Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Clone Wars: Defenders of Peace

My friends and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Defenders of Peace"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 23, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Last week's story concludes in "Defenders of Peace."  When last we left Anakin and his entourage, they were marooned on the planet Maridun under the reluctant care of the peace seeking Lurmen.  A separatist ship arrives, oblivious to the Jedi presence.  General Lok Durd (voiced by our old friend, George Takei) wants to test his new Agent Orange-like defoliator.

The more interesting aspect of the story is the philosophical challenge posed by the Lurmen.  They wish to avoid the Clone Wars entirely and are critical of the Jedi resorting to violence, no matter how justifiable the cause.  Their leader, Tee Watt Kaa, protests all efforts by the Jedi to interfere with the weapon tests, even once the Lurmen's perilous predicament becomes evident.
via Wookieepedia
Lurmen's son Wag Too is more sympathetic to the Jedi cause and also worried for the survival of his village.  This family dynamic has significant precedent in the Star Wars narrative, of course.  Uncle Owen's concern for Luke in A New Hope is less philosophically motivated and Luke's initial eagerness may have been more attributable to youthful restlessness but the inter-generational tension is comparable.  Eagerness vs. reluctance in joining the Rebel cause is an important and under-appreciated theme of the original movie.

via IMDb
Wag Too is voiced by Alec Medlock.  Medlock was born March 13, 1990 in Torrance, California.  He is trilingual: English, French and Mandarin.  He has played piano since age six.  In addition to The Clone Wars, he contributed voice work to Dispicable Me 2 and Monsters University.  Medlock had a recurring role as Craig Ramirez on the TV series Drake & Josh.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Trespass."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 2015 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, September 25th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 2015

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Author: Atul Gawande
via Goodreads
Death is inevitable.  That is the one inescapable truth of human existence.  Yet the medical establishment is armed to the teeth with both the tools and the philosophy to prolong life as long as possible, too often disregarding the quality of life it fights to preserve.  Dr. Gawande, a surgeon himself, shines a light on this troubling dilemma.  He exposes the failings of his profession but also the efforts of those who work to provide a more noble, dignified and enjoyable life to both the aged and the dying.  He is not shy about discussing his own shortcomings and how learning about the alternatives has made him a better doctor.

As Gawande points out, most people in the industrialized world do not die abruptly.  Modern medicine is a lot better at fending off the Reaper than it was even a generation ago.  Also, most of us are going to require a significant level of care as we near the end.  Nearly a quarter of all Medicare expenses are paid out in the last year of life.  Yet most people don't devote enough thought to how they want to live at the end.  What makes our lives worthwhile?  What sacrifices are we willing to make in order to live more meaningfully?  At what point does letting go of life become more important than fighting death?

Gawande explores all of these questions in regards to long-term care, doctor-patient relationships, palliative care and other end-of-life choices.  He interviewed experts in pertinent industries but also shares his own experiences, both personal and professional.  The material can be difficult to read at times but that's sort of the point.  As humans, our natural tendency is to live in denial of our own mortality.  We never talk about it.  We never think about it until we must.  By then, we're too often making critical decisions based on lack of information, external influence from doctors and the pressure of the moment.  Meaningful conversations with our loved ones and professional providers are vitally important.  We should have them early, before we are forced to act in desperation.

The book's cautionary tales are brutal but Gawande does provide a hopeful path forward.  Oddly enough, it did not leave me fearing death.  For me, there has always been a comfort in knowing that life is finite.  We have no choice but to make the most of the time we have. 

So, you need to read this book.  Because if you're lucky, you'll grow old.  More importantly, regardless of whether you're lucky or not, you're going to die.  The same is true for everyone you care about.  Being Mortal provides meaningful guidance in helping one another face the inevitable.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post September's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is September 25th.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Clone Wars: Jedi Crash

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Jedi Crash"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 16, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Jedi Aayla Secura's fleet is under attack.  Anakin and his fleet run to assist.  While on Secura's ship, Anakin is badly wounded.  The ship accidentally goes into hyperspace.  Anakin, Ahsoka, Aayla and their accompanying Clone Troopers are marooned on a remote planet.  There, they meet a village of Lurmen who have settled the planet in an attempt to find peaceful refuge from the Clone Wars.  They are mistrustful of the Jedi, advocating non-violent resistance as an alternative to fighting.

