Archive for April, 2016

Postscript to ‘Notes on the end of one man’s life’

April 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2016

Although I’ve blogged extensively about my play in Scrabble tournaments over the past few years, and sporadically about “unofficial” Scrabble games, I don’t believe I’ve chronicled a game against F— on this blog. He was a far better player than I, so we never met in tournament competition. (I’ve always participated in the lowest-ranked division.)

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Notes on the end of one man’s life

April 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2016

Author’s note: The following post relates to mental illness and self-harm and may not be appropriate for readers who are younger or especially sensitive. Potentially upsetting material appears immediately “after the jump.” MEM

~~~

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Arguing about American rights: The U.S. Constitution and its first two amendments

April 29, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2016

Perhaps the worst day in American history since Sept. 11, 2001, was Dec. 14, 2012. That Friday morning, a 20-year-old fatally shot his mother in their Newtown, Conn., home before driving to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed six adults and 20 children before turning a weapon on himself. The gunman used weapons that had been legally purchased by his mother.

Over the course of more than a year following that massacre, I spent a great deal of time on Twitter attempting to persuade people who held what I thought to be excessive enthusiasm for gun rights that their ideas were somewhat misguided.

“I no longer want to live in a country that shrugs and says the Second Amendment justifies every gun death,” I told one such fanatic several hours after the killings had taken place.

After right-wing conspiracy peddler Alex Jones told Piers Morgan in a January 2013 interview, “My point is that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct,” I quoted Jones and added a sarcastic parenthetical (“Kids’ lives? Whatever”) in attempt to highlight his skewed priorities.

When a conservative mixed-martial-arts fan told me on Twitter that “guns as written in the constitution are to protect countrymen from a tyrannical government,” I dryly observed that “[t]hat worked perfectly in Waco and at Ruby Ridge, right?” Shortly afterward, I asked the same individual, “So 31,000 gun deaths annually is the price of the Second Amendment?”

Reader, I’m 99 percent sure that I persuaded approximately zero percent of the people I engaged to alter or adjust their views in any way.

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Some notes on 2016 primary voting trends (or the lack thereof)

April 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 27, 2016

Out of idle curiosity, I began looking at popular vote numbers in Tuesday night’s primaries. Interestingly, the data show that in three states, the Democratic runner-up — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Clintaln in Rhode Island — received more votes than the Republican winnerbusinessman Donald Trump in all five of that states.

Trump outdid Sanders in Delaware, 42,472 to 36,659, and in Pennsylvania, 892,702 to 719,955.

However, in none of these states did Trump get more votes than the Democratic winner. Maryland, in fact, wasn’t even close — Clinton’s 533,247 votes were more than twice as many as the number Trump got in the Old Line State, 236,623.

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Cheeps and Chirps for April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 26, 2016

Here are some recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed. I hope that “Cheeps and Chirps” will be a semi-regular feature on my blog. (Ideally, it’ll be more regular and less semi than “Recent Readings”…)

• Check out this great hockey name!

• Aging man (almost) yells at kid. On Wednesday, I saw a bicyclist (I think she was a college student) bicycling with her helmet dangling from her handlebars. I had to restrain myself from scolding her. #GetOffMyLawn #AgingManYellsAtKid (Except I didn’t actually yell at her.)

• About that pitcher who was fired by ESPN last week… Curt Schilling, who has regularly made a habit of posting right-wing memes on social media that disparage Muslims, the LGBTQ community and liberals — excuse me, libtards — in general, recently lost his job. Unsurprisingly, right-wingers rallied around him. I attempted to remind conservatives that their hero of the moment had extracted $75 million from the coffers of the state of Rhode Island for a video game company that was a tremendous bust — hardly embodying the free market that conservatives claim to reveal. But hey, it’s OK to tout Schilling as a conservative icon as long as he regularly hates on lefties and queers, right?!

This old Saturday Night Live skit would be…problematic today. And rightfully so.

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Lion kings, gorillas, Labradors and road kill: The 2016 presidential campaign as viewed from the perspective of a handful of Pennsylvania “Wal-Mart moms”

April 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2016

When I last wrote about politics, I discussed a cockamamie scheme to draft a retired Marine general into running a third-party presidential campaign that would block either Trump or Clinton from winning the Electoral College.

I wanted to return to the subject of politics after reading this Todd Gillman story about the possibility of a contested Republican National Convention, which seems high indeed. The article, published Friday, concerns focus groups that were held in Pennsylvania last week by a pair of pollsters, one Republican and one Democratic. Gillman concluded that “for at least one group of Wal-Mart moms — an umbrella demographic that stands for much of the electorate … depriving Trump of the prize if he’s ahead would deeply offend many voters.”

(The pollsters define Wal-Mart moms as voters with children age 18 or younger at home and who shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month; they comprise roughly 15 percent of the electorate. According to Gillman, they include members from a wide range of income brackets.)

