Recent Readings for Dec. 9, 2016

December 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 9, 2016

• “Trump has declined many intelligence briefings offered to him according to Senate aide.” Trump is meeting with plenty of potential political appointees and holding rallies as part of a “Thank you tour,” but he apparently doesn’t think intelligence should occupy very much of his time. Writes CBS News’s Rebecca Shabad: “Even during the campaign, there were reports that Trump was at odds with what intelligence officials briefed him on. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas[,] the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in late October that he told Mr. Trump that Russia was trying to influence the U.S. election through hacking, but he said Mr. Trump rejected that information.” As I tweeted (with a typo!), “It’s hard to escape the feeling that President-Elrct [sic] Donald Trump just isn’t interested in working hard.”

• “The Last Line Of Defense: Federal Bureaucrats Wait Nervously For Donald Trump.” Jessica Schulberg and Amanda Terkel take a deep dive into the anxieties of several (anonymous) federal employees who “often have decades of experience and institutional knowledge that the incoming administration will need to ensure that the federal government doesn’t fall apart under the leadership of new, sometimes inexperienced, political appointees.”

“[W]e’re worried that our president might actually turn out be to a fascist,” one Department of Labor employee says. A worker at the Defense Intelligence Agency says colleagues wonder, “Am I going to be an unwitting enabler of war crimes under this administration?” Says a Democrat in the Environmental Protection Agency (about which see below), “I would take George W. Bush any day over this.”

• “What’s Pushing Down U.S. Life Expectancy?” Dina Fine Maron over at Scientific American interviews Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, over newly released 2015 data. An uptick in flu cases may have had a widespread effect, Anderson explains: “The flu can impact other causes of death, and it can cause people with existing chronic conditions to die from those conditions. So someone with heart disease who gets the flu, that flu can precipitate a heart attack, or exacerbate existing chronic lung disease or many other things. For people who are very ill and may be hanging on, they can die sooner than they may have otherwise.” Anderson also notes that accidental suffocation, both in bed and otherwise, may be responsible for an increase in infant mortality.

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It was a dark and stormy week: Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ is a masterful, influential whodunnit

December 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 7, 2016

It is early August in 1939 or thereabouts. Ten men and women of varying ages and backgrounds have gathered on Soldier Island, an isolated point of land about a mile off the coast of Devon, England. They will soon discover that each person present is united by a grisly secret — and moreover that they’ve been assembled by someone with malevolent intent. As a storm closes in, cutting off the uneasy inhabitants, members are killed, one by one. With their numbers dwindling, and the bonds of trust among the party becoming ever more frayed, the survivors reach an even more unnerving realization: The killer is someone among them…

This, of course, is the plot of Agatha Christie’s classic 1939 murder mystery, available now as And Then There Were None but first published in the United States as Ten Little Indians. The title under which the book was originally published in Britain included a vicious racial slur that is rarely if ever used in polite company. Its name was taken from a post-Civil War minstrel song, the lyrics of which inform the plot of and were quoted in Christie’s book.

I had neither read this book nor seen any of the various TV or film adaptations of it until just this past week. (I am, I must confess, unfamiliar with all of Christie’s work.) I was visiting some friends in Virginia when the book happened to come up in conversation; I prevented my friends from naming the killer, announcing that I hadn’t actually read the book (and also disclosing the original title). They offered to loan me a paperback copy — a 2011 reprint that refers to “soldiers” rather than “Indians” or this notorious epithet — and here we are.

Some consider And Then There Were None, as I shall call it, to be Christie’s masterpiece; fans named it her most popular book in a poll conducted in 2015 to mark the 125th anniversary of the British writer’s birth. Having now read the book, it’s blindingly obvious that myriad works are descended from Christie’s tale.

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Stephen Goldin constructs an amiable but rather forgettable ‘Trek to Madworld’ in his 1979 original ‘Star Trek’ novel

December 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 3, 2016

I initially couldn’t remember how I acquired Bantam’s February 1998 reissue of Trek to Madworld, a 1979 Star Trek novel by Stephen Goldin. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the book must have been mailed to me gratis by the publisher thanks to my stint as books columnist for the short-lived periodical Sci-Fi Invasion!

