Thursday, June 30, 2016

News from 1950

The Good Old Days

A lot of people have been talking about George Will's decision to oppose Donald Trump, telling the GOP to "Grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”

Okay, but have people already forgotten he wasn't saying things that different four years ago?  As he put it in his column, "the presidency is not everything, and there will be another election in the next year divisible by four."

If you're curious, here's what Pajama Guy had to say about it back then.

Scotty Has Been Beamed Up

Let's say goodbye to Scotty Moore, Elvis's guitarist. He lived twice as long as the King.









Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Isn't this a bit premature?

So what does Sun Tzu have to say about this? Seems hasty to me. At this pace they'll force even Hillary to go war against them.

New Vague

There's a new print of Jean-Luc Godard's Bande a part (1964) making the rounds.  I'd never seen it in a theatre so I decided to check it out, even if I had misgivings.

Godard was the newest of the French new wave filmmakers of the 1950s and 60s, and arguably the most celebrated, but he often felt to me like the emperor's new clothes.  He did startling things with film technique, sure, but while some claimed he was commenting on or deconstructing cinematic language, it seemed to me here was a guy who couldn't tell a story if his life depended on it. 

I saw all the "narrative" films by Godard from his 60s period, before he got really radical, but I watched them more out of a sense of duty than delight.  I wanted to see what everyone was talking about. Bande a part is a good example.  It does have a story (taken from a novel), done in one of Godard's favorite genres, the gangster film, but it has few of the conventional payoffs of such films.  I wondered if seeing it on the big screen, with an audience, would change my mind.

Well, a little, but not much.  We've gone from the emperor's new clothes to the emperor's weird clothes.  The basic plot has two men romancing a woman, but also using her for a caper where they steal money from the rich, older man she works for.  They plan a heist but it doesn't work out as planned.  This is a concept that's worked before, but in Godard's hands, you're not going to get what you expect.

You can tell from the famous opening credits he doesn't play by the rules.



Then there's the most famous moment in the film (perhaps in all of Godard) where the three go to a café and decide to dance.





There's also a bit where they're waiting to pull off the heist and decide to visit the Louvre.



Godard has lots of ideas, he just doesn't want to incorporate them into a dramatic whole, and doesn't produce (or is incapable of producing) traditional things like consistent characters, suspense, dramatic arcs.  Thus he can be fun in short doses, but his features tend to be a slog.

Most of Bande a part has the characters--who rarely act like recognizable human beings--moping around, discussing philosophy, falling in and out of love for no reason, driving around aimlessly and pretending they're tough.  When there's finally a little action, you don't care that it's awkwardly staged--at least something is happening.

Pardon me for being bourgeois, but if Godard is going to upend traditional narrative, he better replace it with something worth watching.  It was nice to finally see the movie up on a big screen, where you could make out details and enjoy the locations, but being stuck in a theatre sometimes made you wish you were back home with a DVD you could pause or, better, fast forward.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cut to the chase

Why not just target conservative Republicans? They can reach a memorandum of understanding with the IRS and the Obama and Clinton administrations will subsidize them and work to award the Nobel Prize.

Winter Is Here

After having spent a long, and I mean long, time writing a review of "The Winds Of Winter"--the final episode of this season's Game Of Thrones--I pushed the wrong button and deleted it all. (Actually, I pushed two wrong buttons, but both were in different places from what I'm used to since I just installed a new keyboard.)  So rather than a lengthy recap, let me simply give a few impressions.

A fine ending to what was often a shaky season--in fact, the last two seasons have been weaker than usual because of certain plotlines: dependable Arya was stuck in Braavos, dynamic Dany was stuck in Meereen, and Dorne was, well, Dorne.

"The Winds Of Winter" might have had the biggest body count of name characters ever--off the top of my head, Lancel, Pycelle, Tommen, Margaery (ouch), Mace, Loras, High Sparrow, Walder Frey (and a couple of other Freys baked into the pie) and Lyanna Stark (though she's been gone a long time).

Also, you'd figure the main story of the hour would be the trials in King's Landing, but they took care of that whole thing right off the bat, which was good, because then you had to wonder what would happen next.

Other thoughts--

--after all the talk of Dany being the first woman in charge, Cersei beat her to it

--poor Daario, groomed for the big leagues only to be stuck in the minors

--the Imp was already the Queen's Hand, but Dany did the Wizard of Oz trick, giving him a trinket to make it official

--first burning a princess to win a battle and now serving some kids to their father--the show is very Greek

--Davos says he'll kill Mel if she returns, but he's tried to kill her before and failed, and anyway, didn't he just hear Jon say she can't come back, which means it'd be Snow's duty to exectute her?

--Lady Mormont has gone from unknown to audience favorite in record time

--Littlefinger tells Sansa he wants to sit on the Iron Throne with her at his side, but no matter how bad her previous betrothals were, I think the easy part of that equation may be getting the throne

--there was a new musical score for all the King's Landing stuff and I didn't like it at all

--Benjen said the dead can't cross the Wall, so why is everyone worried about their army?

--we finally get the Snow origin (essentially), but it's hard to believe anyone was surprised

--how can Unella be Gregor's sex slave if he's a zombie?

--Pycelle was always a survivor, so it was sad to see him go

--last week I noted I don't like giants, but I like the urchins doing Qyburn's bidding even less

--so the secret mission of Varys was to line up support in Dorne (and get the Tyrell's thrown in as a bonus?), but how did he get back to Meereen so fast to be on Dany's warship when that should have been Grey Worm where he was standing?

Anyway, season six is over.  It takes so long to get here, then it's over so fast. So where do we stand after they cleared the table and reset it?

Cersei is now in charge of Westeros, but how many troops does she have?  She's got the Kingsguard, which is for protecting the castle, and the Lannister army, which isn't as tough as it once was, not to mention general Jaime seems to be having second thoughts.  Meanwhile the Frey's have been wiped out at the top.

Against her, you've got the fast-approaching Dany with a bunch of ships, the Unsullied, the Dothraki horde, whoever is following Theon and Yara and three dragons. (I think she's leaving the Second Sons behind.) You've also got her potential alliance with the Martells and the Tyrells (who oppose the Lannisters in any case).  And the Starks, now united with the other Northern families (and probably the Knights of the Vale) sure don't like the Lannisters.  There's not enough wildfire in the world to stop all that opposition.

Of course, none of it matters if the Army of the Dead start marching.

There are a number of free agents out there.  Not sure where the Hound is or what he wants.  Brienne is still on the move, though presumably returning to Winterfell. Mel, who has gone from dangerous fanatic to sympathetic wanderer, has to go south--maybe she'll find her old friends at the Brotherhood Without Banners (and Gendry and Hot Pie). Arya should return to Winterfell, or does she prefer to be faceless and knock off people as she sees fit?  Will Jaqen be after her to make her stop using those masks?  Then there's Jorah, seeking a cure.  Euron is seeking his niece and nephew, but does anyone care?  And just what will Samwell be doing at the Citadel, aside from catching up on back copies if Maester's Monthly?

