Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Rookies" (Ep. 1.5)

-- The best confidence builder is experience.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

"Rookies" introduces us to several new recurring characters, one of which we've actually already met. Commander Cody, working with Obi-Wan, is introduced in Revenge of the Sith, but we get to meet him here from before he and Obi-Wan have formed a working relationship. There's also Captain Rex, who often appears alongside Cody in the Clone Wars series, and Echo, and Fives. Fives, named for his ID number, is one of my favorites of the side characters.

We're also introduced to the Commando droids. The Commando droids are somewhat of an upgrade from regular battle droids. Not only are they smarter, but they look cooler. Note that I only said that they're "smarter" than regular battle droids, not that they're smart. Actually, the Commando droids seem to be competent. At least competent enough to carry out complex orders and pull off infiltration missions.

As the title suggests, this episode deals with rookie troops, whom the veteran clones call "shinies," due to the shiny, new armor they have. It's an interesting look, even if done in just over 20 minutes, at the difference between raw recruits and veteran soldiers.

My favorite part of the episode is the opening during which the clone troops are listening/watching the radio/holo thing. It's a broadcast just for the troops and reminded me somewhat of Good Morning, Vietnam. As I've said before, it's these little details that seem just kind of tossed in that help flesh out the world and make it real.

"What the hell was that?"
"That was an eel. That's why we have the regulation not to go outside."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trinity 2015: Part One -- The Lake

Life is hectic right now. Mostly, it's softball, which I haven't talked about at all this season. I meant to, but, well, other things came up which proved distracting. One thing came up which proved distracting and which lasted throughout, basically, the whole spring season. We're in the summer travel ball season, now, which is much busier and hectic than the spring rec season. So, yeah, as I write this, I just got in from softball practice with my daughter, and I will be gone all weekend at a tournament. Fortunately, I just got back from vacation, so I have a lot of new pictures!

The annual vacation is to the Trinity Alps where, ostensibly, the Trinity lake resides. However, this year, there was no lake. Thank you drought.
Those two pictures are where there should be lake.

My wife and I walked down there pretty close to dark the first night and couldn't see the water and just kept walking and walking and never found it. We went back, later, on our bikes and rode down to where the water is, but I forgot my camera, so this is all you get. [Also, there's a longer story to all of that, but I don't really have time for it, right now.]

The second night we were there, a thunderstorm actually blew through, which was pretty cool, though it didn't do anything noticeable to the water level. It was the first thunderstorm for my kids (because we really don't get that kind of thing where we live). The lady who works in the store at the campground said that sometimes it thunders so hard up there that it makes their automatic doors open. That I would have liked to have seen.

At any rate, I'm running short on time, so I'm going to leave you with rain in the mountains.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Jurassic World (a movie review post)

The first thing I want to say about Jurassic World is that it was much better than I expected it to be. Much. I liked Jurassic Park well enough but the sequels were... well, they were less than good. None of it inspired high expectations from a movie that has the appearance of being nothing more than a car on the Chris Pratt star train. Which is nothing against Chris Pratt, because I've been a fan of his since season one of Parks and Recreation.

Since we're already talking about Pratt, let's just continue to do that. Pratt was fine. Good, even. But it wasn't a part that called for Pratt, and he didn't do anything to make it his, not like with Guardians of the Galaxy. Peter Quill is inseparable from Chris Pratt, because Pratt made that part his. The most that the part of Owen Grady called for was for Pratt to be "a badass," or at least to look like one. He pulled that off, but it didn't take any particular acting skill.

Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, does show considerable skill as the aloof Claire. It's not a role I've seen her play before; though, to be fair, I haven't seen her in a lot. Still, I think she did a good job as the woman trying to be in total control. Of everything.

The one I was really impressed with was Vincent D'Onofrio. I kept looking at him and wondering where I'd seen him before and just couldn't put my finger on it. I had to look up that he's the Kingpin in the current Daredevil series from Netflix. The two roles are widely divergent and, while I think he is the weak link in Daredevil, I now think it's because of some combination of the writing and directing rather than him just being a poor actor.

