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."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Squid Mixes: Old Pal Cocktail

The Old Pal Cocktail, according to The New York Bartender's Guide recipe I used, combines rye whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth.  Apparently other versions use dry vermouth instead.  I have no idea who the "old pal" is but the drink first appeared ABC of Mixing Cocktails, a 1922 book written by Harry MacElhone.

To me, the flavor resembles that of a cranberry.  The Campari brings the bitter (and the color), the vermouth the sweet and the whiskey the warmth.  My wife enjoyed it so we may try this one again.  Maybe I'll try with dry vermouth next time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Clone Wars: Orders

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: "Orders"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 4
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Orders" is the final installment of a four-part arc.  Fives is brought back to Coruscant along with the body of Tup, a clone trooper who murdered a Jedi.  Last week, Fives and his droid buddy AZI-3 discovered the inhibitor chip implanted in all clones in their embryonic stage.  Fives believes (correctly) that the chips are there for nefarious purpose and is eager to share what he's found with the powers above.  Unfortunately, Palpatine knows Fives is right and is just as eager to deflect suspicion back to the trooper himself.  Fives is on the run once again.

I'll talk more about the clone troopers when we wrap up the series but they merit some discussion now.  As I have said before, the clones themselves are the best story thread going in The Clone Wars and that thread concludes with this arc.  Without knowing the rest of the story, if I told you one side fought a war with a genetically engineered slave army, you would assume said force belonged to the bad guys.  But no, the clones side with the Republic.  While we are taught to see the relationship between Jedi and clones as benevolent and near-parental, it doesn't change the fact that we're talking about a Brave New World approach to warfare.  Look a little deeper and the more interesting stories in this thread reveal a more complicated relationship, and for reasons that have nothing to do with Order 66.  The inhibitor chips and their link to the eventual attack on the Jedi are a deeper, darker manipulation, of course, but the basic ethical dilemma of the clones is inherent from the beginning.

This is one of the best arcs of the series, right on the heels of the strong one that finished Season Five.  Like the Ahsoka on the Run arc, this Inhibitor Chip arc is strong on its own but is helped considerably by the stories that come before it.  Fives is the star and his background in particular enhances the tale.
via Wookieepedia
Mas Amedda is a Chagrian politician from the planet Champala.  At the time of this story, he is Vice Chair of the Galactic Senate under Palpatine.  He was first introduced in The Phantom Menace when he was played by Jerome Blake.  He was played David Bowers in Attack of the Clones and by both actors in Revenge of the Sith.  In The Clone Wars, he is voiced by Stephen Stanton.

Next week: "An Old Friend."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Squid Mixes: Campari Soda

Campari is a deceptive little liqueur.  The bright red fools one into thinking the flavor would be sweet like grenadine.  Instead, it is intensely bitter.  One of the primary ingredients is chinotto, a citrus fruit native to the Mediterranean region.  As with Campari, it looks like a sweet orange but the truth is otherwise.  The liqueur also includes cascarilla, a Caribbean herb employed as a tonic and used in Vermouth.

The bright red color is produced artificially.  Until 2006, carmine, a dye made from crushed insects, was used.  Now, the dye is synthetic.

My wife is a Campari fan.  She especially likes Negronis.  The Campari soda made for a fine summer drink and was awfully pretty.  It looked especially nice in our cobalt blue glasses but alas, that was more difficult to capture photographically.  My recipe comes from The New York Bartender's Guide.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Clone Wars: Fugitive

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: "Fugitive"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 3
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
Fives and his medical droid conspirator AZI-3 continue to dig for the truth in this, the third of a strong four-part arc.  Last week, the two removed a tumor from the brain of Tup, a clone trooper who had gone berzerk and killed a Jedi during a battle.  Tup subsequently died.  Fives was arrested.  This week, he escapes custody and springs AZI, too.  Snooping around the Kamino labs, they find that Tup, Fives and in fact all clones are implanted with an inhibitor chip, purpose unknown - at least to them.  Along the way there are enlightening and uncomfortable arguments between Nala Se and Shaak Ti over whether the clones "belong" to the Kaminoans or the Republic.
via Wookieepedia
AZI-3 is short for AZI-345211896246498721347.  The full designation comes up in a discussion between the medical droid and Fives (aka ARC-5555) about whether the numbers are demeaning to the clones or the droids.  This arc marks AZI-3's only appearance in the series.  He has quite a number of talents that come in handy in this episode.  In addition to being an expert surgeon, he doubles as a jet ski.  He is voiced by Ben Diskin.