Gillman does a good job of presenting the arguments for and against a contested convention. The cons mainly come from the mouths of 10 anonymous so-called Wal-Mart moms from the Pittsburgh area, all registered Republicans, who said their sense of fair play would be offended if the candidate with a plurality of votes didn’t wind up receiving the nomination.

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My (tongue-tied) moment in the DPAC spotlight

April 23, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 23, 2016

A year ago, my pal Andrew, the proprietor of Mammoth Data, graciously offered me several passes to the 2015 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, which enabled me to review several movies for this blog. On Thursday, Andrew struck again, offering me the chance to accompany him to the Roundabout Theatre Company touring production of the 1966 musical Cabaret. (As it happens, this year marks the 50th birthday of both Roundabout and Cabaret.) Reader, I said Yes!

Andrew, whom I first met through Twitter, had actually seen the production in its local debut on Wednesday evening at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or DPAC. But he was offered three tickets for Thursday night’s performance and wanted to go again, this time with his middle-school-aged child; luckily for me, he gave me a chance to tag along. Especially lucky for me, these were terrific seats.

I dressed in khaki slacks and comfortable-but-appropriate-for-the-office shoes and went to get a haircut, which I’d been putting off for a number of weeks. I met Andrew and son outside of Mammoth’s office in downtown Durham and we walked over to DPAC.

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Must hustle, can’t slow: Chronicle of a second-place finisher

April 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 20, 2016

I did a bunch of walking last week, thanks in no small part to wearable technology.

My niece, A—, issued a Workweek Hustle challenge through Fitbit, marking the second time she, my Parental Unit and I had engaged in a competition since my niece got a Fitbit this year. Once again, the metric was simple: The winner would be the person who got the most steps over the course of five days. Because of time-zone issues, the challenge began at 2 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday and ended at 2 a.m. E.T. on Saturday of this past week.

I fell behind both of my rivals relatively early. This was, alas, not terribly surprising. My niece averages about 12,000 steps a day; my parent, 16,000. My own daily step count is much more modest — about 9,000 or 10,000 entering the challenge.

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Mall Scrabble: Part 3

April 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 17, 2016

Going into the seventh game out of a total of eight, my 5-1 record with a modest spread had me positioned to finish at almost any point in the Division C rankings. It all depended on how I played.

My opponent in the penultimate contest was S—, a man in his late middle age who was participating in only his third tournament. I’d narrowly beaten S— in January while he was playing in only his second official competition (not, as I’d erroneously implied in my post, his first tournament).

I got off to a brisk start by playing FREAK for 34 points, and I held a modest lead of 63-56 going into turn 6. At that point, I had a rack of EGORST?, which I did not like. Generally, it’s hard to bingo with an O — although when I sat down to write this recap, I realized that I could have made STORaGE. Instead, I played LOG for 4 points. S— traded in four tiles; it was the second time in a row that he’d swapped out four letters and the third time in the young game he’d made that precise trade.

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Mall Scrabble: Part 2

April 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 16, 2016

My opponent for game 4 of the tournament was a very familiar one: J—, a local fellow against whom I officially had a 1-1 record after tournament encounters in June 2015 and January of this year. I approached this game with some trepidation because J— is an excellent player.

There was also a lot at stake. J— and I were tied atop the standings with identical 3-0 records. However, because J— had won his games by a larger cumulative margin than I had, he was ranked first, while I was ranked second. (My spread, as it’s called, was plus-94; J—’s was plus-253.) But since spread is a tie-breaker, if I beat J— in this contest, I would take sole possession of first place halfway through the eight-game tournament.

For the first time in the tournament, I was playing second. I took a 69-46 lead in the third turn after playing CURED for 36 points. The lead lasted three turns, until J—’s TARRIEd gave him a 62-point bingo and a 130-98 lead.

He extended his advantage over the next three turns with EYEN 35, TOW 31 and OHO 21.

I was able to mount a comeback starting in turn 9 with QIS 41. The game’s momentum shifted: My next four plays were quite good — LOX 31, GONG 34, FAKIRS 49 and PREZ 40. During this stretch, J— scored no more than 25 points in any single play. LOX tied the game at 217 all, while GONG put me back ahead, 251-242.

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Mall Scrabble: Interlude

April 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 15, 2016

After the third Scrabble game, it was time for our first and only break of the tournament. I rooted through my knapsack, pulled out two pieces of fruit and headed for the mall exit. I wanted to have a productive break — I had an errand to run.

I walked out through the Sears, crossed the part of the parking lot that leads to a strip-mall annex on mall property and began treading the sidewalk. I was getting hungry, but I decided not to have a snack until after I’d done my shopping. I didn’t have any napkins on me, and I didn’t want to go into a store with messy fingers or a messy face. However, I hadn’t brought a bag with me, and I found it awkward to juggle the fruit (an apple and a pear, I think), so before I hit the shop, I stopped off at my house and put down the fruit in order to free my hands.

