Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A 20-year warranty and you're home free

We have the technology to build the perfect sex companion.

Unless it has a pretty impressive hydraulic system, I'm not buyin' it.


"Blood Of My Blood," episode six of this season's Game Of Thrones, was written by Bryan Cogman.  Most episodes are by showrunners Benioff and Weiss, so I sometimes wonder if they don't give Cogman the weaker material.  The hour was enjoyable, but didn't reach the heights of the last couple episodes.  It did feature a lot of people leaving places where they thought they were supposed to be.

We start with Bran and Meera where we left them--forced out of the cave, with her dragging him through the snow after they've escaped from the wights.  It's pretty hopeless. Even if they had Hodor to carry Bran, they'd be in trouble.  Poor Meera.  We just lost Osha, hate to lose another spunky girl from the North.

As she drags Bran along, he has visions, mostly highlights from past seasons, as well as some moments with the Mad King. Meera breaks down.  She can go no further.  The best Bran can manage when he awakes is to say "they've found us"--can't he at least try a little warging or something?  Just then, a guy on a horse (have we met him before?) starts attacking the wights and saves the two. (Why let them escape from last week's slaughter if they're to be killed here?) He gives them the Come With Me If You Want To Live sort of speech and they're off.

Meanwhile, Sam, Gilly and Junior approach Horn Hill--Sammy's home.  He's going to drop her off so he can go study at the Citadel without worrying about his old lady.  She may not be thrilled with the set-up, but I think it sounds pretty good for a girl who started out in Craster's Keep.  Samwell notes his dad Randyll hates Wildlings, so ixnay on the ildingWay origin.  You think he'd have mentioned that earlier, but I guess it's not an easy subject to bring up.

They meet Sam's mom and sis, who are happy to see him, but dad and bro are out hunting.  You get the feeling Randy isn't that thrilled.  Sister Talla offers Gilly a dress (who's not exactly used to nice clothes), something in silver or blue.  Is Talla a Detroit Lions fan?

In King's Landing, Tommen--probably the most boring character--talks with the High Sparrow about Margaery. The Sparrow let's the king see her. (I still don't get all the power this faith has against the king.) It's a new Margaery. She been a bad person, but has seen the light.  Considering she's as big a schemer as this show has, it's hard to take this at face value--though we don't find out what she really thinks this episode. (We're left hanging a lot this hour.)  They've been building up the persuasiveness of the High Sparrow, but does anyone buy this conversion?

Horn Hill again. Gilly's wearing that new dress and goes to dinner with Sam. It's like something from O'Neill--this family does not get along. In particular, Randy is hard on Samwell.  He sent his first-born to Castle Black to become a man, and now he's going to go read more books?  After a while, Gilly can't stand the abuse and says Sam has fought valiantly, killing a Thenn and even a White Walker (brother Dickon doesn't believe in White Walkers--what a Dickon).  As she speaks, she gives away she's from north of the Wall. Guess who's coming to dinner?  That's it. Randy will allow her to work in the kitchen and raise his grandchild (if he only knew it's not even his), but his son is banished.

In Gilly's chambers, she and Sam talk.  He'll be leaving in the morning.  That's when he decides to be a man and take his wife and kid with him.  And also the family's Valyrian sword. (To be fair, as first born, he should inherit it.) This plot isn't bad, but there's a problem--the whole idea of leaving Gilly at Horn Hill while he was getting his chain never made any sense, so deciding not to do it just leaves us where we should have been to start with. The only real difference is now he has a sword that maybe can kill White Walkers. (And perhaps his dad or brother will come after him, though I hope not).  I might add this show has so many bad fathers it's beginning to feel like Lost.

Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, Arya attends another performance of the play we saw last week.  This time we watch the part where Joffrey is poisoned by the villain in the play, the Imp, who afterwards kills dad Tywin (at least he actually did that). Lady Crane, the actress Arya has been sent to kill, has her big speech as Cersei.  She's clearly the class of this act.

Arya goes backstage to put real poison in Crane's drink.  Don't they have anyone to protect the props while the show is on?  Arya runs into the actress as she's leaving.  Crane thinks it's a stage-door Jill, and they have a talk about show biz.  Arya has some insight on how to improve the role of Cersei. But when Crane complains to the writer/manager, he gives her grief.  Then she's about to have her drink and Arya comes back to slap it out of her hand. She even warns the woman the younger actress is out to kill her.  And, downstage left, the Waif has been watching the whole thing.

Arya recovers Needle, which she hid so long ago. She's a Stark princess, not a nameless girl.  Meanwhile, the Waif tattles on Arya.  Jaqen feels bad, but gives the go-ahead for the Waif to take out Arya.  This is good stuff.  We've been stuck in the House of Black and White for a season and a half while Arya was spinning her wheels.  Leaving it is a good thing, and having her chased by someone who's bested her at every turn--and who has a grudge--is even better.  I assume Arya knows what she's in for, but does she have a plan, or is she playing it by ear?  Unfortunately, we'll have to wait till at least next week to find out.

One word here about the faceless men.  For all their high-minded talk, they're not that impressive (or numerous, it would seem). When Arya met Jaqen, he seemed at least to have some sort of code.  Now they just appear to be paid assassins, killing for the highest bidder.  Arya is well rid of them.  (I'm guessing Arya will make it.  At least they're not going to kill her off right away, the fans wouldn't stand for it.  But will we see Jaqen again?--he's pretty sticky about getting the necessary number of deaths done.)

Back at King's Landing, the Tyrell army has come, and they march to the Sept along with the King's Guard. Jaime tells the Sparrow we've come to take the Tyrells back (he's a one-armed bandit--okay, one-handed).  We've been waiting all season for this showdown.  On the steps, Margaery seems ready for her Walk of Atonement, and there's a big crowd waiting.  (Wouldn't you be?)  It looks like it might be a bloodbath, though who'll win is far from certain.

But it doesn't go that far.  Jaime makes threats, but then the High Sparrow says no walk today.  Turns out Margaery has convinced Tommen to join the faith, and religion and crown are now allied.  A bit of an anti-climax, but a smart move on Margaery's part (assuming she's scheming, and not an honest convert).  Without any violence, or shame, she's back in charge with her easily-led king, and they might take back the Seven Kingdoms now.  Olenna and Jaime realize they've been defeated without a bolt being fired. (By the way, the Sparrow seems to be playing fast and loose with the rules--how ambitious is he?)

The King now sits on the Iron Throne, with the Sparrow at his side. Jaime is stripped of his position for attacking the Faith, and banished from King's Landing.  Plot-wise, it's just as well.  Jaime has always been more entertaining out on some quest.  I'm not thrilled if Jaime gets involved in some land dispute, but if it's in service of the bigger war for everything, or better, if he gets to see Brienne again, then we're moving in the right direction.

We cut directly to where Jaime is supposed to go, the Riverlands.  Walder Frey is dressing down his people (which is pretty much all he does), complaining about losing Riverrun to the Blackfish (so it really happened, if completely offscreen).  He commands his people take it back, and notes they have a hostage, Edmure Tully--if you don't remember him (and I didn't), he was the actual guy who got married at the Red Wedding.

