Archive for December, 2018

Doctor Who: Thoughts on Clara Oswald

December 31, 2018

Clara Oswald is, by far, my favourite companion.

She might be the epitome of what a companion should be. She’s adventurous, competent and capable. You can see why she’d find traveling in the TARDIS to be such a thrill even with the risks. But she’s also genuinely compassionate and empathetic. She cares about people, and she cares about the Doctor. She’s also self-assured enough to kick him — verbally or otherwise — when he’s doing something thoughtless. And yet she’s flawed enough to make mistakes and also to have an outside life that can add complications, humourous or otherwise. This also allows her to be the butt of jokes and add humour to the show without having to have her be picked on by the other characters. Though she often does get picked on, which usually makes the person who picks on her seem kinda mean (more on this when I get to Capaldi’s Doctor). The worst is the constant shots at her for being self-absorbed despite the fact that not only is she the most consistently empathetic companion the show ever had, her constant role of governess/teacher requires her to care about others. You could get her on having too high an opinion of herself, but then you’d have to compare her to at least Donna’s self-expression or Amy Pond and realize that she seems to be far more grounded than they at least seemed to be. It doesn’t really work, at least in my opinion.

That being said, the biggest misstep with her was Danny Pink. The biggest problem with Danny Pink was that he didn’t really work in any role and often seemed to be just whatever the writer wanted him to be. You want there to be conflict with the Doctor? He doesn’t like him. You want him to be supportive of Clara traveling like she clearly wants to do? Then he’s suddenly in favor of it. His military background is either something to ignore or something he’s proud of depending on the situation. For the most part, he has too big a role to slip into the Mickey role from the first series, he’s both too nice and too flawed to take on the role of being insulted by the Doctor (again, like Mickey) but he doesn’t have enough personality to step into the role that a Rory held. His death not only seems to come out of nowhere and just to be a way to set up for Clara’s drama, it’s also a drama that we not only didn’t need but which was actively stupid. Without even asking the Doctor if he could save Danny’s life, Clara decides to dramatically knock out the Doctor and threaten to destroy all the keys to the TARDIS and lock him out of it (despite her knowing at that point that the TARDIS itself was intelligent and liked the Doctor) to try to force him to do it. And the Doctor foils it despite having no reason to think that she was even considering something like that — he didn’t know that Danny was dead when it started — and wanted to test her to see what she’d do, which ends up devastating her when she at least briefly thinks that she has locked him out of the TARDIS and trapped there forever. It was stupid, pointless, and not used at all properly … which is what you can say about the entire Danny Pink storyline itself, come to think of it.

Her exit that wasn’t really an exit didn’t really have the emotional gravitas that it should have had, especially since the Doctor’s insistence on saving her despite it potentially wiping out the entire universe seemed out of character. Especially since Capaldi’s Doctor hadn’t really had the chance to show that he cared about her that much up until that point (more on that when I talk about him). It’s nice that they left it open a bit for her to make future visits, but pairing her with the generally annoying Me character didn’t do it any favours. Even though I didn’t watch the early shows, I did appreciate the callback to earlier models of the TARDIS. But it was kinda a meh ending for me.

So, all that’s left is Capaldi’s Doctor. Spoilers: I like Clara a lot better than him, which will be a problem for him.

Work vs Family

December 28, 2018

So, over at “Love, Joy, Feminism” Libby Anne has written a post called “Why Paid Maternity Leave and Subsidized Childcare Are Not Enough”. The post talks about the fact that in South Korea they have paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare — which her jurisdiction, the U.S., lacks — and yet birth rates aren’t increasing. Libby Anne notes that South Korea also has a pretty strict work culture, with long hours being expected and so jobs aren’t at all family friendly. She notes this:

The next time I hear someone complaining about millennials not having children, I’ll make doubly sure my response is dual—we need both childcare subsidies and paid maternity leave, and family-friendly workplace cultures. Women need to know that they can have children without passing up promotions or being pressured to put work over family.

Well, with a site named “Love, Joy, Feminism”, obviously she was going to turn it into a feminist issue. But, in general, if a proposed solution isn’t working, we start to think that maybe the solution isn’t one. Here, obviously, she doubles down: not only do we need the first solution of paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare — which, you know, might actually be two separate solutions — we also need this family-friendly workplace to make this work. But if we keep having to add more and more and more programs and aid to make the situation work, maybe there’s a deeper problem here that we need to fix first.

She summarizes it this way:

Paid maternity leave and childcare subsidies are necessary, but they are not sufficient. If we want to create a world where every woman who is interested in raising children has the resources and space to do so effectively (and sanely), there is work to be done.

