Archive for August, 2010

Star Trek 1.1: The Man Trap

Monday, 30 August, 2010

Salt VampireRummaging through my DVDs last night looking for something to watch in the hour before bedtime, I decided it was time to start rewatching the original run of Star Trek again. And what better way to celebrate than by blogging a few comments on every episode as I watch it? I’m sure there are dozens of people doing the same thing, but why let a little thing like that stop me?

Technical notes first: I have the original non-remastered DVD edition of the episodes, packaged in plastic boxes with a groovy 1960s shape, in the three uniform colours: yellow, red, blue. The boxes look great, but are a real pain to get the discs out of and back into. At some point I may have to pick up the remastered versions.

Anyway, the first episode of Star Trek that ever went to air, and the first in order in the DVD set, is “The Man Trap“. This was actually the 6th episode produced, but was promoted to first to air because it had a relatively straightforward plot, showed off an alien planet, and had a “monster” in it to create thrills. And a memorable monster it is – everyone familiar with Star Trek knows the salt vampire!

As the first episode to air, it’s interesting to see that it has several of the features you want in an introductory episode. All of the major characters are referred to explicitly by name, first soon after they appear and then most of them again later on. But we are also thrown straight into some character moments that obviously have backgrounds. Dr McCoy’s old flame is a plot element and won’t be returning in later episodes, but the romantic tension between Uhura and Spock is encapsulated nicely and will become a recurring theme.

The other thing that struck me was how obviously this episode was set in the social attitudes of the day. Star Trek was of course progressive for its time, with a black female senior officer – and an Asian helmsman and an alien first officer – without any particular attention drawn to the fact that this was not unusual on a starship crew. But there are also some glaring moments of 1960s sexism present, such as when Dr Robert Crater laments that he likes the solitude of living alone on an alien archaeological planet, but states plainly that his wife, being a woman, obviously needs social contact. And there is a scene where two male crewman are ogling and making suggestive comments about Yeoman Janice Rand.

And in this episode we see the first of the mixed moral messages that Star Trek seems to deliver. Dr Crater makes an appeal for the life of the creature, stating that it is the last one of its kind and making allusions to the passenger pigeon and – of all things – the American bison (which he calls “buffalo”). Spock makes the connection, pointing out how the passenger pigeon and “buffalo” are now regrettably extinct – a future prediction made in the days of 1960s environmentalism, which seems out of date now, but in a good way, because it’s now much less likely that the bison will die out. So this comes across as a laudable message about the preservation of species. It’s all undone at the end though, when the creature is unceremoniously killed. Presumably being a danger to the Enterprise crew trumps any concerns over species preservation.

In this episode it’s unclear who Yeoman Rand is assigned to assist. She’s shown taking a meal to Sulu and discussing his exotic alien plants with him, and is in no scenes with Kirk. If this was the only episode you ever saw, you’d assume she worked for Sulu. Those plants, by the way, are very hokey, with one animate specimen obviously someone with a hand in a fuzzy pink glove. I don’t remember if we ever see Sulu cultivating plants again – it seems like it’s being set up as a character note for him, but I don’t recall it appearing any other time.

Another feature that becomes obvious in this episode is just how much tighter television writing is these days. Several minutes of the plot could have been condensed into a fraction of the time – it really felt like they were padding it out to fill the hour (minus ad time). But even given all of these criticisms, it’s a decent 50 minutes of television drama, and certainly not the worst Star Trek episode.

Body count: 3 dead Enterprise crew, 1 dead salt vampire.
Tropes: Last Of His Kind, Doppelganger, Doppelganger Replacement Love Interest, Shape Shifter Guilt Trip, This Was His True Form, Jeannie Cut.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc & Leeuwin Estate Riesling

Sunday, 29 August, 2010

Leeuwin Estate 2008 Art Series Margaret River RieslingCloudy Bay 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon BlancNo posts for a while since I’ve been away on holiday to Western Australia. We spent three days in the Margaret River wine region and came back with 8 bottles of wine – which will no doubt be featured here eventually. Today we have one of them, plus a wine from New Zealand.

