Archive for August, 2017

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Tamuli”

August 30, 2017

In addition to the fact that “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” kept distracting me from reading this trilogy, it was very interesting reading this because I was reading not merely or perhaps even not mostly for fun, but instead was reading it to compare it to “The Elenium” and decide which of the two I liked better. So I would say that I found the series entertaining and would read it for fun, but the entertainment factor was muted a bit by comparing it to “The Elenium” and seeing which of the two I preferred.

And my overall assessment is this: “The Elenium” is more personal, while “The Tamuli” is more epic, which might also match the difference in scope between “The Belgariad” and “The Malloreon”. If you want to think of the works focusing on Sparhawk as Eddings redoing those first two series right, there’s plenty of evidence to consider that the case. I really liked the addition of the other races/kingdoms/civilizations, and the added focus on politics was welcome to me. And I think that Eddings does a good job of weaving the expanded cast into the work so that it doesn’t seem to be taking too much away from the purported main cast. However, I think it also risks making things a bit overly complicated at times, and I miss the more personal, focused story that we got in “The Elenium”.

And for some reason, Eddings’ emphasis on the female characters and their abilities grated on me for some reason. Part of this is likely the current context, where strong female characters showing up male characters is overly emphasized to the point of extreme annoyance. But a big part of it is indeed how they often break characterizations of both themselves and the men to make that point. Aphrael was always going to be a bit of a Mary Sue given that she’s a god, but the “little girl” act makes it more grating, especially when she does it in her Danae guise. Sephrenia ends up blaming Vanion for being too slow to make up with her even though it was her utterly irrational reactions that made him afraid in the first place. Her having to make the first move because of that works, but her having to essentially blame it on him didn’t. But the worst is probably Melidere’s pursuit of Stragen, where she lets him in on her criminal schemes and then says that either he has to marry her or else she’ll have him killed. This is despite the fact that he probably liked her and that earlier she was talking about what signals to send. “Marry me or die” is not a signal, but somehow we’re supposed to consider this the appropriate and reasonable approach. Yeah, right.

The Atans are also altogether far too impressive for the role they had in the story, and are talked up far too much for that to work. And since the most competent of them were women, it feeds back into that same dynamic. As does Xanetia. For too much of the work, Xanetia, Mirtai and Sephrenia run roughshod over everyone else, with Aphrael there to fall back on when they aren’t available for some reason.

Ultimately, however, this can be overlooked, as the rest of the work is pretty good. But at the end of the day, I think “The Elenium” is my favourite of these series.

Advertisements

Everest Challenge …

August 28, 2017

So, this weekend the curling season sort of started with a new event, the Everest Challenge. This is essentially a mixed event, where they take four men’s teams and four women’s teams, set aside the skips, and have them draft a completely new team mixed between men and women. And from that comes a sharp divide in teams, as they alternate, from the skip, men and women. So if a team has a female skip, then the skip and second are women and the lead and third are men, and if the team has a male skip, then the skip and second are men and the third and lead are women.

This interested me, as I wondered if the women-led teams would have their third throw skip stones instead of them. And while I couldn’t watch a lot of the event for many reasons, it seems that that wasn’t allowed, and so there was a sharp contrast between the teams. And the event schedule was set up to allow us a direct comparison, by having the male-skipped teams and the female-skipped teams play against each other to get to the semi-finals, so we’d potentially get an answer to the question of whether the skip being a man or a woman would matter to the outcome.

Now, my initial thought was that having the skip be a man would be a huge advantage, just because of how much harder they throw. But then I wondered if having a harder thrower at third might not be a bigger advantage, letting them get out of trouble. Or maybe it wouldn’t make any difference at all. And when the first round was done …

… all of the male-skipped teams beat the female-skipped teams. And except for the Val Sweeting/John Epping game, the scores weren’t even particularly close at the end.

So, heavy-thrower at skip is best, right? Well, except that I watched quite a bit of the Kevin Koe/Chelsea Carey match, and Emma Miskew, the third, threw a lot of high weight shots. So much so, that she had to extend her arm to add extra force to the throw instead of the usual just aligning your arm with the broom and letting go and letting the drive from your legs generate the speed. And Koe seemed to be playing a lot of finesse shots, which shouldn’t really be an advantage for men over women. So, then, why did the men have such an advantage? It could be that they know better how to shoot to take advantage of the really, really good sweeping that men’s teams can get that women’s teams can’t, but could it be that the men’s teams are just that much more skilled overall than women’s teams?

There’s some reason to think that the men’s game was overall more competitive over the past few years than the women’s game was, and so the men had to up their game more than the women did. Now, there are a number of really good women’s teams, but was the women’s game as overall competitive — meaning a number of teams that were very high quality requiring the teams to grasp for every advantage — as the men’s team over that period? I actually can’t say myself, because I didn’t have cable at the time and so wasn’t watching any curling. But having to be more competitive could explain it, as well as having more cash bonspiels that let them play more and gain skill that way (women are just now getting into all of the events on the Grand Slam of Curling).

This could have just been an anomaly, or it could reflect a major difference in skill, particularly in shot selection and game management. This event might become an annual, and so it will be interesting to see if the event continues and, if it does, how this divide shakes out over time.