The problem here, though, is that she isn’t really interested in a world where women who want to have children has the resources and space to do so effectively. Her solutions don’t address that for all women. Instead, they address it for a certain type of woman: those who are interested in having children and in working full-time outside the home, and so want to have a household where neither parent can stay home to give primary care to their children but instead where both are spending much if not most of their time working instead.

(The “interested” line above is indicative, BTW. It places those women being interested in having children at about the same level as I’m “interested” in blog writing or writing novels, like a hobby rather than like something critically important).

So, keeping this all in mind, let’s break down what might be happening here.

The first thing that we have to note — and it seems obvious — is that children require direct care for most of the day for many years. If both parents are working and cannot provide that care, then that care has to be done by someone, which means that it has to be done by someone else. Thus, if both parents choose to work, then they have to find someone else to provide that care, as it is indeed their primary responsibility to provide the needs of the child (which feminists cannot deny since that statement is the underlying argument to their claims that child support must be provided in pretty much any circumstance where a child results from any kind of a relationship, where since women get primary custody more often is something that primarily impacts/benefits women and so is a feminist issue). So what really happens here is that the parents decide that their time is best spent working, and so they have to find another option to provide that primary and direct care for their children.

This can obviously be seen as them choosing their work and careers over their children and family. I’m sure Libby Anne and most feminists will cry out that this is a sexist interpretation, because it’s only used against women and rarely, if ever, against men. The problem with this is that it actually misunderstands why men focus on their careers in the first place. Feminism insists that the big selling points of work and careers were things like personal fulfillment and independence, but this was never the case for most men. The main reason men put so much effort into building and maintaining a career was because that was their contribution to family life. Thus, for men, the idea of choosing their work over their family was nonsensical: their work was their primary contribution to their family, and they sacrificed time spent with their children to ensure that their work provided as best they could for their family. This is why we have all the stories about men after divorce who wanted to change to a more fulfilling career rather than the more lucrative one that they were in on the grounds that if it wasn’t going to maintain their family they didn’t see the point in working so hard and in the job they didn’t like to do so. It’s also why you can see in a number of posts at Dalrock’s site (I’m not going to search through the posts to find one) stories about how women in their 30s and 40s who are now looking to find a man to marry often find the remnants to be woefully unprepared career-wise to do so: those men didn’t find that having a career helped their chances of getting a family, and so feel no need to work that hard and get that great a career to have one. For men, their career tends to be aimed at preparing for a family, attracting a woman for a family with how well their career will provide for one, or supporting and maintaining the family they already have. So for men, working hard is generally not seen as being a choice, and particularly not a choice between their work and their family. Instead, it’s seen as the sacrifice they have to make for their family.

Feminism did not do this for women. Women, it seems to me, don’t particularly feel any pressure to work as a primary way to support their family (except in one increasingly common case, which I’ll get into later). They’ve been encouraged by feminism to see their jobs as liberation, as a means to independence, as personally fulfilling. So any woman who has a successful career is likely hesitant to give it up because she’d lose all of that to gain something that she at least doesn’t see as being as valuable. The example of women in their 30s and 40s mentioned above highlights this: they spent their 20s and early 30s building their career for the sake of building their career, and then start to look towards having a family. At this point, they have less time to have children and there are less acceptable men available. This, obviously, has to impact birth rates.

Now, here is where the example I alluded to above comes in: for many couples, both parents have to work in order to afford having a family. This leaves them in the unenviable position where in order to afford to have a family, both parents have to work, but unless they have an extended family willing to help out they have to pay someone to look after their children while they work. This claws back the benefits of both of them working and if child care is expensive enough — and the more people who use child care the more expensive it will be, especially if the new ones coming in can afford to pay more for it — make it so that having that second job doesn’t actually benefit them at all. This is where things like subsidized child care and paid parental — let’s not call it maternity — leave can come into play. The idea would be that for these families one parent stays home until the child is old enough to go into child care, at which point that parent returns to work. Of course, by the reasoning I just gave this would be income-locked, where only families whose household income is low enough that both parents would have to work in order to support the family would get the benefits.

Most of the women pushing the hardest for these things, though, are women who have good enough careers that they could probably afford to raise a family only on her salary, or at least with one salary. Perhaps not to the extent that they could maintain the lifestyle they had before having children — it’s a lot easier to splurge on purchases if you don’t have to make sure that your kids have everything they need first — but they’d be able to manage. I’m not up on the most recent feminist thought on this, but making these things available based only on income doesn’t seem to be a big component of it, despite the fact that presenting it that way should make it far more palatable to almost anyone considering it. This suggests that it’s not need that drives this, but the desire to have that fulfilling career as well as a family, and the need to have someone help out with that if they’re “going to have it all”. The concerns of those who have to provide the help or what impact that might have on other people and even other parents seems to get short-shrift.

