Pop Culture Speculation: How Marvel Got Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Spider-man “Back”

October 26, 2016

So, Marvel recently managed to get the rights to use Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in their Avengers movies, and also managed to get the rights to use Spider-man in their movies with a tighter relationship with Sony. I have some speculations on how they managed to do that.

The key is that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have generally been better known in the comics as Avengers than as mutants. Sure, they have the relationship with Magneto and have been in the Brotherhood at various times, but most of their main storylines were as Avengers. I suspect that Marvel argued that while they don’t have the rights to X-Men characters, they have the rights to the Avengers, and thus characters that were in the Avengers are fair game in, at least, Avengers stories. Fox could have argued that, but since these two characters were well-known as Avengers and less so as X-Men, this was the case that, if they were going to lose it, they would, and losing the case might result in a broader interpretation than they liked. So they let it go, and made sure they put Quicksilver in the next X-Men movie to maintain their right to use those characters even if they were also in the Avengers.

Now, Spider-man has actually been an Avenger for quite some time now, and so I suspect that they went to Sony and made the same argument. Sony would have had a better case for claiming that Spider-man is better known as a solo hero than as an Avenger … but they also didn’t have any team affiliation for Spider-man either, which would lead to the argument that Marvel can use him in a team and they only have his solo rights. Since Spider-man isn’t an X-Man, that doesn’t leave Fox with an opening to argue that they can thus use him, too. Sony also isn’t knocking Spider-man out of the park and isn’t competing as much with Marvel over this stuff, and so likely decided that playing ball and getting the free promotion from Marvel was worth more than they’d get from fighting it, and so gave in.

The evidence for this is that recently Marvel has started adding more and more mutant characters to other teams, particularly the Avengers, and downplayed the X-Men. Kitty Pryde was also with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a while. Deadpool joined the Avengers. They had an entire mixed X-Men/Avengers team for a while. All of these seem aimed at one thing: associating X-Men characters with the Avengers so that Marvel can claim that they can use them in Avengers storylines.

Now, the most interesting character in this is actually Wolverine. He joined up with the Avengers at about the same time as Spider-man … before Marvel started having success with their own movies. Thus, an argument that they just added the character there to get around the Fox rights to the X-Men won’t really fly (like it would for the others). But Wolverine is clearly an X-Man first and foremost. It’ll be interesting to see if Marvel tries to get Wolverine into the Avengers movies, and if Fox will let them get away with that.

Anyway, just speculation. I have no inside knowledge and even lack a lot of outside knowledge here, but it seems to work for me.

Baseball Speculation: Toronto Blue Jays

October 24, 2016

So, the Toronto Blue Jays — the baseball team I follow — lost in the ALCS, and now head into the off-season with a number of free agents. The two most prominent ones are Edwin Encarnacion an Jose Bautista, who have been the subject of discussion for, oh, about the entire season. And the fans have been wondering why neither of them were extended before the season. I have some speculations about that, and the key piece of evidence for them is the signing of Justin Smoak at about mid-season.

At the start of the season, the Blue Jays knew that they’d have to deal with the two of them, and did at least discuss some things with them at various times. But there were two main issues that they had to deal with. The first was that Bautista wanted a pretty significant contract to extend and resign, and the Blue Jays aren’t as free spending as some other teams are. The second is that Encarnacion stated that he wouldn’t negotiate at all during the season.

So, the Blue Jays had to decide if they wanted one, both or neither of them back. There would be a possibility of signing both, but that would depend on what budget they could finagle out of Rogers and what the two players were demanding. With Bautista’s first demand, it was unlikely that they could keep both … but maybe his asking price would come down as the season wore on, depending on how he did. Additionally, it was clear that they didn’t want Encarnacion to be an everyday first baseman — or else he would have been in the mix when Collabello and Smoak were platooning it — and so they knew that he was going to be a DH who occasionally plays first base. This means that in order to have them both back, Bautista had to be a regular player in the field. But his age meant that if both he and Encarnacion got long term deals, at some point they’d have two players that they would be paying lots of money to that were effectively DHs. This, then, seemed to encourage them to only keep one of them. If they were only going to keep one of them, if Bautista could play in the outfield he’d be the more valuable to keep. Otherwise, the already proven DH of Encarnacion would be the more valuable, and possibly cheaper option.

