Friday, May 31, 2024

Star Trek: The Cloud

Episode: "The Cloud"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: February 13, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Given Voyager's predicament, addressing limited supplies is going to be a major factor in long-term survival.  Last week, it was the search for dilithium that lead to trouble.  This week, our friends encounter a nebula which is rich in omicron particles, a resource essential to their power reserves.  Of course, this is Star Trek and the nebula is not what it seems.  It is a living organism and our heroes have inadvertently caused it injury.  They do their best to make things right.

The series's most famous line is featured in "The Cloud," delivered by Captain Janeway: "There's coffee in that nebula."  The line was repeated by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in 2015.

"The Cloud" is a significant world-building episode, the world aboard ship, that is.  The broad theme is Janeway finding her proper role among the crew, a role certainly complicated by circumstances.  Tom Paris recreates a Marseille pool hall, Chez Sandrine, on the holodeck which becomes a favored social hangout spot for the crew.  The captain joins the gang at the end of the story, setting an important contrast with Jean-Luc Picard's reluctance to join the officers' poker game until the final scene of the final TNG episode.  Janeway is pretty good with a cue in her hands, too.  Kate Mulgrew did her own "stunts" at the pool table.

Janeway and Chakotay attain a new level of (platonic) intimacy as Chakotay guides the captain in a vision quest to find her spirit animal.  The writers were cautious in utilizing Chakotay's Native American heritage.  They wanted to be respectful, not playing too much on stereotypes.  They walked a thin line with the vision quest idea but I think it works here.

Neelix promotes himself to Ship Morale Officer, bringing hors d'oeuvres to the bridge during a tense moment.  Comic relief?  I suppose - still more than a tad annoying.  And frankly, The Doctor trying to get everyone's attention on the view screen (see image above) is much funnier.  In a more revealing scene, Neelix goes on a brief tirade to Kes about the crew's general recklessness:

"These people are natural born idiots if you ask me. They don't appreciate what they have here. This ship is the match of any vessel within a hundred light years and what do they do with it? Well, uh, let's see if we can't find some space anomaly today that might RIP IT APART!"

While Kes manages to calm him down, Neelix is not exactly wrong in expressing his concerns.  Perhaps the idea was for him to share what could just as easily be going through an audience member's mind from time to time.

A couple random thoughts for the road...

  • I've often found Kate Mulgrew's voice a bit grating but I've come to hear it in a new light (mixed metaphor - sorry).  Imagine Katharine Hepburn as Kathryn Janeway and it works just fine.
  • How did cast and crew manage having three Roberts in the principal cast?  The answer (thank you, Google): Robert Beltran (Chakotay) was referred to as "Robert," Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) was "Robbie" and Robert Picardo (The Doctor) has evidently always gone by "Bob."

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Robert Duncan McNeill was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, November 9, 1964.  He attended the Julliard School in New York.  In 1986, he scored the role of Charlie Brent on All My Children, the fourth of six actors to play the character over a 24-year period.  He also appeared with Stockard Channing on Broadway in Six Degrees of Separation.  He made guest appearances in The Twilight Zone, L.A. Law and Quantum Leap.  He'd previously appeared on Star Trek as Nick Locarno in "The First Duty" as previously discussed here.

Since Voyager, most of his high profile work has been in producing and directing, notably for Chuck, Resident Alien and Turner & Hooch.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Squid Eats: Istanbul Kebab House

Istanbul Kebab House (IKH) in Burlington is one of our favorite restaurants for before or after events at the Flynn Theater.  We went most recently before the final Vermont Symphony Orchestra concert of the season.  Most of what westerners think of as "Middle Eastern" or "Eastern Mediterranean" cuisine is actually Turkish in origin, a legacy of one of history's most powerful empires.  So many would be familiar with the hummus, baba ganoush, tzatzki and, indeed, kebabs on offer at IKH.

We kept things simple on this visit.  I got the Chicken Shish Kebab, my wife the Döner Kebab.  We like everything on the menu, though.  On other occasions - with more time and, ideally, more people - we've enjoyed both the Large Meze Platter and the Mixed Grill Kebab.  Both are great ways to get a little bit of everything.  

