Archive for September, 2017

How Things Have Changed

September 6, 2017

So, for the longest time I refused to watch half-hour TV shows when they didn’t allow me to play the entire disk non-stop, and then stopped watching an anime since it only did “Play All”. Now, however, the flexibility of half-hour shows has become more important, and so I’ve found myself taking on half-hour shows where I can select the episodes one-by-one, like Yu-gi-oh, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and most recently Transformers, and watching them almost exclusively while not watching any of my hour-long shows. And, in fact, I’m having a hard time finding a way to actually watch those series ever again.

The reason that half-hour shows are currently so dominant is that the time I have to just watch TV has greatly shrunk. Generally, I expect to get around 1.5 hours to watch in the evening a day (right before I go to sleep, so generally in my cool down time). But that time varies. I might wrap everything up for the day 2 hours before I want to go to sleep, or 1 hour. As noted in the previous article, hour long shows aren’t very flexible when it comes to time. An hour long show runs about 45 minutes on DVD, which means that if I have an hour left in the day I could watch one episode and then have to stop early. With half-hour shows, I could watch three and only run a little over, which works out reasonably well (my bedtime isn’t that set it stone). And if I wanted to stay up a little later, I could watch another episode without adding 45 minutes on, which is a bit long most of the time. And if I ever wanted to stay up that extra 45 minutes for some reason, I can just watch two more episodes. This also works if I start earlier, because all I need to do is add episodes 20 minutes at a time until I hit time to shut down for the day. If an hour long episode would fit, I can put two half-hour episodes there, and if an hour long episode wouldn’t fit, then I can add an extra half-hour episode and generally fill that gap. So the flexibility is really in demand for me right now.

The other reason, though, is the total number of hours that each series has. I can, in general, watch a disk roughly every two days. For an hour long show, that’s 2 episodes a night, while for a half-hour show that’s 4 episodes a night. If I’m watching an American/Canadian series, you’re generally getting into about 20 episodes a season, and the number of episodes is about the same for hour long and half-hour shows. Thus, I finish half-hour series about twice as fast as hourly ones. So I can finish a season of an hourly series in roughly two weeks (11 – 12 days), while for a half-hour series I can finish a season in roughly a week. So if I wanted to watch a 5 season hour long series, it would take me about 60 days or 2 months, while I can finish a half-hour series in about a month. This means that the turnover rate is faster, which keeps me from getting bored with it, lets me feel like I’m making progress, and avoids my feeling like I’m watching it more to finish it and less to actually watch it. Add in that most of my favourite hour long series are more like 7 – 10 seasons instead of 5 and this becomes even more important.

So, half-hour series are more flexible and spread out over my relatively short TV watching time better. Since I don’t have any other time to just watch TV, when can I watch those hour long series that I love so much again? When can I watch Babylon 5, TNG, DS9, Buffy, Angel and Smallville? They are too long to binge on while on vacation or slide into times when I’m, say, working or wanting something to watch while I’m eating and baseball isn’t on, but don’t fit into the flexible schedule at all. But I’m definitely going to want to watch them again.

I’ve moved from wondering when I can watch half-hour shows, and not really watching them to wondering when I can watch hour long shows and not really watching them. That’s … different.

(As an aside, I calculated how long it would take me to watch all of the Dark Shadows soap opera again with my current time allocated for watching TV. It took me about four months the first time, and this time it would take me … about 11 months, or almost a year. Yeah …)

Thoughts on “Transformers: The Movie”

September 4, 2017

So, not all that long ago I decided to clean out my closets, which included my collection of DVDs and VHS tapes. In doing so, I tossed out all of my old VHS tapes — since many of them just aren’t playable anymore — and decided to replace them — if I hadn’t already — with DVD or Blu-Ray versions. One of those tapes was “Transformers: The Movie”. And now that I’ve shifted to watching half-hour shows in the evenings, I thought it’d be fun to watch the original cartoon series up to the point of the movie, watch the movie, and then continue on with the rest of the cartoon, as well as “Beast Wars” and “Beast Machines”. I’m now past the point of “Transformers: The Movie”.

