Friday, July 21, 2017

Modern war

There's a generational divide in movie audiences. Pre-Deer Hunter, war movies typically focused on the heroism inherent to soldiering and not the impact that it often had on the soldiers themselves. Despite the catastrophic human cost, including those killed and the survivors, war was usually still presented with a pre-WW1 lens, where marching off to battle was a big party and, after some requisite tension, the heroes would win out and everyone would stroll out of the theater with a sense of satisfaction. Post-Deer Hunter and, for American audiences, post-Vietnam in general, war movies have tended to focus on the psychological impact, both on the people doing the shooting and the people living around them after they return. Society has gradually come to grips with the fact that, as William Sherman once noted, war is hell and although there may be moments of genuine heroism, no one emerges unscathed, even through glorious victory.

That's why it's perhaps singularly appropriate for Christopher Nolan to have presented Dunkirk as his first film stepping away from science fiction premises in quite some time, but still carrying the themes prevalent in his storytelling. Most of Nolan's films deal with psychology in some form or another. Memento, the Batman series, Inception, Interstellar; all of them deal with either extreme choices and the consequent impact of those choices or the essence of making those choices in the first place. Most good screenplays spend some time analyzing the personality of their protagonists (and often their antagonists; see: the Joker.) but Nolan's tend to step beyond that and confront the viewers with a series of if/thens that quite feasibly could have led the story in a number of different directions and leave different parts of the audience sympathizing with the different possibilities. Dunkirk does that well.

First and foremost, Dunkirk was not a success. As Nolan takes pains to point out via Churchill's speech on the subject, no one celebrates a defeat, despite the extreme bravery inherent to the RAF pilots over that week and the private citizens who enabled the rescue to be as successful as it was. So while there was heroism, it was heroic action in the name of defeat, not victory. Nolan highlights this from the opening moments of the film, when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) are shown attempting to get ahead of the thousands of soldiers already on the beach by pretending to be Red Cross workers transporting the wounded. These are not heroic soldiers. These are guys attempting to cut the line, as it were, to save their own skins instead of those similarly stranded. In many war movies, these guys would be portrayed as cowards for fleeing the battle. But the battle was already over and like the old man handing out blankets at the end says: "Sometimes, surivin' is enough." This is especially true in the era of "total war" which became prominent again during World War II, where the pre-Enlightenment practice of slaughtering the fleeing enemy, rather than simply routing them from the field or capturing them, once again rose to the fore.

But I think Nolan's point was to show the desperation and panic that are as inherent to combat as heroism often is. These guys were the unwitting pawns in someone else's war, like the Lannister soldiers of this season's first episode, and all they wanted to do was get home in one piece. It was, of course, not common knowledge as to what the German regime had become and how "someone else's war" could be seen as a war by humanity against inhumanity. But that engages my frequent bias against WW2-era films. That conflict is frequently mentioned as the last "good war" that everyone can get behind, as if it somehow lacked political or economic motives. But war is war. There are very rarely good motives for it and almost always pernicious ones that tend to detract from the heroic angle if one looks too closely. Most pre-Vietnam war films didn't bother to do that. Almost all of them do that now and Nolan has gone one step further in making a film about defeat and desperation, rather than saving the day.

On the film itself, it has Nolan's hallmarks all over it, in terms of the quick cuts between closeups and broad shots to create context for the subject's reactions, and in terms of the long focus on certain characters as they process what's in front of them with visage, rather than verbs. Nolan apparently wrote the screenplay specifically with minimal dialogue, attempting to emphasize the visual medium. I don't know if that's what led him and Hans Zimmer, the composer, to try to inject tension with music tempo deliberately, rather than as an added element, but I have to say that I think they overdid it. Perhaps it was just an artifact of the theater I was sitting in having the volume too high, as we were getting a lot of reverb that often drowned out said minimal dialogue, but the pounding bass line accompanying moments of high tension became rather annoying. If your story and direction are already providing that stress, why do you think vibrating every seat in the theater is going to make it better? People ducking on the mole while bombs drop around them and the howl of Stukas rips overhead is plenty of visual and aural excitement already. I don't think Zimmer's efforts really helped and probably detracted from my focus on the scene, as I remember shaking my head at the accompanying noise.

Most of the performances were solid. Whitehead, Barnard, Harry Styles, and Nolan-favorite Cilian Murphy all did well at conveying the strain that their characters were under without becoming too emotive. There's a fine line between what most perceive as wooden and obvious dolor and shellshock and I think most of them hit it. Kenneth Branagh was Branagh and Tom Hardy was Hardy; both filling their roles appropriately, although I think Branagh's scenes rode a little high on the sentimental angle and I kind of yearn for the day when Hardy will have another role that allows him to do something other than look grim and intense. He was brilliant in The Revenant and I still think he should have won the Oscar for that role.

