Archive for June, 2021

Mess Effect

June 30, 2021

Shamus Young recently compiled his long-form retrospectives on “Mass Effect” into a book available in print and for E-readers called “Mess Effect”.  I tended to re-read the retrospectives fairly regularly while compiling but thought it would be really, really nice to have it in print form so that I didn’t have to read it on a screen and didn’t have to stop every so often to click to the next post and let it load.  So I bought it, and then after finishing my reading of classic works I decided to sit down and read the entire thing (all 700+ pages of it).

Shamus was basically reacting to his own sense of loss at having the specific sort of game/story that was started in Mass Effect changed into something else, as well as both his and the reaction of others to the ending.  He posted a video by MrBtongue at the end of his retrospective which posited that the story of Mass Effect was good right up until the ending, which dropped the ball (full disclosure:  I haven’t watched that video).  Shamus disagrees, and thinks that the problems started long before that and it was only at the end where everything finally fell apart.  “Mess Effect” is a book/retrospective whose purpose is to make that argument, as well as perhaps document the decline and fall of the series and Bioware as a whole.

Now, I’ve played the entire series, and my reaction to the game and its story is an interesting one in light of those comments.  I certainly didn’t think that the story in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 was great, and didn’t think that the ending was all that good.  But I didn’t really hate any of it either.  My impression of the story in ME2 was that the plot was incredibly thin, but that it existed for no other reason than to give the player a reason to go around recruiting all of those interesting characters, and that it worked pretty well at that purpose.  This made me like the plot of ME3 a bit better than that of ME2 because it at least was trying to tell a story and so, well, actually had a plot.  But I didn’t think that it was a wonderful plot either, just a serviceable one.  As for the ending, my reaction to that was literally “This Star Child AI/VI is just nuts and so I have to destroy all the Reapers, because if I merged with this thing to control them I suspect I’ll end up as crazy as it is”.  I did, of course, note the idiocy of “Synthetics develop to wipe out all organic life, so we have to try to solve that by wiping all of them out first for … some reason”.  The explanation is nonsensical on its own and doesn’t fit in a universe where we have examples of synthetics that would be happy to co-exist with organics if the organics would only let them (seriously, going the other way would make more sense, having them wipe out organics to try to preserve synthetics).  So yeah, it was nuts.

One of the advantages I had with the series is that I’m pretty much immune, it seems, to writer fiat.  If I can tell that the writer wants me to believe something but the work doesn’t actually develop or show that, I can most times pretty much reject the frame of the writer and simply go with what makes sense.  This means that dropping into the Primary World isn’t as big a deal for me in those cases, as I just note what the writer was trying for, note that they failed, and move on with my own assessment.  That’s why I was able to simply consider the Star Child nuts even though it was probably supposed to be profound, and also why Kai Leng didn’t really bother me because while the writer might have wanted me to think he was cool I considered him a complete poser who was trying and failing to be Shepard, and so wasn’t a real threat.  I judged both of them on what the writer had revealed, not on what stylistic devices the game and writer employed to try to make me care about him more than he deserved.  And so I was pretty much able to skate on past them without too much concern.

But after reading “Mess Effect”, I have a new opinion on the game and the series.  I think that Shamus is right that the problems started much earlier than the ending of ME3 and that the fact that ME2 and ME3 spent time abandoning what ME1 had set up but didn’t replace that with anything else was going to make it extremely difficult to create a satisfying ending.  I also agree that the worldbuilding in ME1 and the things that they didn’t ditch from that game were the only things that worked in ME3 (the Genophage, the Quarian/Geth conflict), and so if they had done more worldbuilding and kept more from ME1 things would have worked better.  But I also think that the ending would have been better received if it, itself, had been better.  If the ending was done well, then the reactions would have been much less angry.  And the ending could have been done much better, even if it didn’t have that much to work with.  I’m going to take another couple of posts and talk about how I think that could have been done.

Thoughts on “Sense and Sensibility”

June 29, 2021

This is the last of the Jane Austen novels that I had picked up.  As I’ve noted before, for me, at least, to enjoy a Jane Austen novel you really have to like the viewpoint heroine.  If you don’t — as was the case for me with “Emma” — then you aren’t going to enjoy the book since most of the time in the book is spent not necessarily on but definitely with that character.  Here, I do find the mostly sensible Elinor to be an interesting character, so on that point the book certainly had promise.  And I found that I enjoyed it right up until the ending, which kinda ruined it for me.

The main plot is that Elinor and the rest of her family — mother and two younger sisters — are forced to leave their home after her father dies and his estate passes to another family member, who isn’t a bad person but is a bit weak-willed and influenced by his wife who isn’t all that fond of the family of her husband.  However, the family soon moves off to a reasonable cottage with reasonably friendly and concerned neighbours so that they can have a fairly decent life.  However, to secure their futures the girls are going to have to marry well, or at least decently, since their estate is so small that it won’t attract suitors.  However, Elinor seems to have a decent suitor who might even come into a fortune in Edward, while Marianne seems to be doing quite well with the somewhat established Willoughby.  Given that this is a Jane Austen novel, obviously things are not going to be that simple for them.  As the book progresses, Edward is reveal to have been secretly engaged for years to someone Elinor comes to know (Lucy) and Willoughby ends up abandoning Marianne to get engaged to someone else, which given Marianne’s romantic personality is utterly devastating for her.  There is another contender for her hand in Colonel Brandon, but she has shown no interest in him and he seems to get along far better with Elinor.  And then there’s the requisite set of odd characters to cause problems for the girls and do various plot and character things.

As an aside, I think I’ll do another post where I talk about how I think that Marianne’s personality would have worked better in the title role for “Emma” than Emma did.  Marianne is shallow and spoiled and flighty and overly romantic, but even despite those obvious flaws she’s still sympathetic, and so can get away with being rude and overly aggressive in her views, especially since many of them follow from her wanting to protect others.  When she realizes, for example, what Elinor was hiding from her in her grief over the loss of Willoughby, she becomes fierce in defending Elinor from the slings and arrows of those who would slight Elinor.  In a sense, she’s a bit like Hanna from “Pretty Little Liars” except that she’s a bit nicer and so, again, more sympathetic.

Anyway, onto the ending.  We’re left at the point where it looks like Elinor and Edward will not get married as he has been disowned by his family for refusing to break off his engagement with Lucy in favour of a more wealthy match.  Marianne has almost died from an illness and Willoughby has gotten married to another woman.  Then, Willoughby returns to talk to Elinor and to plead his case to try to get sympathy, and that scene and the rest of the book seems to imply that we should feel sorry for him, but the extent of his punishment seems to be that he won’t get to marry Marianne, and so while he isn’t a complete cad who had no feelings for her it still seems to be far too little, too late.  This contrasts with Lucy — who confided in Elinor throughout the book — who ends up resolving Elinor’s problem by marrying Edward’s brother Robert instead, who had been granted the 1000 pound income that was supposed to be Edward’s but was taken away when he refused to break off the engagement to … Lucy.  The book presents the plan as being Lucy’s, not Robert’s.  And while I can believe that I dislike how the book ultimately ends up portraying her far more negatively than Willoughby, despite all accounts of her earlier in the book suggesting that she was really in love with Edward.  I really think it would have been better for Robert to come up with the plan out of sibling rivalry and for her to go along with it either by being swept away by events — she didn’t seem to have a lot of sense herself in the rest of the book — or because she does see the advantage and cares little for actual love and feeling (which would contrast her nicely with Elinor who is more than happy to accept Edward and his limited income because she really cares for him).  As it is, a character that we had no reason to think mercenary turns out to be and one that we think is mercenary is implied to not be so mercenary.  These sorts of reversals are common in Austen books, but I don’t think she established their natures well enough to make the reversals seem plausible.

Also, the ending implies that Colonel Brandon does manage to land Marianne in the end, which should make us happy for him because as Marianne reminds him of his first lost love he would finally get his romantic hopes fulfilled instead of dashed.  The problem I have with this is that it really does seem like he and Elinor are better suited for each other than he and Marianne are, so I really would have rathered that the two of them get together.  This is even hinted at in the book.  The interesting thing here is that all of his attentions to Marianne could have been ultimately explained by his finding her a reminder of his first love, but in the end that could have been used to explain why he didn’t have any romantic interest in her, because the reminder of his first love was too painful for him to feel those feelings again.  So all of his attentions to Marianne might simply have been him trying to ensure that she didn’t end up with the same tragic outcome as his first love.  However, as a more mature man he could easily have explained that he was interested in Elinor all the time because he was done with romance and more interested in sense and sensibility, which Elinor possessed and Marianne didn’t.  Now, you could argue that doing that would leave Marianne unattached, but she was still relatively young and still beautiful, so she was certain to catch someone’s eye and a new character could have been introduced for that (through Brandon, perhaps?).  At any rate, she didn’t need a full-on happy “I’m married!” ending to at the very least leave us contented with how things turned out for her, and for me it doesn’t seem like marrying Brandon is the best outcome for either of them.

