Archive for November, 2013

Lions, tigers, caracals, bobcats, servals, ocelots and more: Tourism in Chapel Hill precedes a glimpse of beautiful beasts at the Carolina Tiger Rescue

November 30, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 30, 2013

When I was a child, I went to the zoo pretty frequently with my family. I’ve seen lions and tigers numerous times. But in all those trips, I’d never been within five feet of one of these animals — until Sunday.

My Parental Unit was in town last week. We picked up a copy of the Independent Weekly, which had an insert about Triangle nonprofits; it’s part of a campaign to raise money for 28 different charities. As my parent flipped through it, a listing for Carolina Tiger Rescue stood out.

I knew that there was some kind of sanctuary for big cats in Chatham County, but I’d never seriously considered visiting it. However, if my visitor was enthusiastic about the prospect, then I was up for it. We booked two tickets for Sunday’s 2 p.m. tour.

Chatham is mostly rural — it has about 66,000 residents spread across about 682.2 square miles; the average of 93.1 people per square mile is less than half the state’s overall population density. Carolina Tiger Rescue is located about a 50-minute drive from my urban home in Durham; the preserve is a short distance east of Pittsboro (2010 population: 3,743).

We started the day by heading down to Chapel Hill, which is about halfway between where I live and the preserve, and brunching at Crooks Corner. (It was excellent; I’d never before been to this renowned restaurant, but I plan to return.) After we ate, we had some time to kill, so my parent and I walked east on Franklin Street toward the post office.

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The Big Game beat rolls on and on: Stanford triumphs over cal, 63-13, in a record-setting Big Game rout

November 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 25, 2013

The 116th edition of Big Game got off to a brisk start. Stanford put the first points on the board exactly one minute in, courtesy of Lee Ward advancing the kickoff 30 yards, a pass interference flag and Ty Montgomery’s 31-yard touchdown run. Fewer than three minutes later, california (lowercase c intentional) had matched that score with Jared Goff’s touchdown toss to Maurice Harris.

cal, alas, is a team that does many, many things wrong. That proved true upon the ensuing possession. First, there was the kickoff — a 15-yard boot that was caught at midfield with no return. On the very next play, Kevin Hogan dropped back and found Montgomery, who went the distance for a 50-yard touchdown.

Here’s how the rest of the possessions in the first quarter went:

• cal: 3 plays, minus-1 yard, punt.

• Stanford: 7 plays, 51 yards, 12-yard Montgomery touchdown pass from Hogan.

• cal: 3 plays, 5 yards, punt.

• Stanford: 3 plays, minus-2 yards, punt.

• cal: 11 plays, 83 yards, 29-yard Vincenzo D’Amato field goal.

The home team ended the first quarter up by a 21-10 margin, and things only got more lopsided from there. D’Amato would hit a 47-yard kick in the second quarter for cal’s last points of the game. But in that same period, the Cardinal added another 21 points: a 72-yard touchdown on a short Hogan-to-Montgomery connection, a 45-yard TD that Hogan tossed to Michael Rector, and a 9-yard touchdown thanks to another Hogan hookup with Montgomery.

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A portrait of modern bondage: New report estimates that there are nearly 30 million slaves around the globe

November 23, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 23, 2013

Last week, I visited DocuTicker.com and stumbled upon The Global Slavery Index 2013, a first-of-its-kind report published last month by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation.

Being aware of modern slavery, but knowing few if any specifics, I decided to delve into the 130-page report. Reading it left me with mixed emotions.

First, a few positives. In general, wealthy, highly developed nations — especially those in Europe — have relatively low prevalences of slavery. The Index profiles the nations with the 10 highest and the 10 lowest prevalences; of the latter group, all but New Zealand are in Western or Northern Europe. These nations tend to have specifically designated government units, education programs and plans for identifying and responding to human trafficking and forced labor. They have also evaluated the efficacy of their response mechanisms.

Unfortunately, the report is filled with dismaying information. The Index estimates that there are 29.8 million enslaved people in the world, with by far the largest number of those — perhaps 14 million — located in India. Another 2.9 million slaves are estimated to be in China, and at least 2 million more are thought to be in Pakistan.

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Trojans break Cardinal streak: Stanford goes down, 20-17, in a heart-breaking defeat in Los Angeles

November 22, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 20, 2013

I can’t think of le mot juste to describe Stanford’s 20-17 upset loss at USC Saturday night.

Shocking? Yes, it was that. After all, the Trojans are the team that had lost at home, 10-7, to lowly Washington State on Sept. 7. That was a game in which USC gained just 193 yards.

