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 RenĂ© 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.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Deborah Blum

Title: The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Author: Deborah Blum

via Amazon

The Poison Squad tells the tale of Dr. Harvey Wiley, chemist and crusader.  Wiley worked for decades, through his position as Chief Chemist at the US Department of Agriculture, to fight food adulteration.  In the late 19th century, industrial food products often contained substitutes, fillers, dyes, preservatives and other ingredients that added no nutritional value.  That was the best case scenario.  In many instances, the additives were poisonous.  Unfortunately, government regulation was non-existent and private industry fought it at every turn.  

Wiley via Wikipedia

Deborah Blum's book would make a fitting sequel to Bee Wilson's Swindled.  While Wilson devoted her material to the struggles in detecting adulteration, Blum focuses on the battle for regulation.  The story of Wiley is a lesson in persistence.  Despite his successes in proving the harmfulness of various additives, getting effective laws passed and enforced was a road of seemingly endless setbacks.  It's a distressing read.  You would think doing something with such obvious public benefit would be easy but that's not the way the world works.  Wasn't then.  Isn't now.  The financial interests of the few seemingly always win.

On the bright side, the public loved Wiley and over time - over a long time - he gradually got his way.  Predictably, the most progress was made after his death in 1930.  But frankly, food regulation in the United States is still far from what it could be.  Private interests still trump public ones.  Do you ever wonder why our choices in a general election are typically between a far right Republican and a centrist Democrat?  This is why.

It's a good book - good but not great, a bit too technical at times to make for light reading.  Swindled is better.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Star Trek: The House of Quark

Episode: "The House of Quark"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 10, 1994

A drunk and cranky Klingon picks a fight with Quark in the bar.  During the scuffle, the instigator falls on his knife and dies.  Quark's less than truthful tale of his own heroics proves fantastic for both ego and business.  The widow, Grilka, turns up.  She kidnaps Quark, brings him to Qo'noS, then dupes him into marrying her!  How will our favorite bartender get himself out of this crazy tangle?

It's been a long run of heavy material for Deep Space Nine to this point.  Comic relief is overdue.  Grilka (Mary Kay Adams) is wonderful.  My wife said watching her, "I like Klingon women."  Gowron, an essential secondary character moving forward, makes his first DS9 appearance.  His reaction to Quark's bookkeeping explanation is priceless.  Rom gets some nice development, too, speaking of characters who are destined to become more important to the series.

Acting Notes

Mary Kay Adams was born September 12, 1962 in Middletown, New Jersey.  She is a descendant of U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.  She graduated from Emerson College with a BFA.

Her most prominent television role was India Von Halkein, a recurring character over several seasons of Guiding Light.  Other guest appearances include All My Children, As the World Turns and Babylon 5.  Films include The Muppets Take Manhattan, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Satan's Little Helper.

Adams had gracious things to say about her DS9 experience:
The first time that I sat in the chair and they were applying the Klingon make-up, Armin came over to me, before we were even on camera, and he said 'This is going to be a very long day, and as the day goes on, you're going to feel more and more disorientated because of all the stuff they're going to put on you. It happens to everyone. It happens to me. If there's ever a moment where you feel really unsure, or if you don't know what's going on, take me aside and we'll work through it.' I was so touched by his kindness and his honesty. Being a guest star can be kind of hard. A lot of times you walk into the middle of a well-oiled machine, and they don't know you, and they don't really want to know you and are like 'Here. Catch up.' That moment meant the world to me.
Actors I am close to who have done these shows all agree that Star Trek is fabulous because it's the closest thing to playing classical theater..It's very archetypal, it's very Shakespearean in its scope. All the aliens are of heroic proportions. Plus you're given direction to be bigger, to be stronger, to fill the makeup. The makeup does a lot of the work for you, but you have to find the balance of matching it somehow.