Archive for June, 2018

Carrier on Pay Equity in Men’s and Women’s Sports

June 29, 2018

So, I talked about part of Carrier’s discussion of women’s sport in a previous post. That one focused on whether men prefer to watch men’s sports and on the quality of play and competitiveness and a bit on how that might impact audience. In this post, I’m going to talk about pay differences in general and reiterate a bit about what I think the solution is.

(Note that Plum has made a couple of response videos at his channel. Since there are two 45 minute videos there and since I don’t really like to watch videos and certainly have issues responding to them as it’s hard to quote them, it is likely to take me quite a while to get back to them).

Anyway, the big problem Carrier has with Plum’s original video is actually a minor point in it: that women’s groups are asking for the exact same pay as men in sports:

Apart from village idiots, amateur activists and internet fools—and not, for example in this case, the actual athletes in question or a professional journalist or analyst—no one has ever said all women in sports should always get paid the same as men regardless of associated revenue. In some cases revenue isn’t even relevant (e.g. national Olympics teams do not exist to earn revenue). But when it is—free market commercial sports—disparities aren’t all explained by revenue. The gender pay gap in sports has actually narrowed a lot in the last ten years (most reports show it went from achieving effective equity in about 20% of all sports to now over 80% of them), but in many cases it remains in defiance of any proportion to revenue. If one team brings in the same revenue as another, those teams should be paid the same. But sometimes that isn’t happening. And that’s what angers people. People who know what they’re talking about.

Now, this is a strong, strong statement, and so you’d think that Carrier, thus, would provide strong evidence that this is actually the argument. But he provides no evidence that this is what people are asking for. Sure, Plum should have provided evidence that this was the at least typical demand, but Carrier should have provided evidence that it isn’t. I can concede that people who actually know the sports aren’t in general demanding that women’s athletes get paid the same as men in leagues and the like where that would be significantly more than the revenue the sport takes in, but I’m not willing to concede that they only want the same percentage of revenue in all or most cases, or that beyond that rather obvious point they take revenue into account at all.

The problem is that Carrier links to a place that talks about pay inequity specifically and yet only quotes this from them:

  • Attend women’s sporting events
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against—advocate for her rights.

He then says this about them:

Notice what’s not on the list: asking for equal pay regardless of revenue draw. They well know the gap is more a product of women being ignored, than of their being paid inequitably (even though there is evidence many still are, hence the points above; although note: progress on that score has also been moving fast).

But note what’s also not on the list: asking for equal pay based on revenue. In fact, there is nothing in that about pay inequity at all, despite that being the title of the article. And this only gets worse if you look at the article and realize that they talk about pay inequities and that that discussion actually supports Plum’s point better than Carrier’s:

Gender Equity in Professional Sports

  • At the end of each World Major Marathon (MMM) series the leading man and woman each win $500,000, making a total prize of one million U.S. dollars. The WMM includes the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the London Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon.
  • In 2007 Wimbledon announced for the first time, it will provide equal prize purses to male and female athletes. All four Grand Slam events now offer equal prize money to the champions.
  • When the Association of Surfing Professionals was acquired in 2012, now known as the World Surf League, the new ownership made it a policy that the men’s and women’s Championship Tour events have equal prize money.

Gender Inequity in Professional Sports

  • Total prize money for the 2014 PGA tour, over $340 million, is more than five times that of the new-high for the 2015 LPGA tour, $61.6 million. Similar discrepancies exist throughout professional sports.
  • For a WNBA player in the 2015 season, the minimum salary was $38,913, the maximum salary was $109,500, and the team salary cap in 2012 was $878,000. For NBA players in the 2015-2016 season, the minimum salary is $525,093, the maximum salary is $16.407 million, and the team salary cap is an all-time high of $70 million.
  • For winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team won $2 million. Germany’s men’s team took home $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. men’s team finished in 11th place and collected $9 million, and each men’s team that was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup got $8 million each, which is four times as much as the 2015 women’s championship team.

Note that none of the examples in professional sports ever reference percentage of revenue at all. While they talk about ratios, there is no evidence that they are in any way referencing the difference in revenues, despite it clearly being the case that in many or most cases there will be significant differences in the revenue that they take in. All of their examples of equities are cases where the men and women are paid exactly the same. So it seems reasonable to conclude that they are more interested in the pay being the same as opposed to it being the same percentage of revenue.

The only case that even indirectly talks about percentage of revenue is the reference to the salary cap in basketball, since salary cap is either directly determined by — as it is in hockey — or determines indirectly the percentage of revenue that player salaries make up. Carrier himself references the salary cap in the NBA and WNBA (though indirectly):

Even the WNBA, which obviously earns vastly less than the NBA (so we certainly shouldn’t expect equal pay by gender there, any more than we’d expect bottom ranking men’s teams to earn as much as top), is still not at parity in pay even in proportion to revenue: NBA payroll is 50% of its revenue; WNBA payroll is 33%. That raises some eyebrows.

Except that as far as I know there is no such thing as a salary cap that isn’t negotiated with the respective players’ association, because it greatly impacts player salaries. The reason the cap in the NHL is set at 50% of revenue is because that’s what the NHLPA agreed to with the last NHL lockout. And it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t the players who wanted the salary cap, but the owners, to avoid rich teams outspending smaller market clubs and driving player salaries up beyond what the league could support. I’m pretty sure that the NBA being at 50% was the same sort of thing, given that Gary Bettman came from basketball originally, and so am also pretty sure that the 33% was negotiated by the union as well. Given that, there’s a reason why the salary cap in the WNBA results in a lower percentage of payroll vs revenue than it does in the NBA. It could be that the players just have less leverage in the WNBA, and so a work stoppage doesn’t have the same impact as it does in other sports. It could be that there are other factors that mean that owners need more of the revenue. For whatever reason, if you want to complain about women in the WNBA getting paid unequally when compared to the NBA the first thing you need to do is ask the WNBAPA why the salary cap is the way it is.

Because even if Carrier was right that percentage of revenue is the main goal here — and he has provided no evidence of that, remember — it isn’t clear that that is a reasonable thing to insist upon. Should players in the CFL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NFL get? Should players in the AHL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NHL get? Should players in AAA baseball get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in MLB get? These are not trick questions where I spring numbers on you showing what they actually get, because I, myself, don’t know that. The point of asking these questions is that, as it stands, I can’t tell you if that’s fair or not. For the development leagues — AAA and AHL — on the one hand you can argue that the players there developing, and so expect to be paid less overall while they try to get to the pro leagues. They also don’t have the leverage that the professional players have, being easier to replace and with less revenue and profit being lost if they walk out. On the other hand, a lot of their contracts are set by the parent teams without taking into account the revenue that the development team actually takes in. Given that, their percentage might actually be higher because they have to absorb contracts that they wouldn’t have negotiated if they were doing it themselves. Then again, there might be fixed costs for things like equipment and travel that while they might be able to economize on them a bit end up being a more significant percentage of revenue than it is for the parent teams, demanding a higher percentage of revenue go to the teams instead of the players.

The CFL is probably more directly comparable, because like the WNBA — and any professional women’s league — it is, essentially, a separate league. The contracts are not negotiated by parent teams, and the game itself is different. While the CFL does sometimes have NFL players who can’t make a team there come to the CFL and while some outstanding CFL players have made it to the NFL, the teams draw from substantially different player bases. They have different appeals and different ways to generate revenue. The CFL draws, of course, a lot less revenue than the NFL does. And given all that I’ve said above, I’d have to conclude that I can’t tell you at first blush if the CFL’s percentage of payroll vs salaries should be the same as the NBA’s, less, or more. You just can’t get to that without diving into the details of the league, its expenses, how it gets revenue, demands of the players, and so on.

The same thing, then, has to be applied to women’s sports. The league is not the same. Just having significantly less revenue causes issues that might dictate a difference in that percentage. Having smaller payrolls also causes issues as it may be harder to attract people into the sport at all — and thus to the league — if they can’t earn enough to live on. A number of CFL players have taken winter jobs to help fund them playing all summer, and curling in general has had issues with its players — male and female — having to balance curling and attending bonspiels with the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Carrier’s claim here seems to be that for women’s sport you can just compare it to the highest men’s sport, look at the percentage of revenue that the payroll makes up, and determine if that is fair or not, but since the leagues aren’t comparable that doesn’t work. The most he could get here is that if you look at that percentage and it isn’t the same that’s a spur to look closer to see if it is unfair, but that doesn’t justify the strong position he takes and the strong words he uses to talk about it.

Carrier also makes a strong statement that the only time that the pay should be definitively equal is for national teams:

3. Except in revenueless sports: e.g. The Olympics, where as a matter of national pride we should fund both equally;

Except that this also isn’t necessarily reasonable. For national pride, what you want to do is fund the various sports to the level required for them to maximize their success. That doesn’t mean that you should pay the players the same or the same bonuses if you don’t need to in order to recruit and motivate players so that you maximize your chances of that team winning. So, is it the case that you need to pay the men more than women to do that? One commenter tried to give a reason why that might be:

As for mens soccer team vs womens soccer team. The men get paid higher at their pro teams than women so it makes sense for the usa team to pay the men a salary that is competitive with their pro team salary.

women soccer players make less at their pro teams so their salary doesn’t have to be as high as mens team.

