Archive for June, 2019

Fair Pay …

June 28, 2019

I was watching television yesterday afternoon, and a commercial came on that featured a boy and a girl (both black, if that matters to anyone) talking about what they were going to do when they got older. Specifically, they were talking about all of the things they were going to achieve playing basketball from that age right through their university careers. The commercial focused on them either achieving the same things or the girl achieving even greater things — the boy talking about getting to state once while the girl talked about getting there three straight years — all through their career. And then, at the end, they talked about their rookie salaries in professional sports. The boy said that his would be $4 million, while the girl talked about hers being $40,000. This then led into a comment about a specific WNBA player fighting for fair pay (it ended up being a wealth management commercial).

There are a number of problems with this commercial wrt the notion of fair pay. The first is that while I suspect that this comparison was based on real people, having the girl’s projected achievements be so over-the-top works against the comparison. Treating the comparisons as identical and them having roughly the same amount of talent, she comes across as unrealistic or bragging. But this goes away once we consider that maybe her achievements are more realistic, but only because the competition isn’t as stiff in the women’s game and so one good school and one good player really can be that dominant. But then the attempt to show that her equal accomplishments are being underappreciated due to her significantly lower salary falls flat, as we start to think that they aren’t that comparable after all.

The second problem is comparing the starting salaries themselves and looking at what counts as fair pay. Now, a problem, in my opinion, with the debates over fair pay on the national teams is that it often focuses — on both sides — on how much revenue the teams bring in. National teams don’t exist to make money, so how much revenue each brings in, or even percentages of that, are irrelevant. The teams — and from that, the players — should get the funding they need to put together teams that can win big tournaments and titles. If that means that women need to get paid more even if they bring in less revenue, then that’s what should be done, and vice versa. The big issue is treating the two teams identically and as if they were a league team that has to worry about revenue and percentage of revenue and the like. That’s the wrong approach for either to take.

But here we’re talking about the NBA and the WNBA. And so, here, revenue matters. There is no way that the starting rookie salary for the WNBA could be $4 million because the revenue is not there to pay that much. An admittedly conservative estimate of the WNBA revenue is $60 million. 12 teams times 11 players at the $4 million minimum would be, in and of itself, $528 million. If we assumed that only big stars would get that to start — or at all — and posited an average of $1 million per player, that’s still $132 million or twice as much as the revenue taken in. And, remember, that’s revenue not profit. There might be one or two WNBA teams that actually make some profit at the existing salaries, but all of them would be deeply underwater if the salaries increased to anything near what that rookie NBA player would get.

This is why the smarter arguments — like the one linked above — focus on percentage of revenue rather than on absolute dollars. This, of course, has its own issues — fixed costs will take up a greater percentage of the revenue the less revenue you have — but it at least takes the vast revenue differences into account. The commercial, however, simply tosses out the dollar amounts as if that’s supposed to get us to see how unfair this all is. But an average salary of $100,000 is $13 million, which is a significant amount of the revenue — it’s actually close to what the article above claims is already the case, being slightly higher — which is far, far less than that rookie salary, and yet as it’s slightly higher than what is being paid today it would still result in most of the WNBA teams not making any profits. Going any higher, then, would likely simply push the teams under water. The article linked above wants the salary cap to go to 50% of revenue, which would represent an average salary of about $220,000 a season. That’s about as high as you can fairly go given revenue, and yet it’s still dramatically lower than the NBA rookie salary and — as this wouldn’t bring in more revenue on its own — would result in each team having to eat $1.4 million dollars in additional losses when, again, most of them don’t make profits now. An even split of revenue seems a dicey prospect, let alone trying to pay anything like equivalent salaries for the NBA and the WNBA.

Look, you can’t just look at the men’s and women’s pay and say that they should be paid exactly the same. You have to take the context into account, or else you make really stupid arguments. I sense a lot of stupid arguments in this commercial.

