Saturday, November 9, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Tuna from Ghana

     This is actually my third blog post about a product from Ghana.  (The others were about a Ghanaian candy on April 13, 2016, and a Ghanaian soft drink on October 13, 2018.)  It's another So It Is African Market find.  And while the company which owns and distributes this tuna is American, the fish itself is a product of that African nation.
     The company which produced this canned tuna was Pioneer Food Cannery, Ltd., which to add to the cosmopolitan nature appears to be Thai.  However, I wasn't able to find out much of anything about this firm online.  So, therefore, I'll focus on what I could learn, which was about the overall parent company, StarKist.  StarKist was created in San Pedro, California, in 1917 by a Croatian immigrant named Martin J. Bogdanovich and some unnamed partners.  Originally the company's name was the French Sardine Company.  By 1942 the company marketed under the StarKist name, though, and by 1953 the company title formally switched to StarKist.  StarKist has been bought out by other businesses several times over the years.  Heinz acquired them in 1963, and then Del Monte did so in 2002.  And, finally, in either 2006 or 2008 (sources differ), Dongwon Industries of Korea became the owner.
     I'm sad to report that StarKist has some skeletons in the closet.  A class action lawsuit was filed in 2015 claiming that the company had deliberately under filled 5 ounce cans of tuna.  By September of 2019 a settlement was reached, and consumers received coupons or small payouts.  More dramatically, StarKist, along with its giant competitors Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, were guilty of felony price fixing.  Chicken of the Sea cooperated early with prosecutors, so they got off with no fine.  But Bumble Bee had to pay a fine of $25,000,000, and StarKist $100,000,000.  Reportedly Bumble Bee's fine was lower because it was thought that the company would have gone bankrupt if it was forced to pay the larger fine.
     Anyway, here's what I thought about the food itself:

1) StarKist tuna flakes, in sunflower oil:  Came in a 170 gram can.  Eaten plain it tasted like regular canned tuna.  Otherwise I had it mixed with mayo as a sandwich on 10 grain bread.  And it tasted like regular tuna once again, only oilier.  (I usually have tuna packed in water.)  I didn't detect a difference in the "flakes" rather than the usual shredded chunks of tuna.  So overall I thought StarKist tuna flakes were okay, and made for a solid tuna sandwich.  I prefer the tuna packed in water, but this was alright.  And to be fair I've never noticed much of a difference in canned tuna brands--they all pretty much taste the same.  Fresh is better, but canned is acceptable.

     Finally, when the average person hears "StarKist," they probably think of the company's corporate mascot--a cartoon anthropomorphic tuna fish named Charlie.  Charlie was created by Tom Rogers of the Leo Burnett ad agency back in 1961.  (I read that "Vampira" portrayer Maila Nurmi claimed that actor James Dean drew a prototype of Charlie on a napkin at a coffee shop in Hollywood before his official birth, but this appears to be a weird myth.)  Burnett's agency also produced the Pillsbury Doughboy character, the lonely Maytag repairman, and the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout mascots.  Anyway, Charlie the Tuna was voiced by a television and Broadway actor Herschel Bernardi (until his death in 1986), and the signature tagline of the advertisement was a narrator telling the character "Sorry Charlie."  Going further into this character's minutia, I learned that the bachelor Charlie actually had a love interest for a short time in 1991, with the "Premia" character, who was used to promote StarKist's Chunk Light Tuna brand.  Also, the tiny town of Charleston, Oregon has had a Charlie the Tuna statue since 1968.  Unfortunately some rowdy teens stole and burnt the statue in 2008, but the townspeople pooled their resources and a replacement statue was quickly erected.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Belgian Biscuits

     Lately I've been doing a lot of posts about my initial experiences with various countries' edibles and drinkables.  This isn't the case today.  I've done at least one about Belgium's wares (see my February 24, 2018 post, about Belgian beverages), and this is another.  Also, unlike many of my recent posts, the products discussed here weren't bought at an exotic grocery--these were found at my local Shop Rite supermarket.  Anyway, the three biscuit types were all from the Lotus company, specifically the Biscoff, Dinosaurus, and Biscoff To Go cookies.
     The Lotus company dates back to 1932.  It was started by the Boone brothers--Jan, Emiel, and Henri.  Jan seems to have been the chef/cookie inventor, so evidently Emiel and Henri handled the bookkeeping, or marketing, or something.  Apparently their initial inspiration was to make biscuits for breakfast, and speculoos for St. Nicholas Day celebrations (on December 5th).  Speculoos biscuits are a traditional type of special shortcrust cookies, which are thin, crunchy, and usually shaped like various forms, like an elephant, a farmhouse, or a ship.  These biscuits are made in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg.  However, the brothers' most popular item was their Biscoff biscuits, noted for their caramelized, crunchy, and unique flavor, often dunked in coffee.  In fact, the name of this biscuit is a combo of these--the "Bis" is from "biscuit," and the "coff" from "coffee."  Other Lotus products include gingerbread biscuits, Breton French butter cookies, French shortbread biscuits, spreadable cookie butter, infant/toddler treats, and cookie-flavored ice cream.  The firm boasts about 1600 employees, and is sold in about 50 countries worldwide, including the U.S., much of Europe, Chile, China, and Korea.  In the 1950's Lotus started individually wrapping Biscoff cookies, which was quite popular with consumers, but presumably disliked by trash collectors and environmentalists.  The website claims that 6,000,000,000 Biscoff biscuits are made annually, and enjoyed on all 7 continents.  So unless the Lotus company is exaggerating, scientists in Antarctica also chow down on them, huddled in their bunkers, trying to avoid The Thing's awful tentacles.