However, the man who beat him for the trophy had the best performance of this film: Mark Rylance. His redoubtable Mr. Dawson was easily the most magnetic character of the story. Every moment of his face, digesting the circumstances and then deciding on a course of action, spoke volumes. This was the pinnacle for those who would view war films as an example of the good and right succeeding over the non-, as every instance displayed his determination to do what he felt was the right thing. That character was the soul of the Dunkirk effort on the part of the regular citizens and Rylance played it brilliantly. Apparently, he initiated a ton of improv between takes and I think it paid off.

And it's worth noting here that Nolan certainly doesn't shy away from mentioning that, although the British government was making efforts to rescue their stranded soldiers  (and maybe even their French and Dutch compatriots), they were also preserving resources (mostly ships) for the impending defense of the home country, too. So the pawns were still pawns, ready to be sacrificed for the king or queen (almost literally) and Dunkirk remains a modern war film, in that respect. Overall, I enjoyed it and I remain a fan of his work. I'm not quite on the "best film of 2017!" level that many critics (and many of my friends) seem to be, but it's certainly a great effort and worth seeing on the big screen, as opposed to waiting for the small one.

Monday, July 17, 2017

In other news, somewhere on the timestream

I'm not a Dr. Who fan. For some reason, it just never sold me. My SF experience as a kid began with Saturday morning cartoons which have few barriers when it comes to special effects and, of course, exploded in 1977 with the release of the original Star Wars. At that point, I decided that anything that couldn't blow me away visually probably wasn't worth my time. In that respect, the foppish doctor and the phone box and the clumsy Daleks were just never going to work. I could see "old" stuff like Planet of the Apes and Space: 1999 that was more entertaining than that. Of course, a few months later while reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, I realized just how wrong I was in wanting everything to be served to me on the screen. Still, the good doctor and his exploits in time just never seemed to work for me. But I know enough about the franchise to find yesterday's announcement of the person taking over as the 13th Dr. Who far more entertaining than the show has ever been.

Jodie Whittaker will be Dr. Who. For those of you not in the know, this will be the first time a woman has assumed the role. This, of course, has generated the usual tirade from the neo-Gamergate crowd about their personal worlds being shattered at the thought that a man will no longer be the protector of the timestream. Because, you know, women can't protect anything.

Or be strong.

Or smart.

Or determined.

Or heroic.

Did any of these guys forget about how they felt about their mothers when they were growing up? Do any of them not feel that about their mothers now?

Some of the best responses have been even more overtly sexist; as in, talking about the act itself, since Victoria Tennant, being an attractive woman, could make some of the straight male nerd crowd apparently forget themselves:

Because, you know, somehow only straight male fans of Dr. Who exist. Or is it that they just feel like their wants are the only ones that matter? This came to a head last month when a few theaters across the country decided to do women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. One guy was so incensed that he wrote the mayor of Austin, TX, threatening to boycott the city for allowing such perfidy to take place. Horrors. The mayor's response was spectacular but his communications director, John Stanford, had a salient point: "Furthermore, 99 percent of all the screenings in Austin are dude-friendly. It's almost like the whole world is set up for us."

And that's true because it essentially is. A lot of people don't like change and if things have always been the way they are, then why change them? Well, because change is often good. Or interesting. Or fun. Or needed. Or all of those things. The charge that many of the outraged are wielding is that the producers are bowing to the "PC crowd." So, let's think about that.

If the producers are literate and capable of dressing themselves in the morning, they're probably aware that the reaction to a female Dr. Who would generate a substantial amount of uproar (not that that's always a bad thing; any publicity good, etc.) With that in mind, is it more likely that they wanted to serve the "PC crowd", most of whom would have remained slavishly devoted to the franchise if another man was chosen, or that they just wanted to do something different? Creative types often need to branch out. You can't keep telling somebody to recycle Dragonriders of Pern and expect that they're going to produce stuff of the same quality. Sometimes you have to try new things. You'd think that all those fans looking toward the future (and, OK, the past, too /timestream things) would understand that.

Shall we begin?

There's a point in most people's lives, perhaps several points, where one confronts the reality of who they are and what they're about. Whether it's a self-realization of something deeply personal that you've been blinding yourself to or a final acceptance of a situation that's too far gone to be acknowledged as anything else but the simple truth of what it is, they're akin to what alcoholics often refer to as a "moment of clarity." They don't always have to be traumatic or wrenching, either. Sometimes it's a matter of good fortune that one stumbles into this realization and is now prepared to take advantage of it. The first episode of season 7 was rife with these moments of confronting reality. In that respect, it was probably appropriate that the show had its first cold open in some time. After all, winter is here.

Probably the most crucial of these experience takes place in the early part of the episode, among the people most exposed to the most important of these realities: the approach of the Others. Jon Snow is attempting to organize his new bannermen, now that he's assumed the mantle of House Stark. Sansa, now firmly in control of her own direction after a long tutelage under Cersei, Ramsay Bolton, and Littlefinger, attempts to educate Jon on the consequences of one's own actions and the importance of loyalty and the need for people to understand the penalties one pays for betrayal. It's not just the way of the hardbitten North. It's the way of The Game. She now knows how it's played and how to be sure that no one crosses the line again.

But Jon has long since passed that moment of self-realization. He knows who he is and he's not the person to turn defenseless people out into the winter because someone else made a bad choice. Blood ties are what protect people, but blood ties can curse them if people decide to let it. He won't and he's more conscious of those blood ties than anyone else in the room. Sansa's cautions about both Rob and Ned Stark are well taken, but Jon's role as a new element (bastard, former Night's Watch, risen from the dead, and, um, Targaryen) is what defines him. This is a confrontation between two people that are sure of what they think; Sansa from lengthy and brutal experience and Jon from a powerful sense of self. He's been betrayed, as well, and still believes that the policy of the open hand will outdo that of the closed fist. Needing literally every warm body to try to stem the tide of the Others only (ahem) crystallizes that perspective.

That kind of long-term thinking is also evident during the autopsy scene at Oldtown. Sam keeps insisting about the magnitude of the threat that he's personally witnessed and which he knows is crashing down on the heads of everyone that he loves, as well as the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. But the archmaester reminds him that these disasters come in cycles and yet civilization has endured through all of them; at least in part because Oldtown and the maesters have endured. Of course, it's the very knowledge stored in Oldtown that the archmaester speaks of so highly that Sam wants to access in order to ensure that their civilization continues. Which one is ignoring reality here: the one who thinks this crisis has to be dealt with directly or the one who thinks that patience and refusing to act rashly will eventually win the day? (And there's one key spoiler from Oldtown in this vein that has been revealed in a tiny scene in the books that hasn't appeared in the show, but I'm pretty sure it will become pertinent as we move along.)

We see the impact of this simple reality in the short scene with Arya and the band of Lannister soldiers, as well. The High Sparrow reactivated the Faith Militant as a direct response to the thousands of common people being caught up in The Game and losing their lives as a consequence. Here, again, was a perfect example of that: These soldiers know they're fighting someone else's war for someone else's benefit and that the only real reward they'll receive is if they come home alive and hopefully not maimed. This is the plight of the common soldier from wars throughout history and I think it was a poignant reminder of the fact that war has all kinds of victims, even when it's those who are seen as part of the machine that creates the violence. The fact that these were Lannister soldiers, among Arya's avowed enemies that she was probably considering killing when she came upon them, just made her awareness of the impact the war has had on far more than just her family that much more obvious.

But the real confrontation with the world around him comes in the presence of my still-favorite character, Sandor Clegane (although Jaime is a close second now and New Sansa is growing on me quickly.) The Hound is the ultimate cynic. He believes in neither gods nor men and detests the social order that elevates him, even as he uses his natural power to take what he wants from others. Given all of that, it's fascinating to see him confront not only the mortal consequences of his actions as he broods over the corpses of the farmer and daughter who took him in and offered what little they have, but also when Thoros gets him to witness the visions in the fire and he realizes that there may, in fact, be greater powers out there that impact him personally. It's a nice carryover from the lessons that the septon (Al Swearingen!) tried to convey to him last season, as the cynic becomes the penitent. I don't want to say that the Hound has found religion, but perhaps that he's discovered that empathy with others is a path toward a deeper understanding of his place in the world, which is exactly the point that Jon was making by suggesting mercy towards the children of the Umbers and Karstarks, rather than continuing to play The Game that has led to nothing but death and misery for everyone. "Be the change you want to be in the world" a very wise man once said. It's been the message of Daenerys since she took control of her own destiny and Jon and Sandor are now making it happen, as well.

