not remotely necessary.  While Bashir's motivations are different, he is equally eager to impress.  To his credit, like Data, he has plenty of substance to back up the bravado.

Spock = Data = Bashir

Worf = Odo
This one's easier.  Worf and Odo bring the same healthy paranoia to their security responsibilities.  They also share an Orphan Far from Home narrative.  Of course, on the space station, everyone not Bajoran is an alien but both Worf and Odo are alone in a way the others are not, without anyone from their own world on board.  At this point, Odo doesn't even know where his home world is or that there are others like him.  

Chekov = Worf = Odo

Dr. Crusher = Jake Sisko
Ha!  You thought I was going to say Jake derives from Wesley, didn't you?  No way.  For starters, Jake is a stronger character than Wes for the simplest and most wonderful of reasons: he's allowed to be a realistic person.  More importantly for this exercise, Jake is his father's most vital link to an emotional life.  In fact, in this regard, Jake plays a more essential role for Ben than Beverly ever does for Jean-Luc.

Uhura = Dr. Crusher = Jake Sisko

Troi = Dax
Dax is a wonderfully dynamic character, one who could have fit into other slots.  She's a little bit Riker, unafraid to challenge Sisko.  She's a little bit Crusher, an old friend connecting Ben to a simpler time in his past.  She even has a touch of Data, turning science geek on demand.  

By Season 6, Troi has been on a long journey to find relevance beyond eye candy.  It's the writers' fault, not the actress's, that it's taken so long.  The costuming department hasn't been much help either.  Even though Crusher and Riker are probably closer friends for Picard, Troi is his emotional confidant.  Dax is already that for Sisko.  Dax is the character Troi could have and should have been from the beginning.

Skipping back a step, Dax is also the clearest legacy from the Original Series.  NextGen never had a proper Bones equivalent of a true pal for the captain.  Dax renews that tradition.

McCoy = Troi = Dax

La Forge = O'Brien
Naturally, Miles O'Brien is already a familiar face as TNG's most frequently recurring secondary character.  Now a principal, he has increased relevance for the overall narrative.  By Season 6 of NextGen, Geordi La Forge is more than simply Reliable Tech Guy.  If the series has an everyman character, Geordi is it.  Sure, he's a whiz at the job but he's woefully clumsy with women and still gives off a charming, goofy guy around the office vibe.  He's the one you want to meet for a drink after your shift is over.  Miles inherits that mantel.

At this point, Geordi's friendship with Data is perhaps even more important than his direct connection with the captain.  It will take some time to develop but eventually, the same will be true of the relationship between Miles and Julian Bashir.

Sulu = La Forge = O'Brien

Guinan = Quark
Unfortunately for all involved, Whoopi Goldberg was never able to commit to Star Trek full time.  Guinan made a lot of her 29 appearances, though, leaving a meaningful legacy for the franchise in the long term.  She demonstrated the value of a character outside the command structure.  Guinan is a friend to Picard in a way the others cannot be.  Granted, Quark and Sisko aren't exactly buddies in the beginning but the commander sees the advantage in having an ally on the promenade.

It's fair to say the Ferengi never worked out as hoped for TNG.  They were intended to be the primary adversaries but in the end were little more than comic relief, and not even especially effective at that.  In DS9, they come into their own and it begins with Quark.  For the first time, we have a Ferengi character we can take seriously.

Acting Notes

Avery Brooks (Sisko) was born October 2, 1948 in Evansville, Indiana though he grew up in Gary.  His was a deeply musical family.  His mother was among the first African-American women to earn a master's degree in music from Northwestern.  His father was a member of the Wings Over Jordan Choir which performed regularly on CBS radio.  Brooks himself earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in acting and directing from Rutgers University.

Brooks's stage resume is extensive.  He has played singer Paul Robeson (also a Rutgers grad) in two different plays: Paul Robeson and Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?  In the fine tradition of Star Trek leads, his Shakespeare cred is rock solid.  He has played Othello numerous times professionally.

Unlike Shatner or Stewart, Brooks already had an established career in American television before Trek came into his life.  In 1985, he took on the role of Hawk in Spenser: For Hire - based on a series of novels by Robert B. Parker - which in turn led to a short-lived spin-off series of his own, titled A Man Called Hawk.  He was one of over 100 actors to audition for the lead in Deep Space Nine.

