Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Patrick Harrigan

Title: The Detroit Tigers: Club and Community, 1945-1995
Author: Patrick Harrigan
Harrigan's ambitious book presents a post-war history of the Detroit Tigers baseball club, focusing more on business operations than on-field exploits.  Going in, I was worried it might be a bit dry but was pleasantly surprised.  If anything, baseball was the least interesting part of the book.  While the game between the foul lines changed little in the half-century covered, the world surrounding it was irrevocably transformed.

Harrigan covers all of the major transitional moments for the sport: integration, western migration, expansion, free agency, etc.  Just as important to the story, however, are the changes in the city of Detroit.  An industrial powerhouse in the middle of the 20th century, Detroit was hit hard when automation and globalization decimated the job market.  The affluent fled to the suburbs, leaving an increasingly impoverished inner city to struggle through decades of high crime and decaying infrastructure.  Yet, the team has, for the most part, thrived, a unifying symbol for the entire metropolitan area.

That's not to say there have been no bumps in the road.  Race relations have long been a challenge for the old ball club.  The Tigers were the second-to-last Major League team to integrate (the Red Sox were the last) and maintained unofficial discriminatory practices in hiring for years afterward - not exactly strong PR in the city with the highest percentage of African-American residents of any major city in the United States.  Over the years, the team has worked harder at maintaining its audience in the suburbs than in the inner city.

While I've read a fair amount about integration in baseball, Harrigan provided some new perspectives.  Problems continued long after Jackie Robinson, of course.  While there were few Major League teams in the segregated South, there were plenty of minor league teams.  The Tigers had a farm team in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most notoriously segregated cities in America.  Plus, there was the matter of spring training in Florida each year.

I don't know if non-baseball fans would be interested in the book but anyone curious about the transformation of urban America in the late 20th century certainly should be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Clone Wars: Escape from Kadavo

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: "Escape from Kadavo"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 6, 2012
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the final chapter of the Zygerrian arc.  Obi-Wan and Rex have been captured and are now serving as slaves in the mines on Kadavo.  Anakin's cover has been blown but Queen Scintel is still trying to win him over to her side.  Meanwhile, Count Dooku has arrived to meet with the Queen.

It's a decent story from a character development perspective.  We are reminded of Anakin's childhood demons and get to see his way with the ladies.  We see Obi-Wan's compassion as he toils among the slaves.  We see Ahsoka's devotion to her people (though really, that part could have been developed better).  Rex gets a great moment towards the end, though to say more would be spoiling.
via Villains Wiki
Agruss is the Zygerrian slavemaster at the processing facility on Kadavo, Obi-Wan's primary adversary in the episode.  The Zygerrian arc marks Agruss's only appearance in The Clone Wars.  He is voiced by Victor Brandt.

Brandt was born September 19, 1942 in Los Angeles.  He had numerous appearances on iconic TV shows in the '60s, '70s and '80s, including Mission Impossible, The Odd Couple and T.J. Hooker.  His most prominent voice roles have been Professor Hamilton in Superman: The Animated Series and Master Pakku in Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Most importantly to this blogger, Brandt appeared in two Star Trek original series third season episodes, including one of the all-time stinkers.  He was Watson in "Elaan of Troyius" and Tongo Rad - what a name! - in "The Way to Eden," my least favorite in the original run.
Watson via Memory Alpha
Tango Rad via Memory Alpha
Next week: "A Friend in Need."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 2016 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, December 30th.  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, November 25, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: November 2016

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: Play Winning Chess
Author: Yasser Seirawan
via Goodreads
I have written before of my love for chess (see here).  It has been years, however, since I devoted much time to playing or studying the game.  I first discovered Yasser Seirawan's books while we were living in New York City in the late '90s.  New York is, of course, one of the great chess cities of the world - the city that spawned Bobby Fischer.  We lived within a short walk of Washington Square Park where one can marvel over the speed chess fiends at any hour of the day.  Born in Syria, Seirawan grew up in Seattle.  In the chess world, he rose to the rank of grandmaster and was US champion four times.  His books are delightful.

One can learn a lot from chess books, obviously, but most are dry and/or unforgiving of mistakes.  I make loads of mistakes when I play.  Seirawan's message to the reader is "Yes, of course you make mistakes.  So do I.  Here's what I have learned from mine."  He presents simple principles in an engaging, accessible style with lots of concrete demonstrations.  In particular, he emphasizes force, time, space and pawn structures.  Interwoven in this first book are historical tidbits including the game's earliest known origins and profiles of great champions.