Ultimately, this could just have been

So, about Joss Whedon …

August 25, 2017

So, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, just recently wrote an article talking about how Joss Whedon is a hypocrite for claiming that he was a feminist while acting decidedly non-feminist in his marriage to her. Of course, something like this garners comment from pretty much all corners of the web, with both Vox Day and John Scalzi commenting on it, with Vox Day claiming that this is indicative of male feminists and Scalzi mostly claiming that he’s not like that. But the one that most inspired me to write this post is a video by Liana Kerzner, where she admittedly rants about the situation and then blames it all on Anita Sarkeesian. Since she’s been critical of Sarkeesian in the past, one’s first reaction might well be to tell her to lighten up a bit on Sarkeesian, because not everything is Sarkeesian’s fault. But she makes an interesting argument on the link that I think is worth exploring a bit.

Now, the issue here is that Whedon allegedly had a number of affairs while married to Cole, and hid them from her. And when she expressed concerns about how much time he was spending with attractive women, he allegedly insisted that he didn’t feel lust for them, but admired and respected them because his mother raised him as a feminist. This, of course, is what is triggering all of the complaints about Whedon’s hypocrisy about feminism, as it looks like he was using his purported feminism as a way to deflect criticism in this case and, perhaps, in many others.

Liana K’s argument is this, as best I understand it: the problem is that feminism like Anita Sarkeesian’s holds that any sort of sexual attraction on the part of men is in some sense wrong. And if all ways of thinking about sex with women are wrong, then all you have is, at best, a kind of continuum of wrong, with, say, looking at attractive women on one end and things like rape, sexual harassment and adultery on the other. But since this is a continuum, the lines get blurred. Instead of arguing whether the sexual action is right or wrong, you end up arguing over how bad the action is. But it’s wrong anyway. So being attracted to those young actresses and fans is only arguable a bit less wrong than sleeping with them. This makes it easier to rationalize away taking the arguably worse actions, by arguing that you’re already doing wrong, and this is just a bit more wrong.

I think that there’s a bit of a flaw in her argument, though, and I think it centres around, in fact, arguing strictly in terms of right and wrong, and particularly in not recognizing the idea of an action being understandable and yet still, in fact, wrong. What usually happens is that either people end up insisting that someone who succumbs to temptation is completely morally wrong, or they end up excusing them as not really having done anything wrong, because that’s a situation where most people would also succumb. And, to me, the real approach is to argue that you can understand why they failed and did the wrong thing — so they aren’t just an evil, immoral person — while insisting that, nevertheless, the action was still wrong and something that they definitely ought not have done, and ought not do in the future.

I see Whedon as being in that position. From the letter from him that Cole quoted from:

When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.

A lot of people are using this as a prime example of his attempts to shift the blame to the women instead of accepting it himself, including Liana K. The problem is … we should be able to see how this is, well, true. Once Whedon had wealth, power and influence in the entertainment business, he was going to attract a number of very attractive women who would want to sleep with him for various reasons, from being intoxicated by his fame and potentially his genius to hoping to influence him into helping their careers along. So suddenly he moved from being an average guy who those sorts of women wouldn’t look twice at to being a guy that they all in fact were aggressively pursuing, for whatever reason. It shouldn’t take any great feat of empathy or anything beyond simple reasoning to determine that this would be a very powerful temptation.

Let me relate to me personally here. I haven’t had a lot of success with women and women of that quality certainly wouldn’t have never have given me that sort of chance. And yet, years ago, a friend of mine who had just broken up with his girlfriend (because she cheated on him) that he had had trouble with the fact that at most events I attended with his girlfriend — we were on the same debating team in university — I spent a fair amount of time with his girlfriend — when he was busy doing other things — because I got along with her relatively well and she seemed to welcome the company. He pointed out that he figured that if I had wanted to sleep with her, I almost certainly could have. Which, I didn’t. And yet I have to concede that it would have been a temptation, not only because she was attractive, but because in terms of looks she pretty much hit my preferences, too.

I’d like to say that I made a heroic resistance to her charms, but truthfully if she was at all hinting at that I missed the signs, or at least it didn’t even cross my mind because she was dating my friend, and that tends to encourage me to, at least, not think of them that way (or at least, not seriously). And if she had been more direct, she would have certainly turned me off. But the point is that it would have been a strong temptation, and while I like to think that I could have resisted it, I’d have to concede that it wouldn’t have been easy.

So, by the same token, I’d like to think that if I was in Whedon’s position I would be able to resist inappropriate relationships, however that’s defined. But I have to concede that it wouldn’t be easy to resist that temptation. Thus, I can understand why Whedon found it overwhelming and in fact gave into that temptation, while still saying that what he did was wrong.

So I don’t buy that it’s this blurring of the rights and wrongs that’s the issue here. It’s not that he was confused about what was right or wrong here and was just shifting from the lesser wrong to the greater wrong, but instead was that he was giving in to a temptation that he seems to have known that he should resist and yet did it anyway.

Or, perhaps there was some of that. I think that feminist theory could indeed be adding something here, and that something is the idea of objectification. See, feminist theory drives its criticism of male sexuality on the notion of objectification, the idea that it reduces women to sexual objects and at that points stops treating them as people. And, thus, what makes a sexual action wrong is that objectification, and much of the feminist criticism focused on arguing that this is, in fact, what Whedon.