1) Lotus Biscoff biscuits:  These are roughly rectangular cookies, about 7 cm. by 3 cm. (about 2.75 inches by 1.25 inches), brownish in color, with scalloped edges.  "Lotus" is embossed on each one.  These were just okay.  Crunchy.  Not that sweet. 

2) Lotus Dinosaurus cookies:  These were slightly bigger--about 3 inches by 2.25 inches (about 7 cm. by 5 cm.) chocolate on one side, light yellowish brown cookie on the other, shaped like a stegosaurus dinosaur, obviously.  Again, kind of disappointing, as they were alright, but not great.  Even with the milk chocolate coating on half of it.

3) Lotus Biscoffs to go:  This kind consisted of 7 cm long (about 3 inches) yellow breadstick-like rods which you dip into a small tub of brown cookie butter.  The butter itself looks like peanut butter.  The rods are very plain by themselves.  However, they're pretty decent when dipped.  Better than the other two biscuit kinds.

    So, in summation, I wasn't dazzled by the Lotus biscuits/cookies.  As has happened before, I tend to find European cookies to be less sweet than the kinds I really enjoy.  I'm too familiar with overly sugary American style cookies, I suppose.  To be fair, since I despise coffee, both as a beverage and a flavor, I didn't dip the Biscoffs in that liquid, since that would have automatically made me hate the results.  I would try some of the Lotus ice cream, though.  Finally, I did kind of like the Biscoff commercial I saw on the website.  It features of bunch of coffee mugs which jump off a shelf and then climb a counter to get at a guy's Biscoffs.  They do so in a "World War Z" pyramid-style fashion.  It was sort of creepy when I (over) thought about it, in a fun sort of way.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Impossible Whopper vs. Whopper

     While watching sports on television recently--I can't recall whether it was an NFL game, or the MLB playoffs--I actually found myself paying close attention to a commercial.  Which is weird for me--usually I read a book or magazine during the ad break, or use the bathroom, or at the very least pay the television screen no mind.  (I know many (most?) U.S. viewers have TiVo, or the like, and may fast forward through all commercials, but in my Luddite household we don't have that technology.)  Anyway, it was for the Impossible Whopper, from the Burger King fast food chain, which is their meatless burger.  After test marketing it in several locations, this product was made available worldwide in early August of 2019.  I was intrigued.  Only a few days later I brought home both an Impossible Whopper, and its, "Possible," regular, original meat-ed kin.  To do a proper comparison.
     As it turns out, meatless burgers have become a bit of a trend in the restaurant world recently, even with fast food establishments.  To mention just some of them, Carl's Jr., The Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, A & W, Hardee's, Dave & Busters, and TGI Fridays all have one.  Even the (in)famous White Castle does!  You may be asking, "What about McDonald's, the undisputed king of burgers?"  Well, they're trailing behind a little.  They have a meatless burger being sold in Germany currently, called the Big Vegan TS, and reportedly a meatless chicken nugget variety somewhere else in Europe, but nothing in the U.S. thus far.  Probably this will change if the Burger King Impossible Whopper, or the other chains' meatless burgers are huge successes, I suppose.  There seems to be two main kinds of meatless burger sold by these places--a pea protein-based one (called a Beyond Burger), and a wheat/potato/soy protein-based kind, usually referred to as an Impossible Burger.
     The makeup of the Impossible Whopper is complicated.  DNA from leghemoglobin from soybean roots is first extracted, and then fermented with genetically engineered yeast, somewhat similar to the brewing process of certain Belgian beers.  This is called the "heme."  This heme is then combined with potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, methylcellulose, and food starch to make the actual burger patty.  Originally, in 2016, the recipe also included wheat.  However, by 2019 the wheat was phased out.  Therefore the Impossible Whopper is now billed as gluten-free.  Which, of course, is only the case if the patty is eaten without the bun.  There's been some controversy in the vegetarian/vegan community about the burger, though.  Because unless the customer asks specifically, the Impossible Whopper is cooked in the same broiler with its meat-ed cousins.  Meaning some contamination would occur.  So bear that in mind if you're strict about such things.  Also, Burger King usually puts mayo on the burger, so if you're vegan you'll have to ask that it be left off, along with no cheese, too.  Speaking of dietary restrictions, the Impossible Whopper is certified Halal and Kosher.
     Anyway, here's what I did.I tried to make it as scientifically valid as I could, without getting too nuts.  Meaning the experiment was single blind--I had someone cut up each burger into quarters, and then I ate each piece separately, and predicted which one it was.  After I was finished with both, I compared my list with what was actually served.  Alas, Burger King hadn't put ketchup on the burgers, so I did need to take the top bun off every sample and apply this condiment.  I did though, try to do this quickly, and without looking as much as possible.  Since each Whopper had lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mayo, and cheese on it, I didn't get a good look at the patty.  I also avoided much or any contact or conversation with my server, to avoid a "Clever Hans" type break of scientific accuracy.  Before I started I thought this test would be relatively easy.  I've had several meatless burgers over the years (see September 14, 2014 post), and always found them to be distinctively different than meat-ed ones.  Even the meatless burgers I thought tasted okay still were markedly different.  However, to my shock, I had enormous difficulty telling the Impossible Whopper apart from the regular Whopper.  So much so that I just gave it my best guesses.  The results were telling.  The first four samples I got wrong, and the last four I guessed right.  Or, basically, it was a coin flip.
     So, a reader might be saying, "The Impossible Whopper is a success!  He couldn't tell the difference between it and the kind made with beef."  And yes, in that way the Impossible Whopper was a success, at least to my taste buds.  Kudos to the Burger King chefs and food scientists--the heme and starch and such really mimicked the meat.  But, important caveat--both these burgers weren't great.  They were both mediocre at best.  As far as burgers go, I much prefer those from White Castle, or Red Robin, or Fuddruckers, or Five Guys, or Wendy's, get the idea.  Even McDonald's burgers are better.  All in all, if you'r a fan of the Burger King Whopper, you might well enjoy the Impossible Whopper as a change of pace.  Or if you've recently become vegetarian or vegan (assuming you get them to prepare it separately, etc).  And it wasn't terrible.  So even if you're not a huge fan of Burger King, you might want to give it a try, for an experiment, or a goof.  But my recommendations for the Impossible Whopper (and the regular kind) must be only lukewarm.
     Finally, if you're thinking about having the Impossible Whopper because it's healthier, well, that's only slightly true, sort of.  It actually has more carbs and sodium than the beef kind.  Also, the burger's calories, fat, and saturated fat totals are lower, but only by a little bit--630 vs. 660, 34 vs. 40, and 10 vs. 12, respectively.  Moving on, I guess extracting DNA from roots is expensive, as the Impossible Whopper was pretty pricey--both kinds of Whopper were over $5.00.  (For the single burgers--I didn't get a value meal.)