Sports in the Summer

June 27, 2019

So, with the curling season ended, it was time for me to switch to my summer sports watching mode. For the most part, this consists of baseball. Lots and lots of baseball. Except this year, where outside of hit and miss watching of the hockey playoffs and the Women’s World Cup of Soccer I haven’t really watched any sports at all, and hardly ever actually watch baseball. So why am I not watching baseball this summer when, usually, I’m watching it constantly?

The first reason is the schedule. A lot of the Saturday games start at 4 pm here and for the most part I have other things to do at that time. That’s not when I’m settling in to eat and want to watch something while I’m eating, but is instead when I’m getting moving again to do dishes or laundry or other things. Plus, it starts to overlap with my weekend evening watching which is generally more important to me than the baseball game.

Which leads into the second reason, which is my accomplishment kick. Even while eating, it pays off more to watch an episode or two of Enterprise than to watch the baseball game, or even to watch a movie instead. After that, there are things that I want to do and at that point I only need something on for noise, which, yes, often is the baseball game, but just as often I’ll have other sports things or something else on. And when I finish, it’s almost always time to go back to Enterprise or something like it instead of watching the end of the baseball game.

Which also leads to the third reason: the team that I watch, the Toronto Blue Jays, aren’t a very good team this year. They’re at the start of a rebuild and giving younger players a chance to play, which means that they lose a lot of games and — due to issues with their starting pitching combined with struggles with their offense — often lose them going away, with the game pretty much over by the late innings. That really doesn’t encourage me to take the time to watch their games or finish the game when there are so many other things that I could watch or do. I still cheer for them, but combined with the first two reasons — especially the second — it’s just more productive for me to watch other things than their games.

So, the trend from late last summer of not watching baseball as much has carried over to this summer. Hopefully, the Blue Jays will get back into at least somewhat contending and I’ll catch up on everything else so that the trend won’t continue.

Ranathawn Diary: Risha

June 26, 2019

After braving the criminal element of Coruscant, I found out where my ship was and used judicious threats to reclaim it [Finally! – Galen]. But it came with a bonus: some really odd items and one of Skavak’s latest companions (not in that sense), a woman named Risha.

Now, you’d think that I would have shoved her off the ship immediately, even if we weren’t actually docked at a spaceport at the time. After all, anyone who would associate with Skavak willingly can’t be trusted, right? But that would include Corso and myself. So, given that Skavak has been pretty good at convincing people that he’s willing to help and work with them only to betray them later, I figured it was worth seeing what story she could spin to convince me that it was worth going along with whatever plan she had had with Skavak instead of just kicking her off and going back to my mission.

And her plan was a doozy.

It seems that she had a map or information about a long-lost treasure, and with Skavak had been gathering up a number of things that she needed to get the other things that she needed to be able to finally track it down. Now that Skavak was out of the picture, she was completely and totally willing to work with me instead. All she’d cared about was getting to the treasure, not who her partner was. Given that I’m far less likely to betray her than Skavak is, she even comes ahead on the deal.

As for me, I agreed. After all, I’m here to educate myself on the details of the Republic, and running these errands around to various planets seems like a pretty good way to do that. It also, again, gives me a good excuse to be running around to various planets and poking my nose into things. So, in terms of my mission, it’s a pretty good framing device around which I can build my mission.

And, besides, I’ve always wanted to hunt for hidden treasure …

I’ve Decided …

June 25, 2019

… to play the AD&D Gold Box games next, starting with Pool of Radiance.

As usual, I had a detailed thought process when trying to settle this. First, I listed out all of the categories of games that I wanted to play, which were: Adventure games (Spellcasting, Leisure Suit Larry, Rise of the Dragon and others), Strategy Games (a big list here), Small RPGs, which included the Gold Box AD&D games, Bigger RPGs (Bloodlines, Fallouts, and so on) and finally Hidden Object games (I bought a big collection of these at Staples a while back and have installed some of them but haven’t really played any of them). I ditched the last category pretty quickly, as I have tons of other things to do if I just wanted something to do for an hour or so.

Now, knowing that I’d have about two days of about three hours apiece to play games, I started assessing the categories. I’m still on an accomplishment kick, so that was important, but I also wanted to have fun playing the games. So, the adventure games would allow me to finish more games … but they were also the least interesting as they had limited role-playing potential and the way I play would end up almost being just games that I walk through as if following the story. Strategy games, on the other hand, wouldn’t be things that I’d formally finish, but they’d be fun and easily the most flexible, as I’d be able to make progress even if I only had an hour. Big RPGs would be the deepest and so potentially the most fun, but I’d have to play for the full time to make progress and would only be able to finish one or so between now and the end of the year. Small RPGs kinda split the difference, as they are small enough to be finished but big enough to have more to them.

I eliminated Big RPGs next. I want to play some console games when I go on my two remaining vacations, and plan on redoing my schedule in January, so I might be able to get through one of them in that time and would want to play them during my vacation if I was playing one of them. So that didn’t make sense.

So, it came down to the category that was the best for my sense of accomplishment vs the category that was the most flexible vs the category that kinda did a little bit of everything. So, then, it came down to the games. And of the games on the lists, the games that I most wanted to play and finish were the Gold Box AD&D games. So, finally, that was what I went with. We’ll see how well that works out.

The List — Year 8

June 24, 2019

This is the eighth year of my list of games to finish. This year was not a particularly good year for games for me, but as I updated it recently I did finish a few. So let’s see how it compares to last year.

So, I now have finished 31 of the 56 that I have listed. That’s a 55% completion rate. Against the total, that’s a 42% completion rate. That’s slightly up from last year. But, again, in real terms, I’ve finished another four games: Persona, Sunrider Academy, Monster Prom, and Spellcasting 101. I did replay a number of games this year — Persona 3, Dragon Age (multiple characters), and Dragon Age 2 which obviously cut into my playing time, and had a cup of coffee in a couple of others — Hearts of Iron, Alpha Centauri, and Cultist Simulator — some of which I still intend to play and finish at some point this year (but not right now). Despite video games being a huge disappointment to me in terms of my goal of accomplishing things, I still did make some progress. I’ll have to see how my new schedule works out when I finally get a chance to get into it.

Sarkeesian on the 2019 E3 Representation

June 21, 2019

I’ve talked about them before, but Anita Sarkeesian has done another analysis of the representation of women at E3 shortly after dissolving “Feminist Frequency” as a non-profit and for the most part stopping doing videos. I’m not going to talk much about the latter — at least not here — but I do want to talk about the E3 analysis because this year the analysis is quite telling.

The first thing she points out is that she’s been doing this since 2015 and not much has changed. If 2015, the number of games that had only a female protagonist was 9 percent, and this year the number of games that had only a female protagonist was 5 percent. However, from the numbers, the percentage of games that only had a male protagonist also dropped, from 32 percent in 2015 to 21 percent in 2019. The big gain — and this has been consistent over those 5 years — has been for player choice, as the “multiple options” category has leaped from 46 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2019. So, game companies seem to have decided to be more inclusive by letting players play what they want to play more often. Thus, if women want to play as women in a game they have the option to do so and so aren’t forced to play as a male character. This seems like a good move.

So, of course, Sarkeesian doesn’t like it:

It’s true that the number of games in which you either control characters of different genders or get to choose the gender of your hero character significantly outstrip those with established male or female protagonists. And of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one. However, it’s fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character. A male player who is more comfortable with experiences that center men can and will simply play as men in games that offer him the choice. On the other hand, every player who comes to a game such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood must step into the shoes of a female character in order to play.

