A Facebook Rerun

I posted this in late May on Facebook. I’m reposting it here so that if Facebook loses it I can find it here.

Last monday, I got to spend time with Nate and Garrett after a two-week absence. Knowing that I would be leaving again a few days after, I created a poster for them. When I got to the house in Ohio, I sat everyone down and presented these to the boys to post in their rooms, should they want to.

The text reads:

“Some things that I hope you have learned from our 10 years together.

Allow yourself to take care of yourself. A lot of people don’t. They put everyone else’s needs before their own. It’s okay to put some people before you, but not all of them because then you are left with nothing for yourself. It will save you a lot of grief in the long run. Always take care of yourself.

If you can choose kindness, always choose to be kind. There are few things in a person’s life that are more important than kindness. Sometimes it’s easy to be unkind because we think it will make us feel better. I’m this way sometimes, and I hate it because it never, ever makes me feel better. Not even for a minute. So, if you can choose kindness, always choose to be kind.

Let the people around you know that you care. It doesn’t just have to be the ones that you love most deeply, but anyone for whom you have any affection at all. Make sure you tell them that you enjoy their company, love them, or that you’re proud of them – whatever is appropriate for your feelings about that relationship. People make assumptions about your feelings, and they shouldn’t. Let the people around you know that you care.

Always set the example. People learn a little bit about you from the words that you say. They learn much more about you from the actions that you take. In fact, I’m sure you know the old saying that “actions speak louder than words.” That’s absolutely true. Kids will watch you and learn from you. Your friends will watch you and learn from you. Make sure you give them an example worth following. Because the truth is, actions are really the only thing that matters. Always set the example.

You will succeed at these things because you are, at your very hearts, good people. Like me and like everyone, you’ll fail sometimes, and sometimes quite spectacularly. What counts isn’t the failure, but how you conduct yourself afterward. Don’t let one incident define you. As long as you take care of yourself, choose kindness, let the people around you know that you care, and set the example, there’s not a single situation that you can’t come back from.”

I just love those two. ❤️

“Road” Trip to Mars!

Back in September of last year, I stumbled across a NASA website describing the new Mars Lander scheduled for launch July 20 at 6:15 a.m. PDT (9:15 a.m. EDT).  NASA offered the chance to send your name aboard the Mars Perseverance Rover etched into a chip placed on the rover. 

I thought this was a terrific idea for the family, so I registered the four of us and, lo and behold, we four were among the 1.2 million names that made it.

NASA sent an electronic boarding pass for each of us verifying that our names would be making the 140-million-mile trip to the Red Planet, the average distance from Earth.  At its closest, Mars is roughly 38.6 million miles from Earth.  Since the path to Mars depends on many variables and is not a direct shot, I am not sure of the actual distance the Perseverance Rover will take to get to Mars. Edit: Turns out that the actual distance is printed on the boarding pass itself in the bottom right-hand corner. The Perseverance Rover will travel 313,586,649 miles on its journey from the Earth to Mars.

I thought the boarding passes looked really cool, and the rest of the family surprisingly agreed. I had intended to post them back then, but it didn’t happen.  However, today’s the day! Better late than never, huh?

Here’s more details about the mission from the NASA website:

“The Mars 2020 spacecraft with its Perseverance Rover will launch on an Atlas V-541 rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  The Atlas V is one of the largest rockets available for interplanetary flight.  This is the same type of rocket that launched the InSight and Curiosity to Mars.  The launch vehicle is provided by United Launch Alliance, Centennial Colorado.”

And here’s a mission fact sheet. You’ll need a PDF reader to see this one.

Here are our four boarding passes.  Nice to know that the family will be together for the duration, even if it is on another planet.

Many would likely agree that another planet would be just the right place for the four of us.  

Ten Better Ways to Discriminate

It’s pretty clear lately that the only way we Americans like to classify people is solely by their politics.  If you pay attention, pretty much ANY behavior from eating pineapple on your pizza to being a proud pedophile all traces back to whether you’re a republican or a democrat.  There are no in-betweens – you’re either all one or all the other.  You can’t be a centrist, a moderate republican or even apolitical.  Sorry, but that just won’t do for most people these days.  People now judge the entirety of your being; integrity, intent, and worth SOLELY by how you vote.

I think there’s a better way.  I use other binary criteria to discriminate with whom I associate.  Here are some of ‘em:

1.  Toilet paper roll over or under.  If you’ve ever owned a precocious cat, the answer is definitely under.

2.  Warner Brothers or Disney.  If you like even one Disney thing, you’re dead to me.

3.  Paper or plastic.  Either way you’re a useless scum that hates the environment and wants dirty water and worldwide smog as thick as pea soup.  Don’t deny it – you despise nature.  And babies.

4.  Round earth/flat earth.  This one’s easy.  If you think the Earth is flat, you’re a fucking idiot.

5.  Dog person/cat person.  This one’s easy too.  Doesn’t matter – everybody wins! 

6.  Religion.  Not gonna go there.  Ever.  People will kill you over that kinda shit.

7.  FM Radio or AM radio.  Wait, there’s still AM radio?

8.  Yea or nay?  Pineapple on pizza.  (This is almost as divisive as politics these days.)

9.  Did you make your bed this morning or did you leave it a mess?  If you left it a mess, you’re a god-hating, good for nothing, useless turd and if you made your bed this morning like I do, you’ve obviously got a first-class ticket to heaven.  That one’s pretty clear cut.

