Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Squid Mixes: Mai Tai

A Mai Tai combines dark rum, light rum, Curaçao, lime juice, grenadine and orgeat syrup.  I got my base recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide, then added Jamaican No. 1 bitters as a test of my Bitters of the Month.  I only had blue Curaçao on hand, thus the dark color.  My wife suggested it could be a Goth Mai Tai.  I see it as more deep purple than black so I thought of Smoke on the Water.  Either would be a designer cocktail idea worth pursuing.

The Mai Tai was invented in California in the 1930s or '40s, though exact origins are in dispute.  The cocktail had its heyday in the 1950s and '60s, its popularity enhanced by the Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii.  The name is most likely derived from maita'i, the Tahitian word for good or excellence.

The drink is very sweet.  A drier Curaçao would probably help with that, too.  Generally speaking, I don't find rum drinks as interesting as whiskey drinks - less dimension.  As for the bitters, we didn't taste it much.  More would be better.  Maybe when I work on that Goth Mai Tai, I'll add more.

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 = Pulaski = 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.