Jan 272015
 

Over at Vox, Sarah Kliff looks at the growing number of Republican governors who are expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—with conditions attached. GOP governors are negotiating with the Obama administration for waivers that allow them to give  their state Medicaid programs a more conservative bent. For example, some states use Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for low-income individuals. Other states require enrollees to pay an increased amount of cost sharing or they restrict access to certain benefits that aren’t deemed essential.

These waivers are expanding Medicaid to millions of individuals, which is better than not expanding coverage. Some of these conservative policies, like charging premiums to individuals with extremely limited means, seem to have less to do with promoting personal responsibility than with winning the favor of far-right state legislators who possess an almost pathological animosity towards the poor. But thanks to the Supreme Court, states are not obligated to expand Medicaid and they are in a much stronger position to seek concessions from the feds.

Jan 202015
 

I’m still not completely over the Packers’ loss to the Seahawks on Sunday. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, I was fairly confident that I would be watching my team in the Super Bowl. And then it all went to hell. I don’t assign blame to any specific player or play; it was a bizarre confluence of events in which the Packers seemed like passive witnesses to their own self-destruction. Of course, it didn’t help that Packers couldn’t score touchdowns during some key moments in the first half.

What makes this loss even more heartbreaking is the fact that it may be a while before the Packers appear in another championship game. The team is likely to lose several players to free agency and that may result in a less competitive squad. Even so, I’ll still be a faithful fan next season, hoping against hope that my Packers get a shot at redemption.

Jan 162015
 

Apologies for the extended silence. The new year brought me a nasty cold that took a while to kick. But all is well now.

The Supreme Court seems poised to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. I posted on Twitter that I’m expecting a 6-3 ruling unless Roberts gets a serious case of cold feet. Depending on how SCOTUS rules on the King v. Burwell case, June could be a month of both euphoria and devastation for us progressive Court watchers. I still have hope that the Court won’t stick a knife in the Affordable Care Act, but man, I’m nervous. It may be time to start that weekly delivery of lobster and caviar to Roberts’ chambers.

Dec 312014
 

A few brief thoughts on my year at the cinema:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy was the best popcorn movie of 2014. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about whether Marvel could make a decent movie based on a third-tier comic book title, but they demonstrated that a strong script, stunning visuals, and charismatic actors can elevate the most obscure source material into a blockbuster. It still seems odd to me that we now live in a world where Chris Pratt is an action hero, but odd in a good way.
  • I liked Birdman, but it didn’t leave me enthralled. I could appreciate its technical prowess and it has some genuinely funny moments, mostly thanks to Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. I’m just not sure that’s enough to justify the raves it has received.
  • I still need to see Boyhood. Don’t tell anyone.
  • I wish I could have liked Interstellar more than I did.
  • Best movie that came out of nowhere: The Babadook.
  • My favorite time at the movies this year was seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s fussy movies usually leave me cold, but this story within a story about the final glory days of an Eastern European hotel is probably his best work. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as the hotel’s solicitous manager and the plot concerning a stolen painting is zany while maintaining a dark and melancholy undertone. It’s a movie that rewards repeated viewings because of Anderson’s careful attention to detail and because of the many hilarious moments delivered by the cast. It makes me want to spray myself liberally with some L’air de Panache and take a holiday.
Dec 282014
 

2014 was another stellar year for music and I have the iTunes bill to prove it. I didn’t buy many complete albums, but below are the tracks, artists, and videos that I had on repeat over the past 12 months:

  • Scandinavia continues to produce some of the most interesting and exciting pop music around. Lykke Li made a sweeping vista of heartbreak in “No Rest for the Wicked”. Perennial favorite Robyn and producer duo Röyksopp made a pulsing club track urging us to “Do It Again“. Makthaverskan made an accusation a thing of soaring beauty in “Asleep“. I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or the socialized medicine that’s creating such a vibrant music scene just below the Arctic Circle, but more of this, please.
  • Few artists captivated me this year like fka Twigs. She fuses electronic music and R&B into a sound that is equal parts sexy, dangerous, and arresting. “Two Weeks” is this year’s definitive make-out song and I won’t be surprised if it fuels a slight spike in the birth rate in 2015. The video for “Two Weeks” is also pretty great and should be familiar to anyone who remembers the movie Queen of the Damned.