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--3 Indian Soft Drinks

     Just so there's no confusion, this post will be about drinks from the country of India, and not those enjoyed and manufactured by Native Americans.  On that note, Happy (slightly belated) Indigenous People's Day!  As you might expect, I got these three beverages from that great grocery store I recently "discovered", India Bazaar in Stratford, NJ.  The ones I'll talk about are Sosyo mixed fruit drink from the Hajoori company, Ashoka mango milk from KFPL, and the Nature's Best Kashmiri soda (spicy soda).
     Alas, I wasn't able to find out much of anything about the KFPL company, such as from an official company website.  The distribution company was ADF, for American Dry Fruits, which in addition to Indian cuisine also distributes Mexican and Mediterranean fare.  ADF started in 1932.  The mango milk drink is a canned version of a mango lassi, the common smoothie-like drink in basically every Indian restaurant.  The drink was a product of India, though.
     Similarly, I wasn't able to learn anything about the Nature's Best firm, and just a bit about the distributor.  The distribution company was IGS, short for Indian Groceries & Spices, Inc.  This business was started in 1971 by Shirish Sanghavi, and it distributes Indian, or Indian-style pickles, spices, rice, flour, oil, ghee, and other drinks to the U.S. and Canada.  Nirav is one of their brand names.  However, spicy soda, or Masala soda (Masala means "spice mix"), is hugely popular in India, especially during hot times of the year.  It's a common street vendor drink, and has several variants.  One, called "nimbu," is a spicy lemon or lime flavored drink.  Masala soda itself is made with a combination of regular white salt, black salt, cumin, amchor (dried sour mango), ginger, tumeric, black pepper, chili pepper, mint, and/or dried pomegranate seed powder.  Black salt (aka kala namak) is salt infused with sulfur, which provides its distinctive pungent, eggy odor and flavor.  Not surprisingly, big corporations have tried their hands at these drinks, and even Coke and Pepsi sell version of spicy soda in India.
     The Hajoori company dates back to 1923, started by a man named Abbas Rahim Hajoori.  Hajoori decided he wanted to make an Indian soft drink to compete against the U.K.'s Vimto (see my June 9, 2013 post for more about that drink), so he created his own fruity soda.  It went through a couple of name changes:  For a while in the 1950's it was called Socio, reportedly after the Latin word for social, socious.  However, the moniker eventually reverted back to Sosyo soon after.  The Sosyo brand is evidently huge in India, and is considered the country's traditional, flagship brand.  The company even has drink stands called "The Sosyo Cult."  Hajoori itself markets over 100 different drinks, including various fruit flavors, their own Kashmiri spicy soda, an energy drink, and bottled water.  They export to many nations, including South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, Switzerland, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

1) Hajoori Sosyo mixed fruit drink:  Came in a small, 250 mL (8.45 ounce) can, and was a brown color. Contained a small amount (7%) of apple juice, and 3% lemon juice.  This was was just mediocre, or "meh."  I found its sweetness a bit cloying.  Alright, but not exceptional.

2) KFPL badam mazaa, mango milk drink:  Was a yellowish color, and came in a 180 mL (6.08 ounce) can.  Drink was 88% cow milk, and apparently no actual mangoes--it was listed as "nature identical flavor (mango) .08%."  It also had almonds in it.  I should say I adore mango lassies, so I was hopeful going in.  And this canned version didn't disappoint--I really enjoyed this drink quite a lot.  Very tasty.

3) Nature's Best, Nirav, Kashmiri soda (spicy soda):  This one came in a plastic bottle (300 mL/10.1 ounces) and was a brownish hue.  What an odd experience!  Spicy soda was one of the weirdest soft drinks I've ever had, with a unique flavor.  It tasted like some crunchy snack food.  No sweetness at all, just savory.  But here's the thing--it worked.  It had its own special charm, and I loved it.  I will definitely seek this kind of soda, and this particular brand, out again.  Congrats to the soft drink makers of India--what an amazing idea for a beverage.  Spicewise, the listed ingredients were cumin and salt, and I don't know if this was regular salt, or the black, kala namak sulfur kind.

