Archive for November, 2015

In Lewis Shiner’s ‘Glimpses,’ an alcoholic stereo repairman rescues legendary rock music that never was

November 29, 2015

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

In 1993, a science fiction writer from Texas named Lewis Shiner published his fourth novel, Glimpses. I read part of it but never finished, for reasons that remain unclear. Perhaps I lost interest; perhaps I never got my hands on the novel itself but instead had an excerpt published in a science fiction magazine.

At any rate, this summer, I saw Love and Mercy, the biopic about the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and it reminded me of Glimpses, or of whatever part of it that I’d read. I’d seen a copy of the book in a Raleigh second-hand store, so on my next visit there, I picked it up. (I also grabbed a copy of Frontera, Shiner’s first book, from 1984, which I will write about sometime in the next few months.)

Glimpses is a heavily autobiographical novel, according to the autobiographical essay on Shiner’s website. The story opens in late 1989, shortly after the narrator’s father has died in a diving accident off the Mexican island of Cozumel. Ray Shackleford is a 37-year-old stereo repairman trapped in a loveless marriage to a teacher; he is semi-functional despite having a major alcohol dependency. A college dropout and an only child, Shackleford has always loved music and never got along with his father.

But this otherwise ordinary man discovers an extraordinary talent. He’s at work, trying to finish mourning his dad, an anthropology professor who had only recently retired from a globe-hopping career, and trying to stop mooning over Alex, his high-school girlfriend, when something strange happens as Let It Be plays in the background of his workshop:

There’s magic, see, and there’s science. Science is what I learned at DeVry and it bought me this nice two story house off 290 in East Austin. Magic says if maybe the Beatles could have hacked it then maybe Alex and me could have hacked it.

If the Beatles had hacked it, “The Long and Winding Road” would have sounded a lot different. Paul always hated what [producer Phil] Spector did to it, wanted it to be a simple piano ballad. John might have written a new middle eight for it, something with an edge to cut the syrupy romanticism. George could have played some of the string parts on the guitar, and Ringo could have punched the thing up, given it more of a push.

It could have happened. Say Paul had realized the movie was a stupid idea. Say they’d given up on recording at Apple and gone back to Abbey Road where they belonged, let George Martin actually produce instead of sitting around listening to them bicker. I’d seen enough pictures of the studio. I could see it in my head.…

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A freighter captain and a cop take on a mysterious conspiracy in the debut science fiction novel ‘The Kassa Gambit’

November 27, 2015

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

M.C. Planck’s 2012 debut novel, The Kassa Gambit, is an enjoyable piece of science fiction escapism.

The book’s main characters are Prudence Falling, captain and owner of the independent interstellar freighter Ulysses, and Kyle Daspar, a politically connected municipal policeman on the wealthy planet of Altair.

As the story opens, Falling and her three-man crew are on a routine cargo run that goes horribly wrong. They arrive at their destination, a remote, sparsely populated farm world named Kassa, days after an unknown force has bombed every city, town and building into oblivion. What’s more, the marauders seeded nearby space with a set of deadly torpedoes (which the characters refer to as mines — a minor quibble, but there we are).

After Falling’s crew disables the torpedo targeting Ulysses and makes landfall, they find themselves called upon to aid thousands of survivors, a task they barely have the resources to even begin to attempt:

Prudence met the man at the boarding hatch. Standing at the top of the gangway gave her power, rendered him a supplicant at the foot of the throne. A simple trick, but it had worked on more than one dockside petty official.

“Thank Earth you’re here,” the man said.

“Captain Prudence Falling of the Ulysses,” she introduced herself. The formalities were there for a purpose. They gave structure to the negotiations, reminded everyone exactly where they stood. “And you are?”

