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The moral stain of torture: Some things to keep in mind while we await the Senate report on CIA interrogation

December 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Dec. 4, 2014 In March 2009, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), respectively the chairwoman and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that their group had agreed on a bipartisan basis to review • How the [Central Intelligence Agency] created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program; […]

The boy who would be savior: Meet Ender Wiggin, the tortured young hero of ‘Ender’s Game’

November 7, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken Nov. 7, 2013 The marvelous science fiction film Ender’s Game is all about confronting the Other — the menace presented to us by external figures and forces. But it is also about its protagonist’s confrontation with the darkness within himself. The eponymous Ender Wiggin is a prepubescent boy, perhaps 12, […]

In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken June 26, 2013 In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished […]

Prison-keepers and conscience: ‘None of Us Were Like This Before’ examines American torture and the toll it took

November 23, 2012

Freelance journalist Joshua E.S. Phillips begins his 2010 book with an innocuous report on the 2004 death of Sgt. Adam Gray, a 24-year-old native of central California. The military deemed it accidental, but his family and some of his fellow soldiers suspected otherwise. Gray had served a year in the Middle East with a tank […]

Psychological thriller ‘Unthinkable’ contemplates torture and ticking bombs

November 20, 2012

Special Agent Helen Brody and her Los Angeles-based FBI counterterrorism team have spent the past nine months keeping tabs on area Muslims whom some believe to have violent inclinations. They have yet to find any actual evidence of terrorism. Suddenly, every television channel on the dial begins showing pictures of Steven Arthur Younger and three […]

Short takes: ‘The Last Stone,’ ‘Bird Box’ and ‘The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek’

March 27, 2020

By Matthew E. MillikenMEMwrites.wordpress.comMarch 27, 2020 Lloyd Lee Welch, the prisoner at the heart of Mark Bowden’s 2019 true crime book The Last Stone, is a repellent figure. A seventh-grade dropout who spent years abusing alcohol and drugs, Welch is a chronic liar who insists that the lengthy sentence he’s serving for child molestation is […]

Parents just don’t understand the number of the beast in Grady Hendrix’s sprightly horror novel ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’

December 13, 2019

By Matthew E. MillikenMEMwrites.wordpress.comDec. 13, 2019 Abby Rivers, the heroine of the comedic horror novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, bonded with her new classmate Gretchen Lang in December 1982, when they were both fourth graders. The bulk of Grady Hendrix’s 2016 novel takes place during the fall of their sophomore year, in 1988. That gives […]

David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ explores the complicated saga of a twisted California killer

February 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken Feb. 23, 2018 David Fincher’s sprawling 2007 thriller, Zodiac, tells the true story of the hunt for a notorious California serial killer through the eyes of a cop tasked with finding him and a cartoonist who became obsessed with the case. The movie begins on the evening of July 4, 1969, […]

Social and financial forces silently war in the American heartland in Colson Whitehead’s novel ‘Apex Hides the Hurt’

October 14, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken Oct. 14, 2017 Like many places, the Midwestern town at the center of Colson Whitehead’s 2006 novel Apex Hides the Hurt is torn by battling crosscurrents. In Winthrop, one especially acute conflict pits a nostalgic longing for the past against an eagerness to embrace change — the kind of conflict, one outsider will […]

An adolescent explores frontiers within and without in Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Girl in Landscape’

April 21, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken April 21, 2017 Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 novel Girl in Landscape is a coming-of-age tale set on an alien world. The story unspools from the point of view of 13-year-old Pella Marsh. Her father, Clement Marsh, a New York politician, recently lost an election and is planning to move to an alien world with his wife, daughter and […]

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 […]

An ex-jock gets tangled up in a scheme to abscond with ill-gotten cash in the crime thriller ‘Caught Stealing’

June 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken June 30, 2016 More than 16 years ago, novelist Colin Harrison published a gritty crime thriller called Afterburn. I read it not long after its release, and while a lot of the details have faded with time, I remember its brutality. One of the main characters is tortured by mobsters eager […]

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

April 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken 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 […]