Carrier replied with his customary tact and consideration:

And there is no logic in saying women are paid less in soccer because women are paid less in soccer. Payroll should be the same percentage of revenue. There is the same competition for positions, proportional to the revenue base. It’s illogical to say that because male teams bring in less money–e.g. last year they made no profit and lost a million dollars, while women’s soccer turned a five million profit–therefore teams should pay more for male players. That’s ass backwards. Clearly they are paying too much for the men, because quality is declining. So should pay.

So, from Carrier’s own sources, the women’s soccer team made five million dollars and the men’s team lost a million dollars one year, whereas commonly the men’s team earned more revenue and more profit than the women’s team. Carrier is going to use that one-time event — that was surely impacted on both sides by the women’s team winning the Women’s World Cup — to determine that the men’s team should have their payroll cut because of that? Because quality is clearly declining, he says, and so there is no reason at all to think that, perhaps, the reason is that the compensation isn’t sufficient and that they aren’t getting the players they need? Or that they were simply a victim of the relatively small market for soccer in the U.S. and the women’s team’s smashing success drew dollars away from them that they will recover the next year? Remind me never to let Carrier run any company I’m ever involved in, since his immediate reaction to even a temporary downturn will be to slash salaries and thus cause more people to just leave and make things worse, given this.

Of course, Carrier doesn’t even get the point, although the commenter doesn’t say it that well. The issue is that given their pro leagues, the players that the national team is trying to recruit get paid a lot more money per game than the women do. If money per game is going to seen as any kind of incentive for them to come and play, that’s going to be a consideration. At a minimum, offering them an amount of money that is significantly less than what they get per game from their club team is going to seem less like an incentive and more like an insult. And since many if not most of the best ones are going to be playing in Europe, so they’ll need to at least be compensated enough to travel to where the tournament is being played and to make that travel worthwhile, while most of the women’s team will simply travel with the team to the respective tournaments. In fact, from Carrier’s own sources one of the differences is that the women want a steady income, and to be on the team and get paid throughout the year, while the men only get paid when they play games and like it that way, for the most part. The women certainly would like to commit and have the national team commit to them for the entire year and to get an income from that, while the men don’t want anything like that since their main income comes from their club teams. Thus the men want to play for their club teams and only do anything for the national team when required, while the women certainly wouldn’t mind the national team being the only team they played for if it paid enough. So that, then, seems to suggest different approaches, which then aren’t directly comparable.

The question to ask, though, is if the monetary rewards actually provide any incentive at all. It’s certainly not the case that the Canadian men’s hockey team, when it was recruiting NHL players for the Olympics, had any issue recruiting players. They pretty much all jumped at the chance. However, we can see that for things like the World Hockey Championships or for the national basketball teams a number of high profile players turned down invitations. The reasons varied, but for the most part it was over clashes between their pro leagues and the demands of the national team. The next season was an important one — either due to the contract they could earn if they played will during it or because the team had a real chance at a championship — and so they wanted to keep their focus on preparing for that season. They were tired and a bit injured after a long season. They didn’t want to risk injury. For all of these reasons and more they were hesitant to play for the national team. A larger monetary incentive might encourage them to take the risk (although, again, it’s hard to imagine that the national team can offer enough to make it a real incentive for most of them).

Despite it not being clear that the larger monetary incentives matter all that much to recruitment, if we for a second imagine that it does then the insistence that the women and men be paid the same for their participation hurts the national teams. Again, they want to pay enough to have a team that can win. If they really do need to increase the monetary compensation for the men to do that but wouldn’t need to do so for the women, then any increase in funding to the men’s team will cost them twice as much as it should. For smaller countries that still want to promote equality — like, say, Canada — that might make the cost of doing so too much for them to swallow, and so end up with them having a less competitive men’s team than they could have as a result of striving for false equality. So, as we saw above, the same answer comes up here: you have to look at the details of the sport to determine if the men and women are being paid fairly, and Carrier, at least, doesn’t do that.

Now, although I’m sure that if Carrier is reading and responding to this post that he’s already gone off on how all of the above entirely misses the point of the quotes above, let me point out here that his point with that quote from the group talking about pay inequity is to show that they aren’t simply demanding to be paid the same, but recognize that the problem is that women’s sports don’t get the attention and so don’t get the audience that men’s sports do, and so in order to fix the issue they have to increase the profile of women’s sports. I’d suggest that they recognize that only because the low-hanging fruit of direct charges and comparisons have already been done — see their list of equities, for example — but at this point that seems reasonable. The problem is that because sport — both playing and watching — has been seen as the domain for men for so long women’s sports are now trying to enter into a marketplace that has a men’s sport at pretty much any niche that they might want to enter. The pro sports dominate the top echelons, the premier or elite leagues where people who want to see the highest possible quality of the sport congregate. Junior, development, college, and high school teams dominate the niches for people who want to see the future, or want to pay less to watch it, or have no other choice. When it comes to quality of play, women’s teams often aren’t as good as any of these alternatives, and they can’t really be that much cheaper or provide any better competitive spirit or really provide anything that these already established alternatives can and are providing. So, then, if they want men — or sports viewers in general — to watch the women’s sports or to even give them a try, they need to be able to tell them why they should take money that they’ve been happily spending on what they currently like and spend it instead on the women’s sport. What is in it for the men to make that switch?

They can argue, as Carrier does, that it’s important for the equality of women for this to happen. Unfortunately, this leaves it vulnerable to how Plum’s argument is generally used, and to thus argue that if you are going to argue that men should support women’s sports just because it is good for women for them to be supported that it would seem that women should do that first. Women can’t even use the “We don’t really like sports” argument against that because they are, essentially, asking men to watch something that, given quality of play issues, they like at least slightly less than what they are watching now in order to support women, so surely women can get into women’s sports enough to do the same. So unless they can give a reason for men to switch from their at least currently preferred teams the argument from women’s equality strikes more at women than at men; women should be willing to put their money where their mouth is and at least give the women’s sport a try before demanding that men do so.

So we’re still left with a need for a reason for men to give the women’s sport a try and experience that wonderful “aesthetic” that Carrier talks about. And one reason would simply be sex appeal. You can argue that men should watch women’s sports because they’ll get to see attractive women in attractive uniforms playing the sport. This would probably work — beach volleyball is probably an example of that — but it’s obviously not an option that feminists will want to take, because to do so would require them playing up the sex appeal in advertisements and perhaps even tailoring the wardrobe and uniforms to maximize sex appeal. And on top of that it can only add appeal to men who could at least tolerate the game anyway; if they don’t like the quality of play given how easily accessible various types of porn is they aren’t going to pass up play or sports they like better just to see that. I’ll admit that the attractive women of beach volleyball gave me reason to choose to watch those games during the last Summer Olympics, but I wouldn’t watch that instead of a sport that I actually liked. So it’s not the message they’d want to send and isn’t going to be the draw they need anyway.

To me, the reason that they need to give is the one implied by Carrier’s “wine” analogy but that his “You won’t notice the difference” argument belies: give the women’s sport a try because it’s significantly different than the equivalent men’s sport. Women’s gymnastics is, again, the example of this. If I wanted to get someone to try women’s gymnastics who was a fan of men’s gymnastics — I’m, uh, sure there’s someone like that out there somewhere [grin] — I’d point out that the men’s sport is all about strength and power, while the women’s sport is more about flexibility and balance, which makes them different sports but in a good way. Women’s gymnastics, I’d argue, is not an inferior men’s gymnastics but is instead its own sport with its own style. Given that, it’s possible that someone might appreciate the different aesthetic as much or more than they appreciate the aesthetic in the men’s sport. This is, of course, entirely the reason I prefer women’s curling to men’s curling. So my advice to women’s sports is: be different than then men’s sports, even if you have to change the rules to do it. That’s the only way that the encouragement to give women’s sports a chance is ever going to work out for you, beyond national and local teams that are doing far better competitively — meaning, winning championships — than their equivalent men’s teams.

I responded to this post both because this is a topic that I’ve talked about before and because it really demonstrates how Carrier lives in a glass house wrt his main point about charity when it comes to interpreting arguments. His replies here are very harsh, often ignore what the other person actually said, rarely ask for clarification and often lack evidence. Yet all of these things are what he calls out both sides in the Atheism Plus debate over. It seems that he should take the log out of his own eye before he seeks to remove the splinter from the eye of others.

And it would help if he was, you know, actually right, too [grin].

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The List – Year 7

June 27, 2018

This is the seventh year of my list of games to finish. Yes, it’s been that long. Last year I made some moderate progress. Let’s see what happened this past year.

So, at this point, I have finished 27 of the 53 that I have listed. That’s a 51% completion rate. Against the total, I have a 39% completion rate. And at the simplest level, I’ve finished four other games. What were they? Well, as far as I can tell, they were the Nonary Games games — 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, and Zero Time Dilemma — and Blue Reflection. With my new push on scheduling games to play at least things should be more controllable, even if a number of the games I want to schedule into those timeslots are replays.

