Archive for January, 2017

All the president’s incompetence: Unnerving early signs from the Trump administration

January 30, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 30, 2017

There’s a classic joke in which two women are dining at a restaurant. (A version of it appears in Woody Allen’s 1977 movie Annie Hall.) One lady says, “The food at this place is really terrible.” The other lady replies, “I know, and such small portions!”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this while reading an otherwise sobering essay Saturday night about an executive order that President Donald Trump issued on Friday during a visit to the Pentagon. The document, as much of the world now knows, was designed to bar entry to travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months and to suspend all refugee admissions for six months. It quickly attracted a great deal of outrage, much of it associated with the hashtag #MuslimBan, and led to a series of judicial defeats for the fledgling administration as the ACLU and other civil-rights lawyers filed lawsuits in various federal district courts.

Reports emerged that the executive order had been drafted virtually in secret, without input from the federal lawyers or agencies that normally would vet such administrative initiatives. Informal Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the president had asked him and a panel of attorneys, including former George W. Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey and at least one sitting Republican congressman (from Texas, natch) to design a Muslim ban that could pass legal muster.

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Cheeps and Chirps for Jan. 29, 2017

January 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2017

Wow, I didn’t realized it had been so long since I’d shared some of my Twitter gems.

I’m going to limit myself to tweets from Jan. 28, as the cruelty of President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims sank in, and as news broke that the president’s inner circle was going to limit the participation of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in some key national security meetings.

• ZOMG Donald Trump!

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From modest beginnings, a monster would rise: Ray Kroc’s ascent is chronicled in ‘The Founder’

January 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 28, 2017

John Lee Hancock’s new biopic, The Founder, is an only-in-America not-quite-rags-to-mega-riches story.

At the opening of the movie, written by Robert D. Siegel, main character Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a 52-year-old traveling salesman who’s struggling to sell high-volume milkshake blenders at a variety of desultory small-town diners and drive-in restaurants. The Krocs aren’t exactly poor: Ray and Ethel (a typically excellent Laura Dern) have a lovely house in an affluent Illinois community, but they’re certainly not keeping up with the upper-crust Joneses who boast about their overseas vacations during the couple’s infrequent dinners at a lavish local country club.

Then Kroc’s company, Prince Castle Sales, receives an order for six blenders out of nowhere. The baffled salesman calls the San Bernadino, Calif., restaurant that placed the order, certain that there’s been a mistake; after all, why would any place need more than one? And he’s right: It turns out that the restaurant actually needs eight of the blenders, not six. Intrigued, Kroc drives halfway across the country to take a look.

He finds a thriving family-friendly hamburger that fulfills customers’ orders almost instantly but lacks seating, waiters, flatware and silverware. Enthralled by this unconventional setup, Kroc presses an all-too-willing Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and the somewhat less voluble Dick McDonald (a bare-faced Nick Offerman, almost completely unrecognizable from the mustachioed character he played on Parks and Recreation) for the story behind their operation.

Kroc is captivated by the business and its potential for expansion. “McDonald’s can be the new American church,” Kroc rhapsodizes to the brothers. “And it ain’t just open on Sundays, boys.”

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‘Hidden Figures’ combines science, melodrama and social justice in a charming and lively movie

January 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 23, 2017

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures is a touching historical drama about trail-blazing NASA mathematicians who fought racial and gender stereotypes at the dawn of the space age as the nation was still reluctantly moving to endorse the promise of the civil rights movement.

The movie, based on the 2016 history book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, focuses on three women who worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., as computers — laborers who performed a wide variety of mathematical calculations at a time when the most powerful computers filled rooms and accepted input from punch cards. They are gifted mathematician Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), pioneering computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, who played a concerned mother in Snowpiercer) and ground-breaking engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

Goble, a widowed mother of three, has the best-developed story. Her facility with abstruse, high-level mathematics wins her assignment to the Space Task Group. This group of about two dozen eggheads led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is charged with developing the math that will help American rocket ships and their astronauts safely journey where no man has gone before.

Goble, one of only two women in the group, and the lone non-white person in the room, struggles to win the respect of peers like Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, best known as Sheldon from TV’s The Big Bang Theory), who initially take her to be a secretary, janitor or worse. She also has a budding romance with Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), despite the two of them getting off on the wrong foot.

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Soap thief! A dog story

January 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 11, 2017

The other day, over the phone, dearest Parental Unit told me this story about Lucky the dog.

On a recent Wednesday morning (that is, last Wednesday morning), my parent was scheduled to get a blood test but was considering skipping it because P.U. had been feeling poorly for several days.

Still, in an effort to make the appointment, my parent soldiered onward and got showered. Alas, P.U. emerged from the shower to find that Lucky had gotten herself into some trouble.

My parent had evidently left the door to the walk-in closet slightly ajar, enabling Lucky to get her ever-hungering jaws on a brand-new bar of soap.

P.U. noticed the empty box in the bedroom and immediately (and understandably) assumed the worst — that the Labrador retriever had consumed an entire bar of soap.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/28/2016 (finale)

January 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 5, 2017

Going into the final round of the Delaware tournament, I had some bad news and some good news.

The bad news was three-fold. One, I was not guaranteed to be the division victory; two, in the final round I’d be facing a skilled player; and three, that player, RB, was someone who had beaten me out for the division title on Monday afternoon.

The good news was two-fold: One, I’d beaten RB twice in three matches; and two, I had a big spread — plus-611 against her plus-389 — so unless she beat me by a massive score, I would still wind up with the championship.

