Archive for June, 2015

Scrabbling: Recapping my June 27, 2015, tournament (part 3 of 4)

June 30, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 30, 2015

Game 5 started off as a massacre and ended as one, too. But it nearly took an interesting twist along the way…

My opponent was a fellow about my age, a local player whom I’ll call T. On the first move, he bingoed with SNORTEd 61. I replied with HID 16. On T.’s second move, he bingoed again with MOISTURE 61. That gave him a comfortable 123-16 lead midway through turn 2.

I had one hope to make the game competitive, which involved the word MOISTURE. T. had played this vertically through the O in SNORTEd. The second bingo was on the board’s center column; its final letter was on the 14th row.

That meant that if I could put an S or a blank on the end of MOISTURE, I’d be able to score a huge play using the triple-word-score space — a bonus that would apply to MOISTURES and to whatever word I formed on the bottom row.

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Scrabbling: Recapping my June 27, 2015, tournament (part 2 of 4)

June 30, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 30, 2015

My third game in the tournament was against a college student, C. The game was pretty nip and tuck in the early going, but C. got some separation in the seventh turn by playing STICK 32. I responded with DAsH 45, with the first and last letters respectively covering a triple-word-score square and a double-word-score square.

A few turns later, I played FIZ; having the Z on a triple-letter-score space gave me 35 points and a 206-166 lead halfway through turn 10. In the next round, however, C.’s VINES 32 cut his deficit to 222-212.

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Scrabbling: Recapping my June 27, 2015, tournament (part 1 of 4)

June 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 29, 2015

I was behind almost from the get-go.

The first two plays in my first game in the Scrabble tournament in which I played on Saturday were my YETI 14 and my opponent’s ICY 16. Deficit: minus-2. On her second turn, L. played LEAF over two bonus squares for 47 points. I trailed, 63-36, and things would only get worse from there.

On turn 5, I decided against making a play that would have made ABO. L. used the spot I’d passed by, playing QAT for 35.

On the 10th turn, I thought I might have a chance to catch up. I played SHUNT on dual bonus tiles for 45 points. That narrowed the margin to 216-176.

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June 26, 2015: The Supreme Court extends marriage equality to all, and history is made

June 27, 2015

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

I don’t remember much about when or why I first started thinking seriously about gay marriage. I do know this, however: I used to be on the wrong side of history and justice.

I’m the kind of moderate who usually prefers to split the difference rather than award one or the other side an outright victory on any given issue. Gay marriage initially seemed to me to be frivolous — a pointless expansion, and perhaps even an outright redefinition, of marriage. If homosexuals could obtain civil unions that afforded them all the same legal rights as marriage, then why was there any need for gay marriage?

Granted, many states didn’t allow civil unions for homosexuals. This left life partners at the mercy of blood relatives and courts who were often hostile to their interests when one member of a couple was hospitalized or died. Still, civil unions were a reasonable intermediate step. If they could be implemented throughout the nation, I thought, it would moot the struggle over gay marriage.

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My trip to the eye doctor (part 2)

June 26, 2015

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

And now, I continue the story of my trip to the eye doctor

When the examination was complete, the doctor walked me over to the spectacle showroom. I heard him asking two assistants (opticians? I dunno) who was up; one replied that neither was. “You’re not the only one in this office with a sense of humor,” I said to the doctor as he left. We both smiled, as did the optician (technician?).

Looking at the frames on display, I was quickly drawn to a pair that closely resembled the ones I’m wearing now. I didn’t like the fact that they had Nike swooshes on the side, but after perusing two or three whole cases, they were the spectacles to which I was most drawn.

Some of the rectangular frames were attractive, as were some that lacked rims on the bottom of the lenses, but I was afraid they’d look goofy on me. And so I went with the first — really, the only — pair that I’d picked.

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My trip to the eye doctor (part 1)

June 26, 2015

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

On Thursday morning, I drove myself to my appointment at the eye doctor’s office.

Like my recent trips to the dentist, this visit was long overdue. Not only had it been a few years since my last eye examination, it had been a number of months since my most recent pair of glasses had fallen apart. (Fortunately, I had a backup pair that was in excellent condition.)

Some of the equipment in this doctor’s office seemed to be a bit more modern than what I’ve seen in other ones. The assistant (optician? technician?) started me off with a machine that did a retinal scan. One procedure, which in other places had involved a machine blowing tiny puffs of air into each eye, now was performed by a puffless device.

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More memories of recent losing hands

June 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 22, 2015

Another day, another tournament.