Jaime complains to Cersei about the pointless job he's been handed.  He wants to go to Bronn (yes!--we haven't seen Bronn all season) and get a bunch of paid killers to take out the High Sparrow.  Cersei--for once--urges caution.  Do what you're supposed to do, heading the army and getting that castle back, building up your name, and we'll eventually get our revenge.  Meanwhile, I'll be having my trial by combat with the Mountain to fight for me.  Beat that, five-fingers.

Back to Bran and Meera.  The guy who saved them was called to their defense by the Three-Eyed Raven.  He reveals himself, and to the surprise of very few, it's Uncle Benjen.  We've been looking for Benjen since season one, and we've recently seen him as a youngster in Bran's visions.  Benjen was almost killed by White Walkers but was saved by the Children Of The Forest--though it's not clear to me if they turned him into some sort of good Walker or not. In any case, he knows Bran has a big future ahead of him, saving the world and stuff like that.

In the Dothraki Sea, Dany and Daario ride toward Meereen, leading her new horde.  They talk about time schedules, what she'll need to get to King's Landing and take it.  She seems to be in a bit of a funk--what's it all for?  Wait here, she says, and, before you know it, is flying back on Drogon.  So that's what it's all about.  I guess she's learned how to control her child. I'm guessing it's because the week's journey to Meereen sounded pretty boring. She'll fly ahead, save her people, get her ships, and wait for the horde to catch up.  She makes a big speech in Dothraki about how they're going to conquer the world, and everyone cheers.  Then, as so often happens on the show, the episode ends on her moment of triumph.

So that's it. Plenty of table setting. (Dany's story was little but that, though the unannounced return of Drogon added a bit to it).  Arya's story seems pretty exciting, and seems to be back on track, and maybe Jaime's is too.  Not sure how it's all going to play out in King's Landing, though I can't see Cersei sitting back for too long--but now that she seems to have lost her son, what will she do? Bran also has major stuff to deal with, though how long that'll take no one knows--he's still got a lot to learn, and we've got to see more of the Lyanna vision first.

A lot of people were MIA--many favorites that have been here all season, which may have made this episode seem tamer than most.  Above all, nothing at Castle Black.  For many seasons, it wasn't my favorite spot, but now that you've got Sansa, Brienne, re-Jon, Davos, Melisandre, Tormund and a bunch of others, we want to know what they're doing.

Also, no Winterfell, which means no Ramsay. No Iron Islands, so no Euron or the recently-escaped Theon and Yara (and just where are they going with those ships?  Dany could sure use them).  No Littlefinger.  No Dorne or Sand Snakes, which bothers no one.  No Meereen--nothing great happening there, but it would be nice to check in with Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Grey Worm and now Kinvara. Also, no following Jorah on his quest for a cure. And no Bronn, who apparently just wants to be left alone.

I believe for the first time this season, there were no major deaths (even if the episode aired on Memorial Day weekend).

Monday, May 30, 2016

Everybody loves statistics

Oberlin students want to abolish midterms and any grades below C

"Some students are requesting alternatives to the standard written midterm examination, such as a conversation with a professor in lieu of an essay."

I think that's a great idea, so long as students and professors agree that the video can be posted to the public on YouTube.

It's A Living

America is made up of states, Canada into provinces, but everyone knows it's regions that count.  Which is why this Washington Post piece by Reid Wilson asks "Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?" He's discussing how Colin Woodard, a reporter from Portland, has split North America into a bunch of different areas with common concerns.  Does this analysis hold up?

Here are the choices:

Yankeedom.  This is the Northeast but also, surprisingly, the industrial Midwest.  There are certain similarities the Rust Belt has with New England but this is stretching it.  According to Wilson, the folks who live here are generally comfortable with government regulation and worry more about the common good (the latter apparently meaning to Wilson they're generally more comfortable with government regulation).  Really?  Tell it to New Hampshire, the Live Free Or Die state. Or the folks in the Upper Peninsula. If this is how Wilson starts, do we need to continue?

New Netherland.  Essentially New York City and those in its orbit.  Considered the most sophisticated and most accepting of the historically persecuted.  Really?  There are plenty of other cities that consider themselves sophisticated--Boston and San Francisco come to mind--and plenty that fight to prove how accepting they can be of the persecuted (as long as they're the right kind of persecuted).

The Midlands.  This is probably the most gerrymandered area, going from Quaker territory to Iowa and much of the Midwest.  Here they don't like government intrusion.  I don't know if it's that simple.  And really, have you ever had a taste of Iowa stubborn?  Is it really like areas hundreds of miles away?  And this area includes Cleveland--why didn't they make it into Yankeedom when Detroit and Chicago did?

Tidewater.  This is Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware along the coast.  They respect authority and tradition.  Hmm.  Maybe they've grown closer, but are Wilmington or Baltimore that similar to Richmond or Raleigh?

Greater Appalachia.  We start in West Virginia and go through the Smoky Mountains all the way to a large portion of Texas.  They're or Irish, English and Scottish origin, and are suspicious of Yankees.  There may be something here, but do we really want to mess with Texas?

Deep South. The former land of slavery of always the land of states' rights.  Since they leave out parts of Louisiana and Florida, they may have a point.

El Norte.  Much of Mexico, Southwest Texas, and the border regions all the way west, also rising up into bits of Colorado and all the way up to Los Angeles.  They believe in hard work and self-sufficiency. (Maybe, but more than others?) I think this area does have a different feeling, with an obvious influence of Latino culture.

The Left Coast.  Once you get above Los Angeles, you go all the way up the West Coast to Alaska.  These people came from the east, and are forward-looking and independent.  Well, they may be independent in some ways, but a whole lot of them sure like to vote for big government.

The Far West.  The Great Plains and the Rockies, all the way up to Alaska.  Big open spaces and very libertarian.  I can see that, though I'm not sure if some outposts, like Denver, really fit in.

New France.  This is a split area, including Quebec and New Orleans.  Very egalitarian, pro-government and generally tolerant.  There is definitely a French connection (even if France might thing itself above them), but I wouldn't go too far with that tolerance stuff--especially Quebec.

First Nation.  Northern parts of Canada and sections of Alaska.  These are areas where the original immigrants to North America still hold sway.  It's a lot of land, but not a lot of people.  I don't know much about these areas, but it would seem the European settlers made sure to take most of the warmest places to live.

Sunday, May 29, 2016



(Though the demonstration would be more persuasive and complete if the bot ate the students in the end. Of course I can't say whether the demonstration is finished yet. It's quite possible Katie Couric edited the video.)

Second Acts

In the library I saw new books by Burt Reynolds (which I've mentioned earlier--But Enough About Me), Dick Van Dyke (Keep Moving) and Debbie Reynolds (Make 'Em Laugh), all of them about their lives.  Looking through them, they seemed enjoyable enough (especially Burt's), but I soon realized I was getting second best.

In other words, they've already published autobiographies.  Van Dyke in 2012, Debbie Reynolds in 2013 and Burt back in 1994.  I guess those books did well enough to demand new product, but now we either get anecdotes they missed first time around or musings about life today when what interests me about them is their lives yesterday. (This is why the Burt book is the best--he wrote his autobiography so long ago that he can go through his life again, though this time the hook is each chapter concentrates on someone he knew.)

