dany goes to town

Yes, Daenerys went full metal Targaryen on King’s Landing. Yes, she slaughtered hundreds — probably thousands, maybe even tens of thousands — of innocent men, women, and children. Yes, it was terrible thing for her to do.

But no, I don’t think laying waste to King’s Landing necessarily means she’s gone mad. In fact, I think there’s an excellent chance Dany torched that city because she knows she should have done it earlier.

She wanted to. She suggested it shortly after she and her army landed at Dragonstone. Tyrion, however, talked her out of it, saying she’d be slaughtering innocents. He was right that a LOT of King’s Landings folks would die. But I think it was a mistake strategically. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not an advocate for killing civilians — even on television or in the movies.

Urban renewal, Targaryen style.

But look at this from Dany’s perspective. Look at what’s happened to her as a result of NOT attacking King’s Landing. First, she gets sidetracked by fighting against the White Walkers. It was an admirable decision, but she’d already lost a dragon to those fuckers. The battle at Winterfell also cost her most of her Dothraki, and at least half of her Unsullied. Not to mention Jorah.

To make matters worse, when she started south to prep for dealing with Cersei, she learned that the Wildlings were staying behind. Okay, they weren’t a disciplined army, but they were enthusiastic, and that counts for a lot. And THEN? Then just as she’s getting home, she gets dough-popped by Euron. That cost her yet another dragon, a few more boatloads of troops, her supporters from Dorne, and her last real friend, Missandei.

After that, she 1) discovers Varys is plotting against her, 2) her boyfriend has a better claim to the Iron Throne, and 3) he refuses to keep his real name secret. Basically, she’s far worse off than she was just a few episodes earlier. Even the Breaker of Chains would find that discouraging.

And Tyrion is still advising her NOT to alienate the people (who, let’s face it, haven’t shown her a bit of love even though she risked everything to keep them from being turned into fucking zombies) by slaughtering everybody in King’s Landing.

On a more positive side, if Dany had leveled King’s Landing like she wanted to, she’d probably still have at least a pair of dragons, most of her Dothraki and Unsullied, as well as Jorah and Missandei.

And hey, it didn’t take long for her to destroy the city. Maybe four, five hours. If she’d torched the place when she wanted to, Dany would still have had plenty of time to tell the rest of the Lannister army to take the knee then march them north to fight Winter zombies. Plus, she could probably have persuaded House Tyrell to cough up some troops, and she already had an agreement with Dorne.

“Permit? We don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”

In other words, if she’d done what she wanted to do, she’d have two dragons, a bigger army, more trustworthy advisors, AND she wouldn’t have to fret about Cersei stabbing her in the back. Laying waste to King’s Landing would have been a horrible thing to do, but a smart strategic move.

So I rather think that instead of ‘going mad’, Daenerys may have simply thought, “If I do this now, folks will probably be a lot more amenable to a change in management.” The citizens of other cities, when it was time to formally bend the knee, would be saying to themselves, “Jesus suffering fuck, did you SEE what she did to King’s Landing in, like, half an hour? Bend the knee? I’ll lay flat and kiss the hem of her goddamn skirt.”

Again, this is not a blanket approval of using dragons against civilians. Just an acknowledgement that you can’t win the game of thrones without breaking a few eggs.

 

 

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Mount Doom and the Tuscan Sun

It’s not always this simple:

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

It sounds like good advice, and if you’re a White Rabbit giving testimony in a jurisdiction in Wonderland, it apparently works quite well. It may also apply to some writers when they’re working on a story. But it doesn’t work that way for me.

Begin at the beginning. Yeah, that bit works. The beginnings of stories are always easy. Always. A cool idea or premise for a story pops into your head, you’re excited by it, you’re enthusiastic and engaged, and you bang it out. Then, of course, comes the long, dull, grunt work of actually writing the middle of the damned thing. Doesn’t matter if you’re working on a novel-length manuscript or a short story, the middle chunk is like Mordor without the dramatic scenery. Enthusiasm isn’t going to get you to Mount Doom. The middle is a slog. It’s work. The middle is where most stories give up, curl into a ball, die a slow lonely death, and are never heard from again.

