Friday, April 12, 2024

Star Trek: Past Tense, Part II

Episode: "Past Tense, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 15, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Last week's episode continues.  In last week's final scene, Sisko (identifying himself as "Gabriel Bell" - long story) and Bashir walk into a hostage situation in the district processing office.  Our friends take the side of the captors - an odd choice at first glance but they do it to calm the situation and keep people from getting hurt.  The ploy works.  By this point, the priority for Sisko and Bashir has shifted from their own survival to preserving the timeline.  The "Bell Riots" as they came to be known, have to happen in order for the residents of Earth to come to their collective senses regarding the homeless, an important step in reaching the utopian future Star Trek promises.

Again, I am on board with the message and admire the production value of "Past Tense."  There is time for comedy as Kira and O'Brien, in trying to rescue their colleagues, pop in on San Francisco of the 1930s and the late 1960s.  But Trek's eternal clumsiness with time travel prevents me from jumping on the "best ever" band wagon.  One could argue, in the end, that the timeline was never actually corrupted as a man named Gabriel Bell was still the hero of the riots.  Maybe this was always the way it happened.  That would be the Doctor Who explanation.  Trek's techno-babble explanation only muddies the waters.

So, "Past Tense" is good, probably even outstanding.  I'm just not ready to call it one of the best.

Because there is still so much awesome yet to come.

Acting Notes

via Miami Vice Wiki

Frank Military played B.C., the leader of the band that takes over the district processing office.  Acting has been a relatively small part of Military's career.  He's done a lot more as a writer and producer.  He's had guest appearances on Miami Vice, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The X-Files.  Film appearances include The Last Castle and Last Exit to Brooklyn.  He was an executive producer and writer for NCIS: Los Angeles which just completed its 14th and final season.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Cherry Battle: Starlino vs. Luxardo

The garnish is an essential element of a perfect cocktail and we've been in love with Luxardo, our favored Maraschino cherry brand, for years.  Amareña Fabbri found favor in my recipe for a while (see here) but over time, Luxardo proved more satisfying, not least for its longer shelf life (see here).  The one major drawback with Luxardo is the price.  A jar is $21.28 on Amazon, and frequently more at local stores.  I realize most people wouldn't even consider spending that much and I don't exactly blame them.  We are not top-shelf spenders when it comes to liquor.  So spending more for damn good cherries seems a tolerable indulgence.  "Are they really that good?" I hear you wondering.  Yes, they truly are.  

Which is not to say it's not still worth trying something else from time to time.  We recently picked up a jar of Starlino cherries for an audition.  Let the battle begin...  

The Luxardo was its usual dark, warm, syrupy loveliness.  The Starlino... oh boy, you should have seen my wife's face after popping the Starlino in her mouth.  I can only describe her expression as disgust.  Plasticy, she said.  I wasn't nearly as offended but will concede the Starlino was sweeter, and not in a pleasant way.  

So, what to do with them?  My wife agreed to still help eat the Starlinos which is good because even though they cost less than the Luxardos, they aren't exactly cheap.  Plus the jar takes up space on the shelf that could be devoted to something we actually like.  Once we finish the Luxardos, we could add the syrup to the Starlino jar, perhaps improving the flavor.  Of course, I have this idea mere days after disposing of some Luxardo syrup I'd been hoarding in order to make room for the Starlino jar.  Wouldn't you know it?

Winner and Still Champion: Luxardo

Friday, April 5, 2024

Star Trek: Past Tense, Part I

Episode: "Past Tense, Part I"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 11
Original Air Date: January 8, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Due to a transporter malfunction, Commander Sisko, Bashir and Dax arrive in San Francisco, year 2024.  Right place, wrong time - off by three-and-a-half centuries.  It's a few days before a riot which changed the course of (in-universe) history.  They must figure out how to survive and get back to their own era while not corrupting the timeline - no easy task.

The social commentary is direct and heavy in "Past Tense."  In 2024 San Francisco, the jobless were kept in Sanctuary Districts, walled off from the rest of the city.  Sisko and Bashir found themselves in Sanctuary District A, home to about ten thousand residents.  Housing, food and hope are all in short supply.  Speculative fiction dystopia?  While the episode was in production, The Los Angeles Times ran an article outlining a proposal by Richard Riordan, real-world mayor of Los Angeles in 1995, to create fenced-in havens for the city's homeless population in order to make the downtown area more appealing for businesses.  Fortunately, that particular idea never went anywhere but neither did LA's homeless problem.  

"Past Tense" (a two-parter; I'll get to Part II next week) does very well on best episode lists, not just for DS9 but for all of Star Trek.  I won't deny the production quality but Trek's typical time travel clumsiness prevents me from listing the story among my favorites.  The technical justifications not only for the transporter gaffe but also for the Defiant crew's ability to remain unscathed by an already corrupted timeline are ridiculous.  Truly, they would have done better to simply drop the three characters in 2024 without any explanation at all.  

