Archive for January, 2020

There are no good outcomes: Thoughts on Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and impeachment

January 31, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 31, 2020

Author’s note: This post contains brief references to sexual assault and suicide. MEM

Over the years, I’ve come to believe something that I suspected but tried to suppress at the time: That Bill Clinton disgraced and endangered his office of the presidency by conducting an extramarital affair in the White House and then lying about it under oath.

The affair displayed bad judgment on a number of levels, not least because it potentially exposed him to blackmail. The perjury ultimately cost Clinton his ability to serve as a lawyer (although he hadn’t practiced in years). Shortly before Clinton left office, Robert Ray, the special counsel who succeeded Kenneth Starr, announced that the president has surrendered his Arkansas law license for five years and accepted a $25,000 fine.

As Starr’s investigation and impeachment effort proceeded throughout 1998 and into 1999, I generally scoffed at the Republican endeavor to remove Clinton from office. The Grand Old Party had always despised “Slick Willie,” a hatred that prompted Hillary Clinton to coin the infamous phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Right-wing nuts and grifters — it was hard to think of them in any other way — had spent years accusing Clinton of committing sexual assault, exploiting a savings and loan association to salvage what turned out to be a bad investment in the Whitewater Development Corp., facilitating international arms and drug smuggling through an airport in Mena, Ark.; and killing a high-level White House attorney.

Read the rest of this entry »

The theoretical impartial senator and the very real imperial president: Thoughts on the impeachment trial

January 29, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2020

If there were such a thing as a truly impartial senator, then he or she might be in quite a pickle right now.

Before start of the ongoing proceedings against the president, senators took the following oath: “I solemnly swear [or affirm] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God.”

The House of Representatives’ impeachment managers have presented an impressive case; the president’s defenders have mounted a vigorous defense. There are flaws in each.

Read the rest of this entry »

Short takes: ‘Famous Men who Never Lived’ and ‘Meddling Kids’

January 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2020

The New York City that Helen Nash and Vikram Bhatnagar travel through is not the one they knew. The two main characters in K. Chess’s 2019 debut novel, Famous Men Who Never Lived, are UDPs, or universally displaced persons. Their New York City has been destroyed; they are permanently cut off from everyone and every place they ever knew.

The protragonists are among about 160,000 New Yorkers from an alternative timeline who escaped nuclear catastrophe through a sort of one-way dimensional portal. Their timeline diverged from ours about 11 decades ago, in 1910. Some landmarks and neighborhoods in the new New York City are familiar; others are entirely different.

The same is true of the linguistic, political, cultural and technological landscapes for the UDPs. Back home, the refugees used ordinators, not smartphones; a world war in their 20th century saw America besieged by a hostile Latin American power; gay people there were called verts and hadn’t won marriage equality.

It’s no wonder that so many UDPs are lost in the new world — although to be fair, Hel (who plays a more prominent role than Vikram, her lover), didn’t fit in so well back home. She was a cancer surgeon there who’d ceded custody of her son to her ex-husband; here, she’s an unemployed layabout.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Chiang puts societies to the technological test in his new collection of science fiction stories, ‘Exhalation’

January 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 27, 2020

Writer Ted Chiang has a relatively slender publication history. His debut book was the 2002 anthology Stories of Your Life; last year, he published a second volume of stories, Exhalation. The website Fantastic Fiction lists the New York native as having stories in four annual genre-fiction anthologies and in 1998’s The Mammoth Book of Fantasy All-Time Greats.

Despite this, Chiang is prominent enough to have merited a 2017 New Yorker profile. This was due in no small part to Arrival, the splendid 2016 Denis Villeneuve movie about first contact with aliens, which is based on the 1999 Hugo and Nebula award–winning novella “The Story of Your Life” from Chiang’s first collection.

I’m happy to report that Chiang’s second book, Exhalation, is full of engaging, thought-provoking tales. The title story is a monograph written by, it soon emerges, a member of a race of robots that breathes not oxygen but argon. “Every day,” it writes near the start of the second paragraph,

we consume two lungs heavy with air; every day we remove the empty ones from our chest and replace them with full ones. If a person is careless and lets his air level run too low, he feels the heaviness of his limbs and the growing need for replenishment. It is exceedingly rare that a person is unable to get at least one replacement lung before his installed pair runs too empty; on those occasions where this has happened — when a person is trapped and unable to move, with no one nearby to assist him — he dies within seconds of his air running out.

Read the rest of this entry »

What if the Senate impeachment trial results in conviction?

January 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2019 2020

I’d originally planned to post a review of Ted Chiang’s outstanding recent anthology Exhalation this week, but life got in the way.

There was the big January charity Scrabble tournament, which took up most of Saturday and Sunday and about half of Monday. Then, of course, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began, and I found myself concentrating on National Public Radio’s audio feed from the Senate floor. (I was also, to be honest, playing word games as I listened.)

At any rate, there have been a few distractions from writing. However, I here present a few musings prompted by the impeachment trial.