10. Are you a dick to people or not? 

Yeah, that last one is kinda what I’m getting at.  None of these other criteria really matters if you’re consistently a jerk to people.  I really don’t care how you roll your toilet paper, who you voted for, or any of the other discriminators I listed above.  If you treat people with respect and kindness, none of that other shit matters

I still think Bill and Ted said it most succinctly “Be excellent to each other.”  That’s not just enough, that’s everything.

Battle of the Trek Geniuses II – The Second Day

I started off with good intentions a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Wait, wrong franchise.

It all began long before your sun burned hot in space…

Damn!  Right franchise, but Frank used this one last time.


A couple months back, Frank and I finally decided to get off our collective center seats and write the follow up to the wildly popular “Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses.” I diligently went through the episode list writing down the guest stars that I remember liking from The Original Series.  Then I went through the episodes in chronological order to refresh my memory. 

Good thing I found that list this morning.  That and the meme to the right of this opening is all I am going to say about that.

Anyway, as you may have already guessed, today is my day to present my five favorite guest stars from Star Trek: The Original Series which I actually did get to watch when they first aired.  That makes me older than the Guardian of Forever, but hopefully with that age comes experience and good choices in guest stars.  The ones I remembered without being reminded are weighted a little more heavily in my decision making.  To be remembered among the plethora of available guest stars is noteworthy in itself.

Off we go!

5.  Frank Gorshin as Commissioner Bele.

I’m not a fan of this third-season episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Even as a twelve-year-old in 1969, I thought this episode’s message about racism was rather ham-fisted.  But having entertained us with memorable performances as The Riddler on the sixties “Batman” TV series, Frank Gorshin was an actor who at the time I recognized immediately.

I remember his Trek performance being energetic, loud and combative — not unlike his Riddler character.  But like all of the actors on this list, he owned the screen when he was on it and I always enjoyed watching him work.

Sidebar:  Back in 2000-ish, I was working as a video tape operator at Empire Burbank Studios in California doing freelance work.  I got a call to come record an introduction that would be used at the start of a promotional program selling financial management services.  Imagine my surprise when in walks Frank Gorshin to do the on-camera intro.  He brought the same intensity to that presentation that he did in this episode.  He was terrific.

Bottom line: I loved his performance even though I didn’t care for the episode.  In fact, this is one of the episodes I’ve not seen in a very long time, so my memory of it remains a long time one.

4.  Celia Lovsky as T’Pau.

“All of Vulcan in one package.”  – Capt. Kirk to Dr. McCoy, describing T’Pau in “Amok Time”

Speaking candidly, I’m not sure why I picked this performance.  Upon multiple viewing of this second season episode over the years, I find her performance in this role less and less compelling than I did when I first saw this episode back in the sixties.  She gets on this list because even though I have become slightly less enamored with T’Pau over the years, I still love seeing her on screen in this episode and her performance made enough of an impression on me to have been one of the first guest stars that I wrote down on my list. 

The character she brings to life advances the Star Trek universe, opening up Vulcan mystery and culture in ways that impact the rest of the Trek franchise even into J. J. Abrams’ Kelvin universe.  She really does deliver “all of Vulcan in one package.”  So perhaps I am more enamored with the character than the performance.

Regardless, I love watching her on screen.  She’s compelling, and creates a character that exudes power, demands respect and gets it. 

What I didn’t know until researching this post is that the character of T’Pau appears in both “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Enterprise.”  I didn’t watch either of those series as religiously as I did TOS and TNG.  I need to go back and seek out those episodes. 

3.  Susan Oliver as Vina. 

Part of the original pilot episode, “The Cage,” on which NBC passed, Susan Oliver’s performance later made it to air in TOS’s only two-part episode, “The Menagerie.”  It’s the story of the Enterprise’s captain before Captain Kirk, Captain Christopher Pike. Pike and the earlier Enterprise crew discover the Talosians, a race of beings with the power of illusion.  Susan Oliver plays Vina, appearing throughout the episode to Pike as a number of characters all of whom are desperate to entice Pike to remain in the illusion for self-serving, but very understandable reasons. 

She appears as a green Orion slave woman, a damsel in distress and his wife at a romantic picnic for two on Earth.  Every time, she tries to make the illusion and herself so appealing that Pike would want to stay with her in the illusion.  If you’ve never seen it, I won’t tell you here how the story ends for two reasons.  One: it’s a really, really good story and two: “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” have two different endings.  I personally like the one in “The Menagerie” better. 

Either way, Oliver’s performance is superb, moving easily among the various versions of Vina in the illusions back to the Vina in the cage/menagerie trying to convince Pike to stay with her.  She is astoundingly beautiful and just completely owns the screen whenever she’s on it.  Her fantastic performance brings so much to this very moving episode.  

By the way, Vina and Capt. Pike make an appearance in CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery.”  Anson Mount’s Chris Pike is probably the most memorable thing to come out of “Discovery,” but it was a wonderful callback to see Vina as well.