So, I did for the most part enjoy reading the novel, but the ending kinda ruined it for me.  So I don’t think I want to read it again.  This means that I like “Pride and Prejudice” the most out of these three, especially since I would read that one again.  I suppose I’m just not a Jane Austen fanatic, but am someone who might like some of her works.

Talk About and America Says

June 28, 2021

So as noted last week, I’ve been watching some game shows for noise at various times, including some that are older and some that are more modern.  What I’ve noticed is that at least some of the older shows have very interesting interactions that you don’t really find in the more modern shows.  And the Canadian show Talk About has a set of quite interesting interactions.

The main premise of the show is that you have two teams of two players. Each team goes in turn, and each player on that team is given ten seconds to talk about a topic against a list of ten words.  Their goal is to name as many words on that list as they can.  If they don’t manage to name all the words on that list, the opposing team gets to see the words that they didn’t name and try to guess what they were trying to talk about based on only those words.  If the opposing team is successful, they get points equal to the number of words that the first team managed to name in their turn.  If they aren’t, then the first team gets those points.  They go back and forth in this way until one team reaches fifteen points, at which point that team wins the game and moves on to the bonus round.

In the bonus round, the players decide on a prize to play for and something to talk about, and then one of them goes into a soundproof booth while the other is given 20 seconds to talk about that topic.  The team earns $100 (yeah, this was a while ago) for each word that person names.  When the time runs out, the person who was talking about the topic gets to see all the words that were not named and is asked whether they want to bring the other person out to talk about that topic as well.  The other person is given a number of seconds equal to the words that were named, and if they manage to say just one of the words that were not named their dollar amount is doubled and they win the prize they chose at the beginning of the round.

The main dynamic in the normal gameplay is that the players want to get as many words off the list as they can to make it more difficult for the other team to guess what they were talking about.  However, because of that there’s a dynamic underneath the main dynamic, which is that if you aren’t going to get 8 or 9 off the board — and so make it really hard for them to guess what you were talking about — it’s actually far better for you to only get 2 or 3 off the board than 5 or 6.  Yes, they are almost certain to guess what you were talking about, but at least they won’t score a lot of points when they do and so won’t make too much progress towards winning the game.  So it’s better for you to fail disastrously than it is for you to merely do okay.  While I don’t see any players trying that, it’s always an undercurrent in my mind whenever someone does exceptionally poorly talking first, and so adds an interesting dimension to the game.

And it’s one that I think could be easily added to the modern game show “America Says”.  The premise here is that there are two teams of four who are given a question that has been asked of a number of people in America, and the top seven answers are left as blanks with only the first letter showing.  Each player takes turns trying to fill in one of those blanks for a varying amount of points apiece (100 in the first round, 200 in the second, and 300 in the third and final round) with a time limit of 30 seconds for the entire round.  If they name all seven, they get bonus points (1000 in the first round, 2000 in the second, and 3000 in the third round).  If not, play passes over to the opposing team and they try to name as many as they can of what was not named with no real time limit.  For each one they successfully name, they get the points.  And this proceeds through all three rounds and the team with the highest score wins the game and advances to the bonus round (which I won’t talk about here).

Now, obviously this already has a lot of similarities to Talk About.  But it lacks that underlying dynamic, and I think it could add it easily with one minor rule change:  whichever team clears all seven words off the list gets the bonus points.  Thus, if the opposing team is stealing points and manages to clear all the remaining words off the list, they get the bonus that the first team would have gotten if they’d named all seven in their round.

This would mean that the first team wants to name as many words as they can to get the points.  But if they name six words, that leaves only one word for the opposing team to try to guess.  It should be the toughest word and so should be really hard to guess, but all the opposing team needs is one inspiration and they get a ton of points out of it.  On the other end, if a team only gets one word they won’t gain a lot of points, but it would be really, really difficult for the opposition to run the board.  So if you aren’t going to run the board, you want to get around 3 or 4 to make running the board more difficult (unless you really need the points to stay in the game).

Now, people might say that this would upend the game by letting people steal their way to massive points and massive leads.  It turns out that it is about as rare for the opposing team to sweep the board as it is for the first team to sweep the board, so it shouldn’t have that big an overall impact other than adding a bit more tension.  And it would help to overcome an issue where a team can have such a big lead that the opposing team cannot catch them after their round in the third round, or where a team can name enough words to come back and overtake the team that was leading in their third round.  The possibility of running the board should leave it so that almost all of the time a team can come back if they manage to steal a board, adding to the tension of the show.

(Note that having the game end anticlimactically is also a problem with “People Puzzler”, where in the final round if the person in the lead gets to go first and runs the board the other player cannot catch them.  The game flip-flops between the person trailing going first and the person leading, but that’s because there are two puzzles given and the player who goes first gets to choose which one to play.  It seems like they should give the person in the lead the advantage but it risks making for an uninteresting final round.  This one is a bit harder to fix.)

Anyway, I think the best game shows have these kinds of dynamics where even if the contestants don’t explicitly acknowledge and take advantage of them they are in play and can be interesting for the viewers to watch and pay attention to.  And, as noted, I don’t think modern game shows have enough of these, or as many as the older shows.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Finals

June 27, 2021

So, I chose the two home ice advantage teams in the third round.  The home ice advantage teams went 1 – 1.  So that leaves me at 5 – 9 for the season.  And home ice advantage is at 4 – 10.  And, even worse, for me the wrong team beat home ice advantage, leaving me in the same situation I was in the last time Montreal won the Cup:  the finals being Montreal vs a team I didn’t care for, leaving me no team to cheer for.  I’m far less annoyed by Montreal these days and don’t dislike Tampa Bay as much as I disliked the Kings at the time, but all I can say is that it’s a good thing that the games start too late for me to watch, as I have absolutely no reason to watch them.

So, prediction:

Montreal vs Tampa Bay:  Montreal seems to have managed to put it all together for this run and doesn’t really seem to have any major injury problems, while Tampa Bay might.  But Tampa Bay is the more skilled team and has fought through a number of tough opponents — ending with the Islanders — and so should be able to handle what Montreal is going to try to do to them.  The goaltenders seem evenly matched, and both sides seem to be willing to work hard and fight through the various tricks of the other team, so it should come down to raw talent.  And that favours Tampa Bay.

Choice and Outcomes

June 25, 2021

So I’m reading “Living Without Free Will” by Derk Pereboom.  I’m only two chapters in, and so far it’s not really talking at all about how to live without free will or even showing that we don’t have it, but instead is basically summarizing — and somewhat attempting to refute — the competing views on free will, and so is summarizing a lot of the points found in “Four Views on Free Will”, usually using the same people as references.  So there isn’t really anything new yet.  However, while reading the chapters some new things occur to me and so I’m going to comment on them.  And in the first chapter it’s about Frankfurt examples and how this demonstrates what choice really means to us.

To refresh everyone’s memory, Frankfurt examples are examples aiming at the idea that free will requires that there be alternate possibilities by inventing cases where there aren’t any actual alternate possibilities, but we still think that the person chose to do it anyway.  In general, these cases tend to be ones where someone is allowed to work through the entire decision-making process, but if that process produces the “wrong” decision some external force intervenes and “switches” the choice — and the outcome — to the “right” one.  So, obviously, if they chose the wrong one that wouldn’t be a free choice, but surely if they made the right choice the first time they made a free choice, right?  So this proves that free will does not rely on having alternative possibilities or being able to do otherwise.  And there are lots and lots of examples where people try to save that view from the examples and other counter-examples and so on and so forth.

What struck me while reading things this time is that this is really proving something that was obvious but that our language was somewhat hiding.  Free will was always about choices, not necessarily about outcomes.  So what we want is to have the ability to choose otherwise, even if we can’t or couldn’t implement that choice.  And why this is obvious is that we always had the possibility of choosing to do something and yet discovering as we try to implement that choice that it can’t be done, or failing to implement it, and we don’t see that as striking at free will.  If I choose to do something and then discover as I try to do it that I can’t, we don’t think that our original choice was invalid or not a free choice.  Instead, we usually think that at the very least we decided to try to do something but ultimately ended up being unable to do it.