Thoughts on “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109”

June 25, 2018

So, a while back — while I was watching “Frasier”, actually — I was read a book called “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109” by David Isby, talking about the development of the two main fighters of WWII and their “duel” throughout WWII. I picked it up originally because I generally like discussions about the air war and air power and general, and it was recommended by Andrew Roberts, who had written “The Storm of War” which I also remembered liking (although I mixed that book up with “War at Sea” by Nathan Miller, which made me think that it was the same kind of book but only from the perspective of the air war, which made me more inclined to read it).

After reading it, I have to say that I liked the book. The best part of it is the descriptions of the moves and counter-moves and thus the many, many different variations of each plane as they tried to find the best planes for the specific problems they had to address and to counter improvements made by the other side whenever they managed to get any kind of actual advantage. And the specifics of each fighter’s design played a huge role in not only what they did there, but also if they even could counter that advantage, and the overall design of each fighter was actually very dependent on the overall experience and personality of their main designers. The 109 was the way it was because of Messerschmitt’s experience and interests, and that at times gave it an advantage but also caused serious issues with future designs, for example. It also talks about other issues around the duel, like cost, production ability, and even tactics, all of which come together to give a larger overall idea of what the air war in WWII really entailed.

While the “Battle of Britain” is, of course, important and covered in detail in the book, it goes on past that until the end of the war, and it’s interesting to see just how much of the duel carries on past that crucial engagement. The Spitfire and 109 continued to duel past that point, and both continued to be modified in reaction to each other until the very end of the war.

I, personally, found that the book often devolved into long technical discussions that didn’t really interest me, but this isn’t a criticism of the book. Given the subject matter, you pretty much had to expect that they were going to need to do that, and in general the technical discussions are relevant to the overall story of the duel. So it’s just a warning that if you do read that book to be prepared for technical discussions if that isn’t your cup of tea.

Overall, I liked the book and will almost certainly read it again at some point … but probably not while watching Frasier [grin].

Carrier Discusses Women’s Sports and Ends Up in a Glass House

June 22, 2018

So, Richard Carrier decided to talk about how the Right and the Left have killed Atheism Plus by making a link between Noel Plum’s youtube videos — or, at least, some of them — and, overall, a way of arguing that is invalid and incorrect. He puts the problem thusly:

Plenty of folk who voice bizarre or implausible or outdated beliefs, when they do “cite” evidence in support of their arguments, it’s typically cherry picked, or made-up, or massaged, or there is some fallacious disconnect between what they claim as evidence and the conclusion they want to reach. These are fraudulent reasoners. And fraudulent reasoners are immune to evidence. I believe each side of any political or values debate in atheism—both conservative and liberal—mistakenly assumes everyone on the other side is a fraudulent reasoner. Because they encounter so many who are, and too often when they encounter those who aren’t, those who aren’t still fail to correctly attend to evidence, the one thing that would correct them if they were a good reasoner, because everyone is fallible, and unconsciously subject to prejudice and bias…while fraudulent reasoners will never be corrected in this, because they have no intention of actually formulating sound arguments; they will simply invent endless excuses to ignore the evidence. Which looks very similar. So uncharitably, everyone assumes they are the same. This makes it difficult for either side to listen to and learn from the other. And that creates tribalism and division.

He then moves on to point out a specific video of Plum’s on Women in Sport and criticize it:

A good example in Plum’s case is his video Want Sports Gender Equality? Stop Whining and Do Something. Eyerollingly ridiculous, and in result, inadvertently sexist. Notably, he never cites any examples of anyone ever saying the thing he is criticizing. So what happens? Immediately he goes off the rails of reality. He instead attacks some sort of fictional feminist he invented in his head. Had he actually done research on this, and committed to the first rule of good reasoning—never criticize fictional people; always give a real example of the real person whose arguments or claims you are challenging—he would have produced a much more useful and correct piece of criticism.

But even that would only be half good. It would have been really good, if he committed to the second rule of good reasoning—don’t just pick the idiot in the room; make sure you steel man the opposition, by finding its best representative, not its worst. It can be fun, and useful, to pick on the idiot. Quality entertainment. And educational. But if you don’t mention the better opposition (at least to acknowledge it, if you aren’t going to voice any criticism of it), you will come across as someone who thinks the idiot is the best opponent you could have taken on. Which doesn’t make you look great. People will read your having done that as disingenuous. They will categorize you as a fraudulent reasoner. When really, you just screwed up. You let your biases run that episode. Rather than applying your own avowed principles to every show you do.

So we can presume that Carrier will be very careful to cite examples, steel man the opposition, and attend to and present all the appropriate evidence, right?

Now, this specific issue is one that I pay more attention to because I’ve already gone into it in detail, so I’m going to be sensitive to errors or misrepresentations that Carrier makes here. Also, since it’s about the only thing that I care about in the post I’m going to ignore the rest of it. That being said, Carrier receives and replies to some comments later that I’m going to refer to at the time to show both that he isn’t entirely consistent and to highlight that his purported good standards of argumentation fly out the window in the comments much of the time. As usual, Carrier says a lot and it can be hard to organize a reply so as not to be confusing, since a lot of the time his arguments contradict each other and leave me with too many wrong things to address in an organized manner.

With that, let me start by summarizing Plum’s video. I originally didn’t want to watch it because I thought it was a long video from Carrier’s presentation, but it turns out that it’s incredibly short. Essentially the argument he makes is that the main reason that women athletes don’t make as much as men’s athlete’s is that men would rather watch men’s sports and women would rather watch women’s sports, and so if women want female athletes to make more money they need to spend as much money on women’s sports as men spend on men’s sports. He actually gives absolutely no evidence that this is actually the case, and he cuts himself off from making the argument that men prefer the higher standard of play in men’s leagues, so all he has is this assertion that men for some reason just want to watch men’s sports more than women’s sports, and not for reasons of quality or expectations about how the game would be played. Men just want to watch men play sports more than they want to watch women play sports. As someone who, in fact, would rather watch women curl than men and, in general, would rather watch women do, well, almost anything than watch men do the same things, I really, really think he needs to provide evidence of that assertion [grin].

Now, Plum and Carrier had a Twitter conversation later to hash some things out, but I don’t like following Twitter conversations and, really, Carrier has to get this stuff right the first time to be consistent with his own demands earlier in the post, so you’d expect that Carrier’s main point would be about men not really preferring to watch women’s sports or that being for a specific reason. Except, it actually isn’t. Instead, he challenges Plum’s notion that the debate is about actual pay rather than a percentage of revenue — which I’ll get into a little later — and then says this:

Plum’s argument is thus just as illogical. Women are accomplishing quite a lot. They are exceptional athletes, putting on amazing performances, and filling seats. So they aren’t filling fewer seats because they suck. They are filling fewer seats, because we suck. We aren’t paying them the kudos and fandom they are due. We should get over our biases, and realize it’s as much fun watching women play, as men. So then women can finally have as many opportunities to excel at sport as men do. But you can’t legislate that. It’s just a matter of asking people to think about it; until enough generations absorb the message.

Except Plum explicitly stated that it wasn’t because of the difference in quality of play that women got paid less, and from that we have to draw the conclusion that the lack of viewership isn’t because of quality of play. So, no, he never asserted that it was because women suck. And, in fact, pretty much everyone who uses the quality of play argument isn’t using it to claim that women just suck (yes, there are some that do, but seeking out the worst examples to refute is, again, what Carrier explicitly says one ought not do above). They tend to use in the way I used it in my post:

Which is reasonable right up until the point you recall that the level of competition is, at best, the same between men’s and women’s sports. It’s not the case that the level of competition, or stories or how hard the players are playing is greater in women’s sports than in men’s sports. But the quality of play is greater in men’s sports than in women’s sports. And all things being equal, if I can get the same level of competition but if one of two options has a higher quality of play, then I’m going to choose the one with the higher quality of play. This applies to junior leagues, academic leagues … and women’s leagues.

I’ll come back to that, but let me first point out that Carrier finally tries to address the main point of Plum’s video in a comment summarizing their Twitter exchange:

4. Gender-limited enthusiasm (men only watching men; women only watching women) has no plausible biological or evolutionary explanation, as evidenced by the rapid change in it over the last century (decade by decade, more men watching women play; more women playing), and by sports where gender-limited enthusiasm now doesn’t even exist or is shrinking (it’s also rendered implausible by sports enthusiasm not having existed when we evolved);

Which is a rather complicated way to say “Where’s your evidence for that assertion?” … which is what he should have done in the first post. Plum should not have had to remind him of his main point.

He adds in another comment reply to someone else:

On just that one issue—the gendering of aesthetics in our social programming, limiting people’s opportunities (both players and enjoyers)—it works like this:

We’ve all been damaged by sexist social programming. Some of us can escape that (owing to sneak circuits left in); many of us can’t (owing to the programming being too wired in to change; and one can’t be morally judged for not doing the impossible).

The only way to get to those of us out who can escape, is to trigger the escape cascade by injecting the meme into them. We have to put the meme in everyone (thus, communicate the idea as widely as possible), because we can’t know in advance who it will help and who it won’t.

Progress generation over generation requires continuing to do this, generation after generation.

