On Anger

October 19, 2018

Anger is making the rounds these days. Well, to be honest, anger has been a big part of many groups’ playbooks for quite a few years now, but lately rage and anger seems to be everywhere, and everyone seems to be using it, talking about it, justifying it, or using it to justify things. And while all my examples in this post will be from the Left, anger bridges the political spectrum. If progressives seem to be talking more about it now, that’s probably for two reasons. The first is that they are experiencing setbacks, which always generates anger. People get angry when things don’t turn out the way they hoped they would, especially when that happens because others don’t do what they expected them to do and seemed to be the obvious answer. The second is that anger has worked for progressives in the past, so their strategies tended to incorporate it directly, so they continue to use it and use it. But as we saw with the testimony from Kavanaugh, anger is used by the Right as well.

I’m Stoic-leaning, and so I believe that relying strong emotions in general is a bad idea, and think that anger is a particularly bad strong emotion. The problem with strong emotions is that they are effectively judgements about a situation and about what the right reaction to that situation that are both self-motivating and self-rationalizing. Strong emotions always contain a belief about the world — that’s what triggers the emotion — and prime you to take an action in response to that. Once that happens, strong emotions trigger the emotional motivation system that we have and so strongly motivate us to take that action, and since the judgement seems so strong we are always tempted to find reasons to accept that our strong emotions are justified, and so rationalize our reaction using reason. Anger is particularly bad for one simple reason: it’s usually wrong. While we might be justified in being angry at the situation, it is rare that anger suggests the right reaction to the situation. Even when it does, while anger itself can be sustained its rightness cannot. Ultimately, anger wants to keep feeding itself and keep its state alive, and ultimately will always end up overreaching. If you keep your anger alive and nurture it, eventually it will betray you by pushing you to do something that you shouldn’t do.

Which leads to this post by P.Z. Myers, where he talks about Donald Trump’s strategy as a “rage troll” Myers first quotesthis Slate article:

Donald Trump is an anger troll. Rage is the one thing he capably nurtures and grows. … He wants to make his followers feel threatened. To achieve this, he needs his opponents to seem irrational. So he sets about making them angry.

He insults them, railroads them, calls people protesting for justice liars and profit-seekers even as he openly enriches his friends. He gives them offensive nicknames and mocks their pain for fun, and to get them to lose control. He’s doing this in plain sight—it’s pretty obvious why people are angry—but his goal is to make their reaction look inexplicable, beyond the pale. After leading angry crowds to yell abuse at anyone he points to, he turns around and marvels at how irrational and dangerous his targets are.

As tactics go, this one is dumb and transparent, but it’s worth describing it because it works. It works a lot.

Myers then goes on to add to that description:

Yeah, that’s the man. But it’s only half the problem: the other half is an electorate that falls for it every time …

Well, no, the problem isn’t that Trump’s supporters or moderates or, well, anyone except those progressives on Myers’ side that get angry fall for it. No, the problem is that the progressives on Myers’ side keep falling for it. They know that Trump is doing things just to get them angry and to push them into acting out in ways that are irrational — or, at least, can be spun that way — and they constantly let him do that to them. You’d think that the obvious way to blunt this strategy is to stop letting Trump goad them into acting irrationally by getting them angry, and so only acting after considering the situation rationally and coming up with the perfect rational response.

Of course, that’s not what Myers suggests:

We need to own our anger, because that’s the alternative. Our rage is aimed at a deserving target, their rage seems to be self-inflicted.

So, in other words, he appeals to “right makes might”. Their rage is justified, their opponents’ rage isn’t, and so they need to “own” it by justifying it and declaring it and the actions that follow from it justified and right.

This isn’t owning your anger. Owning your anger is acknowledging that it made you angry, acknowledging that you acted out of rage, and acknowledging when the actions you took out of rage were actually irrational. Owning your anger means taking responsibility for your anger, both when it is reasonable and when it is excessive, and not justifying excesses because “They made me do it because they made you angry!”. Abusers justify their actions on the basis that what the other person did just made them so angry that they couldn’t see straight, and surely they don’t want to act like abusers, right?

(Ironically, the cartoon that Myers shows right above that in his post is about a Trump supporter trying to make someone angry and that person not actually getting angry at all. It misrepresents the situation in a way that both dishonestly makes progressives out to be far less actually mocking than they were and grossly insults anyone who prefers their steaks done that way, but most importantly it, uh, supports the idea that progressives shouldn’t be baited into getting angry, which is not the message Myers is promoting here).

But anger is self-justifying, and Trump has kept progressives in a constant state of anger. And so they keep justifying being angry and the way they act in reaction to that.

Dalrock has a post that gives two examples of this, focusing on feminism specifically. In the first, a woman goes off on a rant against her husband:

I yelled at my husband last night. Not pick-up-your-socks yell. Not how-could-you-ignore-that-red-light yell. This was real yelling. This was 30 minutes of from-the-gut yelling. Triggered by a small, thoughtless, dismissive, annoyed, patronizing comment. Really small. A micro-wave that triggered a hurricane. I blew. Hard and fast. And it terrified me. I’m still terrified by what I felt and what I said. I am almost 70 years old. I am a grandmother. Yet in that roiling moment, screaming at my husband as if he represented every clueless male on the planet (and I every angry woman of 2018), I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead. If one of my grandchildren yelled something that ridiculous, I’d have to stifle a laugh.