The idea of “family-friendly workplaces” tends to demonstrate this. Most of the focus is on making workplaces, well, friendly to those with families, allowing them to adjust their schedules in a way that allows them to fulfill their family responsibilities easier. If this is strictly limited to families, then they’d be getting privileges that people without families don’t get. If these are extended to everyone, then this may result in those without families getting an entire set of privileges that are useless to them on the basis of fairness, which would make it fairness in letter but not in spirit. No matter how it all goes, either those without families will pick up the slack or productivity will suffer. On top of that, those without families might willingly choose to pick up the slack for various reasons, but then would simply be more reliable, which would mean that they’d be relied upon more, which in general should lead to more raises and promotions and opportunities, which will then end up putting pressure on those who have families to keep up. But you can’t say to those who could, say, come in at the last minute because of some work crisis or because someone got sick or, heck, because someone had to run off to deal with a family crisis that they can’t do the thing that really needs to be done or needs to be done now because it might put pressure on those who have families to do the same sort of thing. And the sort of person who is willing to sacrifice their time to solve these sorts of problems is the sort of employee you want to have. Sure, it’s easier for people without families, but it’s still a sacrifice. Someone who is willing to sacrifice to ensure things work out at work hoping for some sort of compensation is a pretty good employee. You don’t really want to punish good employees who have generally manageable responsibilities outside of work that might cause conflicts like this, but you certainly want to reward the ones who put their work responsibilities over their outside responsibilities when it is necessary.

The ultimate problem, though, is that we don’t value having a family enough anymore. And I’m not talking about society not providing for subsidized child care or paid parental leave or family-friendly workplaces or with people not stepping up enough to help families in general. No, what I mean is that very few believe that having a family is an important vocation or part of people’s lives. As Libby Anne said, people are “interested” in having families, not considering it to be something that they should do. As such, we have lots of people who are willingly placing their jobs and careers ahead of having a family, and then treating that family as an afterthought, or as something “on the side” to make their lives complete. It’s also why we aren’t at all concerned about the fact that more and more families have to have both parents working to be able to support a family when the ideal situation is to have one parent provide that primary care for the child instead of them having to rely on — or pay — someone else to do it. This is why women are pushing their careers in their 20s and 30s despite that in no way helping them towards starting a family (especially since even career women marry men who make less than them infrequently). It’s why more and more men are deciding that a career isn’t all that important to them. We’ve decided that having a family isn’t a main priority in our lives. No wonder, then, that birth rates are falling.

Just looking at the labour required and the division of labour, the ideal situation is always to have both parents directly involved in the child’s life, and one parent to stay at home to provide the direct primary care required until at least the children go off to school and can be on their own for at least short periods of time. Feminists, not unfairly, tend to dislike this suggestion because typically that meant that women were the ones who stayed home, and even when we look at seemingly objective measures like which parent makes the most it tends to leave women with that role, whether they want it or not. But, for me, this should primarily be decided on who is best suited for the role with the secondary consideration of which income the parents can afford to leave. My primary concern, then, is with the fact that increasingly they couldn’t afford to lose either income. Once we fix that, then we can start looking into considerations of who could stay-at-home and still manage to do some paid work, either part-time or at home or whatever. But all of these things require us to put having a family ahead of careers and personal lifestyle desires, and this is what we increasingly do not choose to do.

And it should be obvious that if having kids isn’t that important to most people, then birth rates will fall. So before we try all of those things that Libby Anne wants us to try, we really need to make having children a priority again. And nothing that she or most people say does that in any way. Thus, when all is said and done, it won’t make things any better.

Thoughts on Police Squad! and Naked Gun

December 27, 2018

Whenever you hear about the “Naked Gun” movies, they always advertise prominently that the movies are “From the Files of Police Squad!”, making the link back to that TV series. So when I was browsing in a store and saw a combination pack that contained the three “Naked Gun” movies and the entire “Police Squad!” series for a reasonable price, I had to get it and not only watch those movies again that I had enjoyed, but also to see just was all the fuss over “Police Squad!” was about.

My overall impression of it was to note that the similar but earlier show “Get Smart” was so much better than “Police Squad!” was, and to wonder why people made such a fuss over that series.

