Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Squid Games: Glasgow

Glasgow is a two-player, tile placing, resource management game.  You and your opponent move around a circle collecting resources.  Together, you build the city of Glasgow in a 4x5 grid in the middle of the circle: parks, monuments, factories, etc.  Each of your assets generates points to be tallied at the end.  It's tricky because you can also help your opponent depending on what you place where in the grid.

The game is a little bit Catan in the building of assets and gathering or resources.  Movement is similar to Tokaido.  The grid is reminiscent of Patchwork.  My wife and I enjoyed Glasgow, though I don't know if I'd play again.  She won our game.  Her two train stations alone gained her a crushing 20 points, though I think she would have won anyway.

The box says ages 10 and up, though BoardGameGeek rates it at 8+.  Game play is quick: 30 minutes estimated.  BoardGameGeek gives it a complexity rating of 2.7 out of 5.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Star Trek: The Siege

Episode: "The Siege"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 10, 1993

Continuing from last week's episode, the station is evacuated in expectation of an assault by the Bajoran faction known as the Circle.  Well, at least that's what's supposed to happen.  In truth, Commander Sisko and a trusted cohort stick around to prevent the takeover.  Meanwhile, Kira and Dax make their way to the Chamber of Ministers on Bajor to deliver proof that the Cardassians are arming the Circle.

It's time to talk about the Bechdel Test and its application to Star Trek.  Alison Bechdel created the test in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.  In order to pass, a work of fiction must meet the following criteria:
  • The story must have at least two female characters.
  • Those female characters must talk to each other...
  • About something other than men.
While the Star Trek franchise deserves some credit for progress for female characters on television - Nyota Uhura, certainly - the number of TOS, TAS or TNG episodes that pass the Bechdel test is pretty skimpy.  It would be easy to believe, for instance, that Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher only get together to gossip about boys.  

This failure did not go unnoticed by critics.  Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were created with an eye towards changing things.  "The Siege" is an especially good episode for the Kira-Dax relationship, passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors.  

Acting Notes

Philip Anglim played the role of Vedek Bareil, Kira's powerful, progressive ally within the Bajoran establishment.  Anglim was born February 11, 1952 in San Francisco.  As a child, he aspired to be a veterinarian but eventually turned to acting.  He graduated from Yale with a degree in English literature.

Anglim is best known for portraying Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man, a role he performed on both stage and television.  The part won him a Tony nomination in 1979 and an Emmy nomination in 1981.  He also played the title role in Macbeth on both Broadway and television.  Films include Malone, Haunted Summer and Testament.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Squid Games: Koi-Koi

For Christmas, my wife got me a deck of hanafuda, a style of Japanese playing cards which are also used in Korea, Micronesia and Hawaii.  I readily admit, despite my time in Japan, I'd never heard of hanafuda.  The deck I have is produced by Nintendo, the video game company which evidently got its start in 1889 as a hanafuda producer.

The deck came with instructions for Koi-Koi, the most popular Japanese game played with hanafuda.  The objective of this two-player game is to create sets of cards called yaku.  Figuring out the yuka is challenging for novices like us - not unlike the challenge of learning all the winning combinations in mahjong.  A few examples:


Blossom Viewing

Five Lights

Unlike western playing cards, hanafuda are not numerical.  They do have suits in a sense, the cards being grouped into each of the twelve months.  Within each month, the four cards have different values, though the values are not printed on the cards.  Some cards have scrolls.  Some have animals on them.  Some have celestial objects.  Only one has a human.  

I can see how the game would be fun after a lot of practice with visual guides.  The cards are small - maybe 1/3 the size of typical western cards - and very pretty.  Our first attempt was rather frustrating but I think Koi-Koi has promise once we learn our way around the deck itself.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

Star Trek: Interface

Episode: "Interface"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 4, 1993

The USS Hera, captained by Silvia La Forge (Madge Sinclair), Geordi's mother, was gone missing and is presumed lost.  Unwilling to accept her death, Geordi takes unnecessary risks with a virtual reality probe, clinging to the slimmest hope that in doing so, he can rescue her.

This was the episode that made the writing staff realize they were running out of ideas for NextGen.  The basic concept of "Interface" is fine and a La Forge back story is long overdue.  But the pace is painfully slow.  Sound and music are noticeably minimal, fostering a too mournful atmosphere.  It all feels like a missed opportunity, yet another Geordi episode that falls flat.  I mean, they enlisted Ben Vereen to play Geordi's father - Ben Vereen, for crying out loud! - and in his one, brief scene, he never gets up from his chair.  