Which actually then suggests that he thinks Plum’s point is actually right, despite his actually providing no evidence for it. In his summary of the Twitter debate, he goes on from there to suggest that since it can’t be biological it must be cultural … but he still has provided no evidence that it actually happens. And I find that highly implausible, given that every two years we see women’s sports performed on the largest stage with few men saying that they refuse to watch the women’s sporting events because they only want to watch men’s sports. In fact, the popularity of women’s soccer in Canada vis a vis men’s soccer in Canada comes from the fact that the women go to the Olympics and win medals and generally do well, and the men’s team, well, doesn’t. The men haven’t been in the Olympics since 1984 in Los Angeles and the only other time they played was 1976 when Canada hosted the Summer Olympics. To put it in perspective, the women have won medals as often as the men have participated. And while Olympic hockey with NHL players was more anticipated than the women, since in general in women’s hockey at the Olympics either Canada or the U.S. win gold they did get a lot of attention, and I don’t know of anyone who said that they weren’t going to watch it just because it was women playing. Sure, there are probably some people who did, but most people who tune out for women’s sports do it because they don’t care for the quality of play. So, Carrier himself needs to provide evidence for this phenomena that men prefer to watch men’s sports just because men are playing the sport and won’t watch women playing sports because women aren’t men.

(I’m not even going to get into the fact that just because we didn’t have a specific condition when we evolved it doesn’t mean that something couldn’t be biological or evolved, since it could be a side effect of an evolved tendency that is trigger in a condition that it wasn’t designed to trigger in).

So, on that, Carrier actually talks about women’s hockey, and women’s sport in general:

It makes no logical sense, for example, to say women aren’t as strong as men, ergo they should be paid less, because that actually isn’t how sports enthusiasm is measured. When women are competing with women, the only game on is strength-equal. And trust me, women’s hockey is just as exciting as men’s. You wouldn’t even notice a difference, if no one told you which you were watching.

Except that for hockey, and for sports in general, that’s actually completely false. Anyone who follows hockey beyond a simply shallow “turn it on and watch for a bit” will be able to tell the difference because the men’s and women’s games have different rules. Specifically, there’s no body checking in women’s hockey, at any level (it was tried at one tournament in 1990 and hasn’t been back). Since body checking is prevalent in the men’s game, if you know anything about the men’s game and watch a women’s game you are going to notice the difference. You’ll notice that the women don’t go for a body check in places where they should and get penalized for things that wouldn’t be a penalty in the men’s game. In fact, when I first watched women’s hockey at the Nagano Olympics, I was impressed by it, because the inability to bump players off the puck allowed for and forced more skilled play, along with the fact that the main power play strategy — get it back to the point and unleash a heavy slapshot — didn’t work in the women’s game because the women didn’t have very effective slapshots. In Salt Lake, when I watched it again, I was disappointed by it because while body checking was still illegal the rules about incidental contact seemed to be loosened up and so players were getting bumped off the puck most of the time, and the women developed better slapshots and so devolved to the normal, rather boring strategy of getting it back to the point and unleashing one. It was this disappointment that pretty much killed any interest I had in women’s hockey.

And so the point about it being “strength-equal” is also false. As another example, the whole reason I watch women’s curling and not men’s curling is because they aren’t “strength-equal”. Women aren’t as strong as men, and so don’t have the weight — insert your own joke here — of the men, and so can’t “blast” like men can, where they unlock and remove a number of stones just by throwing really hard at them. In fact, that was exactly the point when I lost interest in the men’s game: I saw too much blasting and started to find the game boring. Now, full disclosure, the men’s game seems to be blasting less than it used to, moving to the skins/mixed doubles model of loading up the rings with stones and hoping to get a good shot to score a bundle at the end of it, but since this is very risky and often ends up resulting in giving up a lot of points it’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts.

But this is going to be true of any sport where the women’s game is the same as the men’s game: while some things will be relative to the opposing players, there will be some absolutes, and so some things the women can’t do as well as or at all that the men can do. Carrier seems to acknowledge this in a reply to JohnReese’s comment outlining the differences in tennis, but Carrier’s reply is a terse:

That’s all true but not relevant to anything I actually said.

Which leaves JohnReese to have to figure it out for himself, which he tries to do:

Indeed, having read again, I clearly realize your point was that one couldn’t tell the difference between a men’s game and a women’s game in hockey, and you didn’t generalize this to other sports.

I acknowledge my mistake and apologize.

Except that Carrier’s point doesn’t make any sense if it doesn’t apply to men’s and women’s sports in general. Even if it was true that you couldn’t tell the difference in hockey, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true in most sports and so doesn’t explain the discrepancy in pay. And Carrier, in an earlier comment does extend it:

That’s not true though.

Like I said, if I didn’t tell you and could prevent any indications tipping you off, you would never notice the difference between a men’s game and a woman’s.

Which is why indeed so many people watch high school and college basketball! And minor league sports. And so on.

You can try to weasel out of it by saying that Carrier didn’t make the direct comparison in basketball, but that would be ignoring the implication here and the fact that the original statement started from the general — “strength-equal” — and moved to a specific example, and that Carrier later commented that it isn’t about quality of play and that the sports were equally exciting. So, yeah, Carrier at least by implication generalized it and sticks to that in other comments, so JohnReese has nothing to apologize for and Carrier’s reply is vague and overly hostile, which goes against the whole point of the post.

Look, the point that Carrier is grasping for here is the same argument that I addressed in my take on the issue: we watch sports for other reasons than strict quality of play, and there’s no reason to think that the sport is less competitive in the sense that the athletes aren’t all putting in their maximum effort to try to win the game, series or tournament. It’s true that that is indeed one of the main things that draws people to competitive sport. There are other reasons as well, like loyalty to your city if they might win a championship or patriotism at the Olympics. But as I pointed out, barring a specific reason to watch the women’s game and all things being equal, the men’s game is always going to be at least as competitive as the women’s game and will always have the higher quality of play. It is not likely, then, that if I just want to watch hockey and have to choose between the NHL and the CWHL that the women’s game will be as “good”. The quality of play difference will be dramatic.

Carrier will, of course, reiterate that high school and college sports get great attendance even though the quality of play is lower, even dramatically so. Sure, but they’ve never tried to get people into the seats advertising the same quality of play or experience. They’ve always appealed to things like being able to see the future stars before they became stars, or lower prices, or even that they are the only game in town (a number of high schools can recruit on the fact that there are no professional sports to watch in that town). I don’t know of any case where you have high school, college or junior leagues that get the same attendance as a professional league in their city for the same price, where both teams are equally competitive in their respective leagues, at least not on a regular basis. Even college basketball, as far as I can tell, gets less play and less TV revenue than the NBA except during March Madness, which is a special event with a special format that allows them to draw in viewers. Unless there is something to differentiate these sports from the professional versions, they don’t draw as much as the professional versions.

Yes, the competition does exist and can be entertaining and, if you are shallowly paying attention, can be the same or similar to the men’s game in women’s sports. But the women’s sports that do the best, it seems to me, are those that are different enough from the men’s sports to draw on their own merits and quality of play without having to rely on “competition”. Women’s gymnastics is the ur-example of this. Men’s and women’s gymnastics are completely different. Suggesting that a woman could participate in men’s gymnastics or a man could dominate women’s gymnastics is an utterly ludicrous suggestion, despite the fact that it makes sense for almost any other sport you can name. And yet it is the women’s gymnasts that are the cultural icons, not the men. It gets more attention than men’s gymnastics. All because it is its own sport that can garner its own quality of play without having to compete with the men.

So, to me, having them be the same and relying on competitiveness to get people to watch women’s sports is the wrong approach. Carrier seems to contradict himself on that note in a comment:

An analogy is drinking wine or scotch: plenty of people think those things are gross; until they work to develop an appreciation for them, then they love them. Not everyone though. Just a lot of folks; far more than would be the case, if no one experimented with or bothered to cultivate the appreciation. (If, for example, people put up moral or superstitious barriers and rejected any such efforts in themselves; then no one, or hardly any one, would appreciate a fine scotch, and the industry would probably evaporate.)

But if they are the same and just as exciting as each other, what kind of appreciation needs to be developed? It’s only if they bring different things to the table that you need to develop an appreciation for their unique strengths. But that’s what Carrier spent most of his posts and comments trying to deny.

The only thing I can come up with here is that he’s referring to the cultural conditioning to not watch women’s sports, that we have to overcome by, presumably, watching them. But as noted above, this seems false, as women’s sports are shown at the highest level every two years and people seem to have few issues watching them. So this doesn’t seem accurate.

Given that, will his approach even work? He gives no example of any sort of conversion that occurred because of this, even his own. Meanwhile, I can not only provide examples of how my approach — have women’s sports be different from men’s sports and highlight that — has worked for me wrt curling, hockey (before it changed) and tennis (where watching men try to ace each other out of the game actually got me to say that I’d watch women’s tennis if nothing else was one but wouldn’t touch men’s tennis), but I can also point to the fact that the more different the men’s and women’s games seem to be the more popular the women’s sport is relative to the men’s sport, with gymnastics being the ur-example of that. So, when it comes to actual evidence — one of Carrier’s main points in his post — it seems like I have the clear advantage. So Carrier — and possibly Plum — have to provide evidence that there is any kind of strong preference — cultural or otherwise — for men to watch men’s sports and not watch women’s sports, and that simple “appreciation” will change anything.