We're in the home stretch.  We'll know how it works out soon enough.  Or not soon enough, but eventually, and that'll have to do.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why Aziz Ansari makes me scared for my family

You can't argue with the math, apparently: Zero percent of American Muslims are terrorists.

I wonder what the percent is who understand, support and prefer Muslim terrorists over U.S. culture. That probably rounds up to an integer greater than zero.

What You Like Is In The Limo

I was just reading Michael Coveney's biography of Maggie Smith.  She's one of the premiere actresses of our day--a leading lady on stage, where she's received accolades for both classic and modern roles, and film, where she's gotten six Oscar nominations and won two.  She's has a great gift for comedy, but is equally at home in straight drama.

Yet, if you asked the average person how they know Maggie Smith, most would probably say "she's the nutty old Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey." (Or perhaps the headmistress at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.)

Smith is great as the Countess, deserving the Emmys she's won.  And I can't blame her for taking the job--it's work, and it's probably decent money.  But sitting in a chair and cracking those tart-tongued one-liners is the kind of thing she can do in her sleep. It got me thinking, how many other fine, classically-trained British actors are known for flashier, modern roles in TV or movies?

Here is a partial list:

Judi Dench. A prominent stage actress who later became a respected name in films, garnering seven Oscar nominations, she's probably best known as M in the James Bond series.

John Gielgud.  Arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of the twentieth century, he gained his greatest fame--and only Oscar--as wise-cracking Hobson, the butler (or was it valet?) in Arthur.

Alec Guinness.  A fine stage actor who became one of Britain's best film actors, he is best known today as the iconic Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films.

Ian McKellen.  He spent much of his career doing great work in the theatre, but once he hit his 60s, became well-known for leading roles in two gigantic franchises--Magneto in the X-Men films, and Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings films.

Gary Oldman.  A successful stage actor, he gained notice as a young leading man in art films.  But then he really got famous when he appeared as support in blockbusters such as his Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series.  Today, he's probably best known as Commission Gordon in the Batman series.

Diana Rigg.  Gained early notoriety in television as Emma Peel in The Avengers, but regularly returned to the stage, where she was a leading lady for decades.  Today, she's probably best known as Lady Olenna in Game Of Thrones, where she seems to be doing an imitation of Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess.

I wonder how these actors feel about their late-found fame.  Alec Guinness was happy to make so much money that he could retire in comfort, but he didn't particularly enjoy being known worldwide as a wizard in a kid's film.  As for the others, after decades of doing good work in relative obscurity (they were big in certain circles, but weren't stopped in the street), to be suddenly recognized everywhere they go, and make some nice paychecks, I would guess has them tickled.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Weezer Geezer

In the midst of all the Paul McCartney celebration, I missed Rivers Cuomo's birthday.  Let's rectify that.

First, here we are in the 2010s, watching a video from the 1990s, about a show aired in the 1970s with stories set in the 1950s.













Saturday, June 25, 2016

What to say, what to say?

"The US has been warned about its high poverty rate in the International Monetary Fund's annual assessment of the economy. . .  It recommended raising the minimum wage and offering paid maternity leave to women to encourage them to work."

Oh, what to say to Ms. Lagarde, what to say? How about "Fuck off, fascist."

An economist recommending raising the minimum wage and paying people not to work to encourage work, as good an idea as ensuring insurance coverage by mandating the scope of coverage. I'm beginning to regret my remarks. They're not strong enough.

June Jam

Let's celebrate a few musical birthdays.

Clifton Chenier:



Eddie Floyd:



Harold Melvin:



Carly Simon:



Allen Lanier:



George Michael:

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Thrill Of It All

There are a lot of turning points in the story of the Marx Brothers.  New York street urchins in the 1890s, one by one they entered Vaudeville in the early days of the 20th century.  They were a musical act but morphed into a comedy act. They hit the top in Vaudeville, but were stuck there--until they managed to get a Broadway show and were discovered by the tastemakers. They were the toast of Broadway until they moved to Hollywood in the 1930s and became film stars.  They switched from Paramount to MGM in 1935, but their career as a team petered out somewhere in the 1940s, though Groucho went on to great fame in TV in the 1950s.

If I had to pick the most significant turning point, it'd be May 19th, 1924, when they first opened on Broadway in an unassuming revue called I'll Say She Is and became overnight sensations.  Everything up till then had been preparation for this moment, and everything after was them at the top showing the world what they could do.  This show is also the Holy Grail--their earlier Vaudeville apprenticeship can be generally understood, and their later Broadway shows, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, were turned into movies and are even sometimes revived on stage, but the Broadway show that launched them is all but lost.  Books about the boys describe it somewhat, but Marx Brothers fans want to know more.

And now we have a book to slake that thirst, Gimme A Thrill, by Noah Diamond.  He's done deep research and describes how the show came about, as well as what was in it.  He tells not just about the Marx Brothers themselves, but Will B. Johnstone, a multi-talent who wrote the book and lyrics, and helped developed their characters before George S. Kaufman ever laid eyes on them; Joseph M. Gaites, their low-budget Broadway producer who tended to make money with even lower-budget touring shows; James P. Beury, the other producer who helped get them across the finish line; and all the performers, including leading lady Lotta Miles.

Turns out many of the tales told about the show--usually by the Marx Brothers years later--aren't true.  They said the producer (Beury, though they didn't use his name), was a pretzel-salt magnate who only invested in the show to get a spot for his no-talent girlfriend. Actually, Beury's money came from coal, but he was serious about show biz--this wasn't his first production--and there probably was no girlfriend.

Just before they signed on to the show, the Marx Brothers were in trouble.  A tour of England hadn't gone well, and since they'd done it without the permission of vindictive Vaudeville impresario E. F. Albee, they found themselves banned from the top houses on the circuit.  They took up an offer to play in the "Advanced Vaudeville" that Broadway's Shubert Brothers were trying to make work, but that came to little.  So they were looking for something to reignite their careers.  Gaites, working with Johnstone, had twice produced revues based on the idea of a lovely young lass searching from scene to scene for a true thrill (hence the title of the 1922 revue Gimme A Thrill), but they hadn't worked out. Then the Marx Brothers were added into the mix, which was all the show really needed. (They're all any show needs).

They opened out of town in Philadelphia where they were such a hit they played through the summer. That was followed by a never-ending tour around the country. Gaites was making so much money it seemed he didn't want to get to Broadway.  The Marx Brothers were getting antsy.  Beury bought out Gaites and after playing for a year--and improving along the way--the show finally became the New York smash it was meant to be.

