Monday, August 21, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Beyond The Wall

Some important things happened in this episode, the penultimate. Traditionally the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has been when some "Holy F***" moments took place. That happened I guess but it felt to me somewhat anti-climatic. The story took a few more steps towards the end game. On some of these events I hope that Martin has planned things differently for his books, but at this point who can say. The showrunners may or may not be faithful to whatever Martin's intentions are. But there were too many scenes and turn of events that felt either rushed or cliched. More on that later. As we discussed last week I thought that sending your best men north of the Wall to capture a wight and bring it back to King's Landing to convince a paranoid psychopath that she should work with you was a really really really stupid idea. That was referenced in the episode both by the results of this plan and by Tormund's repeated in-universe insistence that it was a really stupid idea. I was a little irritated both at how stupid the idea was and at the violence to the storyline that said stupid idea required. This episode was a little heavier on action if you are into that sort of thing. Most of the named characters got to have their particular moment of awesome. There were just three or four locations important to this episode: Dragonstone, Winterfell, and Eastwatch/Beyond the Wall. So rather than recap chronologically I'll do it by location.

Winterfell

Sansa and Arya are on the balcony overlooking the Winterfell courtyard. They share memories of their father watching them and everyone else from the spot where they now stand. Arya details how she came outside after Bran's archery practice and even though she wasn't supposed to do such unladylike activities as archery, practiced until she could finally hit the bulls eye. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie Reviews: The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower
directed by Nikolaj Arcel
This film is based on Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. It takes bits and pieces from multiple books in that series. King has alternately described the series as his magnum opus and stated that sequels to many of his other works can be found within. I haven't finished this book series though it is one of my sister's favorites. King has placed references to and explanations of this series in many of his other novels. This series, or at least the books I've read, combines King's gifts for both High and Low art. In fact you could even say that it blows away those arbitrary distinctions. It's pretty complex stuff with dense plot, conflicted damaged characters who don't necessarily fall into neat boxes of good or evil, detailed universe building and intricate mythologies with lots of back story. As with the Gormenghast or A Song of Ice and Fire works, some people thought that The Dark Tower series was essentially impossible to adapt to the screen. Almost by definition someone working in the visual arts would be unable to translate the soul of King's words to the big screen.

I haven't completed The Dark Tower series so I had no fixed idea in my head about how the film should look. I had no fierce feeling about which characters should be included or dropped or how they should look or act, with the exception of the primary good and bad guys, Roland and Walter O'Dim. Probably if I had read all of the books I would have much stronger ideas on this. But for me ignorance was bliss. Or at least it could have been. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Monuments of White Supremacy

According to President Trump:

"Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So, this week, it's Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, 'where does it stop?' . . . George Washington was a slave owner. Are we gonna take down statues of George Washington? . . .  You're changing history.  You're changing culture."  

Nobody is "changing" history by removing these statues, because, quite frankly, these statues should have never been put up in the first place.  Yes, George Washington owned slaves, as did Jefferson. Our country was built by slaves. It's a fact we cannot escape no matter how badly we may want to. But there's an historically significant difference between two former Presidents of the United States and two Confederate generals who led a failed rebellion against the United States.   

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville

An umbrella grouping of right wingers, including but not limited to college Republicans, neo-Nazis, Alt-Right supporters, neo-Confederates, white nationalists, and others descended on the University of Virginia campus at Charlottesville over the weekend to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, military leader of the most violent rebellion in U.S. history, and proud slave owner and white nationalist. This was part of their Unite the Right program, which as you might imagine is designed to rebuild the Right into more of a pure expression of white nationalism and separatism. Some would probably argue that the Right doesn't have too far to go in that regard anyway. Shouting such catchy slogans as "White Lives Matter" and "Jew will not replace us" along with all of the normal racist and anti-Semitic slurs which are common for them, the white nationalists scuffled with police. But of course the police were not the true target of their hatred.