Next week: "Orders."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Squid Mixes: Highball


All else being equal, a highball is my wife's drink of choice.   A highball is actually a broad category of drinks: an alcoholic spirit combined with a larger portion of a non-alcoholic mixer.  At our house, a "highball" is rye whiskey, preferrably Old Overholt, with ginger ale or ginger beer.  Ginger is big with my wife in general and the whiskey is a wonderful complement.

Highball also describes the tall glass in which the drink is served.  The name of the drink and the glass may derive from train dining cars.  A steam engine running at full throttle was said to be "highballing" in reference to the ball rising in the pressure guage.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Family Book Swap: Caddie Woodlawn

Title: Caddie Woodlawn
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink
via Amazon
For our summer book swap, our daughter gave me Caddie Woodlawn, a fictionalized memoir of a girl growing up in Pioneer Era Wisconsin.  Yes indeed, the premise is remarkably similar to that of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet this book has a strong legacy in its own right.  Caddie Woodlawn was awarded the Newberry Medal in 1936 and was one of the inaugural winners (along with Little House) of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958.  Just like the Ingalls house near Pepin, Wisconsin, the Woodlawn home near Menomonie is preserved as an historic site.

Caddie's story is as much about her tomboy adventures with her brothers as it is about the frontier experience.  She prefers exploring the woods more than the more "ladylike" pursuits embraced by her mother and older sister in the house.  The traditional gender roles defined in the book are more than a little uncomfortable in light of 21st century sensibilities, though less so than the stories about Native Americans.  Those issues aside, the stories are charming enough.  Caddie's growing up moments center around the development of empathy: empathy for her Native American neighbors, for her tattle-tale younger sister, for her more refined Boston cousin, etc.  Overall, I'd say the book is better than Little House, which I've begun several times but never finished, though far inferior to Anne of Green Gables.

Our daughter has long expressed an interest in the Upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Her affection for this book helps me to understand why.  Brink's love for the northern woodlands is obvious.  We're hoping to make a cross-country journey sometime in the next few years and that part of the country seems a likely target for exploration.

For my part of the swap, I gave her A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  I first read the book when I was about her age, 13.  I'll be interested to see what she thinks of it.  She's a far more sophisticated reader, especially of fantasy, than I was.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Clone Wars: Conspiracy

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: "Conspiracy"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 2
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Conspiracy" is the second in a four-part arc in which the Jedi are trying to unravel the mystery of why a clone murdered a Jedi while the Sith and their conspirators already know.   Tup, the offending clone, has been taken back to Kamino for examination.  Fives, who accompanied him back, is also being held in quarantine just in case whatever caused Tup to wig out is affecting him as well.  Initial tests reveal nothing unusual.  Shaak Ti wants to send Tup to the Jedi for psychological tests while Nala Se wishes to terminate Tup and dissect his brain.  Unbeknownst to Shaak Ti, Nala Se already knows what will be found and wants to get to it before the Jedi.  Fives, fearing for his pal, enlists the help of his own medical droid, AZI-3, to get to the truth before Tup is killed.
via Wookieepedia
We need to talk about Fives.  With a few exceptions like Cody and Rex, we don't get to know many of the clone troopers individually.  Fives, however, is rather quietly one of The Clone Wars's most interesting characters and has been attached to several of the series's best arcs.  We first met him as part of Domino Squad in the excellent first season episode "Rookies."  He also joined the Citadel prison rescue in Season Three and the attack on Umbara in Season Four.  He is especially devoted and compassionate towards his clone brothers, a distinction which in this story gets him into heaps of trouble but also comes damn near to uncovering the truth.
via Wookieepedia
Lama Su is the prime minister of Kamino and the overseer of the creation of the clone army.  He was first introduced in Attack of the Clones.  He was originally intended to be a female character but has always been voiced as male.  In the movie, he was performed by Anthony Phelan; in The Clone Wars, by Bob Bergen.
via Wikipedia
Robert Bergen was born March 8, 1964 in St. Louis.  He has one of the more impressive voice actor resumes I've seen.  He is currently the voice of both Porky Pig and Tweety Bird for Warner Brothers.  He has had prominent roles in several Miyazaki films: Lupin in The Castle of Cagliostro, No-Face in Spirited Away and Father in Ponyo.  He is the official voice double for Mark Hamill, a fellow Ponyo voice cast member.  Bergen voices Luke Skywalker in several Star Wars video games.