Brooks has been married to his wife Vicki Bowen since 1976.  They have three children.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Squid Eats: Kate's Food Truck

Food trucks, in case you haven't noticed, are very in these days.  In Vermont, and I imagine other northern regions, they generally run seasonally for obvious weather-related reasons.  Kate's Food Truck in Jericho is a shade fancier than it sounds.  The "truck" is a more permanent structure than the name implies.  Kate's opened just a few years ago with simple offerings: burgers, hot dogs, fries and ice cream.  We'd gotten take out once (poutine, sadly, doesn't travel well by car) but I'd never actually eaten a proper meal there until this past weekend.

My BYO (Build Your Own) Burger was fine.  The bigger treat was my maple milkshake.  Beyond the food, Kate's is selling a nostalgic atmosphere with '50s music blaring.  Lots of kids running around, dogs welcome.  The perfect place to stop after the little league game.  I did spot one early teen "date" - just adorable.  Service is extra friendly.

The food is nothing thrilling but I'm still rooting for Kate's to survive.  There's competition down the street from the comparable and eternal Joe's Snack Bar (great ice cream, inferior food otherwise).  Fortunately, both spots were hopping on a sunny, springtime Saturday - plenty enough business for everybody.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Star Trek: Chain of Command, Part II

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

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

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

Food Notes

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

Acting Notes

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Squid Mixes: Cider Battles III

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

Rosé vs. Amber  

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

Winner, Swizzle Mixer Category: Rosé

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

Winner and Still Champion, Sipping Cider Category: Rosé

Friday, May 13, 2022

Star Trek: Chain of Command, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

Acting Notes

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Squid Eats: Black Flannel

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2022

Star Trek: The Quality of Life

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

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

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

Game Notes

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

Acting Notes

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

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

Thursday, May 5, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Charles Duhigg

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

via Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 2, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Jamaican No. 1

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

Friday, April 29, 2022

Star Trek: A Fistful of Datas

Episode: "A Fistful of Datas"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 7, 1992

Something is wrong with the holodeck.  Worf and Alexander are in the midst of an Old West adventure when, quite unexpectedly, the bad guy turns up with Data's face - and more problematically, Data's abilities.  In time, all of the baddies get Data faces.  What's going on?  Might Geordi's experiment running the ship's computer systems through Data have something to do with it?

Holodeck episodes are always good fun.  I think it's particularly important that Star Trek reconnect with its western roots from time to time.  After all, Gene Roddenberry first pitched the concept as "Wagon Train to the Stars" and modeled the series as much after the Gunsmokes and Rawhides of the era as any of its SciFi predecessors.  The episode title is a spoof on A Fistful of Dollars, the Sergio Leone spaghetti western based on Miyazaki's samurai film Yojimbo, in turn inspired by Dasheill Hammet's The Glass Key.

Worf in period costume is always awesome.  I can usually do without Brent Spiner's over-acting but he makes it work here.

Food Notes

"A Fistful of Datas" includes the only canon mention of Klingon firewine.  

Acting Notes

John Pyper-Ferguson played the role of Eli Hollander, the initial baddy in the Holodeck narrative before Data shows up.  Pyper-Ferguson was born February 27, 1964 in Mordialloc, Victoria, Australia, the son of two world-class Canadian athletes: Olympic swimmer Kathleen McNamee and runner Richard Ferguson.  He grew up in Vancouver, then went to the University of Alberta.

He broke through as the lead on the Canadian series Hamilton Quest in 1986.  Most of his higher-profile work has been on television, including roles on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Brothers & Sisters and Caprica.  Films include Unforgiven, Pearl Harbor and X-Men: The Last Stand.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Squid Eats: India House

Northampton, Massachusetts, population 28,000ish, is easily one of the more charming communities of its size in New England.  Home to Smith College, it's long been a hippie enclave and an important center for LGBTQIA+ life in the region.  It boasts theaters, coffee shops, bookstores and, somewhat surprisingly, loads of Asian restaurants.  India House, just a block off of Main Street, is one of the more established.

The cuisine is North Indian, offering the typical tikkas, masalas and aloos.  The house specialty is a very nice mango curry.  My wife's favorite is saag paneer and theirs was good.  Daughter approved of the mango lassi.  She drank two.  The service at this family-run business is top-notch.  In fact, we discovered that the owner also used to own a restaurant of the same name near where we used to live in Burlington, Vermont.  He tired of the three-hour drive in between so he sold a few years ago.