     Therefore, all in all I was favorably impressed by these Indian drinks.  Two of them were at least very good, and even the weakest one was still alright.  Plus it was neat to try something different in a soft drink (for two of them, at least).  Most countries just have their similar versions of cola, or various common fruit flavored soft drinks, so it was refreshing to have something off the beaten path.  I'll definitely buy the mango milk and spicy soda drinks again, and look to try other company's takes on them as well.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Underrated Horror Gems--"Dog Soldiers"

    A few months ago, on July 20, 2019, I talked about a werewolf movie that I really enjoyed--"Ginger Snaps."  In it I happened to mention the other werewolf movies which I think are the best ones, including the subject of today's post, "Dog Soldiers".  Which, as the title suggests, I don't think gets its due.  Anyway, I'll follow my usual pattern of a brief spoiler-free synopsis, followed by a longer, spoiler-saturated recap, and conclude with a discussion of some of the movie's strengths and themes, and then a bit of info about the cast and crew.
     A small squad of English soldiers are sent on weekend maneuvers in an isolated part of Scotland.  It's some war games for the six of them.  However, the area they're in is infamous for mysterious disappearances of hikers and campers.  The squad eventually meets up with another group of military men, and learn a disaster is going on.  Someone, or somethings, are hunting them, and it's for real.  The survivors make it to an isolated farm house, where they make a last stand against their inexplicable enemies.  More surprises occur, and more deaths.  Will anyone be alive when dawn breaks?
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL MARKED)  "Dog Soldiers" opens in the Scottish wilderness, where a happy couple is camping.  After an exchange of gifts, including a silver letter opener, the man and woman retreat to their tent and begin to have sex.  However, a furry arm reaches in and pulls the woman out, and after a bloody struggle, does the same to the man.
     The action abruptly shifts to North Wales, where a man is running from soldiers.  It's Private Cooper, who is being tested by a Special Forces group, led by Captain Ryan.  Cooper fails the initiation when he refuses Ryan's order to kill the tracker dog.  After a break of four weeks, we're back in the remote Scottish forest, as a helicopter drops off six men--Privates Cooper, Spoon, Terry and Joe, led by Corporal Bruce and Sergeant Wells.  As this is just an exercise the squad is equipped with blanks for their rifles.  Cooper tells his mates that the area they're in has seen many travelers disappear, with only pools of blood left behind.  The audience learns a little about the men--Bruce is a cynical intellectual, Spoon is very gung-ho, Joe is obsessed with football, and Sergeant Wells is a very tough, but caring leader.  After a dying cow falls off a cliff into their camp, the men are uneasy.  The next day they find the camp of the Special Forces unit they were "battling."  It's a mess--destroyed and abandoned equipment, lots of blood and gore, but no bodies.  Except for Cooper's old nemesis, Captain Ryan, who's wounded but alive.  Ryan is in a raving panic, and the squad's attempts to call for help using their communication equipment fails.  They do manage to locate live ammo for their guns, though, as the Special Forces unit was fully armed.  As they move through the woods in the fading sunlight, half-dragging Ryan, enemies appear.  In their flight Bruce accidentally impales himself on a tree branch, and then is brutally finished off by large furry beasts.  Wells is also severely wounded by a weird attacker, but Cooper manages to drag him away.  The squad races to a road, while having a firefight with the odd creatures pursuing them.  Luckily a vehicle appears on the road, and the men are able to get in just ahead of the monsters.  The driver takes them to what she says is the only home in the area, an isolated farm house.
     At they enter the men find the house empty, but obviously only recently abandoned.  The driver, Megan, says she knows the family that lives there.  She also says the nearest town is four hours away.  Just as the men regroup and decide to drive to the town, they find Megan's Land Rover is destroyed, and then it explodes.  The men retreat back inside ahead of the enemies.  Most of the men board up the doors and windows, while Cooper and Megan treat Well's wound by pushing his intestines back in, and supergluing the wound shut.  Megan says she's a zoologist, and that she came here two years before.  Ryan, meanwhile, has changed dramatically, as he's completely calm, and his wounds are almost miraculously healed up.  The men are suspicious, and tie him up.  An attack by the beasts is barely beaten back, although Terry is pulled out by them.  Megan admits that she knows Ryan, as he hired her to learn about werewolves.  An attempt to get the other vehicle in the barn goes awry, as Joe is killed just as he drives it near the house.  The men interrogate Ryan, and he reveals that their maneuvers were an attempt to capture a werewolf, as a possible biological weapon.  Well's team was the bait, and considered expendable.  Ryan changes into a werewolf, and flees by jumping out a window.  The men realize that the werewolves are the family that lives in the house they're in.  Well's wounds are very healed too--he knows that he's changing into a werewolf as well.  Megan suggests that the werewolf pack will be in the barn, so they get the vehicle into it, and burn the barn down using gasoline and Molotov cocktails.  As they make it back inside, Megan reveals that this was a diversionary trick--she's a werewolf too, and let the others into the house using the back door.  None were in the barn.  Spoon flees into the kitchen, and is eventually killed by the werewolves.  Wells and Cooper go upstairs, and after a battle they break through a  bedroom floor into the kitchen below, which is now vacant.  Wells forces Cooper into the cellar, giving him a roll of film that they've shot of the werewolves.  Wells stays behind, as he's changing.  He manages to explode the house, and the werewolves, by igniting the oven's gas line.  Down in the cellar, Cooper has survived the blast, but Werewolf Ryan attacks him.  As Cooper runs around the cellar he sees many bodies of earlier victims, and some of their belongings.  Cooper stabs Ryan with the silver letter opener, and then shoots him dead when the silver incapacitates Ryan.  The final scenes are Cooper walking out of the destroyed house with the only other survivor, the family's pet dog.  Newspaper clippings and photos tell us that he successfully proved that werewolves exist to the outside world.
     First off, when we're discussing a movie about werewolves, the obvious question is "Do the werewolves look good, and convincing?"  And I think the answer is clearly, "yes."  The filmmakers used the common scheme of hiding the werewolves for the first half or so of the film.  You see them only in quick glimpses, or only parts of their bodies.  However, later you do see them more clearly, and their entire bodies, and they hold up impressively.  Mostly, in my opinion, because they're real actors, in real werewolf suits.  Sure, films laden with CGI monsters would be able to show the werewolves more, and doing more, even elaborate activities, but to my eyes they don't look real--they invariably look cartoon-y and video game-ish.  Give me an actual, elaborate, latex-y, costume, coated in physical slime and blood.  The other special effects are well done too--there are many gunshots, and explosions, and they're all convincing.  The blood and gore (often in the form of people's intestines) shots are similarly strong and disturbing.  So despite their "less is more" strategy, and the overall low budget, the werewolves in "Dog Soldiers" seem creepily plausible.
