cheese will be provided

— Do you really think Comrade Trump will be impeached?
— I do.
— Really?
— Really. He’s going down.
— No, I mean do you really actually believe they’ll impeach him?
— He’s totally going down. No question.
— Okay. It’s just that…
— He’s going down like the Titanic.
— Yeah, you say that, but…
— Down like Betamax.
— Like what?
— Exactly.
— So you actually believe Trump will be…
— Down like Google+
— Holy crap.
— Down like a nine pound round of Double Gloucester cheese on Cooper’s Hill.
— …
— You know…the annual cheese rolling festival and massacre?
— No idea what you’re talking about.
— C’mon, it’s the most famous cheese rolling event in the world.
— Cheese rolling. Cheese rolling? What the fuck? Cheese rolling?
— Yeah. It’s an…
Cheese? Cheese rolling?
— Every spring for the last, oh, few hundred years the good and semi-sober people of Brockworth in Gloucestershire have held a sort of contest in which they roll a cheese down Cooper’s Hill.
— That’s it?
— Well, no. People chase the cheese down the hill. The first survivor at the bottom wins.
— Wins what?
— The cheese, you idiot.
— When you say ‘survivor’…
— It’s a steep hill. People fall. And tumble and roll and break bones.
— …
— Also spectators might get whacked by the cheese as it rolls and bounces down the hill.
— Hit by a cheese?
— A nine-pound round of Double Gloucester can top out at about seventy miles per hour. Cheese like that could kill a person. These are murderous cheeses.
— You’re making this up, aren’t you.
— How dare you!
— Why would anybody chase a cheese down a hill?
— Probably some sort of ancient primitive pagan fertility thing.
— That’s ridiculous.
— Dude, they’re British.
— Oh, right. Yeah, then it makes some sense. And people really do this? And they really get hurt?
— Watch this.

— Jesus suffering fuck.
— I know, right?
— That’s insane.
— Well, there’s cheese involved. And possibly alcohol.
— …
— …
— I totally want to do this.
— Impeach Trump?
— Fuck Trump. I want to chase the cheese. When does this happen?
— May 27th, five days from today. Around noon. Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth, Gloucestershire. Cheese and medical care are provided.
— This is why England will always be a great nation.

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it wasn’t bad

It wasn’t bad, the final episode of Game of Thrones. It was, as always, beautifully filmed; there were some wonderful, genuinely touching emotional moments and it provided a sort of emotional closure for most of the major characters. I can’t say enough about the acting of Peter Dinklage, particularly in the second most critical scene in the episode, and especially because that entire scene made no sense whatsoever.

It wasn’t bad. But let’s remember what Cersei told Eddard Stark in Season One:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it tried for the middle ground. It didn’t try to win; it tried not to lose. It tried to be safe. And the result was — not bad. The result was insipid.

It wasn’t bad, but the behavior of the characters lacked internal consistency. They behaved in ways that contradicted seven earlier seasons. Let’s start with the scene I mentioned a moment ago, in which Tyrion, shackled and unkempt, addresses ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’. Remember, he was imprisoned for betraying his queen and was only spared immediate execution because she was assassinated.

Why was Tyrion addressing anybody at all? The context of the scene suggests they ordered Grey Worm to bring both Tyrion and Jon Snow to appear before those powerful people, but why was Grey Worm following their orders at all? Why did Grey Worm even allow those powerful people into what was left of the city, when they were, for all intents and purposes, beseiging the city? It makes no sense. It was clear Daenerys wanted Tyrion executed — why didn’t Grey Worm just execute him? And why, when Tyrion tells those people they should choose a king or queen, did Grey Worm support that decision? The entire scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Condemned Prisoner Decides Future of Westeros.

Tyrion tells the assembly, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” He then says, “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” It’s a good line, and Dinklage delivers it beautifully. But it makes no sense. It’s not just that Bran’s story isn’t as powerful as Arya’s story, or Sansa’s, or even Sam Tarly’s story. It’s that Bran’s story isn’t even Bran’s story. He was just there for it. Bran’s story is the story of Hodor, and Osha the wildling, and Jojen Reed and his sister Meera. Bran’s story is the story of all the people who helped him escape and kept him alive. It wasn’t his fault, but Bran was just a passive passenger in his story. To say his is the best story makes no sense.

