Monday, June 30, 2014

NBC forbids John Constantine to smoke Silk Cuts and that angers me just a little

I used to read Hellblazer in my younger days. For those of you unfamiliar with the comic book line, Hellblazer introduced the streetwise magician John Constantine to the majority of the comic-reading world. A work of genius really, I can now say that it's one of the first comic lines that introduced me to Alan Moore's genius (which also graced Swamp Thing and made it the must read comic book of its day).

Anyway, as most of you already know, Constantine is making his appearance on television this fall. I know we got some horrible Keanu Reeves knockoff a dozen or so years ago (I don't count that as a Hellblazer adaptation). And also...it was a movie. A television series is a different medium and is a far cry from the silver screen because of its ability to be episodic just like a single issue of a comic book. Television has the ability to fully encapsulate story lines that could take an entire season to incubate. I find the very idea of this exciting. But I'm not quite sure I agree with the character edits that are happening. Namely, Constantine's chain smoking and the lack of it we'll be seeing in the television series.

There are many quirks that make John who he is. For example, John's cigarette of choice is "Silk Cut." It's a brand of cigarettes produced by the Gallaher Group, which is a division of Japan Tobacco. Additionally, he's the only character that I know of who aged in real time, meaning that every real year that passed actually made him older in the comic book.

Now, I know the reasons for not wanting to glamorize smoking on network television (or even feature it). But interfering with this character's ability to toke on a Silk Cut is going to handicap it. In other words, as I watch the series I'll be thinking in my mind that this isn't a faithful adaptation to the blue-collar warlock that I remember from my youth.

So what do you think? Should characters with destructive habits be altered to make them more acceptable for a television audience? Constantine fights vampires and demons. How is smoking worse than that? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Even if your stories are never read you could always build an igloo with them

Because it's Friday, I give you an igloo of books (as if this would be entirely inappropriate on any other day). Have a good weekend.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I hope the Phoenix towers get built in China because they really do look awesome

So there's a proposal now to build the world's tallest tower in the Chinese city of Wuhan. However, what makes this different than just another tall skyscraper is that only half of it will be inhabited. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, designers at British studio Chetwoods think that a structure with a host of environmental functions that act to purify a city's polluted air and water is definitely feasible. Dubbed "The Phoenix" towers, the tallest will be a kilometer high. It will also contain multiple filtration systems for cleaning the water from the lake and the surrounding air as well as a home for solar electricity plants.
The smaller tower will feature a perforated facade with a louvre system for ventilation and light control. A vertical garden, restaurants, galleries, bars and other leisure facilities are also planned. Cool, right? #soexcited

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cersei Lannister is on the cover of Effigy! On a serious note the long anticipated cover for this fantasy by M.J. Fifield does not disappoint

I feel like channeling Enrique Iglesias and singing "Finally Found You." I'm so happy that M.J. Fifield's book is finally available, and I can't wait to read it! Of course, the above cover art doesn't really feature Cersei Lannister. But I can't help but see a similarity, especially with a dagger in hand as Cersei is known for stabbing people in the back.
Cersei Lannister...there is a resemblance!

But more about M.J. and her fabulous novel, because this is her day and her time to shine. Here's the Effigy cover detail:

The survival of a once-mighty kingdom rests in the hands of its young queen, Haleine CoileĆ”in, as it slowly succumbs to an ancient evil fueled by her husband’s cruelty.

A sadistic man with a talent for torture and a taste for murder, he is determined to burn the land and all souls within. Haleine is determined to save her kingdom and, after a chance encounter, joins forces with the leader of the people’s rebellion. She gives him her support, soon followed by her heart.

Loving him is inadvertent but becomes as natural and necessary as breathing. She lies and steals on his behalf, doing anything she can to further their cause. She compromises beliefs held all her life, for what life will exist if evil prevails?

Her journey leads to a deceiving world of magic, monsters, and gods she never believed existed outside of myth. The deeper she goes, the more her soul is stripped away, but she continues on, desperate to see her quest complete. If she can bring her husband to ruin and save her people, any sacrifice is worth the price—even if it means her life.

Release date: July 22, 2014 (one month away!)

