wintermute2_0

Apr 092018
 

Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1)Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book taught me that a spy’s life consists mostly of:
– traipsing around foreign cities at all hours of the night;
– eating;
– having amazing sex; and
– more eating.

Kidding aside, this is an entertaining and well-crafted spy novel. Dominika Egorova, a Russian intelligence agent who is also also a synesthete (look it up), is a fascinating character and I enjoyed the opportunity to get inside her head. The plot is satisfyingly twisty and the author’s background as a CIA station chief gives an air of authenticity to the tradecraft described in the book, but the sex scenes are straight out of the Middle-Aged White Guy’s Fantasy Generator.

The recipes at the end of each chapter are also a nice touch. I really want to try that caviar torte. Looking forward to eventually finishing the trilogy and checking out the film adaptation.

View all my reviews

Apr 062018
 

Tim Pawlenty’s decision to run for a job that he already held for eight years is baffling. When he left office in 2011, Minnesota’s public finances were a hot mess; a sea of red ink created by years of budgeting gimmicks. He repeatedly cut health care and other supports for the most vulnerable among us. The first shutdown of our state government in modern history happened on his watch. And now he’s asking voters to look back on his tenure with misty-eyed nostalgia and give him another chance to make Minnesota mediocre again.

This isn’t to say that Pawlenty wouldn’t be a formidable candidate. He has the resources and connections necessary to mount a well-financed campaign and he may be able to convince enough Republicans that he’s their best bet for winning a statewide office; something that the Minnesota GOP hasn’t accomplished since 2006. But in an election year that is likely to favor Democrats, will Minnesotans be clamoring for the return of a conservative who has worked as a bank lobbyist for the past several years and who ran a failed presidential campaign that summited the heights of forgettable human endeavor? Perhaps, but after enduring the Trump-lite rhetoric of his first campaign video, I’m not too concerned at the moment.

Mar 312018
 

At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.

During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.

Mar 222018
 

Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor marks the start of the second season of the ridiculous drama that is this administration. The second season promises a much darker tone as the plot careens from one global crisis to another and viewers struggle to keep up with the backstabbing machinations of Trump’s inner circle.

Except that this is real life and innocent people could die because a crazed ideologue will be advising our president on foreign policy. I had harbored hope that we could muddle through the next few years without this president sparking a true catastrophe. That could still happen, but I’m feeling less confident after this evening’s developments.

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.