Technical stuff:

I realize that a lot of people are going to be thrilled by the cold open that was Arya depopulating the Twins with a Jonestown massacre. I wasn't one of them. That struck me as way too much fan service, in that everyone still hates the Freys even with Walder having been given a second smile last season. It also struck me as remarkably easy in terms of execution. It's a plan that should have taken a lot more time, effort, and luck, none of which would have been appropriate in a ten episode season, of course. But that just makes the shortcut stand out even more. We already know that Arya's deadly. We don't need the casual murder of the entire Frey line to prove that yet again. As always, I realize that some shortcuts are going to be necessary for the sake of story size, pacing, and the medium itself. Benioff and Weiss have been doing it since the series started. But it seems like the number of shortcuts surrounding Arya's storyline has become greater in the last couple seasons. Her tragedy is one of the most powerful messages of the series and it would be great if her more prominent scenes didn't come cheaply, as this one seemed to. Yes, in a show about fire gods, ice zombies, and dragons, I still need some reality to maintain my suspension of disbelief. Sue me.

In complete contrast, it was kind of nice to see them not spend too long on Sam getting access to the restricted area that we all knew he was going to obtain. By the same token, the coincidental nature of him discovering the trove of dragonglass on Dragonstone was a bit too "main character stumbles across key plot element!" for me. It's always difficult to figure out how to introduce those key details without seeming like you're spoon feeding them to the audience. You don't want to drag things out too long to the point where people either lose interest or lose trust with the storyteller (see: The Killing) but you also don't want to make it completely linear, either, especially in a series that's already famed for its complexity.

It was kind of a treat to see the automation for Oldtown in the opening credits for the first time. Given the amount of time spent displaying Dany's return to her birthplace, I'm assuming that they'll have to bring Dragonstone back in the next few episodes. Speaking of which, I've seen a couple notes of irritation about the amount of time spent reintroducing the castle from the beach on up, but I think that scene was played brilliantly. The time it took and the number of long shots really played up both the ancient presence of the fortress and the historical significance of its continued presence. This was the first landing point of Aegon the Conqueror and the base from which he put all of Westeros under his thumb, before moving to Kings Landing. This was the last remnant of old Valyria and the creator of the Iron Throne. This is Danerys's direct ancestor and the reason that she feels entitled to return and stake her claim to that throne.

One side note: Now that we know that the Others are the equivalent of the human nobility, since they all ride horses alongside the (ahem) walking dead, they can't really be called "White Walkers" anymore, can they? D&D created that as a more memorable and menacing label for people unfamiliar with the story, but it seems kinda out of place at this stage.

Cersei repainting the world on the floor of the Red Keep was a pretty deft reference to the later scene in the Dragonstone table room. All rulers like to see the world at their feet (sometimes literally) and both moments were a measure of two women about to come to grips with each other over a vast territory that, of course, will mean absolutely nothing in the face of the encroaching threat from beyond the Wall. It's little things like that that made this screenplay and the direction of it really stand out. This is easily one of the better first episodes of the series.

That scene also continues the steady drumbeat of female empowerment that the series has blossomed into. Dany is the master of a huge fleet, army, and the world's only three dragons. Cersei has finally achieved the pinnacle of power that she's always desired. Arya is the deadliest person walking the kingdoms right now. Sansa, despite being taunted by Littlefinger as a second-ringer behind Jon, is clearly in total control of whatever situation she gets dropped into. The brief confrontation with Baelish on the battlements was a highlight of the episode for me. For a series (both book and TV) that has often been castigated for presumed misogyny, it was great to see that in most of the moments of this episode, the people who truly had command were women. And, of course, Bella Ramsey is still killing it as Lyanna Mormont.

Lines of the week:

"Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe." That's a little too "slippery slope" for me, but I get the intent.

"Looks like we're the Night's Watch now." Tormund is never one to let a cheap shot pass him by.

"Father used to say: Everything before the word 'but' is horseshit." Lessons in communication.

"Everyone who's ever crossed her, she's found a way to murder." Um, so, yeah. About your sister...

"The people I was cutting down were your own kin!" "Place was getting crowded."
"So here I am. With 1000 ships. And two good hands." (That deserves a Kelso.)
"You murdered your own brother." "You should try it some time. It feels glorious."
I wasn't sold on Pilou Asbæk as Euron in any way last season, but his scene in the throne room felt far more like the Euron from the books. He's still missing that air of menace, though (and, of course, the eyepatch.)

"Everyone in the Citadel doubts everything. It's their job." This felt like an appeal for science in these, our times, dominated by a five-year-old as president.

"Mother always told me: Be kind to strangers, strangers'll be kind to you." Yeah, but what about The Stranger? He doesn't care! And what about the Faceless assassin? Oh. I guess she cares.

"If he's so all-powerful, why doesn't he just tell you what the fuck he wants?" This question has bedeviled believers down through the ages.
"It's my fucking luck I end up with a band of fire worshipers." Yeah, it kinda is.