The Marxes ruled Manhattan.  Everyone wanted to see their show, and get to know them.  And Diamond does a great job walking us through each scene of I'll Say She Is--with or without the Brothers.  Some of it is known to fans--especially the theatrical agent scene, which they later filmed as a promotional short for Paramount--and the big closer, with Groucho as Napoleon (as Groucho) and the others as Josephine's lovers.  People at the time said the last bit was the funniest thing they ever did. After running the better part of a year, I'll Say She Is went back out on the road, until the tour ended abruptly when Chico walked out on the show (probably running from gangsters whom he owed money).

So if you want a book that really gets into I'll Say She Is, you can't do better than Gimme A Thrill.  Yet that's only the first half.  The second half of the 360-page book is author Diamond's story.  He grew up a big fan of the Brothers, and become a writer and performer.  Then he got the idea of putting on the first production of I'll Say She Is since 1924.  His research got him information most fans thought lost--including old sheet music and Johnstone's typescript of the show (a bare-bones version).

Diamond reconstituted the show, and also rewrote it, always with a view of being faithful to the meaning of the work. Then, in 2014, ninety years after the original opened, it was performed at the New York International Fringe Festival.  Diamond played Groucho.  This led to offers--including a book deal--and a production that is now playing off-Broadway.  I'm hoping some day it gets out to Los Angeles.

A fine book, written with care (a few minor errors, but I'll let them go) and love. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hate it when that happens II

Geez, agreeing with Oliver Stone?

It’s a form of fascism"

Close, Olly. It is fascism.

Reboot Booted

HBO has canceled Vinyl, after renewing it originally.  Why?  The simple answer is it flopped--viewership was low, the critics didn't like it, and the show was expensive.  There was a plan to rethink it for season two, but the channel decided it was better to quit while they're behind.  It's doubtful they would have given up, though, if HBO hadn't just named a new president--a new broom sweeps clean.

I don't think Vinyl would have been able to reverse its ratings.  Still, a sad thing.  As badly as they screwed things up, the show had potential.  What did they do wrong?  Let me count the ways:

1.  Showrunner Terence Winter.  I suppose he can write well, and maybe he's got ties with producer Martin Scorsese, but the last show he created, Boardwalk Empire, was a mess.  It may have lasted several years, but it never found its footing.  (HBO likes Winter and David Milch, though they often crap out.  Meanwhile, they turn down shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  It's easy to be right after the fact, but has HBO been betting on the wrong horses?)

2.  The time period.  Doing a show about popular music of any era limits your audience, but 1973 was a bad choice.  The 60s, yeah, even if they're overdone.  The later 70s, once punk (and disco) changed things, might also work.  But this transitional period, even if there's a wide mix of styles at the time, falls between two stools.

3.  The darkness.  Protagonists need problems, but there's also got to be some fun.  Here's a guy who's running a record company, which sounds like a dream come true, but all we see is him failing and flailing.  His marriage is falling apart, his business is going under, he's got a drug problem, he can't do anything right.  Just a little lightness, maybe even the occasional clear success, would have helped.

4.  The murder.  This was the biggest plot mistake.  The pilot had the lead character involved in the killing of a man, and it was there the whole season, hanging over everything, crushing the fun out of the show.  Perhaps they thought they needed something weighty for the drama, but how many murders were there on Mad Men?  This is about the music business in the 70s--there's enough going on (including certain criminal activity) to keep us intrigued if done well.

5.  A better arc.  There can be a lot of things going on in a serial, but there should be clear goals that the characters are aiming for.  It sometimes seemed every episode the show would go in a new direction, meaning there was little cumulative power.

6.  Secondary characters.  A few seemed to be working out--especially Ray Romano and June Temple's characters--but most weren't well-defined, or didn't have enough to do.  Perhaps they would have blossomed if the show had another season.

7.  Is it real or is it Memorex?  The show had an unhealthy mix of real people of the era (played by actors, of course) and made up characters, include "famous" ones who exist in the reality of the series.  Maybe they hoped for some of the excitement of the era by using actual names, but it led to a weird and sometimes uncomfortable mix.

Still, I'm sorry to see it go. The idea was good, it had a good cast and a good look, and I certainly would have given the reboot a chance.  A missed opportunity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Freaky

A decade ago economics professor Steven D. Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner came out with Freakonomics, a surprise bestseller that taught people to look at the world as an economist does.  For example, they believed a significant but rarely-discussed factor in America's dropping crime rate was legalizing abortion, which meant many children who would have grown up to be criminals weren't born to begin with.

Some of their claims are controversial, but their basic way of looking at things is a useful antidote to how a lot of policy is discussed.  When trying to solve a problem, or deal with a tricky situation, it's worth noting, for instance, that people respond to incentives, or that conventional wisdom needs to be tested like everything else.  It may sound obvious, but many people get stuck in certain ways of thinking.

Levitt and Dubner started their own Freakonomics industry, doing consulting work and following up with two more bestsellers, SuperFreakonomics and their latest, Think Like A Freak--which I just read.  It's a fairly short book (a little over 200 pages of text) that "offer[s] to retrain your brain." I don't know if it goes that far, but, like their previous work, it does suggests helpful ways of looking at things.

What, then, is thinking like a Freak?  It's not that hard to describe, though it can be hard to do. First, admit what you don't know.  Many people make the same mistakes over and over because they won't admit it, or are afraid to be revealed as ignorant.

Identify what the actual problem is--not what everyone says it is, but what the data show it is, as best you can discover.  And try to break down the problem into smaller parts, which are easier to study and easier to solve.

Ask basic questions, as if you know nothing about the situation--come at it fresh.  And, while investigating a problem, try to ignore your moral compass (at least short term) since it can get in the way of effective solutions. Also remember that we all hold deep biases--so deep that we're essentially blind to them.

Never forget that people respond to incentives, but also that they'll try to game the system. Try to come up with experiments that can force out into the open how people respond--not just what they say they'll do, but what they'll actually do.

Finally, be ready to quit--don't throw good money after bad.

That's pretty much it.  Perhaps not earth-shattering (especially after their first two books), but, if followed, revolutionary. In any case, the fun part of their books--the reason they sell--are the stories they tell.

For example, they explain how a young, slight Japanese man revolutionized the world of eating competitions by experimenting with different ways of swallowing a hot dog rather than shoveling it down as everyone else had been doing.  Or how one medical researcher overturned decades of thinking on what causes ulcers by simply doing some basic research (which took a while to be accepted, as most challenges to conventional wisdom are).  Or how a philanthropist figured out that a great way to appeal to potential donors is to promise to stop bothering them with appeals once they pay. Or how a crazy rider in a rock group's contract (no brown M&Ms) wasn't so crazy, but was designed to ensure the concert promoter was paying attention.

The book is easy to read--a key to their success--though I find the style (which I'm guessing is mostly Dubner's) to be a bit too folksy at times.  The ideas won't be much of a surprise if you've read their previous work, but it's still a reminder that we can take certain things for granted, and need to try a different approach now and then.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I'm sorry, Eric, I can't do that

“We’ll make make sure that people know how to turn this stuff off should we get to that point.”