Why this is interesting is that the typical rationale — even from Sarkeesian — for including female protagonists was always so that women could play as the character they identify with instead of always having to play as a male character, often accompanied by comments that since women had so often had to play games with a male protagonist men could do the same. Allowing the choice of protagonist seems to do just that while allowing men who have difficulty identifying with characters that are not like them the ability to still enjoy the game by simply selecting the male protagonist. But, here, Sarkeesian makes it abundantly clear that that isn’t her goal. She doesn’t want and here seems uninterested in allowing women to play as women in a game. No, here, it’s all about forcing me to play as women and thus be forced to identify with them or participate in narratives that center women. In short, Sarkeesian wants to force male players to play as female characters for some reason. Assuming that she’d accept that not all games will be female-protagonist-only, I fail to see how raising that percentage will achieve that goal. After all, men will still have the option to forgo experiencing things from the female perspective, only instead of simply creating the character they prefer and going on to play a good game, they will instead simply decide to forgo those games themselves. Any male player who is comfortable enough with playing from the female perspective to buy and play a game that only has a female protagonist is also likely to choose to play as a female character at least some of the time if given the choice. And men who aren’t comfortable with that are more likely to just not play the game than to buy it and play it regardless.

This puts this analysis in sharp perspective: Sarkeesian is not overly interested in ensuring that women — and potentially other minorities — can play as a character they identify with, but is instead more interested in ensuring that the supposed dominant group is forced to identify with the supposed oppressed group. She isn’t as clear on why that is … but we can probably guess (although I won’t here).

She also says something odd about RPGs earlier in the article:

(When you consider that we place role-playing games in which you control a party of heroes in our “multiple options” category, the numbers are even more dire, since a significant number of these games, including the Final Fantasy VII remake, Final Fantasy VIII, Dragon Quest XI, The Last Remnant Remastered, and others, clearly center male heroes.)

Note that three out of those four games are, in fact, remakes from much earlier times, and so wouldn’t make a good comparison regardless as they would have been made before things started changing, and again unless Sarkeesian wants to make all games female-centered remaking classic games that were male-centered would seem reasonable (she could complain that they weren’t remaking and remastering games that were female-centered if she ever acknowledged that such games existed in any meaningful form). Also, if she counted those party-based RPGs as multiple options, how come she’s always had so much trouble finding female characters to talk about, and has never mentioned the Persona games?

I’m not going to talk about the ratio of male to female presenters, so let me finish with the comments on violence again:

Finally, a note on combat and violence in games. During Ubisoft’s presentation, a trailer for their upcoming game, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, featured actor Jon Bernthal utter the line, “The only test of a man’s worth is battle,” unwittingly distilling what seems to be a widespread perception among both players and game designers. This year, of the 126 games we surveyed, 107 featured combat of some form as a gameplay mechanic, while only 19 games, or about 15 percent, did not. Of course, not all combat is the same: the endearing sword-swinging of Link in Nintendo’s adorable upcoming remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a far cry from the grisly demon-slaying of Doom: Eternal. However, we believe that there remains a vast range of unexplored potential for games as a medium, and continue to advocate for a greater percentage of games that explore the possibilities of nonviolent gameplay mechanics.

As usual, this suffers from vagueness as well as an inability to take those games and come up with suggestions for replacement mechanics. Here, she at least tries to distinguish the types of violence and combat but doesn’t give a criteria for that or why one is harmful and one isn’t or is less harmful. I’d like to see different game mechanics because, well, they’re different, but for example I can’t tell whether Catherine’s gameplay mechanic would count as violent or non-violent from what she’s said in the past and she rarely if ever gives examples of what would count so I have no idea what she wants. And if I don’t know, likely neither does anyone else, so if she wants her articles to have an impact on gaming she probably needs to flesh that out a bit.

Musings on Climate Change

June 20, 2019

Watch as I attempt to offend every single possible reader by talking about the controversial topic of climate change!

For a while now, while I wouldn’t say that I was a climate change skeptic I typically didn’t find those most vocally advocating for it all that credible. One of the reasons for that was the constant inconsistency of arguing that when the weather was colder than expected that you can’t use instances of weather to say anything about climate while using a hotter summer than expected as proof that climate change was happening. That was more a case of being deterred by bad arguments. However, another reason I wasn’t quite sold on the whole idea of it was something that I noticed that I hadn’t noticed before. During the day, especially in the winter, I noticed that if it was cloudy or if I was in the shade I was cold, but as soon as the clouds moved away or I walked into the sun I was suddenly quite warm. The difference seemed far more dramatic than it had ever been. I remember on cold days still being cold even in the sun, and yet lately I had been feeling warm. If the sun was warmer than it used to be, that might explain some of the things they were noticing.

