Archive for February, 2016

A three minute journey into the conservative id

February 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2016

Every four years or so, as America prepares to select a president, I become morbidly fascinated with Rush Limbaugh. Despite a reported decline in Limbaugh’s audience, he still has the largest listenership of any talk-radio program, and he’s topped an industry magazine’s list of the most influential hosts for nine years running.

Perhaps more than any other individual, Limbaugh is responsible for shaping the modern political zeitgeist, in which “bipartisan” is regarded as a dirty word and the act of compromising is roughly on par with knifing an ally in the back.

I think El Rushbo is despicable, but I nonetheless recognize why he has been so influential. He’s intelligent, he has a great voice, he’s personable, he has a natural instinct for investing mundane acts of governance and news reporting with great drama, and he’s willing to say virtually anything to get his audience’s blood pumping.

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Patented Pundit Scorecard™ No. 2: I was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Donald Trump

February 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2016

In November, I introduced a feature exclusive to this blog: the Patented Pundit Scorecard™. I am now pleased to roll out the second edition of the PPS™.

When Donald Trump declared that he was seeking the Republican Party nomination as a candidate for president of the United States, I was extremely skeptical about his chances of winning. In fact, early on, I decided that Trump wouldn’t even win a single primary or caucus. I put out a marker to that effect with this August 2015 tweet.

Well, guess what, ladies and germs? I was wrong, wrong, wrong about Trump’s likelihood of succeeding at the ballot box. In this, I was hardly alone: It seems that about 99.9 percent of those who regularly opine about politics through mass-media print, broadcasting and digital outlets doubted that Trump could get the nomination.

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Mysteries of 6 a.m. (plus bonus enigma: The Tale of the Forlorn Feline)

February 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2016

For a stretch of mornings earlier in February, I kept on waking up around 6.

I didn’t realize that this was happening regularly until it had been going on for a week or so. I eventually realized that three factors were in play.

One was that I had to urinate. A few times a week, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, so that’s not at all unusual. Still, it is strange for this to happen at a consistent time several nights running.

Another was the recalcitrant cat (or maybe there are, or were, more than one?) that has been mewling outside my house for much of the month. The poor feline sounds forlorn, as if it’s lost, cold and/or hungry and seeking help, but every time I go outside to look for it, it seemingly vanishes into another dimension. (I did once catch a glimpse of it outside my bedroom window, so if I’m delusional, at least more than one of my senses is engaged in the hallucination.) The cat sounds off at unpredictable hours, including sometimes in the dimly lit moments around dawn.

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The overstuffed, dreadful ‘Spider-Man 3’ botched everything but the action

February 24, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 24, 2016

Nearly two years ago, I came across a three-for-one DVD containing the trilogy of Spider-Man films directed by Sam Raimi in the first decade of the 21st century. After writing about the first film, from 2002, and starting and tagging but not otherwise working on a post about the second film, released in 2004, I didn’t start watching 2007’s Spider-Man 3 until one night in early February.

I didn’t finish watching it until a few days ago.

Raimi’s first Spider-Man was a decent enough flick, but hardly great. His follow-up is, in my opinion, one of the greatest superhero movies (although bear in mind that I’ve only seen one X-Men movie, and none of the Avengers films). The third Spider-Man movie, however, is widely regarded as a mess, despite the fact that it was the top-grossing domestic movie of the year, with a haul of more than $336 million.

(Incidentally, the second- through 12th-highest-grossing features of 2007, in descending order, were Shrek the ThirdTransformersPirates of the Caribbean: At World’s EndHarry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixI Am LegendThe Bourne UltimatumNational Treasure: Book of SecretsAlvin and the Chipmunks300Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie.)

I had long suspected that Spider-Man 3’s bad reputation was overblown. But my friends, I am compelled to report that this movie is indeed quite dire.

