Archive for May, 2021

Mutant Rights, Torture, and X-Perimentation

May 31, 2021

So the next essay in “X-Men and Philosophy” is “Mutant Rights, Torture and X-Perimentation” by Cynthia McWilliams.  The essay is for the most part an examination of whether such things as torture and forced experimentation and other violations of what we’d consider “human rights” would be permissible to subject mutants to.  Unfortunately, the analysis is a bit shallow because the starting point is one that we can quickly dispose of, and once that is disposed of there isn’t really much difference left between mutants and everyone else and so it devolves to the standard questions.  But there is one question that isn’t examined in detail where the specific case of mutants is still an interesting way to explore that question.

So, the easy question is this:  mutants are not considered human beings, and even some mutants consider themselves to not be humans (Magneto specifically), so do they deserve what we call “human” rights?  After all, they aren’t human, and so might not be covered under rights that are specifically named for humans.  Why this isn’t a very interesting question is that pretty much everyone understands that the name is just that:  a name.  What we call human rights are either legal rights — and so are conferred upon citizens — or in the more philosophical sense are more akin to “sentient rights”, which means that they are conferred on pretty much anyone who is capable of appreciating and utilizing them.  So even if they count as a distinct species and so not as humans, they are clearly derived sufficiently from them so as to retain sentience, and so would deserve those rights as much as any being.  The claim that they are not human is therefore just a fig leaf in order to be able to claim that they don’t deserve rights, and not a real philosophical argument at all.

The rest of McWilliams’ essay, once she establishes that, ends up concluding that given human rights the only way that torture or forced experimentation could be justified is, well, by the ways we try to justify it for those we definitely consider human:  by appealing to utilitarian interest, which is often difficult to manage.  As I noted in the first paragraph, the introduction of mutants here isn’t all that interesting since there isn’t much difference between mutants and everyone else wrt that.  The only decent question here involves the fact that many of them are threats to others by their very natures, which then might justify extra restrictions on them.  McWilliams heavily uses Senator Kelly’s discussion of their potential threat with Jean Grey in the first Fox X-Men movie, but leaves out the line where Kelly says that people are licensed to drive so why shouldn’t mutants be registered, with Jean Grey replying that we don’t license people to live.  And yet, if people did have some sort of inseparable and dangerous advantage, we might well insist that they be properly trained in the use of that advantage and might place special restrictions on them to ensure that they use them properly.  So while it’s a bit of a joke to say that a marital artist has hands that have to be registered as deadly weapons, we might well regulate martial arts trainers and hold people with that training to special standards when they use it, just because of how great an advantage it is.  We might well treat martial artists who strike out of anger more harshly because of how dangerous their use of them are, and in particular in how dangerous the unrestrained use of them would be, and so we might want to compel them to use restraint.  This, then, could justify the registration and compulsory training of mutants in the use of their abilities.  But it wouldn’t justify forced experimentation or torture, except in circumstances where that would be justified for anyone else.

The interesting question that is not really addressed is the idea that if mutants are considered as deserving of moral consideration by humans, then would they be required to consider humans as deserving of moral consideration?  McWilliams answers this by pointing out that the general argument about human rights says that mutants do deserve moral consideration and so she then moves on to asking if mutants have any additional moral obligations towards humans because of their powers.  But in the X-Men world while one can argue that they ought to have the same rights and moral considerations as humans, many humans and much of the time they actually aren’t considered by humans to have the same rights or moral considerations.  While Magneto and his followers don’t consider them to be a part of humanity, in return an awful lot of humans don’t think that they’re human and use that as an excuse to deny them rights or argue that they do not have to give them any moral consideration at all.  So would mutants like Magneto be justified in refusing to give moral consideration at least to those humans who refuse to give mutants more consideration?  I think that to be a properly moral person, you’d have to hold yourself above such concerns and so give everyone the moral consideration they ought to receive, and so not base it on what moral consideration they extend to you.  But it is an interesting question about what one owes someone who denies you the status of a moral agent.

At any rate, human rights are not just human rights, but are sentient rights, so mutants deserve them.  However, as we’ve seen in most X-Men media, many people do not share this rather obvious conclusion.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

May 29, 2021

Because of the odd way the NHL decided to handle the issues with the Vancouver Canucks in the North Division, the second round of the playoffs in the other three divisions will start before the first round in the North Division ends.  Since I refuse to predict a series after the first game has been played to avoid giving myself any advantage, this put me in a quandary.  So what I’m going to do is write everything out and leave the North division undetermined until someone wins that series, and then go back and fill that one in before that series starts.

It also leaves my summary from the last round a bit open:  3 – 5.  The interesting thing is that the home-ice advantage results will be exactly the same, because I picked all the teams with home ice advantage.  That’s because I was selecting on the basis of points differential and who was hot or cold coming in, and with the short season with all the teams playing each other those teams ended up in the higher positions, but it really didn’t work in cases like Florida (who were streaking coming in and then faltered in the playoffs) or the Islanders (who were struggling coming in and then came on in the playoffs).  So it wasn’t a good result for the home-ice advantage teams.  There are always upsets, but at least half of the series were won by the team without home-ice advantage.  That’s definitely more than normal.

