TV Shows

The impending tyranny of Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys riding into winterfell with a smug look as dragons fly overhead
Courtesy: Hotstar

Spoilers ahead:

The new season of Game of Thrones aired today and the highlight of the episode was Jon discovering his true parentage and right to the iron throne. However, the bigger question is what Sam brought up when he asks Jon “You gave up your crown for the good of your people. Will she do the same?”.

The important question is not whether Daenerys will let Jon be king. She might, especially since they are pretty much an incestuous couple now in true Targaryen style. Calling themselves king and queen of the seven kingdoms wouldn’t be that hard or take away any power. The question is if Daenerys truly thinks of her crown as something she wears for the good of the people. Of course she keeps talking about making a better world and leaving the world better than how she found it, but it’s always a secondary theme in her stump speech. The primary theme is always “I am the rightful queen of the seven kingdoms” and “kneel or burn”. In her head, she is justified in most of her actions because she was wronged as a child and hunted, sold and abused across the narrow sea for a good part of her life. In many ways, many of her actions were justified, but what happens when the justifications run out and she still needs to rule and act?

What happens after they win the great war and Daenerys is on the throne in peace, a peace she brought? If she and her dragons play a pivotal role in defeating the Night’s King, she would quite naturally see herself as the savior of the seven kingdoms and beyond, in addition to being the rightful queen. Post that, if she runs into a group of people somewhere who do not want to kneel to the dragon queen, what will she do? What will she do when her dragons eat children, as they have done before? If she and her dragons rule over King’s Landing in perpetuity, will the occasional dragon kill of a citizen or a child be considered the price of the dragon queen’s protection? A sacrifice for the greater good?

The show has enough insight into her thinking to make reasonable predictions and what we know doesn’t make the future look rosy for Westeros. Let’s detail it out.

1. What does Daenerys believe in?

Don’t need to work hard to figure this one out. Here’s a direct quote:

“Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen. The world hadn’t seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn’t crossed the sea, any sea. They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will.”

Extrapolate this a bit with references to how she defeated the Night’s King and saved humanity and you can underscore and bold that last bit about being born to rule.

Food for thought – If she was born to rule, and lived up to to that promise so splendidly, wouldn’t she naturally consider any future children to have a similar birthright to rule and believe in themselves and nothing else? Would they have grown up in humbling circumstances like hers to temper that sense of entitlement?

2. How deeply does Daenerys think of the fate of her people after her rule is ended?

Not much. Tyrion has raised the question of succession a couple of times and the reception wasn’t great.

Quote:

“Tyrion Lannister: Because I believe in you and the world you want to build. But the world you want to build doesn’t get built all at once. Probably not in a single lifetime. How do we ensure your vision endures? After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?
Daenerys Targaryen: You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I’m dead?
Tyrion Lannister: You say you can’t have children. But there are other ways of choosing a successor. The Night’s Watch has one method, The Iron born folk, although many flaws
Daenerys Targaryen: We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown.
Tyrion Lannister: Your Grace, I saw hundreds of arrows fly towards you when you fought on Blackwater Rush, and I saw hundred of arrows miss. But any one of them could have found your heart and ended you.
Daenerys Targaryen: You’ve been thinking about my death quite a bit, haven’t you? Is this one of the items you’ve discussed with your brother in King’s Landing?
Tyrion Lannister: I’m trying to serve you by planning for the long term.
Daenerys Targaryen: Perhaps if you’d planned for the short term, we wouldn’t have lost Dorne and Highgarden. We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown.”

Her priorities seem quite clear from this exchange: Daenerys’ conquest of Westeros > Good of the realm

3. How steady has Daenerys’ moral compass been, especially as she grew in power?

Daenerys has done a lot for the downtrodden. She’s freed and saved thousands of slaves. However, what about excesses from her side?

