Thoughts on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

August 13, 2018

Yep, the original cartoon. A while ago I purchased a big He-Man collection, featuring the entire original series, the “best” of “The New Adventures of He-Man”, and the entire 2002 series. I had, of course, watched at least the original series and the 2002 series the first time, but that was a few years ago so I decided to watch all of them again and see how they held up.

It’s actually amazing how well the original series has held up.

The thing about the series is that it has what I recall someone commenting somewhere at Shamus Young’s site saying was generally true about the 80s: while it was odd and quirky, it was just so damn sincere about it that it was endearing. While sometimes the plots and even the overarching premise were very, very odd, the series for the most part took that and itself seriously, and yet not too seriously. They mixed in a lot of humour, even from Skeletor himself, which is what made him such a good villain, with the ability to be utterly menacing and yet utterly goofy at times as well. One of my favourite gags was when Evil-Lyn and Webstor stole some critical artifact without Skeletor’s knowledge, but he had seen them bring the thing into Snake Mountain right before He-Man shows up demanding it. He turns back from the window and asks them if that was what He-Men was asking for, they confirmed that it was, and he replies to He-Man “Sorry, haven’t seen it!”.

And the plots did work a lot of the time, even if they weren’t particularly complex. At the end, they dragged because there was only so much you could do with that premise, and some of them — especially in the later seasons — were just plain stupid, but for a half-hour children’s cartoon show they worked really well to provide light entertainment. Which is really all you could expect or want from a show like that.

The characters also worked. Stratos seemed to be the butt-monkey most of the time, but for the most part the characters — including the Attack Trac — were generally quirky but fit their roles well, and most of them even got some time in the limelight. This also included Skeletor’s minions, although by the end they were pretty much just a joke, except for Evil-Lyn, whom I really did like, especially as she allowed for a power struggle behind the scenes between her and Skeletor while making it clear why she would still work with him and he’d keep her around: they both needed each others’ abilities too often to ditch each other. Evil-Lyn also had a bit of a rivalry with Teela, but they both respected each other from the times that they had to work together to get things through. Teela herself is strong without being (too) annoying, which is more than a lot of modern strong heroines can achieve.

People often laugh about the terrible animation of the show, but I didn’t see that as a problem. Yes, the animation was primitive, but when the direction was good things were set up that the action didn’t need complex animation. Things were repeated from show to show and even in-show, but in ways that made sense and so didn’t detract from the action. It was rare that I noticed the animation failures, and most of those were, again, in the later seasons. In the early seasons, things flowed so much that the animation seemed “natural”, even though, again, it was primitive.

Ultimately, the original series was, for the most part, just plain fun. Not over-complicated, and not generally overly preachy, even in the ending “So now you know” sequences. It had some decent characterization and character development — the big one being Teela being the Sorceress’ daughter — but all of that tended to be in service to the show and the fun. Again, while at times it was idiotic in general that only lasted for a couple of episodes before it got back to being fun again. This is definitely a series that I’d watch again.

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Update on Elsinore …

August 10, 2018

So I was reading through my archives at one point and was reminded of Elsinore, and since my impression at the time was that the game was almost finished or at least readily playable and since that was over two years ago I figured I’d take a look and see what was happening with it. And the latest update is that almost two and a half years later … the game is finally maybe getting ready for release. They have a Steam page, for example. And their latest Kickstarter update says that they’re working on issues discovered in Beta! So, if you were anxiously awaiting this game, you might actually get it.

Unfortunately, from the original Kickstarter page, the original delivery date was supposed to be April 2016 … or around the time that I posted about it and when Carolyn Petit talked about it. Given that it’s almost two and a half years later, they were no where near a proper release at that point.

And the things they talk about in the update, despite having two more years to work on it, aren’t all that promising either:

While we’re still making steady progress, a release date is still pending as we take time to clean up a big pile of bugs and content issues.

Most of the things we’re working on are back-end housekeeping-y tasks, and don’t make exciting bullet points (hence the relative silence) but here are recent updates we have, many of which involve responding to feedback you gave us during the beta:

Better Tutorials
There are a lot of features to help players manage the simulation of Elsinore, and previously we were just kind of… throwing them at you. Well, no more!