Next week: "Fugitive."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: July 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, July 28th.  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, June 30, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 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: Strong Poison
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
via Amazon
My wife is a huge mystery fan.  Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot: she loves them all.  In fact, I'm a little surprised that she hasn't chosen one for a book swap with me before this.  She is especially fond of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers and chose Strong Poison as the best choice for introducing me to that series.

Lord Peter is an English aristocrat, circa 1930, who solves mysteries basically because he's good at it and has nothing better to do.  He strikes me as a cross between Holmes and Bertie Wooster of the P.G. Wodehouse novels.  In fact, this book references both of those other works.  Fortunately, he is more grounded than Sherlock and far more useful than Bertie.

Strong Poison begins in a courtroom.  Harriet Vane, a successful mystery novelist, stands accused of murdering her lover.  Nearly everyone is convinced of her guilt but Peter is sure she didn't do it.  When a hung jury suspends the trial, Peter pledges his services to the accused.  To make things more interesting, he's in love with her, though as the story opens, he hasn't actually met her yet.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I figured most of it out fairly early.  The story's appeal, though, is more in the characters than the plot.  Peter's delightfully zany, if brilliant.  Harriet is understated, yet charming - a perfect complement.  Bunter is Jeeves to Wimsey's Wooster.  Police inspector Parker is the practical everyman, also in love with Peter's sister.

The most clever part of this series, though, is the "cattery."  Peter maintains a typing service - I suppose an early version of a temp agency - employing women to use as his own stable of spies.  If nothing else, I think it was a brilliant way for a woman of Sayers's era to involve more female characters in the dirty work of the narrative.  Miss Climpson, who runs the cattery on Peter's behalf, is an engaging personality in her own right and plays a particularly important role in putting the pieces together for the current case.

I'm definitely up for more of this series.  I am inclined to go back to the beginning.  Strong Poison was, in fact, the sixth of the series published by Sayers, though the first to introduce Harriet Vane.  Now I want to know the established principals better, especially Peter, so it's back to the origin story.  Our shelves are bursting with mystery novels so it's a genre that could keep me occupied for years to come.

For my half of the swap, I gave my wife my Coffeehouse book from last month: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (reflection here).  

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 July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 28th.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Rick Riordan

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
Author: Rick Riordan
via Amazon
Our daughter loves mythology and is quite knowledgeable on the subject: Greek/Roman, of course, but also Hindu and more recently Norse.  As such, her discovery of and affection for the Percy Jackson series was practically inevitable.  Percy's world is a lot like Harry Potter's.  Percy's age is about the same as Harry's in the beginning.  He also doesn't know the secret of his extraordinary parentage - in his case, he is the son of a Greek god.  He has never fit in well in the "real world" but he discovers a place - a summer camp - where other kids like him gather and flourish.  Like Harry, Percy is a superstar upon arrival and doesn't entirely understand why.  Percy has two friends - one male, one female - who join him for all his perilous adventures.  Riordan's language is as American as Rowling's is British but the influence of the one on the other is unmistakable.

