Thoughts on “The Christian Delusion” (The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited)

March 24, 2023

So the last essay in the first chapter is by John W. Loftus, the editor of the work, and where he revisits what he is most famous for, “The Outsider Test For Faith”.  Now, I’ve criticized “The Outsider Test for Faith” myself, and so on reading this chapter didn’t find his defenses all that strong myself.  But why I want to take on the chapter in more detail is because there are some interesting philosophical implications to what he says here … implications that I don’t think he sees.

So, a quick reminder of what the Outsider Test for Faith really is.  Loftus noted that religious people reject the miraculous claims of other religions, and reject the claims of other religions to having truly divine entities, and yet are completely convinced that their miracles are true and their entities are divine.  In addition — and this is the argument that he most relies on — which set of miracles and which set of divine entities they believe in depends greatly on the cultural context they were raised in.  If someone was raised in a Christian culture, they will be completely convinced that Christianity is true and that all other religions are false, but if someone was raised in an Islamic culture, then they would be equally convinced that Islam is true and Christianity is false.  What Loftus’ test asks religious people to do, then, is step outside their cultural context and examine their own religion using the same standards that they use to evaluate and reject the others, and if they do so rationally and honestly he is convinced that they would have to reject their own religion as well and become atheists, with an additional implication that this method is, in fact, why most atheists are atheists, and that if religious people follow his method they will come to reject their religion for the same reasons that atheists reject all religions.

One of my main objections to the OTF is that it fails because religious people don’t reject the religions of other people for the reasons that Loftus thinks and not for the reasons that atheists reject them.  This entire chapter only makes that more clear, because both Loftus and the author of the previous essay, Jason Long, are pretty aggressive in calling religious beliefs ridiculous and nonsensical, but it seems to me that the main reason they — and many other atheists — believe that is because of their attachment to naturalism.  The problem is that no religious person rejects other religions because they are making supernatural claims, as they all accept that at least some supernatural claims are true (the ones their own religion makes).  So Christians do not reject Judaism because it posits miracles, but instead because Judaism does not accept Christ as the Messiah.  And they do not reject Islam because it includes divine entities, but because it, again, doesn’t accept Christ and Christ’s message properly.  And the converse is also true.  Judaism rejects Christianity because it is obvious to them that Christ is not the Messiah (because he didn’t bring peace to the Earth) and Islam rejects Christianity because they do not properly accept Muhammad.  So for the most part, they accept that those religions at least and in general all other religions could be true and are not inherently ridiculous. They just happen to think them wrong because they clash with beliefs they already hold.  So it’s never going to be the case that if they step outside of their own cultural context that they will think of their own religion the same way that atheists do.  They might come to a rejection of their own religion on the basis that from that perspective theirs doesn’t seem more reasonable than the other religions, but that wouldn’t be what Loftus would be advocating for with the OTF … and many of them may well follow the epistemological principle of “Maintain your own beliefs unless you have reason to reject them”, and that kind of minor “Mine doesn’t seem inherently better than other religions” is not a strong enough reason to do that.  At that point, the debate between someone like myself and someone like Loftus is epistemological, and not something that the OTF could settle.

Loftus tries to deal with some objections, and I think these can be sorted into three main categories:  denying that the beliefs of Christians and others are as tightly tied to their culture as Loftus asserts, arguing that even if those beliefs are formed primarily from that culture that doesn’t make them false, and arguing that atheists like Loftus have equally culturally formed and yet equally deeply held beliefs that they are unwilling to give up, and don’t consider themselves irrational for holding.

Let’s look at the first category.  What the objections have pointed out is that Christianity has been successful in areas that are not traditionally and cultural Christian, and that Christians and members of other religions change from the religion they grew up with all the time.  Loftus’ attempts to defend his view against these charges are … underwhelming, to say the least.  Basically, his refutations here end up arguing that those people are not converting rationally and so are not using the OTF at all, and so it’s not a valid objection to his claim.  But this misses the point of the objections.  The point of these objections is that contrary to Loftus’ assertion and assumptions, people come to believe in religions that weren’t part of their cultural background all the time.  Which means that there are perfectly natural mechanisms that would cause a Christian to convert to another religion that don’t involve the OTF.  Thus, if religious people maintain the religion of their culture, they do so because they find that the new religion doesn’t fit their view of the world as well as their original religion, because if it did, as we’ve seen, they would have converted.  What this suggests, then, is that there’s no real need for the OTF for people to convert from the religion of their culture, and so Loftus would have to argue that while whatever method they are using could work, it’s not a proper way to do it and so they would have to use his OTF.  But then Loftus loses the big argument for why the OTF is needed, which is that you have to step outside your cultural context and the beliefs you were raised with to come to the conclusion that your religion is false.  Clearly, these examples prove that isn’t true.  Thus, is argument would have to be that we all ought to do that as a normative claim, and not one that follows from the descriptive idea that we would never be able to assess our own religion in a way that would get us to reject it without doing so.  We definitely could, so why should we use his method other than that he thinks doing so will bring us closer to the conclusion that he wants us to draw?

Let me look next at the idea that they hold beliefs that are equally cultural and equally strongly held without having any better justification for them (whether or not there actually is a stronger justification for them available).  The biggest section of this is an examination of the objections of Victor Reppert, who uses the examples “rape is wrong” and “representative democracy is a better form of government than monarchy”.  Loftus first admits that some of the beliefs we hold that way may not be necessary, but then presents a defense of those specific beliefs from Richard Carrier.  While I won’t go into them in detail, they are basically his standard ones:  someone who considers what a woman who is raped will feel will conclude that rape is wrong, and someone under a monarchy who properly understands democracy would clearly prefer the latter.  The interesting point here is that what Carrier is engaging in here to defend these propositions is in fact clearly apologetics.  He is rationalizing a justification for these beliefs, and those justifications are … dubious, to say the least.  For the first place, that something makes people feel good or bad doesn’t mean that the belief is true.  If a religious person said that the feeling that people get from being religious makes them happy enough and that losing that belief makes them depressed enough that we should hold the religion to be true, both Carrier and Loftus wouldn’t accept that as an argument, so we have no reason to accept it in the rape case either.  And that someone in the past might think that democracy is better doesn’t mean that it is, and they’d reject that sort of argument for religion.  So Loftus’ supposed defenses are the precise sort of rationalization that he wants religious people to give up using his OTF.  So that doesn’t really work to support his point.

And he needs to demonstrate that we can and do hold these beliefs for reasons beyond that we take them from our culture, because any belief that he has to accept he holds because he got it from the cultural context and yet that he doesn’t want to give up opens the door for Christians to say that they treat their Christianity the same way, and so he could not claim that they are necessarily irrational for maintaining that belief simply because it’s one that he rejects and thinks ridiculous.  Especially since the main belief that drives them considering Christianity ridiculous, as I’ve already noted, is their belief in naturalism, and I have raised problems with naturalism (which is why I reject it).  If my and other objections have merit, then Loftus cannot claim that his belief in naturalism is justified, but he would be unlikely to simply reject it.  Ultimately, he considers religious ridiculous because of a belief that he has and religious people clearly don’t.  This changes this all to a debate over fundamental beliefs, which is one that the OTF cannot settle.