This post is getting a bit long, and so far we’ve seen that Carrier attacks Plum for something he explicitly said wasn’t the issue and barely touched the main point of Plum’s post … and was wrong about both of those anyway. Did he at least manage to get his point about salaries and revenue right? Well, no, and I’ll show why next time.

First Thoughts on Persona …

June 20, 2018

Okay, I already started playing this once already, but I’m replaying it now over four years later and so figure it would be good to talk about it again, especially since I can think about it in the context of general Persona-style games and see how it holds up. So, what do I think of it?

There are a number of things that struck me as being pretty much the same as the modern games. Particularly, the music. The battle music and even the dungeon music are tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in the modern games despite the fact that Persona came out in 1996. And the style still works, both in that game and in the modern games, and it provides some nice continuity between the games. Just listening to the music makes you feel that yes, you’re playing a Persona game.

However, as I noted four years ago, I really hate the dungeons. It isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go, and the spell card system and negotiation isn’t all that obvious, and that’s the only way to get new Persona. Unlike four years ago, I actually managed to succeed at it once — I think Nanjo bribed them into it — but the issue is that you have multiple characters and multiple actions each character can take and it isn’t obvious which combinations work. I think that you need to max out their enthusiasm to get them as a Persona, but I’m still not sure. Plus, I think that the same action might not have the same result later in the conversation for whatever reason, since I think that happened to me once. This is not a good system for someone who is going to play it for 3 hours Saturday and Sunday afternoons and come back to it next weekend. This is also not a good system if you’re worried about losing XP in order to get a new Persona. This, however, also has the issue that you can max out your starting Persona and then need new Persona, but might not have the dungeons really available to get them or be able to create new ones. I’m really, really worried that in my next dungeon they’ll expect me to simply have better Persona and I won’t be able to get to the Velvet Room to merge new ones, even if I manage to learn to do the negotiation properly. I might have to return to SEBEC, if I can, to fix that. But then grinding that way would be boring as well.

It doesn’t help that the combat is less interesting as well, because targeting weaknesses doesn’t give you as much of a benefit as the later games do. There have been a number of cases where using another ability actually kills the enemies faster than using the ability they are weak to does. So it ends up being rinse-and-repeat with your more powerful abilities … until you hit a group that mops the floor with you, when you haven’t saved and now are panicked that your level is too low and you won’t be able to finish the game.

This game doesn’t do the explicit S-links of later Persona games and its compatriots like Blue Reflection, so it isn’t entirely fair to compare them. Party members join and leave as per the plot and while you can make choices in reaction to things they’ve talked about I’m not sure what impact that might have. The game talks about you choosing your path and so these things possibly mattering, but I’m not sure if they do yet or not. That being said, compared to the games roughly in the same genre as the Persona games, Persona still seems to have a pretty good story. Sure, I already know it from the Persona 4tw series, but there are still some interesting moments in it. I think the story and story presentation has improved in the later Persona games, but it still holds up and is interesting here. I just wish I didn’t have to spend so much time wandering the dungeons to get to it.

I’m really, really trying to finish the game off this time and it’s the top game on my list, so it’s pretty likely that the only thing that will get me to stop playing it is getting stuck somewhere in a dungeon. So you can see why that’s concerning me [grin]. Still, I estimate that it will take me at least another month to finish it. We’ll see if I can take it for that long.

Thoughts on some old “favourties”

June 18, 2018

So, recently, I re-read a couple of books that I had read a few years ago and found interesting: “The Holy Kingdom” by Adrian Gilbert and “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor. In fact, I remembered both of them so fondly that I was excited to get a chance — or, rather, to deliberately plan — to read them again. And yet, both of them disappointed me. They certainly weren’t as good as I remembered them to be.

One of the main reasons for this, I think, is that both of them are decidedly one-sided. “The Holy Kingdom” focuses on the theory that King Arthur was really two different historical figures and was of Welsh origin. The former is a very interesting idea, and Gilbert at least tries to provide good sources that theory, but it is interspersed with numerous shots at the traditional English historians for being biased against Welsh history. This might be true, but reading that makes me skeptical that the assessment is totally fair, and thus only makes me feel that in order to accept their overall views I’d need to go and do more research myself. And I don’t have the time to do that, so my reading feels incomplete, while at the same time the asides don’t add anything to the book for me. Sure, they are used as answers to the question of why no one noticed these things before, but “They just don’t want to see it!” no longer counts as sufficient reason for me. They may well be doing that, but they might also have reasons for rejecting it. I would have preferred more direct replies rather than asides saying that their opponents were just being obstinate.

“The Last Knight” focuses on the life of John of Gaunt. Or, rather, it focuses on what we can say about England in the Middle Ages based on how he lived his life. In reality, though, it far more often wants to talk about sexual mores and link John of Gaunt to modern billionaires than to really focus on either John of Gaunt’s life or on the details of medieval society. This results in the most interesting part of the book — the titular “Last Knight” — getting short shrift in what it purportedly his own book. The book is also very repetitive, saying the exact same things in the exact same way even in the span of a few pages. There is no examination in depth of pretty much anything, either the times or the people or John of Gaunt himself. There are a number of interesting links that are drawn, but they are so shallowly examined that, again, all they do is make me want to delve into the topic in much more detail, which I again don’t have the time to do, and his constant comments about elites grate after a while.

The books aren’t terrible books. “The Holy Kingdom” does make its case and the two Arthur theory is interesting, and “The Last Knight” does reveal some interesting things about the Middle Ages. But I guess I have to say that both of them aren’t the sort of work that I’m really looking for right now, or else the other books I’ve read have eclipsed them. It also might be that I’m more skeptical than I used to be and so am looking for works that really take on their opponents in the fairest and strongest ways possible. Either way, they aren’t as much fun to read as I remembered and so I don’t think I’ll feel the same zeal to re-read them as I did this time.

Next up is me reading a book that I’m pretty sure I never finished reading: an abridged version of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I wonder if the abridging is what is causing my struggle to read that book …

Objectivism Alternatives…

June 15, 2018

So, Adam Lee is continuing to talk about Objectivism by looking at “The Fountainhead”, but as the series goes along there is more and more indication that he doesn’t really understand Objectivism at all, and often has no interest in doing so. In one post, he admits that he hasn’t been focusing on the interpersonal dramas and instead has been focusing on the architecture despite the fact that Rand clearly would want us to focus on the latter. I suppose he could be being sarcastic there, but since he hasn’t talked much about the relationships and has indeed talked a lot about the world of architecture, the evidence says that if he’s being sarcastic it’s because he isn’t aware of what he’s actually doing there. This is especially egregious in that post since, as someone else has pointed out, not understanding or looking at the interpersonal issues means that he doesn’t understand something that is at least easier to understand if someone actually paid attention to that.

So, I’ve pointed out in a number of comments there the errors Lee is making, which has led the usual morons to insist that somehow I’m really an Objectivist … despite my clearly being Stoic-leaning and those people knowing that I defended Kant far more strongly than I’ve ever defended Rand. There’s another regular commenter who is an ex-Objectivist who nevertheless defends Rand far more than I do. One of the almost reasonable points that was made is that the other person also criticizes Rand a lot more than I do. Since I’ve talked a bit about Objectivism here, maybe that applies here as well. So I want to reiterate here something that I have said repeatedly about Objectivism in those comment threads that, of course, the usual morons keep forgetting/ignoring: Anything that someone might find appealing about Objectivism has been done better by some other philosophical school.

Do you find Rand’s Enlightened Egoism appealing? You might want to instead look into Hobbes’ Social Contract Theory. Not only does he make a better case for Enlightened Egoism, he also isn’t bound by the strict Libertarian ideas that Rand pushes for. On the contrary, he actually advocates for strong government regulation of behaviour to ensure that it is, in fact, always in someone’s interest to keep the Social Contract, which is an issue for Rand (and, as I’ve said before, a lot of her opponents like Lee who often justify following the rules on the basis of self-interest). His view is also Psychological Egoism instead of Ethical Egoism, which thus allows for the view that we need social and legal restrictions because ultimately we don’t want to have our actions be totally driven by narrow self-interest, and that acting morally is not, in fact, about acting on our own self-interest. Thus, Hobbes does not need selfish behaviour to be seen as good and proper or even overall desirable, which Rand (and, again, some of her opponents) end up claiming, making it a view that better fits our intuitions of morality and that also can’t be used by people to justify acting selfishly and feeling themselves good for doing so.