The movie was definitely pretty dark and brutal. The first scene is Unicron destroying an entire planet, and we don’t get the “great disturbance” and quick kaboom of Star Wars. We see the inhabitants see Unicron start his attack, panic, try to flee, and even have a ship sucked in with a screaming inhabitant. Then, from there, after a little light banter and plot setting, Ironhide, Prowl, Brawn and Ratchet, at least, are killed in a Decepticon attack … and Ironhide gets deliberately slaughtered by Megatron while trying to make a last ditch effort to stop him from ambushing Autobot City. And then there’s the big opening battle, where a number of characters on both sides are killed, and Optimus Prime and Megatron are both gravely wounded. Then, Optimus Prime dies. Then, Megatron and some other Decepticons are left to die to light Astrotrain’s load. Starscream is eventually destroyed by Megatron. Then Unicron attacks the moon bases and seemingly kills Jazz, Cliffjumper, Bumblebee and Spike. Later, Ultra Magnus is killed by the Decepticons. We see Kranix and an unnamed bot killed by Sharkticons. Eventually, we see inside Unicron and see other bots dissolved in the equivalent of stomach acid before Spike and the others are rescued. Cybertron is decimated by Unicron’s attack.

Now, Transformers was on when I was in grade school. It ran at lunch time and often it was shown at school during lunch. Thus, we can imagine that a lot of relatively young children liked the series and would want to see the movie. All of this was likely to leave them utterly devastated. I believe that Chuck Sonnenberg once commented in one of his reviews that the death of Optimus Prime left children crying, and I can imagine that a number of scenes left them that way, especially since many of them seem to be deliberately crafted to provoke that. While the scenes are well done, this “kill ’em all” approach might not have been a good one for a work that they had to know would largely draw children. A number of parents who took their kids to see the movie, I imagine, were regretting that they did so.

The movie itself, though, is fairly well done, and is pretty well paced. Things move from scene to scene quickly so that you can just follow it along without getting bored or distracted. The fight scenes have the right sort of tension and drama to them, and are written for the most part to take advantage of the typical heroes vs villains sort of conflict. Plot elements are not deep but weave into the events fairly seamlessly and quickly. It’s a movie that I could pretty much watch from start to finish without ever being tempted to read while it was on.

If there is a criticism, though, it’s that the new characters aren’t very well developed at all. Sure, we get some hints as to their personalities and goals, but I have watched all of the cartoon and so know the characters already and still felt that they were two-dimensional, if that. There are flashes of character development, but nothing major and nothing at all outside of Kup, Arcee and Hot Rod. Rodimus Prime is introduced too late to really get character development, and Wheelie and Wreck-Gar get none and only seem to appear as plot devices to get the heroes to the next stage. Given how many fan favourite characters were unceremoniously killed to be replaced by these, the lack of character development makes that a poor trade. But the Dinobots almost make up for that themselves, especially Grimlock.

Overall, it’s actually a pretty good movie, and despite its dark tone seems to capture a lot of the elements of the original cartoon while completely shaking up the status quo. The series that follows this is at least starting off much more dark as well, with the Decepticons fighting over scraps of Energon, but while the shift is there at least some of the main elements seem to be intact. I definitely enjoyed watching it.

Don’t Trust Skepticism!

September 1, 2017

Rebecca Watson decided to try to demonstrate her skeptical credentials by taking on an article in Jezebel on past-life regressions. Out of the gate, she turns the entire thing into the equivalent of a skeptical “pissing contest”:

This week I read an article on Jezebel about a “skeptic” who underwent past life regression and surprise! She was super convinced that it was real and an awesome experience. I’m a skeptic, too, and allow me to give you an alternative perspective: past-life regression is stupid, and occasionally dangerous, nonsense.