So this meant that they really wanted to see how the two players played this year, at least for the first part of it, before deciding which of them to try to resign. But Encarnacion wouldn’t negotiate during the season, which made that problematic. So I speculate that they decided to wait and see, knowing that they were risking both of them leaving and having to restock in other ways.

And then … Bautista had a season where he struggled, on the field, in the batter’s box, and with injuries. Whether reasonable or not, this gave the impression that Bautista’s days as a regular outfielder were numbered, leaving them in the situation where they would have two DHs with massive salaries and not have a position player out of those combined salaries. This, to my mind, is the point where they signed Smoak. He was a proven platoon at first base, with strong defensive skills and some power, although he wasn’t a particularly good hitter. He’s the perfect player to complement Encarnacion, as he is a competent first baseman when you want Encarnacion DH’ing, and if you want to give Donaldson or someone a turn at DH you can put Encarnacion in at first and take Smoak out without actually losing much at the plate. On the other hand, Smoak doesn’t hit well enough to be a regular first baseman on a team that’s trying to compete, which is the role he would have to have if you kept Bautista as the DH. Thus, I think that at mid-season the Blue Jays focused on Encarnacion, and aren’t all that interested in bringing Bautista back.

The possibility of getting Joey Votto adds another interesting wrinkle. If the Blue Jays thought that they might be able to get him — I think that would require a trade, though — then he fits the Encarnacion mold as well, since his position is first as well.

If the Blue Jays get neither, then Smoak is an excellent throw-in in a trade for a team that wants a solid first baseman who’s under contract.

Anyway, that’s my speculation on the matter. We’ll see who the Blue Jays manage to land over the off-season.

First Thoughts on Friday the 13th, The Series

October 21, 2016

So, I was actually looking at commentary on one of the early Friday the 13th video games, and ended up being reminded of an old TV show Friday the 13th, the series. I then managed to pick it up on Amazon, and have started watching it when baseball isn’t on (essentially, 1 – 2 episodes an evening). So far, I’m through the first two disks of the first season, and am actually enjoying it.

The pilot episode was, well, a bit rough. The plot didn’t have the oomph and detail of later episodes, and the acting was stilted in places. About the only thing it had going for it was that it featured an early role for Sarah Polley, who might well have turned in the best performance out of the entire cast. But, overall, the pilot wasn’t a particularly good episode.

However, the episodes I’ve seen after that have gotten a lot better. The acting has improved, but the best part is how all of the primary characters — Jack, Ryan and Micki — have fit in together and formed some good chemistry. In the first episode, the various roles weren’t really clear, but now we pretty much know where everyone fits: Jack is the, well, Jack-of-All-Trades and usually the person who explains the history and significance of the objects, Ryan does the heavy physical lifting and is the joker, and Micki is, at least in the early episodes, the person who doesn’t really want to be doing this, and who is probably the most freaked out by all of it — Jack has the experience and Ryan seems to find it cool — but who overcomes that to live up to her responsibility. She also shows herself to be quite clever at times, even if she falls into the damsel in distress role a few times.

And all of them relate to each other pretty much the way they ought to. They clearly care about each other, tease each other, and annoy each other at pretty much the right times. Their performances seem to almost always reflect that, even when they’re dealing with other things.

There are times when the dialogue and performances are still stilted and awkward, but it’s a great improvement over the pilot. Sometimes the plots move far too quickly and you end up at the end of the episode missing the development of, well, everything. But overall, it’s an entertaining show, and I’m enjoying watching it.

Is an Evil God as Plausible as a Good God?