We are have some helpful pointers when each of those feature are introduced to tell you what each of these features do, and some tips and tricks to navigate the game effectively. We kept them brief, too – so they shouldn’t slow down game-play at all!

Furry Friends!
The last of our in-game backer rewards is now actually in-game and functional! All of your cats and great dane-ified dogs will now show up at various locations in the castle!

Two pets show up every loop, so the fact that they happened to be in the same place in this screenshot is actually very, very unlikely.

Why do only two pets show up each time?

Um. Well.

Our lore answer is animals can perceive the time loop and therefore are not bound by it! The real answer is that having 20 cats and dogs running around was very distracting.

A Real Options Menu
By far the most exciting pre-launch task is creating a real options menu. This one is underway. Right now, you only have one option – how fast do you want your text to scroll? Val and Connor learned from Socrates Jones that people care very, very deeply about this.

Obviously, a lot more important things will be put here before release. Graphics and sound options, mainly – if any of you have any strong opinions on what should be here, let us know!

And that’s it for now!
I mean, it’s not really it.There is a bunch of other stuff currently in progress that we’re hoping to get in, but don’t want to trumpet too loudly – we are at the point where we will drop new features if they push us back too far.

We’re hoping to do one more big backer build update before release – we talked about doing them more often, but each update comes with a risk of breaking your save files (Actually, making that less likely is ANOTHER of the big things we’ve been working on. But that only works going forward…)

So, they are dealing with a huge pile of bugs and content issues, which is delaying the release. And that was at the beginning of July, and they’ve said nothing else there since. Also, they needed to add real tutorials – the claim is “better” but the hint is that the tutorials were non-existent — to explain their mechanics. They finally added a backer reward of including dogs and cats in the game — I, uh, really have to wonder how many backers found that to be a clinching reward — but noted that they couldn’t actually put them in the way they originally intended to. Okay, that one might be something left to the end and discovered during beta, fine. They also have to actually add a number of configuration options to the game … which they call updates to the “menu” while admitting that the options weren’t in the game. And they’re even asking what should be in there! That’s … not something you should be doing when you’re claiming to be releasing soon.

So, almost two and a half years later, they are finally prepping for release with a host of bugs and content issues and major standard functionality completely missing. Yeah, that’s … not good. It would also be interesting to see if most of the bugs and content issues are the result of the complex interactions that I thought they’d have a hard time getting a handle on or if it’s more the result of bad or rushed coding. I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes for the game to be released — to be fair to them, that could be as early as tomorrow — and what state it’s in when it is released. The hope is that the beta testing is indeed finding the issues with it that I noted in my post and so it might not be a disaster at the end of the day. The longer cycle after beta would seem promising if you’re a fan of the game, but I’m not sure that we can trust their assessment of the game given how they talked about it two years ago and that it took them two years longer than they expected to get the game out, and did a beta already in 2016.

At this point, if it comes out on GOG, I almost have to buy it and see how it turned out, out of morbid curiosity and, well, an attempt to be fair to the game. I don’t buy anything from Steam, though, so if it stays only there then I won’t be able to.

How to Fix the new Star Wars Trilogy

August 8, 2018

So, as promised, here’s my response to this question:

Those who do not like the current direction of Starwars. What do you feel would be a good series of changes or proposed ideas going forward, that would not simply make the films better for you. What would be something that you would like. But not alienate those of us who like the current direction.

This is difficult to do because aside from the already mentioned fact that the those who like the current direction might not be all that large a fraction of the actual potential fan base, it’s also difficult to know what they COULD like about the current direction, because one of the main issues is that the current trilogy seems to have NO direction. TFA had lots of idiocy in it and didn’t set up very much, but what it DID set up TLJ happily jetisoned, but then it actually contradicted ITSELF for the entire movie, so it’s hard to see what “direction” there is to like.

From what I’ve read, the two big things that people like are the female protagonist, and the more grey morality when it comes to the Force, and perhaps the idea that some people are just evil and can’t be converted back to the light. I’m not sure that all of those CAN be preserved while staying in line with the OT, not because those themes aren’t valid to explore — Legends explored all of those — but because the way the trilogy did it means that it will be hard to do anything in one movie that makes everything make sense.