I'm not saying celebrities who have been around don't necessarily have two books in them.  Some have managed to stretch it out to several.  But even in these examples it's mostly a case of diminishing returns.  Certainly they've heard of the show biz adage always leave them wanting more.  (Though there's also the show biz adage squeeze it dry until they can't take any more.)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

It's a mystery

She was popular not long ago. Agree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service.

A riddle, an enigma, a paradox. So selfless, so popular, just a beautiful human being. I guess the reason David likes her so is, when you get right down to it, she's someone you can trust.

The Times has really improved since they diversified their staff and added a conservative viewpoint.

Meet The Meat

It's National Hamburger Day! Yeah, I know, every day is national hamburger day.

I like mine simple.  Ketchup, maybe lettuce and tomato.  How about you?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Confused Ken

Wait, I thought celebrity sex assaults by powerful over powerless were okay . . . don't go! Watch my Bill impression! I've got two!

Write On

Hundreds of professional writers--including Stephen King, Amy Tan, Jane Smiley, Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon--are speaking out against Donald Trump by signing "An Open Letter To The American People."

Because, as writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power;

Because we believe that any democracy worthy of the name rest on pluralism, welcomes principled disagreement, and achieves consensus through reasoned debate;

Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another;

Because the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies;

Because the search for justice is predicated on a respect for the truth;

Because we believe that knowledge, experience, flexibility, and historical awareness are indispensable in a leader;

Because neither wealth nor celebrity qualifies anyone to speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people;

Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response;

For all these reasons, we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.

I was going to go over this word by word, but really, what's the point?  There's not an honest sentence* in it, or even a well-written one.

There's plenty not to like about Trump, and I'd applaud a thoughtful and earnest document listing reasons not to vote for him.  But it's hard to imagine any impartial person reading this self-satisfied piece of hypocritical claptrap, this jumble of childish hysteria, and not be driven closer to Trump.

*Actually, it's all one sentence, which someone probably thought made it sound more official.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fun with numbers

A new study reveals just how much time we spend in our lifetime getting it on. And it's pretty depressing, as it really isn't that much. According to their survey, the average human will spend 0.45 per cent of their lives having sex - or around 117 days in total.

So if I have sex today, let's say 30 minutes, that would be 2 percent of my day. If I have sex twice a week, that would be 0.5 percent of the available time, give or take (is that a transgender slur?)

But if I knock off 20 years at the beginning and 10 years at the end, that pushes it up to, say, 0.7. Let's just call it 1 percent.

Yeah. That sucks. Or maybe doesn't. Regardless, "journolist" math says it's not worth living at that pace.

(Now, if it takes 7 minutes . . .)

(Why do I feel this survey polled only Wilt Chamberlain?)

Part Of The Way

I just watched HBO's TV film All The Way. Starring Bryan Cranston and directed by Jay Roach, it's about LBJ with an emphasis on his work in civil rights.  The script is by Robert Schenkkan, based on his Broadway play that already won a Tony Award for him and Cranston. (A Tony is nice, but Schenkkan had already won the even more prestigious Pulitzer Prize for The Kentucky Cycle in 1992.)

Lyndon Johnson had a long, colorful political career before he was President, but there's no time for that in this two-hour+ movie--it starts with him taking office after JFK was assassinated.  The big story is how will he pass civil rights laws with the southern wing of his own party deadset against it, and ready to filibuster.  As you'd expect--in fact, as you know--he does a lot of arm-twisting and a little horse trading to get things done.

There's a solid supporting cast, with Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, Jr., Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover*, Melissa Leo as Ladybird Johnson and Frank Langella as Senator Russell, to name just a few.  But really this is Cranston's show.  He's been having a good time lately.  After winning a bunch of Emmys for Breaking Bad, he's been nominated for an Oscar for Trumbo, and won a Tony for this role and will likely win another Emmy for it.  He's quite convincing (more than he was as Dalton Trumbo, I'd say)--he doesn't just capture Johnson's spirit, he actually looks and sounds like him.  Unfortunately, the others characters too often seem to be there just for him to play off, rather than living on their own.

The film does a decent job bringing the era to life, but like so many looks back, there's a built-in problem. First, of course, we know how things will turn out, and many of us have a pretty good idea how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it through Congress.  Also, we know who the good guys are, looked at through the lens of the modern political consensus.  The show, by its very nature, has to be a bit simplistic, but the "good guys" can sometimes be a bit bloodless. And LBJ, even if this is meant to be a warts-and-all portrait, doesn't have to show too many warts, or has his warts forgiven because his hearts in the right place.

So a thumbs up more than down, but really, it'd be better to read about it if you want to find out what happened.

*Hoover is one of the few guys in the show who's unequivocally evil.  It's ironic, since if you took a poll in America in the early 1960s asking who's the most noble, wonderful human being who ever lived, Hoover would likely have won. Now it's pretty much impossible to show him fictionally without making him look bad.  A lesson for us all, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Not clear on the concept

Judge orders ethics classes for deceptive DOJ attorneys

Excellent. Knowing the rules is foundational to violating them with any sense of purpose and efficacy.

Wolfman Jack or Pack Man or Once Bitten

Some movies fight against themselves.  The plots go in a pre-determined direction, driving us away from where we'd rather be.  That's what I was thinking while recently watching Wolf for the first time since it was released in theatres in 1994.

The story, if you're not familiar, is about a book editor who, on a full-moon night, hits a wolf with his car.  He goes out to check on the animal and gets bitten. He later turns into a werewolf--though the movie never uses this word.

It's not your average horror film, however.  It's a classy, upscale piece, starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Mike Nichols.  If nothing else, this meant it was expensive enough not to show a profit.

What's intriguing about the film is the human story, not the supernatural one.  Nicholson plays a middle-aged, mild-mannered book editor who's being ousted by a conniving, younger editor (James Spader at his slimy best) when a billionaire (Christopher Plummer) buys out his publishing house.  Michelle Pfeiffer is the billionaire's daughter who ends up having a not especially believable love affair with Nicholson--the two have chemistry, but things seem rushed.  (She and Nicholson had played together before in another magical film, The Witches Of Eastwick (1987), though Pfeiffer wasn't the star then she would soon be.)

The more the literal werewolf story takes over, the less interesting the film becomes.  Nichols is trying to show what being a werewolf might be like on a realistic level, but he can only get so down and dirty, and thus we don't get most of the thrills that cheap horror gives us. (And I wonder how much of the final scenes with the greatest violence were Nichol's original concept--he had to reshoot the ending when it didn't play well.  My guess is that it wasn't just about upping to gore content, but also giving the lovers a happier ending.)

So what works in the film?  The stuff about publishing.  The film, at its best, is about how turning into a werewolf is a metaphor for turning into a man.  When we first see Nicholson, he's defeated--he does his work quietly, behind the scenes, while less talented people pass him by.  But once his blood is up, he feels tougher, his senses more acute.  Now he becomes the hunter, not the prey, and soon has Plummer and Spader in his command.  That stuff plays like a well-made satirical drama, while the horror elements drag it down.

