Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Clone Wars: A Friend in Need

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: "A Friend in Need"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 13, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Lux Bonteri is back and he's out to avenge his mother's death.  He believes, correctly, that Count Dooku was behind the assassination of Mina Bonteri, a Separatist Senator.  After a public accusation, Lux is brought before a holographic projection of Dooku who commands Lux be executed for treason.  Fortunately, Lux's old pal Ahsoka is on hand to help get him out of the jam.

The story brings back a lot of strong narrative threads from Seasons Two and Three.  In addition to the Bonteri family, we venture back to the Mandalore saga as well.  In his efforts to get back at Dooku, Lux has fallen in with Death Watch, a Mandalore splinter insurgence group.  We are soon reminded, they're not so nice.
via Clone Wars Wiki
In "A Friend in Need," we hear the voice but don't yet see the face of Bo-Katan, one of the Death Watch fighters.  She will be a more significant character with a more interesting back story when she returns in Season Five (I peeked).  She is voiced by Katee Sackhoff.

Katee Sackhoff was born April 8, 1980 in Portland, Oregon.  She was a competitive swimmer with a promising future before those ambitions were derailed by a knee injury.  At that point, her interests turned to yoga... and acting.
via Wookieepedia
Sackhoff is best known in the geekverse as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica.  Other television work includes the Robot Chicken, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and 24.  Big screen credits include Halloween: Resurrection, Riddick and Oculus.  Sackhoff is a thyroid cancer survivor.

Next week: "Deception."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Squid Bakes: Butter Cookies

I won big time brownie points at home with this recipe, yet another from How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman.  Butter cookies are my wife's favorite and these turned out well.  I was a little worried they'd be too soft as they came out of the oven but they hardened as they cooled.

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 Chess.com.  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."