Immersion, Or Calculated Exposure

The other day someone asked why I wasn’t writing more about the latest episode in the ongoing Trump Administration Train Wreck in Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure exactly which deplorable event triggered the question — and I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it?

There are so many appalling, clumsy, bumbling, disgraceful, weird, inept, and dispiriting things happening in Washington, D.C. and the country these days that you could write about the misadventures of the President and his ever-changing team all day, every day.  And some people pretty much do exactly that.  They’ve become immersed in the failures and struggles and cheap insults and ill-advised statements and revel in addressing them and talking about them.

Then there are those of us, like me, who just don’t have limitless capacity for outrage and who like to think there is more to their lives than President Twitter.  I care about what’s happening, of course, but with everything else I’ve got going right now I just can’t deal with it 24 hours a day.  I don’t want the fact that Donald Trump is the President of the United States to permanently change my personality, or my outlook on life, or my relations with family, friends, and colleagues.  So I’m going with the calculated exposure approach.  I’ll try to keep track of the latest firestorm, but when it comes to really engaging with things I’m going to pick my spots.

We had some friends over on Saturday night, and as the evening ended I found myself thinking how great it was that HBO is airing the new season of Game of Thrones right now.  Why?  Because it gives us safe, neutral ground for talking about something other than Trump and politics.  Because it seems like pretty much everybody is watching the show, you can have an enjoyable conversation about most hated characters or best battle scenes or regrettable deaths, and nobody is going to get really angry because you identify Ser Davos Seaworth rather than Arya Stark as your favorite character.  It was great to be able to freely talk about something without worrying that someone was going to touch some third rail in the conversation that would leave people feeling upset.

For me, at least, there’s a lot more to the world than Donald Trump.

GOT Breakfast In The Making

It’s another beautiful Sunday morning, and the bright, uncommonly temperate weather can’t help but stimulate the appetite and put thoughts of Sunday breakfast in my head.  But, since another episode of Game of Thrones is in the offing, what kind of breakfast could help to stimulate a Westerosi mindset as well?  

Our local grocer doesn’t sell wild boar meat or unskinned rabbit, so a little improvisation is in order.  We’ll go for eggs and turkey bacon — the better to remind us of those unfortunate dragon-sizzled Lannister bannermen — some juicy fruit to simulate rivers of blood, and a cantaloupe that will allow me to get out a sharp implement and start flailing away with some satisfying thunks and hackings as I separate flesh from skin.  Put some onion in the eggs to acknowledge Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, and you’ve got a feast worthy of Winterfell.

Dragons On The Wing

The current season of Game of Thrones is moving forward at a breakneck pace.  So many big-picture things are happening, it’s easy to forget parts of the story and to overlook the smaller, more evocative scenes that might be giving us some foreknowledge of things soon to come.

We’ve seen the rise of Euron Greyjoy and the further emasculation of sad sack Theon, the obliteration of the sand snakes, Stark after Stark returning to Winterfell, and Sam’s gross yet awesome surgical capabilities.  (Who knew that being a capable doctor just means following a set of written instructions?)  We’ve seen Cersei and Jaime throwing caution to the winds about their incestuous relationship, a bunch of long-anticipated first meetings and reunions, Tyrion’s sketchy abilities as general and war planner, and Bran’s creepy new three-eyed raven personality.  (No wonder the former three-eyed raven became part of a tree.  What living Westerosian would want to hang around with these guys?)  And maybe, just maybe, Littlefinger has maneuvered himself onto Arya’s shrinking death list.

dragon-from-game-of-thrones-season-7And last night, we saw dragons.

Sure, we’ve seen the dragons before, ripping people to shreds, hissing and terrorizing.  But last night, in the fantastic battle of the loot caravan, we finally saw what dragons can do on the battlefield . . . and it’s chilling.  With Daenerys in the dragon saddle, Drogon laid waste to huge chunks of the Lannister forces, leaving dozens of the bannermen of the lion lit up like screaming, flailing torches and turning the wagons of golden booty into melted hells.  Game of Thrones has shown us some epic battles, from the Battle of the Blackwater to the Battle of the Bastards, but last night’s dragon-blasting war scene was the best one yet, a hold-your-breath, what’s-going-to-happen-next jawdropper.   And with the show having no problem with knocking off characters, who knew if Jaime was going to survive his brave yet foolhardy charge at the wounded Drogon and Daenerys?

