wintermute2_0

Sep 112019
 

I had the good fortune to attend last night’s Massive Attack concert at the Palace Theater in downtown St. Paul. The group performed most of the tracks from its landmark 1998 album Mezzanine, which I played incessantly back in those days. I had doubts about whether Mezzanine‘s dystopian soundscapes could be reproduced in a live setting, but the band nailed every song.

I could have done with a bit less of the strobing lights and video montage that accompanied the performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people in the audience suffered seizures as a result of the light show. The video featured a lot of footage from the 90s depicting the rise of the Internet and celebrity culture, as well as more disturbing scenes from the Gulf Wars. I get the intended message–our current fucked-up state of affairs had its origins in seemingly simpler times. That message was diminished by the video’s self-indulgence.

Minor criticisms aside, this was a memorable concert. Horace Andy delivered a spooky yet beautiful rendition of “Angel.” And I won’t soon forget watching Liz Fraser (formerly of the Cocteau Twins) perform “Teardrop” on a stage of shadow and light. Check it out:

Sep 082019
 
The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Set in an alternate history where a massive asteroid hits America’s East Coast in 1952, the book follows one woman who dreams of becoming an astronaut as efforts to colonize space begin in earnest. The rampant racism and sexism of that era is an integral part of the story, giving the book a degree of authenticity that elevates it above a simple what-if tale. Kowal delivers the story in tightly paced chapters that still give her complex characters room to breathe. It’s little wonder that the book won this year’s Hugo for best novel.



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Sep 022019
 

Andrew Solomon (whose book Far from the Tree is on my ever-growing reading list) has an excellent essay on how those of us with disabilities see ourselves and how others see us. I particularly like this passage.

“Independence is not so brave a value as we often insist, and it is also almost impossible; we live in a collective fabric, all our lives entwined with the lives of others. Human beings are social animals. Disabled people are often dependent on other people, and in our lionization of self-sufficiency, we see that as a weakness. But dependency has its own particular poetry. It is a fundamental aspect of intimacy, a defining quality of love.”

Even after 46 years of living with a disability, I still have moments where I feel self-conscious about my dependence on others to simply live my life. Even though I’m employed and have achieved some degree of economic independence, that does not change the fact that I will always need assistance to scratch my nose or use the bathroom. I appreciate this reminder that dependence is a feature, not a bug, of being human.

Solomon’s message that we all depend on each other is especially vital at a time when the gang of assholes that is our current government is busy punishing immigrants who dare to seek some public assistance to improve their lives. This administration is doing everything in its power to bring eugenics back in style and it disturbs me to no end.

And yes, I’m blogging again. Feel free to take wagers on whether I can keep this up for more than a week or two.

Dec 312018
 

Aside from a few health issues, 2018 treated me relatively well. The news cycle seemed endless and 2019 will probably be more of the same, but pop culture always provides me with an escape. Here are the books, TV, movies, and music that sustained me over the past year.

Movies

  • BlackĀ PantherĀ 
  • A Quiet Place
  • Leave No Trace
  • Hereditary
  • First Reformed
  • Hostiles
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

TV

  • The Americans
  • The Terror
  • The Haunting of Hill House
  • The Good Place
  • Killing Eve
  • Barry
  • Better Call Saul

Books

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Music

  • Honey by Robyn
  • Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae
  • Time ‘n’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito
  • Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington

I hope 2019 brings you good things. Have a safe and happy New Year!

Nov 232018
 

Ugh, so much for getting back on a regular blogging schedule. I came down with a nasty infection over the summer, followed by a flurry of less severe but still annoying health issues. I began to worry that I was approaching my expiration date and I withdrew into myself for a time. But thanks to excellent care from my doctors and team of nurses, I slowly recovered and now I’m pretty much back to normal. I now have to take a medication for high blood pressure, but that seems like a small price to pay in order to remain on this mortal coil for a while longer.

Anyway, I’ll try to do a better job of being more consistent with my blogging going forward. Here are a few random thoughts that I’ve been meaning to share:

  • The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best TV shows that I’ve seen this year. It’s a visually sumptuous story that finds horror in both the supernatural and in the dynamics of a broken family.
  • Minnesota Democrats performed even better than I thought they would in the midterm elections. They would have complete control of state government but for the fact that the Senate was not up for re-election (except for one seat). I’m hopeful for progress on initiatives that will make health care more affordable and accessible to those who have fallen through the gaps of the ACA marketplace. MinnesotaCare for all, perhaps?
  • The Packers are not a good team this year. Injuries seem to plague the Packers every year, but I’m beginning to wonder whether a change in coaching might be in order. For too long, the team has relied on a strategy of giving the ball to Aaron Rodgers and hoping for the best. But that strategy depends on a deep pool of talent in the receiver corps, which they don’t have right now.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And thanks for reading.