It is, in fact, the third hand of a tournament. There are about six people at the table. I’m in the big blind.

Players fold until the action gets to Dave, a player I’m fairly familiar with. He raises to 700. Another player — I believe the man in the small blind, immediately to my right — calls.

Action comes to me. I peek at my hand and see dual kings.

Huh.

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‘Jurassic World’ and the action-movie paradox: About movie portrayals of violence

June 21, 2015

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

The other day, in my review of Jurassic World, I wrote this:

What’s not honest is the way Jurassic World deals with the human toll of violence: It wants the audience to think they can eat their cake and have it, too. All the individuals who are killed are essentially unknown to the viewer or have been depicted as bad people. The filmmakers want us to be thrilled when a flock of flying dinosaurs are unleashed on a panicked pack of tourists, but the scene is remarkably bloodless for all that.

I meant that last sentence literally: As the fliers assault unarmed people and are shot out of the sky by a contingent of overwhelmed guards, there’s hardly a drop of crimson liquid on display.

Another incident in the sequence also bothered me tremendously because of what it didn’t show. It’s during the fliers’ attack that the only remotely sympathetic character in the movie to fall victim to a dino — or at least, the only remotely sympathetic person to be eaten whose name the audience is ever told — is chomped.

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Scaly injustice: Gene-spliced dinosaurs rampage through a crowded theme park in ‘Jurassic World’

June 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 19, 2015

Twenty-two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park thrilled audiences with its computer-animated dinosaurs run amok, the franchise is back. Jurassic World is the fourth installment in the series, and for my money, it’s by far the best of the sequels — not that that’s saying much.

(Quick disclaimer: I arrived a few minutes late to the screening. Did I miss anything important? Um, I hope not. I mean, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.)

The story has a lot of moving parts, but it boils down to this: A large, powerful and mean dinosaur breaks loose in a crowded theme park; action ensues.

Yes, yes, yes — it defies all logic, but there it is. Despite the chaos and carnage inflicted by reanimated reptilians in the original 1993 blockbuster, the 1997 follow-up The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which loosed a Tyrannosaurus rex on San Diego, for heaven’s sake) and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, the late John Hammond’s vision of a theme park populated by extinct species has been built. And not only built: This incarnation of his vision has opened for business. It’s adding animals and attractions every few years.

Jurassic World, as this luxury vacation destination is called, is quite popular; it’s raking in buckets of visitor revenue from an easily distracted public. It turns out, however, that in the name of increasing profits, the park’s operators have been pushing the limits of both safety and sanity — not to mention, some human-interest subplots show us, the boundaries of sentimentality, too.

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Tournament memories, May 2015 TOCs edition

June 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 14, 2015

It’s May 20, 2015. I’m playing in a World Tavern Poker national championship event in the poker room at the Mohegan Sun casino in, or at least on the outskirts of, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Earlier in the day, I’d placed highly in a side tournament before joining, somewhat tardily, this event. It’s called the TOCs final; the acronym stands for Tournament of Champions.

Although I’m late to the table, which I hate, I start off pretty hot. I hit a straight, a flush, a high pair… My stack grows appreciably as I rake in pots.

Standard card tables usually have seating for 10 players. When poker tournaments begin, often only seven or eight seats per table are filled; this lets latecomers join the proceedings with minimal administrative fuss. As players are eliminated in any large tourney, event officials move the remaining people so that the tables have a relatively even number of players. When a table is broken up to balance out the other tables, each player is either given or asked to draw a seat card. (The process is supposed to be random, however it’s done.) This card designates the player’s new table and seat.

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Notes on allergies (part 2)

June 12, 2015

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

At some point in the past half-decade or so, a doctor recommended that I address my allergies by taking, well, allergy medicine.

It was a simple enough thing, or so it seemed: Just swallow one pill a day. For various reasons, most of which involved convenience, I began taking the pill before bed. This worked out nicely, I thought, because at bedtime, I’m typically either at home or at a place where I’d intended to go to sleep. In other words, my pills would be with me, and, except for a planned trip, there would be no need to pack a bottle or medicine in my car or in my bag. Nor would I have to worry about arranging to have a cup of water to swallow my pills or whatnot at some point in the middle of the day.

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Notes on allergies (part 1)

June 11, 2015

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

This is going to be a short and rather vague blog post, because I don’t remember many of the important relevant details.

But I do remember the first time I was ever told, at least as an adult, that I might be suffering from allergies. I was sitting in an examination room at a medical practice in Henderson, N.C. I can picture the man who had examined me — he was a large-framed fellow, although I can’t remember his name or whether he was a doctor, a physician’s assistant or a nurse-practitioner.

