Mar 142018

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my imaginary rivalry with Stephen Hawking. We never did get that opportunity to face each other in a cage match aboard the International Space Station (even though my victory was always a foregone conclusion). But I digress. I was truly sorry to learn of his passing yesterday. Not only did he make scientific contributions that will be remembered for decades, but he demonstrated to the world that it’s possible to live a rich, full life with a significant disability. Not all of us will get to be world-class physicists or appear on an episode of Star Trek, but perhaps some kid with a disability will learn about Hawking and realize that her dreams of being a writer or programmer or whatever aren’t so far-fetched after all. Even better, perhaps future kids with disabilities will wonder why their grandparents made such a big deal over Hawking’s wheelchair and speech synthesizer when his mind and sense of humor were his most defining characteristics.

Godspeed, Professor. Eternity beckons.

Mar 112018

I was excited to see what kind of vision director Ava DuVernay would bring to Disney’s adaptation of the classic children’s book. but the results are middling at best. Too much of the movie is wasted on the characters reciting New Age pabulum while not enough attention is given to the book’s exploration of the dangers of conformity. The acting and visuals are fine; kids and tweens will probably enjoy what Disney offers here. There just isn’t much to keep adult audiences interested, which is unfortunate.

Mar 062018

Another top adviser for the Trump administration, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation. His departure may be connected to Trump’s impulsive decision last week to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The turnover rate in the White House, which now includes moderates like Cohn, raises important questions about the quality of the advice that Trump receives from the remaining members of his inner circle. Will Stephen Miller become even more empowered to push his agenda of white grievance and isolationism? Will Trump appoint some brown-nosing intern to advise him on trade policy? Do we really have a president or just a useful idiot for whomever happens to be whispering in his ear?

Chaos is enveloping this administration despite a decent economy and a relatively calm global scene. If a crisis occurs and the only people left to advise the president are cranks and incompetents, we shouldn’t be surprised if things quickly spiral out of control.

Mar 042018

I’m hoping that Get Out picks up at least a couple Oscars tonight. The Academy generally isn’t fond of genre movies, but Get Out is so much more than a horror movie. It’s a funny, incisive commentary on race and our inability to fully reckon with the legacy of racism in America. I also really liked the interspecies romance The Shape of Water, but Get Out is the more important movie. Director Jordan Peele is an exciting new voice and I want him to have plenty of leverage to do whatever he wants as his next project, although I’m already looking forward to his work on the rebooted Twilight Zone.

Mar 032018

I didn’t expect to be so moved by Pixar’s take on the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos; perhaps I’m becoming more sentimental in my old age. The story of a young boy who, against his family’s wishes, desperately wants to be a musician is a great setup for a thoughtful exploration of the artistic spirit, forgiveness, and the power of memory. The artistry in Pixar movies is always dazzling, but the kaleidoscopic vistas of the Land of the Dead make me wish that I had seen this on a big screen.

Coco plays it a little more straight than other Pixar films; you won’t find the subversive humor of WALL-E or The Incredibles here. But Coco is such an empathetic and sweet movie that any archness would seem out of place. See it with the people you love and be sure to bring a few tissues.

Feb 282018

While Trump pretends to play dealmaker again, his cabinet continues to demonstrate that they are really bad at hiding their corruption. The Times reported yesterday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $31,000 on a dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office. This news comes on top of previous allegations that Carson used his position to secure government contracts for his son.

These people are just the fucking worst. While Carson was busy redecorating his office, his agency proposed steep cuts to housing programs for the poor and the elderly. I’m sure Carson doesn’t see any hypocrisy in his actions, which is the whole problem. Trump’s appointees seem happy to treat their positions of public service as personal fiefdoms with no care for how their actions might violate the public trust. In fact, they work diligently on plans to undermine the core missions of their agencies.

I have no doubt that Carson was once a talented surgeon, but he’s also a grifter. His presidential campaign was little more than a scam to line his pockets and he can’t seem to turn down another opportunity to scam the American people.