Let me return to my standard example of this:  someone choosing between Sloppy Joes and poutine for lunch.  They hem and haw and pore over the menu and finally decided to order Sloppy Joes.  And then the waitress informs them that the cafeteria has run out of Sloppy Joes and so they can’t have that for lunch.  We clearly wouldn’t think that their entire decision-making process was invalidated by that.  Their decision-making process did indeed settle on having Sloppy Joes for lunch.  But when they tried to actually implement the decision, they were prevented from doing it by the fact that there weren’t any left.  So they had to have the poutine.  If those were the only two choices, then there was only one outcome:  they were going to have poutine for lunch (putting aside them leaving and going somewhere else for lunch, but let’s ignore that for now).  But the decision-making process still proceeded and came to a conclusion, and nothing that happened later can invalidate that.  If it was a free choice, it remained a free choice even if the implementation of the choice failed.

This also carries on to the more classic example from John Locke, of the person staying in a room that is locked and so they can’t do anything else but stay in that room.  If they are unaware of that and never try to leave the room, could we say that they are freely choosing to stay in the room?  And the same thing applies.  They are free to decide to stay in the room or to leave the room, but the only choice that they can do successfully is to stay in the room.  As soon as they try to leave the room, they will discover that they can’t leave the room.  But they surely can make a free choice to stay in the room (if they are unaware that they can’t leave it).  And, in fact, I’d argue that they can make a free choice to leave the room, right up until they discover that they actually can’t.

The reason why that might seem confusing is because of how we talk about it when our choices fail.  Let’s return to my lunch example.  How the person is likely to describe it later is that they tried to choose Sloppy Joes, but they were out of them, so they chose the poutine instead.  So it implies that not being able to implement their choice impacted their actual choice.  Instead of saying that they choose, failed, and then chose again (or had no choice), they say that they would have chosen X but instead had to choose Y.  And this is actually not an unreasonable way of thinking about it, since in general if we are aware that an option isn’t available we won’t choose it, even if we acknowledge that if it was available we would have chosen that.  So if the waitress had told the person that they were out of Sloppy Joes before the person made their decision, that would have been a perfectly good description of what happened.

However, the person made their decision before knowing that they couldn’t implement it, and only after discovering that switched to another decision.  So they made a free decision to try to do something but failed to implement it.  And that’s how we really should describe it:  I chose to try to do X, but I failed to do X, so in response I chose to do Y.  This, then, applies to the locked room as well.  The person in the locked room chose to try to leave the room, but failed to do so because the door was locked, and so had to stay in the room instead.  Our common language tends to bind the choices to the outcomes because the main purpose of our choices is to make a choice to generate actions to attempt to produce outcomes, but in the context of free will the really important thing is making the choice, not implementing it to produce a specific outcome.  After all, if someone tried to do something but chose a sequence of events that by happenstance produced a different outcome, we wouldn’t say that they chose that outcome, but instead that they chose to try to produce one outcome but instead accidentally produced another outcome.  We acknowledge that we can choose to try to produce an outcome and ultimately not succeed at producing that outcome.

I submit that the Frankfurt examples — or, at least, their damage to the “alternate possibilities” idea — are all examples of that confusion, where we focus overmuch on there being alternate outcomes when what we really care about are alternate possible choices.  For free will, we want to be able to choose to do otherwise, even if we can’t actually successfully do otherwise.  Tunneling down to specific outcomes and possibilities only confuses the issue and moves us away from focusing on choice and decision-making processes and towards what can happen in the world, which is not at all what we wanted or what free will is really about.

Thoughts on “The Call”

June 24, 2021

This is a solo horror movie this time, not part of any pack and so something that I saw lying around for an inexpensive price and decided that I wanted to try.  The basic premise here is that a new guy moves into a town in 1987 and joins up with a group of people who have a grudge against an elderly couple in town because she supposedly killed the younger sister of one of them.  They go to break the windows in their house, end up confronting her, she then kills herself, and then they are all called over to the house in the middle of the night by her husband who tells them that if they talk on the phone with the dead woman they’ll get $100,000 each.  They accept, and one-by-one they get sucked into a horror world where they are confronted by their greatest fears and failures.

When I first started watching the movie, I was actually hopeful.  It started out so well.  The movie hints at something in the guy’s past that could be related and he falls somewhat neatly into the group, and so they start developing things and relationships fairly quickly.  This is important in a movie that’s an hour and a half long.  However, things quickly go downhill, as other than the scene of the elderly lady’s suicide there’s absolutely no horror aspects for the first two-thirds of the movie.  This means that they have to cram in the horror aspects in the last half-an-hour, which means that they don’t have the time to set-up the psychological traumas all that well.  We understand them, but they don’t have the oomph that they could have had if they had spent more time letting us know about them.  It also means that each person is consumed by them remarkably quickly, which again mutes the horror aspects since they just don’t last that long.

The movie also fails to properly pay-off the things that it developed earlier in the movie.  The guy’s secret is that he got a girl pregnant, she wanted to tell their parents, he didn’t, she got upset and drove off into a rainy night and got into an accident that killed her.  He also rather pointedly didn’t throw a rock at the house.  You would think that these aspects would be used better, and that in fact the fact that he didn’t throw a rock would be used to have him get through the house and survive.  And he goes in third — before the girl whose sister was killed — and does make it out alive, with his former girlfriend professing love for him and telling him the secret of how to get out.  So, yay?  Except that he goes back for the girl whose sister was killed and tries to save her, and in a confrontation ends up killing the old woman’s husband, and then at the end ends up back in the horror world and this time his girlfriend is as confrontational as everyone else and he seemingly dies.  Now, it could be the case that the first time the old woman’s spirit — who claimed to the girl that the two of them were consumed by hate and revenge — had nothing against him but after he killed her husband she did, but when he escaped the first time she tells her husband that he’s escaped in a way that suggests he shouldn’t have, and the movie never makes that clear.  So it’s just incomprehensible and so the things that are set-up are not properly used.

What is set-up and paid off, at least in part, is that when they confront the old woman she asks the girl where she got her necklace, and it turns out later that it was a necklace that the old woman had given the little sister, and so that proves that the girl killed her own sister and was using the old woman as someone to blame for that.  The problem is that for the horror part and the constant harassment campaign to work the girl needs to be feeling guilty over killing her sister, but how the scene of the killing is presented she’s a complete psychopath and so unlikely to be feeling any such guilt.  The entire rest of the movie presents her as a bit rebellious but as a character that we’re supposed to like and feel sympathetic towards, including the scenes after that where she has to face her sister in the horror world (and gets killed there).  So the tone in her sister’s death clashes with the tone of the rest of the movie, creating a contradiction that was really annoying.

Also, while it’s billed as a callback to the 80s, the telephone angle is a huge anachronism.  It’s portrayed as being able to talk to the dead, and as explanation the husband says “Isn’t technology grand?” but no one believed that telephones could, in general, actually talk to the dead without some kind of supernatural influence.  “Dark Shadows” played off of having a phone in a grave, but that was due to a character being scared of being buried alive, not so that she could talk to people after she actually died.  So more explanation was definitely needed there, and that line only makes things worse, not better.

At any rate, for a movie that started off so promisingly it, it loses it all by taking way too long to get to the horror and not paying off the things they hinted at in the bulk of the movie when it wasn’t doing horror.  I can’t imagine watching this movie again.

Deep Dive: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss

June 23, 2021

I think I’ve figured out how I’m going to approach this.  Instead of going “scene by scene”, as it were, I’m instead going to take each thread on its own with a broad overview, stopping to talk about specific things in the thread, and then moving on to the next thread.  The reason for this is that there are a lot of threads in this series — which I think is one of the reasons the series isn’t all that good — and many of them drag on and on and on.  Skipping them and summarizing them will avoid you guys being as bored of the series as I was.  In addition, this will allow me to identify threads that are in each book and then talk about only that, without having to read the entire book again.  So it works out for everyone.

This is Troy Denning’s first kick at the can.  He did play a prominent role in the first two megaseries, but he also wrote the “Dark Nest” trilogy, which is the one Star Wars trilogy from Legends that I have absolutely no interest in reading again.  He also is the one who seemed to like to focus a lot of Saba Sebatyne and Alema Rar, characters that I ended up really disliking precisely because of that focus.  Suffice it to say, if Allston and Golden weren’t doing it for me, it wasn’t likely that Denning was going to save the series for me.

