May 172016
 

I haven’t commented much on the state of the Democratic race, mostly because it hasn’t been terribly interesting. It’s been clear since mid-March that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, even though Bernie Sanders’ populist message has resonated with millions of voters. But as the race winds down, I’m a little concerned with the behavior of some Sanders supporters who don’t seem prepared to acknowledge that their guy has lost. During last weekend’s Democratic state convention, a dispute between Sanders supporters and the party establishment regarding obscure delegate rules turned chaotic and security had to clear the room to prevent full-scale violence. According to news reports, neither side handled matters well, but Sanders supporters later sent death threats to the party chairwoman.

Rather than quickly and forthrightly condemning the people making these threats, Sanders issues a long-winded statement that seems more interested in picking another fight with the Nevada Democratic Party. That’s his prerogative,  but this episode only reinforces perceptions that a small but vocal minority of Sanders supporters are motivated by aggressive misogyny rather than a commitment to progressive politics.

This whole thing will likely be forgotten by the convention and most Democrats will coalesce around Clinton, but the party should consider ways to reach out to those who may be participating in Democratic politics for the first time and who may retreat to the margins if they feel excluded. The party should also make it clear that violence and misogyny will never be tolerated and it should pressure Sanders to do the same.

For the record, I’m not enthusiastic about either candidate. I’d much rather have a third Obama term after he systematically tears down Trump’s id-driven campaign, but the 22nd Amendment forces me to imagine what could have been.

May 072016
 

I’m saddened to hear that my local comics shop, Big Brain Comics, is closing next month. And I feel a little guilty about not patronizing it more in recent years. Ever since comics became widely available in digital format, my trips to Big Brain have become far less frequent. But back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for me to drop close to $100 in a single visit. In fact, Big Brain played a huge role in helping me rediscover comics. I read a lot of comics during my frequent hospitalizations as a kid, but they were difficult to find in hometown of Green Bay. I stumbled across Big Brain soon after I bought my place in downtown Minneapolis and it soon became one of my favorite walking destinations. The owner, Michael Drivas, was always happy to help me find things or make recommendations. My spare bedroom is filled with stacks of comics purchased from Big Brain.

Today is Free Comic Book Day, so I think I’ll pay a visit to Big Brain and perhaps purchase a handsome collected volume as a final “thank you” to a place that encouraged me to let my geek flag fly.

Mar 162016
 

This election cycle keeps getting weirder. Conservative elites—still grappling with the rise of Trump—are now pointing their fingers at white working-class voters and blaming them for the current state of affairs. They aren’t mincing words, either. Here’s Kevin Williamson in the National Review:

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. … The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.

Now, most people won’t care about some diatribe in a conservative magazine. But a growing class rift could spell problems for the Republican Party. For decades, the GOP exploited the cultural and economic anxieties of “downscale” white voters in order to win elections. They promised that tax cuts and less government spending would create prosperity for all. They also promised to resurrect a traditional American culture that would keep women and assorted “others” marginalized.

Trump voters are no longer buying what the conservative establishment is trying to sell them, at least in terms of economics. And the demographics and culture of the nation continue to shift rapidly. If the establishment has alienated one of their core constituencies, does the GOP transform into a more overtly populist and nativist party? I’m not sure that’s a viable party for winning national elections. Or does it schism into a Trump party and a conservative party? If we see more attacks from conservative elites on working-class elites, a schism seems likely.

Mar 042016
 

As we watch the GOP immolate itself in a dumpster fire of spectacular proportions, I’ve been thinking about Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? In his book, Frank tries to understand why working-class people vote for Republican candidates who appeal to their cultural values but, once elected, do very little to address their economic interests. He argues that they have been duped into voting against their own interests in order to give cover to politicians who enact policies that solely benefit the wealthy and corporations. Frank wondered how long this could continue before those same voters realized they were being used and rose up in anger against the Republican establishment.

The rise of Trump may be the answer to that question. Trump, in his own crude but vigorous fashion,  freely expresses the economic and cultural anxieties of many conservatives. He makes them feel heard while the other Republican candidates have struggled to connect with voters. And he makes vague promises of swift solutions without delving into boring policy details. Trump isn’t terribly interested in slashing entitlements or banning abortion and neither are his supporters. They have found their champion in a super-rich New Yorker with a checkered business record and a bottomless appetite for self-promotion. The irony of all this would be singularly delicious if the implications for our country weren’t so dire.

The implosion of the Republican Party has given birth to a dangerously authoritarian and xenophobic movement which is likely to persist even if Trump is defeated in November. There may not be enough Trump sympathizers to secure the presidency, but they could further destabilize our brittle, flailing political system. We need to find ways to boost prosperity and security for all Americans before we teeter into a future that is truly dystopian. I just wish I could feel more confident that it’s not too late.

Dec 312015
 
  • Music: Two albums that kept me interested from beginning to end were Grimes’ Art Angels and Jamie xx’s In Colour. I liked Grimes’ last album, Visions, well enough, but I wasn’t prepared for the pop mastery she displays on her latest. Over several tracks that range from gauzy pop confection to spare piano ballads, Grimes paints a self-portrait of an artist in full command of her craft and who will not tolerate any bullshit. In Colour is a guided tour of electronic music of the past two decades, filtered through Jamie xx’s ear for melody and a good beat. The chorus in “Loud Places” is one of the best musical payoffs I heard this year.
  • Books: Two books that stayed with me this year both addressed the beauty and peril to be found in life’s randomness. Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life follows the multiple fates of a British woman who lives and dies repeatedly in the first half of the twentieth century, while Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel introduces us to a traveling theater troupe navigating a bleak postapocalyptic America. Each book beautifully illustrates how small events can ripple through time to shape the lives of people we will never meet.

