Wednesday, September 27, 2023

On the Coffee Table: 100 Bullets

Title: 100 Bullets, Vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso

via Amazon

You meet a strange man, Agent Graves, who clearly knows a lot more about you than you do about him.  He tells you the exact person who ruined your life.  Then he hands you a briefcase with a gun and 100 untraceable bullets and tells you to do whatever you want with them.

That's the premise of 100 BulletsVolume 1 collects the first five issues of a comic book series that ultimately ran for - you guessed it - 100 issues.  The first story, covered in the first three issues, follows Dizzy, recently released from prison.  To her, Graves reveals the crooked cops who killed her family.  The second features Lee, a down on his luck bartender who lost his family because pranking teenagers planted child porn on his hard drive.  As the second story progresses, we get a broader sense of Graves's own motivations and they're not exactly selfless.

Morality gets complicated for the reader.  To a point, one is inclined to root for Graves's chosen ones and against their targets.  But of course, there's more to both stories than one originally assumes.

The series is certainly strong.  Both writing and art are excellent.  However, I have a gripe.  Dizzy is Latina and her story is set in the inner city.  Azzarello, a White man, attempts to incorporate the street vernacular of both Latinx and Black characters.  It doesn't sit well with me when White people do that.  Indeed, representation matters and so does realism.  It just doesn't feel right.

So what's the answer, you ask?  More people of color creating their own stories within the medium.  Yes, there are people of color in the business - probably not enough of them and certainly not enough of them in positions of power to promote more representative stories.  It's a worthy goal and the results are likely to be a lot less cringey.  

That said, I'm up for more.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Squid Mixes: Pousse-Café

Pousse-Café is, in fact, an entire category of drinks.  You've likely seen them even if you didn't know what they are called.  Instead of mixing or shaking liquids into a consistent emulsion, one layers them, one on top of the other.  The end result, executed properly, looks like stripes - or more accurately, disks - in the glass.  Obviously, it's a cool party trick worth learning.

I got my recipe from The New Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff, a relatively new book on my shelf.  DeGroff suggests grenadine, crème de cacao, maraschino liqueur, orange Curaçao, crème de menthe and cognac added to the glass in that order.  Six ingredients felt rather ambitious for a first try at this technique but what the hell.

Attempt #1

For the first try, I went with a martini glass.  To accomplish the layering, you pour over the back of a spoon and/or down the side of the glass.  I figured the slope of a martini glass would be reasonably forgiving.  

While the slope of the glass definitely helped.  I can see now that while physics worked for me, geometry brought obvious (in hindsight) drawbacks.  Each successive layer is more narrow.

The last photo above was taken after I added the crème de menthe.  So, there should be a green layer on top.  That bit didn't work.  However, one can see from this shot that the green layer is there, just not on top:

Here's the final product from attempt 1.  

As you can see, there are distinct layers, just not six of them.

Attempt #2

For the next attempt, I used a champagne flute:

I'd say it went pretty well until, once again, I got to the crème de menthe:

The physics was falling apart but I couldn't immediately understand why.  Sometimes, setting a problem aside for 24 hours, then coming back to it is just the thing...

Attempt #3

Successful layering is dependent on liquid density.  A liquid with more sugar and less alcohol than another is more dense.  Taking advantage of this physical reality, one can, with care, layer one liquid on top of the other without their automatically combining.  That's why, in DeGroff's recipe, you start with the grenadine: zero alcohol, tons of sugar, high density.  DeGroff's recipe includes specific brands for the Curaçao and crème de menthe which I didn't have.  I charged ahead assuming that one brand's density would be approximately the same as another.

I was 100% wrong.

I took a closer look at the actual bottles I was using and put them in order of alcohol content.  The Curaçao and the crème de menthe were the same, which explained why they were combining rather than separating.  One of them had to go.  I chose to keep the Curaçao as mint was the overwhelming flavor of the first two attempts and I wanted the others to have a fighting chance.  So in order of decreasing density for my third try: grenadine, Curaçao, crème de cacao, maraschino liqueur and Cognac.

I also chose a more flared champagne flute for the job.  In hindsight, I wonder why I didn't use it for the first attempt but I suppose I was more focused on other factors.

I was much happier with the result.  The distinction between the red of the grenadine and the orange of the Curaçao is admittedly difficult to see in the photo but it's there.  For color contrast, the crème de menthe would have been the better choice.  But in the end, I was able to successfully create a layered drink.

I don't know how much I'll play with this concept.  The end result is awfully sweet, generally not what I'm after.  My wife is also a lot less impressed by this particular parlor trick than I am so I won't be getting much encouragement from my most loyal customer.  But I'm glad to know it can be done, even by me.