Acting Notes

via Miami Vice Wiki

Bill Smitrovich played Michael Webb, a resident of Sanctuary District A who becomes a civil rights advocate.  Smitrovich was born William Stanley Zmitrowicz, Jr. in Bridgeport, Connecticut, May 16, 1947.  He attended Bridgeport University as an undergrad, then Smith College - a significant institution in my family - for graduate school.  

Smitrovich has had principal cast roles on several television shows, including Crime Story, Life Goes On, The Event and A Nero Wolfe Mystery, one of our family favorites.  His films include Independence Day, Air Force One and Iron Man.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Squid Eats: Mexcalito Taco Bar

Mexicalito Taco Bar has two Massachusetts locations: one in Amherst, one in Northampton.  We went to the Northampton location this past weekend, our second visit.

Mexicalito has all of the typical (for the United States) Mexican offerings: tacos, enchiladas, margaritas, etc.  I got the Alambre, a fajitas dish, with steak.  The food is nice - nothing especially adventurous (or spicy) but it's fine.  If we go again, I may seek out heat more deliberately, or ask for hot sauce.

One shouldn't have to ask for hot sauce in a Mexican restaurant...  

Definitely can't fault their service.  Both visits, our wait staff has been incredibly warm and friendly.  I don't know if I'd seek out Mexicalito for its own sake but it's not as crowded as other nearby restaurants and therefore getting a table is relatively easy.  It was our fallback plan this time.  T. Roots was full.  They now have a breakfast menu, though as far as I can tell no typical breakfast hours - never open before 11:30.  So maybe it's really more brunch.  I have to admit, I'm curious.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Star Trek: Fascination

Episode: "Fascination"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 28, 1994

via Memory Alpha

It's Bajoran Gratitude Festival time!  Major Kira is presiding and Lwaxanna Troi is on the station to join in the fun.  Several in attendance get headaches, then fall hopelessly in love: Jake with Kira, Bareil with Dax, Dax with Benjamin, Bashir and Kira with each other.  Meanwhile, in a more meaningful B-plot, Keiko and Molly are back home from Keiko's botany field work on Bajor.  The readjustment to married life is less than smooth for the O'Briens.  

"Fascination" is DS9's take on A Midsummer Night's Dream.  It's goofy.  It was Armin Shimerman's least favorite episode.  He teaches Shakespeare.  He found the episode embarrassing.  For others, it was a fun romp, a moment of levity just ahead of a heavy story.  We get development for Odo: he admits his feeling for Kira to Lwaxanna.  Watching the doctor and major all over each other was reflective of their real world relationship.  While Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor wouldn't be married until 1997, they were already romantically involved by '94.  The O'Brien story is more relevant: two adults weighing family needs against personal needs.  Evidently, it hit close to home for many involved with the production.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Hana Hatae played Molly O'Brien, the young daughter of Keiko and Miles.  Hatae was born in Los Angeles, July 15, 1988.  Molly didn't get a whole lot of material in "Fascination" - she rarely did - but she got to throw up all over her father.  I've been there, Chief.  Between TNG and DS9, Hatae had 12 total appearances.

Hatae only had a modest acting career beyond Star Trek.  She had appearances on Family Matters and Kitchen Nightmares.  The latter was a reality show episode featuring her family's sushi restaurant.  At the time, she was working as a hostess and waitress at the restaurant.  Films include My Suicide, 5th Passenger and The Circuit.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Squid Perks: Nest Coffee & Bakery

Nest Coffee & Bakery is but a short walk from the Amtrak station in Essex Junction, Vermont - a perfect spot while waiting for your train.  Vermont got quite a lot of snow this past Saturday so, despite our being close to the beginning of the route, our child's train back to college was significantly delayed on Sunday.  Coffee and pastries were very much in order.

I got a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant and also tried my wife's strawberry and cream croissant.  All were lovely.  Service is friendly and expedient.  Unfortunately, the space is a bit cramped.  My guess is that most of the service is to go, though there are a few tables to encourage people to stick around, including one relatively cozy area with a couch.  The three of us grabbed one end of a long table, the other end eventually taken by a pair of young women debating the relative merits of Star Wars and Star Trek - right up our alley!

We'll be back.  I don't usually give much thought to the area around the train station as it's right by a preferably avoided intersection.  But if we're already down there, Nest is definitely worth a stop.  As it was later in the morning, they'd already run out of some of their pastry offerings.  Ham and cheese croissant is always one of my favorites and I'd love to try theirs another time.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Star Trek: Defiant

Episode: "Defiant"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 21, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Will Riker comes to visit the station!  Or does he?  When the handsome man asks Major Kira for a tour of the Defiant, he attacks and kidnaps her, then steals the ship.  It's not Will at all.  It's Tom Riker.  Will's transporter-generated clone is with the Maquis now.  Neither the Federation nor the Cardassians are the least bit pleased that the terrorists now hold such a powerful weapon.