What made me a bit more convinced about climate change, however, was what happened last summer and seems to be happening again this summer. We had a very hot summer last year, and one thing I noticed was that overnight the temperatures seemed to not be dropping very much. It just didn’t cool down overnight like I seem to remember it used to. And the theory of climate change says that the main cause of the warming is that the greenhouse gasses stop heat from radiating out into space, trapping it in our atmosphere. So, one big test, it seems to me, would be to measure differences between highs and lows and see if that difference has been decreasing or increasing.

Of course, this winter we had sharp decreases between the highs and lows, so that might work against that idea. And then so far this summer, and the past two days specifically, I’ve noticed the temperature staying relatively high overnight.

So, for me, what I’d like to see from both sides is an analysis of the difference between lows and highs, or an argument showing why that’s not something that should follow from the theory of climate change itself.

Another thing that I’ve mused about is the fact that the focus has been entirely on trying to eliminate our carbon emissions and blaming that for causing this, while very little has been said about deforestation and various other ways we remove plants and replace them with, well, not plants. Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen, and for a long time there were massive deforestation projects in lots of places, especially in the jungles of South America. Since those losses have a clear impact over time, how much are they contributing to the problem?

Also, for a long time people have been saying that climate change is happening and no matter what we do the temperature is going to rise by something like 2 degrees. If this is the case, then should we be putting more money into dealing with the impact of climate change rather than desperate measures to reduce our carbon footprint?

As a Canadian, I’m also very amused by the harping on us reducing our emissions, even to the extent of using specific issues in Canada as reasons to think that Canada is particularly bad for emissions (the smarter ones only imply that it’s a big issue for us, but those who are less smart at least imply that changes happening faster than we expected mean that we need to accelerate our plans to reduce emissions). The problem with this is that emissions are global and not specific to a country, and Canada actually produces an absolutely minuscule percentage of the global emissions. Canada could reduce all of its emissions to 0 and it wouldn’t even make a dent in the global carbon emissions. If the United States, China, Russia and India don’t reduce their emissions, nothing that we do will make a lick of difference.

Also, Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax plan, as implemented, is a bad idea. What he generally did was tax the companies and then give at least a portion of that back to the consumers. What this does is encourage the companies to pass the tax on to consumers — which they’d do anyway — but in theory would make consumers less upset at the price hikes because they’re getting that back in taxes. The only way that taxing companies will get them to reduce emissions is if they can’t pass the costs on to consumers or if they tick off consumers if they try. Trudeau’s plan essentially reduces consumer anger which eliminates one of the main motivations for companies to play along. It’s almost as if political concerns were more important to him than actually reducing emissions … which, given how limited an impact Canada reaching its targets will have on carbon emissions, actually makes sense.

Ranathawn Diary: The Lesser Criminals

June 19, 2019

The next destination in my quest to get my lovely, lovely ship back [That’s better – Galen] was Coruscant, the seat of the Republic and a planet that had been recently raided by the Imperials, which of course had everyone on edge. I decided that I’d try to avoid the main criminal element on Coruscant, and so stayed completely clear of the Senate and Senate buildings. Instead, I delved into the lower areas where all I would have to face were the usual criminal gangs and the like.

While down there, I discovered that one of the gangs was booby trapping boxes of supplies while enticing refugees to try to take them. When they did so, the boxes would explode, presumably to the amusement of the gang members themselves. This is, of course, a completely disgusting way to abuse power and position to gain amusement at the expense of the lives of innocent people, and doing so makes them slightly less stupid than most Sith.

See, many of the Sith will go the same sorts of pointlessly sadistic things, but the gangs tend to at least be honest about their motivations: they like hurting and killing people and can do it, so they do. The Sith tend to wrap their sadism in philosophies of “survival of the fittest” and “develop strength and cull the weak” when, really, all they want to do is use their Force and political power to satisfy their sadistic desires. As such, the criminal gangs can actually convert these people by showing them how stupid they are, but it’s a lot harder to do that when you have to wind your way through a massively developed philosophy designed to allow sadistic Sith to rationalize their sadism as being for the good of the Empire and/or themselves.