IKH is not the most esteemed restaurant in its category in our area.  That would be the nearby Honey Road.  I personally prefer IKH for several reasons: Honey Road is more fusion-oriented.  That certainly has its place but when I'm in the mood for such fare, I want as close as possible to the real deal.  Honey Road is also more expensive and, as it is more popular, more crowded.  We can nearly always get a table at IKH, though reservations are recommended, particularly on the weekend.

Of course, for the best in the area, one must go to Montreal - no great hardship for our family.

IKH has a new cocktail menu, probably due to what I assume is a brand new head bartender.  We were in the perfect spot to watch staff get trained to make some of the new drinks.  I got a Black Sea Serpent, my wife a non-alcoholic Watermelon Fizz.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Star Trek: Heart of Stone

Episode: "Heart of Stone"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 6, 1995

via Memory Alpha

On their way back from Prophet's Landing, Kira and Odo happen upon a Maquis ship attacking a cargo ship.  Their pursuit of the assailant leads them down to a moon.  In a cavern, Kira's gets caught in a rock which seems to be consuming her.  Odo works frantically to save her.  His efforts fail.  She seems doomed.  He confesses his love for her.  She confesses love right back.  But something is amiss...

Spoiler: the Kira caught in the cavern is actually the Female Changeling (Salome Jens) in disguise.  She wanted to better understand Odo's relationship with the Deep Space 9 crew, and Kira in particular.  It's hard to say which is more heartbreaking: Odo confessing his love as he knows he's about to lose Kira or his realization that it can't be Kira because he knows she's not truly in love with him.  The story, based on Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion, has reasonably been criticized for being contrived, even by Trek standards.

I would argue the B-plot is more important for the long-term trajectory of the series.  Nog tells Commander Sisko he wants to join Starfleet, shocking news to everyone but Nog himself.  Even more surprising is the reason: he doesn't want to turn out like his father, Rom, doomed to live under Quark's thumb forever.  Nog describes his father as a "mechanical genius."  I'm pretty sure it's the first time we've seen Rom described as anything but an idiot.  Even better, when Nog tells Quark about his ambitions and Uncle Q is horrified, Rom backs his son rather than kowtowing to his brother.  

At long last, Rom and Nog come into their own and that is a fantastic development for DS9.  It takes a while for the Nog in Starfleet story to bear full fruit.  Rom, on the other hand, only gets stronger from here.  

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Max Grodénchik (Rom) was born in New York City, November 12, 1952.  He nearly picked baseball over acting.  He was a gifted ballplayer, a fact that plays out interestingly in a wonderful future episode.  

Rom was the biggest role of Grodénchik's career, though it wasn't his first Trek role.  He played Ferengi in two NextGen episodes.  Evidently, he is an expert on the Rules of Acquisition.  He also made guest appearances on Night Court, ER and CSI.  Films include Barton Fink, Sister Act and Apollo 13.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Squid Eats: Casita

For our last meal of our recent trip to North Adams, Massachusetts, we had lunch at Casita, a Mexican restaurant.  Like Bigg Daddy's Philly Steak House and Bright Ideas Brewing, Casita is in the same courtyard as MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), again making for convenient dining in our immediate vicinity.  My wife had tried to make dinner reservations for the night before.  Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed that night for an event and had to cancel.  To make up for it, they offered us free tacos for lunch - hard to pass that up.

After starting with chips with guacamole and salsa, I got pollo and carne asada tacos, my wife the fish and the verduras.  We had churros for dessert.  All were lovely.  Somehow free food always tastes a little better but we would have been pleased with the meal anyway.

Service was swift, friendly and professional.  The decor is art deco-ish.  Big windows allowing lots of natural light - a common feature I have noted in North Adams restaurants, a feature I like very much.

We've already planned our next trip to North Adams for this summer.  While on the one hand, it might be exciting to branch out to new restaurants, having appealing options within easy walking distance is awfully nice.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Star Trek: Phage

Episode: "Phage"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 5
Original Air Date: February 6, 1995

During an away mission, Neelix's lungs are stolen by a Vidiian.  The thief's species is suffering from a horrible disease on a planetary scale.  They harvest the organs of others in order to survive.  The Doctor comes up with quite a brilliant idea to save Neelix: implant holographic lungs in him.  Unfortunately, that means Neelix has to remain tightly confined in sickbay for the rest of his life unless his own organs can be retrieved.