My husband of 50 years did not have to stifle a laugh. He took it dead seriously. He did not defend his remark, he did not defend men. He sat, hunched and hurt, and he listened. For a moment, it occurred to me to be grateful that I’m married to a man who will listen to a woman. The winds calmed ever so slightly in that moment. And then the storm surge welled up in me as I realized the pathetic impotence of nice men’s plan to rebuild the wreckage by listening to women. As my rage rushed through the streets of my mind, toppling every memory of every good thing my husband has ever done (and there are scores of memories), I said the meanest thing I’ve ever said to him: Don’t you dare sit there and sympathetically promise to change. Don’t say you will stop yourself before you blurt out some impatient, annoyed, controlling remark. No, I said, you can’t change. You are unable to change. You don’t have the skills and you won’t do it. You, I said, are one of the good men. You respect women, you believe in women, you like women, you don’t hit women or rape women or in any way abuse women. You have applauded and funded feminism for a half-century. You are one of the good men. And you cannot change. You can listen all you want, but that will not create one iota of change.

In the centuries of feminist movements that have washed up and away, good men have not once organized their own mass movement to change themselves and their sons or to attack the mean-spirited, teasing, punching thing that passes for male culture. Not once. Bastards. Don’t listen to me. Listen to each other. Talk to each other. Earn your power for once.

So, something that even she admits was minor prompted her into a roaring rage that scared even her. In the middle of it, even she had to pause to wonder if he really deserved what she was saying to him. And then the rage overwhelmed her and justified her anger despite the fact that he was doing the thing that feminists insisted men do to women: listen. But that wasn’t good enough for her rage, and so she goes on to blame him specifically, a man in his 70s, for not forming or being part of some kind of men’s movement that could fix all these problems and so her rage at him specifically was justified because he was a man and men hadn’t done enough to fix the problems. The rage justified itself so that she could feel good about her rant and that, ultimately, she did the right thing because he deserved it.

And the irrationality of her “reasoning” is clear. Men originally would indeed get together as men and only men to try to solve the problems of women. When they did so, feminists complained that you can’t solve women’s problems without having them represented. So they did. But then feminists complained that male voices still dominated the discussion, and so started demanding equal representation, or even dominance in numbers. Men, they argued, shouldn’t be the ones driving discussion about women’s issues. This led to the actual advice that men listen to women, usually expressed as “Shut up and listen!”.

So he did. And she justified her anger by insisting that he stop doing what women were telling him he needed to do, and instead go off with men and figure out how to solve the problem without making women do it for them, which is precisely what women and feminists told him he couldn’t do because it was unacceptably sexist. Thus, she creates a circle of unacceptability where nothing he does could ever possibly be right and she can always be angry at him for not doing what he’s supposed to do, despite there being nothing that he could do that would be acceptable.

Plus, her question here is basically him why he didn’t come up with a solution for her problems, to which I can only reply as Raiden did in the first Mortal Kombat movie: Why didn’t you? When she had a man who as she admits would listen to her, why didn’t she come up with a solution and tell him to get together with men — and maybe even women — and go implement it? If she thinks the solution is so easy or obvious that a man can easily figure out what it is despite not having the problem himself, surely she should have been able to come up with it and communicate it to men who, by her own admission, were listening to her, right?

But she didn’t. Because her anger and rage isn’t about solving the problem. Her anger and rage doesn’t care about solving the problem. It only wants to keep being angry. And she is accepting its recommendations blindly and wondering why nothing gets better, which only stokes her rage. If she calmed down and thought about things, presumably she’d see that she was being unfair to her husband and irrational in her conclusions. But anger wants to keep being angry, and it keeps telling her that she’s justified in being angry and that everything she did was right. If she let it stop, then she might have to accept that what she did was unfair and irrational. And few people ever want to accept that.

The second link I’m going to talk about is from earlier in the year, and features a woman talking about liberal men being fed up with liberal women and their anger:

To a certain extent, we expected it from the men who wear lobster-printed pants, the men from Connecticut, the Young Republicans of America with their gelled and parted hair, their summers in Nantucket, their LL Bean slippers worn on the porches of fraternities, 2pm on a Monday. But when my friend pulls me aside in a hotel bar and tells me it’s happening to her husband—a man who donates annually to NPR and voted twice for Barack Obama, who has a degree in Art History and works for a non-profit—neither one of us knows what to say.

Everywhere across America, liberal unions once so strong in love—relationships founded on mutual respect and trust and commitment and loyalty—have found themselves upended, or at the very least foundationally rocked, by the political escalation as it relates, perhaps most specifically, to womanhood and gender. Twenties or thirties or forties, children or no children, married or engaged or committed via long-term relationships: I have met more women than I can count in these past three weeks alone who have confided, in low voices—or once shouting, disbelieving, desperate, we have three children, one woman cried to me—of the disruption in their own home.

Of men—previously, pleasantly, progressive—rising up with unprecedented hostility, anger, abandon, and resentment.

Hours later, another wrote to tell me of a save-the-date no longer in need of saving.

My fiancé called off the engagement, she wrote. He loves me—he’s sure, and I believe him—but he’s “overwhelmed” with everything and “doesn’t know how to comfort me” and “doesn’t love who I’ve become.”

Who I’ve become: a phrase I’ve heard most frequently by women who have found themselves rightly riled, women who have perhaps never before—until recently—cited themselves as feminists report the fury, the frustration, the foundational shift as it’s occurring in the men they love so fiercely and the relationships that hold them as a consequence to the male gaze gazing now at their woman, riled.

But I knew these men—I loved one myself—and they are far from misogynistic monsters. They are far from Trump supporters. These men, on the contrary, comprise a particular slice of American males: they are men who did not vote for nor support Donald Trump, but are reticent to admit his behavior, rhetoric, and policies are as outrageous and offensive—downright threatening, maddening—as their female partners perceive them to be. These are, make no mistake, men who wholly sought us for our strength, our independence and education. The jobs we held or coveted. The degrees degreed in our name. Our passions and pursuits and our can-do, want-it-all attitudes. They work as medical researchers or in the arts, in teaching or social work. They queue up the Saturday Night Live skits that humiliate Trump, to consume with our coffee on Sunday mornings, but find it unpalatable and unpleasant that our resentment and our fears linger long into the workweek.