So, to start, the last movie cannot be “Resistence Triumphant!” like RotJ was. It’s going to have to be about rebuilding or reforming the actual Rebellion, and so essentially like the ending of the PT. The First Order is ascendant, but the Rebellion exists to give hope that they can be toppled. Then there should be another set of movies or trilogy to show the progress of the Rebellion. However, don’t let Abrams or Johnson anywhere near it. They’ve burned far too much good will with the OT fan base, at least in part due to their own comments, to be trusted with anything like that again.

Rey needs to lose badly in the last movie. She desperately needs to be humbled, to have doubts introduced, and to see that her approach is a really bad one. This is especially true since right now she constantly acts out of anger, which the other movies have established is a very risky way to use the Force and is not what a Jedi does. TLJ establishes her AS The Last Jedi based on what Yoda says — and given her reliance on anger and his views on that throughout all of the other movies this is a major contradiction — and so she had better not simply abandon one of its main tenets. Have her anger cause her to have a serious brush with the Dark Side, and realize that the Dark Side is not neutral (like she did in TLJ, seemingly seeking it out to try to find answers). Have her almost kill Finn in her anger by setting things up so that she thinks he might be a traitor when he isn’t, and have that cause her to realize that her anger is driving her to be evil, and so that she has to be humble and actually learn to control them, and that acting out of righteous anger is NOT a good approach, because when she finishes off one enemy her anger drives her to look for another one.

Kylo Ren needs to be made into an actual villain by resolving his conflicted feelings. What I’d do is have him take Snoke’s comments the wrong way, and decide that the problem is that he ISN’T really committed to “the mask”, and so seal himself entirely into armour — which allows us to get rid of the mumbling Adam Driver and give Kylo an actual intimidating voice — and so become completely evil. Have him fall into lava while wearing it, so that he’s only kept alive by his armour and his own black will, as Obi-Wan claimed was true of Vader. Thus, his arc is complete: he has become Vader, only this time he’s the master, not the apprentice, and he’s the one running the Empire.

Give Finn something to do, or else have Rey kill him. In retrospect, Rey actually killing Finn in a rage after her failure, blaming him for it when he didn’t have anything to do with it, would be more striking and more humbling for Rey.

Reduce Poe to Wedge status. That’s the role he’s best suited for anyway, and you can still feature him in supplementary material.

Introduce a new set of leaders, like we had in the OT, with one being political and one being military/fleet, at least.

And as I said, at the end the FO clearly wins, but the Rebellion is reborn with their now humbled Jedi symbol who knows she has a LOT to learn, and the next movies are all about how the Rebellion goes about toppling the First Order.

I suspect that many of the fans you talk about would hate this, especially Rey being humbled, but this is about the best I can do with it to try to add the ambiguity while being consistent with the other trilogies.

Thoughts on “The Last Jedi”

August 6, 2018

So, I did watch “The Last Jedi”, and I have a rather surprising conclusion about it to share: I think I like it better than “The Force Awakens”.

I still don’t think it’s a very good movie, though.

I’ll talk about why I think that below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

My Lists Are Long …

August 3, 2018

So, I’ve talked about the lists I’ve updated and created to try and get things done. The three lists that are on the blog are, well, all rather long, and also aren’t entirely complete. For example, I only have three hourly shows listed on my list of shows to watch on DVD despite the fact that I do indeed have a rather large library of DVDs to watch, that contain both shows that I’ve never watched and shows that I have watched but really want to watch again. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Knight Rider after finishing Dynasty, and so it might not even be accurate (the half-hour list is pretty much right). And when it comes to my reading list, I have a large number of philosophical works listed and, on top of that, have a number of works that count as “literature” that I want to slide in there at some point. Oh, and I’ve already mentioned the six+ boxes of fiction that I want to read. Essentially, I’m setting up lists that, if I try to complete everything on them, will likely take me years to complete.