While derivative, the book is fun.  Percy gets to meet several of the gods, including his father - I won't spoil who that is but it's not difficult for the reader to figure out.  Even the series logo offers obvious clues.  The modernizing - not to mention Americanizing - of the concept is cleverly handled.  Riordan tries too hard with the kid-speak but overall, the pace of the storytelling is strong and suspense for details is well maintained.  The Purple Penguin has gone through all ten books - two five-book series - over the past year.  I don't know if I'll follow the story that far but I'm up for more.  It's not as good as HP or the Howl series but it's better than The House of Secrets.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Unknown

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 Unknown"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 1
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
The Lost Missions kick off with a clone troopers story, pretty much always my favorite.   During a combat offensive, clone trooper Tup goes into a strange trance state and kills Jedi Master Tiplar.  Neither Tup himself nor anyone else seems to understand what has happened.  Dooku and Darth Sidious have an inkling.  When word gets back to them about the incident, they move quickly to get to Tup so they can find out what has gone wrong with his "programming."  We as the viewers know what this is really all about: Order 66, the operation carried out in Revenge of the Sith in which the clones simultaneously slaughter nearly all of the Jedi.  This is the first episode of a four-part arc.
via Wookieepedia
Tiplar was a Mikkian.  Her twin sister Tiplee, also a Jedi, was with Tiplar at the time of her death.  The design for the two characters originated with an unused concept for a female Sith Lord developed for Attack of the Clones.  Both of the twins were voiced by Anna Graves.

Next week: "Conspiracy."

Monday, June 26, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Title: Thirst
Author: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
via Amazon
Dolatabadi is Iran's most revered living writer and one who has certainly earned his repressed artist street cred.  He was jailed by the Shah's regime for two years in the '70s simply for the fact that his books were always found in the homes of others arrested by the secret police.  Subversion was assumed.  Thirst, published in English in 2014, has never been published in the original Persian.

Thirst is an account of the Iran-Iraq War as told by two writers: one Iranian, one Iraqi.  There are three (or four? five?) story threads going on at once and the text weaves in, out and between them constantly and seamlessly.  At the heart of it all is one story about warring soldiers stalemated over a patch of earth, a water tank between them.  Neither side can approach the tank without being gunned down by the other: a perfect metaphor.  The political and historical messages are many.  Those in power control truth.  The Persian/Arab rivalry goes back well over a thousand years.  Soldiers are human.  War is absurd.

By design, the stories are difficult to follow.  As such, the overarching themes are emphasized over narrative details.  I sensed elements of other works: In the Labyrinth by Alaine Robbe-Grillet (review here) and All Quiet on the Western Front.  It's a good book with the playful, florid language I've come to expect from all Asian literature. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Squid Mixes: Italian Soda

Left to right: grapefruit, raspberry and almond
I had simple desires for Father's Day this year.  I wanted to watch a movie ("Ferris Beuller, you're my hero.").  I wanted to play games.  I wanted to go for a walk.  I wanted to mix drinks.

Round one was non-alcoholic, of course, so my daughter could enjoy it, too.  While we had some Torani syrups in the house, the supply was running low so a Saturday trip to the store was in order.  Unfortunately, that adventure was disappointing.  The Torani site's store locator sent me to Price Chopper.  I was hoping for the vast array one sees on a shelf behind the counter at a great coffeehouse:  lychee, blood orange, passion fruit, etc.  Unfortunately, PC's modest selection catered to more predictable tastes: vanilla, hazelnut, caramel and raspberry.  We have gotten more exciting flavors in the past, though always through mail order.  I guess that's what I'll need to do in the future.  We were low on raspberry so the trip wasn't a total loss.

Yes, I know I could make my own and I have in the past but that requires more effort than I was looking for on Father's Day.  Plus, the bottled variety is more shelf-stable.  That probably speaks to icky chemicals but I can live with it.

Italian soda is actually an American invention, first introduced in San Francisco in 1925.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  They turned out well, though not quite as sweet as I would have liked.  Now, I seem to recall that when I've made them before, I have used 1.5 oz of syrup rather than the 1 in the recipe.  I'll have to remember that for next time.  Mind you, they still hit the spot in our recent sweltering heat.  Plus, they're pretty.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Clone Wars: Season Five

We have reached the end of Season Five in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   Episode posts resume next Tuesday with The Lost Missions.  But first, a quick reflection...