So let’s start with the irrelevant thread from the last book:  Vestara and the Sith.  Here, they meet up with another character that will be important later but right now is a complete unknown:  Abeloth.  She summons Ship away from the Sith and a group of them are sent to retrieve him, but end up crash landing on a very wild planet where pretty much everything is trying to kill them, and after many losses they end up meeting Abeloth, who “protects” them.  Which means that she protects them when she feels like it, and lets them die when she doesn’t.  So no, she’s not a good person.  Vestara ends up being able to see her true form, which essentially of a Cosmic Horror, and so breaks free of her spell.  A number of the Sith then manage to escape the planet, and end up confronting Luke and Ben in the strange place where they went next following Jacen’s path, which leads to a fight, which leads to most of the Sith being killed by the Jedi, and that’s where that thread ends.

So what we had in that thread was the combination of two elements that will be important later but that had not been set up beforehand.  You could argue that this was how they were set up, but the problem is that they get their own little disconnected adventure that takes up a lot of space.  Again, because that adventure took up a lot of space we know that it will be important, but we have no idea how it will be important and so have little to no emotional connection to the characters.  Even on my re-read, I just didn’t care that much about them and what they were doing, and even worse it became clear that this little adventure didn’t actually set all that much up for the rest of the book.  So, the adventure here and in the previous book could have been left out and then summarized later and we wouldn’t have missed much, other than perhaps letting this be used to give Vestara some background so that we’d have an emotional connection to her — and her father — for later works.  But that could have been done in a way that took up far less time, and even could have been done “on the fly” as it were at the point where they are all together and the parenting styles are contrasted.

On top of that, Abeloth is going to be jarring for Star Wars fans, because Cosmic Horrors aren’t really a part of the Star Wars universe.  So I imagine that a number of fans were puzzled and confused by this irrelevant story that focused on things that weren’t really part of Star Wars as the fans had experienced it before, but were forced to wade through it to get to the rest of the work.

And, even worse, the Luke/Ben thread seems to be the same sort of thing.  They go to a space station that looks like Centerpoint Station, but it’s in rough shape because all of its inhabitants are lost in the Force and have abandoned their physical bodies.  So Luke decides to do that as well, and ends up in a very mystical — and dangerous — realm where he meets the spirit forms of the dead and where there are all sorts of mystic symbols like lakes and fountains and the like, and a lot of Dark Side power, and lots of semi-philosophical discussions with his unreliable and untrustworthy guides.  Meanwhile, Ben is dealing with two who have returned to their bodies and area also untrustworthy and unreliable, and has to try to keep Luke alive and avoid their tricks.  It cycles back to Jacen’s old and new visions and a lot of things like that.  And then they return to the physical world and have the fight with the Sith.

The issue here is that while Star Wars was always somewhat mystical, it was also a grounded mystical.  Yes, there were the mysteries of the Force, but it was also a world where the mystical monks beat on each other with laser swords.  While none of this is inconsistent with Star Wars, it’s also not what it really focused on, even in Legends.  And, again, a lot of time is spent on these parts.  So what you have here is most of the book focusing on mystical and mythical concepts that don’t seem to fit with Star Wars in general.

As side stories that people could have read separately that could feed back into the main story, these could have worked.  After all, there had to be a number of Star Wars fans that would enjoy exploring the idea of a Cosmic Horror in Star Wars or a deeper exploration of the mysticism of it.  But this is in a book where the Jedi are fighting against the government of the Galactic Alliance with laser sword adventures and legal wrangling.  The pieces don’t fit together very well, but the latter is what Star Wars has always been more about, through the main movies and Legends, and particularly in the other megaseries.  If you wanted something more of the same, the book is promising that but then dropping you into all of these other things that take up more space.

It doesn’t help that the purportedly main thread is filled with idiocy.  Daala wants to encase the sick Jedi in carbonite.  She has arrest warrants for those that fall ill, and the Jedi start ignoring them.  Kenth Hamner wants to turn them over and Cilghal, their medic, refuses and accuses him of wanting to do it as a PR stunt, when as a former diplomat she should at least be able to understand that openly violating the law is not going to go well for them.  She’s right that what Daala is doing isn’t right and probably should be resisted, but she shows no sympathy for his position when she says it has to be brought before the full Council.  If she had done that because she could see the tension but knew that giving up her patients would not in any way help them and so isn’t something she could do as a healer, then that would make her seem more sensible and drive home that this was a difficult conflict and make the situation seem more gray.  We do get a scene later where Leia at least turns it into a debate, but that shouldn’t have been necessary and it makes Leia the only sane one of the people who are opposing Hamner.

And Daala continues to be an idiot.  In order to get in to see the Horn children, Jaina et al wrangle a legal order allowing them visits.  When they get there, the prison administrator has hung them on his wall, which is incredibly and utterly stupid and something that Daala really should have checked on or at least called him out about later.  Then, when she confronts them over the order, Daala implies that they used the Force to manipulate the judge, but they point out that it was signed by the judge that she herself had appointed to oversee the Jedi.  Not only was it stupid of her to walk into that trap — and she had to know there’d be one — being able to see them is something that she had both promised and that was only reasonable.  Especially since two of the people who got to visit were their parents.  There’s no way to win a PR war by denying the ability of parents to at least go and see their children and make sure they’re all right, especially when both are heroes of the Galactic Alliance.  If Daala was portrayed as being in over her head, this could all work, but instead she’s simply acting like an idiot, since she is in no way forced into those moves.  She walks into the traps and, often, sets them herself.

And there’s another ridiculous scene, where once she discovers what was done to her children Mirax Horn punches the prison administrator and knocks him senseless.  The guards are then inclined to arrest her.  This itself isn’t bad.  What is bad is that Jaina then bribes the unscrupulous reporter with promises of extra information if they were really going to arrest a much smaller, older woman for punching the administrator who hung her children on his wall.  The problem is that doing that was either unnecessary or shouldn’t have worked.  That question is just the natural one in that scenario, and is the one that would play the best in the news.  So if the reporter wasn’t biased against the Jedi — either because he disliked them or because he favoured Daala — then he would have just gone with that on his own because it made for a better news story.  And if he was opposed to the Jedi, then he wouldn’t have agreed to the deal.  So, as with the rest of it, it comes across as the authors having no clue how politics and the media work than as an important and vital scene in exploring that political conflict.

We also get more scenes with Han, Leia and Allana, which are tightly integrated into the main story because they are doing things to help the Jedi, oppose Daala, and settle things down.  They’re entertaining and work the best, in my opinion.  There’s also a thread where Jag and Jaina have to deal with their conflicts of interest, which works relatively well but is only a minor part of the book.

Again, there are way too many threads that are too disconnected from each other to work, and the political thread is completely falling flat.  We’re a third of the way through and hope is fading for this turning out well at all.

Thoughts on “Emma”

June 22, 2021

As I noted when talking about “Pride and Prejudice”, the key to Austen, I think, is the viewpoint character.  If you like the viewpoint character, you will probably like the book.  If you don’t like the viewpoint character, you probably won’t like the book.

I don’t care for Emma, so I don’t care for “Emma”.

And from reading the back of the book, it seems that Austen agreed with me, since it says that she had doubts about the character and yet for at least some people she’s their favourite of Austen’s heroines.  However, she is quite a bit different from “Pride and Prejudice”‘s Elizabeth, and just on a personal level I like people like Elizabeth more than I like people like Emma.  But I also think that her character doesn’t really work for the story that Austen is trying to tell in this, the last work that was published in her lifetime.

The book is described as a comedy of manners, and it does differ from the other books I’ve read — I just finished “Sense and Sensibility”, the last of the three that I purchased — in that while it retains Austen’s focus on matters of the heart and marriage, there isn’t a common, clear thread of love and love interests to follow like we see in the others.  “Pride and Prejudice” is the clearest of the ones I’ve read, where from the start we know that the relationships will be Darcy and Elizabeth and Bingley and Jane, and the story is about showing how they overcome the obstacles of pride and prejudice to get together.  But here the relationships are far more fluid, and yet at the end are ultimately predictable despite not really being developed.

Emma Woodhouse, our heroine, is reasonably accomplished and attractive, and also wealthy, but has committed to herself to never marry (in an Austen novel, one should probably expect this conviction to not last the novel).  But after her long time friend and household companion gets married and moves out, she moves to cultivate the friendship of a young woman who was staying at a local school with no knowledge of her parents.  She romantically assumes that the fact that her upbringing was paid for quite easily suggests some kind of parents of “quality” (money, in those times) and then tries to get her married off.  And, in fact, her views that her dear friend Garibaldi Harriet is of some quality causes her to spurn the advances of a local farmer as a match for Harriet and instead of push her towards the local Mr. Elton.  Who, as it turns out, is interested in Emma and not her.  This then ends badly for poor Harriet as Mr. Elton proposes to Emma, is rejected, and then marries someone else.  She then at some point sees promise in marrying Harriet to family friend Mr. Knightley (the only person who can reign in her misdirected passions), and you can probably guess what happens there.  At the end, Emma marries Knightley and Harriet ends up married to the original farmer Robert Martin, and so things end up just as they should.