And the winner:

"No need to seize the last word, lord Baelish. I'll assume it was something clever." Smack. Down.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Excursion to somewhere

I've been DVRing Into the Badlands (And Legion. And Taboo. And a couple other things. Maybe I'll get to them, at some point, but Orange is the New Black starts in a couple weeks...) ItB was something I was watching in the same way I used to watch The Walking Dead: I was interested in where they were going to take it, more in a clinical sense than from an "I'm really entertained by this!" perspective. They'd combined two relatively disparate elements: a post-apocalyptic setting and Hong Kong-style martial arts. I'm a mild fan of the latter and a huge fan of the former, so I was willing to watch the 6-episode first season... and then kinda forgot about it until the second season started appearing on the DVR a couple months ago. So I sat down and binged it over the past few days and had two reactions: 1. I'm more intrigued by the setting, as they fleshed out the world considerably. 2. I'm still not ready to plant myself in front of it every Sunday night.

On 1, as I noted in my post about the premiere episode last year, the setting was redolent of an old RPG known as Gamma World that I used to run campaigns with as a kid. The Badlands is a totally restructured society that still clings to some parts of the old technology (oil), but rejects others (guns), lacks more (computers), and treats others as something bordering on magic (the items surrounding the legendary city of Azra.) Gamma World was like that, too, in which some members of society remembered the old technology or had learned to adapt it to their world, while others would be completely mystified by it (think Donald Trump's attachment to Twitter and confusion at the concept of press releases and you'll be on the right track.)

How does that work again?
Season 2 expanded upon pretty much everything as they went along; showing the less organized world outside the Badlands (and the massive wall that separates the two), as well as the various factions present there: miners, smugglers, the monastery, etc. The mine of the first couple episodes showed some of that "past world as mystery" flavor, with people being rewarded for digging up detritus from our world. But the monastery was the big story outside of the politics and not just because MK spent a good chunk of the season effectively imprisoned there. The abbots appear to be constraining the emergence of mutations like MK's. This again hearkens back to Gamma World, where mutation among people, animals, and plants was the order of the day because of the radiation left as the aftereffect of the disaster that created the setting. There is no such radiation in the world of ItB. So is this a "natural human progression toward higher power" approach or something different?

And that question kind of leads into point 2: Why is ItB still not compelling TV? There are a number of answers to that question.

I'm not sure 'penetrating gaze' is the right phrase here.
1. Acting. I don't think anyone has done a particularly poor job, where you're wondering why the producers had to settle for this or that person. In fact, I think Madeleine Mantock did quite well as Veil in season 2 and Marton Csokas continued to be interesting to watch as Quinn, even if he was chewing the scenery a bit as his character became more desperate/deranged in the later episodes. By the same token, I don't find anyone's performance particularly gripping, either. There are no Don Drapers or Walter Whites among the cast, where you're just waiting for that person to come back on camera. Unfortunately, one of the weaker roles has been Emily Beecham as Minerva/The Widow. She has a ton of screen time, but often seems to use it to "be acting", rather than be Minerva. Of course, she's often not helped by...

Day in the life.
2. The writing. I don't have an objection to the plot, but some of the pacing and dialogue is still pretty weak. Beecham was repeatedly subject to this, as the writers seemed to think that being a strong and/or ominous presence meant her having to look into the camera and deliver a line like "They'll see what happens when *I* get involved.", accompanied by a slow pan in and rising music. It's melodrama in TV production 101 and it's pretty dated. People don't remember setup lines. They're goofy and people usually mock them. People remember lines that are delivered in the course of an action other than staring at the camera/audience. If you want ominous delivery, think: "I find your lack of faith...disturbing." or "I am the one who knocks!" Both of those instances are memorable and lacked what we used to call a posing panel in comics: where everyone stands and looks menacingly at the camera, serving no purpose to the story, but just filling pages and/or giving the artist something to sett at conventions. There are much better ways of closing a scene.

Dance, pigeon! Dance!
3. The overuse of "bullet time." That's the technique made famous by the Wachowski Brothers in The Matrix. I'm using it as a euphemism for the proliferation of slow motion backflips that seem to be present in every action scene of every episode. The producers seem to think that the only style of fighting possible is not only kung fu (normal for many HK-style films) but kung fu with as large an amount of Olympic floor exercises as can be executed. Having practiced a sword art, I can't tell if there's any particular style being employed there, as most of those combats still tend to be edge-on-edge clatterfests. There is a point where style overwhelms rationality in some of it, as well, like when Sunny meet Silver Moon and ends up walking away with his sword that has multiple gold rings drilled into the top of the blade. No sword-wielder in his right mind would do such a thing, as there's way too much chance of it catching on armor, bone, or someone else's weapon and disarming you at the worst possible moment (pretty much all of them.) That's me being pretty technical about it, but it's also a measure of a larger problem, in that the fights became so repetitive that my absorption in the story pretty much disappeared and I began tuning out of them except to notice technical details like that insane setup on that sword.

