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Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister, and the Value of Good Writing

Perhaps it’s in bad taste to write a post a couple of hours after posting that I wouldn’t be writing for a little while. That being the case, I managed to find some time between stuffing my face with tacos (sadly not a euphemism, as a New Englander I’m deprived of good Mexican food and as such spend most of my trips to California eating nothing but meat, beans and rice) to put to pen something that I’ve been mulling around in my head for about a week or so. But first, since we’re already in an apologetic spirit, sorry if this contains less than the requisite amount of fart jokes that you’ve come to expect from me.

As you may have gleaned from my seemingly nonstop praise, HBO’s Game of Thrones is in my estimation head and shoulders the best show on television. Still, standing head and shoulders (irony not really intended, if you can not intend iron in a blog post) the rest of that show’s estimable cast is one man; Peter Dinklage. Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has, since his introduction, been the show’s most consistently likable and interesting character. Despite the first season’s natural bent towards making Ned Stark the center of attention, Tyrion consistently stole the show, at least in part due to the way Stark’s Boy Scout sense of honor led him to an easily predictable (in retrospect) early grave.* With Stark out of the way, the show now belongs unmistakably to Tyrion and Dinklage has been awesome in the role. Seriously, hand him all the Emmy’s right now, no one else need be considered. Still, while I’ve been a Dinklage fan since I saw The Station Agent on a plane when I was 14, the question that’s been nagging me is whether Dinklage just has a natural advantage over every other actor on TV: the strength of his writing.

Let’s start with the writing aspect. Along with, perhaps, Mad Men, Game of Thrones is TV’s best written drama**. The plot lines are complex, sweeping, and unpredictable. Characters who seem destined for greatness one moment find themselves getting executed in the next. What makes Game of Thrones truly great is the dialogue. The mark of great dialogue is that it reveals how a character thinks without saying it in certain terms. For example, simply from her interactions with others, we understand that the only type of power that Cersei Lannister understands is the Machiavellian kind (Her line about pulling out weeds is particularly revealing). In this sense, Tyrion Lannister is a wonderfully written character. His motivations aren’t always completely clear, he’s driven in part by love of a family that doesn’t love him back (with the exception of Jamie) and in part by a deep sense of shame stemming both from his birth and his first “marriage.” Tyrion’s a good guy on the bad guys’ side and he seems to be aware of that fact, but he’s also smart enough to realize that in his situation the good guys aren’t that different from the bad guys. In fact, the “good guys” have already tried to have him killed. As such, his outlet seems to be to call every other character in the show out on their bullshit, and in a drama about court intrigue there’s plently of bullshit to call out. The only other character on TV as complex as Tyrion is Don Draper (can you tell my viewing habits yet?) and Don isn’t as consistently likable as Tyrion for a number of reasons.

So yeah, Dinklage is at a natural advantage over pretty much every other actor on television, he has the best character to work with. Some of Tyrion’s turns of phrase this season have been nothing short of brilliant. Still, even as an aspiring writer, I’m loathe to chalk up Dinklage’s brilliance to the script and just be done with it. After all, Cerseri Lannister and Littlefinger get handed plenty of quality dialogue every week and I’m not ready to put Lena Headey*** and Aiden Gillan on the same level as Dinklage. It really isn’t something that can be reduced to a recipe: two parts source material, one part adaptation, one part actor, shake with ice and serve in a chalice. So for lack of a better equation, let’s leave this where we started and just hand Peter Dinklage every award we can find, k?

*Those who have read the books on which Game of Thrones  is based will note that Stark is a classic heroic figure, a guy who keeps making decisions based on what is right rather than what he really wants: his marriage, becoming Hand of the King, not immediately outing Cersei and Jamie, the list goes on. Guys like that seldom make it to the top in real life and they always wind up dead in Westeros.