Which leads to the final category:  that just because a religious belief is culturally formed doesn’t mean that it’s false.  In order to pull off this argument, Loftus relies on an implicit and at times explicit statement that culturally formed beliefs are not reliable.  He contrasts this with science and even epistemological skepticism which are methods he considers to be reliable.  The problem is cultural beliefs are reliable.  Cultural beliefs become cultural beliefs by standing the test of time.  Yes, some of them could turn out to be false, but that is true of science as well.  And if Loftus claims that science tests and corrects its beliefs, we can see that cultural beliefs are corrected by its own methods as well.  If a cultural belief stops working, the culture will eventually abandon it as we see in the Western world with the shift from monarchy to democracy.  It may take longer for cultural beliefs, but ultimately if a cultural belief stops working it will be abandoned and replaced.  Thus, lots of cultural beliefs are indeed true, some of them are wrong, but for the most part enough of them are true to consider it reliable.  What this would mean is that we are always rational to maintain a cultural belief unless we have good reason to think it false, and as I’ve noted before I don’t think they are.  Loftus could try to argue that science is more reliable, and so we should trust science over cultural beliefs, and science says that Christianity is false.  But even if we accept that epistemology says that we should accept science over cultural beliefs, this would change the debate from us needing to take the OTF to an argument over whether science really conflicts that strongly with religion.  And since I myself have raised philosophical objections to naturalism, it cannot be because of science’s methodological naturalism or else Loftus and myself would be arguing over whether that is valid.

What this means is that as we go through this essay we discover that the OTF is unnecessary.  People change religions and even become atheists without it, and there is little reason to think that their approaches are completely invalid as opposed to being them trying to build the most consistent worldview they can.  At any rate, we don’t need to step outside the culture to change or drop religion.  We all hold cultural beliefs and fundamental beliefs without necessarily having proper justifications for them all the time, and in fact some of those are the very beliefs that cause atheists to consider religion ridiculous, thus reducing the debate to a debate over which sets of those beliefs we should accept.  And finally, a lot of those discussions will be over what epistemology is the right one to use, and we need to settle those questions before we can assess whether the OTF is necessary or even useful.  At the end of the day, the OTF is a method that Loftus promotes because he thinks it will be more likely to turn religious people into atheists, but that in and of itself should make us suspicious of using it unless it really is the right approach … and given the reliability of cultural beliefs I don’t think it is.  Ultimately, then, it is not the case that Christians who refuse to take the OTF are really engaging in a double standard because that’s not why they reject other religions in the first place, and there are a number of good philosophical reasons to be suspicious of it.

Revisiting “House of Demons”

March 23, 2023

I have to admit, I was a little concerned about rewatching this movie after rewatching “Living Among Us” and “Family Possessions”.  I had placed those movies in my box of movies to maybe rewatch, but after rewatching them promoted them to my closet for movies that I likely will rewatch at some point.  Now, I had enjoyed those two movies and I watched them before enacting that system, but I still did enjoy them more than I remembered, and found their flaws less annoying than I had the first time through.  Since one of the main reasons for me to revisit them was to see if my opinion of these three movies had changed now that I have watched more horror movies, this led to me a scary thought:  was the change in my opinion due to my being able to compare those movies to the other movies and appreciate what they did better when I saw what the alternatives were?  And if that was the case, could it be the case that instead of disliking “House of Demons” I might — horror of horrors — end up liking it?

Well, after watching it, I can say that all is right with the world and the world makes sense again.  “House of Demons” still sucks.

We start with a view of some kind of cult living in a house, and then show a group of people at the rehearsal party for one of their friends.  We discover that they were fairly close once, but drifted apart after an accident damaged the brain of another friend leaving him pretty much catatonic.  They all are supposed to stay at the house of the groom’s uncle, which happens to be the place where that cult was in the past.  The movie flips between showing the cult and their ritual and the four of them dealing with each other, until the cult leader and some of his followers end up in this time and strange things start to happen, including a demonic creature running around and them having strange visions about their past.  Ultimately, they have to deal with their personal demons to avoid the disaster that befell the cult while the leader attempts to corrupt one of them to his side to create a bigger sacrifice to allow him to prevent the illness of his brother.

This movie didn’t need to suck, as it has two good ideas.  Either of the ideas could have worked on their own.  If they had simply had this as a ritual that opened up some kind of portal that brought the personal demons of the people to the forefront, that would have worked really well as we would have had an explanation for the events but it could have focused more on them.  They also could have done a pretty good movie with the cult opening up the portals and the fallout from the cult leader’s obsession.  Heck, even combining the two of them would have worked with the cult leader being drawn into the future by their pain and trying to find a way to get back to where he was by manipulating them, as he notes that he feels that his ritual failed because of their situation.  Instead, he only ever interacts with one of them and so isn’t integrated enough with the others to properly intertwine the two stories but is too prominent to work as background and isn’t enough of a threat to work as a villain or threat either.

What this means is that the movie flips between the two stories, which makes the movie a bit incoherent.  What makes it worse is that while they have to flip between those two stories, it also has to flip between the personal demons of the other characters, which leads to some huge shifts in tone, with the one character being threatened by a couple cult members and then we move on from there to the one woman being flirted with by the cult leader.  Doing this also makes it quite difficult to develop the characters properly, and so their personal demons are treated pretty much perfunctorily.  We find out, for example, that the doctor’s parents were very scientific and insisted, for example, that there was no Santa Claus which plays into his ending, but we don’t really get much development for that.  Nor do we get much development of the one woman’s issues with her mother, which means that at the end the clever moment where we see her mother that she feels so inferior in looks to and she doesn’t look at all like she imagines her mother to look is lost because we never had enough development of that arc nor do we see enough of the mother at the end to be sure that that’s what’s happening.  Dropping one of the stories or integrating them better would have given more time to develop these stories better.

This movie also manages to fumble one of its most critical tasks, raising interesting questions about something that viewers normally take for granted but which can turn a movie incredibly boring if it’s fumbled.  In a movie like this, we need to be introduced to the characters and their relationships so that we can understand what the events mean and understand their personal demons for those plots.  This movie does that in the context of the party, but the issue is that the party is incredibly boring because we don’t know enough about these characters yet to care about what’s happening there and the party disconnects their stories from each other which means we find out about them in sequence, not all at the same time.  So there is a real sense where we wonder why we should care about this at all, and we don’t find out anything of enough import to make it worthwhile.  Introducing the main characters and telling us what we need to know about them is indeed something that needs to be done early on and it’s not going to win any real plaudits if you do it right, but doing it wrong sets the absolute wrong tone for the movie which can end up ruining it.  Here, what I would have done is drop the party and have them all arrive at the house, with the minor amount of exposition to explain why they’re all staying there before the wedding, and then have them reveal their issues as they talk to each other without having to meet the fiance, for example, as part of it.  They did do that a bit here anyway so it would have dropped a pointless scene and allowed them to drop hints of the horror issues that they were going to face at the same time.