Part of this is because the series is so incredibly short. It’s six episodes long. As a point of contrast, each season of Red Dwarf is a disappointing six episodes, but they got 8 seasons in the original run, which produced a pretty decent set of episodes to generate memorable moments in. On top of that, despite being only six episodes long the show seemed repetitive. The attempts at running gags — like the “Cigarette?” “Yes, it is” line — falter because it just seems like a straight repeat of a joke instead of a running gag. This is because they don’t do anything new with, but they don’t repeat it enough for us to really know that it’s coming and be prepared for it. And this is despite the Cigarette? joke being used maybe twice in six episodes. I saw it coming the second time, but there was nothing new and no anticipation for it when it came up. Compare this to the many well-done running gags in “Get Smart” that became culturally recognized — the shoe phone, the Cone of Silence, “Sorry about that, Chief!”, “Just one question, what’s an X?” and so on — and we can see the difference. Most of the time, things were altered, at least slightly, to make it seem fresh. By the time we could see it coming, we were already into it as a running gag, and so had the anticipation of it as the running gag that it was. In “Police Squad!”, it seemed to be nothing more than a joke, and there was no where to go with it or to alter it, so it just seemed like a repeated joke than a running gag, but reused jokes, especially in a series only six episodes long, don’t go over well.

Ironically, the show runners did manage to get a running gag into the “Airplane!” series, with the lead telling people a story that bores them to suicide. This one had variations on it, and came up often enough that we could see it as a running gag, and even had the potential to be subverted later, with someone finding his stories interesting instead. None of that really happened in the series, beyond them freezing at the end credits but it being only the actors freezing and not a freeze frame itself, which was probably the best part of the series.

This probably explains why the movies are actually better than the series, but also why the later movies don’t work as well. This was also true of “Airplane!”, actually, with the second movie being worse than the first one. The movies give more time to develop jokes and running gags and to load the movie up with constant gags while still being able to stitch in enough of a plot to move us to the next joke. But the problem is that the jokes are indeed repetitive, and so later movies, especially if watched immediately after the previous movies, don’t seem fresh and the jokes seem less like series-wide running gags than like telling the same jokes over and over again, except for the few memorable ones like “Don’t call me Shirley” from the original “Airplane!” movie. This holds for “Naked Gun” as well; the first movie is significantly more entertaining than the last two.

I’m glad to have watched the original run of “Police Squad!”, but if I was ever tempted to watch it again I’d be more likely to just watch “Get Smart!” instead. Or “Sledge Hammer!”, for that matter. The “Naked Gun” movies, especially the first one, are movies that I’m likely to watch again at some point. Overall, it was worth what I paid for it.

Thoughts on Persona 4 Dancing All Night

December 26, 2018

So, I got through the story mode of Persona 4 Dancing All Night. I haven’t opened up all the tracks, but I thought I talk about my replay of the story mode and do some comparisons between the games now, since I’ve kinda put the game on hold for a bit while I do other things. I’d like to at least unlock all the easily unlockable tracks and purchase some more things, but can’t say when that will happen.

Anyway, I like the story mode in Dancing All Night, but found, at least this time, that there were a few too many dancing sections and so the story seemed to drag on a bit. The reason I blame it on the dancing sections is because the sections seemed to have no real relevance to the plot, but seemed to be there just to provide a dancing section for the dancing game. For example, a number of practices for Kanami, and pretty much the whole subplot with Nanako becoming a dancer. Even at the end, it seemed that there were too many dance sections tacked on to pad out the dancing part rather than to make sure that we advanced the plot properly, and since there were story sections between all of those sections, I can see why some people thought the story sections long and boring. However, since Free Mode was open from the beginning they could have easily skipped the entire thing, so I don’t feel all that bad for them. The S-links of the other two games are less interesting, but also more accessible.

Still, the story works fairly well. Kanami is a very interesting character, far more so than her competition Rise. There is such a huge discontinuity between her idol-Persona and her real personality, and her real personality is very endearing. She’s not all that confident and a bit of a klutz, but she notices things that are going on around her — er, eventually — and reacts in a believable way. For example, when Nanako leaves saying “Bearwell” — which she must have gotten from Teddie — Kanami idly responds with a cheerful “Bearwell” and then pauses to question that. Her personality pretty much makes the story mode for me, while the plot is okay and gives Dojima the chance to show what he can actually do as a detective.

Gameplay-wise, I found Dancing All Night to be more difficult than the other two. Certainly, not having the support ability to maintain combos if I only got a Good rating helped, but like between Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight I found that in Dancing All Night you had to do more things at the same time to make it work, although in general I found that the tracks aligned with the rhythm of the song more often. But most of the gameplay is the same between all the versions.

I should comment on the fact that to get new costumes and the like here you have to buy them instead of unlocking them. So far, I have to call it a wash. Buying them means that you can focus only on the characters you like, but at least on Easy I don’t get enough money to really buy a lot, even after I got through the story mode. There’s enough if you only care about a couple of characters or a couple of outfits for those characters, but if you want everything it already gets grindy after the story mode, especially since the story mode is not interesting enough to play through more than once.

The games overall were worth getting and I’ll probably poke around with them another time, but none of them have huge replay value other than redoing the dances with different costumes or just because you enjoyed the dancing itself.

