Archive for May, 2013

Does the Atheist Movement have a “Dickishness” Problem?

May 31, 2013

So, as promised last time, I’m going to talk about the great accomodationist debate … or, rather, the great accomodationist debate that was the “Don’t be a dick” debate as opposed to the “Science and religion are not compatible” debate. On the one side, you had atheists who preferred a more confrontational and aggressive approach, and on the other side you had those who said that that approach was too confrontational, and was causing problems for the movement.

So, just as in the discussion of sexism, there are two questions to answer here: the descriptive and the normative. For the descriptive question, we have to ask if even the more aggressive atheists are, in fact, more “dickish” than anyone else. So, if you read around the Internet, are even the more aggressive and downright insulting blogs and blog comments of these atheists any worse than the comments you’d see on any other blogs or on any other topics? Well, even speaking as someone who is at least in the general group that the comments are aimed at, I have to say that the answer to the descriptive question is unfortunately “No”. The Internet and society in general is full of people who take strong views on things and treat those who disagree as enemies, who they then insult and bash and then chortle over having “beaten” their opponents. Even the worse cases — like what you’d see in the comments sections of Pharyngula — are pretty much just standard these days.

So, again, it doesn’t look like the atheist movement is any worse than any other group when it comes to being jerks. But this debate has always been about the normative question: should tbe atheist movement be more or less aggressive and “dickish”? The accomodationists have argued that being more aggressive alienates potential allies, causes the people you are arguing with to close their minds to your arguments, and generally makes atheists look shrill and angry. The counter is that there is room in the atheist movement for both approaches and that for any movement that wants to change things the very civil and polite approach doesn’t work; you don’t ask politely for your rights, but have to fight for them.

The counter that there is room for both approaches doesn’t quite work, because people will see the movement as at least a semi-unified whole. So if you have atheists who take a very strong approach and offend people, then those who don’t like that approach will always end up having to answer questions about whether they agree with what those more aggressive atheists say, usually instead of being able to promote their own ideas. Thus, the aggressive atheist approach is liekly to have an impact on the approach of the “accomodationists”, one that isn’t likely to be vice versa. So accomodationists have more reason to complain that what the aggressive atheists are doing is hurting them rather than the inverse.

But, the counter that all movements need confrontation and anger is not a bad one. The reason is that in order to change things, you have to convince the peolpe who don’t feel strongly about either side that they should, in fact, feel strongly about the side you want them to support. So that does require passion, making it clear that you do, in fact, care about the issue and that the issue is critically important to you. And it is definitely the case that getting angry over things, particularly perceived injustices, does express passion.

Martin Luther King Jr., and his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail, is often cited in these discussions. The accomodationists claim that King is a perfect example of someone who achieved his goals without being a jerk, while the non-accomodationists point to the letter and say that he could be confrontational and aggressive at times. And I think that this does reflect the truth about this issue: anger can express passion and expressing passion is good, but it isn’t always a good thing to do that. In fact, there are some cases where it is generally bad:

1) If it comes across as someone more interested in being insulting than in actually making the argument. Take Myers’ Crackergate: it could easily be seen as Myers wanting to tick off people and using the incident as an excuse to do so. This is because what he did works better to insult people than it does to make the point that he was trying to make; there were certainly other ways to demonstrate that people were overreacting without deliberately insulting even those who weren’t overreacting. So while, as the non-accomodationists argue, some people will be insulted or offended by any criticism of their views, that doesn’t mean that one should therefore strive to cause as much offense as possible. All that does is make everyone angry. So, one should choose the methods that are likely to cause the least offense as possible while still getting your point across.

2) If it is constant. If you express that level of passion over every little offense, no matter how trivial it might seem to everyone else. For example, if you look at cases where there’s a small prayer that’s been in a school for years for other reasons, or where a council has just always started with a prayer, if the reaction is that this is an incredibly egregious offense to atheists, and the reaction is therefore with strong anger and passion, people will start to think that atheists get angry and complain over every little thing, and so ignore them when they express passion over more serious things. The reason, for example, that few really take the protests of university students all that seriously is that they tend to protest over everything, making it that much harder for them and requiring them to take far more extreme measures to express their passion. So, passion must be measured: it must be appropriate to the severity of the issue.