For Jurassic World, the kids prove to be the weakest element. Neither of them are completely convincing, though I think it's due at least in part to weak writing. Like the scene where Gray unexpectedly breaks down comes out of nowhere and is included just to make explicit something the writers had failed to be previously explicit about. Also, Zach's interest in girls. Which isn't odd except that they firmly establish that he has a girlfriend then repeatedly show him checking out other girls but that doesn't go anywhere have any impact on anything. It adds nothing to the story other than to muddle his personality.

Beyond that, the issues are only details, though there were two that bothered me more than the others. The first was the eggs hatching during the opening credits, which was completely wrong. Things that hatch from eggs hatch with their beaks and, if they don't have beaks, they generally have an egg tooth. Sometimes, they have both. The other thing was the kids getting one of the abandoned cars started, a 20 year abandoned car. I don't know much about cars, but I know enough to know that 1. car batteries don't hold a charge for that long and 2. even if they did, gasoline actually goes "bad." The idea that the boys, who had only ever helped work on a car once, could get one of those jeeps working was pretty much ludicrous.

BUT! Overall, it was a pretty decent movie and certainly worth seeing on the big screen. Despite Pratt not really being in a role that called for him, he was good, and his character was certainly the most interesting. Besides, the scene where he rides his motorcycle along with the velociraptors is almost worth the cost of the movie.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Destroy Malevolence" (Ep. 1.4)

 -- A plan is only as good as those who see it through.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode hearkens back to A New Hope and the Death Star rescue. See, the Malevolence is a huge ship. Massive. It's three times bigger than the standard Imperial Star Destroyer (though still dwarfed by the Super Star Destroyer). Grievous, through the machinations of Darth Sidious, is able to take Padme (almost) hostage while trying to escape from Republic forces. Anakin, of course, goes to rescue her. There are also overtones of the droid factory from Attack of the Clones.

This episode also has what I think is the first physical confrontation between Obi-Wan and Grievous. Without looking up and cataloging all of their meetings, this seems to me to be an ongoing theme in Clone Wars which, of course, culminates in their final duel in Revenge of the Sith.

Probably, the most interesting part of the episode has to do with transportation inside these huge ships. Imperial Star Destroyers are pretty close to a mile long. Haven't you ever wondered how people get around inside of them without it taking forever? Especially on something like a Super Star Destroyer, which is close to four miles long. Imagine: You have a meeting with Vader in half an hour, but you're on the wrong end of the ship. How do you get there?

Of course, the Space Balls answer was interior teleporters. But Star Wars doesn't actually use teleportation, so maybe being force choked for being late is your only option.

Or is it? The answer "Destroy Malevolence" provides is a kind of high speed tram system. Considering that the Clone Wars series is canon, I have to assume that this is the official answer as to how people (or droids) get around on these huge ships. We don't get to see much beyond the bridge area of the Star Destroyers in the movies, but I would love to see how these would look. Not that I expect that we'll get any better look at the interiors of Star Destroyers in episode VII.

At any rate, it's a fun episode. It's fun to see Anakin on the rescuing side of the whole rescue-the-princess thing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Alone in the Dark (or How Do You Turn on the Lights?)

My family just got back from vacation. Or most of us did. My oldest son actually elected not to go this year. That's okay. He's 19, and he had other things he wanted to do. Like staying connected to the Internet because his girlfriend is in Florida, right now, so going off for a week during which he would have no contact with her at all was rather more than he could deal with.

Him staying home was actually convenient for us, too, because he was able to take care of the cat and water the garden, which is now sporting a baby pumpkin.

The night we got back, I asked him, "So how was it?" You know, how was his first stay at home alone. Not only was this his first extended stay at home; this was his first just overnight stay at home alone. Yeah, we don't get out much.

I used to get left alone like that a lot, I suppose. Well, not for anything extended, because my parents didn't ever go off, either, but they would sometimes go down to my grandparents' overnight, and I would stay home. Once I was in high school, I was always busy, so, unless my mom let me know at least a week in advance, I already had something I was doing on Friday afternoon when she would say, "Hey, we're going down to the farm; do you want to come?" That was actually rather frustrating, because I liked my grandparents and the farm.