FKA TWIGS [two weeks] from nabil elderkin on Vimeo.

    • A year ago, almost nobody had heard of Future Islands. And then they appeared on Letterman’s show to perform “Seasons”, a moment that quickly went viral. The song itself is bittersweet and full of yearning, qualities that lead singer Sam Herring captures even while showing off some of the goofiest dance moves ever captured on video. Amidst a wash of New Wave synths, Herring beats his chest as he demands a human connection, something that we can all understand.

    • I can’t stop watching the video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”. And not just for the obvious reasons. She is one of the most fluid rappers working today, aided by a wicked sense of humor and  a subversive agenda that has plenty to say about sexuality, feminism, and being a woman in a male-dominated and frequently misogynistic business. Sure, Minaj is drop-dead gorgeous, but that wouldn’t matter much to me if she wasn’t also immensely talented.

Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda” from > on Vimeo.

 

  • I’ll close with a personal anecdote. I attended my first Rock the Garden festival over the summer and I had the opportunity to meet local sensation Dessa backstage. I’ve long admired her carefully crafted songs and I was thrilled to watch her perform live. She was charming, kind, and generally awesome. Thanks, Dessa!

 

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Dec 232014
 

It’s once again time for me to share my unsolicited opinions on the pop culture that brought a smile to my face over the past year. I’ll start with television, which is fast becoming my preferred medium for complex storytelling.

The sheer quantity of TV worth watching this year left me and my TiVo feeling a little overwhelmed. Personal favorites like Game of Thrones and The Americans continued to be compelling (that GoT episode depicting a particularly cinematic battle on the Wall is better than anything Peter Jackson has done with the entirety of the ill-conceived Hobbit trilogy) while Fargo completely surprised me with a series that outshines the original Coen brothers’ movie in terms of character and plot.

In any other year, True Detective would have been my favorite show of the year. It generously borrows from the literary traditions of noir and Southern Gothic, but the combined talents of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey give heft to the pulpy material. The show establishes a foreboding sense of dread that never lifts (despite the rather pat ending). I’m rewatching the series now and I’m still struck by the quality of the writing and the assured direction.

But this was also the year of The Knick, a show that revitalized the medical drama by sending it into the past. And I loved every blood-soaked minute of it. This show has it all: an impressively mustachioed Clive Owen playing an arrogant surgeon with a cocaine habit, Andre Holland as an African-American surgeon who can barely tolerate the casual and vicious racism surrounding him, gory surgical procedures, shocking violence, forbidden sex, nuanced supporting characters, and a Cliff Martinez electronic score that captures the chaotic dawn of the 20th century in New York City. It wasn’t like anything else on television, an impressive feat given the embarrassment of riches in 2014.

Dec 162014
 

Horror films work best when they reflect the mundane through a looking glass darkly. The Babadook, a finely honed and nerve-wracking movie from Australian director, focuses its looking glass on a hallowed fixture of domestic life: the relationship between mother and child. We meet Amelia (Essie Davis), a young widow who is still grieving the death of her husband several years past. Her grief is made even more excruciating by the circumstances of his death, which I won’t detail here because it’s a crucial plot element. She does her best to care for Samuel (Noah Wiseman), her young and rather high-strung son, but a toxic combination of resentment and loss have placed her on the knife’s edge of a nervous breakdown.

One night, Samuel asks his mother to read to him from a mysterious storybook that he found on his shelf. The book depicts, through a series of pop-up images, a menacing character named Mr. Babadook. Babadook’s likes include top hats, hanging from the ceiling, and driving people to commit murder and suicide.