Monday, September 25, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Will Eisner

Title: A Contract with God
Writer and Artist: Will Eisner

via Amazon

Will Eisner is on a short list of the all-time masters of the comic book medium.  In fact, at least in the English language, he may be the most esteemed of them all.  The American industry's most prestigious annual award as well as its Hall of Fame are both named after him.  Among his many accomplishments, Eisner is credited with popularizing the graphic novel.

In 1978, A Contract with God was published.  While it was not the first sequential art piece to break from the typical superhero model, it demonstrated the broader possibilities for the medium.  In the strictest literary terms, "A Contract with God" is probably better classified as a short story (with an epilogue) than a novel.  But its long form, self-contained, reality-based narrative was a clear break from the episodic sensationalism which had dominated the English language industry for decades.  The black and white images were richly detailed and expository text was no longer confined to the usual boxes and bubbles.  The original release was, in fact, a collection of four short stories.  In addition to the titular tale, "The Street Singer," "The Super," and "Cookalein" were also included.

The material was definitely not for children, better suited to older teenagers and above.  Frimme Hersh, Contract's protagonist, feels betrayed by God.  But he's not Tevye, Fiddler's gentle-hearted hero.  Frimme deals with his frustration by becoming a ruthless, exploitative tenement landlord.  His story is a memorable parable juxtaposing what a believer might want his relationship with God to be with what that relationship actually is.  The other stories involve nudity, sex, alcoholism and violence against women, children and animals.  The message is clear: life isn't pretty, especially not when you're poor.  Those who survive are not necessarily virtuous.

However you might classify it, A Contract with God is a masterpiece.  While I wouldn't put it on par with Maus or V for Vendetta, later works owe an obvious debt to Eisner.  He wrote sequels.  I'll be keeping an eye out for those.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Star Trek: Profit and Loss

Episode: "Profit and Loss"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 18
Original Air Date: March 20, 1994

Garak episode!

A mysterious, damaged Cardassian ship is brought into the station via tractor beam.  The pilot, Natima Lang, is a professor traveling with her two students, Rekelen and Hogue.  Lang claims their ship was damaged by a meteor shower.  The plot thickens when the visitors arrive at Quark's where we learn Lang is the proprietor's long-lost girlfriend.  He's over the moon to see her.  She's not so thrilled.

Garak, enjoying his regular lunch with Dr. Bashir, recognizes the travelers as well though it's not immediately apparent why.  Meanwhile, Chief O'Brien determines that the damage to their ship was caused by Cardassian phaser fire.  Clearly, there's a bigger story here.  Lang reveals that Rekelen and Hogue are no mere students.  They are well-known leaders of the Cardassian dissident movement.  Garak goes so far as to call them terrorists.

The Quark/Natima love story is sweet but for me, the real treat (surprise, surprise), is the Garak sub plot.  We learn a bit about our favorite tailor in "Profit and Loss."  Questions about his past are answered - partially.  The answers invite further questions.  His loyalty is to Cardassia - but clearly that means something different to him than it would to those in power on his home world.  There's a particularly delicious encounter between Garak and Commander Sisko, the former seemingly playing the role of negotiator between the Cardassians and the Federation regarding the fates of the dissidents.  I watched that scene over again immediately after finishing the episode.  So good.

An interesting production note: during filming of the episode, there was a 6.7-magnitude earthquake in southern California.  Several actors, including Armin Shimerman (Quark) and Mary Crosby (Natima) rushed home to check on their families without bothering to remove their makeup, inspiring memorable reactions from other drivers on the road.

Acting Notes

Mary Crosby was born September 14, 1959 in Los Angeles.  Her parents were actress Kathryn Grant and Hollywood titan Bing Crosby.  Mary Crosby is the aunt of Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Mary Crosby graduated from high school at 15, then attended the University of Texas, though she didn't graduate.  

Mary Crosby is best known for her portrayal of Kristin Shepard in the TV series Dallas.  In fact, assuming we're past the statute of limitations for spoilers for this one, her character is the one who shot J.R. in that series's most famous story line.  Other television appearances include guest appearances on The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote and CHiPs.  Film credits include Midnight Lace (1981), The Ice Pirates and Tapeheads.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Seth

Title: George Sprott: (1894-1975)
Writer and Artist: Seth

via Amazon

George Sprott was a fictional local television personality from the fictional Ontario city of Dominion.  Seth (the pen name of Gregory Gallant) presents his biography in graphic novel form.  In Sprott's show, he shares films and stories of his adventures exploring Arctic Canada.  Much of his life story is told from the perspective of others after his death.  Not all of it is flattering.

I enjoyed the book but I'm also grateful to get it off my shelves.  It's enormous, over 16 inches tall and over 12 inches wide!  Finding space for it has been challenging ever since I first bought it several years ago.  The story was first serialized in The New York Times Magazine, explaining the unusual size.  Most of the panels are too small to have survived scaling down.  In his review, Glen Weldon offers "8 Practical Uses" for the book after you have finished reading it.