The white nationalists had come ready for a fight, or had rather come ready to hurt people since almost none of them appeared interested in a fair fight. They assaulted counterprotesters of all colors with bats, sticks, fists, and poles, apparently particularly the black ones of course. In a move that was grabbed from the ISIS playbook one of the terrorists, James Alex Fields, also deliberately drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, wounding several and killing one Heather Heyer. Despite all of this violence coming from the right, President Trump could not and did not manage to specifically condemn the white supremacist violence. He only mumbled something about condemning the bigotry coming from all sides. 

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Eastwatch

Ok we're back. And in a development that should surprise absolutely no one both Bronn and Jaime are still alive. Bronn pulls Jaime out of the lake. Perhaps because he's a knight now or perhaps because he just has gotten comfortable with Jaime, Bronn has no qualms about calling Jaime's move of trying to charge Daenerys while she was protected by her dragon as the incredibly dumb move that it was. Bronn dismisses Jaime's feeble explanation of trying to end the war in one fell swoop. Bronn states that this is no developing bromance or heterosexual life partnership. He still thinks that Jaime owes him. So therefore until Bronn gets everything that's coming to him, he's not going to let anything or anyone kill Jaime. In what feels like some ham-fisted exposition the two men point out that Daenerys did what she did to their army with just one dragon. And they couldn't do anything to stop her. What happens when she wants to use all three? Jaime says he must warn Cersei.

Tyrion walks the battlefield, which is still smoldering from the dragonfire. For someone who had no qualms using wildfire against Stannis' forces in the Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion seems both shocked and saddened by the sheer destructive power of dragonfire. Of course it was mostly Lannister troops doing the dying this time so that might add something to his perspective.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

President Trump. Kim Jong Un, North Korea and Nuclear War

As you may have noticed President Trump and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un have been trading insults and threats over the past few weeks about just how bad they're going to curb stomp the other country. Kim has made threats to attack Guam while Trump has said that any North Korean bad behavior will be met by fire and fury the likes of which the world hasn't seen. Trump says that the US military is locked, loaded and ready to go. Many people, both intelligent and not, attacked Trump's statements as unpresidential. They were. But at the same time if someone is threatening your country you're probably going to threaten them back. There tends to be an expectation among some experts that whatever Trump says will be wrong. That's usually a pretty good expectation. But in the case of the North Korean regime there has been a decades long bipartisan failure to prevent what the U.S. sees as bad behavior by North Korea. North Korea has nukes. North Korea isn't giving up its nukes. North Korea has been continuing to test missiles. Those missiles have been getting better and better. This is simply not a problem that Trump created though he is certainly capable of making things worse.

There may have been, sixty years ago, a small window to settle the North Korean question militarily on terms favorable to the United States, as Douglas MacArthur would have told you (and did tell other people), but in the current day with a nuclear armed Russia and China, that window has likely closed.

Michigan Apples

Depending on which survey you happen to believe Michigan is consistently the state with the second or third largest crop of apples each year. The crop is coming soon. I like apples but even more than apples I like what apples portend: cooler weather, women in sweaters, football and fall. Those all kind of go together in my head. Apples also mean that there will be lots of apple pies, apple fritters, apple sauces and all sorts of other treats derived from that fruit. There are thousands of different kinds of apples. They don't all exist in Michigan but there are enough different Michigan varieties to keep a fan of this fruit well satisfied for the next three months as fall arrives, with its lower temperatures and overcast skies. Apple lovers won't have to wait much longer to sink their teeth into their favorite fruit: This year's Michigan apple harvest is ahead of schedule, with certain varieties' predicted peak harvest dates falling anywhere from a few days to an entire week ahead of normal. 

According to Michigan State University Extension, data collected from around the state suggests the apple harvest will be significantly early for certain varieties in some parts of Michigan, but that the cropload will be 65 percent of normal due to frost damage earlier in the year.  "As always, the weather seems to be unusual each year and 2017 was no different," MSU Extension posted in an article predicting apple harvest dates late last month. 