Do you find her rational Virtue Theory appealing? Then the Stoics might be what you’re looking for, as they also define what is right by appealing to rationality, and are also Virtue Theorists. The big advantage they have — at least when you get into the Roman Stoics like Seneca — is their view of the indifferents: things that aren’t in and of themselves virtuous or vicious. Rand has issues inside all of her works with personal preferences and allowing people to do things just because they want to and happen to like it, which has pushed her into a position of insisting, at times, of insisting that even personal preferences have to have an objectively correct determination, which then leaves her struggling to justify the differences in preferences from her protagonists. This is because she doesn’t really have a notion of anything that isn’t, in and of itself, a moral position. But the Stoic indifferent angle is essentially, if understood properly, that as long as what you’re doing isn’t vicious and isn’t causing you to fail to achieve virtue, you should do whatever it is you most want. It’s okay to have lots of money as long as you aren’t getting it viciously and aren’t spending effort on getting rich that you should spend on becoming virtuous. And Stoicism also includes the idea that you should put being virtuous over anything else — including your life — without having to justify sacrificing your own self-interest by appealing to a deeper self-interest, and so more easily justifies refusing to work, say, for an immoral boss even if that might mean that you starve, which Rand has to introduce a — not unreasonable, but a bit unworkable — line that essentially has to boil down to that it isn’t in your self-interest to violate your “deeper nature”, either because living that way is the only proper rational approach or because once you let it be known that you will sacrifice that you will be taken advantage of even unto death and have no way out of that. The Stoics simply place virtue ahead of direct self-interest inherently, and so don’t have to rationalize self-interest in that way, and yet still retain the indifferents to allow you to pursue your own personal self-interest, defined by what you like, when virtue and vice aren’t direct concerns.

Do you find the “I won’t live for others or ask others to live for me” line? Then you might like Kant, although Kant is far more different from Rand than the others are. Kant’s basic morality is that you can’t never treat any moral agent, even yourself, as merely a means to an end, but always also as an end in themselves. This, then, stops you from merely using people to get what you want, and as this is the basic principle it doesn’t need to be justified in terms of your own self-interest, which Rand has to do since her basic principle is self-interest. Kant’s view is also strongly objective and also relies on reason to make most of its claims.

So I don’t defend Objectivism because I think it a good philosophy. I think that pretty much everything that might be appealing about it is done better by another philosophy (and if there are other ideas of what makes it appealing to some I’d like to hear about them so I can see if there are other philosophies that are better at that). But there are, indeed, things about it that are at least philosophically viable, and Lee and the other opponents there often attack those things in their attempts to undermine it, and don’t actually understand what those things mean. Obviously, I’m going to encourage people who like Objectivism to take up the Stoics instead, or Kant, or even Hobbes. That doesn’t mean that some of their criticisms aren’t philosophically invalid, philosophically dangerous, ignorant, or just plain wrong.

Star Wars Universe?

June 13, 2018

So, there’s a lot of consternation and discussion in the Star Wars fandom over the new Star Wars Universe in general, with issues ranging from too much of a focus on diversity and whether or not the people running it know or like Star Wars in the first place and so are making a point of redoing it to something that it really shouldn’t be. Nathan Hevenstone has written a post defending Star Wars Universes and defending the new movies. Speaking as someone who found TFA so bad that he hasn’t watched any of the following movies yet and has yet to watch TFA again despite watching all the prequels at least once a year, I want to weigh in on his thoughts.

He starts by trying to make sure that we see him as a Star Wars fan so that, presumably, we won’t just dismiss his comments:

I did not grow up with the original Star Wars trilogy. I grew up with the much-maligned Prequels. And you know something… I maligned them, too. Hell… I maligned them not very long ago, twice, on this very blog. But I went back and watched them recently and… you know what? They aren’t actually as bad as I remember them.

Yes, I’ve seen the original trilogy, of course, but I simply don’t have the connection to Luke Skywalker that so many have. However, I am a Star Wars fan. Not a big enough fan to have read and collected the lore or seen the maligned Christmas special and that stuff, but a big enough fan to have watched (and enjoyed) both the Clone Wars and Rebels animated TV shows, and a big enough fan to have been excited by Force Awakens, Rogue One, Last Jedi, and Solo.

But the thing is that having simply “seen” the OT is going to be an issue here, because the PT and ST are going to be defined by their relation to the OT. The PT was there to explain how we got to the events in the OT, and as such needed to set up the themes explored in the OT. The ST’s role — especially given the time jump it employed — is to show the consequences of the OT, and how things changed because of it, for good or for bad. It’s not a matter of having an emotional connection to Luke Skywalker that’s going to drive the complaints about The Last Jedi overturning everything good about the OT, but that it instead doesn’t respect the themes explored and introduced in the OT. And we can start with Luke Skywallker:

I know that Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker, and that nobody knows the character of Luke Skywalker better than him. I think that if I ever want to know something about Luke, I would ask Mark Hamill first.

I also think he’s wrong about Luke’s story-arc in Last Jedi.

I absolutely loved what was done with him.

Why?

Because it made him interesting. People change when they get older. They don’t remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They grow to see reality for what it is, and some become more cynical. Young Luke Skywalker went through the hero’s journey an optimistic, hopeful youngling, ready to take on the world. But as he grew older, he saw more and more what reality really was. He became disenchanted with the Jedi, desperate to change things. And then his older self saw evil in his nephew, and for a brief moment resolved to end it before realizing the mistake he made… a mistake which created that which he sought to avoid.

I find this fascinating. It added a new dimension to the character… a growth.

There are a number of problems with this, both logically and thematically when we consider that we have to carry on from the events of the OT. First, whatever the Jedi are in the post-OT galaxy, they are what Luke Skywalker made them to be. How can Luke become disillusioned with what he himself has built? What changes would he be striving for? This might be set-up in TLJ — remember, I haven’t seen it — but ultimately he’d be becoming disenchanted with his own Order, an Order that he could change himself at any time. That doesn’t really make sense.

The only way around this is to have him still maintain his hopeful view and reverence for the Jedi but then discover that they weren’t all that he thought they were. Except this clashes with the second problem: Jedi being cynical and purportedly seeing “reality” was there in the OT. That was what Obi-Wan and Yoda thought. That’s why they didn’t want to tell Luke that Vader was his father, because they thought that knowing that might weaken his resolve but that, at that point, there was no other way to deal with Vader than to kill him. Vader could not be turned. And it seemed to them that when Vader himself revealed that Vader was Luke’s father and Luke then insisted that he couldn’t kill him and that there was still good in him that what they had most feared was coming true:

Luke Skywalker: There is still good in him.

Obi-Wan: He’s more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

Luke Skywalker: I can’t do it, Ben.

Obi-Wan: You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.

Luke Skywalker: I can’t kill my own father.

Obi-Wan: Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.

L
Even Vader doesn’t think that he can be turned back to the Light Side, and yet Luke believes that he can anyway. And, in the end … Luke was right and they were wrong. At arguably the most important moment in his life he gets a full-on actual confirmation that he was right about “reality” and the cynical, disillusioned Jedi were wrong. So, not only does he already have solid evidence that the Jedi are fallible and not perfect — although still a force for good in the galaxy — he also has solid proof that the cynical mindset is just plain wrong. So it’s not likely that it’s just going to be time that reverses his mindset. He’s going to need some kind of event to make that happen, something like Obi-Wan had that turned him, where he saw Anakin slaughtering younglings, attempting to kill his own wife, and screaming at him in impotent rage even as he lies dying. That’s going to take more than sensing some evil in Ben to make him decide, even momentarily, that killing him is the way to resolve this.

It would make far more sense, if you want to make Luke disillusioned, to instead of having him be tempted to kill Ben and having that trigger the issues to instead have him refuse to do so even when everyone else says that Ben cannot be saved. Luke, then, follows what he learned in the OT and refuses to kill him when he has the chance … and when he attempts to turn Ben he fails and Ben then goes on to commit horrific evils. This could shatter Luke’s confidence and upset his entire worldview, and thus lead to what Hevenstone likes about this move, but in a way that makes sense and is consistent with the themes of the OT. Heck, it can even have Luke’s return be driven by his realizing that he needs to try again, that his worldview was right and that just because he failed doesn’t mean that he was wrong. If you still want him to die, have him die to clear the way for Rey to try to finish what he started, so that it isn’t pointless.

Another way to go, if you want disillusioned Luke, is to follow on from the idea I floated in my discussion of how I would have done TFA and have Luke have a crisis of confidence in his training, or of Jedi training in general. Have him concerned that just training Force Users to use their powers is inherently corrupting, and that all training does, then, is produce stronger and stronger Sith. This concern was explored in some of the EU material (I, Jedi specifically), mostly from the angle of Luke questioning his own abilities, and not about Jedi training in general. But that concern far better explains Luke not wanting to train Rey in the first place; he feels that he cannot train her appropriately and so he might just be creating another Sith. Rey then has a path to showing him that that isn’t true, which can then, again, rebuild his worldview and explain why he then feels able to return.

Hevenstone here seems to be most excited that TLJ did something different or unexpected, but there are a lot of ways to do unexpected things that still build off of and respect the themes of the OT and the PT. What was done to Luke doesn’t seem to respect those. At all. And that’s why people hate them.

Last Jedi was entirely about failure. Literally everyone failed… even Kylo Ren. That was the whole damn point. This means that Luke Skywalker failed, as well. And that’s not a bad thing. It worked for the story. And it made Luke Skywalker human.

Everyone failed in The Empire Strikes Back, too. And yet that movie is extremely popular and well-liked and makes more sense. You can do a movie where everyone fails without turning your back on everything that came before it. In fact, the failures work better when they follow from the things you’ve already established, as opposed to happening in spite of that.

I didn’t want Luke Skywalker to suddenly appear in Force Awakens in Star Killer Base and superhero-save the poor, damseled Rey from big, bad Kylo Ren, because that would be boring. It would be useless, and would make Luke Skywalker a flat, boring, useless character who never actually grew up and went through things since Return of the Jedi. It would be horribly unrealistic for this older Luke Skywalker to be exactly the same as RotJ Luke Skywalker.