And let’s not forget that when Bran became the Three-Eyed Raven, he apparently became at least semi-omniscient. He knows what has happened and, it seems, what will happen. He doesn’t try to influence events. Or maybe he can’t influence them; we don’t know. But it means he knew thousands would be slaughtered at Winterfell, and tens of thousands would be slaughtered in King’s Landing. He knew all those folks would suffer and die in order to create a situation in which he would be named King of the Seven Kingdoms. He knew all that and said nothing to minimize the slaughter. And despite that, none of those powerful people had a problem with him as king. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In his speech, Tyrion states, “From now on rulers will not be born, they will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm.” Why is Tyrion, a condemned man, deciding by himself how the future rulers of Westeros will be chosen? He asks Bran, “If we choose you, will you wear the crown?” If WE choose you? Why does Tyrion have a voice in the decision? Yes, he’s presumably the head of what’s left of House Lannister, but he’s also a condemned prisoner. He not only murdered his father (and his lover, but women characters have been pretty expendable in this show), he’s betrayed two queens–his sister and Dany. These are not commendable qualities. It makes no sense whatsoever for ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’ to let him make such important decisions. The entire scene makes no sense.

Survived Joffrey, Survived Cersei, Survived Littlefinger, Survived Ramsey, Got Her Crown.

It’s not just that scene, though. Throughout the episode, several primary characters behave in ways that simply aren’t internally consistent with their character development to that point. Consider Ser Brienne (whose story is more powerful than Bran’s, by the way). The one defining characteristic of Brienne is her rigid adherence to a code of knightly honor and duty. She swore fealty to Sansa (“I will shield your back and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”) and Sansa accepted it. But Brienne abandons her duty to Sansa and becomes King’s Guard to Bran. It makes no sense.

Sam Tarly (whose story is also more powerful than Bran’s) only wanted to read books and learn stuff. As a member of the Night Watch he was sent to Oldtown to become a maester, but absconded from the Citadel with some stolen books. Why? To travel (with Gilly and a baby) all the way back north to Castle Black in order to inform Jon Snow that he was actually the true heir to the Iron Throne. Sam also insisted Jon tell Dany who he really was. But despite his friendship with Jon Snow, despite the fact that his insistence that Jon reveal his rightful place on the throne, despite all that, in the last episode Samwell suddenly decides NOT to stand up for Jon as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms? And, in fact, is the very first to cast his support for Bran as King? It makes no sense.

Bronn (another story more powerful than Bran’s) is a low-born, whore-mongering, duplicitous sell-sword who openly supports whoever will pay him the most. He’s given Highgarden (for betraying Cersei by not assassinating Tyrion and Jaime), the castle once belonging to House Tyrell. Okay, that makes some sense in the context of the show. But in the last episode he’s also made Master of Coin and given a seat on the Small Council? No, that makes no sense whatsoever.

Daenerys. Throughout the show, she’s been a wonderfully complex, multi-faceted character. At times utterly pragmatic, at times compassionate, always driven, always concerned about the less powerful. Until the final episode, when she inexplicably turned into a Harlequin romance character. She’d just spent a few hours riding her dragon, immolating tens of thousands of people — which I suspect is hot, dirty work. But somehow she appears relaxed, clean, her hair perfect (who dresses her and does her hair post-massacre?). The fierce woman who’d always tried to protect ordinary folks is suddenly channeling Cersei Lannister: the ordinary people don’t get to choose what’s good for them. You can make an argument that Dany deliberately chose to slaughter an entire city in order to convince the rest of the realm to stand down. That would be horrible, but internally consistent to the character. We saw her do something like that when she crucified the Masters of Meereen. But in this final episode, she decides the little people of the world shouldn’t have a choice in their lives? It makes no sense whatsoever.

A Girl Has a Ship and Heads West.

Jon Snow, born to brood. Loved two women and a dire wolf; betrayed both women for the sake of his personal notions of duty and honor. He was the most consistently inconsistent character. I was okay with that, because he seemed completely unaware he was being hypocritical. He encouraged Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis, saying the survival of the wildlings was more important than his pride. But he himself refused to bend the knee to Stannis because of his duty to the Night Watch. He also refused to bend the knee to Dany — until Cersei said she’d only support the war against the Dead if Jon Snow, as King of the North, agreed not to choose sides. Then he bent the knee to Daenerys, at the worst possible time, because of his own notions of duty and honor. His inconsistency is annoying, but completely in character.

The same is true of the other remaining Starks — Sansa and Arya. Sansa stands up for the North and demands it be an independent kingdom, and Bran agrees (an immediate display of royal nepotism that doesn’t seem to bother any of the others). Arya sets off to go someplace nobody has gone before. Those were wonderful story arcs, and they remained wonderfully consistent and in character.