They went away for an extended trip when I was 17; I don't remember why. It was during the school year, though, so I couldn't go. My mom was worried that I would be scared and made arrangements for me to stay with someone if I got too scared to stay alone at home. Because, yeah, it would have made my mom scared, so she couldn't imagine any way that I could make it for the four or five days they would be gone without hiding in a corner from fear of the boogeyman. Or something. When they got back, she couldn't believe that I had not called my emergency backup number and gone to stay there.

The closest my son has come to being left alone, though, is that sometimes when he gets up in the morning everyone else is already gone. Usually, he doesn't even bother to eat in those situations because, you know, self-feeding and all of that. Honestly, despite buying him some easy to prepare foods (i.e. microwavable), we were a little worried we'd get home to find out that he hadn't eaten for a week. Surprisingly, all of the food was gone.

But, anyway, I asked him, "How was it?"

He said it was fine. He said it was fine except that it was a little dark.


He said the first couple of nights he kept thinking, "It's so dark in here," and he couldn't figure out why. Granted, it's pretty bright outside until, like, 9:00, so it took him a while to notice that it was dark, and that's around the time he generally goes off to his bed with his laptop, anyway, so it wasn't exactly inconveniencing him. But he didn't know why it was dark, not until the third night when he realized...

He hadn't turned on any lights!

He said it was because he's never had to turn on the lights. Meaning, they are always already on, and he's not the guy who turns the lights on, so it took a while for him to realize that they were off.

We had to laugh.

It is, however, a good illustration of how we might not think about things that we don't generally deal with, even common things. Things like turning on the lights. Or using a microwave oven. Or, like me today, trying to download songs onto my daughter's iPod, which I had never done before and couldn't figure out at first. Seriously, I thought those things were supposed to be intuitive or something. I think I should just be able to set the iPod on top of the CD and have the iPod do it.

So that first night that my son finally figured out that he needed to turn the lights on? Well, he went to bed and closed the door to his bedroom, because the boys do that to keep the cat out. The cat likes Lego. To eat. Their room is like a big buffet, so they have to keep the door closed all the time. Anyway, my son went to bed and, while he was lying there, he realized there was light coming in under the door, and he couldn't figure out why there was light because no one else was home, and he started wondering who could have turned on the lights...

Do you see where I'm going with this? He also never turns off the lights, so he hadn't done that, and it took him a moment to realize that he was the one who left the lights on. heh

Really, he's a smart kid. Mostly A's and all of that.

But we still laughed. Again.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Codes (a book review post)

Prior to its release, author Briane Pagel said about Codes that it's the best book he has written so far. After reading it, I would have to agree with him. And that's not something you should take lightly, because Pagel has written some pretty good books.

And, hey, there are hardly any editing issues in this one. And none that I can remember, now, which means, basically, that there was nothing more than simple copy editing issues and not many, at that.

The worst thing you can say about the book is that it wasn't long enough. I mean that in the "I really wish there was more of this" way and not the "This feels like author rushed it to keep it short" way. I don't know if there's a better thing that can be said about a book than "I wish there was more of this." In fact, it would have been great to have gotten to see more of all of the characters other characters, to say something that's really confusing but will make sense if you read the book. Actually, this could have been a really great mystery story, but, then, it would have been a different book but not necessarily a better book.

Okay, I think might be letting some of the book seep into me. Who am I again?

Anyway, this is the kind of story that Pagel does very well. It's a bit experimental but, still, mostly mainstream, and most of the experimenting is done in the text. And, yeah, that probably doesn't quite make sense, either, but, again, you have to read the book. Mostly, though, the thing he does well is let you see events from different characters' perspectives, which is important in a story like this.

So there's this one part that I have to mention:
There's a bit where Robbie gets a communication from someone on his... computer thing. I want to say laptop, but that might not be what it was. People are after him, and he gets this communication from this other guy that tells him to go out the window. It was like that scene in The Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo to go out the window and Neo does, but, see... and I don't want to spoil it, but I thought what Pagel did was great and much more likely to be... Yeah, likely to be.