Thoughts on “The Ghost Walks”

December 25, 2018

So, the next movie in the “The Shadows” collection is “The Ghost Walks”, a movie that was originally done in 1934 and so is in black and white. Given that all of the previous movies have been far more recent than that, there’s no way that “The Ghost Walks” could be as entertaining if not more entertaining than the others, right?

Well, as it turns out, it’s probably the most entertaining movie in the collection. The big problem with it, though, is that it’s not actually at all scary for something that was trying to be a horror movie.

The overall premise is that an aspiring playwright invites a big time play producer and his assistant to a house out in the middle of nowhere to have him read his play. However, the playwright’s plan is to actually secretly perform the play for the producer and include the producer in the story as a way to make it have more of an impact. Soon, however, the producer and his assistant overhear that this is the plan, and so decide to at least somewhat play along. Things get more complicated, however, with the revelation that an insane murderer has escaped from a nearby asylum accompanied by an actual murder occurring in the house.

The producer and his assistant essentially play comic relief in this movie, believing every odd event to be part of the play rather than a real threat. In general, at least recent movies would play that disbelief for suspense, setting things up so that they would be placed under direct and obvious threat that they disbelieve and we would know is all to real. However, there isn’t really a lot of that sort of suspense in the movie, as we only find out who the lunatic is relatively late in the relatively short movie. Part of the reason for this is that the pair are just too much of comic relief in their banter and manner to maintain the suspense. Their lines and voices would constantly shatter the suspense and so it’s probably a good idea that the movie didn’t really try to build suspense that way.

Still, the movie is entertaining. Despite not being suspenseful, the banter is fairly good, and while the overall mystery is a bit shallow and obvious it still moves well and keeps moving the plot along. It’s only about an hour long, but it manages to explain things well enough that we’re never really confused about what’s going on, nor do we feel the need for more character development. It’s a generally well-done movie, even if it’s not really much of a horror movie.

The Traditional …

December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean “the readers”?

Nope, WordPress still says it’s pretty much just the one.

Doctor Who: Thoughts on Matt Smith’s Doctor

December 24, 2018

So, the next main character to leave is Matt Smith’s Doctor. Now, the first two times I watched his episodes, I didn’t care much for him. For the most part, the only saving grace of those series was the fact that I liked both Amy Pond and Clara Oswald. He had some of my favourite companions, and so watching them made the series entertaining enough that I could put up with the rather at least lackluster Smith. But in line with my comparison of the Doctors to the James Bonds when I talked about Tennant, I’ve had a re-examination of his Doctor. So, I guess, third time’s the charm.

The reason why I commented in my thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” that I wasn’t sure that Matt Smith could pull off anything other than goofy is because Smith is the Doctor that is the absolute best at being goofy and arguably is the worst at everything else. The wide-eyed goofy enthusiasm that he emits really does work in the goofy episodes and to drive the humour. Both Eccleston and Tennant can carry the humour, but only Smith seems to embody the humour, making it pretty much a part of him and the character.

Unfortunately, while this makes him the funniest Doctor, it also hurts him when he tries to do anything else. He’s not a very intimidating Doctor. In fact, in his first full episode when he chases off the police aliens that were going to burn the Earth to kill that one escaped prisoner him himself intimidating them is well, laughable, so essentially he had to show them all of the other Doctors that he was to get them to think “Oh, crap, he’s that guy!”. But on his own, he’s not intimidating. He also gets a number of romantic scenes, especially with River Song, but his constant flirty comments combine with his rather child-like nature — which is what allows for his goofiness — to come across as teenage bragging. We really don’t believe that River finds him anywhere near as sexy as he claims she does, and the series — to its credit — at least leaves the possibility open that she merely tolerates the comments and isn’t tacitly accepting them. But it still comes across as annoying whenever he does it.

Smith is a good actor, so when given the chance he can pull off drama, but it’s hard to create really good drama that aligns with his goofy and childish nature. One of the best examples of it working is when Amy says to him that he wants to be forgiven and he replies “Don’t we all?”. This summarizes his character: he’s the one who wants to be forgiven for his sins, and especially for the sin of destroying Gallifrey. This carries on in the “Day of the Doctor” special when Tennant’s Doctor accuses him of forgetting what he had done and Smith’s Doctor confirms that. Given the chance, Smith can pull off the drama. There’s just limited drama that you can do with a character like Smith’s Doctor without making it so that the childlike wonder, excitement and goofiness just seems inappropriate, and at times his goofy reactions really did seem inappropriate for the serious situation that he was in.

So, yes, I actually like Smith’s Doctor better now, being able to accept him for what he is. Still, I like Eccleston’s and Tennant’s Doctors better.

The next character to leave is Clara Oswald, who is the last companion that I will explicitly talk about. After her, there’s only Capaldi’s Doctor left to talk about.

