Monday, April 27, 2015

President Obama, Liberals and TPP

"L'etat c'est moi"
President Obama recently invoked a surly and petulant tone when he lashed out against critics of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership fast track trade deal (TPP). TPP is a so-called free trade agreement that would theoretically increase economic integration among twelve Pacific Rim countries with the notable exclusion of China. President Obama claimed that the critics of the legislation didn't know what they were talking about. President Obama said that if this deal wasn't good for working Americans he wouldn't support it. It's ironic that at the same time President Obama was telling Senator Warren that she didn't know what she was talking about and angrily denouncing anyone who would question his advocacy of certain trade deals that he also had temporarily to break stride and apologize for bombing and killing people who shouldn't have been bombed or killed. In other words he made a mistake. He was wrong. I might discuss the drone situation sometime later but contrary to what the Boxers among us might think, Napoleon President Obama is not always right. Like many corporate bosses when things go well, (Bin Laden is dead), the President takes credit. When things go wrong some supportive media suddenly releases detailed information on how the drone program doesn't need the President's signoff for every target and so mistakes really aren't the President's fault. Fascinating. The President might want to remember that just because he supports something doesn't mean other people need to accept his judgment without question. The President's interests are not synonymous with America's interests. If he was wrong about something like a drone program, he just might be wrong about a trade deal. President Obama's good intentions do not necessarily make something good. There was no need for President Obama to make policy differences personal, but I guess when you don't have to run for election again you can drop certain masks. So it goes.

It's alternately amused and irritated me that President Obama tends to save his most biting personal criticisms not for the open racists on the right, who have continuously insulted him, his wife, father, daughters, and mother in the ugliest and most personal of terms but for people on the left who question his policies. In what universe does it make sense for President Obama to compare Senator Warren to Sarah Palin? TPP, divorced from economic and historical reality, might sound good in theory. But like everything else the devil is in the details. Of course we don't know all the details because those are secret. We do have some general outlines though. It's safe to say that just as with NAFTA, the TPP is not as much about free trade as it is about increasing the ability of corporations to exploit labor and sidestep restrictions on profit making activities across nations. It's about wage arbitrage. TPP would reduce the ability of governments at all levels to "interfere" with corporations as they pursue their happiness. This is a good thing if you happen to be a corporation, a lobbyist, a trade or patent attorney, or perhaps someone at a high level who works for the aforementioned entities. But if you're not in that group you might want to consider if the TPP is a good thing for you. Hint, it's not. You also might want to review how median income has done over the past fifteen years. You might wonder if helping corporations to outsource more jobs from the First World and raise drug costs in the so-called developing world really is the path we ought to be taking. You might want to go down to your local clothing or electronics store and see how many goods you can find that are still made in the US. You might wonder how it is that so many jobs have moved overseas and what that means for American workers.

But if you want to know the answers to these questions and have your Senators and Representatives debate and discuss them openly the President will accuse you of not knowing what you're talking about. People like MSNBC analyst Chris "tingle up my leg" Matthews will say you're a protectionist. Well someone who does know what he's talking about and is not a protectionist is Nobel Award winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Over a year ago he sounded the alarm here. And he hasn't changed his tune, pointing out that those in favor of these deals are all corporations and wealthy capitalists. This isn't news to the people on the streets. The working class, the people of all colors who are most impacted by crappy trade deals, isn't buying it. And some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which as a group has often given cover to the President's more centrist or rightist agenda elements, may have found a limit to how far they will go.
To make up for what could be dozens of Republican No votes in the House, the administration may need to persuade 20 or more House Democrats to vote Yes. The White House hopes some of those votes will come from members of the black caucus. But the going has not been easy. Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn is a loyal Obama supporter, but she found she couldn’t say yes earlier this month when the president engaged in some personal lobbying. Ms. Clarke promised to “go back and have a conversation with my constituents,” she said, recounting the conversation. But she isn’t optimistic: “The people in my district—they are radically against” the Pacific trade deal, Ms. Clarke said in an interview. But by last week, Mr. Rangel sounded pessimistic about finding common ground with the Obama administration. He said the White House hadn’t offered him anything concrete that would assure jobs—at least “nothing that I could explain to my voters.”
Two-thirds of the House members in the caucus signed a letter to Mr. Obama complaining that any trade deal would need to do more to strengthen workers’ rights. And only Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) is on record in favor of the fast-track legislation, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D., Texas) is thought to be a swing vote.
“There’s too much downward pressure on wages,” said Rep. David Scott (D., Ga.), a frequent ally of businesses who said he has made clear that the White House shouldn’t even bother trying to win his vote.
President Obama should know that snark and sarcasm are no substitute for facts and transparency. Various corporations have been able to see the text of the TPP. Duh! They're the ones writing it! If, as President Obama claims, the TPP is a great deal for workers, then as Senator Warren suggests, declassify it. Let's have it openly debated and discussed. Perhaps the President is correct. Once we all know the details maybe there will be hundreds of thousands of $14/hr American workers marching in the streets demanding passage of the TPP. American IT workers may rejoice at the prospect of training their Pacific Rim lower cost replacements. Maybe American workers in general think that they have too much safety in their job and want their boss to have more flexibility to replace or fire them. But I doubt it. I think that the TPP is just the latest in a long line of moves by corporations and the wealthy to reduce labor costs and limit democratic oversight of business. Senator Warren is right. President Obama is wrong on this one. He needs to be fought tooth and nail on this. And he needs to lose.

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: High Sparrow

"I've heard that it's best to keep your enemies close."
"Whoever said that didn't have many enemies."
Hmm. Imagine that in the film adaptation of Mario Puzo's Godfather novel instead of Michael Corleone being the one to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, Francis Ford Coppola filmed the scene with Clemenza as the assassin. Now in the short term maybe it doesn't matter that much but looking past the immediate such a change would alter many character developments and motivations as well as the larger story themes and threads. Some of this might be for the good but then again perhaps not. I felt that kind of way after watching Sunday's episode. I'm not sure if all the changes worked. However, given that the showrunners have run out of published material for some characters they may have had no choice but to alter events while presumably still trying to tie things into George R.R. Martin's ending. They know the ending and we don't. There are small butterfly changes which are adding up to increasingly huge differences between text and screen. I will write more about that after the season. Multiple book storylines were shot in the back of the head and dumped in the river in last night's episode. Again, I urge you to read the books. Anyhow. We have a creepy open in the House of Black and White where Arya watches as Jaqen H'ghar gives a man a drink. Arya is impatient to get on with the business of becoming a world class assassin instead of just sweeping up but Jaqen reminds her she's not ready for that yet. That drink Jaqen gave the man was apparently poison as the fellow drops dead. Jaqen says everyone must serve the one god, death. Another young woman is apparently jealous of Arya's precocity and attacks her with a riding crop(?) wanting to know who she is. 

