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.