Anyway, my next predictions:

North Division:

Montreal vs Winnipeg:  Montreal, having come back from 3 – 1 down, is going to be absolutely fearless, which is always dangerous.  But while giving full credit to Montreal for their resilience and persistence, it really seems like that was a series that Toronto lost more than Montreal won.  Winnipeg will be flying high off of winning a series that no one thought they could win, let alone sweep, and since this series is likely to be a long one the extra rest will probably benefit them by the end.

East Division:

Islanders vs Boston:  It’s at this point in the playoffs where I start picking the Islanders to win because they’ve shown that they’re able to put together that team playoff game that wins them series.  Boston is a good team and did really well against Washington, but the Islanders over the past few seasons have shown that they have no quit in them and can play playoff hockey, so it’s not a good idea to bet against them … at least, not until the later rounds.

Central Division:

Tampa Bay vs Carolina:  Yes, Tampa Bay won it all last year, and yes they’ve gotten back most of their players and seem to be doing well, but they did stumble a bit during the series with Florida at the end, and Carolina is a much deeper and better built team.  They are going to want to go far and it’s really, really difficult to go back-to-back to win the Stanley Cup, so Tampa Bay is likely to be stopped somewhere, and here is where that’s likely to happen.

West Division:

Vegas vs Colorado:  Colorado has been rebuilding over the past few seasons and looks primed to finally break out and take a good run at the playoffs.  It might as well be this year that they manage to do that, and Vegas does seem more vulnerable than they have in the past.


North Division:

Montreal vs Winnipeg Incorrect

East Division:

Islanders vs Boston Correct

Central Division:

Tampa Bay vs Carolina Incorrect

West Division:

Vegas vs Colorado Incorrect

Overall Record: 4 – 8
Home Ice Advantage Record: 3 – 9

Mistaken Experience as Evidence for Dualism

May 28, 2021

So, I’m currently reading “The Illusion of Conscious Will” by Daniel M. Wegner, where he’s trying to argue that our conscious will and our experience of it is an illusion and all the real work is done at the neural level (roughly).  I’ll talk more about his book later, but here want to talk about something that follows from his examinations.  In order to establish that our conscious will and experiences of volition are illusory, he tries to show cases where they come apart.  He references the Libet experiments which are not very good examples, but then in the next chapter talks less about cases where we are trying to map neural correlates with timers but instead cases where our experiences would claim that we are making a volitional choice when we really aren’t, or cases where we don’t think our will is at all involved and it actually is.  So one of his examples is that of priming, which isn’t all that big a problem for free will or conscious experience, but he also gives examples of cases where the brain is stimulated and in some cases we think it was willed and in some cases we think it wasn’t depending on what was stimulated and even the context of what was stimulated, as well as the case of schizophrenics who hear voices that they claim are external but we can prove are being generated by them, to cases where a confederate can trick people into forcing a choice but having them not see it that way.  And so on and so forth.  I don’t think these examples are necessarily good ones — although some are interesting — but I think they are good enough for us to grant that sometimes our experiences and our sense of what we ourselves are doing get fooled and report that we are doing things that we aren’t and that we aren’t doing things that we are.  So the question is:  how is this possible?

One common explanation for conscious experience is that conscious experience is just what neurons firing in the right ways to produce the right functionalities does.  But if this is the case, how could we ever get a discrepancy between what our neurons are doing and what we think our neurons are doing?  They are both produced by the exact same sequence in the brain.  Thus, the experience would just be our experience of what we are doing.  How could we get that wrong?  If we can, then it would mean that our experiences of what the brain is doing and even what it is receiving from the outside world could be completely disconnected from what’s really there.  And we’d have no way to check, because every test we could make relies on our experiences being at least somewhat aligned with the outside world.  Even asking others to check our experiences has to assume that a) their experiences are not disconnected in the same way as mine are and b) that I’m actually getting their reports properly.  So if we argue that experiences are just what we get when neurons do those things they do, but then our experiences are reporting that the neurons are doing different things from what the neurons are actually doing, then the experiences from our neurons are not accurately representing what the neurons are doing, and so those experiences seem to be pretty much useless and meaningless and, worst of all, not necessarily reflective of anything, even the external world.  That’s a pretty bad outcome, so we probably want to avoid taking that tack unless we have no other choice.

This is where dualism can come in, because it provides a nice explanation for why our experiences can come apart from the neuron firings that are implementing the functionality:  they aren’t the same thing.  If we have a separate mind that interacts with the brain, then it’s going to be triggering parts of the brain and receiving feedback from various parts of the brain to determine what happened and what is going on so that it can react accordingly.  But then we can see how they can come apart, because if the feedback from the brain is incomplete or misleading, or if the mind has to aggregate feedback from a number of sources and reason out what is actually happening, then it can interpret what it is receiving incorrectly.  However, in order for this arrangement to be at all useful it cannot be completely disconnected.  Most of the time, the feedback and the mechanisms that interpret it would do so correctly and, most importantly, in a useful way.  So if we posit that the conscious experience part and the neural firing part are separate objects communicating with each other, we can explain why they aren’t always in agreement without risking having to conclude that conscious experiences might be or seem to be entirely unreliable.