2.  Morgan Woodward as Dr. Simon Van Gelder and Capt. Ronald Tracey.

Morgan Woodward appeared twice in Star Trek.  Once as Capt. Tracy in “The Omega Glory” and again in “Dagger of the Mind” as Dr. Simon Van Gelder.  But it’s his performance as Capt. Tracy that makes him my number two favorite. 

Similarly, “The Omega Glory” made it to number two on my list of favorite episodes, in no small measure because of Woodward’s performance.  Here’s what I said last time:

“What makes this episode for me is Morgan Woodward’s performance as Captain Tracey. He plays the best homicidal maniac in the business and no actor sweats better than he does – and I mean that as a compliment. He’s a delight in this role and I absolutely love watching him work. I should really hit YouTube and see if I can find other things in which Woodward appeared. I suspect he’s got serious acting chops.

“I’ve often wondered if he was considered for the part of Captain Kirk when Roddenberry was casting TOS. He was probably too old to play Kirk, but he would have been a terrific admiral or some such character. I think he would have been a good choice for another starship-based spinoff series had Trek taken off back then.”

I never did hit YouTube to see what I could find more of his performances.  Without his performance, “The Omega Glory” would have been far less interesting and fun to watch. 

1.  William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker.

Without having read Frank’s essay, I can pretty much guess that this is also his favorite guest performance.  When we’re discussing Trek, the conversation nearly always comes around to this episode, “The Doomsday Machine,” and how wonderful William Windom’s performance is.  In fact, Frank and I both had this episode on our respective favorite episodes list, numbered two and one respectively.  I’ll be surprised if Windom isn’t his number one choice.  [Turns out I was wrong!]

The episode has so much going for it and you can read about it on the original posts.  It has a nail-biter of a story, a terrific score that was used over and over in subsequent episodes, and of course Windom.

Windom was a well-known TV actor and had a long career.  As a youngster in the sixties, I remember him being in everything.  I swear, he popped up on every TV show that existed back then.  His list of IMDB credits is pretty remarkable with 225 credits to his name.  With that broad of a body of work, there’s no question that he is an actor that could deliver.

In “The Doomsday Machine,” that’s exactly what he does, creating a very sympathetic character in Commodore Decker.  When we first see Decker, he’s manning the emergency bridge of the USS Constellation which has been nearly destroyed.  The lone survivor, Commodore Decker is in shock having just watched helplessly as the doomsday machine killed over 400 members of his crew.  Once back aboard the Enterprise, he assumes command and tries to use the same tactics that got his crew on the Constellation killed. 

Windom’s performance is both wonderfully subtle and over the top, normally a mix that can’t be easily pulled off, but Windom’s every screen moment is absolutely authentic.  His characterization is compelling, and his fate at the end of the episode is…  No spoilers if you’ve not seen it. 

[And Frank, if you consider non-canon works, Decker doesn’t really die in the end.]

Regardless of where Decker ultimately ends up, his performance in this role is the most memorable one in my experience.  He’s my favorite TOS guest star in my favorite TOS episode. 

Honorable Mention: 
(in no particular order)

Ricardo Montalban, Khan, “Space Seed”

Ok, this one really is #6,

I never really liked this episode because in my mind, a Starfleet officer would never betray her ship because of a man she’d only just met – regardless of charisma.  But that’s exactly what Lt. Marla McGivers does, and Montalban’s Khan is the reason.  But that doesn’t diminish Montalban’s performance one bit.  Of course, his Khan would wind up saving Star Trek, reprising the role in the movie “Wrath of Khan” pictured here.  It is his performance in this movie that I really, really, REALLY love.  He is without question Trek’s best villain.

William Campbell as Trelane and Koloth, “The Squire of Gothos” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”

Campbell is so delightful in both of these episodes and his broad style fits these two characters like a glove.  In “Squire,” Campbell looks like he’s having a blast playing Trelane, a being who seems to have ultimate power and relishes misusing it.  In later years, fan theories believe him to be a young Q.  Of course, that’s just a theory, but it surely fits, and he makes a good Q, in my opinion.

In “Tribbles,” Campbell plays Klingon Capt. Koloth, and antagonist to Capt. Kirk.  It’s one of TOS’s comedies and such a wonderful episode that it was revisited in “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” though Campbell’s Koloth didn’t appear.  He did reprise the role of Koloth in “DS:9” episode “Blood Oath.”

William Marshall as Dr. Daystrom, “The Ultimate Computer”

I’m cheating here again quoting my previous blog post:

“William Marshall was a highly respected Broadway and Shakespearean actor who didn’t become a name, so to speak, until “Blacula” and its sequel. I enjoy Marshall’s Dr. Daystrom in this episode and later in the episode, Marshall gives what I consider to be the best reaction ever to a Vulcan nerve pinch.”

Nancy Kovack as Nona, “A Private Little War”

Well, I can’t justify this any other way than to say it:  She’s gorgeous.  That’s why she makes honorable mention.  (See Frank’s photo from yesterday.) Not that her performance is sub-par or anything. On the contrary, it’s a compelling performance. It’s just that I recall being completely smitten whenever she was on screen.  Her character is complex, manipulative and smart and Kovack’s Nona is compelling for those reasons alone. 