First up, it’s the 2009 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough in NZ. Everything I’ve read about Sauvignon Blanc says that the best examples come from New Zealand, and everything I’ve read about NZ Sauvignon Blanc says that the best examples come from Cloudy Bay. So logically, this must be the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Thankfully, unlike other examples of absolute top quality wines, this one doesn’t cost a fortune. Sauvignon Blanc, as I’ve learnt, is at its best when very young – it simply doesn’t improve with age. So the best SB you can get is the most recently marketed one, and you should drink it as soon as possible. Which means there’s none of that mucking about with cellaring and letting the bottles get old and musty until you end up with 30 year old wine that costs a fortune. Nope. You can buy a bottle of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world for about $40.

And given that chance, why not try it? I’ve had a SB before – the Mystery Creek bottle I reviewed. That was nice, but this was considerably nicer. We took it to a Thai restaurant, and ordered fish dishes. The tanginess complemented the Asian chili spices and the fish very nicely. Even M, who hadn’t liked the Mystery Creek SB, enjoyed the Cloudy Bay. The aroma was very similar to me, with tropical and citrusy fruit, dominated by a limey tang and that indefinable “sauvignon blanc” smell that I’ve begun to recognise. In the mouth it was simply delicious. Tangy, zesty, acidic, with lime and gooseberry flavours. It was obviously more refined and smoother than the Mystery Creek, but without losing any of that wallop of flavour. It really was gorgeous.

Our second offering is one of the wines brought back from Margaret River. We visited the Leeuwin Estate and did a guided tour of the winery, followed by a full tasting of their entire range of wines (9 in total). I ended up buying three bottles, with the Riesling being one of them. The “Art Series” is Leeuwin’s premium series of wines and they commission original artwork by well-known Australian artists to adorn the labels. The originals hang in a small gallery in the winery, and we saw those too. The label of this one is by John Olsen, whose best known work is Salute to Five Bells, a large mural adorning the north foyer wall of the Sydney Opera House concert hall.

We had this wine again with spicy Asian food – this time Malaysian – and it suited it again. It has the typical “riesling” aroma, of industrial chemicals with a single piercing high note of citrus. It’s a well-balanced flavour, dry and fruity, with that stony, minerally quality that is hard to describe otherwise. It was not as good as the Cloudy Bay SB, but still lovely with the spicy food.

Cloudy Bay 2004 Late Harvest Riesling

Friday, 13 August, 2010

Cloudy Bay 2004 Late Harvest RieslingWe wanted a sweet wine for dessert last weekend and spotted this in a shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I was keen to try it. Cloudy Bay is a famous New Zealand winery, in the Marlborough region, best known for its world-famous Sauvignon blanc.

I’ve tried some Riesling before and it has, in my mind, a very distinct aroma. I noticed it as soon as I sniffed a glass of this one. It was citrusy, with lime the dominant fruit. And that distinctive smell of Riesling… I don’t know how else to describe it – it doesn’t remind me of anything else in the world. Sort of sweetish, minerally like a handful of wet gravel, and also fragrant like alpine wildflowers, with a piercing quality of fresh cold air, perhaps a tiny bit like bleach, although not unpleasant. Overall it’s a positive aroma, but hard to describe without rifling my aroma vocabulary for unusual descriptors.

The flavour was sweet and citrusy, tangy with acidity, and a slight hint of spiciness, like an apple strudel made with tangy green apples and just a faint touch of cinnamon. It wasn’t syrupy sweet, and in fact the sweetness was so restrained that M. declared it didn’t taste to her like a dessert wine at all. It was in the continuum between the ever so slightly sweet Gew├╝rztraminer we had a while back and a full-on dessert wine. I could actually see having this one with a meal of fish, rather than dessert. I actually had it with cheese and a fresh pear, which matched nicely – I don’t think it would have worked with a chocolate cake.