Acting Notes

Ben Augustus Middleton was born October 10, 1946 in Laurinburg, North Carolina.  He was adopted by James and Pauline Vereen who raised him in Brooklyn.  Ben Vereen didn't know he was adopted until he was 25 years old and applied for a passport.  He went to the High School of Performing Arts where he studied with giants of the dance world: Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.  He struggled to find professional work at first but boy, once he did...

There's no other way to put it.  Ben Vereen is a Broadway Titan, on a short list of the all-time greats.  He made his name in two of the biggest shows of the early '70s, playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, then the Leading Player in Pippin.  He was nominated for Tonys for both, winning for Pippin.  The television resume isn't exactly terrible either.  He was a guest host on The Muppet Show.  Vereen, Madge Sinclair and LeVar Burton all starred in the mini-series juggernaut Roots.  

It hasn't all been roses.  Vereen has already lost two of his five children.  His daughter Naja was killed in and auto accident at age 16.  His son Ben Jr. passed away at age 55.  In January 2018, Vereen was accused of sexual harassment by four actresses in a Florida production of Hair he was directing.  He apologized for his misconduct.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Squid Mixes: Irish Manhattan

An Irish Manhattan combines Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters with a lemon twist.  It is, as the name implies, a Manhattan with the rye swapped out for Irish whiskey.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  He used a different name for it, poking fun at his own mentor, Kevin Noone, who took offense at a particular Irish pejorative.  I won't be using it here.

After the Greenpoint, it would seem I have some trust to build back with my wife.  As she was picking up the Irish Manhattan, she asked. "there's nothing else in it right???"  I assured her no.  After tasting, she admitted it was fine, though she still prefers rye.

The drink has strong vanilla notes for me, no doubt derived from the Bushmills.  

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 13, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Min Jin Lee

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee

via Amazon

Pachinko is a multi-generational saga about a Korean family's struggles through the 20th century, mostly in Japan.  The history of the Koreans in Japan is not much discussed in the West.  Approximately a million Koreans live in Japan, about half of whom are not and have little hope of ever becoming citizens despite having lived in the country their entire lives.  Prejudice against Koreans - truly all foreigners but especially Koreans - runs deep in Japan.  They've historically lived in their own ghettos and been excluded from most lucrative professions.  They tend to have the jobs native Japanese don't want - not unlike immigrant workers in North America and Europe.

As such, the tale of Sunja and her descendants is often discouraging.  Her sons eventually make their fortunes running Pachinko parlors.  Pachinko - Japan's #1 gambling addiction - is like vertical pinball.  The industry, strongly linked to organized crime, is run largely by Koreans which does little to help their reputation.  But what can you do when no one else will hire you?

The narrative threads follow various family members over time.  The stories are beautifully told as we fall in love with one generation after another.  The common theme throughout is shame: shame for deformities, for being poor, for being Korean, for homosexuality, for sexual promiscuity, for unexpected pregnancy and on and on.  It's a shame one can easily see as peculiarly Japanese or East Asian but in reality, I don't think it's so different from how we treat people here in the United States.  True, we don't cling to the same illusion of homogeneity.  But we still aren't especially forgiving of people who are not white, Christian, straight, cis-male, able-bodied, etc.  American shame is really no less cruel.  Shame can kill.  

So while Pachinko is not always a happy book, it's certainly an engaging one.  It inspired quite a lot of Japan nostalgia for me, particularly as much of it takes place in Yokohama, the city where I lived, 1996-98 - not too long after Lee's story ends in 1989.  One gripe, and it's a common problem with books like this: the main characters are portrayed as virtuous people treated unfairly.  What's the problem, you ask?  Boorks like Pachinko portray tyranny and oppression on a personal level and darn effectively.  But the message too easily becomes "these things shouldn't happen to nice people."  True, they shouldn't.  But they shouldn't happen to anyone else either.  


Forgive me for a self-indulgent segue.  Though I suppose that's kind of what a blog is for, isn't it?


Yokohama Skyline via Wikipedia

The book has come into my life at an interesting time.  I'm hitting a big birthday this year - I'll let you guess which one.  It's a natural age for looking back over the arc of one's own life story.  Japan will always loom large for me.  It was my place of birth, though from my current vantage point, that is less significant than those two years in the '90s when I lived there as an adult.  

Japan was 25 years ago now, which feels like a noteworthy number, too.  I still think about it every day.  My Japanese was never great - I hardly needed it in a city like Yokohama - but I'm pretty sure I could still order dinner at a restaurant and get a cab to my apartment with little trouble.  I miss politeness.  I miss bars where you can comfortably converse with friends.  And the trains - oh, how I miss the trains!  Public transit in Japan spoiled me for the rest of the world.  I loved that feeling of walking into my local station and knowing I could go just about anywhere in the country given the time and the money.  And, I'd get there on schedule.

