Archive for August, 2020

Thoughts on the Sport Shutdown

August 31, 2020

So, here’s a case where I’d probably get myself in trouble if anyone, you know, actually read this blog, or at least anyone who would care enough to try to get me in trouble over what I say on it. Because in my opinion the sports shutdown was an event that’s being portrayed as heroic but was instead an utterly meaningless gesture. I have some widely varying thoughts on this so this post might be a little disorganized.

Anyway, let’s start with a short description. A number of the major sports postponed some of their games for a couple of days in the middle of the week, at the instigation of the players and, particularly, the players in the NBA. This was done in reaction to the Jacob Blake shooting by police in Kenosha. The first thing that’s striking about this to me is that the reason for the shutdown isn’t exactly clear, from even my brief listening to the discussions on sports highlight shows. The reason most highlighted by sports media is that the players wanted to use their platform to push for change. And yet a number of players gave a different reason, which is that they themselves were having a difficult time focusing on sports when that had happened and all of the things around that were happening. I suspect that the reasons are interconnected, which explains what the players chose to do: the players, especially those closest to the issues, were hearing about the events and wanted to do something about them, and so let those emotions push them into the dramatic actions of threatening to and striking over them. As the emotions were dominant, this would explain a lot about how it all came about and the reactions of them and others to the leagues and people who didn’t really want to participate.

The issue is that this was not a particularly well-conceived or planned event, which is par for the course for events driven more by emotion than by sober thought. For starters, no one believed that the players were going to shut down the playoffs or the season for this protest, especially since they had just started up again when the lockdowns were starting to get lifted. I was actually somewhat impressed when the Lakers and Clippers threatened to leave over these things, but in hindsight they probably weren’t actually going to do that. And for good reason, since shutting down sports likely wouldn’t have had the response they were going for. Shutting down for a couple of days causes as much headaches for the leagues as rained out games and even long overtimes have done, and is often what happens between rounds of the playoffs. So that is a minor concern at best for the fans, and shutting down longer returns sports to the case we already had, with there being no live sports on because of the pandemic. In any other year, shutting down would certainly draw the attention of sports fans, but this year the fans had already had to spend a lot of time without sports. Most of them, then, already knew how to handle life without sports, so it wouldn’t have the impact that they would have wanted it to. And those fans who really couldn’t live without sports might well be angry of them being taken away again, and so would not be that amenable to the cause that spawned the second shutdown unless they already supported the cause, at which point they aren’t the audience the shutdown would need to reach. So it starts to come across as the players feeling that they needed to do something, this was something, and so they did it.

This spontaneous action also royally screwed over the NHL. The NHL didn’t have the ground swell of players demanding something like this, and while people have griped that it is because the NHL is white-dominated it is more likely that it is Canadian and European dominated. As most of players — 75% I’m told — are not from the U.S., and because the games are being played in Canada, most of them were getting their news from Canadian and European news sources which would cover the events but in a way that would make them seem less immediate. They also wouldn’t be as attached to events in the U.S. as NBA players would. And in their countries the racism and police violence situation is better — not perfect — and so it wouldn’t be as big an issue for them. So the players wouldn’t feel that strong desire to do something, anything about it, and the NHL couldn’t have made a move like this without the players being on board even if they wanted to. Add in that the NBA case was last minute and was done without a strong attempt, at least, to co-ordinate with the other leagues and the NHL got roasted in the sports media for not doing something that they couldn’t have had any idea that it would be good for them to do until it was too late. Remember, on that first day — the Wednesday, I believe — as far as I can recall they had already played a game and were definitely preparing for their second, so it was a bit too late to poll the players and make a call once it looked like this was going to be a thing.

(And it’s also odd that the NHL, at least in Canada, got such a strong reaction when baseball, as far as I can tell from the highlights, never shut down completely, despite having a much closer connection to the issue).

I think it would have been better for the NHL, instead of shutting down for the next two days and looking like they were just following along with what had already been done, had simply stood up and said “We missed the boat on this spontaneous action, but these issues are not issues that will be fixed in a couple of days. They will be on-going. So instead of joining this action too late to have any real impact, we’re going to talk to the players and the other leagues and look at doing something coordinated in the next few weeks to really use our platforms to get the message out”. This likely wouldn’t have satisfied most of the people nagging at them, but it would have been better than the solution that no one liked, where their attempts to follow the crowd annoyed those who weren’t sure that this was something worth doing and that they did it too late annoyed those who wanted them to do it in the first place. They really couldn’t win, but at least they could have looked like their own league.

