Monday, September 28, 2009

"First Contact" is the only Next Gen movie you ever have to own

This weekend I was at Target, not because I needed anything but because Target is there and it makes me feel warm and loved inside even though they have Christmas decorations on sale already and that fills me with rage. There are ninety days and two other holidays (three if my birthday counts) between now and Christmas, and it wouldn't kill Target to let people enjoy all of Hallowthankmas season instead of just the Chriskwaanuka part.

Moving away from that rant for a moment, I was wandering the DVD section when I saw a boxed set of all four of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" movies. For a second I was totally excited, even though I claim that I'm no longer a huge Trekkie, and I started looking it over, but then I remembered: As much as I love Star Trek, and the Next Generation, they only made one good movie and three bad ones. "First Contact: is the only movie in that boxed set worth owning, and here's why:

1) "Generations" is the movie that they had to make to go ahead and get the old Star Trek movies off the table. They had to give Captain Kirk a sendoff before anyone would accept the new movies, the same way they had to give the old series a sendoff. There's a reason why Admiral McCoy appears in the very first episode, after all. It's to wave goodbye.[1] You can practically see the Next Gen cast checking their watches and drumming their fingers impatiently on the pieces of scenery that Shatner isn't chewing while they wait for the movie to hurry up and end.

2) "First Contact" has a logical, credible enemy. In "Generations", the Enterprise is destroyed by Lursa and B'Etor, which is kind of the equivalent of the United States being invaded and conquered by WWII era Poland. Granted, they had the advantage of the Enterprise being incompetently captained at the time by Counselor Deanna "What's a warp core?" Troi [2], but still, this was almost as bad as the ship getting disabled by the Pakleds.

We'll skip right over "Insurrection"'s evil, face stretching aliens. That whole movie was like one overlong episode more than it was like a feature film, and the enemies there weren't a credible threat any more than the Duras sisters mentioned above. As for "Nemesis", yes, the Romulans are a credible threat, but the logic applied to using them in that movie was a little flawed. For one thing, where was Sela? If you're going after the Enterprise specifically, why would you not use the person in the Romulan empire who knows them best? The absence seemed glaring to Trek fans. [3] The other problem with the Romulans in that movie was the idiotic presence of a Picard clone that was, for inexplicable reasons, also bald. Picard wasn't born bald, but the movie crew must have decided that the viewers were too stupid to connect the clone to him without the shiny bald head, so they ignored that Picard had hair when he was younger, like we saw when he was de-aged in "Rascals" or in flashback in "Violations", and had a twenty year old bald clone wandering the Romulan ship instead.

"First Contact", on the other hand, has the Borg. They are the quintessential Next Gen enemies. Looking at all seven seasons, the dramatic climax of the series comes between the third and fourth seasons with "The Best of Both Worlds". Nothing before it or after it matched the drama and tension and flat out awesomeness of that two parter, and the events of that episode hung over the rest of the series whenever they encountered even a whiff of the Borg. Them showing up in "First Contact" established without doubt that this was a Next Gen movie, and in true classic movie fashion it managed to show us that everything we thought we knew about the Borg was wrong without undermining everything that came before. The appearance of the Borg Queen answered so many questions that were still hanging from the series, and she was so incredibly creepy and flat out evil that you couldn't help but love her and hate her all at once.

3) There is a logical reason for the crew to be reunited in "First Contact". Worf hadn't moved to "Deep Space Nine" yet in "Generations", so that movie doesn't really count here, but they didn't even bother explaining why he was around for "Insurrection". In "Nemesis", he forgot to go home after Riker and Troi's wedding and just started working on the Enterprise for a little while instead, as if anything like that would happen in any military in the world. While we know, as viewers, that the whole cast contractually had to be there, at least in "First Contact" they have a reasonable explanation for picking up Worf and letting him come on board for a while.

4) Everyone stays in character in "First Contact". Dr. Crusher violates the Prime Directive and the laws of time and space to bring Lilly, her patient, on board, as if this same thing didn't get her captured by terrorist in "The High Ground", didn't almost get the whole crew killed by an angry god in "Angel One", and didn't almost get her fired and drummed out of Starfleet in "I, Borg" or "Suspicions". She has a definite moral and ethical code and she sticks to it. Captain Picard's lingering scars and pain from his previous encounters with the Borg are almost palpable, and he doesn't randomly wander in Kirk's "find the female alien in charge and sleep with her" territory like he does in "Insurrection". [4] Data's striving to be human is key to the plot. Everyone hits their notes and it feels like the crew you know and love, and they're not forced to act like idiots just to satisfy the demands of an implausible plot like they are in "Nemesis", where they let B-9 freely wander the ship as if they never ran into Lore or Tasha Yar's evil sister Ishara and then act surprised when he turns out to be a tool of the Romulans.