The cocktail menu is interesting.  All of their specialty drinks are based on traditional ones, included in the parentheses - "Song of Kabir (Old Fashioned)," for instance - but with South Asian twists.  My wife ordered a Midnight in Madras (Manhattan).  It was made with East Indian sherry rather than vermouth and also included elements of coffee, black fig, rhubarb and cascara.  Good, though she felt it could have done without the coffee.

India House is definitely on the pricey side, otherwise definitely worthy of a return visit.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Star Trek: Rascals

Episode: "Rascals"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 2, 1992

A transporter accident transforms Picard, Guinan, Ro and Keiko O'Brien to physical children, maintaining their adult minds.  While the Enterprise crew struggle to reverse the process, pirate Firengi take over the ship.  While the adults flounder, the kids hatch a plan.

"Rascals" is routinely panned by both critics and production staff.  But as much as I usually detest Trek stories about children, I don't hate this one - faint praise, I know.  For starters, the young actors work and they are due full credit as the producers still whined about having to work with kids.  I especially enjoy Isis J. Jones as young Guinan.  Of the group, I think she mimics her adult counterpart most successfully.  Jones also played a younger version of Whoopi Goldberg's character in Sister Act, released the same year.  In a pleasant surprise, the story also provides meaningful development for Ro, even though it happens in her 12-year-old body.

Acting Notes

David Tristan Birkin played the part of young Picard.  In "Family," he played René, Jean-Luc's nephew.  He was born in 1977.

His professional acting career was a relatively short one.  Films include The Return of the Musketeers, Impromptu and Les Misèrables.  As an adult, he works in photography and performance art.  He graduated from Oxford in 1999, then got an MA from the Slade School in London.  War is a major theme of his artwork.  Check out his website here.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

On the Coffee Table: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous Sherlock Holmes story.  It was published after "The Final Problem," in which our favorite detective "dies,"  but it is set earlier in the timeline.  Originally serialized from August 1901 - April 1902, The Hound recounts the tale of the aristocratic family Baskerville in Devonshire.  Sir Charles is found dead, apparently from the shock of seeing the demonic dog which, according to legend, has haunted the family for generations.  His nephew, Sir Henry, hires Holmes to dig for the truth and hopefully avoid a similar end himself.  

The Hound is certainly stronger than the first two Holmes novels though I prefer the short stories so far.  A comparison: it's easy to understand why Murder on the Orient Express is the most famous Agatha Christie story.  It's amazing!  Don't misunderstand, The Hound is still plenty good even if not obviously better than others.  In fact, it provides an unusual opportunity for Watson development.  For a long stretch, Holmes is absent from the narrative while our fair doctor does the leg work.  Even so, the action definitely picks up once Sherlock shows.

Four more books to go...

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Squid Games: Marrying Mr. Darcy Undead Expansion

via Amazon

Marrying Mr. Darcy has been one of our family's favorite tabletop games for quite a few years now.  It's a Kickstarter-funded card game based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice created by Erika Svanoe, art and design by Erik Evensen.  You choose a heroine from the story and compete over six suitors including, of course, Mr. Darcy.  I always choose Kitty Bennet if I can.  She can draw the top Event card off the discard pile given the choice.  Trust me, that's an advantage.  Unlike a lot of adaptation games, it's effectively crafted and repeatedly playable.  The cards are hysterical.  Knowledge of the source material is unnecessary.  I've never read the novel yet I love the game.

The Undead Expansion was, I assume, inspired by the Seth Graham-Smith parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  It's just 20 extra cards thrown into the mix but that's enough to add plenty of humorous peril.  There's also an Emma variant based on the 1815 novel.  It's much cattier.  Emma's mean!

We played as a family twice over the past couple weeks.  Daughter and I each won once.

Monday, April 18, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Volker Kutscher

Title: Babylon Berlin
Author: Volker Kutscher

via Amazon

Detective Gereon Rath is trying to establish himself in the Berlin police department after leaving Cologne in disgrace.  The year is 1929 and political tensions playing out on the street foreshadow difficult times ahead for the Weimar Republic, not to mention the rest of Europe and beyond.  An unidentified murder victim is discovered, leading to further adventures.  Rath's partner is effective but awfully rough around the edges - and not exactly by the book.  Rath also falls in love, proving more a complication than a relief from the job.  Through it all, we get a colorful tour of the seedier side of Berlin's underground world of sex and drugs.