While the Tom Riker story is a good one, for me, the real fun of the episode is the ensuing chess match that plays out between Commander Sisko and Gul Dukat as they work together to rein in the Defiant.  Though truly, it's a four-player game involving Sisko, Dukat, Tom and the Obsidian Order, represented in the Cardassian War Room by Korinas (Tricia O'Neil).  Sisko's role is based on Henry Fonda's character in the 1964 movie Fail Safe.  Unfortunately, Star Trek has never brought Tom back again, despite promises to the contrary by Kira.

For the record, their kiss at the end is completely gratuitous.

Acting Notes

via Scandal Wiki

Shannon Cochran plays Kalita, one of Tom's Maquis collaborators.  "Defiant" is her second of four Trek appearances, her second and last as Kalita.  She was born in Savannah, Georgia, August 7, 1958.  Beyond Star Trek, she has made guest appearances on NYPD Blue, Full House and The Office among others.  Films include The Babe, The Ring and Star Trek: Nemesis.

During filming of "Defiant," Cochran met her future husband, Michael Canavan.  Canavan played Tamal, Kalita's Maquis shipmate.  The couple were married in 2003.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Squid Mixes: Scofflaw Cocktail

A Scofflaw Cocktail combines rye (or bourbon), dry vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine and orange bitters. I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  The original was created by Jock, a bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in 1924.  I like whiskey drinks and my wife likes lemon drinks so such cocktails as the Scofflaw are good to have in the repertoire.  The lemon dominates the flavor but there's still some of that whiskey warmth.  I think a little more sugar would be good.  The recipe suggests 1 or 2 dashes of grenadine.  I went with 1.  If I were to do it again, I'd try it with 2.

Regan's book is good for many reasons.  He writes wonderful blurbs for his drinks.  The most interesting takeaway for the Scofflaw is the history of the word itself.  Scofflaw was the winner of a 1923 contest to come up with the best word to describe "a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor."  The prize was $200.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Squid Flicks: Star Trek VII: Generations

Title: Star Trek Generations
Director: David Carson
Original Release: November 18, 1994
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Kirk or Picard?  For the die-hards, it's the starting point question, the answer placing you in one camp or the other.  Which Enterprise captain is your guy?

What if you didn't have to choose?

For one and only one story in the canon, we get both of them.  

Star Trek Generations begins in Kirk's era.  Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are the guests of honor for the christening of the Enterprise-B.  After the ship is launched out of dry dock, ceremony is usurped by duty when a distress call comes through.  Our man Jim takes over command when the "real" captain loses his nerve.  But then Kirk runs off to deflector control to make adjustments where he gets killed.  Or so it would appear...

Fast forward 78 years.  Picard & Company respond to their own emergency.  The Amargosa Observatory is under attack and the Enterprise-D runs to the rescue.  There, our friends encounter Soran, an El-Aurian scientist who seems harmless enough at first.  But he's in cahoots with the Duras sisters and that's not even the worst of it.  He's trying to direct the path of a mysterious, space-rending energy ribbon so he can get back to the utopian plane the ribbon contains, the very same ribbon that caused all the trouble in Kirk's story.

Generations was the first Star Trek movie I saw in the theater.  I went with my brother-in-law in Minnesota during Thanksgiving break my senior year of college.  I have to admit that before my recent re-watch, I remembered virtually nothing of the story outlined above.  I remembered Kirk's "death."  That's really it.  Nor did I remember Data's adventures with his recently installed emotion chip.  All I remembered clearly is the next bit.

Picard enters the Nexus, the world of the ribbon.  There, he meets Kirk, who apparently didn't die at all.  He just got trapped in the Nexus.  Picard tries to convince the older captain to come back with him to defeat Soran but it's no easy sell.  In the Nexus, all your dreams come true.  Picard experiences having a family: wife, children, the whole deal.  Kirk gets to hang out chopping wood and burning breakfast at his home on earth with the woman he didn't but maybe should have married.  And then suddenly he's at his uncle's horse ranch in Idaho.  The world seemingly becomes whatever you want it to, like a beautiful dream.  But none of it's real.

That bit I remember and it comes in much later in the story than I realized.  I'd forgotten the most important bit, too...


Kirk dies.  For real this time.  Picard succeeds in bringing Kirk back with him and, indeed, they defeat Soran together.  But victory comes at a cost.  Soran kills Kirk.

It's been nearly 30 years.  I've forgotten many of the details from my life 30 years ago.  But in my experience, emotional impressions tend to last and I think it says something that the event which was clearly meant to leave such an impression didn't.  

