Archive for October, 2013

Emblem or footnote? The spate of health insurance policy cancellations is contrary to President Obama’s explicit promises. But it remains to be seen whether it will matter.

October 31, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 31, 2013

It turns out that, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, despite what the president pledged, they can’t keep their health plans.

That’s the stark truth about Obamacare — a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act — that has come into sharp focus over the past few days.

President Barack Obama has a verbal habit of insisting on clarity in many of his speeches and off-the-cuff remarks. He could hardly have been clearer when he said, multiple times, that Americans who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it under his health-care reform plan.

Only that isn’t true. CBS reports that 2 million Americans have had their policies canceled by insurance companies because they aren’t compatible with various provisions of Obamacare. Understandably, lots of people are unhappy about this, and Republican and conservative critics have jumped all over this broken promise.

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Stanford emerges — scared, scarred but victorious — with a 20-12 win at Oregon State

October 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 28, 2013

After Stanford’s 24-10 win over UCLA on Oct. 19, perhaps your reaction was something like, “Yay! That was fun!”

If so, then your response to Saturday night’s 20-12 victory against Oregon State was likely closer to, “Yikes! That was scary!”

The Cardinal defense stifled the Beavers, holding a team that came in averaging 28 points and 397 yards a game to two field goals and a touchdown and 288 yards. This was very much comparable to what happened in Stanford Stadium against the Bruins.

What was different? Unlike the Kevin Hogan who led the attack on homecoming day, the Cardinal quarterback who showed up in Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., was mostly awful. Hogan tied his season low for throwing attempts (18, the same number he had vs. Army) and set career lows for completions and passing yards as a starter — eight and 88, respective.

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One day soon I’m going to tell the moon about ‘The Crying Game’

October 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 26, 2013

Recently, I happened across a mention on Twitter of The Crying Game, writer/director Neil Jordan’s 1992 film about a British soldier captured by IRA terrorists.

In truth, I don’t remember much about the film — except for the Big Twist, which I will proceed to spoil shortly. (Consider this your final warning; proceed at your own risk.) I do distinctly remember the circumstances under which I saw the film, because it was a rather…awkward situation.

That’s right: I saw The Crying Game with my grandma S. and an attractive woman whom I’ll call T. In case you‘re not familiar with the film, it is most definitely not a family movie. About midway through the picture, a character is revealed to be either a transvestite or transsexual. (I can’t remember which; it’s been a long time since I saw the film, and as I said, I don’t remember much about it.)

This revelation occurs happens after the two main characters have engaged in what I recall as being a fairly graphic on-screen sex act. (At least, it certainly was for the time…and the company I was in.)

To reiterate, this does not make for good family fare; nor did it make good conversational fodder for the awkward, nerdy young person that I was back then. (For the record, these days, I am slightly less awkward and nerdy, and markedly less young, than I was at the time.)

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The alumni return, and so does dominance: Against UCLA, Stanford football notches an inspiring homecoming victory

October 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 25, 2013

Now that’s more like it!

That’s the thought that went through my mind, and likely the minds of Stanford football fans everywhere, as the Cardinal wrapped up a 24-10 win over UCLA last Saturday.

In every way, the game was superior to Stanford’s loss at Utah the previous week. The dangerous Brett Hundley and his Bruins offense had been averaging nearly 46 points and 547 yards per game. But last weekend, the dominating Stanford defense returned, holding the visiting squad to just 266 yards.

Saturday, which was Stanford’s homecoming, also saw the return of ground-and-pound Cardinal offense. Coach David Shaw’s squad ran 50 times and threw 25 times. When the afternoon was over — remember afternoon football, Cardinal fans? — the home team had a time-of-possession edge of about 14 and a half minutes over UCLA.

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On Monday, Glenn Beck attacked Grover Norquist. Seven minutes of irrationality ensued.