Nostalgia for old local television and the Canadian romanticization of the Arctic are both lovingly rendered.  The loneliness of a "star" past his prime is the main theme, interesting timing for me in that we also recently watched Sunset Blvd.  Panel usage is clever, almost like a storyboard much of the time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Squid Mixes: Corpse Reviver No. 1

A Corpse Reviver No. 1 combines cognac, calvados and sweet vermouth.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  Regan adapted his from The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock.  It's a pleasant drink, though my wife described it as a little cough syrupy.  The apple in the calvados popped out nicely as I was stirring in the glass but was less prominent in the final flavor.  

Corpse Revivers are eye openers, essentially hangover cures.  Hangover symptoms result from alcohol withdrawal so in reality, any alcoholic beverage would suffice.  I've never been clear on what makes certain drinks especially good for the job.  Perhaps because it's on the sweeter side, thus more breakfasty?  For the record, we drank ours at 4 pm, no hangovers involved.

Yes, there is a #2 in both Regan's and Craddock's books.  In fact, I featured David Lebovitz's interpretation here.  Online, I have found recipes for Corpse Revivers #3-13.

Monday, September 18, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Roz Chast

Title: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Writer and Artist: Roz Chast

via Amazon

Roz Chast's graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? addresses two of the most important topics we almost never talk about: aging and death.  The author shares the stories of dealing with her aging parents, helping them through the various transitions from independence to assisted living and through to the very end.  Chast is an only child so it's all on her.  

The book isn't pretty or sweet.  There's real pain and frustration at every stage.  The relationships are complicated in all directions - child-to-parent, parent-to-child, spouse-to-spouse - and the life changes don't make them easier.  

Chast's book hit me hard, harder than Fun Home did (see here).  These are the life changes staring me in the face.  My own parents are now in their 80s and starting, for the first time, to discuss next steps in concrete terms.  Fortunately, I have a few advantages Chast didn't.  I have a sibling, so I have an ally.  Thanks to Atul Gawande's encouragement, such matters have been an open conversation between my parents and me for a long time.  I think it's fair to say I have easier relationships with my parents than Chast had with hers but it's also fair to say our relationships aren't perfect either.  Finding the proper balance as my own needs decrease while theirs increase has been tricky.  Communication takes work.  And patience, vulnerability, persistence, forgiveness, grace... and did I mention patience?  I am neither a perfect son nor a perfect brother.  But I swear, I work at both.  

And naturally, facing my parents' increasing needs also forces me to confront the reality that one day, my wife and I will need to do the same for ourselves.  We have an only child so it will be all on them.  What can we do to make the transitions easier for all of us when the time comes?  I don't want to live forever, nor do I care to live past the point where I can reasonably take care of myself.  But mine are not the only wants and needs to consider.

Chast generously shares her struggles with all of this.  It's not an easy read.  She does little to hide the dirty details.  But it's deeply important for all of us to think about such things more than we do.  I'm grateful for her candor.  

Friday, September 15, 2023

Star Trek: Eye of the Beholder

Episode: "Eye of the Beholder"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 28, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Lieutenant Daniel Kwan commits suicide by hurling himself into the plasma stream.  While Counselor Troi is investigating, she experiences a telepathic flashback of memories not her own to the time of the Enterprise's construction.  She suspects someone was murdered.  What's more, the murderer may still be aboard the ship.

The mystery story is interesting enough but to me, "Eye of the Beholder" feels like a missed opportunity.  The creators balked at what could have been a meaningful exploration of mental health.  In the beginning, no one, not even those close to Lieutenant Kwan, understand how he could have taken his own life.  Of course, there has to be a reason.  The past murder visions become the reason.

But why couldn't it have been a story about depression?  Was that really so taboo in 1994?  Or was that yet another disease for which Earth had found a miracle cure by the 24th century?  Picard says he'd never had to inform a family about a suicide before.  That seems unrealistic.

Historically, active military personnel have a lower suicide rate than the general population.  That would still have been the case in 1994, though the rate wouldn't have been zero.  More recently, the gap has closed and not the way you would want it to.  The rate for the military has gone up.  Retired military are another matter.  Veterans are significantly more likely to commit suicide than non-veteran adults.  PTSD is the most likely culprit.  Maybe Earth will have the answer to that, too, in a few centuries.  But I'm getting away from my main point.

Far too often, suicide is used as a literary device while ignoring the most difficult questions.  It's the narrative copout for problems the author doesn't otherwise know how to solve.  Romeo and Juliet is the most obvious example but it happens all the time.  In this case, suicide launches the mystery and is then mostly forgotten in favor of the story they really wanted to tell.

Part of that story does have long-term significance.  In Troi's alternate, hallucinated reality, she and Worf become romantically and sexually involved.  As noted in previous posts, I am 100% in favor of this pairing.  Stay tuned.