He just seems like a man you can trust. Zero and one, baby.

Revenge Served Hot

"Battle of The Bastards" is a fine Game Of Thrones episode, maybe the best of season 6.  It was also very satisfying in that, generally, the good guys won--something never guaranteed on this show. (Though with Arya taking down the Waif last week, are we on a rally?)

The episode gave us two, two, two fights in one.  This is nice, since I'm generally disappointed when they spend an hour on just one story. And the latter battle is, I think, the best they've ever done. (I know most would pick "Hardhome," and that was good, but it was a little more confusing and had less plot.)

We start in Meereen.  Those backstabbing Masters are lobbing firebombs at the Pyramid.  Dany and the Imp are up top--he wonders if they should take shelter, but she's become fearless. (I hope she understands that while she has dragons, she's not one herself.) He notes Meereen's commerce has come back, but it's a pretty weak defense of his tenure. Her idea, at this point, is to kill everyone and burn their cities to the ground.  Gets to be more like her father every day.  Tyrion convinces her to try a different approach.

And we get a parley where Dany and her crew meet the three head Masters (but not headmasters) to discuss the terms of surrender.  The Masters think she's surrendering but we know better. Just when they think they have the upper hand, she goes all Avatar as Drogon appear at her command.  They fly high above the city as her two other dragons are let go and fly behind. I'm glad the show didn't waste too much time on figuring out how to work dragons--we're just glad to see them.

You can excuse the Masters for not being prepared--no one alive is used to this threat.  They burn the ships in the bay (with people still in them--the Masters were kinder when they burned Dany's ships).  Also--as if it's needed--the Dothraki horde (and Daario) finally ride into Meereen and start killing with gusto.  Pillaging is what they do for a living, after all.

Back at the parley Grey Worm explains Dany's terms.  She'll keep whatever ships are left, of course.  Also, the slaves who protect the Masters can now go home.  As to the three Masters, one of them will have to die for violating their pact.  Two of them immediately give up the third, noting he's lowborn. I know they're under a lot of stress, but they do realize they're talking to Grey Worm and Missandei, two former slaves.  Did they really think that lowborn stuff was gonna fly?  Grey Worm slits their throats and Tyrion pretends he's in Inglourious Basterds, telling the one living Master to let everyone know what happened.

Now we're in the North. Jon, Sansa, Davos, Tormund--and is that Lady Mormont!?--are having a parley with Ramsay Bolton.  We had a parley last week, and two already this show.  You could have made a lot of money on a parley parlay.

Bolton is good here, saying how much he misses Sansa.  He probably does, but he's also trying to get Jon's goat (which isn't that hard). In addition, he's got the arrogance of a guy with the odds in his favor.  He outnumbers them 2 to 1, and holds Winterfell, which can withstand enemies (we've been told in previous seasons) even if the odds are 10 to 1 against.  Jon offers the old-style war (which Tommen will probably be banning soon)--he'll fight Ramsay, winner take all. Ramsay turns him down, and, to be fair, it's a bad deal when you're going to win the next day.  Jon thinks Ramsay's men won't want to fight when they find out he's a coward, but Bolton throws Rickon in their faces. (He also throws an actual face--Rickon's direwolf--at them.) You'd think Sansa might be moved, but she's gotten to be pretty cold (like a Northern girl)--"You're going to die tomorrow" she says.  Ramsay then threatens the fighters with his hounds, but tough old guys like Davos and Tormund can take it.

That night, back at camp, they plot their strategy.  One night left and they're still planning? Haven't they had months to think about this?  This would sure be a good time for Robb Stark--questionable taste in marriages, but the best military thinker around.

Davos notes that Ramsay will meet them on the battlefield or the North will think he's a sissy. I'm glad Ser said this, since it was bothering me why Ramsay wouldn't just shut the gates and wait them out. It is his style to attack, actually, as he did with Stannis.  Speaking of Stannis, they speak a bit about how he defeated the Free Folk--Davos looks at Tormund, but the two haven't had it out on this.  I guess they've moved on.

Back to strategy.  Snow notes they're digging trenches to avoid pincer movements from horseman.  Davos says it's crucial Bolton charge at Jon, so they need patience.  They can buckle at the center and come at him on three sides (a tactic from the Battle of Cannae--has Davos been reading Roman history?).  Jon wants him angry so he'll come at them and not be thinking straight.  They retire.  Sansa comes up to Jon and starts whining about how they wouldn't let explain who Ramsay is, since she knows him best.  Pardon me?  I didn't see anyone keeping her from talking.

Anyway, she notes he toys with people and lays traps.  True enough.  Worse, she knows they'll never get Rickon back--he's too big a threat to Ramsay as heir to Winterfell.  She also says it would be better if they waited till they had a bigger force.  Time out.  She knows of the knights of the Vale, and even sent a raven to Littlefinger, so why hasn't she told her brother? She would rather they rush into certain slaughter?  Play head games with Ramsay, not with Jon.  (Is she afraid he won't take help from the guy who helped kill their dad--Jon is working with the Wildlings, so how picky does she think he is?) She also says she'll die before she goes back to Ramsay. Jon promises he'll protect her, but she notes no one can protect anyone.  If there's a lesson to learn from Game Of Thrones, that's it.

Tormund and Davos, apparently buddies, walk through camp at night.  They both followed kings who were defeated.  Now they follow another man, and he's not a king. Maybe that's progress. Tormund goes off to drink.  Davos can't sleep before a battle so decides to take a long walk. (Won't he be tired during the battle?  He was more a smuggler than a fighter, I guess.)

All along I've been wondering where's Mel. Did they bring her with them?  Where else should she be? And sure enough, she's in her tent and Jon enters.  Now would be a good time for some of that blood magick.  He has an interesting request--if I die, don't bring me back. Hey, I don't work for you, I'm just a vessel for the Lord Of Light. Will we have to do this again?

Just before light of day, Davos comes to where there was once a fire and sees Shireen's toy.  We were waiting for him to find out.  He's going to have some harsh words for the Red Woman, one assumes.

We're back in Meereen.  The Imp is mad at someone for making dwarf jokes back at Winterfell.  Turns out he and Dany are meeting with Theon and Yara.  It's fun to see different combinations of characters meet.  Good thing these two came sailed in after that last battle or they might have been burned.

They will give Dany their ships but want her to give the Iron Islands their independence (and also kill Uncle Euron).  Euron will offer up ships as well, but he'll want to marry Dany and then get rid of her once he's on the throne.  This could still be tricky, notes Tyrion--you can't run Westeros and let everyone be free.  But they're just asking, not commanding.  Dany notes the Greyjoy's father was a terrible king and Yara says We have that in common. Oh, snap!  She keeps it up with the comebacks, and I wish Dany had gotten her in line, rather than smiled.  Hey, don't think just because we're both women that I'll put up with backtalk.

