Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series has cast several non-white actors, and Very Online people are upset.

Beregond, a Gondorian soldier, depicted with dark skin in Lord of the Rings Online

This week Amazon Studios finally announced (most of) the cast for their blockbuster Lord of the Rings prequel series. The cast is a lot of unknowns, a couple Game of Thrones veterans, and mostly young actors.

Some people are upset that the cast seems to be more like a teenage melodrama than a high fantasy series, though we don’t know what characters the young actors are playing, how old they are supposed to be, or what they will look like in full costume and makeup.

Some people are upset that some of the cast are “fatties” (none of the cast are “fatties”), as if in a fantasy world of talking dragons, magic rings, and half a dozen species of humanoids, that everyone must necessarily be of an ideal height and weight.

But most of the criticism from the Trollshaws of the internet is that there are non-white actors in the cast. Seriously. Of the 15 cast members announced, one is Persian, one is Puerto Rican, one is African-Persian, and none of them have particularly dark skin. Although complaints about diversity in Hollywood are not new and are self-evidently pathetic, the detailed lore of Tolkien’s world gives artificial cover for these kind of arguments, so a specific rebuttal is required here.

Ismael Cruz Cordova, one of the cast of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings

Tolkien was very specific about the geography and demographics of Middle-earth and its inhabitants. Although we don’t yet know exactly who will be portrayed in the Amazon series, most have assumed based on official maps that the story will focus on the Second Age and its conflicts between Elves, Men (and women) of Numenor, and Sauron’s corruption and manipulation of the latter to its downfall. (No Hobbits this time – sorry.)

The Numenoreans are a line of men descended from the Edain, the first men in Middle-earth and since-sundered Beleriand. In The Silmarillion, the Edain are never physically described, though they are said to have been “a mingled people” not long after they were first discovered by the elves. In The Peoples of Middle-earth, the First House of the Edain was described as having a range of skin colors from “fair to swarthy.” None of the other Houses of Men in the First and Second Age are physically described except their hair and eyes.

Some of the comments about the race of the actors tried to qualify their critiques by saying it would be fine if they played Haradrim or one of the other “exotic” races of Men found in Tolkien’s lore. However, Haradrim, who are described as “swarthy” in The Two Towers (like some of the Edain), were descended from those very men who became the Edain. The only difference is the distance on the family tree and their habitat. There is no reason a person in Numenor couldn’t be just as dark as one in Harad.

Haradrim, as portrayed in Lord of the Rings Online

So, to recap, we don’t know who any of the actors are playing, we know that Men of Middle-earth had a range of skin tones based on where they are from, and we know the people of Middle-earth moved around quite a lot of over the several thousand years of known “history” written in the various books, therefore it is entirely possible that almost anyone in the upcoming Prime Video series had any skin color imaginable.

So why do people rigidly fill in the blanks on the physical appearance of races and characters that aren’t specifically described? It may be natural to assume that a fictional character has traits that match the reader unless otherwise stated. But to loudly whine when a new visual depiction doesn’t match your imagined version with no textual basis? Kind of pathetic.

Even if all of Numenor were described as “pasty white”, why is it important to anyone that every actor portraying them is of European descent? Why is physical appearance more important than acting ability? Similar controversies have erupted over casting non-white actors in such serious literary adaptations as The Little Mermaid and Star Wars.

Although I’m unfamiliar with the source material and thus cannot provide the same level of rebuttal, the same critiques were leveled against the cast of The Witcher series on Netflix.

The ultimate example of diversity-over-fidelity casting is, of course, Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, himself a Puerto Rican, cast the entire slate of Founding Fathers, from Washington to Jefferson with black and brown actors. Miranda did this to add an extra level of irony to his hip-hop musical about 18th Century slave-owners fighting for freedom and legacy. We all know the people being portrayed were very, very white, but we don’t care, because they are portrayed so masterfully, in the original cast by such legends as Christopher Jackson and Leslie Odom Jr.

Regardless of the reason a non-white actor is cast in a role, whether that role has traditionally been white or not, it doesn’t matter. If the diverse actors cast in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings do a good job portraying their characters, it shouldn’t matter what color the actor’s skin is. I don’t care if Elrond Half-elven of Rivendell son of Eärendil himself is played by an actor of color, as long as that actor inhabits the very essence of the character and chews scenery like a spoiled puppy.

Best Albums of 2019

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The 2010s found its Kurt Cobain in the form of a tiny California teenager in baggy shirts and fluorescent hair dye. Her sound is a combination of Lorde and Lana, but her songs, produced by her brother, Fineas, is transcendent and unique. The ’20s are going to be Billie’s to conquer if she wants it.

Dermot Kennedy – Without Fear
An Irish singer-songwriter whose acoustic-based love songs sound ripe for primetime network TV, but underneath the heavy beats and gravely crescendo of his voice is the wisdom of adventure, love, and loss.