Just in case you ever need it, for the suicide hotline in the US, dial 988.

Acting Notes

via Dubbing Wikia

Mark Rolston played Lt. Pierce, the murderer.  Rolston was born in Baltimore, December 7, 1956.

When someone is described as a "character actor" we generally think of comedy specialists, someone with considerable talent and also looks that fall short of leading man/lady expectations.  And they're funny.  Rolston isn't funny - well, he might be hilarious in real life but it's not his calling card professionally.  Instead, he mastered a chilling, icy stare that makes casting directors' dreams come true.  

100 years from now, Rolston will still be best remembered as the deeply evil Bogs Diamond in The Shawshank Redemption, also released in 1994.  Other films include Aliens, Rush Hour and The Departed.  He's also had creepy guest star roles in Babylon 5, The X-Files and Supernatural.  He's had a successful voice acting career as well, particularly in the DC Universe where he has voiced Firefly, Deathstroke and Lex Luthor.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Squid Flicks: Nimona

Title: Nimona
Directors: Nick Bruno and Troy Quane
Original Release: 2023
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

via Wikipedia

Ballister Boldheart is about to be knighted, an unusual honor for a commoner.  The ceremony does not exactly go as planned when he appears to assassinate the Queen.  But he's been framed.  Ballister is thrown in prison but a new, mysterious friend named Nimona breaks him out.  Nimona is eager to become Ballister's sidekick in his quest for revenge and redemption.  She is also quite a lot more than she appears.  She's a shapeshifter, one who figures prominently in cultural lore.

Nimona is based on the graphic novel of the same name by ND Stevenson.  Initially, it was supposed to be a Blue Sky Studios production, set for release in 2020.  But when Disney bought 21st Century Fox, Blue Sky's parent company, the new bosses balked at Nimona because of LGBTQ+ content.  Ballister, you see, is gay.  He has a boyfriend, Ambrosius, and the relationship is completely normalized.  Well, okay, Ambrosius is also one of the Elite Knights and cuts off Ballister's arm after the Queen is killed, ultimately emerging as a sympathetic antagonist - all of that gets a bit complicated.  But no one - not even the story's playground bully character - makes a big deal of the fact that they're both men.  Obviously, that ain't Disney!  The project was repeatedly delayed and ultimately shelved.

Shame on Disney!

Annanpura Pictures came to the rescue.  They bought up the rights.  Netflix signed on as the distributer.  Green light, go.

The movie's a lot of fun.  The animation is impressive - hints of The Secret of Kells in the early going and evidently Easter Egg homages to Blue Sky films (now defunct) throughout.  The world building is thorough, complete with its own internal mythology.  Nimona, the character, is particularly wonderful.  I don't know if there are plans for a sequel but I am in favor.

Monday, September 11, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Alison Bechdel

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Writer and Artist: Alison Bechdel

Many have banned and/or attempted to ban this book.  So, obviously, everyone should read it.

Fun Home is the graphic memoir masterpiece of Alison Bechdel, the queen of queer comics.  Before the book, she was well-established within the industry for the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out ForFun Home brought her into the mainstream, hitting best-seller lists, earning loads of accolades and eventually being made into a Tony-winning Broadway musical.  

Bechdel tells her story of growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania.  She clearly had complicated relationships with both parents, though the book is mostly about her father, a high school English teacher, an interior decorating savant and a closeted homosexual.  Alison didn't know the last bit until she came out to her parents herself during college.  Unfortunately, he had a preference for teenage boys, a fact which brought legal troubles.  Not long after these revelations, he committed suicide - quite a lot to absorb for Alison and her younger brothers.  

Intertwined with all of this are Alison's own adventures of sexual discovery.  Even more than the dirt on her father, this is the part that likely gets the conservatives bent out of shape.  There's sex, nudity, masturbation, etc.  It normalizes both female sexual awareness and the gay experience.  I've got what I expect is upsetting news for the MAGA crowd: both of those things are normal.  And healthy.  And far less damaging than the shaming and violence you would rather subject people to.  Indeed, Alison's path was deeply complicated by her own basic insecurities and the social politics of rural Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between).  

The story is not all sadness.  The author shares plenty of childhood joy, even in her relationship with her father.  The ultimate lesson: pain is complicated.  It is but one river of many that flows through a life.

Fun Home has been equated by some with Maus and Persepolis as masterpieces of the genre.  I'm not quite ready to put it on that level, though it is truly outstanding.  The intimacy grabs ahold of you from the first panel onwards.  I'm definitely up for more of her work.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Star Trek: Playing God

Episode: "Playing God"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 27, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Jadzia Dax hosts her first Trill initiate, Arjin, a young man aspiring to become host to a symbiont.  She takes him on a mission through the wormhole.  After an accident forces them to return to the station, a strange mass is discovered attached to the runabout.  In time, the mass is found to be a proto-universe.  Meanwhile, there's a Cardassian vole infestation on Deep Space Nine.