Yeah. No way, man.
And if I'm getting bored by the fight scenes, pretty soon it leads me to asking myself: Where are they going with this? I liked the semi-resolution that introduced Azra as a reality, rather than just a legend. Combine that with the image on the medallion and the book apparently matching up with a cover of n old copy of Wired and it creates a mix of possibilities, some of which may be shockingly disappointing to our characters and some of which may be interesting to us, the audience. On the other hand, Sunny's situation went from purely linear to Lone Wolf and Cub. Sunny is now the ultimate ronin, ex-regent for the most powerful baron in the Badlands, trusted by no one, and now seeking to raise his son in a gentler manner than the savage world around him would have it. That's not exactly the most original approach and it leaves me wondering if the presence of the baby is intended as a humanizing element for a man who already demonstrated a distinct streak of humanity for a killer with 404 (not found?) victims (and, honestly, many more than that by now.)

Overall, I'm not disappointed. I'm just kind of keeping my clinical distance for now. I'll definitely watch the opener next season and see what they've developed in the new production. AMC apparently has faith, since it went from 6 episodes in season one to 10 in season two and a reported 15 for the confirmed season three. AMC's shows often develop into things like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead (even though I've parted ways with the latter.) But they also sometimes linger on without direction like Hell on Wheels. Here's hoping for more good than bad(lands.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

There is no door but the revolving one

The latest escapade of the Idiot's administration is both amusing and frustrating for one very significant factor that precisely none of the current major actors in our public farce will admit: This is not new. This is the same old story played out once again in front of a public only too willing to jump up and scream "Save the children!", even if the consequence of this action will be that many, many more children will die, and probably even American ones when they're sent over there from backwoods Alabama, since joining up was the best employment prospect they had. The fact that most of said dead children that the GOP is howling about saving are precisely the ones that they've insisted shouldn't be allowed into the country is just the kind of thing that wouldn't be brought up at the right parties.

There are the usual politically-driven complaints about acts against a sovereign nation and/or doing so without Congressional approval for an overt act of war, but that's all window dressing. The concepts of "sovereign nation" and "Congressional approval" are both irrelevant to US foreign policy at this time and have been since 1915 for the former and the early 60s for the latter (Haiti and Vietnam, respectively.) The US military goes where it wants and does what it wants and dares anyone to say otherwise. The fact that the US Navy has 19 aircraft carriers while the rest of the world, combined, has 22 should symbolize just how often anyone would be willing to take that dare or be capable of doing so. Democrats, Republicans, and the media are all falling in line with said military because of the usual hysteria over CHEMICAL WEAPONS, which is laughable on its face because the US has not only encouraged puppets to use said weapons frequently in the past (Let's use Iraq in the 80s, just as a casual, not even relevant to the situation at hand example...) but enabled the sale of materials to said puppets by signing off on various pharmaceutical producers doing business with them

But it's not really about that. This is the continuation of the grand game that hasn't changed under administrations going back to FDR. It's a bunch of old white guys who meet up in their various orgs with names like "Committee for the Restoration of Iran" or some such thing. They're still fighting the Crusades, 1000 years later, not for some spiritual god, but for the real god: money, and the oil and weapons which it is based upon. This agenda has not changed nor will it ever change until massive corporations and old white guys are no longer the predominant owners of our government. Obama did nothing to dissuade them. The Clintons were both ardent hawks. If anything, Trump was less of a hawk on the campaign trail than Clinton was, although it's certainly debatable whether he was so because he didn't have a clue about Syria or anything that's farther than three miles from one of his hotels (likely) and she was so because she had to be "tough" as a woman in a man's world of politics (also likely, although that doesn't excuse it.) This is the real agenda. All this noise over the past few months about Trump's incompetence and his family grafting off the government and health care and blah blah blah; none of that is the real story. This is. It always is. The ownership class signs off on presidential candidates only with the implicit understanding that said story will continue as it has for the last 100 years. Trump has finally engaged his 15-second attention span and signed on to the real agenda because he saw a news report about a chemical attack and, less than a day later, decided to follow the time-honored tradition of boosting his poll numbers with an act of war. It's the same thing every president has done for the last 50 years (Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Libya, and many more.) They all do this. The fact that it gains them some political capital at the same time is an ancillary benefit. But this was destined to happen.