The story presents a moral challenge to the Jedi cause that we don't often see in Star Wars.  I'm hesitant to suggest it but this is, sort of, Star Trek territory.  I like it!  In the movies, we embrace the Jedi because they do cool magic tricks and they're clearly preferable to the alternative.  But they rarely, if ever, get hit from the Left, to borrow from the political-speak of our own world.  A comparable challenge is raised by the Ewoks in the novelization of Return of the Jedi but it was not included in the film.  It's nice to see it included here.

via Wookieepedia
Aayla Secura originated as a comic book character in the Star Wars: Republic series.  George Lucas was impressed and included her in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  In the films, she is portrayed by Amy Allen.  In The Clone Wars, she is voiced by Jennifer Hale.
via Wookieepedia
Jennifer Hale was born January 30, 1972 in Goose Bay, Labrador.  However, she spent most of her childhood in Alabama.  She graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a business degree.

Guinness World Records identifies her as "the most prolific videogame voice actor (female)."  The list is lengthy, indeed.  Rest assured, if you've ever played a videogame with professional voices, hers was probably one of them.  The list of television work is long, too.  Among the notables: Spider-Man, Batman, Avatar: The Last Airbender and, my favorite, Ms. Keane, the girls' teacher in The Powerpuff Girls.  She has been married to Barry Oswick since 2009.  They have one son.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Defenders of Peace."

Monday, August 24, 2015

State of the Blog 2015

We've recently made some changes to my daughter's bedroom - nothing much but she's a creature of habit.  It was enough to make her uneasy.  My wife love's rearranging furniture so obviously the fear of change must come from somewhere else...

It's not change that troubles me so much as uncertainty.  I like to have a plan.  I'm open to changing the plan but I still feel better if I've got one.  I know enough about life to realize that an openness to possibilities can lead one in interesting directions.

Such was the case for The Armchair Squid in Year 6.  Last August, I expected to carry on more or less as I had before: two monthly bloghops - one for books, one for movies; a weekly family adventures post on Sundays; finish up Star Trek's original series on Wednesdays, then move on to other things and book reviews as appropriate.  The bloghops are doing well but everything else went out the window over time, though for welcome reasons.  Fortunately, I have friends with good ideas.  Once Maurice Mitchell hinted that he'd join me for an exploration of Trek's animated series, I jumped at the chance.  A few months later, Andrew Leon suggested a similar project for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Those two adventures took precedent over previous plans.  So it goes.

Now, as Year 7 gets underway, I have a plan for The Squid going forward.  But as always, I am open to changing the plan.  I hope you'll join me.

via Wookieepedia
Tuesdays are for Star Wars, a franchise which has been the dominant force in my personal mythology since I was a tot in 1977.  While I know the movies - especially the original trilogy - quite well, indeed, The Clone Wars is new ground for me.  It's still early days.  We've only just passed the halfway mark of the first season.  All are welcome to join us, of course.  If you're interested, sign up here.

Mock Squid Soup is a film society blog hop, held the second Friday of each month.  I have been very pleased to see this group develop over the past year.  Our membership is devoted.  The basic pattern at the moment is to pick your own movie to review one month, then one of someone else's the following month.  Keen to join us for September?  Peruse the list of movies here, sign up here and post your review on Friday, September 11th.
The Cephalopod Coffeehouse is in its third year.  This one's dead simple: on the last Friday of the month, post a review of your best recent read.  There's still time to jump in for August.  Sign up here and post this Friday.

All other Fridays will be devoted to generic Family Adventures post.  As in the past, travel, movies and food are likely to dominate.

That's the basic plan.  Miscellaneous posts for bloghop signups and book reviews will crop up from time to time as well.  I'll still touch on music when appropriate.

I am continually encouraged and inspired by the many friends I have made in the blogosphere.  I am eternally grateful to those of you who take the time to read and comment upon my humble posts.  I look forward to joining all of you for further adventures in Year 7 of The Squid.

Squiddies 2015

The Armchair Squid turns six years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Live-Tweeting Star Trek
via Twitter
It was exciting enough to have Spacerguy and Maurice Mitchell join me for an episode-by-episode exploration of Star Trek's animated series.  The real surprise came when Maurice suggested we watch an episode together over Twitter.  Schedules and technology often got in the way of perfect synchronization but it was loads of fun when we managed to make it work.

Biggest Disappointment: Five-Day Power Outage

Due to a nasty winter storm, we lost power at our house for five days in December.  No power also means no heat and - worst of all - no water for us so it's far from a minor inconvenience even in the short term.  It was a long five days, indeed.

Best Read, First-Time Category: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

It's been a good year for books, especially this summer.  I've read quite a few that have made me reexamine my very existence, but none more so than The Omnivore's Dilemma.  All humans are faced with the dilemma.  Since we can technically eat anything, we must find what is nutritious and avoid what is poisonous.  In the post-industrial world, the options are more dizzying than ever.  Pollan's book takes us on an exploration of the various paths food takes en route to our plates.  Awareness of those paths, more than the choice of any one over the other, is our responsibility as stewards of the Earth.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This book, a favorite from my youth, seems largely forgotten among children's classics.  Back in the day, I learned words like occult, familiar and seance from Snyder's novel.  At its heart, though, it's the tale of a family adjusting to new circumstances, in many ways easier to appreciate as an adult reader.  I'm hoping I can convince my daughter to give it a try sometime soon.

Best Comics Find: Best of Enemies by Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B.

This two-part (so far) graphic novel series provides a 200-year history of U.S./Middle East relations.  Originally in French, the books maintain a remarkable neutrality in examining the issues.  Basically, everyone involved is at fault.

Athlete of the Year: Bobby Moch
via Pinterest
Robert Moch (1914-2005) was the coxswain for the University of Washington's varsity crew that won the gold medal for the United States at the 1936 Olympics.  I got to know Moch and his pals in The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  A coxswain sits at the front of the boat, steering the vessel and calling out the stroke rate for the oarsmen.  Whereas most rowers are long-limbed leviathans, the coxswains are petit.  Moch is a particularly likeable specimen: a strategic genius and a smart ass to boot.

Post with Most Unexpected Consequences: Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder

"Turnabout Intruder" was the final episode of Star Trek's original series, capping a two-year long exploration for me.  In my post for that episode, Maurice dropped a hint that if I were to take on the animated series in similar fashion, he might be willing to join me.  I could hardly resist an offer like that.  The TAS project, in turn, inspired a similar project with Andrew Leon, exploring Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Best Family Adventure: The Green Mountain Film Festival

For the second year in a row, we made an overnight trip to Montpelier, Vermont to cram in as many festival movies as possible over two days.  Over dinner, My Wife claimed the modest adventure as her ideal vacation.  We get to do something we can't at home, in this case watch independent films on the big screen.  We eat well.  Everything is within easy walking distance of the hotel.  I think she's still keen on a trip to Europe someday but it's nice that we can find such a gratifying getaway close to home.

Best Unexpected Benefit of Blogging: A New Purpose for Twitter

I like Twitter.  Though I don't use it as much as Facebook, it feels less manipulative to me.  That said, I haven't always been quite sure what to do with it.  It's great for creating my own news feed and for minimal effort networking but I've never been especially enthused beyond that.  Maurice's suggestion to use it for our Star Trek TAS project, though (see above), opened my eyes to the possibilities of coupling blogging with Tweeting.  I'm not sure where that will lead in the coming year, if anywhere, but it's another tool to keep in the box.

As you may have gathered, Maurice Mitchell has had a considerable influence on my blogging over the past year.  Maurice, in case you haven't heard, is moving onto a very exciting project indeed as editor of the soon to be launched Superman page at About.com.  I, for one, certainly hope he will continue to be a presence in the blogosphere.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Family Movie Night: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Title: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Original Release: 2015
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Guy Ritchie's latest effort revives a TV show from the 1960s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  In the dark days of the Cold War, top agents from the CIA and the KGB team up to combat an evil supervillain.  Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is the playboy, not-particularly-well-reformed criminal American.  Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is the psychotic, physically imposing Russian.  I've never seen the original show but it played an interesting role in Star Trek's history.  William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in a 1964 episode together, their first such intersection.

I judge the film against two separate metrics: spy movies and Guy Ritchie movies.  Ian Flemming was deeply involved in the development of the TV series so similarities with the James Bond franchise are to be expected.  The story's low on gadgetry but there are great fight and chase scenes as well as ample sexual intrigue.  Overall, I'd say The Man from U.N.C.L.E. compares quite favorably with recent Bond offerings.

Bond is a mixed bag.  I've seen them all and would feel I was somehow being unfaithful to the cinematic gods if I hadn't.  But I willingly admit that even the best of the batch rely more on spectacle than narrative substance.  One thing I have come to admire about Star Wars, on the other hand, is the fact that every duel or space battle is infused with story and I feel The Man from U.N.C.L.E. did well along those lines.  The obligatory chase scene to open a Bond film is always fun but the priority is topping the same scene from the most recent movie rather than advancing development.  With U.N.C.L.E., the action scenes were spectacular but also occasionally funny and always meaningful.

Ritchie movies are, if anything, the higher standard for me.  Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are two of my all-time favorites.  I love his snappy dialogue, innovative camerawork, serpentine storytelling and obvious gift for getting the most out of an actor.  U.N.C.L.E. doesn't quite measure up to the two mentioned above but Ritchie's sensibilities nearly always generate a sophisticated product.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is fun and I'm hoping this is just the first film of many in a series.  The franchise is certainly in good hands with Guy Ritchie.