The main problem here is that the film doesn’t have quite enough material for two movies, but it has more than enough for a single feature. (Bear in mind that Spider-Man 3 weighed in at two hours and 19 minutes when it was released; the director’s cut has another 17 minutes of material.) At least one of the screenwriters recognized this problem, but the movie makers ended up sticking with one feature because they couldn’t find a worthwhile cliffhanger to lead into a further sequel.

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Rambling rum cake rumination

February 19, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 19, 2016

On Wednesday night, I ordered a slice of rum cake to go from one of the coffee shops that I frequent.

I forgot about it that evening when I went home to make and consume my dinner, but the slice came to mind when I made lunch on Thursday. I pulled it out, and grabbed a fork and plate.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t like rum. By extension, unfortunately, that means that I don’t like rum cake, either.

The plain-old-cake parts of the rum cake were fine, as were the raisins. But the rum-drenched parts of the rum cake had an unappetizing taste. I consumed about two-thirds of the slice before deciding that I didn’t like the burning sensation inside my chest that had been touched off by the rum. I put the remainder of the slice into the refrigerator.

I’ve never been a big drinker; in particular, I’ve never been much for cocktails or liquor. Chocolates or sweets containing liqueur have never been my cup of tea.

So in the future, please, bear this in mind when you’re baking: Keep the alcohol away from my dessert concoctions. Thank you very much!

Chronicle of a weather event

February 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 18, 2016

Sunday, Feb. 14, 9:58 p.m.: I walked to my car in the cold, taking an extremely roundabout route in an effort to reach my goal of 10,000 steps per day. I wound up going just shy of 0.8 miles in 13 minutes and 50 seconds.

10:12 p.m.: I returned to my car. Since my gas tank was near empty, I opened up the Gas Guru app on my smartphone and scoped out stations with low prices. I settled on one in Durham near where I used to live, not too far from my current residence.

I started driving back to Durham from a joint on the southeast side of Cary, sandwiched between Apex and southwest Raleigh. The weather was clear, with no sign of precipitation, although snow was forecast for early Monday morning.

10:50 p.m.: I pulled off of N.C. 147, a.k.a. the Durham Freeway, at the Hillandale Road exit. I vaguely noticed that the streets were wet. I navigated my way onto Hillsborough Road and went to the gas station I’d chosen. Not only was it not open at this time of day, I suspected that it wouldn’t be open at any time of day.

Also relevant: The ground around the pumps was covered by snow. The coating was so thin that the snow would disappear beneath the impact of a human footfall. There had been a light flurry in Durham, not rain, as I’d initially thought; the streets appeared to be wet because they were wet — dampened by snow that had evaporated under passing car tires.

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Late-bird event, games 4–5, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 18, 2016

February 14, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 14, 2016

After the first three games of the late-bird event Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I had a 2-1 record and a positive spread. I wanted to keep the momentum going with a win in game four against TS, a student who was participating in only his third official tournament.

Beating TS proved to be no easy feat. I had a 59-34 lead midway through the third turn when my foe played TENTIES*/FUNDS. I retained the lead by challenging this 75-point fake bingo.

Unfortunately for TS, and fortunately for me, I entered turn four with the über-rack: AEINST?. (As I wrote last year, AEINST, or TISANE, is the best bingo stem.) I played TEASING/BOOTHS for 78 points to go up, 137-34.

TS had a bingo of his own, and this time, it was valid. Using the N that I had just played, he put out SENTIENT 62, narrowing my advantage to 137-96. Game on!

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Late-bird event, games 1–3, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 18, 2016

February 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 13, 2016

After acquitting myself fairly well in the 2016 Duke PBMT tournament, I decided to take one last bite at the Scrabble apple. I drove back to Duke on Monday morning, Jan. 18, to participate in a five-gave “late bird” side tournament.

I opened play against KE, the older woman whom I’d lost to by 24 points on Saturday but beaten by 76 points on Sunday afternoon. Playing second, she took an early 106-55 lead on the strength of her first two plays, MEZE 35 and UNMERGE* 71. (That bingo turned out to be phony, as I learned after the game.)