MacIntosh apples, for example, are 10 to 11 days ahead of normal in some parts of the state, and, in general, a few days ahead of the 2016 harvest. Meanwhile, peak harvest for Red Delicious apples is predicted to range from one to eight days ahead of normal, depending on what region they are in.

LINK

Movie Reviews: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
directed by Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson may hold ugly opinions or beliefs that you don't like. He may occasionally make even uglier statements when he is drunk or upset. But since I don't know the man personally that doesn't impact my enjoyment of his film work. Maybe I would feel differently if I was the real life target of one of his volcanic bigoted tirades. But I haven't been. Sometimes people who have great skills aren't necessarily very nice people. Sometimes very nice people are utterly incompetent artists. It's just the way it is. This is a roundabout way of saying that I think this film serves as Gibson's re-entry into Hollywood royalty. It has A- list stars, excellent cinematography and impressive writing/storytelling. It helps that this is based on a true story, something of a tearjerker. Gibson pulls out all the stops to wring every bit of emotion out of the viewer. I think it works. He also brings his penchant for blood and martyrdom to the forefront but as this is a war movie, that makes sense. This is not a war movie like the old 50s and 60s war movies where someone would get hit and fall down. 

Maybe in the late 60s or 70s we'd see a splash of red. Gibson made other choices for this movie. This is a post-Saving Private Ryan war movie. Gibson does his best, and his best is pretty damn good, to bring across the horror, carnage and randomness of war.  There is the danger of become too inured to such graphic violence but of course no matter how horrible these images are they are nothing compared to the reality of war. I don't think that you can watch this film and come away thinking that war is anything less than an obscenity to be avoided at almost any cost.

Michigan Trump Supporter, Foreigners and Housing Discrimination

The libertarian or traditionalist conservative would say that this is a white man's country that a man ought to have the right to do as he pleases with his own property. Although that is indeed an important value there are other values and goals which society has decided are equally important or even more important than the right to control your own property in every aspect. One of those values is anti-discrimination. 

There are limits on how the state or even private entities can treat you based on immutable characteristics such as your race, age, sex, nationality and occasionally even religion or sexuality or sexual identity. The law has been trending that way for at least the past seventy years or so. Why? Because there are unfortunately a lot of people who, given half a chance, would indeed discriminate against their fellow Americans or others based on some or all of the traits I just mentioned. One such man is Iraq war vet and former shady used car dealer, James Prater, a Mason, Michigan resident who has decided to put his house up for sale. There's just one caveat. Mr. Prater doesn't want to sell to anyone who is not a true blue American. Apparently he has a special dislike for people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. But rather than leave it up to the individual to figure out if they were sufficiently non-Middle Eastern/South Asian Prater decided to make it easy for everyone by stating "No foreigners". Nice and simple.


Book Reviews: Someone is Bleeding

Someone is Bleeding
by Richard Matheson
This is Richard Matheson's earliest story. It is very different from his sci-fi or horror work. It's a short story that I read in the "Noir" collection. I'm not sure if this was ever an American film but it's something that screams out to be made into a movie. The characters aren't super strong but there is a constant feeling that something isn't quite right. I guess you could call this American noir writing. Though the story is only 154 pages Matheson takes his sweet time developing the plot and themes. He spends a lot of time on description and dialogue. He doesn't explain every little thing. Although the story takes place in sunny California a lot of the action takes place at night. Given some of the dark deeds and aberrant sexuality this contrast between light and darkness works. There's a very strong Chinatown vibe to this story, if that comparison works for you. This story is the spiritual Godfather to works such as Chinatown and Blue Velvet. A psychologically and/or morally damaged hero risks it all to save a strange beautiful woman who may not be worth the effort. In post WW2 California a veteran, journalism grad and writer named David Newton is taking in the sun on the beach when he meets a remarkably curvy blonde woman named Peggy Ann Lister. Well David is not the sort of fellow to let good things get away from him if he can help it. Despite the fact that Peggy initially seems only marginally interested in David, David holds up his side of the conversation well enough to pique what seems to be something close to attraction in Peggy.