Perhaps it was sexy, initially: how they saw in us an equal. But how quickly we lose our status when we as women are angry or upset, frustrated beyond belief, when we add our voice to the chorus of #metoos or feel daily symptoms borne of helplessness. When the solution to our problems is not a man or a new necklace, but a sense of elongated empathy emanating from the person we’ve chosen as our partner.

A psychology colleague suggests the mental butler—a well-known psychological phenomenon that argues our subconscious is so acutely aware of our tendencies, predispositions, and preferences that it influences behavior. He explains the idea via racially motivated shootings, arguing that while a white cop may not be overtly racist, his mental butler—who, over time, has come to associate African American men with athleticism, aggression, and larger stature—may cause him to act more quickly, confidently, and aggressively when encountering a black man as opposed to a white man.

If a man has somehow wrongly internalized that to be a feminist is to be hateful towards an entire group of people, angry for the sake of anger, condescending, inefficient, than perhaps no woman he has chosen or been tasked to love can shake him of his mental butler. Perhaps no man is capable of understanding, truly, what is always on the line when you are a woman, and how Trump and his toxic rhetoric threatens so very much of it. Perhaps no man can recognize the sinister in Trump’s threats because he has not endured them—in some form or another—for the whole of his life.

My boyfriend? He once built me benches color-matched to our dog’s collar, knowing the matte of that mint green brings me more joy than anything. He lined the benches by the garden. The garden we’d built together. We did that work in unison: he backed up the pickup while I shoveled soil into the beds. The peppers are finally ripe enough to pick, but he’s no longer around to eat them.

In my backyard, in my America, I think of the mental butler. I try to imagine a mindset so wholly shaped by gendered bias that—despite any sense of love or tenderness, respect or commitment to partnership—a man, even a progressive one, automatically and subconsciously conflates feminists or a rise in feminist outrage to a threat to the collective male contingency/population. I think of the way a spider moves—fast and without reproach. First the problem is on the porch. Then it is climbing up your bedpost. Look as it spins a web around your morning and then your month and then your marriage. Look—and please keep looking—as it grips and continues gripping everything you once held dear inside his web.

What I wish these men could know—far beyond our disappointment in the president, or in their leaving—was how it felt, for so many of us, to wake on buses or trains or planes on our way home from the Women’s March. I woke that night to a thousand taillights—many cars but far more buses, thousands of stories packed onto wheels—as we traced the edges of America, making our way home, creeping, fading slowly into the places where we might not so easily belong. But as we climbed the smudged dusk of West Virginia—the heart of America, indeed, the heart of Trump Country—it seemed, if only for that evening, as if the porch lights had been left on for us, for this and this night only, and how amazing it was, truly, to watch our steady stream of red lights blink and brake as we led one another home.

So, these were liberal men. These are men who supported their goals and ambitions, oppose the same things they do, share the same political beliefs, seemed to be in love with them, and all sorts of other good things. And when these men tell them that they’ve changed, that they aren’t the people that they fell in love with anymore, that they’ve become obsessed, that they seem to always be angry, that they seem to be advocating irrational and harmful ideals, she and her friends don’t stop to ask “Maybe we are“. Or, at least, they don’t do so for long. Instead, they rely on a rather ridiculous idea of “the mental butler”, or that they’ve been convinced by others that feminism is about hating men as opposed to even thinking if maybe, just maybe, they were convinced of that by the rage-filled rants of the feminists in their lives that quite likely ranting about how terrible men are without bothering to exclude those wonderful men that they supposedly were in love with, like the first post I linked here. But their anger is justified, right? Trump just is that anti-woman, right? Maybe. But if he is and if it is right for women to be angry at him not everything you do while angry is justified as a response to the situation. If these women — as I suspect they did — were constantly angry and constantly going on about that situation, their men would likely get tired of it after a while. To use an analogy, imagine someone who thinks that their co-workers are stupid and lazy, and constantly tells you about how they think that. You’d probably get sick of that after a while and wish they’d talk about something else. Now imagine that you are one of their co-workers, and they not only don’t exclude you from that assessment, they explicitly include you in their rage. Just imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of that.

But anger — and strong emotion — justifies itself, and justifies its actions. The author here combines justified anger with a justified feeling of solidarity or belonging to insist that the men are just unreasonable and/or unconsciously sexist and/or just don’t understand. They’re right, and their feelings are right and so their actions have to be right, right?

But they aren’t right. And as long as they are under the influence of anger and other strong emotions, they’ll never see that. And they won’t be free of that influence until they stop, sit down, evaluate things rationally, and see what actions are justified and which aren’t.

But strong emotions like anger make that difficult if not impossible. And that’s why we shouldn’t trust them. And that’s why it’s so scary that so many people not only do trust them, but revel in trusting them … which is precisely what we should never do.

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Very, very, very early thoughts on “Cultist Simulator”

October 17, 2018

So, I decided to buy “Cultist Simulator”. While my initial impression of it after reading the description didn’t interest me, I heard later about how the game did good things with narrative and flavour text, and finally read comments on GOG about how the game has things happen and follows the narrative even if you play the game properly — one comment talked about the cultist dying from getting sick not for any real reason other than that sometimes you get sick — and thought that this might be a game that implements my view on there not being bad ends or loss states, but only ends and decided it’d be worth a try just to see. And it would give me something else to talk about on the blog, which is never a bad thing.