The book - a blockbuster in Germany - inspired a television series.  We watched the first several episodes a few years back.  While the basics are the same, the screenwriters took many liberties, including dramatic changes to both plot and characters.  The book is more gruesome, though not as smutty.  Having read the book, I think I need to watch the series again, and even finish it this time.

Getting back to the book, it's more straight-up hard-boiled detective story than the series.  There are a couple of marvelous mid-plot twists, though not much to surprise at the end.  The denouement comes a little too easily.  Even so, the characters are engaging.  Rath is good at the job but not without clumsiness which also spills over to his love life.  I'm definitely up for more of the series.  There are seven more books plus a prequel, though not all of them yet translated.  I currently have two on my TBR shelves.

Berlin between the wars is obviously rich with narrative possibilities.  This book would bundle well with Jason Lutes's Berlin seriesDavid Downing's Zoo Station and a screening of Cabaret.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Star Trek: True Q

Episode: "True Q"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 6
October 26, 1992

Amanda Rogers (Olivia d'Abo), an accomplished intern, has come aboard the Enterprise.  The sweet young woman appears to have superpowers.  She makes puppies appear and disappear at will.  She saves Riker from a heavy, falling object.  Most impressively, she reverses a warp core breach.  Clearly there is more to Amanda than initially imagined.  An old friend turns up with an explanation: Amanda is Q.

This is my favorite Q episode and not merely because of my potent boyhood crush on d'Abo.  I like it for its expansion of the Q character and the entire Q concept.  We go beyond the usual cat toying with his mouse model to explore genuinely interesting moral questions.  What do you choose to do with the power of a God?  That's a good one obviously but we've explored it before with Riker.  And, of course, over and over again in Star Wars.  The broader query here: what, if anything, is the moral responsibility of the omnipotent?  Q (John de Lancie) claims his kind are morally superior to humans.  Picard counters, of course.  But is the question of morality even relevant in regards to an entity which can do as it pleases without fear of consequence or judgment?  In the Abrahamic religions, God is beyond reproach.  To question "His" will is blasphemy.  Trek never goes quite so far as to classify Q as a god but the implications are there.

Plenty to fuel a Philosophy 101 lecture in "True Q."

Acting Notes

John P. Connolly played the role of Orn Lote, a Targan engineer.  Connolly was born in Philadelphia.  He has an MFA in Theater and Acting from Temple University.  Films include Hard Choices, Nine 1/2 Weeks and Prayer of the Rollerboys.  Television credits include Alien Nation, Sessions and The Golden Girls.  In addition to the acting, he's been a big time union activist.  Go labor!  He served as both vice-president and president of the New York local of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and executive director of the Actor's Equity Association.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Squid Eats: The Dutch Mill

The Dutch Mill is across the street from the Shelburne Museum, one of the world's more unusual tourist attractions.  Beyond the impressive art and Americana, including an original Monet, the museum boasts a collection of... buildings.  On the grounds are an apothecary shop, a jail, a lighthouse and the steamboat Ticonderoga among others - all originals from elsewhere put on a truck and moved to Shelburne.

From the outside, The Dutch Mill Restaurant fits right in with the rest of the neighborhood:

via The Dutch Mill

Hard to miss, yet we'd lived in Vermont nearly 20 years before finally trying it this past weekend.  The inside is a more conventional diner, family photos and Boston sports memorabilia plastered all over the walls and page-long specials menus for both breakfast and lunch.  

I've made a lot of new friends at work this year.  That, in itself, is not unusual.  Teachers come and go, especially these days.  What is rather new for me is the 20-something range of my new gang, all of them closer to my teenage daughter's age than mine - closer by multiples.

Foremost among them is PQ, short for Prom Queen.  She and I share a morning advisory at school.  She's 4.5 years older than my daughter, a fact that blows my mind on a daily basis as I watch her going confidently about the job.  Her boyfriend, we shall call him GerMAN, is one of my new colleagues this year, too.  I'll leave it to you, clever reader, to deduce what he teaches.  The Dutch Mill was one of PQ's favorite spots in high school (not so long ago for her, I remind myself) and she suggested it for lunch.  It was my family's first time meeting my new friends - kind of a big deal in my humble, little world.