I might be overthinking this a little …

That being said, I am making progress. I’ve made good progress on the history books that I wanted to complete, and so can expect to finish the list in a couple of months or so. He-Man has stalled a little since I started slipping Dynasty in as well, but that’s only because I’ve taken time away from it to watch Dynasty, which means that I’m about half-way through it. All I really need to do is live up to my bargain and actually watch the half-hour show in the evenings, after watching one or more episodes of the hourly show and hitting a convenient time point. And I’ve still made some progress on He-Man anyway, especially in the last few days. Finishing Persona was a coup, and I’ve started Persona 2 and am making progress with it … although it turns out that games are working out the worst, because every time I play Persona 2 it reminds me of how much better Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and a number of things keep reminding me of other games that I’d like to play. Thus, I feel the most dissatisfied with the games I’m playing, and there actually isn’t an alternative like I had with “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which was to read it for an hour or so and then read Deadpool graphic novels in my general reading time. I don’t have free general game playing time nor do I have a lot of games that I could play in general spare time to at least let me play a game that I want to play or enjoy. The counter to that is that for video games there are far fewer games that would make me feel that way; Persona 2 is just a special case, and only because I like the modern Persona games that much more than them that it drags down my enjoyment of those games.

However, an issue with this is that I have little programming projects in the queue as well, but the pressure to finish these things tends to distract me from doing them. It’s not so much that I consider those things more important than the programming projects, but that I consider them at about the same level, and due to time constraints it doesn’t really work to do them in the early weekend afternoons like I had planned. What I’m finding is that my morning stuff plus cooking lunch plus cleaning up takes me just past the starting point for those projects, but then that wouldn’t leave me a lot of time before I’m supposed to play games (and I only have a few days to do that as well). I don’t want to delay playing games because a) I need the hours to get through them in any reasonable amount of time and b) I don’t want to play them too late because then I might not fall asleep that well. Plus, playing them too late would also cut into the time I can explicitly watch those DVDs. So it’s just easier for me to start playing earlier and then finish earlier, and I still get my watching and reading done as well. It just ends up cutting off all of those little projects, which then makes me feel bad that I’m doing nothing on them.

I think a reshuffling of my schedule is in the offing …

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how I progress with this and how satisfied I’ll be with the whole thing as time goes by. So far it hasn’t been terrible and it has been nice to finish some things that I’ve always wanted to finish, but there have been moments when the things that are supposed to be mostly fun haven’t actually been fun. We’ll have to see if they’re fun enough for me to still have some fun with things while still feeling that I’m progressing.

First Thoughts on Persona 2

August 1, 2018

After playing through the first couple of dungeons, I think I like Innocent Sin less than I liked the original Persona. This … is not a good sign [grin].

The game carries over a number of gameplay elements and thus annoyances from the original Persona. You still have to get new Personas through negotiation, although this time it seems to be by gathering cards that you can use to fuse new Personas rather than by having to recruit them directly. Still, this maintains the choice between leveling up your characters and gathering Persona and cards. And some random elements happen when the Shadows interrupt the conversation and ask questions, but only enough to be a bit annoying and not enough to actually make it a challenge. At least the conversations seem to be easier this time and so I’ve managed to gather up a fair number of cards, but for the most part it’s still boring and still clashes with experience gain.

It also provides a temptation to just do the conversation to avoid the fight since the combat is nowhere near as interesting as it is in the later Persona games. This, of course, risks leaving you underleveled, and since your Personas only increase their skills if you use their abilities — especially in combat — that would leave your Personas underleveled as well. Yep, that mechanism returns and is just as annoying as it was in Persona.

What this game adds, it seems to me, is a higher random encounter rate with more confusing dungeons. The random encounter rate seems to me to be on par with Suikoden V’s, and it also interrupts me while I’m trying to find rooms or ways through dungeons and thus confusing me at about the same rate as that game. This isn’t helped by the fact that you actually can’t find the way out of one dungeon, even though the game tells you that you’ve taken a wrong turn and so need to find another way out. You have to get lost three times before a cutscene cuts in and lets you find the way out. The game also has a nasty habit of sending you on long runs around the areas to find who you’re looking for. From the beginning, the game asks you to seek out the guidance counselor and you spend the entire time running around the school, moving from room to room and area to area to be told that you just missed her, until you finally find her … back where you started. This carries on throughout many of the dungeons, and it only gets more annoying when you add random encounters into the mix. The best one was the one where you had to smash all the clocks … although the fact that some students would break some for you and so you didn’t have to go into those rooms made it more annoying because it wasn’t just a straightforward “Go into every room and break the clock” mission.