The problem is that the evidence doesn’t really support that idea. If Whedon was pulling the typical “casting couch” kind of relation, that might make sense, but it doesn’t really seem like that’s the case. Cole castigates him for both inappropriate sexual and emotional relationships, and the list includes friends and colleagues. It’s actually pretty reasonable to think that Whedon was in some sense seduced into thinking that his relationships didn’t really contradict his feminism because he didn’t objectify them, sticking to women that he respected and admired. As a potential example, imagine that one of his encounters was with a long-time collaborator, Felicia Day. Now I’m not saying that they did have an affair and not even insinuating it, just taking it as a good example that could have happened. Now, Felicia Day is attractive, but she’s also noted for having a unique personality that might attract some people, and Whedon has expressed how much he likes her personality in the past. It’d be pretty easy for him to justify his actions with her being willing and with him not just caring about her looks or her being needy, but instead liking her as a person, and then having sex with her out of that sort of connection. It would justify his claim that he didn’t lust after women, but instead “admired” them, because he admired and respected them for more than just their looks. So he wasn’t treating them as objects, and so was maintaining his feminism.

And, ironically, if he had been objectifying them the temptation might have been easier to resist. If the only thing he liked about them was their looks but found them annoying twits otherwise, all he would have had to do to avoid them was ignore them and never hang around with them, which if they were annoying enough would be easy. But if instead he found that he liked them and liked to be around them, that obvious move would be much, much harder, and he’d be more likely to try to rely on his own willpower which, then, failed.

So what I think we really need to recognize is that there is purely sexual attraction — which much feminist theory will consider objectification — and there is platonic respect and admiration and there is deeper love. No one should want to exchange the latter two for sexual attraction, but flashes of inappropriate sexual attraction are not a problem as long as they are not acted on. If you have those flashes, take them out and look at them for what they are, put them away, and find a way to ensure that they don’t make you act inappropriately. Too many people simply forgive them which risks them impacting future actions, and feminism demonizes them which stops people from looking at them and taking actions to limit the actions they can influence in the future, so instead they bury them deep down and repress them in the hopes that no one will find out how bad they are. Neither way is the right way to go.

Moralty Meters …

August 23, 2017

So I’m playing The Old Republic again, and am playing a Dark Side Sith Inquisitor … and running into fun with morality meters. Since I want my character to be fairly Dark-Sided, I’m choosing the Dark Side options as often as I can. TOR is very helpful in that it tells you which option is Dark Side and which is Light Side before you select it but some of the choices they make for that can be … jarring. Which leads me to consider issues with morality meters.

Shamus Young puts his finger on it while discussing the “Paragade” meter in Mass Effect:

One of my favorite illustrations of this problem is here on Virmire. The Salarians are going to attack Saren’s base head-on to create a diversion, while you sneak in the back. It’s basically a suicide mission for them. During your ingress, you run into several opportunities to make life easier or harder for the Salarians out front. You can destroy the Geth communications array. You can ground their air units. You can set off various alarms to make the enemy move into a different position. Each of these actions will allow you to fight more foes so your allies can fight less.

The paragon / renegade points are awarded under the assumption that taking more heat on yourself is altruistic and paragon-ish, and easing your way by dumping more foes on your allies is the renegade thing to do.

I saved Ashley because I love space-racism, but the game didn`t give me any renegade points for it.

Let’s ignore that fact that some of these actions (like blowing up the communications array) can easily happen by accident in a firefight, without you even realizing you’d done something other than shoot some robots. What’s funny about this situation is when I tried playing through this section as a renegade. I wanted to fight as many Geth as possible, because they’re filled with lovely delicious XP that will level me up and let me kick more ass. The game assumed that I was killing these Geth because I wanted to help my allies, but in reality I was motivated by simple videogame bloodlust. Helping your allies is undeniably the optimal thing to do, so you kind of have to screw yourself here if you’re fishing for renegade points.

While I think he’s wrong in arguing that his OOC gameplay reasoning where he was destroying things only because he wanted more of that sweet, sweet XP is something that should be taken into account, he makes a good point that morality meters go wrong because, in general, they have a hard time determining what the intent of the character is in making that choice if there’s any ambiguity in intent there at all. In TOR, in one sidequest you can tell the truth about who the Revanites are, or lie and tell the investigator that it is his Sith Master who is the leader of the Revanites. The game assumes that lying is Light Side because it is helping to keep the Revanites hidden and working against the Empire, and telling the truth is Light Side. However, my ambitious Sith saw advantages in lying about it, by shaking up the power structure above her leaving room for her to gain power and influence at their expense. This would seem to be pretty Dark-Sided, but I got Light Side points for it anyway, because the game had no idea of knowing why my character did what she did.

Another case is with the bones of Turak Hord and your companion Khem Val. The bones can be used to control Khem in some way, but he reveres them. You can choose to destroy them or not. If you destroy them, you get Dark Side points (I think) and preserving them gives you Light Side points. But a Light-Sider could destroy them as a means to help Khem Val move on from his dead former master, while a Dark-Sider might preserve them in the hopes of having another hold on Khem to enslave him even further. Because the game can’t determine your intent, it gives you Dark and Light Side points on the basis of relatively shallow determinations.