Bring Me the Horizon – amo
“This shit ain’t heavy metal.” No, it’s so, so much better. When you strip away the unrelenting scream of your early material, add melody, texture, strings, synths, and come-as-you-are unconditional love, you get the album of your career. This album is a mood.

Tool – Fear Inoculum
It took 13 years, but it was well worth the wait. While not the visceral emotional journey that 10,000 Days was, Fear Inoculum is Maynard, Adam, Danny, and Justin at their synchronous best. The songs are long, the drums are fast and hard, the bass is gut-churning, and the riffs are face-melting. While “7empest” was the breakout Grammy-nominated surprise, the 4-minute instrumental bridge in “Pneuma” may be the best music they’ve created in 20 years.

Continue reading

The Ubiquitous Lie About Justin Amash’s Voting Record

While reading this excellent long-form profile of Justin Amash’s recent quitting streak and where he goes next, I came across this whopper from a GOP consultant in his state (emphasis mine):

For a time, said Sellek, Amash fit that desire for a congressman who got stuff done—he was quite good at spending time in his district and meeting with his constituents—but as he began growing vocally anti-Trump, “that kind of unique principled stance of voting no on nearly everything has worn thin with voters over there. He was already facing growing opposition from inside just the community of Republicans and business in West Michigan who were looking for a representative in Congress that was trying to get end results that benefited the community, instead of using their representation purely as a philosophical standing point.”

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Amash has always been “vocally anti-Trump”, but we can assume Sellek means this year when Amash left the House Freedom Caucus, came out for impeachment, and left the GOP. So has Amash voted “no on nearly everything” (read: against Trump and “the community of Republicans and business in West Michigan”)? Not just no, but fuck no.

Continue reading

Democrats want to scrap the Electoral College so candidates will campaign in all 50 states. They already do.

One of the many ideas around which Democratic presidential candidates are rapidly coalescing is the elimination of the Electoral College, our system for electing the president. They have several arguments in support of their proposal, but the primary one is that because of the “red” and “blue” nature of most states, candidates only campaign in a handful of swing states and ignore the rest of the country.

This is simply false.

Continue reading

These US senators no longer qualify as legislators

The job of the House of Representatives and Senate is to pass legislation and send it to the President for approval. It is not the job of legislators to only pass legislation that the President says he will sign. The Constitution specifically allows Congress to make laws that the President doesn’t sign by overriding his veto with a supermajority in both houses.

The recent Shut-Show, the longest partial shutdown of the federal government, proves that many US senators are no longer legislating. They are so beholden to the whims of the chief executive that they will only vote for bills that he vows to sign. This is exactly the opposite of what the Founders intended.

On December 20th, the Senate passed a continuing budget resolution to fund the government through February. They passed it by voice vote, without taking a roll call, so in effect it was a unanimous approval. Not one senator opposed the measure enough to send it to a recorded vote.

Immediately after the Senate did their job, President Trump demanded wall funding be added to the measure, so the House Republicans obliged and voted for government and wall funding 217-185, with only two weeks left in their term before the new class of Democrats were sworn in January 2nd. Although Republicans still controlled the Senate, they didn’t have the 60 votes it would take to pass a new resolution with wall funding. So the government shut down.

Since the President vowed to veto any bill without wall funding, it took the Senate until January 24th to even bring a bill to the floor. The clean bill with no wall failed with only 52 of the 60 votes needed, with these senators voting against:

  • Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Blunt (R-MO)
  • Boozman (R-AR)
  • Braun (R-IN)
  • Capito (R-WV)
  • Cassidy (R-LA)
  • Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Cotton (R-AR)
  • Cramer (R-ND)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • Cruz (R-TX)
  • Daines (R-MT)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Ernst (R-IA)
  • Fischer (R-NE)
  • Graham (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Hawley (R-MO)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Johnson (R-WI)
  • Kennedy (R-LA)
  • Lankford (R-OK)
  • Lee (R-UT)
  • McConnell (R-KY)
  • McSally (R-AZ)
  • Moran (R-KS)
  • Perdue (R-GA)
  • Portman (R-OH)
  • Roberts (R-KS)
  • Rounds (R-SD)
  • Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sasse (R-NE)
  • Scott (R-FL)
  • Scott (R-SC)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Sullivan (R-AK)
  • Thune (R-SD)
  • Tillis (R-NC)
  • Toomey (R-PA)
  • Wicker (R-MS)
  • Young (R-IN)

Less than 24 hours later (just 6 hours after one of his closest advisers was arrested by the FBI 🤔), Trump caved and agreed to sign a bill with no wall. The Senate then immediately passed with another unanimous voice vote the same measure they had rejected the day before.

The only thing that had changed was the President’s mind. But that’s all it took for 44 US senators to table their objection and allow the bill to pass.

These people are not acting as legislators in the spirit of a federal republic under the Constitution. They’re puppets of the executive, stooges of their party, and should be ashamed of their behavior that left a million federal employees and contractors working without pay for more than a month.

Steve King should go, yes – what about the rest?