Okay, after a shaky couple episodes, this feels like firmer ground.  There's more permanent character development this week.  Before his pulmonary adventure, Neelix takes over the Captain's private dining room and turns it into a galley (without asking), establishing his own long term raison d'être on the ship.  Janeway balances compassion and rage impressively in her confrontation with the Vidiians.  Perhaps best of all, we witness the growth of a gratifying relationship between the two most intriguing characters in Voyager's early going: the Doctor and Kes.  Kes is the first to show the EMH any compassion for his unexpected and unwelcome promotion to the chief medical officer role.  She also proves to be a capable assistant.

Plus, the Doctor gets to slap Tom Paris.  See here.

Acting Notes

Jennifer Lien (Kes) was born in Palos Heights, Illinois, August 24, 1974.  As a child, she was eager to escape from the south side of Chicago and acting proved to be the way out.  She took her first acting class in the eighth grade and got an agent soon after.  

Before Voyager, Lien had regular roles on both Another World and Phenom.

Lien left Voyager early in Season 4.  We'll address her departure when/if we get there.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Squid Eats: Bigg Daddy's Philly Steak House

As discussed the past two weeks, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) occupies facilities originally constructed for the Arnold Prints Work factory.  A few of the buildings near the museum's front entrance contain privately owned restaurants - a handy arrangement for travelers such as ourselves.  It is all the more so when you're staying at the Porches Inn (previously middle management housing for the factory) across the street from the museum.  One really doesn't need to walk any further than two blocks to address basic needs.

Our second night, we ordered sandwiches from one of the aforementioned restaurants, Bigg Daddy's Philly Steak House.  Bigg Daddy's only has outdoor seating and not much at that.  However, one can sit across the driveway at Bright Ideas Brewing, an excellent brewpub, and enjoy good grub and tasty beer at the same time.

I ordered a Turkey Hoagie (more or less my default sandwich regardless of whether you're calling it a sub, hoagie, grinder, whatever).  My wife got the Italian Hoagie.  Much to my disappointment, they were out of turkey.  How does a sandwich shop run out of turkey?!!!   Fortunately, they had plenty of roast beef so I got that instead.  It was quite nice.

I'd say the beer was even better.  

Friday, May 10, 2024

Star Trek: Life Support

Episode: "Life Support"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 31, 1995

Vedek Bareil has been badly injured in a transport accident on his way to the station.  Doctor Bashira and Nurse Jabara work desperately to save him but to no avail.  Bareil dies.  But during the autopsy, brain activity is detected and they are able to revive him, for a time.

More than just a man's life is at stake through all of this.  Bareil has been the point man in peace treaty negotiations with the Cardassians.  So while Major Kira, as Bareil's lover, has obvious personal interest in his survival, Kai Winn has diplomatic and political reasons for wanting the same.  

"Life Support" is an interesting story for many reasons.  Obviously, there is the loss and grief angle for Kira.  There's meaningful development for Winn, too, putting her in a more sympathetic light than we've seen to this point.  Bashir imagines Winn's interest in Bareil's well-being is motivated by ambition but Winn expresses genuine gratitude for Bareil's work and her own believable regret - for herself and for Bajor - at the loss.

Medical ethics are important to the tale, too.  Bashir manages to keep Bareil alive for a while with organ transplants but things get complicated once he starts to replace parts of the brain.  At what point are you preserving a life and a consciousness and not just a physical body?  Eventually, the doctor makes the tough choice and the merciful one. That doesn't make the loss any less painful.

Food Notes

Quark invents a soufflé called a Kai Winn.  Food Replicator has a recipe.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Aron Eisenberg played the important recurring character Nog, Quark's nephew and Jake Sisko's best friend.  In this episode's secondary narrative, Jake (Cirroc Lofton) and Nog go on a double date.  For lack of better terminology, Nog behaves like a chauvinistic asshole, unfortunately typical of Ferengi males.  He embarrasses both of the young ladies and his buddy Jake horribly.  The story ultimately becomes one about cultural understanding - a clumsy one.

Nog is pretty obnoxious in the early going but improves a lot over the course of the series.  In Season 7, he gets the lead in one of DS9's finest episodes.  All together, Eisenberg made 45 appearances as Nog.