Some critics complained - and not for the last time - that the film feels too much like a long television episode.  That, in itself, doesn't bother me so much.  Obviously, I like Star Trek episodes.  And I think the Kirk-Picard partnership, gimmicky though it feels in the end, does bring that certain something special that a movie should have.  The real problem for me is that apart from the gimmick, the plot itself was not especially memorable.  

As is true of many great stories, TNG's series ending felt like a new beginning for the characters (see here).  Picard's relationship with his crew had clearly changed.  Perhaps the first movie could have worked better if it did more to build on that new beginning.  I understand wanting to make a film bigger than the show had been in terms of scope.  But don't lose sight of why we've grown to care about these characters.

So where does Generations stack up against the previous films?
  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  4. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  5. Star Trek VII: Generations
  6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  7. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
For the first six movies, my rankings mirrored the Rotten Tomatoes ratings exactly.  Here, I break.  RT has The Motion Picture slightly above Generations.  In truth, both movies feel disappointing - acceptable but so much less than they could have been.  Fortunately, in both cases, the subsequent film was a considerable improvement.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Squid Eats: Central Provisions

Exotic Fruit Salad

Central Provisions is a small plates restaurant in Portland, Maine.  We went on the first night of our recent trip to the small, coastal city.  We ordered Bread + Butter (fancier than it sounds - more on that in a bit), Exotic Fruit Salad, Bone Marrow Toast, Duck L'Orange and a half-dozen oysters.  Everything was very good.  I wish to stress that before I launch into my micro-gripes.  Service was excellent, too - both friendly and knowledgeable.  Central Provisions has an impressive allergy-coded menu, something I've never seen before.  Typical allergens are listed for each dish.  Any ingredient in red ink is essential to the dish and cannot be omitted.  Anything in green can.  It's a clever system, one I hope catches on with other restaurants.

Duck L'Orange

Central Provisions (CP) was our most expensive meal in Portland.  It was not our best.  During this trip, I thought a lot about how restaurants add value (cost) to their dishes.  Which choices genuinely enhance quality?  Which merely increase price?  

Case in point, the Bread + Butter.  It's not just any old butter.  CP serves sourdough on a spread of bright yellow uni saboyon and green, speckled nori butter.  Eye-catching?  Certainly.  Tasty?  Sure.  But actually better than a high quality whipped, fresh cow's milk butter?  No.

Bone Marrow Toast

Or the Bone Marrow Toast.  We've gotten bone marrow on dishes at other restaurant and they can be quite lovely, the high fat content providing dazzling mouth feel as well as rich flavor.  CP's dish was essentially cheesy bread that could have been just as satisfying without the bone marrow.

High quality ingredients are important, to be sure.  But I would prefer a restaurant let relatively simple elements speak for themselves rather than invest in the exotic.  So again, it was a nice meal - just not our best.  For the price, I would have wanted it to be the best.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Family Book Swap: Sea of Tranquility

Title: Sea of Tranquility
Author: Emily St. John Mandel

via Target

Edwin is an English aristocrat exiled by his family to Canada in 1912.  Mirella is a receptionist in 2020 New York.  Olive is a novelist on a book tour in 2203.  Their lives are connected by a shared, extraordinary experience and by their encounters with a time traveler, Gaspery Roberts.  Perhaps coincidentally, they are also connected by the fact they each had these experiences immediately prior to a global pandemic.

To tell more about the story would be to give too much away.  I already fear I've said too much.  And it would be a shame if my post did anything to discourage anyone from reading Sea of Tranquility.  It was my most rewarding read in quite a long time.

I read a lot of books and enjoy most of what I read.  What I long for, though, is a book that makes me want to do nothing but curl up in a corner and lose myself in the narrative, perhaps even to forget that I'm reading.  I want to be invited into a world I hate to leave when the book is over.  That level of immersion has been much more difficult to find as an adult than it was as a child.  It's possible, of course, that I've been reading the wrong books.

Sea of Tranquility is the closest I've come to realizing that ideal in years.  The fact that it's a time travel story is all the more extraordinary.  As frequent visitors to The Squid have likely caught on, I approach such stories with great skepticism and tend to leave them annoyed and frustrated.  Mandel's take on the concept didn't bother me.  She certainly deserves credit for tidiness - time travel has rules in this book and she sticks to them.  And the answer to the central question - which I won't reveal - satisfies me.  I cared a lot more about what happened to the characters, especially Gaspery, than I did about the time travel consistency.  I can assure you, that is not easily said for me.  Mandel also deserves a lot of credit for a relatable rendering of the lockdown experience as well as a vision of the future that is not overly sensationalized.  