This movie could have been good.  It had some interesting ideas.  But it just didn’t mix those ideas up properly and so left a mess instead of the tasty treat that it could have been.  I like some of the characters and could have liked them more with proper development, but since that doesn’t happen a lot of their elements come out of nowhere, like the doctor’s resolution of his guilt over the accident and coming up with an operation to help their friend, or the one woman’s willingness to kill her friends until she gets a phone call from her parents.  Sadly, they hint at the friend helping them with their problems but don’t make that part of the full resolution of everyone’s issues, and more could have been done with them facing their shared demons and his spirit attempting to help them through it, which also would have been a great idea.

Suffice it to say, this movie is going back into the box of movies to sell at some point.  It had potential, but didn’t fulfill it.

Next, I’ll be going back to movies that I haven’t already watched.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 6)

March 22, 2023

So now we start on Season 2, after Season 1 ended up being hit and miss.  How will Season shake out?

The first episode is “King Nine Will Not Return”. Here, a pilot wakes up in a crashed WWII plane in the desert, only to discover that all of his crew is gone.  As he tries to look around for them, he doesn’t see much but eventually sees some modern planes in the sky, and knows that he recognizes them from somewhere.  He eventually collapses, and the scene shifts to a hospital where it is revealed that he saw a newspaper headline that a lost plane from WWII had been discovered and just collapsed.  He wakes up, and it is revealed that he was supposed to be flying that plane but had a fever and couldn’t fly, and it never came back.  Thus, it seems that guilt caused his collapse, but when the nurse brings his shoes she empties sand out of one of them.

The issue here is that the episode’s structure causes it to hit the exact issue that the previous season’s episodes had.  As we start with him in the crashed plane in the desert, we know that a twist is coming and so spend all of our time trying to figure out what it was.  I think this episode would have worked a lot better if we’d seen him look at the newspaper headline and collapse, and then had him wake up in the desert.  Then we could have wondered along with him what happened and wondered if he was really here or not, which would have made the “empty sand out of the shoe” scene even more intriguing.  As it is, there’s nothing to indicate that he was really there and given the chain of events there really couldn’t have been any way for that to happen, so it seems like it comes completely out of nowhere.

The second episode is “The Man in the Bottle”.  An antique dealer who is struggling takes pity on an elderly woman and buys a worthless antique bottle from her, and when he and his wife open it it turns out to contain a genie who offers them four wishes, but is careful to note that they need to think carefully about the consequences of their actions.  The first wish they use to test the genie is to fix the broken glass in their display cabinet, which the genie does.  Then they wish for a million dollars in cash, and when the genie grants it they happily give a lot of it away … only to discover that they owe taxes on it and so end up with only $5.  After being admonished again to carefully think about the consequences of their wishes, the owner wishes to be in charge of a country where he can’t be voted out, and is turned into Adolf Hitler at the end of WWII, when the Nazis had lost the war and Hilter was about to commit suicide.  He desperately wishes for the wish to be undone, and it is … but that was their last wish, leaving them with nothing but a repaired display cabinet … and then the owner drops a broom against it, breaking it as well, as the two of them laugh about it.  Outside, the bottle reforms, ready for someone else to pick it up.

I liked the interplay between the owners and the genie, and the genie was delightfully urbane about the whole thing.  However, the genie’s motivations themselves are a bit muddled, making the plot a bit muddled.  I really, really liked the idea of them having to consider the consequences of their wishes and that they gave so much of the money away without thinking about how they’d pay the taxes fit into that perfectly.  However, when the genie turns the owner into Hitler right at the end of WWII that really comes across as the genie messing with them than of those being easily foreseeable consequences of their wish.  Yes, a modern country that doesn’t have elections would hit on that sort of thing, but it could have been right after Hitler took over or even Stalin and that would have worked as well.  But I did like the characters and their interaction, and it is an example of a plot where we know there is a twist and know that it’s coming — and might even know what it is — but the details around that are interesting enough to keep us interested and actually paying attention to the interactions in the episode itself.

The third episode is “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”, which follows a nervous and not very successful gangster, whose boss tells him to kill a bartender or else be killed himself.  As the boss leaves, the gangster sees a more confident version of himself in the mirror, and they proceed to argue over whether he should kill the bartender or not.  The confident version of himself won’t let him kill the bartender, and ultimately he doesn’t and his boss comes by to take him to task over it, at which point it is clear that the gangster is the more confident version of himself and he abuses his boss and throws him out, declaring that he might be able to get the things that his weaker self couldn’t get.

While this sort of idea could be interesting, this premise really, really doesn’t work.  Gang bosses are not going to let someone go, especially someone who abused them, and the main reason the gangster was even thinking about killing the guy was because he’d be killed if he didn’t.  Yes, he risked going to jail for a long, long time but that might indeed be better than dying.  All the confident side of him managed to do, then, was get him killed, which ruins any point that this could have made.  That this was simply the two sides arguing with each other doesn’t make it any more interesting, and the payoff was both expected and, as already noted, incomprehensible.

The fourth episode is “A Thing About Machines”, following a reclusive, stuck-up and irritable — so much so as to be irritating — man.  He has one simple problem:  the machines in his house seem to hate him, and in fact they keep trying to tell him to leave and ultimately chase him from the house, where his car chases him into a pool, where he sinks and drowns despite not being weighted down.

The man seems to abuse his TV at the beginning, but the show establishes that the machines were already abusing him at that point, and we have no idea why the machines were against him so much or, in fact, how they managed to sink him in the pool without weights.  Yes, the man was a pain, but he didn’t deserve this and we don’t know what the machines wanted.  Given that, this is a poor episode overall.

The fifth episode is “The Howling Man”, where a man doing a walking tour of Europe in 1925 becomes lost in a storm and prevails upon a monastery to help him.  They don’t want to, but since putting him out would kill him they eventually relent.  However, he hears a strange howling but the monks won’t answer him when he asks about it.  He finds the man howling in a cell and is told by the man that he is being unjustly imprisoned here by the “mad” monks.  The walker goes back and confronts the head monk about it again but doesn’t get an answer until he threatens to go to the police.  The head monk says that the prisoner is actually the Devil himself, but the walker doesn’t believe him and eventually sneaks back to release the prisoner, who is then revealed to really be the Devil, who escapes.  The scene changes to the present, with the walker telling the story to a maid, explaining that he spent his life trying to capture the Devil again, and has locked him inside a closet.  After the walker leaves, the maid hears howling and goes to open the closet door.

This one is actually fairly well done.  The premise is interesting and the twist works because we spend most of the episode following the walker as he tries to figure out the twist and then it pulls the rug out from under everyone, and then the ending fits well with the rest of the episode.  I did enjoy this one.

The sixth episode is “Eye of the Beholder”, where we see a woman with her face wrapped in bandages attended by medical professionals whose faces are constantly hidden from the camera.  She laments how ugly she is and hopes that the treatment will cure that, and we discover that this is her last chance at a treatment or else she’ll be sent away to live with others.  We also hear in the background a number of things indicating that this is some kind of totalitarian society based on conformity.  When the bandages are removed, it is clear that the procedure was a failure … the woman is, in fact, a quite attractive normal looking woman.  Then it is revealed that the medical professionals are ugly-looking pig-faced individuals, and she, after some resistance, is to be sent to a colony where all the “horribly ugly” people who look like normal people are sent.