Arya reaches for her sword Needle and is about to put holes in this fool but Jaqen intervenes (rather suspiciously quickly-did he order the other girl to do this?) and peevishly reminds Arya that although she is supposed to be no one she still has the name, clothes, gear and sword of Arya Stark. Arya throws everything away in the canals with the notable exception of Needle, which she hides. This is important. Needle was made by the Winterfell blacksmith and was a gift from her brother Jon. It's her last link to her previous life. She can't get rid of it. In King's Landing the wedding between Margaery and Tommen takes place. The couple do what newlyweds typically do. Tommen lost his virginity but it's pretty obvious this wasn't Margaery's first time at the rodeo. She uses a little reverse psychology plus the allure of her Highgarden to suggest to Tommen that (1) Cersei would be happier back at Casterly Rock and (2) Tommen doesn't need Cersei around any more. When Cersei gets wind of this she goes to see Margaery, who is sharing details of her wedding night sexcapades with her ladies in waiting. With feminine guile and indirectness, Margaery points out that she, not Cersei is the Queen and that Cersei is old, a drunk, a dowager and will be a grandmother soon. Atypically Cersei does not rise to the bait but merely smiles and says that if there is anything Margaery ever needs, Cersei would be happy to help. She need only ask. Hmm.
Winterfell has been re-opened under new management. Bolton management. Theon watches as the skinned bodies of recalcitrant northern lords and their families are raised for all to see. This is Ramsay's doing, something for which his father chastises him. Roose says that the Boltons do not have enough men to forestall a northern revolt,  a certainty if Ramsay continues his reign of terror. Without Tywin Lannister backing them up the Boltons need legitimacy as much as anything to defend their gains. And that legitimacy will be gained by a Ramsay marriage to Sansa Stark. This was brokered by Littlefinger of course. Littlefinger has taken Sansa to Moat Cailin, the entrance point to the North. He says that Sansa has been a bystander who has watched as events have turned against her family. Marrying Ramsay Bolton will give her an opportunity to shape events and take vengeance. Sansa is not exactly thrilled to marry into the family which destroyed her own and have as a father-in-law the man who murdered her brother but still agrees. From afar Brienne and Podrick watch and exchange origin stories. Brienne has figured out where Sansa and Littlefinger are heading. She offers to train Podrick. At Winterfell Sansa curtsies to Roose and his kin while Ramsay gives flowery entreaties. Ramsay's previous mistress Myranda is not happy about this turn of events. Remember she has helped Ramsay torture, rape and murder.  Littlefinger and Ramsay talk. Littlefinger claims he hasn't heard much about Ramsay, which seems extremely unlikely. Roose interrupts and dismisses Ramsay.

Roose is suspicious of Littlefinger and his reasons for delivering Sansa to the Boltons. Roose tells Littlefinger that Littlefinger is taking a big chance by going against the Lannisters. Littlefinger looks around Winterfell and reminds Roose of his own risky betrayal of the Starks. Big risks = big rewards. Still distrustful, Roose hands Littlefinger a message from Cersei, who had thought Littlefinger was in the Vale. Littlefinger notices the message has been opened, but Roose shrugs. Roose also demands to read any reply. A serving woman leads Sansa to her room (as if she needed guidance in her own home) but before leaving tells her "The North remembers!".
In King's Landing the High Septon (Westeros' equivalent of the pope) is engaging in some blasphemous sex games with prostitutes when the Sparrows (the religious fundamentalist group) break in and just ruin his day. They whip him naked thru the street. The disgraced High Septon goes to Cersei and the Small Council to demand action. However they are displeased with the spectacle of a so-called holy man being caught cavorting with hookers. Cersei goes to see the leader of the Sparrows, the High Sparrow. She is impressed to see that this man practices what he preaches as he walks barefoot and ministers to the sick and poor. As with Ned Stark, Cersei respects rectitude provided she can find a way to use it. She also notices that the High Sparrow isn't afraid of her. She explains to him that the crown and the church feed off of each other's legitimacy. Having one of them called into question harms the other. So Cersei threw the High Septon into prison instead of killing or imprisoning the High Sparrow. When Cersei goes to Qyburn to have him send a message to Littlefinger we see that something large is tied to Qyburn's examination table. It makes no sound but it moves.

At the Wall, Jon again formally declines Stannis' offer of Winterfell and asks him when he's leaving. Stannis is impressed with Jon's Ned Stark inspired tenacity and honor but doubts it's for the best. Davos tells Jon that oath or no oath the Boltons are not good for the North. Jon should remember his responsibility to all of the realm, not just the Night's Watch. As Lord Commander Jon raises Alliser Thorne to First Ranger. He also orders Janos Slynt to go take control of Greyguard, a ruined castle. Janos tells Jon no and fervently explains where Jon can insert his order. Jon explains that this was an order, not an offer and gives Janos a chance to reconsider. When Janos still refuses, Jon has him taken outside. Just like dear old Dad would have done, Jon personally executes Janos. Janos died whimpering and crying. In Volantis, Tyrion finally convinces Varys to let him out for some rest and recreation. They see a Red Priestess who seems to recognize Tyrion. Disquieted they retreat to a brothel where Tyrion discovers to his horror that he's not interested in having sex. Whether this is the result of too much wine, grief over Shae, a bout of erectile dysfunction or worse, an attack of morality, is not explained because out of nowhere Lord Friendzone himself, aka Jorah Mormont, appears and kidnaps Tyrion. Jorah intends to take Tyrion to Daenerys and use this gift to get into her smallclothes good graces.