A snippet that spoils nothing but does exhibit the emotional intimacy Mandel allows the reader to have with her characters:
She never dwelt on my lapses, and I couldn't entirely parse why this made me feel so awful.  There's a low-level, specific pain in having to accept that putting up with you requires a certain generosity of spirit in your loved ones.
So yes, I would love to read more books like Sea of Tranquility.  Bravo!

Friday, March 8, 2024

Star Trek: Meridian

Episode: "Meridian"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 14, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Our heroes discover Meridian, a planet which only appears in our dimension once every 60 years.  While visiting, Dax falls in love with one of the inhabitants, Deral.  To be together over the long term, either Dax or Deral will have to forfeit a life with their own people.  Dax is willing to make that choice.  Meanwhile, Quark schemes to get a holo-image of Major Kira to use for a sleazy holosuite program for Tiron, a wealthy patron.

"Meridian" was Co-Executive Producer Ira Steven Behr's attempt to recreate the musical Brigadoon.  Both critics and creative staff consider the episode to be the weakest of Season 3.  Mind you, that in itself is nothing to be ashamed of, at least so far.  DS9 had been on a solid run to this point, stretching back to the end of Season 2.  The love story isn't believable, which Terry Ferrel herself freely admitted, especially when compared to a masterpiece still to come in Season 4.  Her tender (ultimately unnecessary) goodbye with Commander Sisko, on the other hand, is amazing.  Avery Brooks's emotional availability gives both writers and actors a lot to build on as they seek to develop a sense of family for the series.

Once again, I appreciate that Dax was allowed to be a sexually expressive being in a way no woman on NextGen ever was.  In an otherwise weak romance, her responses to Deral's cheeky questions about her spots are absolutely dynamite:
Deral: I was admiring… your markings. Are they decorative?
Dax: No. Are yours?
De: No. …If you don't mind me asking… how far down do they go?
Da: All the way.
Sure, one could argue that the gender fluidity of the symbiont made it easier for the writers to move away from the Star Trek ideal of the demure female (at least within the context of a romantic relationship).  But they gave Kira a lot more elbow room, too.  Especially in Dax's case, granting her this range will pay off handsomely in tales to come.

Food Notes

Andorian ale makes its first Star Trek appearance when Tiron orders one at the bar.  Like Romulan ale, it is blue.  I found a recipe here.

Acting Notes

via The West Wing Wiki

Brett Cullen (Deral) was born in Houston, August 26, 1956.  He graduated from the University of Houston.  In television, Cullen has had principal roles on The Young Riders and Devious Maids and recurring roles on Falcon Crest, The West Wing and Lost.  Films include Apollo 13, The Dark Knight Rises and Joker

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Squid Eats: Cabin Fever

On our recent trip to Portland, Maine, we stopped at a cozy little restaurant in Bartlett, New Hampshire called Cabin Fever.  Bartlett is in the heart of ski country.  It has not been the snowiest winter in northern New England but there was a respectable amount in the White Mountains compared to Vermont's Greens.  We also discovered Cabin Fever draws a far number of snowmobilers.

A funny thing happens when you cross from Vermont into one of our New England neighbors.  Almost as soon as you cross the border, diners and restaurants advertise their seafood offerings with an enthusiasm you never see in Vermont.  New Hampshire just barely has a shoreline - only 18 miles long, the shortest of any coastal state in the United States.  But it counts and it's certainly more than our none.  So even in the mountains far from the sea, lobster rolls and the like are practically obligatory.  

Partly because of the relative prices and partly because we wanted to wait until we got to Portland to fully enjoy the ocean's bounty, we both got burgers instead.  My wife got the Cog (with mushrooms and Swiss) with onion rings.  I got The Notch (Swiss, bacon and caramelized onions) with fries.  All were good.  Medium doneness is pinker in New Hampshire than it is in Massachusetts - that's a good start.  The fries and onion rings were fine, not exceptional.

It was a comforting meal on a cold winter day.

Monday, March 4, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Title: Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories
Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

via Amazon

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is generally regarded as "the father of the Japanese short story."  His legacy was further strengthened by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa whose masterpiece Rashōmon combines the story of "In a Bamboo Grove" with elements (including the title) of "Rashōmon."  The film has had enormous impact, including on Star Trek's "A Matter of Perspective."  

The stories are highly varied.  Some are set in feudal Japan.  Others are more modern, some realistic, some with magical realism elements (an important influence on Haruki Murakami for one).  Many of his later autobiographical works are included in a section entitled Akutagawa's Own Story.  

Akutagawa was likely schizophrenic, though he was never officially diagnosed as such.  He certainly suffered troubling hallucinations and finally killed himself.  He was quite frank about his mental illness struggles in his writing.  Many of his earlier works reveal a deep morbid fascination, unsettling in light of his eventual self-inflicted death.  The most memorable story for me, Hell Screen, is also the most disturbing.  Master painter Yoshihide insists on seeing the images he must paint, no matter how horrible, including watching his own daughter burn to death in a carriage.

