Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Clone Wars: Season Six

We have reached the end of Season Six, The Lost Missions, in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   I will post a reflection on the entire series next Tuesday.  But first, a quick look at this most recent stretch.

General Impressions

Anyone who has watched as much television as I have catches on to the basic pattern quickly: most shows end poorly.  The creative well runs dry after a while.  The lack of fresh ideas leaves the writers relying too heavily on the audience's investment in characters and on predictable narrative patterns.

Not so for The Clone Wars.  All due credit to George Lucas, the Star Wars well never seems to run dry.  Whatever criticism one might throw at him, you can say this much for his galaxy far, far away: there is always more to explore.  While the episodes produced for The Clone Wars were, to the end, decidedly uneven, the overall quality was awfully high in the last two seasons.   Season Six includes only four arcs.  The first is outstanding.  The last is strong.  The second has its moments.  Even the one clunker would be okay minus Jar Jar.  Best of all for me, no droid episodes.

Favorite Episode: "Conspiracy"
via Wookieepedia
The opening Inhibitor Chip arc is the gem of Season Six.  Following right on the heels of Season Five's excellent finale, the story comes darn close to exposing the secret of Order 66, the plan executed in Revenge of the Sith for the clone troopers to slaughter nearly all of the Jedi simultaneously.  More importantly to me, it explores the basic dilemma of the existence of the Clone Army more deeply than any other story in the series.  The star of the tale is Fives, a clone trooper we first met in Season One's "Rookies." "Conspiracy" is the second episode in the four-parter and the one in which Fives's role kicks into gear.

Least Favorite Episode: "The Disappeared, Part I"
via Wookieepedia
The Disappeared arc is a Jar Jar story: 'nuff said, really.  It's a Jar Jar love story, even.  His wing man for the episode is Mace Windu: also odd.  This story might have been more interesting without Jar Jar but we'll never know.  "Part II" is rescued by a surprise cameo so "Part I" gets the nod.

Favorite New Character: AZI-345211896246498721347
via Wookieepedia
AZI-3 is a medical droid and Fives's sidekick in the Inhibitor Chip arc.  His voice grates on me a little (sorry, Ben Diskin) and I find the comic relief he offers off-putting at times but he's still an essential part of one of the best stories in the entire series.  Plus, he doubles as a jet ski!


No, this is it for me.  For anyone who's eager for more, there are unfinished episodes to watch at and also comic books of other unused stories.  But there are no more on Netflix.  I have one more post next week to wrap up this 2-year+ project but then it's time to move on to other things.

Please visit my friend Andrew Leon today for his Season Six recap.  Next Tuesday: "What Is The Clone Wars?," my full series review.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Clone Wars: Sacrifice

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Sacrifice"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 13
Original Air Date: March 7, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Sacrifice" concludes a four-part arc and with it, the entire Clone Wars series.   The Force Priestesses from last week have sent Yoda on his final trial to the Sith homeworld of Moraband where he must confront evil at its source.  As a final treat for the devoted, Mark Hamill voices Darth Bane, one of the spirits Yoda encounters there.

This arc was written by Christian Taylor, the same screenwriter who wrote the outstanding Mortis arc in Season Three.  In many ways, this Yoda arc is a continuation of the same story, a similar exploration of the mystical side of the Star Wars universe.  While it is stronger than most of the arcs in the series, it doesn't quite live up to Mortis.  Part of it is our faith in Yoda.  Apart from the fact that we know he survives, one never even truly doubts that Yoda will succumb to temptation whereas that's always a worry with Anakin.  I enjoyed the worlds explored, particularly the visit to Dagobah, and this is the most development we get for Yoda in the series.  But the basic story didn't pull me in the way Mortis did. 

On Moraband, Yoda finally encounters Sifo-Dyas (or at least an image thereof), the long lost Jedi who pulled him into this adventure in the first place.  I think another source of my disappointment here is that while the Sifo-Dyas story was merely a device, it is worthy of exploration on its own merits and it wasn't much.  Sifo-Dyas is the one who authorized the creation of the Clone Army, against the Jedi Council's wishes at the time.  The series leaves us with dangling threads - not entirely surprising in light of the abrupt cancellation but disappointing nonetheless.
via Wookieepedia
Sifo-Dyas first appeared in The Eyes of Revolution, a comic written and drawn by Warren Fu, published in the collection Star Wars: Visionaries in 2005.  Ze fodias is a naughty expression in Portuguese so the character's name was changed to Zaifo-Vias for the Brazillian audience.  Apparently Portuguese is fraught with peril for Star Wars characters.  Count Dooku was changed to Count Dokan for similar reasons though I can't find the exact translation for that.  Sifo-Dyas was voiced by Paul Nakauchi. 
via Game of Thrones Wiki
Paul Nakauchi is an American actor with extensive stage, film, television and video game credentials.  He has performed in several different productions of the musical The King and I, including as King Phra Meha Mongkut for Broadway Asia.  On film, he has worked on The Great Raid, Alpha and Omega and the upcoming Death Note.  Television credits include Knots Landing, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and ER.  Voice work on video games includes Call of Duty: World at War, Tomb Raider: Legend and World of Warcraft.