But the problem with this is that while Austen doesn’t telegraph the relationships as much as she does in her other works, they still come across as being inevitable.  Martin is clearly enamoured with Harriet, and Harriet likes him and likes the farm where she stayed for some time, and it seems like a perfect match for the young girl who has no fortune of her own.  Doubts are raised when Emma forces Harriet to strongly reject his proposal, but when he keeps popping up in the story we’re pretty sure that they’ll end up together.  And while the tropes might not have been as strong in her time, the fact that Knightley is the only person who can reign Emma in and clearly is concerned for her and at the very least a strong friend makes it seem obvious that the two of them should get together, especially since both of them were noted for being seemingly committed to remaining unmarried.  Yes, the two characters whose personalities work well together, are close, and both don’t want to marry anybody end up married at the end.  I can’t say I’m surprised.

However, the big issue is with Emma’s personality.  By nature, I’d be biased against characters that are self-important and self-satisfied, and so cheered on Knightley when he called her out on that.  But I don’t think her character really works for this sort of work either.  This work is definitely more of a comedy, as evidenced by the number of silly characters in it (including Emma’s own father, who is essentially a fussy old man over things like wanting no rich food and worrying about illness all the time).  But Emma is the viewpoint character, and she doesn’t really work in a comedy.  She’s too silly and self-satisfied to work as the straight woman in the work, noting and shaking her head at the foibles of people around her (Knightley would have worked as that sort of character).  But she’s too serious and accomplished to work as a silly character for us to laugh at.  She does get a lot of things wrong, but she doesn’t get them humourously wrong.  So she doesn’t give us a respite from the silliness, but neither does she provide the silliness to make us laugh.  She’s too smart to make us laugh at her stupidity, but not smart enough to see the stupidity in herself and in the people around her.  The only thing that, for me, stops her from being utterly insufferable is that she does seem to legitimately care for her friends and isn’t just doing these things to make herself feel good or to prove her own abilities as a matchmaker.  But that’s about her only true saving grace.

This, then, is where the lack of central thread also hurts the work, because other than the happiness of Harriet — a very minor character throughout —  there really isn’t one to follow.  And Harriet drops in and out of the story so much that even that thread is lost.  This could be the story of Emma’s learning humility, except that she isn’t bad enough at the start for that to carry the entire novel nor is she sufficiently converted at the end of the book to make that the entire point.  And her breaking down over having cost her friends their happiness isn’t a surprise or a revelation.  We would expect that she would react that way, given what we know of her.  So how much, then, does she really learn?  All we have at the end is the knowledge that Knightley will still be reigning her in for the rest of their lives.

So I didn’t enjoy this one.  I didn’t care for Emma, and didn’t find a central plot or character thread to follow around the character.  For me, this isn’t a book that I’ll read again.

Rationality, Retail Value, and “Let’s Make a Deal”

June 21, 2021

So, recently, the game show network that I have and often watch — because I like game shows and often there’s nothing better to watch than re-runs of game shows — started showing relatively recent re-runs of “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal”.  I can’t watch “The Price is Right” very much at all, but it turns out that “Let’s Make a Deal” runs right at a time when I want to have something on for noise and to vaguely follow while doing other things in preparation for settling in for the evening to watch some DVDs, so I’ve at least been kinda listening to it for months now (it’s the Wayne Brady version, not the old Monty Hall version, BTW.  For Monty Hall, I have to wait to watch “Split Second” in the mornings).  And I’ve noticed something interesting about the show that relates to rationality, and it centers on the retail value of prices.

For those who haven’t watched the show, the basic idea is that the host will call up people and have them “make a deal”.  What this means is that he’ll give them a chance to choose something, but that they won’t know what they could get when choosing.  Some of the prizes are really good ones, and some are actual worthless “Zonks”.  The basic premise of the game is that the contestants need to choose the prizes and avoid the Zonks to walk away with something good.  However, there’s an undercurrent to this that follows on from shows like “The Price is Right”, which is that each prize or set of prizes has a retail value that the announcers are more than happy to announce to everyone, contestants and audience.  And what this does is allow for another interpretation of winning, which is to come away with the prizes with the highest retail value.  And the shows encourage this, with “The Price is Right” having people with the higher retail value of their prizes spin last and with Wayne Brady on “Let’s Make a Deal” often talking about how much the person has given up or traded away based entirely on retail value (interestingly, he often totals the retail value of what they’ve given away as if that it what they’ve given away despite the fact that they could never have had all of those prizes).  So we can easily think that one criteria for doing well on the show is coming away with the most cash or cash value (although there is an undercurrent that coming away with cash is in general better than coming away with a prize if the values are close, especially to Wayne Brady since he will commiserate people who took less money as cash by saying that they have cash).

And so, from that, we could think that a rational person, on that show, will in general prefer the prizes with the highest retail value with a slight exception for cash that’s in the right ballpark.  The biggest example of this would be for the Big Deal at the end of the show, where it might seem rational to only go for the Big Deal if you expect to end up with a prize or set of prizes that values more than what you’ve already won.  Obviously, if you’ve won a car, there’s no real sense in going for the Big Deal because you can’t win anything “better”, right?  The Big Deal itself is usually a car, so you give up a certain car for a chance at a car, so that doesn’t really make sense.

Or does it?

In one case, someone who had won a car indeed tried for the Big Deal, and I did think that she was being irrational for doing so.  The reason she gave, however, was that she had come on the show in the hopes of winning a trip for her daughter’s honeymoon, and so getting the chance at the Big Deal meant that she’d have a chance of winning what she really wanted.  Now, I still think she can be criticized for that move because she had no idea that there would even be a trip in the Big Deal and so was most likely to come out behind on the deal, but it does raise the question:  if you don’t want the prize that has the greater retail value, could it actually be rational to deliberately aim for a prize with a lower retail value?

The big example is of one of the prizes that most excites at least some of the contestants and the audience, which is the trip prizes.  What happens if you win a trip, but don’t want to travel?  Or you win a trip and don’t want to go there (you’ve been there and didn’t like it, for example)?  Well, all of that retail value is useless to you because you can’t simply exchange it for that retail value.  The companies that provide the trips provide them to the show for the advertising and additional benefits of being associated with the show, and at worst it ends up costing them the “cost” value of the trips.  So they aren’t going to pay out the retail value of the trips to those who win them but don’t want them, because that would cost them more and they’d lose more than they’d like to, at least, on them.  So someone who wins a trip and doesn’t want it almost certainly isn’t going to get that retail value from the trip if they try to sell it off to someone else.  Now, having won it means that it doesn’t cost you anything either and so anything you get from it — even the good will of your daughter for providing her with a honeymoon — is a bonus, but I can imagine that there might be some people who would prefer the game room to the trip, even if the game room was worth less.

All of this follows from the fact that, as already noted, if you win a prize you get the prize, not the retail value of the prize, and that for pretty much all prizes they can’t be converted to their retail value.  Even if the thing is new, you aren’t going to be able to sell it for what it would be worth new, because other than family or close friends no one will buy something for the price they could get it in the store, because they would have just gotten it from the store then (excluding taxes, of course).  People who can buy a new car aren’t going to buy yours for the price of a new car when they could get it from the dealer itself.  The same thing applies to trips, game rooms, living rooms, and so on and so forth.  The only time that this would happen is if it was something that they couldn’t just buy themselves, which would usually only apply to furniture (it comes from a specific collection and that collection doesn’t sell in their area).  But, in general, you aren’t going to get the retail value for any prize you win, and if you try to sell it you’ll also have that additional hassle thrown in on top of it all.

So, if you’ve chosen a curtain with a trip, and you’re offered something else, could it be rational to choose that other thing even knowing that it will probably be worth less?  Well, if you don’t want the trip and that other thing might be something that you could actually use, then certainly.  The same thing would apply to the Big Deal.  If you have a prize — say a hot tub — that you don’t want but is worth a lot, you might as well go for the Big Deal and see if you can get something that suits you better, at least.  It’s hard to actually lose in that situation, since the worst case is that you might end up with something worth slightly less that you don’t want, and the best case is that you end up with something that you actually want.  Even a car can be reasoned out this way, if you already have a car that you like and it’s not a car that you favour (although a new car, even with the mark down, is likely to be converted to a greater amount of cash than almost all other options).