This is why the rare smart Sith, like Ji’ark or Galen, end up gaining power so quickly as long as they aren’t naive and are prepared to respond with proper brutality when required. You can’t be nice and be a Sith, but you don’t have to be sadistic to be a Sith. If you build your entire image around the idea that you’ll harshly punish anyone who crosses you but will be totally fair to those who are fair to you, you end up being able to recruit those who just want a fair break and, given how unlikely fair treatment is among other Sith, will be able to command their loyalty in a way that few others could, but also will be able to keep those who are only loyal out of fear in line as well. In fact, usually you can do that last one better, as you can let them know not only exactly what you’ll do to them if they betray you, but also precisely what counts as a betrayal so they aren’t guessing at when they can be self-interested and when they have to make sure they toe the party line. It’s relatively easy to gain power this way, again, as long as you are strong and brutal enough to deal with any of the stupid sadists that want your power.

It’s not a good way to live, but it’s surprising how effective that can be in a system that’s built around brutality as much as the Sith Empire is.

Final Thoughts on “Star Trek: Voyager”

June 18, 2019

So, I managed to finish watching all seven seasons of “Star Trek: Voyager”. And I think my original assessment of it pretty much stands: it’s no where near as bad as Chuck Sonnenberg makes it out to be, but it’s not all that great either.

I agree with Chuck that the biggest problem with the show is how it squanders its potential. The show often came up with some ideas that had a lot of potential, and especially after season 4 and into season 5 the actors really did seem to have their characters down pat, but these were all hampered by the rather idiotic and nonsensical plots that it attempted. Add in the issue that there hadn’t been sufficient character development for most of the cast up until that point and I found myself in an episode early in season 5 thinking that Torres, Paris and Seven were all nailing their characters in character development scenes and yet I just didn’t care about them. And I think that this is in part responsible for the reaction of some fans that Seven of Nine was taking over the show, as while she did get shoehorned into situations at times — there was one end scene where she and Janeway talk about the lessons learned from an episode that Seven was only tangentially involved in and where there wasn’t really anything for her to learn, which definitely seemed like pandering — it seems to me that all that happened was that she actually got some character development while the other characters got little if any, so it seemed like they were focusing on her when, in reality, she was just getting the character development time that a new character to the show at a later stage should get — see Worf in “Way of the Warrior” on Deep Space 9 — and it only seemed so extravagant because no one else had gotten that sort of development in the previous four seasons.

And then when they started hitting their stride with the characters, they ran out of ideas, making the plots even more stupid and boring and overwhelming the great character performances. I think that overall the acting in Voyager is as good as if not superior to that of any other Star Trek series. As an example, Naomi Wildman comes across as a bit of a Wesley Crusher-type character, with her excessive genius and ambition. But the actress has such charisma that I found I didn’t mind it that much and found her likable regardless, until she approved. Piccardo does an excellent job with the Doctor, and after being an overly angry Borg — Borg are more emotionless and Ryan portrayed Seven as constantly hostile and aggressive — Jeri Ryan does a good job playing the changing Seven of Nine. As I said, Dawson in the later seasons nails Torres. While Chuck — somewhat rightly — criticizes some of the performances, especially early, by the end there are less odd tics and mannerisms that we see on any other series. The actors did their jobs but the writers didn’t manage to do theirs.

What this results in is a show that’s watchable and even mildly entertaining while being bland and mediocre. We can see this by comparing Voyager to the other series. “Scorpion” can be seen as being Voyager’s version of “Best of Both Worlds” (major Borg two-parter) and “Way of the Warrior” (introducing a new character to shake up the status quo). And while “Scorpion” probably is among if not the best of Voyager, it’s not all that great. It’s okay. It’s kinda fun. But it’s not a classic like “Best of Both Worlds” nor does it really have the character oomph of “Way of the Warrior”. It does its job and that’s about the best that can be said for it. That’s fine for average episodes — even if that had been the extent of “Way of the Warrior” that would have been fine — but that’s hardly what you want to say about one of the best episodes in the entire series.