It's hard to tell what Peggy really thinks though because for reasons which don't need to be disclosed here Peggy has a profound distrust of the entire male gender. And once she knows David a little better she's not averse to telling him that even he is not really within her circle of trust. David flips back and forth between wanting to tell Peggy off and storm away from her and persist to break through her defenses to show her that he is that one in a million good guy who will never hurt her or make her do anything she doesn't want to do.

EMU Football Poster

Sometimes ideas are better in the concept phase then they are in the execution and delivery phase. It happens. No big deal. You can't necessarily figure out ahead of time how everyone will react and respond to your idea, particularly if you are trying to sell something. Everyone has different initial reactions to ideas and visual displays. If you are a member of the Eastern Michigan Hurons football team posing for a poster touting your upcoming fall schedule you probably want to channel the pride and fury of such former EMU (and NFL) football players such as John Banaszak, Charlie Batch, Vashone Adams, T.J. Lang,  and Darius Jackson among others. You want to impress and excite with your passion and strength. You want to get everyone fired up for the season! You want people to come see you do your thing on the field as you layeth the smackdown on your opponents.
Well.

Trans Community, Consent and Scapegoating

Recently a comedian named Lil Duval appeared on a radio show and made a clearly hyberbolic/comedic threat of violence against any transperson who tricked him into sex/intimacy. There was an immediate backlash from some members of the trans community as well as from some liberal people who often appear to have a stick up their behind concerning heterosexuality, which they never tire of labeling as hegemonic or toxic or problematic or any of the other popular academic circle insults. I wouldn't really care at all about what amounts to a catfight but for the fact that both NBC news and the New York Times seized this opportunity to insult the black community, or to be precise, black heterosexual men, as violence prone, hypermasculine, and backwards when it comes to trans issues.

NBC, the New York Times and a fair number of people yelling at Lil Duval used black brute stereotypes straight from Birth of A Nation. They just repurposed them for a liberal agenda.
But when DJ Envy asked Lil Duval what he would do if a woman he had sex with later said she was transgender, he responded, “This might sound messed up and I don’t care: She dying.” The hosts quickly told him that killing a transgender person was a hate crime and that he could not do that. But Lil Duval continued to make jokes and said it was about manipulation and taking away his choice. Charlamagne Tha God, the show’s most popular host, agreed with that point, saying that by not disclosing she is transgender, a woman is “taking away a person’s power of choice,” and he added that “you should go to jail or something.” In a statement to The New York Times released through his publicist on Saturday, Charlamagne Tha God denounced all prejudice and hate crimes, emphasizing that he wholeheartedly believed that violence against transgender people was wrong. 
“Nobody should be killed just for existing,” he said. What needed to be discussed further, he added, was whether transgender people should disclose their gender identities to sexual partners. “To me, anytime you take away someone’s power of choice, it’s criminal,” he said. “Let me decide for myself if this is what I want. But if a trans person doesn’t disclose until after sexual acts have occurred, they shouldn’t be killed for it.”

Monday, August 7, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Spoils of War

Well that was pretty good. Or as my brother said, this show should win awards for this episode alone if nothing else. It was a little higher on action than normal, but the story also moved forward with the "talky" portions. There were few wasted words in this episode. There were a number of reunions. The Lannisters (and evidently some remains of the Bolton forces) are marching to King's Landing from Highgarden, having looted it. Jaime's intention is to use the booty to pay off the Lannister debt to the Iron Bank. Bronn can tell that something is bothering Jaime but as Jaime is not really a sensitive new age type of guy he declines to share Olenna Tyrell's last words with his employee. Flipping the script, Jaime notices that even when he gives Bronn a generous portion of the gold Bronn is not super happy. Care to share. Well Bronn is not sensitive and talky either but he is quite the honest mercenary. He wants a castle. He was promised a castle. He thinks Highgarden looks appropriate. Jaime chides him for being greedy but says that after the war is won Bronn will have his pick of castles, though probably not Highgarden. Randyll Tarly and his son Dickon report. They need some help "convincing" people of the Reach to turn over their harvests. Jaime volunteers Bronn to help in that endeavor.