What I liked
  • Michael McElhatton continues to impress as Roose Bolton. Unlike his crazy son Roose is always under control, but there's something off and cold about him. However he has a very commanding presence. When he talks you listen.
  • Jon Snow coming into his own as Lord Commander. It's also important to remember that Janos Slynt betrayed Ned Stark and helped to murder him, something of which Jon would have been very much aware.
  • Cersei's refusal to respond to Margaery's antagonisms.
  • Arya's inability to throw away Needle. 
  • Identity was very important in tonight's episode. Arya is being forced to throw hers away. Sansa's is only important to the Boltons as a symbol. As with Joffrey Sansa will have to hide her true feelings. Jon is finding his. Theon has seemingly lost his forever.
  • Does an oath have to be upheld no matter what? That's an ongoing question in this series. 
  • Stannis' grim and wholly unselfconscious sense of humor as exhibited in the quote at the top of the post. He has his moments.
What I didn't like
  • If Sansa believes that she has a choice, there's no way she would agree to marry into the families that murdered her mother and brother. Her proposed father in-law stabbed her brother through the heart and her mother-in-law is a Frey. What's next Ramsay dies and Sansa marries one of the Freys?
  • The Brienne: Podrick adventures felt shoehorned in the episode.
  • The Vale and The North are different kingdoms which are far apart. It would take ages for a rider to get from one to another. And as Littlefinger didn't tell anyone where he was going how would anyone at the Vale know to send the message to Winterfell?
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Reviews: Half A King

Half a King
by Joe Abercrombie
Like George Martin, Joe Abercrombie writes grim dark fantasy that deconstructs many of the tropes that were used in fantasy literature post-Tolkien. I think this was necessary. How many times can one really read about ancient evil returning, kindly old wizards, grim but loyal warriors who never use their strength to do wrong or incompetent sheep herdsmen who turn out to be the lost heir/chosen one/world savior that everyone has been awaiting? After a while it gets predictable. In his First Law trilogy Abercrombie, like Martin and to a degree Moorcock before him, overturned all the chairs in the stuffy old temple of fantasy literature, using his sharp whips of cynicism and realism to drive out the lazy moneychanging clones of Tolkien and Anderson. However in his trilogy and a few of the stories he's written since then I thought that occasionally Abercrombie could go too far in the other direction where everything that happens is bad and everyone is only out for himself or herself. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that that wasn't the case in his book Half a King. Prince Yarvi is the second son of King Uthrik. Yarvi is an ongoing disappointment to his cold and stereotypically masculine father. Yarvi not only lacks the aggression, leadership qualities and violent streak much prized in men by his people, but even if he had those things it's unclear as to whether he could use them. Yarvi was born with a clubhand and withered forearm (on his left if memory serves correctly) and thus can't really properly bear a shield, swing a two handed battleaxe, or perform many of the military or athletic activities that are expected in men of his class and nation. In open despair, Yarvi once moaned to his father that he didn't ask to be born with half a hand. His father coolly replied that he didn't ask for half a son. There are only three close people in Yarvi's life who show something besides quiet contempt for him. They are (1) his beautiful, intelligent, perceptive and occasionally cruel mother Laithlin, who constantly gives Yarvi lessons on pragmatism and leadership, (2) his watchful uncle Odem who is one of the few people who doesn't laugh or turn away in disgust when Yarvi ineptly practices battle skills, and (3) Mother Gundring, who is the ruling family's minister (think doctor, biologist, philosopher, librarian, lawyer, advisor, and priest all in one person). 
Ministers do not marry or hold any political office. They sire or bear no children. They can not inherit or pass on property. So Yarvi, recognizing that this lifestyle fits him better than being a prince, is studying to become a minister. He's actually quite smart. Yarvi's father has many years left to his reign. And Yarvi's older gruff, occasionally bullying brother is the heir. Being a minister and being apart from his relatives would make Yarvi and his family both very happy.

Those plans go out of the proverbial window when Yarvi's brother and father are murdered in a treacherous attack by a rival king. Suddenly Yarvi's the new king. And the obvious thing to do is to lead a war party to avenge his loved ones', (well related ones' anyway) deaths. His grieving mother will accept no less; her reputation for vengeance is scarcely less than that of her late husband. She married a M-A-N. She'll be damned if anyone claims she didn't raise one. However things don't exactly go the way Yarvi wanted. In short time he finds himself sold into slavery and thought to be dead by his kinfolk. His situation worsens from there. Yarvi must deal with some seemingly impossible odds to get vengeance for his murdered relatives and now himself. He says "I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man but I swore a whole oath."  Yarvi will discover if the political skills he's picked up from listening to his mother and minister or by reading his books are enough to survive in a world where weakness is routinely mocked, exploited and destroyed. Can his mind protect him? This book was concise and packed full of humor where you would least expect it. It's also a mystery procedural though you may not even realize that until later in the book. Abercrombie leaves little asides and clues throughout the text that you may or may not recognize. As usual, Abercrombie has written well crafted characters of both genders, both evil and good. One prominent villainess combines Scarlet O'Hara's florid and grandiloquent speech with Simon Legree's brutal nature. No woman is just waiting around to be rescued, but Abercrombie didn't write women who are men in drag either. I liked this book. It's a coming of age story. It tones down some of Abercrombie's trademark grimdark cynicism. There is betrayal and evil in this world. But there is also selflessness, sacrifice and even love. I found Abercrombie's creation in Half a King more realistic than a world where everyone is backstabbing each other the second they get the chance. Humans are all a mixture of devils and angels. Good and evil furiously churn in the same person. Although the softcover version clocked in at just over 300 pages, Half a King is a very quick read. You will definitely want to know what happens next. The text size was pretty large so the page count is not truly an accurate indicator of the story length. 

I had heard that this story was aimed at younger readers but given the mayhem I'm not sure if that was truly the case. Or perhaps younger readers are more inured to offhand descriptions of men being cleaved from head to chin than I thought they were. This is the first in a trilogy but is also complete in itself.

Monday, April 20, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The House of Black and White

"Nothing's worth anything to dead men."
The Bolton flayed man sigil atop Winterfell showing in the episode intro is a depressing sign of change if you are a Stark partisan. But Stannis discovers anew that people in the North have an almost religious reverence for the Stark name. Roose Bolton can call himself Warden of the North but he might be well advised to watch his back. But more on that in a minute. This episode brought back everyone's favorite left handed action girl, Arya Stark. She has arrived in Braavos and been taken to the House of Black and White. There she knocks on the door which is eventually opened by, well for now let's just call him the kindly old man. Arya presents the coin, says the magic words and asks to see Jaqen H'ghar. The kindly old man says there's no one here by that name and closes the door. Arya waits for a few minutes. The minutes turn into hours; the hours turn into at least a day or two. Arya keeps her spirits up by reciting her kill list. Charming little lady isn't she. Eventually, depressed, she throws the coin away and goes off to live in the streets, just as she did in King's Landing. Hunting pigeons for food or barter Arya has just killed one when three thugs make it clear that they intend to rob her of her kill, her sword and possibly more. Unafraid, Arya is walking forward to fight. But the three ruffians look over her shoulder and run away. It's the kindly old man. He has retrieved the coin she threw away. He invites her to the House of Black and White. He also changes his face to that of Jaqen H'ghar. He tells Arya that he is no one. In the House of Black and White Arya will learn to be no one as well. Cue ominous music. In an inn Podrick is enjoying watching the sway of the serving girl's hips when quite by accident he sees Littlefinger and Sansa along with their Vale guard. That good old male gaze sure can come in handy sometimes. Podrick informs Brienne. 

Littlefinger is enjoying playing Yoda to Sansa's Jedi apprentice. He doesn't appreciate Brienne's interruption or her flowery invocation of her oath to Lady Catelyn to find and protect the Stark daughters. Littlefinger is very a quick thinker. He points out that Brienne has served both Renly and (Littlefinger says allegedly) Lady Stark but both are dead. So Littlefinger questions Brienne's competence if not her eagerness. Littlefinger also states that he is Sansa's uncle (technically true) and that he has more of a right to protect Sansa than Brienne does (true if you overlook the fact that he murdered Lysa, betrayed Ned and set off the whole war in the first place). But what really wounds Brienne is that Sansa, remembering that Brienne arrived in King's Landing with Jaime Lannister and bowed to Joffrey, refuses to leave with Brienne. Littlefinger tries to have his soldiers "arrest" Brienne, but she (that is one LARGE woman) makes a break for it along with Podrick. Whatever else she is Brienne is no joke, killing a good number of the Vale soldiers and saving Podrick's life. Afterwards Podrick wonders if they should continue on this quest, as each Stark daughter has rejected Brienne, but Brienne is a woman who takes oaths seriously. Bronn is walking along the beach with his less than attractive bride to be, Lollys Stokeworth. She's rambling on about nothing in particular; Bronn is not paying attention. He is only marrying her because of her family's wealth. Bronn is taken aback to learn that Lollys' older sister will inherit the family castle and lands. But he muses that mean older sisters often come to bad ends. Bronn is not happy to see Jaime Lannister. Jaime is going to Dorne to bring back his daughter/niece Myrcella. Cersei just received Myrcella's Lannister medallion. She perceives this as a threat. Being short a hand, Jaime needs Bronn as backup. He promises to find a better (prettier and wealthier) bride for Bronn. 

In Dorne Ellaria Sand is seriously po'd about Oberyn's death. She can't abide watching Myrcella walk around with Trystan Martell. She wants payback and wants it now. She demands that Dorne's ruler, Prince Doran, act. Ellaria also wants to take vengeance on Myrcella. Prince Doran refuses war and angrily dismisses the idea of hurting Myrcella. He says neither will happen as long as he's in charge. Ellaria bitterly reminds Prince Doran that many people in Dorne, including Oberyn's daughters, see things differently. In King's Landing, Cersei has moved into the power vacuum created by Tywin's death. She has put a bounty out on Tyrion. Cersei also sits in the Hand's chair and makes decisions that should be made by the King or Hand. She appoints the disgraced maester Qyburn to be spymaster and says that Mace Tyrell will be Master of Coin. Cersei's moves don't go over very well with Pycelle or Cersei's uncle Kevan Lannister, who know that Cersei is claiming power that she doesn't have. Kevan bluntly tells his niece that he doesn't recognize her authority. Kevan leaves for Casterly Rock, saying that if the king wants something he'll return. 

In Meereen Daenerys continues to learn that ruling is not conquest. Good intentions are not enough. Daario, more street smart than Grey Worm, has found the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of the Unsullied. Daenerys suggests a fair and open trial though some people disagree. An ex-slave is particularly adamant that trials are pointless. Power is the only thing the reactionaries understand. Barristan disagrees. He strongly urges a trial. He reminds Daenerys of her father's unhinged approach to justice and revenge and the cost to the realm. However the ex-slave murders the Son of the Harpy. Well if you're going to be Queen you can't have people undermining your authority. Daenerys has the man publicly executed. This causes a riot as the large population of freedmen/women and poor people feel betrayed by their "mhysa". At the Wall, Stannis is reading Jon the riot act about his mercy kill of Mance. But it also looks like Stannis respects Jon's principles. He again offers to legitimize Jon as a Stark and give him Winterfell. This isn't out of the kindness of his heart. Stannis has sought aid from other northern families but has been rejected. The Mormonts, the family mostly led by women, has sent him a terse message stating that they know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark. Sam is reading about former commanders of the Night's Watch. Many of them were Starks. 

Selyse isn't happy about her daughter Shireen teaching Gilly to read. She doesn't trust or like wildings, especially since her husband burned their king. Jon declines Stannis' offer. Again. There is an election for the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Thorne and Mallister are the leading candidates. Janos Slynt speaks of Thorne's history and deeds. Showing unusual courage Sam stands up among his brothers to deride Slynt's cowardice. After all, the man hid in the pantry with Gilly and her baby during the battle. Sam says that he found Slynt there "in a puddle of his own making." Sam states that when stuff gets real, it's Jon Snow whom men look to for leadership and direction. Thorne admits that Jon has had his moments but questions his relationships, romantic and otherwise, with wildlings. There's a tie in the vote between Jon and Thorne. Maester Aemon breaks the tie in favor of Jon. Another Stark has become Lord Commander.

What I liked
  • There was a parallel between two young naive rulers (Robb Stark, Daenerys) faced with disobedience from subordinates. Each decided that the crime of disobedience and murder required immediate death, even though a more pragmatic ruler might have decided otherwise. It's a tough call. No leader can let followers openly reject their authority but every leader also knows that authority is something ultimately given, not extorted. This was made explicit in the election for Lord Commander. The best leaders find balance.
  • The hissing of the population after the execution of the former slave was very ominous. Again I think that this storyline can't help but remind people of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or before that the whole "White Man's Burden" spoken of by Kipling. Daenerys does not understand the people she rules and could end up just as despised as the slave masters she overthrew. You can't just get rid of the bad guys and rule happily ever after. As the Hound would say, "Life is not a song."
  • Littlefinger seems to have dropped or toned down the "Batman voice" he was using in previous seasons. This is good as he's no longer so obviously part of #TeamEvil. The way he dealt with Brienne was quite skilled. Every word and gesture was for Sansa's consumption.
  • Qyburn asking Cersei for the head of a murdered dwarf for his experiments. He may be genial and quiet but Qyburn is not, repeat not, a good man.
  • Drogon's brief return. Like his siblings, he's become much larger.
  • There is something of Satan tempting Jesus in Stannis' routine offers to Jon. Although Jon has broken rules before he usually did it for a greater good or to keep some more important oath. But as he reminds Sam even though he's dreamed of being legitimate, he gave his word to the Night's Watch.
  • This could be in both the like and dislike sections but the Sansa and Littlefinger storylines in particular are different than the published books. I won't talk too much about that now because this isn't about the books but I am interested to see where the showrunners go with this.
  • Ellaria Sand's rage. Well done. Very well done.
  • Missandei (heh, heh)
  • Jon Snow knows the value of mercy. Danerys has yet to learn that.

What I didn't like
  • More whining from Tyrion. This is mercifully briefer than it was in the books but a little bit goes a mighty long way. I would have been okay not seeing Tyrion and Varys in this episode.
  • The Unsullied carrying seven foot spears into small homes. Seems like swords or axes would have been better choices. I guess that was to show their lack of street smarts.
  • I wanted to know what Bolton is up to. He can't be happy that Stannis is up north.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Movie Reviews: Last Knights, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

Last Knights
directed by Kazuaki Kiriya
Imagine 47 Ronin redone for a world where people of different races all live together in the same area marrying, loving, hating and killing each other without regard to skintones. Imagine a A Game of Thrones subtheme (a man too proud and rigid in his definition of good refusing to play the game and bringing ruin onto his family) brought to the big screen. That isLast Knights. There is a continual conflict between deontology and consequentialism in life. If we discover that a little league team championship baseball team has inadvertently(?) broken the rules should we remove their title? If the text of a law creating health care subsidies has a glaring mistake within should we invalidate the law though that will harm millions of people? Should a proud and good lord refuse to pay bribes to a greedy minister and then call out the corruption even though by doing so he insults the emperor? Does anyone really believe "Let justice be done though the heavens fall"? Yes, some people do believe that. We may consider such people to be heroic martyrs or dangerously rigid idealists. Although few people are absolute deontologists, those who tend towards deontologist mindsets tend to have tremendous respect for rules, codes and laws whether they be externally imposed or internally accepted. A man's gotta have a code pretty much sums up their outlook. They will think long and hard before breaking such strictures and will usually support punishing those who do, even themselves. A deontologist believes that a person should do the "right" thing and/or follow the rules regardless of the consequences. Doing the right thing is reward enough. Giving consequences serious consideration doesn't factor heavily into a deontologist's moral calculus.

This is especially true of deontologist types who happen to be warriors. For them obedience unto death is a job description. These are the sort of people, who if ordered to guard their lord's children or to make a hopeless last stand, will grimly do so with no complaint and no expectation of survival. On the other hand, a consequentialist, or rather a utilitarian, will have much less faith in rules or codes and much more interest in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. So for example if they must falsify evidence to convict a clearly guilty rapist, or occasionally turn a blind eye to some smaller corruption to avoid war or save the lives of loved ones or keep quiet in order to live and fight another day they will do so. Neither position is necessarily "good" or "bad". Moral and immoral people can be found at every point on and between these two poles. Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman) is definitely a deontologist. The Stark Bartok clan is an old proud much respected family that has produced many great warriors and leaders. But times are changing. Lord Bartok has no son to inherit his name and sword. His biological sons predeceased him. The Emperor (Payman Maadi) is centralizing power. The Emperor uses his execrable minister Geza Mott (Aksel Hennie) to do this. Mott, with a wink and nod from the Emperor, shakes down the various noble families for extortionate bribes. Refusal to pay a bribe is disrespecting Mott. Disrespecting Mott is disrespecting the Emperor. The Emperor has a highly negative response to anyone challenging his power or authority. The arrogant Mott has finally ordered Lord Bartok to come to the capital. Obviously Geza is expecting a bribe and can't wait to boast how he made the old warrior Lord Bartok bow and scrape.

Lord Bartok arrives at the capital, along with his personal guard of hardcore warriors led by Commander Raiden, (Clive Owen) his foster son and most loyal and feared retainer. But after a brief oblique discussion with Raiden about the nature of right and wrong and the future of their clan, Bartok tenaciously holds true to his beliefs. There is a high price paid. Although everything that happens next is legal everyone knows that legal or not, Winter Revenge is Coming. It's only a question of when or if Raiden will pull himself out of depression and self-hate to put the band back together. The action scenes are well shot but nowhere near as graphic or as exciting as films like Hammer of the Gods or Ironclad. Cliff Curtis does his normal solid work as Raiden's second, Lt. Cortez. Park Si-Yeon is Hannah, Geza Mott's long suffering wife. The Iranian actress Shoreh Aghdashloo is Lord Bartok's wife. As with any good war or heist movie there is the requisite number of betrayals, the cocky young kid looking for an opportunity to prove himself as a man among men, the honorable enemy who dislikes his evil master's orders but is sworn to obey them, damsels in distress and grim boasts. This was an okay film but clearly Freeman and Owen are capable of better. I liked the multiple races/ethnicities employed. Last Knights was blandly enjoyable but aside from a few exceptional setpiece battles this film wasn't something that was going to stay in your mind after the ending. I do like revenge movies though. You've heard of comfort foods? This was a comfort movie.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

directed by Spike Lee
This is a remake/reinterpretation of a movie, Ganja and Hess, which I haven't seen. Perhaps if I had seen that film I would have a different, complete or better understanding of Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (DSBJ) but we can only play the hand we were dealt. I am not interested in seeing Ganja and Hess now. The good part about DSBJ is the cinematography. I don't know if there is another American director of any race who routinely shows black people in such beautiful lighting and settings. Chocolate, mahogany, caramel, cafe latte, ebony, all are shown here in exquisite loving detail. You could make a coffee table artbook from the photos. Obviously good looking actors and actresses of any race are going to look well, good, but Spike Lee always brings that something special. And he does so here. The fact that he made this film via Kickstarter for a relatively small amount of money makes me more impressed with his visual skills. The film looks very rich and colorful. Unfortunately the bad parts about DSBJ include almost everything else. To be polite I would say that that this movie was outre and challenging. To be honest I would say the film was virtually incoherent. The music, normally a strong point in Lee films, was WAY too loud and intrusive. The music chosen was often completely wrong for the scenes. It took the viewer away from what was going on in the shot instead of emphasizing it. 
DSBJ is about addiction more than vampirism. There are many themes. There's questions about black masculinity and femininity, African history, AIDS, black upper class guilt, homosexuality, white cultural theft, capitalism, religion, the black church, wealth, assimilation, forgiveness, sexual abuse and many many more social issues. I didn't think that these elements were mixed together very well. The film also ran about thirty minutes too long. It felt more like a play than a film. There's an iciness and distance that pervades the entire movie. There's no tension or fear or character development. You won't identify with anyone. Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a wealthy anthropologist and art collector who splits his time between Martha's Vineyard and NYC. Greene is a cold and distant man. One night at his home Greene is attacked and murdered by his depressed research assistant/fellow anthropologist Dr. Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), who afterwards commits suicide. It's unclear as to why Hightower was suicidal and murderous. He may have had unrequited sexual feelings for Greene. Who knows? Although Hightower stabbed Greene in the heart with an ancient Ashanti dagger, Greene is shocked to find himself returned from the dead. He also has a sudden lust for human blood, which he temporarily slakes by drinking from Hightower's body. Greene sprouts no fangs and doesn't spontaneously combust when the sun touches his skin. He doesn't sleep in a coffin.
After a short period of preying upon Black and hispanic single mothers and hookers in NYC, Greene returns home one day to find Hightower's estranged, brassy and beautiful English wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) demanding to know where her husband is. But Greene falls in love with Ganja. This film isn't the first work of art to make a connection between the religious doctrine of transubstantiation and the needs of someone who is addicted to blood. That is found in vampire stories from Stoker's Dracula to King's Salem's Lot. DSBJ uses this theme but it never really decides what it wants to say about it. If vampires are just blood addicts should they be pitied or destroyed? This film can't decide. In fact it's not interested in even asking that question. It doesn't really take a moral side. So this was a movie during which I found myself constantly checking how much time was left, not because I didn't want it to end but because I did. There is full frontal nudity here from both genders. If you could not live without seeing Felicia Pearson (Snoop from The Wire) nude then this is a film for you. The hair stylist Nate Bova makes her acting debut but (fortunately? unfortunately?) it's in an extremely explicit, detailed and lengthy lesbian scene. I think this film might be more of interest to film students who can appreciate the technical challenges of low budget filmmaking than it would be to the casual viewer who is just looking for an engaging story. But as with everything YMMV. Katherine Borowitz (aka Mrs. John Turturro), Rami Malek, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Raphael Saadiq, Valerie Simpson, Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Donna Dixon have roles.

The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

directed by Chang Cheh and Roy Ward Baker
"Everybody was kung-fu fighting/Those kicks were fast as lightning"
In the late seventies the Rolling Stones jumped on the disco bandwagon with Miss You. In the eighties Aerosmith reignited their career by doing a version of their song Walk This Way with the then hotter rap group Run-DMC. Similarly in 1974 Hammer Films was reeling financially. Its bosomy period horror flicks were out of style. So the Hammer producers and studio execs tried to duplicate what was popular. Hong Kong kung fu movies were popular. Motivated by pure profit based opportunism, Hammer tried to revive its fortunes by co-producing a horror/kung fu movie with the famous Hong Kong Shaw Brothers Studio. It didn't work. Perhaps the usual Orientalist aspects of Hammer productions didn't mesh with the more independent, modern and proud Chinese Shaw Brothers approach. Perhaps it didn't work because the Chinese and English crews couldn't really understand each other and didn't get along that well when they did. Perhaps it didn't work because kung fu horror wasn't what people wanted, then or now. Peter Cushing did his normal good work as the eternally doubted vampire hunter Van Helsing but he's really in the wrong film. Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) looks and sounds very much like he wandered in from La Cage Aux Folles. He's about as scary as Count Chocula. Perhaps recognizing a camp Dracula doesn't work, the directors mostly keep Dracula offscreen. They do this by having Dracula possess the body of a Chinese villain which is ironic considering this is basically what Hammer was trying to do with the kung fu genre.
In the 1800s an evil Chinese monk goes to Transylvania to ask for Dracula's help in restoring the power of seven Chinese vampires. In the 1900s Van Helsing lectures at a Chinese university about the legend of vampires who have terrorized a remote Chinese village for centuries. It's not explained why the villagers didn't just move. But if that question comes to mind the horror genre isn't for you anyway. The professors and students dismiss Van Helsing as a nut and leave. Everyone departs except for Hsi Ching (David Chiang) the leader of a band of kung fu expert siblings. He tells Van Helsing that the legend is true. His grandfather killed a vampire. Hsi Ching wants Van Helsing's help in eliminating the other vampires. Hsi Ching thinks that with his family's kung fu skills and Van Helsing's knowledge, they can't lose. The wealthy Norwegian widow Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) agrees to fund the expedition but only if she can come along. She's got eyes for Hsi Ching. Her character only exists to show off impressive cleavage. Throughout the film more and more articles of her clothing either get wet or come off though Ege apparently (unless there's an unedited edition available) had a no toplessness clause in her contract, something the Chinese extras didn't. When someone asked Baker why he cast Ege he incredulously asked the person to look at her. Ege had been Miss Norway and a Penthouse Pet. Fair enough.
Special effects and cinematography are surprisingly worse than Hammer's work fifteen years before this film. Heck, they're worse than Universal did FORTY(!) years before this film. I'm talking obvious fake bats on strings and stop motion decaying deflating vampires. The film looks very very cheap. The picture and colors lack definition. I wonder if the director of photography was drunk. The indifferent dubbing only makes matters worse. The fight scenes are ok and of a piece with the times. No one is going to mistake this for Five Deadly Venoms (a later Shaw Brothers masterpiece) or Enter the Dragon. The Chinese siblings, with the exception of Hsi Ching and his sister, who likes Van Helsing's son, are never differentiated from one another. Still they are the best part of the film, particularly in an early set piece where the entire family joyously runs to meet the enemy. Aside from that I was joyous when this film concluded. I'm not including the trailer because Hammer actually ineptly revealed the entire ending in the trailer. You're not missing much though.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Religious Freedom, Discrimination and Airplanes

I am not religious though I have respect for people's religious beliefs. I avoid needlessly poking fun at them. There are limits to this respect but in general I don't see the point in deliberately pointing out fallacies and flaws in someone's faith unless they try to push it onto me. Lately religious freedom has come to be used primarily by people on the political right to avoid otherwise generally applicable laws. There's no reason that religious freedom should be a partisan issue. There are just as many historical and current controversies where people on the political left have cited religious freedom to avoid participating in things the right supports (saluting the flag, pledging allegiance, being drafted, etc..). So it should go both ways. I see religious objections as just a smaller and fiercer subset of conscience objections. And I often admire people who are truly motivated by individual conscience. There is one small caveat though. I may respect people who are standing up to the state or business or other members of society who are trying to make them do something. I don't have any use for people claiming religious freedom who are trying to burden OTHER people. I have the religious freedom to abstain from eating pork or shellfish. It's not religious freedom however for me to try to make you live by my dietary restrictions. It's a small but crucial distinction. Recently some male members of the growing and politically active ultra-Orthodox Jewish community have made some news by refusing to sit next to unrelated women while using transportation. Presumably this problem would also extend to unrelated men sitting next to traveling ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. 

Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move. Laura Heywood, 42, had a similar experience while traveling from San Diego to London via New York. She was in a middle seat — her husband had the aisle — when the man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood, offended by the notion that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate, refused. “I wasn’t rude, but I found the reason to be sexist, so I was direct,” she said.  

A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down.
Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox insist that the behavior is anomalous and rare. “I think that the phenomenon is nowhere near as prevalent as some media reports have made it seem,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, which represents ultra-Orthodox Jews. “The haredi men I know,” Rabbi Shafran said, using the Hebrew word for the ultra-Orthodox, “have no objection to sitting next to a woman on any flight.”

The ultra-Orthodox have increasingly seen gender separation as a kind of litmus test of Orthodoxy — it wasn’t always that way, but it has become that way,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College. “There is an ongoing culture war between these people and the rest of the modern world, and because the modern world has increasingly sought to become gender neutral, that has added to the desire to say, ‘We’re not like that.’”

I don't really care how you behave in the privacy of your own home. And as mentioned I modestly sympathize with some people who feel that they are being bullied by an ever expanding government determined to enforce, pardon the pun, orthodoxy, around questions of gender, child raising practices, sexuality and what have you. But that sympathy stops here. If you are older than say five years old and still believe that women have cooties, if you think that you will be tempted, seduced or made impure by every single non-related women you run across in life, if you think that you have the right to demand that society adapt to you rather than the other way around, maybe this country isn't really the right place for you. You're a dummy. There is no other way to put it. Being descended from people who did indeed have to give up seats, switch seats or otherwise adjust their lives to the fears and anger of bigots, I have absolutely no truck with any man or woman, regardless of their religion, who seeks to impose any sort of segregation in public accommodations. If you want to do that in your synagogue, mosque or church, knock yourself out. But don't try it in the public square. And certainly don't try it around me. Because you're opening up yourself and your religion up for public mockery. Nobody should ever switch seats because someone refuses to sit next to them due to gender. Nobody. And if some idiot is preventing the departure of a bus or plane because of this, throw them off the vehicle, and do not refund their money. If this happens often enough, word will get around. I believe that similar to how the Mormons had a revelation that black men could actually be priests, the Orthodox Jews pitching a fit over the possibility of sitting next to an unrelated woman, will suddenly discover a new interpretation allowing them to do just that. Ridiculous.

What do you think?

If you are a woman would you move?

If you are a man would you switch seats with a woman to remedy this situation?

Monday, April 13, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Wars to Come

"The freedom to make my own mistakes is all I ever wanted."
Well we're back. Season Five is underway. We open up with a flashback memory as ten year old Cersei bullies her friend into accompanying her to visit a local witch who can supposedly see the future. Using the ever effective threat of an angry Tywin Lannister, the young Cersei makes the witch tell of Cersei's future. It's grim. Not only will she not marry Prince Rhaegar but her future husband will be a king who has twenty children while she will only have three. All of her children will have golden crowns and golden shrouds. A younger more beautiful queen will eventually cast Cersei down. This prophecy helps explain why Cersei, who clearly was already a bad seed as a child, has become such a paranoid and vindictive adult with an especial dislike for Margaery. Visiting her father's body before the public viewing, Cersei blames Jaime for releasing Tyrion and urges him to find their little brother. Jaime is well aware that Tywin's death will embolden Lannister enemies. Twyin was a bada$$ but now he's just a dead bada$$. At the wake Cersei can barely tolerate the fake condolences and murmurs of support. She's drinking herself into numbness. Cersei is stunned to see her cousin and former lover Lancel, who has joined the religious fundamentalist group known as the Sparrows. Judging by Lancel's appearance these people appear to be into poverty, chastity and bad haircuts. Lancel tells Cersei that he truly regrets playing "Mama's got a squeezebox" with a close relative and one who was married. He also is contrite about helping her to murder the king. He wants her forgiveness and for her to confess her sins. Unsurprisingly, Cersei is not huge on the whole confession thingie and denies knowing what Lancel is talking about. To be fair, confession really didn't work out so well for Ned Stark, now did it?

Margaery may pretend innocence with King Tommen but we're reminded again it's all an act when we see her interrupt Loras and his lover. Showing a disturbing lack of respect for familial privacy Margaery sits on the bed and forces the other man to leave. She wants to talk to Loras in private. She tells Loras that he should be more discreet with his boy toys but Loras sees no reason to do that now that Tywin is dead and Loras' forced marriage to Cersei is likely off. In fact the more open Loras is about his sexuality the lower the chances of marrying Cersei are. Loras feels liberated and unafraid. No dummy, Loras quickly realizes that Margaery wants Cersei married and far away from King's Landing and her. The siblings' interests are diverging. In the Vale Brienne is depressed about losing Arya and is venting her frustration on Podrick. She's tired of having him around and looking up to her. Podrick reminds her that she swore to find both Stark girls. Sansa (with Littlefinger) is traveling just a few hundred yards away from Brienne and Podrick. Lord Pervert and his charge have left Robin Arryn with Lord Royce after Littlefinger received a message which he notably declined to share with anyone. As Sansa later noticed, Littlefinger told Lord Royce they were going somewhere other than their true destination, which appears to be The North. We'll see. In Pentos while Tyrion grumbles over the indignity of spending the entire sea voyage in a box and the horrors of having murdered Tywin and Shae, Varys plays him the world's smallest violin. 

Varys openly admits that he's been working for the restoration of the Targaryens because Robert Baratheon was a crappy king. He thinks that Tyrion could help with that goal. Varys, like Littlefinger, is a remarkably pragmatic individual, though he seems to lack Littlefinger's deliberate cruelty. Or does he? I mean who could have predicted that a released Tyrion would confront and kill Tywin? In Meereen, an Unsullied soldier goes to a brothel. He just wants some snuggling but once he relaxes he's murdered by a pro-slavery reactionary. These people are known as the Sons of the Harpy. Missandei queries Grey Worm as to why an Unsullied would go to a brothel. This is her way of asking Grey Worm if he just lost his berries or did he lose root and stem. Grey Worm declines to answer THAT question. Daenerys continues to learn that leadership doesn't just mean that everyone does what you say. Hizdahr zo Loraq has returned from Yunkai and pronounced the diplomacy a success. He and the leaders of Yunkai do have one request though. They want to reopen the fighting pits, this time with free men, instead of slaves, though in truth almost of the fighters will be former slaves. Finding the idea abhorrent Daenerys peremptorily refuses.

However later after her special "adult time" with Daario, she learns from Daario that the fighting pits are part of the culture. Daario's a veteran of the pits. He thinks the pits were a good thing. Daario suggests that Daenerys show her strength not by keeping the fighting pits closed but rather by openly displaying the dragons again. Daenerys visits the cave where she chained two of her dragons. They're larger than before and don't exactly appear happy to see their "mother". If you think unruly mastiffs are an issue try having untrained dragons. You are probably aware that people give each other a look when they want to do the do. Melisandre, appearing like she stepped out of an erectile dysfunction commercial, gives that look to Jon Snow when she summons him from training to meet Stannis. She even inquires if he is a virgin, and is pleased to learn that he isn't. Mercifully Stannis isn't interested in Jon's sex life but rather his political value. Stannis reminds Jon that Jon is the illegitimate son of Ned Stark. The traitor Roose Bolton, who murdered Jon's brother Robb Stark, now holds Winterfell. As everyone who saw Roose murder Robb is either dead or allied with the cautious Roose, one wonders exactly how Stannis would know these precise details. Did the normally circumspect Roose send out messages boasting that he stabbed Robb through the heart? Anyway Jon isn't having it, reminding Stannis, Davos and Melisandre that he is a member of the Night's Watch and thus beyond revenge or inheritances.

Davos points out that Jon is not necessarily a well liked member of the Night's Watch, particularly by such men as Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt. As Jon won't be tempted by Winterfell, Stannis appeals to his sense of compassion for the wildlings. Stannis intends to dispose of Roose Bolton but needs additional men to do that. He wants to add the wildings to his army. In return he will allow them to settle south of the Wall and become citizens. It's a good deal. But Stannis being Stannis he insists that the wildling leader Mance bend the knee. Convinced that the wellbeing of the wildings is more important than any principle, Jon tries to persuade Mance Rayder to kneel to Stannis and to authorize the wildings to fight for Stannis. In the episode's most powerful and moving scene Mance bluntly refuses. Jon accuses him of putting his pride above everything else. Mance rejects that frame. It's not about his personal pride. To bend the knee to a king would be to betray the whole Free Folk ethos. Mance would lose his people's respect and involve them in someone else's war. Why should they bleed for other people? Mance embodies the New Hampshire state motto. Stannis respects this but still orders Melisandre, arrayed in her typical cleavage bearing gown, to burn Mance alive. Disgusted, Jon puts Mance out of his misery before the flames can finish doing their work.

What I liked
  • As Jaime pointed out, Tywin can't inspire fear from beyond the grave. Without the dominant personality of Tywin to compel obedience, many people will feel entitled to push back against the dwindling(?) Lannister power. 
  • It's one thing to die in battle. You may never see the sword or spear with your name on it. But to be imprisoned and have time to consider your own death is another thing entirely. Mance is scared because being burned alive is a horrible fate. But like any martyr he holds true to his beliefs even at the cost of his own life. How many people would do such a thing? 
  • Varys being atypically confident and direct with Tyrion. No simpering. Straight honest talk. 
  • Daenerys initially claiming that as she wasn't a politician she did not need to worry about pleasing people or making alliances. After all she won. Well like every other executive, elected or not, she will see that it's always easier when people buy into your program. 
  • The calmness of the fanatic/true believer as exemplified by Melisandre and Lancel is disturbing. They simply aren't able to be reasoned with or influenced by material considerations. You are either with them or against them. Period.
What I didn't like
  • I wonder if the producers were sensitive to charges of too much female nudity. Anyhow this episode had more male butt than a toilet seat in a Turkish bathhouse. Not really my thing but if you like seeing this, this was an episode you didn't want to miss. 
  • Varys was too chatty with Tyrion . It seemed a bit too much out of character. It felt like an unnecessary information dump. 
  • Tyrion's self-pity party.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....