Akutagawa's work is certainly compelling - high quality literature, though in light of the disturbing content, I was glad to finish.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Star Trek: Civil Defense

Episode: "Civil Defense"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 7, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Garak episode!

Our heroes accidentally trigger a security system program from the Terok Nor days, designed to quell a workers revolt.  In fine Cardassian tradition, it is brutal and uncompromising.  If the gang doesn't figure out how to shut the system off, the entire station will self-destruct.

"Civil Defense" is loads of fun.  As the screws tighten - every time someone solves one problem, the program triggers increasingly terrible measures - the sparkling dialogue only improves.  A smug Gul Dukat arrives eventually then when he reluctantly tries to help, he finds he is stuck in the muck with the rest of them.  His exchanges with Garak are especially fun.  But the real treat of the episode is the repartee between Odo and Quark who are trapped together in the constable's office.  The best example:
Quark: Why go to so much trouble to keep people out of the security office?
Odo: It's not to keep people out, it's to keep me in. I suppose, during the Occupation, the Cardassians considered their security chief a security risk.
Q: And I know why.
O: Oh, do you?
Q: It's because they knew you were an honorable man. The kind of person who would do the right thing regardless of the circumstances. And now your integrity… is going to get us both killed. I hope you're happy.
Seriously, those two deserve their own buddy movie.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Danny Goldring played Legate Kell, the Cardassian military official who delivers the crushing, insulting blow for Dukat via pre-recorded video message.  Goldring was born in Woodstock, Illinois, May 31, 1946.  He attended Trinity University and served in the Army with the Signal Corps.  In addition to the typical stage work, Goldring was a puppeteer, touring with the Cole Marionettes for two years.

Goldring made many guest appearances on television, including ERWings and Boss.  "Civil Defense is his first of several Trek appearances on three different series.  Films include The Babe, The Fugitive and The Dark Knight.

Goldring passed away in 2022.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Squid Flicks: Bobi Wine: The People's President

Title: Bobi Wine: The People's President
Directors: Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo
Original Release: September 1, 2022
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

In 2021, popular musician Bobi Wine ran for President in Uganda against longtime incumbent Yoweri Museveni.  Academy Award-nominated documentary Bobi Wine: The People's President follows Wine's political career from his first campaign for parliament to his ultimately unsuccessful presidential run.  Museveni, as I post this, is still in power and has been since 1986.  

Unfortunately, free and fair elections don't happen in Uganda.  As is far too common in the world, Museveni uses his essentially absolute power to punish political rivals.  The assaults on Bobi Wine began in 2018, when the popularity of the singer and of his criticism of the regime were on the rise.  He was arrested numerous times and quite obviously tortured to the point where he had to be sent to the United States for medical treatment.  In December 2020, his bodyguard was murdered by military police.  After casting his own vote in the 2021 election, Bobi Wine was placed under house arrest.

My wife felt the documentarians were too enamored of their protagonist.  While I concede that point, the cautionary tale is too important to dismiss.  It was a strange time to watch this movie just as the world learned of the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny in a prison colony.  Meanwhile, too many people in my own country are renewing their love affair with a narcissist who openly scoffs at any suggestion that constitutional limits apply to him.  Trevor Noah has been likening Donald Trump to African dictators since 2015.  The global democratic condition seems in woeful decline.  Bobi Wine's story is difficult to watch, largely because it feels too close to American reality for comfort.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Star Trek: The Abandoned

Episode: "The Abandoned"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 31, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Quark buys a bunch of space salvage from an old "friend."  Amidst the junk is a surprise: a baby!  Even more surprising than its sudden appearance is its growth rate, maturing into a teenage body within a matter of days.  Evidently, the space station's newest arrival is a young Jem'Hadar and he's violent, aggressive and impatient.  Odo, whom he recognizes as a Founder, is the only one he heeds.  The constable does his best to guide his young charge and show him he has life choices.  

Meanwhile, we get to meet Jake's girlfriend.  Mardah (Jill Sayre) is a dabo girl at Quark's.  Ben is not thrilled by her profession, nor by the fact that she's four years older than his son (though the actress is only two years older - more on that in a bit).  Ben invites the young woman to dinner at the Sisko quarters.  Mardah is, of course, perfectly charming.  Father and audience learn from her for the first time that Jake is a gifted poet.

Let's start with Story A.  Avery Brooks directed the episode, his second for DS9.  For the screenwriters, D. Thomas Maio and Steve Warnek, it was not only their only Star Trek script but their only television credit, period.  Brooks saw "The Abandoned" as "a story about young brown men, and, to some extent, a story about a society that is responsible for the creation of a generation of young men who are feared, who are addicted, who are potential killers."  The Jem'Hadar are born with a drug addiction.  The "missing enzyme" as it's described initially, is used to make them brave in battle and also to control them.  Unfortunately, this is a real-world practice among child soldiers in Africa, who are given narcotics by their handlers for the same purposes.