Anyway, I bought it, downloaded it, and started playing it just to see what it was like. And I felt overwhelmed with all of the actions and was just placing cards on areas as soon as I could, and mostly was doing that at random and plunking in anything that would work. And then the game crashed. Or, rather, it seems to have made my graphics driver crash. But despite that seeming like a bad thing, it actually improved my view of it, because when I restarted it everything seemed to be frozen when I loaded my save. Was the game screwed up or corrupted? And then I finally noticed that … the game was paused. Which led to another revelation: you can pause the game! I realized, then, that instead of letting it run in real-time what I needed to do was pretty much pause it anytime anything happened. That would let me read the flavour text of the “cards” to get the feel of the narrative that it was building and let me see what each slot on the table was asking for and what each card did so that I wasn’t just trying out everything and seeing what worked, but was instead actually learning how the game worked. This would allow me to not be overwhelmed while still not actually having to fully understand the game to — hopefully — enjoy it.

Given that, this is a game that I need to sit down and spend time analyzing and working with. However, I already have a game that I’m doing that with.. So it’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks at least. But I do think I’ll give the “perma-pause” strategy a try and see if I enjoy the game, and more importantly the semi-random narrative that it can generated.

Back to (old) SF …

October 15, 2018

So I’ve updated my reading list. As you know by now, I’ve finished my third read-through of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, and in addition to that I’ve finished reading “Guns, Germs and Steel” (I’ll comment on that book in the near future). This pretty much clears out my list of historical books that I wanted to read. Thus, I need to decide what I’m going to read next.

I actually have a historical book left to read, about the battle of Waterloo. I picked it up in Chapters recently while browsing for books. But I think I’ve read enough history for a while, and so wanted to do something different. The biggest non-fiction thing on the list is my long, long list of philosophical works that I want to read, but I wasn’t really in the mood for that. I considered just taking a break from trying to get things finished and just read the X-Wing books, but I tend to read those in December and it’s not quite December yet. So I’d still like to try to get something read that I can say that I made progress reading things and to generate content for the blog before taking a break from that with something that is simply pure enjoyment.

So I kinda split the difference. A while ago I went through all of my books and divided them into a number of boxes that contained books that I definitely wanted to read in the near future, books that I might want to read at some point, and books that I would never read again. I have hundreds of books in the first two categories. Among them was a collection of Ben Bova novels, whom I discovered after reading and enjoying his non-fiction work “The High Road”, which talked about using solar power satellites to solve power generation problems. Since I noted the name, I started buying fiction books that he had written. So I have ten of those, and while doing the sorting figured that I should just sit down and read them all at some point. This seemed like a good opportunity to do so. I also decided to finally read “The Mote in God’s Eye” and “The Gripping Hand” that I bought during my rant at the Hugos and and started reading but abandoned because I wanted to read some things just for fun. Since I’m now reading things not just for fun, it seemed like a perfect time to add it to the list and get one more thing accomplished.

I’m treating these like the Sheckley books I read last year: I’m going to read the books and see how well they hold up today and how much I personally enjoy them. The interesting thing is that with the Bova books I might well have read some of them before, but don’t really remember it. I had a tendency to buy books and never get around to reading them (hence some of the Sheckley works, actually). I did this less when I was really young, but more as I got older and had less time to read and more time and money to buy books, and so kept getting distracted by new and old things. Part of that sorting of books was to sort out the books that I should have read at some point but probably never did. So it’ll be interesting to see which of them I remember and which of them I don’t, which wasn’t the case for Sheckley because the only book I remember reading was “The Status Civilization”, and was pretty sure I didn’t read any of the others.

So watch for comments on these to appear in the near future (obviously, these books are easier to read than 1000+ historical texts [grin]).

Thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”

October 12, 2018

So, it took a while, but I did manage to finish reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” for the third time. However, this time was interesting because I read it right after reading “The Storm of War”, and I was interested in seeing how I’d feel reading this book immediately after that one. But it worked out really well. “The Storm of War” focused more on the events during and after WWII, while “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” focuses a lot more on the lead up to the war, as one might expect. So while some of their events overlapped, they really complemented each other. In hindsight, it would have been better to read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” first and then read “The Storm of War” to fill in the details of the later parts of the war that Shirer skims over, but it works out pretty well regardless.

For such a heavy book — both in terms of content and in actual weight — “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” is a remarkably entertaining and accessible read. Shirer mixes in some personal insights with detailed descriptions of events as well as copious quotes from actual memos and other documents, and yet the book rarely seems dry or technical. Shirer’s writing style works well, and he organizes the book in such a way that, in general, one set of events follow from the previous ones so you really do seem to be just progressing through history. In general, it’s a solid read.

I also recommend that people who are interested in calling other people Nazis read this book, because it gives a detailed yet mostly unbiased view of how Nazis worked and why things turned out the way they did. For example, anyone who wants to insist that one of the main reasons Nazism managed to expand was because they weren’t punched enough will note that violence was a common strategy used by all parties in the elections, and that even though they killed more members of other parties the Nazis at least claimed to have had a significant number of deaths as well. The big differentiator was the control of the media, which had been used against the Nazis until they managed to get enough government power to use those controls against their opponents. It also shows how deeply and how shallowly most Nazis adhered to Nazi values, making things more complicated than they might appear at first. For the most part Shirer avoids psychological explanations for the phenomenon and just outlines what people believed, taken at least in part from his own personal experiences, which makes them extremely valuable.

All in all, it’s a great book, and might be the best historical book that I own. Despite it being over 1000 densely packed pages, it is clear that I will eventually read it again for the fourth time.

Why DA2 is more addictive than DAO

October 10, 2018

So, I’m playing DA2 right after finishing some stories in DAO, and it turns out that DA2 has an addictive quality to it that DAO never had, meaning that it’s often hard to stop playing DA2 for the day, whereas it was usually much easier to do that for DAO. And the reason is because of the quest structure.