And just like that, it's over...

This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Six.  Next Tuesday, I'll offer my summation of the entire series.  Then, it's on to other things.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Showa 1953-1989

Title: Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Amazon
This is the fourth and final volume of Mizuki's outstanding Showa comic book series.   My reflections on the first three books can be found here, here and here.  Japan's Showa era was defined by the reign of Emperor Hirohito: 1926-1989, a period of extraordinary national transformation.  Mizuki lived through it all and his books weave historical events with his own personal experiences.

This installment covers by far the longest time span of the four volumes, well over half of the Showa period.  It's a particularly important era for me personally because it includes the time when Japan became a vital part of my family's life.  My parents first moved to Japan in 1969 and stayed for seven years (Showa 44-51).  Both learned far more Japanese than I ever did.  My older sister and I were both born in Tokyo.  The book even includes an event with which my father was directly involved: Emperor Hirohito's visit to the United States in 1975.  My parents have never talked much about the student protests and political corruption that were going on during their time in Japan.  Maybe with the relative isolation of diplomatic life, it didn't affect them too much.  Maybe after two years in Laos, Japan was relatively stable.  Maybe it's just not the sort of stuff you talk about with young children. 

As the book and the Showa era close, my own time in Japan is nearing.  I went back to teach for two years, 1996-98 (Heisei 8-10).  As such, the Japan in the book comes to look a lot more like the Japan I knew.  Japanese cities aren't exactly beautiful but familiar sights tug at the heartstrings nonetheless.

What I appreciate most about the Showa series is Mizuki's attention to cultural history in addition to all of the military, political and economic details.  He shares the TV shows, movies, fashion magazines and songs that were popular.  He seems especially interested in crime tales, going into too vivid detail with several headline grabbing stories.  In fact, if I have one criticism, it's that sometimes, the book's a little gross.  Mizuki loooooooves potty humor. 

That said, I am now half-tempted to go back and re-read Mizuki's other work, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro, his most famous comic.  I probably won't but I would have a greater appreciation now that I know more about the author's life.  I am also grateful for the history lesson about a country that has been so important to me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Squid Mixes: Negroni

The Negroni is one of my wife's favorite cocktails.  My recipe is from The New York Bartender's Guide: gin, Campari and sweet vermouth in 4:2:1 proportion.  The garnish is an orange twist - tough to see in the photo but it's in there.  The main difference between this and the old pal cocktail I made earlier this summer (see here) is the use of gin rather than rye.  The flavor is quite similar.

The drink's origins are unclear but probably Florence in around 1919.  The origin of the name, however, is well-documented.  The Negroni family produced a ready-made version of the drink.  So Negroni, like Campari itself, is a brand name and thus generally capitalized.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Daniel Goleman

Title: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
Author: Daniel Goleman
via Amazon
I am currently in a master's program - about 13 credits in, I think.   Last summer's class was on leadership and this book - or parts of it - was one of the assigned texts.  I finally got around to reading the whole thing.

The idea of emotional intelligence (EI, measured by EQ) comes from the theory of multiple intelligences set forth by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983.  Wikipedia defines EI as "the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people's emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)."  Goleman asserts that EI is a far greater indicator of success in life than the more traditional measures: grades, SATs, IQ tests. 

The book explores the role of EI in numerous contexts: work, school, family life, violent crime, etc.  Goleman's argument is thorough and convincing.  The material on brain function is less interesting to me personally, though admittedly essential to overall understanding.  Some of his real-life anecdotes are fairly intense, enough that it's difficult to concentrate on the text that follows - interesting as Goleman explains how such stories have been used in clinical studies.  It's not an easy book to digest in one sitting, at least not for me - lots of starting and stopping with time to ponder in between.

It's certainly a book that leaves me wanting to post-game various stages of my own life - childhood certainly.  Thinking back, I can remember several friends who were popular for all of the right reasons - i.e., people simply enjoyed being around them.  Emotional intelligence certainly played a role there.  The text shed new light on a lot of my own relationships, too: familial, romantic, collegial, what have you.  While it's not a book I'll instantly start recommending it to everyone I know, I am grateful for the insights and will suggest it to some.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Clone Wars: Destiny

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Destiny"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 12
Original Air Date: March 7, 2014
via Wookieepedia
In this, the third episode of a four-part arc, Yoda travels to a mysterious world that is the source of midi-chlorians, the microscopic life form through which the Force speaks in the Star Wars galaxy.  Once there, he is set upon several trials by the Five Priestesses, trials not dissimilar to the ones he will eventually set for Luke on Dagobah.  I sense many homages in this episode.  The Priestesses look a lot like No-Face in Miyazki's Spirited Away.  Much of the world's aesthetic seems awfully Tim Burtonesque.  In one trial, Yoda confronts his own dark side shadow, reminiscent of Tolkien's Gollum.
via Wookieepedia
There is much discussion among the writers themselves as to whether or not the Priestesses are five beings or five aspects of one being.  In the story, they represent five emotions: Serenity, Anger, Confusion, Joy and Sadness.  This episode and the next mark their only appearances.  All are voiced by Jaime King.