October 19, 2016

Jerry Coyne has made a post linking to a video by Stephen Law that argues that the standard free will defense for God allowing us to act in evil ways would also work to justify an evil God. He posits that there might be an evil God who wants us to suffer and that might be the God who created everything. He then notes that the first counter to that would be that we’d imagine that the world would contain a lot more suffering than it actually does if that way the case, at which point he uses the “free will” defense to say that just as we can posit that a good God allows us to choose evil as an unfortunate but necessary consequence of us having free will, the evil God can allow us to choose good as an unfortunate but necessary consequence of us having free will. Thus, the free will defense allows us to justify both an evil and a good God, and so cannot be used to choose between them.

The first issue here is that it ignores the idea that allowing humans to have free will is, in fact, good in and of itself. If it is better for humans to have free will than it is for us to be nothing more than the willing puppets of God with the illusion of actually making free choices, then we can easily see why a good God would allow us to have free will and even why a good God would accept us acting evil out of that free will, but it’s difficult to see why an evil God would give us that great good in the service of willing evil acts. So, if we stick strictly to good and evil here, a good God would give us free will because giving us free will is in and of itself good, but it seems inconsistent for an evil God to give us such a great good. To oppose this, you either need to show that free will is not a good, or that it facilitates in some way some great evil. Both of those would be daunting tasks, to say the least.

However, as I’ve already discussed, talking about “good” and “evil” is almost always too vague. We need to work out what we mean by “good” and “evil” to really work this out. Even Law assumes that his evil God really wants to increase our suffering. So let’s compare, then, a moral God who wants us to act morally to a sadistic God who wants us to suffer. Since being moral requires us to have free will and the free will to choose to act morally — an argument that Coyne, at least, can’t oppose since he thinks that if we don’t have free will then the concept of morality is meaningless — we have a good reason for a moral God to want to give us free will. This doesn’t seem to work for the sadistic God. After all, if the sadistic God really wanted us to suffer, he could just turn us into self-aware puppets with a strong innate moral fiber, with the ability to understand that what we are doing is wrong, but being unable to stop ourselves from doing it. This world is not like that. Additionally, if we are given the free will to stop hurting each other, then we might, in fact, all just go ahead and do that, leaving a world with a lot less suffering. This doesn’t in any way promote the sadistic God’s plans. One might argue that allowing us to act immorally might mean that all of us might choose to always act immorally and so contradict the moral God’s plans just as much, but it is clear that the moral God needs to risk that in order for us to act morally at all. The sadistic God does not need to give us free will in order to make us suffer.

But wait, I can hear some of you cry! Aren’t you pulling a bait and switch here? Why are you comparing a moral God to a sadistic God? Why aren’t you comparing a moral God to an immoral God, a God who wants us all to act immorally all the time? After all, the immoral God requires us to have free will just as much as the moral God does. So, let’s take a look at that case.

In order to assess this, we first need to decide what it means to act morally. Let’s first consider the case where what it means to act morally is to act according to what God says is moral. In this case, then, moral God wants us to act according to the moral rules that he has defined, while immoral God wants us to violate those rules, well, pretty much all of the time. At this point, immoral God seems to be drifting towards “insane God”, setting up rules that he deliberately doesn’t want us to follow. The best we could say about this is that it might be a God that is encouraging us to think for ourselves … but since that might mean that we act according to the rules or not according to the rules as we see fit we no longer have an “immoral” God, but instead a God that allows us to make our own choices, and thus a “free will” God. But a free will God has little reason to make moral rules in the first place. Thus, an immoral God under this model seems rather implausible, as either it has to be advocating against follow its own rules, or ends up as a God that doesn’t really want us to act immorally at all.

Next, let’s look at moral relativism. Here, the moral God would want us to act according to and consistently with our own ideas of morality, while the immoral God would want us to, in fact, act against those assessments. But giving us the ability to assess the situation morally flies in the face of that. Why care about morality at all if we aren’t supposed to follow it? It’s difficult to imagine a reason why an immoral God would, again, want us to have any moral capabilities at all in that case. So we’d have to retreat to God wants us to suffer or God wants us to make choices. Either way, the immoral God seems out of the picture.