DAO was built around stories that took place in specific areas, with some backtracking occurring when later quests told you to go back to certain areas. Lothering is the prime example of this because once you leave Lothering the village is destroyed and you can’t go back there to finish up any quests that you didn’t finish. This fosters a playstyle where you follow a story thread to an area, do the story, do all of the sidequests you can along the way, finish the story, and then leave. Thus, you are encouraged to finish an entire full area while doing its story, and to not leave that area until you finish everything you can. Which also means that once you finish an area, it always seems like a good time to stop for the day.

DA2, on the other hand, doesn’t have those really big areas with their own self-contained story. For the most part, Kirkwall itself is roughly equivalent to one of those big areas, and the story always runs through Kirkwall and its environs. But Kirkwall is divided into a number of small areas, and there are more of these small areas than there were in any big area in DAO, and that’s even if you don’t take into account the fact that all of the city areas are duplicated at night and that there’s an outskirts to play with. Quests pop up in these areas at times and also move from area to area as you go along and resolve them. And since there’s a rough Act structure to the story, if you start the final story quests for that Act it’s like Lothering all over again; you simply cannot go back to finish quests that you started in the previous act. Thus, this structure fosters a playstyle where you start with an overall area — Kirkwall Day, Kirkwall Night, or Kirkwall Outskirts — and complete all of the Companion and non-story quests there, move on to the next area, repeat until all areas are clear of quests that don’t directly relate to the main story, do the next main story mission, see what non-story quests pop up, rinse and repeat until only the last main story quests are left, finish them, and finish the Act. Thus, the only natural stopping point is after an Act (and even there the game tends to dump you back into the middle of the action after the time jump so there are still things you can do and that the game encourages you to get on right away). But Acts are longer than most DAO areas, so you might not be able to play one through in one sitting, and the game structure gets you into a pattern where you start forgetting about time because it becomes so habitual to just hop to the next area and clear all of its quests until there aren’t any more to clear, and it’s only when you are pointedly reminded of the time or run out of quests that you realize that you’ve been playing quite a bit longer than you intended.

I really, really like DA2’s quest structure, and wish more games would do something like it rather than the “Run around looking for all the quests in a big area” thing that most do. DAI returned to DAO’s structure, but with bigger areas as they were trying to simulate the open world structure of Elder Scrolls games, and all it did was force me to grind out each area completely for fear that if I didn’t I wouldn’t have enough XP to do well at the next area. DA2 had that as well — there were a couple of shady quests that I skipped but worried that doing so would mean that I couldn’t get enough money to move on, although at the time of at least one of them I unknowingly already had enough money to move on (and the quest giver taunted Varric that I looked like someone who spent money rather than saved it [grin]) — but the quests were shorter and moved you along to different areas enough that it felt less grindy; I wasn’t doing all of them just so that I could move on to the next area safely, but to clean all of that up so that I could directly advance the story. Unfortunately, it seems to be the sort of thing that you can only justify with limited resources, because if you have the resources to build bigger areas more people will enjoy those, and it’s hard to see how to fit this sort of thing into those sorts of areas without turning it into DAI.

Still, it does mean that I play it a bit longer than I’d like to unless I have a specific appointment to push me to stop. I can’t say whether that’s good or bad [grin].

Final Thoughts on Dynasty

October 8, 2018

Season 9 is the Platonic Form of Dynasty, as it perfectly captures its essential nature in its strengths and weaknesses. It combines very strong character acting with an utterly ludicrous set of plots that make no sense and aren’t interesting besides.

As usual, John Forsythe does an excellent job, along with Gordon Thomson and Michael Nader. Linda Evans leaves part-way through the season, which removes a sometimes weak actress although she always worked well enough for the role she had (it’s hard for the good girl to get really good opportunities to chew the scenery). Heather Locklear finally seems to get comfortable in the role of Sammy Jo, which is especially shown in the friendship/rivalry she has with Fallon which is completely believable. Stephanie Beacham comes on from The Colbys to chew the scenery in a way that only a soap opera villain/villainess can. Tracey Scoggins also comes over from The Colbys and has wonderful chemistry with John James as friendly semi-siblings. But the real improvement is Emma Samms, who after taking over for Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon always seemed to struggle to capture Fallon’s snark while doing a much better job with the vulnerability that Fallon had to show at times. In Season 9, she manages to figure out the snark part and manages to keep the vulnerability part, doing an excellent job with the character. Joan Collins seems distracted in Season 9 — she is deliberately absent for a number of episodes, suggesting that she was doing something else at the same time — but a distracted Joan Collins is still Joan Collins.

Unfortunately, the plots are exceptionally stupid. The main plot revolves around the recovery of a perfectly preserved for some reason body of Frank Grimes, who was Alexis’ lover when Blake threw her out and then disappeared. The body is conveniently found when Krystle starts to lose her sanity due to a previous injury and runs off to a lake for … some reason. Fallon finds the body compelling for some reason, and so starts looking into the murder and hooks up with the police detective who suspects Blake had something to do with it. Meanwhile, Blake, Jeff and Dex are being cagey about the whole thing because it turns out that their family had gotten involved in smuggling some Nazi treasure into the country and hid it there, and Blake doesn’t want to let that get out for … some reason. Alexis, of course, thinks Blake killed Grimes. It turns out that Fallon had shot him after he got too rough with Alexis, and Fallon’s grandfather covered it up and they both blocked it out of their minds, which makes no sense whatsoever. The treasure itself was moved but finally found by Krystina and the boys, leading to a hostage cliffhanger which is where the series ends. The B-plot was Stephanie Beacham’s character trying to take Colby Co away from Alexis, with international intrigue and terrorism on both sides, which was dull.