One of the issues they had, as I noted in my first post on the subject, is that Janeway was presented as being rather aggressive and tough but when Mulgrew tried to pull that off she came across as posturing most of the time. The show also stumbled in that the potential clash between Starfleet and the Maquis never really came up at all. I think that both issues have similar origins: a fear of making the first female captain look weak and a lack of creativity in the writing staff. To be fair, the Maquis subplot didn’t lend itself as easily to conflict as, say, a mixed crew of Cardassians and Starfleet would because there was no real existential hate between the two sides. They weren’t enemies, but were two groups who might have had a disagreement over how to handle a specific situation, with varying emotions on both sides. But there still was potential for some conflict there. First, the big area of conflict between them was in the fact that you had a significant part of the crew who didn’t see things the same way as the typical Starfleet view, including their views on leadership. It would certainly have been a reasonable conflict to think that some of them might think that Janeway wasn’t a good leader and that Chakotay would be a better captain. Most importantly, this was a clash that you didn’t need to split down the Starfleet/Maquis divide. It’s quite reasonable to think that even some of his crew didn’t think that Chakotay was a good leader, but only followed him because he was in charge, and that some of the Starfleet crew might have been willing to think that Chakotay would be a better leader, especially given that he taught tactics at the academy and this was more of a war situation than simple exploration. Second, the Maquis had good reason to distrust governments and their agreements, feeling that the Federation put the interests of the overall Federation — ending a costly war — over their interests in keeping their homes, giving them away just so the Federation could get peace. On the other hand, the Starfleet officers would have a justified distrust of the sorts of black market contacts that the Maquis had had to rely on — Quark, for example, on DS9 — feeling that at least legitimate governments have their own rules that they follow. So this could have been another divide that caused conflict at times.

I think that Janeway’s character should not have been the sort of leader she was presented as. She should have been more of a leader the way people claimed Riker was in TNG: not the distant leader giving orders but the sort of person who was personable and wanted to lead through being liked rather than merely being respected. Voyager had a relatively small crew and had an explicit mission of scientific exploration, and Janeway had a scientific background. Given Beverly Crusher getting command of a medical vessel presumably at least in part because she had such a strong medical background — and passed the command tests — it’s certainly reasonable to have Janeway become captain as much for her scientific abilities as for her command ones, and for her to have a personality that treats the ship more like a lab or university department rather than like a military vessel. So make her personable and someone who was skilled at reading someone and giving them what they needed. This could explain her going to Earth to see Tom Paris instead of having him brought to DS9 — she wanted him to feel like he was actually wanted as a crew member and not just someone she was dragging along like luggage — and could explain why she would put Torres in charge in engineering instead of Cary, as she reads Torres’ potential despite her hostility. This then could set up the clash in personalities between her and Chakotay that could split the crew: Janeway is more personable and democratic, while Chakotay is more authoritative and commanding. Some Maquis could feel that his taking those stances will get them all killed, while some Starfleet officers might feel that she isn’t experienced or commanding enough to handle this wild frontier, both side arguing from the premise that they can’t get any support out here, and that any mistake is likely to get them killed, not captured. You can argue that my suggesting that Janeway be the personable one and Chakotay the intimidating one is sexism — since there’s no reason that a woman can’t be intimidating — but the advantage is that if you don’t think that Janeway can pull it off — and again she really seemed like she was posturing when she tried — then if she can you can pull that out as a surprise and if she can’t then you have an explanation for why. And note that I think the same tactic should have been used for Scott Bakula in Enterprise instead of … whatever they did with him.