Devastating? Yes, it was that, too. With the Cardinal falling to 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12 North, the team lost the primacy it had wrested from Oregon with the inspiring 26-20 victory on Nov. 7. Stanford still might advance to the conference championship game by beating california (lowercase c intentional), but that scenario now requires the Ducks to lose either to Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12 South) or Oregon State (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12 North). That is, at best, an uncertain prospect.

Expected? Oddly, this also fits. Stanford has played with fire time and again. The Cardinal dominated Oregon for roughly 50 minutes, but the final score showed just how effectively the Ducks managed to claw back into the game. In fact, with the exception of the 55-17 pasting of Washington State, virtually every win the Cardinal has had this year might have gone the other way had a handful of plays yielded different results.

Oregon State would have needed just a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie Stanford as the clock wound down. Before Kodi’s catch was made with nearly two-thirds of the contest vs. UCLA having already been played, the score was tied, 3-3. With 1:16 left to play, a review showed (to some folks, anyway) that a fourth-down Washington pass had fallen incomplete, thereby wiping out a play that would have extended their drive for a game-tying field goal. Despite ultimately losing by 14 points, Arizona State put a huge scare into the Cardinal by ripping off three straight fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Army is 3-7 so far this year, but the Cardinal could muster only a paltry 20-13 halftime lead in the game at West Point — and that required a 47-yard Jordan Williamson field goal as time expired in the second period.

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When is a war on Christmas not a war on Christmas? When Christmas ads start popping up on TV at the beginning of November

November 15, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 15, 2013

Former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is out with a new book. It’s called Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, and by all accounts it inveighs against the liberals, atheists, seculars and humanists who are endangering the celebration of the birth of Christ.

There are a few conservative tropes that make me roll my eyes in disbelief. The “war on Christmas” bromide seems to me the flimsiest of them all.

Now, the United States is a big nation with lots of foolishness. Christopher Moraff of Philadelphia magazine includes in his largely dismissive piece about Palin’s book this acknowledgment that “determined secularists are not completely innocent of some pretty outrageous attempts to scrub even the most innocuous faith-based displays from the public square”:

Just last year administrators at a middle school in California canceled a production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a play that has very little to do with the Christian holiday — because they thought it might offend Jewish students celebrating Hanukkah. A backlash forced the school’s hand, but not before an unsuccessful attempt to lobby the play’s publisher for a change of title. The year before, at another school in California, teachers were prohibited from displaying poinsettias in their classrooms; and Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas banned students from exchanging Christmas gifts or cards.

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Re-debunking one easily debunked conservative lie about Obamacare and HealthCare.gov

November 13, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 13, 2013

On Oct. 25, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee appeared with CNN anchor Carol Costello to discuss GOP charges that HealthCare.gov might be compromising the privacy — specifically, the medical information — of its users.

Now, I certainly can’t vouch for the security of HealthCare.gov. What I would argue, however, is that if the data it collects from other website visitors goes no deeper than what I provided — and that’s my understanding based on reporting on the matter — then everyone’s medical history is completely safe.

Why is that? Because HealthCare.gov doesn’t really collect any medical information.

It asked for my name, physical and e-mail addresses, phone number and race. It also asked whether I was a member of a federal recognized Native American tribe, whether I had Hispanic or Latino origins, and whether anyone for whom I was applying for coverage was incarcerated. There were a few multiple choice questions intended to verify my identity: the year was I born, cities in which I had previously lived, the name of the pet for which I had recently purchased veterinary insurance (a red herring; I’ve never owned a pet as an adult).

Excepting, I suppose, the identity verification queries, which the website said were based on the database of the Experian credit bureau, these are all more or less standard questions that any health insurance company would want answered before selling me a policy. In fact, prior to Oct. 1, I’d bet insurance companies would require answers to most or all of those questions before they’d tell me whether they would even sell me a policy.

But HealthCare.gov didn’t ask me any questions about my medical history, except for this: whether I’d regularly used tobacco products over the last six months. (I’ve never smoked — anything at all.)

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My Obamacare + HealthCare.gov adventure: Part 1 of ???

November 12, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 12, 2013

I’ve written a number of times on this blog about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare. On Oct. 31, I criticized President Obama and his administration for repeatedly and explicitly claiming that Americans with health insurance would be able to keep their policies, even though they knew or should have known that this wasn’t the case.