Next week: "Sacrifice."

Friday, September 8, 2017

Squid Mixes: Manhattan

via my wife
At this point, I would probably choose the Manhattan as my favorite cocktail.  Whiskey, in general, is my preferred liquor and the other ingredients enhance the flavor without overpowering.  The Angostura bitters, especially, add a pleasant cinnamon accent.  Plus, it's pretty with the red cherry at the bottom of the glass.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide: rye and sweet vermouth in 3:1 ratio with a dash of bitters.

The Manhattan was most certainly invented in New York, one of numerous cocktails named for the city's five boroughs.  Accounts date its creation as far back as the 1860s.  Several variations exist, some varying the base liquor, others switching to dry vermouth, still more toying around with different bitters.  The most intriguing to me is the Fourth Regiment which includes dashes of orange, celery and Peychaud's bitters.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Clone Wars: Voices

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Voices"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 11
Original Air Date: March 1, 2014
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the second in a four-part arc.  Yoda is hearing voices, specifically that of Qui-Gon Jinn.  Worried that he may have come under the influence of the dark side, the Jedi Council advises medical observation.  With Anakin's help, Yoda escapes the Jedi Temple in order to pursue this voice on his own terms.  This story is interesting for a lot of reasons, not least for the fact that the idea of a Force Spirit is previously unknown in the timeline, apart from the experience on Mortis which was deemed an hallucination.

If I am honest with myself, my adoration for the Star Wars franchise mostly revolves around a single movie: The Empire Strikes Back.   I am thoroughly prepared to argue for Empire as greatest film ever made.  Wagner would have loved Empire: an extraordinary display of synthesis between all great art forms.  Most importantly to our current discussion, it is the heart of the Star Wars story and it introduces my own favorite character: Yoda, an adorable spiritual guru Muppet voiced by Frank Oz.  He was tailor-made for me.

In "Voices," Yoda's path leads him to Dagobah, apparently for the first time.  Of course, we all know the swamp planet as Yoda's future home, a world with deep connections to The Force.  With the familiar sights and sounds and the musical strains of Yoda's Theme, this episode tugged at my heart strings as no other has.  This is the Star Wars I love, the one that always leaves me wanting more.
via Wookieepedia
Rig Nema is the Jedi doctor who attends to Yoda at the Temple.  Her appearance is based on an early design for Mace Windu, drawn by Ian McCaig, before Samuel L. Jackson was cast.
via Wookieepedia
"Voices" is Nema's only Clone Wars appearance.  She is voiced by Catherine Taber.

Next week: "Destiny."

Friday, September 1, 2017

Squid Mixes: Gin Fizz

The gin fizz is the most popular of the broader category of fizz drinks which combine an alcoholic base with an acidic fruit juice and carbonated water.  Recipes first appeared in print in 1887.  Historically, they were particularly popular in New Orleans.  My gin fizz, from The New York Bartender's Guide, involves gin, lemon juice and seltzer.  Very refreshing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Lost One

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Lost One"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 10
Original Air Date: March 1, 2014
via Wookieepedia
Well, here we are: the last arc of the series.  No, I'm not counting the unfinished "Legacy" episodes.  I won't be reviewing those.  For starters, they are, as noted, unfinished.  Also, they're not on Netflix.  Some were released as story reels on the site but I feel I've gotten whatever it was I needed from The Clone Wars.  It might be interesting to explore the other stories sometime just as it might be interesting to explore more of the novels, comics, etc.  For now, though, it's time to move on.  So, this arc is it for me.

The Jedi renew an investigation of the disappearance of Sifo-Dyas, a Jedi Master believed dead ten years before.  Anakin and Obi-Wan are sent to Oba Diah where Sifo-Dyas's ship and lightsaber have been found.  As it turns out, he wasn't just any old Jedi.  He's the one who ordered the creation of the clone army, against the wishes of the Jedi High Council.  It's an interesting twist on the clones story and the Jedi's moral position in regards to it.  They didn't approve of the program at first but see it as a good idea in hindsight, having since benefited from it considerably.  Obi-Wan readily admits he believes they'd been wrong at the time.