So while the show often casts value in light of retail value, we can see that the real value is determined by how much the person winning the prize wants that prize.  And, for me, about the only prize I’ve seen that I’ve ever wanted was the arcade game thing.  Because I still miss arcades.

Glass Epistemologies

June 18, 2021

Richard Carrier seems to have gone on a new — or at least relatively recent — kick.  He’s convinced himself that he’s come up with a set epistemology, and now frequently casts his criticisms in the mould of criticisms of an epistemology.  Like he does in this “epistemology test”:

Your epistemology might be broken. Here is one test to find out. And if that’s what you find, you need to repair that broken epistemology; and I have some tips here on how to do that. But the broader skills you need to master for a reliable epistemology I have already covered in Advice on Probabilistic ReasoningA Vital Primer on Media Literacy, and How to Successfully Argue Jesus Existed (or Anything Else in the World). The latter aims at general principles only using “the historicity of Jesus” as a test case, like a working example, in the same way as I will use certain claims about Anthony Fauci here: the objective is not really those specific claims (in the process, yes, we will get some clarity as to what is actually true about those claims—and what not), but actually the general principles you must absorb—because you need to be applying those general principles to every single belief you have about anything whatever in the entirety of your life, before you exhibit any confidence in it.

Rather large claims.  And rather large claims that he’s making despite the fact that, in general, right now it would seem that what he really wants to do is talk about how some claims people are making about Fauci are wrong, or at least aren’t justified, or at least are misinterpreting what was going on.  I’ll get into those later, but Carrier first wants to take on a comment from someone on a previous post about vegetarianism to show the danger of flawed epistemologies.  And it’s important to note that he believes this about epistemology in general:

I just recently encountered another example of this, which I’ll go through before getting to the Fauci test case, to illustrate by disparate examples a simple point: we need to always be focusing on the epistemology grounding a bad argument, rather than simply focusing on fixing or catching the bad arguments. Yes, we also need to do the latter. But we even more need to do the former. Because there is rarely a good reason for us to have even attempted these bad arguments. There sometimes can be—even people using reliable epistemologies can overlook things or make mistakes. But very often that is not what is happening; but rather, the fact that you made a particular mistake, a really obvious one you should not have made, indicates a much broader problem that you should be addressing: the broken epistemology that motivated you to use, and indeed even fall for, those bad arguments in the first place. Because if your epistemology let you do that in that one case, it must be letting you do that in every other case. In other words, catching yourself trusting a bad argument means you have no reason to trust that any of your beliefs, about anything, are well-founded. Since you haven’t been deploying a reliable epistemology, every belief it has generated for you is unreliable. And that means you need a complete revamp, a whole new system check, a repair regimen on your entire epistemology. Stat.

While he gives a very minor nod to the idea that someone can be wrong about something for reasons that, at least, don’t entirely invalidate their epistemology, he does take the strong stance that if you have a belief that follows from a bad argument then that means that your epistemology might be entirely wrong and so nothing that follows from that epistemology is reliable.  So you, at a minimum, shouldn’t accept anything that is generated by your own epistemology until you have analyzed what went wrong in that case and corrected it.  While he doesn’t say anything here about what you should do when it’s other people who have made the mistake, surely they’d have to be considered unreliable as well and so you couldn’t rely on them until you knew why they made the mistake and they corrected any flaws in their epistemology.  Remember that.

So he starts with this comment from CP 9:

I’m disappointed you mentioned Eat This Book, because it’s unreliable, as evinced by the fact that it argues the whackadoo unscientific premise that plants are sentient. Citing that book therefore makes meat eaters look bad.

Carrier replies:

Please take more care in reading what I write. I specifically did not endorse anything in that book. I merely mentioned someone else said it concurred with my position, a fact I explicitly said I had not verified. That you didn’t read what I wrote carefully leads me to doubt you read that book carefully. It is also suspicious that you seem to be picking a single argument (the one you found the weakest) and ignoring the rest of that book as though you had thereby refuted it. This is a huge red flag for a common cognitive bias. That you misread even a single sentence I wrote does not bode well for you having correctly read and absorbed a whole book. So at this point, I am not confident you have correctly apprehended what that book actually says about plants. [Note that I set aside their use of emotional-targeting language in the framing of their arguments, like talking about being “disappointed” and this making me “look bad.” But it is worth noting that as well: this is a broken epistemology at work, replacing facts and logic with emotional shaming and browbeating, and pretending the opposite has just happened.]

So Carrier starts with what really should be his main response:  Someone pointed out that the book aligned with arguments that Carrier had made, and so he advocated for it on that basis.  I’m not going to go look up the context to see if that’s accurate, and so will just trust Carrier here.  But, really, that first sentence generally indicates a response where someone is somewhat guiltily apologetic about referencing something that might make such a bad argument.  At most, they might point out that that wasn’t the argument they purportedly have in common and so that argument can’t in any way reflect on the actual argument Carrier is using.  And then that would be it.  But Carrier can’t do that.  Instead, he for some unknown reason wants to defend the book.  However, at this point he still hasn’t actually read it, nor has he actually read the argument in question.  So to defend the book he has to rely on claiming that CP 9 got his statement so badly wrong as to think that Carrier was endorsing the book that Carrier can no longer rely on anything CP 9 says about the book, so he has no reason to think that that is the argument they are actually making.  That’s … not a defense of the book, although it is consistent with his epistemology.  He correctly cites that it’s a cognitive bias to pick one argument and then ignore the rest of the book, but that actually has no relevance to Carrier unless he thinks that CP 9 was using that to refute Carrier’s argument.  Which he isn’t.  So this really comes across as a knee-jerk reaction to being challenged.  Intellectually, Carrier has absolutely no reason to defend the book in any way, and yet has to do it, even with arguments that don’t in any way reflect the actual content of the book and so can’t defend it.  That’s a pretty strong strike against his own epistemology, wouldn’t you say?  You shouldn’t defend things that you have no need and no ability to defend.

Also, it is rather ironic that Carrier makes a point about ignoring CP 9’s language, because his own comments use an awful lot of emotional brow-beating and shaming.  And in this case, he’s literally doing that instead of providing facts and logic because he doesn’t have any, since at this point he admits that he hasn’t read the book or even the specific argument yet.  So it’s good that he’s ignoring the sin that he himself is committing in spades.

So after this, the conversation continues:

CP 9: I just found it odd that you would mention it. As for the stuff about plants, you can read it yourself to check. I don’t know what else to say except that if someone is getting basic facts like that wrong, then it’s pretty hard to take them seriously from then on.

RC: It’s really your job to present the evidence for your position. So you should be the one quoting the book. But I skimmed it just now and found nothing corresponding to what you said. You seem to be mistaking the actual argument made in it about plants. But even if you didn’t, taking the dismissal of a single bad argument as a refutation of an entire book is simply not sound reasoning. You should never have attempted it. That you did, suggests a problem with your epistemology that you need to fix. “Making up excuses to ignore an argument” would be at the top of my diagnostic list.

Now, it would be fair to say that if CP 9 is going to claim that the argument is bad, he should probably be defending it himself with quotes.  But the problem here is that CP 9 also, at this point, doesn’t seem all that bothered by it.  While Carrier was oddly vigorously defending the book without reading it, CP 9 is perhaps oddly not bothering to attack the book or continue his attack at all.  So while CP 9 could be wrong, all he’s saying here is that he still believes that the book says that and that that argument is so ridiculous that he can’t trust the book on anything else.

But note that Carrier goes on to try to defend the book.  And in a very odd way.  He says that he “skimmed” the book and can’t find the argument.  But then he goes on to say that he thinks that CP 9 is mistaken about that argument.  And yet, he never actually gives that argument, or any argument that CP 9 might be misinterpreting.  He just says that he thinks CP 9 has misinterpreted the argument.  More importantly, he’s not doing it in a more inquisitive way, saying that he can’t find the argument and asking CP 9 what argument he’s referring to.  Instead, he’s insisting that there is no such argument and pretty much accusing CP 9 of misinterpreting the book.  A book, we must recall, that he has at best skimmed.