General Impressions

Season Four was so weak overall that it's been great to see the series rebound with interesting tales of consequence both for The Clone Wars and for the broader Star Wars saga.  Season Five belongs to Ahsoka Tano. The season's two best arcs - the Onderon civil war arc and the season's final stretch - both focus on the Padawan.  There are down turns here and there, including an unfortunate four-part droid story arc and the full-on return of Darth Maul.  In fairness, while I'm not a fan of Maul's resurrection in principle, his story arc is actually pretty good.


Favorite Episode: "The Wrong Jedi"
via Confessions of a Serial Wordsmith
You got your spoiler alert on Tuesday.  Now, it's fair game...

Ahsoka goes through a lot in Season Five.  First, she gets caught up in the civil war on Onderon where she comes perilously close to falling for Lux Bonteri.  More importantly, she gets a taste of the broader struggle on her own terms, away from Anakin and the Jedi Council.  In the season's final arc, she is exiled from the Order, then invited back when cleared of her alleged crimes.  Her decision to leave anyway is downright shocking, an axiom-challenging twist worthy of a franchise that once turned the villain into the hero's father.  As we have seen in the Star Wars story, anyone abandoning the Jedi Way is dangerous, if not galactically catastrophic.  And yet as the viewer, it's not difficult to see her choice as justified.  This isn't just the strongest episode of the season.  It's a strong challenger for best of the entire series.


Least Favorite Episode: "A Sunny Day in the Void"

I love the droids but I hate the droid stories.  What madness led those in charge to believe that a four-part arc led by the droids would be a good idea?  "A Sunny Day in the Void" is the worst of the four because it has the robots getting lost in a flat, empty desert - not even the elegant, rolling, Tunisian dunes we get on Tatooine.  This is Utah Salt Flats emptiness without the mountains in the background.  Just awful.


Favorite New Character: Gregor

Amazingly, the four-part droid arc was not a total loss.  In Part 3, "Missing in Action," we meet Gregor, a former clone trooper now working as a dishwasher in Pons Ora, a sketchy town on Abafar.  He has amnesia, having sustained a head wound in battle.  He remembers nothing of his soldier past.  Fortunately, he comes around in time to see that he has to help the droids and their leader, Colonel Meebur.


Onward

The Clone Wars series was pulled by Cartoon Network in March 2013.  However, the production team already had 13 Season Six episodes in the can.  These shows, dubbed The Lost Missions, were released first on German television in February 2014.  Netflix released the shows to American and Canadian audiences in March of the same year.  We're in the home stretch, folks.


Please visit my friend Andrew Leon today for his Season Five recap.  Next Tuesday: "The Unknown."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Wrong Jedi

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 Wrong Jedi"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 1, 2013
via Wookieepedia
What is the true moral position of the Jedi Order within the Star Wars universe?  For me, this is the question that lies at the heart of the best Clone Wars episodes and what, in fact, makes the series more interesting than the prequel movies themselves.  All of the movies are set upon an obvious Jedi vs. Sith conflict, with Jedi the unquestioned good guys, the Sith the unquestioned bad.  We know that Anakin ultimately abandons one for the other but that is due to his personal failings and Palpatine's manipulation.  We are never left to question whether the Jedi might, in some instances, actually be in the wrong.  In The Clone Wars, that's all on the table, nowhere more so than in the final episode of Season Five.

Ahsoka Tano stands accused of murder and treason.  We all know she's been framed but Anakin is the only Jedi who believes it.  Tarkin and the Senate want her to have a civilian trial so they demand Ahsoka be kicked out of the Jedi Order.


SPOILER ALERT!!!