I started walking away from my house and then began to double back because the sky was ominous. The morning’s downpour had yielded to sunny skies, but now they seemed to be threatening again. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to try and race the rain.

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Mall Scrabble: Part 1

April 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 15, 2016

Because I’d gotten less than three hours of sleep the night before, I was nervous. The circumstances gave me a built-in excuse for performing poorly in the Scrabble tournament I was participating in on Saturday, April 2.

It didn’t help that the competition was taking place in a fairly unusual venue: The middle of Durham’s Northgate Mall, at a broad junction of corridors. People were walking past and gawking. There was no barrier between us and the rest of the mall, so nothing shielded us from the surrounding conversations or noises, including those of blenders at the concession stands and what sounded like occasional construction sounds.

I had every reason to perform poorly. But I didn’t want to have to fall back on excuses, so I resolved to do my best.

My first game was against L—, a new player and apparent middle-school student. (I later checked and found that this was only his second tournament.) I quickly fell into a hole when L— played EX/EX, placing the high-value consonant on a triple-letter-score space going both ways. That gave him 52 points for the turn and a 57-24 lead after just two moves.

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Mall Scrabble: The prologue

April 14, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 14, 2016

A helpful thing to do the night before you have a day-long event, especially one that begins in the morning, is to go to bed at a reasonable hour, fall asleep in short order and sleep soundly until it’s time to awaken. I don’t remember what time I first attempted to go to sleep on the evening of Friday, April 1, but otherwise, I can tell you that the helpful thing to do was the exact opposite of what happened.

Whenever it was that I first tried to go to sleep, I failed. That also happened the next time I attempted to get some shuteye. And the time after that. And the time after that…

On Saturday, April 2, I was set to play in a Scrabble tournament that began at 10 a.m. I had been looking forward to this for a while, but thanks to my inability to fall asleep, I worried that I would be in no condition to perform.

Eventually, I fell asleep sometime between 6:15 and 6:30 in the morning. I slept soundly for about 90 minutes before awakening to go to the bathroom shortly after 8 a.m. I fell asleep again for another 20 minutes or so before my preset clock-radio alarms began rousing my reluctant self.

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The effort to elect a general named ‘Mad Dog’ captures the craziness of the 2016 election

April 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 12, 2016

More and more political observers expect the Republican National Convention in July to be contested, meaning that businessman Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and possibly others will maneuver, overtly and otherwise, in an attempt to secure the presidential nomination.

The outcome of more than just one political race is at stake — the Republicans’ choice, and the manner in which it is made, could have a major impact on down-ballot races. Some have even speculated that G.O.P. control of both houses of Congress could be at stake, although that’s unlikely to happen in the House of Representatives thanks to gerrymandering. If the decision-making process is particularly acrimonious, some observers suggest, the Republican Party could crack up.

Trump has a numerical advantage in national delegates, but his team’s failure to grasp the fine points of the nomination process is exacting a toll. Last month, Slate’s Josh Voorhees wrote a detailed description of how a contested convention might work. Over the past week, political scientists Norm Ornstein and Francis Wilkinson have written about different possibilities, speculating which nominees might emerge under which scenarios.

The one thing everyone agrees upon is that the chances for turmoil are high. If someone other than Trump or Cruz are chosen (which he doubts will happen), Ornstein wrote, “the upheaval at the convention would probably make Chicago 1968 look like a picnic.” Wilkinson thinks that

[T]he outcome most likely to break the party is the one in which Republican elites crown one of their own. Such a candidate would be perceived as illegitimate — not by every Republican, surely, but by enough Trump and Cruz voters to court disaster.

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That was the championship that was

April 8, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 8, 2016

Going into Monday night, it had been an entire year since a team from the Research Triangle — the cities and surroundings of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh — had won an NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game. The top-seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels hoped to end our region’s long title drought when it took on underdog Villanova, a No. 2 seed that had upset No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight and steamrolled fellow No. 2 Oklahoma in the Final Four with a 95-51 win Saturday evening.

Because I’ve been suffering from a low-level cold and/or mid- to high-level allergy attack for much of the past two weeks, I considered not watching any of the title game. (I don’t have a television at home, and I forgot that the game was available online.)

After some hemming and hawing, I decided that I would watch the game at a local bar. At that point, the contest had already started. Since I didn’t want to watch the end of the first half, I noodled around on my phone on a bench at one edge of Durham Central Park before strolling over to my destination: Motorco, which was showing the game for free in its main hall and which has a late-night restaurant that it calls Parts & Labor. (The building housed a car dealership for nearly two decades.)