I’m not sure what I want to see more:  Cersei killed by being immolated in dragon fire, or Cersei killed by the combined talents of Arya and Sansa and the other remaining members of the Stark clam.  Until last night, I would have chosen the latter, but fully knowing what agony befalls the victims of dragon fire is making it a closer call.  And I think it’s high time to introduce the Night King and his staggering, lurching army of the undead to a little taste of what dragons can do, too.

Game of Thrones has gotten so good, with so many interesting things happening to so many characters, it’s painful to contemplate that it’s not going to be on forever.  But for now, we can relish the wonder of dragons — and rewatch the episodes, to make sure we aren’t missing anything.

Letting The Old Obsessions Go

Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson.  Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas.  He could be released from prison by October 1.

170720-oj-simpson-parole-lovelock-ew-311p_fea89e6c6b7d1f50e0397eabec2defd9-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed.  Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same.  Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.

At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight.  Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so.  I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.

In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works.  Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go.  I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker.  But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?

Go Westeros, Young Man

Like everyone else in America, I watched the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones last night.  It was good to see the old gang again.

I loved the first scene of the new season, but then I candidly just can’t get enough of Arya Stark killing the Freys.  In fact, I’m really kind of sad that she’s apparently ruthlessly murdered every figure in the Frey clan, from creepy Walder on down to the most obscure cousin once removed.  I’m almost hoping that we’ll discover some rump branch of the Frey family, so that she’ll have the chance to gut or poison them, too.

lyanna-mormont-gotArya was just part of the Stark Ascendant theme that’s playing out in Westeros these days.  With Arya gleefully knocking off Freys and now heading south to take on Queen Cersei, Jon Snow and Sansa ruling in the north and training every man, woman, and child to fight the White Walkers, and eyeball-rolling Bran finally on the Westeros side of the wall, we’re seeing the best days for the Starks since poor Ned lost his head.  Unfortunately, there’s already friction between Jon and Sansa, and it doesn’t look like the remaining members of the Starks will have a family reunion — at least, not yet — but it’s good to see the Starks back as a force, even if it probably will only be temporary.  And with the considerable support of the formidable Lyanna Mormont, who isn’t afraid to call out and face down every aging, bearded windbag leader of a northern house who punked out on the Starks in their time of need, who’s to say that the Starks can’t win in the great game?  If I were going to war, I’d definitely want the awesome Lyanna Mormont on my side.

As far as the great game goes, the pieces are all in position.  Cersei’s got her ally in the Iron Islanders and their horny leader, Daenerys has finally reached Westeros with her dragons, her Dothraki horde, and especially Tyrion behind her, the White Walkers are on the move south, and we haven’t even heard yet what the House of Dorne and the Martells are going to do to stir up trouble.  For now, we can just appreciate the fact that there are unoccupied castles, like Dragonstone, handy and available for the taking if one of the players decides they can use a forbidding base of operations.

I hadn’t realized how much I was looking forward to the new season until I watched the first episode and enjoyed seeing these familiar characters and their fictional world once again.  Now, if only we could get the next book in the series out of George R.R. Martin . . . .

Milking Moola From The Midwest Cash Cow

Recently the University of Michigan announced its operating budget for 2018.  Normally a red-blooded Buckeye wouldn’t pay attention to anything having to do with That School Up North, but in this case we’ll make an exception, because the operating budget included information about how much money TSUN expects to receive from the Big Ten as its conference revenue distribution next year.

1-4-7f9-49-a001329And the projected revenue number (drum roll, please) is:  $51.1 million.  That $51.1 million in expected revenue distribution will go not only to the despised Maize and Blue, but also to the good guys in Scarlet and Gray and all of the other schools in the 14-member Big Ten Conference.  Do the math, and you will quickly determine that the Big Ten will be dishing out more than $700 million to the schools that are lucky enough to be part of the Old Conference in 2018.  Say, do you think the school administrators and athletic directors at Rutgers and Maryland are happy about their decision to join the Big Ten back in 2014?