None of this would matter that much if the morality meter doesn’t matter that much to anything in the game. But if the morality meter doesn’t have an impact, then why is it there? In a Star Wars game, of course, it’s there because the setting builds it in, but in something like Mass Effect if it’s there it had better do something good. And it generally does, but then you have the frustrations of it not aligning with your character’s morality because it doesn’t take your character’s intent into account.

Chuck Sonnenburg at SF Debris commented in his playthrough of Dragon Age that he really liked that there wasn’t a morality meter, but that the actions you take have consequences in the world. Unlike the other games, Dragon Age doesn’t judge you on your actions, but instead tries to give you reasonable consequences for your actions, in terms of the reactions of your companions and of the people in the world. Yes, those actions often have consequences that might be considered negative, but as long as those consequences are ones that reasonably follow from what actions you take that’s fine. And I agree with him on that. If, for example, you defile Andraste’s ashes, you can certainly imagine that Leliana and even Wynne are going to be upset with you and even react violently. And if you think that you have reasons that make that worth attempting, then the game even manages to preserve character intent by letting the character decide if they made a hasty decision that had consequences they didn’t foresee, that they took negative consequences because they really thought it was the best choice, or even that they don’t think those consequences were bad at all, and were in fact all part of the plan.

It’s really, really hard to accurately capture character intent in a video game, but for a morality meter to really work you need to do that or else the meter ends up judging morality in ways that make no sense to the character and player. So it might just be better to stop trying and instead just give reasonable consequences. Of course, that itself has some issues …

Final Thoughts on Sabrina the Teenage Witch

August 21, 2017

So, I finished watching the entire series of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed it.

The main reason is that while it is often very, very, very stupid, and most of Sabrina’s problems are mostly caused by her essentially not learning the lessons she should have learned from previous episodes, the show is, in general, just plain fun and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. I can compare it to sitcoms like, say, “Three’s Company” (although some might not find that a compliment). But, in general, those are sitcoms that are just built around madcap adventures that happen to befall the characters, and if the characters actually learned from previous episodes that wouldn’t happen anymore. So just as Jack and Janet really should just talk to each other instead of trying to hide things from each other and other people, Sabrina really should learn to a) think more carefully before she uses magic to fix something and b) tell her aunts about it when things go wrong, because they are going to find out and, well, she usually needs them to tell her how to fix the problem before it becomes an utter disaster anyway. But I’m willing to be more forgiving of a sitcom than I would be of something else, precisely because the fun would be ruined if they actually did. And, to its credit, the show lampshades this frequently.

There’s also another incidence where the show seems to drop something that wasn’t really working. In season 7, Sabrina graduates from college and sets out to get a job as a reporter, with no success. However, Morgan used something Sabrina had written as a entry to a contest for a hip entertainment magazine called “Scorch”, and wins the contest. This starts off a chain of events that has Sabrina actually ending up working for them despite them thinking of her as, well, essentially a “square” while she sees them and the magazine as not being serious journalism.

Now, clearly the intent here would be to have a situation where the different personalities clashed and so provided conflict, but with the ability to present a nice and simple moral that Sabrina needs to lighten up and they need to take things more seriously. But it just never worked at all. Part of the issue is that Sabrina had already been doing an intern on a paper in season 6, and the boss Mike — played by George Wendt of Cheers fame — had provided an excellent example of the right sort of boss there: he was often nonplussed by Sabrina’s over-enthusiastic personality, but under it all he was a bit of a softie and kinda on her side. Her boss at Scorch (Annie) on the other hand is against Sabrina from the start, mostly because Sabrina was chosen by the publisher despite the fact that Annie disliked her. There’s nothing there, then, to contradict the idea that she was only tolerating Sabrina until she could get a chance to fire her, which was brought up in the final episode with Scorch. Also, in order for the clash to work we needed to see them as somewhat frivolous and not serious, so that Sabrina’s idea that they were slacking had at least some justification. But if you liked Sabrina and her personality — and if you watched her for six seasons you probably did — it was going to be difficult to not agree with her about them and that this is more flash than substance. Add in that most of her co-workers didn’t like her most of the time and jumped to conclusions about her while trying to compete with her for things like covers, and we aren’t likely to like any of the characters at Scorch, which is going to make it difficult for us to tolerate the interactions there, which were a big part of the first half of the season.

However, at about that point they … jettisoned it completely. Sabrina gets all nervous about her performance review, Annie reveals that she now has the ability to fire Sabrina if she doesn’t like the review, Sabrina takes on a spell to make her not make any mistakes, which makes her annoyingly perfect and meddling, Annie fires her for that, Sabrina makes her cases for staying, Annie seems to relent … and Sabrina then immediately goes off griping about how she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way and quits, moving on to do freelancing. Since Scorch figured prominently in the credits, they probably didn’t plan on ditching it this way, and on reflection even the sudden shift seems like a move to drop it even though the original plan would have been to keep her working there. Maybe they saw it wasn’t working, or maybe people didn’t like it, or maybe they just decided that they needed to drop it to have the time to focus on other things, but whatever the reason, like reducing Libby and Sabrina’s fighting over Harvey this move improved the show immensely.

There were also a large number of celebrities featured on the show, and it seems to me that what Scorch added was an easy way to work them into the show. Still, they managed to do it without Scorch and Scorch itself was annoying enough to not be worth keeping.

Typically at the end and the last seasons of shows I end up getting tired of the show and wanting it to end because I have another show in mind and want to get on to that one. That didn’t happen here. In fact, I suspect that I could just start re-watching it again immediately, as I kinda missed it the next day I came to watch something else (Transformers, actually). That almost never happens for me. The only time I can really remember it happening was, I think, with Deep Space 9. And the reason is because the show is just fun to watch. And since I had a hard time reading while watching it, I also managed to, for the most part actually watch it. It’s not a great show, and I could tear it to pieces if I wanted to go all SF Debris on it, but it’s just so much fun that I’m willing to forgive it.

Philipse on Arguments from Order to Design

August 18, 2017

Chapters 13 and 14 focus on the Argument from Design and other inductive arguments respectively. But it is definitely the case that by this point Philipse isn’t really providing anything new, neither a new and fresh examination of the arguments nor a strong and specific refutation of Swinburne. As such, there’s not that much to say here. The stuff that’s new is Swinburne’s, which won’t be that impressive to anyone who isn’t already a fan of his, and the stuff that isn’t specific to Swinburne isn’t new.

So what I want to talk about briefly is, again, Philipse’s attempt to claim that global arguments from design are more promising than local arguments from design. Again, he appeals to this on the basis of avoiding the “God of the Gaps”, and thus the risk that later science will, in fact, find an explanation for the phenomena. But, again, this is ridiculous. If I could demonstrate that, say, by the best evidence we have the eye is irreducibly complex and so had to be produced deliberately by an intentional agent, it’s in no way a response to say “Well, science might find a way to explain that … sometime. In the future. So you can’t make that claim!”. In the previous chapter, Philipse insists that cosmological arguments need to be inductive arguments to the best explanation, while here he insists that for design inductive arguments to the best explanation aren’t promising because they run the risk of science refuting them at later date. One suspects that if Philipse found any inductive arguments for the cosmological argument that he couldn’t refute he’d be insisting that they fail because science might refute them later, a criteria that he pushes in Chapter 13 for a temporal design argument of Swinburne’s.

At this point, it seems clear that Philipse’s main focus — perhaps unconsciously — is to at all times place the burden of proof on the theistic argument, and thus insist that we must take any scientific explanation before we accept a theistic one. Thus, if we follow Philipse’s idea of “God in the Age of Science” we end up ceding all discussion on the matter to science. Which might not be a problem unless science is, in fact, explicitly naturalistic, as in that case science would accept any explanation — no matter how improbable — over a theistic or supernatural one. In fact, it might even accept “We don’t know yet” over a theistic or supernatural one. Philipse himself directly accepts both of these arguments at various times. Thus, to accept Philipse’s view of “the Age of Science” is to, essentially, concede that atheism and naturalism are true, not because they are specifically better evidenced, but merely because science implicitly and perhaps explicitly assumes them.

Fortunately, we don’t have to accept Philipse’s view. There are a number of philosophical, epistemological and even empirical and scientific issues with his views. And if we don’t accept them, then we don’t accept most of his arguments against the specific theistic arguments that he addresses either. Thus, without us accepting his starting points, we won’t accept where he ends here, and so all of this is just standard replies to the standard arguments.

Next time, Philipse, at the end, talks about religious experiences. It would seem like that would be something he would have addressed much earlier …

Why Doesn’t Sabrina Count as a Role Model for Girls?

August 16, 2017

As you might be aware, I’m currently watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And it’s interesting to note that it was a remarkably successful series. It ran for seven seasons and spawned a relatively successful cartoon spin-off. It also managed to outperform a number of male-led contemporaries. And it ended in 2003, so it hasn’t been that long since it was on.

And yet, when people are talking about the need for female role models, they neither mention the series as being an example of a series that worked, nor suggest reviving it to be that series that girls purportedly need. Instead, all the talk is about there not being any such examples and for the need to convert all of the male-led series to female-led ones to promote “diversity” and “inclusion”. Why is that?

In a comment on my post about a female Doctor Who, Nate suggests that what they want is a cultural institution, or at least to have something with that sort of name recognition. However, given its long prominence in Archie Comics, Sabrina has that name recognition, and there are a number of other characters and series that also have that that they could promote, and yet they still don’t. Sure, Sabrina isn’t as well-known as The Doctor, but nothing is, and that hasn’t stopped them trying to convert less well-known properties (like Thor). So I think that there is a simpler interpretation here: they don’t push for these things because they aren’t aware that they exist.

A lot of the recent pushes seem to have something in common: a link to popular culture. When Doctor Who was just a show for science fiction nerds and nerd culture was something to be mocked and avoided, there wasn’t a huge push to make it diverse, or criticisms of its diversity. Sure, they existed, but in general they were small comments inside the science fiction community. But once nerd culture started to become “popular”, then the criticisms started. But those criticisms, then, came from people who were mostly inside pop culture but weren’t at all inside nerd or science fiction culture. Thus, the people complaining about it were people who in general didn’t care for science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, video games, and so on, but were instead people jumping onto the new big thing and criticizing it for not being exactly what they wanted it to be. But their criticisms were, therefore, always shallow criticisms, as they only had a shallow understanding of the field, and so didn’t know what things already existed that they might have liked better. They only got what had broad appeal and then criticized the entire genre for not having things that appealed to them specifically.