The game, however, does do a far better job of integrating the story and the dungeons, with cutscenes and conversations advancing the plot and the lore at regular points inside most dungeons. I also kinda like the idea of finding rumours that can then add special enemies to a dungeon, but find it annoying that once you find that out you have to leave the dungeon, schlep over the Detective Agency, pay for it to be spread, and then return and hope to hit the ghost in a random encounter. It would be better to have that happen in the dungeon, not outside of it.

The rumours mechanism is interesting, but clashes badly with my casual gaming style, since you might want to hold off on spreading a rumour so as to be able to spread really good ones — like that the shop sells high quality weapons or armor — but that you don’t know that going in. It’s also not clear how important this stuff is, and since it costs money and since I’m always strapped for cash the first time through a game I wonder if I should be spreading all the rumours I come across. This game is also not that casual friendly because there doesn’t really seem to be a way to find out from the game where you need to go if you forget — although the people in the streets have conversations that might suggest it — and playing two days a week I quite often forget where I was supposed to go next.

The game’s story does a pretty good job of mixing goofy humour with the serious plot, although it can be a bit too goofy at times. I like most of the characters, though, although the fighting between Lisa and Boss gets annoying (which is lampshaded because it annoys everyone else, too).

So far, I’m not particularly enjoying the game. I suspect that part of the problem is because of the frustration I felt while playing the original Persona, and this game really does seem like more of the same. Despite my problems with Persona 3 the the last time I played it replaying it with the Female MC is next on my list and seems so much more interesting than this game sounds. Still, my plan is still to muddle on through this one, but so far I’m not really enjoying the ride.

Thoughts on Rogue One …

July 30, 2018

So, I broke down and bought both Rogue One and The Last Jedi. I have watched both. I’m going to comment on both, but I’m going to start with Rogue One.

The overall summary of Rogue One is this: It’s an okay science-fiction movie, which is pretty much the most we could expect from it given its subject matter. But it would have been a better movie if it had been a standalone film and not a Star Wars movie.

Since this movie is relatively recent and I’m probably going to talk about things that are spoilers, I’ll continue below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Minimum and Living Wage and Economy

July 27, 2018

So, I’ve been reading things about the economy and the minimum wage and living wage and all of those standard and common arguments, and I came to this conclusion:

Conservatives — especially those who align with Trump and MAGA — are closer to being right about these things than liberals/progressives are.

First, let’s define the problem: there are too many people trying to live and raise a family on minimum wage salaries, and the minimum wage is too low to allow that. Thus, we have too many people working the best jobs that they can reasonably get and yet are still struggling desperately to make ends meet, with no real hope that this will ever change. I think we can all agree that this is heart of the issue, right?

Now, the typical way that the market is at least supposed to deal with this is that if we presume that those workers really, really want to get a job that pays more, then in general if any such job opens up they will immediately try to get it. If this happens to enough people, then the employers paying minimum wage won’t have enough people to staff their businesses, and so will have to raise wages to attract employees. If they don’t do this willingly, then this means that they have enough people willing to work for them so that if people leave for better jobs those positions will not go unfilled. Thus, the businesses that pay minimum wage can get enough employees and so have no need to raise wages.

Of course, we have to ask why that is. When the economy is good, what generally happens is that the people who are looking for “living wages” can find jobs that pay that without having to worry about minimum wage jobs. This reserves minimum wage jobs for people who don’t need a living wage, but who also might enjoy some of the fringe benefits of minimum wage jobs (generally flexible work hours). So you get more part-time workers working there, as well as students — both high school and college/university — and families using it as a second income. Thus, no one demands that the minimum wage be a “living” wage because few are actually trying to use that job to support a family, and those who are definitely plan on that being a short-term condition.

The problem here, though, is that due to the economy people who would really like to be paid more than minimum wage are forced to take minimum wage jobs because they can’t get anything better. And to them it doesn’t look like there are any better jobs on the horizon. And the reason for this is that we have lost a lot of the unskilled labour jobs — like manufacturing — that nevertheless paid enough for a family to live on. Many of them have gone overseas, where labour is, in fact, even cheaper, and so companies can make more money while paying their employees less without the fear that those employees will bail for better jobs, or at least jobs that are less strenuous. They can pay their employees the equivalent salaries that always had them attract the best unskilled labour and still pay less wages than they did in the more developed countries.