Things vs Experiences

December 21, 2018

So, I’m sure you’ve heard all about the fact that millennials are now preferring to spend their money on experiences than on things. If you haven’t, here are two links talking about it. As usual in today’s world, in general this is all wrapped around a self-aggrandizing argument over how they are rejecting materialism and embracing environmentalism and all of that. Of course, there are likely to be counter-claims that instead this just proves that millenials are frivolous, spending their money on fleeting fancies rather than on things that maintain value. And, unfortunately, I think that a case can be made that millennials don’t really get a lot of what drives people to buy things, and so are rejecting buying things out of a misplaced idea of doing so taken from the extremes of materialism. Now, of course, my criticism could be doing the same, but I’m going to try to outline what spending money on things really buys you.

The first thing to consider is that money spent on experiences is lost while money spent on things gives you something more tangible. If you spent $100 on a night out, that $100 is spent. You had the experiences and have the memories, but nothing else. On the other hand, if I spend $100 on the Persona Dancing games, I now own those games. I can play them every night if I want to. I can put them aside for months and play them again. You simply can’t do that with experiences, other than looking at the pictures you stored on your phone that you took during the event and remembering what happened. For pretty much all of my hobbies, owning the things allows me to re-use them later. It would take me at least a year if not longer to re-read all of the books that I’ve collected over the years. I could watch DVD TV shows and movies for at least two years without repeating a series. I could play video games for years without repeating as well, unless I wanted to. I have played my favourite three games for literally thousands of hours and could do so again. Even where I personally am the most frivolous — with board games — I have a collection that could keep me occupied for at least a year if I ever had the time to play them. Owning the things is far more cost effective than paying for a fleeting experience where at the end of the day all I get out of it are those memories.

This also carries over into considerations of how things would go if I suddenly started having financial problems. As seen above, I have lots of things that I could return to if I couldn’t afford to buy new things. None of them really “go bad” and so other than potentially needing to make sure that I have the hardware available to use those things — obviously books and board games need none, video games the most expensive hardware — enjoying them again — or, in some cases, for the first time — will not cost me one cent extra. For me, if I get into financial trouble I can keep doing the things I love to do. For the millennial, that won’t be the case.

Now, of course, an objection that can be raised here is that I am a very bad example to use for this because I’m not at all like most people. This is a fair objection, but this advantage still holds out for most other people. Let’s take one of the most common examples of frivolous material spending: women’s shoes (the most frivolous example for men is power tools, but at least they claim to be useful for something other than merely for show, even if lots of men would buy them just for show). If a woman spends lots of money collecting many, many pairs of shoes, unless her feet grow for some reason again if cared for and rarely worn — which is when the purchases would be at their most frivolous — they can still be used. If she suddenly started having financial problems, she could simply wear some of those older pairs of shoes and get pretty much the same effect as she had with the new ones: as long as they were not too scuffed, most people wouldn’t be able to tell that she wasn’t wearing a new pair. It wouldn’t quite catch the latest fashions, but as those are cyclical anyway there’s a pretty good chance that some of them would either be timeless classics or else back in fashion. So at least she’d have a chance of being able to re-use them and still look smart and in-style without having to spend more money. The experiences, on the other hand, would be lost.

We can also challenge the environmentalist claims of the millennials. While they talk about things like sharing, if you look at my example we can see that my view counters with “Re-use”. I don’t need to share my things with others because I use them again and again and again. At times, this can indeed stop me from buying something new if I don’t have any need for it. It’s hard to argue that experiences avoiding buying a material thing are better than re-use, especially since things are consumed and therefore lost while generating any experience. They don’t waste less than I do if I purchase something and constantly reuse it while they consume things that are lost.

And the thing about holding material things is that you do, in fact, have them yourself as things. This, then, allows for you to use things as much as you want and, if they are not completely used up, sell them to allow someone else to use them at a reduced cost and to generate money to purchase new things. I used to do this all the time with books, buying from a used book store, keeping the ones I liked and selling the ones I didn’t to get new books and repeating the cycle. Returning to the woman and her shoes, if they haven’t been used she can potentially sell them to thrift stores and the like and get some extra money if times are tough or get some money to buy new shoes. And if she can afford new shoes, she can give them straight to charity and just buy new shoes, making things even better. I personally just donated a box of books to the local library because I was cleaning out my books and realized that I was never, ever, ever going to read them again. The used market for things allows for sharing things like the millennials do without introducing the issue of using the thing in such a way that the other people you’re sharing with also get their full use of the thing. I use my things until I’m not using them anymore, and if they can still be used I can pass them along to someone else. And if they can’t be used anymore, then, yes, I throw them out, but then they are things that can’t be used anymore, which means that that’s the place for them.

You can’t sell used experiences.