However, one improvement on the plot front was removing Stephen from the show. Up until Season 8, his main plot was about how he was gay but still wanted to have sex with attractive women, which was dull and repetitive. In more ways than one, actually, because he repeated with the same women, doing it with Claudia twice and Sammy Jo twice. However, in Season 8 Blake makes him the head of the company in a triumvirate with Fallon and Adam, and he becomes pretty much a dictator, and the plot has to contort itself to make him both unreasonable enough so that Fallon — who is very close to him — can oppose him but also ultimately make him out to be right. The idea situation would have been to have Adam in favour of the deal, Fallon neutral, and Stephen opposed, but this would make Adam too stupid, so they give the strongest support to Fallon. Except Fallon is smart enough to get Dex’s advice, which forces Dex to both act like his instincts are telling him that there’s something wrong but that the deal still seems on the up-and-up enough for Fallon to use that as justification for pushing for it. It turns out to be a disaster, of course, but getting there was ridiculous and did no favours for Stephen’s character. It was a relief that he left for Season 9.

The show really didn’t do Adam’s character very well. In hindsight, he was the perfect character to mostly side with Alexis — because she accepted him as her son right away — while being available to do shady things for Blake when Blake really needed someone shady to side with him, and to pull away from Alexis when she went over the line (a role that went much less interestingly to Dex). Instead, they kept trying to pull Heel-Face-Heel turns on him, and it didn’t really work because they would continually try to make him a Heel immediately after making him sympathetic. A prime example of this is the arc with Virginia, Krystle’s cousin who had a past as a streetwalker that connected her with Dex. Adam is feuding with Dex, finds out about it, seemingly gets involved with her to get at Dex, asks her to wear what she did for Dex, which humiliates her into leaving, which causes Dex to attack him, which causes Blake to reject him for humiliating Virginia, which angers Adam and sends him back to work with his mother. But this happened right after he lost custody of his surrogate child, at least in part because his wife at the time didn’t support him fully with an angry outburst suggesting that she thought the child should go with the mother. This is even brought up during the relationship with Virginia. It’s hard for us to see him as that cold and manipulative at that point — although it is consistent with his character — to do all this just to get back at Dex. It would have worked at lot better if Adam had taken up with her because he found her interesting and it replaced Dana for him, then find out about her past, then think that that was great as he’d be able to get the nice girl in the world and the slut in the bedroom, and then have him try that which humiliates her and then kicks off the rest of it. That way we could see that Adam has a point in being upset that Blake won’t believe him but can also see why Blake would jump to that conclusion, thus justifying his return to his mother again. As it stands, Adam is made at Blake for believing that he’d do what the show implies he was actually doing, which makes his protests hollow.

So, ultimately, what did I think of the show? Well, it’s probably best to compare it to the show that inspired it and that it’s most like: Dallas. While the acting was overall better on Dynasty, the plots were far worse, and that’s even accepting that Dallas had some very stupid plots. Joan Collins was probably a better actress than Larry Hagman, but J.R. was a much more competent villain than Alexis and got to play the good guy more often and better than Alexis did. The show didn’t have the Bobby character to play off of, as Blake was more the main protagonist than mostly a foil for Alexis, and while both Stephen and Jeff played the good guy at times they didn’t really have the prominence to go toe-to-toe with Alexis. So, ultimately, it’s a deeply flawed show, even for a soap opera. That being said, it’s still entertaining enough to watch and does manage to mix sex with convoluted schemes and wealth that was the formula for success for night-time soap operas. I’ll probably watch it again at some point … but I’m likely to rewatch Dallas first.

Sick …

October 5, 2018

So, as I already mentioned, there was an extended power outage here a couple of weeks ago. I happened to be on vacation the following week, and joked to my parents that after the power outage and all I needed to do to recover after it I was pretty much back to the point where I could go and start doing the things that I wanted to do at the start of my vacation by this past weekend.

And then I caught a cold.

While many people would complain that getting sick on their vacation would ruin it, I’ve never really felt that way. Years ago, I had my wisdom teeth removed, and deliberately scheduled it for a Friday so that if I ended up reacting badly to the anesthetic or in pain I had the weekend to recover from it. One of my co-workers expressed some surprise at this, to which my response was that if I was sick enough that all I could do was sit around and watch TV all day, would that be a bad weekend, or a good weekend? I considered it to be a good weekend. The same thing applies to getting sick on vacation: I’d rather be sick when I really don’t have to do anything than sick when I need to be or should be at work. That way I don’t really feel bad at all if all I do is lie around and read, watch DVDs, or play games.

As it turns out, the weather impeded me more than my cold did, since it rained at least part of almost every day making it too wet to do the outside things I wanted to do, which are the only things that I really needed to get done before going back anyway.

That being said, while replacing my window handles I managed to pick up all of Eccleston’s, Tenant’s, Smith’s and Capaldi’s runs on Doctor Who, which means that I can watch them again after watching them twice while I had Shomi and not being able to watch them since. I also finished off all of my characters in Dragon Age: Origins and have started my analysis run of DA2, which is turning out to be a bit too addictive a game for me [grin]. So, stuff happened and I’m feeling better now. All in all, not the vacation I was hoping for, but it worked out well enough …

Dragon Age: Origins: Issues with Secondary Antagonists …

October 3, 2018

So, over the past couple of weeks I’ve now played the end sequence of Dragon Age: Origins three times, finishing off all of my characters (except my very first character, a human mage, which I redid — even keeping the same name, although accidentally — as my last character). Since I always leave Orzammar for last, that also meant that I replayed at least parts of that storyline for at least two different characters. I’ve now played as a City Elf, Dwarf Noble, Dalish Elf, and Human Mage. With the last character, I also made Loghain a Grey Warden and ended up losing Alistair, which I didn’t do for any of my other characters. And that story really drove home something for me about the secondary antagonists in this game, which I think is best exemplified by Prince Bhelen … and the fact that I never chose him to be king with any of my characters and can’t really see how any of them could do that.

