Archive for April, 2014

Alcatraz in space? Eh, not so much. A protagonist progresses through a prison riot in ‘Lockout’

April 25, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2014

Lockout, the 2012 science-fiction movie co-directed and co-written by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, is cheesy, easily forgotten silliness.

The film, which was also co-written by French director Luc Besson, begins in the year 2079 as Snow, a former CIA agent, is being interrogated by Scott Langral, the director of the Secret Service. Langral believes that Snow has killed his (Snow’s) friend, Frank Armstrong, a military official. The Secret Service suspected Armstrong of selling secrets, and Langral’s theory seems to be that Snow offed his buddy in order to maximize his personal profit from the transaction. Snow is condemned to 30 years of cryogenic sleep in MS-One, a controversial orbital prison.

Meanwhile, the facility is being inspected by one Emilie Warnock, who wants to know whether extended sleep might be damaging the psychological stability of inmates. Thanks to a series of unfortunate events (to borrow a phrase), a prisoner whom she interviews is able to steal a gun, escape the interview room and force a technician to wake the space station’s 500 violent prisoners from stasis. The captives run wild, turning the tables on their former captors.

As fate would have it, Warnock is the only child of the widowed president. Snow is offered a deal: Covertly board MS-One, locate the president’s daughter and exfiltrate her in exchange for clemency.

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The joker was a jurist: Considering the matter of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia

April 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 23, 2014

Two.

That’s the number of times this month that Antonin Scalia, the longest-sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice, has publicly suggested rebellion against the U.S. government.

The first instance took place in early April, at a Brooklyn Law School event. In a roundup of legal news, Joe Patrice restated the the episode this way: “Justice Scalia was asked, ‘Why should society be bound by laws that were passed only by white male property owners?’ If you guessed he’d eschew a substantive response in favor of a condescending sarcastic quip, you’re right!”

What was the quip? Let’s go to an April 8 Wall Street Journal article about Scalia’s visit to the school, which closed with an anecdote about the question that Patrice had highlighted. The justice, in reporter David Shapiro’s telling,

hesitated for a few seconds, longer than he had all evening. “That’s a reasonable position,” he smiled. “You people wanna make a revolt? Do it!”

Something not dissimilar happened last week, when Scalia delivered a lecture at the University of Tennessee law school. In response to a question, Scalia stated that the income tax is constitutional, “but if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt.”

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Framing, and re-framing, Gustave: Anderson toys with narrative as he depicts whimsical adventures in ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’

April 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 22, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel, the new film directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, chronicles the madcap adventures of one Monsieur Gustave H., an extraordinary concierge. Zero, Gustave’s employee, protégé and friend, serves as sidekick to the concierge as well as one of the main narrators of the story.

The protagonist is a man with a bon mot and a plan for virtually any and every situation, no matter how extraordinary. A commanding figure at the eponymous luxury resort, which is situated in a fictitious eastern European nation, Gustave is the type of charming extrovert who never met a stranger; indeed, he addresses men whom he met moments before as “darling.”

Gustave has a particular knack for wining, dining and — not to put too fine a point on it — romancing dowagers. Most of the movie concerns the aftermath of the (rather suspicious) death of Madame D. and her attempts to bequeath a Renaissance portrait named “Boy with Apple” to Gustave.

Madame D.’s tempestuous son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), wants control of all of his late mother’s estate, including the portrait; to that end, he and his vicious lackey, Jopling (Willem Dafore), ruthlessly harass Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), the lawyer serving as executor of the will. Dmitri and Jopling also frame Gustave for murder, thereby requiring the concierge and his devoted “lobby boy,” Zero, to mastermind a prison escape.

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Puns on the loose: A very silly list of renamed sitcoms

April 21, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2014

Yes, it’s another list — this time of unappealingly renamed sitcoms.

• Unhappy Days

• I Loathe Lucy

• The Cosby Shoe

• Mork Murders Mindy

• Laverne and Shirley and John Wayne Gacy

It’s Always Grungy in Philadelphia

How I Ate Your Mother

• Two and a Half Carcasses

Family Bondage

• Alf Autopsy

• Everybody Punches Raymond

• Gilligan’s Graveyard

Neinfeld

• Charles de Gaulle in Charge

• Charles in Chains

• The Gallstone Girls

But I was ahead at first! All-in on a pair of 10s

April 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 19, 2014

Free tournament; no cash at stake. Final table. Five people. I am, I believe, the first to act on this hand. My hole cards are a pair of 10s. I go all in: Eight gray chips, with a notional value of 5,000 units each and an effective value of zero.