This would have more thrust if the author of the article — Madeleine Davies — actually was super convinced that it was real, meaning that it was a real past-life regression. The problem is that if you read the article she isn’t. She does think that it was a wonderful experience, but she says several times that she isn’t sure if this was a real past-life regression or just an invention of her psyche:

Feeling remarkably light after she and I said goodbye, I called my parents and told them what I had done. If reincarnation was real, I wanted them to know how deeply happy I was to keep experiencing life with them. If it was all a figment of my imagination, I noted, they should still feel touched that my brain chose to cast them in such significant roles.

But while I found reassurance in Barham’s interpretation of the regression, and repeated everything to my parents with verklempt enthusiasm, very little time passed before I began to doubt all that I had seen or heard while under hypnosis.

Or maybe I wasn’t. One of the chief skeptical speculations about past life regression therapy is that what’s experienced while under hypnosis is the result of cryptomnesia, the accidental plagiarism of books, TV, movies, or stories. Considering my own regression, I can certainly find enough pieces of The English Patient or The Lost City of Z (or even the survey of Africa course that I took in college) to create an exciting story. Another possibility, as some in the psychiatric community speculate, is that what I went through was the result of confabulation—the creation of false memories—a phenomenon often associated with recovered-memory therapy, a highly controversial technique that, while meant to recover memories from the past, has, on occasion, planted false (and often traumatic) memories in the patient’s mind.

I found myself impressed with the exceptional power of the human brain—my human brain!—and its ability to produce a (very gripping, if I do say so myself) story of that magnitude, seemingly out of scraps and pieces of long forgotten ephemera. My imagination was able to produce a sense of emotional freedom and solace that I’ve since been able to revisit, and it’s been useful—whether it’s based in reality or not.

Does that sound like someone that’s “super convinced” to you?

Without even getting into the specifics of the experience, Watson tries to stack the deck against Davies being a real skeptic by attacking things she said in the article as a preamble:

The writer claims that she was a skeptic, relying on the fact that she once made fun of a past-life regression, and that she doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and that she jokes about astrology. But she also admits that she is scared of ghosts and doesn’t sign “important paperwork while Mercury is in retrograde.” The ****? I honestly can’t tell if that’s a joke or not. At first I assumed it was, but then she went on to describe her past-life regression session in glowing terms so now I’m not sure. Heads up: you were not a skeptic. You were someone who made jokes about superstition because you thought it would make someone think you were smart, when you’re actually not very smart.

So, what Watson is trying to do here is poison the well, argue that Davies can’t really be skeptical because of those things. Except that those points are brought up to, in fact, acknowledge the precise sort of tension in her that Davies is acknowledging and trying to address:

This was my first time meeting Barham, but it was not my first time seeing her. I had written about her once before when she appeared on a talkshow late last year, demonstrating past life regression on one of the Real Housewives. To be frank, I wasn’t particularly kind in my write up of the segment. As I put it at the time, “It’s all bullshit, anyway.”

But bromidic though it may be, since turning 30, I’ve become more and more intent on exploring what scares me and better understanding my own paradoxical spirituality: For example, I don’t believe in an afterlife, yet I’m terrified of ghosts; I joke about horoscopes and astrology, but still try to avoid signing important paperwork while Mercury is in retrograde; I put my faith in science, but lack the certainty or courage to commit fully to atheism. In that vein, I do not reject the notion of past lives outright. Growing up, my family—not exactly new age, but not exactly not—discussed the concept frequently. My parents visited a past-life channeler when I was a child. The channeler then told my step father that power was very important to me and that I don’t do well when it’s taken away, an insight that turned out to be invaluable to him as I adapted to living with someone who was not my biological father. (He still partially credits it for our closeness and good relationship to this day.) But despite a strong familiarity, I’m still reluctant to believe anything until I experience it myself.

So, she acknowledges that while she doesn’t believe in those things, she has some leftover impulses that imply those things, and she’s trying to figure that out. For past lives specifically, she has an anecdote from someone she trusts that doing one of those things gave an insight that at least that person found accurate and useful but that they believe they couldn’t have gotten as easily otherwise. So she isn’t willing to just believe that’s the case unless she explores it herself, and isn’t willing to simply dismiss it as being obviously false … despite her doing that initially. So her response is to go out and investigate it herself.

