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Petyr Baelish

I think that Varys’s description of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish pretty much sums up my opinion of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations. Text reads: he would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.

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In this May 28, 2012 BBC Newsnight interview, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Rylance, and historian Simon Schama discuss Shakespeare’s history plays and their parallels with the modern political scene. Short clips from this interview have been put up here and there, but I was happy to finally track down the longer interview.

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Yeah, that’s right. The king (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) commands you to return your library materials. Sticky note found on library DVD cover.

You wouldn’t expect to get important civics lessons on democracy from a long dead, absolute monarch like Henry VIII and yet that’s what four seasons of The Tudors have underlined for me. With your indulgence, gentle friends, here’s what I’ve learned from the saga of Bluff King Hal and his six wives:

  • The importance of a merit system for the promotion and advancement of government officials or uneasy lie the heads that pander to the crown. One of the overwhelming take-aways from the series is the number of yes-men that Henry surrounded himself with. The surest way to rise was to cater to the king and, as the series opens, we see Henry loading titles and riches onto guys whose only accomplishment is being the king’s buddy. You might think that being the king’s BFF would set you up for life, but Henry was mercurial and more than one high-ranking courtier loses his rank, his liberty, and often his head.  With such a wealth of instructive examples stuck on spikes on the Tower Wall, any noble with an ounce of sense should have stayed away, but without a merit system of appointment, the king’s favor is the only way to get close to the center of power. Lack of a professional civil service and a clear cut chain of command cripples the state as illustrated when Henry is knocked unconscious during a joust and the whole government comes to a halt.
  • The (major league) importance of the separation of church and state. Henry divides his realm by insisting that personal religious belief and patriotism (loyalty to the crown) are one and the same thing. The intrusion of the church into politics and the intrusion of the state into people’s private lives leads to widespread suffering, civil unrest, and persecution.
  • The importance of a system of checks and balances. Corrupt as it was, the power of the Catholic Church served as a counterweight to the power of the king.  Once the power of the Catholic Church in England is broken, there is no way to check his excesses. The king’s decisions are simply rubber stamped by his Privy Council (Cabinet) and the Parliament. The end result is that there is no real rule of law. The law is simply whatever the king decides to be written or re-written and is driven by his moods and his own political considerations.
  • The importance of equality for women. This series has made me re-evaluate the character of Anne Boelyn who is generally known to history as just another one of King Henry’s mistresses.  Historically, even Thomas Cromwell, her political rival, described her as smart, spirited, and courageous. Yet as queen,  the most powerful woman in the kingdom, Anne’s only role as far as Henry is concerned is to bear him a son and wave from the balcony.  To the high spirited, intellectual Anne that must have been unbearably constraining.  Had Henry spent as much time confirming his daughters to the succession instead of chasing a male heir, he could have spared himself a lot of heartbreak and his people a lot of suffering. True, England hadn’t had a female ruler since the Empress Matilda and, in fairness to Henry, he was attempting to advert another civil war, but the irony of the situation is that the British people wind up accepting the rule of his daughter, Elizabeth I, who reigns over them for 40 golden years.
  • The importance of civil rights (right to peaceably assemble, right to petition government for redress of grievances, freedom of the press, etc.). When people in the North of England rise up to protest the dissolution of the de facto social service agencies in the areas (the monasteries), Henry immediately classifies them as traitors and ruthlessly supresses them. The Northerners don’t hate the king and they don’t want to de-throne him, but English commoners have no real voice in government and no legitimate way to halt policies that are doing them harm.
  • The importance of the media (plays and the printing press in Tudor England) in talking about the issues of the time. Although it is only given a couple of off-hand references, one shouldn’t underestimate the role of the new technologies  (e.g. plays and the printing press) in spreading new ideas and reinforcing government policy. Government-sponsored dramatic works were an easy way to communicate with a populace that still had a strong oral tradition. The other advantage of plays was that they operated on a more emotional, less intellectual basis.  The printing press enabled books and pamphlets to be turned out more quickly and in greater quantities. That meant, for example, that sufficiently educated people could now read the Bible in their own language and draw their own conclusions about the text.
  • The importance of the rule of by, of, and for the common people. Was there ever a group that felt more entitled than Henry and his nobles? And were there ever a people so hard done by as the British under his rule? Throughout the series, we see commoners suffering greatly from lack of care, lack of justice, and just a general lack of competent governance while Henry and the rest of the Tudor aristocracy simply don’t give two finger snaps.