Nov 232018
 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t typically read business books, but the fall of Theranos is a story that intrigues me because so many smart people failed to ask the questions that could have exposed the company as a complete fraud before it became a darling of Silicon Valley. Carreyrou provides a fascinating account of the fear and paranoia that permeated the culture of Theranos even in its earliest days. Elizabeth Holmes may not know much about chemistry or engineering, but she excelled at creating a cult of personality that borrows heavily from the autocrat’s playbook; something that Carreyrou emphasizes repeatedly throughout this extensively detailed book based on his own reporting for the Wall Street Journal.

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May 172018
 

For decades, people with disabilities who wanted to play video games (especially on consoles) had to improvise their own accessibility solutions. Perhaps a relative could help you modify a controller or maybe you could find a custom-built device on the Internet that would meet your needs. But these solutions tended to be expensive, finicky, and completely lacking in technical support. Console manufacturers simply didn’t recognize that they had customers with disabilities who wanted to play their games. That may be changing, though. This fall, Microsoft will release the Xbox Adaptive Controller, the first Xbox accessory that is specifically targeted at gamers with mobility impairments. The base unit (which will sell for $100) includes oversized buttons as well as 19 (!) ports for adaptive switches of various types. Here’s a video providing a closer look at the XAC:

While I don’t play on consoles (I’m a PC gamer from way back), it’s so exciting to see a major corporation recognize that people with disabilities can enjoy gaming if they are provided with flexible hardware and software. I hope that other companies take note and make a concerted effort to be more inclusive of gamers with all types of disabilities. Over the years, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of games include options to improve accessibility in the software, but accessible hardware has always been difficult to find. The XAC could represent a genuine shift in how corporations perceive both their relationship with and responsibility to customers with disabilities. A decade ago, a mass-marketed and relatively affordable accessibility device would be unthinkable. A decade from now, I hope devices like the XAC are commonplace.

May 062018
 

The Star Tribune reports on young people with disabilities who are forced to live in nursing homes because of a dire shortage of home care workers across the state. Medical Assistance (the Medicaid program that funds most long-term care for Minnesotans with disabilities) pays only $12-$13 per hour for personal care assistants, which is simply not enough to attract people to a demanding profession with variable hours. The most obvious solution would be to increase the pay of these workers and disability advocates are working hard to convince the Legislature to do just that. The legislative session ends in a couple weeks, so if you’re in Minnesota, please consider calling your state legislators to ask them to support a pay increase for PCAs so that people with disabilities aren’t forced into lives of isolation.

Plenty of people with disabilities (including me) live with the nagging fear that we could end up in an institution because of a lack of adequate staffing. I’m fortunate to have a devoted team of nurses caring for me, but it would only take the sudden loss of a couple nurses for me to face the imminent possibility of life in a facility. Articles like this remind me both of how lucky I am to live at home and that my independence hangs by a tenuous thread. I’m also regretting that I read some of the nasty, dismissive comments that accompanied the article–Ayn Rand has no shortage of acolytes around here. I remain hopeful that lawmakers will recognize that they must act to preserve Minnesota’s position as a leader in supporting people with disabilities, but we need to make some noise to ensure this happens.

Apr 292018
 

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant novel that employs devices of magical realism to chart one woman’s treacherous odyssey as an escaped slave from antebellum Georgia. Cora’s journey (facilitated by a literal underground railroad) is an exploration of American white supremacy in all of its forms, from paternalistic condescension to systematic genocide. Through Cora, we witness how the institution of slavery poisons everything that it touches, including the ideals on which the nation was founded. The book also challenges the reader to ask whether anyone can ever truly escape slavery.

This is not a comforting book, but it makes for compulsive reading. I tore through most of it in a weekend. I’ll be sure to add Whitehead’s other books to my ever-growing “to read” pile.

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Apr 282018
 

I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the Marvel movies since Iron Man arrived in 2008. This is the first one that really captures the epic scope and high stakes of a comic book event. The story spans the galaxy, which gives most of the characters an opportunity to shine without making the film seem crowded (which was a problem with the previous Avengers films). I do wish we had seen a little more of characters like Black Widow and Shuri–here’s hoping they get more attention in the concluding chapter.

Thanos and his lackeys are appropriately menacing, but the movie also gives Thanos a surprising degree of pathos. His actions are horrific, yet not without context. He’s probably one of the more interesting villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The visuals, particularly those set in space, are gorgeous and contribute to the epic tone. But even as the universe is burning around them, the cast cracks wise and poke fun at each other. The Marvel movies have perfected the art of the light touch in comic book movies; something that other studios still can’t seem to emulate.

The quiet yet apocalyptic ending is sure to spark petabytes of debate on Reddit. I thought it worked well; it sets the stage for some big changes to the franchise while keeping the exact nature of those changes unclear.

In conclusion: a vastly entertaining movie that will stand up to repeated viewings. Infinity War is a brilliant capstone to the past ten years of Disney’s world-building and I look forward to seeing what comes next.