     Another common question is, "What traditional werewolf tropes does the story use, and which are made up for it?"  For the most part, the werewolves in this movie are quite traditional.  They're turning, it appears, because of the full moon, and they show a weakness to silver, and fire/explosions.  Otherwise, though, they're extremely tough--bullets and blades, and even boiling water hurt them, but they heal up quickly from these wounds.  A person afflicted with lycanthropy seems helpless to change, with an exception I'll get into later.  Probably the biggest difference in the "Dog Soldiers" werewolves is their intelligence, which seems identical to when they're in human form.  They're not dumb beasts--they destroy the vehicles to trap the soldiers, and one of them is able to fire a gun back at the men.  Plus the usual chain of events is followed, in that if a person is wounded, but not immediately killed by a werewolf bite or clawing, they will become one themselves.  Another difference seems to be their feeding habits.  Several human bodies are being aged in the family's cellar, and were probably in the cooking stew, meaning the family (named the Uaths), appear to be eating human flesh even while in human form.  This also means that several (most?) of the soldiers were inadvertent cannibals, too, as they're seen eating the stew, with its unidentified, pork-like meat base.
     Arguably the most interesting, and mysterious character is Megan.  She's doesn't provide much background information, and what she does say may be embellished, or even completely fabricated.  It's safe to assume she joined the werewolf clan recently, but the circumstances are muddled.  Was she a zoologist studying something in the area, and then accidentally got bit and turned?  Or did she go there intentionally to study werewolves, and possibly even wanted to be turned?  Her relationship to Captain Ryan is unclear, too.  Did she do into the Scottish wilderness in the first place because she was hired by Ryan, or did he contact and use her after she'd been turned?  And what were her motivations?  It's implied that she wanted to leave the Uath family, and was hoping that the military had a cure for her werewolf-ism.  Or perhaps she was trying to escape, which is why she wasn't hunting with her "family" as a werewolf during the attack on the military squads.  Although, of course, escaping wouldn't solve her problems, as the next full moon would see her turning into a beast somewhere else, or at least strongly tempted or compelled to do so.  Also, how was she able to resist the full moon as long as she did?  Captain Ryan and Sergeant Wells appear to turn against their will--are they helpless because they're brand new werewolves?  Can you learn to resist?  It sure seems so in Megan's case.  She only gives in and changes after she's given up hope that the soldiers will save her somehow.  We can learn some other things about what happens as well.  It seems like once you change into your werewolf form, you're locked into it until dawn.  Otherwise the Uath family would presumably have done the obvious trick of resuming their human forms, gaining entrance to their house, and then attacking the troops from inside once the time was right.  (Also, the family name is a clue to their nature.  In Gaelic "Uath" means "dread, terror, solitary, or alone," and also, "hawthorn" or the letter "h.")
     Going on, the Uath family's actions seem foolish, in retrospect.  (And, as usual, I realize their actions were surely crafted by the writer/director so the movie would be more interesting, and exciting, but I'm referring to the logic within the story itself.)  Taking an occasional hiker a few times a year would be okay, since people do go missing in the wilderness sometimes under normal circumstances.  But taking out an entire military group is a terrible, self-defeating idea--even if they'd succeeded in killing everyone, the military would surely investigate heavily after that.  Especially since some in the Special Forces knew they were trying to capture a werewolf.  And keeping human bodies, and the victim's possessions in their house would also be clear evidence against the family.  Were they that arrogant?  Or does their blood lust as a werewolf overcome their intelligence in some ways?  This is especially dumb assuming that Megan told them about Captain Ryan, and his team.  They should have lived off cows for a few months or years, until the rumors and suspicion died down.
     One of the movie's influences, aside from the siege-like plot of "Night of the Living Dead," and "Zulu," is the "Alien" series.  The Special Forces, like like the evil Weyland-Yutani company, are bent on capturing werewolves for use as military bio-weapons at all costs, including innocent soldier's lives.  Although, evil as their plan is, at least it makes more sense then trying to use Aliens, (or velociraptors, from the "Jurassic World" movie).  These werewolves could be effective, if properly controlled.  They're able to be human for most of the time, so they could infiltrate an area like a regular human spy.  Then, once turned, they are extremely formidable--unlike those other creatures I referenced, they're invulnerable to most common weapons.  Also, they appear smarter than those other two creatures, too, even while in monster form.  So, yes, this plan, at least the way it was implemented, was evil and unethical.  But at least it had a chance to work.  I don't know enough about writer/director Neil Marshall's political beliefs, to figure out if he's possibly anti-military, or at least anti-Special Forces, and that's why he wrote them the way he did.  It could also be that it was just a way to tell the movie's story, of course.  Either way, it works.  I can't recall another movie which pitted trained soldiers versus werewolves.  (On that note, I recommend the book, "The Wolf''s Hour," by Robert  R. McCammon, which concerns a werewolf who works as a spy.)
     (END OF SPOILERS--SAFE FOR ALL READERS)  English director/writer Neil Marshall has had an up and down career.  "Dog Soldiers" (2002), was his first movie, and is generally well regarded, and his sophomore effort, the claustrophobic, women-in-caves film "The Descent" (2005) was even more lauded, and successful.  Alas, his subsequent movies haven't been as respected.  "Doomsday" (2008), "Centurion" (2010), and the recent "Hellboy" remake (2019), have mostly underwhelmed (I've only seen, and disliked, "Doomsday," but haven't heard good things about the others).  He has, though, directed well respected episodes of several big television shows, such as "Game of Thrones" (2012, 2014), "Black Sails" (2014), "Hannibal" (2015), and "Westworld" (2016).  So hopefully he'll rebound, and start making very good movies again.  Of the actors, "Cooper" portrayer Kevin McKidd is probably best known for roles in such films as "Trainspotting" (1996), "Hideous Kinky" (1998), "De-Lovely" (2004), and "Hannibal Rising" (2007), and major roles in the television shows "Rome" (2005-07) and "Grey's Anatomy" (2008-).  Sean Pertwee (Sergeant Wells), the son of a former "Dr. Who" Doctor, was in such films as "Leon the Pig Farmer" (1992), "Event Horizon" (1997), "The Prophecy: Uprising" (2005), "Devil's Playground" (2010), and "Howl" (2015).  The evil Captain Ryan was played by Liam Cunningham, who was in such movies as "First Knight" (1995), "The Card Player" (2004), and "Clash of the Titans" (2010), but is surely most recognized for playing Ser Davos Seaworth in "Game of Thrones."  Emma Cleasby (Megan) has appeared in films like "Doomsday" (2008), "F" (2010) and "Soulmate" (2013).  Finally, one of the werewolves (there were only three full suits) was played by Ben Wright, who's more of a stunt performer.  Some of his jobs in this career were in "Sherlock Holmes" (2009), "Skyfall" (2012), "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2014), "Spectre" (2015), "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015), "Solo" (2018), and television's "Game of Thrones" once more.
     So, if you're looking for a good werewolf movie during this Halloween season, or even during the rest of the year, I heartily recommend "Dog Soldiers."  It has a simple, but effective story, good acting, great special effects and gore, and even a couple of laughs to break the tension.  And good disturbing scenes, too.  Check it out.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Nigerian Candy