No need to get too twisted up over it, though.  Turns out, it was all Dooku's fault.
via Wookieepedia
Before heading to Oba Diah himself, Yoda consults with Finis Valorum who had been Chancellor at the time of Sifo-Dyas's disappearance.  Valorum first appeared in The Phantom Menace, played by Terence Stamp.  George Lucas described the character to Stamp as being like (pre-impeachment trial) Bill Clinton: "a good man but he's beleaguered."

In The Clone Wars, Valorum is voiced by Ian Ruskin.  Ruskin has appeared in such films as Eragon and A Good Year and in such television shows as The X Files and Murder She Wrote.  Beyond his voice acting career, Ruskin has considerable stage credentials as both actor and writer.

Next week: "Voices."

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 2017 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 29th.  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 25, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 2017

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: The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World's Most Astonishing Number
Author: Mario Livio
via Amazon
The number ϕ, approximately 1.6180339887, is the Golden Ratio, studied by mathematicians since Pythagoras and Euclid.  Imagine a line segment, AB.  There is a point on AB, let's call it C.  The ratio of the length of AB to that of AC is the same as the ratio of the length of AC to that of CB.  That ratio is ϕ (phi, pronounced "fee").  Here's a diagram:

Golden ratio line.svg
By Traced by User:Stannered - en:Image:Golden ratio line.png, Public Domain, Link

Over the centuries since, this number has proven to be deeply embedded in the fabric of universe.  No, I'm not exaggerating.  ϕ plays a role in the placement of petals on a rose and branches on a tree, in the shapes of nautilus shells and even the spiral arms of galaxies.

Mario Livio explains it all in his marvelous book, covering a great deal of mathematical history as he goes along.  I think it's actually more the sort of book I had in mind when I read The Magic of Numbers by Eric Temple Bell (see here) earlier this year.  ϕ is even related to the Platonic solids, my most exciting discovery in Bell's book.  Livio discusses "recreational mathematics," a fancy term for number games I'd never even heard of before though I've been practicing it for most of my life.

While Livio is enthusiastic about ϕ, he is also skeptical of many of the assertions that have been made about its use in the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid, numerous paintings, etc.  Much of the book is devoted to debunking these myths.  Some artists and architects, though, have been explicit in experimenting with the Golden Ratio: Frank Lloyd Wright and Salvador Dali, among them. 

The book's final chapter considers ϕ in light of one of the oldest questions in philosophy: is mathematics a human invention or a human discovery?  The numerous natural phenomena related through ϕ suggest an existing order to the universe that predates us all.  Could those relationships, though, be just as clearly defined by another civilization through a means of understanding completely different from our math?

If you love numbers, this is a great book.  I don't know how much it offers to one who is not mathematically inclined but I think Livio does a fair job of explaining the technical concepts in simple terms.  The telling question for me is always would I give it to my wife to read?  In this case, I believe the answer is yes.

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 29th.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

State of the Blog 2017

Music is a central focus of my life.  I am a music teacher, now entering my 16th year in public education, mostly vocal but with increasing instrumental responsibilities.  Our 13-year-old daughter is also an active musician, playing three instruments: clarinet, bass clarinet and piano.  A same-age comparison with me is, in fact, a joke very much in her favor.  A healthy portion of our family entertainment budget is devoted to symphony concerts.  I'm all in on music and have been for most of my life.

However, I have generally avoided music as a blogging topic for The Armchair Squid.  I believe strongly in a compartmentalized life (apparently a typical Gen X trait).  As music takes up so much of my professional, family and personal time, it's nice to write about other things as a diversion.  I include musical details from time to time but the main subjects of my posts have been other topics. 

One of the most gratifying blogging projects I've ever completed, though, was 30 Songs in 30 Days with Mock back in the summer of 2011 (read here).  I still go back and read those posts from time to time.  Knowledge, devotion and sincerity all certainly contribute to quality of material, if I do say so.  As such, I think it's time to take a chance and make music a more prominent part of my blog.

I have a few more weeks with The Clone Wars, after which there will be a few changes to the posting schedule.  The family adventure posts will move to Tuesdays and music posts will begin on Fridays, except, of course, the last Friday of the month which is still dedicated to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse.  I'll continue to review other books as I finish them, too.

Thanks to all of you for stopping by, reading and sharing your thoughts.  If you're having half as much fun as I am, we're all doing great.  Let's have a great year, folks!

Squiddies 2017

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

Biggest Surprise: Patrick and Marcelle Leahy

via Senator Patrick Leahy
It was certainly a surprise to go out to dinner and find our senior Senator and his wife sitting at the table next to us, celebrating their wedding anniversary.  Even more delightful, the statesman told us a joke:

"I run three miles everyday.  If I miss a day, I add it to the next day's run.  So far, I'm 8,412 miles behind.  I'll run four miles tomorrow."