In turn four, KE put down REqUEUE/MOPER, a 66-point bingo. It came off the board after I challenged both words; as I later learned, MOPER is good but REQUEUE is not. (To prevent a player from gaining a competitive advantage, when multiple words are challenged during a tournament game, the computer simply states whether or not the play as a whole is good without specifying the invalid word or words.) Despite my successful challenge, KE led, 142-108, going into the fifth turn.

Things turned with my sixth move, SHIVERy/MOORS 74. KE responded with a 30-point play, YEH, but even so, I completed the turn with a 194-182 advantage. As it turned out, KE would not score more than 29 points in any single move the rest of the game.

Two things allowed me to pad my lead. One of these was VENT, my 33-point play in the seventh turn, which utilized one of those combos that tend to be high-scoring: The V was on a double-letter-score spot and the T was on a triple-word-score space. I was up, 227-198, following the turn.

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Games 13 through 16, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 17, 2016

February 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 9, 2016

My 13th-round game in the 2016 Duke PBMT tournament was against C—, who had beaten me by 26 points en route to a perfect 8-0 showing on Saturday. He still led our division, but he had just sustained his first defeat in the 12th round, a 48-point loss.

C—’s 11-1 record was still impressive, but I tried to take inspiration from that blemish on his record. And I was able to take a solid lead midway through the game by putting out TINNERS/HES, a 65-point bingo. C— challenged the play, but both words were valid. That left me with a 170-132 lead through seven turns.

My opponent was able to cut into my margin significantly with his eighth move, BASED 33. He trailed, 188-165, after that.

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Games 9 through 12, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 17, 2016

February 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 7, 2016

Of all the Scrabble players I’ve officially faced (51) in all the official Scrabble tournaments I’ve officially played (10), there is one person I’ve faced more than any other. X— is a local kid who might be a high school freshman or sophomore now. In 11 games, I had beaten him five times and lost six times. Our most recent meeting, in the 2015 Duke PBMT tournament, had resulted in a discouraging 366-263 loss for me, largely thanks to a nightmarish six-turn stretch over which I contended with such unpromising racks as NOOSSU?, IOOSSU? and OSSUVY?.

I entered day two of the 2016 Duke PBMT event with mixed feelings. I’d beaten four players by respectable margins and lost four games, with three of those defeats being close. On Sunday morning, I tried to view the glass as being half-full. I would build on the positive things and forget about the negative things.

My ninth game of the tournament, and my first game on Sunday, was against X—. I was anxious at first, especially after I used a bonus spot to play HEX for 36 points, only for my opponent to respond immediately by playing BOXES for 34 points, which put him ahead, 67-62, after three turns.

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Games 5 through 8, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2016

February 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 6, 2016

My opponent in game 5 of the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was J—, a local player whom I had faced, and lost to, in a June 2015 tournament. He opened turn 5 with NUrTUrE/TOr/FINE 66, which put him up, 137-99.

I was behind, 221-172, in the eighth turn when I was able to play a bingo of my own: RECALLS/ROM 68. That put me ahead, 240-221.

I nurtured (get it? Get it?!) a slender lead for the next few moves. In turn 12, I found myself with a lousy rack: DIIORRS, which meshed poorly with the words that had already been put down on the board. I decided to swap everything except for the S. My draw wasn’t great — AAABDG — but it worked with the closed-in board much better than the letters I’d had. I held a 308-298 edge after the swap.

“You dirty dog,” J— muttered archly when he realized why I’d traded in tiles.

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Games 1 through 4, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2016

February 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 6, 2016

My first game in the main event of the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament  was against P—, a local player whom I’d officially played twice before, in the 2014 and 2015 PBMT tournament main events — both losses. This time around, I held a modest 221-195 lead until the 14th turn, when P— played FONdeST, a 70-point bingo.

