Friday, July 29, 2022

Star Trek: Dax

Episode: "Dax"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episode 8
Original Air Date: February 13, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Jadzia Dax is put on trial for crimes Curzon Dax is accused of committing 30 years before.  This is the first important Dax episode, exploring the long-term responsibilities of a symbiotic life form: is the host responsible for the previous actions of the symbiont?  While this could be dismissed as in-universe morality, the story raises questions about our own penal system.  Do we punish merely as a vehicle for vengeance or a need to place blame?  Is reform even a consideration?

With "Dax," you can feel DS9 beginning to find its way.  Star Trek, more than most pop culture enterprises, is defined by its moral landscape, staked out by principles for how we confront the other.  DS9 invites new questions for when "the other" becomes "our own."  Picard still maintains an emotional detachment in considering the marginalization of Data, Worf or Troi.  And there's still an uncomfortable presumption within NextGen that however much tolerance we have learned, humanness is still the ideal.

Deep Space Nine challenges all of that.  It begins with Sisko, a far more openly emotional leader than Picard.  His inclination to protect Dax is motivated more by personal loyalty - indeed, love - than professional responsibility.  And whatever inconvenience it has brought her in the moment, Dax's pride in being a Trill is never called into question.  In fact, it's celebrated.

The tenderness between Dax and Erina Tandro, a former lover of Curzon's, is genuinely touching, and provides a preview of a more important episode still to come.

Acting Notes

via Lostpedia

Fionnula Flanagan played the role of Erina Tandro, widow of Curzon's supposed murder victim.  Flanagan was born December 10, 1941 in Dublin.  She trained at the Abbey Theatre.

Flanagan is one of Ireland's most celebrated actors, having won the Irish Film & Television Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Maureen O'Hara Award.  She is best known for her roles in James Joyce's Women and The Others, for which she won a Saturn Award.  She won an Emmy for her performance in 1976's Rich Man, Poor Man.  She has one other Emmy nomination and two Tony nominations.

"Dax" is Flanagan's first of three Trek appearances on three different series as three different characters.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Copper

Title: Copper
Writer and Artist: Kazu Kibuishi

via Goodreads

Copper is a web comic by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of the Amulet series and other projects.  Each story is a Sunday newspaper-style comic strip.  Homages to the classics are clearly evident.  Copper's relationship with his dog Fred is highly reminiscent of that between Calvin and Hobbes, though Copper's older and mellower than Calvin and Fred's more pessimistic than Hobbes.  The jagged black strip against yellow of Charlie Brown's traditional garb is a frequent visual motif.  Fred is sort of the anti-Snoopy.  

Some of the strips are set in the "real world" but many inhabit trippy dreamscapes: a first-person shooter game (where Copper gets too caught up in admiring the scenery), a world of mushrooms, surreal abstraction.  In a couple of stories, they go surfing.  My two favorite strips are "Waterfall" and "Good Life," both CalvinHobbesesque tramps through the woods.  Kizuishi shares a love of funky flying contraptions with Hayao Miyazaki and I sense some artistic influence as well.

I would describe the driving philosophy as happy fatalism which I learned of years ago from John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire.  According to Irving: "The way the world worked was not cause for some sort of blanket cynicism or sophomoric despair... the way the world worked – which was badly – was just a strong incentive to live purposefully, and to be determined about living well."

Kibuishi closes with an artistic process section, material I always enjoy.  

Overall, Copper is a fun, quick, rewarding read.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

On the Coffee Table: The Valley of Fear

Title: The Valley of Fear
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear was the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel.  It was originally serialized in the Strand Magazine from 1914-15, then published in book form in 1915.  Holmes and his faithful Watson investigate the murder of Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone.

As with the first two Holmes novels, the mystery's resolution involves a lengthy, multi-chapter backstory.  It is because of these segues that I generally don't care for Holmes in long form.  This time, Doyle takes us to Pennsylvania coal country to witness the exploits of the dreaded Scowrers, a union terrorist group based on the real-life Molly Maguires.  (I'm guessing Sir Arthur wasn't pro-labor.)  The Pennsylvania story isn't exactly bad.  If anything, it's more interesting than the main tale and its twist more satisfying.  It's just not what I want out of the Holmes experience.  However, I find it interesting that the Scotsman Doyle, as responsible as any for fueling the anglophilia of millions, had his own romantic fascination with the rough American backcountry.  