The film looks pretty good, and, while allegedly taking place in New York, features the memorable interior of Los Angeles's Bradbury Building.  Just as awe-inspiring is Pfeiffer, maybe the most beautiful woman ever in movies.  Also, if you don't blink, there's a still-unknown Allison Janney and David Schwimmer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

If Obama had a father, he'd look like this guy


Moody's Analytics: Hillary Clinton Will Win Presidency

Come to think of it, I've never seen MoodysGuy and LAGuy in the same room . . .

Only The Beginning

"The Door," episode five of this season's Game Of Thrones, started out a bit weak but turned into a fine episode.  It also did some stuff we've never seen before and explained a lot of origins, including things we didn't know needed explaining.

We start at Castle Black.  Sansa gets a letter telling her someone is waiting for her at Mole's Town.  She goes over there with Brienne where they meet Littlefinger.  He's ridden north to see her--his men have apparently taken Moat Cailin on the way.  (I have no idea how far that is, but I think it's a way). He's happy to see her unharmed, he says, but she goes on about how Ramsay hurt her in every way he could, and Petyr should have known about it.  She says she could have Brienne kill him right now.  Baelish says he made a mistake.  Should we trust him?

She spurns his offer of protection.  She'll take Winterfell without him.  He notes great-uncle Blackfish has used the Tully forces to take Riverrun--a lot of geography this episode.  She might want to seek out his help (assuming he's telling the truth--we've seen no evidence of what he says).  She's not interested in that, either.  He walks away.

This is what I mean by a weak start.  This scene may be a big moment for some, but it makes no sense.  First, Littlefinger is smart--if he thought there was any chance he might be in danger, even if he truly felt bad about what he'd done, he'd have a few knights hanging around to protect him. (Cersei pulled a power play on him in the first season, threatening to have his neck slit--you think he'd vow at that point never to be without some muscle around.) Second, as angry as Sansa is, she knows she doesn't have the forces she needs right now.  She's being offered the men necessary to retake Winterfell and she says no.

Worst of all, this scene seems to exist as an answer to all the fans who were unhappy about her treatment at the hands of Ramsay.  Sansa isn't complaining to Littlefinger, she's talking to us directly so the producers can explain they get it.  All I can say is boohoo--everyone gets treated badly on this show, let's not make Sansa a special case.

Now we cut to Braavos, where Arya is sparring with the Waif, and losing. Another weak start to a sequence.  For the first four seasons, Arya was the star of the show--she had one mentor after another, each one creating great moments, but for the last season and a half she's been stuck at the House Of Black And White, endlessly preparing for we don't know what.  Time to move on.  Luckily, it looks like that might happen.

Jaqen may not be that impressed with Lady Stark's fighting, but he's willing to give her an assignment.  But first, we get the origin story of the Faceless Men--we didn't need it, but there it is, and it's nice to know. Though the way he describes it, it's not clear if they're much better than some crime syndicate, paid to kill by the highest bidder.

Anyway, Arya's job is to kill an actress, so we go with her to watch a play, and see something unlike anything yet on the show.  We've occasionally caught glimpses of commoners singing songs or telling jokes about--who else--royalty. But here we have a lengthy scene where performers tell the story, in burlesque, of Robert Baratheon, Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion, Tywin, Ned Stark and Sansa--everything we saw in season one.  Arya is much taken with it until her father appears, portrayed as a dolt from the North.  Now it's not so funny.  Arya, of course, was there when her Ned's head was chopped off.

She goes backstage to meet the troop.  (We start this scene with a close up of a penis. I'm sure there are screen grabs out there right now.) Arya returns to Jaqen and figures she can poison the actress's rum.  But she questions the mission--she guesses the younger actress playing Sansa wants to kill her competition.  Jaqen tries to explain she's got a job to do, and servants of the House don't ask questions.  Sounds like a weak argument to me, but Arya better do it--either she brings in a new face, or donates hers.

We go to the cave.  Bran and the Raven take a journey way back to the old days, where the Children Of The Forest are in charge.  And we see them killing a human and turning him into a White Walker--another origin story.  When Bran awakens, he asks Leaf (I think it's Leaf) why the Children did this, and is told it was to fight the humans who were taking over.  How's that worked out for you?

Now we're at the Kingsmoot.  I've been worried the Iron Islands are becoming Dorne North, but to my surprise the plot is getting good.  As expected, Yara puts herself up for King (or Queen).  Others say why have her when Theon, the King's male heir, is around?  In a way, I was hoping Theon would jump in and screw over his sister, but nope, as expected, he backed her, figuring she knows what's best. (If he's just gonna be an advisor, I'd prefer he stayed with Sansa..)

It looks like she'll be the choice--the first ruler Queen they've ever had--when Euron (sounds like both Urine and Huron, bother making sense in a place surrounded by water) walks in.  Did his alarm clock fail?  Yara says he killed his brother, Balon (her dad), and he says yeah, what of it?  Of course, this means she'll have to kill him, or vice versa, but we can worry about that after the Kingsmoot.  Euron mocks Theon (easy enough to do) and says Yara has a good idea--build the biggest fleet the world has known.  But he should be in charge since he's been sailing around the world.  He plans to take the fleet to Dany, give it to her (good thing she just lost her last fleet), marry her and taken the Seven Kingdoms.  Gotta give him credit, that's a good plan--Yara just sounds like more of the same.

So he wins the Kingsmoot and is drowned in a baptism-like ceremony.  He's dragged onto the shore and after a while spits out the water and comes back to life.  Another origin tale--this is why they say "what is dead may never die." Once he's up and running, the first order of business is to kill his niece and nephew. However, while he was busy dying, Theon and Yara took sailed off with all the ships.  So Euron says let's build new ones and chase them.  Sounds like a plan, though how long will it take?  Six months?  A year?  I don't even see that many trees around.

No matter how long it takes, now we've got some real action.  Theon and Yara are sailing around as essentially free agents, perhaps wishing to return to Pyke and take out Euron, perhaps to loot the coast, or perhaps even to help Sansa.  Who knows?  Meanwhile, Euron wants to kill them.  Best of all, he wants to join up with Dany and get in the big game.  That's the kind of plotting I can get behind.

Speaking of Dany, we're on the hill not far from her miraculous takeover of the Dothraki.  She talks to Jorah, who's been banished twice, but now all is forgiven.  There is a problem, though--he's got greyscale. (I thought she'd say "ew" and ask how long was he gonna wait to tell her.) She asks if there's a cure, and he says he doesn't know--you'd think that question would be a high priority for him.  Actually, there is a cure, sort of--Stannis somehow kept Shireen alive (until he burned her at the stake). Besides, Jorah and Dany have seen tons of magic, can't they use it to help him?  Actually, I was surprised Mormont didn't cut of much of his left arm when he first got it.

Jorah says he'll kill himself before it completely takes over, and starts to walk away.  Dany stops him, saying he hasn't gotten permission to withdraw.  She commands him to seek a cure.  Good for her.  However, does this mean he's out of the show?  I can't imagine following him around, aimlessly asking people if they know a good greyscale doctor.

He also mentions he loves her.  We all knew that, though he's never acknowledged it to her directly (though he did overstep himself now and then).  Anyway, a little late to do anything about it now that he can't touch her.  He still makes a better match than Daario, though, who is dull and annoying.  I'd rather he have the greyscale.  Anyway, I guess Dany's on the march--probably back to Meereen first.  I hope she doesn't get stuck there again, but she's at least got to get back her dragons.