Even worse, he’s now calling out CP 9 directly for taking one argument and using that to dismiss the entire book.  We must recall that just previously he, in fact, dismissed CP 9’s argument that the book made that bad argument entirely on the basis that CP 9 supposedly misinterpreted Carrier’s statement about why he referenced the book.  So Carrier dismissed or at least called into question CP 9’s comment about the book based entirely on one misinterpretation of CP 9’s about something completely different.  And yet here he’s using CP 9’s statement about the book not being reliable because of that one ridiculous argument against him despite the fact that CP 9’s reference is actually far more relevant to what CP 9 is dismissing than Carrier’s was.  So he’s dismissing CP 9 for making a bad argument that’s actually slightly better than the pretty much identical argument that he made.

And we cannot forget that that precise sort of reasoning is fundamental to his own epistemology.  If someone comes to a ridiculous belief based on their own epistemology, then their epistemology is unreliable and has to be fixed.  One shouldn’t, then consider a source that has a similarly flawed or unchecked epistemology reliable as well.  And if our source is unreliable, by Carrier we shouldn’t trust it.  So all CP 9 is doing is actually applying Carrier’s own epistemology.  To then be called out for having an invalid epistemology either strikes against his epistemology, or reflects that Carrier is more interested here in defending the book than in ensuring that his beliefs and therefore that his epistemology actually work.

The comments go on:

CP 9: I don’t think I made the argument that the book is refuted based on that one argument. It’s clear you’re not going to read the book. I’m sorry for wasting your time.

RC: Yes, you did make the argument that the book is refuted based on that one argument. That was literally the entire point of your first comment: that I should not have even mentioned that book (and the only reason you gave was that single argument); and your subsequent comment: that its containing such an argument indicates none of what’s in the book can be trusted. So you have now completely abandoned your original argument and started pretending you never made it, and instead make an emotional excuse to bow out of this exchange, with the passive-aggressive statement about it being “clear” I won’t read the book and saying you are “sorry” for wasting my time—all rather than presenting any evidence or sound argument in defense of any point you are trying to make. This is all a bad sign. It suggests you are working with a broken epistemology. And you need to do something about that.

Technically, CP 9 is right here.  In his first comment, he merely claims that it isn’t reliable because of that argument, which would not imply that all of its arguments are refuted or wrong, just that we couldn’t rely on them and so at a minimum would have to check all of them ourselves, and in his second comment he merely says that it’s hard to take them seriously based on that argument.  Both of these are the exact things that Carrier has done to CP 9 in this very conversation.  And then Carrier goes on to call CP 9 out for being passive-aggressive while ignoring his own actual aggressiveness.  Tone does not come across that well on the Internet, but CP 9’s response is entirely consistent with someone who said something to someone they actually respect, had them react angrily, and who is now trying to back out of the discussion because they don’t want to get into that fight — and not discussion — with the person they respect.  Yes, CP 9 makes the comment about Carrier not wanting to read the book which is more of an accusation, but he also seems to simply want to let it drop, and Carrier won’t let it drop, and continues to aggressively badger CP 9 into accepting that his entire epistemology is wrong or unreliable.  That’s certainly emotional language, and note that again Carrier has not himself made any argument in defense of the book.  He’s relying entirely on saying that CP 9 is just unreliable and so sees no need to actually defend the book with facts and logic.

And that’s not the end of it yet:

CP 9: If I made a mistake, shouldn’t I be allowed to correct it? You’re not being fair. I used flawed logic, you corrected me, I eventually accepted the correction and I appreciate it. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. It’s not backtracking, it’s called being reasonable.

RC: The problem is not whether you can correct a mistake. The problem is that you made the mistake: that indicates a systemic problem with your epistemology. It is a symptom of a much bigger problem you need to recognize and fix. You should never have engaged in such reasoning to begin with. And until you address that, you will continue to make these mistakes in every area of your worldview and belief system. Here are your failure modes: you started by denouncing an entire book because of just one argument in it. I caught you out on that. Now you have retreated to just saying it has one bad argument people should be aware of, which is no longer a denunciation of the book; and not the argument you started with. And that one bad argument does not appear to even actually be in the book; you’ve failed to adduce any quotations attesting it, despite several attempts at making your point here. [Plus again notice more emotion-targeting language, e.g. saying I’m “not being fair,” implying I’m not “being reasonable,” and other efforts to trigger and shame; I continued to let that slide.]

So, technically, CP 9 hasn’t accepted the correction.  He hasn’t said that Carrier is likely right and that the argument isn’t that, or that the book can’t be refuted based on that one argument alone.  And yet Carrier doesn’t call that out.  At all.  Instead, he’s still focusing on CP 9 having made a bad interpretation — that he’s never shown that he’s even made that interpretation — and that that makes his entire epistemology unreliable and flawed.  You know, the exact argument that in the last sequence he said was invalid.  Heck, even here he references that as a bad approach while at the same time doing it himself.

He also references the emotion-targeting language again, despite a) his using slightly different emotion-targeting language himself, b) that language being reasonable if CP 9 had corrected his reasoning and Carrier was still badgering him about it (as a model that properly takes criticism and corrects its flaws would be a valid one) and c) that he in fact didn’t let that language slide in the previous comment.

And the final exchange:

CP 9: As far as the plant argument, I didn’t quote the book because I didn’t think you wanted me too. But here goes: the title of a subsection is “Plants, Too, Are Sentient Beings” and in that it says “the ethical vegetarian sincerely believes that the plants he consumes in such good conscience do not suffer and have no interests of their own, but his conviction is neither as rational nor as empirically grounded as he supposes” because the scientific evidence entails “like all other living beings, plants have interests and actively pursue them” [and also that they react to damaging stimuli, etc.]. These are deepities: to the extent that they’re true, they’re trivial; to the extent that they’re profound, they’re false.

RC: Those are not deepities: the author is making a correct point about the circumstantial equivalence of having needs and pursuing goals without consciousness. They are not claiming plants are cognitively sentient. You keep making this mistake. Why? You are confusing two different things, and thereby misrepresenting an argument in that book. If moral value attaches to having needs and pursuing goals, then it attaches to plants. Q.E.D. Ergo a vegetarian cannot appeal to those properties as a reason not to eat animals. They may have other reasons for their conclusions, but that’s the point I made before about how you cannot rebut a whole book by cherry-picking a single argument: that book does not assume that’s the “only” argument it has to address, so you were acting irrationally when you acted like it did. They are merely there addressing one particular argument, not “the entire case.” You acted like it was the latter; and then completely misrepresented what that one argument even was, and even got wrong its salience. These are fundamental epistemological failures. Which returns me to my first point: you should not be making any of these mistakes. So you seriously need to examine yourself to answer why you are making these mistakes, and what you can do to change your epistemology so you stop making them—not just in this case, but in every subject of belief in the entirety of your life.

So, finally, Carrier receives the purported terrible argument and tries to refute it.  And provides no quotes on his own, and doesn’t give any quotes or anything to show that his interpretation is correct.  Meanwhile, just taking CP 9’s quotes Carrier’s interpretation … doesn’t seem that likely.  Mostly because the subsection specifically says that plants are sentient, and because the simple argument about interests and reactions to stimuli that is supported by the evidence cites is not one that vegetarians, at least in general, actually make.  So referencing that could only be to clear out some philosophical underbrush before getting into the real arguments.  And that that is what they’re doing is more credible if they were a neutral or vegetarian advocate rather than an opponent to vegetarianism, because it would be aimed at ensuring that no one makes the mistake in thinking that that is what vegetarians actually mean.  No, they don’t give moral values to animals based on that meaning of having needs and pursuing goals.  They mean it entirely in the sense of consciously having needs and goals that they can be frustrated and so feel misery in being blocked from satisfying and achieving those goals, and in reacting to damaging stimuli consciously and being miserable if they can’t prevent it or stop it.  So to use those terms in the way they exist in plants as if that was how vegetarians use those terms in their moral arguments would be at best equivocation (I dislike the term “deepity” because it’s mostly meaningless in most arguments, like in this one).  And since Carrier seems to use it that way, he at least risks that equivocation, if not himself then in those who read that comment.

So Carrier insists that CP 9 needs to fix his epistemology, when it does seem that a major flaw in Carrier’s epistemology is needing to defend his beliefs and actions, even when he could easily give it up and even when it’s pointless to do so.  It also seems like he takes these sorts of challenges personally and so ends up defending his own self-image, which is why he does so so aggressively.  As I just showed, he’s arguing for and against his own epistemology in the same comment, and is blissfully unaware of that, and spent a lot of time defending a book that at the beginning he expressed that he had no need or desire to defend.  That certainly seems like a flaw in his epistemology.

