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.