In King's Landing, the Iron Bank representative, Tycho, is meeting with Cersei. He is both pleased and a little irritated that Cersei intends to pay the debt back in full in one payment. The Iron Bank likes interest payments because that's where the profit is. Still they want their money back. They will be be pleased to work with Cersei on all sorts of future projects just as soon as they have their money back. Cersei has sent Qyburn to inquire about hiring the Golden Company, a famous mercenary group with former links to Westeros.

Movie Reviews: Detroit

Detroit
directed by Kathyrn Bigelow
The 1967 Detroit riot or rebellion started less than a mile from where I would later grow up. In separate incidents during this time both of my parents were shot at by police, soldiers and/or rioters. My mother, a paternal uncle and my paternal grandfather were nearly killed by police shooting at the car my grandfather was driving while he was trying to get my mother safely home. A bullet missed my mother and left a scar on my uncle's shin. Another paternal aunt would later regale me with stories of the National Guardsmen/Army troops riding in armored vehicles shouting racial slurs at black teens and threatening to shoot them. And of course many older uncles and second cousins would from time to time over the years mention the repressive and disgusting behavior of the police back in what I came to think of as the bad old days. I mention all this to say that although I wasn't on the scene or even yet thought of when the riot took place I feel as if I had a very personal stake in what was going on. Some of the buildings that were part of my panorama growing up were the same buildings that were seen on the newsreels of the events in 1967. People died in part so that I could walk freely in my city and succeed to the best of my God given abilities instead of being assaulted by police or trapped in a dead end racially segregated job. So I was intrigued to see what a strong talented director like Bigelow would do with this story. Would she mess it up? Would she get down to the nitty gritty? Would she confirm ugly stereotypes about whites working with "black" stories and themes?

Unfortunately I would have to say that as a storyteller Bigelow missed the boat here. Technically the movie is superb. The camera work, lighting, cinematography, settings and look of the film are all top notch, with one or two minor complaints I'll mention in a moment. Bigelow is a master (mistress?) of her craft and shows it here. But the narrative is too sharply focused on the incidents at the Algiers Motel. The Algiers Motel (which has since been torn down) was a place that was a sort of no-tell motel. People often went there to commit adultery. Some prostitutes worked that area. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Chicago High School Graduation Requirements

In a decision which didn't attract much attention outside of Chicago, perhaps because people don't think it will make that much difference, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago School Board recently changed the law regarding high school graduation. Starting in 2020 in order to receive a high school diploma, a student not only must successfully complete the coursework but also demonstrate to the school's satisfaction that he or she has a plan for post-graduation success. Approved plans include college admission, military admission, a job or an apprentice program. In other words the government must approve of your plans post-high school. If the government doesn't approve then you don't get your diploma.

THE JOB of K-12 education traditionally has been considered complete when students walk across the stage to get their diploma. That is about to change in Chicago with an ambitious, and controversial, initiative requiring public school students to have a post-graduation plan to earn a diploma. Chicago leaders are right to make official what long has been recognized — the need for more than a high school diploma to succeed in today’s economy — and, more importantly, to accept responsibility for helping students meet that challenge.

Starting in 2020, under a plan championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and unanimously approved by the school board, diplomas will be tied to students devising post-secondary plans. High school seniors must show they’ve been accepted into college, or the military, or into a trade or “gap-year” program, or have secured a job. The idea is to raise expectations and thus produce better outcomes for students.