Dany's demands: support my claim as Queen, and stop looting (which, like the Dothraki, is how you earn a living).  I'll guess they'll have to learn a trade, start making something worthwhile. Or maybe they could turn Pyke into the best waterpark in the Seven Kingdoms.

It's dawn at the Battlefield outside Winterfell.  We're with Jon.  We sees some of those burning X's that the Bolton's love--are those real men on them, or dummies. (Is this Burning Man?)

Ramsay's forces are arrayed, and more impressive.  Ramsay comes forward.  With Rickon.  He pulls out a knife and...cuts Rickon's rope.  Run to your brother, boy.  Serpentine, Rickon, serpentine!  This is Ramsay at his best. He's messing with Jon (and Rickon) and we know he loves a good chase.  As Rickon runs, Ramsay calmly shoots arrows, just missing.  Meanwhile, Jon rushed toward him on horseback--maybe not wise, but he can't help himself, as Ramsay knew.  He's got Jon on full tilt, when the idea was for it to go in the opposite direction.

Just as Jon is about to swoop in and pick up his brother, an arrow goes through Rickon's heart.  Rickon, like Osha, came back after being gone for so long, just to be killed after very little screen time.

Now Jon is in the middle of the battlefield, facing the horsemen Ramsay just sent.  They'll mow him down, except just as they're about to clash, Jon's forces pass him and the battle is on.  Ramsay lays back, ordering his men to shoot volleys of arrows into the battlefield.  Where they land he knows not where.  He's killing his own men along with Jon's, which is fine with him, since he's got the numbers (and the sadism).  Davos refused to let his side's arrows fly.

We're right in the middle of the battle with Jon, who slices through a bunch of fighters (though they don't shatter like White Walkers), and is saved more than once by his star power.  Tormund and Wun Wun are there too, getting in their punches. As I've noted before, I don't like giants in this story. Dragons--sure, they're baked into the cake--but giants seem too much for me.  Jon's people took one down at the Wall, and I hope Wun Wun buys it, too, even if he's fighting for the good guys.

There are mountains of dead men and horses, and Davos sends the rest of Jon's soldiers into battle.  Ramsay's got plenty in reserve (Karstarks, Umbers, etc.) and finally sends them into this pile of death.  Their formation is what I guess you'd call a sort of circular phalanx, with spears and shields in front.  Like an old movie with the walls closing in, they're going to suffocate Jon's men.  Snow et al fight valiantly, but there's no way out.

Then we hear a clarion call and it's--actually, I wasn't sure what the symbol of the knights of the Vale was, except a bird and a moon seems like it'd be the Moon Door people.  They look a bit like Stannis's soldiers swooping in north of the Wall, but it's more personal.  Littlefinger is there (far away from the fighting) with Sansa.  They're smiling.  Why is Sansa smiling?  If she'd waited one more day the battle could have been won with less men dying. (Hey, they're just Wildlings.)

Ramsay's people are mowed down, and for the first time he loses his cockiness.  He retreats behind the walls of Winterfell, where he can presumably hold out a long time.  Except he didn't count on Wun Wun, who crashes through the door.  Soon Jon's men are inside and it's over, though Wun Wun dies (about time).  Ramsay says now would be a good time for one-on-one. Surprisingly, Jon agrees, blocking Bolton's arrows with a shield and then punching him repeatedly.  Just as we enjoyed Joffrey get slapped around in earlier seasons, so did we enjoy this.  We've been waiting a long time to see Ramsay suffer, and while this may be fan service, it was earned.  (Meanwhile, Davos seems ready to confront the triumphant Mel.)

But Bolton's not done.  Jon leaves something for Sansa.  They tie him to a chair in a cell where he and Mrs. Bolton have a nice chat.  He tries to get into her head, but she tells him his name and house will be wiped out and forgotten. (Women sure have a vengeful streak this episode.)  Then, with poetic justice, she releases the hounds.  They may like Ramsay, but they like how he tastes better--he hasn't fed them in a week, and soon he's a Scooby Snack.

She walks away as he screams, smiling like Carrie Mathison.  End of show.

That was fun. Only one more to go this season. I expect it'll be mostly about King's Landing, where thing are reaching a boiling point.  Of all the other characters, I most hope we see Bran next week, so we can finally get Jon Snow's full backstory.

For much of Game Of Thrones, the most hated character was Joffrey.  When he was taken care of, Ramsay took his place (and was more dangerous--just as cruel, but smarter).  Now that he's gone, who's the main villain?  I guess the Night King.  And even without him, we've got a lot of battles to go, since a whole bunch of people are fighting for King's Landing.  Things are coming to an end, but it's still hard to see who will win this game.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Giving Them Away

Paul was so talented and prolific, he wrote plenty of hits for others.















Sunday, June 19, 2016

Prostitute sets conditions for surrendering virtue

Mac Attack

After yesterday (though not "Yesterday"), let's look at the solo music of Paul McCartney.
















Saturday, June 18, 2016

French for "WTF? WTF?!?"

The Mystery of Jewish and Asian-American Democratic Loyalty

All Paul

Happy birthday to the greatest songwriter alive, Paul McCartney.  Not a bad performer, either.

Today, The Beatles.















Friday, June 17, 2016

Hate it when that happens

Geez, agreeing with Chris Cilizza? At least it's not Krugman.

Because instead of being dead, your loved one would be alive

"The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense. Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense."

Well, it answers a question I've had for 9 years: He's stupid. I have been settled on evil. Of course he can be both.

Come Again?

Hollywood spends a lot on sequels because they're the surest thing there is, but many have disappointed at the box office this year.  I say who needs 'em?  A good picture has a story that's complete in itself--if there's more to tell, you should have put it in there to begin with.

This doesn't apply, I suppose, to character who go on regular adventures--James Bond, Indiana Jones, Captain America, etc.  But most movies have an arc where the protagaonist has a challenge and overcomes it, changing in the process.  After the change, what's the point of another movie--will the character change yet again?

Which is why so many sequels are disappointing.  Anyway, that's what I was thinking while watching one of those disappointing sequels, Now You See Me 2.

The first film was a surprise hit because it had such a good concept: four magicians, talented but not stars, come together (at the bequest of a mysterious magic society--my least favorite part of the movie) to fight the powerful through ever more elaborate magic shows.  They're Robin Hoods, stealing ill-gotten gains from the rich and returning the money to the poor, all while the establishment is on their trail.

So that's the fun.  We meet them, they get together, learn to pool their efforts, pull off some stunts, beat the bad guys, and the mystery of what was all behind it is revealed in the end.  The story is told. It's done.  The film was no classic, but it had a reason for being.  The sequel exists for one reason only.