3) If it’s seen as being a strategy. If people think that you aren’t really angry, but are merely using confrontational tactics as a strategy, then they won’t believe that you are really passionate about the issue … and so your passion won’t come across and so they won’t take it seriously, and so your strateg will fail. And a number of non-accomodationists have defended it as being a strategy, which thus hurts their own cause.

For passion and anger to work, it has to be seen as a genuine reaction to issues. If it is, then generally it will be measured and a reflection of the perception of the person getting angry. If one is getting angry and being confrontational constantly, then that might reflect something about them … and hurt their own cause.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3.

May 30, 2013

So, in the second round I again did quite well, going 3 – 1 with Boston being the only series that I got wrong. That leaves me at a sterling 10 – 2 for the playoffs so far, meaning that I can’t do any worse than 10 – 5. So, a good year this year.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the Conference semi-finals:

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh vs Boston Correct

Okay, yes, Pittsburgh swept the season series, but did it by one goal in each game. But in watching the Pittsburgh versus Ottawa series, Pittsburgh looked vulnerable. Vokoun, for all of his excellent GAA and save percentage, gave up a number of rebounds and looked beatable. Ottawa just didn’t have the team to take advantage of that. Boston, on the other hand, does have that team. Their defense is solid, Rask is playing well, and they have far more offensive potential than Ottawa did. They are a team that could play a more defensive game and look to take advantage of their chances, or even play a more open, offensive style and bet that their defense will stop Pittsburgh more than Pittsburgh’s will stop them. They’ve overcome adversity and so will never quit even if they get down. So, I think Boston will pull this one off.

Western Conference

Chicago vs LA Incorrect

It’s hard to choose between the teams in this series, since all are strong teams and all have the experience and all have overcome diversity. However, I think Quick will make the difference. I don’t think Chicago has really faced an elite level goaltender in these playoffs, and Crawford is not an elite level goaltender. Quick, on the other hand, is an elite level goaltender and seems to be on his game. By the time Chicago figures him out, the series will likely be out of reach.

Overall record: 11 – 3

Analytic versus Existentialist: Kaufmann on Philosophy

May 26, 2013

So, a while back, I picked up “Critique of Religion and Philosophy” by Walter Kaufmann a while back, because Jerry Coyne was picking out pithy comments from it — particularly about religion — and raving about how good the book was. I decided to see for myself how it was, and got through the main philosophy portion, and I have to say that unfortunately it is pretty much precisely the sort of book that Coyne would seem to like: it has all of those pithy comments, but is lamentably short on actual evidence or justification for them. And what you need to do when you do philosophy is justify those sorts of statements, often preferably in lieu of making them.

One part of it seems, to me, to best exemplify this is his discussion of analytic versus existential philosophy. He argues — not unreasonably — that traditional philosophy was both too analytic — as the existentialists argue — and not analytic enough. So, he then says that we need a philosophy that brings the two together. Okay, not unreasonable, so what does he propose to do that? Well, nothing, really. And that makes his point incredibly trite, because it’s easy to say that if you have two views that have their own appeal to some people you should just bring them together and keep the benefits of both, settle the dispute and solve all the problems. The hard part is figuring out how to do that.

Let me outline why it’s a problem here. I’m going to try to be as general as I possibly can, and will certainly oversimplify it, but it should be good enough for my purposes. Analytic philosophy consists, essentially, of putting things — concepts, generally — into boxes, figuring that if you can put all the things into the right boxes you can then look at the boxes and get all the answers. Existentialist philosophy, on the other hand, is about taking things out of boxes as much as you can and figuring out that you’ll get new and wonderful insights that way. So, inherently, analytic philosophy wants to put things into boxes and existentialist philosophy wants to take things out of boxes. The advantage of analytic philosophy is that when you put things into boxes, you find all sorts of interesting connections, and can generalize from the boxes instead of having to look at each item individually. The advantage of existentialist philosophy is that you don’t lock yourself into thinking of things as their box, and the world itself doesn’t seem to fit nicely into boxes.