We really can't explore the story any further without spoiling.  Ahsoka is removed from the Order.  While Padme stands in as public defender for Ahsoka, Anakin tracks down Asajj Ventress, Ahsoka's accused accomplice, to learn the truth.  Asajj argues for her own innocence and implicates another: Barriss Offee, Ahsoka's confidant within the Order.  Anakin confronts Barriss.  They duel.  Barriss is brought before the court just at the moment of verdict and confesses all, her speech an impassioned accusation of the Jedi, blaming them, not the Separatists, for the war.  This is not the first time we've heard this asserition but it is the first time we've heard it from a Jedi.  Nonetheless, Ahsoka is vindicated.  Perry Mason couldn't have planned it any better.

But wait, there's more.  Here's where things really get interesting.  The Jedi Council apologizes to Ahsoka for doubting her and welcome her back to the Order.  Instead of rushing back to their welcoming embrace, she walks away.

She walks away!  Her faith in herself and her faith in the Jedi have been shaken.  While she is clearly sad to leave, she sees that her way lies along a different path.  Now, more than ever, it is becoming increasingly clear that The Clone Wars has been largely Ahsoka's story all along, not Anakin's.


END OF SPOILER


Ian Abercrombie, the original voice of Palpatine in The Clone Wars, died on January 26, 2012 of kidney failure.  The episode "Lawless" was dedicated to his memory.  While some of his parts for future episodes, including one Lost Missions arc, had already been recorded, the series needed a new voice actor for the role.  In stepped master thespian, Tim Curry.
via Garfield Wiki
Timothy Curry was born April 19, 1946 in Grappenhall, Cheshire, England.  Curry attended boarding school at Kingswood School in Bath where he was a talented boy soprano.  At university in Birmingham he studied English and Drama.

The London stage beckoned.  Curry got his first full-time role in the London production of Hair but it was his second gig that set him on the path to international superstar.  Fair or not, Curry will always be best associated with his most famous role: Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He performed the part in London and Los Angeles productions before landing the screen gig.  Frank doesn't merely steal the show in Rocky Horror, the world's greatest of all cult films.  He is the show.

His stage and screen credits since are numerous.  Movies include Annie, Clue and Legend.  He has done extensive voice work, too, with roles in Fern Gully, Peter Pan & The Pirates, for which he won a Daytime Emmy as Captain Hook, and The Wild Thornberrys.  Between 1978 and 1981, he also recorded three albums with A&M.  His single "I Do the Rock", co-written with Michael Kamen, even reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  I'll let you judge for yourself...



Next week: "The Unknown." This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Five.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Squid Eats: The Kitchen Table Bistro

via Kitchen Table Bistro

My parents were in town this past weekend for our daughter's clarinet and piano recitals.  As discussed last week, our favorite post-recital restaurant has closed up shop so we're in search of a new spot.  We have been to The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond before.  My wife and I have gone for our wedding anniversary several times and years ago, her employer had a Christmas party there.  This was, however, our first time bringing my parents.

Service was a bit slow, though otherwise professional and friendly.  The food is always good.  Unfortunately, I wasn't in the best shape to enjoy it as I had gorged on snacks at the piano recital.  Even so, I enjoyed what I had.

My wife and I started with oysters on the half shell.  I love oysters - there's something borderline naughty about them, they're so sexy.  For the entree, she and I split the mustard crusted day roasted pork shoulder, actually surprisingly delicate for pork.  It fell apart easily with just a fork, knife barely required.  So full, I wasn't even up for much dessert, though I snuck a couple bites of wife and daughter's lemon poundcake with strawberries and rhubarb ice cream.  Our daughter, a rhubarb fan, was particularly excited for the ice cream, though my mother was disappointed by it.

Overall, my parents seemed impressed.  I think we may have found a reasonable replacement for Sonoma Station.

Oh, and the recitals went very well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Clone Wars: To Catch a Jedi

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: "To Catch a Jedi"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 22, 2013
via Wookieepedia
Ahsoka is on the run.  She is suspected of murdering a prisoner, then killing several clone troopers on her way out.  We all know she's innocent and that someone is setting her up.  The viewing audience gets a pretty clear sense of who that "someone" is but the Padawan doesn't quite see it yet.  On the streets of Coruscant, Ahsoka finds a surprising ally in Asajj Ventress, herself an exile from the other side of the war.