Betrays Two Women, Gets Re-united with His Direwolf.

Most folks, I suspect, aren’t going to care if the final episode made sense or not. They’ll mostly either hate the ending because it wasn’t what they wanted, or they’ll love it because it was predictably bittersweet. Sure, Dany gets murdered by the man she loves and trusts, but it’s presented in a way that’s supposed to make us feel sad for poor Jon Snow.

But the Iron Throne got melted, and that was nice. Tyrion is Hand of the King for the third time, which is nice. Sam gets the maester gig at King’s Landing, also nice. Brienne gets to write Jaime’s name in a logbook and fudge his record so it doesn’t reflect how reliably awful he was, and that’s nice. Bronn can afford the best brothels, nice for him. Jon is reunited with his direwolf, very nice. And, of course, Sansa and Arya get to fulfill their dreams, which is exceedingly nice. So it’s not an unhappy ending. And did you notice, as Jon is leading the wildlings back north of the wall — a blade of grass growing through the snow. Winter, it seems, is over.

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it could have been much much better. And as insipid as it was, the final episode can’t diminish what was a powerful and compelling television series.

yes, it suits her

I have thoughts about Mr. Justice Kavanaugh, and Mitch McConnell, and the bloated carbuncle currently occupying the Oval Office — but I’m holding them in abeyance for a few more days. I don’t want them to corrupt the joy I feel about Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor.

I’ve written about the Dick-free Doctor Who Debate already, so I won’t repeat any of that, except to say there were people (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘men’ and by ‘men’ I mean ‘astonishingly stupid childish misogynists’) who were upset by the notion that a woman could be the Doctor. We’ve moved on from that now; it’s a reality.

In a very real way, it never mattered to me whether the Doctor was a man or a woman. I mean, I’m glad that the folks who run Doctor Who decided to cast a woman. It needed to be done, if only to demonstrate the reality that gender was never a defining aspect of the character. The Doctor didn’t have to be a ‘daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.’ The Doctor just had to be a daft old being who stole a magic box and ran away.

Let me repeat the important bit in that last paragraph. Gender was never a defining aspect of the character. When Christopher Eccleston appeared out of nowhere and took Rose Tyler’s hand, telling her “Run!” he wasn’t being a Doctor Who for boys; he was just the Doctor. When Jodie Whittaker fell through the roof of that train, she wasn’t being a Doctor Who for girls; she was just the Doctor.

Here’s something Steven Moffat, the Doctor Who showrunner for a decade, said about the character:

Heroes are important. Heroes tell us who we want to be, but when they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help, and they didn’t give him a superpower or a heat-ray, they gave him an extra heart. And that’s extraordinary.

Let me add this. They didn’t give him a penis, they gave her curiosity.

When the new Doctor Who was introduced on Sunday, the most surprising thing (to me, at any rate) was that Jodie Whittaker was immediately the Doctor. I’ve always been sort of slow to accept a new Doctor. I tend to put them on emotional probation until they’ve earned my trust — because Doctor Who may be a sort of cheesy sci-fi show on the surface, but the character of the Doctor is complex and nuanced.

“Right, this is going to be fun!”

Jodie Whittaker hit the right notes straight from the beginning. In her first scene she’s still coming to terms with the regeneration; she doesn’t know where she is, or what she’s doing there, or who she is, or even what she is, but she knows she’s there to help. That mix of confusion and certainty, peppered with the visible joy she experiences when she learns something new or remembers something from before, was convincing and totally natural. When she learned she was a woman, she treated it like a mildly interesting fact. She asks, “Does it suit me?” but she’s not hanging on the answer, because it’s simply not that important.

And yet, the fact that she’s a woman IS significant and important. Not for the character, but for the viewing audience. A woman Doctor doesn’t change the character of the Doctor, but it changes how the audience experiences the Doctor. It gives women — and more importantly, girls — a protagonist they can better identify with. A girl who wants to dress up as Doctor Who for Halloween no longer has to dress like a man. That’s a big deal.

So here’s the thing: the fact that the 13th Doctor Who is a woman is simultaneously completely unimportant and incredibly important. That’s about the most Doctor Who thing ever.

thanks

Occasionally people send me things. I’ve no idea why they do, but they do. Not often. Maybe three or four times a year. But periodically the postal carrier arrives at the door with an unexpected package.