Another sidebar:  When this show originally aired, my mom saw a quick glimpse of Nona as she’s walking away from a waterfall partially disrobed, showing a little bit more than you’d expect, but certainly nothing explicit by any standards even those of network television in the 1960’s.  Nona is only on screen like this for a second at most, and mom says “Hmmm, so this is a girly show now.” 

Nona’s presence throughout the episode was, as Frank put it, “bewitching.”  He’s absolutely right.

Vic Tayback, Krako, “A Piece of the Action”

You’ll probably remember Vic Tayback from the TV series “Alice.”  That’s what most people know him from.  As for me, I admit ignorance about his body of work so I can’t really speak to his depth as an actor.  All I know is he’s terrific in this episode.  With my limited exposure to his work, it seems like Vic Tayback is at his best with this kind of gruff, loud character. 

This is another TOS comedy and I suspect for the series regulars, it was a welcome relief from the regular dramatic performances they had to deliver week after week. 

Computer Guest Star:

I gotta go with the M-5 computer in the episode “The Ultimate Computer.”  While Nomad from “The Changeling” is a very close second, M-5 gets the edge because it’s in a favorite episode.  “Changeling” is not one of my go-to episodes, and “The Ultimate Computer” is. 

Of course, everyone’s favorite computer is REALLY Commander Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but since we’re not talking about TNG, M-5 wins the day.

So that’s the list.  While yes, I missed my deadline, I always love writing about Trek and in particular, discussing it with Frank who really knows more about it than anyone I know including me.    Thank you, sir, for participating!  Always a pleasure to have you on this blog.

On The Eighteenth Anniversary of 9/11

I almost didn’t re-post this.

Nearly every year, I have. It always refreshes my memory far too realistically and emotionally.  Just now, I re-read it and I realized that’s the whole reason I re-post this in the first place — so that I don’t forget how I felt that day.  So at the risk of being repetitive, here it is.  — Dan

I wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet.  I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it.  To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.

Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now.  Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to.  More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.

Thanks for reading.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than there are things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.

The Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses II – the Wrath of the Guest Stars!

Back here and here, Frank Simons, actor, LA Dodger fan and fellow Star Trek genius formalized our love of (nearly) all things Star Trek by each listing in writing the ten favorite episodes of The Original Series – not the best or the most revered, but the ones WE each liked the best.   Ever since, we’ve been trying to coordinate our second installment of the Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses. 

Since I went first last time, Frank gets first crack at it today.  Given Frank’s far superior understanding of literature, theater and TOS itself, his essays offer far more astute insight than mine.  (You’ll discover that for yourself when you read mine tomorrow.  But I know what I like and in a favorites list, that’s enough. )

Frank has had a number of articles run on the respected Reuters News wire, so you know that this’ll be pretty damned good.  Here’s Frank to start things off.

Frank and Dan on the Gorn Planet location in Vasquez Rocks in California. The photos were taken about 30 years apart.  We each have this displayed poster sized.  (Frank tells me he’s lost well over 40 lbs. since the photo on the right was taken. Outstanding!)

Almost 5 years ago to the day, my good friend Dan Wolfe and I conducted “The Battle of the Star Trek Geniuses” on-line. A grandiose title for an exercise by two Star Trek geeks (and yes, we both wear that badge with honor), to go public with a list of their 10 favorite episodes – and why they were our favorites. It was great fun, so as with everything Trek, we wanted more, thus, a sequel! Our 5 favorite “Guest Star” performances from the original Star Trek series, along with 5 “honorable mentions” and our favorite “computer” episode.

Now one might think picking your 5 favorite “Guest Star” performances from the original series is about as easy as petting a tribble. And you would be wrong. As I sat down to contemplate this challenge it quickly became a Kobayashi Maru — an almost impossible test. The structure of episodic TV requires new characters and situations to challenge the series regulars almost every week. There are easily 30 performances in episodes both good and bad, that are exceptional. It’s all personal taste of course, after all, the Kobayashi Maru is a test of character, and so this became. What these choices reveal about each of us, Dan and I, informs our character – how we were influenced, what we enjoy in these performances, why we choose to single them out, when clearly there are many to pick from. Like our previous “Battle” (is it really a “Battle” if everyone wins?), this is not a list of what might be critically considered the best “acting” by actors guest starring on Star Trek, but the performances we, Dan and I, each liked best. So, without further ado, and to catch the conscience of Star Trek kings everywhere, here’s my list.

5) Guest Star: John Colicos as Kor, in “Errand of Mercy.”

“Always it is the brave ones who die. The soldiers…”

First impressions matter, and John Colicos’s Kor, as the first speaking Klingon we meet, sets the impression in spectacular fashion. Kor defines for us all (and all those Klingon commanders that followed), what it is to be a Klingon: Ruthless. Honorable. Tough. Smart. An equal foe that should not be underestimated.