From this, those businesses providing mainly minimum wage jobs now have an absolute glut of potential employees, and most of them are far more desperate than they used to be. This gives the businesses pretty much all the power, and so they have no need to raise wages or, in fact, provide any real services to their employees. Add in that for most McJobs it is relatively easy to train new employees, and they really don’t have to care if their employees get unhappy and quit. But it is important to note that they also don’t really have any desire to have people supporting their families on their jobs; they were doing just fine when very few tried to do that. It’s just that now they have more power than ever … and are now facing public and political assault because too many of their employees can’t live on the salary they provide, even though they never promised anyone that they could.

So, what should the fix be? Since the underlying issue is that too many people are forced to take those minimum wage jobs because they have no other means to provide for their families, one solution is to increase or rely on social support programs to fill the gap. If these people are better off not working for minimum wage and instead by going on social assistance, then that will reduce the glut, and so reduce the power of the businesses. The problem with this solution is two-fold. First, the businesses were going along quite well with people who didn’t care if the minimum wage was a living wage, so it’s not going to encourage them to raise wages. Second, people on social assistance aren’t generally productive and get enough to live on — so not enough for luxuries — and so having more people on social assistance will do little to improve your economy, and thus do little to provide living wage jobs for those people. Without fixing the economy, those people might have to be on social assistance for a long time.

The conservative fix, embodied in MAGA, is to bring these jobs back. And if they can do so, then they would be, indeed, attacking the underlying problem by trying to fix the economy, and provide jobs that require unskilled labour but pay more than minimum wage. Thus, they’re aiming at the right problem. The issue with their solutions is indeed if they will work. The theory behind the tariffs is that the labour costs are lower overseas, and so if there are no tariffs multinational companies and manufacturing companies can relocate their manufacturing there and ship the products into the countries and still maintain their cost and therefore their profit advantages. Adding tariffs either forces those companies to increase their prices — and thus risk losing sales — or else reducing their profits, perhaps to a level where they don’t really gain by moving out of the country. Traditionally, this approach worked relatively well.

I don’t think, though, that it will work anymore. There are two reasons for this. First, a lot of the unskilled labour is getting replaced by automation anyway, and so even bringing the companies back won’t bring back as many jobs as it did in the past. Second, in the past the U.S. and other Western nations were big markets, and so even if the other countries slapped on retaliatory tariffs for the most part the companies were still most interested in selling to those countries. But China and India are now seen as the markets with the most potential for growth. In the past, if you tried to force companies to either sell to the U.S. or Europe (or even Canada) or alternatively sell to China and India, the choice was obvious: pick the Western nations. But now as China and India are emerging markets with massive populations, companies are wondering which side they’d make more money focusing on … and are increasing coming to the conclusion that China and India are the bigger markets with more potential. This is a factor that didn’t exist before, and so makes the tariffs strategy much more risky.

Another way to fix the economy is to get in on the ground floor of new technologies, something that Western nations were pretty good at in the past. The problem with this is that new technology generally requires skilled labour, not unskilled labour. This would leave a lot of unskilled labour that you need to do something with, and retraining takes time.

Okay, but I’m sure defenders of raising the minimum wage have been champing at the bit to proclaim that raising the minimum wage will fix the economy, as it provides more money for the working class — presuming, of course, that all wages rise along with it — and thus provide a boost the spending and the economy. First, the evidence that it does that isn’t at all clear. At best I’ve seen a number of cases where it is claimed that it doesn’t cost jobs, but those studies have major confounds. If the economy is bad, then it is likely that most companies are running at rock bottom employment levels as it is; they aren’t likely to lay more people off than they already have, although some might go under. When the economy is good, we don’t normally care that much about the minimum wage and so don’t raise it — because most people who need living wage jobs have them — and it’s hard to measure how much that raise might slow the growth of some companies. In general, the cost of labour is always going to be taken into consideration when hiring people and determining how many people you need, and so it will be a factor. And what we do see is that if the minimum wage — and wages in general — increase, so does the price of products. After a recent minimum wage hike here in Ontario, there was an almost immediate hike in prices at restaurants and grocery stores, two areas where a minimum wage increase will hit the hardest (I don’t know how it hit stores like Walmart because I don’t shop there enough to do price matching). In general, any cost increase that can be passed onto the customers will be passed on to the customers, and that will then increase the cost of living which will then eat into that salary increase. All in all, the main issue here is that it won’t provide steady, stable jobs that provide a living wage, because minimum wage jobs are not that kind of job, never have been that kind of job, and never will be that kind of job. Thus, it’s a lot like social assistance, except that the costs are borne directly by the businesses instead of by the government itself. But it will still provide no hope for something other than that minimum wage job, and will only encourage businesses to seek out alternatives if they can get it. Going overseas is not an option for direct service jobs — you can’t provide a Big Mac to someone in Canada from China — but it will encourage automation and online ordering, which will then cost jobs.

