Archive for September, 2015

Recent Readings for Sept. 29, 2015

September 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 29, 2015

• The next Supreme Court term. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress has a useful primer on three cases that the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider in its next term, which starts on Monday. One of the cases could result in depriving public-sector unions of what are called agency fees or fair share fees, a vital funding stream. Another could change how state legislatures draw their districts. A third case, Fisher vs. University of Texas, which the court already considered in 2012, could affect the future of affirmative action. Millhiser also notes that the court is likely to agree to hear two major reproductive health rights cases.

• Skeptical police response to sexual assault allegations ultimately costs a young child his life. Katie J.M. Baker’s feature article about Virginia authorities’ questionable handling of a possible rape electrified my Twitter feed Sunday evening. Police didn’t believe the complainant and ended up filing charges against her and her sister — charges that were used as leverage against the sister in what turned out to be a fateful custody hearing. The next time someone is tempted to ask why a potential rape victim didn’t contact the authorities, he or she would do well to remember Baker’s chronicle.

• Can the brother of a victim in the Lockerbie bombing help bring perpetrators to justice? Patrick Radden Keefe describes the many ways in which an obsession with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has forever changed Ken Dornstein’s life. Only one man was ever convicted for his involvement with this act of terrorism, but after finishing Keefe’s story, I was persuaded that at least one other individual likely got away with mass murder.

Author’s note: Dornstein’s film, My Brother’s Bomber, will be broadcast in three parts on the PBS documentary series Frontline beginning tonight; the second and third segments will air on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. MEM

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On Thursday night: Act IV, Act V, Epilogue

September 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 28, 2015

And now, back to our story

Act IV.

We got down to 10 players — the final table, at least unofficially. I considered changing my spot at the end of the table, where my cards had been absolutely atrocious, but instead decided to stay where I was. I can be a stubborn cuss, I can.

I think we’d gotten down to nine players when I got what I’d waited oh, so long for: a pocket pair. They were a middle pair, eights — not great. But I’d been so starving for good cards that I shoved all in with hardly a moment’s thought.

Almost as soon as I did it, I had reservations. Lee, two spots to my left, was short stack at the table. I should have waited until he’d gone out, I told myself, due to the way World Tavern Poker allocates points. (The league accords significant value to a final table of eight people, so finishing eighth yields a significantly better haul of points than does finishing ninth.) But it was too late: I’d shipped my chips; I was committed.

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On Thursday night: Act II, Act III

September 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 27, 2015

And now, back to our story

Act II.

When the second tournament got under way, I took a spot at the third table, a pool table that had been covered up. I like starting at that table, and I particularly like starting at a spot in the farthest corner from the entrance. But since that had already been taken, I chose a spot on the short side of the table near the entrance. If I turned my head to the right, I’d have a good view of a television that was showing the National Football League’s Thursday night Giants–Washington game.

I was slightly peeved about not being able to sit in my favorite spot, but I was more bothered by the fact that the person to my left was a formidable player named Chris. And as it turned out, an equally good player, Doc, was seated to my right a hand or two after the tournament began, meaning that I was sandwiched between two of the region’s top competitors.

Doc wouldn’t be there for long. Two hands after he started, he was dealing, I was in the small blind and Chris was in the big blind. Some people got in the hand. Doc, I think, raised. I had ace-eight and considered calling; instead, I folded.

The flop turned out to be quite tasty, however: ace-ace-jack. I raised my eyebrows slightly. Damn, I thought*. Maybe I should have played.

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On Thursday night: Cold open, prologue, Act I

September 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 27, 2015

The Cold Open.

I’m sitting across a table from a man named Eric. We are heads up at the conclusion of a no-cash Texas holdem poker tournament. The three cards from the flop are on the table. After a series of post-flop bets, we’ve both agreed to go all-in.

Eric has me covered, but I have the superior hand — for now. As I cautiously remind Eric, he can beat me: “All you need is for the board to pair.”

I burn a card and put out the turn. It’s a 10. I relax a minute amount: That card did not help Eric.

I burn again and reach for the final card — fifth street, the river. I’m holding my breath…


The Prologue.

Several hours earlier, on Thursday afternoon, I was steaming. I regularly drive a Durham man named K— to local World Tavern Poker events. After an exchange of text messages, I’d swung by his house to pick him up, but he hadn’t been ready. After impatiently waiting for a few minutes — I was eager to beat the traffic — I got out of my car, walked up to his porch and knocked on his door.

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Two women, trapped in different ways, navigate the end of the world in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’

September 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 25, 2015

In 2004, the acclaimed Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood published Oryx and Crake, the dour story of a love triangle. The narrative begins in a dystopian future North America and ends after a pandemic has wiped out most of civilization, or what passed for it. In 2009, Atwood’s The Year of the Flood came out. I started reading it in March and completed it, after several interruptions (and one boneheaded accident), in August.

The book turns out to be another science fictional outing and is, in fact, the middle leg of what has dubbed the MaddAddam trilogy. Where Oryx and Crake, from what I recall, was told exclusively from the narrator’s point of view, the 2009 book is more ambitious: It alternates between two characters. Atwood also tacks between the past, in the same dystopian society depicted in Oryx and Crake, and the post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by the previous book’s lonesome narrator. (Yes, there are a handful of human survivors — just why that is Atwood reveals in the course of time.)