This is a very famous episode, and for good reason as the premise is incredible.  However, I found the execution to be flawed as it seems to mix two themes:  the idea of conformity and the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If they had wanted to make this about conformity, what they needed to do was instead of making the medical professionals ugly make them normal looking and give her one small, almost unnoticeable flaw that meant that she didn’t conform to the norm.  This also would have allowed them to not hide the faces of the medical professionals as much, which would have given the twist away even if I hadn’t already known it.  However, the stronger point is indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder … but then it would have been much better to instead of holding out the hope that they would find each other beautiful to really drive home that in this society the standards for beauty aligned to what we thought of as ugly by having the two of them act as if they were being exiled to live around ugliness for the rest of their lives.  Implying that they would find themselves beautiful despite growing up in that culture encourages us to think of the “normal” people in that world as ugly as well, which pretty much scuppers that point.  So, a good premise, but a muddled implementation.

I had actually forgotten to write up my comments on this disk after watching it, and so only came back to it a couple of weeks later when I was trying to write up the next disk.  I remembered thinking that the season started off better but on actually writing down my comments on the episode that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Marc commented that Serling thought that most of the episodes that he wrote for the series were bad and I find that I have to agree with Serling on this one.  Some of them the bad ones were still better than the alternatives, but I wonder if part of my reaction here is like the one I had to “Eye of the Beholder”:  the ideas are good but the execution flawed which makes them all the more annoying.

Thoughts on “Bumblebee”

March 21, 2023

I had pretty much given up on the modern “Transformers” movies.  I think I watched the first three — at least the last of those because I got it in a cheap pack somewhere — but was never all that impressed by them, mostly because it couldn’t capture the aesthetics and themes of the original cartoon.  Sure, a non-animated feature film was going to try to be a bit more adult than a cartoon, but I didn’t find the shift one that made them more mature as opposed to make them, well, more explodey.  Since I actually liked Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, that was a pretty good indication that the “Transformers” ones were not up to snuff.  So I abandoned the entire series and didn’t look back.

Well, until this past weekend.  So why, if I had abandoned the series, was I willing to sit down and watch a prequel to them?  As it turns out, I ended up talking about this with a friend of mine — I think it was because of the trailer being released for the new film adding in the Beast Wars — and he said that “Bumblebee” was actually a good movie.  Now, his recommending it did not really mean that it was something that I was going to like.  Sure, this friend recommended “Doctor Who” to me, which I liked, and “Doom Patrol”, which I liked for most of the first season, but he also recommended “Farscape” to me, which I didn’t care much for, and “Star Trek:  Discovery” to me, which I hated.  So the best I can say here is that while we often do like the same things, it tends to be for different reasons, so if one of us likes it the other might well like it, but if there’s nothing in that thing for that person to like then we won’t like it.

What that means here is that his agreeing with me about the original movies (mostly) but commenting that “Bumblebee” was actually good piqued my interest, and so I made a mental note to look out for it if I could get it cheap or get access to it cheap.  And I managed to get it relatively cheap, and so decided to watch it.  And what I’ll say about it is that it is better than I thought it’d be, but still has a huge flaw that ends up hurting it.

This is, as noted above, a prequel to the original movies, tracing Bumblebee’s time on Earth and how he lost his speech synthesizer and how he preserved the Earth for the Autobots to land on.  It starts in the middle of a fight scene on Cybertron, with the Autobots being forced to flee the planet.  Bumblebee is sent to Earth to prepare it to be a base for the Autobots, but soon after landing he is attacked by a Decepticon that followed him there, I guess, who destroys his speech synthesizer — deliberately, since Bumblebee refuses to tell him where the rest of the Autobots are — and while the Deception is destroyed Bumblebee is gravely damaged and transforms into the classic VW Beetle, and loses consciousness and his memory.  Later, a young woman is living with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend after the death of her father, which she is still broken up about.  She is trying to finish restoring a Corvette and goes to her uncle’s junkyard and finds Bumblebee.  After getting frustrated with not being able to fix the Corvette, she goes back to her uncle and appeals to get it, and he gives it to her as a birthday present.  She fixes it up and then Bumblebee transforms, and they start to develop a friendship.  Meanwhile, a pair of Decepticons are torturing Cliffjumper for information when Bumblebee’s beacon — reactivated when she was fixing him up — pings them revealing where he is, and so they destroy Cliffjumper and head to Earth.  There, they meet some military officers led by an agent who was attacking Bumblebee during the first attack and arrange to trade technology with them if they will help them find Bumblebee.  Meanwhile, Charlie — the young woman — teaches Bumblebee about music and gives him a new radio (which he soon learns to use to communicate like he did in the movies), and then a guy who has been crushing on her bursts in and sees Bumblebee, but she convinces him to to tell, and they eventually head off to a cliff where her fear of diving is revealed — she had thrown away her diving trophies before — and she is bullied a bit.  Then she leaves Bumblebee at home and tells him to stay in the garage but he gets into the house and trashes it in a slapstick sequence, but as he does so he plugs himself into a wall socket which causes an Energon surge that the Decepticons trace.  This causes a sequence where the military and Decepticons try to capture Bumblebee, and they manage to do so while Charlie is shocked into unconsciousness while the military guy spins a story that she stole government property, but she decides to break Bumblebee out with the help of her crush.  Meanwhile, the Decepticons learn that the Autobots are coming to Earth and prepare to destroy the Earth to prevent that and destroy them, and head off to send a message to Cybertron revealing that fact.  Charlie shocks Bumblebee back to life, and the two of them head off to stop the Decepticons, pursued by the military.  Her mother’s boyfriend and the family come to help them and distract and head off the military, and then Bumblebee tries to stop the Decepticons, while Charlie sees a way to stop the transmission and heads out to do that.  Bumblebee destroys one Decepticon and the other tries to stop Charlie, but the military guy attacks that Decepticon and Bumblebee engages her as well when the military helicopter is shot down — after saving the military guy’s life — and Charlie is able to disable the transmitter.  Bumblebee triggers a flood that would kill both him and the Decepticon, but Charlie dives into the water and swims down to him and this somehow revives him.  The military guy lets them go, Charlie is reconciled with her family and seems to be starting a relationship with her crush, and Bumblebee has to leave on his own, and picks up the Camaro as his alt-form, and drives off past a truck that resembled the alt-form of Optimus from the cartoon.

As you might have guess from reading the summary, this movie is a bit overstuffed, and I haven’t even fully described all the threads here (for example, Charlie gets the Corvette running at the end after giving up on it earlier).  Obviously with so many threads it was going to be difficult to develop them all properly, even in a movie that’s almost two hours.  And the movie doesn’t develop them all that well.  For example, Charlie’s fear of diving itself at the end comes mostly out of nowhere and the reason she didn’t want to dive earlier in the movie makes more sense as her being overwhelmed by the emotions — the last time she saw her father was when he cheered her on at a dive meet — but at the end she seems afraid to dive into the water for … some reason.  She had a crush on a boy earlier that only provided a small bit of angst for the guy who was crushing on her.  Even worse, there’s an interesting undercurrent where her reminiscing about her father triggers a memory in Bumblebee about Optimus trying to fight off a horde of Decepticons and being surrounded at the end, which provided a very interesting parallel between the two of them, but it’s never mentioned or brought up again.  There are lots of these elements in the movie, so much so that it seems like they wanted to keep every idea that they came up with in the movie no matter how they conflicted or whether they’d have time to play them all out.