Eisenberg was born in Los Angeles, January 6, 1969.  He was born with only one partially functioning kidney, a condition which limited his growth.  He was five feet tall as an adult.  Nog was the most prominent role of his career.  He had guest appearances on other shows including Tales from the Crypt, The Wonder Years and General Hospital.  Films include Puppet Master III, Streets and The Horror Show.  As discussed here, he and Cirroc Lofton co-hosted a DS9 re-watch podcast, The 7th Rule.  I was curious so I checked.  The 7th Rule of Acquisition is "Keep your ears open."

Beyond acting, Eisenberg was a professional photographer.  He passed away from a heart attack in 2019.  He was survived by a wife and two sons.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Family Adventures: Lickety Split at MASS MoCA

Lickety Split is the in-house restaurant at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts.  We each got the BLT with extra avocado, a lovely sandwich.  Lickety Split has fun beverage options, too.  That bright red drink is my wife's hibiscus lemonade.  As with all museum food, it's overpriced ("I paid $20 for that s***?" exclaimed the teenager on a field trip at the next table).  But that's the cost of convenience.

As discussed last week, MASS MoCA is the largest contemporary art museum in the United States.  The buildings themselves, reclaimed from the long defunct Arnold Print Works plant, are an exhibit unto themselves.  As a family, we have grown fond of contemporary art museums over the years - beyond MASS MoCA, the Hirshhorn is our favorite at the Smithsonian.  Such museums always have something new and unusual.  The big hits right now at MASS MoCA are two virtual reality works by multi-media artist Laurie Anderson - definitely worth your time if you're in the area.

We already have our next trip planned for this summer.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Star Trek: Time and Again

Episode: "Time and Again"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 4
Original Air Date: January 30, 1995

Our heroes investigate an explosion which has wiped out all life on an M-class planet.  During the away mission, Janeway and Paris are sent back a day giving them time enough to prevent the explosion.  Of course, there's the Prime Directive dilemma.  Would preventing the catastrophe or even warning the inhabitants count as interference?  Even if the alternative is extinction?

Wasn't it just last week that I was saying Voyager goes back to the time travel well too often?  What's more, this time, once the time wrinkle is sorted out, it's as if the entire incident never happened.  So not only is it "all just a dream" but nobody remembers the dream.  Any character or relationship growth is irrelevant.


There is one element of interest for the future.  It would seem Kes has some telepathic ability, even having a lingering sense of something wrong after everyone else "wakes up" from the time travel adventure.  Three episodes in, it's already apparent that Kes is one of the more interesting and enigmatic principals, a genuine shame given future developments.

As long as we're on the subject of the Prime Directive, I've been thinking about it a lot lately.  One does when one watches a lot of Star Trek.  For the more casual Trek fans among you, the Prime Directive prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the normal development of any society.  In my experience, it is rarely mentioned without being violated soon after.  This fact has bothered me for a long time.  I like the Prime Directive both as a principle and as a narrative device.  Many Trek stories are built around PD dilemmas.  But whereas Asimov's comparable Three Laws of Robotics are absolutely inviolate, Starfleet captains seemingly can't stop themselves from breaking their own most important rule given the chance.

Recently, I've wondered if there's a message in this.  Simply put, one should not be guided by absolutes.  There is always grey area and judgment in each isolated situation matters.  Going back to the beginning, Kirk searching for the middle ground between Spock's logic and McCoy's gut instinct was always the heart of the matter.  The Prime Directive restricts the capacity for making the "right" choice, even the right Star Trek choice.  

I still feel the question remains as to whether or not anyone should ever be given the godlike powers inherent in making such decisions.  But there's no doubt the consideration itself makes for good television, 58 years and counting.

Acting Notes

Roxann Biggs-Dawson (B'Elanna Torres) was born in Los Angeles, September 11, 1958.  She graduated from UC-Berkeley.  Success came quickly.  Her first professional acting job was on Broadway in A Chorus Line.  She appeared as a background dancer in the film of the same name.  Before Voyager, she made appearances on Nightingales, Matlock and Jake and the Fat Man.