"Playing God" is a good Dax story.  We learn a great deal about the initiate process generally as well as Jadzia's relationship with Curzon Dax.  She first met Curzon as an initiate herself and the encounter didn't go well.  Now joined, we see that while Jadzia honors the previous hosts of her own symbiont, she also works to maintain her own character apart from them, particularly her immediate predecessor.  We see a more sensuous side to Jadzia in this episode, too.  Arjin arrives at Jadzia's quarters the first morning and is greeted by her masseur - and sexual partner?  The narrative neither confirms nor denies but I would say it's strongly implied.  And why not?  Curzon has already been established as a playboy.  Why shouldn't Jadzia have her own fun?  Arjin is clearly intimidated by both the burly masseur and the confident Jadzia.  Ha!

The B and C narratives are fine, though mostly forgettable.  Deciding what to do about the tiny universe while its growth threatens our own presents interesting dilemmas.

Acting Notes

via Critters Wiki

Geoffrey Blake (Arjin) was born August 20, 1982 in Baltimore, Maryland, though he grew up in California.  He graduated from the University of Southern California.  His film resume is impressive, including several Tom Hanks-led features: Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, and Cast Away.  Blake and Terry Farrell (Dax) also appeared together in the short-lived TV series Paper Dolls.  Blake's character was Farrell's character's boyfriend.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Ibram X. Kendi

Title: How to Be an Antiracist
Author: Ibram X. Kendi

via Amazon

This book has been banned in some school districts which, of course, means everyone should read it.

How to Be an Antiracist is as much memoir as treatise.  Ibram X. Kendi leads us through a personal history or his own racial attitudes.  Kendi grew up in New York City, then spent most of high school in Virginia.  He was raised by veterans of the civil rights movements.  He was educated first at Florida A&M, an historically black university, then Temple University where he earned an MA and a PhD in African American Studies.  We get an intimate view of his own philosophical evolution, some of it surprising.  His vulnerability in admitting his own shortcomings along the way lends more credence to his ultimate conclusions.  

Kendi's definition of an antiracist has spread wide since the book's publication: "One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity."  The goal is not to change attitudes but to change the policies, systems and structures that prevent equality - redlining, for instance - and boost the ones that encourage it - affirmative action, for one.  He acknowledges that the racial attitudes of white people have changed over recent decades.  But he points out, rather importantly, that attitudes tend to change after the policy changes, not the other way around.  

I hope no one is surprised to know that I am fully on board with this line of thinking.  Conversations about race are rarely easy.  Here in Vermont - still 92% white - the challenge is often convincing people that we have any responsibility at all.  8% non-white is small but it's a lot more than zero.  I work in education.  Our students of color are few and, complicating the statistics, quite a lot of them have been academically successful.  But that doesn't mean we're doing everything we can and should to ensure they're thriving fully as members of our school community.  What is their experience walking down the hallways?  Do they have the same access to extra-curriculars as their schoolmates or are some teams and clubs more inclusive than others, even unintentionally?

And folks, we hold enormous responsibility for teaching our white students about race.  I agree with Kendi that attitudes aren't everything but they do matter.  If I were to ask most of my white students to define their own culture, many - if not most - would say they don't have one.  They see their own experience as the default - "normal."  They have no concept of their own foreignness to others, indeed to most of the world.  I don't know how we fix that but I know we must find a way.

I have responsibilities as a blogger, too.  Star Trek, in particular, is worthy of scrutiny.  From the beginning, the franchise has been about changing our approach to "the other."  Trek deserves a lot of credit for diverse representation but the racial rhetoric is still often problematic.  I'll do my best to call them on it when I see it.

I'm definitely up for reading more of Kendi's work.  I hope you will, too.  More importantly, I hope you'll take up the antiracist cause yourself.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Squid Eats: Ahli Baba's Kebab Shop

This was our child's birthday weekend so we let them make all the choices.  Ahli Baba's has been around for years yet neither my wife nor I had ever been.  We love Mediterranean food, though, so we were easily convinced.  

It's a simple set up: small space (only two, long slab, high top tables), counter service.  The art on the walls features Blue Meanies, Pink Floyd concert posters, a photo of Jerry Garcia, etc.  I had steak kebabs and an Arnold Palmer.  Both wife and child had gyros and lemonade.  Mine was delicious, though drippy.  I got quite a lot of the sauce on my shorts - an acceptable sacrifice for good food.  Greasy food, psychedelic decor, BYOB, take out-friendly, late hours (open until 11 most nights, until 3 am Thursday-Saturday)...  It's pretty clear who the target demographic is.  