Even worse, and this happens in a lot of sequels--Ghostbusters 2, The Matrix Reloaded come to mind--in the original, they're underdogs who triumph.  Which means, to get the story up and running in the new movie, they have to be brought low again, so they can rise once more.  Before the sequel, when the audience thought of them, they could remember a satisfactory ending with our heroes permanently in triumph mode.  It's both artificial and no fun to see them pointlessly failing again just so they can get back to where they were.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Isn't that called divorce?

Before The Parade Passes By

Peter Filichia has been writing about the Great White Way for decades.  If he doesn't know something about Broadway, it's not worth knowing.  I enjoyed an earlier work about the biggest hits and flops of various years, so I decided to check out his latest, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be-Forgotten 1963-1964 Season.

I have a problem from the start--while that year might be important to Filichia, I don't see why it stands out.  It seems to me you could write a book about any 12-month period--as William Goldman did with classic The Season, where he went in-depth into 1967-1968.

So what evidence does Filichia have that this year was so significant?  None, really.  He just assumes it was.  Sure, there were huge hits--Hello Dolly!, Funny Girl, Barefoot In The Park--but every year features a few hits, more middling runs, and plenty of flops (only 11 of 75 productions made money that season).  So really, to enjoy this book, you can't argue with it, you've got to go along with it.

Luckily, that's easy enough.  He separates the shows into musicals, comedies, dramas, revivals and a few odds and ends.  And he discusses pretty much all 75 productions that season.  The text is 260 pages, so plenty of the shows get at least a few pages.  While we may already know about the blockbusters, there are great stories about some of those that didn't make it.

For instance, Filichia goes into detail about the musical Fade Out--Fade In.  With book and lyrics by Comden and Green, music by Jule Styne and direction by George Abbot, there's no reason it couldn't have been a hit.  And it looked like it would be.  But star Carol Burnett wanted out for a number of reasons (she was injured, she wanted to be on TV, she felt Styne was paying more attention to Barbra Streisand in his other show Funny Girl). She offered to buy herself out of the show. Instead, the producer forced her to fulfill her contract. No one wants to go see a musical where the lead is performing at gunpoint.

Another musical, What Makes Sammy Run?, had a similar problem.  It featured pop star Steve Lawrence.  It turned out he could act as well as sing, and the production drew crowds, but Lawrence got tired of it and moved on, leaving behind a show in red ink.

Hits could be just as unexpected.  There were shows featuring huge Broadway stars, such as Robert Preston in Nobody Loves An Albatross or Mary Martin in Jennie, that lost money. (A few years later the two would work together in the hit I Do! I Do!.) For that matter, movie star Kirk Douglas returned to Broadway in an adaptation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest that flopped.  But then an unheralded production like The Subject Was Roses, a three-character drama with little action and no big names (at the time), would open and run for two years, winning the Tony for Best Play as well as a Pulitzer Prize. (The show hasn't held up, I'd say.  You don't see many revivals.)

Even better is the story of Any Wednesday, a comedy that was a disaster out of town.  It shed actors and directors like rats off a sinking ship. And yet, once it opened, the critics were captivated by lead Sandy Dennis, and the public loved it so much it ran for two and a half years. (It hasn't dated well either, just like most sex farces of the period.)

Filichia brings many of these long-forgotten titles back to life.  His style can be a little too informal and cutesy, and occasionally he makes political statements that are generally pointless and sometimes idiotic, but he knows what he's talking about and has plenty of good anecdotes.  It's a shame he thinks 1963-1964 is so special, since it would be fun to have him do it for as many years as he's willing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Plain language? We don't need no stinkin' plain language

Here's some of that originalism about which LAGuy says it can't exist, so we need Jedi to interpret it for us:

“The plain text of the Bankruptcy Code begin and ends our analysis,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

Of course it was written by the Emperor II, so what would you expect? Curse him for pulling the wool over our eyes with his magic! If only we could find someone to help us!

Junior Walker

I recently saw a flier for a dog walker that read:

Dog walker. Your pooches are in good hands

$7/ HR      $15/ 2 HR     $25/ 3 HR

For more information please call [redacted]

I would like more information, actually.

I'll ignore that this guy's price is below the California minimum wage. If he doesn't like it, he can take it up with himself.

What intrigues me is his payment plan. His first hour costs seven bucks.  His second, effectively, costs eight bucks.  His third, ten bucks. (Congrats--that last hour is the present-day minimum wage, though not for long.)

Perhaps he figures "for the first hour I won't be tired, but if they want me to keep walking those dogs, it's gonna be brutal, so I'll charge more as I go along."

Except it's a lot more common to charge most for the first hour of anything.  For one thing, some of your costs, like travel, are there no matter how long you work.

Second, if you want consumers to purchase more of your services than they might otherwise, it's a good idea to offer discounts--the more they buy, the greater the discount.

If I needed a dog walker, I'd hire this guy for one hour.  And then when he comes back, I'd say "you know what?  I think I'm going to hire you again for another hour.  Here's another seven bucks, see you soon." And so on.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Because that's what's important II

Oh, look, a thumbsucker from AP about assault weapons, and how Americans won't talk to AP, but the Center for Guns Are Bad! Bad! will.

So, Anonymous, I'll pay you $100 in bitcoin if you can find an AP thumbsucker from Sunday to today about problems of assimilating immigrants who despise the culture they're entering and wish to retain the culture they're leaving.

But enough about Colorado . . .

The Show Is Dark And Full Of Terrors

Maybe it was my TV set, but the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, "No One," seemed to have a lot of underlit scenes.  I could barely see what was going on.  No mind--there was enough action and threats to keep things moving.

We start onstage. So we're in Braavos, and we haven't left that acting troupe yet. Lady Crane is still the lead actress, and doing a great job as Cersei. (Though she says her lines pretty quietly--that can work on TV, but I question how well it would play in an age before microphones.) She gets her applause, goes backstage, and discovers a bleeding Arya (while back onstage, Tywin is about to have his bleeding aria).

Arya was stabbed in last week's episode.  You'd think she'd try to retreat to a spot where she couldn't be found, rather than the one place where the Waif has seen her outside the House of Black and White.  But bleeders can't be choosers. Lady Crane has a soft spot for the girl (Arya did save her life) and binds her wounds.

Crane suggests she join the troupe, who will soon play Pentos.  Apparently they're on a tour of the free cities. (We open In Venice/ We next play Verona.)  Our heart sinks--Arya is ready to return home, after being stuck in Braavos for two seasons. Please don't waste your time with some new mentors is Essos.  Next, Crane gives Arya some milk of the poppy--good if you've got wounds, but shouldn't she stay alert right now?

Now we're back in Westeros with a bunch of jerks.  Who are they?  Doesn't matter, since the Hound comes along and kills them with his axe.  He's on his revenge tour, searching for the Brothers Without Banners who killed his friends.