Since Star Trek Biggs-Dawson, has had more work as a director than as an actor.  She has directed for many television series, including Star Trek: Enterprise, Heroes and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  She has written two plays: Desire to Fall and Passage Through the Heart.  She has also co-authored a science fiction trilogy with Daniel Graham: Entering Tenebrea, Tenebrea's Hope and Tenebrea Rising.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Sarah M. Broom

Title: The Yellow House
Author: Sarah M. Broom

via Amazon

The Yellow House is Sarah M. Broom's memoir regarding her connection with New Orleans East, the community where she grew up and where she has sought reconnection as an adult.  Her story revolves around the titular yellow house, the family home.  The book provides a history of a Black family in a largely neglected area of New Orleans, one whose suffering during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is just the tip of the iceberg of its troubling history.

Sarah, known as Monique to her family, is the youngest of twelve children.  She and most of her siblings moved away from New Orleans after "the Water" with no intention of returning permanently.  Indeed, much of Brown's personal story is about building a life away from the city yet feeling the powerful draw back, even after the house itself is demolished.  The book made me think about how relationships with places define our lives, including my own.

A "hometown" has always been a complicated concept for me.  I spent 15 years of my childhood in Chevy Chase, Maryland so that's the one I usually claim but my own mother has expressed surprise that I feel that way.  Even though they've spent nearly half a century living there, neither of my parents is from the DC area.  They both grew up in the Midwest.  And then they lived a Peace Corps/foreign service nomadic experience for about a dozen years after college.  They haven't lived in my childhood home for 24 years and neither feels a long-term connection with our boring Maryland suburb.  Their current city apartment is home for them.

But not for me.

I don't know where they'd say I'm from.  If not Maryland, where?  I can't claim Japan, the nation of my birth.  I know I don't post many photos here and that's intentional.  But I can assure you I could hardly look more Northern European if I tried.  Japanese?  Not a chance.  I used to tell people I was from DC because it was easier to explain (and maybe sounded cooler?) than Maryland.  But I stopped doing that once my parents moved.  Now, I'm a proud Maryland native.

What's more, I wasn't exactly encouraged to stick around.  I realize as I write it that may seem resentful but that's not how I mean it.  My sister and I were encouraged, for instance, to try a different part of the country for college and we both did.  We were encouraged to travel and even live abroad.  Neither of us was expected to settle nearby.  Our parents both live far from their childhood turf and I think they more or less resigned themselves to the same for us.  I wonder how they feel about all of that now with my sister and me in opposite corners of the country - I in Vermont, she in California.  But given their own life choices, they're in no position to complain.

Of course, Broom's family ended up scattered, too, though for different reasons.

New Orleans and my parents' city of Washington, DC are both predominantly Black.  DC is no longer majority Black as it was during my childhood.  That is partly because of the ever-growing Hispanic/Latinx population, though gentrification has also played a role.  White Non-Hispanics are still the minority.  The two cities also share this: the vast majority of the millions who visit both annually would have no sense of these demographics.  For both, segregation's long legacy is preserved in entirely separate racial communities.  If one only visits the museums and monuments, it would be very easy to see Washington as a white city.  I've never been to New Orleans but from Broom's description, I get the sense the same is true for the French Quarter.  What representation there is of Black culture is often exoticized.

Why does this matter?  Portraying the United States as a white country is a deeply racist lie.  The story of our country is a story of race.  Everything that separates American culture from European cultures is attributable to people of color.  Black people, Hispanic/Latinx and Native Americans can all usually trace their "New World" lineage back several more generations than most white Americans can.  The othering of non-whites is not accidental.  Through segregationist policies, non-white culture is often remote if not invisible to white Americans - certainly in the South (and DC counts in this regard) but in the rest of the country, too.  The story of New Orleans East is a story of such invisibility.  The overwhelmingly Black community doesn't even turn up on most city maps.  

New Orleans East got plenty of worldwide exposure for tragic reasons during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.  Broom's family was far from the only one that didn't return and the city government didn't do much to encourage them beyond lip service.  Insurance payouts for Black homeowners were much lower on average than they were for whites and were generally far lower than the rebuilding cost.  

The subject of race is not the entirety of Broom's memoir but the subject is also impossible to ignore.

The Yellow House is excellent.  The form is episodic, befitting a family history.  I got more caught up in some chapters than others.  But taken as a whole, it's a solid read.