There was some concern among the creative staff that the story would come off too much like the NextGen episode "I, Borg."  However, the outcome is quite different.  The racial implications of the narrative are troubling, to be sure.   For a franchise that was predicated from the beginning on a society based on improved race relations, Trek has a mixed track record of addressing the issues appropriately.  Alien races tend to be monochromatic and the Jem'Hadar are no exception.  Indeed, the "teenager" seemingly has little choice in his personal characteristics or his life path.  Brooks makes an important point about societal structures creating the problem.  It still doesn't sit well.

I'll discuss more about this over time.  It's important to hold Star Trek, especially, to account on these particular issues.

Story B: our child took understandable issue with the age difference between Mardah and Jake.  Important considerations:
  • It's far more common, both in the real world and on screen for the age difference to work the other way around: men dating younger women.
  • Technically, in the twenty-first century, at least, it's not illegal for a 16 year old and a 20 year old to date or even to have consensual sex.  
  • Jill Sayre is, in fact, only two years older than Cirroc Lofton rather than four.
  • I wonder about the complications of Lofton growing so tall so quickly.  At 16, he's obviously already taller than Avery Brooks who is 6' 1".  Lofton's adult height is 6' 3".  I wonder if casting an actress his own age might have made it look inappropriate in the other direction.  
Does any of this make it less skeezy?  I suppose it's in the eye of the beholder.

Acting Notes

via Dubbing Wiki

Bumper Robinson played the teenage Jem'Hadar.  He was born Larry C. Robinson II in Cleveland, June 19, 1974.  He has had principal roles on Amen, Guys Like Us and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  Films include Enemy Mine, White Man's Burden and Behind Enemy Lines.  Robinson has a highly successful voice acting career as well.  He was Bumblebee and Biltzwing on Transformers: Animated, Falcon on Avengers Assemble and Cyborg in Justice League: Doom.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Squid Mixes: Oriental Cocktail

An Oriental Cocktail combines rye, sweet vermouth, triple sec and lime juice.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan who, in turn, adapted his from The Savoy Cocktail Book.  The legend according to Savoy is that in 1924, a desperately ill man in the Philippines gave the recipe to the doctor who saved his life as a thank you.

My wife asked for something with limes and this was what I found.  It's a pretty drink with enough lime to satisfy the expressed craving.  The triple sec brings a sugary, orangey brightness to the affair as well.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Star Trek: Second Skin

Episode: "Second Skin"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 24, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Garak episode!

Kira is kidnapped by Cardassians and surgically altered to look like a Cardassian.  Her captors tell her that she is, in fact, one of them, an agent for the Obsidian Order who had been sent to Bajor to live as an embedded spy among the resistance.  She is being held in the home of Tekeny Ghemor, a high-ranking government official who clearly believes that Kira is actually his long-lost daughter, Iliana.

"Second Skin" is the best episode of the series so far.  It's not an easy call.  I like "Necessary Evil" a lot, too.  And the jockeying for the top spots is only going to get tougher moving forward.  Why is this week's show the best?

The basic idea is a good one for starters.  What really sells it is the doubt we see growing within Kira as her ordeal progresses.  At first, she's convinced the Iliana story is ludicrous and to her credit, she never cracks under pressure from the agent.  But we, as viewers, see the doubt in her face, especially as she comes to believe that Tekeny truly did have a daughter who had accepted the assignment.  Plus the recordings she sees of Iliana and the cryogenically preserved corpse of the other Kira (both played by Nana Visitor, of course) certainly do look like her.  There was an idea among the creators to preserve the mystery through to the end, with Bashir ultimately telling her he couldn't be sure whether she was the real Kira or the Cardassian-produced impostor.  Even though the notion was scrapped, the lead up was strong enough that it could have worked.

The original choice for the lead in "Second Skin" was O'Brien rather than Kira.  What a lost opportunity that would have been.  While Miles has a well-established hatred of the Cardassians as the enemy across the battlefield, for Kira, it's the hatred of the oppressor.  That runs a lot deeper.  As doubt creeps in for her, so does self-loathing.  What if she had been the monster herself all along?  Plus, the emotional range of Kira's character allows for tenderness to develop between her and Tekeny.  After all, he really did lose a daughter whether it was Kira or not.  By the end, Tekeny and Kira genuinely care for one another.  Their parting scene is deeply moving.  It couldn't have been that way with Miles.  Besides, he already got his touching moment in "The Wounded."