I learn a lot about myself through chess.  In order to improve my game, I've had to push myself our of my own comfort zones.  A naturally cautious person, I tend to play defensively.  While that is a strength to a point, I need to be more aggressive to convert not losing into winning.  I also have a compulsive need for dependable systems in my world.  In game play, I often get so caught up in what I'm doing that I miss small details in my opponent's position and suffer the consequences.

I'm trying to play more now, too.  All of my games are online right now, though I may seek out some real world competition soon, too.  Up for a game?  Come find me at  I am ikaspiel.

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 December's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is December 30th.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Clone Wars: Slaves of the Republic

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: "Slaves of the Republic"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 12
Original Air Date: December 2, 2011
via Wookieepedia
"Slaves of the Republic" is the second installment of the Zygerria arc.  Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka go undercover in order to find the kidnapped Togruta colonists from last week.  Anakin scores an audience with the Queen and turns on the smarmy charm in an effort to gain her trust.  Ahsoka, disguised as his slave, spends much of the episode rolling her eyes over his flirtation.  Can't say I blame her!

I can't tell if it's me or the series but I'm burning out a little on The Clone Wars.   It could be me.  As I write this, it's August.  Anticipating a busy fall in my life beyond the blog, I've spent the summer trying to get ahead on these posts.  So, I've been watching the show and writing about it quite a lot over the past couple months.  It could be fatigue.

But, I can't help feeling the energy of the series is flagging, too.  This arc actually has a lot going for it.  We get to visit a couple of new worlds.  We get a new angle of galactic history with the Zygerrians.  We get some decent development for Anakin.  And yet, I'm having a hard time getting excited about it.  I may have a touch of Anakin-fatigue, in particular.  Generally speaking, the stories I enjoy the most have little to do with him.  The Zygerria arc is Anakin-heavy.
via Wookieepedia
That said, Queen Miraj Scintel is a decent character.  In fact, one strength of the series is powerful women: Padmé, of course, but also Duchess Satine of Mandalore and Mina Bonteri of Onderon.  The Queen is voiced by Rajia Baroudi.
via RangerWiki
Baroudi was born February 28, 1965.  As an actress, she has appeared in To Rest in Peace and The Mischievous Case of Cordelia Botkin.  She has also worked as a costume designer on The Open Door and as a production designer on the TV series, Thrills.

Next week: "Escape from Kadavo."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Squid Eats: Pho K&K

Pho K&K is a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant in Williston, Vermont, opening just a couple years ago.  We have been three times recently.  I've gotten a different main dish each time and always been thoroughly satisfied.  As Southeast Asian cuisines go, I prefer Thai (see here) but Vietnamese makes for a nice change of pace from time to time.  Vietnamese food packs loads of flavor, yet somehow manages to feel lighter than Thai food.
via TripAdvisor
We went with the Mocks on our most recent visit, just before we all went to see Doctor Strange (5 stars from me: easily Marvel's best so far).  I started my meal with one of their wonderful mango smoothies.  For my entree, I had Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, crispy spring roll and grilled chicken (or pork) served over rice vemicelli.  I meant to take a photo but... I was quite hungry.  Needless to say, it was scrumptious.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Clone Wars: Kidnapped

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: "Kidnapped"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 11
Original Air Date: November 25, 2011
via Wookieepedia
Anakin confronts his demons this week.  The Separatists have gained control of the peaceful world of Kiros.  Leading the occupation force is Darts D'Nar, a Zygerrian.  Apparently, the Zygerrians ran a lucrative slave trade for thousands of years before the Jedi shut it down.  The encounter dredges up Anakin's memories of his own childhood as a slave, inspiring a barely controlled rage.  Fortunately for the Republic, Obi-Wan, not Anakin, was summoned to D'Nar to negotiate terms of surrender.  But whose surrender, exactly?

Meanwhile, the entire civilian population of Kiros has gone missing and D'Nar speaks to Obi-Wan of restoring the Zygerrian slave enterprise to its former glory.
via Wookieepedia
Darts N'Dar is voiced by Nick Jameson.  Jameson was born July 10, 1950 in Columbia, Missouri and grew up in Philadelphia.  He has made appearances in 24, Lost and The King of Queens among other television shows.   While this is his only work in The Clone Wars, he has numerous additional Star Wars credits in other media, most often as the voice of Palpatine.
via Lostpedia
Jameson has impressive musical credentials, too.  He was the unofficial fourth member of Foghat in the mid-'70s, serving as both producer and bass player on several albums, including the band's biggest hit: "Slow Ride."  He released a couple of solo albums, too, and made the singles chart with 1986's "Weatherman."