I certainly don’t remember reading the book, which is pleasantly mediocre, and which is one of a handful of original Star Trek novels that help maintain the franchise’s popularity between the cancellation of Gene Roddenberry’s pioneering TV series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

How did I obtain a copy of Trek to Madworld? Well, the story isn’t very interesting. Here it is:

I visited Ye Olde Family Homestead for Thanksgiving. A day or two before I was to return to North Carolina, I was sitting on the couch in the living room. There’s a free-standing bookcase on the south wall; the north wall is completely lined by built-in bookshelves. I happened to look south (that is, to my right) and for some reason noticed three Star Trek books on a lower shelf. I decided that I should read one of them; as to which got chosen, well, need I say any more?

The book opens as the U.S.S. Enterprise embarks on a routine mission: Ferrying legendary explorer Kostas Spyroukis and his daughter, Metika Spyroukis, back home to Epsilon Delta 4 from the conference world of Babel, where they had unsuccessfully petitioned the Council to admit their colony as a full member of the United Federation of Planets.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of Stanford football at the close of the regular season

November 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 30, 2016

Stanford’s season finale against Rice was only the second game of 2016, following the team’s 52-27 win at Oregon that largely coincided with my Scrabble tournament, which I didn’t get to watch on television as it took place. Because the game was carried on the Pac-12 Network, and because many TV carriers don’t have the channel, it can be hard to find places that show Pac-12 programming.

Dish does carry the Pac-12 Network nationally — but which bars are Dish subscribers? Ultimately, because I wasn’t in my home territory of Durham, I didn’t find one.

• The Bad 

Although Stanford concluded the regular season on a five-game gave winning streak, which pushed its record to 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, the team had another less savory string going on in November: Three straight games in which the team was penalized either seven or eight times.

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Cardinal easily overwhelms Rice, 41-17, in post-Thanksgiving workout

November 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 28, 2016

The Stanford football team outran and outmuscled Rice on Saturday, outrushing the visiting Owls by more than 200 yards in a 41-17 victory to complete its 2016 regular season schedule.

The 9-3 Cardinal used the same formula that had served it so well throughout the squad’s five-game winning streak: A lot of Christian McCaffrey, now fully healthy, nicely complemented by unremarkable but largely reliable and mistake-free quarterback play from Keller Chryst, a strong performance from an increasingly confident offensive line, contributions from the rest of the offensive and special-teams units, and a suffocating effort by the defense.

The fact that Stanford was playing another team with an at-best mediocre offense (see also: Arizona and Oregon State) and a lousy defense (see also: Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon and Cal) played a pretty important part, too.

The Cardinal banked 20 points in the first half, scoring on four of six possessions, including a one-play, nine-second possession that closed out the second quarter. The Owls, meanwhile, didn’t cross midfield until the second quarter and scored only a field goal before intermission, and that on their final drive of the half. What’s more, Stanford’s defense engineered four three-and-outs by the visiting offense.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 8-3 Stanford

November 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 25, 2016

I got my five miles in during the afternoon hours just before the 119th Big Game. Oddly, I encountered dogs in all three phases of my afternoon outing.

A coffee shop opened sometime in the last year on Hillsborough Road on the western end of Durham. It’s about a mile and a half from where I live, but if I take the scenic route, I can stretch the distance out. I decided to do that on Saturday.

Near the beginning of my stroll, I was walking up a residential street when I saw some people tailgating in their driveway. (I think they were North Carolina State fans, if I correctly recall the logos on display.) They had a tent and some chairs set up along with a TV and some refreshments. They also had two little dogs that were attached to long leads.