October 23, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 23, 2013

Recently, my attention was called to an astounding masterpiece of paranoid nonsense being peddled by conservative talker Glenn Beck. Let’s just plunge into this Monday segment from Beck’s video production, the Blaze:

Beck: I remember during the Bush administration, I used to make fun of Grover Norquist, cause people used to say he was a big power player, and I never even heard of him. And then I started talking to people, and they all said, “Oh no, he is [a] really spooky guy. Don’t take him on, Glenn, while you’re taking on George Soros.” Well, things have to be done now, don’t they? So let’s start telling the truth and exposing people for who they really are.

This is quintessential Beck. He is a regular guy (“people used to say he was a big power player, and I never even heard of him”), but he is brave enough to battle unspecified threats (“things have to be done now, don’t they?”). Beck also in his opening invokes Soros, a liberal financier whom I gather is the conservative talker’s favorite leftist boogeyman.

Beck proceeds to introduce two guests: Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security and Policy, and Daniel Greenfield, a fellow of the David Horowitz Center for Freedom.

Beck: He [Norquist] is — he is the guy responsible for a lot of the Muslim Brotherhood stuff that goes on in the White House now, isn’t he? Start with Frank, and Daniel, you can take it too.

Gaffney: You know, Glenn, I think most people who know Grover only as kind of a prominent anti-tax guy in the conservative movement would find that statement unbelievable, and to be honest with you, I would have, but for the fact that I saw it first-hand as a result of sharing office space for what I think of as seven biblically long years with Grover Norquist, in which I had an opportunity to witness it first-hand. I saw terrorists in his office space. I had colleagues come to me and say, “You know, there’s a Muslim Brotherhood front operating out of his office suite.” It was called the Islamic Free Market Foundation, or Institute — I-I, Islamic Institute, for short. This was an operation that was created by a man who’s now serving time in federal prison for terrorism by the name of Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, and it went on from there, penetrating the Bush campaign leading up to 2000 and then the Bush White House, and that set the stage for what’s going on under Obama now.

Note that in his question, Beck is either calling President Barack Obama out as a Muslim and/or a Muslim Brotherhood ally, operative or dupe.

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David Shaw: A defense of the Stanford coach who should not need defending

October 17, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 10, 2013


I’m inclined to cut Shaw some slack. Fans, in my view, have been overly critical of the Cardinal coach, despite the fact that he’s just one of two coaches to lead Stanford to the promised land — the Rose Bowl, that is — in 41 years. He is also, mind you, the only Stanford coach to win a Rose Bowl since John Ralston did it on Jan. 1, 1972.


Yet despite his accomplishments, a lot of fans seem to hold him to account for two questionable decisions involving quarterback. One was opting for conservative play-calling at the end of the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, rather than trusting all-world passer Andrew Luck to lead the offense to a game-winning touchdown.

Shaw’s other mistake, in fans’ eyes, was waiting until the ninth game of the 2012 season to start Hogan under center in lieu of senior Josh Nunes. The move came after Stanford had sustained its only two losses of the year, at Washington and at Notre Dame, games in which the Cardinal offense collectively generated a measly 385 yards and a pathetic 12 points.

Fans feel that the Cardinal might have been undefeated and in position to contend for the national championship if Hogan had been installed as the starter sooner. That’s certainly a tantalizing scenario to envision.

But it is ultimately, I feel, a chimerical one. Shaw has been coaching football since 1995. He played for Walsh at Stanford and since then has worked for Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Jim Harbaugh. The first three of those men have all won Super Bowls, while the last one has coached his way to two mid-major college national titles and a Super Bowl berth.

Shaw is hardly perfect, and like any other football coach, he is a perfectly valid target for criticism. But he’s also forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, and I believe him when he says that Hogan simply was not ready to play full time until November.


Yes, the opposition to Obama is fierce and often ugly — but no, racism is not the primary factor behind it

October 16, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 16, 2013

As the latest Washington imbroglio, Congress’ wrangling over the debt ceiling, rolls toward what will almost certainly be a messy last-minute resolution, I wanted to comment on one corner of America’s not-so-civil discourse.

Specifically, I wanted to examine a fairly widely held contention on the left: That much of the animus toward President Obama is rooted in racism.