Amelia quickly decides that this is not appropriate reading material for a 7-year-old, but the damage is already done. Samuel soon begins hearing voices and, in one particularly harrowing scene, has a full-blown meltdown brought on by visions of the Babadook. And then Amelia begins seeing a cloaked figure creep into her bedroom at night. Before long, they are both trapped in their dimly lit home by their own fear and insomnia as the Babadook lurks in the shadows.

For a debut feature, The Babadook is remarkably self-assured. Kent doesn’t introduce any extraneous details or waste time establishing the story. She has created a sleek cinematic engine emitting a disquieting thrum that grows steadily louder. It’s one of the best movies of the year and I’m expecting great things to come from Ms. Kent. The movie is playing in only a handful of theaters, but is readily available on iTunes and Amazon.

Dec 102014
 

MIT professor Andrea Louise Campbell writes an essay for Vox describing how Medicaid forces people with disabilities to live in poverty in order to receive health coverage. She focuses on California’s Medicaid system (Medi-Cal), which she was forced to examine after her sister-in-law became a quadriplegic in an automobile accident. Many of her criticisms of the program, such as the harshness of the income and asset limits, won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Medicaid policy.

In fact, Campbell’s outrage strikes me as naïve for a professor who teaches social welfare policy and her critique carries a worrisome undertone of middle-class entitlement. Disability advocates have long made the argument that Medicaid eligibility criteria traps people with disabilities in poverty, but Campbell only acknowledges this in passing. At one point in her essay, Campbell describes how a relative bought formula for the couple’s newborn baby and she writes, “I wondered what people who don’t have middle-class relatives do in a situation like this.” It’s really not that difficult to imagine the deprivations that people with disabilities without middle-class family members must endure, but Campbell seems shocked that this kind of thing goes on in America.

I get that most Vox readers don’t give much thought to disability policy and the article is meant to illustrate how such policy affects real families. But if Vox plans on exploring this topic further, it might be a good idea to get insights from the actual people with disabilities who live with the consequences of these policies on a daily basis.

 

Dec 062014
 

Over at Vox (my favorite new site of 2014), Sarah Kliff has a great article pointing out the emerging and conflicting narratives of the Affordable Care Act. From a political perspective, the ACA seems like a train wreck. It continues to poll terribly, its backers have made some boneheaded remarks about American voters, and senior Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer are now saying that it was a mistake to pass health care reform. This is not what the story of a successful law should look like.

And yet, the actual policies seem to be working. More Americans have health coverage than ever before. Health care costs are slowing at a remarkable rate. And during the current open enrollment period, over 750,000 individuals have already selected an ACA health plan.

The law continues to offer real benefits for millions of people, but this fact gets lost in the political echo chamber. As for second-guessing Democrats like Schumer, I suggest they take a running leap into a very shallow lake. If Democrats had done a better job of actually explaining how the ACA helps people, the conservative misinformation campaign might have been less successful. They could have also fought harder for a public option plan or, even better, Medicare for all. Instead, they spent an interminable amount of time trying to win conservative support that never materialized.

The ACA is certainly a flawed piece of legislation, but it is ultimately making life better for Americans. Rumors of its demise remain greatly exaggerated.

Dec 022014
 

Stephen Hawking wants to play a villain in a future Bond movie. Of course, you know what this means. This means that I’m kicking off my Official Campaign to Be Stephen Hawking’s Henchman in As-Yet Undetermined James Bond Movie. I would be perfect as the guy who sits behind Hawking and glares menacingly at a bound and gagged Bond while Hawking provides a detailed explanation of his plans to destroy the Earth in a re-creation of the Big Bang. I would be willing to work for scale and call Hawking “Boss” if the script calls for it. I could even provide comic relief after Bond inevitably escapes and a furious Hawking instructs his pet cybernetically-enhanced gorilla to dispatch me.

It’s unlikely that anyone will make a (pretty good) movie about my life, so this may be my best shot at getting my name in IMDB. Anybody know a good agent?