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Thanksgiving notes

November 26, 2015

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

I wanted to throw up a quick entry here mentioning some previous blog posts that are relevant to the season:

Three years ago, I wrote a post listing six things for which I was grateful. All still apply. What are you grateful for? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Six years ago, I began tweeting tributes to the seniors on the Stanford football team toward the end of the season. (The timing is loosely tied to the senior day tradition established by the late Dean Smith, a legendary men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.) My most recent tribute appeared on Twitter shortly before the kickoff to the 118th Big Game last Saturday; subsequently, I updated the page on this blog that contains all of the tributes. Be sure to visit if you have any interest in the Cardinal football team!

In 2013, I wrote about Christmas creep, which, I assure you, is alive and well. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed no decrease in the insistence by conservatives that Christianity is imperiled here in the United States. (See: Kim Davis.)

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Man in decline: Anita Brookner’s ‘Strangers’ depicts an elderly, lonesome Londoner in his twilight years

November 26, 2015

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

When I looked at the indicia of the Anita Brookner novel Strangers, I was startled to see that the book had only been published in 2009. It seemed to me that I had had the slim brown volume lingering on one bookcase or another for forever, accompanying me to a variety of different homes.

That wasn’t quite the case. But it felt that way because Brookner’s tales have long struck me as claustrophobic and stultifying. Her characters are so boxed in — mainly by their own neuroses, with societal norms filling whatever gaps remain — that growth or action of any kind is virtually impossible.

(A quick aside, confessional in nature: Brookner has written more than two dozen novels, but I’m not certain whether I’ve read more than one of them. At any rate…)

I started reading Strangers sometime late this summer, and, after some delays, I finished it earlier this month. The novel is beautifully written, but it’s frustrating for all the reasons that I recall from whatever earlier encounters with Brookner’s work that I’ve either had or somehow imagined.

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History made, division title secured: Stanford beats Cal, 35-22, for its sixth straight Big Game win

November 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 23, 2015

Football is a team sport, so let’s begin with the group accomplishments that we saw in Saturday night’s 118th football clash between Stanford and Cal.

The Cardinal won, 35-22, thereby extending the team’s Big Game win streak to six and insuring that the Stanford Axe would remain in its rightful place on the Farm for at least another year. The seniors became the 13th class to graduate without ever having lost the Axe to the archrivals from across the San Francisco Bay. The squad scored at least 30 points in 10 straight games for the first time in four years. And head coach David Shaw’s team swept its in-state rivals — the Golden Bears, USC and UCLA — for the first time since 2012. (The Trojans had beaten Stanford each of the past two seasons.)

Perhaps more importantly, Stanford moved to 9-2 on the season and clinched the Pac-12 Northern Division title with an 8-1 conference record. Regardless of the outcome of the regular season finale against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Stanford will play for a Rose Bowl berth on Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, a short drive from campus.

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Recent Readings for Nov. 19, 2015

November 19, 2015

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

• U.S. releases longtime British captive who was never formally charged with wrongdoing. A small step was taken last week to repair the depressing legacy of the invasion of Afghanistan, a war that I consider to have been completely necessary but handled in suboptimal fashion. Gabrielle Bluestone has the (mostly grim) news for Gawker:

Shaker Aamer, a British citizen who spent more than 13 years in Guantanamo Bay, was freed Friday and is reportedly on his way back to London.

Aamer, the last British Gitmo detainee, was captured by the Northern Alliance in 2001 and eventually turned over to the U.S. on allegations that he had worked as an Al Queda operative in London, associated with Osama bin Laden and led a band of Taliban fighters at Tora Bora. Over the next 13 years, the 46-year-old — who says he was in Afghanistan doing charity work — was subjected to waterboarding, force fed through a nasal feeding tube after coordinating a hunger strike, and held in solitary confinement for years. During that time, his six-by-eight-foot cell reportedly had 24 hour exposure to light and constant noise from a nearby generator.

The British House of Commons had unanimously passed a resolution calling for Aamer’s release.

Bluestone notes that 112 captives remain at the American military installation in Guantanamo Bay, of whom only 10 have been charged with a crime.

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Patented Pundit Scorecard™ No. 1: Looking back at my Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal pontification

November 18, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 18, 2015

I’m feeling pretty good about a recent announcement that jibes with something I wrote in December 2013. So in what will likely be a futile attempt to forestall some smugness on my part, I’m going to open this post with a reminder that another assessment that I made two years ago didn’t pan out so well.