At Slaver’s Bay, she was justifiably angry when the slavers crucified slave children to send a message to her, but what did she do in response? She crucified all the masters without differentiating between them. She assumed her enemy is a homogenous entity, equally complicit in a collective crime, only they weren’t. As explained by Hizdahr zo Loraq the son of a crucified master who joins Daenerys on the show and explained in more detail in the books, many of the masters she crucified were ones who fought against the murder of the children and were reformists who fought with their own people. They were crucified just like the children they tried to save, only by a different monster this time.

After the battle of the gold road, Daenerys chooses the shock and awe of burning two men to death over imprisonment or taking the black, in order to send a message. Did she really need to burn both? Couldn’t she kill the father and imprison the son at least? Or if she really had to execute them, weren’t there more humane ways to do it? Dragon fire isn’t a mandatory circus trick to please the audience.

Now you might justify this saying this was war and such things happen, but does Daenerys introspect about her own crimes or brutality? She used to, but it’s clearly changing now.

For example, her dragons once burned and ate an innocent child and the father brought her the charred remains. A visibly horrified Daenerys locked up her dragons after Jorah explained that dragons don’t know to differentiate between ours and theirs. But later, when the slavers burned her ships and came for her, Dany triumphantly let out her dragons, never to reel them in again. At the end of season 7 when she sees the dragon pit at King’s Landing, she comments on how her family was mistaken to lock up dragons and diminish their own power, a sentiment which has clearly superseded concerns about dragons flying around populated areas and preying on citizens without recognizing friend or foe. At Winterfell, Sansa raises a very relevant question – how are they supposed to feed two armies and two full grown dragons when they have no spare provisions in winter. When she asks “what does a dragon eat anyway?”, Daenerys smugly says “whatever they want”. If Winterfell runs out of cattle, what do you think ‘whatever they want’ becomes? The fact that she cares so little about it, in spite of them having killed a child before is cause for concern.

The disturbing trend evident from all this is that Daenerys is losing her ability to introspect, self correct or even experience remorse for any of her more extreme actions as time goes by, defaulting to her birthright and a belief that dragons can do what they want and in advice such as “you’re a dragon, be a dragon”. Whatever conscience she has now is outsourced to Tyrion, and she doesn’t defer to him like she once used to defer to the advice of Barristan the bold or pre-betrayal Jorah. How long can you depend on other people to check your worst impulses, especially when your own power grows?

Daenerys will undoubtedly win the war and the save humanity, but if the writers continue her story arc in true George RR Martin style, the hero might become the villain. In an interview early on, George RR Martin famously said what he didn’t like about Lord of the Rings was the lack of nuance or shades of grey. He said he was more interested in knowing what Aragorn did after he won the war – did he commit genocide of all the Orcs left alive in Mordor, what was his tax policy, how prosperous was kingdom and so on. In the case of Daenerys, the question is, will she break the wheel, or just stop it with Targaryens on top with an almost absolute belief in a divine right to rule?

There is one way out of course. Daenerys has to die in the great war, leaving Jon Snow aka Aegon Targaryen on the throne, someone who doesn’t really want to be King. I have a feeling he will be more receptive to Tyrion’s advice on experimenting with proto-democracy in Westeros. Daenerys dying would even match the old Azor Ahar prophecy in a way. The original Azor Ahai was supposed to have tempered the sword lightbringer by plunging it into the heart of his wife Nissa Nissa (disturbingly sexist). If I remember correctly, the prophecy is only that Azor Ahai will return and wield lightbringer again, not that he has to kill his wife personally. But maybe it will be an interesting parallel if Jon Snow sends his wife to her death on a dragon during a battle? Or maybe she chooses to do so herself and becomes ‘lightbringer’ with dragon fire? Bran should connect to Weirwoord.net and play The Dark Knight to Dany, so that she can internalize the quote “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” and choose wisely.

If she does and her dragons go as well, maybe just maybe, little Ghost will come out and play with Jon?

