Private foster-care agencies: Where government inefficiency, the free market and magical thinking collide

February 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 27, 2015

On Thursday, Mother Jones published a lengthy look at private foster-care agencies, some of which are nonprofit, others of which are for-profit. The report is fairly alarming.

Brian Joseph, a former state government reporter for the Orange County Register and a former investigative journalism fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, produced the story. One of the problems he found is that there is little hard data on the safety or effectiveness of this entire business sector:

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe — and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

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Spying and the modern society: Why isn’t anyone talking about First Look’s alarming scoop about compromised cell-phone privacy?

February 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 26, 2015

At least once a month, I’ll read through recent posts on Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones. When I did this the other day, I ran across something that I found extremely startling, especially because I hadn’t heard or seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Last week, Drum wrote about a lengthy investigation by First Look Media’s Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley. The duo, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, the infamous National Security Agency leaker, revealed that American and British spy agencies have compromised a significant number of the encryption keys that are supposed to protect the privacy of the communications of cell-phone users.

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Pawlikowski’s ‘Ida’ was honored by the 2015 Academy Awards

February 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 25, 2015

The 87th Academy Award ceremony, which took place Sunday night, turned out to be rather political. Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress for her role as the mother in Boyhood, used her acceptance speech to call for gender wage equality.

When “Glory,” the theme from the wonderful civil rights film Selma, was chosen for best song, musician John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

Legend had more to say in his acceptance speech, adding: “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” (Legend co-wrote “Glory” with Lonnie Lynn. That musician and actor, who performs under the name Common, appears in Selma as the skullcap- and denim-wearing Rev. John Bevel.)

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James Bonard Fowler and Jimmie Lee Jackson: On a 60-year-old shooting death in Alabama

February 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 24, 2015

Earlier this month, I wrote in praise of Selma, director Ava DuVernay’s retelling of the civil rights struggle in that Alabama town.

During the movie, a young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson is senselessly shot and killed by a state trooper after a night protest. As noted in my review, this was based on an actual event, which was described at length in this 2005 feature article in The Anniston Star.

I linked to the story, which was written by John Fleming, in my first post about Selma. Still, I wanted to call attention to the piece on its own, because it tells an extraordinary tale.

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Policeman, prey, protégée: Christopher Nolan puts Al Pacino in uneasy alliances in the psychological thriller ‘Insomnia’

February 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 21, 2015

When Insomnia opens, renowned homicide detective Will Dormer doesn’t know that his life is spinning out of control. But over the course of Christopher Nolan’s 2002 psychological thriller, Dormer comes to realize that he is a man who is badly lost, in a moral sense if not a geographical one.

Al Pacino headlines the cast as Dormer, a veteran Los Angeles cop who has been dispatched along with his partner to a small Alaska community where the local police are baffled by the murder of a teenager. The unclothed body of the victim, 17-year-old Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe), was found in a garbage dump; the corpse was bathed and otherwise treated in such a fashion that no physical evidence remains to implicate any suspect.

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Eyes on Henderson, N.C.: Reminiscing — briefly — about 2003 through 2008 (part 2)

February 18, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 18, 2015

In my previous post, I described setting eyes on the rural town of Henderson, N.C., in September 2003. To quote myself:

This part of the road isn’t very picturesque, and there aren’t many landmarks there, but a few things stand out. There is (or at least, there was) a giant Wal-Mart warehouse facility on the east side of the route. Also, there are churches on either side of the highway — lots and lots of large churches with large buildings and enormous parking lots.

……

[A]s I drove along this unlovely stretch of U.S. 1 for the first time in my life, I muttered something uncharitable about how bleak and unappealing the town of Henderson appeared to me.

Of course, the joke turned out to be on me.

Reader, I moved there!

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Eyes on Henderson, N.C.: Reminiscing about September 2003 (part 1)

February 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 17, 2015

On Sept. 20, 2003, I drove over to the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh and bought a ticket at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was a beautiful warm day, and I wanted to watch the N.C. State Wolfpack host the Texas Tech.