Feb 272018

My latest pop culture obsession is reruns of ER. The entire series (all 13 seasons) recently became available on Hulu and I’ve gotten in the habit of watching an episode or two before bed. For a show that debuted in 1994, ER holds up remarkably well. The scenes have a kinetic energy that captures the chaos of an emergency room in an urban hospital. The multiple storylines and in-your-face realism would not be out of place in a modern-day series on HBO or Netflix. ER does falter when its focus shifts away from the patients (some of the early interactions between Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway are pretty cringeworthy), but it excels as a workplace drama. And it’s fair to say that the show is enjoying a resurgence of interest from critics.

I’m not sure I’ll do a rewatch of the entire series; I recall that it gets a little silly in later seasons. But for now, I’m content to spend my evenings with the staff of County General. And whatever happened to Sherry Stringfield? I had forgotten that I had a little crush on her back in my twenties.

Feb 262018

The Supreme Court heard a case today that could seriously undermine unions for public employees and deliver another blow to the broader labor movement. The case centers on whether public employee unions can require employees who are not full members to pay a fair share to help cover the costs of negotiating contracts and representing employees in individual disputes. This may sound like an esoteric issue, but the consequences of a ruling against unions could be dramatic. In states that have passed right to work laws that include the elimination of fair share payments, membership in public employee unions has plummeted. This leaves the unions with less negotiating power on core issues like wages, health care costs, and family leave.

Conservative critics of unions argue that individuals shouldn’t be required to give money to a union when they disagree with its politics or lobbying efforts. This ignores the fact that all employees, whether they are full members of the union or not, benefit from the bargaining power of the union. And if the union is significantly weakened, all of the employees stand to lose. Conservatives don’t genuinely care about the First Amendment rights of public sector workers; it’s a pretense for destroying what little political influence the labor movement still has.

I belong to a public sector union, so I have a personal stake in this fight. Public sector jobs have long been a a gateway to the middle class for society’s marginalized, including people of color and people with disabilities. If our unions no longer have the resources to advocate for us and our fellow workers, that gateway may slowly disappear.


Feb 252018

The Magician King (The Magicians, #2)The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second installment in the Magicians trilogy is a weightier affair than the first book, focusing on themes of loss, mental illness, and the mysterious underpinnings of magic. The book spends a lot of time with Julia, a minor character from the first novel who was denied entry to the school for magicians that became home for Quentin and the other main characters. We witness her growing obsession to learn magic by more nontraditional means, as well as the toll it exacts on her mental health.

The book alternates between Julia’s story and a more traditional quest-y storyline that you would find in most fantasy novels. The quest seems a bit undercooked, but Grossman’s portrayal of Julia is both beautiful and heartbreaking for reasons that become clear in the final pages. The prose can be clever bordering on smug; Grossman wants the reader to know that he is deconstructing the ponderous formalism of the genre and much of his writing is quite funny, but it eventually feels like he’s showing off.

I’m tempted to begin the third installment immediately, but I think I’ll let this story sit with me for a while before returning to Fillory. In the meantime, I should really check out the Syfy series based on the books.

View all my reviews

Feb 252018

So, how were the past eleven months for you? I don’t have any good excuses for my hiatus from this blog other than laziness and inertia. In this age of Youtubers and Instagrammers, I wasn’t sure that my scattershot approach to old-fashioned blogging had much appeal (not that my blog was attracting droves even in the mid-Aughts heyday of the format). But I’ve realized that writing helps me clarify my own thoughts on a topic. And blogging forces me to be more articulate than just tweeting “WTF?” or a string of angry emoji. So I’ll do my best to post here on a semi-regular basis about things that I find fun, interesting, or infuriating.

I’ve spent much of the last year reading more books. It’s been a good distraction from the unceasing craziness of the Trump era and nagging worries about whether Medicaid would be cut. I became more active on Goodreads and barely managed to meet my annual reading challenge of 25 books. I’ll post my latest review after this entry, but the TL,DR is that Lev Grossman is a terrific writer and his Magicians trilogy is worth your time. What’s everyone else reading?

I’ll leave you for now with one of my favorite cartoons from the New Yorker on the subject of blogging. It was published in 2007, but I think it’s still apt:

[Description: A man is standing on a street corner and screaming into a megaphone as a startled businessman passes by. Beneath the cartoon is the caption ‘Blogger Without Borders.’ Below the caption are the following words from the shouting man: “You want my latest opinion about the President? How about my opinion of Japanese enzyme baths? Or breakfast wraps–you need to hear what I have to say about breakfast wraps!”]