I think that I must have mumbled something about how I’d never heard of anyone developing allergies in their adulthood; the medical person replied that this kind of thing was in fact relatively common. There may have been some talk about how, as a newcomer to North Carolina, I’d noticed that there seemed to be a lot more pollen there than in my native New York. (I moved from Manhattan to Henderson in 2004.)

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My trip to the dentist!

June 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 10, 2015

It was a little after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9. My left cheek and the left side of my tongue felt swollen. Those parts were also tingling. Two and a half hours earlier, I’d gone to the dentist to get three fillings.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of getting regular dental checks, despite having had dental insurance for a while. After I went recently, the dentist’s associates handed me a treatment plan that involved three visits. Tuesday’s was the first of these. (My next one is scheduled for month’s end.)

It might not be fair to say that I was terrified by the prospect of dental work, but — well, let’s just say I found it distressing, especially because I just wasn’t sure what to expect from it. The actual experience was stressful, too, mostly for those reasons.

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Paradise and the apocalypse: Utopian visions in ‘Fury Road,’ ‘Tomorrowland’ and ‘Elysium’

June 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 8, 2015

After seeing Mad Max: Fury Road this week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of two other films that toy with the idea of utopia: Brad Bird’s recent movie, Tomorrowland, and Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 feature film, Elysium.

(Dear reader, please beware: There be spoilers ahead!)

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Karma chamelion, college sports and cards: A short, trivial morality tale

June 5, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 5, 2015

Five years ago, mighty mighty Alabama came to Durham to play Duke’s not-all-that-impressive football team.

I had tickets to the game, and I wanted to make clear that I was not rooting for the overdog Crimson Tide. So I made my first and so far only purchase of Duke paraphernalia as an adult: A navy T-shirt with plain white letters spelling out DUKE arrayed on the front.

That sunny September 2010 afternoon may have been the only time I wore that T-shirt — until this week.

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Adventures in libertarian utopia: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ puts its violent antihero through a vicious, violent and dynamic wringer

June 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 4, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road, the new science fiction action movie from George Miller, is a brutal, kinetic, testosterone-powered thrill ride that finds cause to recognize (and even celebrate) women as something more than sex objects.

This is the fourth film in Miller’s series about a warrior who roams a twisted post-apocalyptic Australian desert landscape. While watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this apt dismissal of an entry in James Cameron’s franchise starring an Austrian as a post-apocalyptic warrior: “Terminator 2 probably ranks as the most violent tribute ever made to peace.”

The title character here is portrayed by the versatile English actor Tom Hardy, who played the petulant Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, the puckish Eames in Inception and the murderous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy steps in for Mel Gibson, the Australian-American whose star was made in no small part by Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), all of which Miller wrote and directed. I’ve only seen the first of the earlier movies in its entirety (and many years ago — the details are quite hazy), although I’m of an age where snippets of the 1985 film couldn’t help but impose themselves on my adolescence.

But familiarity with Mad Max’s previous outings isn’t a prerequisite for watching Mad Max: Fury Road. The important thing is that the viewer enjoy watching cars and trucks race towards and past one another while various (mostly heavily muscled) characters direct guns, harpoons, explosive-tipped spears, chainsaws, knives and fisticuffs at one another.

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Cloudy eyesight and sexual misconduct: Three recent cases

June 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 1, 2015

No two ways about it: The latter half of May was a bad time for self-appointed arbiters of morality.

The trouble for the God squadders began on May 18, when Queerty reported that a Michigan pastor named Matthew Makela had been an active user of Grindr, a hookup app for gay men. This was despite the fact that Makela, a married father of five, was an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

This was small fry, however, compared to l’affaire Duggar. The day after Makela was outed, InTouch reported that Josh Duggar, eldest son of the prolific Arkansas family of reality television fame, had sexually abused minors when he was a teenager. Some of the victims were reportedly his own younger sisters.

Duggar admitted that he had “acted inexcusably” and “hurt others” as a teenager and resigned his position as an official with the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group.

And just last week, a once-powerful politician who had quickly sunk into obscurity was indicted by the federal government. The Chicago Tribune reported that Denny Hastert, speaker-of-the-house turned lobbyist:

was charged with one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade currency transaction reports and making a false statement to the FBI, counts that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Indications soon emerged that the former politician had agreed to pay $3.5 million to a young man whom he’d apparently known — and, presumably, sexually molested — decades ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in a small Illinois town.

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