The previous year, in a game hosted by the Red Raiders, State had raced to a 38-24 lead after three quarters, only to be outscored, 28-7, in the final period. The Wolfpack was able to win the game in overtime, 51-48, when freshman tailback T.A. McLendon scored his fifth touchdown of the day.

The 2003 rematch proved to be a much more one-sided affair. State took a 28-0 lead and cruised to a 49-21 victory behind four rushing touchdowns from three different players and a solid 18-for-22, 257-yard day from future NFL quarterback Philip Rivers.

But this story really starts after the game. I was ready to drive back north after an extended tour of Florida and other southern venues. First, however, I had to escape the postgame road jam.

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Ripley and Terry: Stumbling upon another unexpected movie-making connection

February 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 13, 2015

Author’s note: I love finding connections between things, and I especially enjoy when my blog helps me stumble upon links. Here’s another instance of that. MEM

The other week, I went to a used bookstore and traded in some books and DVDs for different books and DVDs.

One of my new books was Next by James Hynes. I also got four movies in three DVD cases: A Will Smith science fiction action movie twofer containing Independence Day and I, Robot; the apocalyptic time-travel masterpiece 12 Monkeys; and Ripley’s Game, which is based on one of Patricia Highsmith’s novels.

As noted in my previous post, the script for Ripley’s Game was co-written by director Liliana Cavani with Charles McKeown. What I didn’t realize before I clicked on McKeown’s Internet Movie Database page was that he connects the last two movies that I wrote about on this blog.

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Murder, he schemed: A bourgeois sociopath strikes again in the masterful ‘Ripley’s Game’

February 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 12, 2015

About two-thirds of the way through the 2002 movie Ripley’s Game, after Tom Ripley has snuffed out the lives of a few Eastern European gangsters, his appalled companion notes that he hardly knows the man standing beside him.

This is a statement, not a question, but Ripley — played with a cool detachment by John Malkovich — regards it as an invitation to explain a little about himself. In one of the longest speeches of the movie, Ripley says, “I’m a creation. A gifted improviser. I lack your conscience, and when I was young that troubled me. It no longer does. I don’t worry about being caught because I don’t believe anyone is watching. The world is not a poorer place because those people are dead. It’s one less car on the road. It’s a little less noise and menace.”

Ripley’s nonchalance is both chilling and thrilling. How cold-blooded it is of him to dismiss the deaths as “one less car on the road,” never questioning whether the dead men had a parent or a sibling or a child or a lover who might miss them.

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A day in the life: Modern Cubicle Man visits Texas and reminisces about his life in James Hynes’s ‘Next’

February 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 11, 2015

Next, a 2010 novel by James Hynes, conveys the thoughts and experiences of a middle-aged man over the course of a brief trip to Austin, Texas.

The book’s main character is Kevin Quinn, an academic editor at the University of Michigan who has spent his entire adulthood living and working in Ann Arbor. He’s traveled to Texas for a job interview with an outfit called Hemphill Associates. The company’s offer to pay for plane tickets for the journey surprised Kevin so much that he neglected to ask for a hotel, so Kevin is taking a day trip without any luggage whatsoever. During the few hours that he spends in the state capital, this man will spend a great deal of time reminiscing about his life and fretting about his future.

Many of Kevin’s musings revolve around women he has known. He’s dating a younger woman named Stella, who is also a tenant in his house. He met Stella a few years ago, after Beth, his longtime girlfriend, got pregnant by another man and moved out to have the family that Kevin would never agree to start with her.

When, sitting in a coffee shop with four hours to kill before his scheduled interview, Kevin sees the beautiful young woman who sat next to him on the flight down to Austin, he impulsively leaves the shop and begins trailing her. This woman, whom he initially knows only as Joy Luck (because she intently read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club throughout the entire plane ride) becomes a sort of Beatrice to Kevin’s Dante for the early part of his journey through Austin.

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