Making all of this worse is the fact that they try to intersperse all of these threads together, which leads to some huge shifts in tone and hurts the development of the threads that they do try to develop.  Bumblebee’s getting used to Earth and restoring his memory shifts to the Decepticons killing Cliffjumper and coming to Earth, and even earlier we don’t even get him landing on Earth for more than a few minutes before he’s attacked again, after we just had a huge battle scene to start the movie.  And that fight was unnecessary because all it really does is show how he lost his memory and speech synthesizer, and that could have been caused by the pod crashing, which would have freed up some time to develop the other threads and created a more consistent tone.  I would have minimized the Deception threads until the end because we didn’t really need it and it really breaks the tone of the movie.  I would have also dropped the military guy’s plot because it is totally disconnected from Charlie’s plots until the end and didn’t add much.

Because where the movie is good, really good, is with the interaction between Charlie and Bumblebee, as he learns about Earth and her and they become friends.  These were some of the best scenes in the first movie as well, but they seemed to get more play and more focus than they do here.  All of this leads to an odd impression of the movie for me, because when Charlie and Bumblebee are interacting the movie is great, and some of the other scenes are good, but when it breaks the tone and fails to develop certain plots the movie isn’t very good.  Building off of that relationship and adding the other elements in later — and limiting them — would have made this a far better movie.

One final note is that the movie really does work to push the nostalgia button, constantly making references with music and TV shows to the 80s.  However, especially early on most of these references seem really forced, there just to make that reference and not as an organic part of the movie itself.  I can compare it to “Scream Queens” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” where the references seem natural and yet really do work as references.  This does get better later in the movie, especially when Bumblebee starts using the radio to communicate.

So it has its good points and bad points, and so for now I think it’s going into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point.  I like Charlie and Bumblebee, and some of the other elements work, but it’s just way too overstuffed for me to want to rewatch it on a regular basis.

Halcyon Diary: Noblesse Oblige

March 20, 2023

So after the deserts of Tatooine, filled with treacherous beasts that will attack as soon as your back is turned, we headed to Alderaan where … no, wait, the treacherous beasts that I was talking about were the nobles on Alderaan.  My mistake.

The weapon here is one that proved that the Republic’s claims of trying not to lose the war and so wanting superweapons to do that false.  Those weapons were ones that while they could be used against a planet itself were at least usually aimed at big fleets and big installations.  Here, they built an orbiting laser platform that could target tags placed on individuals.  Yes, it’s a device whose main purpose is assassination.  You aren’t trying to defeat an opposing military with a weapon designed to assassinate people.

And, of course, as usual they let it get into enemy hands.  When I went to talk to the people who were running it, they told me that my first master from back on Tython, Master Orgus, had been killed, and I was sent to the facility to check it out, and who did I find defending it but Master Orgus.  He was pretty spry for a dead guy.  Since his presence proved that I was being lied to, he revealed that one of the researchers was a spy, but of course as a spy she had lots of time to tag lots of important people, including me.  So we went to shut down the power to the system and confront her, ending its threat permanently.  We hoped.  It turns out that another of Angral’s followers was setting up a new power supply, but that gave us enough time to find the weapon that had been stolen, confront his follower and the spy, and destroy the weapon and end that threat.

Then it turned out that Orgus’ plan was to go after Angral instead, and he had gone ahead to Angral’s ship.  Before fighting us, the follower showed us a holo of Angral killed Orgus.  That … wasn’t exactly the way to incline me towards showing mercy, so it’s not much of a surprise that he didn’t survive the encounter.

So now I’m heading to the ship myself.  Angral is a Sith and they lie as a matter of course, so I’m going to see if they’ve really killed Master Orgus.  If he’s alive, I’m going to rescue him.  If he isn’t … well, let’s just say that there are few things I’d need to do to take care of that situation.

I in the Sky 5

March 19, 2023

I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me.

“Do you really think that I is going after Joy?” Chantal asked.

Shannon, standing beside Alex on the other side of their kitchen island, replied, “It’d be too much of a coincidence.”

“But we don’t even know if she’s getting those sorts of texts, ” Chantal protested.

“Well, something certainly upset her, ” Jacob replied.  “And since we know that I’s back, it would explain a lot.”

Chantal’s heart sank.  She really, really didn’t want her daughter going through the things she went through at that age.  She definitely had to hope that her daughter would have things better than she did, and that was something that she’d had worse than almost anyone else.

“Still, we need to find out for sure, ” Jacob continued.

“And the only way to do that is to get into her phone accounts and see just what it was that scared her so much, ” Shannon added.

Chantal almost fell into a pout as she agreed.  “Okay, fine.  But how are we going to do that?”

Jacob looked to Alex.  “Could you get into her accounts?”

Alex shook his head.  “I’ve never been the hacker.”

“Which I think points us straight at the person we need, ” Shannon said.

“And how is that going to work?” Chantal protested.  “We never really talked much to him, even in the old days, and it’s not like we can count on her talking to him for us.”

“Which leaves one option, ” Jacob said, looking to Alex again.

Alex looked uncomfortable, and replied, “What makes you think that he’s going to be receptive to me?”

“Well, you introduced him to us, and you always hung around with him more than any of us.  It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve talked to him on and off over the years, ” Chantal replied.

“Which is more than we can say for Karen, ” Shannon added.

Alex gave a resigned sigh.  “All right, I’ll talk to him and see if I can still call in a favour.”

While still upset, Chantal felt relieved.  They were maybe one step further to finding out what might be bothering her sweet little Joy.

Thoughts on “The Christian Delusion” (Part 1 – Why Faith Fails)

March 17, 2023

After reading “Unbelievable?”, I moved on to a couple of compilations from John W. Loftus that Richard Carrier had written things for and was promoting at times.  I don’t intend to comment in detail on each chapter, which is written by a different person and covers a different topic.  Instead, what I plan to do is at the end of each section comment in general on things that I thought while reading the section, and only breaking down a specific chapter if I feel it worth my while.  So the first section is entitled “Why Faith Fails”, and contains four chapters, but here I’ll comment on my overall impression of the section and then take a deeper look at the last chapter in the section, which is Loftus revisiting his “Outsider Test For Faith”.  I’ve read the original book and talked about the test, so it’s worth my looking at his defenses and he says things that are worth discussing philosophically.

Anyway, this section, to me, boils down to atheists trying to demonstrate how Christians could be wrong and seemingly the mechanisms that cause them to refuse to admit that they could be wrong even though it’s not only possible that they are wrong, but that it is in fact the case that they are wrong.  Their hope is that once Christians realize the flaws in their reasoning and the underlying mechanisms that get them to deny it, they will accept that the evidence for the existence of God is insufficient and become atheists.  In my mind, though, this can’t work, because most Christians already accept that they could be wrong and so that by the standards of atheists there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God to produce knowledge in the way they claim they want to know things, and so will not react the way atheists want them to when faced with those sorts of arguments … which tends to enrage those very atheists.