Now, what I’m sure that most materialists are waiting to scream about is that we don’t need to have a separate or immaterial mind for this to happen.  We can separate the interpretive part from the producing actions part simply by introducing — or perhaps reintroducing, since it seems to be out-of-favour at the moment despite there being no real neurological reason and much neurological reason to think it’s true — modules.  One set of neural firings are producing the experiences based on the feedback they are getting from brain overall, while the other is actually producing the experience.  This would give us two separate “objects” in the brain so that they can come apart at crucial times, but also in theory allows us to trust those experiences because they would need to be accurate for the system to have any use.  All we have to do is find a way for that module to causally impact what we do — since dualism would presume that a dualistic mind can causally impact even the original chains directly while they’re happening, despite them being separate objects — and we’re golden.

As you might have noticed from my little aside above, that actually isn’t all that easy.  In order for these to remain as separate objects, we’d have to be careful about allowing the experience module to causally impact the action-production module, because then we’d start to wonder how, if they are that intimately connected, that they can come apart wrt what is actually happening.  If the module is producing those neural connections, then how come it doesn’t know what those neural connections are doing?  It’s one thing if it thinks that it’s doing something and that thing doesn’t happen, or else thinks that the firing is fully-caused by its deliberative actions when an automatic process is what kicked it off, but how could it ever be fooled into thinking that it hadn’t done something when it actually did?  It would surely have access to what it was doing, and the explanation for how it could be fooled into thinking it did something when it didn’t is in fact that it notes that it was activated itself and notes that the effect was produced even if the actual cause of those neural firings.  So if it can interact with the action-producing parts, it’s not likely doing the entire thing itself.  But then what is it doing?

One suggestion is that what we have is some kind of self-monitoring system (I think that this is pretty much Dennett’s view of what conscious experience is) that monitors and interprets what we do and what our various areas of the brain are doing and then produces an experience that reflects this.  This would work pretty well at explaining why things come apart, but it’s not a very good explanation for why it gets things wrong.  If this is an important module in the brain that we need for important things, it seems that it’s a pretty weak process if things can come apart that drastically.  Yes, we can argue that it seems to work well-enough most of the time, but it actually has only one job, and it gets it wrong a significant amount of the time.  If what it’s doing is sufficiently important, then shouldn’t it do that better?  And if it isn’t and so these actions don’t matter (as people who think free will an illusion would have to assert), then why do we have it?  So we’d still need to find a cause for it, and if we did that we’d have to wonder why it can be tricked so relatively easily.

A perhaps better suggestion is that the main purpose of this module isn’t to monitor us, but is instead to monitor things in the outside world, and it only monitors us or interprets what we’re doing as a side effect of doing that.  This actually seems pretty natural, since we would definitely need to filter out the things we’re doing from the things that are done externally to us, and since this would be just providing us with information that we can use to feed into our actions later then we don’t need any direct cause for actions, but instead just need it to file away information that impacts later decisions.  And as long as it does this better than something that can’t do that, it’s useful enough to be selected for by evolution, so some unimportant errors can be explained, and perhaps even explained by appealing to which of the errors are more useful than insisting on always getting it right.  This has the advantage over self-monitoring in that we get a set and simple purpose for what this is doing while still being able to explain it not being perfectly accurate.

But wait.  Do we really need it to have a strong causal role?  Can’t it just be something that happens but has no causal impact?  Consider that any experience-producing module is going to be a pretty expensive one, and that there must be something special about these modules so that they produce experiences because we would have shown that very important parts of the brain don’t seem to produce experiences.  So it can’t just be assembled from neurons and just happen to produce experiences, or at least that’s not a very credible story.  Thus, we both a) need to have a purpose for this specific module and b) need to find a reason why it has experiences, either because having experiences is required for it to do what it does or because that assembled module is something that will do that.  And given that much if not most of the brain won’t produce experiences, it’s the former that seems the more likely, not the latter.  So we’re really going to need both the module and the experiences to have a strong causal impact to explain the presence of these experience producing modules.

Which cycles us back to dualism, because dualism has an advantage here as it can argue that the primary defining quality of a mind is having experiences, and so experiences are going to be a fundamental part of everything the mind does, including these interpretations.  The dualistic mind works through experiences and has that as its fundamental nature, so everything it does — including any causal connections it has with the brain — is going to involve experiences.  So it wouldn’t need to explain why it produces experiences when the brain doesn’t.  The very nature of the connection is that the mind does the experiences and the brain doesn’t.  Yes, it would need to explain how it can cause anything at all, but it doesn’t have to explain how one part of the brain produces experiences while another part doesn’t.