But hey, if you can gut your way through the middle, you can usually cobble together some sort of ending for your story. A lot of writers (me included) like to come up with an ending before we actually start writing. We may not actually use that original ending, but having an ending in mind when you begin can give you direction and a bit of momentum, which is handy when you’re wondering how much farther Mount Doom is.

But endings can be tricky too, because there are almost always a LOT of possible endings to any story. I mean, after you’ve hauled your story all the way to Mount Doom, do you just chuck it into the first fiery chasm you come across? There may be a better, more satisfying fiery chasm just down the path, right?

Here’s the thing: you’re probably never going to find the perfect fiery chasm. So usually you pick the one you think will work the best, and you chuck the ring in, and go on to your next story. Unless you’re like me. Sometimes you’re just not really happy with any of the fiery chasms; there’s nothing particularly wrong with them as fiery chasms, but they just don’t feel right. So you just park the ring in a drawer and forget about it, hoping that some day you’ll think of a better fiery chasm. So to speak.

An almost entirely unrelated image from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (because I feel like I need to include an image in every blog post…sorry).

Why am I nattering on about this? Because back in November of 2017 I couldn’t come up with an ending I liked for a short story. And I wrote about it (sorta kinda, in a rambling blog post). The story is about a part-time burglar who steals a Leica and later gets in trouble with the police for shooting photos in a park where kids are playing. Since it was just a short story and I wasn’t in urgent need of funds, I set the story aside and forgot about it.

Until earlier this year, when I got involved in an online discussion that tangentially related to a scene in the movie Under The Tuscan Sun. After that discussion, I took a walk, and on that walk I realized that what my old burglar-turned-photographer story needed was a connection to that movie. Which, okay, I realize sounds nuts. But I thought about it, went home and rewrote much of the story with a totally new ending, and tossed the ring into the fiery chasm.

Yesterday I got a note from the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine saying a contract for that story will be showing up in my mailbox by the end of the month.

The moral of this story? The King’s advice to the White Rabbit isn’t always good advice. Sometimes you need to begin at the beginning and go on until you decide the fiery chasm is all wrong, then wait for Diane Lane to invest in real estate in Italy.

that kind of thing happens

In April of 2008, Lt. Michael Behenna — an Army Ranger and platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division — was part of a convoy traveling north of Baghdad. A roadside IED detonated, killing two of Behenna’s platoon members and badly wounding several others. In war, that kind of thing happens. Bombs explode, people get killed and maimed.

An intelligence report linked a man named Ali Mansur to the attack. Mansur, like a lot of unhappy, resentful Iraqis, was suspected to be a member of al-Qaeda. He may have been al-Qaeda. He probably was, given that he was in Iraq with a Syrian passport. In any event, Mansur was detained and for two weeks he was interrogated by intelligence officers. They were unable to confirm a link between Mansur and the IED, so they ordered him released. That kind of thing happens in modern war; you can’t always distinguish the enemy from the disgruntled, or the disgruntled from the innocent. Innocent people get caught up and punished unfairly; guilty people walk.

Lt. Behenna was ordered to return Mansur to his village. Instead, Behenna and his platoon took the handcuffed prisoner to a secluded location near a railroad bridge. They used their knives to cut off his clothing. Without any authorization, they continued to interrogate him about the IED. Eventually they removed Mansur’s restraints, and at some point Lt. Behenna shot him twice, killing him. In war, that kind of thing happens. Troops under a massive amount of stress sometimes act irrationally and against orders. Sometimes in war, it’s not really clear what counts as rationality. If you send young men and women to war, some of them will commit war crimes.