Now we're in Meereen.  We're whipping back and forth a lot this hour.  A priestess is preaching the tale of Daenerys.  Meanwhile, Varys and the Imp walk along the streets in their finery.  Tyrion is happy with how things seem to be back to normal.  Happy or not, it makes no sense for these two to walk the streets--there could still be rebels around, and even if there weren't, he's got a huge bounty on his head (and he's easy to recognize).  They should at least have a complement of guards, but I guess normal safety rules don't apply in Meereen.  We find out Varys is returning to Westeros on a secret mission--so secret they don't tell us what it is.

He's heard something is going on in King's Landing (when isn't something going on there?).  And now we're back in KL, at Cersei's chamber.  Qyburn announces some of the Faith Militant, headed by Lancel, are there to talk to her.  She remembers the day when religion stayed in the Sept (till she changed the rules).  They request--no, command--she present herself to the High Sparrow.  Cersei refuses, and has Frankenmountain rips off one of their heads (alas, not the annoying Lancel's) to demonstrate why she's not leaving. Okay, he's a good guard, but wouldn't she be better with a few more to protect her?--is this a budget issue, because a bunch of Sparrows could still swarm her.

Brienne and Pod approach Riverrun, and see there's a siege going on.  More important, Brienne spots Jaime.  She and Jaime have quite a history--he opened up to her and saved her life, and later gave her his sword and sent her on her quest to find Sansa.

Before we get to their meeting, Bronn and Pod have their own homecoming.  Bronn sneaks up from behind and grabs Pod and for a second we wonder if Pod won't be buying the farm (and I realized that would be fine with me).

Jaime is surprised Brienne found Sansa. But no matter--the two now find themselves on opposite sides.  Brienne has come to convince Blackfish and his troops to join Sansa's army. (She has a letter--is this the letter Sansa wrote last week, or was that a different one she already sent to Littlefinger?) Jaime offers a deal--Brienne can enter Riverrun Castle under a flag of truce to persuade Blackfish to give it up, assuring him he's allowed to leave safely with his army.  Jaime doesn't expect it to work, but it can't hurt.  (And maybe his men will leave without him.) If not, the Lady of Tarth and the Kingslayer realize they may have to fight each other. Neither wants that. And we don't either. We like both these characters, and it would be no fun if one killed the other. Jaime also lets Brienne keep the sword--his sword--that he gave her for her quest.

Once in the castle, Blackfish is predictably stubborn.  Nothing will convince him to give up Riverrun, Sansa or no.  Brienne even plays the Catelyn card (Blackfish always liked her) but to no avail. (Note--I've been reading comments about the episode and some thought--spoiler--that Catelyn would return around this point, but it sure didn't happen, and I guess it won't be happening in the show.)

Cersei goes to the throne room (the actually throne room, that's not a euphemism), but Kevan (and Pycelle) won't let her stand by Tommen.  She's a nobody in this new regime, and must hang out in the gallery with the Ladies of the Court--pretty galling for someone who wants ultimate power (and still loves her son).  Tommen, now fully committed to his religious side, announces the trials of Loras (he's still alive?) and Cersei will be held soon in the Sept, and that trial by combat is abolished.  While the latter may be a good idea, it sure makes all that work to revive the Mountain a waste of time.  Which hurts more, Cersei--that you lose your champion, or that you lost your son?

Qyburn mentions at this point that the rumor he and Cersei have heard about has been confirmed.  And that's all we hear about that.  A lot of tight-lipped conversations on this show.

We cut back to Meereen, where Tyrion convinces the straitlaced Missandei and Grey Worm to have a drink and tell (bad) jokes.  This is a character scene, but it really doesn't give us anything (when we want action) and lasts a full four minutes.  Finally, they hear some danger outside.  The Slave Masters are attacking Meereen with a fleet.  Fine, fine, but we don't care about any of this.  Dany got caught in the Meereen quicksand before, and now Tyrion has.  Let's move on.

Jaime meets Edmure in his prison/tent. (This is one of those scene so dark I could barely make them out.) Edmure doesn't think too much of Jaime, and let's him know it. Jaime doesn't care--he's there to tell Edmure things, not to have a lot of back-and-forth.  Jaime wins the scene pretty easily.  He finally gets down to it--everything he does he does for Cersei (too bad--we could hope his reunion with Brienne might remind him of his better self, but he's backslid), and will be ruthless to get back to her, even if that means killing every Tully on Earth (is it called Earth in this world?).  He'll even take Edmure's baby son and catapult him against Riverrun.

Next thing you know, Eddy-boy is walking up to the castle and demanding they lower the drawbridge.  Blackfish, thinking he's in Star Wars, says it's a trap. But the soldiers can't help but obey Edmure, the true Lord of Riverrun. Blackfish makes the correct legal argument that Edmure's commands are delivered under duress, but theirs is not to question why.  Edmure enters while Jaime and one of those Frey guys wait outside to see if their strategy is working.

Once inside, Edmure commands his men surrender.  That was quick.  The castle is taken with a bolt being fired.  Brienne escapes by secret passage, but--as Jaime noted--Blackfish has been around a while and the best he can hope for is to go out fighting, so he refuses to run.  Jaime is told Blackfish hasn't been captured, but killed. (I assume he'll demand a corpse--Jaime is no fool.) He also sees Brienne and Pod rowing away on a boat (just the way he and Bri used to travel).  They wave bye-bye--a touching moment, and we're pleased there's no bloodshed.

Back at Meereen, there are recriminations.  So Tyrion's plans didn't work. (I'm not even sure what his plans were, but we can all agree they failed.)  Grey Worm says the only thing to do is give up the town and hole up in the pyramid, where they can fight when the Masters come. But then there's a bunch of sound and confusing action (in darkness) and--what do you know--Dany has returned.  Shouldn't we have seen her fly in on Drogon and rain fire on those ships, or are they saving the budget for next week's battle?

We're back now with Sandor Clegane, finally catching up with the Brotherhood--who are hanging the men who attacked the sept.  That's good to know--I thought the BWB was a decent group, so was surprised some of them were such jerks.  A fight commences over who can kill them, and they make a deal--the Hound can take out two of the three, but he can only hang them, not use his axe.  (Is hanging that much nicer?)

After they die, Clegane has a talk with his old pals--who once tried to kill him--Beric and Thoros. (Have many seasons since we've seen them?) Now that he's a free agent, maybe he should fight for the Lord of Light--there's going to trouble when those zombies come down from the North. (The Brotherhood has its own zombies, but let's not talk about that.) The Hound is still his old cynical self, and we wouldn't have it any other way.  But maybe he'll consider their proposition. (Or would he rather fight his actual brother--they've both come back from the dead, after all.)

Back to Braavos, to the moment we've been waiting for.  Arya is waking up, a bit stronger, but you'd assume still pretty weak.  Lady Crane leaves the room for a second and is killed by the Waif--that was her fate, after all, and the faceless men (and waifs) had to deal with that debt.  Now it's Arya's turn.