Especially since, as noted above, this approach was flawed from the outset. If they really wanted to use their platform to get the message out, what they should have done was stopped, taken their time, and come up with a coordinated approach across all the leagues in a show of solidarity. First, they should have shut down on the weekend, not during the week, because the weekend is when more people pay attention to sports. Second, what they should have done was taken those days, in conjunction with the sports networks, to run programming in the times when the games would have been played that was aimed at getting out … whatever message it was that they wanted to get out. Yes, it was a short period of time, but sports networks are even better than news networks at putting together interviews and features in a short period of time. On top of that, most of the major sports networks have associations with news outlets anyway and so could have brought in those people and likely features they already had to get the message out. That would have really been using their platform to get the message out, and that people who have money and people to work PR for them — like their agents — couldn’t think of that when it took me about an hour after hearing about it for the first time (I thought of it on my morning walk) is a bit puzzling.

Also, that they needed to shut down games to use their platform is also odd. If someone like Lebron James wanted to talk about these issues, all he needed to do was call up a major American network and say that he wanted to talk about it and they would have paid attention. All of the big stars in the major sports could have done that. So they would have needed to do something for sports specifically or aimed at those fans, but as far as I can tell no one is really trying to determine if doing this will have an effect on reaching that audience. With a shutdown like this, we can presume that the people who agreed with the message already liked it, and those who didn’t hated the action. So they’d be trying to reach the people who aren’t really decided yet, not unsympathetic to the cause but uncertain about all of those aspects. Those in that group who are casual sports fans — like myself — probably mostly ignored it and went to find something else to do. Those who were more dedicated sports fans were probably much more upset at the loss of the thing that they really loved. But would they be more upset at the conditions that “forced” this move … or at those who shut things down unnecessarily, in their eyes? We don’t know, and more distressingly those advocating for this don’t seem to want to know. Instead of gauging people’s reactions to this, most of those kept insisting that people should be bothered by this and should consider it historic and as a great move to combat these problems. Dan O’Toole from the Jay and Dan show waxed semi-eloquently about how if this is bothering you, you should answer the question of what they should have done instead, listing other things that have been done that people complained about. Naomi Osaka opined that if people were uncomfortable it was good because maybe they’d look inside themselves to see why. Both of them and many others were simply presuming the reasons for the discomfort or annoyance and asserting the strong normative statement that you should side with them, without thinking about why some people wouldn’t.

And one of the main issues here is that sports for most people are … escapism. People use sports to escape from all the terrible stuff they see on the news. If they wanted to immerse themselves in these issues and be lectured at about them … well, they’d turn on the news. Instead, they want to put it aside and not think about it for a while. And I can’t see that being something that only or even primarily whites do, because using basic empathy I have to imagine that especially the black-dominated sports like basketball are wonderful escapes for black people, where they can watch black people being judged not by the colour of their skin but instead by how many points they get. So sports, as primarily a vehicle for escapism, are things that people do not want to see get invaded too much by real-world concerns. If they get turned into vehicles for getting the message out, people may well react to what they see as an intrusion that ruins their experience of the game, which is the only reason they watch them in the first place. So we may well be able to answer Osaka with the answer that we are uncomfortable with something that we see as mostly apolitical and neutral getting explicitly turned into something political. We may be able to answer O’Toole by replying that we want the political protests kept out of sports and at least maintain the illusion that all that matters in sports is winning, not the political beliefs of the players. That doesn’t make us bad people. That doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the issues. All it means is that we don’t want people in sports to do the equivalent of arguing about world politics in a code inspection: those issues may be important, but that isn’t the purpose of the code inspection — or sports — and only impedes them.

The other thing the delay would have done would have been to enable them to get experts to talk about the issues and impacts and to come up with a clear message. TSN had Kayla Grey — a relatively new member of their team and one of the few black people on the team — do a lot of talking about this, but it was clear that she didn’t really know all that much about the entire situation. Rod Smith asked her on a number of occasions about what the next steps would be and her reply was always a reiteration of how bad things are with a slight segue into a comment that the question wasn’t one that we could validly ask players since we couldn’t ask them to fix problems they didn’t create (while saying at one point that others and the owners should despite them not creating them either). But if the players are going to take strong actions and try to leverage their platform, it behooves them to come up with a clear and concise message to express with that platform, to get the point across and hopefully to spark the change they want to see. It also behooves them to come up with some clear ways to measure improvement, because this was spawned by a police shooting of a black man, but there was another shooting just a few short months before that, and there will be a shooting again, likely before the year is out. Police officers shoot people. Sometimes, the police are right. Sometimes, the police are wrong. Sometimes, the police are racist. Are they going to feel the need for a shutdown the next time any black person gets shot, even if they are more in the wrong than the police are in that case? Since this is not going to be solved overnight, how can they tell that things are getting better and so they only need to say to trust the process they’ve hopefully initiated, or that things aren’t getting better and they need to take more drastic actions? They don’t know what they want to happen next. They don’t know how they’d tell if things are improving, or even solved. They wanted to do something, and by gum they did something.