The next day villagers found Mansur’s naked body, burned, stashed in a culvert below the railroad bridge. In July, Behenna was relieved of his command and charged with murder. Two of his platoon members and his interpreter testified against him at his court martial. The interpreter testified that Behenna told Mansur he was going to kill him, but had assumed it was just a threat to frighten Mansur. Behenna claimed he was acting in self defense when he shot Mansur. He testified Mansur had made an attempt to seize his weapon. Which is entirely possible. If I’d been questioned by military intelligence for two weeks, then told I was to be released but was instead taken to a remote area by the troops who had accused me in the first place, had my clothing cut off me, and was threatened with death while being interrogated again — if they removed my restraints, I might try to grab that guy’s weapon too. That kind of thing happens when you’re desperate and have nothing to lose.

In 2009, Behenna was found guilty of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. After a number of appeals and requests for clemency, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. Behenna was released on parole in 2014, having served less than five years. That kind of thing happens in the justice system, both civilian and military. There’s always a tentative and uneasy balance between justice and punishment.

Lt. Behenna and the men of “Mad Dog 5” — 5th Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

Yesterday, President Comrade Trump gave Behenna a full pardon. Trump has issued eight pardons to date. His other pardons include

  • Dwight and Steven Hammond — cattle ranchers who threatened US Forest Service officials, and whose 2012 convictions for arson of federal property sparked the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by right wing terrorists.
  • Dinesh D’Souza — right wing pundit, conspiracy theorist, and provocateur who pled guilty to campaign fraud in 2014.
  • Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby — Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff who was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and one count of making false statements in regard to leaking the identity of an undercover CIA agent in an effort to discredit arguments that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the pretense behind the Iraq War.
  • Kristian Saucier — a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Navy who was convicted of taking photographs of classified areas of a nuclear submarine, and who destroyed evidence after being questioned by the FBI. Saucier was given a less than honorable discharge and sentenced to a year in prison. His lawyers argued he deserved a lesser sentence because Hillary Clinton had classified information on her personal server and received no punishment. His lawyers also agreed the two cases were different, and that Saucier knew what he was doing was illegal.
  • Joe Arpaio — Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona and birther conspiracy theorist, who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to comply with the court’s order to stop its racial profiling practices.

See a pattern? You can defy court orders, endanger national security, expose the identify of a NOC CIA agent, commit campaign fraud, commit arson, or murder a suspect in a war zone and burn his body; you do that and still receive a full pardon, if the president likes you. That kind of thing happens when hostile foreign nations influence a US election in order to elect an ignorant, narcissistic, malignant, compliant conspiracy theorist as President of the United States.

NOTE: I have a lot of compassion for Mr. Behenna. He and the men of Mad Dog 5 suffered horribly. In the IED explosion, one of his men was literally cut in half. Nobody can experience that kind of thing and not be affected by it. If he believed Mansur was responsible for that, I don’t blame him for wanting to execute the man. You can read a more detailed account of what happened at SCOTUSblog.

But here’s the thing: if you send people to war, they’re going to commit war crimes. It’s a given; we need to acknowledge that ugly truth. But even in the most horrific conditions we have to maintain military discipline and the rule of law. Behenna was an officer; he swore an oath; he knew what he was doing when he took Mansur to that bridge; he knew it was against orders. He did it anyway, and he tried to cover up his crime.

I have compassion for Behenna. But he’s not deserving of a pardon.

tire iron transition of power

I had a horrible thought yesterday afternoon. It led to a horrible belief that has now solidified into a horrible certainty.

A Facebook friend had said, “I want to scream when Pelosi says, about impeachment: ‘We’re not there yet.‘” I’ve heard lots of folks say that, and sometimes I’ve felt the same way. But I’ve also been telling myself that Nancy the Knife Pelosi has been around the block a few times. She’s cagey enough to say ‘not yet’ to impeachment in order to seem reluctant to engage in a process that could most definitely would be seen as primarily political. But all the while she’s prepping for impeachment like a boss.

I said as much to my friend — and when I said it, I believed it. Or at least I wanted to believe it. This morning, I think there’s a pretty fair chance that I was just full of shit. Why? On account of I’ve now read that Pelosi says the only real way to rid ourselves of this turbulent fuckwit is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so big that he can’t challenge the validity of his loss.