I’d like wish my readers (all ten of you!) a happy and safe New Year. Perhaps we can create a few of our own ripples in 2016.

Dec 282015
 

You didn’t think I would let the year end without offering my annual and entirely unsolicited take on my favorite slices of pop culture from the past year, did you?

  • TV: Even I had a difficult time keeping up with the overwhelming quantity of scripted and unscripted television that networks and streaming outlets produced this year. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but I wonder how long this can go on before economic forces catch up with the ambitions of creators and executives. As in past years, shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead kept me thoroughly entertained, even if the writers made some questionable plotting decisions along the way. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a visually stunning adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel, is a grim look at life in an occupied America.  Netflix’s Jessica Jones took a minor character from the Marvel universe and delivered a gripping noir that addresses the lingering aftermath of sexual assault and challenges our traditional notions of villainy. And Stephen Colbert made The Late Show his own, demonstrating that his wit and intelligence could thrive beyond the confines of the character that he played for the past nine years.
  • Movies: I had a lot of fun at the opening day of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While the script calls out the first movie in ways both obvious and subtle, this is definitely a Star Wars film for the 21st century. The younger cast members, particularly Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, are a pleasure to watch and I can’t wait to see what the next episode brings. But the movie that captivated me the most this year was Mad Max: Fury Road. The title is misleading because Max isn’t the movie’s focus; it’s the young women escaping a predatory tyrant and their champion, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This is their story and Max is quite literally along for the ride. And it’s a ride that is brilliantly executed by director George Miller, a demented car chase through a Technicolor wasteland that features actual cars careening into each other. Also, a flame-throwing electric guitar.

Later this week: music and books!

Nov 022015
 

The Times reports on a new study that finds evidence that employers continue to discriminate against otherwise well-qualified job candidates who have a disability. Researchers sent resumes and cover letters for fictional job candidates to thousands of employers. Employers were 26% less likely to respond to the applications from candidates who indicated in their cover letters that they had a disability, even though they had the exact same qualifications as their fictional, able-bodied peers.

The fact that such discrimination persists isn’t exactly surprising to those of us who have experienced it firsthand, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employment rate for people with disabilities is still abysmal and nobody seems to have any good ideas on how to improve it. We’ve had countless public awareness campaigns, demonstration projects, internship programs, and the like that are designed to encourage people to employ us, but nothing seems to stick. Of course, funding for other services like transportation and attendant care hasn’t improved much over the years, which may partially explain these stubborn statistics.

But even if funding for those services dramatically improved, I’m not so sure that employer attitudes would do the same. This study found that discrimination is most prevalent among small employers, which are the main engines of job growth in this country. Somehow, we need to convince those small employers that they are ignoring a valuable pool of potential employees.

Sep 222015
 

Like a lot of other armchair political observers, I thought Scott Walker had a decent chance of securing the Republican nomination. Establishment types liked him because he’s a conservative governor who has significantly reshaped a traditionally blue state. Grassroots types liked him because he said all the right things about freedom and values and Mom’s apple pie. Trump’s entry into the race did him no favors; Walker’s stilted Midwestern demeanor may work on the nice folks in Rhinelander, but it couldn’t withstand the bellowing winds of Hurricane Donald. If you’re going to steal attention away from the angry orange man standing at center-stage, you’d better have something interesting to say. And Walker is about as interesting as a weekend sale at Kohl’s. I mean, have you seen the man’s Twitter feed? Insomniacs rejoice, for your cure is only a click away!

I still expect Republicans to eventually coalesce around someone like Bush or Rubio. Party politics still matter in nomination contests and Trump has done nothing to ingratiate himself with party leaders. But if Trump manages to secure a substantial number of delegates, the Republican convention could make for compelling summer TV.

And please stop littering my Facebook feed with Ben Carson quotes set against backdrops of the American flag or overly Photoshopped sunrises. I’m sure he was a skilled surgeon, but a brilliant crank is still a crank.

Sep 112015
 

Remember that time when I couldn’t stop gushing about Children of Men? It’s still one of my favorite movies and it’s still a favorite topic of discussion among fellow film nerds. Case in point: this excellent video that examines how Cuaron’s use of background imagery works in conjunction with the main story playing out in the foreground.

This movie has been on my mind as I’ve watched news stories about the refugees seeking better lives in Europe. The situation isn’t quite as bleak as what’s portrayed in the film, but the vile xenophobia on display in places like Hungary isn’t far removed from it, either.

Aug 102015
 

So after writing not long ago that I would hold off on upgrading to Windows 10, I did exactly that yesterday. Based on my reading, it seemed that most upgrades were proceeding smoothly and I decided that the risks were minimal. My own upgrade took less than an hour and was entirely uneventful. All of my installed programs were still there after the upgrade and everything is working normally, including my assistive tech. Kudos to Microsoft for finally implementing a seamless OS upgrade process.

As for my impressions of Windows 10, it’s essentially a re-skinned Windows 7. The live tiles on the Start menu are interesting for the first five minutes, but the overall design feels a bit disjointed. I still can’t figure out the difference between “Settings” and “Control Panel”. Windows 10 also forces white title bars on everything, which makes my desktop feel like the digital equivalent of working in a NASA clean room. I will definitely be signing the “Hey Microsoft, Your White Title Bars Suck!” petition.

If you’re considering whether to upgrade, I recommend doing so. It’s a vast improvement over the travesty that was Windows 8 and Windows 7 is getting a bit long in the tooth, so it seems likely we’ll all be using 10 before long. And because I can’t imagine Microsoft releasing anything with the awkward moniker of Windows 11, I expect Windows 10 will around for a long time.