Now, I have no doubt that a not-insignificant tranche of opposition to the former senator from Kenya — er, I mean Illinois — is motivated by bigotry. (Search Twitter for the president’s last name and the extremely offensive slur nigger if you feel the need to prove that point, or to shake your faith in the character of the American people.) But there are many conservatives who gainsay Obama based on a panoply of other far less objectionable motivations.

The best way to demonstrate that much of the fervent conservative hatred of Barack Hussein Obama has no basis in racism is to look at the rhetoric toward prominent white Democrats.

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Crashing back to Earth: Revisiting reality after the 27-21 defeat at Utah

October 15, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 15, 2013

There’s no way around it. The Stanford football team’s 27-21 loss on Saturday evening to Utah was thoroughly disappointing.

The hosts outhustled and outcoached the Cardinal on virtually every level, and it showed. Name a category and the Utes owned it. They led in total yards (410-389), rushing yards (176-143), time of possession (32:54–27:06), penalties (Utah was flagged four times for 30 yards; Stanford, 6-33), turnovers (Stanford lost two fumbles, killing both of the Cardinal’s third-quarter possessions; Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was picked once) and fourth-down conversions (1-1, compared to 0-1 for Stanford).

The good news was that, despite lackluster play in the second and third quarters, fifth-ranked Stanford had a chance to win in the final minute. The bad news, of course, was that coach David Shaw’s squad could not pull it out despite being more heralded and more talented than Utah.

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A man who loved to laugh: Reflections on my late Uncle Jack

October 12, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 12, 2013

My Uncle Jack died this past weekend. He was buried Wednesday in a beautiful, leafy cemetery on a mild mid-October day. The leaves were just starting to turn.

Before the burial, I and a few other people were chatting with a woman I’ll call K. She said something to the effect that in all the years she had known Jack, she had never heard him say a bad word about anybody.

When I heard that, I thought that it sounded patently untrue — that it was the kind of pablum that one mourner says to comfort other mourners. But it seemed unconscionably rude to voice my doubts, so I and the other people standing with K and I cooed appreciatively.

As I was cooing, however, I thought about Jack’s passionate liberal views. This was a humorous enough way to deflate K’s well-meaning but pretentious offering, I decided. And so I said, “You must never have heard my Uncle Jack discuss politics.”

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In-flight musings on form and function

October 11, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 11, 2013

My Uncle Jack died early Sunday afternoon. We were not close, but I liked him, and I traveled to the Midwest for his funeral. What follows are some paragraphs I wrote in about an hour during my layover in Chicago.


I am no longer the boy who was once endlessly fascinated by the scenery below the airplane. Instead, I am more of, well, a contemporary adult — drawn into the view by a sudden, intense interest, and then almost as suddenly bored and restless, eager to switch my gaze to the printed page or an electronic screen of some sort.

My flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Chicago O’Hare was aboard an Embraer jet with rows of two seats arrayed along its starboard side and solitary seats positioned along its port side. I sat in 18A, on the port side, one row up from the back of the plane — one row up from the lavatory.

Leaving RDU, we lifted off from the runway and rose above the landscape. Here we passed some kind of big-box store, its dull white roof marked at regular intervals by what I took to be skylights. The shape of the one-story building was either square or rectangular — that is, that is what its main shape was, but here and there the geometric simplicity was complicated by a small corner removed or added. What the purposes of these modifications to Platonic form were, I could not tell.

To one side of the store sat a residential neighborhood. The houses seemed big; surely these were mansions — although when compared to the area occupied by the bulky big-box store, they became almost modest in scale. This neighborhood was growing: To one side, the trees had been leveled and the topsoil scraped away, obviously in preparation for more houses to be built.

I took all this in and then turned away. I barely glanced out the window when the jet ascended through the clouds.