Another major point for the book is that any time you think you know what's going on, you find out you don't really know what's going on. But in a good way. It's all just another piece of the puzzle. There were a couple of things that were very unexpected, though, and one of those was probably brilliant. And I'm going to leave it at that, because I can't really say anything else without spoilers, and this is a book you don't want spoiled.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Shadow of Malevolence" (Ep. 1.3)

-- Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego.

"Shadow of Malevolence" is one of the best episodes from season one. I say that from the stance that I still strongly remembered it (before I watched it again) more than five years after my original watching of it. My younger boy did, too. As soon as it started up, he said, "Oh! It's this episode!"

Visually, it introduces the Neebrays of the Balmorra Nebula, large manta-like creatures that fly through space. When I say large, I mean large. Like star cruiser size. They dwarf the squardron of y-wings that Anakin is leading so much so that Ahsoka is worried about being eaten. It's a brief scene, but it's very impressive.

Most of the episode features Anakin being cocky. He's come up with a plan to defeat Grievous and the Malevolence, and he's sure he will succeed. He's the leader of Shadow Squadron, a group of elite fighter pilots, and they have never failed in a mission or even lost many of their members. It's not just Anakin, then, who is cocky but the whole group of them. It's not that they believe they will succeed; it's that they believe they cannot fail.

Ahsoka, who has seen what the Malevolence can do, isn't so sure, but she's just a Padawan, so Anakin brushes aside her concerns as unimportant. However, Plo Koon, who also isn't as sure as Anakin (and who also has seen the Malevolence at work), comes along as an escort to keep an eye things.

Side note 1: We see that the Jedi are not as familiar with which other as we might have thought. Plo Koon is largely unfamiliar with Anakin other than in reputation. He doesn't actually trust Anakin's judgement despite the fact that Anakin is a Knight and a general. The lack of familiarity gives us a vague sense of how large the Jedi organization is and how much the individual Jedi spend working alone (or only with their Padawans).

On the other side of things, we see Grievous being just as cocky as Anakin. He has supreme confidence in his ship and its inability to be defeated. He takes no precautions against the raid Anakin is leading against the Malevolence despite being tipped off by Sidious via Dooku.

Basically, it comes down to whether either of them will see that clinging to their individual beliefs that they cannot fail is what is leading them to failure.

Side note 2: At one point, Grievous knocks the head off of one of his gunner droids for failing to hit any targets, and Dooku tells him that the droids are expensive. Grievous asks, sarcastically, if he's expected to start caring for the droids the way the Jedi care for their clones. A brief philosophical discussion ensues that, again, reveals the belief by the Jedi that the clones are valuable individuals, a belief the Sith believe will be the downfall of the Jedi.

This episode is an excellent example of how seemingly small things are added into the shows that reveal the larger picture of the Star Wars universe.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Returning To the Wolf

As I said last Friday, I am out of town. Which, um, technically isn't true anymore. Theoretically, I am back home [At least, I'm supposed to be back home. I hope I am.], but I'm probably not caught up on anything, yet, and probably haven't even started responding to comments. In anticipation of this, I have more pictures for you. These are from a recent (my second) trip to Jack London State Historic Park and Wolf House.

Friday, June 12, 2015

the Lighthouse

I am currently out of town. Some of you may have noticed that I haven't been around or responding to comments; well, that would be why. Or maybe none of you noticed, and I just thing too highly of myself. I probably do think too highly of myself, but that doesn't mean that absolutely none of you noticed.


Back in February, my wife abducted me for my birthday. We went out to Point Reyes, and you can see all the stuff from that if you go back and read the posts. However, what we didn't do was go out to the lighthouse. Even if we'd had the time, it was raining that day and too windy and the lighthouse was closed. I suppose there's a chance that people could get blown off the path down to it. At any rate, we finally took a trip to see the lighthouse back in April, so, while I'm gone away, you can look at some of the pictures.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Rising Malevolence" (Ep. 1.2)

-- Belief is not a matter of choice, but of conviction.