At Meereen, things have calmed down.  The deals Tyrion has made seem to have worked, but he feels they need more PR--with Dany gone, they have to convince the people she's still behind everything.  (I thought it might be the old plot where they hire someone to impersonate her.)  They bring in that priestess, Kinvara, they saw in Volantis.  She remembers Tyrion--I guess he is fairly memorable. (Tyrion and Varys are there with no guards--what is it with non-fighters not having guards nearby?).  She's willing to work with them, since she believes Dany is the Chosen One. Varys isn't thrilled--he doesn't much like sorcerers and their ilk (they did treat him badly), and challenges her. Look at Mel--she backed Stannis and that didn't go well.  The Priestess (wearing the same necklace as Mel--take if off so we can see how old you are) challenges him back, appearing to have knowledge of his earlier days.  Tyrion doesn't care as long as they can work together.  Actually, with Dany returning, do we really need this plot?  And what happens when the Lord of Light has to choose between Dany and Jon?

Back in the cave, Bran is tired of waiting for the Raven to teach him. He downloads himself into the roots and sees a bunch of wights and White Walkers. The Night King can see him (which makes sense, even if it isn't explained) and grabs him. Not good. Bran awakes in terror, but worse, he's been marked, and now the wight army can find the cave.  Good work, Bran. The Raven, who was already rushing Bran's education, now knows it's over.  Time for everyone to leave, and Bran to replace the Raven, even though the kid isn't ready.

We return to Castle Black for a war council. It's an odd group, when you think of it--each with different experiences and viewpoints that tend to clash:  Sansa, Jon, Brienne, Melisandre, Davos, Tormund, etc.  They talk about getting allies from northern Houses, but realize the big ones have already sided with the Boltons.  Okay, so they'll get the small ones. Sansa mentions the Blackfish and the Tullys at Riverrun--though she lies about how she found out. Why?  Is the Littlefinger meeting so awful?  She doesn't want them to know there are more who would help?  Thanks a lot, Sansa.

Brienne and Sansa walk off.  Sansa wants to send her to meet Blackfish, even though she'd rather stay and protect Sansa--guess she's like to improve on her poor record of protecting those to whom she swore an oath.  She doesn't mind Snow (though he's a bit brooding--his attitude has become a running gag, though it's also clear now they know what happened to him), but Mel and Davos, no thanks.  And she's creeped out a bit by Tormund.  I think they make a lovely couple.

Out in the courtyard everyone says goodbye as they ride toward their various destinations.  Tormund's still looking at Brienne, even if she's not giving out much of a vibe.  Edd is left behind to run things--so I guess he's Lord Commander, no vote taken, no questions asked.  Not too much to protect, I guess, now that Jon invited the Wildlings over.

Back in the cave, the Raven is taking Bran on another trip. Didn't he last say it was time to get out?  And sure enough, while Bran is whiling away his time on an empty moment in old Winterfell (and not Lyanna's story, which we're still waiting to see), the Night King et al attack.  Meera tries to wake Bran up, but he's stuck in his trance. She wants him to take over Hodor and get out of there.  He hears her in his vision, and takes over the young Hodor.  This is where the kid lost his sense.  Meanwhile, the wights attack and kill Summer, Leaf and Raven (what a collection of names).  Hodor (warged by Bran) and Meera run through the cave to a heavy door which requires Hodor's strength to open.  Meera escapes, dragging Bran, who keeps telling Hodor to "hold the door." Young Hodor keeps repeating it until all he can say is "Hodor." Now there's an origin story (even if the words are very similar to the punchline of a well-known joke).  Is that where the episode title comes from?

Hodor does hold the door, and is left behind to be killed by the wights as Bran escapes.  Hodor is a beloved character, and has become a cult figure--he went out well, protecting his master, but still a sad moment.

A memorable episodes.  Unpromising scenes turn into pretty amazing material.  We had nothing from King's Landing (probably just as well) which meant no Cersei, Jaime, Clegane, Qyburn, Olenna, Margaery, Loras, Tommen, High Sparrow, Unella, Pycelle and a bunch of others.  Nothing from the Sand Snakes (who have become the Jar Jar Binks of the show?).  No Ramsay or Rickon.  No Samwell or Gilly. (With all the trouble up North, shouldn't Jon send a raven telling him to return, or at least asking for counsel?)  No Dragons.  No Bronn--I'm starting to wonder if he'll show up this season.

We're at the halfway point, and things are moving.  Bran is out and ready to fight, even if he doesn't know how.  Sansa and a bunch of others are ready to take on Ramsay.  The pressure in King's Landing is starting to boil over.  Arya has an assignment.  Dany is ready to move on. Euron is ready to move on Dany.  And the White Walkers are ready to destroy everything.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Did she say it in Latin?

I'm Hip

I was watching the movie Lucy--a surprise hit from a couple years ago that starts out fun but falls apart along the way.  The plot is about a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who acquires amazing powers by using 100% of her brain..

We've all heard the idea that we only use 10% of our brain.  It's in popular culture.  I suppose a lot of people believe it.  But it's one of those facts that, if you bother to think about it, makes no sense. It may speak to us as a metaphor--about not reaching our full potential--but that doesn't make it true.

There are plenty of such beliefs.  How many times have we heard the Great Wall Of China is the only artificial structure that can be seen from space? You don't need any specialized knowledge to understand this is ridiculous.  Of course you can't see it (unless you can see a lot of other things)--it may be long, but it's not that wide.

Which brings me to my main point.  I've often heard you won't do anything under hypnosis that you wouldn't regularly do already.  I even had a friend note this last week when we were discussing the subject.

I don't see how this can be true.  Perhaps you won't do completely outrageous things, like kill someone (though maybe you can at that).  But certainly those people up on stage making fools of themselves are doing something they wouldn't do under normal circumstances.  They express all sorts of emotions, including negative and unpleasant ones, when they're under.  Is that a fun thing to do?  Often hypnotists, when bringing you back, say you'll remember the experience you just had as a pleasant one.  That suggests it might be an unpleasant memory otherwise, so why would you have done it if you didn't have to, except for the fact the hypnotist suggested it.

I don't know what's the difference between the brain of someone under hypnosis and someone who isn't--it's a black box or me.  All I know is I've seen its effects. And they're not necessarily pretty.  Maybe it was hypnotists who came up with this line about how you won't do what you don't want to do, so people would agree more readily to be hypnotized.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Psychiatry From A Distance

The Atlantic cover story, "The Mind Of Donald Trump," is the kind of article you see on a regular basis, where a politician is put on the couch.  These pieces are simplistic, though generally harmless, and occasionally insightful.  This latest, by Dan P. McAdams, has some interesting details, if not exactly shocking conclusions--Trump is an extrovert and narcissist who's not especially interested in being agreeable.

The trouble with this sort of analysis is the conclusions tend to track with the writer's pre-set politics.  McAdams, in fact, already has a book out that purports to be a psychological portrait of George W. Bush.  I haven't read it, but seeing his short profiles of Bush and Obama in the Trump piece make me question how insightful he is.