I ordered some food and set myself up at a high table on the patio where I could watch one of the projection-screen televisions. I ate a couple of chicken sliders while the second half got under way; once that was done, I grabbed my glass of water and the remnants of my bottle of Miller High Life and walked over to the music hall. I picked out a seat on one of the tables that had been arrayed there.

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On politicians and (possible) pyramid schemes

April 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2016

I referred on Tuesday to a post by Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan that asked “Do Any of the Republicans Running for President Actually Want to Win?” I happen to disagree with some of Ryan’s takes. For instance, I think that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) very badly wants to be president — although I also believe that he’s keenly aware of the fact that his fervently courting evangelical audiences and throwing red meat to them will eventually redound to his benefit, whether or not he’s ever elected to another office.

Ryan wrote that “this entire election makes a lot more sense if you think of it like a political sequel for The Producers.” She continued:

Mel Brooks’s 1967 farce-musical tells the story of a pair of down-on-their-luck men who realize that they can make more money producing a musical that’s a flop than they can producing one that succeeds. Money raised by backers, reason Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom (as played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder), will make them rich, and if the show closes after only a night, they get to keep all of the money themselves rather than paying investors their share of profits. To maximize its offensiveness, they hire a Nazi to write it, the worst director on Broadway to direct it, and an [sic] semi-lucid man to star in it. Much to their horror, Springtime for Hitler is a smash hit.

Politicians left, right and center have long been associated with all manner of grift, but the link seems to be especially deep when it comes to conservative politicos. Back in the fall of 2012, the left-leaning historian Rick Perlstein, author of books about presidents Nixon and Reagan, argued that “the reflex of lying [is] now sutured into the modern conservative movement’s DNA” and asserted that “conservative leaders treat their constituents like suckers.”

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Man on the run: Contemplating the intent and the future of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign

April 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 5, 2016

Eight days ago, a hitherto obscure public relations expert and New York University adjunct professor named Stephanie Cegielski generated a great deal of attention when she wrote an open letter explaining why she would no longer support Donald Trump’s run for president. The most notable thing about the letter was its author — specifically, the fact that Cegielski had worked for several months for the Make America Great Again political organization, an unofficial adjunct to Trump’s campaign.

The next few days went poorly for Trump: He suggested breaching the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit torture, among other things; said he was for punishing women who illegally obtain abortions before changing his position on the matter several times; continued an aggressive defense of his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even after Florida police charged him with manhandling a female reporter then associated with a conservative “news” outlet; and gave the latest in a string of interviews in which he seemed arrogant and disjointed. (Asked by The Washington Post’s Robert Costa what strategy he had for converting former Republican rivals into allies, Trump said, “I think that’s overrated, what you’re saying, about bringing them into the fold. At the same time, I think I would be successful with many of them. I don’t know that I’ll be successful with Jeb Bush.”)

Now several pundits are questioning whether Trump is sabotaging his own campaign, consciously or otherwise, because he doesn’t really want to be president. By way of example, today, we had Michael Brendan Dougherty writing for The Week; on Monday, there was Robert Becker writing for Salon and three editors writing for The Huffington Post; on Friday, Sean Illing in Salon and John Fund in the National Review. On Saturday, A Prairie Home Companion ran a “Guy Noir, Private Eye” skit in which a faux Donald Trump orders his staff to find a way for him to wreck his lead in the nomination campaign. On Sunday, Chris Wallace began an interview by asking Trump, “Are you in the process of blowing your campaign for president?”

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Reassessing an American cowboy: Thoughts on Reagan’s unexpectedly complex legacy

April 1, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 1, 2016

This week, I stumbled upon “Reconstructing Ronald Reagan,” a 2007 article that Russell Baker wrote for The New York Review of Books. Most of the piece is devoted to a review of John Patrick Diggins’s biography, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom and the Making of History, and especially the book’s argument that the nation’s 40th president was strongly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the 19th-century Transcendentalist movement. A secondary concern of the essay, however, is Reagan’s foreign policy legacy: Baker also writes about the books Transforming America: Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years by Robert Collins, The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror by John Arquilla and (much more briefly) the 900-page volume Reagan: A Life in Letters.

Two things struck me about Baker’s article. One was that, writing in 2007, the author could not help comparing the Gipper’s administration with that of the president at the time, George W. Bush, and the comparisons are not kind. A sample:

One hears people formerly contemptuous of [the actor-cum-politician] comment that, having seen Bush, they now rank Reagan with the immortals. It is easy to dismiss this as cynical joking, yet here is the eminently respectable Diggins discussing “the Gipper” in the same paragraph with Lincoln and anointing him as one of American history’s “three great liberators.”

The other thing is that historians give a great deal of credit to Reagan, a fervent anti-communist, for his willingness to engage in diplomacy with the Soviet Union. It turns out that the 40th president had a signal interest in decreasing the likelihood of an apocalyptic nuclear war.

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