Dwayne is sitting to my left. He glances at his cards and calls. Everyone else folds, including the blinds.

We flip our cards. Dwayne has the seven and eight of clubs. One of my 10s is a club, too.

The flop comes out: jack, queen, king. Only one of them is a club. I’m sitting pretty, and Dwayne says something to that effect.

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Puns on the loose: A very silly science fiction list

April 18, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 18, 2014

And now, this blog humbly presents some alternative, and far less appealing, names for some well-known (and otherwise) science fiction franchises.

Star Bores

• Star Dreck

• Battlefarts Galactica

• The PG-13 Files

• Starship Bloopers

• All-But-Dissertation Who

• Agents of I.R.S.

• Blade Cleaner

• Peninsula of the Apes

• RoboMeterMaid

Sept. 11, 2001: George Bush’s Odyssey 

• Men in Gray Flannel Suits

• Fahrenheit 51

• Invasion of the Body Sculptors

• The Lamest American Zero

• Infinitesimal Leap

Logan’s 5K

• seaQuest DVR

• The Six Million Dollar Hip Replacement

• Buck Rogers in the 21st Century

My dream of the transported textbooks

April 16, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 16, 2014

A dream from this morning.

I’m in a large second-hand store. Fluorescent lights hang from the ceiling. The floor and shelves — not to mention most of the other items in the shop — look as though they haven’t gotten a good scrubbing in at least three years.

I climb a ladder to get something from a high shelf. (What it was, I no longer recall.) Peering to the other side of the shelf, I notice the textbook section. I grow excited: There might be something in that section that I would enjoy or I could use. (It is something specific, but the exact nature again has faded from memory.) But not just at this moment — I need to focus on what I’m doing. Browsing the textbooks must wait…

However, when the time comes to go look at the textbooks, something funny happens: I can’t locate them. I circle the area where I thought the textbooks were, but I can’t find them. I re-ascend the ladder I was perched upon when I first saw the texts, but that doesn’t help. I am baffled and frustrated.

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The pro-life film critic who wasn’t: Reviewing Roger Ebert’s views on abortion

April 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 15, 2014

Roger Ebert died on April 4, 2013. It’s early going yet, but there is a bit of a tradition that seems to be developing among some conservative-leaning scribes: To mark his passing by publishing dubious claims that the beloved pioneering film critic was pro-life.

Here’s an item that First Things blogger Matthew Schultz posted on April 8, 2013, with the title “Roger Ebert, Pro-Life”:

In a column published a month before his death, the revered film critic stated his opposition to abortion:

My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child.

A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born.

That first sentence leaves something to be desired, but Ebert was a film critic, not an ethicist. May he rest in peace.

On April 8, 2014, Jill Stanek posted a very similar item over at LifeNews.com under the headline “Film Critic Roger Ebert Opposed Abortion, Including Rape, Incest”:

My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child.

A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born.

— Film critic Roger Ebert“How I am a Roman Catholic,” March 1, written a little over a month before he passed away on April 4

I find it curious that Stanek’s blog splits the quotation into two lines, just like Schultz’s. In fact, the sentences appeared consecutively as part of a longer paragraph in Ebert’s original article, which was titled “How I am a Roman-Catholic.”

But that’s not really what I find so objectionable here. The real issue is that Schultz and Stanek are presenting an incredibly cramped and skewed version of Ebert’s actual stance on abortion, which was fairly nuanced. The two sentences quoted above are in fact part of a nearly 1,300-word-long essay by the critic.

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The Pulitzer Prize winner, the faux journalist and the governor of the Garden State: Reflections on a short video investigation

April 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 14, 2014

The other day, I ruminated at length about the similarities between former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But there’s something that I left out of the story that’s been lingering in my mind for the past several weeks. That something is a 2011 video by would-be conservative journalist James O’Keefe criticizing a Newark Star-Ledger journalist (and adjunct Columbia University journalism professor) Amy Ellis Nutt.