We'll be back.  The food was not overwhelming but definitely decent for the price.  I like the hours as it's right by the Flynn Theater - a good stop for a quick bite after a concert if we need it.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Star Trek: Masks

Episode: "Masks"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 21, 1994

The Enterprise encounters a floating archive from a civilization likely long extinct.  The archive gradually takes over the ship, flooding computer screens with ideographs, sprouting palm trees, erecting monoliths and converting corridors into stonewalled temple passages.  It's invaded Data's programming, too, generating multiple characters who communicate, poorly, with the rest of the crew.  

My goodness, is this one terrible!  Even the cast hated it while they were filming.  In Brent Spiner's recollection, they were all laughing at each other, particularly him as, without much preparation time, he stumbled through the various personalities.  It's a shame because the idea itself is cool, drawing meaningfully from Picard's passion for archaeology.  The visuals work fine.  But when every other line from Data is either "I don't know" or "I cannot be certain," you know they're scraping the bottom of the dialogue barrel.

"Masks" was written by Joe Menosky, who wrote a lot of good episodes, including the amazing "Darmok."  Menosky was living in France at the time, but still sending in scripts.  In 1994, email was still a new concept so coordinating over something like editing was tedious and/or not worth the trouble with a production deadline looming.  So, the other writers did the best they could with it.  The result was a god awful mess.

Acting Notes

Rickey D'Shon Collins played the role of Eric Burton, a student in the Enterprise school.  "Masks" was his second of three appearances, all in Season 7.  He had a better story in "Liaisons" when he got to join Iyaaran Ambassador Loquel in his exploration of desserts.  Collins was born in San Diego, January 17, 1983.

Most of Collins's work has been in voice acting.  He had principal roles on Recess and Danny Phantom plus films such as Once Upon a Forest, The Golden Blaze and Happy Feet.  Other live action appearances include Blossom, Grace Under Fire and The Practice.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Squid Perks: Vivid Coffee

Farm-to-table is a big deal in Vermont.  Independent farms still make up a sizable portion of the industry here and the state's population is eager to support them.  Vivid Coffee seeks to tap into that mentality.  It's admittedly trickier with a tropical crop like coffee beans.  The company develops relationships with individual farms in places like Santa Barbara, Honduras (see blog post here).  Vivid sells its coffee through local retail stores and coffee shops as well as online.  They have their own cafe in Burlington, about half-a-block off of Church Street, the city's pedestrian mall.  We visited this past weekend.

Vivid owns a pretty big space, including a large seating area in a backroom.  The front room, though, is still pleasantly intimate.  The coffee's nice, too.  I got a cappuccino, my standard coffeehouse order.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Star Trek: Shadowplay

Episode: "Shadowplay"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 20, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Dax and Odo venture to the Gamma Quadrant.  While investigating an unusual particle field, they encounter a village where people are disappearing.  They stick around to help investigate.  In all, there are three stories going in "Shadowplay."  In the secondary narrative, Kira tries to stay one step ahead of Quark's nefarious activities while fielding the surprising though welcome advances of Vedek Bareil.  In the tertiary plot, Jake starts his first job, helping O'Brien in engineering.

"Shadowplay" is the strongest episode in a while with significant character development in all three stories.  The A plot is particularly sweet.  For the first time, we see a more tender side to Odo, with suggestions that he might be ready to let more people into his life.  The Kira-Bareil relationship will have important consequences for all involved moving forward.  Jake asserts his independence from Dad for the first time.  The younger Sisko also makes an important break from any confusion with Wesley Crusher's tale.  Jake makes clear that his dreams for his future, whatever they may be, do not involve Starfleet.  It's a moment of growth for the whole Star Trek concept.

Getting back to the village, I'd forgotten the plot twist until just before it was revealed.  What seemed initially to be too close to the previous week's story veers to a completely different tone.  

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Kenneth Mars played the role of Colyus, one of the villagers.  He was born April 4, 1935 in Chicago.  He attended Northwestern University.

His film credits included work with several high-profile directors: The Producers and Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks, What's Up Doc? with Peter Bogdanovich and Radio Days and Shadows and Fog with Woody Allen.  Television work included Malcolm in the Middle, Love, American Style and Sha Na Na.  His voice credits were extensive.  He voiced King Triton in The Little Mermaid, Littlefoot's grandfather in The Land Before Time and King Colbert in Thumbelina.  

Mars died in 2006 of pancreatic cancer.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

State of the Blog 2023

Blogging Year 15, here we go!

As noted in my Squiddies post, the first year of the "empty nest" didn't go exactly as expected.  Our child definitely went off to college in western Massachusetts but not as enthusiastically as anticipated.  The adjustment - to both being away from home and the increased workload - was rough.  We were parenting hard for months.  Fortunately, they have gradually settled into their new world.  I'd still say they'd prefer being here at home cuddling with the cats without having papers and projects hanging over their head but who wouldn't?  College has become a home away from home and there are plans in place to make the work more bearable.  Fingers crossed for a positive sophomore year.