In general, however, I’ve been cautiously optimistic that the law might — emphasis on might — work more or less as intended, which was how I concluded my Sept. 10 post on the topic.

One thing that I haven’t revealed, until now, is that my perspective on the Affordable Care Act is that of a consumer of health care who enjoys having the buffer from bankruptcy and sudden large expenses that solid health insurance can provide. I thought in particular that the law’s guaranteed issue provision, which requires health insurers to sell policies to all who apply, regardless of pre-existing conditions, was something that might benefit me.

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Killeen’s got 99 problems, and planetfall’s just one: Cyborgs, mechs and humans (oh my!) plague humanity’s remnant in ‘Tides of Light’

November 9, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 9, 2013

At the beginning of Tides of Light, Gregory Benford’s 1989 science fiction novel, Family Bishop is experiencing a moment of relative calm. That does not mean, however, that danger isn’t lurking.

This book, which GoodReads identifies as the fourth in Benford’s six-volume Galactic Center saga, centers on Killeen, the leader (“cap’n”) of a band of not quite 200 humans. The group boasts an unusual blend of technical savvy and scientific ignorance. This combination has characterized humans for years since the collapse of their civilization, which long ago occupied technically advanced space-going Chandeliers.

Bishop is aboard the ancient starship Argo, which they’ve used to flee their ancestral home on the doomed planet Snowglade. The vessel is approaching its mysterious destination, a distant solar system with a habitable planet. However, Argo is being shadowed by a spacecraft controlled by the mechs — a robotic lifeform that is alternatively indifferent or inimical to humanity.

This element will turn out to be just about the least of Bishop’s problems. The world they hope to make their new home is occupied by a large Tribe of humans who are in the sway of an erratic leader. Even worse, a group of large, powerful insectoid cyborgs known as Cybers recently arrived in the system, which they hope to refashion into a sort of interstellar beacon.

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Who’s got it better than Oregon? Stanford does, after a thrilling 26-20 Thursday night victory over the Ducks!

November 8, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 8, 2013

That. Was. Amazing.

How else could Stanford football fans describe Thursday night’s 26-20 victory over the second-ranked Oregon Ducks? This was a season-defining game for both teams, who together clearly represent the top echelon of both the Pac-12 North Division and, indeed, the conference itself.

Going into the game, Cardinal faithful knew that their team could prevail over the mighty Ducks; for evidence, all they had to do was cast their minds back to last season, when Kevin Hogan led his squad to a 17-14 overtime upset in his first-ever road start. But Cardinal fans also knew that a win would require Stanford to play a nearly perfect game.

That’s not exactly what the home squad turned in Thursday night; instead, the Cardinal played phenomenal ball for 50 or so minutes before all three of the team’s units suffered very significant lapses. These let-downs turned what had been a thorough beat-down of the Ducks turn into quite the nail-biter, as we shall see.

Oregon received the opening kickoff and responded by doing what the Ducks have so often done for the past four-odd years — by moving the ball with relative ease. Still, their eight-play, 35-yard possession stalled at the Stanford 48-yard line with an incomplete throw by quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks punted, pinning the Cardinal to their own 6-yard line.

Alas, the red-jerseyed offense went three and out, and Bralon Addison returned the punt 25 yards to the Stanford 28-yard line. Less than five minutes into the game, Oregon had moved into scoring position.

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The boy who would be savior: Meet Ender Wiggin, the tortured young hero of ‘Ender’s Game’

November 7, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 7, 2013

The marvelous science fiction film Ender’s Game is all about confronting the Other — the menace presented to us by external figures and forces. But it is also about its protagonist’s confrontation with the darkness within himself.

The eponymous Ender Wiggin is a prepubescent boy, perhaps 12, who is being groomed to command humanity’s starfleet. Wiggin’s destiny, perhaps, may be to direct Earth forces in their battles against the Formics, buglike aliens who killed millions in an invasion some 40 years prior to his birth.

A brilliant but poorly understood sacrifice by pilot Mazer Rackham is credited with turning back the invading forces. Now the International Fleet has staked its hopes on finding a young man or woman who fits a certain profile — capable of processing vast amounts of information intuitively and instantly, skilled in the arts of war yet not deriving pleasure solely from the act of violence.

Wiggin’s older brother, Peter, was dropped from Fleet’s youth training program years ago for being too aggressive. The family’s middle child, Valentine, was dropped for being too compassionate. As Col. Graff, the head of Battle School, explains to Ender, humanity’s hopes rest upon the youngest Wiggin striking just the right balance between those two extremes.

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