This explains why no one is talking about “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, even though most of them can cite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, despite the fact that the two series ran at the same time (Sabrina ran from 1996 – 2003, while Buffy ran from 1997 – 2003). Sure, Sabrina is more obscure, but many of these people consider themselves to be insiders who are doing massive amounts of research and making strong, facts-based arguments, and so you’d think they’d come across it at some point. This also explains why Anita Sarkeesian’s research is so shallow and ignores things like Fatal Frame, Silent Hill III (which is the game that Silent Hill: Revelation is based on), Suikoden III, Final Fantasy X-2 and the female City Elf storyline in Dragon Age while being cited by her fans as, well, actually having in-depth knowledge of video games based on stringent research. What gets referenced in pop culture gets noted, and anything else is ignored because it doesn’t exist for them.

Thus nerd culture was criticized as soon as it entered the sphere of pop culture. Never mind that the people criticizing it had no idea what it actually was or entailed; instead, they took the things they had seen as the totality of the field and praised and criticized it accordingly. The same thing happened to anime when it was in vogue, and also spawned the criticisms of violence in video games and the criticisms of hard rock/heavy metal music. In all cases, a bunch of ill-informed people took on what they were now noticing because it was becoming more mainstream.

This explains why most of the attempts to create these new “inclusive” works tend to fail miserably. The people advocating for them are not, in general, people who actually like those things or people who know a lot about the genres, but are instead bandwagon-jumpers demanding that the bandwagon take them where they want to go instead of where most of the others want to go. If they manage to get there, they find that almost everyone else has gotten off already and so it’s not popular anymore … and that it was popular was the only thing that attracted them to it in the first place. Thus, people attempting to follow their directions end up losing their core audience — who were interested in the field in general — while ultimately losing the fickle “Pop Culture Warriors” who didn’t actually like those sorts of works in the first place. If these people liked those genres and simply wanted to add a few more “inclusivity” elements, that wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t and so don’t know anything about it, and so end up trying to remake it into what they think they want … but which they don’t really want.

You could easily remake “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, either as a teen comedy, or a normal sitcom, or as horror. That no one even bothers to think of it suggests that they aren’t creative and don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, these are not the sort of people you should let tell you how to write your stories.

Freethought Blogs and The Orbit

August 14, 2017

So, it’s been almost a year and a half since a number of bloggers on Freethought blogs moved over to a new network, “The Orbit”. So, how are things going?

The Orbit is pretty much a ghost town. You might get a new post, on average, once every couple of days, and this has been going on for quite a while now. It’s pretty bad when an entire network of bloggers manages to produce content at about the same rate that I do. Also, most of the original bloggers from Freethought Blogs who moved rarely contribute; the most frequent contributors seem to be new bloggers or at least ones who weren’t as active on Freethought Blogs.

Freethought Blogs, on the other hand, has multiple posts from a number of bloggers every single day. Aside from the generally prolific P.Z. Myers, most of the new posts seem to be coming from new bloggers that were recruited after the split. In terms of content, it is certainly generating it at an impressive rate, especially when compared to The Orbit.

It doesn’t seem like The Orbit has been a very successful network. Sure, many of the bloggers there have moved onto or are promoting things like their Patreon account instead, but again there’s really not much content there, and certainly not much when compared to what the new bloggers on Freethought Blogs generate for it. I’m not sure what the hit ratio is — which generates revenue — but I can’t imagine that The Orbit is even close to what Freethought Blogs produces, given the disparity in regularly updated content. I’m not certain what those who founded The Orbit wanted to achieve with it, but it doesn’t look like it has managed it. In fact, one could speculate that Freethought Blogs wanted to replace the content they had lost when Ed Brayton and Ophelia Benson left, and that those who moved to The Orbit were ones who didn’t fit into that or who didn’t like the new recruitment drive for some reason.

Anyway, it’s just something that I’ve been musing about as I read both networks, since I definitely like reading things that I don’t agree with, for various reasons.

Philipse on Cosmological Arguments

August 11, 2017

So, in Chapter 12 Philipse examines Cosmological Arguments in an attempt to show that they aren’t going to work. He differentiates between two main types of cosmological arguments: deductive ones like the classic “First Cause” arguments, or inductive ones to the best explanation. As it turns out, Swinburne also prefers the latter sorts of arguments, so Philipse is going to start by attempting to show that deductive arguments aren’t as promising as inductive ones so that he can spend the bulk of the chapter focusing on inductive arguments and thus also on Swinburne’s arguments and explanations. This will work as long as you end up agreeing with him that deductive arguments aren’t promising avenues to take. If you don’t accept that, then the complicated arguments Swinburne advances will seem like nothing more than a waste of time when simpler and as if not more promising arguments are available.

The problem is that the meat of Philipse’s arguments against deductive arguments are nothing more than taking the two most popular deductive arguments and attempting to show that they don’t work. Sure, he brings in Swinburne’s argument that deductive cosmological arguments aren’t sound, but he — rightly — points out that it’s not easy to argue that without examining the specific arguments themselves. But Philipse then goes on to insist that the literature has done that for pretty much all of those specific cases and decides to demonstrate that by picking two examples and showing that they are not sound and so can be dismissed. Of course, this would in no way demonstrate that all possible deductive arguments are not sound, so it doesn’t even defend against the specific counter that Philipse himself raised. He could have made a decent argument if he had tried to show that having a universal premise would risk them not being sound or would at least lead us to think that establishing universal premises was too difficult a task to be considered reasonable, but he doesn’t even do that. So even if we accept that he’s right about the two arguments he addresses, we have no reason to think that deductive cosmological arguments are just a dead end.

