The 2017 End-of-the-Year Awards

My choice for most overrated political figure was former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who enacted the so-called Muslim ban without coordinating DHS, TSA, or any other government agency that needs to actually enforce it; the first version got drop-kicked by the courts within two days. Subsequent, more carefully written versions have managed to survive scrutiny from the courts, indicating that a version of this policy could have been Constitutionally sound if Bannon and those around him had written it with a wiser eye towards the legal challenges it would face. Bannon went on to undermine the president by declaring there is no military option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Bannon was apparently the one who urged President Trump to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. Finally Bannon pushed Roy Moore, and before that, Paul Nehlen.

Trump would be in a much stronger position right now if he had not listened to Bannon on any of these issues.

.. But I noticed that a lot of the Republicans who have either overtly or subtly rebelled against Trump in this past year made clear that they did not intend to stick around in office long, such as Tennessee senator Bob Corker and Arizona senator Jeff Flake, and we know about John McCain’s health issues. This means that if there’s going to be a lasting traditionally conservative counterweight to Trumpist populism in the Republican Party, it’s probably going to come from someone like Nebraska senator Ben Sasse.

.. In past Star Wars movies, we more-or-less knew that our heroic protagonists would never die. Wise old mentors might, but even they would come back as translucent ghosts for some expository dialogue or to offer approving smiles upon a final victory. Any protagonist character could fly through an asteroid field or take on a fleet of enemy fighters or dozens of Stormtroopers and come out with nothing more serious than a flesh wound. The droids could be repaired, severed hands replaced, and even lengthy stretches of being frozen in carbonite leave nothing more than temporary vision loss. There’s a reason kids go crazy for Star Wars: it’s a ton of exciting action and feeling of risk with the comforting sense, deep down, that the heroes will triumph and the story will have a happy ending.

.. Writer-director Rian Johnson aimed to shake all of that up and take away part of that sense of comfort and make the story more dramatic and tense. He didn’t go as far as Game of Thrones, where any likeable protagonist can die at any moment, but the good guys don’t have as easy a time in this movie.

Every Red-Blooded American Should Root for Littlefinger to Claim the Iron Throne

Only Lord Baelish will fight for meritocracy and the free market.

.. those rare few who do rise in station tend only to do so by their martial prowess.

.. In short, Westeros was never great, so it cannot be made great again.

.. One powerful lord does enjoy a rags-to-riches story, though — and he’s set on making the Seven Kingdoms into a good old-fashioned American meritocracy. I write, of course, about Petyr Baelish, whom you may know better as Littlefinger.

.. Baelish is the only plausible candidate for the Iron Throne whose claim is not hereditary. He epitomizes what could soon be called the Westerosi Dream. John McCain’s surgery delays Senate votes on health care bill 00:26 00:42

.. With Baelish, you have the opportunity to root for the little guy or, more precisely, the Littlefinger. His nickname derives from his humble origins

.. What’s more, Baelish has pledged to drain the swamp. He’s all too familiar with the misdeeds of the entrenched elite.

.. Of course, Baelish is not perfect. He acquired much of his fortune — and much of the information that facilitated his political rise — from running seedy enterprises, since shut down by the fanatical Sparrows

.. Do those plans, Machiavellian as they’ve always been, really make him so much worse than the alternatives? No, because the alternatives are impulsive heirs to the old hierarchy, totally reliant on magic; they offer rebranding rather than revolution.

.. Littlefinger, meanwhile, has consistently acted as an agent of chaos enabling those who desire to rise, regardless of birth or station. Only he can reorder Westeros for the graspers. Every red-blooded American should root for him.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449528/game-thrones-lord-baelish-champions-meritocracy-free-market

A Game for Our Time

The eerily contemporary morality of HBO’s Game of Thrones

it went anti-Tolkien. Indeed, if you dared to call their creation “Tolkienesque,” the esteemed deceased English author might well rise from the grave in protest.

.. In Tolkien’s tales, magic is of paramount importance, the good is very, very good, and the evil is obvious and horrifying. Tolkien was a veteran of World War I, and he’d seen his own Mordor. The descriptions of the Black Land have eerie echoes in the blasted earth and industrial destruction in the trenches of the Western Front. In Tolkien’s time, great good faced great evil (often against seemingly overwhelming odds), and great good triumphed.

.. His work instead calls back to an earlier time, to the struggles for dynastic succession in old England. Loosely based — very loosely — on the Wars of the Roses, his books pit warring families against each other

.. This game has but one rule, “You win or you die.” The politics are gritty, good men are hard to find, and honor and virtue are often rewarded with swift death.

.. Perhaps fearing that the show would flop without a little extra help, HBO used its full premium-cable powers to lard it up with graphic sex and violence.

.. Martin’s books aren’t for the squeamish, but HBO took the lewd elements to the next level. Comedians and critics even coined a term, “sexposition,” to describe the show’s habit of using extended sex scenes as a mechanism for explaining plot points and developing characters. In family-friendly social-conservative circles, the word went out: HBO once again was using sex to sell, and Christians especially shouldn’t be buying.

.. But by the end of season six, the show was an unstoppable ratings juggernaut, watched by upwards of 25 million Americans each week. It’s arguably the most watched show on television today.

.. Season seven (out of eight) starts on July 16, and its ratings will likely surpass everything but the NFL playoffs. A true cultural moment is at hand.

.. the show’s creators have accomplished what few television or film producers have ever achieved — they have improved upon classic books and have, quite simply, mastered the art of storytelling.

.. they cast the multiple important roles perfectly, and they have shown a knack for delivering during the big moments. The plot twists, betrayals, and epic battles aren’t just watchable, they’re rewatchable. In fact, classic clips garner millions of views on YouTube as fans go relive the highlights in much the same way that Patriots fans no doubt relive the last five minutes of Tom Brady’s epic comeback in Super Bowl LI.

.. The story itself matters too, and in many ways it is the right story at the right time, holding up a mirror to modern American sensibilities and showing the consequences of modern American morality.

.. In Tolkien’s world the stakes are immense, the moral battle lines are clear, and victory actually means victory, the end of a distinct evil force. In this respect, as noted above, Tolkien was a man of his age.

.. Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense.

.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.

.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent.

.. Think of it as Calvinism without Christ — natural human depravity unleashed. The realities of human nature mean that evil is very, very evil, and good is also touched with the weight of sin.

.. Certain timely themes emerge, perhaps most salient among them the constant, vivid reminders that the ends do not justify the means.

.. Indeed, Martin has revealed a key truth — that pursuing virtuous ends by vicious means can so transform a person that the ends themselves change. Virtue is redefined, and ultimately virtue is lost.

.. The characters are obsessed with settling scores and vindicating their honor.

.. In fact, even the evilest of characters have their own tales of woe. They can always find a murder or a conflict or an act of defiance that justifies the next vengeful act. Just as in real life, evil has a reason for its rage.

.. While watching, one can’t help but be reminded of Christ’s admonition that even his followers should be “wise as serpents.”

.. A conservative can’t watch the show without understanding that it is, at times, almost shamelessly Burkean: Disrupt the established order at your peril.

.. several of the great houses launched a rebellion (“Robert’s Rebellion”) to depose a mad king. By any measure, it was a just war against a homicidal maniac

.. I suspect we won’t see anything like the collapse of Mount Doom in Return of the King. Maybe we’ll get justice, but it will likely be angry justice, and when the series ends, the last person on the Iron Throne will wear the crown uneasily, knowing that she (or he) left a trail of bodies on the path to power and that those souls not only cry out for vengeance but have living descendants who hear their call.

.. At issue was the question of political tactics. Did the “high road” work anymore? Don’t the nice guys always lose, and when they lose don’t the virtues they believe in ultimately lose as well?

.. an increasingly amoral society, unmoored from its traditions and full of entitled and ambitious men and women who compete for power with unrestrained viciousness. Does that sound at least vaguely familiar? Is it any wonder that Game of Thrones resonates in the modern American heart?

.. It will still have too much sex (though HBO has limited the lewdness as the series has grown more popular)

.. it will give us something else as well — a lesson that entitlement and rage have a price, and that justice gets lost when victory is the only goal. Perhaps the true rule of the game of thrones isn’t “Win or die” but rather “Win and die.” The quest for power, unmoored from virtue, is the doom of us all.

Game of Trump

So far in life, Donald Trump has survived and thrived on the same philosophy espoused by Littlefinger in “Game of Thrones”: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

.. First we learned there were six, not four, people in the meeting, including a lobbyist who just happened to be a former member of the Soviet unit dealing in counterintelligence. Then we found out there were eight. Next, we’ll find out Putin was FaceTiming from Moscow.

.. Jared Kushner has had to amend his list of foreign contacts three times, adding more than 100 names that had somehow eluded him. “His lawyers have said this was inadvertent and that a member of his staff had prematurely hit the ‘send’ button for the form before it was completed,”

.. The Daily Beast recalled that back in the ’80s, when Goldstone represented John Denver and Michael Jackson, he went to Ethiopia for Band Aid, a rock concert to help famine victims, and managed to gain seven pounds.

As he explained to The Sydney Morning Herald, “I mean, what else is there to do in a country like Ethiopia but eat?”

..  According to ProPublica, after a man watching Rachel Maddow emailed Kasowitz Wednesday telling him to “Resign Now,” the lawyer shot back with a bunch of nasty messages, such as “Watch your back, bitch” and “I already know where you live, I’m on you. … You will see me. I promise. Bro.”

.. Kasowitz, ProPublica reports, has a drinking problem that could hamper him getting a security clearance. He has grown increasingly frustrated by Trump’s lack of discipline as the president sulks and rages in his tent

.. He bragged about his cunning when he brought up the hacks with Putin. After citing it once, Trump said, “I then said to him again, in a totally different way.”

Wow. That must have really outfoxed the lethal former K.G.B. agent. You know nothing, Donald Trump.