Now, granted, it's slightly more of a concern when the world's largest arsenal is in the hands of a person with the maturity and impulse control of a five-year-old (read: none whatsoever) but it doesn't change the inevitability of something like this occurring. Those rich, old, white guys still own the government, no matter who's sitting in the Oval Office. This is their agenda. This is how the system works and both Democrats and Republicans have long since signed onto it. So has the voting public, who always flock to the idea of the glorious American Heroes stepping out onto the world stage to murder someone. Americans who actually read the history often like to laugh at the idea of so many happy people watching their soldiers parade off to certain grinding death in 1914, but the same thing happens here for a certain segment of the population every time this event occurs, no matter where it occurs.

The usual response to any protest is: "So you're saying it's OK to use chemical weapons?!! On women and children?!!" No. That's not what I'm saying. That's what you're saying to serve your political favoritism or demonstrate your outright ignorance of the situation at hand. What I'm saying is that the United States should not be killing anyone to either benefit someone's poll numbers, justify the Pentagon's ridiculous budget and the corporations who feed at that trough, or enhance Chevron's bottom line. Not now. Not ever. If anyone really cared about the human beings involved in the midst of this, that would be the message they'd deliver.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Recriminatory stupidity

Now that was an interesting first three weeks, wasn't it? It's like having a five-year old as leader of the most powerful nation on Earth: "There's no way he'd do that, would he...?" Everyone with that attitude or who actually uttered that statement is the equivalent of a direct challenge to the Idiot. It's like telling said five-year old not to run out into the street. That's immediately the first thing he thinks of doing. Now it just remains to be seen if Nancy Pelosi can find the right angle: "I bet you can't raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour!" (This never works on kids, either.) I said before the election that if the Idiot got elected, this would be non-stop entertainment, and it is (waves tiny flag /mgoblog), even if it's the "shock value" kind of entertainment. More's the pity.

Tangent: I've found no more suitable title for President Trump (snicker) than The Idiot. I'm betting that most people will read that in the conventional sense in which it's intended. Me being one of those untrustworthy and uselessly hyper-educated types, I can only think of Prince Myshkin every time I use that term, which is hilarious because of the genuine irony present in Dostoyevsky's novel (That's right people. Not sarcasm. Not coincidence. Actual irony.) Myshkin, as a character, is everything that Trump is not and someone who would be roundly rejected by both Trump followers and many Democrats as unsuitable for public office. Again, more's the pity. /tangent.

Howevah! One thing that has become increasingly annoying over the past few weeks is the recriminatory bullshit being lobbed from many corners of the Democratic sphere (mixed metaphor!; that's how complex modern politics are.) "Thanks to all those Sanders/Stein/Johnson/insertrandomnon-Clintoncandidatehere voters who said there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans!"

First off: What, exactly, does this accomplish? It lets you vent your spleen at... who?
The Idiot? No.
McConnell? No.
Goldman Sachs? No.
Putin? No.
Millions of Trumpistas? Not them, either.

Instead, you direct your teenage angst and ire against the very people who would otherwise be your allies. I've seen this,happen in previous scenarios too many times to count. These are people taking the chance to get Twitter yuks and demonstrate their perceived superiority over other points of view, while the building continues to burn around them. The most important thing to do right now is fight back. I think a great first step would be to alienate the people willing to fight alongside you and who, incidentally, have often been doing it longer and harder than you ever have, especially if you're a Clinton fan. (That, folks, is sarcasm.)

Secondly, they're still using the old boogeyman routine: "If you don't vote for our horrible candidate, you'll get something even more horrible!" They've been stroking that since Kennedy and, since the advent of the DLC and the Clintons, the horrible candidate has gotten (ahem) progressively worse with one exception: Obama, who tried to separate himself from the DLC types and was rather ferociously attacked for it in 2008 by one Hillary Clinton... who no doubt had done a 180 and become a stalwart supporter of the little guy by 2016. Seriously. Just ask her. Yes, I'm putting aside all of the ways that Obama really wasn't for the little guy (especially if said little guy happened to live in, say, rural Yemen) but let's not get into that.

The point is simple: Democrats are not entitled to votes no matter how awful the GOP candidate may be. They have to earn them, just like everyone else. If you want millions of progressives to actually vote for a Democrat, one has to be proffered that isn't on the payroll of Bank of America and Co. If you give people something to vote for, they will. If all you ever talk about is someone to vote against, at some point, they stop caring. They'll stop caring even sooner if your response to their not voting for your candidate is attempting to browbeat them with specious reasoning. Hillary Clinton's husband did more to shape the modern economy for the worse than any Republican going back to Warren Harding. And you're telling me that she would have suddenly abandoned her wealthy donors and decided that the way forward is to help the little guy? Her campaign and extensive history say otherwise.