Which is when I had the horrible thought. Which was as follows: There IS no margin of victory so large that Comrade Trump wouldn’t challenge it. And that led to this horrible belief: Even if he was impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate, he’d refuse to accept it. Which led inevitably to this horrible certainty: Motherfucker ain’t gonna leave without an ugly fight, no matter what.

Let’s face it, Trump has ignored every norm, every standard of presidential behavior, every yardstick of diplomacy, and every rule of protocol so far. So why in the hell would we assume he’ll abide by our tradition of a peaceful transition of power?

He won’t. He just fucking won’t. It’s horrifying for me to say this, but even though he doesn’t really even want to be president, I can’t imagine him just giving it up. No matter whether he’s impeached or defeated in 2020, he’s going to claim the system has been rigged against him. He’s going to claim his enemies have conspired against him. He’s going to claim his defeat is a fraud perpetrated by deep state traitors. He’s going to rage and complain and threaten and bellow that he was somehow cheated.

And a lot of his supporters will believe him.

Here’s another horrible but true  thing: Trump won’t care how much damage he does before he leaves. He won’t care about the harm done to the office of POTUS, to the system of checks and balance, to our entire system of democracy. He won’t care if he leaves the nation in shambles. Trump is the kind of guy who’d shit in the driver’s seat if he thought you were going to repo his car.

I really believe we need to start thinking in those terms. I think we need to accept the fact that no matter the circumstance, Comrade Trump is not going to make a peaceful and dignified exit from the White House. He’d rather burn the place down.

With that in mind, there’s no reason the House of Representatives shouldn’t start a long, detailed impeachment process. We’re going to have to pry this jamoke out of the White House with a tire iron; we might as well take a few deep breaths and get started.

trump fatigue

Trump fatigue. It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted anything on this blog, and it’s due entirely to Trump fatigue. I don’t want to write about Comrade Trump. Or anything to do with Trump. Or the Trump administration. I’m sick of writing about Trump. There are so many other things I’d like to write about.

But the horrifying fact is this: Trump and his supporters are destroying democracy. That sounds so melodramatic, but nonetheless it’s true. I don’t want to write about Trump, but there’s nothing as important as the erosion of democratic norms and the corruption of democratic institutions.

I watched Attorney General William Barr’s attempt to lie and harrumph his way through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. There was a moment that seemed to me to be the distillation of everything Trump. In response to a question, Barr said this:

“The point i was trying to make earlier is that in this situation of the president who has constitutional authority to supervise proceedings — if in fact the proceeding was not well founded, if it was a groundless proceeding, if it was based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course. The president could terminate the proceeding and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused, and he would be worried about the impact on his administration.”

In other words, Barr is claiming that if the president decides an investigation into his behavior isn’t really justified, he can end it. That’s a shocking opinion from a person who is supposed to be the nation’s chief law enforcement official. If other AGs had held Barr’s position, Nixon could have said, “Watergate? Nope, wasn’t me. Shut down that investigation,” and skated through the rest of his term. Bill Clinton could have said, “Nope, this Whitewater investigation is bullshit, so shut down that investigation,” and today nobody would be familiar with the name Monica Lewinsky.

It’s obvious that presidents need to be accountable for their actions. Even presidents we like. But we find ourselves, for the first time in the history of the United States, in a situation where the institutions created and designed to hold the president accountable have actually been corrupted by the president. We can’t rely on the Supreme Court, we can’t rely on the Republicans in Congress, and we can’t rely on the Attorney General. All we can do is resist and encourage the Democrats in the House of Representatives to do what they can to check the president.

I don’t want to write about William Barr. I don’t want to write about Mitch McConnell, or Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or Comrade Donald Goddamn Trump. I don’t even want to think about these corrupt motherfuckers. But we pretty much have to think about them. And talk about them. And resist them.

It doesn’t mean we can’t think about the Game of Thrones or the photography of Garry Winogrand or the novels of Dorothy Dunnett or morel hunting or any of the thousands of things that interest us. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all those things. In fact, we should give into the temptation to enjoy those things even more — because right now we NEED to find things to enjoy. We should enjoy the hell out of them, if only as an antidote to Trump Fatigue.

But then we need to get back to the business of resistance.