Compare that to Watson’s response:

I’m guessing not, because no one has ever shown any proof of a past-life regression, probably because there’s no such thing as reincarnation and even if there was there’s no such thing as old memories sticking in your new brain matter and even if there was there’s no way for anyone to dig those memories up.

Watson just knows, somehow, that this stuff is all fake and can’t possibly occur. She’s done little to no investigation — or, at least, hasn’t given any here — and falls back on the really bad argument that she can’t see any method for this to occur anyway, which is a standard skeptical argument. Of course, if we could demonstrate somehow that the recollections really were a past life, we’d then go look for by what method these things carry over like we do for pretty much any new scientific discovery, but why should scientific skeptics bother to follow any of the methods of science in making their claims.

So, let’s compare the two cases to Watson’s definition of what a skeptic should be:

A skeptic, in fact, should be someone who thinks critically about everything, including and especially their own experiences. A skeptic understands that their own perspective on things can be warped. They understand that there are con artists in the world who know how to manipulate others and will do so for money or fame. Madeline Davies is not, I assure you, a skeptic.

Except that when confronted with something that she had some anecdotal evidence for but that she didn’t believe in, Davies’ response was … to go and test it out. Watson’s response, on the other hand, was to insist that it wasn’t real and so no testing was necessary and that Davies was just gullible and Barham, the therapist, was a con artist who should have her marriage and family therapist license taken away. Despite the fact that if Barham was using this as part of her regular practice, the test for whether she was doing wrong by this would be to see if her patients were getting better using this, which Watson never bothers to ask about or explore in any way. Instead, she nitpicks over certification:

As exhibit one, I present the fact that she wrote an article about seeing “a certified past life therapist” without ever asking who is certifying past-life therapists and how does one get that certification. Is it like certifying a saint, where you have to show “proof” of three verified past-life regressions?

But this doesn’t matter. Davies chose Barham because a) Davies had criticized her strongly before and b) she was at least technically certified by some organization that tries to do that. Thus, if Davies was going to test it out, Barham is at least someone where it is more difficult to simply say “Well, they didn’t know what they were doing”, and Davies it seems wanted to test if her original impression of Barham was valid. This comment about certification is nothing more than an excuse to say that you don’t even have to test out or question your initial presumptions at all. It’s no coincidence that this nitpick leads directly into Watson’s above-quoted comment about this stuff all being fake implying that there’s no need to test it.

Watson then goes after the caveats:

For instance, Barham reassures Davies that no matter what happens, Davies is not gullible. Even if it turns out that her entire “past life” is obviously just a recounting of an episode of Joanie Loves Chachi, this is just due to the “Jungian concept of synchronicity.” Instead of being skeptical about why Barham is giving her a defense against accusations of stupidity, Davies instead lists two more ways to say the same nonsense, each one more hilarious than the last: “the acausal connection of two or more psychic and physical phenomena”, and “the psychological profundity of coincidence.” Yep, you’re definitely not just super gullible. It’s Jungian!

It never seems to even occur to Davies that she is paying for Barham to make her regress into a past life, but Barham herself is already offering excuses for why what happens may not be real, and may just be her psyche offering symbolic metaphors. If you can actually make a person remember a past life, and if you are charging them for the honor of doing this, why would you need to couch your services by telling clients that even if it’s not real, it’s still beneficial?

Because for Barham it being beneficial is the point, not that it regresses you to a past life. Barham, it seems to me, believes that past lives exist and that their influences can influence the psychological state of people in the present, and that in order to address at least certain problems addressing that influence is key. But many people will doubt whether or not they are really getting past lives or are just getting invented scenes in their own mind. And if that’s the case, Barham is okay with it, because she feels that most of the time this will still result in an interesting insight that can help these people. So her main goal here is not to regress them to a past life, but to address underlying psychological problems. If the person doubts that it’s a real past life but it helps them anyway, for Barham that’s a win.