Now, both analytic and existentialist philosophy understand that this very simple model isn’t all there is. As just stated, the world doesn’t fit into boxes all that well, so analytic philosophy has had to find ways to deal with things that don’t fit neatly into boxes. Although I think the paradigmatic example of the analytic approach is fuzzy logic: analytic philosophy discovered that some things just couldn’t be classified as “true” or “false” … and so they came up with a rather detailed and complicated mathematical formula for deciding just how true or false the thing was. On the flip side, if you don’t have any boxes at all, all you have are disconnected things, and finding interesting connections is hard when you’re drowning in connections. So you do need to talk about some things as being in boxes, but you should minimize that. But at the end of the day, as I stated, analytic philosophers are happy when they put something into a box and existentialist philosophers are happy when they take something out of a box.

So, then, how do you reconcile these two approaches, keeping the benefits of both? It seems a monumental task, if not impossible. But Kaufmann simply asserts that both have valid criticisms of traditional philosophy and we should use some kind of hybrid of the two approaches. What we wanted was for him to say how to do that, not pithily comment that we should.

As I now move on to the religion part, I am very afraid that in his work I will find pithy comments but limited discussion of why the pithy comments are true. And if he doesn’t tell me why the pithy comments are true, then I can dismiss them … and point out how his book is not, in fact, a very good book at all.

Does the Atheist Movement Have a Sexism Problem?

May 26, 2013

So, anyone in the atheist movement has certainly heard about the whole kerfuffle that at least came to light a few years ago with “Elevatorgate” and is continuing to today with Atheism+, and the latest issue over Ron Lindsay making a speech at Women in Secularism 2 that has polarized commentary among atheists yet again. I can say that I was here and vigorously straddling the fence from the start, mostly because as someone is not an atheist and who is not an activist I have no personal attachment to any of the people involved; they are the people I argue against on a regular basis. However, the people involved in this happen to be most of the sites that I most love to dislike, and so I see the comments about this. A lot. And most of the time, it seems to be a group of people getting quite worked up over what, when examined, are mostly superficial, but which they, well, act like jerks to each other over, mostly because the most vocal people are indeed people who act like jerks towards people they disagree with, and are proud of that. To start a trend that I hope to continue throughout this entire post, I’ll say that I’m not going to say whether they are right or wrong to do that, just that they, in fact, do that.

Now, the fundamental question and point of debate here, I think, is this: Does the atheist movement have a sexism problem? Answering this, I think, from what either thinks is the case will go a long way towards understanding what’s at stake and, perhaps, settling this issue so that the atheists can get back to yelling at theists and providing me with blog post fodder [grin].

So, here, I’m not going to start from Elevatorgate, but instead from the issue between Rebecca Watson and D.J. Groethe. I won’t put links here since everyone should be able to do the Google search as well as me, but the summary is this: Rebecca Watson in an article was quoted as saying that she didn’t think that TAM (The Amazing Meeting), was a “safe space” for women. Groethe, a main organizer of the event, took umbrage to that, saying that they had a harassment policy that hadn’t been heavily used, and that it was indeed safe for women at TAM. And the whole issue, then, exploded. Now, note that I didn’t say in the second part that Groethe said that it was a “safe space”, even if he might have used those terms. And the reason for that is that when Watson said “safe space”, she didn’t mean that in the sense that, say, being in a warzone or walking around alone late a night isn’t a safe space. She meant it in a specific technical sense, in the terms of TAM not being a feminist safe space. Groethe, on the other hand, interpreted her as saying that it wasn’t safe in the more mainstream, everyday sense of the term, and defended his event on the basis that it, in fact, was indeed safe in that way.

So why is this the most interesting event to start from? Because the disagreement, to me, seems clear. Watson is complaining that the event is not, in fact, significantly less sexist than everyday life is; Groethe, on the other hand, is replying that the event is at worst no better than everyday life is, and is likely a bit better than everyday life. Thus, at TAM, women are treated at least as well as they are outside of the event, and likely slightly better, and Watson is saying that that isn’t good enough and Groethe is saying that it is.

So, in order to examine if the atheist movement has a sexism problem, we need to look at the question from two angles: the descriptive and the normative. The descriptive asks the question: is it the case that the atheist movement really is no worse and may be slightly better in terms of sexism than the rest of the world is? The normative asks the question: ought the atheist movement work to be better in terms of sexism than the rest of the world? Note that we should analyze these in terms of saying that if we answer “Yes”, then we can say that the answer to the question of whether the atheism movement has a sexism problem is indeed “Yes” in a way that would make sense to the average person on the street.

I think that almost everyone, even those who are pushing for Atheism+ and for sexism to be dealt with in the atheist movement, will agree that the answer to the descriptive question is “No”. The atheist movement, in general, is not more sexist than other movements — outside of, say, explicitly feminist ones — and is likely slightly better. The only arguments against this conclusion are: the number of white men among prominent atheists, and the harassment campaigns against feminist atheists. For the former, it seems clear that for movements like atheism they tend to be, in fact, male-dominated. The atheist movement doesn’t seem particularly bad for that. There may be many reasons for this, but for the most part this is how it tends to work out. And Groethe could reply that TAM had made a successful effort to change that percentage, and have it be less male-dominated. Thus, no, it’s no worse and is likely better than the equivalent groups (note that asking if this should be changed is not part of the descriptive question, but the normative one, which we’ll get to later). For the second question, again most people will concede that the Internet blowback — yes, even the rather nasty drawn picture of Rebecca Watson is, rather sadly, what happens when people say things on the Internet that other people don’t like, what happens to women in particular when they say things that other people don’t like, and what happens to people who say things about feminism that other people don’t like. So the harassment seems to, again, be pretty much what happens in these cases, and so the atheist movement, as a whole, isn’t any worse and still might be slightly better, overall, than other movements. Again, I’m not arguing that this is right, but won’t examine that in this post, instead I’ll make another post asking if the atheist movement has a “jerk” problem.

So, anyway, from that, I think we can come to the rather uncontroversial conclusion that the atheist movement does not have a sexism problem from the descriptive perspective: while it does have some sexism, it is actually slightly better than average, which means that at best it has the same problem that the rest of society has, and so not a problem itself per se. Unlike what one might expect and what one sees in, say, some religions, it doesn’t seem to be holding some kind of sexist line against the burgeoning non-sexism of society, but instead seems to reflect it in a slightly distorted for the better image. So, with that out of the way, we can ask the normative question: ought it be clearly better than society and better than it currently is?

The atheist movement is clearly not a feminist safe space and still has some sexism in it, so it could definitely improve. But the counter to that is that it is unreasonable to expect a movement dedicated to a lack of belief in gods that contains people from all walks of life in society to be that much better than the society represented in it. Being an atheist does not mean that one is not sexist or that one is less sexist than the average in society. There is a correlation between atheists and liberals, and liberals tend to be less sexist on average (it can be argued, at least) so you might see the movement being less sexist because of that, but one has no reason to rely on it. So, then, to answer the normative question we have to ask if it is to the benefit of the atheist movement to become less sexist than it already is. And there are two main ways to argue for that position.