But that’s why I say that it’s meaningless. Many people simply ignored the shutdown other than tangentially. Many of the others will forget about it over the next few months, especially once the leagues stop for the year. They got out no clear message. They placed no real pressure on the people in power, especially not more than they were already experiencing. Basically, they did something, but something that is unlikely to lead to any great change over and above what is already happening because, well, they didn’t really do anything but express upset, which everyone pretty much already knew anyway. A better thought out approach would have been far better, in my opinion.

The Music’s Back

August 28, 2020

So I’ve been working from home since March. What I had noticed is that I wasn’t listening to music at all, even while working. There were a few reasons for this. The first was that while I generally listened to music at work to generate noise, at home I tended to do that through the TV since it also gave me something to look at. The second was that to generate that noise I was watching TV shows like Dark Shadows and Smallville, and running them well into the afternoon, so I didn’t have that much time to listen anyway. The third is that setting up music to listen to while working from home was more difficult than it was otherwise, because I had generally listened to music with headphones on from a USB drive but the docking station at work had more slots available than what I have at home, so it would be more of a problem, and I certainly didn’t want to be using headphones while sitting in my office. The fourth is that at the time I didn’t really have any other good way to listen to music, as I didn’t have a place to put my own laptop and my DVD players and consoles didn’t do shuffle that well and my CD player only played one CD at a time (I did do it briefly with a Kylie Minogue CD and the radio, but not for any length of time). And finally, I had left the USB drives that had almost all of my music on them at work, leaving a decent but impoverished selection of music on USB drives at home, reducing me to CDs that I could listen to one at a time.

But recently, things changed.

The first thing that changed was that in July I picked up a replacement laptop and reorganized the room where I work and keep all my computer stuff. I cleared off an old desk that I had and bought a small monitor to put on it. This let me keep one of my own computers there while keeping my work computer on my other desk. It also allowed me to take the two speaker sets that I had for my computers and set one up on each desk. So now I’d have a set-up that could play music even while I was working and had the work computer set up. The second thing is that we had an all-staff meeting and the person handling the facilities for us commented that if we needed anything to just ask, so I asked them to ship my USBs here, meaning that I had pretty much my full set of music back in a form that I could play on the computer. And finally, various sports seasons started up again and had games in the afternoons, which meant that putting on a show and running it until 3 or 4 wasn’t going to work as well since I’d definitely want to stop and watch the hockey game (mostly).

So I’ve ended up with a new routine: in the morning, I watch a few game shows that I want to watch or at least can tolerate watching until they run out (at about 10). Then I boot up my old laptop — which is the one that typically sits on that other desk — and start listening to music from it until some point in the afternoon or evening, at which point I stop and usually watch DS9. This sometimes even carries on through the weekend, although less so because I spend less time simply sitting at a computer on the weekend and so TV works a lot better (there are more cases where I really want to stop and look at things).

So I’ve gone from almost never listening to music to listening to it pretty much every time, and enjoying it. How quickly things can completely change for me.

Thoughts on “The Shed”

August 27, 2020

So, last week I said that when talking about this week’s movie I was going to say more about modern horror movies seeming like they were adding the trappings instead of doing anything with them or even understanding what those elements brought to a horror movie in the first place. The reason I want to talk about it more here is that the construction of “The Shed” is such that it seems to hit this at pretty much every single stage of the movie, in every area. None is spared.

But let me build out the context of the movie to try to highlight this. “The Shed” is a vampire movie, essentially. And yet, from inside the movie itself you couldn’t really tell that it is, in fact, a vampire movie. The only place that I can recall that uses the term “vampire” is … the back of the box. Otherwise, it isn’t mentioned. The monsters in the movie have the qualities of vampires — including the weakness to light and the ability and desire to convert others to vampires, as well as a desire for blood, and so on — but are never actually called that. The heroes don’t go out and investigate and discover that these are vampires. They don’t mention that the creature is probably a vampire. Instead, at the end they prepare for the creatures as if they are vampires, but there’s nothing given in the movie to show how they know that those are the ways to prepare for them. The movie on the one hand wants the creature to be familiar enough so that we should expect everyone — even in-universe — to be able to get that its a vampire but then wants to build the context so that it actually isn’t clear how anyone — even the audience — is supposed to know that, other than “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck!”.