In September 2013, I wrote the following about then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

I enjoy having fun at Perry’s expense as much as the next person. But anyone who dismisses Perry out of hand is potentially making a big mistake.

Well, that didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. In mid-September of this year, Perry became the first Republican to bow out of the race to secure the party’s nomination for president of the United States.

“Fundraising was a challenge, and he failed to gain traction in the polls despite spending significant time in the early states, especially Iowa, and despite the assistance of a well-funded super PAC,” Katie Glueck reported for Politico. She added that in the days before Perry ended his campaign,

[H]e was down to one paid staffer in Iowa, one in South Carolina and none in New Hampshire. He was foundering in the polls after failing to qualify for the main stage debate in the first GOP primary contest and his weak polling support had once again relegated him to the second-tier debate next week.

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Oregon postscript, Big Game prologue: On Glenn ‘Pop’ Warner, David Shaw and Rose Bowl glory

November 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 17, 2015

Barring an extremely improbable sequence of events, Stanford will not play for a national championship. But a victory in the 118th Big Game this Saturday — or a single Oregon loss in its final two games against either USC or lowly Oregon State — would put the Cardinal in the conference title game.

A victory in that game would put Shaw’s club back in the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years. That would make Shaw the first Stanford coach to accomplish such a feat since Glenn “Pop” Warner led the Vow Boys to three consecutive Rose Bowls in 1934–36. (Warner also took the team, which was known as the Indians until the 1970s, to Pasadena in 1925, 1927 and 1928.)

So a beautiful, frightening dream — six more games! — is dead, but there is still plenty for Stanford to play for. And a streaky Cal team that would love nothing more than to leave another smudge on Stanford’s record is now standing in the Cardinal’s way.

Prepare yourselves, Cardinal Nation. I have a feeling that the 118th Big Game is going to be quite a wild ride.

Ducks by a nose: Oregon nabs 38-36 road victory over Stanford in a game where small things made a huge difference

November 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 17, 2015

When thinking about a football game, and especially the reasons why it turned out the way it did, it’s tempting to focus on big things.

For example, in contemplating Stanford’s heartbreaking 38-36 home loss to Oregon Saturday night, the mind is naturally drawn to things like Royce Freeman’s 49-yard rush on the Ducks’ second play of the game, which set up a touchdown; or Charles Nelson’s 75-yard rush on the Ducks’ second possession, a one-play drive that put the Ducks up by 14-10; or Darren Carrington’s 47-yard touchdown reception that gave the visitors a one-point advantage, 21-20; or Vernon Adams Jr.’s 33-yard pass to Evans Baylis on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, which instantly put the host team back on its heels; or Taj Griffin’s 49-yard touchdown reception from Adams at the close of the third quarter, which gave the visitors a 35-23 lead.

But I would posit that the outcome came down to three much less flashy or dramatic plays — one in the third quarter, two in the fourth quarter.

In the first of these, a Stanford special-teamer failed to execute a difficult but nonetheless relatively routine play successfully. In the second of the decisive trio of plays, Stanford’s center and quarterback failed to conduct a successful exchange, perhaps the single most fundamental action in the sport of football. And in the final such play, an Oregon defensive back managed to deflect a Cardinal pass — not by a lot, but by just enough to secure the outcome of the game.

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Boulder surmounted: Stanford clobbers Colorado on the road, 42-10

November 14, 2015

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

Once the carnage in Boulder ended Saturday, with the Cardinal football team earning a 42-10 victory in its final road contest of the regular season, the postgame scene played out much as it normally does. After the coaches and their teams shook hands, and after the Stanford players congratulated one another, they gathered in front of the visitors section and sang the university’s alma mater.

What happened next, however, was rather…unusual.

A few Stanford fans high up in the stands began a chant. “Six more games!” they cried. “Six more games!”