Bhelen is an antagonist in the Dwarven Noble introductory story. He’s the one who essentially sets the Dwarven Noble up and gets him assigned to execution. Harrowmount, in contrast, supports the Dwarven Noble and I believe is the one who gets the sentence commuted to being left in the Deep Roads, which at least gives a chance of survival (and Duncan rescues him, leading to the start of the main quest). So it’s pretty obvious that for almost all characters there is no reason for them to side with Bhelen, as what he did was unforgivable. However, those events are also hinted at in Orzammar, along with some other things that suggest that Bhelen is not to be trusted. If you actually investigate which of the two would make the better leader, you can’t help but discover that Bhelen is treacherous and Harrowmount is trustworthy if a bit staid and conservative. Given this, it’s really hard to not simply support Harrowmount because no matter whether he’s the best king for the Dwarfs, he can at least be counted on to keep his word, whereas it’s far too easy to believe that when you put out the call for Bhelen to keep his word and support the Grey Wardens against the Blight if he decides that that isn’t in his interest he’ll simply refuse to do so. Everything we know about his character suggests this. Harrowmount may not have the best policies, but he’s honest and definitely seems more concerned about the good of Orzammar than about his own self-interest. About the only character that might support Bhelen is the Dwarven Commoner, as their sister is Bhelen’s wife, which gives the Commoner a reason to believe Bhelen is trustworthy and that he might be more likely to support his family (which the Dwarven Noble storyline flat-out refutes).

Unfortunately, the game tries to present this as a choice between a good king whose ideas are outdated and so bad for the Dwarves vs someone more shady who at least has the proper ideas. The problem is that Bhelen is so shady that we can’t trust anything about him. His best idea is about breaking down the caste system, but we can be sure that he’ll maintain it if it benefits him. He is certainly willing to appeal to tradition when it suits him, like appealing to the fact that he’s the last remaining son of the previous king and so should, by rights, be made king. Even if the game presents it as working out better to make him king, pretty much no character can trust that he’ll do anything he says he’ll do, and so even if you think that his policies are the right ones you can’t really trust that he’ll actually do it. So, if you want to be sure of help against the Blight, you’ll choose Harrowmount. If you want to support the better person, you’ll support Harrowmount. If you want to do what’s best for the Dwarves, you’ll probably still support Harrowmount because he’s at least honest, will do what he says he’ll do, and cares about Orzammar first and foremost. The conflict is weakened because as an antagonist Bhelen is just way too evil to carry the shades of grey required to make that conflict really work.

The same thing applies to Loghain. It would be a great redemption tale to take that secondary antagonist — and the more visible one for most of the game — and turn him into a Grey Warden who gets sacrificed to end the Blight. Loghain certainly has enough heroism in his background to make that work. But Loghain isn’t just someone who made a tough choice that resulted in some deaths. He deliberately turned his back in the battle and left his king to die, when he could easily have simply refused to go along with the plan if he really thought it would be that disastrous. He trucks with assassins and slavers and shows little remorse or even rationalizations for doing so. At the Landsmeet, if you confront him with the slavery operations being run in the Alienage he insists that he did what was necessary but never actually explains what he needed that for, and what they were giving him. The game seems to want to present him as someone who was driven to extreme ends by the conflict, but never actually establishes that those ends were necessary. Thus, we are more likely to see him as evil rather than as merely misguided, and thus are uninterested in seeing him redeem himself. Alistair actually has a good point in saying that that sort of redemption is too good for someone who has done what Loghain has done, even if he pushes the point far too far to be rational.

And that’s the problem here. The game fell into the trap of making us want to oppose the antagonists — or, in Loghain’s case, to be able to defeat him through public opinion — by making their deeds so reprehensible that all characters — even the most pragmatic — want to oppose them and/or have no choice but to do so. But if you do that it’s very hard to make workable storylines using them that are more grey in nature. Loghain is a perfect character for a grey storyline where he always had Ferelden’s best interests at heart but through paranoia and fear did the wrong things, but his actions go far beyond that into evil or at least insane territory. And Bhelen’s policies would work to provide an interesting contrast in a character that we really believed cared about Orzammar, which we don’t do for Bhelen. They made the characters too strong of antagonists to make the “Well, it’s not as clearcut as it seems” twist work at all, especially since we need to buy that while we’re still supposed to be hating them. We simply can’t shift emotional gears that quickly when we’ve been buried in just how evil both of them actually are.

At the end of the day, the game tries to place redeeming qualities in characters that they’ve spent a lot of time removing all redeeming qualities from. It can’t pull that off, and so both storylines are greatly weakened by that, in at least most playthroughs.

Elite 10

October 1, 2018

So, last week I had promised to give my final thoughts on “Dynasty” today but had forgotten that I’d have something else to talk about: curling is back, with the Elite 10! This is the first year that they have an explicit women’s division of 10 teams although Rachel Homan played in it once a couple of years ago, which meant that I would actually watch it since I only watch women’s curling.

At any rate, Anna Hasselborg managed to win her first Grand Slam title — after losing her previous three attempts, including one time against Val Sweeting where she essentially choked — over Silvana Tirinzoni. It was a final that had two teams that I don’t really care that much for one way or the other, and the big difference seemed to be that Tirinzoni — who throws third rocks even though she’s the skip — didn’t play very well.