     Today it's back across the Atlantic once more, to the African nation of Nigeria.  Specifically, the topic is the Trebor Butter Mint candy, from Cadbury Nigeria.  As you might expect, this was another find from the So It Is African Market.
     Cadbury, of course, is a behemoth of a company.  I've talked about its products at least two times previously.  Therefore, if you want a brief company history, see my post on February 3, 2018, which covered some British and Irish treats.  Also, back on July 27, 2016, I discussed another Cadbury owned, Nigerian-made candy--Tom Toms.  But, to add a few tidbits about the Nigeria Cadbury company, it is about one quarter locally owned by Nigerians--25.03%, to be exact.  This affiliate was formally incorporated in 1965, after having been founded in the 1950's to source local Nigerian cocoa beans.  Besides the Butter Mints and Tom Toms, Cadbury Nigeria also markets hot chocolate, regular chocolates, a mint/gum (Clorets), and Bournvita, a malted beverage.

Trebor Butter Mints:  The candies were individually wrapped white ovals, about 1 inch by .5 inches (about 2.5 cm. by 1.5 cm.).  Like the Tom Toms, they were lozenge-style--hard candies which dissolve slowly in your mouth.  They had both their advertised flavors.  The butter taste mixed with mint was weird to me, and a little off-putting.  Overall they were okay?  I guess?  Sorry to be vague, but this candy was odd.  I can kind of take them or leave them--they're not great, but not terrible, either.  I guess they're an acquired taste.