And that’s just the monster. We also have a number of personal relations that fit the same pattern. The back of the box makes a point about the protagonists having been bullied and while the movie does bring that up, it doesn’t actually do anything with it other than the one wanting to use the vampire to get revenge on the bullies, with a plan that makes absolutely no sense as after getting it to kill one of them, he frees the vampire to … somehow use an unstoppable killing machine to hurt others without it possibly killing him? If this monster was the classic vampire, there could have been a negotiation that the vampire could have reneged on, but there the vampire — at least originally — seems mindless for the most part, and it’s only later that we have vampires that seem to be at least somewhat in control of themselves. Again, this happens for … no real reason that is explained, because the movie doesn’t want to explain that. So all we get from the bully plot is a bunch of people to turn into vampires and a reason to hate the friend. Not exactly interesting.

And then there’s the traditional “protagonist with tragic past and abusive caregiver” line. There might be some hint that his parents were killed by a creature like this, but that’s not used to either give him a revenge motive or as an explanation for how he knows how to deal with them. And I believe it is his uncle who takes him in and is mostly abusive, but the uncle is killed off early and none of that is used for anything, other than that he doesn’t want to say that his uncle is dead — and so can’t report the monster — for fear of being put back into the foster care system even though that would only be for a few months. He doesn’t get to kill a vampirized uncle out of revenge. The uncle doesn’t make a heroic sacrifice to save him, redeeming himself even slightly. The vampire — his friend, at this point — doesn’t taunt him with the same words in a way that either gets him to do something stupid or pick himself up off the floor to kill him. It’s there because, I guess, the guy has to have a bad life or has to have an abusive parent because that’s what’s done.

There’s also a love interest. The movie starts with her having moved on to a new group but with the two of them still liking each other. I’m sure it will surprise no one at this point that again nothing is really done with this. He doesn’t have to save her which redeems him in her eyes. She doesn’t change from someone angry at him or dismissive of him into respecting him more, since it’s clear from the beginning that she likes him. They don’t reconnect over the danger (they reconnect before the two of them are threatened together). We never find out what separated them and so never seem them reconnecting and resolving that. Again, it comes across as the writers deciding that they needed that sort of characterization and just writing it in without understanding what it would do for the work.

However, she does get a scene where she gets stabbed by a thrown knife and then stands up and heroically kills the vampire with it, and then stands over the male lead in a dramatic and heroic pose. So there’s that, at least, although again there was no real hint that she was or considered herself powerless, so it doesn’t really add any real characterization to the movie and again seems like something thrown in so that the female lead can look powerful. I would have much rathered she strike that pose … and then collapse from the pain and blood loss she was feeling, as that would have worked better and actually fit in better with the semi-serious tone of the movie.

So, after this, I was wondering why in the world this seems to be so common in modern horror movies, and even in modern movies themselves. I’ve already mentioned this in last week’s horror movie, but I also felt the same way about the “Get Smart” movie — it hit the memes but didn’t understand what made the series good — and “The Force Awakens”. That she didn’t get how the “Damsel in Distress” role was used in media was my biggest criticism of Anita Sarkeesian’s analysis of the trope. I really am starting to feel that a lot of modern movies are like cargo cults to the classic tropes and elements: they ape the form, but not the substance, and that’s why they fail. I’m sure there are lots of works that don’t, but too many are hitting this for me, and it seems like more than there used to be.

I wonder if the issue might be the fact that more and more writers are going through college and university writing programs than in the past (since they didn’t exist). Now, I’m not going to go and look up how many of these writers have done that, as I’m just spitballing here, but it seems to me that these sorts of things are exactly what would happen if you learn the writer’s craft through formal programs that focus on teaching people the elements of writing rather than by focusing on writing. The main criticism of formal college programs for more practical pursuits — like, say, auto mechanics — is that you’ll get a nice checklist of what to do to fix a car but won’t get the practical and hands-on experience you need to deal with things outside of the checklist. By learning what elements tend to make for a “good” horror movie, writers tempted to make one — or hired to write one and need the money — might well simply grab the elements, stick them together into a movie, and say that they’re done and it all works. But what a more focused writing course would do is teach the elements and get people to play around with them, to know what works and what doesn’t work, and when and how to subvert them. A horror movie that contains those elements is not necessarily a good horror movie if those elements aren’t used properly, and formal education — even, for example, in early philosophy courses — tends to focus on being able to identify the elements as opposed to being able to use and not use them effectively in all cases.

On the other hand, Sara Shepard, the author of the “Pretty Little Liars” books, actually has formal education in writing, and didn’t seem to me to fall into this trap. Then again, I’m not a big fan of young adult works and so it’s entirely possible that she has and I just never noticed.