Well, not always unexpected. I mean, usually somebody has emailed me and said something like “Dude, I have something for you — what’s your address?” And I give them my address. Why the hell not? I spent a chunk of my life as a professional invader of privacy, so I know the notion of personal privacy is pretty much an illusion. So far nobody has mailed me dog shit or anything explodey, so there’s that.

It always pleases me when these packages arrive. Sometimes, I confess, I’m a tad confused by what’s actually in the package — because sometimes the thing in the package is…well, let’s say some of the stuff is eccentric. But still, how could I not be pleased at the generosity and thoughtfulness behind the gift?

A random assortment of stuff folks have sent me.

I get photographs, of course. Lovely, interesting, beautifully printed photographs. And books (usually about photography, or about photographers, or by photographers but I’ve also received stuff like old Conan Doyle novels). I’ve a friend who, like some character out of fiction, sits in European cafes and writes beautifully (occasionally indecipherable) hand-written letters on the most sensuous paper, sometimes including an interesting business card. And occasionally there’s the eccentric stuff — shark teeth, a bent and rusty horseshoe, a bit of shale shaped like a duck’s head, an advert for gas masks, a box of Jane Austen band-aids, a ceramic ashtray. “Saw this,” people write, “thought of you.” I’m not sure quite what it means when somebody sees a key chain modeled after a Medical Examiner’s toe tag and thinks of me, but I like to think it’s somehow a compliment.

Yes, I took a selfie with a Jane Austen band-aid on my nose.

Okay, this is going to seem like a tangent, but it’s not. Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about encountering a huge murder of crows. A couple of years ago, I was notified about a new comment on that post. It read:

Hi Greg,
I love your photos. I, too, am a huge fan of crows and ravens. We had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac. He was so smart and so funny. I was wondering if I could use/buy one of your crow photos to include in a painting I want to do.
Thanks from heather

I said yes, of course. I usually say yes to this sort of thing. Besides, I’m a huge fan of crows and a huge fan of Cyrano (the Brian Hooker translation) and a huge fan of folks who can paint. So I said yes, then I promptly forgot all about it. I usually promptly forget about this sort of thing. But then in January I got an email.

Dear Greg, I responded to an early blog post about crows. I had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac and I asked if I could use your photos for a painting I wanted to do. I finally got around to working on it. I am almost finished and I was wondering if you would like to have it. If so, may I have your mailing address?  Thanks from Heather

So I gave her my address. And, again, promptly forgot all about it. Then the painting arrived.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Something small, I suppose. Maybe one of those 8×10 cotton duck canvas panels. Actually, I’m not sure I had any expectations at all. I was just pleased that Heather liked a photograph, and pleased that she wanted to use it as a basis for a painting, and enormously pleased that she was generous enough to want me to have the final work. But whatever I was expecting, I can say without any hesitation that it wasn’t this. It wasn’t 34×24 inches of this:

I was gobsmacked. My gob? Totally smacked. It’s crows, of course, but it’s not just crows; it’s Aesop’s crow, the one from the fable in which a thirsty crow drops pebbles into a jug of water until the water level rises so he can drink. It’s Aesop’s clever crow channeled through Heather Vos, with a bit of mysticism tossed in, and a healthy dollop of pure crowness.

There’s a 12th century bestiary that includes an imaginary discussion between a crow and God. God, it seemed, was foolish enough to try to ignore the crow. The crow wasn’t having any of that, even from a god. The crow said,

“I, Crow, a talker, greet thee Lord. with definite speech, and if you fail to see me it is because you refuse to believe I am a bird.”

This what I love about crows, and it’s what I love second-most about this painting. Crows are clever, confident enough to talk to gods as an equal — confident enough to explain things to gods. We see that crow confidence here.

What I love most about the painting, of course, is that it exists. That it’s a physical reminder that people like Heather Vos exist. That a woman from a small town in Ontario, was thoughtful enough, generous enough, talented enough to create this painting and share it with me.

I’m a lucky guy, I recognize that. I live in a safe place, I have a warm bed in which to sleep, I haven’t had to miss a meal in years, I have friends and family. I’m generally a ridiculously happy person. On those rare occasions when I start to feel the world is cold and cruel (and there’s ample reason to feel that way these days) all I have to do is look around my desk and I’m reminded that the world is full of people who are kind and caring and altruistic and warm-hearted — and I’d go on, but I already sound too much like a Pollyanna.

But thanks — thanks to Heather and to everybody who has ever sent me anything, including their thoughts.