And these clashes could come out in some of the early episodes. For example, in “Prime Factors” all you’d need is for the official in charge to point out that it goes against their rules but that as this is a special case they’d consider it. Then you have Chakotay set it up with the shadier and underground sources. Then you have the choice: wait for the official word and hope it’s yes, or take the shady contact now. And the ending can support both cases: if they had waited for official sanction, they would have had official help to install it and it would likely have worked, but going through a bureaucracy might have taken months and the answer might have been no anyway … a conundrum that Tuvok could have pointed out without taking sides on the issue, as it would be Chakotay who did it. And these sorts of personality clashes could be a regular feature, culminating in later seasons with them being able to anticipate each others’ objections and even altering the plans in advance to take those into account. By the end of the first season, they should at least respect each others’ viewpoints and by the end of the second they should merge into a team that works well together because of their differences.

Instead, we got a Janeway that tried to bully the Caretaker while Chakotay tried to negotiate, and a posturing Janeway, a Janeway that brooked no disobedience. Chuck’s psycho take on her is a lot closer to the reality than anyone should want to admit.

Still, the characters and the work were entertaining enough. It was mediocre, but mediocre isn’t bad. I could watch this series again, and I think that Chuck is a bit too hard on it, likely because he was so disappointed by it.

Now, my normal assessment of these things is “Would I watch it again?”, which as outlined above is a “Yes”. But since I’ve been pondering buying it for a long time and was put off by Chuck’s reviews, I can also ask “Would it have been worth my buying it?”, and I think the answer is indeed still “Yes”. The show is long enough to justify a fair expense for the series, and it’s definitely a series that I was able to get through once and mildly enjoy. Even if I never watched it again, it wouldn’t have been a waste of money to get it. This leads to a follow-up question: “Would it be worth my buying it now?” And the answer, again, I think is “Yes”. This is definitely a series that I could see myself watching again, and the streaming service I have was missing a few episodes, including “The Thaw”, one of Chuck’s favourites. So I’m likely to watch it again and it’s long enough to justify the cost. So I think I’ll start looking around for it at some point and add it to my collection.

I’ve already started watching “Enterprise”. I … don’t think it will get the same treatment.

Thoughts on “Fahrenheit 451”

June 17, 2019

Unlike when I read “Watership Down”, I remembered nothing about “Fahrenheit 451”. Okay, okay, I recognized that Guy Montag was the name of the main character, but that’s about it. I didn’t remember any of the other characters or even the plot points. It was pretty much like reading a book for the first time, other than my knowing that I had read it before.

The first thing that struck me about the book was how evocative it was. It starts with a description of the main character going about his business as a fireman — which, in this book, means that he burns books as all of the houses are fireproof — with a glee and zest for the work that’s quite impressive. The way it’s written is such that we really feel that we are seeing his inner thoughts and that this is who he really is. This sort of descriptiveness carries on for the rest of the work, but what’s unfortunate is that this event doesn’t really play out for the rest of the book. We don’t see Montag gradually move away from being a dedicated fireman to questioning the idea of it to rebelling. He seems to be at least somewhat of a rebel from the start, and might well have been much more of a rebel than he seemed at the beginning (one or two books) the entire time. So the initial euphoric reaction to book burning drops out pretty quickly, making it an evocative but ultimately somewhat pointless scene.

That’s a common failing in the book, it seems to me. What’s really interesting about it is the backstory and how that produced the world we have, as well as the details of the world. What isn’t interesting are, in fact, the details of Guy Montag’s story and how he goes about joining with those who preserve books. In short, the action scenes and the main plot aren’t all that interesting, but the world that Bradbury creates is interesting. Thus, when the book gets around to moving the plot and doing the action the book gets dull, and when it stops to dump exposition on us that’s when it’s the most interesting. That’s not normally how books work.

The book strikes me as being similar in style and tone to “The Status Civilization”, except Sheckley’s action scenes are more interesting, and Bradbury’s exposition is a little better done and so seems less artificial. I prefer “The Status Civilization”, however.

Ultimately, there’s a reason the book is a classic, as the evocative writing and the excellent worldbuilding make it well worth reading even if the plot and action are a little weak. I’m not likely to rush to read it again, but it’s certainly going to be an option at some point in the future.