Ultimately, a lot of the shots at materialism ignore that for most people, most of the time, things are not bought simply to have things, but instead for a specific reason. The most common reason is to have or facilitate experiences with those things. All of the things I talked about above are things that I used to have enjoyable experiences. Yes, some of them are a bit solitary in nature, but many of them can be used to generate experiences with others. And if someone buys a boat or an ATV or a snowmobile, most often they are doing that to have experiences with those things that include other people. They buy the boat, generally, so that they can go boating, and often so that they can go boating with other people. So people often buy things not to own things but instead to have experiences. It’s just that things can generate experiences repeatedly.

For most other things, they are bought for a purpose; the things specifically allow us to do things or are necessary for us to live our lives. The worst abuses of things for the sake of things usually follow from status-seeking: things are bought not because they are necessary, but instead because they give an appearance of wealth or status that the person is aspiring to or wants people to think they have. There are two issues, however, with considering this to be more frivolous than the millennial experience seeking. The first is that often that status can be used as a tool to generate something else that is desirable. If you’re trying to woo investors into a company, for example, looking like you’re a success can influence them into thinking better of you than they might otherwise. You probably want to look successful, even if being more of a cheapskate would mean that you’re probably a better candidate to invest in. The second is that this is about status, not about things. Experiences, then, can and will be used in the precise same way, with people pushing themselves into more expensive experiences so that they can show that they are adventurous or successful or tuned into the current culture. So the abuses will occur whether you’re seeking experiences or seeking things because what you’re really seeking in that case is status, and it seems likely that we will be seeking status for years if not centuries to come.

Millennials deliberately seeking experiences over things can fairly charged with being frivolous for the simple reason that things are generally used to generate experiences but are, in fact, reusable, and so can keep generating experiences time and time again. Simple experiences simply cannot do that. Now, for the most part this is a false dichotomy anyway, because most people will want simple experiences at times that don’t involve buying things. People will want to eat out, go to live concerts, have a picnic, whatever. We all have a mix of hobbies that we can do using things and that don’t really involve things. So going out and having mere experiences isn’t an issue. Deliberately training yourself and your hobbies to prioritize the strict experiences over things that have more reusability is out of a misguided sense that someone that’s not materialistic and is therefore “better” is, however.

Thoughts on “The Trikon Deception”

December 20, 2018

“The Trikon Deception” is a collaboration between Ben Bova and Bill Pogue, and is the second of those novels that I’m going to look at. It’s … a problematic work.

Essentially, the plot revolves around attempts to solve pollution and specifically global warming through research at a space station is space. The novel starts with a disaster and then builds up the background to explain how we got there. One of the issues with this, though, is that it starts with the commander of the station making a dramatic statement about how it was all his fault but the book doesn’t really establish how it was or how he could have done anything differently. The beginning starts with another issue and has him locking everything down to try to foil it — espionage led to someone stealing a disk that had a virus that would shut down the entire station if someone tried to load it on any computer on the full network — and if his deciding to do that then or later had actually caused the major problems that would be a good bit of foreshadowing. But the big issues were caused by other people, and in fact deliberately by other people, and he pretty much only did the reasonable thing in all cases. So if you remember that bit of foreshadowing, it will fall flat, and if you don’t remember it, then it was pointless.

One of the interesting aspects is that Bova’s novels tend to mix in a lot of environmental issues and details into them. This time it’s global warming and he and Pogue craft a very pessimistic assessment of it, claiming that it will be critical by the 90s (killing off plankton, for example, causing massive whale deaths). Obviously, this didn’t happen, but my impression was that Bova had been a part of or had contacts within NASA and so could base his predictions on actual data. It made me wonder how much of it was based on real data and predictions that turned out to be wrong and how much of it was just his own speculation.

The book, ultimately, isn’t very interesting. The main character is the commander of the station, and despite attempts to give him a personality and a history — he has an angry ex-wife back on Earth and a son that he can’t spend time with — he just isn’t very interesting. In order to help with this, they introduce a romantic interest in the station’s doctor — explicitly stated to be potentially somewhat dumpy on Earth but in space the lower gravity makes her more attractive, more so than the beauty queen who is also on the station — and even a love triangle with the media representative for a Mars project who clashes with the commander, but this isn’t interesting either, because there’s little reason for her to actually like the Mars project guy, but she sleeps with him first to provide DRAMA!, and then confesses her love over the comms while drugged up due to the machinations of the main villain (he puts them into the air supply for the entire station), so it’s boring, nonsensical, and too easily resolved to really be interesting.