So the conservative strategy is closest to being right, because it is directly trying to fix the economy. The problem is that those fixes likely won’t work anymore. But it’s hard to see what can fix it without converting the workforce to a more skilled workforce, which is easier said than done.

Thoughts on “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

July 25, 2018

So, I managed to finish a version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon that was abridged by Hugh Trevor-Roper. I found that I really struggled to read the book, so much so that I ended up treating reading it like I was reading something for a course: I read about a chapter a day, and read other things in my more general reading time. This is not how I generally read history books. And all of this is despite the fact that I am in general interested in the Roman Empire. So what was it that so bored me about that book?

I think the main issue is that the books doesn’t really seem to have a focus. Gibbon uses lots of florid and evocative language and a lot of descriptive asides, which is not a bad thing, as long as we have a context for it. But Gibbon doesn’t seem to be just writing a descriptive narrative, telling us what happened in roughly chronological order, where we can see the asides as things that happen to come up in that discussion. He doesn’t even always follow a chronological order. However, he also doesn’t seem to have an overall thesis that he’s trying to convince us of, such as giving an explanation for why the Roman Empire fell that he is trying to prove, where we can see the asides as the details of things that we need to know to understand in order to see how the events fit into his thesis. So the descriptive asides are too long and detailed to be simply ignored as asides, but don’t seem to serve either the narrative of the events themselves or the overall thesis of the work. Because of that, I think I kept wondering why they were there and so felt that they were out of place and distracting from the book itself. If I was interested in what the asides were describing, it went better, but still the book really did seem to drag at times, which is why I enjoyed it more when I limited how much I was reading it.

My opinion is that the book would work well as a textbook, but not as a book that is just read. The descriptions and language mostly work, but what it lacks is the context to keep the descriptions interesting. As a textbook, the teacher/professor and the structure of the course would provide the context and allow the reader to skip over things that don’t add to the context they’re exploring. Trying to do this yourself for the entire work is far too difficult, especially since the events described might not fit what you’re interested in and so you’d be constantly struggling to find some meaning in what you’re reading, which is, well, pretty much what happened to me, actually.

I don’t regret reading the book, but I am very happy that I’ve finished it and am almost certainly never going to read it again.

And I Missed Last Night’s Dynasty!

July 23, 2018

So I’m still watching Dynasty, and right now I’m at the start of Season 5, so this is a good time to talk about how it changed after Joan Collins joined as Alexis. As I suspected, it quickly improved. She provides an actual strong villain, which was missing from the first season, because while Blake somewhat played the role, Krystal’s opinion of him and John Forsythe’s charisma caused Matt Bleisdel to be overwhelmed, and so we at least found Blake more compelling than Matt. Starting in Season 2, Blake shifts into more of a “hero” role and lets Alexis take over the role of the main villain. Since she has a rivalry with Krystal — at least potentially over Blake’s affections — this allows Krystal to at times take the lead in opposing Alexis, giving her something to do besides be conflicted. It also lets Blake shift into the role of someone who is overall good and someone we should cheer for, but who is both flawed and ruthless. This also allows for the more interesting — but, sadly, also overused — conflict between Blake and Krystal over how ruthless he can be, and over how badly he can treat Stephen. By the end of Season 4, this dynamic is established and carries the show along.