As discussed in a post nearly (Sweet Jesus!) ten years ago, I judge a diner by its club sandwich.  My feeling is that if they do a club right, I'm safe ordering anything.  The Mill's Club Combo Sandwich comes with both ham and turkey, though one can request one or the other exclusively.  Having tried it, I think the combo is essential.  The turkey, in thick chunks rather than thin slices, would have been too dry on its own, the ham too salty.  Together, they're just right.  The bacon isn't too salty.  The lettuce and tomato are offered in acceptable amounts.  The mayo layer is modest and the white bread only lightly toasted.  Taken all together, it's a darn tasty sandwich.  You may notice something important missing in the photo, though: a pickle.  The menu promised a pickle!  Oh well.  Next time.  The club was still good enough for there to be a next time.

The service is what I would call diner friendly: amiable, efficient and a little impatient.  I mean the last as a compliment, perhaps even an atmospheric necessity.  It's what I want and expect a diner server to be.  It's a tough job feeding people.  I don't mind being reminded of that in such an establishment.

It was a nice lunch.  I always enjoy bringing the important people in my life together.  Daughter, often quite shy, held her own just fine.  Perhaps the smaller age gap made it less intimidating for her.  I'm hoping it won't be too long until next time.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Star Trek: Schisms

Episode: "Schisms"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 19, 1992

Our heroes aren't getting enough sleep.  There's also a weird, shiny subspace thingy in one of the cargo bays.  Coincidence?  Apparently not.

It's an alien abduction story!  Star Trek doesn't usually go in for those.  In fact, this is the first time.  Interestingly, my freshman writing seminar in college was about UFOs, abduction stories and such.  There's a fascinating cultural history around such phenomena.  Before Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there were great variations in encounter stories.  After the movie, they became astonishingly uniform.  Aliens always looked like the ones in the Spielberg film.  Memory gaps were common.  The slicing, probing surgical work portrayed in "Schisms" became the norm, too.  And this is long before social media took hold of our collective psyche, folks!

Overall, I'm not a fan of the episode.  It gets points with the critics for being spooky but that's not enough for me.  The highlight is "Ode to Spot," Data's poem about his cat.

Acting Notes

Ken Thorley played Mot, head barber aboard the Enterprise.  "Schisms" is the actor's third of four NextGen appearances, his second of three as Mot.  Thorley also made a guest appearance on NYPD Blue.  Film credits include Ghost in the Machine, Men in Black and My Favorite Martian.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Mint

The first thing one notices about Fee Brothers Mint Bitters is the color - an intense green, perhaps even green enough to be of use in recreating Aldebaran whiskey.  The flavor itself is rather toothpastey.

This one could be a tough sell with my wife.  She loves mint, as in the real thing - artificial mint flavors decidedly less so.  I've long had a thought to create a cocktail based on Girl Scout Thin Mints and mint bitters may indeed have a meaningful role to play.  But again, my wife may take some convincing to try it.  Stay tuned.

I have wondered about the possibility of using bitters for something other than cocktails and mint might be a good candidate for adding a hint to something.  I did try adding it to some mint tea.  I'm not sure if it did much to enhance the flavor.  A blind test would be needed to tell, I think.  But it certainly didn't do any harm.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Star Trek: Relics

Episode: "Relics"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 12, 1992

The Enterprise crew discover Montgomery Scott, of all people, stranded in a transporter beam for 75 years.  It's Barclay's worst nightmare!  Unfortunately, excited as we all are to see him, our old friend Scotty grates on poor Geordi while trying to make himself "useful" in engineering.  The early parts of the episode can be difficult to watch as we observe the older engineer's struggles to adjust.

Then comes "the scene", one of NextGen's great knockouts.  Through the magic of the holodeck, Scotty visits the bridge of the Enterprise - his Enterprise.  The sights and the sounds are all perfect.  It's a melancholy moment for Scotty but 100% lovely for the rest of us.  The TNG creators had long fought against the idea of any sort of reprisal of the original series and reasonably so: they wanted the new characters to stand on their own.  Having accomplished that, they became more open to these sorts of homages.  Spock's appearance in Season 5 was the first crack in the wall.  As special as that felt, Scotty on the Bridge is better, a wonderful reminder of where we started and how far we have come.  Even knowing it's coming, I can't help tearing up with the first late '60s ping.

The challenges of aging have provided thematic material for Star Trek from the beginning, clearly important to the original creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Generally speaking, I'd say such stories are not among the franchise's strongest.  But this one works.  Perhaps it's because we know and love Scotty.  We remember the energy and inventiveness he brought in his prime.  We take his decline personally.  And we take satisfaction in the warmth he enjoys in the end.