I furrowed my brow: The only games left in the regular season are Oregon tonight, Cal in the Big Game on Nov. 21 and Notre Dame on the 28th. A visit to the Pac-12 championship game, which is not yet guaranteed, would bring the total to four games. But college football teams play only one postseason game…

…usually. That’s when it hit me: These fans were cheering for Stanford to make the College Football Playoff, win its semifinal game and advance to the national championship game. Four plus two equals…

I laughed. Then I joined in with the handful of people yelling “Six more games!” And then I tweeted about it.

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Dynamic scoring, sobering results: More on the Tax Foundation’s analysis of GOP candidates’ tax plans

November 14, 2015

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

Recently, I performed some sophisticated data crunching on a Tax Foundation analysis of the tax-reform plans of seven Republican presidential candidates. (Which is to say, I typed the data from this Tax Foundation table into a spreadsheet and divided certain numbers by 10.) After comparing the results to historic U.S. budget deficits, I concluded that:

[A]ll of these tax proposals would be budget busters, creating some of the largest annual deficits in U.S. history. If enacted, and if they worked as projected, either government services would have to be cut dramatically or tax rates would have to be increased in order to prevent the national debt from ballooning. And given the political scene, the former option would be far more likely to be enacted.

However, there’s a catch.

The catch is that the Tax Foundation projected potential budget surpluses or deficits for the Republican proposals using two different methods. The numbers I relayed in my previous post were produced using static revenue estimates, a technique that has long been employed by government budget analysts.

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U.S. budget deficits: Numbers past, present and future

November 12, 2015

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

Earlier this week, I wrote about an analysis from the Tax Foundation that indicated that the tax-reform plans of seven Republican candidates each might increase the deficit by more than a trillion of dollars over a 10-year period. I want to explore the details a little further.

Allow me to set the stage with a brief history of federal budget deficits. The first time the U.S. budget was in the red for more than $75 billion was in fiscal year 1981, when it hit $79 billion under a plan enacted in what turned out to be the last year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The first time the federal deficit exceeded $100 billion was the very next year, under Ronald Reagan, when it reached $128 billion. Between 1983 and 1995, the budgetary gap ranged from a low of roughly $150 billion to a high of $290 billion.

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Deficits as far as the eye can see: An overview of the Republican presidential candidates’ tax plans

November 11, 2015

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

Last month, I examined a common theme in the tax reform plans of seemingly every Republican presidential candidate: The notion that, as Donald Trump’s tax plan states, massive tax cuts for the rich can be “fully paid for by…[r]educing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.”

I criticized this idea on the grounds that removing a wide swath of deductions and loopholes (part of a budget category that policy wonks call “tax expenditures”) is extremely difficult to do. Some of these expenditures, such as the mortgage-interest deduction for home purchasers, are widely popular, even though they do little to promote their intended policy goals. And some of these expenditures have the backing of interest groups that routinely spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on lobbying, political contributions and the like.

My fear is that our next Republican president might (read: would) prioritize implementing their program of tax-rate reductions over enacting the reduction and reform of tax expenditures. That, of course, would produce a fundamentally untenable budget situation, one where the revenue loss from tax cuts would not be zeroed out by voiding tax expenditures. In this scenario, the United States would face a significant built-in annual deficit.

The ultimate result, of course, would almost certainly be radical cutbacks in government services — unless Congress and the president agreed to hike tax rates substantially. But that’s hard to do even when the two major political parties don’t have ideological differences as deep as they’ve become in the early 21st century.

I stand by what I wrote. However, I must confess that my earlier post ignored the real issue.

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On public spaces and the desire for privacy at the University of Missouri

November 10, 2015

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

On the same day as protests by student-athletes over the handling of racist incidents contributed to the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, attempts by journalists to interview and photograph protestors in a campus quad changed the narrative.

A nearly seven-minute-long video shot by Columbia, Mo., photographer and Mizzou alumnus Mark Schierbecker shows members and sympathizers of the group Concerned Student 1950 vigorously requesting that Tim Tai, a student photojournalist, leave the protestors’ campsite and refrain from taking pictures in the location. Near the end of the clip, the group pushes Tai away from the boundary established by the group. (“It’s our right to walk forward, isn’t it?” a young woman asks in what struck me as a sarcastic tone of voice.) People cheer.