I remember standing on the train platform one night and thinking one day in the future, I wouldn't believe it all really happened to me.  While there's a bit of that now, in truth, the experience is a more intense reality than other stages of my past.  I remember Japan vividly.  I can still feel the tatami mats under my toes and smell the yakisoba at the local noodle shop.  If anything, Japan was my great awakening, the grand kickoff to the rest of my adult life.  Everything before - college, high school, childhood - that all happened to somebody else.  Japan was the real me.

Why?  I am a naturally guarded and private person.  For whatever reason, I was able to let go of that in Japan.  Knowing the time was limited and the opportunity rare, I wrung as much as I could out of life while I was there, soaking in experiences and casting a wide net for friends.  Mind you, I was still me and my Japan world was surely shaped by my compulsions and insecurities.  But somehow less so.  I pushed at the limits more than I ever had before or since and the payoff was grand.  The regrets I felt reading Pachinko are the wishes that I'd managed to wring out a bit more - okay, a lot more.  

I don't talk about it often.  I probably write about it here on The Squid more than I talk about it with anyone in my daily life and that isn't very much.  My family all know about it, of course, but even with them, I rarely share specifics.  With others, even close friends, I feel self-conscious whenever it comes up.  While part of me wants to share, another is protective.  I worry it sounds like I'm showing off.  It was never about that.  I didn't go to Japan to impress people and I've always resented any suggestion that I should brag about it.  I went for me, to experience a culture I didn't know, regardless of what's printed on my birth certificate.  And I got plenty out of my time in Japan even if it wasn't at all what I expected to get out of it.  I lived a lot in two years.  

But it's deeply personal - in part for my relationships there, of course.  I met amazing people and made extraordinary connections still vital to me despite the separation of oceans and decades.  I've also come to appreciate over the years how individual my particular adventure was.  My story was different from my parents', 20+ years before.  It was different from those of others I've met since who have spent time in Japan, even those who were there on the same program at approximately the same time.  I cherish my friends from that time, of course, though their reflections, too, can seem differently tinted from my own - they lived in different cities, taught at different schools.  Our divergent paths since have also colored our perspectives of the past.

25 years on, some of the lessons from Japan are more clear than I could have articulated at the time.  The most important thing I learned...

Never undervalue happiness because it doesn't come along as often as it should.

Over two years, I built a wonderful life in Japan.  I was happy, content in a way I had never been before.  I was confident, secure, well-loved, open to others, excited for further adventures.  Saying goodbye to people all the time was hard and living far away from family was no picnic.  But I was happy.  It was a happiness I recognized was rare and building a longer life around it was tempting.

So why didn't I?  I won't lie.  That question needled at me for years.  Mind you, I have a pretty awesome life now, too.  But I couldn't have known that at the time.  Why not stick with what was working?  All of the answers were practical ones.  There would have been details to sort out: where to live, how to make a living, visas to renew and so forth.  There were personal matters, too.  Temporary whirlwind romances, lovely though they might have been, weren't going to cut it in the long run - not for me anyway and likely not for the women involved either.  

In short, the longer I stuck around, the more my life would bend towards the ordinary and predictable.  As long as I was moving in that direction anyway, I might as well do it closer to home where the particulars were less complicated.  Besides, I'm not sure I would ever have wanted Japan to become ordinary.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Star Trek: The Circle

Episode: "The Circle"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 2
Original Air Date: October 3, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Continuing from last week's episode, our heroes on Deep Space 9 must contend with The Circle, a Bajoran faction intent on overthrowing the provisional government.  Meanwhile, Kira, removed from her post on the station, accepts an invitation from Vedek Bareil to visit his monastery in order to reflect and contemplate her next step.  Her spiritual adventure is interrupted when she is kidnapped by The Circle.

"The Circle" is the second of a three-part arc and it serves the middle-volume purpose of expanding upon the narrative set forth in the first.  The trilogy provides our most intimate glimpse yet of the religious and political world of Bajor.  Obviously, it's an essential Kira story, not only because of her complicated relationship with her home world but also because we get to see how important she is to Commander Sisko.  "The Circle" is a good Quark story, too - one that clearly demonstrates his value to the operation.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Louise Fletcher played the role of Vedek Winn, a powerful orthodox religious leader on Bajor.  Fletcher was born July 22, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama.  She received a degree in Drama from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Fletcher had a long, accomplished career in both film and television.  Her legacy is secure having played one of the greatest, cruelest villains in cinema: Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  She won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for the part, only the third actress to accomplish the feat.  In accepting her Oscar, she thanked her parents in sign language as they were both deaf.  In 2003, the American Film Institute named Nurse Ratched the 5th greatest villain in film.