I look forward to seeing if the next Riesling I have also has that unmistakeable “Riesling” aroma – if it’s indeed a constant then I can confidently say that I could pick Riesling out of a line-up of white wines without any trouble at all. I only hope at some point I start to get a similar feel for reds. The next week should help, as we’re taking a vacation trip to Western Australia, and spending a few days in the Margaret River wine region there, so should be dropping in on a few wineries.

Knowledge

Saturday, 7 August, 2010

and let thy feet millenniums hence be set in midst of knowledge

I’m inordinately pleased with this photo for some reason.

Senators Online?

Saturday, 7 August, 2010

The Australian federal election is in two weeks. Someone pointed out to me one of the relatively new political parties running for positions in the Senate: Senator Online. It turns out they’re running two Senate candidates in every state.

Here’s the interesting part. They have only one policy. That policy can be summed up as:

For every bill that comes up for vote in the Senate, our senators will vote according to the results of a web poll that we run on that bill.

The fine detail is that this will happen on a state-per-state basis, there is a minimum threshold of registered Senator Online voters to get the senator to do anything, and the web poll result must be a 70% majority otherwise the senator will simply abstain. (And they’re going to be very careful to avoid web poll stacking.) But basically it’s opening up the Australian Senate to what is effectively an Athenian style direct democracy, where very voter has a direct vote in every bill, rather than letting elected representatives decide.

My initial reactions to this, in order, were:

  1. Oh dear. It’s going to end up like California, encumbered under the weight of direct citizen-enacted legislation that has mass-appeal but which is actually economically or socially irresponsible.
  2. Or maybe not. Actually, this is an interesting idea. If there were one or two Senator Online senators elected, it could actually be very interesting. It might shake up Australian politics.
  3. Hmmm. If one of these guys does get elected, will the Parliament let the senator be dictated by the whims of an online poll? They might introduce legislation to make this sort of thing illegal. Although… it’s hard to see what could be inherently illegal about it.
  4. While one or two of these senators might be interesting, if all of our Senate was directed by web polls of the general public, the country would quickly degenerate, with populist but disastrous policies being enacted. You know, thinking about this makes me glad, in a surprisingly non-cynical way, that our government works the way it does, and that our elected representative actually do know more than Joe Q. Public about economic theory, foreign relations, social justice, and other stuff. It’s easy to be cynical about how incompetent politicians are, but realistically, they do a better job at running the country than 90% of people could do, or that would be done by Athenian-style democracy.

Anyway, realistically speaking, it’s very doubtful that Senator Online will get a senate quota in any state. But still, it’s interesting to contemplate.

Penfolds Private Release 2007 Shiraz Cabernet

Monday, 2 August, 2010

Penfolds Private Release 2007 Shiraz CabernetI got this bottle last Christmas, and we decided to try it at a new Greek restaurant that we hadn’t been to before: Claypot at Gordon, which was really good. I was hoping this wine wouldn’t be too robust for M., who prefers the smoothness of merlot to the stronger flavours of cabernet suavignon and shiraz.

Well I needn’t have worried, as this was a very smooth number, with little to no oak evident to my untrained palate, and very low levels of tannin. It had some robustness, but not in that oaky flavour complex that can seem overpowering at times. The aroma was… plummy – that’s about the best I can do I’m afraid. There was maybe a hint of spice in there too, from the shiraz no doubt, but not very strong, and none of the peppery notes that I’ve detected in shiraz before.

The taste was very smooth on the tongue. I picked the dominant flavour as plum-like, with a hint of raisins and some spice, perhaps a tough of aniseed. A little bit like a spicy fruit pudding, though not sweet at all. It was very… “round” in the mouth – I’m not sure if that’s the same thing that wine experts mean when they say a wine is “round”, but it feels right.

We didn’t finish the bottle, and it took me a few days to get back to it, at which point I decided not to drink the small remainder, but to make a poached pear in red wine with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Which I’m eating right now. Yum.