One of the best things about Clone Wars is that it allows us to find out more about characters we only ever really glance at in the movies. This is especially true of the Jedi Masters. In the movies, the Masters mostly just function as cardboard cutouts to fill the Council Chamber. Sure, a few of them get some lines but, other than during the execution of Order 66, we don't see them doing anything. They're just there to look cool.

Clone Wars finally lets us get to know characters like Plo Koon and see them in action.

It's not the same kind of action as with Yoda in the previous episode, though. There's no plowing through battle droids in this one. It's more a survival tale. However, there is more affirmation that the Jedi view the clones as unique and valuable beings, something the clones don't really accept about themselves. There's a piece of dialogue where one of the clones tells Plo Koon, "No one is coming for us. We're expendable," and Plo replies, "Not to me." It's especially poignant considering Order 66.

The other big thing in this episode is the introduction/origin of the ion cannon. You probably remember it best from The Empire Strikes Back has the huge ball turret the rebels used to disable whole star destroyers so that their ships could escape from Hoth. Here, we see General Grievous out testing the first prototype of the weapon in his flagship, the Malevolence, hence the title of the episode. And, I just have to say, the Malevolence is a pretty awesome ship. The animation on it is incredible. The episode is worth watching just for the ship but, even without it, it's well worth watching. [My kid has the Lego of the Malevolence which is pretty awesome, too.]

"Anakin just redeployed himself. Again." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi

Monday, June 8, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 7)

Which brings us to today. Sort of.

It's not that there aren't other things I could talk about...

I could talk about the race riots in Shreveport in '88 just after I'd gone off to college. Guess what they were over. The shooting death of a black man by a white person (a woman in this case). I could talk about my friend who was also from Shreveport (he was black and from the Cedar Grove neighborhood where the riots were taking place) and how worried he was about his family. He was a sophomore and, theoretically, had a lot of friends but, when it came down to it, I was the only one he could talk to because everyone else was too busy making fun of "all the black people burning down their own houses." They said that kind of stuff to him without any regard that they were talking about his home. It didn't help when it made national news and even Leno was making fun of the situation.

My friend couldn't even find out what was going on, because the phones were down and he couldn't get a call through. [Yeah, that sounds so weird, now, but there were no cell phones at the time.] He spent days worrying about his family, eventually got someone to drive him back (I didn't have a car my freshman year), and, pretty much, didn't come back to school after that. I don't even know what happened to him other than that I found out that he came back at some point and moved his stuff out.

I could talk about how in 1991 David Duke was almost elected governor of Louisiana. David Duke who had been a member of the KKK, was "famous" for wearing Nazi uniforms during his days as a student at LSU, and was involved in inciting several racial incidents during that same time period. There were three candidates, and Duke captured, basically, a third of the vote, so there was a runoff between Duke and previous (but not incumbent) governor, Edwin Edwards. Edwards won the runoff, but Duke still took more than half of the white vote in the state. Yeah, that's the state where I grew up; I'm not proud of it.

I could also take about my black friend who went to D.C. for for a work conference during the mid-90s and got the reverse treatment that I had received when I'd been there. One day, when out to lunch with some friends at a rather high class restaurant, she was completely ignored by the staff. The host shut the door in her face when they were going in. She was with two white coworkers, and the host, then, only offered them a table for two. Upon being corrected by one the white male of the group, they still only set two places at the table and had to be prompted to set a third place. The waitress did not acknowledge her presence and left after only taking the orders of the two white people she was there with. When the waitress came back, the male, again, had to place her food order for her while the waitress made comments about how someone must be really hungry to need to order two entrees.

Or I could talk about how just a few weeks ago during a report about the Nepal earthquake that killed nearly 9000 people and wounded almost 25,000 more, the reporter called special attention to the five Americans who were killed. Five! She spent almost as much time during the report talking about the Americans as she did the rest of the report about the earthquake. I kept thinking, "Why should I care about these five people who were killed in comparison to the thousands of Nepalese who were killed?" Why? Because they were white? And I have to assume that they were, because in our national consciousness American=white.