And when it comes to the two arguments that Philipse tries to address, I find that I have to express my deepest gratitude to him, because his attempts to refute them have led me to come to the realization of why they, in fact, actually seem to work. Whether or not I can get to God from those two arguments, when it comes to establishing some kind of First Cause or First Element the arguments seem conclusive. Thus, instead of making me doubt their validity, he’s only made me even more certain that the arguments are right. That’s … probably not what he was going for.

Let me start with the first argument, which is essentially the argument from contingent causes, and I’ll quote his presentation of it here:

1. A contingent entity exists (that is, and entity of which we can suppose without contradiction that it does not exist), or a contingent event occurs.
2. Each contingent entity or event has a sufficient cause.
3. Contingent entities or events alone cannot constitute, ultimately, a sufficient cause for the existence of a contingent entity or the occurrence of a contingent event.
4. Therefore, at least one necessary entity or event exists (that is, an entity or event of which we cannot suppose without contradiction that it does not exist or occur). And because it exists necessarily, it does not stand in need of an explanation.[pg 223]

While I wouldn’t normally quote the counter argument when quoting from a book — as it’s usually not worth the effort to do so when a summary will do just as well and usually be clearer — here I have to quote what he’s saying so that everyone can check to see if my interpretation of it is correct:

What one should repudiate is premise (3), since causal explanations cannot but refer to causes that exist or occur contingently. If one explains causally an event E with reference to a cause C, what one means is that, ceteris paribus, if C had not occurred, E would not have occurred either, assuming there is no causal redundancy. Hence, it is essential to the very meaning of the word ’cause’ that we can always suppose without contradiction that a cause C did not occur.[ibid]

You would think that someone who was in fact a philosopher would do two things here. First, one would assume that in examining this they would take the concept of a necessary object, put it in the place of C, and see if the statement “If C had not occurred, E would not have occurred” still makes sense or itself produces a contradiction. Philipse doesn’t seem to have done that, because it seems pretty obvious that, yes, saying that still makes sense. What it really means to be a necessary entity or event is that it is not possible for it to not have occurred. So what we would say is that C occurred and C had to occur. And because C occurred, E occurred. Now, if C hadn’t occurred, then E wouldn’t have occurred. But, of course, C did occur, because it had to occur. Why is that case that much different from the case where we observe that a contingent C happened in the past that produced an event E? Isn’t it just as contradictory to assert that if C hadn’t happened then E wouldn’t have happened? After all, C did happen, and we can’t change that now. Once C happens or exists, then E will happen. Why C happens or exists doesn’t impact that. It seems to me that Philipse has fallen into a “If humans evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?” argument. His entire argument relies on interpreting the first part of the if as being an actual statement about C, which then implies that to make the conditional work we’d have to actually assert that C might not have occurred. But we don’t need to and don’t do that. The conditional, then, does not in any way imply that it is actually physically or conceptually possible for C to not exist or have occurred, which would be the contradiction. The statement is talking about the dependency of E on C, and not making any actual conceptual statement about C itself. So this argument fails.

The second thing a philosopher ought to do here is actually attack the logic itself, and not simply look to provide a counter-argument, which is what Philipse’s argument actually does here while in the guise of refuting premise (3). The reason to do this is that we don’t want to end up in an Antinomy, where we have two sound logical arguments that lead to the opposite conclusions. Again, Philipse claims to be attacking premise (3), but what he’s really doing — by his own words — is making an argument that the concept of cause makes necessary events — at least ones that have any causal power — incoherent. But that doesn’t attack the original logic that says that you can’t stop at a contingent event, and that by definition every contingent event must have a sufficient cause explaining it. And this argument would go as follows: for an event to be contingent, it means that its existence depends on some event or cause that causes it to happen as opposed to the alternatives. This means that for any contingent event we can ask for an explanation of it, meaning that we can ask what made it so that it happened as opposed to something else (which might be nothing). Let’s call that C. Now, C can either be contingent or non-contingent. If it is contingent, then we would say that its existence depends on another event, C’. Which we could then go and examine to see if C’ is contingent or non-contingent. And so on and so forth. Thus, for any contingent event C we could never stop there, because there would always be something left that we would need to explain, which is why C itself happened, which we can only explain by appealing to another event C’. If, however, that C is non-contingent, then it needs no further explanation for its existence and so we can stop there.

You can argue that my argument depends a lot on us needing an explanation or still having something to explain, which might not be necessary (this might be an epistemological as opposed to a conceptual argument). Fair enough, but remember that Philipse wants us to do theology like science, and science can never say that if there is still something there to be explained that we can simply stop there and claim that we’ve explained enough. Science can argue that we can’t find out that explanation, but that’s definitely an epistemological as opposed to a conceptual argument, and so can’t refute the idea that what we have is a necessary entity or event C out there that stopped our chain of explanation. So Philipse would still need a conceptual argument to refute the idea that there’d still be something out there that can’t be contingent to be the explanation for the contingent entity or event we are considering.