 

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Rants, Tech Culture

The internet and the constant appeal to our tribal instincts

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We were having a debate about an article about the supposed demonization (not de-monetisation) of male bonding on a Whatsapp group. The article talked about how popular culture stigmatized men who wanted to spend time with their male friends, rather than their wives. Several people objected saying marriage changes everybody’s lives and women spend less time with friends too and just don’t crib about it. Notice what happened here? The debate was about how this applies to men vs. women although the real issue or topic was actually whether people are demonized for spending time with friends, or maybe about the correct balance between spending time with friends vs. family. However, the author chose to paint it as ‘demonization of male bonding’ and instantly got men and women to debate about it on the basis of gender. I don’t know what exactly to call that – click-bait? attention-bait? debate-bait? I’m going with debate-bait- its got a nice rhyme to it.

How does this help the author or the publication? Let’s break down the formula for getting a large audience for an opinion piece.

  1. A catchy headline that will get a few people to pause the repetitive scrolling motion of their finger on a screen.
  2. An appeal to the reader’s sense of belonging to some group – man, woman, liberal, orthodox, Modi fan, non-Modi fan, patriot who wants the national anthem before a movie, people who should go to Pakistan, you know, simple, undeniably mutually exclusive groups.
  3. Content matter that fills the reader with glee, glorifying their group or talking about how they are victimized by the ‘others’ and prompting them to use it in a battle cry and a challenge to everyone else. This of course gets everyone else incensed enough to counter-attack, for which they will probably read the article to look for loopholes or reasoning flaws or maybe just to share it with a derogatory comment about how the author and his or her group is completely retarded and evil or hypocritical (insert any insult that can be applied to a group at large).

Ta-Da…pretty effective right? Of course, most authors are probably not consciously aware of following a formula. It comes to all of us quite naturally, which is why this formula is so common.

We are still a tribal species at heart, I believe. We evolved as a tribal species and we managed to make up institutions and concepts that helped us find a sense of allegiance to very large groups across distances, even when we don’t know all of them personally. We feel a kinship to our countrymen, people of our religion across countries, people of our social class, people of our skin color, and many other such groupings. But there are still tribes, just that they are a lot bigger and fluid. When you are log onto social media after reading the morning news, you’re ready to shit post on behalf of your political tribe. Once you reach your workplace, you belong to the tribe that goes to coffee together. When you’re watching an IPL match, you’re in another, and on and on it goes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling kinship on the basis of a shared belief system or ‘fiction’ is actually what sets up apart from other primates and lets us co-operate in large groups without knowing each other personally, a point made forcefully by Yuval Noah Harari in ‘Sapiens’. However, it’s important to realize this, because there are other people who do understand this instinctively and use it for their own ends.

Next time you read an article, ask yourself if it is unnecessarily appealing to your tribal nature. Does every topic or issue that applies to you apply to ‘people like you’ or are you just trying to turn it into that? If at all you have to go with the tribe vs. tribe mentality, try to do it with a little more sportsmans spirit, like sports fans or teams who compete based on the basis of these made up tribes but can shake hands or have a beer afterwards. Don’t let your outrage simmer, because that’s what translates into easy votes or magazine sales at your expense.

Privacy

This women’s day, let’s consider how safe it is to let stalkers look up a woman’s name using her car registration number

stalker-following-woman-&-checking-registration-number

I recently came across an app that lets you enter just a car’s registration number and get the owners full name, area where the car was registered, year and model of the car and even the chassis number. I could not believe it till I tried entering my own vehicle number and saw how accurate the information was. Now imagine a pervert on the road wants to stalk a woman or someone they got into a tiff with. All they need to do is use this app to find their name and then look that up to find their social media profiles.

I initially thought maybe its a good idea to keep this a secret but guess what, this app “RTO Vehicle Information India” has 19 K ratings with 4.6 stars and is no.13 in the utilities category in the Indian app store!! And this is hardly the only one. There are dozens of others which offer the same service on both iOS and Android. And its not like the app makers are doing anything illegal. The description of the app I checked says “We show information available in public domain only“. They also go on to say “We do not plan to incorporate phone number or address of users for safety and security purposes“, but how difficult is it to find that information when you can easily look up that person on various social media platforms or LinkedIn to find out where they work? Continue reading “This women’s day, let’s consider how safe it is to let stalkers look up a woman’s name using her car registration number”