Nobody expected Luke to appear as the superhero that solved everything. That being said, being the main character of the OT and arguably the most powerful Jedi, we definitely expected him to be as “badass” if not more so than an untrained Rey. But even simply putting him into an Obi-Wan or Yoda role works, too. And, again, no one expected Luke to be exactly the same as he was on RotJ. But Luke in TLJ is nothing like RotJ Luke, at least at first. And if you’re going to do such a dramatic shift, you need to show us how that happened. You need to show the events and their impact on the character, and can’t just have the character show up and suddenly be radically different with no explanation beyond “He got older”. Like it or not, we had a starting point with Luke. If you want to break away from that starting point, you have to show us exactly how that character got to where they ended up. Hevenstone, I think, misses this because he is treating the ST more like a set of standalone movies than as movies that continue from the OT and so have to continue their themes.

This doesn’t mean that they can’t be subverted, however. It just means that if you do that you have to show your work.

I’m also glad that Rey was nobody. I love that she’s not related to Luke or Han or Palpatine or Kenobi or any other “important person”. I love that the Force doesn’t give a crap what your name is… it has different criteria for choosing you. Anyone can be Force-sensitive, and that’s awesome. I also love that Snoke was just a plot device… a reason to bring Rey and Kylo together.

The problem is that this only provides more evidence that Rian Johnson’s main focus was on simply destroying what had come before and replacing it with something he liked better rather than building on what had come before and what people had liked, because here he not only isn’t consistent with the OT/PT, but he’s even inconsistent with TFA.

The main personal mystery for Rey in TFA is her family. Who were they? Why did they abandon her? This drives her original montage and is reflected in her recurring dream and is pretty much why her getting Luke’s lightsaber is interesting. So TFA sets this up as a Chekhov’s Gun: due to the time and focus spent on it, when we finally get the answer it’s going to be something interesting. Except that the reveal is that it is, in fact, entirely uninteresting. This would be an interesting twist if the reason fans thought that she was part of one of the main families was just fan speculation, but it isn’t. Fans thought that her background would be important because TFA spent a lot of time hinting that it was. So the movie turning around and saying “Fooled you!” is not going to go over well. Sure, you got us, after spending lots of time deliberately misleading us and lying to us. Well done. So now I’m not going to trust anything you try to set up for later movies ever again. Good job.

The same thing applies to Snoke. The movie itself tries to make him mysterious and hint that he’s important. He’s likely how the First Order came to be in the first place — from TFA — and is the key in charge. He’s also from an alien race that we haven’t seen and is visually impressive. For him to be reduced to a mere plot device completely ignores the set-up in TFA, and makes all of that retroactively pointless. Again, TLJ isn’t even consistent with TFA, let alone the OT/PT.

And I’m super glad Rey and Kylo did not “get together.” Kylo is evil. I want Rey to kill him, not shag him.

While I don’t like the idea of Rey and Kylo getting romantically involved, this statement again just reflects a complete lack of understanding of the themes of the OT/PT, or at least a desire to undo all of them and make Star Wars over into something else that he might like better.

The overarching theme of the PT/OT is that no one is just evil, and no one can’t be redeemed. Luke’s entire arc shows him going against the beliefs of everyone around him that Vader was just evil and had to be killed to, instead, redeem him at the end. This is the climax of the PT/OT. This is what they all built towards. This, ultimately, is the underlying message of the movies. And not only do we see this through the main story, but also through the minor character arcs. Han Solo starts out as a mercenary-type only interested in his own benefit. Leia herself comments on that more than once, that Han is just that way and can’t be changed. Luke, at least, still somewhat believes in him and is disappointed in him when he thinks Han will just run off. And, in part because of that disappointment, Han does return to help the Rebels out, and eventually volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to help destroy the Death Star, and even risks the thing he loves most to help with that. Han moves from an irredeemable and incorrigible self-interested smuggler to someone “respectable”, fighting for a cause, which is one of the reasons that reverting him in TFA rubbed so many people the wrong way. Even Lando can be said to get a mini-arc with that, starting out as self-interested “I have my own problems!” to, again, risking his life for a cause greater than himself and his own. The overarching theme of the PT/OT is redemption, and so if you insist that Kylo can’t be redeemed something has gone seriously wrong.

This doesn’t mean that Kylo has to be redeemed at the end. From my setup of TFA, you can have Kylo fail to overcome the Light Side and thus be returned to the Light. Or you can have him succeed and Rey be forced to kill him. Or you can have him succeed and escape to reform the Sith, and end up with a KotOR-type situation of a battle between the Jedi/Republic led by Rey and the Sith/Empire led by Kylo. But the key is that you have to respect the message that we’ve all already seen that complete, irredeemable evil is, at least, very hard to come by in the Star Wars universe. Kylo being that sort of evil by default doesn’t respect that, especially since in TFA he was already established as not being irredeemably evil.

And I don’t care if Rey is a “Mary Sue”. I don’t care that she got so good with the Force so quickly. That doesn’t bother me at all because I straight up love her character. I think she’s a bad ass that I’d love to hang out with and even learn from. And all of that is in part because I think Daisy Ridley is an amazing actress.

That you like the actress does not mean that the character is good, or fits in with the trilogy. You might be impressed with her “bad ass” abilities, but the movie does nothing to establish why she should have them, and her doing that implies that she doesn’t need training despite the fact that an important plot point in TLJ is her trying to convince Luke to train her. That you can look past that for reasons external to the work itself is fine, but pretty much indicates that the character itself was at least done poorly. It is entirely likely that they could have given us a better and more consistent character that you still would have liked.

Now, admittedly, I didn’t like Rose Tico when I first saw Last Jedi. But you know what? After seeing all the hate she’s gotten, she’s now one of my favorite Star Wars character, literally just to spite all of you assholes who harassed Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram because you couldn’t handle Rose’s existence. I mean okay… after thinking about it more, I think I genuinely do actually like the character of Rose Tico. I hope they flesh her out more, because right now there isn’t much to her, but there is potential, and I hope they run with that potential. And it helps that Kelly is a really good actress, as well.

So, here you admit that your like was driven by the overblown reaction to her, and now you want to say that the character is, on further reflection, actually good based on … what? You didn’t like her at first and became sympathetic due to the reaction, and now say that it’s a good character. How do you know that you aren’t just rationalizing the character because you now want her to be a good character? I’m certainly not willing to think that any of your assessments here, at least, are in any way credible given the starting point.

But Last Jedi continued the Skywalker saga in a way I loved, and a way I most certainly would have asked for had I known to.

And how do you know that the alternatives that continued the saga in a more consistent way wouldn’t have been what you would have asked for if you had known? This, again, smacks of rationalization, not analysis.

And speaking of asking for a movie…

That is an argument I see thrown against Solo: A Star Wars Story time and time again. “Who asked for this? Nobody! That’s who!”

What a seriously pathetic argument.

The only movies that nobody ever asked for are the movies that don’t exist because nobody’s thought of them to begin with. If a movie was even conceived, at least one person asked for it. And if a movie’s reached the point that it’s in theaters, then, clearly, a lot of people have asked for it. Every movie ever made, good or bad, released and unreleased, has been asked for by far more than one person.

And…

Hello! Nice to meet you! My name is Nathan Hevenstone, and I asked for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Did you? Did you really? Did you ask for it before it was made? Did you ask for it when TFA came out? Or are you now insisting that you asked for it just because you want to try to refute a pathetic argument with an even more pathetic one?

Look, most of the people saying that no one asked for Solo will base that one of a couple of ideas. First, the idea that they should spend more time and effort establishing the ST before trying to shoehorn in a full on universe, because the success or failure of the side movies will depend on how well-received the ST is. Second, that they should stop trying to mine the OT era for ideas and instead focus on building up their own universe. Prequels work best when there is an underlying mystery to resolve, where we really, really want to see how things got that way, and both Rogue One and Solo suffer from not having really interesting questions at their heart. Now, that doesn’t mean that they are bad ideas, but, yes, there is going to be an underlying reaction to them of wondering what in the world they’re supposed to tell us that’s interesting. On the other hand, movies set in-between RotJ and TFA would tell us things that we don’t already know and that could impact the ST — which is where the focus is and has to be right now — and our understanding of it.

I’m not at all opposed to a Star Wars Universe of movies, but to avoid burn-out the movies have to be picked for maximum appeal. I don’t think Hevenstone gets that:

And you know what? That’s what I want. I’m sick of the Skywalkers. Their story is over, and it should stay that way.

Except … it isn’t over. Luke was the Last Jedi and Leia was an important figure in the Rebellion. Unless you’re going to have them never have kids — despite inheritance playing a role in Jedi powers in the OT — they are going to be important and will have a key role and great influence in what comes next. The ST was going to have to address them, and it doing so by wiping them all out would be kinda depressing for a Star Wars movie. So, again, Hevenstone has to be ignoring what happened before to insist that it is over. Of course, it might be over now — with Luke and Leia both dead — but that’s one of the criticisms that people are making about TLJ.