Other movies include The Lady in Red, Firestarter and Cruel Intentions.  Fletcher's television resume is extensive, too.  Early in her career, she was cast in a lot of Westerns - including Lawman and Maverick - partly because of her height.  Fletcher was 5'10", generally a disadvantage but as the male stars in Westerns were also usually tall, it didn't matter as much.  She received Emmy nominations for her guest appearances on both Picket Fences and Joan of Arcadia.

Fletcher passed away just this past year on September 23rd.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Krishnendu Ray

Title: The Ethnic Restaurateur
Author: Krishnendu Ray

via Amazon

Krishnendu Ray, an Indian-born professor of Food Studies at NYU, presents an exploration of the American restaurant industry and the role of the the non-Anglo, non-white, typically foreign-born business owner within that industry.  "Ethnic restaurants" cover a broad range.  What might have been considered foreign in the 19th century - German food, for instance - has been so thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream as to be indistinguishable from its roots.  What might be considered relatively exotic to the middle-class white consumer - soul food, for example - isn't remotely foreign-born.  Most of what Ray examines, however, from the 21st century perspective are the cuisines of Asia, Africa and Latin America which, despite various levels of popularity, still remain at the periphery of the culinary profession.

The book is fascinating, more academic in language and approach than I usually tackle but beautifully written and accessible nonetheless.  Ray's study reveals a great deal about white America's patronizing attitude towards the other.  The author moves beyond the ground-level business experience of the restaurant owner to the world of the professional chef, most intimately the training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) where anything beyond the traditional French techniques struggle to gain a foothold.  Ray draws a sharp line between the pro and the ethnic chef, defined by wildly different career paths.

I now see the restaurant experience - any restaurant experience - differently.  Who is the chef and how is s/he trying to reach me as the more or less typical white American diner?  A fusion menu projects a different signal than one I (probably mistakenly) perceive as more culturally authentic.  How much of my reaction to the food is shaped by the desire for something new?  How much is it shaped by what I expect, especially from a culture - Thailand, let's say - with which I have no direct personal experience?  

Reasonably if predictably, Ray questions the very authenticity we perceive.  What passes for Indian cuisine in the United States, for instance, typically represents only a narrow band of the broad cultural diversity of India.  In truth, all cuisine, even the holiest of holy French cuisine, is regional, not national.  But as a typical white diner, I know what I expect from the Chicken Tikka Masala I order in London and will be deeply disappointed if I don't get it, regardless of whether or not the dish reflects anything I could actually eat in India.

So yes, I recommend the book.  It will change the way you look at the industry and perhaps how you look at American society in general.  For the better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Squid Mixes: Greenpoint

A Greenpoint combines rye, yellow Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, Angostura and orange bitters with a lemon twist.  I got the recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan, another of his Manhattan derivatives.  Regan, in turn, got it from Michael McIlroy of Attaboy in New York.  Greenpoint is the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn.

This one was an instant fail for my wife.  She scrunched up her nose and reported, "Ugh, it tastes like cough syrup."  I was not so turned off but Regan would concede, the customer is always right.  You just never know what you're going to get with Chartreuse, a magical and mysterious liqueur.  I would have thought given the ingredients, this would be a winner - and I still wonder if it might be with green Chartreuse rather than yellow - but alas, no.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Star Trek: Liaisons

Episode: "Liaisons"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 27, 1993

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise crew is engaging in a cultural exchange with the Iyaarans.  Two ambassadors are visiting the ship while Captain Picard departs for a visit to their home world of Iyar.  En route, his shuttle crashes on a desolate planet where he discovers the survivor of a previous crash, a beautiful woman named Anna.  She has been stranded for seven years.  While Picard works to rescue them both, Anna professes her love for him.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, one of the ambassadors, Loquel, falls in love with desserts, first to the delight but eventually the exhaustion of his liaison, Counselor Troi.  The other, Byleth, seems to delight in making his own liaison, Lieutenant Worf, miserable.

The primary Picard narrative was originally inspired by Stephen King's Misery though, fortunately for our captain, his own adventure is less gruesome.  It's still a dark tale by Trek standards, nicely offset by the frequently humorous secondary narrative playing out on the ship.  An interesting side note: the props department had to make some changes to Loquel's sweet treats.  The actor, Paul Eiding, is allergic to chocolate.

Acting Notes

Barbara Williams (Anna) was born October 19, 1953 in Vancouver Island, Canada.  Film credits include Thief of Hearts, Watchers, Oh, What a Night and Love Come Down, for which she was nominated for a Genie Award.  She has been married twice, first to actor Nick Mancuso, second to activist Tom Hayden for 23 years until his death.