Not Yet An Expert

Announcing the ‘not yet an expert’ series of self help and how-to guides

I’m sick and tired of reading articles that give you fitness advise from supermodels, writing advice from best-selling authors and financial advice from millionaires. The click-bait formula is quite simple. Write the most obvious advice possible and slap a famous person’s face on top of it. Of course no one mentions that the difficult part is in sticking to it or you know, being able to pay for an in-house dietician and personal trainer who can stop you from eating a cookie before doing 200 push ups. As if the 50 rupees in your wallet will suddenly turn into 5 crore because you read an article about Warren Buffet’s investment habits. And yeah, the only thing stopping you from getting a size zero figure is not reading a 500 word article about Kareena Kapoor’s daily diet.

The problem with all these advice posts is that they are written retrospectively from the perspective of a very limited number of people who found success but does not give you any idea about how many people tried those methods and failed. For these tips to be called scientific advice, they need to be repeatable and reproducible. When you read one of those advice columns, ask yourself if everyone who follows that advice has achieved the same results or if following that advice will achieve the same results every time or most of the time. The answer is probably no. Everybody who joined that gym or followed that diet plan didn’t end up with 6 pack abs. Everyone who wrote 2000 words per day didn’t become a best selling author. Sometimes you don’t have the resources or time to stick to an exercise regime. Sometimes you can write all you want and it just won’t get published or make money because good luck and timing is often critical for success. How else do you think a crappy novel like Twilight became a bestseller and got turned into a movie? Advice from successful people might be occasionally useful but most of the time, its a good way for them to feel good and make more money rather than you.

In that spirit, I am starting a series of columns and how-to guides from the perspective of somebody who isn’t particularly famous or awe-inspiringly successful. I would say ‘not yet’ successful, to make myself feel hopeful about future success and to convince you that this isn’t akin to sobriety advice from a drug addict. My only qualification for giving advice is that I’m in the same boat as you in most ways but maybe know 1 or 2 things more about one thing or the other. You might learn how to be marginally better at a few things I got marginally better at something and hopefully you can return the favor. I would be very surprised and quite jealous if you become famous at any of these things following my advice. What have you got to lose? Its not like you wrote a best seller last week (if you did, please give this blog a shout-out on social media?). At the very least, we can laugh at each other rather than mope around while somebody on a billboard smiles down at us from unreachable heights.

As of now, I’m planning on writing about some or all of the below. Vote for your pick:

 

 

 

Rants, Smartphones

Stop overreacting. Apple was only trying to stop your phone from randomly turning off

Anti Apple fanboys have been sharing the news about Apple throttling the speed of older phone’s on their walls or commenting about it on all kinds of unrelated posts for weeks now. I get that it’s cool to jump on the bandwagon and a lot of you will just read the headline of this post and call me a fanboy without ever opening it, but just in case you did open it, here goes:

In iOS 10.2.1, Apple made changes in the power management function to prevent unexpected shutdowns when you’re using a phone with an old AND degraded battery. All batteries degrade over time as you run through charge cycles. If you consistently plug the phone in before it runs too low on juice, the battery stays in good condition for much longer- mine is 2.5 years old and in good condition. However if you’re one of those people who waits till your battery is almost dead before charging, your battery probably isn’t in great condition anymore. When your phone tries to hit peak processing power, the battery you abused is not able to provide enough power and your phone turns off suddenly, something I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy. To stop such shutdowns, Apple made a logical choice to stop the processor from hitting those speeds if it looks like the battery won’t be able to power it, but ONLY at such times. It doesn’t slow down your processor all the time unnecessarily. Think of it like your car had a feature that stopped you from going any faster if the whole thing started shaking like a leaf.

Continue reading “Stop overreacting. Apple was only trying to stop your phone from randomly turning off”

Movies

Hugh Jackman gets into Bollywood’s turf in ‘The Greatest Showman’

Before I book a movie ticket, I usually check the rating on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. If the IMDB score is high, I factor in how big the film franchise is to give a lower weightage in my head to the IMDB score in the initial days as I assume most votes are from die hard fans who would vote only one way. I believe I’ve got it down to a science. Of course you might disagree with my choices but judging solely by how happy I am coming out of a movie theater after paying for that overpriced ticket, my system is pretty sound.