While obviously there are many different stances that Christians can and do take on this matter, the two largest categories — and the ones that cause atheists the most grief — are those Christians who believe entirely on faith and those Christians who are more like me and believe primarily through cultural influence.  For the first category, they accept that it’s just plain obvious that we don’t have the sort of evidence the atheist wants.  That’s what faith is for.  And so when the atheist outlines all of those many arguments to show that they could be wrong, they shrug and note that it is indeed the case that by those standards they could be wrong, but again that’s what faith gives them:  the ability to know and believe even when the evidence isn’t there.  So those sorts of arguments are going to fall on deaf ears, as all they do is establish something that they already know.  For the second category, they would tend to deny that they have or need faith, but then would also tend to argue that they aren’t making a knowledge claim and so have a mere belief.  Since this is a mere belief, they already accept that it could be wrong, but would point out that the onus is on the atheist to make an argument that they feel the need to take seriously enough to drop that belief, and the atheists have yet to do that.  And so, again, the arguments fall on deaf ears because, again, all they are doing is establishing something they already accept, and so the atheists would need a better argument.

Now, the atheists could point out that some people do indeed become atheists from their various arguments, and so my analysis can’t be correct.  But in line with my epistemological commitment to the “Web of Belief”, it makes perfect sense.  What will push the Christians in either of those categories to atheism is not an alternate explanation for God or an argument showing that they could be wrong about their belief in God, but instead an argument that clashes with their Web of Belief strongly enough that there is less damage to that Web if they abandon their belief in God as opposed to denying their argument.  These are the sorts of arguments that cause true “Crises of Faith” and are the things that Christians have been dealing with for centuries.  And what is important about these is that the arguments or thoughts that spawn these tend to be very personal to the person, and aren’t big overarching arguments.  Thus, it’s no surprise that the “Problem of Evil” is probably the most prominent argument in deconversion stories, and it makes sense that many of the New Atheists constantly talk about how religion and their scientific beliefs are incompatible.  Many Christians struggle with the idea that bad things can happen to them, their loved ones, or others and that God, who could prevent it, allows it to happen.  And very scientific minds who see religion encroaching on their science would be unwilling to give up science to maintain religion.  Both of these are very personal to the individual and yet, for the individuals who hold them, are held at a deep enough level and/or an emotional enough level to overwhelm their belief in God and force them to abandon it.

For me, neither of these arguments work, but for philosophical reasons, not faith-based ones.  My Stoic sympathies ultimately cause me to deny that suffering is in and of itself bad and so means that the presence of it in the world is not strong enough to force me to abandon the belief in God (especially since there are ways to resolve the conflict), and my rejection of scientism and naturalism and sympathy for philosophical but non-scientific truths and for some “supernatural” claims means that I reject that science can explain everything and is always right.  I concede that there might be contradictions there, but for me they cannot be strong enough to force me to abandon the belief in God.

Another interesting point is that while they spend a lot of time talking about the various ways that false beliefs can be rationalized and so maintained through our faulty faculties — David Eller talks about cultural defenses, Valerie Tarico talks about cognitive defenses, and Jason Long talks about indoctrination and other cognitive defense mechanisms — they don’t seem to realize that what they are doing is attacking the very rational faculties that they themselves promote and rely on.  Yes, Christians may be using these flawed mechanisms to maintain their Christian beliefs, but these are human mechanisms and not Christian ones.  As we shall see when I look at Loftus, a lot of the beliefs that they themselves hold to be self-evident may themselves be equally flawed and equally unsupported by the evidence, and so they themselves may be doing the precise same things that they castigate Christians for.  And since one of those beliefs is naturalism itself, which is the foundation of the atheism of so many of them, it may well be the case that Christians could indeed fire back that the only reason they reject the belief in God based on these faulty mechanisms.  What they don’t seem to realize is that you cannot posit that these mechanisms are failing for a belief only because it’s a belief that you don’t favour.  You need stronger evidence to show that it is indeed really the case here, because otherwise all you do is call the mechanisms themselves into question, and the history of philosophy provides ample examples of what happens when you do that.  So just as you can’t call something a hallucination just because you don’t want to believe that you’ve seen that, you can’t assume that our reasoning is flawed or biased just because someone believes something you don’t want to believe.  Atheists will, of course, insist that they have good reasons for thinking that’s happening here, and they do have some arguments that can suggest that, but those arguments are not as strong as atheists think and so don’t get them out of this problem as easily as they seem to think.

And one final point, which is a way in which Christianity might be considered unique.  David Eller notes in his chapter how Christianity adapts to and inserts itself into the cultures that contain the people that they are trying to convert, and Valerie Tarico in her chapter notes that Christianity is a religion that is based around specific beliefs as opposed to a shared culture.  This can be contrasted with the other major religions like Judaism and Islam which seem to have a much stronger connection to a specific culture.  Christianity from the start focused more on the specific belief in Jesus’ resurrection than on any specific cultural aspects or rituals, probably because of the influence of Paul.  This is, of course, one reason why it has become such a dominant religion, and spread in large numbers around the world.  But then one might comment that the main religion of a God who wanted one specific redemptive act to be believed by everyone would have that trait.  So perhaps Christians can answer Loftus by pointing to that trait as a reason why the other religions aren’t as credible as Christianity.

But I’ll say more about Loftus next time, in the second post I’m going to make about the book and about the chapters in this section.

Revisiting “Family Possessions”

March 16, 2023

After revisiting “Living Among Us” I decided that the movie was better than I remembered and promoted it to the closet of movies that I will rewatch at some point.  I had considered this movie more or less as good as that one, so is this movie going to get that as well?

Here we follow a young woman, Rachel, as she and her family move into her grandmother’s old house.  The grandmother willed the house to her before her death, but has attached a condition to the inheritance that it only holds as long as Rachel herself lives there.  As long as Rachel is making it her primary residence, everything is paid for out of the estate, but if Rachel moves away the house will be sold and the entire estate will be donated to charity.  As her father has lost his job and the family is in dire financial straits, there is a lot of pressure on Rachel to stay in the house, even as she would rather go away to school.  As she explores the town, people react strangely to her when they find out where she’s living.  She meets another young woman who befriends her, and then another young woman and her father or something who treat her badly, and another guy who is interested in her.  After some taunting from the other two, her new friend reveals that the reason they’re acting that way is because her grandmother was actually in an insane asylum and not in a nursing home as Rachel thought, and it turns out that she was in there because she was digging up bodies in an attempt to perform some kind of magic ritual and thought she was a witch, and that the ritual was to transfer her body to someone else.  Meanwhile, strange things have been happening in the house, including both Rachel and her brother seeing a strange creature that they ultimately describe as a witch, even though it looks more like a simple monster than a witch.  Anyway, eventually Rachel finds her grandmother’s grimoire and her friend borrows it, and they discover that the ritual wouldn’t have worked because the sacrifices need to be alive when their body parts are sliced off — the ritual involves body parts involving the five senses — and she was trying to use dead bodies.  Soon after, we see people being killed for those very body parts.  Eventually, we see Rachel’s mother killed for a body part and then Rachel wakes up to an empty house and starts wandering around it, only to have her friend show up to tell her what’s happening.  They creep around the house a bit but then head to the basement, where they discover things set up for the ritual.  It turns out that her father is the one trying to do that because he was ticked off about not getting the estate, and after overhearing the two girls talk about the ritual is planning on blaming the murders on the friend and then inheriting the estate through the loophole of inheriting it after Rachel dies which means that he wouldn’t have the restriction.  He hears an odd noise, however, and when he looks in some kind of crawlspace about it he gets a vision of the witch and slices himself with the knife he was using for the murders, killing him and providing the last body part for the ritual.  Rachel and her little brother leave the house, and a mother and her daughter come to see the house.  There was a necklace that was given to Rachel that the friend commented could be used as a homing beacon for the spirit of the grandmother, and Rachel left it hanging on her bedroom door.  The little girl finds it and when her mother comes to find her after making an offer on the house the little girl isn’t responding and then the door to the bedroom slams, hiding her.