As far as I can tell, nationalism is just a more insidious form of racism. All of the immigration stuff going on, right now, revolves around nationalism and how we need to "keep jobs safe for Americans," but what they really mean is that we need protect white people and their jobs from all of these brown people who keep crossing our border and who will worker cheaper.

I think all of this comes down to some mistaken idea that we somehow "defeated" racism back in the 60s with the death of Martin Luther King and, eventually, giving him his own holiday. While I would agree that we took a step forward back then, by the 80s we'd decided to sit down. "Oh, yeah, we did all that racism stuff back in the day. We're all through with that now." Unfortunately, part of the problem is what was once part of the solution. For instance, that we refer to black people as African Americans rather than just Americans. Sure, it was, at the time, a way of respecting the roots of black people but, now, it's a way of setting blacks apart from whites. They're not "Americans;" they're "African Americans," just a subset of actual Americans and an inferior one at that.

Why do we need to have African Americans and Asian Americans and Whatever Americans at all? White people are not Caucasian Americans or European Americans or anything other than Americans. And that's not to mention that we don't include South America or Mexico in "Americans." That's a thing that has bothered since I was in high school.

Honestly, we won't have dealt with this issue, the issue of racism, until we don't have Americans at all. Or any national identities at all. What we need to have is Earthlings. [And, when it comes down to it, we may eventually need to include more than just humans in the description of Earthlings.] One planet. One people. That, really, is the only way forward.

Friday, June 5, 2015

CassaStorm (a book review post)

If you would like to see my review of CassaStar, go here.
If you would like to see my review of CassaFire, go here.

The first and most obvious thing to be said about CassaStorm is that it's an obvious effort by the author, Alex Cavanaugh, to expand the universe he established in the previous two books. We find out that Tgren does, indeed, have more than one city on it and even get a peek at the other races only hinted at previously. And the end provides an explanation for some of the things that haven't made the most sense in the series overall, like the significantly low populations of the races.

There are ways the explanation creates more questions, but that's okay. Leaving questions unanswered is not something I necessarily have a problem with.

'Storm also rounds out the relationship progression of the other two books. 'Star deals with friendship, 'Fire deals with romance, and 'Storm deals with parenthood. As with the other two books, Byron has to figure out how it's supposed to work. The only issue with this idea in 'Storm is how it contrasts to the other two books. Both of the other books deal with Byron and initial meetings (first with Bassa, then with Athee) and 'Storm, in many ways, follows that pattern. The problem is that his son, Bassan, is already 10, and there are parts where it's like Byron has no idea of how to interact with his son in the same way as with someone you are just meeting.

This is both a strength and a weakness in the book, because in actuality Byron doesn't have any idea who his son is. It's clear that he's one of those who father's from a distance, and he is, in fact, learning who his son is. The problem is that there don't seem to be any clearly established patterns in their relationship as is usually the case. Neither the son nor the father ever seem like they know what to expect from the other.

There are a few interesting wrinkles in this book, like the introduction of the Rogue, which I didn't see coming. That's a big positive for me, because most books fall into established patterns making it difficult for me to find books that aren't fairly predictable. Possibly, the biggest issue I had with 'Fire is that I knew what was going to happen throughout the book; nothing was surprising. However, with 'Storm, every time I thought I had what was going to happen figured out, there would be some new wrinkle. It made the book a worthwhile read just to figure out where he was going with the story.

Basically, if you read the previous two books and liked them, you should definitely read this one. I can't see how it could be a disappointment. It's even possible that this book could be read as a stand alone, because any background information needed is provided. Sure, the other two provide a bigger picture, but I don't think they're necessary.

Look, this isn't deep or philosophical. It's pretty straightforward space opera in a Star Trek kind of vein. It deals as much with relationships as it does with space battles, but that serves to strengthen the book in overall sense, not weaken it. Hmm... Still, if you want space battles, CassaStar is probably the book for you if you haven't already read it. Not that there aren't space battles in 'Storm, but it's, ultimately, a different kind of story.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's Not Just You (an IWSG post)

I gave my thoughts about Tron way back in this post. It's probably not necessary for this post, but it goes along with what I'm saying here... and it's interesting. Sure, that's me saying that it's interesting, and I wrote it, but still...