Anyway, “The Shed” is pretty much the ur-example of that type of work, with the elements being there just to be elements and that never get paid off or add anything to the work itself. Again, it’s easy to identify all of the myriad elements — and I’ve probably left some out — but impossible to determine what those elements were supposed to be adding other than to just be there because they’re supposed to be. I will not watch this movie again.

What is my favourite Star Trek show?

August 26, 2020

So, I’m rewatching DS9, and while doing so I noted that I had pretty much watched all of the live action TV series, and started wondering if I could decide which of them was my favourite. And since my mind just will not turn off no matter how much I wanted it to, I started working out which of them was my favourite. And since the blog needs content and exists to get me to stop thinking about things, I decided to make a post about it.

So, we can eliminate off the bat “Picard” and “Discovery”. “Picard” is only one season long and so it isn’t fair to compare it to longer and more complete series. Plus, I didn’t care for it. And “Discovery” is pretty much the same. So those two are out. And since I commented that I thought that Chuck Sonnenberg might have been too easy on “Enterprise”, that one’s not a contender either.

Now, “Voyager” is where it starts to get interesting. I liked “Voyager” better than Chuck did and think he was at times too hard on the show. But the reaction I had to it was that it was flawed but mildly entertaining most of the time. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. If that was the highest praise I could give a Star Trek show, I would have never watched “Voyager” in the first place because I just wouldn’t have liked Star Trek enough to bother. So that one’s out.

That leaves TOS, TNG and DS9. As I’ve commented before, whenever I watch TOS or DS9, I’m always impressed by how good they are. I don’t get that for TNG. Instead, I get the much more backhanded impression that the show wasn’t as bad as I remembered it to be. That’s pretty much damning it with faint praise. I like the show, but it just can’t compare to shows that impress me with their quality when all it does is impress me by being not as bad as I thought it was.

So that leaves TOS and DS9. TOS, overall, is probably the better show. The plots, characters and actors, to me, just work better, and there’s a real and genuine chemistry among the crew that carries over the movies and is just wonderful to watch. And yet, there’s no real growth or evolution there. There are no plot or character or even world arcs. Nothing changes. No one changes. They just go out and do the same things from episode to episode. Sometimes it’s clunky, but usually it works really, really well, and yet there’s nothing more than that. DS9 had plot and character arcs and things changed, for the better and at times for the worst. Now, TOS was just doing what was done at the time and so can’t be blamed for that, but that raises the conundrum between the two series: TOS is better done, but DS9 is deeper. This wouldn’t be a problem if they both weren’t really good, but they are both really good shows.

In thinking about this, I think the deciding factor is one that also makes me less likely to rewatch DS9: length. DS9 is significantly longer than TOS is. TOS has 79 episodes, while DS9 has 176. This is what allows DS9 to have arcs and is also why I don’t rewatch it as often because I don’t have the months to set aside just watching it. And yet, that’s why I think that DS9 is my favourite series, because TOS seems all too short. I always wish, after watching it, that there could have been more episodes and that it could have run longer. There’s no sense of closure after finishing it. Whereas for DS9 the arc ends, for better or for worse. I get closure. Things more or less wrap up. So there’s more of a let down at the end of TOS than there is at DS9. Of course, at the end of DS9 I also at times am glad it’s over, which would count against it. And yet I seem to recall the first time through DS9 thinking that I could have restarted it right then and there, and so didn’t have that let down. That’s not the case anymore — I have too many other things to watch — but that happening that first time indicates that DS9 is not a show that I get sick of at the end.

So, given the length to have arcs and have a satisfying ending, DS9 is probably my favourite Star Trek series. Although I still am more likely to rewatch TOS than it.

Final Thoughts on the “Pretty Little Liars” books …

August 25, 2020

S, I’ve talked about both halves of the “Pretty Little Liars” books, so this is a good time to give a final summary of my thoughts on them overall.

The best thing about the books, like the TV show, is that they don’t get caught up trying to run a teenage drama, but instead focus mostly on A and A’s attempts to torment and even killing the four protagonists. It seems a bit strange to effectively say “Thank God she focused on tormenting four teenage girls instead of doing things like building them happy and healthy relationships and giving them the normal joys of teenage life!”. It can come across as, well, being a bit sadistic. But why it works is that it can actually broaden the audience as people who aren’t as interested in those sorts of things get a main plot that relates to them but isn’t just them. The books don’t have to try to elevate those sorts of things to huge drama since the main plot can deliver that, and they only really come into play as drama in light of the main conspiracy and revenge plots.

The books do more of this than the TV show did. There are a number of things that seem to be dropped in to appeal to young girls who would think the way the four leads and Ali and the others would, mostly things like describing in some detail some fabulous fashion that I’m sure some people — who are not me — would get and find impressive. But that didn’t bore me because those were the islands of normalcy in the oceans of murder and revenge plots, and so even when I noticed them they weren’t really grating.