Biggest Disappointment: Trump

By conscious choice, I don't delve into politics more than necessary here at The Squid.  But the dark and depressing subject of President Donald J. Trump did come up in one of my book reviews.  There have been other disappointments this year but none compares to the big one.  Things only seem to be getting worse, too.  I don't even think I'm being partisan.  This has to be a nightmare for most Republicans, too.

Any bets as to how many months we have before they're swearing Mike Pence in as our 46th President?  Or will it have to be Paul Ryan?  Orrin Hatch?

Best Read, First-Time Category: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

via Wikipedia
Okay, so is it a great piece of literature?  Probably not.  But there is no series in the world for which I approach a new book with greater eagerness.  Does it even live up to the originals?  Probably not.  Does it leave me wanting more, more, more?  Most certainly, yes.

Hogwarts Forever!

Best Read, Re-Read Category: Play Winning Chess by Yasser Seirawan

via Goodreads
I have done my best to get back into chess, though I've slacked off of late.  I first read Yasser Seirawan's Play Winning Chess series back in the late '90s, I think.  His books are a lot more fun, and more forgiving, than most chess writing so I am glad for the excuse to revisit them. 

Best Comics Find: James Sturm
via Wikipedia
Sturm is a co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.  One of the clerks at our local comic shop studied under him and recommended his book The Golem's Mighty Swing to us.  It's one of two Depression Era baseball books for Sturm, the other being Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

Athlete of the Year: Honus Wagner (1874-1955)

via Wikipedia
Honus Wagner was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, playing most of his career at shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first two decades of the 20th century.  I read a biography about him just last month.  It was good to learn more about the man behind the baseball card.

Best Family Adventure: Montreal
Our February trips to Montreal are always a major highlight for us and this year was no exception.  We discovered loads of new (to us) restaurants and museums.  My mouth still waters thinking of the kawa (chicken skin) yakitori at Otto, not included in the photograph because we'd already eaten it by the time we thought to take pictures.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Disappeared, Part II

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Disappeared, Part II"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 9
Original Air Date: March 1, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"The Disappeared" story comes to a merciful end this week.  Having just been rescued from a Temple of Doom-scape by Mace Windu, Jar Jar explains that Frangawl Cult have been abducting the spiritual leaders of Bardotta and stealing their Living Force.  The extracted power is being stored in glowing orbs, then transferred to the "Great Mother" on Zardossa Stix, a nearby moon.  This arc's saving grace is the identity of the Great Mother (slight SPOILER), our old friend Mother Talzin.

This is it for Jar Jar.  It's his final Clone Wars appearance and he hasn't been featured in Rebels or either of the two most recent movies.  I played your game, Papa George.  I gave the Gungan a chance.  There's just no getting around it in the final analysis: Jar Jar sucks.
via Wookieepedia
High Seneschal Peteen is a member of the Bardotta Bahk-tov Council.  While it is never expressly revealed in the episode (an odd choice, incidentally), accompanying material identifies Peteen as the leader of the Cult. This story marks his only appearance in the series.  He is voiced by Cas Anvar.
via Assassin's Creed Wiki
Cas Anvar was born to Iranian parents in Regina, Saskatchewan though he was raised in Montreal, one of my favorite cities.  Like an astonishing number of Montreal's second generation residents, he is trilingual: English, French and Persian.  Other television work includes The Tournament, The Expanse and The Strain.  On the big screen, he has appeared in Source Code and Diana

Next week: "The Lost One."

Monday, August 21, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Arthur D. Hittner

Title: Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball's "Flying Dutchman"
Author: Arthur D. Hittner
via Amazon
My first awareness of Honus Wagner was from his baseball card.  The T206 Honus Wagner is the most famous and valuable card of them all.  One of the cards was sold at auction in 2016 for $3.12 million.  It was years before I knew much about the player himself.

Honus Wagner played in the majors from 1897-1917, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He is widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  The modern stat geeks, in particular, love the guy.  Bill James, the king sabremetric guru, ranks Wagner as the second best ever in his Historical Baseball Abstract (2001).  Reading his biography, it's easy to see why.  The man was a hitting machine.  He won the National League batting title eight times, also leading the league in doubles seven times, in triples thrice.  Even now, a four-hit game by a major leaguer is worthy of mention on Sportscenter.  Wagner had 51 four-hit games during his career.  He was also the best fielding shortstop of his era and a ferocious base runner, leading the league in stolen bases five times.  He carried the Pirates franchise for years.  When the Hall of Fame elected its first class of inductees, Wagner tied for second in the voting with Babe Ruth.  Only Ty Cobb, Wagner's contemporary, got more votes and even Cobb himself readily admitted that he saw Wagner as the better overall player.

Hittner admits upfront that he did not have a lot to go on in piecing together a biography.  Wagner was a notoriously private man and very few records ever existed regarding his personal life.  He was naturally shy, too, and averse to self-promotion so even interviews were few and far between.  He played for the Pirates despite other lucrative opportunities because he wanted to be close to his family home in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.  If he had vices, they were never widely publicized.  By all accounts, his life was as quiet as a famous man's could be.

