Game of Thrones – Garden of Bones

On the Legitimacy of Kings

Robb Stark continues to prove his mettle by defeating the Lannisters (again) in battle.  His sister Sansa Stark, engaged to be married to King Joffrey, but as much or more of a hostage in his court, is whipped on account of her brother’s success.  She is rescued from further harm, however, by Tyrion, a man who claims to have no honor but is proving to be the most honorable of all, perhaps in spite of himself.  He asks her quietly is she wishes to put an end to the engagement.  When she demures, and says with consummate tact, that Joffrey is her lord, Tyrion recognizes a kindred diplomat in Sansa.

Littlefinger’s visit to Renly Baratheon’s court is filled with ambivalence.  He offers to open the gates of King’s Landing to Renly.  He also returns Ned Stark’s remains to Catelyn Stark, and says that they – Littlefinger and Catelyn –  can at last be together.  But this is an unrequited love.  Catelyn does not want Littlefinger, and he has allowed himself to fall in love with a woman far above his station.  I am not certain if I can feel any sympathy for Littlefinger.  He betrayed Ned, which was a terrible thing, and he was perhaps motivated to do so by his desire for Catelyn, whom he has loved for so long, without hope.

Catelyn tries to make peace between Stannis Baratheon and Renly, without success.  Stannis by all rights – for what those are worth in Westeros – is the legitimate king, and one would expect that the eldest brother of the prior king would simply accede to the throne without much fuss.  However, at least some do still believe that Joffrey is Robert’s own son, and thus the true king of the realm.  Also, this raises the question of why so many follow Renly instead of Stannis.  Renly is more outgoing, and Stannis is humorless and dour.  Perhaps though it is also a question of legitimacy.  It should be borne in mind that the Baratheon “dynasty” is less than a generation old at the time of the death of Robert Baratheon.  Robert himself deposed the old Targaryen king, and you can make your own decision as to whether he is thereby legitimate.

I admire Martin for creating a political situation in which there are plausible reasons for men to support any one of the contenders vying for the throne, or at least a throne, since Robb Stark at this juncture simply wishes to be King in the North,

Speaking of Targaryens, Dany finally gets to be in a scene with some real dialogue, and not simply be thirsty.  Her Dothraki have arrived at the gates of Qarth, at the edge of the Red Waste, and her entrance is denied by the city’s rulers, the Thirteen.  Their spokesman wishes to see her dragons, but Dany is reluctant to allow them a view.  I am not sure why she would not show them. Could it be that they are so small that they would not impress?  Or does she hear that the Qartheen would try and steal them?

She is at last granted entry when Xaro speaks on her behalf.  The gates open to reveal a vista of a wondrous city within, akin to Babylon in its days of greatness.  But what are Xaro’s motives?

Arya and Gendry are in deep trouble.  The prisoners of the almost comically cruel Lannister soldiers are being tortured by the application of a rat, shoved in a bucket applied to the prisoners chest, which is then heated by fire.  Gendry is saved from this horrible death by the arrival of Lord Tywin Lannister, who puts a stop to this sordid affair.  Lord Tywin, he is the real deal.  One wonders whether the situation in Westeros would be different if he could be everywhere.  He is by no means a good guy.  He is simply a more effective man than the brutes he has working for him.  There was no real point to the torture and murder of the prisoners before Gendry.  The Lannister men were just bored.


Game of Thrones: What is Dead May Never Die

What is Dead May Never Die – Season 2, Episode Three

Game of Thrones’ second season continues to build.  The more that I watch it (and entertain the heretical notion that the HBO series is more fun than the novels) the more apparent it becomes that GoT is really a political opera more than it is a fantasy series.  Oh sure, it has all the trappings of traditional fantasy – the swords, the strange names, murky, make-believe, ancient history – but it is in actuality an alternate-world War of the Roses with the complexity cranked to eleven.

Tyrion Lannister naturally gets the best parts.  He craftily tells three different men, the brothel owner Littlefinger, the eunuch Varys, and Maester P:ycelle, that he plans to wed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella to three different aristocrats, telling each that Cersei must not know.  When Cersei angrily confronts Tyrion afterwards, he realizes that the leak is Maester Pycelle, who claims to be an informant for the Lannisters, which of course seems plausible.

Brienne of Tarth at last makes her appearance.  She defeats Ser Loras in tournament combat and is made a member of King Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard.  Brienne is one of the most engaging of all of the characters of Martin’s otherwise unappealing cast.  She is tall, gawky, and unlovely, but she is true, honorable,  and utterly loyal to her hero, Renly.  She is one of the few characters that displays real loyalty to anyone.  In some sense she is, in her almost complete outsiderness, a stand-in for us, the readers, in her struggle to comprehend and fit into the hostile world around her.

Brienne also seems to one of the few who might measure up in the difficult times ahead.  Catelyn Stark arrives in Renly’s domain, but warns that his men are “knights of summer and winter is coming.”  For many in Westeros, the War of the Five Kings is still a sport.  It will not be for long.

Theon Greyjoy is still being disrespected by his Ironborn father, Balon, who maliciously plans to give just one raiding ship to Theon while his sister Asha is to receive thirty.  Theon wisely points out that the could get more from an alliance with Robb Stark, the King of the North, instead of raiding his lands.  The Ironborn seem unconvincing to me.  They are meant to be Norman/Vikings, living on the edge of Westeros and not fully integrated into their culture.  However, their insistence, as exemplified by Balon, in taking things by force, the “iron price,” while interesting from a sociological standpoint, does not hold up when compared to real history.  The Vikings took what they could get and never insisted on doing things the hard way.


Lockout – Star Wars Has Nothing To Fear

I can’t begin to describe Luc Besson’s Lockout without making reference to Star Wars.  Not because Lockout deserves to be mentioned in the same galaxy as that 1977 classic, but to highlight that the similarities between the two do not make Lockout especially interesting.

Han Solo, I mean, Snow (Guy Pearce) is framed for espionage in 2071 America. He is given a chance to redeem himself if he goes aboard the Death Star, I mean, maximum security orbital prison to rescue the princess, I mean, First Daughter of the President of the United States, Emilie Warnock (the lovely Maggie Grace).

As you can imagine, there is little rhyme or reason as to why the First Daughter was even allowed to enter this space prison, nor why she did not go with at least a battalion of Marines to guard her.  Yes, the inmates are all kept in stasis while there, but why the prison warden allowed her to meet with the lunatic Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) is beyond plausible explanation.  Nor do I care.  The entire setup of this movie ignores logic at almost every turn.  What follows is a station crawl as Snow and Emilie try to evade and escape from the Imperial stormtroopers, I mean, prisoners, hunting for them.

Spoiler Alert (and lots of them):  Given the chance to escape, Emilie refuses to go, allowing her escape pod to leave without her.  Ugh.  The leader of the prisoners (who of course all come out of stasis – did you have to ask?) is Alex (Vincent Regan) brother of the crazy Hydell, who assumes command of the prisoners without explanation as to why they would follow him in particular.  Perhaps it is his cool beard.

Also, the orbital prison is destroyed at the end of the film by an attack of X-wings, I mean, American space fighters, which shoot a missile into the center of the station to blow it up.  No, really, that is what happens!

Snow is your typical wisecracking tough guy/special ops/cop type, and his character shows promise at times.  I could also see him being put into a sequel that is better than this first installment.  That being said, he is not very much different from any other tough guy of the genre, and apart from the heavy Star Wars similarity, the film most reminds me of Die Hard, with the lone American battling an international cast of space bad guys.

Lockout is not terrible.   It is not that good either.


Game of Thrones – The Night Lands

So Sunday evening has turned out to be television festival night.  Between Game of Thrones and Mad Men, this is the best small screen twosome right now.  Game of Thrones keeps getting better.   Martin’s novels are long and complex, but they pay off hugely in the end.  Last Sunday’s episode, The Night Lands, was a tour de force of the genre.  A lot happened, and the table is still be set, so to speak, for events later in the season.

A handful of things should be noted.  Gendry knows that Ary is really Arya.  King Joffrey’s men are also looking for him, and this puts them both in danger.  But it is a good thing to be part of the Night’s Watch.  They don’t take guff from anyone.

Tyrion – has there ever been a cooler character? – has laid off Janos Slynt from command of the Kingsguard.  He betrayed the previous Hand of the King and Tyrion doesn’t trust him not to do the same to him.  But could Tyrion also be displaying some moral qualms about a man who murdered an infant?  Tyrion is a good guy in spite of himself, a darker version of Han Solo, perhaps more appropriate for the modern age.  We have also discovered that Cersei was unaware of Joffrey’s order to murder the bastards of the last king, Robert.

In the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy, after nine years as a hostage with the Starks in Winterfell, receives a cold welcome from his father, Balon.  The Ironborn are a different kind of people from the ordinary Westerosi.  They are from elsewhere, their historical analogue being Vikings in medieval England, and their code is strict  and alien.   They are very old-fashioned, and scorn anything that they have not taken by force.  That is the iron price of things.  The salt price is what is obtained with money.  That is not valued.

Elsewhere, Stannis Baratheon, to  my mind, the one  man with the best claim to the throne, is busily recruiting ships to take on his rivals.  Danaerys is still stuck in the midst of the Red Waste, and poor Rakharo has come back with his head stuffed in his own saddlebag.  The Dothraki are dying of thirst.  Dany does not know what to do.  She has not had much to do lately.  Given the explosive nature of the first season finale – Dany emerged from her husband’s funeral pyre with three dragons in tow – her activities so far have been anti-climactic.   That won’t last forever.


The Future of the American Economy, Part Two

Here is Derek Thompson of The Atlantic‘s interesting take on the David Brooks piece to which I linked in my previous post.   My take is that the relentless drive for efficiency – in itself not a bad thing – will ultimately pose insuperable obstacles in the way of a “full” employment economy.   Even the distinction between fast and slow sectors of the economy may become increasingly blurry as more things can be done by machines.  You may not be able to ship a dentist around the world, but one day, you may have a robot dental machine cleaning and fixing your teeth.

Whither the poor dentist?


The Future of the American Economy

Thinking about the future of the American economy makes my stomach turn.  Between foreign competition from lower-wage nations and the continuing rise of advanced production machinery, it looks like fewer actual people will be needed to make the products that we purchase and use.

It isn’t just factory robots or international competitors that are changing things.  Advanced software, such as computerized logistics systems and inventory control, or online purchasing methods, such as Amazon, have made the employment of in-person servers – humans – less necessary for the functioning of the economy.   But what happens when everyone loses his job to a program or robot?  In this scenario, imagine that every last job could be done by an artificial entity.  How then will people earn money to pay for food and rent?  This will not occur today, or even tomorrow, but one day, sooner than we think, machinery, combined with advanced software, and connected by the internet will be the primary basis for the production and distribution of most of the “stuff” that we buy.

David Brooks looks at the growing bifurcation of the American economy today in his opinion piece in The New York Times.  It appears to me that what Brooks describes  is just the tip of the iceberg.  Eventually, technology will have advanced to the point where it can do work better and more cheaply than by even the most talented person.  What then will we do?


Littoral Combat Ship: Hit or Miss?

The New York Times is running a story today that is interesting, but has left me confused.   Is the Littoral Combat Ship a winner or a dud?  It seems that the Independence class vessel – and there is an entirely separate and brand-new class of ship that will also be doing the same job, the Freedom class – is costly, and one example has developed a leak.  Not a good sign in a boat.  But the Navy promises that the costs will be brought down from $700 million a copy to a mere $400 million.  I suppose that is a Pentagon bargain these days.

I have severe doubts about the concept of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).  It is supposed to be able to operate close to shore – the littoral – but that seems like an iffy proposition.  The prevalence of cheap antiship missiles and even cheaper mines will make going close to shore an unwise move.  The argument is that the LCS will be well-suited for such missions with its mine-hunting capability.  Let’s hope so.  The LCS may be less expensive than an Arleigh Burke class destroyer with all the electronic bells and whistles, but sailing into an opponent’s “front yard” is hardly a good strategy unless you have already assured command of the sea up to the coastal waters.  Even then, things can get ugly.  The Royal Navy and French Navy both had a tough time of things during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, and took severe losses from mines alone.  Getting close to the coast without assuring dominance is just not a wise move.


Don and Harry go to White Castle

This week’s episode of Mad Men highlighted certain qualities of the show, now in its fifth season, that exemplify why this is a hit.   Four Emmys are no accident.  But while watching, I could not help thinking that there is a bit of a mystery to Mad Men‘s overwhelming critical success.  All of the cool clothes and unabashed drinking aside, what is it about Mad Men that really impresses?

I have a hard time figuring out why I care about the doings of a group of people who are otherwise unappealing in an objective sense.  Nothing is ever at stake in the show.  Who cares if the agency loses an account?  Do we really expect Don’s latest marriage to Megan to last?  Of course not.

But perhaps that is what sets Mad Men a cut (or two or three) above the rest.  I have ended up caring about Don and his new wife, and I want to know how Betty will handle her benign lump on her thyroid.  I remember the dark days of the eighties, when television truly was a wasteland of idiocy.  That is not true now.   The writing is that good.

And kudos to Matthew Weiner for putting Don and Harry Crane together at a Rolling Stones concert trying in vain to get the band to sing some ridiculous jingle for Heinz.  “Heinz is on My Side” will stick with me for a long time.  Their talk afterwards in the car, with Harry (my least favorite character) gobbling up White Castle burgers is a classic.