Cover art by Ravven
About The Author:
Armed with a deep and lasting love of chocolate, purple pens, and medieval weaponry, M.J. Fifield is nothing if not a uniquely supplied insomniac. When she isn’t writing, she’s on the hunt for oversized baked goods or shiny new daggers. M.J. lives with a variety of furry creatures—mostly pets—in New Hampshire. Effigy is her first novel.

Links:
Ravven, the cover artist can be found HERE.
Of course, when M.J. isn't working she hangs out at her website HERE.
Not to be mistaken for her blog which is located HERE.
And last but not least, please visit Goodreads by clicking HERE and add Effigy at once!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is the plane to usher in the future.

I saw these pictures the other day and just had to blog about it. Flying "the friendly skies" takes on a whole new meaning in the luxurious Dreamliner. I just want to book a ticket to somewhere...anywhere...just to try one of these out when they become more commercially available (the first is being delivered to New Zealand this year). Check out the head room, the windows, and the sleeping pods. The windows can dim or brighten at the touch of a button. It really does channel the Jetsons, which I guess is a metaphor for "the future."




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Dominion even worth watching? Check out this preview and judge for yourself.

The big question on my mind this week is...will Dominion be worth watching? Syfy's continuation of the movie Legion (which really wasn't very good) takes off after Defiance on Thursday night. All that I know of it comes from the preview embedded below. But the gist seems to be that after the archangel Gabriel led the lower angels in an all out attack on humanity, Michael sided with the humans and a war resulted. So now the setting is total post apocalyptic. All humans that managed to survive the war now cloister in fortress cities, and of course there's a "chosen one." Hmm. What do you guys think? Watch this preview and let me know in the comments. Who am I kidding, I'll watch it anyway.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To those of you who ask if Game of Thrones will ever eclipse Tolkien, the answer is that it's done that already.

Game of Thrones brought to a conclusion its best season yet last night. And as the credits rolled across the screen, I decided that this is one story that really does well as a series rather than a movie. For one, a movie would never have time to follow along with each point of view character. And second, the conversion to film breathes a different kind of life into written words. For example, music makes certain scenes greater than they actually are because of the emotional impact, and a skilled director can bring together certain pairings in the narrative that you don't see when you're reading. The final episode of season 4 was called "The Children." And it really is perfect, because the children in the story are making their impact known in every single storyline from Westeros to the far North and to the shores of Mereen.

I guess I was moved by last night's episode. As the music played and Varys gazed up at the Red Keep and heard the bells toll for what could only be something absolutely terrible that Tyrion had wrought, he silently turned his back and got on board the ship that originally was meant only for Tyrion's escape. Seeing Varys do this was emotionally powerful, because we knew just as he knew that there was no going back. Not if he valued his life. I suppose the saying goes, when one door closes another may open and Varys, if anyone, has the keys to many doors.
And then the story shifts to Arya who willingly departs from someone that offers safety to pursue her own way in the world. Nothing good can come from someone filled with so much hatred. But this doesn't change the fact that Arya has suffered many wrongs and has every reasons to fully worship and embrace the teachings of the god of death. Perhaps this is a lesson about life. That children are sculpted by the experiences of their childhood and when terrible things happen to the young, they carry these things with them into adulthood and become a curse upon the world.
And then there's Bran. When I'm reading the books, I really dread the Bran chapters. They never go anywhere and for the most part are filled with too many "Hodors" for my taste. But in the show, this character is interesting because they truncate all the things that irritate me into a cohesive story about a child looking for a way to help his family. Bran is pursuing the truth behind his powers, clinging to the only thing that gives him strength: the ability to warg. And his quest came to an end in last night's episode in the care of the Children of the Forest (who just might be cannibals if you ask me). Well "cannibal" might be a misnomer as the "children" are clearly elves without calling them that. So maybe I should just say, "slightly inhuman humans who may just find regular humans to be as tasty as pie."

In both book and film, Bran is so far North he might as well be lost to the world. There, surrounded by the same necromancy that animates the White Walkers, an undead horde tries to get at him in a cave that's protected by the magic of the Children of the Forest. On a floor full of human bones that does not bode well for Hodor and Meera Reed (because well...children need to eat), we are left wondering what Bran could possibly do to "fly" in this place. But the Tree he has come to see assures him that he'll fly. I just wonder if it's going to be in the guise of one of Daenerys' dragons.