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Astronauts in peril: ‘Gravity’ soars through danger above the Earth

October 8, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 8, 2013

As the new feature film Gravity opens —

Actually, before I complete that sentence, a caveat. I walked into the screening about 10 minutes after the scheduled start. I’m accustomed to the lights first going down 10 minutes after the ostensible start time, which is followed by one or two theater promotions and at least three movie trailers. Instead, when I entered the theater on Saturday night, Gravity had already begun. Based on the expository dialogue that I observed, I’m pretty sure I missed no more than five minutes of the film. But in fact, this write-up will be based upon a partial viewing.

As the new feature film Gravity opens, medical engineer Ryan Stone is adding a device to the Hubble Space Telescope. Matt Kowalski, commander of the space shuttle Explorer, observes. This is Kowalski’s last flight, and he restlessly circles the scientific satellite with his jetpack, tracking how much time remains until he breaks a record for space walks.

The equipment Stone is installing malfunctions. But moments later, the Explorer and its crew learn that they have much more serious issues. An incident involving a Russian satellite is spreading a vast array of deadly, fast-moving debris. NASA mission control orders the Explorer to break orbit immediately.

Seconds afterward, a zooming piece of wreckage knocks Stone loose from the space shuttle. She flies into the dark void, tumbling wildly. Kowalski maneuvers to intercept her.

What follows — the bulk of this intense 90-minute movie — is the story of the pair’s struggle to survive the swarms of debris that are wreaking havoc above the Earth. They must also contend with dwindling oxygen and fuel supplies as well as the naïveté and negativity of Stone, who is on her first trip into space.

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Success redefined: Comparing David Shaw to past Stanford football coaches

October 3, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 3, 2013

Stanford football fans are living in an unprecedented era of success. And as I blogged just the other day, the squad is poised to have yet another outstanding season.

I’ve enjoyed (and endured) a number of Cardinal campaigns, and nothing but nothing compares to the run the team has experienced since the start of the 2010 season. Stanford is 39-5 over that stretch, with a 2-1 record in Bowl Championship Series postseason games.

I’ve become interested lately in the accomplishments of current head coach David Shaw, a 1994 Stanford grad who took the job when Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season. Yes, Harbaugh obviously laid the foundation for Shaw; without Harbaugh, Shaw would not have enjoyed as much success as he’s had.

But don’t slight Shaw. The first-time head coach has won 27 of his first 31 games, which makes for a winning percentage of .871. That’s a mark only three Stanford coaches have exceeded.

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Cardinal clobbers Cougars: Stanford rolls, 55-17, in Seattle

October 1, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 1, 2013

Football can be a funny sport. Saturday night’s Stanford game against Washington State in rainy Seattle provided another example of that.

Paradoxically, I was reassured that everything was going to be OK by the Stanford football possession that ended with quarterback Kevin Hogan’s worst pass, an underthrown ball intercepted by WSU defender Deone Bucannon in the end zone.

Up until the pick, the drive had borne all the hallmarks of classic Cardinal offense. Stanford traveled 74 yards over the course of 17 plays. The protracted possession ate up more than half of the second quarter — 7:57, to be precise.

Talk about balance: The Cardinal rushed nine times and threw eight times on the series. (A pass interference penalty on tight end Luke Kaumatule erased another aerial play.) Talk about power: Three of the Cardinal rushes, all by Tyler Gaffney, went for five yards or longer. Talk about versatility: After the flag on Kaumatule, Hogan threw three straight completions — to Ty Montgomery for 14 yards, to Devon Cajuste for 16 and to Sanders for another 16. (Montgomery and Cajuste caught balls for nine and 10 yards respectively earlier in the drive.)

The Cougars defense held Gaffney (and Anthony Wilkerson, who got one carry) to three yards or fewer on six occasions, and Hogan had three incomplete passes, which included the Bucannon intersection plus what I recall as being an overthrown deep ball to an open Michael Rector. But the overweening impression that I took away from the drive was that the Cardinal offense was going to be very, very difficult to stop.

That conclusion was justified in the second half. Stanford led just 17-3 at intermission. But Cardinal fans who expected the Farm boys’ size and strength to overwhelm the Cougars after the break found their expectations amply rewarded.

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