**What’s interesting is the contrast between the two. Mad Men relies on an economy of dialogue. The exchanges between characters are generally short and terse. You know, how normal people talk. It’s awesome in it’s realism. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, is full of lengthy, witty banter and epic speeches, yet in context, it doesn’t necessarily fell less real. You expect people in castles to talk like that. Two strategies, similar effects. I have way too much time.

***Headey has done a phenomenal job imbuing Cersei with the kind of sneering smugness that anyone who’s read the books imagines the character with, still I wonder if there aren’t dozens of female actors who couldn’t do the same. Also, she just looks weird as a blond.

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Fire Geraldo Rivera

I keep promising not to write about politics, but people in politics keep doing stupid things, so I’m forced to write about them. Le Sigh. Anyways, today, America’s favorite mustachioed news clown and failed vault opener Geraldo Rivera took to Fox News Latino, which is like the Doritos Locos Taco of Latin News to pen the single dumbest news column of our very dumb times. I could present it without comment, and then you (the two people who read this blog) would laugh, and then cry, but this is so FJM worthy that it’s hard to pass up…

 “Take that thing off,” I snarled at my dashing, dark, handsome then late-teenage son. Named for his grandfather, in those not so long ago days Cruz styled himself a ghetto gangster, fashion-wise. His baseball cap worn askew, the rim almost unbent, I worried that gravity would leave his brown behind, bare-assed when his low-slung pants completed their descent to his knees just a step or bump away.

Geraldo Rivera, romance novelist. Also, heard of belts, Gerry?

“And pick up your pants,” I often added as he walked out the door.

Bill Cosby demands his royalies.

Let me leave the issue of low-slung pants for another day; except to say that any kid who looks for a job similarly dressed is not seriously looking for a job, unless it is as a bank robber or pimp.

Robbing banks sometimes involves running, so baggy pants aren’t really practical there either, but I digress. Or you do, I can’t tell, get to the point.

Jay-ZEminem and the tiny handful of others aside, as President Obama wisely once said, “Maybe you’re the next Lil Wayne, but probably not.”

Not sure how this is relevant.

It was a refreshing moment when the leader of the political party that sometimes revels in victimization spoke the plain truth. Most success is not flashy. It requires heavy lifting and an education. It also demands personal responsibility because regardless of the bad hand poor folk are dealt; they must do the best they can to provide for themselves and their families.

Like Geraldo Rivera, who has failed upward for his entire career. Again, I don’t see what any of this has to do with Trayvon Martin being shot for being black and wanting Skittles.

Opinion: Does Race Play a Role in the Trayvon Martin Case Even if Zimmerman is Not White?

Not actually part of the column, but yes it does, because again, Trayvon Martin was black and he was shot for that reason — or I guess for looking suspicious, which is code for looking black.

Posing like a hip hop mogul when the holes in your pants are real is ultimately self-defeating.

Not when you’re in high school, and it gets you laid. I didn’t realize that 17 year olds should be interviewing for investment banking jobs.

But leave the subject of self-destructive pretense for another time, let’s talk hoodies.

Oooo, let’s. I personally like zip-ups. I have a personal favorite that zips up all that way around the hood. Sometimes when I’m out drinking I’ll zip the hood over my face and make ghost sounds. I’m super popular if you can’t tell.

His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.

Not unless his hoodie pulled out a gun and shot him.

Remember when my friend and colleague the estimable Juan Williams got fired from NPR for saying that Muslims formally garbed freaked him out at airports? Juan is among America’s sharpest commentators. He wasn’t justifying his reaction, he was copping to it.

Juan Williams also never shot a Muslim who looked suspicious and then got away with it. Also, what Juan said was pretty racist.

Maybe shock therapy or a semester of sensitivity training could change it, otherwise It is what it is.

Of course everyone is entitled to their prejudices, they’re not entitled to shoot people because of them.

No one black, brown or white can honestly tell me that seeing a kid of color with a hood pulled over his head doesn’t generate a certain reaction, sometimes scorn, often menace.