And that Aldebaran whiskey certainly intrigues - "It is green."

Acting Notes

Erick Weiss plays the role of Ensign Kane, the crewman who shows Scotty to his guest quarters.  Weiss was born February 25, 1959 in Syracuse, New York.  "Relics" was his second appearance as Kane.  Later, he appeared in DS9's "Paradise."  Beyond Trek, he made guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 among other shows.  Film credits include Mannequin: On the Move, Younger and Younger and Betrayal of the Dove.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Squid Eats: Troy Deli and Marketplace

The past two years have been rough for so many reasons.  The performing arts have been hit hard at every level.  Our daughter is quite a gifted musician.  In fact, setting parental modesty aside for a moment, it's fair to say she's been one of the best high school clarinetists in Vermont for four years.  She's made all-state all four years.  She's made the New England Music Festival all four years.  But due to COVID, neither festival was actually held over the past two years.  So, traveling down for this year's New Englands in Connecticut was quite a big deal - even more so than under normal circumstances.

For us, trips to southern New England usually include a stop in Worcester to see the English Prof.  And naturally, we have a favorite place to stop for dinner on the way: Thai Bamboo in the tiny town of Troy in the southwest corner of New Hampshire.  Wouldn't you know, on our most recent visit, they were full up when we arrived - probably a 45-minute wait for food, the proprietor said.  We were too hungry to wait so...

Fortunately, there's a convenience store/deli next door.  I'm not sure we'd ever set foot inside before but it was more than adequate to our needs.  My footlong turkey grinder was nice, though it would have been helpful if they'd cut it in half.  My wife enjoyed her BLT wrap, too.  The service was perfectly friendly.

The trip and the festival both went well.  As we move deeper into senior year, it feels like every event is the "last" something or other - bittersweet, to be sure.  She has big decisions to make soon.  Everything feels like a big deal.  I've already told everyone who will listen so I might as well say it here, too: the empty nest will not be easy for me.  I am not likely to handle it well.  Just owning it now.

Gotta make the most of the time that is left...

Monday, March 28, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Kenan Malik

Title: The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics
Author: Kenan Malik

via Amazon

The Quest for a Moral Compass is an ambitious project.  As the subtitle indicates, Malik follows the history of moral and ethical philosophy from Homer's epics to the present.  While "global" is a bit of an exaggeration, he does reach far beyond the usual Western subjects to acknowledge the contributions of India, China and the anti-colonialists of the 20th century.  

I never took a philosophy class in college.  After art history, it's probably the biggest gap in my own liberal arts education.  As such, the survey course of the big names - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Hobbes, etc. - is meaningful for me.  More comfortable ground for me are discussions about religion.  My own faithless upbringing left me deeply curious so I have studied the world's religions more eagerly, even if I've never been completely sold on any of them as a believer.  

Obviously, 344 pages is barely enough to scratch the surface of available material.  However, Malik's thesis is well presented and defended: morality is not absolute.  It shifts dramatically with both time and geography.  If I could encourage him to probe deeper, it would be further discussions of how philosophical thinking impacts the way people actually live.  I feel like I know plenty about how religion does that.  And we all know plenty about how both Marx's and Nietzche's musings shaped the 20th century and beyond, if more monstrously than either intended.  But those shifts from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle... how did they impact the daily life of the average illiterate Athenian?  Or did they?  Does any of it affect anyone beyond an intellectual few.  In reality, does philosophy reflect daily life more than it influences it?  Surely, someone has written that book.

I am especially grateful for Malik's inclusion of the anti-colonialist philosophers, about whom I knew exactly nothing previously: CLR James, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon.  Reasonably, such writers questioned how Europeans could reconcile Age of Enlightenment morality with the realities of slavery and colonial oppression, questions still powerfully resonant in 2022.  Also relevant are Malik's examination of the evolution of the concept of "race" from the early 19th century to the present.  

We are all faced with moral questions as we confront our world both near and far.  Empathy for Ukraine is high and for good reason.  Meanwhile, those fleeing Mexico's horrific drug wars test our collective sympathy.  Why?  And what of our continual blindness to the violence and poverty within our own countries?  It's not a comfortable conversation - trust me, I've tried having it with people.  But the distinctions matter.  

Final analysis: it's a good book and I still have a lot to learn.