For my wife and me, while the kid's ordeal was certainly stressful for us, too, it helped emotionally to feel needed for a while.  It eased the transition to our new reality.

There have been other adjustments for me.  My social world took a big hit.  Important friends have moved away.  The year's developments have made me wonder if the longer one lives in New England, the more the geography of one's life gravitates towards Massachusetts.  So, in addition to my usual efforts to add to and expand upon my/our hobbies, I'll also be making a conscious effort to shore up my local support network.

Here at The Squid, the blogging schedule will stay the same...

Tuesdays: Family Adventures
Fridays: Star Trek
Occasional book posts

Food hobbies, particularly cocktails and restaurants, are likely to continue to be the main drivers for the Family Adventures posts.  For years, my wife has lobbied for us to take on the Vermont 251 project, in which one visits all 251 of our state's incorporated cities and towns.  I love exploring Vermont and 251 is as good an excuse as any.  It could be a great way to find new restaurants, too.

Movies are likely to take on a more prominent role.  Saying so almost feels like a jinx but I think it's a safe bet.  Our movie brackets have been great fun and going to the theater is more appealing now than it was a year ago.

Trek: I'll be reaching the end of The Next Generation soon.   While that's a little sad, the series wasn't at its best in its final season.  On the other hand, Deep Space Nine is only getting better and Voyager reflections will be kicking off soon.  Because of Trek's release timeline, I can almost guarantee at least one movie review this year.

As always, if any of you enjoys reading The Armchair Squid half as much as I enjoy writing it, we're all doing just fine.

Squiddies 2023

The Armchair Squid turns fourteen years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  The Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Punt e Mes

It's been a great year for interesting new additions to the liquor cabinet.  Armagnac and Empress 1908 Gin have both brought intriguing possibilities to my creations.  The best find of all has been Punt e Mes, a vermouth from the Piedmont region of Italy which blends sweet and dry in a 2:1 ratio.  The result in a Manhattan is a raisin-y flavor, especially combined with George Dickel Rye, I have found.  Punt e Mes has become the go-to in my Negroni and Leap-Year recipes, too.  I must credit Restaurant Poco in Burlington with introducing us to this exciting spirit.

Biggest Disappointment: Greenpoint

I didn't mind the Greenpoint so much but boy, did my wife hate it!  The cocktail combines rye, yellow Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, Angostura and orange bitters with a lemon twist.  Each of those is usually a winning ingredient for us (though truthfully, yellow Chartreuse never seems to dazzle the way green Chartreuse does) but this particular combination failed.  She reported it tasted like cough syrup and couldn't even finish hers.

You can't win 'em all.

Best Read, First Time Category: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

via Amazon

Pachinko is the multi-generational saga of a Korean family through the twentieth century, first in Korea, ultimately in Japan.  Shame is the narrative theme throughout.  Shame is a famously powerful force in Asian cultures, though I believe it is more potent in the West than many of us would like to believe.  Apart from being a beautifully written story in its own right, Pachinko tugged hard at my nostalgic heart strings.  The family lived in Yokohama, the same city where I lived myself 25 years ago.  

Soon after I finished the book, we watched the TV series.  As is often the case, many of the details were altered but overall, it's highly enjoyable.  A second season has been promised.  They did a pretty good job of covering the entire novel in eight episodes so I don't know what they'll do for material.  Still, I can hardly wait.

Speaking of Japan nostalgia...

Best Comics Find: Old Boy

via Amazon

Oddly, the best comic book series I discovered this year is one I can't say I fully understood.  Old Boy was a Japanese manga published in the '90s.  It's had unusual cultural reach, inspiring first a South Korean movie by Park Chan-wook, then a Spike Lee remake of Park's film.  I only have Volume 7 of the trades so I came into the middle of what is already a confusing story.  Goto, a gangster, has just been released from a private prison after ten years.  He knows neither why he was imprisoned nor why he was set free.  The series follows his efforts to piece everything together.

The story is expertly told and once again, images of 1990s Tokyo worked their sweet magic with me.  As baffled as I (along with Goto) am by what's going on, I can't help wanting to know more.  The books are out of print but they are available digitally on Comixology.  Reading the rest might be a fine way to spend a rainy day at some point.

Athlete of the Year: James Worthy

via Memory Alpha

Hall of Famer James Worthy retired as a basketball player in 1994.  The year before, he made one of the most surprising cameos in the history of Star Trek when he played Koral, a Klingon smuggler, in "Gambit, Part II."  Worthy had met Robert O'Reilly (Gowron) on an airplane and expressed an interest in being on the show.  The rest is history.