So, most of the detailed information available about Honus Wagner is from his extraordinary on-field exploits.  The book paints a clear portrait of an exceptional athlete, a towering giant of his sport.  The rest of the book deals more with the world surrounding baseball, one so different from the multi-media empire of today.  Wagner's $10,000 salary, for instance, was substantial for 1910 but change in the sofa cushions for an athlete of comparable stature in 2017, even once you account for inflation.  Players were less specialized in his era, too.  Wagner was a top-flight professional for a few years before he settled into his shortstop position - amazing considering that he's even now held as the best ever at that post.

The book does occasionally suffer from a one-game-after-another feel but the baseball stories are frequently amusing.  The extra details that flesh out the world around Wagner are the more worthwhile substance.  Overall, it's a fun though not indispensable book for a baseball fan, probably an easy pass for anyone else.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Squid Mixes: Sidecar

via my wife
As with many drinks, the origins of the sidecar are murky.  There is agreement over the time period, the end of World War I.  But was it London or Paris?  The drink was most certainly named for a motorcycle sidecar, but whose?

In our cocktail explorations, the sidecar and its many variations have been a fun discovery.  My recipe from The New York City Bartender's Guide calls for brandy, triple sec and lemon juice in 4:2:2 proportion.  Most of the brandy we had on hand was congac, not as sweet as our lower shelf brand but certainly nice.  The drink itself is sweet but with plenty of tart from the lemon.  The flavor reminds me a little of baby asprin, though more pleasant, of course.

Brandy is dangerous.  It's a bit like drinking candy.  In fact, it occurred to me after experimenting with it that perhaps the flavors of many hard candies are meant to taste like brandy.  Don't get me wrong, I like the stuff but I think it's good to be reminded with liquor that one is drinking alcohol.

Drink responsibly, folks!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Disappeared, Part I

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Disappeared, Part I"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 8
Original Air Date: March 1, 2014
via Wookieepedia
Sigh... Jar Jar...

On the peaceful, neutral world of Bardotta, the spiritual leaders are disappearing, one by one.  Queen Julia calls on the Republic for help.  Those on her world don't trust Jedi so she requests Jar Jar and only Jar Jar be sent.  Seriously?  Jar Jar?  The characters in the story are just as baffled as I am.  As it turns out, she doesn't merely trust Jar Jar.  She loooooooves him.  They get their smooch on pretty early.  Then Tai Chi, of course.

Mace Windu tags along to guide and assist.  The Windu/Binks pairing is a bit puzzling in itself but we'll roll with it.  As Windu predicts, everyone's favorite Gungan is quickly in over his head.  The story is reasonably interesting but as expected, Jar Jar is all kinds of annoying.  There is a bit of a video gamey feel once the truth is revealed and the swashbuckling begins.  Season Six has been so strong that I suppose a narrative dip is to be expected.  Thankfully, this story is only two episodes long.  Jar Jar is still better than droids.
via Wookieepedia
This story marks the only series appearance for Queen Julia.  She is voiced by Ami Shukla.  Shukla has worked on such films as American Desi and ABCD.

Next week: "The Disappeared, Part II."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Squid Mixes: Daiquiri

A daiquiri, in its basic form, is actually a lot like a margarita, last week's featured drink.  Rum is the alcoholic base of this one, though lime juice still carries most of the flavor.  The recipe in The New York City Bartender's Guide uses sugar syrup as the sweetener.  The daiquiri is Cuban in origin, first served in bars there around the turn of the 20th century.  The drink became popular in the United States in the 1940s.  While whiskey and vodka were rationed during the war years, rum was not.  Also, Carribean culture in general came into vogue at about the same time.  None other than John F. Kennedy was a daiquiri fan.

Rum's funny stuff.  On its own, it's every bit as warm and fragrant as whiskey.  For me, it conjures up memories of rum raisin ice cream, my childhood favorite among Baskin Robbins's 31 flavors.  But when rum mixes with fruit juices, especially citrus, its own flavor disappears.  This vanishing act is not without historical significance.

In earlier centuries, rum was a sailor's drink.  To cope with the tedium of months at sea, ship crewmen were given a ration of the stuff.  Of course, they'd get bored of the rum, too, so any stop at port provided the welcome opportunity to combine it with the local fruit juices.  You'd still get your alcoholic fix but with a more interesting taste to go with it.  Our whole modern concept of a mixed drink was spawned from this legacy.

There's a darker side to the story, of course.  As many of us learned in our history studies, rum was part of the triangular trade route that brought African slaves to the New World.  Rum is distilled from molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process.  Sugar production in the Caribbean was entirely dependent on slave labor.  Thus the route: slaves to the West Indies, sugar to the American colonies or Europe, rum to Africa and around again.

