Feb 062015
 

My new voicemail greeting is cooler than yours.

I gave money to LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow Kickstarter last summer and received a personalized voicemail greeting as a reward. This is likely going to confuse telemarketers and my parents, but I don’t care because OMG LEVAR BURTON FROM STAR TREK IS SAYING MY NAME!!!!!

Now, how much cash do I have to shell out for Gillian Anderson to have dinner with me?

Feb 042015
 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler formally announced strong net neutrality regulations that would allow the FCC to regulate broadband providers as a public utilities. This move was widely expected, but it still reflects a major shift in the politics of net neutrality. A year ago, it was almost inconceivable that the FCC chairman, a former telecom lobbyist, would propose such a sweeping reclassification of broadband services. Net neutrality advocates did a masterful job of mobilizing public opinion to such an extent that the FCC had no other viable course of action.

The new rules don’t go as far as some would like. Broadband providers will not be required to lease their infrastructure to other companies interested in providing broadband service, which would do a great deal to increase competition and lower prices. However, the rules will require providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. I’ve noticed recently that Comcast has been throttling certain sites that I visit (such as digital comics seller Comixology), so these rules are certainly needed. The Internet has become too vital to daily life to allow telecom companies to continue operating in a completely unregulated environment.

Feb 032015
 

I tend to think of anti-vaxxers as highly educated liberal white people, so I’m a little surprised to see GOP presidential hopefuls pander to that crowd. But I also get that opposition to vaccines can be symptomatic of a deeper suspicion of government and/or science, characteristics that are deeply embedded into the DNA of the modern conservative. I’m just not sure that efforts to appeal to the relatively small number of people opposed to vaccines are worth the risk of being perceived as a kook by the rest of the electorate.

And yes, opposition to vaccines is decidedly kooky. Given the absolute lack of evidence showing that vaccines are harmful, along with the recent evidence that the decision not to vaccinate does  harm others, it’s difficult to understand how intelligent people can continue to hold such irrational beliefs. Of course, I often ask a similar question regarding people who are religious, which implies that I simply don’t under beliefs rooted in faith and nothing else.

Jan 282015
 

I’m spending a good portion of today exiled from my condo without my wheelchair. The reason: bedbugs! My cleaning guy found a few last week and an exterminator confirmed that I have an infestation. The treatment requires that my place be heated to a high temperature, including my wheelchair. So I’m camping out in my buiiding’s party room while I wait for the all-clear. Even worse, there’s no wi-fi here (I scheduled this post to go up today after writing it last night). I may be wasting away from boredom even as you read this.

My building has had previous bedbug infestations and I suspect that a few stragglers sought refuge in my unit. Unfortunately for them, amnesty will not be granted. This experience has also taught me that exterminators probably make a quite decent living.

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.