One of the problems I had with this last time was that it being the father seemed to come out of nowhere and that it had the opportunity to provide more red herrings for who the killer actually was.  I still think they underused that since there were so many candidates for the killer but they never really explored it, but knowing that it was the father made it more clear earlier that he was more upset by this than he let on, and it does provide an interesting emotional aspect since Rachel seems to get along better with him than with her mother, and yet he’s perfectly willing to kill her to get the house.  I still think this was a missed opportunity, but think that it’s not as much of an issue as I originally thought.

One of the things that most stood out to me the first time was that the movie is incredibly good at building tension, but seemed to drag it out too long so as to make it boring.  I didn’t mind it so much this time around, although it definitely drags things out too long at times, such as a long scene where one of the victims is listening at a door and we see the knife extended above her through the door for a long time before it falls, even though we a) know what’s going to happen since we know the killer is taking body parts and the only reason for her to be in that position is to lose her ear and b) there’s no reason for her to stay in that position that long.  Still, the tension-building still worked but didn’t bother me as much as it did the last time.

The production values for this movie are definitely indie/amateur.  Rachel, for example, does body language pretty well but sometimes slips up in delivering her dialogue.  However, the cinematography is fine, although perhaps not quite to a fully professional level.  So, yeah, it’s noticeably on the indie scale but not so much so that it really broke immersion.

The things I really liked about the movie remain.  Rachel is a likeable lead, the mystery is somewhat interesting, and the pacing pretty much works.  Given that, I found it to be at least as entertaining as “Living Among Us”, which means that it will get a promotion as well to the closet of movies that I will rewatch on occasion.

So that’s 2 of 2 getting a promotion.  Does that mean that I might actually end up liking “House of Demons”?  I’m skeptical, but we will find out.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 5)

March 15, 2023

This is the last disk of Season 1, and so far Season 1 has been a bit hit and miss.  I liked the first disk, was a bit less pleased with the second, and have found disks 3 and 4 quite disappointing.  Let’s see if the season ends on a high note.

The first episode is “A Stop at Willoughby”.  Here, an executive working with advertising ends up giving a huge account to a new and young co-worker, who promptly lands it, leaves the company, and takes the account with him.  His boss berates him for that and talks about how in this business you have to push and push, which causes the executive to insult him in a frustrated outburst.  On the train ride home, he falls asleep and dreams of a stop at Willoughby, a town from the 1880s that has a plain and simple life.  When he gets home, it is revealed that he didn’t lose his job, but that he isn’t really the sort of person who can take this competitive and “push push push” lifestyle, but it funds the lifestyle his wife wants.  He has another bad day at work, and dreams of the town again on his way home, and is about to get off when the train starts up again.  He resolves to get off there the next time he gets the chance.  After another terrible day, he deliberately sets up to have the dream again and then does get off, to a town where everyone knows who he is.  The ending reveals that he actually jumped off the train in the real world and died, and the hearse that takes him away is from the Willoughby and Son funeral directors.

This episode did something that would have helped the show in the previous episodes, by playing it straight and essentially implying that he was dreaming and delusional, but keeping a bit of mystery in what happened.  But this idea is too small for the episode.  We pretty much get everything we need to know early on, and so the conversations with the wife and the extra scenes in the office don’t add anything.  The conversations with the conductor could have covered all of that and worked better, but then half the material would be thrown away.  In theory, that material could have been used to make us feel the same frustration he felt, but it doesn’t really work that way and the wife scenes in particular are more exposition and so break that chain.  This was an interesting idea but, again, too small for the episode and so it dragged.

The second episode is “The Chaser”.  Here, a man is in love with a woman who doesn’t love him, and he’s tying up a phone booth calling her over and over again.  One impatient man pays off the other people in line and then pushes his way into the booth, and tells the man to go to a Professor — Daemon — to get his issues resolved.  When he meets the professor, he asks for a love potion but the professor wants to sell “Glove Cleaner”, but he insists and gets the love potion, which he uses on the woman he loves and it works … but her love is overly cloying and he tires of it, and so returns for the “Glove Cleaner”, which is a poison.  He attempts to poison her, but before he can give her the drink with the poison in it she reveals she is pregnant and he drops the glasses, musing that he wouldn’t have had the nerve anyway.

The premise of this is okay, but it’s far too predictable.  Since such a big deal is made of the “Glove Cleaner” and its deadly properties from the beginning, we know that he’s coming back for it and so there will be a twist around that.  Other than the professor’s comments at the beginning, though, the episode is not as bad as the previous episodes at adding what seems like unnecessary scenes or padding, but the predictability of the premise makes this a middling episode at best.

The third episode is “A Passage For Trumpet”, where a man who plays the trumpet tries to get on stage to play, but he’s alienated his friend by being drunk on stage and so his friend has to tell him no when he discovers that he is still drinking.  The man tries to play on his own but keeps missing one of the higher notes.  The next day, he pawns his trumpet and gets drunk, and then when he sees it for sale he decides to jump in front of a delivery truck.  When he awakens, no one can see him, and yet the people he encounters are all different from those he remembers, and he concludes that he’s a ghost.  He goes back to the club and once the door closes hears trumpet playing, and seeks out the man playing it who is sitting where he say the previous night.  The new player lets him play that trumpet, and the man can hit all the notes this time.  That player then reveals that the man is not actually dead, but that everyone else is, and the man has the chance to decide where he wants to go.  But all of this has convinced the man of all the great things that he abandoned but that are worth living for, so he decides to return, and the player walks away and finally introduces himself as Gabe, for Gabriel … a reference to the horn-playing archangel that the man had talked about earlier in the episode.  The man then awakens after being hit and is okay, but the delivery man pays him off for not reporting the accident and so he reclaims his trumpet and is playing it on the roof when a new woman in the building comes up to hear him, and it looks like romance between the two is in the air.

This episode is actually better, as we find out enough about the main character to sympathize with him and his story is somewhat interesting.  The episode drags a bit as he discovers that he’s a ghost — since we’ve figured that out before he did — but the twist at the end is nice — and referenced earlier — and it’s nice to get a happy ending.  I’ve liked a lot of the episodes with anthropomorphic characters that are used as guides, and this one is no exception.