Finally, let’s look at there being an objective morality that is independent of what God thinks is moral (ie it’s not just defined by what God says is moral). A moral God would want us to follow it, while an immoral God would want us to violate it. But we have to ask why, in fact, each of them would want us to do that. A moral God can appeal to either the idea that as moral agents — created as such by God — it is our natural duty to try to act morally, or the idea that it is better for us to act morally. The immoral God can’t appeal to the idea that it is our duty to act immorally if we are created as moral agents, and if we are not created as moral agents we are amoral, not immoral. Again, in that case it would be better if they hadn’t created us as moral agents at all, and if immoral God doesn’t create us as moral agents, then it doesn’t need to care about morality — or free will — at all. However, immoral God can appeal to the idea that it is better for us to reject that objective morality and so that’s why we should act immorally, as well as why we should have an idea of what is moral, so that we know what to avoid. But then we can sub back into the original question and note that that’s not an evil God anymore. On that argument, both moral and immoral God are advocating that we do what it is in our own best interest, which is, therefore, a good God. Their disagreement would be over whether being moral is good or whether being moral is bad for us. And most of us, by default, are going to side with being moral being good.

Thus, Law’s argument doesn’t work. Evil or immoral Gods tend to either not care about being moral or end up being good Gods of some sort anyway, and always end up being less plausible than good Gods. This does not mean that we have good Gods and don’t have evil Gods, it just means that this little quirk on the Problem of Evil doesn’t work to establish the point Law is trying to make here.

Hugo Awards Assessment: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

October 17, 2016

I’ll start with the short summary: if I was reading this just for enjoyment and not as something to analyze, I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. However, it still is a deeply flawed book.

Since my comments will contain spoilers for a fairly recent work, the detailed analysis is below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on “Civil War”

October 14, 2016

So, I recently managed to watch “Captain America: Civil War”. My thoughts on it will contain spoilers, so I’ll put it below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Insert Standard “Price is … ” Headline Pun Here

October 12, 2016

So, late last season, the Toronto Blue Jays traded for David Price. While he was definitely instrumental in their making the playoffs that season, he was pretty much a bust in the playoffs. Still, he was strong enough in the regular season that many Blue Jays fans wanted them to resign him for this season. For whatever reason — likely just that the salary and years he wanted were just too much for the Blue Jays to swallow — they didn’t really pursue him and he ended up signing in Boston. The Blue Jays, instead, resigned Marco Estrada and brought back J.A. Happ, neither of which caused any excitement among Blue Jays fans.

Price jokingly commented that he was saving all of his playoff wins for Boston. Now that the two ALDSs are over, let’s see how he worked out compared to the two pitchers who could be put up as his replacement in Toronto. Actually, given salary commitments, it’s arguable that the two of them replaced him, meaning that we don’t even have to really choose which one is the best comparison. But feel free to do that if you want to.


David Price struggled in his one playoff start, a game that Boston lost 6 – 0. He only pitched for 3 1/3 innings. Even worse, that was Game 2, which meant that after their Game 1 loss Boston was facing elimination in Game 3 and facing having to win all three of the remaining games to win the series, so he not only lost, but lost a critical game.

Marco Estrada was brilliant in Game 1, a 10 – 1 Blue Jays win. He almost pitched a complete game shutout, leaving after 8 1/3 innings. Most importantly, he allowed the Blue Jays to rest Roberto Osuna, who had left the Wild Card game with stretching in his shoulder. Osuna would go on to close out the remaining two games of the series.

Happ, on the other hand, gave up a lot of hits in his 5 innings of work, but only one run. The Blue Jays ended up winning that game 5 – 3, which put them up 2 – 0 heading home, where they closed out the series.

No matter how you compare them, in terms of this playoff run Estrada and Happ clearly outperformed Price. And that’s not even taking the regular season into consideration, where both of them were solid starters for the Blue Jays the entire season. Maybe not signing Price wasn’t such a bad move after all.