Like Laurence Olivier’s Richard the III, Colicos plays Kor as a villain who knows he’s a villain. But as a Klingon, that is his core, his normal, and therefore – too bad for those who cross his path. I have occasionally been accused of chewing the scenery on stage, and know what it’s like to pick a splinter out of my teeth from time to time – I recognize flying wood when I see it. Colicos joyfully spits toothpicks out in every scene. He uses the entire spectrum of performance to let us know in both broad and subtle strokes that we’re watching talent. His physical strut as Kor enters a room, his vocal range and phrasing (no one has ever turned the word “vegetable” into a full course meal like he does), and even just his resting stare draw the viewer into his compelling presence. Kor is my favorite Klingon in all of Trek hands down, I wanted to see Kirk battle him again and again, and it’s all due to John Colicos’s acting choices. 

One of my favorite sayings is that it’s better to be type cast than not cast – it means you do something very well, well enough to do it again and again. Colicos played villains like Kor throughout his TV career – he was clearly type cast – but he never seemed to savior playing evil and enjoy those moments as much as he did with Kor. We love to hate our villains, we love to hate Klingons and we owe it all to John Colicos.   

4) Guest Star: Robert Walker, Jr., as Charlie Evans in “Charlie X.”

“Oh please! Don’t let them take me! I can’t even touch them!…Please, I want to stay..stay…stay….stay…..stay……stay……stay.”

It took me a long time to appreciate the performance Robert Walker, Jr. gives as “Charlie” in this episode, because it always made me uncomfortable to watch it. Then I realized that’s exactly why it’s so good. The ship Charlie was on crashed when he was an infant, and 17 years later he’s discovered. Charlie has never interacted with “his own kind” before, he’s been alone all of his 17 years. The innocence when he asks “is that a girl?” upon seeing a female for the first time is endearing.

Charlie was given God-like powers by the Thasians (advanced non-corporeal Beings) who initially found him, so that he could survive. Needless to say, our intrepid Enterprise crew is unaware of Charlie’s power until he starts to use it. Charlie quickly learns that his power makes him a god around other humans. Walker plays the part in a defensive, almost constant reactive state – he literally doesn’t know the limits of what is acceptable in human interaction. Like many adolescents who encounter raging hormones and feelings they don’t understand, his first reaction is fear, he’s awkward, and then begins to lash out.

Walker’s 17-year-old plays love, fear, hate, regret – he gets the gambit of character choices, and plays them with such conviction that he makes the viewer uneasy. Charlie is a difficult boy – but is it his fault? The performance makes us ask – would we forgive Charlie? Should we forgive? What would we have done with Charlie? The answers to those hard questions is what makes us feel uneasy – and it’s Robert Walker, Jr.’s performance that makes us ask them. Even after all the horrible things Charlie has done, his fading “stay…stay…stay” as the Thaisians (who have tracked him down), arrive to take him away, makes us sad. There are many ways to gauge the “success” of a performance, and for most people it’s how the actor has made them feel. We feel Charlie’s despair as he fades from our plain of existence, and even though he should be punished, we ask ourselves – should we have made a better case to save him? The one thing that does “stay” with you after watching this episode, is Walker’s sad, tragic, doomed, fate, to be forever alone.

3) Guest Star: Nancy Kovack as Nona in “A Private Little War.”

“We must fight or die! Is dying better?!”

Twice in my young life Nancy Kovack captured my heart – both in that impressionable sweet spot called “early adolescence.” First as Medea in Ray Harryhausen’s masterpiece “Jason and the Argonauts,” and secondly as “Nona,” the “Kahn-ut-tu Woman” in this dark, sobering episode.

Captain Kirk describes the Kahn-ut-tu as “the local witch people,” but Nona is no green faced Margret Hamilton. Dressed in revealing tight leather pants and a top that frames Ms. Kovack’s natural gifts in a bright orange frock – along with her long black hair, Nona could not have been more bewitching to this young boy. It didn’t hurt that the girl I had a long crush on in school, at least in my mind, looked just like Ms. Kovack’s Nona. “L” was my “Kahn-ut-tu Woman” – as adults I even told her about my then feelings. The comparison as complement was lost on her, but I digress.

Nona is a brave performance, a strong female character clearly motivated by sex and power – and not afraid to use both as she manipulates the men around her to quench her desires and forward her ambitions. But beyond being a tempting vixen, Ms. Kovack’s character is also the voice of reason – she can not understand the pacifist leanings of her tribes’ chief, her husband, in the face of impending slaughter. Nona’s ambition and need for power is her undoing as she pays the ultimate price for betraying her husband – but by doing so unwittingly motivates him to become the cold blooded killer she wanted.

Novack could not be more calculating, mysterious, and alluring, in a performance that a lesser actress would have made one dimensional. When Nona dies, and we see how it has changed the man she loved, we are sad. Sad for the innocence of a man, of a world, that is now lost. This episode stays with you, for so many reasons, not the least of which is the bewitching witch that is Ms. Kovack’s Kahu-tu-tu Woman. 

2) Guest Star: William Windom as Commodore Matthew Decker in “The Doomsday Machine.”

“But don’t you understand?! We’ve got to destroy it!”