So our experiences and our neurally-produced actions can come apart as Wegner suggests, then that suggests that we have separate objects involved here.  And dualism is based on the idea that there are two separate objects involved in such things.  That gives it a huge advantage in explaining what those separate objects actually are.

Thoughts on “Pulse”

May 27, 2021

This is the last of the horror movies in that 11 movie pack I’ve been talking about for a while (the last two are sci-fi/fantasy movies).  It features a child-star performance by Joey Lawrence, best known for “Blossom” or to younger viewers perhaps for “Melissa and Joey”.   And his performance is one of the best things about the movie.

The main plot is that a young boy goes to stay for at least part of the summer with his dad and new stepmother after a divorce, with all the attendant awkwardness that would entail.  At the same time, it seems that there’s some kind of strange thing happening with the electricity, as at the start of the movie it burns down the neighbour’s house and soon starts causing strange things to happen in his house.  So the boy needs to try to convince his family that there’s an issue before it kills them all.

The performances in this movie are excellent.  As mentioned above, Joey Lawrence does a great job as the boy, making us feel for him and want to see him succeed in staying alive.  The mother also works really well as someone who ends up having to look after him since his father is working most of the time, but who grows to care for him and shows the most empathy for him, and so ends up being the first one to really believe him when he talks about the issues with the electricity.  And the father works fairly well as someone who wants his kid to be there so he can connect with him, but at first lets his work get in the way and then is frustrated with his child growing more and more despondent and frightened and getting more and more desperate to just leave, and finally when his wife is killed by the electricity coming to realize that his son is telling the truth and going to great lengths to save him and cut off the power at the end.

The movie, however, is brought down by its supernatural horror.  Electricity is, obviously, an inanimate force, and in general if you’re going to make a supernatural menace out of an inanimate force or object you need to instead make the force intelligent and malevolent.  Technically, they do that with the electricity here, since it seems to be targeting people and also seems to kill for no reason.  However, that “for no reason” ends up killing the movie, because we never get a sense of what the titular “Pulse” is, what it wants, or where it came from.  Ultimately, the electricity seems to kill just because it wants to, but only one family at a time and only in that one town (or maybe another) for some reason.  Where did it come from?  Is all electricity intelligent?  Does it want anything?  All of these questions and many more are completely ignored by the movie.  The electricity is not merely a force of nature that the heroes are trying to get out of the way of, nor is it a dedicated killer with a purpose, nor is it an indiscriminate killer.  It targets people, but we never learn why.  So we merely have a force that kills things, and since it’s supposed to be driving the horror we find ourselves more puzzled and bored by its antics than scared by it.

I suspect that the motivation here was to try to tie the horror to something that was both ubiquitous in society and something that many people were afraid of.  That way the movie could tie into that subconscious fear to make it more frightening, but the key term there is subconscious.  In this movie, that subtext completely becomes the text and that takes away from that subconscious fear.  We treat the electricity as an actual villain, but it doesn’t have a purpose that ties into the subconscious fear or provides a conscious fear that the subconscious fear can play off of.  So it misses in trying to play off of our fear of electricity, and doesn’t provide us with anything else to really be afraid of.

I think the performances are excellent, but the lackluster horror villain really hurts this move.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again.

Thoughts on “Krull”

May 26, 2021

This one is the last movie in the 11 movie pack that I picked.  I thought the name sounded familiar, but I might well have been confusing it with “Kull the Conqueror”.  At any rate, this does have some bigger names in it in small roles (Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane being the most prominent) but it doesn’t appear to be a very well-received movie.  And in my opinion, it really shouldn’t be.

The basic plot is this:  there is some sort of alien race of invaders going around and invading planets, and there is a legend on this planet that a woman shall choose a king and they will rule their world, and their son will rule the galaxy.  We are introduced to the pair early on with a marriage to form an alliance to battle the aliens, which is interrupted by said aliens who kidnap her and seem to slaughter everyone else.  However, her beau survives and sets out to rescue her, with the help of a wise man, and they pick up a number of other people along the way.  Meanwhile, the leader of the invaders tries to convince the woman to marry him.  Her beau also picks up a mythical weapon but is warned not to use it until the end.  And so the movie goes.

The big problem with this movie is that the plot really seems to be a bunch of sidequests.  As I’ve noted in the past, science fiction can often get away with creating a premise that gives the characters an excuse to wander around the planet showing up what things are like, and while this is more of a fantasy movie that model can work for them as well.  The problem is that here the parts of the quest are just there to have things in a quest to do, and so don’t follow from the plot or world itself.  They need to find a way to find and get to the teleporting fortress, and so find a guy to do that.  The enemy then immediately finds out about him, replaces him, and then attacks them, snuffing out that attempt.  So the wise man needs to go talk to what turns out to be his old love to figure out where it is, and this leads to a long scene where she ends up being killed by her own guardian spider at the end of it.  And then from there they suddenly need to find a way to get there — quickly, because it moves every day — and find some fire horses to do that, and then have to get into the fortress, and then rescue the woman, and so on and so forth.