I can. Nice projection there, Geraldo.

When you see that kid coming your way, unless you specifically recognize him you are thinking ghetto or ghetto wannabe high-style or low-brow wise-ass. Pedestrians cross the street to avoid black or brown hoodie wearers coming their way.

Really? I’ve gotta start wearing hoodies more. Also, again, crossing the street because you’re a pissant racist isn’t the same as shooting an innocent teenager. Just pointing that out for the logically impaired.

Because this is a teachable moment let me speak plainly.

Oh, please do, I’ve had enough of your subtly veiled hate-mongering.

Whatever Reverends Sharpton and Jackson say in Florida Friday, after listening to the 911 tapes and hearing the witness’ testimonials, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive today but for his hoodie.

Funny, because after listening to those same tapes and witnesses, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive if George Zimmerman hadn’t  followed him — against police advice — and shot him, with a gun.

I want the feds to thoroughly investigate and prosecute vigorously if the evidence warrants. But understanding the wrath currently focused on George Zimmerman and the police chief and the town council and the gun sellers and everyone else, I am begging parents of kids in Trayvon’s vulnerable demographic to heed my politically incorrect approach to this story.

Kids, please don’t listen to Geraldo Rivera.

If you dress like a hoodlum eventually some schmuck is going to take you at your word.

Wearing a hoodie is not, “dressing like a hoodlum.”

Remember Elvis’ ‘In the ghetto’? or that old Johnny Cash song about not taking ‘your guns to town son, leave your guns at home Bill, don’t take your guns to town?’

Wonderful advice for people like George Zimmerman. All Trayvon Martin had on him was a bag of Skittles and some Arizona Iced Tea.

The kid in the both songs dies in totally predictable gun fights. Trayvon was unarmed save his box of skittles. But his hoodie gave his assailant cause to think him the enemy.

No, for the millionth time, it didn’t. The only things that gave George Zimmerman that cause were his own racism and vigilante complex. Oh and also, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Maybe his specific encounter with an over-zealous, gun-toting, blood-lusting neighborhood-watch captain was less predictable than usual, but not by much.

It always astonishes me the way morons can look at information and draw the absolute wrong conclusions from it. This type of situation may be all too common, but it isn’t because of magical hoodies that force neighborhood watch vigilantes to shoot unarmed black kids. If every black kid in America wore a suit all the time, Trayvon Martin would still be dead, because the clothes people wear don’t make racists less racist.

Feds To Investigate Killing of Black Teen by Florida Latino

Also not part of the column, but I love the way that this is already being spun by outlets like Fox as a case of dirty minorities shooting each other. You know, like minorities always do. I feel like puking.

I am begging parents to unbait the trap. Don’t let your child provoke madness. Agonize all you want about the unfairness of stereotypes. Argue how it amounts to a million, million little cuts of racial profiling. Work to change the world. Rail against the inequities of life; but don’t let your child go out into the hard cruel world wearing a costume that is really a sign that says ‘shoot me.’

And while you’re at it, just bleach their skin, that’ll probably help more than changing their clothing.

‘And as his mama cries,’ sang Elvis.

Yeah, just like Trayvon Martin’s family is crying right now.

In all seriousness, it’s fun to tear apart idiots like Geraldo, because they’re low hanging fruit. What’s really sad is that a large portion of the American populace probably read this nonsense and nodded right along. Just to be clear, here’s why Trayvon Martin is dead. A vigilante wanna-be saw him walking home from 7-11, realized he was black and decided that he must be up to no good, because everyone knows that Skittles are the first sign that dusky folks are up to no good. Said neighborhood watch moron called the police, which is his right to do, but then pursued Trayvon — who was clearly terrified at this point — after the police told him not to. Then he shot the poor kid to death. After all this, the police let George Zimmerman go without so much as a breathalizer, because hey, the kid was black and “Stand Your Ground” is the law of the land in Florida. Geraldo Rivera’s solution to this type of systematic malfeasance? Stop wearing hoodies, dark people. This is your public discourse, America. Cherish it.