Among the stars, war: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ revives a classic space opera but isn’t as compelling as the originals

January 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken Jan. 7, 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings together a mix of old and new characters from the mega-successful science-fiction movie series in order to launch a new sequence of cinematic space adventures. But you probably already know that. The plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set in motion by […]

Recent Readings for Nov. 19, 2015

November 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken 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 […]

Despite its overlong titles, strained premises and avant-garde structuring, Yann Martel’s ‘The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios’ is a marvelous anthology

December 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Dec. 26, 2014 Yann Martel is a Canadian author whose second novel, Life of Pi, published in 2002, was a best-selling critical success. It won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, awarded to the best English-language novel published in the United Kingdom, and was the basis for an excellent film adaptation directed by Ang Lee, which […]

Like father, like son? Identity is inextricably tied to parentage in Nick Harkaway’s ‘Angelmaker’

December 18, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Dec. 18, 2014 Absent parents loom large in the fictional realm. A key component of the original Star Wars trilogy is Luke Skywalker’s gradual discovery of the particulars of his parentage (especially the villainy of his father, the genocidal Darth Vader) and Luke’s struggle to develop his supernatural powers without being consumed by his own dark, angry […]

Nobody knows his face, but everybody knows his name (and story): Revisiting Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’

December 6, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Dec. 6, 2014 Everyone knows the basic setup of the world of Batman, one of the great comic-book heroes. Heck, millions of people could recite it in their sleep. It goes like this: Bruce Wayne, the only son of billionaires, was orphaned by a gunman at an early age and raised by Alfred […]

In ‘Donald,’ Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott turn the tables on an architect of George W. Bush’s wars

November 8, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Nov. 8, 2014 Donald, a 2011 book co-written by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott, is one of the first novels centered on a key figure in the presidential administration of George W. Bush. (I know of one other — American Wife, the 2008 novel by Curtis Sittenfeld that fictionalizes the story of Laura Bush.) Donald, I would […]

The old in-and-out: Obama, Bush and the removal of American troops from Iraq

August 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Aug. 9, 2014 There’s a tendency on the right to blame President Barack Hussein Obama for, well, just about every ill under the sun. The conservative narrative goes something like this: Obama was inaugurated, and then everything went to hell. I’m oversimplifying the right-wing zeitgeist here — but, I would contend, only slightly. […]

‘To sleep, perchance to dream’ — ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ remakes history with a not entirely entrancing extended catnap

June 28, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken June 28, 2014 In the year 2023, the new movie X-Men: Days of Future Past informs us, virtually everything is dimly lit, computer-animated or both. More to the point, plot-wise, giant shape-shifting robots are waging a deadly war against mutated humans and anyone sympathetic to them. The remnants of the X-Men, a group […]

On equality and America: Rush Limbaugh vs. the historical record

May 30, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken May 30, 2014 I have no sermonizing for you today; simply snippets of transcripts and documents. I ask, dear reader, that you do one thing: Contrast the way in which conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh describes the founding principles of the United States (particularly the passage that I’ve highlighted below) with […]

On the far side of the world, an Italian explorer ponders life, death, the universe and everything

March 31, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken March 31, 2014 The Island of the Day Before, the 1994 novel by Italian author Umberto Eco, is likely the most complicated book I have ever read from start to finish. The convoluted tale opens with a most unlikely coincidence: Roberto della Griva washes up onto a deserted ship moored off an […]

George Clooney’s arty party can’t quite come together in tale of ‘The Monuments Men’ of World War II

February 8, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken Feb. 8, 2014 A sequence in The Monuments Men captures the key problem with the new feature directed, co-written by and starring George Clooney. As sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) are questioning a clergyman about the fate of historic artwork stolen by the Nazis, a sniper […]

Voters don’t always care very much about policy details when it comes to picking a president

December 12, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken Dec. 12, 2013 Recently, Robert Mann, a mass communications professor at Louisiana State University, wrote a Times-Picayune column panning Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chances of winning the Republican nomination for president in 2016. The crux of Mann’s argument is telegraphed in the headline, “Jindal’s meager record at home won’t get him to […]