     As is my wont, I'll flesh this out a little with a few fun facts about Nigeria.  It is the biggest country in Africa, based on population, which is estimated to be over 200,000,000 currently.  Which makes it the seventh most populated country in the entire world.  The Nigerian movie industry, nicknamed, "Nollywood," is reportedly the second busiest in the world, after India's "Bollywood."  I saw a whole range of estimates for its average annual output of films, from 1,000 to 10,000. As far as famous Nigerians, or at least folks with significant Nigerian heritage, there's a bunch.  In the world of music there's Sade Adu, winner of four Grammys.  Also Shirley Bassey, probably best known for singing multiple James Bond movie themes.  In the sport of basketball, specifically the NBA, there's Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, Emeka Okafor, and the still active Andre Iguadala.  To choose just a sampling of Nigerians who played in the NFL, there's Christian Okaye, B. J. Raji, Osi Umenyiora, and former Philadelphia Eagle Jay Ajayi.  Nigeria's first, and only non-team winner of an Olympic gold medal was Chiome Ajunwa, who won the women's long jump in the 1996 Summer Games.  Title belt holding boxers who were Nigerian include Samuel Peter (heavyweight division), and Richard Ihetu (aka Dick Tiger), a middleweight/light heavyweight.  Arguably the most famous Nigerian actor is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who appeared in such films as "Amistad" (1997), "Dirty Pretty Things" (2002), "Serenity" (2005), "Inside Man" (2006), "Children of Men" (2006), and "12 Years a Slave" (2013).  And finally, there's John Boyega, best known for playing Finn the Stormtrooper in the three most recent "Star Wars" movies, and also from "Attack the Block" (2011), "Detroit" (2017), and "Pacific Rim: Uprising" (2018).

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Yet More Major League Baseball Trivia, Some About the Biggest Postseason Upsets

     The regular season of Major League Baseball is just about over, so I thought I'd do another article on some trivia about it.  I'll start with a list of the biggest upsets in the playoffs.  Note that these cover the period between 1903 and 2018, since the postseasons before that were only quasi-official.  Also, bear in mind that I determined this list based on the largest differences in winning percentages.  Since MLB teams played a 154 game schedule from 1903-1960, and a 162 game schedule from 1961 on, I thought this was the fairest way.  (You'll also note that because some games were rained out, and not always re-played, etc. that some teams occasionally play a game or two more or less than the 154 or 162 games in the regular season.)  Anyway, here we go.  These will go in inverse order, with the number #1 being the biggest upset, and so on.  There were also several ties:

10) 1990 World Series--Cincinnati Reds (91-71, .562 winning percentage) defeated the Oakland Athletics (103-59, .636), for a difference of .074.  And to the A's discredit, they didn't even win one game in the Series, losing 4-0.

9) 2011 National League Divisional Series--St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, .555 winning percentage), beat the Philadelphia Phillies (102-60, .630), for a difference of .075

8) (tie) 1987 American League Championship Series--Minnesota Twins (85-77, .525 winning percentage) over the Detroit Tigers (98-64, .605) for a difference of .080.

8) (tie) 2003 National League Divisional Series--Chicago Cubs (88-74, .543 winning percentage) beat the Atlanta Braves (101-61, .623), for a difference of .080.

5) (tie) 2006 National League Championship Series--St. Louis Cardinals (83-78, .516 winning percentage) beat the New York Mets (97-65. .599), for a difference of .083.

5) (tie) 2008 National League Divisional Series--the Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78, .519 winning percentage) defeated the Chicago Cubs (97-64, .602), for a difference of .083.

4) 1954 World Series--New York Giants (97-57, .630 winning percentage) beat the Cleveland Indians (111-43, .721), for a difference of .091.  This Series was also a sweep for the Giants.

3) 1973 National League Championship Series--New York Mets (82-79, .509 winning percentage) beat the Cincinnati Reds (99-63, .611), for a difference of .102.

2) 2001 American League Championship Series--New York Yankees (95-65 .594 winning percentage) over the Seattle Mariners (116-46, .716) for a difference of .122.  Granted, the Yankees had won the past 3 World Series at the time, and 4 of the last 5, so in that way it wasn't so surprising, but mathematically, it was the second biggest upset.

1) 1906 World Series--the Chicago White Sox (93-58, .616 winning percentage) defeated the Chicago Cubs (116-36, .763), for a difference of .147.  In case you're wondering, this Cubs team had the highest winning percentage in MLB history for the period we're discussing.  Also, that White Sox team was known as the "Hitless Wonders."

     So, as you can see, anything can happen in a short series, even more so when they're best of 5, or best of 1.

     Staying on the playoffs, obviously the named Most Valuable Players is almost always a member of the winning squad.  However, every so often, a player on the losing side is so spectacular that they're designated the MVP.  Here are the four times it's ever happened:

1) 1960 World Series, Bobby Richardson, second baseman, New York Yankees.  This was the incredible Series that lasted 7 games, and ended with Bill Mazeroski's dramatic walk-off home run.  However, Richardson was great, as he "slashed" (batting average/on base percentage/slugging average) .367/.387/.667, for an OPS of 1.054, with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, and 12 rbis.  Teammates Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford would have been justifiable choices, too.

2) 1982 American League Championship Series, Fred Lynn, center fielder, California Angels.  The Angels lost the five game series after leading 2-0, but Lynn wasn't the reason.  He slashed a marvelous .611/650/.889, for an OPS of 1.539, with 2 doubles, 1 home run, and 5 rbi.

3) 1986 National League Championship Series, Mike Scott, starting pitcher Houston Astros.  The Astros only won 2 games in this Series, both by Scott.  He pitched two complete games, with 1 being a shutout.  In 18 innings he only gave up 1 run, 8 hits, and 1 walk, for an ERA of .050, and a WHIP of .500, with 19 strikeouts.

4) 1987 National League Championship Series, Jeff Leonard, left fielder, San Francisco Giants.  Leonard slashed .417/.500/.917, for an OPS of 1.417, and hit 4 home runs, and drove in 5.  He also pissed off the Cardinals royally, with his slow, "Flaps Down" home run trots.  Additionally, Leonard had a great nickname, given his un-smiley demeanor--"Penitentiary Face."