Of course, Garak gets to shine.  He plays a key role in Kira's rescue, enjoying fine verbal sparring with Commander Sisko and a couple of Cardassians along the way.  His best line: "Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Screenwriter Robert Hewitt Wolfe claimed two Philip K. Dick stories as influences for "Second Skin": Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale."  Unfortunately, the Iliana story never went any further than this one installment.  Tekeny comes back for an appearance in Season 5, though Iliana is only a minor plot point.

Acting Notes

via Criminal Minds Wiki

Lawrence Pressman played Tekeny Ghemor.  Pressman was born in Cynthiana, Kentucky, July 10, 1939.  In television, he had regular cast roles in Doogie Howser, M.D., Ladies' Man and Mulligan's Stew.  Films include Shaft, The Hellstrom Chronicles and 9 to 5.  This is his first of three DS9 appearances.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Squid Eats: Burlington Bay Market and Cafe

We've had a relatively warm stretch in northwest Vermont of late.  Highs on both Friday and Saturday were in the high 40s.  As such, Saturday was a nice day to be out and about in Burlington.  Burlington Bay Market and Cafe is a nice spot for a quick lunch on the waterfront with a decent view of Lake Champlain.  

I got a turkey grinder (sub or hoagie in other parts of the country), my wife an avocado BLT.  We got fries to share.  I'm a big turkey grinder fan and typically get mine without cheese, puzzling to my friends.  You may have heard.  Cheese is a big deal here.  Mine was good and we agreed the fries were good.  Unfortunately, my wife was disappointed by her sandwich - too much mayo, not enough avocado.  If you're gonna call it an avocado BLT, the avocado should be a more prominent feature.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Star Trek: Equilibrium

Episode: "Equilibrium"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 17, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Dax is having terrifying hallucinations.  Commander Sisko and Doctor Bashir are worried that she's at risk of rejecting her symbiont, a likely death sentence for Jadzia.  They take her to the Trill home world in hopes of finding answers.  We soon learn that there are previously unsuspected dark elements to the history of Dax's hosts.

"Equilibrium" is the most important Dax story so far and our first broader glimpse of Trill society.  The inspiration for the episode was the act of professional magician Jeff Magnus McBride who also appears in the episode as Jolan Belar.  McBride's act involves facial masks, each removed in turn to reveal another mask underneath, a distinguishing feature of Jadzia's hallucinations.  

The episode also marks a welcome change in the Dax/Bashir relationship.  In "Equilibrium," he expresses concern for her as both doctor and friend without any suggestion that he's also trying to bed her.  It's a moment of growth for Bashir, especially.  He becomes more likable instantly.

Food Notes

In the tease, Commander Sisko is preparing a meal for his friends.  For the first time, we learn about his father's restaurant in New Orleans.  Bashir expresses an aversion to beets to which Benjamin responds, "Beets are a very misunderstood vegetable."  Originally, the line was about rutabagas, an homage to Frank Zappa.  Screenwriter René Echevarria thought beets were inherently funnier.

Odo, quite comically, pitches in to help cook, though he mentions he doesn't eat food.  That led me to wonder, what does Odo do for nourishment?  He is, after all, a living thing and by definition, a living thing must consume energy in some form.  There are fan theories, of course, but evidently, there is no canonic answer to this question.

Game Notes

Many of the chess games played between Sisko and Dax in DS9 are based on real-life grandmaster clashes.  The moves represented in this episode, for instance, come from a 1956 game between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne, dubbed by enthusiasts as the "Game of the Century."

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Lisa Banes played the role of Renhal, the Trill Doctor who attends to Dax.  She was born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, July 9, 1955.  She studied acting at the Julliard School in New York.  

Banes's highest-profile work came on stage.  She won a Theater World Award for Look Back in Anger and a Drama Desk Award nomination for Isn't It Romantic.  She was in the original cast of the first American production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.  Films included Cocktail, Freedom Writers and Gone Girl.  In television, she had principal cast roles in The Trials of Rosie O'Neill and Son of the Beach.  She had recurring roles on The King of Queens, Six Feet Under and One Life to Live.

In 2021, Banes was killed while crossing Amsterdam Avenue in New York when she was struck by a man driving an electric scooter.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Squid Mixes: Remember the Maine

A Remember the Maine combines rye, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy and absinthe with a lemon twist for garnish.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  The original comes from The Gentleman's Companion by Charles H. Baker.  Evidently, Baker first encountered the drink in Havana.  The name is a reference to the famous battle cry of the Spanish-American War.

Interestingly, the recipe insists on stirring clockwise.  I honestly never gave much thought to which direction I stir though now having tried both ways, I can assert that counter-clockwise is more instinctive for me.  I'm guessing the Cuban bartender who made the cocktail for Charles H. Baker must have been left-handed.  

Despite their relatively low proportion, the cherry and absinthe dominate the flavor.  It's an interesting drink - quite sweet.