The Elite 10 uses a match play format, and I think that it was really hurt by the fact that on the Grand Slam they only play eight ends instead of ten. I’ve commented on how that has an impact before, but here it’s even worse. When you hit the sixth end and are up by 2 ends, it’s pretty much time to coast. Yes, teams can come back — Casey Scheidegger did it against Rachel Homan — but it’s really hard and a team there is forced to be really aggressive in order to do that, because a push is not going to be helpful. So the games seemed to generally start with a short feeling out period — as in curling ice conditions can change quite a bit from game to game or even from sheet to sheet — and then one team got up some and either kept rolling or just hung on and won. Those two extra ends can really help to make comebacks easier to achieve, and comebacks are one of those things in sports that everyone pretty much wants to see, because they’re so exciting.

But then it seems to me that sports these days are focusing on speed rather than on making things interesting, and are doing so in a way that makes games go faster and/or have less downtime without considering that sometimes the downtime is actually interesting. Here, they were trying out changing the time clock, where instead of having a set amount of time for the entire game the teams are each given four minutes per end to make all of their shots. One of the commentators commented that he liked it because it avoided the people who would bank time early in the game to use it later when things were more complicated or more important. Except that that point of the game is when you’d both have a really complicated situation — where it isn’t clear what the right decision is — and where the end is really important, as the game is likely tight and a wrong decision can be the difference between scoring a lot and getting back into the game and giving up a huge score and being out of it. These are precisely the times when there just is lots to think about, and where the discussions are actually interesting. If the fans know curling well, they’re going to be thinking about the shots in the same way as the players will. If they don’t and are watching on TV, the commentators will be going through that same thought process, or listening in on the players as they go through it, which is interesting. And even live and in-person they might be able to listen in on the players, as curling has gotten pretty good at making the audience in general feel like part of the game by doing so. So this sort of change runs a greater risk that teams will have to rush shots or consideration just because they have no time left and trades that rushing for speeding up the game when the slowing down of the game is the most interesting, tense, and suspenseful. I don’t see that as a good trade.

And on top of that, while banking time is boring because it’s all standard shots and everything stays open, it’s also quick and so doesn’t bore the audience that much. So you trade a fast but dull end earlier for a slower but more suspenseful one later.

There has to be room for slower and more considered sports in the sporting market. One of the things that curling is really good at is combining considered strategy with actual play. It is a bit like chess where every move you make can have an impact later on in the end, and so even trivial moves or misses can be important later. And often it isn’t even clear how that shot will have an impact, because that missed guard that came too close to the rings might be used for a runback or in-off later. So curling can allow you to consider each shot in the context of the entire end and so pondering or listening in on these discussions is one of the interesting parts of the game, and is something that you don’t really get from any other sport. Rushing the teams takes that away for a nebulous goal of “Make it faster!”, which doesn’t seem like much of a benefit to me. It seems to me that curling would be better served trying to fill that niche rather than making themselves just another “action” sport, where they simply can’t compete due to the nature of the game itself.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the Elite 10. Next up is the Masters, where I hope to finally see the all-skip team … and not just because Val Sweeting is on that team [grin].

Thoughts on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

September 28, 2018

So, quite a while ago I talked about X-23 (2010) and said I’d talk more about TPBs that I was reading. I, uh, never really got around to doing that. But as I noted this week I recently read Peter David’s “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” and since I couldn’t actually write blog posts this past weekend due to not having power, I thought it would be a good idea to slide a relatively quick commentary on it here to fill in my Friday spot for this week.

The series takes place in the middle of but mostly in the aftermath of Civil War, where Peter has revealed his secret identity to the world, rejected the pro-registration side, and become a fugitive. It brings back a number of characters and situations from Peter’s earlier days, like restoring Flash from his coma — with amnesia so he has forgotten being Peter’s friend, bringing Betty Brant back into the picture, and having Liz Allen write a book bashing Peter for how he treated her when they were together and he was hiding his secret identity from her. Heck, he even mentions Felicia at one point. It goes even further when it has a cross-dimensional version of Ben Parker arrive to cause some issues for the team, adding in a future version of himself as well as of his daughter, who gets turned into a kind of a Joker-type villain due to misfiring nanites that her lover uses to try to break her out of a virtual prison. At the same time, a supernatural being created solely out of spiders is trying to breed with Flash or him and kill Peter, and others show up, like Mysterio and Chameleon.

To be honest, that’s the weakest part of the series: the plots. They are long and convoluted and confusing and very often rely on continuity that someone new to Spider-Man won’t really get. The book is pretty good at explaining what happened before so that we aren’t lost, but it’s hard to build that emotional connection that many of them require in order to pull them off. The supernatural threat is the weakest of them, while the Ben Parker storyline is interesting but ends rather oddly in order to set up the next one. All in all, the plots are nothing to write home about.

But where it does shine is in the character interactions. The Flash plot starts annoying, but builds towards the end as Flash gets to reveal his non-bullying side. Betty Brant gets some great interactions with both Peter and Flash. Liz Allen’s character arc is short, but reveals that she didn’t really want to smear Peter, but needed the money the book would provide and so didn’t feel like she could complain too much without risking that … which then leads to Betty Brant getting involved. But the best one is probably how it deals with Jameson discovering that Peter was Spider-Man all along, with a lovely short arc that involves him firing Robertson, facing down Spider-Man in a long discussion, and reconciling with Robertson.

Peter David has always been really good at funny dialogue, which makes him a perfect writer for Spider-Man. And as expected, it really works here. Each character gets humour in their own voice, but also probably make more jokes than at least some of them would normally. The humourous touches really add to the enjoyment of the work, even when the plots themselves aren’t really wowing anyone.

Overall, it was entertaining. None of the plots are classic plots for good reason, but it handles the Civil War upheaval about as well as could be expected, and the character arcs actually do manage to build in the emotions that they needed to succeed. It was definitely worth reading.