Next week: "Slaves of the Republic."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Squid Cooks: Broiled Boneless Chicken

My wife was out of town for a few days last week, leaving me in charge of dinner.  Just so all of you understand, I'm not completely useless when it comes to cooking.  I know how to make a few things just fine: burgers (as discussed last week), pasta, stir fry, salad, etc.  I would not starve left to my own devices.  But I am lacking in some fundamental skills, including meal planning.  When my wife's away, I usually default to something easy but with my current goal of expanding my culinary capacities, I took the opportunity to learn a couple of new recipes, both out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.  The first night was the burgers.  The second was broiled boneless chicken.

Both recipes involved the broiler, a first for me.  With the chicken, it actually made me a little nervous: a fair amount of oil awfully close to a flame.  But it more or less worked.  The resulting dish was not especially interesting, though serviceable.  As Bittman points out, broiling chicken breasts is a good thing to know how to do for other recipes, like chicken salad. 

My wife's brief absence also provided an opportunity to indulge in something my daughter and I enjoy more than she does: Star Trek!  I'd recently taken my daughter on a tour of my own top ten TOS episodes (see here).  On broiled chicken night, we started TNG from the beginning.  So, she got to meet Q!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Clone Wars: Carnage of Krell

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: "Carnage of Krell"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 18, 2011
via Wookieepedia
Things are looking grim for the 501st Legion.  General Pong Krell, in command of the clones in Anakin's absence, has ordered Fives and Jess to face court martial for treason.  When Captain Rex appeals for mercy, Krell raises the ante by demanding they be executed immediately.  Meanwhile, Krell continues to give highly questionable orders to the troops in the field.

To say much more would be spoiling.  We've now come to the end of the Krell arc, an excellent exploration of the patronizing attitude some within the Republic take toward the clones.  Krell's personal issues run a bit deeper, we learn, but the philosophical undercurrent is fascinating.  Like "Rookies," the Krell arc frequently feels like a 1950s war movie, a good one.

via Wiki 24
Matt Michnovetz wrote the four-part Krell arc.  In total, he wrote eleven Clone Wars episodes and, so far, four Rebels episodes.  He was head writer for The Clone Wars during its sixth and seventh seasons.  Michnovetz was born in Agawam, Massachusetts.  Before Star Wars, he wrote for 24, The Unknown and Armed Response.

Next week: "Kidnapped."

Friday, November 4, 2016

Squid Cooks: The Burger

Even prior to my current efforts to improve my cooking skills, I was fairly confident in my hamburger recipe and technique.  Indeed, it was gratifying to see that Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything: The Basics was essentially the same as mine: fold chopped onions into the meat before cooking.  What was new for me, however, was using the broiler for the job.  I usually cook them on the stove top.  It made for a nice variation, providing an exterior crust.  I might not cook them quite as long next time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Clone Wars: Plan of Dissent

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: "Plan of Dissent"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 11, 2011
via Wookieepedia
This story's getting good.  "Plan of Dissent" is the third episode in a four-part arc.  General Krell continues to be obnoxious and foolhardy.  The clones of the 501st Legion serving under him continue to grumble.  This week, Krell has yet another suicidal assault plan and, of course, the clones have a better idea.  Their scheme might be the only real chance of success but carrying it out risks a court martial for all involved.  So, of course, they swallow their pride and follow Krell's crazy orders.

Haha!  Just kidding!  Wouldn't that be boring?  The climactic scene is highly reminiscent of "Rookies," still my favorite single episode of the series.  There's also a nice little gift for the devotees, a recreation of Han Solo's intercom riff during the prison break scene in A New Hope.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: stories about the clone troopers themselves are the best thread going in The Clone Wars.  Still true, four seasons in.


"Plan of Dissent" was directed by Kyle Dunlevy.  It is the ninth of 17 episodes he directed.  Prior to Star Wars, Dunlevy worked with C.A.G.E. Digital.

Over the course of the series, The Clone Wars used 15 different episode directors.  While Dunlevy directed the final two episodes of this four-part arc, chapter one was directed by Steward Lee, chapter two by Walter Murch.  It seems a strange way to divvy up the work but I supposed you do what you have to in order to meet deadlines.  Meanwhile, the same writer is credited for all four episodes: Matt Michnovetz.  I suppose that makes sense.

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: "Carnage of Krell."