My boys love Tron. My daughter likes it, too, but not the way the boys do. We were even watching Tron: Uprising but that got derailed because of school. Now that summer is here, I'm sure we'll finish it up. They were very excited about the sequel to Tron: Legacy that has been in the works and was scheduled to begin filming in a few months.

Look, this is a big deal. The movie was in pre-production. It had stars attached to it. It was getting geared up to start filming... and Disney pulled the plug.

end of line


My boys were devastated. Well, okay, that's a rather transitory experience for teenagers, but it lasted at least 10 minutes and no one can mention Tron in the house, now, without hearing "awww..." from one of them.

So what happened? Tomorrowland happened.

Now, see, I liked Tomorrowland, but that doesn't change the fact that it had a rather underwhelming opening weekend. So underwhelming that Disney pulled the plug on a completely unrelated project: Tron 3. I suppose you could say that Disney got a little insecure.

So, see, it's not just you. Even the big guys have moments of doubt and insecurity and, sometimes, it makes people do dumb things because they start focusing on what could go wrong instead of focusing on how to make it work.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Ambush" (Ep. 1.1)

-- Great leaders inspire greatness in others.

The first episode of The Clone Wars television series starts us off with some good old-fashioned Yoda shenanigans. I'm talking a Yoda that hearkens back to The Empire Strikes Back, mischievous laugh and all. And teaching moments. It's interesting how little teaching we get from the Jedi's greatest teacher in the overall scheme of things in the Star Wars universe, so it's nice to see him sit down with some clones for a nice teaching moment.

For many, this is also the first real introduction to Asajj Ventress, the semi-apprentice of Count Dooku. Ventress is an interesting character and one integral to the Clone Wars story line, but, here, she plays the more passive role of temptress, serving in the background rather than as an opponent to Yoda.

The most important aspect of this episode has to do with the clones and the acknowledgement that, though clones, they are each individuals. Or, at least, have the capacity for individuality. They don't often see it in themselves, but Yoda makes it clear that the force lives in each one of them making them unique beings, one of the same themes the widely popular Orphan Black is currently exploring (but it was done here, first). [This is a theme that will be revisited throughout the series.]

And there are the droids. The droids do get played off for comic relief throughout the series, and I can understand that being upsetting to certain people, the same people who get upset about Ewoks and Jar Jar. All I can say about that is some people project too much seriousness into a story that was always meant to contain humor. So, sure, the battle droids AI is a little faulty. Or just not very bright. Which makes sense, since you want the droids to be just smart enough to follow the order of, "March out there and be killed," but not smart enough to respond with, "No way! I'll get killed!" They allow for a little bit of fun in a show (for kids) that would otherwise be way too serious.

"Ambush" is a good starting place for the series. It's hard to go wrong with Yoda.

"I just got promoted!"

It's not too late to get signed up if you'd like to join The Armchair Squid and me on this Clone Wars journey. Actually, it will never bee too late. Just follow this link to the signup page!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 6c)

Picking up from 6b...

Lunches were included with the convention. The only problem was that the lunches were horrible. Well, that might not quite be fair. Maybe the food was good, but it was frozen, so who would know? Seriously, the first day, we all went and got our boxed lunch, which was fried chicken (and we thought that was awesome because we'd expected crappy bologna sandwiches or something), but, when we went to eat it, it was still frozen. None of us were happy.

The next day, the day of the elevator incident, Jeff decided that we were going out to lunch (and we discovered we were not a democracy despite being in Washington D.C.). Of course, we didn't know where anything was, but that wasn't a hindrance to Jeff. We would just walk until we found something!

Fortunately, the lunch break was rather long (like three hours? maybe four?), because that was also our sight-seeing time. So we walked and we saw bits of the city that we would never have seen on one of the bus tours and, finally, we found a place to eat.