Let me quote the second argument:

1. This event in the universe is fully or partially caused by earlier events. The same holds for other events. They are caused by causal chains going backwards in time.
2. Infinite causal regresses are impossible.
3. Therefore, there must have been a first cause of each causal chain.[ibid]

Philipse uses the standard reply of appealing to Cantorian Set Theory to demonstrate that we can, indeed, have an infinite causal regress. The problem is that the classic examples use there are things like the set of all integers, the set of all positive integers, and so on and so forth. The problem is that these causal sets are not like those, but are more like the Fibonacci sequence, where the existence of any element in the set is determined by earlier elements in the set, except for the initial terms, which have to be stipulated by definition. So, to weaken Philipse’s logic, what he’d have to show is that dependent sets can be infinite in the same way as, say, the set of all integers. If they can’t, then you can’t use Cantorian Set Theory against the argument.

So, having weakened the argument, let me again provide a positive argument for why that isn’t the case. In generating the set of all integers, I can generate a number at random and see if it belongs to the set and add it if it ought to be in the set (and isn’t already there). So I could generate the set, then, by randomly generating 100, 350, 2, 19 and so on and doing so until I have the entire set. Sure, it’s not physically possible for me to do that, but it’s conceptually possible for me to do that. Thus, I can generate any element of the set at any time and be able to determine if that element should be in the set and, in fact, even add it to the set.

Can I do that for a simple dependent set, where, say nm is determined by nm-1 + 1, where n is a positive integer? So I generate 56. Is 56 in the set? Well, in order to determine that, I’d have to know what its m would be if it was in the set, so that I can determine if nm-1+1 = 56. So that means that there needs to be at least one other element in the set before I can determine if this element is in the set. And since that applies to every element in the set, I can’t add any element to the set until I know that another element is in the set. Except for n0, the initial term. If I stipulate that n0 is 55, then 56 is clearly in the set. But if I stipulate that n0 is 233, then it clearly isn’t in the set. Thus, no element can be added to the set until I add an element that is not dependent on any other elements in the set to the set.

And it turns out that for any dependent sets that we come across, we always specify by definition some elements that exist in the set but that aren’t dependent on any other elements in the set. And as soon as we do that, we can then generate the rest of the elements that exist in that set, by proceeding from those initial elements to the next elements down the line. So we cannot proceed infinitely past that starting point and maintain a sensible set that actually contains elements.

Since causal regressions, by (1) are dependent sets, the same thing applies to them. No element can be said to be in that causal regression unless we can specify an initial term that kicks this all off. Sure, if we see a dependent causal regression we can identify it as such and trace it backwards in time, but mathematically we’d have to expect there to be an initial term that is not dependent on any other elements in the set. Thus, mathematically it really does look like the argument holds.

There might be places where I go wrong with these arguments, but the important point is that Philipse has certainly not established that even these two deductive arguments are not fruitful, let alone that no deductive arguments are not fruitful. And since he hasn’t established that, I see no reason to follow him and Swinburne down the complicated rabbit hole of inductive arguments to the best explanation. Which makes the rest of the chapter irrelevant, and so I’m not going to bother addressing it.

Next up: Design arguments.

Course Work …

August 9, 2017

I used to take university courses regularly. In fact, a number of the essays that I turned into pages are things that I did for university courses over the years. I got almost all of a Bachelor’s of Philosophy and in fact a Master’s in Philosophy part-time around work. I enjoy doing it, the tuition was tax-deductible, when I could take the courses for credit I even got something out of it, and it also worked around my immunity to artificial deadlines by, in fact, giving me an actual deadline to work with.

But I haven’t taken any courses for the past few years.

I had started a Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science, but since I had both Philosophy and Computer Science there wasn’t a lot more to learn. So I took a couple of graduate courses there, but that wasn’t much better. Then they changed some of the requirements so that actually getting the degree would be more difficult, so I started taking graduate level Philosophy courses at the other university. Then they said that I had hit the limit of courses that I could take as a Special Student, so I had to find something else. I started considering doing Classics or History and then things changed.

I had been working for a while on a product in maintenance mode, and so had the time to use vacation or the like to take courses. But that product was ending, and so I was going to move on. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to try to take courses while learning a new product, or to start my working relationship with a new manager by essentially talking about ways to not work at least normal hours. I then worked on the new product for about a year, and then moved to another one, although I’ve kept the same manager. And to be fair he probably would let me arrange something so that I could take courses again, but …

This product is … strange, at least in scheduling. Last year in September I was incredibly happy that I wasn’t taking courses because I was dropped into a late project that took me a massive amount of hours just to catch up with. I’d never have been able to take courses and handle that project at the same time. This year, my project was moved earlier and I need to work more just to make sure that I hit the deadlines, and also have other things going on that I need to track, and so don’t have the time for coursework again. I’m likely to have problems taking all of my vacation again this year because of that. And the fall is the time when I most want to take courses because I don’t have to worry at all about the weather in the fall, unlike in the winter. So as long as things are like this, taking university courses seems to be out of the picture.

I had mused taking courses again after I retire, but one of the benefits of retiring is not having to leave the house when we get winter weather, and if I started taking courses I wouldn’t be able to do that.

So, for now at least, taking courses seems to be off the table. I’m looking at doing reading and studying on my own for now, but this will be limited since I for now I want to focus on other things, like writing and some programming. I still like the idea and miss taking them, but it just doesn’t look like I can fit it into my life right now. Which is a shame.