I agree with him that there are other stories to explore — although setting things among the non-Jedi users in the context of a Jedi/Sith war while ignoring that is likely to be … problematic — and that some of them can be explored in movies. But the movie elements have to be driven by what is maximally appealing, and thus what most people want to see. A lot of the things he wants to see are not of this sort. For example, who the heck are “The Ones”? Why should anyone care about them? And the backstory of the Sith and Jedi might be too convoluted for a movie or even for movie trilogies. At any rate, the fans aren’t upset about there possibly being a Star Wars Universe. They’re upset about those things happening when the main movies aren’t very good and seem to be spitting on the franchise. They’re upset about people who don’t seem to care about the original franchise wandering in and insisting on what it should be now, both in terms of things like diversity and in content.

And while Hevenstone might insist that he’s a fan, someone who spells “Leia” as “Leah” — twice — is someone that we should at least be suspicious of [grin].

At the end of the day, Star Wars had a context. It had themes. It had things that people liked about it. The ST seems to, more and more, be either trying to ape those themes without understanding them or to in fact want to try to toss them all aside because they don’t like them. This will annoy the fans who liked what it had and now note that it’s not there anymore, and doesn’t look like it will ever be there again. People like Hevenstone may like the changes, but they always seem to like that it was changed more than the specific changes themselves, and that raises the question of whether they even liked the originals, or if all that’s happening here is that they really wanted something other than Star Wars and are trying to change Star Wars into what they wanted while trying to keep the name. And any Star Wars fan — even if they want that new thing — should not be happy with Star Wars getting converted to something that it wasn’t to satisfy those sorts of demands.

Thoughts on “The Real Ghostbusters”

June 11, 2018

So, I finished watching “The Real Ghostbusters”. And, at least at first, it was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

The key conceit of the show is that this follows the adventures of the “real” Ghostbusters, whom the movies are based upon. This is, in fact, explicitly mentioned in-show. As such, they can do a lot of things with the characters and even shift their roles around a bit without really impacting the movie universe or limiting it in any way. This is how Winston gets character development into a more rounded character, and one with more direct roles and strengths than you see in the movies, like his love of mysteries, baseball and automobiles and auto mechanics. It also lets them make Peter a bit less shady, show more heart, and explain why he tended to be a bit of a grifter in the movies (his father was like that, only much worse). They can go into Ray’s background a bit more, and develop the romance between Janine and Egon, and, yes, even develop Janine’s character a bit more.

The format lends itself to a wide variety of situations, as it did for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo”. Since they’re tracking ghosts explicitly but are experts on all sorts of supernatural phenomena, there’s a lot to work with there. They were able to get in a Star Trek parody by having a ghost appear on a space station, did cartoon worlds multiple times, did superheroes twice, and managed to fit in vampires and werewolves, again the former multiple times. They were also able to tap into a wide variety of mythical ghost legends — like the origin of Hallowe’en, again done multiple times — and classical hauntings, like haunted houses. And yet they were often able to bring a new twist to them, like having a house haunted by a ghost who only wanted to tell his beloved niece that he loved her one last time, or a house haunted by a mystery writer who wanted her last story to be finished. And there was generally plenty of room in all of these for snark, humour, parody and heartwarming moments.

I suppose I must comment on the shift in the character of Janine, at the rest of the executives, into a softer, more appealing, and less abrasive character. I, personally, like the softened Janine better, but concede that, yeah, she’s not really Janine anymore at that point. It would have worked better if they had done that from the beginning instead of shifting to it after the first season or so, even though that let JMS write an episode explaining it as her wishing changes to herself because Egon, at least, never noticed her otherwise, which was a good episode. That being said, I think the shift was a good idea, as it actually gave Janine a distinct role in the show, that being of the more kind and concerned person on the team that was lacking. Cynical and sarcastic Janine was entertaining, but the cast already had more than enough snark, and just having her be there for the snark battles with Peter and the love interest with Egon wasn’t really going to do much. Sure, I think they underused her after the shift, but it did give her a distinct personality and role that we could relate to, whereas snarky Janine was more one-dimensional.

Also, people ignore that Peter himself was softened at the same time, being far nicer to Slimer and, in general, far less shady and money-obsessed than he was in the earlier seasons, which I think was a good thing.

I think that Egon, though, was the character that advanced the most. He pretty much became the main leader character of the team, mostly because he was the one who knew everything about the ghosts and so always came up with the plans. He developed his own sense of humour and even snark, and was generally entertaining. I think his development explains why Peter faded into the background a bit more in later seasons when in the movies he tended to be the focus character.

The show, however, went completely downhill when it became “Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters”. Not only was there more of a focus on Slimer in the main show — which took away from what was really interesting — it also played havoc with the episode lengths. At first, they went with one Real Ghostbusters episode that was about five minutes longer, but that didn’t work because they usually didn’t have enough episode to fill out the time, so it seemed like it dragged. Then, they did two Real Ghostbusters shorts, but that didn’t work because they were too short and so didn’t have all the elements that made the show entertaining in the first place. By the time it reset to normal length episodes, they seemed to be mainly out of ideas and the creative spark seemed to be lost. There were still some good episodes, but overall it really lost the magic that it had had in the earlier seasons. By the end, like with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I just wanted to get through the rest and move on to something else.

Still, it was entertaining enough, especially the early episodes, which are often fantastic. And since this was already a re-watch, I will almost certainly watch it again at some point.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 8, 2018

So, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup last night, in a close 4 – 3 game to take the series in a not-so-close 4 games to 1. Since I picked Washington, this leaves me for this season at a sterling 14 – 1 for the year, with my only blemish being that I didn’t pick Vegas to beat L.A. in the first round. Since Vegas had home ice advantage in the finals, home ice advantage finishes at 10 – 5, getting the last three series wrong and only being a game over its 9 – 6 record last year.

My stellar result this year is entirely in line with the idea that the less I follow hockey during the season the better I do at predicting playoff series. As I now find it more and more difficult to actually watch the games, I pay less attention to hockey overall, and that has built from season to season. And I’ve gone from 8 – 7, to 10 – 5, to 14 – 1. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, because I cannot imagine that I’ll pay more attention to hockey next season than I did this season.

I’d also like to talk a bit about the win itself. I wanted Washington to win this series, mostly so that Alex Ovechkin would finally win a Cup. For a long time, his teams didn’t do all that well in the playoffs despite having great regular seasons, and there was a lot of talk that Ovechkin just couldn’t win the big games. This is despite the fact that, in general, as far as I can recall he didn’t actually do that badly in the playoffs, playing reasonably well, at least offensively. Some of the times they lost to Pittsburgh it really did come down to a duel of who scored more between himself and Sidney Crosby. So while it wasn’t really fair to blame him for their struggles, for the most part we were wondering what it would take for Ovechkin to win one and if his leadership was to blame for the Caps’ struggles in the playoffs. That Crosby managed to win multiple Cups only added fuel to that fire.

And that’s the comparison that both Ovechkin and Crosby have had to live with their entire careers. They came into the league at the same time and were both seen as generational players, and both have lived up to their billing. In terms of regular season success and regular season awards, Ovechkin has more than held his own against Crosby, but has faltered badly when it comes to playoff success and Cups, which is arguably the only success that really matters. To be honest, despite being Canadian and so supposedly having to prefer Crosby to Ovechkin, I’ve always preferred Ovechkin, mostly because he’s always seemed so very into hockey. He was the first to turn the shootout competition into more of a show than a simple demonstration of skill, and always seemed so happy and excited just to be playing the game. He often celebrated goals by his teammates more than they did, and it didn’t seem to be attention-grabbing, but instead real zeal for the game. And while you could blame Crosby’s more low-key reactions as Canadian modesty, it was still nice to watch someone who just really, really loved the game and loved to play it.

So, while Ovechkin didn’t play badly in the playoffs, what does seem to be different this year is that he really, really bought into the idea that it was all-hands-on-deck and everyone had to come up big at both ends of the ice for them to win it all. He was blocking shots, playing defense, and not just focusing on outscoring his opponents. And I think this even helped his teammates, because while he was focusing on doing everything it shattered the idea that his job was to score the goals and their job was to get out of the way and try to prevent them. If Ovechkin was going to try that hard to prevent goals, they really were going to have to try equally hard to score them. Sure, Ovechkin still scored the most goals — but didn’t have the most points — on his team, but even in last night’s game they got big goals from Devante Smith-Pelly — who scored as many goals in the playoffs as he did during the season — and Lars Eller, which was the Cup-winning goal. The Caps didn’t rely on Ovechkin to score the big goals for them, and that’s one of the reasons they won the Cup this year.

Another reason is the reason I picked them to win: resilience. For a lot of their previous runs, it always seemed that the breaks went against them and when that happened they folded. Not this run. They went down 2 – 0 to Columbus — losing both games at home — and rallied to win that series. They toppled their nemesis Pittsburgh. They won the first two games of the series in Tampa, lost the next three, and shut out Tampa in the last two games to win that series. They lost the first game against Vegas, and then won the next four games. Even last night, they hit at least two posts, were up 2 – 1 only to have Vegas storm back to take a 3 – 2 lead, and just kept coming. After that first series, they really believed that they could overcome everything, and as it turns out that’s exactly what they did.

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals, and hockey will return in October.