There's one more episode to go in this four-part arc.  Homages to The Fugitive and Hitchcock continue.  There's a chase scene through a subway train that's highly reminiscent of the Harrison Ford classic.  All of the episodes in the arc, including this one, are named for Hitch films.
via Wookieepedia
During her wanderings in the underworld, Ahsoka encounters Spots Podal, a vagrant Gotal.  She trades food with him for his cloak.  This episode marks his first and only appearance in the series.  He is unnamed in the episode but was given a name in the Star Wars site's online trivia gallery.  He is voiced by Dave Filoni.

Next week: "The Wrong Jedi."

Monday, June 12, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Storybook Love

Title: Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mark Buckingham
via Amazon
In the excellent Fables comic book series, fairy tale characters live among us in secret within their own New York City enclave, Fabletown.  This third collection includes issues #11-18. The Storybook Love arc itself only takes up four of those issues, #14-17.  It's a great story with significant character and relationship development, particularly between the series's two leads: Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) and Snow White.  It also ends with a great cliffhanger.

Issue #11, "Bag o' Bones," tells the adventures of Jack (he of the beanstalk) during the American Civil War.  The story gives a sense of how long the Fables have been in our world.  It also made me grateful for the time I have spent with the source material since I last visited this series.  The tale is straight out of Grimm: Jack wins a magic bag in a card game, then uses it to cheat Death.  Disastrous consequences follow.

Issues #12 and 13 are a two-part arc in which the Fables must cover their tracks when a nosy reporter gets way too close to their secret.  Just as the Potterverse wizards must hide their true nature from Muggles, so must the Fables preserve the ignorance of the Mundies.  The Fables, though, are inclined towards darker, more violent tactics to achieve their ends. 

#18 is a Lilliputian story.  Jonathan Swift's minifolk play a meaningful role in the Storybook Love arc so it's only appropriate they should get their own tale.  "Barleycorn Brides" tells of how the Lilliputians, initially all male, managed to find female mates.

I continue to be impressed by the series and curious about the source material.  I'm definitely up for more.  Next up, Volume 4: The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Squid Eats: Toscano Cafe Bistro

For years now, we have had a family tradition.  After our daughter's end-of-the-year dance recital, we would go to Sonoma Station for dinner (previously discussed here).  It was my parents' favorite restaurant in Vermont, too, so as they were usually in town for the recital they were only too happy to go.  Alas, Sonoma Station closed its doors last month. 

Our lives are changing in other ways.  For a few years now, the girl's interests have slowly been moving away from dance and towards music.  She plays three instruments: piano, clarinet and bass clarinet.  Now 13, she's gotten pretty good at all of them, particularly the piano.  She's taken lessons for five years and left me in the dust ages ago.  Admittedly, I was a late bloomer in music but her comfort, knowledge, sensitivity and passion already exceed anything I experienced before college.  It's a joy to watch.  In part because of this shift in interests, in part because dance weekend is crazy enough without having to worry about out of town guests, we invited my parents to come for music recital weekend instead this year. 

With all of these changes, it is certainly a good time to forge new traditions.  We asked the Purple Penguin if she had any requests for her post-recital dinner this year.  She told us to surprise her.  Challenge accepted!  She loves Italian, so...

We had never been to Toscano Cafe Bistro in Richmond before.  We certainly know the neighborhood.  Sonoma Station was just down the road and Bridge Street Cafe (read more here), another now defunct family favorite, was across the street.  Downtown Richmond was also our trick-or-treat area of choice for a long time. 

We started with mussels (if they're on the menu, we're getting them) and deconstructed bruschetta.  I had pork tenderloin as an entree.  My wife and I shared a peach cobbler for dessert.  The food was all good as was the service.  It was noisy, so not the best place for intimate conversation and probably not a reasonable Sonoma replacement for my parents.  Prices are on the high side but they reflect high quality.