You just lost an election to the worst candidate who's ever run for president and your response is to blame everyone who didn't vote for your candidate who couldn't win that race. Just think about that for a bit and then wonder if your next tweet should be sniping at people like a rejected teenager or promoting the actual efforts of groups like Rogue NASA.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Catching up with the past

In addition to Westworld (which, yes, I will get back to at some point. I've watched the third episode, but Tricia and I have been watching most series together and we've been kind of distracted by house things and it's a measure of interest generated by any particular show as to how quickly she falls asleep while trying to watch it. Orange is the New Black? No problem sitting through three or four episodes. Westworld... eh.), I recently started watching Vikings, which has been heralded by the history geeks on the board for years now. I was hesitant to get into it for a couple reasons. First off, my tolerance for dramatized history is fairly low. Being a nerd, I know the reality of a lot of what I'm watching and, thus, don't often have the fascination with it like I would for a new story. I've kinda seen it before, so when deviations are added for the sake of story, it's a little jarring and then I start poking holes in things and it just gets muddled. A lot of people I know rave about HBO's Rome as one of the best things ever. I did enjoy it, but I also thought it was adding a lot of soap opera drama for a story that was already pretty exciting (see: William Shakespeare, if not The Gallic Wars.) In terms of historical dramas, I thought Deadwood was vastly superior and I enjoy Roman history much more than the American West.

Secondly: History Channel. I get that they have to produce what sells and that their audience is probably largely made up of nominal Trump voters who enjoy endless retakes on Vietnam and other manifestations of the Cold War, but they've already created an American Heroes channel. Isn't that enough? Every depiction of history is going to have an implicit agenda, but I stopped watching the History channel years ago because I really tired of the often-ridiculously Americanized aspect to it. Howevah, I had a day off and finally started watching some Vikings.

That phrase has some odd implications. It's like being a 9th-century monk in some monastery on the coast of the North Sea whose previous goal in life was observing the habits of Northern Lapwings. "The Bloodythroated Savages began their migration today. The local field was quite literally aflame with their presence." And, of course, the opening scene to the first episode is exactly that, showing Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), slaughtering the natives somewhere in what is presumably a narrowly-successful raid, since they seem to be the only survivors. Can two people guide a longboat back across the sea? Guess we'll find out. It's a bit too early in the timeline for them to be the Danish invaders/settlers on the British east coast.

But then we drop right back into wherever Ragnar and Co. are originating from ("Scandinavia") and get a good dose of the culture surrounding them. I thought that was a great way to start, especially since they spent a fair amount of time on the Thing, the tribal council that somewhat influences Earl Haraldson's (Gabriel Byrne) thinking. It's about as effective in that respect as our own modern Congress will be in the next four years, but it at least conveys some of the differences in Viking thought from, say, Western European serfdom. Speaking of Byrne, I was at first excited to see that he was present, since I'm a fan of a lot of his work, and the presentation of some past tragedy involving his sons was at least the foundation of a motivation that gives him more depth than the usual Sauron-style bad guy ("I am mean and angry... because I am mean and angry! Arrrrrrr!") However, fairly soon, it felt to me like Byrne was kind of slumming it for a paycheck in that there was nothing particularly compelling about his character. It was a nice Denethor moment (speaking of Sauron; the LotR references will be plentiful here, given the foundation for much of Tolkien's work) when he was warning Ragnar to keep his wild ideas to himself, though.

Most of the other actors do well enough in their parts. Some of them shaded a bit toward the trite side; Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) having to flex her shieldmaiden muscle and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) being the prototypical "mad scientist" shipbuilder who will enable Ragnar to follow his dream like his namesake of legend (and possibly history.) But you can forgive some of that for the level of production involved and the writers trying to clue people in to both the history and the drama, simultaneously, because they know there are nerds out there like me who will be spot-checking.

So, altogether, pretty worthwhile. I'm mildly fascinated by that period of history (as with so many others) mostly because of the aforementioned migratory patterns of the tribes and civilizations of that era and the impact that they had. I don't know that I'll be checking back in regularly on it in this space, since I'm not sure what kind of progress I'll make. New seasons of regular stuff like House of Cards and GoT aren't that far off. And, yes, I'm trying to finish Westworld. But I thought it was worth a mention and perhaps I'll see if I can get on board with all the other sunstone compass followers.