Steve King has been racist for a very long time. Republicans have been vaguely denouncing him (and then endorsing him) for almost as long.

Ernst (R-IA) endorses King (R-IA) in 2016

Republican leadership in Congress is now moving to censure King in an as yet unspecified way. This is an entirely political decision, not a moral one. For how can it be legitimate outrage when King backs up his racist rhetoric with fairly standard Republican positions?

King’s racism by definition informs his views on issues that affect different races of people in different ways, primarily immigration and civil rights. But those same views are standard conservative fare.

On immigration, Steve King wants to build a border wall, reduce legal immigration, mandate E-verify, and end birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. King’s own bill to restrict birthright citizenship to legal immigrants was cosponsored by 48 other House Republicans (all of them white men).

If King wants to reduce immigration because he doesn’t want Americans replaced by “somebody else’s babies” and Joe Wilson (R-SC) wants to do it because of jobs or the Rule of Law™ or something, the effect is the same – fewer immigrants and new citizens of mostly racial minorities.

On civil rights, Steve King supports mandatory voter ID, voter registration purges, and reduced early and absentee voting. Whether intentionally or not, these policies disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters, and the “problem” they purport to solve are effectively nonexistent.

As a committed white supremacist, Steve King necessarily supports these policies because they reduce the electoral power of people of color. Are the many Republican states who have actually enacted them any better because they’ve convinced themselves that they are protecting “the integrity of our elections”, which isn’t under threat in the first place?

On these issues and more, conservative ideology has been developed gradually over the last 60+ years on a steady diet of “welfare queens” and “anchor babies” and “family values” and “inner city” problems and “tough on crime” solutions. When an otherwise mainstream Republican who hews to this standard conservative rhetoric takes it one step further and talks explicitly about white nationalism, everyone reaches for their pearls, but no one reflects inward.

Condemning, censuring, and removing Steve King is good, yes! Condemning, censuring, and removing President Trump, who agrees with Steve King on everything for exactly the same reasons, would be better. Fundamentally reconsidering policies endorsed by white supremacists because of their white supremacist effects would be best. I’m not holding my breath.

Best Albums of 2018


Chvrches – Love is Dead

Add some live instruments and a feature or two, and the Scottish Cover Faeries come up with their best album yet.


Panic! At the Disco – Pray for the Wicked

The slow evolution from alt-goth twinks to power pop kings is complete. Urie even sounds like Robin Thicke on one song.


Dead Sara – Temporary Things Taking Up Space

Yes, it’s just an EP, but it’s also the most confident songwriting and powerful delivery the garage heroes from LA have released yet. Every song here is better than all the Grammy nominees this year in the rock categories.

Continue reading

I’m jealous of Elizabeth Warren, no matter what her DNA says


As President Trump and other Republicans have been trolling her to do for years now, Senator Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test showing her American Indian ancestry. The data, while satisfying for Warren and her fans, was predictably mocked and maligned by the same Republicans who’ve been literally betting her to do it.

The test showed that Warren, whose family is originally from Oklahoma, does in fact have American Indian ancestry, though it dates back between 6 and 10 generations in the past. The Stanford professor who studied the data estimate that Warren is between 1/32 (8%) and 1/1024 (0.09%) American Indian.

I’ve done DNA tests from both 23 & Me and Ancestry, because I was curious about my genetic makeup as well. The results were wildly divergent, especially with Ancestry’s recent updates to their data pool. But the amount of African and Jewish genetic material was surprising.

23 & Me suggests I am 0.3% Jewish and 0.2% African, Ancestry DNA’s older model suggests a full 3% Jewish and less than 1% African, while Ancestry’s updated model has removed the Jewish and African components altogether. The possibility that I’m more than twice as black (0.2%) as Elizabeth Warren is American Indian (0.09%, the lower estimate) is fascinating, on many levels.

Continue reading

Why conservatives don’t believe in climate change, in one tweet


Republicans often get labeled “anti-science” for their skepticism on climate change. It certainly doesn’t help their cause that some of them resort to absurd conspiracy-mongering on the issue. The issue of scientific apostasy is indeed bipartisan; Democrats also oppose scientific consensus on a whole host of issues.

But on climate change, “scientists” keeps proving Republicans’ point. The IPCC today announced that without massive societal change across the globe, climate catastrophes will be overwhelming within just a few years.

As one meteorologist put it:

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Continue reading

Why not change the role of the Senate instead of dismantling it?


After the last few federal elections, and especially after the razor-thin Supreme Court confirmation vote, many on the left are finding fault with the composition of the Senate, which they say unfairly advantages Republicans. Never mind that Democrats have controlled the Senate and the House for exactly the same time over the last 86 years, just not always simultaneously, and for almost twice as long as Republicans have.


Naked partisanship aside, the complaint is that the two-votes-per-state scheme is undemocratic. Tiny states with more livestock than voters have the same Senate representation as the handful of states with most of the population.

Continue reading