It was a little burger joint; you know, one of those hole-in-the-wall kind of places owned by someone who knows how to cook. I mean really knows how to cook. We strolled in as if it was McDonald's. Which is to say that it wasn't McDonald's, and it wasn't McDonald's in the way that apples are not oranges. Because, see, Burger King and McDonald's are both oranges, and this was not that, and we were the only white people in the place. A relatively crowded place where every eye turned to stare at us when we walked in. Stared at us hard. Stared at us hard enough that we could feel it, which is saying a lot.

After a moment, they all turned away and ignored us just as hard as they had stared at us. We got in line. The ignoring was more uncomfort-making than the staring had been. Especially when we made it to the front of the line and they continued ignoring us. Then, they started taking orders from people behind us, and none of us knew what to say. I mean, it was obvious they knew we were there, and it was just as obvious that they were not going to acknowledge our presence.

Bob and the girl started nudging Jeff and whispering, "Let's just go." He kept saying, "No." One of them started in about being hungry, and I pointed out that we weren't going to have enough time to find another place to eat if we stayed for much longer. Jeff said he wasn't leaving without being served. It was all so very unreal. Almost like we didn't even exist. No, it was exactly like we didn't exist. It could have been right out of the Twilight Zone. Except the racist version.

Eventually, the lunch rush was over and there were no more people coming in. Eventually, we were the only ones standing there. Eventually, people started emptying out of the place, and we were still standing there. And Jeff wouldn't leave.

Jeff wouldn't leave!

But, eventually, the guy behind the counter gave in. I think we'd been standing there at least an hour at that point. He took our order, and we sat down to wait. They didn't actually make us wait an inordinate amount of time for the burgers.

You know what? All of it, all of the waiting, was worth it. To that point in my life, that was the best burger I'd ever had. By far. It was amazing, and it still occupies a mythical place in my mind. The mythical place of "best burger ever." We told them that, too, before we left. They actually looked gratified.

And we made it back to the convention center on time. Barely.

So the obvious point here is that racism can go both ways and, while that is a point, that is not the point. The point is that we would never have gotten away with what we did if we weren't white. No one threatened us. No one called us names. No one resorted to violence towards us. In an opposite circumstance, a group of black kids in a white establishment like that would have been forced to leave, if not through words then through actions.

It was an eye opening experience, to say the least, and a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten.

Now, the epilogue to the elevator incident:

After the "success" of our lunch outing, Jeff decided that we should walk back to the hotel from the convention center. Despite the points of not really knowing the way (he said, "How hard could it be? We just need to go toward the Capitol.") and not knowing how far it was (his logic was that it only took, like, five minutes by the Metro, so how far could it be?), we learned, again, how much not a democracy we were. After all, he was in charge. Right? So we walked...

And we walked...

And we walked some more. Somewhere in there, we stopped for food, but that went more smoothly than lunch had gone, and we walked some more.

We finally made it back to the hotel some time close to midnight. Only three-ish hours late. On the door, on all the doors, was a bulletin. Someone had set off the fire alarm in the hotel that morning (and after the incident with the actual fire at the other hotel, no one thought it was funny), and they were looking for the perpetrators -- there was a reward and everything -- so they could send them home at their own expense.

We were horrified.

Jeff started giving orders about how we shouldn't talk about the thing in the elevator and rushing us up to the room and, generally, making us more freaked out than we already were. Bob and I spent the rest of the trip with this fear poking the backs of our heads that we were going to get found out and sent home. And we didn't have any money to pay to be sent home! We'd worked and scraped to get enough money just to go on the trip. There was nothing left over!

Jeff, though, he was fine. See, unbeknownst to us, he went and did some asking around about it and found out the elevator thing was isolated to the elevator and what they were looking for was someone who had actually set off the hotel fire alarm and caused an evacuation until they figured out that it was a false alarm. Of course, it didn't occur to him to tell us that we had nothing to worry about. We didn't find that out until we were on our way home and one of us said, "Well, I guess we don't have to worry about getting sent home, now." He just laughed.
Yeah, thanks, Jeff.