Just Put Jeff Bagwell in the Hall of Fame Already, You Self-Righteous F@#kwits

What did this man ever do to you people?

It’s not exactly news that the people who vote on who gets to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame are a gaggle of hypocritical, self-righteous butt-munchers, who use the vote as a way to pass judgement on the character of former players who they did or didn’t like. Recently, this band of ignoramuses has decided that after years of ignoring steroid use in the major leagues, they are the arbiters of the morals of the game and as such, must keep the Hall of Fame free of potential “cheaters”. Never mind that steroids weren’t banned by baseball during much of what is now referred to as the “steroid era,” that we have no real idea of how much steroids help baseball players because we can’t isolate their effects on offense from other factors such as shrinking ballparks and the commonly held knowledge that the ball has been juiced itself, or that past forms of “cheating” such as amphetamine use have been largely ignored or in some cases glorified by these same writers. What we, the public, are told by our betters in the sportswriting community (many of whom are fully incapable of forming coherent sentences) is that the Hall of Fame must, at all cost be kept steroid-free, and totally forget about the fact that we have little idea exactly who used steroids.

The greatest victim of this self-righteous demagoguery has been former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. On the basis of his play alone, factoring in things like defense and baserunning, Bagwell was one of the two best first baseman of the last 20 years (the other being Albert Pujols who is still playing) and easily one of the ten greatest to ever play the position. His career WAR of 83.9 compares favorably to players like Hank Greenberg, and places him in the same stratosphere with Lou Gehrig, Pujols, and Jimmy Foxx (all better than Bagwell FWIW). On the merits of his career, Bagwell is an absolute no-brainer as a Hall of Fame candidate. Additionally, Bagwell has never been linked to steroids, even circumstantially. He never tested positive and he was never even mentioned in baseball’s infamous Mitchell Report. Yet, Bagwell only appeared on 56% of ballots in his second year of eligibility (after appearing on 42% his first year), well short of the necessary 75% to achieve Hall of Fame status. This is an absolute travesty.

There are two pieces of information generally used to tie Bagwell to steroids. One is that he had big muscles and the other is that his major league numbers far surpassed his minor league totals. Both issues have been addressed by numerous other writers so I won’t go into them here except to point you towards the excellent work done by ESPN’s David Schoenfield and the whole crew at Fangraphs on the subject. The minor league numbers can be explained by the fact that Bagwell was generally young for his level and that many of the parks he played in as a Red Sox farmhand were black holes. Other players who performed comparably to Bagwell in the same parks include Mo Vaughn and Jon Valentin, neither of whom were as good as Bagwell, but did hit for power once they reached Fenway.

As for Bagwell’s muscles, any tenth grader can tell you that correlation does not imply causation. Absent some kind of proof that Bagwell absolutely did use steroids (like a positive test) comparing what he looked like in his 30s to his minor league rookie card is a fool’s argument. There is no doubt that the major league Bagwell was a much more muscular man than the 19 year old minor league Bagwell. That said, taking that to mean that Bagwell used steroids is not only idiotic, it’s borderline slanderous. Was Bagwell muscular? Yes. Could he have obtained that type of musculature through a rigorous workout regimen and a specialized diet absent the use of steroids? Absolutely.

Voters who leave Jeff Bagwell off their ballots in the name of keeping the Hall of Fame “clean” — conveniently ignoring the racists, drug addicts and all around terrible human beings already enshrined or the fact that someone who may have used steroids may already be in — are either dumber than high school students or the worst kind of self-righteous twats imaginable. Are these really the type of people we want deciding who we celebrate? So, why not make Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Fame voter litmus test? If you’re either too dumb or too douchey to vote Bagwell into the Hall of Fame, you really shouldn’t be voting at all.