Fittingly, the score was fairly even early on; playing second, I held a 50-46 edge after five moves.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/28/2016 (part 4)

January 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 5, 2017

Although it felt as if hours had passed since I’d begun my game against Lady Persistence, I still had two more contests left to play. I convened my seventh-round match against KB, whom I’d beaten by 200 points the afternoon before, as hastily as I could.

Although I was 6-0 and atop the standings, I felt like I was behind badly, largely because everyone else already seemed to be halfway through their seventh-round games. (Well, everyone else except for Lady Persistence and her opponent, of course.) Playing second, I took a first-turn lead with ORIGIN/LO/AR/MI 20. That would prove to be my highest score through the first 13 plays of the game.

One of the issues was that I was getting horrid tiles. In turn 3, with a rack of CEMSTUW, I swapped out everything but the S. KB traded three tiles in turn 4, but my rack was still horrid: AHIIOSU.

“Well,” I said, “I had so much fun the last time, I’m going to do it again. Trade six.” The resulting rack, ELNRSST, was still unbalanced, but at least it gave me something to work with.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/28/2016 (part 3)

January 4, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 4, 2017

In game 5 on Wednesday, I faced off against RB, who had bested me in Monday afternoon’s king-of-the-hill round to win the tournament.

Beginning with AGGLRRS, I made a modest play, GAR 8, which RB — to my surprise — challenged. (A gar is a fishagar, incidentally, is a product of certain seaweeds.) My second play was KAY 10, but I trailed 19-18 after two turns when RB put down LIRE/KI/YE 19.

I took a substantial lead in turn 5 by playing BLOWSY/GAUNS* 52, going up 105-70 after RB’s AG/AL/GO 16. My draw was lousy — AAONU, giving my AMOORV? — but I was able to play it off in turn 6 with VROOM/MAL* 22. (Vroom, which I later learned is also valid as varoom, is a motor noise; incidentally, both take an -S.)

RB had a lousy rack and traded in four letters with her sixth move, leaving me up, 127-70. I extended the lead in turn 8 when I used a vowel on the board to turn AHMNPU? into PAnHUMAN 80. RB’s response was FID/FA/ID 25, which left me holding a big advantage.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/28/2016 (part 2)

January 3, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 3, 2017

In game 3 on Wednesday, I faced SF, a player whom I’d never met before. She went first and ended up leading, 122-107, largely thanks to her seventh move, LEZ/LID/ED 35.

I struggled with unbalanced racks early in the game — DFHIRSU, BINNSUY and AEINOSU, to give a few examples. In turn 10, my hole got deeper as SF led off with QUASI/SPA/ION 39, which left me trailing, 200-148. Facing a rack of ABEEOSU, I tossed back everything but the S and drew AELY??.

In turn 11, I scored 30 points with YEZ and drew RS, leaving me with ALRSS??. SF responded with WET/YE/ET 26, putting her up 238-178.

I needed points, and I needed points fast. But where, and how?

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/28/2016 (part 1)

January 2, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 2, 2017

I slept solidly my third night at the hotel, so I was feeling much better at the start of Wednesday’s competition than I had the day before. My goal for the day was to improve on Tuesday’s third-place 5-3 finish, preferably by at least matching the 7-1 second-place showing I’d had on Monday.

My opening-round game was against EM, my first-round opponent from Monday. Going first, EM jumped out to a 91-16 lead midway through turn 2 by playing OUTGOeS/BOS 65. I reduced the deficit to 91-67 by playing EX/eX/OE, which was worth 51 points because my eight-point X occupied a triple-letter-score spot.

But EM finished the third turn up 112-67. While he played LOWE 21, I swapped out all seven letters on my horrid rack — BNPRRRW.

This turned out to be a good move for me, as I drew AEGMRU? Using the T from OUTGOeS, I played ARGUMEnT for 70 points, putting me up 137-132 after four turns.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/27/2016 (part 2)

January 1, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 1, 2017

I was a little disappointed that my 3-1 record after four games on Tuesday wasn’t as good as the 4-0 mark I’d had the day before. But more woes were in my future.

In round five, I faced LT, who was seeded second in the division with a 1004 rating. Playing second, she leaped out to a 90-42 lead when she put down DoILIEs/MICE, a 73-point bingo. She added distance from me in turns 6 and 7 with FROST/POURS 31 and JEE/THINE 34.

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Delaware Scrabble recap, 12/27/2016 (part 1)

January 1, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 1, 2017

After our first day at the Delaware Scrabble tournament, D— and I had some more-or-less family-friendly adventures that I may write about in a future post. It was fun, but regrettably, I had a bear of a time falling asleep afterward.

I tried going to bed a little before 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27, but abandoned the effort after only 10 or 20 minutes and headed down to the hotel lobby for more than an hour to finish writing my post about La La Land. But when I returned to the room, despite being tired, I still had trouble entering dreamland. Oblivion finally overtook me after 4 a.m., but I woke up around 7 or 7:30.

I went back down to the lobby for a bleary-eyed early breakfast, grabbed a bit more shut-eye in the room, and then hurried to shower and dress in time for the start of Tuesday’s Scrabbling at 10 a.m.

In other words, my nerves were a little jangled when I sat down to play JC in game 1 of Tuesday’s stand-alone event. Still, I was determined to make a good showing for myself, especially after finishing 7-1 and in second place on Monday.

Going first, I took a modest lead in turn 3 by playing OOZING/OW 37; after JC’s QI 11 completed the turn, I held a 68-47 edge. But my foe went back ahead on the strength of a pair of 34-point plays: SIX/HALTS in turn 4 and SANDER/SO in turn 5.

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