Seconds later, Schierbecker approaches a woman — widely identified as Melissa Click, a communication professor at the university — and says, “I’m media, can I talk to you?”

“No, you need to get out,” Click replies, pointing. “You need to get out.”

“No I don’t,” Schierbecker answers.

“You need to get out,” Click repeats. At this point, she appears to jostle the phone or device Schierbecker was using to record.

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Survive and advance: Taking stock of Stanford’s Halloween night road win

November 4, 2015

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

Stanford’s 30-28 road victory at Washington State on Halloween night was extremely dramatic, so much so that I did two write-ups — one for the first half and the very beginning of the second, while the remainder of the game is recapped here. It was so dramatic, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook some of its larger significance.

Let’s start with the most important result: Stanford is now 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-12, which puts the Cardinal atop the conference’s Northern Division. Tied for second-place are Oregon and Washington State, which are both 3-2 in league and 5-3 in toto.

The path to the league title game is clear for Stanford: The Northern crown will be secured with the combination of one Cardinal win and one loss by the Ducks. (Even if Washington State won its next four games, all in the Pac-12, and Stanford only won once more in league, the tiebreaker would go to Stanford because of its head-to-head victory over the Cougars. In that scenario, both teams would finish 7-2 in circuit play.)

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Fright night: Stanford vs. Washington State and the second-half squeaker

November 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 3, 2015

I continue recapping Stanford’s 30-28 victory at Washington State on Saturday night. We pick up early in the third quarter, right after the hosts took a 15-3 lead on kicker Erik Powell’s fifth (!) field goal of the evening.

Coach David Shaw’s team hadn’t trailed an opponent since game 3 against USC; they hadn’t previously been losing by this large a margin to that point in 2015. Fans watching the game surely worried that the offense wouldn’t be able to respond, especially since both the passing and ground attacks had been feeble at best.

But Kevin Hogan and comrades responded in inspiring fashion, as the veteran quarterback connected with freshman speedster Bryce Love for a 14-yard gain on the offensive unit’s initial play in the second half. Two plays later, on third and 6 from the Washington State 41-yard line, Hogan faked a pitchout to Christian McCaffrey going left before bursting up the middle and sprinting for the goal line. Only a desperation diving try by cornerback Marcellus Pippins prevented a touchdown. The 39-yard run was the longest of Hogan’s career.

Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren turned next to — say it with me, Cardinal true believers! — fifth-year running back Remound Wright on goal to go from the 2. He was stifled on his first rush, but on second down, Wright went over the top for the touchdown. Suddenly, Stanford’s deficit was a much more manageable 15-10.

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Fright night: Stanford vs. Washington State and a hellish Halloween-evening half

November 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 3, 2015

On Oct. 24, Stanford hosted Washington and notched a relatively modest 31-14 win to close out a three-game home stand. One week later, the Cardinal took to the road and visited Pullman, Wash., — probably the remotest outpost in the Pac-12 Conference — for what proved to be an extremely frightening 30-28 tussle.

True, the Cardinal emerged the victor, but only after converting just four of 13 third-down tries, and only after surviving a second quarter in which the offense accumulated a paltry 25 yards, and only after enduring a first half that ended with Washington State taking a 12-3 lead… and only after the Cougars’ Erik Powell, who had booted five field goals, sliced a kick wide right as time expired — his sole misfire of the evening.

Incidentally, this marked the first time Stanford had won a football game on Oct. 31 since 1970, considerably before I was born.

On a Halloween night when the Stanford offensive unit spent much of its time mimicking its largely ineffective 2014 self, the defense mounted a decent imitation of the stellar crew that throttled the life out of opponents throughout last season. The Cougars were just 2-14 on third downs, and while they scored in all seven of their visits to the red zone, Wazzu managed just a pair of touchdowns while playing before a fired-up home crowd.

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