As for assuring Davies that she isn’t gullible, Barham’s point here is to argue that Barham, herself, isn’t going to guide Davies to any conclusion. She’s going to try, at least, to do nothing more than let Davies herself take an experiential journey through whatever her mind comes up with. Thus, Davies is not going to look gullible in the sense that she’s not going to look like she’s simply accepting without thought what Barham says while she’s in that state and is not just going to have an experience that Barham implants in her. Whether or not this is true will depend on the details of the session itself, as Barham might well be doing that … or might be doing what she claims and leaving it up to Davies herself.

Again, does this mean that Davies’ experience has to be a past life regression? No, but Davies herself admits that, and accepts that the alternative that Barham provides might be the case: it’s just an invention of her own mind. I don’t think Watson has a better explanation than that one handy, and Davies and Barham constantly concede it, so it seems that the skeptical approach of considering alternative explanations is in full force here. Hardly a reason to think that Davies isn’t properly skeptical.

Watson then tries to deny that Davies considers the potential harm by pointing out where Davies … uh, considers the potential harm that Watson is concerned about:

She still thinks the experience was fantastic and highly recommends it to readers, with nary a word of caution. Again, for a skeptic, it’s amazing that it doesn’t occur to her that there are inherent dangers to this. Davies’ attitude is basically “sure it may not be an actual past-life regression, but you should do it anyway because of what your psyche will reveal!” Here’s the number one problem with that: there are innumerable cases of people having incredibly dangerous false memories implanted during these kinds of “regressions.” She mentions that this has happened “on occasion,” which is a ridiculous downplaying. It’s extremely easy to plant false memories in people, and it sends people to prison, makes them think extremely horrific things happened to them, damages them psychologically, and ruins their lives.

So, Watson at best is upset that Davies downplays it … except that in past life regressions most of Watson’s objections don’t hold because in context these aren’t current or recovered memories. No one is likely to rush off and claim that they were sexually abused because this technique that isn’t supposed to recover actual current memories recovered one. I’d presume that if someone claimed that it had recovered an actual current memory Barham would be suspicious of it because, again, the process isn’t supposed to do that. If everything works out like Barham planned, the person will come out of this thinking that in a previous life they were a certain person and had a certain experience, and will remember it as a past life and not current life experience. The next best thing is that is was an invented experience that reveals something about their psyche. In no way would Barham support it being an actual memory, and thus most of the danger isn’t there.

Watson’s summary really does indicate the extent of her skepticism:

Meanwhile, there is no certification for a past-life regression therapist. It’s just a con artist who is taking your money. Sure, maybe you’ll come away with a positive experience, and maybe it won’t break your bank because some stupid blog paid for you to do it and then write about it, or maybe the con artist did it for free for the advertising. But maybe you’ll drop a few thousand dollars just to let a con artist manipulate your memories.

Instead, you could spend that money on an actual psychiatrist, therapist, or psychologist who believes in science-based healthcare and who will help you work through whatever issues you have without putting you into a vulnerable state and telling you that you were Cleopatra’s handmaiden.

For some people, even if it isn’t a past life progression, techniques like this could give insights that regular techniques can’t. But since this is supposed to be “science-based healthcare”, one would think that a science-based skeptic would want to take the obvious science-based approach and, well, test it. Watson can argue, rightly, that Davies’ approach here isn’t a proper scientific test. But Watson is using her preconceptions about things like reincarnation to dismiss this out of hand and to in fact dismiss the need to test it at all. Which includes the idea that the technique can be helpful even if it isn’t revealing a real past life. Which, of course, we have scientific approaches to test, using what is commonly referred to as psychology.

Watson, here, justifies claiming that Davies is not a proper skeptic because she deigned to try to test a proposition that she thought obviously true — reincarnation and past lives are bunk — and that Watson is indeed the proper skeptic here for insisting that it is obviously true without bothering to test that. Does that seem backwards to anyone else?