Thursday, August 24, 2017

State of the Blog 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Squiddies 2017

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

Biggest Surprise: Patrick and Marcelle Leahy

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

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


Biggest Disappointment: Trump

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

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


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

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

Hogwarts Forever!


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

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


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


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

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Disappeared, Part II

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

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

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

Next week: "The Lost One."

Monday, August 21, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Arthur D. Hittner

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Squid Mixes: Sidecar

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

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

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

Drink responsibly, folks!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Disappeared, Part I

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

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

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

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

Next week: "The Disappeared, Part II."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Squid Mixes: Daiquiri

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Clone Wars: Crisis at the Heart

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

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

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

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

Next week: "The Disappeared, Part I."

Friday, August 4, 2017

Squid Mixes: Margaritas

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Rise of Clovis

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

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

Next week: "Crisis at the Heart."