The books also have a specific and non-standard format. The book is written in the third-person limited perspective, where in each chapter it basically focuses on one of the girls and describes the events in the third-person from that girl’s perspective. So we get what, say, Spencer is thinking, but not what the other girls are thinking until other sections (if at all). This works really, really well. It allows us to see the inner thoughts of the girls — which is important for a book to create a greater connection to the characters — while still keeping things hidden and secret so that they could be revealed later, which adds to the suspense. You may know in a section that Spencer is honestly surprised at a revelation, say, but you don’t know until later that Aria isn’t. It gives us an intimate connection with the characters while still allowing them to hide things from us as they hide them from their friends.

Now, you may ask: Didn’t you dock N.K. Jemisin for doing this sort of thing? And Shamus Young? Well, yes, but there’s a difference here. The first big one is that Shepard does not in any way telegraph this or make it obvious that she’s trying to pull off a non-standard format. The sections just are that way. She doesn’t call each section by the name of the character — she instead uses phrases that sometimes have their names in them — or give it a different narrative format or font. It just … is. I happened to notice it relatively early on, but some people might not have actually noticed that this was happened. Second, this style is done consistently throughout the entire series of sixteen books, while both Jemisin and Shamus couldn’t keep it up for the entire book. Third, the style is done in such a way that it’s not really a round robin, and so can switch between characters as needed to advance the plot. If a character is skipped, we won’t really notice because it’s the plot that’s driving that as opposed to it being a stylistic device, whereas in the other books — especially Jemisin’s — if our favourite character gets skipped in an iteration we wonder where she went and can even be a bit bitter that the character we like was skipped over for a vignette about a less interesting character. And fourth, the characters we are dealing with aren’t ignored in those sections either and aren’t disconnected from them. There is almost always another one of the main characters in the scene, and often all four of them are there. So their plots and characters can advance at the same time, but one character gets the perspective. So even if that perspective character is not your favourite, you can likely find a character you like better doing stuff in the scene. All of these factors make it work instead of it being a distraction.

I will talk more about this when I compare the books to the TV show, but the relationships were pretty weak. Hanna’s and Aria’s are fairly annoying characters who kinda redeem themselves, while Spencer’s relationship ends up being a last minute resurrection of a character that we had mostly forgotten about and Emily … well, I can’t really remember what happened to Emily, so at best it’s a last minute character. It would have been a happier ending if they could have all ended up with some kind of true love, or else simply looked towards the future and the hopes of meeting someone. Other than the first two — the least interesting relationships — the others seem shoehorned in.

So, the big question: Would I read the books again? And I think the answer is an easy “Yes”. They were easy to read and entertaining enough that they’d be worth reading again. But Shepard has also done a number of other books, and so that raises another question: Would I read the other books she’s done? And the answer to that is that I don’t know. She wrote the sixteen “Pretty Little Liars” books between 2006 and 2014, which is a lot of books in a very short time. She’s quite prolific. But then there’s the risk that what she does is create the same sort of book and just plunk different characters and a slightly different plot into it. Which is not at all a bad thing for a popular author, since that’s what many people want. But this is not really my sort of book. I had the advantage of having an emotional connection to the characters from the TV show to get me into it, which let me get through that. I’m not sure that I would have that for a new series. So given my propensity for re-reading things, I’m more likely to simply re-read the “Pretty Little Liars” books again than start a new series. But it is possible that I’d change my mind.

One more post on the “Pretty Little Liars” world comparing the books and TV show is forthcoming, and then I can finally put it to bed.

Hume, Miracles, and the Web of Belief

August 24, 2020

So, I’ve talked a bit about Hume’s argument that miracles are, by definition, so improbable that it would be more reasonable to dismiss any evidence that might be mustered in their defense than accept that a miracle happened. Of course, the big flaw in this is that things like the reliability of a witness or of the senses are not things that we can dismiss simply because we don’t want to believe that the event happened, and saying that a miracle is so improbable that we can’t believe even the most reliable of witnesses is essentially doing that: rejecting a priori their testimony, no matter how reliable, because we don’t think that the thing they are telling us happened could happen. That undercuts the possibility if any evidence for that thing and does that undesirable thing — if we want to honestly seek knowledge — at the cost of undermining the two sources of information that we most rely on. That doesn’t seem like a good move

I think the popularity of the argument, though, follows from the fact that it nevertheless seems reasonable that there might be propositions so inherently improbable that we couldn’t find any evidence reliable enough to demonstrate that they were true and miracles, by definition, are pretty much the most improbable things we have. However, I totally reject the idea that we form beliefs or knowledge based on probabilities, and this is one case where probabilities are doing all of the work. What would happen if this question was translated into my preferred epistemic theory, the Web of Belief? Would it still even seem to work, or would that method filter out these questions and make forming that belief appropriately difficult but not impossible?