Bush, he says, is incurious. As McAdams puts it, in his clinical way, Bush has "high levels of extroversion and very low openness" and thus was "predisposed to make bold decisions aimed at achieving big rewards, and to make them with the assurance that he could not be wrong."

Obama, on the other hand, was fairly introverted for a President, very low on the neurotic scale, and quite curious.  And whereas Bush made a bold but questionable decision to invade Iraq after 9/11, Obama

inherited a devastating recession, and after the 2010 midterm elections, he struggled with a recalcitrant Republican Congress.  What kinds of decision might he have made had these events not occurred?  We will never know.

You don't have to be a psychologist (in fact, it's probably best if you're not) to see McAdams' politics lurking behind these allegedly objective appraisals.

Let's imagine how someone with different politics from McAdams might look at these two and get a completely opposite reading.

First, Bush.  Here's a guy who's very open.  He was a popular, wheeler-dealer governor of Texas who knew how to work both sides.  He read widely, and listened to advisors before making decisions.  Once President, he was willing to go across the aisle, sometimes to the detriment of his popularity within his own party (such as his extension of Medicare and his immigration proposal).  Furthermore, he regularly went to Congress to get permission for many of his biggest moves, and often found bipartisan support--for the War in Iraq, to pick one example.

Yes, he was making bold moves, but that's to be expected after a game-changing event like 9/11.  In fact, his stance on Iraq was fairly consistent with American policy.  It was President Clinton who decided America should support regime change--we were essentially at war with Iraq already, and maintaining a tenuous truce where we kept Saddam Hussein militarily boxed in.  The Democrats of Clinton's day spoke openly of the need to do something about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.  It's not surprising that Bush, after 9/11, would go to Iraq.  If anything, it's surprising he took so long. First he went to Afghanistan, and it was a year and a half after 9/11 before he began the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq--supported by Congress and the American public. (It's true many on the left were unhappy about it.  This seems to have helped lead to the claim that Bush was incurious--they lost the argument and figured it must be because he wouldn't listen to them.)  In fact, if Bush hadn't invaded Iraq, it could have been a problem in his reelection--it's easy to imagine someone like John Kerry saying he had the military experience to deal with Iraq, while Bush doesn't seem to have the stomach for it.

Then there's Barack Obama, close-minded and sure of himself. Oh, he knew the arguments on the other side, it just never occurred to him they could be correct.  This is why as a Senator he had the furthest-left voting record.  He ran as someone with a bold vision, someone who would fundamentally transform America.  Was America so bad it needed such transformation?  No matter, everything would be swept away in Obama's new order.

He won the White House and when Republicans in Congress tried to negotiate, he famously told them "I won." In other words, his idea of compromise was everyone agreeing with him.

He wasn't good at listening to his advisors, either.  He thought he was the smartest in the room, no matter what the subject.  By the end of Bush's term, things had turned around in Iraq, and the country was essentially pacified.  This lower level of violence continued for the first few years of the Obama presidency.  His generals advised him to keep a certain level of troops in the country, but incurious Obama knew better.  He pulled out all troops and, as predicted, the country--indeed, the entire region--descended into chaos. (He also attacked Libya against the advice of military advisors--and did it, unlike Bush, without getting permission from Congress.)

But the best example of his unbending attitude and lack of openness was Obamacare.  We don't have to wonder what kind of decisions Obama might have made with a Congress predisposed toward him, since that's what he had for his first two years. This Congress was not just Democrat, but filibuster-proof.  He could pass just about anything he wanted, and not give in even slightly to the Republicans.  Which is what he did.

Obamacare was unpopular from the start.  The vast majority of Americans liked their health care plans and didn't want them monkeyed with.  Obama made countless speeches promoting his new insurance plan (even saying things that weren't really true, which he either didn't care about, or wasn't curious enough to find out about), but couldn't make his program popular.  Indeed, the public kept begging the politicians not to pass this bill--they even elected a Republican senator in Massachusetts to stop it.  But Obama was not in the mood to listen, and did everything he could to see the law was rammed through, despite the will of the public, despite the arguments against it, despite parliamentary procedure.

Afterwards, the law remained unpopular, but Obama had the personality type that can't admit mistakes and kept insisting it was working, and that the public wanted it. It even contributed to the Democrats' loss of Congress.  Now he had a true chance to show his openness, because if he wanted to get things done, he'd have to negotiate with Republicans--but he was so stubborn, and sure he was right, that he didn't feel the need to give in.  Indeed, he referred to all disagreement with his policies as "bickering" which needed to end, so very little got done.

I'd like to see The Atlantic publish that and then read the comments.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Oh. The Jews again. Of course

His concern is not with the people but rather the expansion of the state and serving the needs of the bankers who control governments from above.

This must be some of that Left that LAGuy is always citing to show balance.

Wall To Wall Waller

Happy birthday, Fats Waller. He died pretty young, but made a lot of people happy while he was around.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Voices carry

Woke up unusually early this morning to run a few errands.

Of course had to have coffee and it was too early for my favorite place, so I went to an all night wicker store, er, McDonald's, and was greeted by an amazingly chipper and cheerful voice. Now, I'm no virgin (barely), so I'm well aware of how this works. Nevertheless, one of the most impressive and creepy things about simulation technology is how it's becoming so plausible. Screw Turing, we're talkin' Pris here. Except for the fact that it was unlikely, it was quite possible that a chipper young thing would show up at the window.

When I get to the window, nobody. Anywhere. Wait a full minute. Nothing. I'm sitting there thinking it's a scene out of Quentin Tarantino, and I start the countdown for how long I'll wait and what my risk is sitting there.

Nearly to the end, getting ready to drop it into gear, and who should walk around the window but John Candy, pulling his pants up on his snazzy uniform, seeing me out of the corner of his eye and looking with irritation at the back of the store and apparently seeing the same thing I saw.

So now the question is, do I let this guy serve me coffee? Sure, why not. They've got a sign that says employees must wash hands, I'm sure. Then I drove off. I suppose he's still alive, but Quentin has a better sense of drama than I do.

Then on my way back from my errand I hear another world class voice, this time on the radio. It's advertising a city. To tourists. A city in Michigan.

Ypsilanti . . . "east of Ann Arbor."

Indeed. West of Detroit. North of Toledo. South of Flint. Sort of catty corner to Ft. Wayne.

F*** you, a**hole

If someone sends you a photo, it's smart enough to examine it and suggest some replies—saving you the effort of actually conversing.

On The Road Again

Broadcast TV has changed in the last couple decades.  With so many choices, numbers that used to get a show canceled--say, 10 million viewers--now make it a hit.  One of the last shows that was a mass hit of the old kind is Cheers, which said goodbye to the airwaves (as far as new episodes) 23 years ago today, May 20, 1993.  It was the second-most watched series finale after M*A*S*H (not to be confused with AfterMASH), with a mind-boggling 84 million viewers.

When Cheers started in 1982, I thought it was the best comedy on television.  It took a couple years and Bill Cosby on the NBC schedule for it to become a hit, but right off the bat critics loved it and the TV Academy showered it with Emmys.  The epic romantic struggle of Sam and Diane was different from what had been seen on sitcoms.  When Shelley Long left after five years, and Kirstie Alley came aboard, the show was still entertaining, but never quite so groundbreaking.