Allusions to Moriarty are also rather clumsily tacked on to the narrative.  Overall, I'll be glad to get back to what I hope is the tidier work of the last two Holmes short story collections.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Squid Cooks: Pierogies and Kielbasa

Pierogies and Kielbasa, two Polish classics, better together.  For those who don't know, a pierogi is a stuffed dumpling, stuffed in our case with potato and cheese.  Kielbasa is a broad category of Polish sausages, though typified in the United States by a standard U shape.   I followed Jennifer's recipe at Plowing Through Life, which also includes sautéed onions and heaps of butter.  It was easy to make and tasty, too.

My question for the blogosphere for next time: any tips for keeping the frozen pierogies from falling apart when separating?  I lost a few in the thawing.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Star Trek: Face of the Enemy

Episode: "Face of the Enemy"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 8, 1993

Deanna Troi is kidnapped by N'Vek, a member of Spock's underground Romulan resistance organization. She has been surgically altered to appear Romulan and finds herself aboard a Romulan warbird, purpose unclear even as N'Vek barks instructions at her.  She is forced to aid a plot to smuggle defectors.  

This is a highly contrived concept, even by Star Trek standards.  The explanation for why Troi, in particular, is required for the mission requires too much.  Also, I've read enough spy novels to see that putting someone in a situation like this unwillingly with no briefing or training has inevitable disaster written all over it.

Yet, somehow, "Face of the Enemy" works.  If it's not the best Troi episode, it's on an awfully short list.  She gets to be a badass!  She sorts out her cover on the fly as she is confronted by Toreth (Carolyn Seymour), the commander on the Romulan ship.  We see Troi's discomfort in the role of ruthless intelligence officer and we cheer her on as she finds her footing.  The viewer can't help wondering how they might handle the situation in her shoes.

Seymour is wonderful as Toreth, though there was briefly another plan for the character.  Teleplay writer Naren Shankar suggested inviting Joanne Linville to reprise her role from TOS's best third-season episode, "The Enterprise Incident."  Linville was unavailable.  Seymour got the job.  Fortunately there's room enough in the galaxy for more than one awesome female Romulan commander.

Acting Notes

Scott McDonald (N'Vek) was born October 24, 1959 in Libby, Montana.  He received a Bachelor's degree from Washington State University and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.  "Face of the Enemy" is his second of twelve Trek appearances as five different characters in four different series.  Most significantly, he played Commander Dolim for eight episodes on Enterprise.  

Other television work includes Threshold, Carnivàle and Dexter.  His highest-profile big screen role was the title character in Jack Frost.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Squid Cooks: Mediterranean Chicken Kebabs

Wife is out of town and daughter has an intense summer job which leaves me 100% in charge of the kitchen for the week.  What to do, what to do...  It's time to break out Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Bittman's recipe for Peanutty Chicken Kebabs won't do as I am allergic to peanuts.  His Mediterranean Chicken Kebabs variation, on the other hand, sounded delightful.  It's probably best I made my first attempt at such a dish with my wife and her Lebanese sensibilities out of the house anyway.

I made an early mistake.  The recipe calls for "boneless, skinless chicken thighs."  I got boneless but not skinless which made cutting it up more of a pain.  I definitely did not achieve proper cubes.

Fortunately, the end result was fine.  Some things for next time, beyond getting the right chicken cut:
  • Marinate for longer.  I need to get in a better habit with that across the board.  Today, I was trying to do the shopping and cooking in one day.  The smarter thing would have been to shop one day, then do the marinade in the morning of the next.
  • Grilling would have been better than broiling.  I already knew that but I was better equipped for broiling.  Plus, it rained all afternoon so grilling would have been out anyway.
  • Broiling would have worked better if I had set the rack higher in the oven - and therefore closer to the heat - from the beginning.  I moved it up for the last five minutes but probably should have done it sooner.
Even so, it was a serviceable meal.  Definitely worth trying again and better some time.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Star Trek: Q-Less

Episode: "Q-Less"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episode 7
Original Air Date: February 6, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Our old friends Vash and Q show up after archaeological adventures in the Gamma Quadrant.  Vash schemes with Quark to sell off her plunder while Q taunts Sisko.  Meanwhile, the station is falling apart.  The crew blame Q, though the omnipotent one denies all responsibility.

Not my favorite so far.  I don't exactly like either Vash or Q.  However, "Q-Less" is a good Quark episode as he and Vash play off one another brilliantly.  Furthermore, even harsh critics agree that the story's undeniably satisfying highlight is Sisko decking Q in a bare-knuckle boxing match.  

Seriously, why couldn't they have found a less cumbersome term for the standard currency than gold-pressed latinum?

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Nana Visitor (Kira) was born Nana Tucker, July 26, 1957 in New York City.  She is the niece of Cyd Charisse.  Prior to DS9, she made several guest appearances on high-profile television series, including Night Court, Matlock and Thirtysomething.