The first thing to note is that the equivalent of the massively improbable belief is one that is crucially foundational, supporting a large portion of your Web of Belief. It cannot be the case that it is supported by a major portion of the Web, because all that would be required to topple it is to topple some of the supporting beliefs and it would go away. While in practice that might be difficult to do, in theory it could always happen, and it’s not beliefs in the Web that are the ones we need to consider here, but instead beliefs that we hold as certain that have few, if any supporting beliefs to undercut, all of which we would be equally certain about. The argument could go that if we had a foundational belief that supported a large portion of our Web, then it would be difficult if not impossible for us to reject it since doing so would leave too much of our Web unsupported. Since at least for me one of the main principles of the Web of Belief is that the formation of new beliefs and the replacement of old ones should be done preserving as much of the existing Web as possible, it looks like it could be the case that we have a belief so crucial to the Web that it would do less damage to the Web to simply reject a new or replacement belief than it would be to reject that one, leaving open the possibility of a belief too “improbable” to accept because it would force the rejection of a foundational belief that would do more damage to the Web than simply rejecting it outright would do.

The thing is, though, the Web of Belief doesn’t actually work that way. It works entirely on consistency. And so it is entirely possible for someone to come to know a belief that cannot be made consistent in the Web with that foundational belief. While that foundational belief would impact more of the Web if rejected, we can never reject knowledge. Yes, we would have to come to know that the new belief was true, but if we did come to know that then the worst possible case we would be in is balancing that new belief that we know with the foundational belief that we know. But the foundational beliefs would be supported by less beliefs than average, and so would be more vulnerable than one that is supported by more beliefs, as they would seem more axiomatic than ones that we generate from investigation and evidence. So while someone might argue that we couldn’t know the new belief because we have that foundational belief, in theory we obviously could.

And the Web of Belief only works better when it comes to sense data and reliable testimony. We have additional beliefs about the cases where sense data and testimony produce knowledge and when they are unreliable. If we have a foundational belief that makes us want to reject them but is the only reason to do so and our beliefs about when those produce knowledge say that this is indeed a case where they produce knowledge, we would have to challenge those epistemic beliefs and so would risk undercutting every belief and piece of knowledge that we have that rely on them. That would surely destroy more of our Web of Belief than pretty much any other foundational belief. And we can note that my main objection is indeed that: Hume’s argument forces us to abandon epistemic beliefs in order to preserve a factual one. But no factual belief can impact more of our Web than the epistemic ones that we use to build up all beliefs in that Web.

So, using the Web of Belief, we can see that Hume’s argument is a non-starter. Yes, it could well demand that we come to know that the person is telling us the truth and that there aren’t any explanations where they are both telling us the truth but are mistaken, but once we come to know that they are telling us the truth and are correct, then we would come to know that the miracle happened, and at that point we would at worst have a clash of knowledge that we would need to resolve with knowledge-resolution mechanisms. It is more likely that we would simply reject the factual belief because otherwise we would be doing too much damage to our epistemic beliefs and, through that, to our Web. Ultimately, Hume’s argument is simply a poor one if we’ve worked out our epistemology properly.

No One Reasonable Could Fail to Doubt …

August 21, 2020

So, while I’ve finished reading all sixteen of the “Pretty Little Liars” books, there’s one big part of the last arc that bugs me enough and is long enough that I can turn it into extra content for the blog [grin]. At the end of the last arc, the “Pretty Little Liars” are all put on trial for murder. The prosecution is convinced they’re guilty. Most of the public is convinced they’re guilty. Even some of their families think they’re guilty. And multiple defense attorneys essentially say that there’s no way that they can get acquitted. Sounds dramatic, right?

Well, it would be if based on the circumstances generating reasonable doubt — which is all that a defense team has to do — should be an absolutely trivial thing to do.

I’ll continue below the fold because these are obviously major spoilers for the books:


Thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

August 20, 2020

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a later movie — 2011 — and stars Katie Holmes, which was on of the reasons I picked it up from the bargain horror rack at a store that closed several months ago. However, it’s also spawning me to ask a question that I will pursue in more detail when I look at the next movie, which is this: does it seem like modern movies are more interested in capturing the trappings of a horror movie instead of doing anything with them?