Arya jumps out the window and lands on the hard street below.  A Waif chase commences and Arya does more jumping.  Along with her wound, she should know have broken ankles.  The Waif has no trouble keeping up, especially since she can follow Arya' s blood (or is it the fruit juice from when she overturns some baskets).  Arya gets back to her hiding place.  The Waif comes in and closes the door.  Needle won't help you now.  But (once again), it's a trap.  And this time, the darkness make sense.  Arya takes Needle and extinguishes the one candle lighting the room.  She's never beaten he Waif before, but now they're playing on her blind turf.

Like the off-screen death of Blackfish, there's no need to see the fight (even if we could).  Instead, we cut to the House of Black and White and discover they've got a new face. The Waif's.  Arya comes up to Jaqen and explains--as if it's needed--she killed her killer.  Congrats, you've taken care of the debt--now you can be No One.  But Arya, Needle in hand (she doesn't plan to kill Jaqen, does she?--don't think she could if she wanted), makes it known that she's of the House Stark and is going home.  Good, that's where you belong.  She exits--what's the opposite of the Walk of Shame, the March of Pride?

Not a great episode, but it worked.  Plenty of violence, and decent strategizing, especially from Jaime and Arya.  Who was missing?  We saw most of the gang in King's Landing, but no Margaery, no Sparrow, no Olenna, no Loras.  The whole Sansa gang, including Davos and Snow, were missing. (And what's going on with Melisandre. Will she be helping Snow, or will she have to pay for her sins?)  No Littlefinger.  No Ramsay or Rickon.  No Sam or Gilly.  No Bran and his gang (make with the visions already).  No Sand Snakes (may they stay off the screen even longer).  No Yara and Theon (I thought that might be them showing up in Meereen) or Greyjoys of any kind.  No Daario or Dothraki (it's hard to keep up with a dragon).  No Jorah.  But we did see the return of some old pals, Beric and Thoros, making you wonder if Gendry and Hot Pie might be around the corner.

Time to bring on the Battle of the Bastards. And time for everyone to start coming home for the final episodes when the biggest fight of all truly starts.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Libertarian rising

Hillary Clinton falls to third place among Independent voters - dropping behind Donald Trump and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson

Guess LAGuy's sweatin' bullets now.

Stars And Sunstein

To the academic world, Cass Sunstein is one of the most respected and cited legal scholars around.  But his friends know another side.  He's a fanboy.  And he let's that flag fly, as never before, in his entertaining book The World According To Star Wars.

He came up with the idea about a year ago when he showed his five-year-old son A New Hope.  His son loved it, and they watched the other episodes.  It rekindled an interest in Cass as well, and voila, here's the book.  Divided into ten chapters--or episodes, as he has it--it's all about the world of Star Wars. First he discusses the story of how George Lucas created the phenomenon.  Then he investigates various interpretations of the films.  He ends looking at Star Wars in relation to various topics, such as fatherhood, free will, politics, constitutional law and behavioral science.

While he's written for a popular audience before, I don't think Sunstein has ever been so conversational, or, for that matter, so openly emotional.  I guess the films bring that out in him.

A lot of the best stuff is in the early chapters.  Lucas's story may be well-trod territory, but Sunstein has some fascinating insights.  For one thing (and Sunstein isn't the first to claim this, but argues it well), a lot of what Lucas says he believed when he wrote Star Wars, he didn't actually believe.  For instance, Lucas claims he knew Darth Vader was Luke's father, but this simply wasn't considered until a sequel was in the works.  Vader, in fact, was a minor character until well into the writing of the first film, and his development continued until Lucas had an insight into how to tie things together. (And for sure he didn't know Luke and Leia were siblings.) But, as Sunstein explains, this is how creativity works--people want to believe you can plan everything, but it's openness to new ideas along the way that make the difference.

Later, plotting Return Of The Jedi, Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan argued about whether to kill Han Solo.  Kasdan felt it would give the film weight, but Lucas said "I don't like that and I don't believe that." Sunstein thinks this is an important statement--the creative process isn't like doing math, but is often about what feels right.  Lucas is letting the Force guide him--from a certain point of view. (Not that Lucas minds killing people.  He kills Luke's aunt and uncle early in A New Hope.  He blows up Leia's entire planet.  Obi-wan dies.  In later films, Yoda and Annakin Skywalker also buy it. Of course, after the Jedi figure out how to stick around though dead, it's not quite as big a deal for them.)

The book also explores why the film that so many thought would flop turned into a smash. The easy answer is it's great. But plenty of things that are good to great don't succeed, so is that enough? Sunstein explains how you can get information and reputational cascades that create popularity, and also how you may need to be in the right place and time. (He has some doubts about the timing explanation, though--it's too easy to come up with "just so" stories about why something succeeded in a certain period.  Sunstein suggests someone like Bob Dylan could only have broken out when he did, while Star Wars would have worked any time.  I've always believed that Paul McCartney would have been a hit any time, while John Lennon could only have been a star during the rock 'n' roll era.)

Some of the most enjoyable material is in the middle chapters.  Sunstein looks at Star Wars through a variety of prisms--is it a Christian parable, an oedipal story, a feminist tale, or a Buddhist teaching?  Some of the ideas are pretty far out--what do you think about Luke as a jihadi, or Jar Jar Binks secretly controlling everything?

Sunstein also takes time out to give us his opinion on a number of issues.  You might not be surprised to know he prefers Star Wars over Star Trek (though he likes both), but would you have guessed he prefers Michael Jordan over LeBron James, FDR over Lincoln (really?), Julianne Moore over Meryl Streep, the Stones over the Beatles (for weak reasons, seems to me), Mill over Kant, Taylor Swift over Adele and (why even bother to say it?) Obama over Reagan?

He also rates the seven episodes from top to bottom. (The book was written recently enough to discuss episode XII):

1.  The Empire Strikes Back (A+)
2.  A New Hope (A+)
3.  Return Of The Jedi (A)
4.  Revenge Of The Sith (A-)
5.  The Force Awakens (A-)
6.  Attack Of The Clones (B-)
7.  The Phantom Menace (C+)

I agree that the original trilogy are the top three, though nothing should beat A New Hope.  I have a somewhat lower opinion of The Force Awakens than he does.  While we're at it, Sunstein also discusses various orders in which the films should be watched, stating (as any rational person must) that the best way to see them are in order of release.

The later chapters have material that might befuddle Star Wars fans, since he gets further from the series and more into legal and behavioral theories that have been his bread and butter.  For example, he explains how many rights Americans believe flow from the Constitution were only officially recognized by the Supreme Court in modern times.  In the same way, new developments are added to the Star Wars saga as it develops (Luke, I am your father)--they have to be consistent with tradition, but are there to make Star Wars as good as it can be.

The book occasionally feels like it was written and edited in haste (I caught a few typos and Sunstein using "searing" far too often), but, overall, it's a very entertaining work and a great addition to your bookshelf whether you're a fan of the film or of Sunstein (or, for that matter, of the light side or the dark).

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