Read the rest of this entry »

Daniel H. Wilson builds on Michael Crichton’s first technothriller in ‘The Andromeda Evolution’

January 15, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 15, 2019 2020

The Andromeda Strain pitted a small team of scientists against a mysterious virus that has killed all but two residents of Piedmont, Ariz. The 1969 Michael Crichton novel culminates in a desperate race against time. Its protagonists exhibit feats of intellectual prowess as well as a few acts of bravery. One might argue that the book is the original technothriller.

The Andromeda Strain inspired a 1971 movie version directed by Robert Wise, who had previously helmed West Side Story and The Sound of Music, and who would later bring Star Trek into the cinema; a miniseries adaptation with Ricky Schroeder and Viola Davis aired in 2008. Given corporate America’s propensity to recycle and reboot ideas, it’s mildly surprising that The Andromeda Strain had mostly lain dormant for years.

Enter The Andromeda Evolution, published late last year, which has Crichton’s name emblazoned on the top third of the cover. Although Crichton is listed first in the book’s author biographies, he seems to have had nothing to do with the plotting or writing of this volume, which is labeled “A novel by Daniel H. Wilson” in much smaller type on the bottom of the cover.

Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Crichton and the origins and nature of the technothriller

January 14, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 14, 2019 2020

Any history of the technothriller subgenre is bound to include Michael Crichton, the Harvard-trained physician who penned multiple bestsellers and created the hit television drama ER. For the last three decades, Crichton has been best known for his pair of dinosaurs-run-amok novels, Jurassic Park and The Lost World.

The splashiness of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie adaptation and its four (!) sequels (not to mention three pinball tables) makes it easy to forget that Crichton’s flair for combining science and thrills has been on display ever since 1969.

That’s the year that Crichton, who died in 2008, published The Andromeda Strain. This story of a research team desperately trying to stop the spread of a mysterious disease was both the first book to appear under Crichton’s own name and his first bestseller. But it represented an important commercial — and dare I say literary — development in its own right.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jan. 3, 2020, poker recap

January 10, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 10, 2019 2020

It’s only been five days since my visit to the casino in Bethlehem, Pa., but it seems like a much longer while.

I was card dead for quite a while, both before and after my successful acquisition of a working Wind Creek player’s card. Over time, my stack shrunk from $220 to $210 to $200… I had a number of $25 chips plus some $5 and $1 chips. I must have gotten below $150 as things continued to go direly.

The best hand and only pair I got over the first hour or more was 9-9. I raised with it and got at least two or three callers, plus a flop with at least one over (a 10, and maybe there was paint as well). I called a post-flop bet but folded when the turn failed to bring me a third nine.

I made money on three hands. I remember no details about the first — was it ace-queen or ace-jack — except that I bet the river, mimed a bit of anxiety and got called by a beefy fellow two seats to my left. I think I must have straddled that hand, which is a move that involves posting twice the big blind ($4 on this $1–$2 table) and acting last on the initial round of betting.

Read the rest of this entry »

All I wanted to do… Or: Departure day! (Being part of my impromptu holiday travels series)

January 9, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 9, 2019 2020

The plan was simple enough: Leave my parent’s home in the greater New York metropolitan area around 9 the morning of Friday, Jan. 3, 2020; drive about 105 minutes to the Wind Creek casino (formerly a Sands property) in Bethlehem, Pa.; play poker for roughly three hours, until 2 p.m.; and then drive another three and a half hours for dinner and a night’s stay with my friends in Northern Virginia. If I timed things nicely and got a bit of luck, I would avoid heavy rush-hour traffic — especially around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital — and have a little extra cash in my pocket.

All I wanted to do was play some poker on the last full day of my trip, and I was getting grief from this, that and the other.

Actually, most of the grief was coming from my parent’s computer, which had been the focus of many of my information technology efforts over the course of the past 10 or so days. In an effort to improve the speed of a seven-year-old basic 21-inch iMac, I’d installed CleanMyMac X and used it to delete some cruft. The machine seemed to be operating a bit better. (Your mileage may vary; not a paid or otherwise compensated endorsement.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Drive, return, blackout: Selected sketches from my holiday travels

January 6, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 6, 2019 2020

I left my home on the morning of Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, and did a bit of holiday shopping in downtown Durham before heading north to the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. (I later realized, in reviewing and deleting old email messages, that my shopping errand could have been done over the weekend thanks to the magic of extended store hours — alas.)

On the evening of the last full day of my trip (more about which I may describe in a future post[s]), I stopped at the home of friends in Northern Virginia. After enjoying lunch at an Ashburn restaurant called Pho Noménal, I struck out for North Carolina.

I parked south of downtown Raleigh around 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2020, and walked over to Boxcar, the arcade and bar. After playing a bit of Batman ’66 (Stern 2016), where I don’t believe I got to the main multiball even once, I switched to Monster Bash — again, I’m not sure if it’s the 1998 Williams original or the 2018 Chicago Gaming remake, although I suspect the latter — and put up one good score and some mediocre ones.

Read the rest of this entry »
%d bloggers like this: