Saturday, May 25, 2019

Random Thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones Finale (1)

I don't think that the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones ruined the entire series but I do think that the final episode tried and came close. If we assume that all of the events came from GRRM, which I doubt, GRRM will have some heavy lifting to do in his final books in order to make these plot points believable.
The idea that people who know nothing about Bran other than he is Ned Stark’s son, “fell” out of a window, and has a creepy personality would accept that he should be king, based on the word of a patricidal dwarf known continent wide as a drunk and whoremonger, makes no sense. This "best story" justification is crap. Everyone has stories.
That these same people would tolerate the North going independent boggles the mind. If Bran’s own sister won’t bend the knee to him, why would anyone else? Every region was independent before the Targaryen invasion, not just the North. The Iron Islands and Dorne are just as culturally, religiously and ethnically distinct as the North is. Having the entire continent be ruled by Starks AND the North be independent seems like too many bites at the apple, even for a Stark bannerman such as myself.
Grey Worm and the Dothraki likely outnumber other Westerosi forces in and around King’s Landing at the time of Daenerys’ murder. If not then it’s a close call. But Daenerys JUST gave a wildly popular speech promising permanent revolution and worldwide conquest to her soldiers, who LIVE for such things. Daenerys has also condemned Tyrion to die.

Monday, May 20, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Series Finale

Are you not entertained?
This episode was written and directed by the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss. In the aftermath of the sack and burning of King's Landing. Tyrion walks through the ashes, followed by at a distance by Davos and Jon Snow. There are dead bodies all over the place. It looks like a napalm bomb hit the place which is pretty much what occurred. Tyrion's face expresses disbelief, rage, and pain all at once. Tyrion leaves for what remains of the Red Keep. He doesn't want any escort from Jon or Davos.

Reaching the Red Keep Tyrion finds that his small stature helps him negotiate some otherwise blocked passageways. He finds his brother's and sister's bodies. He starts to dig them out but breaks down. This is some strong acting here. The lack of dialog here and in the introduction sets the stage for how the audience feels about things. We may not care that Cersei and Jaime are dead. One or both of them probably deserved it. But we do care that their deaths have had a devastating impact on Tyrion.

Strolling through the city, Jon, Davos and a small contingent of their men come across Grey Worm and a much larger contingent of Unsullied preparing to execute Lannister prisoners. Obviously Jon disagrees with this and expresses his opinion. Grey Worm retorts that these are orders from Queen Daenerys so back the f*** up off of him!!! Jon grabs Grey Worm's arm but that wasn't the move as the Unsullied immediately direct scores of spear points at Jon and his crew. Not wanting to die that day Davos talks Jon down and suggests speaking to Daenerys. Jon stalks off in that direction as Grey Worm slits throats. Later we see Arya following Jon, but keeping her distance.

Daenerys is at the ruins of the Red Keep. She is dressed all in black in what appears to be a blatant reference to the sartorial choices of a certain group of 20th century fascists. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Daenerys Targaryen: Crazy Capricious Killer or Misunderstood Matriarch???

The Daenerys heel turn of burning King's Landing down and deliberately incinerating untold numbers of civilians caused a great deal of agita among some Game of Thrones fans.
Some people think that this is either Benioff's and Weiss's or even GRRM's commentary that strong women are always crazy women. I don't think that argument is worth discussing. FWIW, GRRM describes himself as a feminist. GRRM created many characters of different genders and sexualities, all of whom are varying mixes of good and evil, intelligence and stupidity, competence and ineptitude. It is almost certainly not a meta-commentary by GRRM or show creators on the danger of female leadership to have Daenerys burn down King's Landing. The fact that so many people joyously read Daenerys as avenging feminist Messiah is a testament to GRRM's creative abilities, nothing else.

The second, more numerous and to my mind more legitimate detractors are not necessarily THAT bothered by Daenerys going Mad Queen but think that it wasn't earned in the show. The show is all we can go on here as these events have not taken place in the books. On a private board I frequent, and on quora too I might add, this last episode caused heated discussion. As The Janitor pointed out on this blog:  
This made no sense for her character as depicted in the show. Just last season she literally rebutted that she is "not here to be the queen of the ashes" when Yara and the Queen of the Sandsnakes urged her to burn King's Landing. That was 1 season ago. 1!!! Now all of a sudden she's the mad queen? Not buying it.
We must remember that unless and until Benioff ,Weiss and GRRM give us a detailed look at what were GRRM's contributions and what were Benioff's and Weiss' we may never know what events were GRRM's "true" ideas. For all we know GRRM might be reviewing screen events and deciding to alter or more deeply explain story events. Still, for something this big and character defining as the near total destruction of King's Landing all of my money is on it being GRRM's intent all along. So Daenerys was always going to go bad.

GM Lordstown Plant Closing

When people are discouraged, prevented and/or excluded from serving in positions of power they often show an intense, even obsessive, interest in putting one of their own in the Big Seat, however it is defined. And the people who have one of their own in the Big Seat, often show an intense, even obsessive, interest in keeping that spot, even if they receive little to no material benefit from having one of "theirs" in the top spot. This is just human nature. I don't think it will ever truly change. 

However it continues to be worthwhile to point out over and over again that simply putting a black face in a high place or putting someone in charge who can wear skirts and heels instead of pants without changing the power structure and the nature of the economic relationship is ultimately not worthwhile-at least not worthwhile for anyone except the individual who is making the big money in the top spot. Mary Barra is the Chairman (Chairwoman?) and CEO of GM. 

She is also the first woman to hold that position at GM and any other global automaker. When she ascended to the spot this was heralded as a good thing for women executives, women employees, women in general and the nation in general. Barra makes $21 million/yr in salary. I am sure she has the stock options, deferred compensation, retirement plans, bonus incentives and all of the other benefits that any  major league executive in her position would receive.

Barra also oversaw the recent announced closing of the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio. This will devastate that community and increase the problems of opiate addiction, homelessness, economic inequality, job loss and other issues that plague American workers. The union contract GM signed apparently both forbade closing the planet and/or required additional worker benefits if the plant was closed.

Monday, May 13, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 5

I am Daenerys Stormborn and I will take what is mine with fire and blood!
Well true to the series the penultimate episode had some shocks, thrills, and many character deaths. 

In the unlikely event that I am ever fortunate enough to read the completed series or hear GRRM speak on how he intends to handle the storyline in his books it will be interesting to compare the show and books. For now though the show is all we have. 

Although I do believe that the show suffered somewhat from being rushed this season given that similar character left turns that I thought were show-only actually allegedly came from GRRM, i.e. Stannis' sacrifice of his daughter Shireen, I'm not that outraged at some of the events depicted in last night's episode. It's important to remember that GRRM has generally been anti-war. He has been interested in depicting the muck and filth and grime and crime inherent in war, not just the glory and bada$$ last stands and stirring speeches and righteous anger. More so in the books but also in the show several characters have deplored the savagery that occurs in war. 

As another of GRRM's characters warned us, if you think this has a happy ending you haven't been paying attention. GRRM is on record discussing that Tolkien's settling on Aragorn as the rightful king and everyone living happily ever after wasn't that compelling to him. What if Aragorn was an a$$hole? What was Aragorn's tax policy? How did Aragorn intend to settle land dispute claims between the Haradrim and Gondorians? Or as Monty Python reminded us, who voted for someone as king anyway? Shouldn't supreme executive power derive from a mandate from the masses?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Movie Reviews: Avengers:Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
I finally got around to seeing this movie. As a bookend to the Avengers saga, which is one of the most popular storylines within the Marvel Cinematic Universe I thought it was workmanlike. The film was was three hours long, which stretched my endurance as well as some of the story the filmmakers were telling. 

I thought that the social narrative, allegories, and real life analogies, which to be fair have always been woven into Marvel comics, were too strong and too obvious for my taste. Some of it was pandering. I guess if I were among the audience which was being pandered to I might feel differently. More on that in a moment. 

You may recall (and this is of course a spoiler for the prior Avengers film) that by the end of the last Avengers movie, the omnicidal Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) looking like he's related to the similarly heavy jawed Issa Rae, had won. Thanos had collected all of the Infinity Stones, dealt with betrayals, setbacks and sacrifices and finally obliterated half of (sentient? all?) life in the universe with a snap of his fingers, All across the universe, 50% of people vanished. Thanos did this because he was convinced that overpopulation and the resulting waste, war, climate change, and diminishing biodiversity was the greatest threat to peace and life. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 4

There were some story advances towards the endgame in this episode, some losses, some seemingly inexplicable events, a few callbacks towards earlier seasons, and of course a few characters acting in ways opposed to everything they had been before. 

It was uneven by the high standards of earlier seasons but I thought all in all it was better than the previous episode. Clearly the writers were eager to wrap things up and finish the story. It is a shame in some aspects that the story end will be on screen before it's in print but on the other hand the demands of budgets, television, and actors who want to do other things mean that we get an ending, which I am not sure will be the case with the original author, regardless of his good intentions.

There were three or four thematic elements to this episode. (1) We remember those who are gone. (2) Life is for the living so we celebrate that by engaging in life affirming activities: eating, drinking, and loving. (3) We attempt to deal with our internal conflicts-Jon and Daenerys try to square the circle about incest and claims to the throne. (4) We face external threats and new loss. 

There is a John Sayles movie titled Lone Star which has as one of its major plot points the discovery by a man and a woman that they are half-siblings. They share the same corrupt, deceptive, now deceased, father. Unfortunately they discover this after they've already had sex and fallen in love. They knew each other as teenagers but never got it together back then.They decide to continue the relationship despite the incest. That outcome is probably not going to be a possibility for Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. The episode opens up with a long shot from above of Jorah Mormont's corpse. Daenerys is losing it over him.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Donald Trump is a Bully and Should be Impeached

Neutral Evil:"..neither groups nor individuals have great meaning. This ethos holds that seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving. Natural forces which are meant to cull out the weak and stupid are artificially suppressed by the so-called good, and the fittest are wrongfully held back, so whatever means are expedient can be used by the powerful to gain and maintain their dominance, without concern for anything. neither groups nor individuals have great meaning. 

A neutral evil character is typically selfish and has no qualms about turning on allies-of-the-moment, and usually makes allies primarily to further their own goals. A neutral evil character has no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit for themselves."

The above is the definition of the neutral evil" alignment philosophy and ethos from the Player's Handbook of Dungeons and Dragons, a role playing game I used to love when I was younger. It also happens to be an almost perfect description of President Trump. He has no real interest in law or freedom. He could care less about conflicts between law and order or freedom and individual rights. The only thing he cares about is his own interest above all. You may have seen that President Trump is refusing to turn over his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee despite the fact that the law is crystal clear that the Committee--that is to say Congress can review anyone's tax returns for any reason they like--including those of the President. If Trump asks why Congress can say "Because we said so!"

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin must enjoy irony. He penned a letter to Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee threatening to refuse their request to see the President’s tax returns. The letter asserts that the Committee’s stated reasons for viewing the returns — among other things, verifying that the President wasn’t using his leadership of the executive branch for his own benefit — were mere pretext for their true, purely partisan motive. This, he said, was a reason he could refuse the request. At almost the same hour, the administration’s lawyers were arguing before the Supreme Court that possible partisan motivations were no reason to set aside a proposed citizenship question in the upcoming U.S. census.

Should Prisoners Vote?

Prison is not a place I ever intend to be. Prison by definition requires a reduction in or elimination of rights and privileges that everyone else takes for granted.

You can't freely pursue heterosexual relations with men or women that you find attractive. You're surrounded by dangerous scumbags of your own gender. The only folks around of the opposite gender likely have serious authority over you. Some of them crave any excuse to brutalize you and brag about it to their buddies.You're in prison. No one is that concerned about your pursuit of happiness.You can't get up or go to bed when you want. You're in prison. You can't shower, brush your teeth, urinate or defecate in private. You're in prison. You can't eat what you want. You're in prison. 

If you irritate or "threaten" a guard, warden or other prison employee, you might be assaulted or forced into solitary confinement.There's nothing you can do about this. You're in prison. You might be made to work at jobs that bore you for little or no pay. You can't quit or find a different job. You're in prison.You can't leave unless and until the state or federal government says you can leave.You're in prison. Prison is not supposed to be a pleasant experience. That's the point. You shouldn't want to come back. That said, even though a person is imprisoned there are still some basic rights the state theoretically has to recognize and protect. 

The state can't or rather the state shouldn't torture or murder prisoners. The state shouldn't turn a blind eye to sexual abuse of or rape of prisoners, whether by state employees or other prisoners.The state can't force inmates to change religions or prevent them, within reason, from practicing their religion while incarcerated. Should voting also be one of those fundamental rights that remain protected even for prisoners? Senator Bernie Sanders thinks so.

HBO Game of Thrones: Thoughts on Episode 3 - The Long Night

I rewatched the most recent episode of HBO's Games of Thrones (episode 3). I debated it and discussed it with friends, family, and associates online and offline. I read other people's takes. I heard some of what Benioff and Weiss had to say. Now that I've come down from the sugar high of Arya's heroism I think I can provide more sober analysis of what I didn't like in the episode.
There are three points that bear mentioning. (1) Medieval Warfare is a wonderful magazine, one which I read religiously. My points about military tactics are generally based on my readings of various issues of that magazine and other historical books. Mistakes and omissions are mine. (2) Obviously this is just my pov which I am writing for my own enjoyment and hopefully yours as well. I am certainly not stating that I am "right". The show belongs to the showrunners, not viewers (3) Arya is one of my favorite characters. Criticism of her character arc isn't based in the modern bete noire of misogyny.
The episode was entertaining. I was a little disappointed at the episode's fit in the larger tale. GRRM has shared plot points and character fates with Benioff and Weiss. GRRM believes the show and book endings will be broadly similar, although the paths will differ. I'm no book purist. The showrunners occasionally improved the tale by changing or eliminating some GRRM inventions. For example, I don't think the HBO series should have included Strong Belwas, a not too bright black Daenerys devotee who speaks in the third person and defecates on the corpses of those he kills. The show didn't need vivid description of the Mountain and his crew's vicious gang rape of a preteen girl and murder of her brother.

But, when I heard that the showrunners had decided about three years prior to have Arya be the one to kill the Night King, a character not present in the published books, I thought that the decision, no matter how much I enjoyed the knife drop move, was a mistake, and one likely made purely for fan service reasons. Let's discuss more.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Flooding in South East Michigan and Metro Detroit

It is a matter of increasing frustration, annoyance and black humor to me that almost every time we get more than two or three inches of rain in SE Michigan, entire sections of our roadways and expressways become impassable for days. This really shouldn't occur in the United States of America. 

Some people, including myself at times, might snark about crappy Third World standards or problems. Well. If you spent the past sixty or seventy years under the boot of European colonialism or fighting US funded civil wars at least you have a valid reason for not having solid infrastructure that's up to snuff. The US has no such excuse. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 3

The director for this episode mentioned that he was in part inspired by the Battle of Helm's Deep from the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and Assault on Precinct 13. I don't think this episode quite measured up to the scenes from that first movie but it did put you in mind of the second. So I guess it worked better as a  horror/siege film than it did as a battle. A big problem with any battle/action films is that the director and/or writer must find a proper balance between making everything go by very quickly so that the viewer hardly sees it and slowing things down in a surrealistic way so that the viewer can understand everything that's happening and identify with the heroes/victims. 

There are of course some directors who can do both at once-Spielberg's opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan. Other directors jump back and forth between both styles : almost anything by John Woo and obviously 300 by Zack Snyder. This episode's director's choices included a lot of speed but also a lot of darkness. So it was often difficult to tell who was who and what was occurring. Within the narrative the battle took place at night so on one level that made sense but go rewatch Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and tell me that HBO might not have overdone the blue and black saturation. 

Nonetheless this was an emotionally satisfying episode with the trademark bait and switch that this show has become known for. If we ever do get to experience these scenes in print it will be interesting to learn if GRRM keeps them or if he had something different in mind. His prophecies from the book appear to have not come true, or perhaps have come true in a way that few of the readers saw. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Book Reviews: What The Night Knows

What The Night Knows
by Dean Koontz
I used to be a huge Dean Koontz fan. I picked up this 2010 book in a clearance sale. I liked the plot description and theme. But after reading it I was let down. Now bad Koontz is better than most other writers. However I thought that here one of the typical Koontz formulas (a decent man with a horrible secret must protect his beautiful wife and perfect kids from evil with the help of a loyal dog) ran out of gas. This softcover book was over four hundred and fifty pages. When I read a novel that length I expect something either meaty or epic. This wasn't the case.

It's been a while since I read Koontz so I'd have to go back and check his earlier works but I don't seem to remember his writing being so heavily weighted towards prose and away from dialogue. There's very little dialogue in this book. So the story feels very heavy to me, but not in a good way. YMMV. 

There is an extremely disappointing ending. If we continue after death in some form that could be really wonderful news for those among us who are kind, helpful,and decent people. The flip side is that evil doers could continue their malevolent works.

John Calvino is a dashing thirty-something homicide detective haunted by his family's murders two decades ago. Although John killed the perpetrator, John has never been able to forget the last words of the rapist-murderer, Alton Blackwood. When a young man named Billy Lucas commits atrocities and murders that clearly seem patterned after Blackwood's crimes, John is worried enough to visit Billy in a mental institution even though it's not his case. Billy is mostly uncommunicative but shares some private chilling information with John that Billy simply could not have known.

It's getting close to the anniversary of the murders of John's parents and sisters. John is feeling uneasy. There are some things in his past which he has not shared with his loved ones, out of concern for their emotional and mental wellbeing.

Michigan Gerrymandering Case

Gerrymandering is when a political party redistricts in an unfair partisan method so that its political dominance and ability to win elections is maximized while the ability of rival parties or disfavored minorities to do the same are minimized. 

Both parties do this although the Republicans have arguably taken it to new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view. Courts have been reluctant to get deeply involved in such disputes, often taking the stance that with certain egregious exceptions, redistricting is an inherently political process and not so much a legal one. 

Parties compete to win control of government precisely to draw political boundaries for their own benefit. But courts do occasionally step in and force the legislative branches to make changes. We just saw an example of this in Michigan.

Detroit — Michigan must redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election because current maps drawn by Republicans represent a political gerrymander “of historical proportions,” a three-judge federal panel ruled Thursday. The blockbuster ruling — which a legislative leader said Republicans will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — requires Michigan to conduct special state Senate elections for certain seats next year, cutting in half the four-year terms that current lawmakers are now serving. 

The “predominate purpose” of the redistricting plan approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 “was to subordinate the interests of Democratic voters and entrench Republicans in power,” said the unanimous decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 2

Episode Two took place entirely in the North-more specifically at Winterfell. This episode was another set up show in which there was a great deal of exposition, a little sex (not from Tormund), a little humor (mostly from Tormund), and a great deal of foreshadowing of presumed future events. We open up at Jaime's, well trial seems too formal, let's say his hearing in front of Daenerys, Sansa and Jon. Daenerys is of course eager to kill the man who murdered her father. Once again Jaime eschews the opportunity to point out that Aerys intended to incinerate King's Landing. Daenerys also gets Jaime to admit that Cersei lied about sending forces to help.  Cersei's armies, augmented by mercenaries, are going to let the North, Daenerys and allies bleed themselves dry. 

Jaime argues that he is not his sister and is at Winterfell because he wants to fight for the living. Tyrion comes to Jaime's defense but that was the wrong thing to do as Daenerys (shades of Michael Corleone's anger at Tom Hagen?) is tired of Tyrion's wrongheaded advice. She wonders if Tyrion knew ahead of time about his sister's treachery.  She basically tells him to shut up; she later wonders if she needs to find a new Hand, perhaps one not so tied to the current occupant of the Iron Throne. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Possession Of Hannah Grace

The Possession of Hannah Grace
directed by Diederik Van Rooijen
At first I thought that this was just a distaff remake of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It certainly had a lot of the same surface similarities. Someone is left alone with a dead body and starts to have hallucinations. Eventually the person comes to believe that the dead body isn't actually dead or at least not dead in the way that we would use the term. As H.P. Lovecraft once wrote "That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange eons even death may die." George R.R. Martin reworked the Lovecraft couplet into his own equally impressive Iron Islander chant/boast "What is dead may never die. But rises again stronger and harder."

What made The Autopsy of Jane Doe impressive or at least interesting to me was that the viewer was immersed in the same mystery as the characters. For much of the movie the viewer didn't know that much more than the characters. This allowed the viewer to be alternately surprised and worried right along with the two coroners. In this movie however I think the director/writer took a wrong turn from the start. The first five minutes of the movie explain in detail exactly what the titular character is and what has control over her.  So there's no mystery as to what's going on. 

The majority of the movie consists of watching fake scares and people doing stupid things. Now some cynics would argue that describes most horror movies. Well perhaps. But it wouldn't describe good horror movies, which The Possession of Hannah Grace is assuredly not.

Granny Says Batter Up!!!

There's little worse than someone who tries to harm someone who is thought to be unable to fight back, such as a child or elderly person. However, just because a person is a woman or even an old woman doesn't mean that they can't defend themselves or what is theirs.

Gainesville, Florida resident Clarese Gainey recently demonstrated this lesson of life to one Antonio Mosley. I am sure everyone will have a hearty laugh in prison when Mr. Mosley explains to his fellow inmates exactly how he was defeated by a 65-year-old woman who went oops all upside his head. Oops upside his head.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WGFL) — It was early Sunday morning when 65-year-old Clarese Gainey heard a noise outside her apartment. As she looked out the window, she says she saw a man in his boxers pulling at her car door handle and knocking on the window, attempting to break in. Before calling police, she took matters into her own hands.
"I grab my bat, I brace myself, and I ease the door open," Gainey said. That's when police and Gainey say 5'6, 300 pound Antonio Mosely charged her.
"I took that bat and hit him upside the head like 'pi-yah!' He said 'Ow!'"

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Should We Make Everyone's Tax Returns Public???

How much money do you make? How many tax loopholes do you use? Do you have a bunch of medical deductions?  Are you or your dependents suffering from some expensive and possibly embarrassing medical condition that you would rather not discuss with most people? Did you properly report all of your income, investment income and capital gains for the past year? 

What has been your rate of income growth over your lifetime? Are you well paid at your job?  Are you a lagging performer? Are you only hanging on to your job because your bosses don't think you're worth the trouble to fire because you earn so little? Do you have a job or do you instead survive on some combination of disability, savings, capital gains, and family or spousal support?  Did you retire early thanks to wise investments, business ownership and inheritances? Well if you're like most Americans I know you probably think that information and data like it is strictly between you, the IRS and any really close friends, family or intimates that you decide have a pressing need to know that information. It's not for public consumption. It's private.

Well at least one person on the NYT editorial board thinks that information should all be public for everyone.

In October 1924, the federal government threw open for public inspection the files that recorded the incomes of American taxpayers, and the amounts they had paid in taxes. Almost a century later, it’s time to revisit the merits of universal public disclosure. Democrats in Congress are fighting to obtain President Trump’s tax returns under a separate 1924 law, written in response to related concerns about public corruption. That issue could be resolved, at least in part, if Congress embraced the broader case for publishing everyone’s tax bill.

Monday, April 15, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 1

In 1066 Duke William the Bastard of Normandy invaded England, defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, and became King William the Conqueror of England, changing the course of English and eventually world history. Now his descendants later intermarried with Saxon relatives/descendants of Harold with the result that today's English royal family boasts descent from both William and Harold. But somewhere out there there is likely a person who can claim to be the direct Anglo-Saxon descendant of Harold with none of that Norman-French "taint".  

Is this person the "true heir" to the English throne?  Similarly Britain used to be ruled by the Romans. Maybe in Greece or Italy there is a person who has direct descent from the last Roman emperor who ruled a unified Empire. Is this person the "true heir" to the English throne? These questions go on throughout history. 

They are very much reflected in Game of Thrones. Daenerys Targaryen is insistent that she is the rightful ruler of all of Westeros because her father was and his father before him and all the way back for three hundred years when Aegon The Conqueror and his sister-wives first invaded and conquered much of Westeros. However what is gained by violence may be lost by violence. Robert's Rebellion put an end to Targaryen rule because enough people decided that the Mad King Aerys Targaryen had forfeited the right to rule by his capricious, violent and yes insane actions. Daenerys doesn't see things that way. And she has two massive armies and two dragons to enforce her point of view.  But just saying that you're a Queen or King doesn't make you one, as Tywin Lannister once pointed out to Joffrey. People have to accept it. Will people in the North accept Daenerys? The initial results don't look too promising. 

And given that Daenerys still thinks that Targaryen rule is legitimate how will she react to the fact that even under a Targaryen framing Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen) has a claim to rulership which is superior to hers? Given what we see, her reaction might not be that stable.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Martells

Bad Writing Destroys House Martell
Dorne was, depending on who you talk to and how you understand the story, a way to bring in some storylines, settings and themes that weren't 100% based on Northern European patriarchal norms. In the books Dorne was a fantasy meld of Iberian, Welsh, Italian, and North African settings with minor Palestinian or even West African cultural signifiers tossed in for flavor. Dorne was not conquered by the Targaryens but voluntarily joined the realm via marriage. The biggest difference between Dorne and everywhere else in Westeros was that Dorne practiced equal inheritance between male and female. Dorne as a nation was founded one thousand years ago by Queen Nymeria. Nymeria led refugees to Dorne, burned her ships so no one could flee, married a Martell, and proceeded to curb stomp all of the squabbling states and regions of Dorne into one realm which she and her husband ruled as equal partners. 

In Robert's Rebellion, Lannister thug Gregor Clegane (and in books also Amory Lorch) raped Princess Elia Martell and murdered her and her children. The Dornish Prince Doran and his younger brother Prince Oberyn did not forgive or forget the atrocities committed against their blood. Doran played the long game, letting people believe that he forswore vengeance while building up House Martell. Oberyn took a different path. Oberyn went to King's Landing and made it clear to all that he was out for vengeance against Lannisters in general and Gregor Clegane and Tywin Lannister in particular. 

Oberyn had a chance for revenge when he defended Tyrion Lannister in a trial by combat against the fearsome Gregor Clegane. Oberyn showed that speed and poison kills. Unfortunately for Oberyn he forgot that Gregor Clegane, even mortally wounded, is wicked strong and freakishly fast. Don't taunt Gregor until after he's dead. Otherwise THIS happens.

Book Reviews: Drake

by Peter McLean
This book is the first in a series. It's similar to works by Simon Green, Jim Butcher, Mike Carey and other authors who imagine a grimy seedy noirish world in which magic works. Drake is an old school detective/adventure novel despite the magical overlay. It's told in first person, which often, though not always, makes you think that the narrator will probably survive, no matter how crazy things get. Although the protagonists in these types of stories tend to be men of questionable morals, McLean stretches that convention to the breaking point. YMMV with this. It helps that most of the people who are the protagonist's enemies are far worse than he is. It also helps that the hero is trying desperately to turn over a new leaf.

Don Drake is a London magician with a big talent for summoning things. By things I mostly mean demons. Hell is real, along with some other dimensions.  With the help of his Burned Man fetish, a wood statue which binds and channels an archdemon of the same name, Drake is able to conjure up all sorts of things. Unfortunately, Drake has proven inept at monetizing this skill. He's also shown a lack of morals. Drake mostly uses this power to send demons to frighten, steal from or even kill people for a fee. Drake manages to sleep at night and justify this to himself by always making sure that the people these demons hurt are always bad people who are guaranteed to go to Hell anyway. 

Drake never has any money because he's a gambler. Tricked into a game with the human-appearing demon Wormwood, Drake loses more than he can pay. Although Wormwood is a demon he operates more like a Mafia boss.  Wormwood serves Mammon. Literally. Greed is Wormwood's highest principle. As far as Wormwood is concerned Drake is in his debt for as long as Wormwood says so. Wormwood has some jobs for Drake to do, jobs which all involve eliminating Wormwood's human competition-magical or gangsters. After some initial reluctance, which Wormwood promptly has beaten out of Drake, Drake gets with the program.  

Should The Voting Age Be 16?

There are some people, among them US Representative for the 7th District of Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley, who think that the national voting age for federal elections should be lowered to sixteen. 

They say that today's sixteen-year-olds are mature enough to be trusted with the vote. Unfortunately for Representative Pressley, not enough people agreed with her stance. Last month her peers soundly rejected the idea of extending the ballot to sixteen-year-olds.

The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected a measure proposed by U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Dorchester) to lower the voting age in elections for federal office to 16. On Thursday night the House voted 126-305 on the amendment, Pressley’s first as a member of Congress.

“Some have questioned the maturity of our youth. I don’t,” Pressley said on the House floor before the vote, according to video provided by C-Span. “A 16-year-old in 2019 possesses a wisdom and maturity that comes from 2019 challenges, hardships, and threats.”

An ally, U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-New York), pointed out that high school students have been getting more active in political matters in recent years.

Judge says FGM is not a Federal Crime

This story touched a lot of different controversial topics: conservative judicial attempts to limit federal legislative authority, immigrant and religious refusal to hew to American standards, women's rights and feminism, double standards around FGM and male circumcision, and even American civil rights history where the federal government turned a blind eye to racist malfeasance in various states, claiming that it was the state's responsibility to bring charges, not the federal government's. 

Detroit — Federal prosecutors will not appeal a judge's order dismissing female genital mutilation charges in the first criminal case of its kind nationwide, concluding the law is weak and needs to be rewritten. The decision delivers a setback to international human-rights groups opposed to female genital mutilation that have closely followed a case that has raised awareness in the U.S. of a controversial procedure and prompted Michigan to enact new state laws criminalizing the procedure. 

"Although the department has determined not to appeal the district court's decision, it recognizes the severity of the charged conduct, its lifelong impact on victims, and the importance of a federal prohibition on FGM committed on minors," Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a letter to Congress on Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Baratheons

Baratheons show why you should stay out of family feuds
At the beginning of HBO's Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon appeared to be on top of the world. Robert was King of Westeros. Robert had won the kingdom with his strong right hand, which he used to wield a war hammer so heavy most other people couldn't lift it. Robert had personally killed the previous heir to the throne, Rhaegar Targaryen, hitting him so hard with the aforementioned war hammer that the encrusted rubies on Rhaegar's breastplate were being found in the river months or even years later. Robert had his godfather Jon Arryn as Hand (Prime Minister), his two younger brothers Stannis and Renly as council members and his best friend Ned Stark as backup in case anyone started to act funny. 

Robert married the realm's most beautiful woman, Cersei Lannister. Robert could thus count on his father-in-law's support. Tywin Lannister is the realm's richest and most ruthless leader. With the exception of a brief revolt by the Westeros Appalachia equivalent, Cthulhu worshiping pirates from the Iron Islands, Robert brought and kept the peace. Or so it seemed. Unfortunately for Robert his desire and ability to win the throne and avenge himself upon the people who had stolen his true love Lyanna Stark and murdered his best friend's father and brother were always greater than his desire and ability to rule ably, pay attention to details, or sniff out enemies smart enough to avoid direct confrontation.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Movie Reviews: Act of Violence

Act of Violence
directed by Fred Zinneman
Act of Violence is a noir film directed by Fred Zinneman, who also directed High Noon. Although Act of Violence is not quite as iconic as High Noon, it ought to be. It feels more personal as well. Perhaps it was, dealing as it did with issues of hard choices made during war and what they cost. The director immigrated to the US before the Nazi takeover of most of Europe. His parents weren't so fortunate. They died in a concentration camp. 

It's easy for people in today's world to talk about what they would have done were they enslaved in 1730s Alabama, facing a lynch mob or segregation in 1903 Florida, or locked up in a death camp in 1944 German occupied Europe. Talk is cheap. The reality is that heroism and self-sacrifice are rare. That's in part why we honor them so when we run across them.

Many people will do whatever they can do to survive for as long as they can survive. The threat or promise of death or mutilation can break brave men and women. Just about everyone has a breaking point. This film asks the viewer if someone is a hero because they held out as long as they could or are they a villain because they acquiesced or surrendered to evil? There aren't necessarily easy answers to these questions. They vex generation after generation.

Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is a real estate developer and philanthropist in post-war California. He's also a war hero. Frank is a former Air Force  bomber pilot who was shot down over occupied Europe. He survived in a German POW camp. Frank has an attractive wife Edith (Janet Leighfuture Psycho actress and mother of Jamie Lee Curtis) and a toddler. Everything is looking up for Frank. His future is so bright he's got to wear shades! But the news of Frank's success attracts attention: the wrong kind of attention. Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), a tall looming grim man with a bad limp, has been reading the newspaper articles about Frank's success. He travels across the continental United States, determined to find Frank and execute a prompt and furious vengeance on him. Joe used to be Frank's best friend. Joe was also in that German POW camp.

12 Year Old Boy Fills Michigan Potholes

Sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Or in this case a boy has got to step up and do what his city, county, and state government ought to be doing. I appreciate the initiative, gumption and civic pride that 12-year-old Monte Scott showed in attempting to fix numerous potholes in his specific area of North central Michigan town Muskegon Heights. 

More people should show pride in the appearance of their community. But it's safe to say that the fix for potholes is not going to be kids filling them up with dirt, no matter how much we like their civic concern. And young Master Scott knows that. In a few years perhaps Monte Scott will be in a position to run for office and place some accountability on those who let his roads deteriorate to such a horrible condition. 

A Facebook video posted Wednesday showing a boy taking a pocked Muskegon Heights street into his own hands and filling up the potholes with dirt has since garnered more than 50,000 views. The boy, Monte Scott, 12, told WZZM-TV that he didn't want people messing up their cars like his mom did. 

In the video, Scott is seen working in a red and orange hoodie, using a shovel and a garbage can of dirt to fill up one of the larger potholes on what looks to be a bumpy stretch of street. Passers-by stopped to capture the scene on camera, praise Scott and lament about the state of the roadway. "You're gonna be something too, you're a hard worker," a man is heard telling Scott.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Joe Biden: Clueless, Creepy or just Cordial??

Woman speaking to Biden: You snapped my bra strap!
Biden: I'm sorry I don't remember doing that.
2nd woman talking to Biden: You rubbed my neck and gave me a back massage!
Biden: You really need to be more specific young lady. I give a lot of back massages.
3rd woman speaking to Biden: You grabbed my _____ and called me "Sugar-***"
Biden: Oh yes! Sugar-***!! How the hell are you sweetheart! I missed you!

Former President Joe Biden has not announced that he will be running for President in 2020. But he's pretty clearly thinking about it. I've read some previous speculation that he remains a little miffed at being shouldered out of the way by Clinton in 2016. Usually it's the VP of a successful administration that gets the official nod to be the party standard bearer in the next election, not the Secretary of State. Oh well so it goes. I don't believe in too many conspiracy theories. And there's no evidence of anyone directing any attacks against Biden. But it is "interesting" that Biden, who has by all accounts been a pretty handsy guy with both men and women for all of his political career, has recently been accused by a number of women of behavior that either made them uncomfortable or was downright inappropriate.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Book Reviews: Man Eater

Man Eater
by Gar Anthony Haywood
This book is seemingly written deliberately to be very similar to Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, screwcap films by Preston Sturges, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and perhaps most of all to Everybody Smokes in Hell by John Ridley. As many of the #metoo, Sony hack and related allegations and revelations have shown Hollywood can be an amoral, even immoral cutthroat environment where everyone is out to get over on everybody else and maybe get laid in the process. 

Like the stories referenced, Man Eater posits that the streets and their twisted tenets of respect, honor and vengeance really aren't all that different from Hollywood. The stakes are higher in the streets perhaps but it's really the same game. People who travel between both environments find that they can navigate each of them quite comfortably.

Ronnie Deal is a mid level project executive for a Hollywood studio. She has a secret past which she doesn't share with anyone, least of all her insincere female boss and a male peer who's trying to prevent Ronnie from moving up the ladder by any means necessary. Ronnie is also stunningly attractive, something which she cynically uses when she thinks it's necessary.

Having been temporarily embarrassed and outmaneuvered by her aforementioned male rival, causing her to lose a movie deal that took months to put together, Ronnie travels to a bar after work to stew over the insults and general sexism of the world. She's in no mood then, to watch quietly as a intimidating muscular man named Neon Polk starts to harass and assault a tiny woman named Antsy Carruth. Surprising herself with her aggression and fearlessness, Ronnie decides to strike one for the sisterhood by sucker punching Neon upside the head with a beer bottle before doing a Texas two step on his face. Both women flee before Neon can recover from the surprise beatdown.

The Mueller Report: Now What?

For almost the entire past two years most of the media and many elected Democrats were on the verge of orgasm about the imminent release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, telling anyone who would listen or watch that this report would prove that President Trump and/or his campaign colluded with Russian individuals in and out of government in order to defeat Hillary Clinton and steal the 2016 election. 

MSNBC led the charge, with virtually all of its analysis or news programs being devoted to breathlessly listing everything they thought Mueller must have been doing. "Sources say this" or "Reports claim that" were the most common phrases heard on these programs as DC insiders and parasites competed to show us how much they were in the know. The media told us that Mueller was beyond reproach. His conclusions must be trusted, the media told us. The media invited a number of former intelligence industry personnel, people known to be well, liars, to tell us what they thought Mueller was going to find.To a man or woman, they were all certain that Mueller was going to finally get the goods on the treasonous Trump. 

Dissidents from this narrative were not welcomed in the media, particularly not on MSNBC.  In fact anyone who had questions was dismissed as a Russian useful idiot, a bot, or worse a Russian sympathizer. Well Mueller finally released his report, though it has not yet been made public. But we do know that Mueller isn't going to be seeking any more indictments, most especially not any indictments against President Trump and his family. According to Attorney General Barr:

Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find that the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 elections, according to Attorney General William Barr’s summary to Congress delivered Sunday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Democrats, Heartland Cities, and Monopoly Capitalism

The 2016 Presidential election still vexes Democrats. Few pundits thought that Trump could win. Most experts argued that not only would the electoral "blue wall" of upper Midwest states prevent a Trump victory but also buoyed by demographic change as well as gender solidarity, Clinton would win in states that had long been Republican leaning-i.e. Georgia, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.

We know what happened. Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election. Trump became President. Some Democrats still blame Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders. Others blame Russians. And so on. Democrats blame a number of people or events besides Clinton for Trump's victory. But lately more people want to blame the country's political institutions and rules: the Senate, the Electoral college, the voting age, separate state elections, etc. As discussed before some people are furious that Wyoming and California have the same number of Senators. They're irked that running up the popular vote count in one state (as Clinton did in California and New York) is not helpful to winning the Presidential election. Some Democrats want to make the Senate representation proportional by population (if not jettison it entirely), and eliminate the Electoral College. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Movie Reviews: Never Grow Old

Never Grow Old
directed by Ivan Kavanaugh
This was a chilling Western with both classic and revisionist themes.
It is sobering to grow older and see actors of your generation who once played sarcastic teens move to playing alienated young men then change to playing pudgy middle aged dads. In another ten years or so they'll be playing grandfathers. So it goes. Time waits for no one.

There are some cultures that and some people who consider a stranger mentioning a man's wife to be a faux pas at best and an intolerable insult or threat at worst. Although we now tend to view such interactions thru feminist eyes and claim that such negative responses are bad because they imply that the wife is her husband's property, the point remains that in certain charged circumstances or situations asking "innocently" after the well being or presence of a man's wife or other female relative is indeed meant and understood as a serious insult or deadly threat.

It's no different from the classic mob hoodlum telling the bar owner that he has a beautiful establishment and that it would be a shame if something happened to it. In this movie, a dark-both visually and morally- Western that attempts some modern revisionist surgery on classic Western themes while also upholding them, the bad guy Dutch Albert (John Cusack) is introduced in a late night encounter at the protagonist's home. 

Andre Williams Passes Away

I wrote before about Andre Williams here. He was one of the last of the old time rock-n-rollers/R&B giants. He just passed away at 82. If you happen to like old school R&B/jump blues/rock-n-roll and don't mind an occasional little lyrical smuttiness/nastiness in music then you might want to give his music a listen. 

As people have pointed out the Good Lord wouldn't have given you a tail feather in the first place if He didn't want you to shake it from time to time. RIP to a Detroit musical giant and one of the dirtiest old men who ever walked the planet. Andre Williams, who carved out a place in the 1950s rhythm-and-blues scene with earthy songs distinctively delivered, then fell on hard times as a result of addiction before enjoying a late-career resurgence, died on Sunday in Chicago. He was 82.

His son Derrick Williams said the cause was cancer.
In a decade when mainstream white audiences were watching “Father Knows Best” on television, Mr. Williams was recording provocative songs like “Jail Bait” (1957), a sly warning to men inclined to date teenage girls. It ends with a narrator pleading with a judge for leniency and promising to abandon his lecherous ways:
I ain’t gonna bother none 15,
I ain’t gonna bother none 16,
I ain’t gonna bother none 17,
I ain’t gonna mess with none 18,
I’m gonna leave them 20-year-old ones alone too,
Gonna get me a girl about 42.