Over 13 professional seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers, Worthy had 16,320 points, 4,708 rebounds and 2,791 assists.  His teams won three NBA titles and he was the MVP of the finals in 1988.  He was a seven-time All-Star and a member of the NBA anniversary teams for both the 50th and 75th league anniversaries.  His number 42 was retired by the storied Lakers.  I was definitely a Lakers over Celtics guy in the '80s so I appreciated Worthy.  

via Wikipedia

However, I bear a grudge.  His NCAA title with North Carolina in 1982 came at the expense of my team, the Georgetown Hoyas, in a heartbreaking loss.  In the final seconds of what is considered one of the greatest college basketball games ever, Georgetown point guard Fred Brown threw an errant pass to an out-of-position UNC player, believing he was a Hoya teammate.  That UNC player?  James Worthy.

So, wherever you are, sir, this is no small gesture on my part.

Best Family Adventure: Scandinave Spa

It's been a stressful year.  Being a teacher is tougher than ever  these days and I had added responsibilities this year which, while gratifying in many ways, didn't exactly help.  Parenting a first-year college student proved more challenging that expected as well.  There have been some big hits to my social world here in Vermont, too.

That said, the year has also brought some amazing moments.  Two, in particular, gave me exactly what I needed: a (somewhat) spontaneous trip to Camden Yards for a baseball game in Baltimore and a visit to Scandinave Spa in Montreal.

I had never been to a thermal spa before, unless you count Japanese onsens.  My wife and I had certainly never been to one together before.  Scandinave's thermal spa area offers a sauna, a steam room and a hydrojet bath with thermal waterfall.  The latter was my preference.  Actually, the best part of all was the dark, quiet relaxation room.  Spas aren't exactly a cheap hobby but definitely a worthwhile occasional indulgence.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Squid Games: Poop

Blue Liner, Drama Guy and I recently tried Poop: The Game.  The concept is admittedly gross but simple.  Players lay down cards (poop) with numerical values.  If you clog the toilet - meaning, your total discard score adds up to the number on the clog card - you take the discard pile.  The object, like in UNO, is to get rid of all the cards in your hand.  Also like UNO, there are reverse cards, skip cards, 0 value cards, etc.  If you play certain cards, you have to make particular bathroom-related noises.

It took us a few rounds to get the rules right but once we got it, Drama Guy won our game.

I'd play again.  There's enough subtle strategy involved to be able to see beyond the disgusting concept.  It's recommended for 5 and up so definitely intended for families with the right sense of humor.  There are expansions and variants, too.  I'm a sucker for those.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Star Trek: Thine Own Self

Episode: "Thine Own Self"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 14, 1994

Data is stranded on Barkon IV.  He'd been sent to retrieve radioactive materials from a crashed probe but evidently took a bit of a bump himself as he now has amnesia, not even remembering who he is.  He stumbles into a primitive village.  The locals welcome him at first but grow wary once several of them become ill soon after he arrives.  The radioactive metal is the cause, of course, but Data doesn't remember enough to realize that.  In the secondary narrative, Troi wants a promotion to Commander.  She struggles to pass the final, engineering portion of the exam.

The A-plot is solid Trek.  What happens when our high tech friends - not to mention the "highest tech" among them - encounters a pre-warp civilization, naïve to the perils such an encounter presents?  It helps that Data is basically a decent guy, eager to be helpful, especially when people start to get sick.  

The B-plot is a wonderful Deanna Troi story.  Evidently, there was much criticism at the time for her promotion over Data and Geordi.  Why?  Because they're in more technical positions?  Because more narrative focus has been on Data over the course of the series?  Because they're men?  Whatever.  I grew up near Bethesda, Maryland so I knew a lot of military medical personnel growing up.  People in different fields rise through the ranks for different reasons.  In truth, we aren't given much in the way of specifics regarding Troi's professional credentials apart from watching her work.  There's no reason to doubt she'd ticked all the necessary boxes for promotion apart from passing the exams.  The boys just hadn't gotten there yet.  That's on them.

One of the great pleasures of a NextGen rewatch is seeing Troi come into her own as a character - and Marina Sirtis as an actor.  She's so awkward in the early going: a beautiful woman in flattering clothing.  By Season 7, she's a lot more comfortable in her own skin.  It's been a journey for several of the principals, to be sure, but I don't think anyone improves more over the course of the series than Deanna.

And bravo for passing the Bechdel Test in "Thine Own Self."  Troi's discussion with Dr. Crusher on the bridge has nothing to do with men.

Acting Notes

Ronnie Claire Edwards played the role of Tarul, a teacher and scientist on Barkon IV.  Edwards was born in Oklahoma City, February 9, 1933.  

She is best known for playing Corabeth Walton Godsey on The Waltons from Seasons 3-9.  She was also in the principal cast for Sara, a short-lived Geena Davis vehicle, as well as Boone and Just in Time.  Films included Perfect, Nobody's Fool and The Dead Pool.

Edwards passed away in 2016.