And Daenerys' dragons are probably the most troubled of the children. We kind of knew it was coming, even if you don't read the books. The foreshadowing earlier in the season of Drogon rising upon huge wings over the shepherd innocently tending to his flock was a hint that sooner or later, the greatest of Daenery's dragons would start to lunch on easy prey. So Daenerys did the responsible thing: she locked her children up for the safety of her people. She's a ruler true and true, and knows that her first responsibility is to protect the people that look to her for leadership.

I think we are at the midpoint of the story now. It's all downhill from here, and I'm sure its going to be a thrilling ride. I expect the next seasons to reveal things that I haven't read yet, and it really is exciting. I've got to hand it to George. He's got the most popular show that HBO has ever had in its entire history with 18.5 million people tuning in to watch each new episode. Game of Thrones by every which way you can measure a story IS a phenomenon. A friend asked me in the car, "Do you think George R.R. Martin will ever eclipse Tolkien?" My answer, "He's done that already. The width and breadth of Game of Thrones, and its effect on pop culture is pretty much immeasurable."

Wouldn't you agree? If you have time, listen to the song "The Children" from last night's episode. It has a nice melody and reminds me of the greatness that can happen when film and music come together to make art.

Friday, June 13, 2014

So in other news I saw the next billion dollar movie. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a masterpiece. That is all.

A few years ago, my friend James was in town and he wanted to see a movie. He suggested that we see the new Nightmare on Elm Street remake. But I dissuaded him of that (I had an inkling it would be terrible) and instead suggested that we try out How To Train Your Dragon. He agreed because we are both fans of Renderman, Maya, Alembic, and Open VDB (these are names of software packages used to animate some incredible films) and how computers have been utilized to essentially transform the cartoon industry, if not the movie industry as a whole. Of course we both loved it. HTTYD remains one of the best films we've seen together, and it was probably one of the most memorable experiences we've had in our long friendship.
Well Dreamworks' latest endeavor, How To Train Your Dragon 2, is an even better production (and that really is saying a lot). As the credits started rolling in the movie theater last night, I realized I was flooded with feelings about this film that are pretty rare...those kind that bubble to the surface and make me realize that I've just witnessed something awesome, something wonderful, that had everything from humor, to adventure, and to loss. I was pretty speechless, which for me is saying a lot.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the kind of movie franchise that comes along in a single generation. Together, the two films are better than anything Pixar has ever put out. Pixar is of course a better animation studio overall because everything else that Dreamworks puts out is comparably worse to every other Pixar product with the exception of maybe Cars. But the story writers behind the How To Train Your Dragon sequel have composed a masterpiece, and its animated with such incredible skill that every frame is something I just want to savor for its sheer beauty.
The How To Train Your Dragon sequel gave me everything that I wanted. I saw the characters grow, I saw new dragon species, I saw dragons as large as kaiju (which is pretty damn ridiculous), I saw the next evolution of Berk, there was humor, there was joy, and there was sadness. In every sense of the word, How To Train Your Dragon is a coming of age story, and I really loved it. There are inevitable comparisons that I made in my head about the relationship of Hiccup to Toothless and Elliot to E.T. (an eighties film a lot of you have probably not seen). But if you have seen E.T., you might see some of what I'm talking about in this film. You know...the good things...like the heartbreaking hug that E.T. gives Elliot at the end of that movie and how friendship and loyalty are seemingly enough to conquer anything. Even if this isn't how the real world works, I like Hiccup's more because it allows me that escape to believe in the impossible. And that, my friends, is movie magic. It's sorcery. And it's left me stunned into silence.
And now of course, I'm wondering how the t.v. series is going to be affected by the events of this amazing tale. So much has changed by the end of How To Train Your Dragon 2 that one can't help but wonder where Hiccup and company can go next. I suppose I'll have to wait like legions of others. But in finishing, I'll be shocked if this sequel doesn't become the next billion dollar movie. That is all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The lack of Material X is not a reason to deny funding to NASA, guys.