Visitor has been married three times, her second marriage to DS9 co-star Alexander Siddig.  She has two children, one by each of her first two husbands.  More on that story to come...

Thursday, July 14, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

via Amazon

Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love as teenagers in Lagos.  Life paths lead in separate directions, as they do when you're young.  Ifemelu went to the United States where she became a successful blogger (huzzah!) and a Princeton fellow.  Obinze went to Britain where his undocumented status never allowed him to settle comfortably so he went back to Nigeria and got rich in real estate.  That's the story in short but the summary hardly does it justice.

Adichie paints vivid pictures of all three countries, particularly the Black experience in each.  As whenever I read anything about Africa, I was quickly reminded of the breadth of my own ignorance.  For starters, I have failed to grasp just how many people live in Nigeria.  "One in five Africans is Nigerian," a cab driver says to Ifemelu.  It's actually closer to one in six but point taken.  It's bigger physically than I imagined, too: 10+ hour drives to get from one part of the country to another.  Adichie describes some of the things one expects of a developing nation: corruption, cronyism, run-down buildings. (Hmm, is the US really so different?)  But she also shares details about the food and the music she clearly loves as much as her characters do.

She also writes wonderfully about the foreignness of both the US and UK, so easy to forget for those of us who have lived in either country for most of our lives.  In fact, with all three nations, she demonstrates that it often takes an outsider to see the truth.  Even in Nigeria, Ifemelu sees her native land quite differently upon her return.

The prose is wonderfully intimate.  Halfway through, I was rather surprised to realize the entire book is written in third person rather than first.  That's how intimate it feels.  I have lived some of it, though the expat experience of a White man in Japan is considerably different from that of a Black person pretty much anywhere.  I have a couple passages to share.

First, from Obinze's experience at a dinner party in London:  "They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction... were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty."

Later, from one of Ifemelu's blog posts:
The simplest solution to the problem of race in America?  Romantic love.  Not friendship.  Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable.  But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved.  And because that real deep romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black and American White, the problem of race in America will never be solved.
On Goodreads, I gave the book a 4, though it's a high 4.  I didn't lose myself in it quite as much as I wanted to but there's no denying its quality.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Squid Games: Ticket to Ride

via Amazon

Ticket to Ride has been the go-to game for my wife and me for many years now.  I reviewed the Africa variant in this post but have yet to give the base game its proper due.  Created by Alan R. Moon and published by Days of Wonder since 2004, Ticket to Ride has won many industry awards, spawned numerous variants and been translated into at least 19 languages.  One competes with one's opponent(s) to complete railroad routes across early 20th century USA.  I love it for three simple reasons:
  1. Maps!  I adore maps and have since about age 6.  Real world maps are best.
  2. Everyone is in it until the end.  I don't like games in which players are eliminated.
  3. I have fun win or lose.  I prefer to finish all of my routes but even if I don't, I enjoy building stuff.
We play with the 10th Anniversary special edition set which features a larger board, larger cards and larger, specially designed cars.  In truth, the larger cards are the best benefit over the original.  

Generally speaking, I won most of the time over the years.  But recently, my wife has been kicking my ass - final scores over 200 points not unusual.  Clearly, she has sorted out a strategic wrinkle I have not.  In most games, I believe in playing the board rather than the opponent but with Ticket to Ride in particular, I have found the best approach is to beat the opponent - whether human or computer - at their own game.  Of course, that means sorting out what they're doing and that's the tricky bit.  I think I've figured out her way, or at least a way that keeps me competitive.  I won our most recent tilt.

We own several variants and enjoy them but the original board always draws us back.  

Friday, July 8, 2022

Star Trek: Aquiel

Episode: "Aquiel"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 13
Original Air Date: February 1, 1993

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise stumbles upon a murder mystery and Geordi La Forge falls for the prime suspect.

The whodunit tale is alright but the love story is cringe-worthy.  Why is it that Geordi personal life stories seemingly always fall flat?  We love Geordi but there's no denying at this point, with the considerable improvement of Deanna Troi over time, that he is TNG's weakest principal and will remain so through the end of the series.  The actor is strong enough.  The character concept is fine.  Development is genuinely attempted but it never goes very far.  The aborted love stories always feel forced.  What could have worked better?  The playboy who falls in love?  Already married as Miles O'Brien is in DS9?  The frustrated but occasionally successful wingman?  1993 was too early to portray the gay experience with any fidelity but that would have been more interesting.  One TNG weakness is the desire to fix all of the principals on the good side of the moral spectrum.  Some ambiguity might have been good from time to time, perhaps especially for La Forge.

The coalescent species concept is genuinely interesting, a new wrinkle in Trek's long shapeshifting history.