     Moving on, I wanted to do a list of the guys who stole home in the playoffs.  However, that's tough to do.  Online research didn't provide this--even in 2019, some statistics aren't complete.  Therefore, I'm listing what I could find.  If any reader has more information, please let me know in a comment, and I'll update this.  I did find a stat that steals of home have been successful 19 out of 70 times, so I guess I'm missing 12.

Steals of home in a World Series.  (Note, most of these were parts of double steals, only Robinson's and maybe Cobb's were the more difficult, "straight" steals.)

1) 1906 World Series, George Davis, Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs, game 5.

2) 1909 World Series, Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, game 2.

3) 1955 World Series, Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees, game 1.

4) 1964 World Series, Tim McCarver, St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, game 7.

5) 2002 World Series, Brad Fullmer, Anaheim Angels vs. San Francisco Giants, game 2.

     As for all playoffs, in the American League the last guy to steal home was Elvis Andrus of the of the Texas Rangers, in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2010.  In the National League, it was Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, in Game 1 of the NLCS in 2016.

     Leaving the postseason, here's some trivia about one of the rarest plays in baseball, the triple play:

1) An unassisted triple play is incredibly rare, more so than even a pitcher's perfect game, as there have been 15 of the former, and 23 of the latter.  The last one was done by Eric Bruntlett of the Philadelphia Phillies, vs. the New York Mets on August 23, 2009.  He caught a line drive by Jeff Francoeur for out #1, then stepped on second base to get out#2 on Luis Castillo.  Then he tagged Daniel Murphy, who was running toward second base for out #3.  This was also only the second time that a triple play ended a game.  Finally, this rare, good play made up for two Bruntlett mistakes--he'd committed two errors to enable Castillo and Murphy to be on base.

2) Only one guy has hit into a triple play on his last at bat in his major league career--the New York Mets catcher Joe Pignatano, on September 30, 1962, vs. the Chicago Cubs.

3) The record for hitting into the most triple plays in a career is 4, by Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, who played for the Baltimore Orioles.

      The record for most hits in a game is 9, held by a wonderfully obscure player, Johnny Burnett.  Burnett played from 1927-35, and he accumulated a slash of .284/.345/.366, for an adjusted OPS of only 81 (100 is average).  However, on July 10, 1932 vs. the Philadelphia Athletics he got 9 hits in 11 at bats, in an 18 inning game.

     Another stat which isn't recorded that definitively is catcher's interference, wherein the catcher interferes with the batter, usually by hitting the bat with his glove during a swing attempt.  The batter is then awarded first base, unless he wants the result of the play instead.  Certain players seem to have a knack for getting this called, by waiting until the last minute before swinging.  Here's the list of the best at it in their entire careers, as far as I can determine:

1) 31 times, Jacoby Ellsbury.   And although he's missed the past 2 seasons with injuries, he may play some more, and add to this total.

2) 29, Pete Rose.

3) (tie) 18 Dale Berra.
3)  18 Julian Javier.

5) (tie) 17 Roberto Kelly.
5)  17 Carl Crawford.
5) 17 Andy Van Slyke.

     Milt May appears to hold the record for committing catcher's interference the most times in a career, with 15.

     Once again, this next record isn't entirely definitive, so I'll change this if I find out otherwise.  But, that said, evidently only 1 pitcher has picked off 3 base runners in one inning.  Tippy Martinez of the Baltimore Orioles took the mound on August 24, 1983, with a runner on first.  It was a weird situation--because the Orioles had used most of their players already, they had outfielders playing some of the infield positions, and utility infielder Lenn Sakata catching, something he'd never done before.  Therefore, the Blue Jays were aggressive with their leads, thinking Sakata wouldn't be able to throw them out on steal attempts.  However, Martinez promptly picked off the first runner, who was caught in a run down near second.  Then, a second batter reached first, and was again picked off by Martinez.  Then, a third Blue Jay did the same thing.  In the Orioles half of the inning, Sakata eventually won the game with a 3 run home run.

     I'll wrap this up with two types of more progressive trivia.  First, there's one woman who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2006.  That was Effa Louise Manley, who was an executive with the Negro Leagues, serving as a co-owner, owner, and treasurer.  She was also a civil rights activist.

     Staying with the Negro Leagues, unlike the Major Leagues, they had 3 women who played.  It wasn't all altruistic and fair--the Negro Leagues in the 1950's were on the decline, and having women play was clearly at least in part a way to garner attention, and fans.  (And, depressingly, due to Jim Crow racist laws these players reportedly had to often stay in brothels instead of hotels on the road.)  But, by all accounts, the 3 women who did play were clearly talented.  Alas, the Negro Leagues, despite being a pro league, didn't keep very good records, so I can't just list their relevant statistics.  But I'll include what I did learn.

1)  Toni Stone, second base, with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs, 1953-54.    One source said she batted .302 in her first season, the other .243.  Apparently she batted .197 overall, in 71 at bats.

2) Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, pitcher, Indianapolis Clowns, 1954-55.  The only stat I could find was that she had a won-loss record of 33-8.  Won-loss record is a weak way to determine pitching effectiveness, of course, but it does suggest that Johnson was pretty good, though.

3) Connie Morgan, second base, Indianapolis Clowns, 1954.  Supposedly batted .178 in 45 at bats.

     That's it.  Enjoy the postseason--maybe something unique, and incredible, will happen this year!