But all of these issues are just too “convenient” when it comes to the story.  They happen for no reason other than that they need to happen to try to build tension and drama and to provide obstacles for the heroes (or to overcome them).  Think about it this way:  in “Fellowship of the Ring”, Gimli notes that Gandalf is taking the long way around and they could go through the Mines of Moria, and Gandalf replies that he wouldn’t do that.  Then, when they are forced to turn back from the pass, we know that there is another option and know that there’s some reason why Gandalf doesn’t want to go through it, even though we don’t know why.  Here, the wise man never mentions someone else who might be able to figure out where the fortress is, and we don’t find out their connection until the end of their conversation.  There aren’t even any hints of it.  So what happens is that they seek out their first candidate, that one is replaced, the attack happens, the wise man says that he has another solution, and then we find out that history … and then find out that they still need a way to get there and then happen to remember the fire horses.  The problems are only mentioned right when they need to be and are never set up in advance, and the solutions also come out of nowhere just when they are needed.  This is pretty much exactly how bad sidequests work in RPGs:  situations are contrived so that the heroes suddenly need to do something that they didn’t know they needed to do to solve a problem that they found out they had immediately before the solution was presented to them.  This can work in a game since it gives the player something to do, but it doesn’t work very well in a movie where all we are doing is watching the heroes and so have more time to notice and are less supportive of the contrivances.

Also, the movie never explains what he was supposed to save the weapon for, nor does it ever explain in any way how the prophecy gets fulfilled or if it would have been fulfilled if the leader of the invaders had gotten the woman to marry him . Since that was highlighted at the beginning and the end of the movie it’s something that the movie clearly thinks important but clearly doesn’t want to bother to actually deal with.

I don’t think I want to watch this movie again.  Some of individual sections are done well, but the connections between them are done so poorly that the movie just doesn’t hold up.

Out of this pack of 11 movies, “Slipstream” is clearly the best, which is sad because it isn’t all that good.  Out of the rest, many of them have some charm but there isn’t one that rises to the level of a movie that I’d really want to watch again.

Short Thoughts on “The Flash” (1990)

May 25, 2021

So the other short series that I decided to watch after “Birds of Prey” was “The Flash”.  Again, this is a series that I had already watched and even rewatched before this, so it won’t really be a spoiler to point out that after watching it this time I’ll likely watch it again.

The series has the same sort of setting as “Batman:  The Animated Series”, where it takes place in an I guess 50sish Central City but the technology they have access to as a matter of course — both in Barry’s crime lab and at Star Labs — is way too advanced for that time period, and they even have cars and other things more suited to the time than to the 50s.  So it really does seem like a faux 50s than really the 50s, which is a bit distracting, especially since they never really acknowledge it in any way.  I think I would have rathered they just make it the 90s and rolled with it, but then part of the things they tried to do with it — especially the noir PI Megan Lockhart — wouldn’t have worked so well, as in the setting they seem normal and expected but in a strict 90s setting they would have seemed out of place and the characters would have seemed like throwbacks, which would have hurt the characters.  So it’s 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

While the series seems to start by giving Barry the traditional romantic interest of Iris West, after the first episode she leaves the series and the romantic interests are split between Girls of the Week, the scientist Tina, and the aforementioned PI Megan Lockhart.  I liked Lockhart as a character, but because of how the show is structured it really seems to make Tina the preferred pairing, because while Lockhart is fun and works well with him when she’s there, she keeps leaving and Tina is always there, and she is the one who gets the “I have to leave but will stay for you” plots which makes us think that if they would only admit how much they care for each other everything would be settled.  And while I like the characters, I find the romance a bit tepid.  I’d like them to get together, but am not really interested in seeing how they get together.

The super suit, in early episodes, looked absolutely terrible.  While it gets better in later episodes, they still show the original one in the opening credits and it really stands out.  In general, the special effects are not at all good, which can be distracting.  The worst is probably the super speed stacking or removing of objects, as it’s supposed to happen in a second before anyone can react and yet it happens so slowly, with lots of time to show the reactions of the villains which makes us wonder why they don’t just do something.  The high speed running shown from the perspective of Barry works pretty well to let us get the sense of the speed without relying on special effects that they didn’t have access to.

The plots are basically a mix of serious drama and off-the-wall humour, which mostly works . The drama is what you’d see from shows like “Airwolf” and “Knight Rider”, and the humour is … pretty much what you’d see from “Knight Rider” as well.  So it makes for decent light entertainment, especially when the actors manage to get a handle on their characters and so stumble less through their lines.

That more humourous attitude also carries over to an important role for Mark Hamill, that of the Trickster.  Remember, this was a year or two before his breakout voice acting role as the Joker in “Batman:  The Animated Series”, and yet there’s a lot of similarities in terms of the voice and in terms of chewing the scenery between those two roles.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s no connection between Hamill being the Trickster and Hamill becoming the Joker, even if I couldn’t find that link.  Anyway, those episodes are some of the best because they leverage the absurdities of the setting and so don’t have to try to be at all serious, and the odder episodes seem to be the ones that work best for this series.  And, of course, Hamill does a great job with the villainous role itself, which makes it fun to watch.

All-in-all, it’s good, light entertainment that is a bit too goofy in general to work as a drama so it’s fortunate that it spends most of its time embracing the goofiness.  It definitely has its flaws in terms of special effects, acting at times, and writing, but overall it’s entertaining enough to watch without a constant rolling of the eyes.  As noted above, I definitely could rewatch it again.  Again.

Thoughts on the World Mixed Doubles Championship

May 24, 2021

So, this is indeed the last curling of the season, and it’s the World Mixed Doubles Championships.  I managed to catch a little of it since it was on during the day when I can watch (since it was in Scotland) and followed the Canadian team because a) that was the team that I could watch since TSN only showed the Canadian games and b) I’m not a huge follower of mixed doubles so I kinda needed the “My country” angle to drive my interest.  And really all I expected out of the team of Brad Gushue and Kerri Einarson was for them to manage to get Canada into the Olympics, which they did (and a bit more handily than either the men’s or women’s teams).  They managed to finish fourth after losing the semi finals and then the bronze medal game.  However, especially in the playoffs they had a tendency to start really badly and then come storming back to make it interesting and close at the end, which is both reflective of their team, I suppose, and also of mixed doubles where defense is a lot harder than in the 4-person team game.

In general, in mixed doubles all the play seems to coalesce around the center, with each team in general trying to lock stones around the button with freezes on the proper angles to make moving things around difficult.  I’ve also noticed this creeping into the 4-person game, and from watching mixed doubles for quite a while it seems to me that this strategy is the best for producing big ends of more than 2 … but the downside is that you are never really sure which team is going to have the big end.  The main style of play is that the rocks get locked in there and we see mostly taps and the like until one team either sees an opportunity or else gets too scared and tries to fire a hard hit in there, spilling all the rocks around and hoping to drive more of their opponents’ rocks out of the rings to leave them in a good position.  If the hit works, then that team has a huge advantage.  If it doesn’t, then there’s a good chance that the opposition will be left in a great position that it will be very difficult to get out of.  If done early enough, the team might get another chance at it, but then their opponents will also get some time to work their way out of it.  If the team with last rock does it, then their opponents will have to desperately try to lock something in to prevent a huge score, and if the team that doesn’t have last rock does it, then the team with last rock may have to try desperately to draw something in to only get one point.

In mixed doubles, this is an entirely natural strategy.  Because there’s one less sweeper — and sometimes that sweeper is also the person who threw the rock, making it harder to them to get into position to sweep — it’s harder to get really accurate shots.  This biases the action towards shots that can be either a freeze or a tap and be okay because it’s really hard to judge the weight for perfect draws and there’s less ability to sweep them to the right spot, so aiming to end up at a specific rock is a lot more likely to produce a good result.  Because the men generally play the middle rocks, you usually want to be making your hardest hits before the last rock since the men just naturally throw harder rocks.  You’d also want, then, to leave more of a tap or draw for the last shot than a hit that requires a lot of weight.  It starts with a center guard in play (unless it’s a power play, which I’ll talk about later) so it’s just natural to start by going around the center guard.  And you can’t remove anything for four rocks, so you definitely want to start piling things up there to make things hard to remove while your opponents can’t actually remove them.  On top of that, if the team with last rock doesn’t score at all they lose the hammer, so it’s usually better to give up a steal of one than to blank, so no one ever wants to remove everything from play.  So you end up with lots of rocks in the center and then when hitting can start end up with hits that try to clean things up so that you get the advantage and your opponents don’t.

This changes when a power play is called (each team gets one per game) which makes it more like the traditional strategy:  there’s a corner guard with the team with last rock having one buried behind it, and so play drags out to the wings.  Now, teams do indeed manage to score a lot of points with that, but in general it’s used to get a relatively easy two or else defensively to guarantee a single point, which normally is a huge disadvantage to the team with last rock but if you’re leading by 1 or 2 points it’s pretty much all you need and you don’t want to risk there being a big end against you.

As I’ve said, I’m seeing this creeping into the 4-person game, although more in the men’s game than in the women’s game.  The men do have the capacity to blast that most of the women don’t, so it’s a little less risky for the men since they can keep blasting and don’t have to worry about clearing everything out.  But if the blasting goes wrong, then you can give up an awful lot of points or else need to make a really good shot to take one.

I had suspected that this was creeping in from the skins-type game that many of them were playing, which has the similar property that if you only score one point you don’t get the skin and lose hammer, so piling things into the center and going all out for two was the ideal play for the team with last rock, while the team without last rock was trying very, very hard to steal and so it worked for both.  It is a bit riskier for teams in the normal 4-person game to do this, but if they feel confident in their hitting ability it can really pay off.

For mixed doubles in general, it makes the games exciting and the smaller amount of rocks (6 per team total, 5 per team that are actually thrown) makes things move faster, but I still think it lacks the strategy of the 4-person game, which is what I prefer.  On top of all of the things I’ve already mentioned, they get significantly less thinking time than they get in the 4-person game and so they need to think quickly (and while the other team is throwing) and even then much of the time the teams — especially in the finals — were running out of time at the end.  They had enough to throw their rock, but not enough time to really think it through, so they needed to know what they wanted to do before the other team’s rock stopped.  But it’s that strategy component that I like, and the game is built to be more action-packed and perhaps it is best to say more tactical than strategic, which is interestingly different but not what I really want to watch.

Anyway, that’s it for curling for this season.  Curling will return in the fall with hopefully a more normal schedule with the added excitement of all of the Olympic qualifying and the Olympics themselves.

Thoughts on “Ring Fit Adventure” after finishing it once

May 21, 2021

So, I did manage to get through the entire story mode of “Ring Fit Adventure” once, and restarted with the New Game+ version, which is a bit more difficult (which causes me some issues, which I’ll comment on in a minute).  But let me write out my thoughts on the first run as I see it before moving on.

I’m not going to talk much about the story.  It’s not a ground-breaking story, but it does work to give me something to pay attention to so I don’t get bored.  In that sense, it being a very basic JRPG-style story really works in its favour, because it’s both interesting enough to keep you paying attention but not so interesting that you’ll end up working out too much and overworking yourself because you want to get to the next part.  The story parts thus combine with the rest of the elements to let me get my half-hour in a day without being bored or without pushing myself too hard.

It’s also nice that the game is divided up into a number of short areas that are either a run through a section of the world or else an activity in the Game Gym for bonuses.  This means that it’s easy to set goals at the start of each session and work through them until you’re done for the day.  Having this be natural but not really enforced works well for me and I think would allow pretty much everyone to be able to set the length of their exercise without having to set a specific time, and so avoiding watching the clock.  In general, I try to get through two world sections a session, and don’t really count the Game Gym sessions as real sessions.  The game kinda does as it tends to remind me to stop after about two sections (I’m not sure if that’s tied to the difficulty level or to what I normally did) and if I do two or three Game Gym sections along with one world section it will kick in there as well, but it’s very easy to ignore its recommendations if you want to push ahead in any session.

The biggest issue I have with it is that the main story sections, at least, aren’t all that configurable or personalizable, which means that if a section is loaded with a type of exercise that you hate or are not good at you will be unhappy.  For me, the worst were the conveyor belts that ran backwards, because they require sprinting which I was trying to avoid, and sometimes it’s not easy to tell what to do and it often got harder right at the end which was frustrating.  Still, I’m running it on a casual difficulty so it wasn’t too hard, and for the most part there were no time limits or anything so all I had to do was work through it and I’d be okay.

Until the sections where there were specific time or step requirements, which is what’s causing me grief at the moment.

On the restart, things get tougher, and I was always terrible at the “finish the thing in a certain number of steps” sections, getting through one by using the jump and hover options.  So I’ve hit a case where I need to finish it in a certain number of steps and can’t advance until I do.  For things in the Game Gym that were requirements, you could buy your way across with gold if you wanted to.  They don’t do that, however, for the world section, and I can’t see any other cheat that would let me simply mark that section as “Done”.  Which means that if you hit a blocking section and can’t complete it for whatever reason, you have to stop playing the game.  Which means you have to stop following the story.  But for me the story is the only reason I’d keep playing it and why it works for me, so I was panicked about hitting one of those sections, not being able to complete it, and having everything be ruined.  I can turn the difficulty down, and will try that at some point in the near future.  I also could restart the original story again, but I’m hesitant to do that because I believe I’d have to delete my character and all my stats to do that, and I’d like to keep the stats.  But I don’t know of any way to restart the story without deleting and recreating a character.  I’ll look into that a bit, though.

I also did try the rhythm game briefly, but it’s a bit too complicated for me and for what I want in my exercise.  It also made me go through the entire tutorial the first time even though I wasn’t even sure I wanted to play it, which made me actually strongly dislike it.  So I’ll be skipping that.

If I can get past this point or else start over, I’ll keep doing this regularly for exercise in addition to my favourite type of exercise, walking.  The mechanisms work a lot better than Wii Fit — they even work in odd light conditions — and are also more interesting.  If it had an ability to skip the mandatory sections it would be almost perfect, allowing me to customize my experience while still having a structure so I’m not forced to just pick exercises out every time I want to use it, and don’t have to watch the clock myself to decide when I’m done.

Thoughts on “Lurkers”

May 20, 2021

So the next movie in that 11 movie collection (I didn’t mention it but “The Hearse” was one as well) is “Lurkers”.  The basic premise of this movie is that there is a woman who had an abusive mother as a child, and at the same time experienced a fear of the stairs in her building, as well as being strangled with a jump rope, and a strange woman watching her while that happens.  When she grows up, she seems to be having a good life with her fiance, but he seems to be somewhat shady, and strange things start happening to her again, culminating in him taking her back to the building where she used to live and had all of those strange things happen to her.  I’ll talk about where it goes from there in a minute.

But the movie has a really big problem with it long before the ending, which is problematic in and of itself.  The problem is that her adult life is written to make us wonder if there’s really something supernatural going on, or if her fiance and his friends and trying to make her think there’s something supernatural going on, or whether she’s going crazy.  But the beginning of the movie pretty much establishes that, yes, there really is something supernatural going on and that she’s not just going crazy.  At the same time, the movie makes it pretty clear that her fiance is up to something and so is not to be trusted and is almost certainly involved somehow.  So we spend the movie pretty much waiting for it to get around to explaining all of this to us, and so we aren’t really surprised at the end when we discover that there is something supernatural going on and the fiance is involved.  Which means that all we have to do there is pay attention to the explanation the movie is trying to give us.

Which does not exactly work out well for the movie.  The movie exposition dumps on us that the Hell is a place on Earth, and it turns out that the building she lived in is one of the places on Earth where Hell is.  Because she was born there, somehow Satan has a hold on her and so when she dies she’s going to go to Hell, even though she seems like a fairly good and nice person.  The fiance also lived in that building, and so is damned as well, but it turns out that he’s a member of a Satan-worshipping cult that is trying to bring her back to the building to die so that she can be truly and properly damned.  Somehow.

This, of course, is fairly ridiculous.  The idea that Hell could be places on Earth and the titular lurkers are the damned souls is actually an interesting one, but nothing holds together about the scenario as presented.  Why would someone who just lived in that building be automatically damned?  And if all the cult members are also automatically damned, why are they so willing to do Satan’s bidding to try to get her to come back so that she can be really damned?  And who is that woman who tries to warn her and why does the main character turn into her after her Downer Ending?  And remember, the movie stops to infodump a lot of this on us and so we actually have time to stop and think about this as it’s happening, so this isn’t all Fridge Logic.

The main character isn’t all that sympathetic a character, and gets a Downer Ending at the end so we don’t even get a Hope Spot at the end.

The movie structures itself so that the final reveal is the major thing of interest in the movie, and then the final reveal itself isn’t all that interesting.  I can’t imagine watching this again.

Thoughts on “Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”

May 19, 2021

I was intending to talk about Saba Sebatyne this week, but in reading further into “Fate of the Jedi” I noted that something that I wanted to talk about might not be how I remember it, and since I am planning on doing deep dives into that series I figured that I’d at least wait until I was finished the series to examine that if I still thought I was correct about it (and I do still think that I’m correct in at least some way, but just want to make sure that I don’t say anything outlandish there).  So now it’s a good time for me to return to talking about the science fiction movies that I’ve been watching with “Space Hunter:  Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”.

When I talked about “Slipstream”, I noted that you could get the science fiction equivalent of the “slasher” movie by coming up with a very basic premise that let you explore the oddities of a science fiction world, which then would be interesting because of the different science fiction takes on the world that was being built.  This movie refutes that premise, because at its base that’s what it does.  A space bounty hunter type gets a message to try to rescue three women who crashed on a totalitarian planet, who end up being captured by the evil dictator who seems to drain life force or some such thing.  He meets a local girl and then a rival bounty hunter as they move through varied environments to try to rescue the women.

The first problem with this movie is that the environments aren’t really compelling and the world isn’t very fleshed out.  We never really understand what the power structure of the world really is or why those environments developed the way they did.  So it seems more like random wandering and running into random encounters than it does like exploring a science fiction world, which then of course loses the main benefit of this kind of plot.  If we don’t really understand or care about the world, then a plot that gets us to go through that world isn’t giving us anything else to cling to.

The second problem is that the plot itself is way too basic.  While saving the women is the main goal, we rarely find out what might happen to them, why they are important, or even get a good understanding of them as individuals to make us care about them.  So the only reason for us to care about them is for the same reason as the hero, which is that he’s getting paid to rescue them.  But obviously we aren’t getting paid to rescue them, and the movie doesn’t really set up a good reason for him to want the money, nor does it set up a plot where he can sacrifice the money for some other good, so we end up not really caring about them or their rescue.  That forces us to rely on liking the characters as a way to get us into the movie.

And the characters aren’t all that interesting.  The rival bounty hunter is very underdeveloped, the young local girl is just really, really annoying, and the main bounty hunter is pretty much a stock lead for this sort of movie and gets little development.  So we don’t really have any reason to want to see them succeed or to really care about them, so we don’t get the boost of interest in that way either.

So, overall, it’s not a very good movie.  The structure is the right one for this sort of movie, but it doesn’t fill in the parts properly to even rise to the level of “Slipstream”.  I don’t think I’ll watch this movie again.