Nutt won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for a series of feature stories called “The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” which chronicled the sinking of a fishing boat in which six men drowned. After describing how she wrote that story as part of a public panel discussion at Columbia’s Journalism School, which administers the Pulitzers, Nutt was recorded in what she thought was a private conversation.

It turns out that Nutt was speaking not with a cub reporter, as she apparently thought, but with a plant working for “Project Veritas,” O’Keefe’s quasi-journalistic enterprise. The decoy, as O’Keefe calls him, covertly took video of Nutt saying that it’s important to re-elect President Obama and disparaging Christie.

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Computer CPR: How to respond to the Internet’s Heartbleed security hole

April 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 12, 2014

The other day, I spent about an hour updating several of my Internet passwords. The spur for this, in case you didn’t know — and if you didn’t, you really should — is Heartbleed, the gaping flaw in World Wide Web security protocols that may have given snoopers access to supposedly secure passwords and other information over the last two years.

It’s not yet been determined whether anyone actually exploited the vulnerability in the OpenSSL code, which perhaps half a million websites used. (Another article estimates that this code is used on perhaps two-thirds of Internet servers. SSL, by the way, stands for secure sockets layer.) Samantha Murphy Kelly reported Wednesday that there’s no indication that hackers were aware of the bug before it was announced at the beginning of the week, and on Friday, the National Security Agency denied that it had either known about or used the flaw.

Still, in the wake of these revelations, Internet users have been advised to change their passwords. There are a couple of wrinkles, however. One is that if a site you use has been compromised, a password change won’t make a web account more secure unless that website has patched the vulnerability.

There are workarounds, of course. On Thursday, Mashable compiled a table listing popular sites and whether or not a password change was advisable. Also, Internet denizens can go here and enter specific web addresses to see if those pages have been affected.

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Giuliani vs. Christie: Two GOP politicians from the Northeast have lots in common

April 11, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 11, 2014

In 2007, when I was working as a newspaper reporter in a small North Carolina town, my editor asked me if I was excited that Rudy Giuliani, a fellow New Yorker, might become president. I scoffed.

There were two reasons for this. One was that I thought Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, would never be able to win the Republican nomination. The other was that I thought Giuliani was temperamentally ill-suited to serve as president.

Giuliani became known as America’s mayor for his performance on Sept. 11, 2001, when he provided a calm and steadying voice even as President George W. Bush temporarily disappeared from view. A former U.S. attorney who had successfully prosecuted mafiosi, Giuliani was a Republican who presided over one of the nation’s most Democratic cities. His mayoralty coincided with — and, to be fair, helped prompt — the renaissance of the Big Apple. Unemployment in the city dropped nearly 40 percent during the 1990s; in the same period, assault also fell 40 percent, and rates of murder, robbery, car theft and burglary all dropped by 66 percent to 73 percent.

That’s all well and good, although it remains an open question just how much Giuliani’s leadership had to do with those declines. But while these positives were well-publicized, fewer Americans outside of the New York-New Jersey area were acquainted with the mayor’s negatives. In mid-2000, upon separating from his second wife, Giuliani moved out of Gracie Mansion and into the apartment of a gay couple. He had a penchant for dressing up in drag. Giuliani was essentially moderate — which is to say, liberal, at least in the context of the post–Bush-the-younger Republican Party — on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gun control and immigration. Giuliani’s family situation — by 2007, he was largely estranged from his children, and he was on his third marriage — was no help. One particularly damning episode involved his announcement to the press of his aforementioned separation from his second wife, which preceded the mayor’s actually informing said wife of their split.

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Aces prevail: My woeful tale from the free poker table

April 10, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 10, 2014

I played free poker Tuesday night and had a decent run in the first tournament. Dealt ace-king, I went all-in with 5,100 chips. I got one caller, who had a low pair — fives, I believe. The flop included both an ace and a king, and I came away from the hand with more than 10,000 notional units of value.

Later, with the blinds at 500 and 1,000, I bet 3,000 chips on a hand that I forget. Two people went all-in on me; each had 5,500 chips. I called readily, since I had more in reserve. My hand won out, and the chip-up break came shortly afterward. I had 22,000 chips to my name. I wound up finishing ninth or 10th in the game.