Acting Notes

via Ultimate Soap Fan Wiki

Renée Jones (Aquiel Uhnari) was born October 15, 1958 in Opa-locka, Florida.  She signed with Ford Modeling when she was 19, then made her screen debut in The White Shadow.  She had recurring roles on Knot's Landing, 21 Jump Street and LA Law.  

Jones was a regular on Days of Our Lives for 20 years as Lexie Carver.  Films include Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, The Terror Within II and Talkin' Dirty After Dark.  She retired from acting in 2012.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Hopped Grapefruit

Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit bitters presents me with an opportunity.  I've long wondered if I could create a cocktail that tastes like beer without actually using any beer.  In theory, it shouldn't be too complicated.  After all, whiskey and beer share a common base ingredient: barley.  One could even argue that whiskey is basically distilled beer.  But there's an essential difference: the hops.  For beer, the hops - the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant - are everything, the flavoring element that sets the sudsy stuff apart from all other food products.  

For that matter, beer is everything for the hops, too.  Humulus lupus is not a feed crop.  It's only cultivated for beer.  During Prohibition, hops farmers received government subsidies when their raison-d'être disappeared.  Without such subsidies, the American beer industry would not have been able to recover so quickly once the law reverted.

Back to my project...

A bitters with hops intrigues.  Pairing with grapefruit is meaningful as several hops varieties offer grapefuity flavor hints, particularly citra.  Fortunately, Vermont breweries are outstanding so I was able to find a model for my cocktail quickly: The Alchemist's Focal Banger.  

I haven't started with such a specific vision for a bitters before this one.  As such, I felt I could reasonably skip my usual first step of gin (or occasionally vodka) and bitters and go straight for the whiskey.  I chose Irish whiskey (Bushmills) to start as it is the lightest in flavor of the options in my cabinet.  I wanted to give the bitters the best opportunity to shine.

The first difference I noticed: whiskey is sweeter than beer.  I wasn't expecting that but it makes sense. Higher alcohol content likely begins with higher sugar content.  So, I'll want to tamp down the sweet a bit.  Fortunately, the bitters helps a little, supplying a touch of bitterness, probably from the grapefruit peel.  Moving forward, adding dry vermouth rather than sweet probably makes sense.

But there's something else missing, that grainy flavor from the barley.  What can I do to bring that out?  Here is where my previous vermouth explorations can help.  Martini & Rossi's sweet vermouth has a weird, wheaty aftertaste.  One astute commenter described it as an oregano flavor.  What I previously thought of as a flaw could actually come in handy here.  But I don't want to use too much because of the sweetness factor.  So...

I think a Perfect Manhattan is the best template.  With both dry and sweet vermouth (specifically the M&R), I can capitalize on the advantages of both without too much of either.  I think I'll stick with the Irish whiskey as it is the least sweet of my current options.  I'll be generous with the bitters - in fact, a Perfect Manhattan typically doesn't include any.  I want enough to compete with everything else that's going on.

I wonder about bubbles.  Is flat beer really such a desirable goal?  Topping the concoction off with a splash of lager seems like cheating.  Would an extremely dry sparkling wine do the trick?  Or is that too much a waste of bubbly?  Maybe we try the combo above and go from there.

Stay tuned.

I have officially run out of room on my bitters shelf.  Fortunately, I've also just about maxed out the supply of varieties that are available locally.  So, this will likely be the last of my bitters-devoted posts, at least for now.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Star Trek: Captive Pursuit

Episode: "Captive Pursuit"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: January 30, 1993

via Memory Alpha

O'Brien helps his new friend, Tosk from the Gamma Quadrant, evade his pursuers.  It's a Trek take on "The Most Dangerous Game," a short story by Richard Connell.  "Captive Pursuit" is primarily an O'Brien development story but also provides nice moments for Odo - we find out he never carries weapons - and Sisko.  We get a sense of Ben's leadership style, doing what's right over what's regulation - more Kirk than Picard, really.  He trusts his people and often leads with a wink and a nod.

Michael Westmore and his staff won an Emmy for Makeup for "Captive Pursuit," one of three for DS9 in its first season.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Armin Shimerman (Quark) was born November 5, 1949 in Lakewood, New Jersey.  After graduating from UCLA, he had an apprenticeship at the Old Globe Theater, then moved to New York where he was a member of the Impossible Ragtime Theater.  Prior to DS9, Shimerman had a recurring role on Beauty and the Beast.  He played Ferengi characters twice on TNG.

Shimerman has written and co-written several novels, including The 34th Rule, a DS9 novel.  He teaches Shakespeare as an adjunct professor at USC.  He has been married to actress Kitty Swink since 1981.