As an antagonist, Alexis is in a similar role to J.R. Ewing from Dallas, but is different from him. As a woman, it’s easier for her to use seduction to get her way, which provides an extra element to the character that J.R. didn’t really have. Yes, he seduced a lot of people, but he wasn’t really able to use that to get to the movers and shakers very often, for obvious reasons, while Alexis can. However, her plots tend to be shallow and not very interesting, while J.R. was a master manipulator. I blame that on the show’s writing being generally inferior to that of Dallas, though; none of the plots are as interesting or as well-written as Dallas’ were, and they often seem rushed.

Heather Locklear joins the show in Season 2 as Sammy Jo, and her plot is an example of this. The first impression we have of her from the show or from Krystal is that she’s a nice, relatively innocent girl with a less-than-successful but down-to-earth father who has remarried a grasping woman who doesn’t care for Sammy Jo at all, making her “vacation” to visit her aunt a good thing for her and something that was driven by her stepmother’s dislike. The problem is that very quickly Sammy Jo reveals herself to be extremely materialistic and manipulative. She didn’t start out innocent and get sucked into the manipulative, grasping nature of the rich and powerful, but instead pretty much started out wanting things and making plans to get it. She also ended up in a relationship with Stephen, who for a gay man certainly spends most of this time with women. First Claudia, then Sammy Jo, then Claudia again … I think at this point we at least have to call him bisexual [grin]. And the problem is that the show keeps bringing up that fact while continually throwing him into sexual relationships with women. So, no, the show is not at all politically correct.

Adam Carrington joins here as well, after a story where Fallon’s baby was kidnapped and it was revealed that Blake and Alexis’ first child was also kidnapped. As part of that storyline, Claudia was driven to utter insanity and committed to a sanitarium for a time, and Adam was revealed and returns to join the family after the death of the woman who kidnapped him, who he believed was his grandmother. Gordon Thomson does an excellent job with the part, as he has the overwrought and dramatic presentation that you need for a soap opera, and can pull it off without seeming like that’s what he’s doing. The problem is that the show starts him off as a villain, and as a moustache-twirling villain at that. He tries to poison Jeff, frames his mother for the deed when it is discovered, rapes and harasses Kirby, and in general pretty much acts evil for the sake of being evil. In the Season 4 timeframe, they start to give him a Heel-Face turn, which generally works, as they reveal that he had had a bad experience with drugs in his past that caused him to have a nervous breakdown that had an impact on him. After that, he becomes more like Blake — ruthless but generally on the side of the good guys — and so becomes more interesting.

I actually really liked Kirby. Not only was the actress very attractive, but she had a different inflection in how she read her lines that made her stand out. I liked how she interacted with Jeff and Fallon, where she was interested in Jeff — who was married to but estranged from Fallon at the time — but still wasn’t willing to just manipulate Fallon into dumping him, as she still cared about her childhood friend. After a number of bad things happen to her — her rape at the hands of Adam, discovering that her pregnancy was with his child, her father killing himself to hide a secret about her mother that Alexis was going to reveal, and divorcing Jeff — she decides to join up with Adam in order to get the prestige and wealth that she couldn’t get as a “downstairs girl”. This would have been the Sammy Jo plot done properly. Unfortunately, that happened at the same time as Adam was overgoing his Heel-Face turn, which made him less ruthless and directly ambitious, which then didn’t work because we needed the two of them to spur each other on, and that couldn’t happen at that point without undoing Adam’s development. Kirby leaves for Paris at the end of Season 4.

Michael Nader joins in Season 4ish as Dex Dexter, Joan Collins’ most frequent paramour and partner-in-crime. He plays the role well, again having the right sort of melodramatic presentation that works in a soap opera, and providing someone to side with Alexis when otherwise she’d be alienated from everyone, including her children.

Fallon also leaves at the end of Season 4, and when Fallon returns it will be Emma Samms playing the role. I think Pamela Sue Martin did a credible job of it despite my only remembering Emma Samms in the role, so it will be interesting to see what my opinion of Emma Samms is when she takes over the role.

So far, it’s interesting enough to watch, but not as good as Dallas because the writing isn’t as good. But John Forsythe outacts anyone on either show, and the cast, overall, does a good job with it, which helps to make it watchable.