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.

Apr 092018
 

Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1)Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book taught me that a spy’s life consists mostly of:
– traipsing around foreign cities at all hours of the night;
– eating;
– having amazing sex; and
– more eating.

Kidding aside, this is an entertaining and well-crafted spy novel. Dominika Egorova, a Russian intelligence agent who is also also a synesthete (look it up), is a fascinating character and I enjoyed the opportunity to get inside her head. The plot is satisfyingly twisty and the author’s background as a CIA station chief gives an air of authenticity to the tradecraft described in the book, but the sex scenes are straight out of the Middle-Aged White Guy’s Fantasy Generator.

The recipes at the end of each chapter are also a nice touch. I really want to try that caviar torte. Looking forward to eventually finishing the trilogy and checking out the film adaptation.

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Apr 062018
 

Tim Pawlenty’s decision to run for a job that he already held for eight years is baffling. When he left office in 2011, Minnesota’s public finances were a hot mess; a sea of red ink created by years of budgeting gimmicks. He repeatedly cut health care and other supports for the most vulnerable among us. The first shutdown of our state government in modern history happened on his watch. And now he’s asking voters to look back on his tenure with misty-eyed nostalgia and give him another chance to make Minnesota mediocre again.

This isn’t to say that Pawlenty wouldn’t be a formidable candidate. He has the resources and connections necessary to mount a well-financed campaign and he may be able to convince enough Republicans that he’s their best bet for winning a statewide office; something that the Minnesota GOP hasn’t accomplished since 2006. But in an election year that is likely to favor Democrats, will Minnesotans be clamoring for the return of a conservative who has worked as a bank lobbyist for the past several years and who ran a failed presidential campaign that summited the heights of forgettable human endeavor? Perhaps, but after enduring the Trump-lite rhetoric of his first campaign video, I’m not too concerned at the moment.

Mar 312018
 

At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.

During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.

Mar 222018
 

Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor marks the start of the second season of the ridiculous drama that is this administration. The second season promises a much darker tone as the plot careens from one global crisis to another and viewers struggle to keep up with the backstabbing machinations of Trump’s inner circle.

Except that this is real life and innocent people could die because a crazed ideologue will be advising our president on foreign policy. I had harbored hope that we could muddle through the next few years without this president sparking a true catastrophe. That could still happen, but I’m feeling less confident after this evening’s developments.

Mar 142018
 

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my imaginary rivalry with Stephen Hawking. We never did get that opportunity to face each other in a cage match aboard the International Space Station (even though my victory was always a foregone conclusion). But I digress. I was truly sorry to learn of his passing yesterday. Not only did he make scientific contributions that will be remembered for decades, but he demonstrated to the world that it’s possible to live a rich, full life with a significant disability. Not all of us will get to be world-class physicists or appear on an episode of Star Trek, but perhaps some kid with a disability will learn about Hawking and realize that her dreams of being a writer or programmer or whatever aren’t so far-fetched after all. Even better, perhaps future kids with disabilities will wonder why their grandparents made such a big deal over Hawking’s wheelchair and speech synthesizer when his mind and sense of humor were his most defining characteristics.

Godspeed, Professor. Eternity beckons.

Mar 112018
 

I was excited to see what kind of vision director Ava DuVernay would bring to Disney’s adaptation of the classic children’s book. but the results are middling at best. Too much of the movie is wasted on the characters reciting New Age pabulum while not enough attention is given to the book’s exploration of the dangers of conformity. The acting and visuals are fine; kids and tweens will probably enjoy what Disney offers here. There just isn’t much to keep adult audiences interested, which is unfortunate.

Mar 062018
 

Another top adviser for the Trump administration, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation. His departure may be connected to Trump’s impulsive decision last week to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The turnover rate in the White House, which now includes moderates like Cohn, raises important questions about the quality of the advice that Trump receives from the remaining members of his inner circle. Will Stephen Miller become even more empowered to push his agenda of white grievance and isolationism? Will Trump appoint some brown-nosing intern to advise him on trade policy? Do we really have a president or just a useful idiot for whomever happens to be whispering in his ear?

Chaos is enveloping this administration despite a decent economy and a relatively calm global scene. If a crisis occurs and the only people left to advise the president are cranks and incompetents, we shouldn’t be surprised if things quickly spiral out of control.