Now we can turn our attention to debating Jose Bautisa and Edwin Encarnacion …

And the winner is …

October 10, 2016

… Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, along with Record of Agarest War and Record of Agarest War 2.

I still wanted to play on the PS3 or PS4, because, well, it and the Vita are the easiest to play while watching TV, and the next couple of months will have lots of sports to watch, and I didn’t want to have to sacrifice one for the other. I also knew that I’d always be able to have something on TV no matter what, so it just generally worked the best. But I kept wanting to play Dragon Age: Origins again, but kept balking when faced with the fact that I’d want to play the entire series and that would mean that I’d have to play Inquisition again. I also considered Mass Effect, but while I could tolerate ME2 and ME3 better than DAI, I also didn’t want to play those games as badly. I considered the Persona games — starting from Persona — but wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy the first two games. I also considered a mix of games, but finally remembered that I had Valkyira Chronicles and that it might be fun, and also that while Record of Agarest War was grindy, grinding while watching sports wasn’t all that bad. Thus, the decision.

I started playing Valkyria Chronicles on Saturday. The game is … interesting. The gameplay is unique, as the combat is a hybrid of turn-based strategy and shooter. You select a squad member to “activate” in turn — as long as you have Command Points — and then you get dropped into essentially a shooter, where all enemies that can shoot at that character do shoot at that character, unless you drop into an action mode — like shooting an enemy — at which point the game pauses. And when the enemy is moving, your soldiers get to shoot at them. Thus, I learned in the second combat mission that sometimes it’s best to not activate some of your soldiers because then they will only get shot at during actual enemy combat actions, but will indeed still get to shoot at the enemy as they move. Sure, you might be able to do more damage if you get to shoot during both phases … but you take damage then, too.

That being said, that I had to replay the second mission so many times suggests that the combat might end up being too hard for me to finish the game.

I’m not that fond of the graphics in the cutscenes, with semi-realistic anime figures over almost crayon-drawing backgrounds. But the characters seem interesting, at least. And you get to fill out a squad with characters that not only have their own classes, and not only have their own properties that give bonuses in certain cases, but also like some of their squadmates, which presumably also gives some bonuses. That’s an impressive amount of personalization of those squadmates. The only thing that would make it better, at least for me, would be the ability to create your own squadmates.

Anyway, we’ll see how the game goes, and if I manage to get into/through the Agarest War games after that.

(If anyone is wondering about the context for this post, it’s here.)

P.Z. Myers: Still Not Reading …

October 7, 2016

Okay, this is definitely more “schadenfreude” than an actual serious post, but I’ve talked before about how P.Z. Myers — and others — don’t read posts and articles before mocking and being outraged by then. Well, late yesterday, Myers made a post about the upcoming FIDE Women’s World Championships, which will be held in Iran, which has a law that says that women must wear a hijab. His post asks “what about the men?”:

Hey, I say, what about the men? Shouldn’t the male grandmasters also be announcing their solidarity with their colleagues?
Perhaps male chess players tend to be insensitive sexists who don’t care what happens to the women players. Or perhaps they are cowards who are relieved that the theocratic rule is going to eliminate much of their competition. Or perhaps journalists assume that only women can get outraged at discrimination against women.

And in a later comment, he adds:

That it’s the Women’s World Championship only makes it more of an outrage that FIDE decided it was fine to hold it in Iran.

But as was pointed out in the comments:

It’s the Women’s World Championships, so men can’t attend and so can’t boycott (that’s what the later comment was acknowledging.

Some male Grandmasters are protesting it. The discussion of Nigel Short was in the first link Myers gave.

Not reading his own links seems to be the key here, because the CNN link explains why Iran was chosen:

Iran was the only country which made a proposal to host the event, a World Chess Federation (FIDE) spokeswoman told CNN in a statement.

So, the choice was to either have it in Iran … or not have it at all. So it, in fact, wasn’t actually the choice of the organization anyway, and certainly not the choice of the men so that they wouldn’t have to face competition from women.