4) Nobody gets mind-raped in "First Contact". This is kind of a nit pick, but is there a reason why Counselor Troi has to get mind-raped in "Nemesis" other than to continue painting the character as a damsel in distress and again undermining the little credibility she has? We know that Betazoid people have mental blocks to foil telepathic invasion, because Deanna's mom trots out a stream of them in "Dark Page", so why doesn't Deanna have any? Especially after getting mind-raped by the memory specialist in "Violations" or turning into a psychic waste receptacle in "Man of the People"? People who are physically assaulted get dogs, or take defense classes, or hire bodyguards, but Deanna Troi gets mentally assaulted about once a season and keeps hoping it doesn't happen again.

I'm not saying "First Contact" is totally without flaws, but out of the four movies in that boxed set, it's the only one worth watching more than once, unless you're confusing fandom with masochism.


[1] And not just him. After McCoy, who is apprently 150 years old, shows up in "Encounter at Farpoint", Sarek shows up a couple of times, then Scotty, then Spock. They even revisted "The Trouble with Tribbles" in an episode of "Deep Space Nine".

[2] This is an actual quote, from "Disaster", and for me sums up the essence of Counselor Troi's character as a bimbo in a bunny suit who had no credibility. Sure, she was a counselor, but she was also a Starfleet officer, which means she went to Starfleet Academy like all the other cadets and had to take classes in the basic operation of a starship no matter what her specialy was. That's why Wesley had to answer that question about the matter/anti-matter ratio on the entrance exam in "Coming of Age". For Counselor Troi to show up on the bridge every day for six years and not know what the warp core was is kind of like being a flight attendant for six years and not realizing the plane runs on jet fuel. Michelle Forbes, playing Ensign Ro, deserved an Emmy for the two second, "WTF? Did you really just ask that?" look she shot at Counselor Troi when she blurted out that question.

[3] While this was not mentioned in the movie, it is entirely possible that Sela was breaking rocks in some Romulan prison or even executed following her massive failures in the invasion of Vulcan in "Reunification" and the Klingon Civil War in "Redemption". You only get so many chances in an imperial society, especially one where the Tal Shiar can have you ejected into space just for questioning their orders.

[4] Sleeping with female aliens (and the occasional genderless alien who reproduced by mutually fertilizing a husk) was Riker's job, not Picard's, even if there was that time that Picard sexually harassed the Chief of Stellar Cartography into transferring to another ship.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One fest, two fest...

On Saturday I traveled from one end of town to the other, and, festival wise, from one end of the world to the other. Well, metaphorically, anyway. In the literal sense I went about six miles, and Greece and Spain aren't really that far apart, but it sounded so much more exciting phrased the first way, right?

I started out Saturday by heading to St. George's Greek Orthodox Church for Greek Fest:

St. George's Church

I drive past the church every day, so every year I see the signs for Greek Fest go up and then come down, and everyone in the office always raves about how fun it is. They also all mention how expensive it is, so I was rather surprised to find out that the parking was free and admission was only two dollars. Then I got there on Saturday and found out why: all there is to do at Greek Fest is tour the church, watch some dancing, and buy things.

Mostly you buy food:

festival food

It's good food, and almost every booth had a little sign explaining what the food was for people not familiar with the cuisine, but it was on the expensive side. This tray of partries, for example:

greek pastries

set me back about six dollars, and two dollars a cookie at a church festival seems a little steep to me. The baklava was delicious, though:


even if I did have to eat it beneath the unsettling gaze of a one-eyed centerpiece:

one eyed centerpiece

While eating, we got to watch a cooking demo by the guy who owns the Pizza Palace, a restaurant downtown that was featured on the Food Network a few years ago and that, somehow, I still have not managed to visit:

cooking demo

He taught us how to make garlic and oregano pork tenderloin, a Greek salad, and a pasta side dish with Feta cheese and brown butter sauce that I made for dinner tonight. It was really good, and super easy. There was also the added amusement of watching someone root around under the counters during the setup without realizing that a room of hundreds was watching her crawl around on the big screen TV:

televised butt

That giggling, alone, was worth the two dollars of admission.