It's awfully heavy stuff to ponder as you sip a brightly colored, fruity, boozy treat.  There's a lot of world history in that glass and much of it ugly.  The tale is not even a new one.  The rich and powerful - and let's not kid ourselves, most of those who read this post and the man who wrote it all qualify on the global spectrum - have fed themselves through human exploitation for thousands of years.  Despite the brave efforts of some, we still do.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Clone Wars: Crisis at the Heart

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Crisis at the Heart"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 7
Original Air Date: February 22, 2014
via Wookieepedia
The three-part Clovis arc comes to a close.  As Clovis returns to Scipio in order to assume control of the Banking Clan, Count Dooku asserts his influence over the man.  The broader machinations are soon revealed.  The Separatists attack Scipio which induces the Senate to authorize Republic intervention.  Clovis is exposed as a puppet, providing an opportunity for Palpatine to take charge of the banks himself.  In the end, we see that the arc has served two purposes in the grander scheme: development for the Anakin-Padmé relationship and yet another reminder of the ongoing manipulations of Palpatine/Darth Sidious as he plays the warring sides against each other.

Last week, I wrote that I felt the Clovis story would work better if the character himself were more likeable.  When all we see is him pawing Padmé and betraying the Republic at every opportunity, it's too easy to forgive Anakin for brutally assaulting him.  But there's an effort at the end of "Crisis at the Heart" to redeem Clovis.  In a moment of self-sacrifice, we have to wonder if he truly has been motivated by love and honor from the beginning.  Too little too late.

Looking ahead at the final - count 'em - six episodes, it would appear this is our last meaningful examination of the Anakin-Padmé dynamic.  Anakin's feelings for his wife and his inability to contain his own rage are both crucial factors in his ultimate conversion to the dark side so such stories are certainly relevant.  I would not say The Clone Wars series has done much to contribute to the love story, apart from reminders of how vulnerable it leaves Anakin.  However, the Clovis arc does at least humanize Anakin a bit.
via Wookieepedia
Kranken is the super tactical droid who led the Separatist invasion of Scipio.  This is his second Clone Wars appearance.  He was decapitated by Anakin in "The Unknown," the first episode of the season, I guess repaired in time for this one.  Kraken is voiced by Matthew Wood.

Next week: "The Disappeared, Part I."

Friday, August 4, 2017

Squid Mixes: Margaritas

Naturally, you are all avid followers of Hungry Enough to Eat Six, the outstanding food blog of my good friend and budding local celebrity, Nancy Mock.  As such, you already know about the food challenge gatherings she hosts.  Her latest, just last month, was the 2nd Annual Taco & Maragarita Off.  This was my second year bringing a margarita pitcher.  Last year, I took the easy way and bought a mix.  This time, I made it from scratch.  The only significant difference in terms of prep work is squeezing the limes myself.

I got my basic proportions from the recipe in The New York Bartender's Guide: 3 parts silver tequila, 1 part triple sec, 2 parts lime juice.  Drink recipes are no more standardized than any other food recipes.  Charles Schumann's American Bar sets the proportions at 2:1:1, calls specifically for Cointreau as the triple sec and uses lemon juice rather than lime.  The official IBA (International Bar Association) ratio is 7:4:3. 

At my wife's wise suggestion, I split the lime juice in halves between fresh squeezed and bottled.  Juicing can be hard work but I'd gotten into a bit of a groove by the time I reached my quota so it was tempting to keep going.  I stared back and forth between the limes in the bag and the lime juice in the bottle.  Laziness won out.

Cointreau is to triple sec as cognac is to brandy.  It's the same stuff, just higher quality at higher cost.  Cointreau is also a brand name.  As such, I'd rather use a lower-shelf triple sec if I can.  I had some of the higher grade on hand if I needed to supplement, thereby classing it up a touch, but didn't need it in the end.

This event was non-competitive but my pitcher went quickly so I think it passed the Basic Acceptability Test.  My wife is my most important critic.  She said it was good, though a bit strong.  I have found in general that The New York Bartender's Guide tends to make strong drinks but it's worth noting in this case that the recipe was actually lower in alcohol content than others I saw.  Next time, perhaps I would add more ice cubes to help dilute it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Rise of Clovis

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Rise of Clovis"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 6
Original Air Date: February 22, 2014
via Wookieepedia
The Clovis arc continues, part two of three.  The gang is back on Coruscant.  Clovis and Padmé have brought back proof of corruption within the Banking Clan.   Despite suspicions about his shady past, Clovis is put in charge of the clan and Padmé is assigned to help him in uncovering the mess.  Anakin is furious about his secret wife helping the interstellar playboy.  Let's just say the Jedi flies off the handle and makes a mess of his own marriage in the process.  While I appreciate the narrative purpose of Clovis, I think the story might work better if the man himself were not such an obvious slimeball.  It becomes too easy to side with Anakin when really, we should all be recognizing the monster he is gradually becoming.
via Wookieepedia
Among those opposed to elevating Clovis is Bail Organa, Senator of the Alderaan sector.  The character first appeared in Attack of the Clones.  Of course, we all know the part he has to play in the story to come as the adoptive father of Leia.  In the films, he is performed by Jimmy Smits (so handsome...) who was in just about every movie and TV show for a while.  In The Clone Wars, he is voiced by Phil LaMarr.