When the dogs spotted me — now, all I was doing was walking alongside a public road — they ran toward me, and their people got up to take control of the animals. In some circumstances, I might have stopped to say hello, but both dogs were barking, and both were tied up; what’s more, their leads seemed to be attached to different things. The leashes were long, but I didn’t want to step into someone’s yard to say hello and deal with the lines getting tangled — especially because, as I mentioned, the dogs were barking. This wasn’t unfriendly barking, mind you, but discretion is the better part of valor, as they say…

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Nov. 12, 2016, Scrabble tournament recap: Part 4 (finale)

November 24, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 24, 2016

Despite a 4-0 start, my hopes of winning the lower division of the Nov. 12 Scrabble tournament took a major hit when I lost games five and six of the eight-game, 10-player competition. I had an outside chance of winning, but to do it, I’d need to get back in the win column with my seventh game.

Unfortunately for me, my opponent was to be MS, who had handed me my first loss on the day. The good news was after trailing by more than 100 points late in that game, a bingo had closed the gap on what was ultimately just a 31-point loss. Also, I knew that MS had played a phony early in the game; his OVAS had been worth 24 points, which represented more than two-thirds of his margin of victory. With some smart play and some luck, I knew that I could take MS down.

MS, playing second, had a 50-29 lead after two turns, but I jumped ahead with my third move, SOFTY 51. (I wasn’t sure if this is a valid word; turns out that it is.) He and I went back and forth for the next several moves.

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Giving them the Axe is better than giving the Axe away: Stanford runs past Cal, 45-31, in the 119th Big Game

November 22, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 22, 2016

The Stanford football team ran over Cal on a rainy Saturday in Berkeley, racking up 357 rushing yards and rolling to a seventh straight victory over their long-standing Bay Area rivals.

It was a credit to Cal’s prolific passing offense, and a discredit to Stanford’s normally staunch defense, that the ultimate outcome of the 119th Big Game was in doubt well into the second half. But it was a credit to Stanford’s once-anemic offense that the outcome was all but assured by the midway point of the final quarter.

Stanford opened the game with another anemic starting drive, gaining four yards on six plays. The Golden Bears, by contrast, would need just one play to take a 7-0 lead. Davis Webb threw a short slant pass that Chad Hansen, the Pac-12 conference’s leading receiver, was able to take 70 yards to the end zone.

A dead-ball personal foul following the touchdown and a short kickoff set Stanford up at the Cal 45-yard line. But the visitors would knot the score in only two plays and 28 seconds.

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Nov. 12, 2016, Scrabble tournament recap: Part 3

November 21, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 21, 2016

My fifth-round opponent in the Nov. 12 Scrabble tournament was MS, a smart young local player whom I’d never before faced in official competition. I knew from personal experience that he would be a tough out. His player rating — 1098, the highest in our division — only confirmed that.

Going second, I led early, responding to MS’s opening of HEP 16 with FUD/UH/DE 18. My opponent traded four tiles in turn 2, enabling me to pad my lead with WIN 19.

MS narrowed the gap in turn 3 with DEX 35, but my RIB 21 kept me ahead with a very small 58-51 lead.

The fourth turn proved to be important. MS played OVAS 24, instantly raising my suspicion: OVUM is the singular form of a word meaning egg; OVA is its plural. I was fairly certain that OVA did not take an -S.

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Nov. 12, 2016, Scrabble tournament recap: Part 2

November 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 20, 2016

After starting the tournament off with two wins in close games against strong opponents, my third match was a bit of a gimme. My foe this time out was P—, a first-time tournament player who had lost her first two games by large margins.

I went ahead from the get-go, playing first and opening with ELVEN 18. P— played PORE 12, which gave me an opening to play COP/PE for 22 points.

My rack entering turn 3 was ADEENNT — not terribly promising. Fortunately, I noticed that I could use the second E from my opening word to play a bingo, NEATENED, which scored me a cool 63 points when combined with the 50-point bingo bonus.

P— capped the fifth turn with JAW 29, which narrowed her deficit to 126-90. Unfortunately for her, that would turn out to be P—’s biggest play of the game.

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