As underwhelmed as I was by the festival (why not just honestly advertise under a "Come Buy Some Greek Food and Copyright Violating Nesting Dolls

nesting dolls

Festival"?), I was almost awed by the Church. I grew up Catholic, but we mostly went to modern, less than a few decades old Catholic churches on Army bases. Maybe if I'd gone to a church with better windows and more shiny things like this one I'd be more religious, but now we'll never know. And you wouldn't know it was so impressive from outside, either, where it looks rather plain:

church window (1)

The same window on the inside is beautiful:

church window (4)

(I'm not really familiar with the scene depicted on that window, but if I had to guess just by looking at it I'd say it was from the time that Jesus was a rock star and surfed down a mountain and over some prisoners on his cross while the crowd shook his hands. I'm pretty sure that story's in the New Testament somewhere, right?)

Anyway, the inside of the church had a lot of nice windows:

church window (2)

church window (3)

chalice window

a fancy altar:


with a lot of inlaid tile mosaics:

church mosaic

and the most impressive feature of all, a mosaic that covered the entire inside of the church dome:

dome mosaic

Not only was the church impressive, but it remained shockingly lightning-free even though I walked through it, and as an added bonus I can tell my mom I went to (a) church this weekend. Everybody comes up a winner, I guess.

After I toured the church I wasn't still hungry, so I left Greek Fest and drove downtown for the HoLa Festival, which celebrates Hispanic countries. It was spread all through Market Square, and as soon as I walked up from the parking lot I immediately ran into a lady from the zoo, who was educating us about barn owls:

Knoxville Zoo lady

I'm not really sure how either of those things tie into the theme of the day, but I like the zoo, so I just shrugged and moved on.

There were a lot of booths selling food and cultural items, and some things that were a mixture of both:

argentinian beef

I also got there just in time for the parade of nations, during which representatives wore traditional costumes and in many cases performed a traditional dance. This was both educational and entertaining. I learned that Chile also includes Polynesian islands:

chilean dancer (1)

and that Honduras apparently has a lot of cowboys:

Honduras (1)

Honduras (2)

The costumes were all very nice, though, and the dancing was fun to watch.

spain (1)

Spain (2)


There were a lot of kids in the parade, too and they looked very cute in their little costumes. I thought this one was adorable:

tiny marcher

She was trying so hard to be serious and precise, and didn't smile the whole time. It was awesome.

After the parade, a local dance troupe that one of my coworkers is part of performed and gave a salsa lesson:

Salsa Knox

It was really hard to get good pictures of them, since they were moving so fast, so for the first time ever I took video with my camera:

They did a fantastic job, and it was a nice way to cap off the day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

adventures in soupmaking

I end up with at least two food magazines in my house a month. I mentally refer to them as food porn, because everything in them always looks so good, even things I don't like, and I always feel like maybe if I tried to make it this time it would actually turn out like it does in the picture. In between attempts, I watch "Top Chef" and I dream.

This week I decided to try making a corn, potato, and sausage bisque. It seemed kind of easy, since it called for a lot of basic ingredients, and I thought, "Hey, how bad could it be?"

The potatoes should have been the first indicator of disaster, the harbinger of terrible things to come. The recipe said that I should bake two potatoes and then dice them, but I am a lazy chef in addition to being a mediocre one, so I bought a bag of the precut and ready potatoes. When I tore it open, though, I discovered this:

not a potato

That's not a potato. I realize I'm not always 100% familiar with vegetables, since they're not made of candy, but that is a carrot. The bag says potatoes, not potatoes and carrots, and doesn't even have one of those "Maybe also contain" warnings like my peanut butter that may also contain peanuts does. In some cultures, that carrot would be an omen, like an egg with a blood-red yolk or a two-headed calf. All soup preparation would cease while the shaman was called to sprinkle salt around my kitchen, but I don't live in any of those cultures.

I should start, though, because that carrot meant disaster. That didn't come until later, though.

In the meantime, I steamed the potatoes in the microwave, sliced up the sausage (I used turkey sausage, under the vague notion that it was somehow healthier), drained the corn, and thew it all in a holding bowl until it was time to add to the soup:

sliced sausage

After that, I pasted an onion.

pasted onion

I've mentioned before that I have trouble with the texture of onions. It's all crunchy and slimy at the same time and disgusting, but the flavor is good. For a while I was just chopping them down into specks, but my chopper broke, so now I'm pasting them down to mush in the food processor. That's an onion the size of a baseball in there, and the added benefit of pasting them is that I don't cry.

Once the onion was pasted, I got all the ingredients ready to add in stages, according to the recipe:

ingredients ready

That's four cups of milk, by the way, and since I was cooking I bought whole milk, just for this recipe. I usually drink skim, because whole milk seems so thick and sludgy, but I figured the soup needs to be thick and sludgy. I was kind of sad that it only needed a quarter cup of flour, because I have quite a bit left after the breadmaking disaster, but I'll use all that up someday. I might even try making bread again. I might also try learning to explode things with my brain, probably with equal success.