The first is that the atheist movement doesn’t want to be a movement of old white men. It wants to be a diverse movement, attracting people of all ages, races and genders. That means making people of those ages, races and genders feel welcome, and that then means being undeniably better in terms of racism and sexism than the opposing views, generally religion in this case. The counter to this is that to get the participation of all races and genders doesn’t seem to require this, as all races and genders will participate in other movements that are no better or are even worse than the atheist movement currently is. Many religions, for example, are more sexist than the atheist movement currently is and yet do draw women. You can even point out that casting the atheist movement as being “not better enough” as the atheist movement having a sexism problem is actually hurting diversity, because it gives the impression that the atheist movement is particularly bad when the atheist movement is, in fact, likely particularly good. It makes it look like the atheist movement is worse than the alternatives when it’s actually at least slightly better. So you wouldn’t want to claim that the atheist movement has a sexism problem. That being said, nothing says that you can’t work to try to make the movement more welcoming and diverse, and perhaps things like harassment policies are something that is necessary to do that. Or maybe not. But you really shouldn’t claim that if they aren’t there or are opposed that it’s a problem of sexism in the movement, and you shouldn’t insist that the only way to be diverse is to have something like a feminist safe space, because that’s clearly not the case.

The second is one that is being stated outright more often lately, which is that liberal values follow from atheist values and so the atheist movement, then, should be more liberal. Being more liberal means that it should be less sexist, and so only having a minor improvement over the average sexism in society is a problem. The counter to this is that the atheist movement is trying to recruit people from religions, and religious people tend to be more conservative than those who are not. For some — like P.Z. Myers and Adam Lee and others — it seems likely that they became liberals first, and then discovered that their liberal views didn’t align with their religion, and so dropped their religion. But a lot of new (not New) atheists won’t become atheists that way. Instead, they’ll read the books by the New (not new) Atheists and become convinced that theism and their religion is false … but contrary to Myers’ argument they may not abandon their conservative and/or sexist worldviews. And if they don’t do that, insisting that those who do not accept liberalism should be somehow shuffled off to the side because it’s embarrassing to have those people in the movement or because they’re wrong is not going to provide a welcoming environment to those the atheist movement really needs to win over: people who are religious and are trying to escape their religion. Thus, if the main goal of the atheist movement is to convince people to abandon religion, then making the movement too liberal will make the leap that much harder for those who have a non-liberal and radically different worldview, and will impede the achievement of that goal. This counter holds regardless of whether the liberal views are right or wrong, and whether the distinction is official or only implied through attitude.

Thus, it also isn’t clear that atheism ought to be significantly less sexist than the rest of society. At best, it might be neutral, and at worst it might be detrimental.

My hope is that if this post does nothing else, it at least clarifies the debate and separates out the descriptive from the normative. Those who do think that the normative question should be answered “Yes” can then argue for why it should be, and those who think it should be “No” can argue that, and all can agree that answering these questions with a “No” doesn’t mean that atheism shouldn’t try to be welcoming to all regardless of race or gender. At which point, hopefully both sides can hammer it out and figure out what they want to be, in a rational fashion … like they claim to be.

And yes, there will be another post taking the “accomodationist” debate on directly.

Atheism and Theism are not worldviews …

May 21, 2013

So, there’s been a debate (re)started over what it means to be an atheist, and if a specifically atheist identity can go beyond the mere lack of belief in gods. Which is what P.Z. Myers titles his latest post on the subject, where he goes after a set of Twitter comments by Russell Blackford on the subject.

Myers assembles Blackford’s tweets into a paragraph like this:

Just to be clear. My stance as a pro-feminist man does NOT follow from the fact that I am an atheist. Even if I became a philosophical deist overnight, I would maintain the same stance. Let’s not oversellMere atheism what mere atheism entails. None of which is to deny that actual religions can be used to provide false rationales for some abhorrent views.

Myers starts his reply this way:

That’s a bit of a mess, so let’s unpack it. I find interesting because my pro-feminist stance does follow from the fact that I am an atheist; perhaps we ought to recognize that there is more than one way to be an atheist, something I’ve been saying for a long time, and apparently Blackford and I are very different kinds of atheist.

Casting this as being able to be different kinds of atheist is quite revealing. The underlying argument throughout all of this has been that certain things follow from atheism, or at least from atheism for certain individuals. But if Myers is going to concede that there can be different types of atheists that can all legitimately be called atheists, then it seems that it doesn’t really follow from atheism qua atheism, but instead from your other beliefs and your worldview in general. Which would be what those who talk about “mere atheism” are trying to argue.