And that last plot reveals probably the biggest failing of the book: the villains are cartoonish, chortling over their grand machinations that aren’t in any way clever and only work because everyone else is either too cartoonish villain or too stupid to stop them, or else due to blind luck … at which point the villains pat themselves on the back for their cleverness at managing to get extremely lucky. These machinations end up causing deaths and framing people and potentially destroying their lives and yet the villains don’t care at all, only caring about their own views. Heck, one character wants to destroy the station for some radical environmentalist idea and is nothing more than a minor speed bump and annoyance, and is even redeemed at the end. There is a huge lack of clever villains and sympathetic characters in the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate the book. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. It had some good moments and some mildly interesting characters, but overall it was bland and uninteresting, which blunts the triumphant ending. I’m not likely to read it again.

Next, I go back to a solo Bova book, with “Privateers”.

First Thoughts on the Persona Dancing Games

December 19, 2018

So, many years ago, I bought and played the “Persona 4 Dancing All Night” game. I liked it. It seems that other people liked it too, or at least enough that they released dancing games for the other two modern Persona games, “Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight” and “Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight”. I decided that I’d buy them for the PS4, and decided to get the collection that included both games as well as the digital download of Dancing All Night. So far, I’ve played pretty much all of the S-links that I really want to do in the new games, and so only have the grinding cleaning up to do, so I’m about to replay Dancing All Night and see what I think of it.

The big difference between the new games and Dancing All Night is that the new games don’t have an actual or set story. Instead, they use the ludicrous but good enough premise that after the events in Dancing All Night Margaret, Elizabeth and Lavenza got arguing over which guest would be the most inspiring with dancing, and so Elizabeth and Lavenza gathered all of the characters from the other two games together in a dream to dance and prove which team is better. Spoiler Alert: Both teams “win”. Anyway, that premise is most explored in Lavenza and Elizabeth’s specific Social Links, and if you manage to see all of their links — earned by seeing the links of the other characters — you unlock them as dancers. The others have their own links that unlock various things like costumes, accessories, and Support and Challenge modifiers.

The Support and Challenge modifiers are a great idea, and fit into the philosophy of these games about, for the most part, letting you play the game how you want without having to feel like you’re losing out. You can unlock all of Elizabeth or Lavenza’s scenes without having to see everyone’s scenes, and get most of the costumes and even most of the other characters without having to pull off anything really difficult. The Support and Challenge modifiers allow you to customize your experience, with Support modifiers making it easier — like having Good results not break combos — and Challenge modifiers making it easier. But you can combine these modifiers in almost any way you want — the game won’t let you take modifiers that conflict with each other, like making it so that you can miss on scratches but then have scratches automatically succeed — to really customize the experience. The modifiers change your score — Support decreases it while Challenge increases it — but unlike Dancing All Night where you needed points to purchase new things points seem to be solely for show here. As stated, you unlock those things in the new games by advancing links and doing things in-game.

I’m not sure if I like the change to accomplishments rather than points. The problem with accomplishments is that it tends to force you to do things you don’t really want to do. The biggest examples of this, oddly, are some of the easiest ones to get: use a certain number of costumes or accessories. All you have to do is do dances and keep changing accessories and costumes, so it’s a relatively simple grind … but it means that you have to select outfits and even characters that you wouldn’t do otherwise just to advance the link. This forces you into doing things that you don’t find as enjoyable just to finish the links. It seems to me that the points system, while still grindy, allowed you to grind more with dance experiences that you more enjoyed than what happened here.

I’ve finished all of the links that I cared about in both Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight, but still have some to finish. In the first one, I have the two really grindy ones where you need to get a high Max Combo number and need to get a lot of Perfects — Akihiko’s and Aigis’ — left, as well as Ken’s where you need to clear tracks with Brilliant’s and Junpei’s where you need to use a lot of accessories. In Dancing in Starlight, I have the last two links cleared, and so only need to finish Ryuji’s (Combos) and Yusuke’s (Perfects). But since I don’t really care about them I’m going to move on to replaying Dancing All Night and might come back to them later.

For the most part, I found Dancing in Moonlight to be more difficult than Dancing in Starlight. The dances seem more complicated, even on “Easy”, especially Mitsuru’s. That being said, the dances and character models seem more appealing in Dancing in Moonlight, especially Mitsuru. I’m not sure which game I prefer. Both are fun, but right now I find Mitsuru and Elizabeth more interesting than the characters in Dancing in Starlight, which makes me lean towards that one.

And let me end on a hint: if you want to clear the links that require playing a lot of tracks, there aren’t enough tracks on “Easy” to do that, so the easiest way to do that is to unlock the highest difficulty and then start there and work your way through all the tracks without hitting a single button, letting them fail. The link only requires you to start it, not finish it successfully, and on the highest difficulty levels you’ll fail it in seconds. And one of the modifiers requires you to fail a dance in under ten seconds, so you’d clear that at the same time. It’s boring, but faster than actually trying to complete the tracks.