Anyway, I melted half a stick of butter, then added the onion:

onion in butter

It was golden and bubbly and smelled good, and then it was time to add the milk. That's when disaster came. I rarely heat cream or milk, because it has this weird kind of explosion point where it goes from steaming to boiling over in about three seconds. I told myself that this time would be different, though, that I would be super careful, that the carrot in the potatoes meant nothing, and I went for it.

You know where this is going, right?

boil over

There will be a lot of burner cleaning tomorrow.

The worst part is that I almost made it. I was stirring continuously, watching the consistency, carefully adjusting the heat, and then I looked away to check the recipe and see how much longer I had to stir. That's all it took.

The soup turned out pretty good, though.

finished soup!

The starch from the potatoes thickened it up, and the sausage gave it a bit of a smoky taste. The best part is that there's plenty left for the next couple days, and it can't possibly blow up in the microwave, right?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I guess UCLA is sort of a good team?

It's fun to go to football on Saturdays. You get invited to cookouts and tailgates, like the one at Volunteer Hall today before the game:

Vol Hall cookout

where I had two hot dogs, a cookie, and a coke (in this part of the country, any brown soda is a "coke", whether it's actually Coca Cola or not), and you get to see odd, sort of crazy things that you don't understand and have to wonder about, like this:

youth juice?

Youth juice? I mean, I know what it sounds like to me, but that can't possibly be what's in that bottle. I probably should have just asked, or at least peeked into the cooler, but I didn't want to look like a rube if it's some kind of local thing that I just haven't heard of.

The best part of football for me, though, is that I have absolutely no emotional investment in whether or not we win. I recognize the players' names in a vague, housing related sense ("Oh, that's the guy who turned in his contract late way after the deadline, and that's the one who got billed for the wrong summer mealplan and I had to go and correct it."), but I don't know any of them. I know who the coaches are, but I don't really interact with them, either. The game is the same for me whether we win or lose, mostly because I'm not always sure of the rules. I just show up at the stadium and hope for the best.

Neyland Entrance

Today we played UCLA, a team that beat us last year under our old coach and beat us today under our new coach. We enjoyed really nice weather, and I was without the car pool, so I got to walk around before the game and see things like Eric Berry's enormous inflatable jersey:

eric berry's giant inflatable jersey

He plays some position on our team. It's not quarterback, because the quarterback was just on the news and wasn't him. Anyway, I'm sure he's good at whatever it is he's doing on the team, since he has a giant inflatable jersey and the quarterback doesn't. Hey, quarterback? Try to be more like Eric Berry, ok? Just look at the potential rewards.

Since I was by myself, I also got to go into the stadium after my shift, rather than bolting immediately for the car. We were already losing in the second quarter when I saw the field, but this all looked very exciting just the same:

second quarter (2)

second quarter (3)

heading to the benches


Next week is our first away game, which means I'll be doing something else on Saturday. We'll be playing Florida, who I think beat us last year, but I can't remember that for sure. I asked the other staff at our gate, but the only answer I got was, "Who didn't beat us last year?"

I have no idea, but football sure is fun.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Abomination Television

I use the word "abomination" pretty freely. The caffeine free diet Mountain Dew I saw the other day? That's an abomination. The baggers at Kroger not understanding that cold food and not cold food shouldn't be bagged together and that's why they're separated in my cart and separated when I put them down on the conveyer and oh my God is it really that hard to understand or are you just trying to save bags? Their bagging skills are an abomination. That time I was trying to give myself electric blue tips and ended up with a whole head of powder blue hair that ended up being cobalt thanks to a heavy dose of Ferria and prayer? That was pretty much an abomination as well.

Given that, I still feel safe in saying that the new "Melrose Place" is an abomination.

I'm not even sure where to start, but two really awful things stand out:

1) Ashley Simpson-Wentz. I know taking a potshot at her is about as difficult as finding pancakes at IHOP, but watching the scene where she convinces a neighbor she just met, a neighbor that was smart enough to get into medical school, that she should become a high priced hooker and realizing that Ashley's supposed to be the evil girl in disguise made me want to throw a brick at my television. Ashley Simpson is as convincing as an evil mastermind as Tara Reid is as a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

Never let it be said that I avoid easy potshots. Right, Tara?

2) Not only is Sydney alive, but she's sleeping with Michael's son. Michael. Her brother in law. Whose son would be her nephew. Even if he's not her nephew because his mom isn't Jane, something the show hasn't bothered to show us yet, he's still close to being her nephew, and that's gross.