The fourth episode is “Mr. Bevis”.  Here an oddball man is going about his day, getting pleasant responses from most people except for his landlady and his boss.  He’s late for work and that plus the oddities he keeps on his desk get him fired, and he is evicted because he’s late on his rent.  His eccentricities have made it so that he can’t keep a job, and so he ends up drinking in a bar, where it is revealed that his family has a guardian angel who offers to fix this day, but also has to fix some things about his personality.  It turns out that he is a model tenant and is getting a raise at work, but all of his eccentricities that made him popular with others have gone away and so he’s not the type of person to play with children or to bring carolers into the office anymore.  He then asks to have things go back to the way they were, saying that the things he lost were worth the issues he faces because of it.  The guardian angel complies, but still does some things to show that he’s watching out for Mr. Bevis.

This is another good episode.  The main character is sympathetic and even though we could indeed see the ending coming it all fits neatly together.  The best thing about it is that the idea fits the length of the episode.  We need to see the contrasts in the two days to set things up, and that fills in the runtime, and it all follows from the idea as presented.  So this is an episode that works pretty well.

The fifth episode is “The After Hours”.  Here, a woman comes into a department store looking for an advertised gold thimble, and is taken to a non-existent ninth floor — seriously, they clearly show it not existing as the elevator goes up — that is empty except for one odd saleswoman and her golden thimble.  When the woman rides the elevator down, however, she discovers that it’s scratched and dented and is directed to the existent third floor to complain about it.  Of course, the fact that she claims to have gotten it from the non-existent ninth floor puzzles the managers of the store, and as she walks along she sees a mannequin that looks exactly like the saleswoman and, well, freaks out.  They set her up in the office and she falls asleep, and when the floor manager sends another — non-mannequin — saleswoman to wake her up and get her out of the store as it’s closing that saleswoman gets called away and forgets to do it.  Thus, the woman wakes up in the store after hours and is locked in, and the mannequins start calling her name.  She ends up in the elevator again and on the ninth floor, and all of the mannequins surround her and push her to remember.  It turns out that each of them gets one month to be out in the world, and her month has passed but she’s forgotten that she was a mannequin and so didn’t return.  The strange saleswoman was, in fact, the one who was supposed to go out into the world next.  The woman accepts her case and the next day the floor manager sees a mannequin that looks just like her.

This is another episode that does things that the show really, really needs to do.  We know that there’s a twist coming in every episode, and here we know that the twist will involve mannequins in some way.  What we don’t know is what the twist will be, and while we could come up with the twist — I did before the end — there are a number of twists that it could be and so we are indeed carefully watching the episode to try to figure out what it could be, which makes the scenes that are added to add to the creepiness factor — her walking around a deserted floor or store, for example — don’t feel like they drag because we’re waiting to see what will happen.  And the fact that the main character is pretty and sympathetic and so we care about what is going on with her also helps.

The sixth episode is “The Mighty Casey”.  Here, the manager of a last place baseball team that we are told is going to fold is looking for someone, anyone who can play, and a “doctor” brings him a robot who is a great pitcher, and his pitching allows the team to start winning.  However, eventually the robot is revealed as one and must be taken off the team, and they try to get around that by giving him an artificial heart.  However, the heart gives the robot feelings and he doesn’t want to play anymore because he doesn’t want to ruin their careers, and so the team is about to fold, but the manager sees something in the blueprints and rushes to tell the doctor about it, and the ending implies that he might have created another team on the West Coast that was successful using robot players.

There’s not really much here.  It’s an okay episode, but the idea isn’t all that interesting and it doesn’t really flesh it out that well, but I didn’t hate it either.  So it ends up being kinda “Meh”.

The last episode is “A World of His Own”.  Here, a wife peeks through the window at her writer husband who is cuddling and having drinks with another woman.  She then tries to burst into the room, but when he lets her in she can’t find the woman anywhere.  However, she manages to trick him into admitting that he had a woman in the room, but he reveals that any character that he describes to his tape recorder will come to life, and proves it by recreating the woman and then destroying her again.  Eventually, as his wife attempts to leave he reveals that she herself is one of his creations, but she doesn’t believe him and destroys the tape, which cause her to fade away.  The writer then brings Mary back as his actual wife, and the scene ends with Rod Serling appearing on the set to declare that something so ridiculous is fictional and the writer reveals that he has a tape for Serling and destroys it, causing Serling to fade away as well.

This is another decent episode.  The idea is interesting and the interactions between the writer and his “wife” work relatively well.  The ending with Serling is an interesting idea.  For the most part, this is definitely a lighter and more comedic episode which mostly works.

The disk started off poorly, but ended on a high note with some really good episodes and some decent ones.  What’s clear from Season 1 is that this show has the potential to be great or to be terrible depending on how the episodes related to the premise that is repeated in every episode of these things taking place in “The Twilight Zone”.  Because of that, we know that pretty much any of these ideas will have some kind of twist to it, so how it handles that twist is critically important to the success of the episode.  Also, it does run into the problem that “Tales from the Darkside” had where if the idea is too small for the episode the episode seems to drag and to be padding out its runtime, which is death for a half-hour episode.  So far, I don’t recall very many — if any — episodes where the idea was too big for a half-hour and so couldn’t be developed properly in that time, but I do recall commenting a number of times that the idea was too small.

So that was the first season.  Let’s see what they learned from that one and applied to the second season.

Restoring the Reading List

March 14, 2023

So about a year and a half ago, I said that I was going to stop updating most of my lists because they weren’t really adding any value for me.  The main reason for this was that I was pretty much creating physical stacks of all the things that I was reading or watching and so it was easier for me to simply refer to the stack instead of referring to the list.  And that still seems to be true … except for one list, the Reading List.

It’s not that I can’t manage this list through the stacks.  If anything, it’s the one area where I pretty much run it entirely through stacks, because I tend to need to assemble them in one place physically so that I know what I have and to set the order that I’ll be reading them in.  So they are in fact perfectly positioned for me to manage through stacks.  So, then, why am I restoring the list?

When I talked about reading some books, like the Bible, I got a comment from Ester expressing interest in reading what I thought of them.  Of course, by the list it would take me months to get there, and so I wanted to express that in some way so that if someone wanted to know what I was reading and how long it might take me to get there they’d have some kind of reference.  And some of the books I’m reading are not exactly standard and so I thought again that some people might be interested in seeing what I was reading and going to read and commenting on that, or looking back to see when I might get around to commenting on that.

So I’ve restored the Reading List, breaking things down into three categories.  The first is the things I’m reading mostly for fun, which right now is my finally getting through a bunch of White Wolf novels that I had started once but never finished.  I don’t know what I’m going to read after that, although it’s likely to be the X-Wing books.  The second is the classic novels that I’m trying to read while doing laundry, which right now is a bunch of King Arthur books — including a re-read of “The Pendragon Cycle” because the first time I read it I noted that it made me want to re-read some of the more classic legends and I’m interested in seeing how I feel when I do things the other way around — followed by the complete Conan the Barbarian works and then finishing off Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment, after which I’ll probably have to find some new ones to read (I’m thinking about trying “Ivanhoe” at some point, actually).  The third is the list of philosophy books that I’m trying to read while doing laundry, which right now is a bunch of theology/philosophy of religion things, including the Bible and Carrier’s mythicism books, and then finishing of the Nietzsche and some Sartre.

I also kept the old list (actually lists, since there was an old one there already) and will move completed sections below to keep the main list from getting too cluttered.  So if anyone wants to know what I’m reading, the Reading List is once again the place to go.