The guilt of causing the deaths of those you’re entrusted to protect – those you would give your life to save – is thankfully beyond what most of us will ever experience. That state of mind, or lack there of, is where William Windom’s performance as Commodore Decker begins. Windom’s Decker is Shakespearean in its depth of despair, a yawning gulf of damage and loss, and we feel it. The tearful breakdown Windom performs, as he describes the horrific fate of his crew – who were begging him to save them – is palatable for the viewer. He’s broken and damaged beyond salvation. 

The episode is a Moby Dick story, and Windom is our driven, obsessed, irrational, Ahab. When Ahab gets another shot at the white whale he grabs a harpoon (or the Enterprise), and chases him once more. In such a large performance, it’s one of Windom’s smallest moments that sticks with me. In a standoff with Spock over command of the Enterprise, Spock gives us one of his most famous lines -“Vulcan’s never bluff,” – but it’s Windom’s reaction that is noteworthy: a whiff of bigotry. Spock has the misfortune to be the target of bigotry on a number of occasions in the series. Here, Windom’s Decker replies to the bluff comment with a brief pause, a hard cold stare, then says “No, no I don’t suppose that they do.” The delivery is calculated and deliberate, and so subtle, as to make it even more suggestive. The fact that Windom pulls this small moment off in what is otherwise a larger than life performance, makes it all the more effective. Commodore Decker dies in the line of duty. 

1) Guest Star: Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh in “Space Seed.”

“We offered the World order!” 

Many of my favorite performances are by actors who can do what I call “Big Real” – an over the top performance of a larger than life character, and yet we believe them. Think George C. Scott in Patton, or anything Peter O’Toole ever played. A charismatic, intelligent, brave, womanizing, handsome, leader. I could be describing Captain Kirk, but I’m describing the most distinctive villain in the entire run of The Original Series: Khan Noonien Singh, aka – KHAN.

Ricardo Montalban portrays a genetically engineered superman from Earth’s past – a military dictator with sway over millions on the Earth of the 1990’s, who escaped into space as the warring powers of the time closed in on him. Escaped to live, to fight, to conquer, another day. Khan is a villain as big as Kirk’s hero – and that’s probably why I love this performance. Our regulars begrudgingly respect Khan, and so does the viewer. Khan’s story touches Earth’s past, in Earth’s future.

Montalban’s distinctive voice and actor presence delivers a driven charismatic character that knows he’s the smartest, strongest, most alpha male in the room – in any room of any time.  Khan exudes a confidence that is the essence of the man all women want, and all men want to be. Montalban’s Khan can only win – and even in defeat he gets a chance at victory another day. The challenge Kirk gives him is one we want to see Khan succeed with. Have YOU ever read Milton? Star Trek has lots of larger than life Super Beings, but Ricardo Montalban’s is one of the few we love, and want to see more of, and got to see more of.  It’s no secret why “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is the best Star Trek feature film – Super Hero Kirk vs Super Villain Khan is a fight millions never get tired of watching, including me. 

Honorable mention:
6) Frank Gorshin as Bele, in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”
7) Joseph Ruskin as Master Thrall, Galt, in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” 
8) Logan Ramsey as Claudius Marcus in “Bread and Circuses.”
9) Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, in “Mudd’s Women.”
10) Julie Newmar as Eleen, in “Friday’s Child.” 

Computer Guest Star: Nomad, in “The Changeling.”

“My function is to probe for biological infestations, to destroy that which is not perfect. I am Nomad.” 

This is one of my very favorite episodes, because it starts with such a great hook. An attack on the Enterprise by a foe that is far more powerful and clearly has no interest in talking. The destruction of the Enterprise is just business, so best get to it. But by the stroke of luck (and a good script), the powerful foe that’s attacking the Enterprise is actually a computer, a space probe, that had its origin on Earth. It has become something far beyond what it was intended to be, but it still has a soft spot for mommy – and it thinks Kirk is mommy. Or father to be exact.

Voiced by Vic Perrin, who is most famous for the opening narration to the classic 60’s science fiction series “The Outer Limits.” Other than Nomad, my favorite turn by Mr. Perrin is as the voice of “Dr. Zin” in the classic Hanna-Barbera TV series Jonny Quest. Perrin appears on camera in one episode of Trek (Mirror, Mirror), and voiced not just Nomad, but also the “Metron” in the episode “Arena.” One actor appears in three of Treks best episodes, guessing he has something to do with why those episodes are considered so good. Perrin infuses the flat mechanical voice of Nomad with a sense of pride, and driven purpose. This computer has a personality, and even what appears to be a sense of humor. If Nomad just sounded like a static computer voice, like say the one used for M-5 in “The Ultimate Computer” we would not feel the implied danger that being in it’s existence every moment actually is. Perrin’s vocal talent wins the day, as our favorite Vulcan might say, we’re fascinated by his Nomad, but also afraid. That’s a hard needle to thread, and Perrin stitches it perfectly. 

Just #!&^ing Stop

So as many of you know from my non-stop and regularly scheduled gloating, I’m retired.  I’m now allowed by statute to yell “Get off my lawn!” to people who get on my lawn.  I’ve not yet gotten to the point of calling anyone younger than 60 a young whippersnapper, a term which I never really understood, but I’m reading a book on my Kindle about how to be an effective curmudgeon.  I’ll get there.  Give me a minute or two, please.