Almost as gross as this abomination of a show.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Five Days Off

Today is a holiday (Happy Labor Day! Sorry I didn't send any cards.) and I decided last week that a three day weekend just wasn't enough, so I put in for Thursday and Friday off, too. I didn't have any exciting plans or anything, but it suddenly seemed like I just needed a few days to read and watch TV ("Law and Order" and "Chopped!" are tied for most episodes seen in the five day stretch), so I asked for them. As the days off got closer, it looked like I wouldn't be taking Thursday after all because someone was sick and I was worried the office would be short staffed, but my boss called while I was driving in and told me to take it anyway.

He really had to twist my arm on that one, let me tell you. I considered my options for an entire two and a half seconds before I said, "OK" and sped off in the opposite direction.

Here's what I did with my five days off:

Thursday: I lied. I didn't actually speed off in the opposite direction because I was already almost to campus when my boss called. Since I was already up and dressed and out of the house, I decided to swing by the university gardens since they were right there, and I got to watch the sun come up over the plants:

off color leaves

early morning flowers

coral flowers

new berries

Since no one else was there, I took my time walking around and enjoying the quiet of the morning. I stopped to examine some tiny flowers:

tiny yellow flowers

and then the bugs started waking up, too:

beetle on leaf (2)

single focus bumblebee

so I decided to head out before the bees really came out in force. On my way home, I stopped by the office to pick up my two boxes of picture frames, which were packed in an absurd amount of material:


Those twelve plastic frames came in a box half the size of my couch, and there were two boxes! I drive a Bug! My couch doesn't fit in my car! Not only do I have to feel bad about ordering frames from Wal-Mart, allowing them to continue squeezing out Mom and Pop stores and outsourcing jobs to foreign countries and not paying their employees health insurance by making them work 39.5 hours a week, but I feel like they also cut down a forest and a half just to get the frames to me. People with kids, I'm sorry that they will be both unemployed and shadeless in the barren future I have helped to create, but Wal-Mart was the only company that came in under my budget.

Friday: On Friday morning I slept in a little, and then got up to go downtown to the Museum of East Tennessee History. It was smaller than it looked from the outside (it turns out that there is a whole floor devoted to geneological archives), but filled with interesting things:

register keys

I saw one of Dolly Parton's dresses:

Dolly Parton's dress

and flags celebrating Oak Ridge's revelation to the world:

Oak Ridge atomic pennant

and I got to leave my comments on the wall of Post-It's:

post it wall

The highlight of the day, though, was my lunch downtown at The French Market. My coworker, Angie, has mentioned for months (mostly because she had a couple months of maternity leave between the first mention and the more recent one) that she ate there and it was wonderful and that I should try it, but it always managed to stay off of my radar until I walked out of the museum and it was directly across the street.

The French Market only serves one kind of food: crepes. My experience with crepes is mostly of this variety:


They're always filled with fruit and/or chocolate, and there's something sweet drizzled or, more often, gushed across the top. I've never had a crepe that's intended as a meal, rather than as a dessert or a replacement for a pastry, so I was a little dubious. I trust Angie, though, so I ordered the turkey and cheese crepe:

turkey and cheese crepe

It was so good I want to go back and get another one right now. The inside was stuffed with shredded smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, and Gruyere cheese. That's it. No mustard, sauce, vegetables, or anything, and it was still so good that I practically inhaled it. I hope and pray they're open for the last Roller Derby home bout, because I'm pretty sure I don't want to eat anywhere else downtown again, ever.

God, it was so good.

Saturday: Football came to Tennessee again, and the carpool and I had to work at Gate 23. On our way across campus, since we have to park a bit of a hike away from the stadium, we stopped so that Anna could grab breakfast at Chik-Fil-A and found ourselves in a sea of orange:

home game breakfast

If you're not dressed for football, it's best that you not leave the house on game days. Someone might cut you.

Sunday: I slept in, and when I woke up I suddenly felt like the idea of leaving the house to do anything was more than I could cope with, so I stayed in and read, watched more TV, and played games on the computer.

Monday: Today I framed my pictures and took them to work to hang on my walls. Using a yardstick and a level, I think I got them pretty even, and I'm happy now to have some color on all four walls instead of on just one:

photo in photo

I also swapped out the frames from the pictures I had up already, so everything matches. I know that my pictures aren't always good, but I like having them on my walls instead of random school art or posters. It makes the office feel more like it's mine, and the cleaning people probably won't steal my pictures like they did the Superman figure I used to have in there.