Next week: "Crisis at the Heart."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 2017 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, August 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, July 28, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: July 2017

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: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High
Authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
via Amazon
I think it's fair to say that the school district where I work is struggling at the moment.  Turnover has been high at both the administrative and faculty levels.  An atmosphere of mistrust - festering for decades - has reached near toxic levels.  Even summer hasn't given us much of a break from the troubles.  Yup, we're in rough shape.

Administration gave us a book to read over the summer.  It was not required.  It was suggested.  It's a book about improving your communication skills.  Just as there was a couple years ago when we were required to read Mindset (read here), there has been resistance in the ranks.

"How dare they give us this book to read.  They're the ones who can't communicate."  And so on.  You know how it goes.  I was always going to read it but even I went into it with a pessimistic attitude, thinking maybe it might provide ammunition in a difficult meeting one day.

The truth is, the book's actually quite good.  The authors are business consultants who have spent years watching successful people, dissecting what they do differently from everyone else.  Their thesis: everyone has crucial conversations in their lives, both personal and professional.  The people who stand out are the ones who handle those conversations effectively.

According to the authors, a crucial conversation is one in which opinions vary, stakes are high and emotions run strong.  In education, such conversations happen all the time: teacher-student, teacher-admin, teacher-colleague, teacher-parent, student-student, student-bus driver, etc.  The book offers several tactics they have found to be effective in these tense situations.  Each chapter focuses on a particular skill.  For example:
  • Chapter 3: Start with Heart, How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want
  • Chapter 5: Make It Safe, How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything
  • Chapter 8: Explore Others' Paths, How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up
In the midst of reading the book, I attended a school board meeting and realized the deep levels of dysfunction we're currently experiencing.  The book's recommendations are good ones.  I am hopeful that at least a few of my colleagues will set their resentments aside and give it a go.  In all honesty, our communication difficulties predate our current troubles by decades, probably generations.  I am at a point in my own career where I'm starting to seriously ponder future leadership roles for myself and I expect the principles outlined in the book to be highly useful - both in considering if that's what I really want and in preparing myself to do the work.  It's a book I'll share with others and keep around for reference.  Relationships are everything in education - truly, in life.  How could one not want ideas about how to improve them?

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 August's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is August 25th.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

On the Coffee Table: James Sturm

Title: The Golem's Mighty Swing
Writer and Artist: James Sturm
via Amazon
The Golem's Mighty Swing is a fictional, graphic novel account of a barnstorming Jewish baseball team during the Great Depression.  Noah Strauss is the player-manager for the Stars of David.  The squad faces brutal treatment from fans and foes wherever they go.  In fact, the abuse seems to be part of the attraction.  They sport beards - some real, some not - to appease the stereotype.  Financial straits push them to try a more demeaning gimmick: dressing up their one African American player as a hulking golem, a "Medieval Jewish Monster."

The team name and the beards take their inspiration from the real-life House of David teams, though to classify that cultist operation as "Jewish" would be quite a stretch.  While I can find no historical equivalent to the team in the book, Jewish players banding together not to proselytize but simply to make a living because other teams wouldn't hire them, it's not difficult to imagine that one or two existed.  There were other barnstorming outfits bound by ethnicity: Native Americans, Italians, Irish and, of course, numerous African American teams.

The book was recommended to us by our comic shop clerk who studied under Sturm at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.  It is the first of two baseball books for Sturm, who also wrote and drew Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.  I'll definitely seek that one out, too.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Clone Wars: An Old Friend

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "An Old Friend"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 5
Original Air Date: February 22, 2014
via Wookieepedia
Padmé is called to Scipio to fund a mercy mission.  Once there, she runs into her old flame Rush Clovis who enlists her help to uncover the corruption of the Banking Clan.  This is the first of a three-part arc.

It's been quite a while since we last had a Padmé-centered episode.  Of course, a Clovis story is really about Padmé's relationship with Anakin, who comes to town when his secret wife is arrested for espionage.  Overall, I think it's just as well that The Clone Wars doesn't devote so much time to the romantic side of the Anakin story but it is humanizing to see him reduced to petty, jealous husband.
via Wookieepedia
This episode is the second of four for Rush Clovis.  His existence helps to flesh out the character of Padmé, just as Duchess Satine does for Obi-Wan.  He is voiced by Robin Atkin Downes.

Next week: "The Rise of Clovis."