This becomes clearer when Myers talks about how these things follow from his atheism, as he repeats what he’s said before:

In my case, the absence of a god invalidates all truth claims by revelation and all the traditional authority of holy books. It creates an epistemic gap, which I suppose someone could fill with just about anything: whim, utility, emotional needs, dice-rolling, whatever. I have no idea how Blackford explains cause and reason, but I know how I do: by an acceptance of natural causes which can be examined empirically and by experiment…by science. I also concede that where I can’t apply science in evaluating human motives, I use empathy and the principle of equating another’s condition with my own.

My atheism entails using those methods to resolve ethical decisions, for instance. That’s my toolkit. My atheism has stripped me of the tools of dogma and authoritarianism (and good riddance).

But then, I don’t need any other mechanism — it seems to me that science and love of my fellow human beings is more than sufficient argument to guide the entirety of my life. And those are necessary axioms that I am compelled to accept by my atheism, even if there could exist alternate axioms that would also fill the gap left by the absence of gods.

So what he’s really saying here is this: When I become an atheist, I have to give up the worldview I had that depended on it. At that point, I need to adopt a new worldview, and thus have a new basis for my worldview. Once I have that worldview, then I can go on acting in the world according to that worldview. So, becoming an atheist has forced me to change my worldview, and this is the worldview I ended up with. Thus, my worldview follows from my atheism.

In a sense, this is correct, in that if someone had a worldview that relied on a God existing and then came to believe that no gods exist, then one would have to — to be rational — abandon that worldview and build a new one. This, of course, would only happen for people who started with a religious worldview and then became atheists, as people who never had a religious worldview would have developed a worldview that didn’t depend on a belief in God at all — even if they did believe in God.

However, where it goes wrong is that it implies that the worldview that Myers adopts is, in fact, derived from atheism. It isn’t. Myers could have built his new worldview on dogmatism and authoritarianism (and some might accuse him of having done just that) and still claimed to derive it from atheism in just the same way as he claims to have derived his undogmatic and anti-authoritarian from atheism. His view, therefore, is consistent with atheism, but not derived from it. In fact, it would probably be more reasonable to say that his atheism likely followed from those values, rather than the converse. Note that Myers concedes here that this is the case and that there are other axioms he could use to fill that gap, but these are the ones he chose. Saying that he is compelled by his atheism is just false; interpreting him as charitably as possible, it sounds like it is more empathy and naturalism that does that, not atheism.

And the reason for this is clear: atheism and theism are, at their heart, beliefs (or lack of beliefs) about a specific proposition: There exists a god. They aren’t worldviews in and of themselves, and as such can’t be used to replace a worldview. If you say that you’re an atheist, no one can say anything else about you other than that you lack a belief in gods; if you say that you’re a theist, all someone can say is that you believe in one or more gods. They can’t say anything about your other views. Does it mean that you’re a feminist, or a misogynist, or a liberal, or a conservative, or a moral relativist or a deontologist or a consequentiast or someone who is interested in socal justice or anything else? No. Not at all. Those follow from your worldview, and atheism and theism are not worldviews. If you are an atheist, you don’t even have to be a naturalist, as you can accept that some supernatural things exist … just not gods.

The issue, then, with the people like Myers who are advocating for atheism to be something more is that they want to turn atheism into a worldview. But if you do that, then you’re going to have to insist that people who call themselves atheist accept certain things, things beyond just lacking a belief in gods. And this worries those who don’t consider atheism to be a worldview. It’s one thing when the things that people are saying are part of atheism are just obvious facts, but if you hold a more radical view — Myers, for example, is on the far end of the liberal scale, it seems to me — then you would be saying that things follow from atheism that other atheists disagree with. If Myers wants to represent atheism a certain way, then it would mean that he would represent atheism as being something that a lot of atheists don’t accept, not merely as part of atheism but even as part of their worldview. Now, Myers can claim that he is just speaking for himself … but then he has no reason to object to the “merely atheists” who say that atheism just is that. Myers can easily claim that he has an atheistic worldview, where his lack of belief in gods plays a much stronger role in justifying and defining his worldview than it might in others while still accepting that atheism itself is indeed just that “mere lack of belief”.