Because this movie does that. There are relationships and things dropped that are standard horror fare but that the movie does absolutely nothing with. The worst is that there’s a hint that the main character lost a child at some point, which could have been used to build the relationship with the daughter, but it’s never really referenced and we never really learn anything about it. It comes across, then, as an attempt to use that to advance the drama in the conversation with something that we would see in a horror movie like this — a person (usually a woman) who has lost her child having to protect a similar child — but ignoring that the reason that’s done is to provide an interesting background to build a climactic scene and character arc around. It being pretty much dropped isn’t very interesting. There’s also some conflicting scenes here, as the female lead promises the little girl that she will get her out of there after the party but then for no real reason seems to be leaving without the girl, and only goes to save the girl — who is being attacked — because she hears something funny as she’s heading out the door. This doesn’t fit with the previous scene or with her wanting to protect the girl or reacting to the loss of her own child. The elements are there, but they aren’t used and often come across as an ad lib.

The main premise of the movie is that there are these little creatures living in an old house that are trapped in a furnace and underground lair of some kind, but if they are freed they can come out and attack people. They target a little girl whose father is renovating the house with his new girlfriend, introducing the relationship drama that never gets paid off. Later, they discover that there’s an agreement with the Pope that when reawakened they can take one person to reproduce and have to go back, or at least can be locked up again (the movie is not exactly clear on how that works). At the end, the female lead sacrifices herself to save the little girl and at the very end is telling her new compatriots to be patient because their time will come again.

Even in this short description, it should be obvious how disjoint this movie is. Why is the female lead — who has been converted, presumably, into a little monster — telling the others to be patient when they’re the ones that have been through all this before? It’s also a major Downer Ending for her to sacrifice herself for the little girl only to end by wanting to torment and kill other little girls. They also early on had a chance to kill the caretaker and decided not to, despite the fact that at the very start the previous owner was an old man that they took (he wanted them to spare his son, though the movie implies that didn’t happen). For the most part, the movie doesn’t explain anything and doesn’t build on anything to make a plot that makes sense. Even the character interactions are off, as towards the end the little girl seems to have proof of the monsters, so they put her into bed and then almost immediately decide to just leave for no real reason. So nothing really makes sense.

We might be able to forgive that as a creature feature if it was done in the service of setting things up for scary creatures to do scary things, but the creatures are both tiny and not much of a threat. They never actually kill anyone and are so small that they are only a threat in large groups. The little girl defends herself from them on multiple occasions and even manages to kill a couple. They didn’t manage to kill the caretaker despite seemingly trying to. Their size works against them as a threat and their actions don’t do anything to help with that. It’s not a bad idea, but they don’t even rise to the level of “Gremlims” as a threatening creature. And “Gremlins” was a horror-comedy, which this is not.

So we don’t have scary monsters and have a nonsensical and not very scary plot. Thus, this isn’t that great a movie, although the performances are generally good. I won’t be watching this movie again.

It’s happening again …

August 19, 2020

I’m starting to run out of content again.

“Pretty Little Liars” generated quite a bit of content, given the TV show and the books, and there’s still a little bit there. But with hockey starting up again, I decided to watch Deep Space 9 again instead of starting something new, and there isn’t that much I can say about a show that I’ve already watched three or four times. I also, as you might be aware, haven’t had a lot of time to play games, so there’s nothing really there to slot in. While I’ve been doing better with philosophy than normal, there’s only so much of that I can fit in a week (meaning only so much out there to inspire me in a week). I’m keeping up with horror movies but haven’t had a lot of time to watch them either and so that stack is getting pretty small as well, with me having to make the time to watch to keep it from running out. I’d be willing to let it run out except that I don’t have anything else to slot in in its place, and it’s one of the easier things to watch and write about. And after finishing “Pretty Little Liars” for general reading I want to re-read my Star Wars books again, so books won’t fill in the gap either.

So, ultimately, my media commentary is getting thin, while my philosophical commentary can’t fill the gap. I’m already pondering returning to the “Philosophy and Pop Culture” series to fill in some time, but realistically that gets me about one extra day. I want to keep up the “every weekday” schedule, but am again getting a little concerned about having content for it. Along with my being busy, expect shorter posts and probably more frivolous ones for the next little while.

Like this one, complaining that I don’t have a lot of talk about on the blog right now [grin].

Final Thoughts on the Final Arc of the “Pretty Little Liars” books …

August 18, 2020

So, I finished reading sixteen of the “Pretty Little Liars” books. I’m going to talk about my impressions of the entire series in another post, but I think it’s a good idea to talk about my impressions of the last arc, which is the last eight books of the series. The first part ends with the resolution of the murder of Alison DiLaurentis, and with most of the specific personal problems of the girls resolved. So the second part has to introduce new secrets and new dramas, which is probably its biggest weakness.

There will be spoilers, so I’ll continue below the fold: