Monday, May 30, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Blood of My Blood

The show has moved past the published books, but nevertheless still has a few plot lines from the published books to explore. Although I think some of these worked better than others I am impressed with how well the show does with some themes that bored me to tears on the written page. But then again there are also some story lines which seem to be pretty circular. More on that in a moment. Anyhow we open up with Meera doing her best to drag Bran and his cart through the snowy forest. But Meera is not Brienne. And Bran is not a little kid anymore. Meera does her best but the walking dead are gaining on her and Bran. Bran is time traveling again but this time he's seeing events happen almost all at once. He's seeing his father's murder, the Mad King's pronouncements and death, battles, etc. The cart gets stuck. Meera is exhausted and finally can't go on any longer. At that point a horseman with a covered face rides up. He has a flaming flail which he puts to good use against the dead. He seemingly effortlessly lifts Bran and Meera onto the horse and rides off. Later on this fellow, who doesn't quite look all that healthy, kills a rabbit for food while telling Bran the last time that he saw him he was much younger. Yes you guessed it. It's long lost uncle Benjen Stark. When last seen Benjen was leading an expedition north of the Wall looking for White Walkers. Well he found them. He got a spear through his guts for his troubles. But the Children of the Forest healed him or rather, slowed the change from human to Wight. Benjen is certainly not completely human anymore. But neither is he the walking dead. He's something else. Benjen says that the Three Eyed Raven summoned him to protect Bran. And since he says Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now it's not clear if Bran has always been the Three Eyed Raven or if Benjen was referring to the previous man with that title. Bran says he's not ready but Benjen says that the Night King will come to the Wall where Bran will meet him. Only all of human existence may rest on Bran's shoulders.That doesn't look good for the humans, let me tell you.
Sam and Gilly are riding to Sam's home of Horn Hill. They have what appears to be an official escort. Sam yammers on about different trees and climates throughout Westeros but Gilly can tell that he's just talking because he's nervous. That's okay as she finds that preferable to uncomfortable silences. Sam reminds Gilly that it's a matter of some importance to remember that (1) as far as his family is concerned Sam Jr. is his biological son and (2) Gilly doesn't need to mention that she's a wildling. Sam's father Randyll, who is apparently one fierce dude, doesn't like wildlings. Sam is apprehensive of seeing his father again. Being around people who promise to kill you unless you leave home will do that I guess. Upon arrival Sam's mother and sister are happy to see him. His father and brother are out hunting. At the family dinner Gilly is uncomfortable with the finery and the silverware while Sam is downright petrified. Do you remember the last time one of your parents was really angry or frustrated with you? I don't mean normal annoyance but actual rage or contempt. Well multiply that by about ten thousand and you'll still not reach the intensity of the "What a putz" death glare that Randyll Tarly is giving his first born son. He doesn't think the Night's Watch has changed Sam at all. Randyll is direct and surprisingly canny. He's unimpressed with Sam's stories of small game hunting. When Sam asks for more bread from his mother his father interrupts to say "I guess you aren't fat enough already." Gilly can't take any more of this. She tells Randyll of Sam's deeds of daring, including protecting her north of the Wall and killing White Walkers and Thenns.
Well nobody believes in White Walkers, but Randyll picks up on the "north of the Wall" slip that Gilly made. He figures out that she is a wildling. He is disgusted that his son is literally sleeping with the enemy. He says that he thought Gilly was just a Molestown whore but apparently he overestimated his son. Imagine that. The women leave the dinner table., disappointed with Randyll's biting cruelty. Randyll gets down to brass tacks. He says that it's disgraceful that Sam brought such a woman to his dinner table. Gilly can stay and work in the kitchens but Sam needs to leave. He is not welcome. Not now. Not ever. Sam meekly accepts this. Later on Gilly tries to cheer up Sam. Sam apologizes for not standing up to his Dad. He says that making sure that she and Sam Jr. are safe is the most important thing. He leaves. But then showing he has some stones after all Sam says f*** it and comes back for Gilly and Sam Jr. He also takes his father's prized Valyrian sword, Heartsbane. Sam says that if Daddy wants it back he can come and get it. Tommen goes to see the High Sparrow (THS). Tommen is not happy about Margaery's upcoming walk of shame. Tommen is trying to find a way to stop this. THS lets Tommen see Margaery. Margaery is very calm. She speaks in platitudes. She claims THS has actually helped her understand and deal with her sins. Tommen's confused as usual. Margaery says that everyone needs to atone. Margaery seems to be bursting with happiness of all things. Jaime watches the Tyrell army enter, led by Mace Tyrell. The true Tyrell leader, Olenna, is in a coach listening to her son's bluster. No one seems super inspired by Mace's speech but orders are orders. Spears are lowered and shields are raised. Margaery, attended by THS and surrounded by crowds and the Faith Militant, is about to start her walk when Jaime, virtually radiating bad intentions, rides up to THS and tells him to back down. Give up Margarey and Loras or there will be blood. 
THS tells Jaime to a) come get one in the yarbles and b) he and his don't fear death, they welcome it. There's some more "Yeah you're gonna do what???" tough guy talk before THS seemingly backs down. He says there will be no walk of atonement for Margaery. But the reason for this is that THS says that Margaery has atoned by bringing someone else into the true light of faith. The doors of the Sept open and out walks Tommen, with Kingsguard wearing the seven pointed star of the faith. Mace doesn't understand but his mother peevishly tells him that THS has beaten them again. Shortly after this clusterf***, Tommen removes Jaime as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Attacking the faith is a big no-no. He's sending Jaime out of the city to go take Riverrun back. It seems that Littlefinger was telling the truth about the Tully regrouping. Later on, as the incest doublemint twins engage in foreplay, Jaime tells his sister that rather than leave her to go to the Riverlands, he'd rather kill THS. He thinks he can hire Bronn and a few good men to do that. Cersei, of all people, counsels patience. Sometimes you must smile in your enemies' faces. Jaime is worried about his sister's upcoming trial but she reminds him that she has the (undead) Mountain. We cut away before the twincest commences in earnest. Speaking of Riverrun Walder Frey is very angry that his sons have lost Riverrun and allowed the Blackfish (Catelyn's uncle) to make it a center of resistance. Walder reminds them that the Tullys have lorded it over the Freys for three centuries, but that the Red Wedding should have put an end to that. The Frey sons protest that it's not their fault but that some other families are rising up in support of the Blackfish. Sounding like several middle managers I have known Walder says that it IS their fault. Don't give him any excuses or bring him any bad news. He's tired of people laughing at the Freys. He tells his sons to make the Blackfish yield or else. To help them on this mission he tells them to take Edmure Tully with them and threaten his life.
In Braavos Arya watches the actors depict the events of the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey died. She likes seeing Joffrey die. She's impressed by Lady Crane's soliloquy as Cersei. The actress playing Sansa also watches Lady Crane closely even though she's not in the scene. Arya steals backstage. After a brief period of hesitation she poisons Lady Crane's rum. The play is over. The actors, excited and squabbling as usual, come backstage. One of the interesting thing about humans is that we are prone to recognizing faces after we've seen them a few times. Lady Crane recognizes Arya. Arya claims to be a fan named Mercy and even suggests a few changes to the script. Lady Crane is amused. She says she can only work with what she's given. THIS statement causes a big fight as one of the other actors, who apparently doubles as writer, takes offense. He's sarcastic about his writing not being good enough for an actress of Lady Crane's talents but it will have to do won't it? Resentments flare all around as the other actors seem to know that Lady Crane is better than they are. But Arya has deduced who wants Lady Crane dead. Arya's made a decision. She slaps the poisoned drink out of Lady Crane's hands. Arya points to the actress playing Sansa and tells Lady Crane to be careful of her, she wants you dead. However the Waif has also infiltrated the troupe. As you might expect she can't wait to run and tell Jaqen H'ghar what went down. Busy slicing a face off a corpse Jaqen says Arya's desertion is a shame because she had gifts. Oh well. He tells the Waif that when she kills Arya, don't let her suffer. Meanwhile Arya has retrieved her sword Needle. She's hiding out underground. In what I thought was the night's most pointless scene Daenerys reunites with Drogon. In a deliberate echo to her husband Khal Drogo's speech she asks her men if they will cross the black sea, kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. When they reply in the affirmative she tells them that they are all her bloodriders. She will ask them more than any Khal has ever asked but they will accomplish more than anyone else ever has.

What I liked
  • The conclusion of the Arya training storyline. She's Arya, not no one. It might have been more effective if we had ever had any doubt that she wasn't but so it goes.
  • Randyll Tarly was everything that I imagined he would be. That "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" scene was well written and well acted. No death. No nudity. No magic. Just uncomfortable family dynamics.
  • The show seems to do better, even though this episode was mostly transitional, when it cuts down on jumping between multiple scenes.
  • Margaery is playing a long game. I'm not sure how it works yet but she knows that she can't trust Tommen to stand up for her. And she loves her brother very much. Of course Margaery didn't know of her father's and grandmother's plans.
  • Good to see Walder Frey again. I wish him a slow painful humiliating death but it was still good to see him.
  • Interested to see where this Tully last stand goes.
  • The Daario throwaway line that Daenerys is a conqueror, not ruler could portend some changes in how the show depicts Daenerys. She's mostly been seen thru the lens of grrlpower and rightful ruler and liberator of slaves but that might not be how the people at the bottom see her. Remember that Robb Stark was the good guy but as that scene with Brienne showed us Robb had rapists and murderers in his army. You don't engage in war without harming innocents.
What I didn't like
  • The Daenerys travelogues are starting to get more than tedious. Surprise the nasty misogynist men who underestimate you? Give inspiring speech? Burn enemies? Been there done that. Less talking more doing.
  • As long as Uncle Benjen is going to show up just in time why couldn't he have been there before Hodor and Summer went the way of all flesh?
  • Wouldn't Cersei and Jaime and Olenna have figured out by now that Tommen is the weak sister of the group. They should have ensured that Tommen was kept away from THS.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Movie Reviews: Exposed

directed by Gee Malik Linton 
The listed stars of this film are Keanu Reeves and Mira Sorvino. But that is a bait and switch. They get a fair amount of screen time, well at least Reeves does, but they aren't very important to the story at all. Their roles could have each been played by other people with little change to the movie. We can't really judge effort but neither of the supposed leads appear to be giving it their all in this flick. As you might expect that's much more obvious with Reeves than Sorvino. While Sorvino is almost doing a parody of an east coast street smart extroverted Italian-American, Reeves is somnolent throughout the entire movie. He speaks in mumbles and is hard to understand. He is one low energy dude. It would be interesting to know what attracted Reeves and Sorvino to this movie. I wonder if they just really liked the script or were doing a favor for someone or wanted to help out lesser known people by attaching their name to this movie. Or maybe JUST MAYBE the studio wanted more marketable stars (read white stars) attached to a story that otherwise is dominated by less well known black and hispanic characters. The movie's Black director and writer, Gee Malik Linton, apparently became so irritated by interference with his film that he took his name off the movie in favor of a pseudonym. I don't like micromanagers either. Who does? But he who pays the piper calls the tune. Anyway I scribbled all that to inform you that if you decide to see this movie because of Reeves and Sorvino, please remember that they aren't the important ones in this film. This film fails miserably as a cop thriller because Reeves can't be bothered even to pretend to have the strutting testosterone drenched swagger so stereotypically associated with members of the NYPD. Reeves was miscast. 

Canadian Geese: Pest or Danger?

I live in a semi-rural suburban development. It's not too far from both a river and a lake. And there are many small and large ponds, brooks, streams and creeks near my residence. Combined with the trees this means there are lots and lots of birds. More to the point this means there are lots and lots of waterfowl: ducks, swans and especially Canadian geese. This last group is a big problem. First off they appear to have gotten used to staying in the area year round. Like annoying in-laws or distant relatives they drop in and never ever leave. Next they produce a truly astounding amount of waste material. Between the ducks and geese you really need to watch where you walk. And their biggest irritating feature, thanks in part to people feeding them, is that the geese seem to have lost most of the fear that wild animals normally have for humans. As this is their nesting season they are particularly aggressive around this time. And a Canadian Goose is already a pretty belligerent bird. Whereas the ducks usually waddle off at the first sight (smell?) of humans or dogs the geese do not. In the early mornings some geese congregate on sidewalks like they own the place. I wouldn't put it past them to start charging tax to walk on what they clearly consider their property. It's only when a large dog gets super close and gives verbal indication of impending bloodshed that the geese will reluctantly depart the immediate vicinity. I'm not a hunter or a fan of killing animals for fun. I realize that we're all part of the circle of life. But I'm also not a fan of playing hop-scotch on the sidewalk trying to avoid goose crap or watching ponds or lakes die because of the algae build up caused by goose crap. You don't know how much you can hate an animal until you are mowing your lawn and suddenly feel that disgusting squish that lets you know that yes you just stepped into another one of their leavings. And the germs and bacteria these things carry can't be good for pets either. The way I see it these creatures are vermin. We need to reduce their population and/or convince them to leave. Maybe this means extending hunting season. Maybe this means concerted usage of dogs. Maybe this means finding predators who eat Canadian geese or their eggs and bringing them into a target rich environment. Dunno. But I do know that if I see one more green pile of s*** then that's it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

State Department Inspector General and Hillary Clinton's Private Server

Well this is interesting. If Trump's statements and actions give his detractors reason to believe that he is essentially a carnival barker who is willing to say and do anything to close the deal then Clinton's statements and actions give her detractors reason to believe that she has a post-modern relativist understanding of truth. Truth may well be what Clinton says it is at any point in time. The State Department Inspector General report on the Clinton server issue shows that if nothing else Clinton did something she wasn't supposed to do and knew she wasn't supposed to do. 

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s inspector general on Wednesday sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, saying that she had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had. The report, delivered to members of Congress, undermined some of Mrs. Clinton’s previous statements defending her use of the server and handed her Republican critics, including the party’s presumptive nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, new fodder to attack her just as she closes in on the Democratic nomination. 

The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton “had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business” with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department “allowed” the arrangement, there was “no evidence” she had requested or received approval for it.  Hillary Clinton should have asked for approval to use a private email address and server for official business. Had she done so, the State Department would have said no. She should have surrendered all of her emails before leaving the administration. Not doing so violated department policies that comply with the Federal Records Act. When her deputy suggested putting her on a State Department account, she expressed concern about her personal emails being exposed. In January 2011, the Clintons' IT consultant temporarily shut down its private server because, he wrote, he believed "someone was trying to hack us." And Clinton's statements on the issue since then have been full of evasions, half-truths, misdirection and apparent lies. 

Now I suppose you could make the argument that this is no big deal, that all politicians dissemble to a certain extent. But this feeds into the Republican partisan argument that Clinton is congenitally unethical and simply can't be trusted. It also destroys the larger Democratic narrative that the only people making arguments about Clinton's trustworthiness are evil white male misogynist Republicans who strangle female puppies in their spare time. My take on this is that Clinton didn't think that the rules applied to her. This is no different than what I've seen or experienced in any large organization. The people at the top often feel free to ignore or selectively enforce rules to their own benefit for "good" reasons. There are rules and then there are rules. Some people can float through life serenely ignoring rules and rising in power and authority. Other people break one minor regulation and find themselves in an immediate world of hurt. The problem with this behavior is not just that the rules are being broken. It's that the pattern of winks and nods at rule breaking by the big shots and simultaneous punishment of rule breaking by the plebeians does a tremendous harm to the very concept of good governance. It raises cynicism and anger about political motives and promises. And that cynicism and mistrust is why Trump has done as well as he has so far. Saying that you should have an equal right to do just as much wrong as people of a different sex or race may be an accurate and even logical statement. But it's hardly an inspiring or winning political slogan. Clinton had better get in front of this as soon as possible. It's true that most people do not know or care about all the various laws and regulations concerning public communications. But people do care about someone who thinks she's above the rules. I understand if Clinton had a concern about privacy. I am a privacy nut. But when I sign on to my corporate server the very first thing I am reminded of is that I don't own communications sent over the company network. The company does. And the same thing is true of government employees. Official business should be conducted over government owned servers and in accordance with good security protocols.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2016

    Draymond Green Isn't Suspended

    Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green avoided suspension after kicking fellow NBA player and New Zealand native Steven Adams in his kiwis. This was the second time that Green did this to Adams. I'm neither a Golden State Warriors fan nor a Draymond Green fan. Although I have a mild dislike for Green because he's a big mouth who attended a rival university to my own I don't even follow the NBA that closely these days. My favored team is still struggling to become mediocre so I don't care who wins the NBA Championship. But the NBA should have suspended Green for this action. This is not a situation when there's a battle for the ball or for position and someone gets accidentally hit. This is a deliberate attempt to prevent a man from siring children in the future. Compared to other professional sports leagues the NBA has done a great job in trying to crack down on physical play and fighting. Rightly or wrongly the NBA had to battle and I think overcome a "thug" image. But in eliminating fighting the NBA may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Baseball and Hockey each tolerate fighting after particularly egregious instances of rule breaking. Football does as well although there almost anything that goes on before the whistle is already legal. But a dirty NBA player (and Green could possibly be described as such) is only going to be stopped by serious league penalties or by the knowledge that he will quickly reap what he sows on the court. NBA teams used to have enforcers for just that purpose. If the NBA refuses to punish obvious dirty play with penalties severe enough to deter it then eventually players will take matters into their own hands. Or maybe they won't. Maybe today's NBA players are too well paid and too soft to do anything like that. Maybe this was Green's way of letting Adams know that he disapproved of Adams' recent malapropisms about monkeys. Dunno. But if I were the Oklahoma City coach, in the next game I would start the last man on my bench, the non-playing scrub who normally spends the game watching cheerleaders and congratulating starters during timeouts. His sole job would be to walk up to Green and kick him in his Draymonds. Message sent. Message received. Now let's play basketball. 

    The other problem with this non-suspension is that the NBA recently suspended Cleveland Cavaliers scrub Dahntay Jones for doing the same thing to a Toronto Raptors player. The difference? No one cares if Jones plays. He rarely does. But Green is a starting member of an exciting championship team. Double standard. The NBA doesn't want to mess with the money train. Watch the video below. Does that seem like an accident to you?

    Monday, May 23, 2016

    HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Door

    Before this season started showrunners Benioff and Weiss said that they didn't see more than thirteen episodes after this season's completion. Based on how recent events are turning out I wonder if that estimate might have been generous. This show is definitely in the home stretch. It's ruthless in cutting down story lines and characters. There are multiple confirmations of some long held fan theories, some of which were a definite minority opinion. I really wish that I had been able to get most of this from the books instead of the show but as many people have pointed out GRRM works at his pace, not ours. He's made his decisions. So it goes. Anyway we open up at Castle Black with Sansa sewing something in what I am sure is a reference back to happier days at Winterfell when she showed great aptitude at needlework, unlike her tomboy sister Arya. Sansa has received a letter from Littlefinger. She goes to see him but takes Brienne along with her. Littlefinger is very happy to see her unharmed as he says. Sansa scoffs at this and wants to know if Littlefinger knew what kind of man Ramsay Bolton was. She points out that Littlefinger sold her from one group of people who murdered her family to another group of people who murdered her family. And she says that she is still damaged from Ramsay's perversions and rapes, not just mentally or emotionally but physically. Sansa says that she's sure a filthy whore monger like Littlefinger knows exactly what she's talking about even though high born ladies aren't supposed to speak of such things. Sansa says why shouldn't she just have Brienne kill Littlefinger right then and there. Littlefinger says he's sorry and would die for her if need be. Sansa says that she doesn't need or trust Littlefinger. Sansa says that she and her brother Jon will retake the North without Littlefinger's assistance. Littlefinger tells Sansa that that's all well and good if she doesn't want his help but her great uncle Brynden Tully has reconstituted some Tully forces and taken Riverrun. Maybe Sansa should ask him for help. And Littlefinger points out that Jon is Sansa's half-brother, not full brother.

    In Braavos Arya is still getting her butt beaten by the Waif when they spar with quarterstaffs. Arya is better but the Waif is just that good. In fact the Waif is so much better than Arya that she contemptuously fights Arya without a quarterstaff and still wins. The Waif says this is because Arya is still "Lady Stark". The Waif doesn't think that Arya can ever forsake her previous identity. The Waif is offended that Arya is even there. Watching this Jaqen H'ghar explains to Arya that the first Faceless Men were former slaves who founded Braavos. He gives Arya a new target. He tells her that this is her second and final chance. The target is an actress by name of Lady Crane. Going to the theater to watch her mark, Arya is offended to see the acting troupe portray her sister as a busty dimwit and her father as a corrupt bumbling oaf. By the way for all the people who were complaining that this show didn't have enough male nudity the theater scene throws in an actor complaining about a possible STD mark on his member. Said body part temporarily fills the screen. Are you happy now? Infiltrating the group backstage Arya is privy to all of their worries, banter and rivalries. Reporting back to Jaqen, Arya says that she can poison Lady Crane's rum. But Arya has come to like Lady Crane. Arya doesn't think Lady Crane is such a bad sort, and wants to know who had paid for her murder. Why is Lady Crane on the list? Showing that he's getting a bit annoyed Jaqen reminds his apprentice that death comes for everyone good or bad. He also says that servants don't ask questions. One way or another there is going to be a new face hanging in the House of Black and White. Jaqen isn't going to accept any other questions or half-measures. Either Arya is no one, a servant of the Many Faced God or she is not. Decide.

    Bran and The Three Eyed Raven (TER) are time travelling again. Presumably at the same weirwood tree they presently inhabit, Bran watches the Children of the Forest sacrifice a man by killing him with an obsidian knife. The man is reborn as a White Walker. Returning back to the present Bran confronts one of the Children who confirms that she and her kind created the White Walkers as a last ditch defense against humanity.
    At the Kingsmoot Yara makes a claim to the Salt Throne (rulership of the Ironborn). She lists her qualifications and history. Yara says she will lead the Ironbron to true glory. Some more conservatively minded Iron Born don't like it because not only is she a woman but the man who they see as the true heir (Theon) is still alive. Theon steps in the circle to his sister's initial dismay. But never fear, he supports Yara. But the family unity and Yara's chance of taking leadership are destroyed by Uncle Euron's arrival. Euron claims the kingship. And by the way he's a man. He has a penis. Yara never did; Theon lost his. Yara accuses Euron of kinslaying while Theon reminds everyone that Euron has been gone for years. But much like some present day politicians, Euron adeptly defuses both charges by admitting to them. Euron says that his brother Balon led them into two pointless wars. Euron's only sorry that he didn't kill Balon earlier. As to the desertion charge, Euron says he's been all over the world and is a better man to lead the Ironborn because of it. He knows of Daenerys, her dragons and her need for a fleet. Euron has such a fleet. Euron says he will marry Daenerys, give her what Theon no longer can, and conquer all of Westeros. He will make the Iron Islands great again. This carries the day and Euron is acclaimed the new king. Theon and Yara don't wait around for the crowning (drowning) ceremony, and their presumable murders, but make away with what looks like half of the fleet. Euron says that's okay. They will build more ships. And he will hunt down his niece and nephew and kill them.

    At Vaes Dothrak Ser Friendzone reveals his greyscale to Daenerys and says hey it's been real, I love you and I've just got to go. Cue Isaac Hayes music. Daenerys tears up and orders Jorah to find a cure and return to her. Jorah watches as Daenerys marches off with her Dothraki army. In Meereen the peace is holding. Grey Worm and Missandei still don't like it but Tyrion thinks this is confirmation that he was right to make deals with the slavers. Now all he needs is better PR for Daenerys (and himself) in Meereen. Who better to provide that then the local dominant religion. The Red Priestess Kinvara, attired in the normal revealing gown comes to see Tyrion and company. She already knows what they want. She agrees to help sing Daenerys' praises. After all she thinks that Daenerys is the One Who Was Promised. Varys scoffs at this and rather atypically reveals his passionate distrust of all religions. As Varys says Melisandre said Stannis was the One Who Was Promised. And Stannis lost. And Stannis is dead. So perhaps religious fanatics don't know as much as they say they do. But Kinvara does not lose her equanimity. She says that people make mistakes but God doesn't. She also knows some of the events that occurred the night that Varys was castrated. These are things she shouldn't know. Varys is shaken. At Castle Black, Jon Snow and group are looking at maps of the North. Jon says that they need more men. And he doesn't see where they are going to get them. Sansa says that with a Stark name to follow that the other houses will rise up. Meaning no offense, Davos says that if that were the case why didn't they do so already. Sansa wonders how well the southerner Davos knows the North. Davos concedes that he doesn't know the North but pivots smartly by saying he's been all over. He knows men. They need something more. Sansa says that Jon and she both have the Stark name. If they go to the smaller houses they should be able to unify them against Ramsay and the larger houses backing him. She also reveals that they might be able to count on her great uncle Brynden. However for whatever reason she doesn't tell Jon where she got this information from, lying and saying she heard the news about the Tullys at Winterfell.

    So it's settled, Jon and Sansa will travel through the North trying to raise resistance while Brienne, at Sansa's orders, will go to Riverrun to ask for help from what's left of the Tullys. Brienne doesn't like this plan. She doesn't like leaving Sansa alone among men she doesn't know. Sansa says that she'll be fine. After all Jon is her brother. Brienne counters that it wasn't reallyJon she was worried about but speaking of Jon why did Sansa lie to him if she trusts him? Tormund is still giving Brienne the old "I wonder what you look like naked and in my bed" stare. Sansa has sewn a wolf sigil on her dress. She's also done her best to recreate the wolf's cloak that her father used to wear as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of The North. She gives the cloak to Jon. Bran wakes up and finds that everyone else is asleep. He time travels again by himself. It's unclear if he is going to the future or the past. He sees the army of the dead but they don't see him. Then he sees the White Walkers and the Night King. The Night King does see him and then so does everyone else. The Night King grabs Bran but Bran comes back to his own time/body. The TER says that Bran has been marked. The Night King will come for him and will no longer be deterred by the wards against his entry. Thanks a lot Bran! They have little time left. Bran must become the TER.
    Meera wants to go home and has a bad feeling about what's going on. Bran and TER are time travelling again. They are in Winterfell watching as a young Ned Stark prepares to leave for his fostering in the Vale. Ned's father tells him not to start any fights but if he finds himself in one, win. In our time Meera just doesn't like something. She runs outside and sees that the Army of the Dead, along with White Walkers and the Night King have come. The Children of the Forest try to hold them off but there are too many. They inexorably press forward. Meera tries to wake Bran up to get him to warg into Hodor. Bran can only hear her vaguely. Now the White Walkers are inside the weirwood cave. Meera kills a White Walker with an obsidian spear but as mentioned the good guys are outnumbered exponentially. And since it's Sunday it must be time for another Stark direwolf to die. Summer makes a last stand. He jumps into the fray and goes out hard. There's a final piteous whimper and that's it for him. In the past TER tells Bran to listen to your friend. Still in the past Bran wargs into Hodor (apparently both past Hodor or Willas and present day Hodor). In the present the Night King kills TER, who disintegrates in the past. In the present the warged Hodor is pulling Bran away as he and Meera run for the back exit. 

    The last remaining of the Children of the Forest, Leaf(?), sacrifices herself to get them more time. With the wights close on their heels Bran, Meera and Hodor make it out the back door. Meera takes Bran and yells back at Hodor to hold the door. In the past Hodor has apparently had a seizure as a result of the warging. His eyes have rolled back as Bran has warged into him.  He's screaming "Hold the door!" repeatedly. He shortens this to "Holdadoor" and eventually to "Hodor!". In the present Hodor is yelling Hodor over and over again as he does indeed hold the door long enough for Bran and Meera to escape even as the wights stab him through the door and later rip him apart.

    What I liked
    • There is confirmation that Bran can change the past or to put it another way actions today can have impact on the past. 
    • There is confirmation that the White Walkers are modified humans created by the original inhabitants of Westeros in order to fight the invading humans. At the very least this might give Bran pause about accepting assistance from the Children of the Forest or taking everything they tell him as the gospel truth.
    • Sansa finally catching on to some truths about Littlefinger. I thought the actress did a great job with that confrontation scene even if I don't like what the writers did with the aftermath. Why not accept Littlefinger's help and then arrange an accident for him up north?
    • Littlefinger's essentially Satanic attempt to maintain influence with Sansa and sow doubt in her mind by saying that Jon is her half-brother. Littlefinger always mixes lies and truth for his own benefit.
    • Theon's backing of his sister's claim even though it didn't work out. 

    What I didn't like
    • I hate seeing the wolves killed off. 
    • If Bran would have minded his own business (not go climbing when he wasn't supposed to and not go time traveling when he wasn't supposed to) the entire history of Westeros would be different. Seriously to hell with that kid.
    • Last week Littlefinger is in the Vale this week he's in the North? Does he have a helicopter? Subway? Air balloon?
    • If Sansa knows that Littlefinger is not a good man, then why trust what he said about her great-uncle. Why hide from Jon where she got that information? Why send Brienne away?
    • I know the Iron Born pride themselves more on direct action than sly intrigue but how stupid do you have to be not to have a guard on the ships?
    • Hodor's maiming and death. 
    • Perhaps the show is making a point that these are close to end times and so taboos are breaking down but along with incest and violation of guest right, kinslaying is supposed to be one of the big no-nos. It seems a little odd that Euron would freely admit to it.

    Sunday, May 22, 2016

    Houston Road Rage Incident

    Did you see the video of the road rage incident that recently occurred down Houston way?
    Can't we all get along? Apparently not. Even the most mild mannered pacifist can lose his temper when he is behind the wheel of a two ton machine. While driving, people's tempers can go from zero to I'm going to stomp a mudhole in your a$$ very quickly. No one likes being sworn at, insulted or having things thrown at them. But I imagine even Mother Theresa would start cursing and throwing hands if someone deliberately damaged her car. It's a good thing that apparently neither party had a gun or thought to retrieve it. Because both parties might have accurately claimed they were just standing their ground and let the bullets fly. It looks like the couple in the truck got the worst of this altercation. The driver of the car has supposedly filed a police report. You can I guess try to suss out who bears more responsibility for the escalation. Each group bears some responsibility but the final straw appears to be the kicking of the car by the truck driver. Although I can't say I've never gotten very angry at other people's stupidity on these here US roads, I can say that fortunately things have never reached a physical level. Ultimately it's not that important. People should know when to walk away. Why risk your freedom or worse brawling with morons? This is why we have insurance. When you try to correct things yourself that is when you can get into a lot of trouble. Of course as I write this no one has deliberately rammed my vehicle or kicked and damaged my grille. If that happened would I be so level headed and calm as to not pick up the baseball bat from the backseat and go patiently explain to the driver of the other car why his act of vandalism was a bad idea? Well I like to think so. I also like to think that most people are decent and reasonable once you get to know them. Snicker...

    Saturday, May 21, 2016

    Movie Reviews: Deadpool

    directed by Tim Miller

    There are a few things which are apparent from virtually the beginning of this R rated comic book movie. (1) The titular hero is a snarky sarcastic jerk who is as adept at verbal combat as he is at the physical version. Deadpool's verbal energy is like that of someone who drank three cups of coffee, chased that with some Red Bull and then took some speed. (2) The film is going to "objectify" the male body just as much as other films do with female ones. So if you have been waiting to see plenty of shots of Ryan Reynolds' gluteus maximus then you are in luck as this movie has you covered. Or uncovered. (3) This film is going to live up to its R rating for violence and sex. There is male and female full frontal nudity, a fair amount of toplessness and a virtually limitless number of bad guys who get shot in the head, skewered, beaten to a pulp or otherwise disposed of in rather unpleasant ways. This is a comic book movie but it's not for kiddies by any means. (4) The film and actor are in on the joke as Deadpool routinely breaks the Fourth Wall to express his amusement, irritation, surprise or shock at what's going on. He's in on the joke you see. This is an origin story. I'd have to check with a few relatives to see how closely it stuck to the comic book on which it's based but I didn't care enough to go find out. This was a fun movie with only a few flat notes here or there. Reynolds carries the movie virtually single handedly not because of bad acting by other people but rather because his Deadpool is gleeful, profane, anarchic and energetic in every scene. He's like a more violent Bugs Bunny. With one or two exceptions, Reynolds blows away just about every other person who shares screen time with him. But he's not chewing the scenery. The other actors are not underwritten. Well maybe some of them are. It's just that Reynolds appears to be having a blast. Sometimes certain actors and certain roles just really fit well together. And that is the case with Reynolds here. He shouldn't do any other comic book roles besides Deadpool.

    The plot is really not all that important. It's the same plot that is found in a number of different stories. Boy meets girl. Boy must confront crisis. As a result of crisis boy loses girl. Boy must overcome external and internal issues to regain girl. It's funny how many stories can be reduced to that very simple outline. I guess bottom line is that we all respond to pretty much the same things. That is both enlightening and maybe kind of depressing when you think about it. Do we all have buttons that are pushed that easily? As Deadpool says, this is all a love story at its core. Deadpool (Reynolds) is Wade Wilson, a mercenary for hire. Wilson is former Special Forces. He probably knows all sorts of ways to kill you with paper clips and slide rules if need be. Although he's not normally going out of his way to kill people he's not opposed to it by any means. Basically don't do bad stuff and don't end up on the bad people list. Because crossing names off that bad person's list is how Wilson makes his money. Happily living a life of paid brutality, random violence and hanging out in bars Wilson is motivated to add extremely kinky sex to his menu of night time activities once he meets the attractive escort Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Because he's got it like that Wilson doesn't even have to pay and before long the two are in love. Well nothing good lasts forever does it. Wilson discovers that he has terminal cancer. A hooker and a merc don't exactly have hundreds of thousands of dollars just lying around. So Wade decides to trust the blandishments of some dodgy people led by the constantly smirking Ajax (Ed Skrein) who promise that they can cure his cancer with an experimental treatment. And wouldn't you know it but this treatment is free. And that is enough plot description.
    Visually the film is crisp. The sound is good. You can always see and hear what's going on. There are a number of sight gags about Reynolds' former status as the sexiest man in the world. There's a fair number of slowed down and sped up action scenes but the special effects are not groundbreaking. It's just that as previously mentioned there is a LOT of action. This is like an adult cartoon. Despite Deadpool's cheerful violence he still manages to keep your sympathy and interest because he's funny. He's also not mean. He may shoot you in the head multiple times but he's not mean. He is obnoxious though. He won't stop talking. He won't stop joking. And even though you've seen this story before Reynolds' energy pulls you along for the ride yet again.

    Friday, May 20, 2016

    Transgenders, Bathrooms and the Obama Administation

    You may have heard that the Obama Administration, using a letter sent to every public school in the country has insisted, under the fig leaf of "Title IX guidance" that schools must allow children who identify as transgender access to the bathrooms, changing areas and activities which correspond to their self-reported identity. If the schools refuse to obey this diktat well then the Administration would sure hate to see those schools lose any of their federal funding. Capisce? Some school districts, for ideological reasons of their own, had started to move in this direction even before the letter was sent. In Chester, Vermont a girl who insists that she is a boy has started to use the boys' bathroom, backed up by the new school policy and now by the new Administration order.
    CHESTER, Vt. — The way A J Jackson tells it, he kept his head ducked down and pretended to fiddle with his cellphone as he walked into the boys’ bathroom and headed for a stall at Green Mountain Union High School here.
    But the way some of his classmates see it, A J was still Autumn Jackson, a girl in boys’ clothing, who had violated an intimate sanctum, while two boys were standing at a urinal, their private parts exposed.
    “It’s like me going into a girls’ bathroom wearing a wig,” Tanner Bischofberger, 15, a classmate of A J Jackson’s, who was not one of those in the bathroom, said this week. “It’s just weird.”
    A complaint about Mr. Jackson’s using the boys’ bathroom set off a protest by students advocating the right of their transgender classmate to use the bathroom of his choice. Mr. Jackson has gradually been making the transition from a vivacious girl with a big smile and long wavy locks to a husky boy with chopped hair dyed several shades of green, snakebite piercings in his lips and gauges embedded in his earlobes. His chest is visibly bound, and because he has not yet started taking male hormones — he plans to do that, and also to have “top surgery,” he says — his face is smooth and still has feminine contours. He once thought he was lesbian, and is still attracted to girls.There were practical issues. When he had his period, he wondered if he should revert to the girls’ bathroom, because there was no place to throw away his used tampons. 
    This is beyond silly.
    • A square does not have five sides.
    • A woman does not have a penis or produce sperm.
    • A man does not have a vagina or experience menstruation.
    "Rights" do not revoke reality. If you wish to pretend that you are a woman when you are really a man or pretend that you are a man when you are really a woman, knock yourself out. I couldn't care less. Live and let live I say. I have my own problems. But when you try to dragoon me into going along with your nonsense I will suggest that you commit an anatomically impossible though hypothetically pleasurable act. Tolerance is one thing. Active endorsement/encouragement is something else. If someone informs me that he's a dog I don't put a leash on him and order him to roll over for a belly rub. I tell him to get help.
    Some people have compared transgender rights and the US Civil Rights movement, which among other things, ended racially segregated bathrooms. I think this is a bad comparison. Just because two actions are identical doesn't mean they are morally the same. You must know the reasons for the action. A police officer who shoots someone because he doesn't like that person's attitude is different than a police officer who shoots someone who is holding a knife to a hostage's throat. Exact same action. Entirely different moral calculus. Bathrooms were segregated by race because white racists wanted to enforce white supremacy. US racism defined Blacks as an untouchable class. Racially segregated bathrooms were just one example of a panoply of customs and laws across the US which defined black people as inferior. Black people and like minded allies fought against this not by claiming that black people were really white but by saying that the state and private entities were constitutionally or morally forbidden from segregating by race. We separate bathrooms and locker rooms by biological sex not to enforce male or female supremacy but rather to uphold the privacy and dignity of both sexes. Most people have a preference for single sex privacy when changing clothes or eliminating. There are also some minor safety concerns. But the primary reason is privacy. Does a desire for privacy automatically translate into unlawful discrimination? I don't think that it does. If you are a (wo)man it's not discrimination for you to be expected to use the (wo)men's room. This is an important point. Everyone knows what the other sex looks like. Everyone has seen the other sex nude or partially unclothed. And even so, absent an emergency, it is still generally considered a violation of dignity and privacy for someone of the opposite sex who is not your intimate partner to look upon you when you are partially clothed or nude without your consent. Sex is a more rooted biological category than race is. Race can differ considerably across time, culture and countries. But sex, with incredibly rare exceptions, doesn't vary that much within or among cultures. In the overwhelming majority of cases you are either male or female. And most disparate cultures (exceptions noted) will agree. Noting a difference based on biological sex is not a horrible societal imposition based on hatred. It's a key part of human reproduction. It is perhaps theoretically possible or desirable to be indifferent about race. Not so about sex.

    It's true that some good people do not care one iota about what I consider to be essential standards of privacy and decorum. That is their right. I don't tell them how to live their lives. But in a time where college students compete to have fainting parties over invited speakers they dislike and people parse each other's communication for microaggressions it seems disingenuous to ignore that some people will be uncomfortable in sharing intimate facilities with people, who, despite their delusions, are of the opposite sex. When I go to the bathroom I don't wish to run the risk of exposing myself to a woman. And there are many women who would like to change or do other things without a man looking at them. If there is a right to privacy, as the Supreme Court has found, surely it must include the ability to eliminate or change clothes without being viewed by a member of the opposite sex? This controversy is so silly. If you have one of these use this changing area/bathroom. If you have one of those use that changing area/bathroom. Subjective feelings shouldn't enter the equation.
    There is a procedural issue here as well. There isn't any federal civil rights law which adds transgender status or sexual identity to protected classes. People have tried and fortunately failed to create such a law. There hasn't been any Supreme Court decision which finds that either federal law or the Constitution requires that people who identify as transgender must be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice. The Title IX law which the Administration cites for its decree is about sexual equality between men and women's sports teams and educational opportunities. Congress could have placed gender identity in the text of the law but did not. Gender identity and sex are not synonymous. The law does not list gender identity. Until it does I think the Administration is overstepping. This is an example of the tension in our political system between the rights of states, individuals and the federal government. It's designed that way. Unfortunately in the modern era there has been a bipartisan tendency for more and more power to be concentrated in the executive branch, more specifically in agencies and regulatory bodies. This is a metastasizing threat both to separation of powers and to representative government. If the President and his executive branch are just going to tell us what laws mean and enforce laws that were never even passed then why do we need Congress or the Courts? The fact that the Administration refuses to consider the obvious solution of a single occupancy gender neutral bathroom for those who identify as transgender shows me that the concern here is not so much about the rights of the transgender population as it is trying to stifle dissent. Lynch, Gupta and President Obama appear to be operating under the assumption that they get to micromanage policy in public schools across the nation. Absent a change in the law they do not. I hope that school administrators remember that and treat this guidance letter with the rich contempt that it deserves. I don't see the point of the Adminstration's actions. The Administration wants a fight. Well they are certainly going to get one.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2016

    Can Donald Trump Win? Well Yes He Can

    There has been a lot of discussion online and elsewhere about whether or not Donald Trump can win the general election in the fall and why he was able to become the presumptive Republican nominee. At this time I still think that the advantage that Democrats have in the electoral college will be a bit too much for Mr. Trump to overcome. But things are changing. There were some recent polls that showed Trump tightening the race or actually beating Clinton in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Imagine that.  
    Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the likely general election presidential nominees, are running neck-and-neck in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, results driven by wide gender and racial gaps among voters, a new general election poll shows.
    Clinton edges Trump in Florida and Pennsylvania, while Trump leads in Ohio, according to the Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday.
    In both Florida and Pennsylvania the poll shows Clinton narrowly over Trump, 43% to 42%. In Ohio, Trump leads Clinton 43% to 39%.
    "At this juncture, Trump is doing better in Pennsylvania than the GOP nominees in 2008 and 2012. And the two candidates are about where their party predecessors were at this point in Ohio and Florida," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, in a memo accompanying the poll results. 
    And despite comments about Mexican illegal immigrants that have inspired a fierce reaction from across the political spectrum Trump is currently polling slightly better among Hispanics than Romney did.  Now it's still very early. Some of these polls are outliers. It's not time to panic if you are a Clinton supporter and/or a Democrat. After all there are a few Republicans who would rather vote for Clinton than Trump

    That's not saying much but it does show that Clinton is a weak candidate who has so far not provided an explanation of why she's running or what vision she has for the country. There is a reason why, despite Clinton's presumptive nominee status, that she has still been unable to put down a feisty socialist from Vermont who is getting nastier as time passes.
    Clinton is not an inspirational candidate. She's the candidate of "Eat your spinach because it's good for you dammit!" or "I'm running because it's my turn." She doesn't seem to offer much more than that. And whatever advantage she has among women may be offset by the advantage that Trump holds among men. If Trump can continue to nibble away at the advantage that Clinton has over women while maintaining or extending his lead among men, then we could be looking at President Trump in January of 2017. On the other hand Clinton is only trailing Trump in Georgia by four points. The Republican solid South may be starting to crack thanks to migration of non-Southerners to the region, a presumptive Republican nominee with extremely high negatives and a growing Hispanic electorate which tends to vote Democratic. No one knows what will happen. I do know though that people who are broadly speaking on the left need to stop assuming that Trump will lead the Republican ticket to electoral disaster of Biblical proportions. That still may be the most likely outcome. But if Trump can translate those record breaking primary voters and rallies to general election voters he can win. All Trump needs to do is to hold on to the South (absent North Carolina and Florida) and "steal" two or three states which normally vote Democratic in national elections. 

    The most likely areas for Trump to do this are in the "Rust Belt" Midwest and western Pennsylvania. Trump is targeting Michigan. Look for future Trump emphasis on down market white voters in places like Ohio, Indiana, Colorado, Florida and elsewhere. Again, right now, I still don't think this will be enough to put him over the top. But it's the only thing that could. You could argue that we've seen some of the Trump voters come out before to support Sarah Palin when she was on the ticket. And their support wasn't enough then. But President and VP are different. Either way this is going to be an exciting campaign. Historically it would be something else if the Democrats held on to the White House for three successive elections. That hasn't happened since the Republicans did it starting in 1980. The Democratic electoral debacles of the eighties led to a rebranding and reworking of the Democratic party. If the Republicans lose again then they will need to undergo a similar process. The Republican leadership may no longer be able to hold together a fractious group of nationalists, free market purists, evangelicals, big business supporters, and people who don't like them. On the other hand should the Democrats lose then perhaps they will have to rethink the emphasis on some "social justice" issues. We shall see.