Cheers eventually got a bit tired, but the audience never did--it was a top ten hit in its eleventh and final season.  It was lead actor Ted Danson who decided to call it quits.  He felt his character, Sam Malone--an ex-pitcher and ex-alcoholic who's always chasing after women--would become pathetic if he got too old.

Good call.  But it also meant the show knew it would be ending.  So its creators, Glen and Les Charles, wrote the finale "One For The Road" with that in mind.  Diane returns for a while and all the regulars get to move on.

It's not a great episode.  Finales where you try to say too much--and where you stretch the format (it was over 90 minutes long)--tend not to work as well as solidly-written regular episodes. Yet it was a memorable night, though more due to its aftermath (once again, not to be confused with AfterMASH).

There was a ton of promotion, and to play it up even more, a live broadcast with Jay Leno interviewing the cast immediately following.  However, the actors had been drinking throughout the broadcast--perhaps before as well--and were barely coherent. In many ways, it provided the entertainment that had been missing.

The finale has been repeated many times, but I don't think NBC has ever shown what happened next. I wish they would, just so I could compare it with my memories.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


What is this small liberal arts school they speak of, "University of Chicago"? Seems unlikely.

Or else?

Gentlemen callers. I feel so objectified.

Who Is He

We would be remiss if we didn't note today is the birthday of the great performer and songwriter Pete Townshend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

He fights

. . . we are asking the court to fine AG Walker and end his abuse of the legal process to intimidate . . .

Challenge Accepted

A few days ago ColumbusGuy threw down the gauntlet. After posting about Cass Sunstein and getting some comments, he wrote:

Okay, DG, and any other Guy who cares to, here's the simple challenge:

Can you give me any instance, in print, since 1996, in which Cass has taken a position that supports Bush or a conservative at the expense of a Democrat, or condemns with consequence a Democrat in a way that supports either a conservative position or W Bush?

I've got a dollar that says there is no such instance in all that time. It ought to be easy enough to do. Just a single instance would serve to negate the proposition.

Fair enough. Here's my response.

Sunstein defended the reasonableness of the Bush administration suspending the Clinton administration's rules on arsenic in drinking water, even though the Bush move was highly unpopular. Sunstein wrote about cost benefit analysis of such issues and was attacked on the left for his views.

Here's the
law review article.

I hope that settles it, but if you want more, how about his controversial stances on Bush's security regime?  For example, he wrote "under existing law, President George W. Bush has the legal authority to use military commissions." He also supported the legality of the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping.

He was attacked on the left for this stuff as well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to tell when you're dealing with amateurs

Obviously this is conservative dirty tricks:

Burlington College Closes Due To “Crushing Weight of Debt” Acquired By Jane Sanders

Socialists who aren't prepared to lie about debt and keep on keepin' on? Something fishy about this. Hmm. The same publication that prints our friend Cass.

I smell Clinton's fingerprints. All the better to appeal to those mushy middle Republicans that are clamoring to support a Clinton . . .

Stranger In Town

"Book Of The Stranger" is the fourth episode of this season's Game Of Thrones.  Feels like we just started and we're almost halfway through.

We begin at Castle Black with Edd saying goodbye to Jon Snow. I thought Snow walked out last week. I guess he returned so he could pack.  Snow says he's going south--where else?  Snow is being kind of whiny, when you think about it. He knows they have to fight the White Walkers, but he's still in a snit since he was murdered by his own men.

Just then, the gates open and in comes Sansa and company.  She and Jon embrace--they haven't seen each other since season one.  It's a rare happy moment for the Starks, who have been taking it on the chin almost from the start.  Sansa could be a bit high-handed with her half-brother, but that's all forgotten now.  I must commend Sansa for her timing.  If she'd come the day or two before, Snow would have been dead and the fort held by mutineers.  If she'd come the day after, Snow would have been gone.

Jon still plans to bolt, but now wants to take sis along.  She insists they take back Winterfell (no bolt, Bolton). It is their home, after all.  He says he no longer has an army, and is tired of fighting.  She counters they need to take back the North or there's nowhere they can go.  And she'll do it alone if she has to.  That always gets a brother to help out.

Elsewhere at Castle Black, Melisandre makes clear that she's now a Snow follower.  Davos isn't thrilled with her quick turnaround.  And he wants to know about Shireen, but before he can hear the awful truth, Brienne comes by.  She's got plenty to say to these two.  Her first oath was to Renly, whom they killed with blood magic.  She hasn't forgotten, or forgiven. (But since their leaders are teaming up, don't they need to join together?  Besides, Davos is such a nice guy.) Oh, by the way, Brienne notes--I killed Stannis.  Just thought you'd want to know.  It'll be interesting to see how their relationship develops.

At the Eyrie, Robin Arryn is older, but no wiser, or better at war games. Uncle Petyr returns (the first time we've seen Baelish this season) with a cool gift.  Robin loves him, so when Lord Royce (correctly) suspects Littlefinger of ulterior motives with Sansa, Petyr soon has Robin threatening the Lord with the moon door.  Littlefinger spares him, but now seems to have Robin under his control--and he seems aware he'll need good fighters for the upcoming wars.  I might add at this point it's not clear what Littlefinger's endgame is--he's playing everyone against everyone, though I don't think he's happy with what the Boltons did to Sansa.  Petyr convinces Robin to attack the Boltons (making the little King think he came up with the idea himself).

Over in Meereen, Tyrion is playing the diplomat, meeting the slavers from Yunkai and Astapor to make a deal so they'll stop financing the insurrection.  Missandei and Grey Worm have too much experience being slaves to like it, but Tyrion, apparently, is in charge.  Why?  Because people believe he is.  Dany did appoint him advisor, but otherwise, it's pretty tenuous.  The slavers, in fact, aren't thrilled to be negotiating with a dwarf and a eunuch (how do they know?), but Tyrion assures him the Queen will be back soon enough.  As good as any other political promise.  Anyway, the deal seems to be repeal and replace--no slavery in Meereen, the other cities phase it out in seven years, and the slavers get recompensed and stop the revolution. "Give Freedom A Chance" says the Imp, almost quoting John Lennon.

Now the free people of Meereen meet with Tyrion and aren't thrilled he's talking to slave owners, but Tyrion says it's the best he can offer, or is war better? M and GW back him up, but not happily.  They don't trust the slavers.  (Grey Worm says they look at me and see a weapon, they look as Missandei and see a whore.  I expected her to say "hey, they look at me and see a translator," but she keeps quiet.)  Does Tyrion trust them?  No, but as he explains, we can count on their self-interest.  Also, they underestimate us, and we can use that to our advantage.  True enough, but the real point, story-wise, is we don't really care about Meereen, and whether it can exist half free, half slave. Dany's story was interesting because eventually she'd return to Westeros. The faster they get out, the better.

In the mountains outside Vaes Dothrak, Jorah and Daario approach.  Jorah knows all about the Dothraki customs--they'd take Dany here to be with the other widows.  Another rule--leave your weapons behind.  Daario inadvertently discovers Jorah's greyscale.  Guess he'll give him wide berth from now on.  Mormont will have to die, I guess, but at least he'll have a chance to go out heroically.