In fact, the CNN article implies that tournaments have been held in Iran before with the same rules:

“Iran has hosted chess tournaments before and women were always forced to wear a hijab,” Paikidze-Barnes told CNN. “We don’t see this event being any different, forced hijab is the country’s law.”
This, she said, is “religious and sexist discrimination.”

Paikidze-Barnes is the most prominent person objecting to the event being held there. And her demand is this:

She added: “If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating … “

So, they can’t even be in Iran, it seems, even if a compromise is made on what the women can wear while playing.

Let’s answer Myers’ stated and unstated questions, shall we?

Why was it in Iran? No one else wanted it, and while some country now might stand up, it’s probably still not the case that any other country wants it.

Why aren’t the male chess players protesting? They are.

Why is the media focusing on women and not mentioning the men? They are, but since this is the Women’s tournament and so only women can threaten to withdraw, they’re focusing on women and their reactions, both positive and negative (Susan Polgar, for example, has no problem with the restrictions). If they didn’t, Myers et al would almost certainly claim that the articles were ignoring the viewpoints of women to focus on those of men.

Thus, if Myers had actually read what he linked to, he’d have had the answers to his questions, and so could have moved on to more interesting ones, like:

Why was Iran the only country interested in hosting this? For example, why not Canada or some European nation where this isn’t a problem and where there is some interest in chess (more in Europe than in Canada, but there is still some)?

If Iran was indeed the better or only choice, to what degree can FIDE ask that they allow exceptions to their laws? Given the current situation, FIDE needed Iran more than Iran needed FIDE on this. Would it be better to have no tournament than host it in Iran?

Is this more about the women chess players being forced to conform to Muslim modesty standards, or the fact that they have those standards enshrined in law at all? There was a comment that tried to address that last one, but the response was irrelevant at best, with the serious replies ignoring that women going topless in public is still illegal in most of the Western world.

Is it right for Paikidze-Barnes to demand a venue change to a currently non-existent option, or would a compromise work?

How should we deal with major cultural differences, even ones that guide laws?

Does it matter that this is religiously motivated? Should FIDE care about whether the motivation is secular or religious?

If the problem is more that the country itself has laws that some of its members find problematic due to their values, and if that is seen as an issue for FIDE, how do we decide which values require FIDE to take action and which don’t? The argument here is that it violates FIDE’s non-discrimination policy, but wouldn’t that only apply to the members, and not to those in the country?

Look at all the interesting questions we get if Myers would just read the posts he links to!

Sorting …

October 5, 2016

So, when I first started this blog, I had a category called Philosophical Writer’s Guide, which was inspired by the Opinionated Guide at SF Debris. I did a few posts in that category, including the analysis of the Prime Directive and a full-form summary/review/analysis of the revamped Battlestar Galactica mini-series. I also have a category called Not-So-Casual Commentary, which started as a bunch of video game columns for a now defunct gaming site. Lately, I’ve started including movies and books and other things in the latter category, which left me wonder what there was for the previous category to do. Do I need both categories? Should I just put everything into “Not-So-Casual Commentary”?

Now I’m doing my in-depth Hugo analysis, and as I look back I note that the Philosophical Writer’s Guide includes a number of posts where I analyze the writing of works more in-depth. While I sometimes do stuff like that for video games, Not-So-Casual Commentary tends to be more, well, commentary, either quick discussions or discussions that focus on more than just the writing. Given that, I’ve made a decision on how to divide the content among the two categories:

1) Philosophical Writer’s Guide will contain posts where I get into the details of the writing or story or plot/characterization concepts used in a work. This will include the Hugo Award analysis posts. However, it will exclude commentary on video games.

2) Not-So-Casual Commentary will contain posts about video games, and then posts that either address all aspects of a work, or more shallow discussions of a work and what it contains.

There may still be some overlap, but that’s why you can put a post into more than one category, I guess [grin]. Hopefully, with this everyone will know which category they want to look at for what sort of content.

Look for the analysis of “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” soon.