That he seems resistant to doing that seems like he’s after the former more than the latter. And that’s precisely what the “mere atheists” don’t want to happen.

I Watched Dark Shadows Until They Played Dead …

May 20, 2013

So, after starting it at the end of January, I finally finished “Dark Shadows” … the complete original soap opera. I enjoyed it. There were some clunky storylines — I have to admit that I never liked the Pheonix storyline, that they did at least twice — but over all it’s a simple and reasonably enjoyable soap opera, perfect to watch while doing other things. The storylines were relatively simple, summarized well, and the characters were generally interesting. You can see not only where they got their inspiration from, but how they inspired others: the werewolf angle is similar to what you saw later in Buffy, and even the tormented vampire as a curse can been seen as an inspiration for Angel.

However, the show relied far too heavily on possession as a major plot point. Any plot point that is overused is problematic since instead of adding drama the audience starts to say “Again?!?”. I was feeling that way with a lot of their possession plots. And with the supposedly unpopular “Leviathan” story arc, the arc seemed to hint that Barnabas was possessed, and then that he wasn’t, but then didn’t really build up any kind of good motivation for him joining willingly, and this carried on throughout most of it: a need to have the people controlled by the Leviathans, and yet able to resist and act “normally” whenever they needed to. No wonder it was a bit unpopular, especially considering that it ran for a fair amount of time.

The biggest problem with the series for me, though, was David. It was clear that they were aiming for “Creepy Child” but instead got “Annoying Child”. The reason for this was that, in general, David was a complete jerk, taking after his father, it seems. But that works against the “Creepy Child” archetype. The Creepy Child is supposed to be incomprehensible, or at least capable of acting completely and totally out of character in a way that can be somewhat menacing. We’re supposed to wonder if they’re an innocent being influenced, or really evil, or something in between. But with David, we knew that he, say, locked Vicki in that room because he was mad at her and wanted to hurt her, and we knew that he was lying when he said he didn’t do it or didn’t know why he did it, because the series set it up that way. Thus, David came across as more of a sociopath/psychopath than as someone we were supposed to relate to, which made it very hard to relate to him when we needed to. Add to it that the actor playing him wasn’t a particularly good actor, and the character was just incredibly annoying … and yet played a very large role in a number of storylines.

Overall, though, it was a good series and it’s something that I will watch again. Just not this year [grin].

NHL Playoff Predictions Round 2

May 14, 2013

So, it looked a bit shaky there for a while, but I ended up going a stirling 7 – 1 in the first round. The second round, however, is going to be a lot harder to predict, especially in the East.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh versus Ottawa Correct
Boston versus Rangers Incorrect

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of the Senators, and they have a much stronger defensive team and much better goaltending than the Islanders did. So they could give the Penguins some trouble. If Fleury was in goal, based on the first round it would be an overpowering offense with a porous defense against a weak offense with an overpowering defense. But Vokoun played well in the last two games, and Ottawa just doesn’t have the offense to keep up with Pittsburgh. If Spezza can play, then that might help, but in the end it comes down to the two goaltenders … but Vokoun only has to not lose the series for his team to win, while Anderson probably has to steal it. Anderson is capable of stealing it, but again Pittsburgh’s offense is just too strong and they will capitalize on the mistakes that the Senators will make. It’ll likely be close, and it breaks my heart to say it, but I think, in the end, it’ll be Pittsburgh.

There really isn’t much to choose between these two teams either. Both teams went to 7 games against an opponent that probably shouldn’t have taken them that long. They’re close in regular season record. Both had to come back a bit to get their win, although Boston’s was more dramatic (and they almost blew the series). I don’t know the full injury report for the Rangers, but I know that the Bruins are banged up, especially on defense. Lundqvist seems to be on his game again based on the last two, and while Rask has played reasonably well he seems more vulnerable. Again, another close series, but the Rangers likely have the depth and experience to pull it off.

