Oct 072014

The Supreme Court doesn’t allow itself many progressive moments. And even when those moments arrive, the Court likes to be coy about it, presumably to give Scalia the opportunity to have a tantrum in private. Yesterday’s decision to let stand various appellate decisions striking down same-sex marriage bans is not the end of the struggle for marriage equality, but it perhaps marks the beginning of the final chapter. A lower court could still uphold such a ban, forcing the Court to issue an actual opinion on the matter. But it seems nearly inconceivable that the Court would uphold such a ban after yesterday’s news. The unconstitutional nature of these bans is now a settled matter.

The Court is likely to continue dismantling the Voting Rights Act, so we should try to appreciate these rare instances when the Court shows that it is still capable of demonstrating good sense.

Sep 302014

As the midterm election cycle draws to a merciful conclusion, it looks like the Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the Senate. It’s still possible that Democrats–who are pouring money into get-out-the-vote efforts in states like Iowa and Colorado—could eke out a couple victories, but it’s difficult to ignore the gradual alignment of the various election prediction models pointing to a Republican-controlled Senate. At this point, neither result would surprise me.

A Republican Senate probably won’t change the political status quo much. Even if the Democrats retain control, it’s unlikely that any major legislation will pass in the next two years. Life could become more difficult for Obama’s judicial nominees and we might have to suffer another government shutdown, but America will muddle and bumble through as it always does.

That last statement isn’t meant to be reassuring. I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of our capacity to muster the political will to make life better for ourselves and our fellow citizens. Perhaps my optimism will return in 2016, despite Hillary Clinton’s concerted efforts to become the first robot to serve as President.

Sep 202014

No, I won’t be upgrading to an iPhone 6. My 5S is still more than adequate for my relatively basic phone needs and I have absolutely no interest in the gargantuan 6 Plus. I suspect that my 5S could serve me for another couple years until the iPhone 7 implantable chip is released, but I’ll probably upgrade next year to ensure a decent resale value for my current phone.

I did upgrade my iStuff to iOS 8, which seems to have screwed up the Switch Control functionality to a degree. I can no longer “flick” through pages, which makes it a little more difficult to scroll through articles and the like. Hopefully, Apple will respond to my pleas to crush this particular bug. On the positive side, I do like the ability to answer phone calls on my iPad (and, beginning in October, texts from non-iStuff users). I would gladly pay Apple a healthy fee to bring this capability to my PC, but that is about as likely as me purchasing an iWatch.

Sep 152014

Kanye West really doesn’t like it when people remain seated during his concerts. He is of the opinion that one must be standing to experience the full effect of the magic he is weaving onstage. If you don’t heed Kanye’s bidding to stand, you will suffer the consequences. Those consequences may include rendering Kanye unable to perform because he’s too busy cajoling you to stand up. Whether you have a legitimate reason for not standing is something that only Kanye is qualified to judge. Be prepared to present your “handicap pass” to Kanye for a thorough inspection. A follow-up interview with one of Kanye’s security personnel may be required to fully resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

Kanye only wants to lay down some truly mind-fucking beats for you. But he can’t do that if you’re just going to sit there like a jerk.

Sep 102014

The National Federation for the Blind is suing ride-sharing service Uber for discriminating against customers with disabilities. Several individuals allege that Uber drivers have refused to serve customers with service animals or have forced service animals to ride in the trunk. This seems like a pretty clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities, although Uber is trying to claim that it isn’t responsible for the actions of independent contractors. This lawsuit also raises some interesting questions about the “sharing economy” and its capacity to accommodate customers with disabilities. People with disabilities should be able to fully participate in this economy, but how do we ensure that private citizens–who are not employees-understand their obligations to provide reasonable accommodations?

Sep 042014

I’m expecting good things from the Packers this year; perhaps even a trip beyond the divisional playoffs. The defense is likely to remain their weak spot, but an efficient and multi-dimensional offense should more than compensate. I’m still trying to decide whether to splurge on the streaming Sunday Ticket package so that I can watch every Packers game. Perhaps I’ll climb off the fence after seeing how they perform tonight.

Sep 032014

It should surprise absolutely nobody that I was a hardcore fan of The X-Files back in the day. How hardcore? I missed an episode during the second season and I pleaded on an X-Files message board for someone to send me a tape of the show. A kindred soul actually sent me a tape, which was no small achievement in the early days of the commercial Internet. But aside from message boards and newsgroups, I didn’t have many opportunities to discuss the show with other fans.