The story linked above says the big driver of the Big Ten’s enormous projected 2018 distribution is TV revenue.  The Big Ten’s TV deal is expected to produce $2.6 billion in revenue over six years, generating lots of money to dole out to Big Ten members.  The Conference has been pretty far-sighted in maximizing its TV revenue, having created its own network before other conferences did and driving a hard bargain in its negotiations with networks.  The Big Ten has two aces in the hole that give it incredible leverage:  huge schools with lots of graduates and supporters who are spread out around the country, are passionate about sports (primarily football), and want to watch their team play every weekend during the fall, and a conference that now stretches from Nebraska all the way east to New Jersey and Maryland, covering many of the biggest media markets in the country.

The $51.1 million in projected Big Ten revenue for 2018 is just each member school’s share of the Big Ten’s common revenue.  The powerhouse schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State also generate lots of cash from their individual merchandising, licensing and “partnering” deals.  Those schools know that their fans want to wear their school’s gear and put up school merchandise in their dens and family rooms and “man caves,” and they’ve got prized brands that also contribute lots of dough to the bottom line.   We’ve reached the point where educational institutions have developed, and now own, some of the most valuable brands, logos, and mascots in U.S. commerce.

In the largely midwestern footprint of the Big Ten, football is a cash cow that produces lots of moola.  The Big Ten Conference and its member schools are milking that cow for all it’s worth.

Adam West And The Age Of Innocence

I was sorry to read about the death of Adam West — known to everyone over a certain age as Batman — this past weekend.  West, who was 88, died after battling leukemia.

adam-west-and-burt-ward-i-010Hearing about West’s death made me think, of course, about the Batman TV show that was enormously popular when I was a little kid.  The word that inevitably is used now to describe the show is “campy,” but really it was more about innocence.  Batman was just like a comic book of those days brought to life, with every punch marked by a Pow! or Whammo!, with characters who weren’t dealing with any “real-world” problems, and with a hero who constantly lectured Robin, the Boy Wonder, in an avuncular way, instructing him all on the platitudes about brushing your teeth and eating your vegetables and being a patriotic citizen that we kids were hearing all the time at home from our parents and grandparents.

Sure, the show was played with a wink, and usually Batman gave Robin the benefit of his wisdom as they were using a rope to walk up the side of the wall in an obviously fake way, just before some famous person put their head out of a window in a silly cameo appearance — but the fact is that the platitudes still got stated on network TV by a hero who apparently meant every word, the hero always escaped from whatever devilish contrivance the Joker or the Penguin or the Riddler put him into, and in the end truth and justice and the hero prevailed . . . and nobody really got hurt beyond taking a few punches to the jaw, either.

The show worked because the theme song was cool, the Batmobile was cooler, and Adam West played Batman right down the line, delivering his homilies and interacting with Commissioner Gordon and even the Catwoman with straight-faced earnestness — presaging the career of Leslie Nielsen playing hilarious deadpan characters in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies.  West was perfect for the Batman role, and that West was able to impassively act the part was particularly impressive when you consider that he was romping around in an embarrassingly tight superhero costume and cape.  It couldn’t have been easy being Batman, but West pulled it off — and even more remarkable, when you think about celebrities of the modern era who will do just about anything to get attention, he never dissed the show or made fun of it, even after the show had long since ended.  To the contrary, West seemed legitimately appreciative, at least publicly, that he had a chance to be a star and a hero to little kids during those long-ago days.

It’s unimaginable that a show like Batman would ever get made these days, because network executives would insist on complex characters struggling with inner demons and the violence would be much bloodier, and scarier, and deadlier, and Batman would never give Robin the kind of lectures that the Boy Wonder got back in the ’60s.  It’s understandable, I guess, but it’s too bad, too.  There’s something to be said for innocence, and a hero who thinks it’s important to mention dental hygiene now and then.