Western Conference

Chicago versus Detroit Correct
LA versus San Jose Correct

Detroit has a never say die attitude and pulled off a seven game victory over Anaheim, but Chicago is a stronger and more experienced team. Again, another series that’s likely to be close, but Chicago will probably pull it out.

LA are the defending champions. They got down 2 – 0 in the series with the Blues and pulled it off. They have plenty of rest and the Sharks have been off since an uneventful sweep of a badly underperforming Canucks, meaning they might start a bit rusty. The Kings should be able to take this series.

Overall record: 10 – 2

New Nocturnal Pursuits …

May 13, 2013

So, last week I wandered downtown to get some exercise and do some shopping, and ended up picking up a number of new games … including Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Now, it’s well-known that I’m a huge fan of the Persona series, especially Persona 3 and Persona 4. Persona 2 was okay but I just wasn’t that interested in continuing with it, and so moved on to other games (I really should pick it up again at some point). So seeing a brand new copy of the game for the PS2 was something that really caught my attention, especially since with the hockey playoffs being on and my getting into watching Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: DS9 again it would be nice to have something to play that I can play while watching TV. So Nocturne might fill that role.

Except that, so far at least, it really isn’t the sort of game that can do that, because it suffers from some common flaws that plague JRPGs.

I’ve commented in other places about my tendency to get lost. If you run random encounters like most JRPGs do — as you wander around every so often an encounter shows up and you’re sucked into a fight — then looking for the right way to go becomes incredibly annoying. You wander around for a bit, hit a crossroads, wonder if you’ve taken that one before, start towards it … and get sucked into a fight. Finish the fight, and then try to remember what you were doing. Rinse, repeat. Add in the subgenre of JRPGs that make it difficult in some way to figure out where to go, and those that have save points that are far apart, and you have a recipe for annoyance.

The problem with the fights is always this: either they are simple and so no challenge, or they are actually a challenge. If it’s the former, then they’re just annoying: you get no resources from them, no XP, and they take no thought on your part. They’re boring busywork, there only because the game system generates random encounters that way. Sometimes, however, they’re actually a challenge. Which means that they drain resources — MP, potions, abilities, etc — while all you’re doing is trying to find your way to the end. Which is often an end boss. So you use up the things you’d want to save for the end boss just getting there, and not because the game seems designed to do that but because you have a tendency to get lost wandering around the place.

Nocturne has all of this in spades. The encounters vary between trivial and really hard — in the same section. So sometimes you’re using resources, and sometimes you aren’t. And you can’t predict this in advance, so if you save a medicine because the fight isn’t going to be hard you might find yourself in trouble when it suddenly is hard. The areas are often confusing and have strange barriers, and loop back in on each other. There’s also a wide open city to explore and some of the new events are far away from the others, which also have some strange barriers. Random encounters are frequent, even when you’re just going somewhere. And when you exit a room, the view switches so that it is incredibly easy to end up heading back the exact way you came instead of proceeding down the hall … but you want to enter every room because that way you’ll get all the chests and spirits that you might need to advance the game. Finally, throughout the entire game I have found exactly two save points, both in the hospital … which is on the other side of the city from the park and shopping area that I’m hunting around now. I spent a long time looking for a save point, and then finally had to trek all the way back there, just to save so that I could stop for the night. Getting random encounters all the way.

So far, the story is interesting but seems a bit undeveloped. The intro was interesting but probably told too much about your relationship with your teacher, and when you finally track down one of your friends you get what amounts to a non-interactive cutscene she heads off into demon-infested areas to try to find more survivors. Maybe if I’d said something else things might have changed, but there were no obvious indications of what to say. That was very anti-climactic for such an important scene. So even the story isn’t encouraging me to play it again.

I may give it another try, but with the above annoyances it doesn’t seem like it fits as an evening game, and I already have TOR and ME1 to cover off the games I want to play while there’s nothing good on TV.