If only Kumail Nanjiani’s new The X-Files Files podcast had existed in the heyday of my own fandom. Nanjiani is a very funny comedian and actor who is even more of hardcore fan than me. The conceit of the podcast is pretty simple: Nanjiani and a guest discuss a select episode or two of the show. The discussions can be freewheeling, but they are rooted in Nanjiani’s deep love of The X-Files. It’s a great way to revisit the show or get introduced to it. I’ve been watching episodes from the first season so that I can follow along with the podcast and it’s fun to see how quickly the show finds its tone. Although it doesn’t get mentioned much today, The X-Files blazed a trail for today’s complex TV dramas.

Let’s just not discuss the travesty that the final three seasons.

Sep 022014

The ALS ice bucket challenge has dominated social media for the last few weeks and has raised tens of millions of dollars for ALS research. Countless more people have now at least heard of ALS and have a basic understanding of the disease’s effects on those who have it. This is all good news, right?

Maybe. Slate points out that the ALS Association is no closer to finding a treatment or cure after decades of research and it’s unlikely that a sudden influx of money will change that. And while ALS is a potentially fatal disease, it affects relatively few people. Does it make sense to throw $100 million (according to some estimates) at a single and rare medical condition? Would that $100 million have otherwise been spent on other charities that are more likely to achieve immediate results with the money (like feeding the hungry or developing new sources of clean water for poor communities)?

I won’t be giving money to the ALS Association. To be clear, I also don’t give money to charities related to spinal muscular atrophy (my disability). Medical research is a decades-long process that isn’t going to yield results any faster because of my $100 dollar contribution. I certainly don’t begrudge the ALS Association for its sudden windfall and I hope it puts the money to good use, but there must be a better way to fund and coordinate research in “orphan” genetic diseases that otherwise attract little attention from the private sector. It would be great if the ice bucket challenge kicked off a more thoughtful conversation about that very topic. Unfortunately, thoughtful debate isn’t a strength of social media. What’s more likely is that donations to the ALS Association will fall off a cliff before long and the long-term benefits of the ice bucket challenge will be ambiguous at best.

Aug 292014

While I still play video games and enjoy them a great deal, I don’t consider myself steeped in “gamer” culture. I peruse gaming websites to learn about what’s new and what’s good, but I don’t have strong opinions on the latest World of Warcraft expansion or the merits of playing as a Monk versus a Barbarian in Diablo III. Gamer culture seems to require a certain amount of obsessive attention to detail that—if I ever possessed it—has faded away in my dotage. Gamer culture also has a tendency to become mired in bro-centric toxicity; a tendency that became depressingly obvious this week when feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the latest YouTube video in her Tropes vs. Women series.

Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women series examines how video games portray women as ornamental objects, damsels in distress, and other stereotypical gender roles. The series has been ongoing for a couple years and Sarkeesian offers compelling evidence of persistent misogyny in games. Here’s the latest video, which is worth watching if you have any interest in games or feminist theory:

Sarkeesian’s critiques have provoked the kinds of responses you might expect from gamer bros: plenty of vitriol sprinkled liberally with rape and death threats. Sarkeesian had to leave her home this week after receiving specific death threats directed against her and her parents.

Gamer culture, like a lot of subcultures that flourish on the Internet, can be insular and exclusionary. That may partially explain the ferocity of the attacks; gaming has long been seen as a fringe activity that hasn’t received the same kind of critical analysis that is applied to film, books, and other media. But gaming is now a mainstream activity that has gained ample visibility in our culture. With the spread of mobile devices, nearly everyone has some contact with games. Why shouldn’t games be the subject of criticism? And not the kind of criticism that determines whether a game is fun to play, but the kind of criticism that examines games as a reflection of our values and mores. In other words, the kind of criticism that adults debate and discuss.

Unfortunately, some gamers don’t have much patience for critical theory. They perceive criticism as a trespass on their dominion and worthy of vicious retribution, particularly when the source of that criticism is a woman. They don’t want to see their favorite pastime grow up, which is exactly what will happen because of the efforts of Sarkeesian and other smart people. The attacks on her will certainly continue and they will be as ugly and brutal as ever, but they will eventually be seen as the death throes of a particularly toxic subculture that deserves no memorial.


Aug 282014

Earlier this summer, my mom made some worried comments about the violence in Ukraine. I told her that things would calm down soon because Putin would realize that further intervention wasn’t worth the risk of tougher sanctions. Silly me. Putin has been far craftier with his Ukrainian strategy, engaging in a kind of slow-motion invasion that has has sown confusion and hesitancy among Western leaders. I still doubt that a shooting war will erupt between NATO and Russia, but tensions could easily escalate if either side misread’s the other’s intentions.

World affairs have been something of a horror show this summer and it would be nice if the human race could spend the rest of the year not bearing witness to a slowly unfolding global crisis.