So now let’s move on to Fauci.  Carrier picks up three recent comments where people are calling out Fauci, and tries to deal with all of them.  This is the first:

The first of those is an obvious nothingburger, in which Fauci probably just expresses his interest in Facebook considering doing something to combat misinformation about the pandemic that threatens public health and safety. He does not there endorse anything Facebook eventually actually did; just that he thought doing something was a good idea. Which is entirely correct: Facebook should have done something to prevent its platform being used as a public health threat. One can certainly criticize whether what Facebook did actually succeeded or was crap; but Fauci had no control over that, and no email regarding his opinion of that has been found; so no opinion you have of Fauci can be based on that. So if you made that false equation, your epistemology is broken. Fix it. A reliable epistemology will take care to get correct what the evidence actually is (e.g. Fauci did not command or even comment on any specific Facebook policy or activity; all he did, so far as we can tell, was endorse their concern to benefit public health and safety) and reason without fallacy from that evidence (e.g. nothing negative can be inferred about Fauci’s honesty or competence from this email; it simply evinces him correctly doing his job).

huge red flag for me is trying to oppose a view without ever actually clearly stating it, and Carrier doesn’t do that here.  He simply says that it’s perfectly reasonable for Zuckerberg to talk to Fauci about clearing up medical misinformation on Facebook, and insists that that doesn’t mean that Fauci was involved in what specifically was done.  However, one big problem with his defense here is that he’s assuming that even after Zuckerberg specifically solicited Fauci on it, and even after Fauci expressed interest, that there would be no further conversations on the topic.  So, Zuckerberg would have asked Fauci about this, and Fauci would have expressed interest, but they’d never talk about it again.  Yes, in this E-mail can’t show that, but it’s reasonable to think that there might have been more E-mails, or phone calls, or video calls, or all sorts of other things where they talked about it.  It’s not a smoking gun, but it would seem to make more sense that Fauci was involved in discussions about the specific details of what Facebook wanted to do than that he remained blissfully unaware of any of these things and Facebook just did stuff.  The original E-mail existing at all doesn’t really make sense under that idea (although it is possible, but that would show that at least one of them is incompetent or shady).

However, from Carrier’s own source, that’s not the bigger issue and bigger evidence.  The bigger issue is that something was redacted from that original E-mail, and was redacted because it would expose trade secrets of Facebook:

Zuckerberg, in a March 17, 2020, email to Fauci, offered his platform to help in disseminating information about the virus and mitigation measures. At issue here is another redaction of something a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases aide labeled as Zuckerberg’s “even bigger offer.” Fauci responded to the email saying he was “interested” in Zuckerberg’s ideas.

Critics noted that the redaction was deemed necessary not for the more-standard reason of “deliberative process,” but because of “trade secrets” — i.e. information related to a private business that is privileged or confidential.

“What’s the offer Zuckerberg made to Fauci?” Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked. “The redaction references ‘trade secrets.’ Must be challenged.”

While I’m not certain of the reliability of the “bigger offer” comments, something being challenged because it protects trade secrets suggests that it’s talking about the details of how Facebook does things, which in an E-mail like this would only be relevant if Zuckerberg was suggesting something that he was thinking about doing.  Again, maybe it isn’t, but it certainly seems more reasonable that that “trade secret” was a “Facebook has the ability to …” line than pretty much anything else.  So Carrier misses what the opponents are really concerned about.

I agree it’s not important, though, not because there’s nothing there, but because this is the exact sort of thing that Fauci should be getting involved in in detail.  It’d be more reasonable to call him a fraud if he wasn’t involved, not because he was.  He may or may not have approved what Facebook did, but unless it broke the law no one should care about how involved he was there.

So, now, the second one, which is about Fauci getting an E-mail from someone in a lab who suggested that there might be attributes of the virus that suggested that it was a modified lab sample, and offering to look into it.  Later, that person concluded that it wasn’t a modified lab sample.  However, while that was going on Fauci commented that there was no evidence that the virus was made in a lab, despite his actually having access to at least potential evidence that it was.

Carrier first tries to defend him by pointing out that the first theories were that it was deliberately released, and that seems false, and so now the later theories are that it was accidentally released, and while that’s still possible it’s not likely.  And Fauci never said that it wasn’t accidentally released.

This doesn’t absolve him from the issue above, so this is how Carrier defends that:

Which brings us to the Fauci email. Per The Washington Post, “In a Feb. 1, 2020 email,” which as they importantly note was very early “in the virus’s life in the United States,” the “immunologist Kristian G. Andersen wrote to Fauci stating that the virus had limited ‘unusual features’ that might suggest manipulation in a lab,” and offered to research whether that was the case. Fauci made no objection. Andersen subsequently found the evidence didn’t pan out that way; it turned out to be highly unlikely that the features she was looking at were engineered—the result was that Nature Medicine article I just mentioned. Until that study came out, publicly Fauci always framed the matter as “there being no real evidence” the virus was engineered, rather than there being evidence showing it wasn’t engineered—which was then true. Subsequently it was also true the evidence did indeed show the virus wasn’t engineered, and Fauci then correctly said so.

The problem is that we know that saying “There’s no real evidence” in the context that Fauci was in really does come across as a denial, not simply being careful.  It’s basically weaseling here to say that “Well, he never really said that there was no evidence, but that there was no real evidence”.  But in both words and intent he clearly wanted people to not think that that was the case and so believe otherwise.  So, yes, that would be misleading people given that at that point Fauci did have reason to think that it was engineered.

Still, I agree that this isn’t a problem, because Fauci was also doing politics there and there would have been nasty consequences for suggesting it, and he didn’t know that it was true.  So minimizing that may not be entirely honest, but it’s a reasonable political move.

Finally, masks.  Fauci early on made a statement that people didn’t need to wear masks, and then said later that he knew from the start that masks would be useful — when he was trying to defend mask mandates — but wanted to ensure that people didn’t buy them all up and deprive medical workers of them, and then there’s another source that points out that he told an official that she didn’t need a mask and that it wouldn’t do much anyway.  Here’s Carrier’s defense of that:

This “doesn’t really show Fauci saying anything privately that he wasn’t saying publicly.” Hence “it would probably be more concerning if he had been telling health officials like Burwell something different from what he told the general public. But he didn’t.” Indeed, pay attention to the contextual details: “particularly since you are going to a very low-risk location” means Fauci is not giving Burwell general advice that would apply in a pandemic zone (he’d thus have advised she wear a mask if she went to a high-risk location; which not long after became the entire United States), “drug store” masks weren’t known then to be effective against particulate virus (which was at that time true), and wearing a mask is for “infected people to prevent them from spreading infection” (ditto). Later, scientific studies and case study evidence proved that that accepted science was wrong, or not as applicable to the peculiar nature of Covid-19, finding instead even ordinary masks not only reduce infection in the uninfected but even reduce the severity of infections (thus resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths among those who are infected). At the same time, it was soon discovered that Covid-19 had unusually long periods of asymptomatic infection, and unusually large numbers of asymptomatic infected. Thesefactschangedeverything.

I think Carrier’s right here that it was later evidence that suggested that universal mask wearing would actually provide benefits rather than at the beginning, and that the reason was because we have more asymptomatic cases and so need more protection.  I also definitely agree that at the time regular masks like the cloth masks we use now weren’t seen to provide much benefit.  However, the idea that he even mentioned wanting to keep masks for medical professionals seems odd.  If he really didn’t think they would help much, then why care about them being taken away from medical professionals?  So the most charitable interpretation is that he didn’t think that simple masks would work but professional ones would, but knew that suggesting mask wearing would get people buying professional masks and causing a shortage there.  But then at least publicly he should have simply said that at the time universal mask wearing didn’t seem like it would help, but then with new information it became clear that it would, without even hinting that early on he knew or suspected that wearing masks would help.  As I recall, that’s exactly what happened in Canada, where Theresa Tam said just that.  In saying what he did and implying that one of the reasons he didn’t call for a mask-wearing mandate or suggestion was because he didn’t want people buying up all the masks, it implies that he knew that they would work and lied to people — or at least misled them — in saying that they wouldn’t so people didn’t need to wear them.  Again, that’s not really a concern — no one really thought masks would be that useful at the time he said they wouldn’t be — but if people get the impression that he’s being inconsistent in what he says he really only has himself to blame.

So I agree with Carrier that these aren’t big deals.  However, Carrier doesn’t seem to get what the concerns are and still, as is normal for him, aggressively declares his opponents wrong.  That seems to be a common flaw in his own epistemology that he might want to address before he goes around telling others to fix their epistemologies.