Being of advanced age, I’m starting (who am I kidding, I’ve been doing this for years) to tell the same stories over and over again and prefacing them with “I’m sure I’ve told you this before, so stop me if you know this already.”  No one does, thankfully.  And I get senior specials pretty much everywhere except the strip clubs where I am universally ignored like I have been since I was 18.

Anyway, this is going to be a very curmudgeonly post.  So be forewarned.  And get off my lawn, you young whippersnapper!

Elected officials: what the hell is wrong with you?  Used to be that you folks could get together, hammer out legislation that may not have been everything that you wanted, but would benefit everyone at least a little bit. You’d compromise to the benefit of our great nation.  That’s worked pretty well for us certainly during my unusually long lifetime.

So why is it now that you insist on blindly following the wishes of your party?  Blindly is a gross understatement – y’all are deaf and dumb as well.  Why is it that none of you cross the aisle anymore?  Why is it that nearly none of you do your fucking jobs and represent the people whose interests you’re supposed to represent? Why do you blindly support whatever party jackass is calling the shots?  Really?  Is that what you were elected to do? 

News flash:  it wasn’t.

Just fucking stop! 

Do your goddamn jobs and stop putting party above nation.  Seriously, knock that shit off.  You swore to “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that [you would] bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”  Not “… support and defend my party leadership against anyone and anything.” I don’t think those words are anywhere in that oath.

Supposedly, you took that “…obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  Most importantly, every one of you no bullshit swore that you would “…well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Well, I hope that God intervenes soon ‘cause you’re failing miserably.  And I’m having a tough time explaining to my kids that government is letting all of us down right now and that their futures are so phenomenally fucked that I want to blow my brains out just thinking about it.  Sorry, dudes.  Really.  I did three months shy of 29 years in the military an another five in federal civil service hoping that you’d have a great world in which you could thrive.  Fat lot of good that did, huh?

It wasn’t enough.

I used to be a news director, didja know that?  Well, an assistant news director in a staff of three.  I learned some hard lessons in journalism one of which that I wasn’t very good at it, terrible in fact.  So I chose back then to leave it to the professionals because I felt GOOD journalism was so important that that I didn’t want to screw it up.  So I became and actor where pretending is not just OK, it’s encouraged.  I was a lot better at that.

So journalists, this is for you. 

Just fucking stop. 

Stop with the opinions. Tell me facts.  Just the facts.  Joe Friday wanted just the facts.  Be like Joe Friday.

If you’d give us a chance, we are capable of deciding for ourselves what’s going on and we don’t need you to tell us what to think.  I know how to do that all by myself.  If you tell us what HAPPENED, we can figure out what to THINK.  That’s the appropriate division of labor.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.  You tell me what — no bullshit — happened, and we’ll make our own decisions.  We can’t possibly be everywhere to see what happens, but we CAN figure out what to think if you do your job and tell us what happened.

You know, I wouldn’t have a problem with Fox News, MSNBC or CNN or any of ‘em if instead of calling themselves 24-hour news channels, they called themselves 2-hour news channels and 22-hour opinion channels.  Just bill yourselves as what you are, purveyors of spin.  Be honest.  Stop pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.  Stop with the spin already. 

Just fucking stop.

And get off my lawn!!

Seriously, folks, get off the grass.  It’s not my fault that there are no sidewalks in this neighborhood.  Walk in the fucking street.  You won’t die.  Unless I am driving, then your chances of survival are significantly reduced, ‘cause I’m old, remember?  Really old.  Like I remember the Eisenhower Administration old.

Speaking of good ol’ Dwight, he championed the Interstate system that opened the nation to commerce in ways previously unimagined.

What have you done lately, Federal government, that is even fractionally beneficial to the whole country like the Interstate system, hmm?  Go on.  Take your time.  I’ll wait. 

Yeah, yeah, full disclosure:  I worked for the Federal government and I’ll tell you, in the facility in which I worked, everyone worked their collective asses off to make the highways in the U.S. safer, cheaper to build, and last longer. They worked together to benefit the nation and its citizens.  They were an impressive lot.

So to our elected representatives, just fucking stop blind loyalty to your party.  To our media companies, just fucking stop with the opinion shit – or at least bill it accurately.   Seriously, you folks.

Just. Fucking. Stop.

Nerd Alert! This is a Ham Radio Post

I’ve been doing this ham radio thing for about a year and a half now.  I have a couple more observations to add to the blog post I wrote last year.

1.   The amount of learning required to get started is not massive.  You can get started with a relative minimum of technological knowledge and if that’s all you want, you can do quite a bit.  But…

If you want to get really good at it or learn the nitty, gritty details of how and why things work, it’s a daunting task.  I’ve said before that it’s a bottomless pit of things to learn and from my perspective, it can be pretty overwhelming.  Having said that, …

2.  … established ham operators are, for the most part, more than willing to share their knowledge and experience if you just ask.  If you pop up on the air with a question, chances are pretty good that you can get an answer or at the very least a clue about how to proceed.  The experienced operators are a magnificent resource if you’re stuck or just need an explanation of something you don’t understand.