So, if you are feeling down in the dumps about our democracy, go ahead and watch The Tudors. I guarantee you’ll be appreciating your basic freedoms a whole lot more–and ready to raise a rebellion against the monarchy–by the end.

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More Game of Thrones fun for a Thursday. Sure, Evil King Joffrey (played brilliantly by the young Jackie Gleeson) is a total rotter, but who can blame him given his family background? Let’s face it, if Westeros had family therapists, the Lannisters alone would be able to provide them with full-time employment.

I’ve been waiting for someone to make a connection between the politicians of “Game of Thrones” and the 2012 presidential candidates since the series came out.

Not entirely GoT-related, but appropo I thought. The soup of the day at the King’s Landing cafe.

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Consider this post “Amusing Picture Friday: the Occupy Edition.”

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week or so, you can’t have failed to notice the launch of Sarah Palin’s new book, “Going Rogue“.  I have read her much anticipated tome and recommend saving your money and borrowing someone else’s copy.  Books by politicians tend to fall into one of two categories—a statement of their political views and/or policies or a memoir of their life and a defense of their actions. “Going Rogue” is a mix of the two, performs badly on both counts, and is ultimately unsatisfying as a result.

That’s a shame because “Going Rogue” had the potential to be a very compelling book. Sarah Palin’s meteoric rise to fame, first as governor of Alaska and then as the first female Republican vice-presidential candidate, captured everyone’s interest and her behind-the-scenes account of the 2008 campaign could have been a rip-roaring good tale. Would a different ghost writer, someone less polemic than Lynn Vincent, been able to coax the story out of her? It’s hard to say.

Likewise, a straight forward account of her conservative principles and her take on politics of the day would have had a smaller, but equally interested audience. Unfortunately, “Going Rogue” mixes a generalized account of her life and career with political screeds and the end result ranges from clashing to completely unbelievable. Are we really supposed to buy, for example, that she urged her daughter Bristol to put off starting a small business until Obama was out of office? Sheesh.

The publication of “Going Rogue” has set off an avalanche of refutations and fact checking.  A list of links follows:

Poltifact factchecks Palin’s book  here

Shushannah Walshe, one of the authors of “Sarah from Alaska”, refutes some of Palin’s claims about the 2008 campaign here

Shannyn Moore offers three of the Alaskans (Anne Kilkenny, John Bitney, and Andrew Halcro) who were bad-mouthed in the book equal time on her show, video segments of which are posted on here on her blog, “Just a Girl from Homer”, and on YouTube. The panel discussion is very civilized. I must say that I’m happy to finally see a group of people who actually understand Alaskan issues and know Mrs. Palin personally talk about this book as opposed to the usual range of vacuous talking heads.

Geoffrey Dunn (Huffington Post columnist) talks here about Anchorage activist Andree McLeod and here about Palin’s former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, also bad-mouthed in the book. Dunn is a regular blogger on the lefty mega-site, the Huffington Post. He also has a book coming out called “The Lies of Sarah Palin” so he obviously has a bias, but the posts are interesting for the counterpoint they provide.

My ratings of other books on or about Sarah Palin:

Avoid “Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment Upside Down” by Kaylene Johnson. It’s a puff piece.

“Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar” by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, two reporters embedded with the McCain campaign, is an excellent book and an engaging read. The authors are sympathetic to their subject, but not blind to her faults and give an even-handed account of her career and the subsequent fall-out from the 2008 campaign.

To get the bigger picture, I highly recommend “The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election” by Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz. Johnson and Balz had behind the scenes access to all of the players in the 2008 election and give a clear rendering of the major problems with the Clinton and McCain campaigns as well the ups and downs of the Obama campaign. Another very readable and engaging book.

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