One of the protagonists here is Toby, whose parents died while she was a college student (long before the plague), leaving her essentially alone and without resources. After some misadventures that will haunt her, Toby winds up becoming a teacher in a Christian sect of nature-loving hippies who call themselves the God’s Gardeners. There, one of her students is Ren, the book’s other protagonist, whose mother later takes her away from the sect and back to what the Gardeners call the External World.

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Wendy Wasserstein’s 1981 coming-of-age comedy ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ explores questions that still resonate today

September 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 24, 2015

Because — full disclosure — a friend of mine plays a role in the new Cary Players production of Isn’t It Romantic, I went to see the revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s 1981 comedy on opening night at the Cary Arts Center.

The show is quite enjoyable, mixing humor and pathos as it shows Janie and her longtime friend, Harriet, negotiating the compromises and sacrifices that they must make in their work and personal lives after moving back to New York City in their late 20s. Harriet, who as the show opens is a freshly minted Harvard M.B.A. on the verge of being hired by the Colgate company, is career-driven, much like her mother. In fact, a key question she faces is how much she wants to follow the trail blazed by her mother, Lillian, a successful business executive and single parent — which would have made her something about as unusual as a unicorn in the 1960s and ’70s.

This cake was displayed in the lobby of the Cary Arts Center during the premier of the Cary Players production of “Isn’t It Romantic” by Wendy Wasserstein on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015.

This cake was displayed in the lobby of the Cary Arts Center during the premier of the Cary Players production of “Isn’t It Romantic” by Wendy Wasserstein on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015.

Janie isn’t exactly certain what she wants. For months after she moves into her downtown Manhattan apartment, she puts off unpacking. She begins a romance with Marty, a sweet doctor whose father is a schlocky restaurateur (and possible arsonist), but she drags her feet whenever he expresses interest in moving in together, getting married and starting a family.

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Accessory shopping and getting back to normal

September 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 23, 2015

Just a few notes on my new laptop.

Data from the old laptop has been moved onto the new laptop; that went pretty smoothly. I also purchased an extended warranty and a protective case without incident.

Well, the extended warranty was acquired without incident, at least. I’m still a little bemused by the lengths I had to go to to get the case.

For some reasons, stores (online and otherwise) are overflowing with laptop sleeves; the same is true of coverings and cases for tablets. But a sleeve, at least to the best of my knowledge, won’t protect a computer unless it’s inserted into the sleeve, in which case the machine can’t be used. So I wanted a shell.

When I returned to the Apple Store in Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall last week, I asked about laptop shells and was directed to the establishment’s back right corner. There I found, yes, a seemingly endless selection of sleeves and iPad cases. But there were only two or three different shells for sale.

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In ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,’ Rebecca Skloot describes how one woman’s cancer yielded a strange and important legacy

September 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 22, 2015

Recently, I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 nonfiction account of the personal and scientific journeys experienced by a Maryland women’s family and cells.

Lacks was the great-granddaughter of slave owners who grew up on what had once been a plantation in Southern Virginia. She died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951 due to an unusually aggressive strain of cervical cancer. Lacks was only 31.

Her story, and her family’s story, might have been lost to history but for two reasons. One is that doctors at the hospital took a sample of the cancerous cells in her body, found that they grew prolifically and soon shared them widely with scientists around the nation and the world. The easily cultivated cells, dubbed HeLa, have been called one of the most important developments in medicine in the 20th century.

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Triumph over the Trojans: Stanford powers to a 41-31 road win in Los Angeles

September 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 21, 2015

When I met a friend and fellow Stanford alumnus at a Durham restaurant shortly before the kickoff of the Cardinal football team’s game at USC Saturday night, he asked me how I felt about the contest.

Jim was clearly worried, and I couldn’t lie: I was, too. “I’m skeptical,” I said*.

Then, not wanting to be too much of a negative nelly, I changed tacks.

“But you know, if the team could do it in 2007…” I said.

In 2007, Jim Harbaugh was a first-year coach at Stanford in his initial head-coaching job in the major college ranks. USC, the second-ranked team in the nation, was coached by Pete Carroll, who today is coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with the Seattle Seahawks and back then was fresh from piloting the Trojans to a loss in the national championship. Despite being 41-point underdogs, despite starting a quarterback with three college passes to his name, despite the Trojans not having lost a home game in six years, Stanford knocked off USC in a game that some hail as the greatest upset ever.

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Breakthrough: Stanford finds its scoring groove in home opener against UCF

September 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 19, 2015

Stanford football’s 2015 home debut against the University of Central Florida was one of the final games to begin last weekend, with a kickoff at 7:35 p.m. Pacific Time. It took more than two minutes of game time before either team got a first down.

On the second play of the Cardinal’s second possession, fifth-year running back Remound Wright ripped off a 10-yard carry. That seemed to get Stanford’s attack untracked — sort of — as two of the next three plays resulted in first downs. (In order, they were an incomplete pass by Kevin Hogan, a 13-yard rush by Christian McCaffrey and a 15-year connection between Hogan and wideout Michael Rector.)

Rector’s reception gave the Cardinal first down and 10 yards to go at the UCF 45-yard-line, but the team soon faltered. A holding penalty on Stanford nullified the snap at the 45; a false start followed, as did an illegal block call on senior left guard Joshua Garnett that wiped out what might otherwise have been a first-down run by Hogan. Stanford punted from UCF’s 33, and the remainder of the first quarter was one gigantic bog of mediocrity.

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