On the streets of the village J and D are spotted, and can't fool the warriors they meet into thinking they're merchants.  So Daario chases one guy down and snaps his neck.  Meanwhile, Jorah--a good enough fighter for the Pits--has trouble with his guy until Daario returns and stabs him.  He kept his knife, but the stab wound will give them away. (Maybe get them a golden crown treatment?) So Daario bashes in the guy's skull with a rock.

Meanwhile, Dany is stuck with the widows.  Her fate will be decided at the big khal meeting coming up soon.  At this point, you have to wonder how she'll escape--there are so many paths, who can guess.  Either she'll figure it out herself, be saved by her two soldiers, fly out on Drogon, be helped by the widows (a young one stolen from her village seems to be on Dany's side) or get a positive ruling from the khals. That last one seems doubtful.

Anyway, Dany walks out of the temple with her new-found friend so she can pee. (They don't have indoor plumbing, I guess.) Daario and Jorah meet up with her, and are ready to smuggle her out.  But she says no, she's got a plan.  Good, things are moving.  But before we can discover the plan, we cut to...

A dungeon in King's Landing.  Septa Unella leads Margaery out of her cell to the High Sparrow.  He has a talk with her.  She figures he'll tell her a story from the Book Of The Stranger (hence the title).  Not quite.  Seems his father was a simple cobbler, and he grew up to be a successful shoemaker, living a fairly good life. Then one night he had a big party with friends, where they drank and enjoyed women. When he woke up, he realized how empty his life was.  That's when he turned to religion and the simple life, and started traveling the countryside with the message. (It's a nice story, and he almost sounds reasonable, except this simple man seems to love shoving people around, locking them up in dungeons and humiliating them.  He may say he's humble, but he has no trouble exercising tremendous power in his humility, and threatening anyone who gets in his way.)

He takes Margaery to her brother, Loras, locked up in a different cell. Bro is broken, and just wants to get out.  Mags is tougher, telling him they can't give in--that's what the Sparrow wants.

Around the same time, Cersei vists her son, King Tommen. Pycelle is advising him not to stir up anything.  Cersei gets him out of there--that's not the kind of advice she believes in  She's also not happy her son has been talking to the High Sparrow.  Tommen wants to be careful with him--can't put his wife at risk, after all.  But what about what he did to me, Tommy Boy?  Tommen tells her the secret that the High Sparrow told him, though he shouldn't.  We cut away before he spills it.

Cersei sweeps into the meeting of the Small Council, along with Jaime.  Seems like a repeat of last week, but Cersei is ready to make nice this time.  Olenna is surprisingly dismissive of Cersei.  Why?  The former queen may be eld in the Red Keep awaiting trial, but it's still Cersei--she's got the ear of Tommen, the loyalty of her brother, and may have a say in Margaery's well-being.  Olenna's not stupid, so I was surprised to hear her talk like this.  Anyway, Cersei says let's work together, since the High Sparrow is counting on us to quarrel.  Before Cersei's trial, Mags is going to have her Walk of Shame. (Is this what the Sparrow told Tommen, or is Cersei playing Olenna?) Olenna won't hear of it. So the plan is to march her soldiers in from Highgarden, even as the King has ordered his regulars not to take action. So fine, they'll stand down even when the new soldiers come in to save Margaery and kill the High Sparrow.  Sounds like a plan.  It may cause a civil war where many will die, but that's for the small folk to worry about.

Now we're with Theon, going back to Pyke.  He meets sis Yara (a lot of reunions this episode), who's not happy that she lost men trying to rescue him when he betrayed her.  And now he's back?  She says "Look at me" a couple of times like this is Get Shorty. She thinks he's there for the Kingsmoot.  He says no, he doesn't want to be in charge--he'll help her, in fact.  Okay, fine, this is what's happening in the Iron Islands.  I've got nothing against these character, but I don't really care what happens there.  When they start getting back into the main action is when I'll be interested.

And now we're at Winterfell.  Osha is brought into Ramsay's room.  This isn't good.  There's not many reasons to keep her alive.  She lies about her loyalty to the Starks, hoping to stab Ramsay when she gets the chance, but it's hard to take the threat seriously. With everyone aiming at Winterfell, what good is it if Ramsay's dead already?  Instead, he kills her.  He's planned to all along, at least since the days he tortured Theon and found out everything she did to save Bran and Rickon.  It's a quick death, but a painful one for fans.  She was one of my favorites, and no sooner does she return to the show after a prolonged hiatus than she's dispatched.

Back at Castle Black the whole gang enjoy a meal. Tormund looks at Brienne, maybe thinking here's a woman he could work with.  Then a letter comes. It's from Lord of Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton--Sansa knows, then, he's killed his father.  Ramsay writes like he talks, telling the bastard Snow that he's betrayed the North. What's more, Rickon is in a dungeon in Winterfell.  Ramsay wants his bride Sansa back, and if he doesn't get her he'll slaughter everyone, have his men rape Sansa, his dogs eat Rickon and have Snow watch it all before he takes his eyes out and tears him apart.

Time to start talking war.  Ramsay has around 5000 soldiers.  Tormund (whose people have now been threatened) has about 2000 fighters.  But Sansa thinks the Northern houses are loyal to the Starks. Is she right? Looks like Snow won't get that vacation after all. It would be helpful if they knew Littlefinger is coming, as surely as winter.

Happily, we now go back to Dothraki land, so we won't have to wait to see Dany's plan.  The Khals are in the temple deciding her fate.  They could keep her there as a widow, or trade her to Yunkai for 10,000 horses.  Dany acts as imperiously as ever, telling them they're nothing and she thinks she'll take over.  They laugh and bring up serial rape. (A lot of rape talk this episode.) If Dany's got a plan, she better unveil it soon.  And she does.  She knocks over the fires lighting the Temple.  The doors have been barred from the outside. (Was the place also set up to burn faster?) The Khals run around in terror before dying in the flames. A crowd gathers outside to watch the conflagration--guess there's no fire department.

Then out walk Dany, smoking hot but unburnt.  She's done this trick before, at the end of Season One.  This time, however, she makes sure she's got a big crowd so they'll be impressed.  And they are.  Wouldn't you be?  They bow down.  So she didn't need to escape, she took over by using her superpower. (She also shows her breasts, which I thought the actress said she wouldn't do any more. I guess the producers convinced her she couldn't walk out of the temple with conveniently charred clothing.  That or she saw how her Terminator movie flopped.) A lot of powerful women in this episode, but Dany takes the crown.

Like so many episodes, we end on a scene of Dany's triumph.  Is she finally ready to get moving?  It's really time she gathered her warriors, ships, dragons and friends in Meereen, and got to Westeros.

A good episode.  Once again, a mix of table-setting and payoffs.  Who did we miss?  No Arya (too bad) or Jaqen.  No Bran, and no flashbacks--after we were tantalized by the Lyanna story last week.  No Rickon.  No Samwell or Gilly. No Bronn (is he even in this season?).  No Sand Snakes.  No Qyburn or Mountain.  No Dragons.  But plenty to look forward to next week.

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