But the truly intriguing hand came early in the second tournament.

As the first player to act, I was dealt king-six, both spades. I bet 600.

“Is that too big?” I asked the other players. In the previous hand, I’d had a pair, and I’d bet 2,400; no one called, with an opponent complaining that my bet was too large.

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Would that which we call ‘the R–dsk–ins’ play as badly with any other name?

April 6, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 6, 2014

A recent controversy centered around the Twitter hashtag #CancelColbert, which was a reaction to a skit and tweet from Stephen Colbert’s satirical TV news program, “Colbert Report,” which was prompted by Daniel Snyder founding the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which in turn was — deep breath here! — a response to the ongoing controversy over the name of Snyder’s NFL team, which many people (myself included) take to be a vicious slur.

Personally, I would love to see the name changed. But I don’t own the team; the owner is Snyder, who has proven to be a reprehensible human being (not to mention a lousy NFL owner, at least when it comes to fielding a winning team). And it’s Snyder’s right to keep or replace the name as he pleases.

Unfortunately, the immensely stubborn Snyder has declared in no uncertain terms that he will never change the franchise’s name. So while I applaud and sympathize with those who protest the name, and while I tend to avoid using the team’s moniker, I don’t plan to expend much energy calling for a change.

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April 2, 2014: A most American day

April 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 5, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014, was a quintessentially American day. It will be remembered primarily for two events; history will also footnote one purported joke that seemed to be a reaction to one of those happenings.

• In the morning, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the result of McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court invalidated provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 limiting the total amount of money any one individual may give to political candidates or political parties.

Previously, the law set a number of restrictions. According to SCOTUSblog, any one person could give up to $2,600 per candidate per primary or general election, $32,400 per year to a national party committee, $10,000 per year to a state or local party committee, and $5,000 per year to a regular political action committee. Further, an individual’s aggregate donations over a two-year election cycle were limited; in 2013–14, the maximums were $48,600 for federal candidates and $74,600 to political committees.

The new ruling lets stand limits on giving to a particular candidate or committee, but the aggregate caps are no more.

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‘The Man in the High Castle’ is an alternative history that goes over my head

April 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 2, 2014

In San Francisco in the early 1960s, Robert Childan, proprietor of American Artistic Handcrafts Inc., fields a call from an important Japanese official whose order for a Civil War–era recruiting poster Childan has not yet been able to fulfill. Frank Frink,  Fink, ponders how to go about regaining his job at the factory where he has been helping to manufacture fake antiques distributed to Childan and other suckers. Childan’s important customer, Nobusuke Tagomi, consults the I Ching for guidance about how to impress his important visitor, a certain Mr. Baynes of Sweden.

In remote Canon City, Colo., Frink’s estranged wife, Juliana Frink, watches a point of light arc overhead before going into the local diner, where she meets a young Italian trucker named Joe Cinnadella. Aboard that moving point of light — in fact, a Nazi rocket ship bound for San Francisco — the supposed industrialist Baynes has an uneasy conversation with a German seatmate. After the ship lands, Baynes confesses that he is a Jew who, with the help of powerful friends, has survived the Nazi genocide; then he disembarks and meets Tagomi.

Such are the characters introduced by Philip K. Dick over the course of the first three chapters and 44 pages of The Man in the High Castle. This 1962 alternative-history tale about a world in which Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire were victorious in World War II earned Dick the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

Dick’s vision of the triumphant Axis powers is a sobering one. San Francisco’s swankiest neighborhood is controlled by Japanese; whites who visit are watched suspiciously, while people of Chinese ancestry have become a sort of caste of untouchables. The United States’ western region is controlled by the Japanese, while in the east the Germans have re-instituted slavery and exterminated the Jews. Worst of all, though, is the fate of Africa, which the Germans have evidently burned to a crisp with atomic bombs.

The Man in the High Castle is unlike the mind-bending science fiction for which Dick is most famous, the novel and novella that formed the basis for the popular movies Blade Runner and Total Recall. (His work has also been adapted as the movies A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and Screamers.) Yes, there are rocket-powered commercial passenger ships, and allusions are made to the Nazis’ exploration of Mars, but otherwise the technology featured in The Man in the High Castle seems roughly comparable to what Dick and his readers would have experienced in 1962.

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