Usually, my system keeps me far away from any movie that says ‘musical’ in the description. The aversion started with the 2011 Ralph Fiennes & Gerard Butler movie ‘Coriolanus’, which my roommate and I went to with great expectations. We had seen just a trailer and it looked bad-ass. My roomie got an extra large tub of popcorn and we settled in for what looked like a good movie which started with Gerard Butler sharpening a knife while watching the news on TV. A little later, Ralph Fiennes started giving a speech to his army and started off with what sounded like a Shakespearean quote. Slightly weird but we rolled with it, only the Shakespeare quotes never stopped. For the rest of the movie, both the lead actors kept talking in Shakespearean prose to each other and everyone around them, talking about how they will ‘smite thee down with my sword’ or about the sound of war-drums while wearing Kevlar and shooting machine guns. My roomie forgot all about the popcorn and we just kept asking ‘what the fuck is this’ to each other for 2 hours. We were so mystified we thought of asking the theatre folks if they put the wrong audio track on. Even after the movie we had to Google it to finally believe this was actually what was intended. And the worst thing was all the critic reviews praising the movie. The Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus says: “Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context“. It was about as fitting and relevant as the middle aged uncle next door suddenly speaking only in hip-hop rap would be. Technically I guess Coriolanus wasn’t a musical, but I don’t know what the fuck else to call it. After watching it I decided I’m never watching a Hollywood movie in which people don’t speak in normal English. My resolve was further strengthened when I asked my roomie how another musical he watched with his girlfriend was and he just said ‘Man. Hugh Jackman….Wolverine singing and dancing… WTF”

Continue reading “Hugh Jackman gets into Bollywood’s turf in ‘The Greatest Showman’”

Privacy, Rants

Forget Aadhaar, when did our phone number become mandatory for everything?

Courtesy: A helpful forehead model available nearby, who wasn’t harmed during production

Compared to the rest of the world, Indians assign particularly little value to privacy. Maybe its because we are all used to living in joint families where everyone gets into everyone’s business. In most Indian families, you aren’t allowed to lock your bedroom door till you’re married. And you’re probably not allowed to lock it again after you have a socially acceptable number of kids, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we don’t give a rat’s ass about the government or companies tracking us everywhere. In fact, when a company provides us an option to put a tracker on us through which they can watch us day and night to help us reach where we want or to stay safe from criminals, we all get a warm and fuzzy feeling we haven’t got since the days when our mom used to feed us khichdi and tuck us into bed safely. This is of course why the government and mobile companies can blast us with ‘link Aadhaar’ messages through every online and offline channel possible without sparking public outrage. There is one thing that can terrify Indians about the implications of losing privacy though, and that’s the prospect of actually having to pay taxes. As a result, the prospect of linking Aadhaar to all bank accounts and investment accounts have suddenly made many people seek their fundamental right to privacy for the first time.

You would think the newly privacy aware tax dodging populace would now care about other infringements on their privacy but if you want evidence that isn’t happening, just go buy groceries in any big supermarket or to the mall. The cashier scans the bar code on everything in your cart and then matter-of-factly asks for your phone number. If you ask why, the responses range from a puzzled ‘for billing sir’ to ‘loyalty points’ or ‘warranty’. If you look around, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone immediately gives it.The KFC outlet at an airport domestic terminal asked to scan my boarding pass, saying ‘for customer service’ when I asked why. I wonder what service the customer will get from handing over all that data? A discount? Decathlon asks for your number to keep all your purchases linked to your account and provide warranty using just that information. Some would argue that some of these are legitimate use cases and that you are free to say no. I would agree if you always had that option but worryingly, a phone number is now mandatory in the billing software systems used in many places.

Continue reading “Forget Aadhaar, when did our phone number become mandatory for everything?”