In exciting "theoretical" news, NASA is asking for funding for the research into a spaceship that can travel faster than light, and the only real hitch is the existence of "exotic matter," which hasn't been found anywhere, in any form. This should be exciting, right? I mean if you've got the entire design completed and all you need IS material X, then this at least gives you a direction in which to look. And unlike earlier designs, instead of needing enough of this matter to equal the mass of the planet Jupiter, we now only need a few hundred kilograms. That has to be somewhat manageable, even if it means that CERN (or an even larger collider yet to be built) is the only thing capable of producing it.

So assuming we had "material x" then how would this thing work?
It works on the simple principle of space expansion and contraction. Basically, it's not going faster than light but bending space-time (which we now know is flexible because gravity affects it). The effect though is faster than light travel, i.e., the ability to visit other star systems. Yay!

The warp bubble when it is created will be an odd thing because the interior is going to be an isolated pocket of space-time while the exterior is an altered ripple in space-time. This means that the ship is going to essentially be traveling in its own universe with its boundaries being the bubble. In other words, radiation (and other things) won't have anywhere to go. But theoretically, it could fly through a planet because it will be in its own universe and won't experience anything outside the bubble.
Concept design for the NASA FTL ship. Pretty cool, right? 
There will need to be other materials that protect the ship from exotic particles associated with "material X" too because we don't even know what "material X" does to humans. And there's the whole tricky thing about momentum being conserved in the bubble and how when you exit, you may have the orbital velocity you had at Earth, which would be inappropriate for a planet with dissimilar gravity. Oh and according to "Researchers from the University of Sydney" who've done some advanced crunching of numbers regarding FTL space travel, a concentration of space particles "swept up" into the warp bubble would get focused behind the ship so that when it decelerates from superluminal speed, these particles get released in one energetic outburst essentially destroying anyone at the destination point directly in front of the ship. That's kind of a problem.

But let's not focus on the negative and just look at how cool it will be when we actually have a Star Fleet Academy and earthlings can finally get past all the petty squabbling that have defined our species for thousands of years.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Could Jon Snow be a Targaryen, Azor Ahai come again, and the legitimate king of Westeros?

THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS HERE SO IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPOILERS, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE TODAY.

We are almost at the end of the 4th season of HBO's "Game of Thrones," and there's been a lot to chew on this time around, especially with the few spoilers that have creeped into the narrative thanks to showrunner insight from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. In last night's episode, Aemon Targaryen (who serves as the Maester for the Night's Watch) started to wax poetic to Samwell Tarley about his youth, in particular the pretty girls that once courted him because (like his brother Rhaegar), he was only a step away from the throne itself. He describes a woman of great beauty that captured his imagination but fails to name her for whatever reasons. It made me think of Lyanna Stark, and it got me to pondering about a mystery in the books that has been consuming my mind for several years now: who are Jon Snow's actual parents?
Jon Snow and Ghost by guillemhp. Deviant Art page HERE.
Yes, I know that the honorable Ned Stark is supposed to be Jon's dad. However, I don't subscribe to the fact that Jon Snow is Lord Eddard Stark's bastard. I think Ned was an honorable man, and he would have never cheated on Catelyn Stark. And I mean NEVER! What I know of Rhaegar has been colored somewhat by Robert Baratheon's opinion. But everyone outside of King Robert Baratheon seems to think of him as an example of what a "true prince" might be. Here are the facts as I know them:

1) After the tourney of Harrenhal, Lyanna was made Rhaegar's Queen of Love and Beauty. Afterward, they both vanished together for a long while. Hmm, where did they go and what were they doing?
If Rhaegar "raped" Lyanna, then this is truly the perspective of someone
who frames a situation to serve his own ends. I think that's exactly
what's happened in the books, because King Robert Baratheon was
pretty much a loud, egotistical pig of a man and saw the world through
his own unique set of lenses.
2) Lyanna's betrothed was Robert, and she didn't want him for a husband despite the fact that he loved her so much. When Lyanna disappeared, Robert assumed that it was without her consent (naturally) so he made up this story that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna and raped her to convince himself that this woman that he loved so much wouldn't/COULDN'T dare love another man. It's just not possible, right?

3) After Robert killed Rhaegar following the rebellion, Ned went to the Tower of Joy to look for his sister Lyanna, and he found it guarded by three Kingsguard. What the hell were these men doing there when they could be just about anywhere else? At Rhaegar's side? With Viserys (the eunuch) at Dragonstone, or in exile accompanying Viserys and Dany. It doesn't make any sense unless you assume they're there to protect a royal prince. Think about it: if Lyanna had given birth to a baby, a.k.a. Jon Snow, then they'd be sworn to protect him. Especially true because the Mad King and his family had been butchered, and Rhaegar himself was now dead. I think Rhaegar married Lyanna in a secret wedding, fathered a child with her, and she gave birth to a legitimate son and not a bastard. This would have made Jon heir to the Iron Throne, right?
King Robert Baratheon was obsessed with Lyanna.
4) Lyanna died in a bed of blood. Childbirth gone wrong perhaps? I think that bringing Jon Snow into this world killed Lyanna, and she used her last breath to make Ned swear that he'd protect her son. At that point, I think Ned made up the whole story of Jon's ignoble birth and this is why he never described the woman he supposedly "cheated on Catelyn" with to his friend, Robert Baratheon. To do so would have sentenced the child to death.
The only house that ever had "nuclear weapons," House Targaryen is
probably going to sit on the throne once more by the time all of this is over.
5) The Prince that was Promised. This is a prophesied leader that foretells the coming of a hero to deliver the world from darkness (think Azor Ahai reborn). A bleeding star is supposed to herald the coming of the prince (well that's the comet in the sky), and the prince is said to have a song (well wolves have a song). Melissandre of Ashai also says, "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt." Well when Jon Snow is stabbed to death at the end of A Dance With Dragons, the men doing so are crying (salt in tears) and there is plenty of smoke from all the fires they've had at Castle Black. And last (but not least) the "Prince that was Promised" must be "Of the Blood of the Dragon." Melissandre has interpreted this as being Stannis because he rules from Dragonstone. I think it's Jon Snow.

And regarding Martin's cliffhanger at the end of A Dance With Dragons (curse you George!), there's no way that Jon Snow is dead forever...not in the same way that Ned Stark is dead. Rather, I think Jon's going to be reborn (which fits the Azor Ahai and the whole Prince that was Promised prophesies above) because this is the only way he can leave his vows. Please recall that when a crow dies, the brothers of the Night's Watch end the eulogy with the words, "And now his watch is ended."

AZOR AHAI COME AGAIN:
According to prophecy in the ancient books of Asshai (think Melissandre here), Azor Ahai is going to be reborn to challenge the Others (the White Walkers). Wielding Lightbringer once more, Azor Ahai will stand against the Others and if he fails, the world fails with him. Well, "The Others" has pretty much been Jon Snow's storyline since day one.

"There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him."

George R.R. Martin has already broken out just about any kind of magic that you can in his books. We've seen dragons, resurrections, and the undead just to name a few. I wouldn't put it past George to have killed Jon Snow off on purpose at the end of A Dance With Dragons merely to bring him back so that he can eventually rule Westeros, perhaps as a partner of Daenerys who has an even more legitimate claim to the throne than Jon? Targaryens, afterall, are known to marry one another. This would of course mean that eventually Dany will have to forsake her current marriage to Hizadhr zo Loraq who brought peace to Mereen for a period of 90-days. Either that, or we can add Hizadhr to the long list of characters who are doomed to die before their time. Ah well, it's lovely to think about all this backstabbing and plotting, isn't it? I really wish that I had The Winds of Winter to keep me busy in this one year gap to the next season of the show. Sigh.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Josh Turner nails Paul Simon's Graceland and makes me an instant fan

I used to love listening to Mrs. Robinson as a kid, so yeah, you could say I've always loved Paul Simon. Well this kid named Josh Turner (okay maybe "kid" doesn't fit because he's, well, twenty-one) has done this absolutely amazing cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland." I love it. And seriously, this is not a lip synch. This is the real deal folks. Have a listen and tell me if you agree that his voice is eerily similar to Paul Simon's. Man alive :))...and he's cute too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Inherited wealth provides such a staggering income advantage that it really is ridiculous.

Unless you've been living under a rock like the cavemen in the now infamous Geico commercials, you might have heard of Thomas Picketty. But in case you haven't (or are more concerned with things like Candy Crush) he's the author of a 700 page academic book published by Harvard University Press, and it's filled with dense mathematical formulae, graphs, and footnotes. You might ask, why on Earth is Mike interested in reading something that sounds so difficult to understand? Well, currently it's at the center of a firestorm in the United States regarding the debate of income inequality because it questions whether capitalism actually has the power to improve our quality of life. And when I say "our" I mean you and me who don't count ourselves as being rich, who drive old cars, and have a bad day when an unexpected bill for $700 arrives on "our" front doorstep.

If you take the time to read Picketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and you unashamedly admire rich people because you think they worked hard for their wealth and that this same opportunity is there for you if you just try hard enough, you're probably not going to like the answer. Piketty basically calls capitalists on all their lies, debunking everything they've said for years regarding the ethical status of making money. The most profound lie may be this: that the commanding heights of the economy are controlled by talented individuals.

Picketty spent two decades studying inequality and currently teaches at the Paris School of Economics. I watched him on Squawk on the Street this week, and he's made the rounds on the Colbert Report and just about any media outlet you can shake a stick at. At the center of Picketty's work is not that a huge amount of wealth is concentrated in the top 1% of earners, but an analysis of what's causing this: the process of saving, investing, and building wealth. Picketty defines "capital" as any asset that generates a monetary return. He also believes that the inequality can't be separated from politics.

The examples of how much wealth has diverged within the lifetime of many baby boomers is staggering. In the 1950's the average American CEO was paid twenty times as much as the typical employee of their firm. Today, this ratio is 200 to 1. A popular model of economic growth by Robert Solow shows how the economy progresses along a balanced growth path with the shares of national income received by owners of capital and labor being pretty much constant over time. In reality, the share of income going to wages and other forms of labor compensation has dropped from 68% in 1970 to 62% in 2010. This is a decline of a trillion dollars. The richest 85 people in the world own more wealth than the roughly 3.5 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world's population.

Those of you out there who are fans of Jane Austen may support this kind of inequality in the United States because it means the emergence of a patrimonial society. If Picketty is believed (which I think he should be) then it's safe to say that your children will be living in a land where a few dynasties live lavishly on the fruits of their inherited wealth while the rest of the country struggles to put food on the table. Pickety points out that the share of the top income percentile is bigger than it was in South Africa in the 1960's, and in terms of income generated by work, the level of inequality is higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.

In my opinion, inherited wealth provides such a staggering income advantage that it's ridiculous. Let me show you by example what I would do with just a million dollars (a laughable sum by today's standards of "being rich"). If I had a wealthy family and they offered to loan me one million dollars for just five years, and it was interest free, I'd totally take them up on that offer. Hell, I'd take anyone up on that offer. I would take the money and buy $1 million in AT&T stock or in BP (British Petroleum) and generate a staggering $50,000 a year in dividends alone. This would double my income for five years and put $250,000 in my pocket that I didn't have to lift a finger to earn. And in that time, the price of the stock would probably inch up and then I'd scoop some more money on the sale of the stock and return the million. That's how powerful inherited wealth is. Oh, and on that $250,000, I'd only have to pay a 25% capital gains tax. I wouldn't have to pay any social security at all and when I sold the stock in which I had the million invested, I'd only have to pay a 15% capital gains tax (and again...no social security). Pretty nice gig, right?

And what would I do with the $250,000 in dividends? I'd again, invest that in a stock with a dividend paying 5%. This would effectively increase my current wage by 60%, adding $13.00 an hour to what I make now. Considering that in the six years that I've worked my government job here in Utah I've only managed to increase my wage by $3.00, this is amazing. Here's a sad fact for you: now that it's June, I'm looking forward to my "yearly cost of living" raise, which (this year) is a generous .23 cents an hour. Yes, I get a .23 cent raise for 2014. Suddenly, all that was fuzzy has now become crystal clear.

Not surprisingly, I've joined the chorus of those who, like Picketty, are calling for a wealth tax with the idea of restraining the immense power of inherited wealth. In the least, people should wake up to the fact that those who defend unrestrained capitalism will push America to be a land that would be unrecognizeable to those in the baby boomer generation. If we don't get a reign on this out-of-control wealth generation, poverty may just end up as the new face of America by the end of the century as we're ruled by oligarchs who were just lucky enough to be born into the right family.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It doesn't matter if you're a Mountain or a Red Viper because too many words just gets you killed.

The battle for Tyrion's life happened on A Game of Thrones last night, and I think that the whole point of the epic fight between "The Mountain" and "The Red Viper" is that too many words are pointless and often get you killed. The episode starts out in Mole's Town and Ygritte saves Gilly and her baby from slaughter by simply holding a finger to her lips to indicate that Gilly's silence will spare them the fate suffered by everyone else. Over in the Vale of Arryn, Sansa uses just enough words to corroborate Littlefinger's story and spare his life. Certainly too many words or the wrong ones would have changed that situation utterly. And across the Narrow Sea in Mereen, Daenerys sends Ser Jorah packing because his loose lips in exchange for a pardon from the "usurper of Westeros, Robert Baratheon," are the deepest of betrayals. Though he begs for forgiveness, she throws Ser Jorah from her good graces (presumably) forever.

But the biggest clue to what the episode may have been about (for me) was the pointless story that Tyrion and Jaime exchanged in Tyrion's cell regarding their "simple" cousin who smashed beetles. "Clack Clack Clack" would sound the rock as this cousin (who died when a horse kicked him) smashed beetle after beetle in the garden back at Casterly Rock while Tyrion looked upon him in vain trying to figure out why he did it. It's pointless because it was long, and rambling, and in the end neither Tyrion or Jaime had any clue (even years later) as to why their simple cousin made all that noise and littered the family garden with beetle carapaces. Indeed, the point (if there is one at all) is that people who talk too much end up dead and Tyrion is no exception.

And maybe that's why the Red Viper was always doomed to die at the hands of The Mountain. Of course, you all know I'm not stranger to the books so I knew that this was going to be Oberyn Martell's fate. However, if A Game of Thrones isn't about young men trying to overcome the wrongs done to their families then what is it about? Many of us got lured into the idea that this story was about a young boy who would avenge the death of his father (Robb Stark and Ned Stark). But at last year's "Red Wedding" episode, we realized in bloody dissatisfaction that this is not the case.

Could we actually expect Prince Oberyn to get justice for Elia (who was at one time married to Prince Rhaegar)? The slights and deceits dealt to Tywin's family by the Martells are deeper than Old Nan's tales of the snows in winter. And the injustices done to the Martells by the Lannisters were brutal, even by the low standards of an entire kingdom at war. It's in this aspect that I think the show runners of A Game of Thrones are creative geniuses working with material that is arguably just as brilliant, but on so many levels that I can't name them all. And the Red Viper vs. The Mountain fight was everything it promised to be: brutal, gory, and grimly satisfying if you like to see how powerful families destroy one another.

Oberyn didn't merely want to kill The Mountain. He wanted to make The Mountain confess to raping his sister and killing her children. He wanted The Mountain to call out that Tywin had put him up to this; to throw more "king slayer" blood on the Lannister name, and because he got caught monologuing by The Mountain's long reach, he died and took Tyrion with him. However, it's pretty clear that the Mountain will die from the wounds inflicted upon him; Oberyn sliced him up very nicely. I shall miss the Viper, I shall not miss The Mountain.

Having watched this episode, I certainly understand more and more the feelings that run through Jaime Lannister's head at the end of A Dance With Dragons when he's standing in a doorway and watching the snow fall out of the sky. There's this big moment of silence as we realize through his thoughts that Westeros is utterly helpless now because all of the great families have spent the long summer destroying each other and now have no strength left to turn back the White Walkers, much less survive a winter that will be the longest and coldest the world has seen in ten thousand years.

Perhaps in the end, all of Westeros is to go the way of the Mountain and the Red Viper. I wouldn't put this past George R.R. Martin at all. This author (if ever there was one) could end this series by killing everything and everyone in an apocalypse of ice and fire. I think I would laugh then and look back at this post, because I guess all the words spoken by everyone and everything could be said to be too many. In the end, they got everyone killed.