(A few quick Scrabble reminders: A bingo is a play that uses all seven of the tiles on a player’s rack; it’s worth a 50-point bonus on top of normal scoring. Also, a blank is indicated before use as a question mark; after use, as a lowercase letter. P— used two of them for her bingo.) I was unable to come back, and lost, 335-288.

Game 2 was against an older woman whom I had not previously faced. I’ll refer to her as KE. I trailed slightly, 125-111, after five moves. In the sixth turn, I played METTLEs 81 to go ahead.

KE responded with IXIA/MI/EX/TI/TA for 48 points.

Unfortunately, my draw had been horrendous: GNNSVVW. In turn 7, I traded in all of my tiles except for the S. KE played OAK for 28 points, which put her back up, 201-192.

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Spanked and spanked again: Three recent Scrabble games

February 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 5, 2016

Last year, I played in two Scrabble tournaments. I wound up writing more than 20 different posts about my participation in those competitions.

Recently, I played in the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament; it’s held in January on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That went pretty well, and I meant to put up several posts about those games. In fact, I still mean to — I just haven’t gotten around to it because I fell ill and was feeling awfully low-energy for a few days after my recovery. (I think I’m back to 100 percent now, thankfully!)

At any rate, I still want to write about the Duke PBMT tournament, but before I do that, I wanted to do a quick recap of a Scrabble encounter that I had last weekend. It involved three games against someone whom I’d expected to, but did not, see at the PBMT tourney.

G— is an extremely intelligent woman; I think she works as a biological researcher of some sort. Her Scrabble tournament rating is well north of 1,000 and has been for several years. (By comparison, my rating is currently at a lifetime peak of 644.) She also lives locally, so when I didn’t spot her at the January event, I wondered if she had fallen ill or possibly moved somewhere else.

That wasn’t the case; actually, she’d just had other plans for that weekend.

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I am poetry, I am grace

February 4, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 4, 2016

If you happen to venture over to my Favstar page and scroll down, you’ll find that my 10th-most-popular tweet says the following:

I had occasion to think of that tweet Wednesday afternoon thanks to yet another fashion misadventure.

Let me explain. I own, and have at my home in Durham, a white button-down shirt suitable for most business contexts and an off-white button-down shirt suitable for many business contexts. I rarely wear either of them.

On Wednesday, however, I anticipated doing some work on a freelance marketing project. I therefore decided to wear something appropriate for an office, even though I wouldn’t physically be visiting one.

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Coffee shop, SHOUTY LADY: Recent locally sourced eavesdropping

February 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 3, 2016

As is only proper for a 21st-century college town, Durham has a number of fine coffee shops, and as I wrote recently, one of my favorites is Respite Cafe.

But man, was I ever taken by surprise on a recent visit to Respite. Just the other day, when I walked in, I did a double take. There were a bunch of people in one of the back rooms, evidently because there had been some sort of leak, and one of the shop’s patrons — I could not immediately identify who it was — WAS SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS OR HER LUNGS. The amount of hustle and bustle in the joint surprised me, and THE VOLUME OF THE CONVERSATION — OR MAYBE IT WAS MORE OF A MONOLOGUE? — took me aback.

I occupied my regular spot, doffing my jacket and pulling out my laptop computer. I ordered a pot of tea and an apple pastry and settled down.

SHOUTY LADY — for indeed it was a lady who was shouting, or AT LEAST TALKING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS — was impossible to ignore. I surreptitiously recorded a short video that captured her voice (and my armpit, my sweater and the coffee shop’s tile floor) and began tweeting some of her exchanges with her companion.

SHOUTY LADY was sitting with a quiet companion and relating, at length, a story about her misadventures in a university in the state of Arizona. I joined the discussion in medias res, so I don’t know how the whole thing started, but for some reason, a cabal of sinister university administrators allegedly arranged to have SL mugged and/or to have her backpack stolen; to impugn her sanity; to have police officers confiscate her guns (yes, multiple guns); and to have her first attorney act in cahoots with them.

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