3.  If you make a mistake and do something incorrectly, most hams are very forgiving.  It’s likely that they’ve made a similar mistake at one time and they don’t hold your boo-boos against you.  I still dread screwing up, but at least there’s no ridicule from it. 

So far as I know.  (Maybe people are laughing and pointing at me on other channels.) 

4.  There’s a Young Operators’ Net on Sunday and there’s an eleven-year-old young woman who runs the net.  She’s terrific and does a really top-notch job of net control.  Hearing those young voices on the air leads me to believe that…

5.  …ham radio is not a dead hobby.  Far from it, matter of fact. 

One of the things that surprised me when I finally dove into ham radio was that technology has advanced the amateur radio hobby into the 21st century.  With at least three or four digital voice protocols and an untold number of digital data protocols, you can get a message through in any number of ways including the old standards like CW and SSB.  There are orbiting digital satellites that ham operators can use.  You can bounce a radio signal off the moon and back to Earth if you can figure out how to do that.  You can even communicate with the astronauts on the International Space Station.  If you’re willing to put in the time to study how to use these modes of communication, you can do it. 

Literally, the sky’s the limit.


6.  For we Hollywood types, there’s a working ham radio shack on the set of “Last Man Standing,” the TV show on Fox starring Tim Allen of “Home Improvement” fame.  Every once in a while, I’m told that someone on set fires up the on-set radio and communicates with the rest of we mere mortal operators, though I’ve not had that pleasure yet.

Here’s some more details: http://www.arrl.org/news/last-man-standing-moving-to-fox-network   (The photo is from the article.)

7.  You don’t have to be crazy rich to get started.  Once you are licensed, a new, entry-level handheld digital radio can be had for Amazon points, if you have enough of ‘em.  Even if you don’t, you can get in for less than $100 if you watch the sales.  If you’re OK with used equipment, you can get in for about half that.  If amateur radio interests you, cost need not be a barrier to entry.

8.  Ham radio operators help during natural disasters.  Here’s an excerpt of an NPR piece about how amateur radio stepped up to help Puerto Rico in 2017:

MCEVERS: How many messages have you relayed since the hurricane hit?

DOBER: Myself about a hundred.

MCEVERS: Oh, wow. And what’s – what are one or two that, you know, are you know you’re going to remember for a long time?

DOBER: Honestly, there was one woman who – she just broke down in tears when I told her. And she actually called me back five minutes later and she basically asked me, you just called me. And what you told me, I want to hear it again to make sure I heard it right.

MCEVERS: And what had you told her?

DOBER: I told her that, yes, I did call you five minutes ago. And the news I gave you is the news that your loved one is OK.

MCEVERS: And so she just had to hear it one more time?

DOBER: She had to hear it one more time, yes. And like I said, as soon as I told her – and it’s odd because you’re telling people – I mean, I was calling people in California, in Texas. And you’re telling them, hi, I’m from Pittsburgh, Pa., and I have news out of Arecibo for you or out of Puerto Rico. So for them it’s kind of like, what? You know, that’s not the way they’re expecting to get their news.

Here’s the whole article from NPR:  https://www.npr.org/2017/09/29/554600989/amateur-radio-operators-stepped-in-to-help-communications-with-puerto-rico

Here’s another article from NBC:  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/puerto-rico-amateur-radio-operators-are-playing-key-role-puerto-n805426

And one more from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/27/us/puerto-rico-maria-ham-radio-operators-trnd/

9.  I’ll quote myself from the original set of observations on this one:

People are people everywhere. I’ve made this observation about every country I’ve physically visited, and the international amateur radio community is no exception. I’ve talked on the radio with people from several different countries. I marvel at the universality of the experience among the operators I hear on the air. Korea, Canada, The Philippines, Australia, the UK, South America. It really shouldn’t surprise me how similar we humans are to our brethren ham operators around the world, but it did. It reinforces my contention that people are people no matter where you go. Governments may suck – and most do – but people are people everywhere. I find that very comforting.

This remains true and still amazes me every time.

10.  This isn’t an observation, but a shout-out to Jeff, aka VE6DV, from Canada who’s just happens to be moving this week.  He is our weekly net controller and runs the net superbly.  He’s all the things that’s right about amateur radio.  He’s helpful, friendly and welcoming.  And the net he runs has gained popularity because of the way he does it.  He deserves public kudos so here they are.

11.  One more shout-out, this time to Andrew Taylor, MW0MWZ, in the UK.  He authors and maintains a software package which allows amateur radio operators to extend their reach from tens of miles to all the miles.  His software makes worldwide communications easy to use.  It’s free and he’s WAY more responsive to questions and answers than any professional tech support company.  So thanks, Andy, for writing and maintaining Pi-Star.  Well done!

Bottom line for me:  I am thankful that my son, Jon (left), poked me in the eye about my license awhile back.  Jon, don’t make the same mistake I did and wait 50 years to get your license.  It’s a great hobby and really tests my technical expertise every time I sit down at the radio. (That’s other son, Andy in the background, circa mid ’90’s.)

If a person’s brain really IS a use-it-or-lose-it proposition as we age, this is a great way to exercise the ol’ noggin.  Amateur radio is a great way to exercise your mind and help keep you sharp. 

This concludes today’s nerd alert.