Archive for November, 2021

Thoughts on “The Addams Family”

November 30, 2021

So, after watching “The Munsters” and struggling part-way through “Tales From the Darkside”, I decided to limit the latter to weekends when I had time to write about each disk and picked up the last of the new shows that I wanted to watch before the end of the year, “The Addams Family”, the original black and white series.  I wanted to pick it up and watch it after being reminded while watching “The Munsters” that I had watched the original series as a kid (it was on after school) and after finding and watching the movies.  So I remembered that the original series was a bit different than the movie and wanted to see if my memory was correct, and also wanted to compare it to what I remembered of the one remake that I watched later (it ran frequently early mornings on one channel that I happened to have not that long ago).

The first thing that struck me about the show is that Carolyn Jones was probably the best looking Morticia.  Despite the gothic looks, she was indeed quite attractive, while the others are attractive but at least didn’t come across as generically pretty.  I also noted that I was correct in thinking that in the original series she was much more animated than she was in the movies.  She definitely cared about her children and was more than willing to express that, and so didn’t across as stoic and as unconcerned as she did there.  She was definitely more subdued than Gomez was, but the entire character of Gomez in general had always been as someone who was excessively hyperactive, and so the two of them balanced each other out nicely.

One other thing that I noticed is that in comparison to the remake, Gomez here isn’t all that competent.  In the remake, he was so competent that they had an entire episode where he tried to fail at something and at the end could only achieve the standard “failed at failing” line.  Here, he often manages to miss or fail at the things he tries to do, often in ways that put other people in danger (which, since it’s the family, is usually perceived as a good thing).  He also is beaten at most things by Morticia, who is almost hyper-competent throughout the series.  This isn’t a problem, since she’s also usually the voice of reason in the family and so her being more subdued and competent works fairly well.  This does change a little later in the series when they make her more eccentric, but that leaves Lurch and Thing as the only sane people in the show, and since they don’t talk the family becomes more insanely weird than fun weird.

One other thing to note is that the original series had the children be more normal than they are in later works, especially Wednesday.  This actually better reflected the main premise which was that this was a very odd and creepy family that, nevertheless, though that they were normal and that what they liked was really just what everyone else liked and ought to like.  What this meant was that in contrast to “The Munsters” the show focused less on using their traits and situation to create madcap adventures, but instead focused on taking what would be a more normal real-life or sitcom situation and allowing their odd take on the situation to drive the humour.  Wednesday and Pugsley, then, were acting like real kids would but starting from the odd perspective that their parents had.  Later remakes turned Wednesday especially into a creepy child, which blunted that humour a bit, although it replaced it with a different type of humour that some might prefer.  I did prefer the “we’re normal and can’t understand why people are freaked out by us” humour, even over the humour in “The Munsters”.

One thing I noticed in this series is that Uncle Fester got a lot of play in the series but didn’t really contribute much, while I felt in the remake that his oddity really did add to things, but he was also more of a background character than he was here.  I think that’s because Jackie Coogan was a bigger star at the time — he got highlighted in the credits — but there wasn’t enough for the character to do.  So he got more attention than people like Lurch and Thing but wasn’t an important enough part of the episodes to justify that extra screen time.  Lurch and Thing worked really well as secondary characters that could comment on things and add complications, and Morticia and Gomez worked well as the main leads, but Fester was either over- or underused depending on your view of the show (Mama didn’t really play that big a role in the show at all, and the children were often sidelined as well).

Ultimately, I liked the show.  Some of the episodes can be hit and miss, but I do think that I prefer how it didn’t rely on madcap adventures and instead on just having the family act as would be normal for them in conditions where what they think of as normal really isn’t.  One issue with that is that the episodes often include scenes just to highlight those oddities — for example, Lurch is trying to learn to dance and there’s a scene and a set-up for the character of the dance instructor that is only used for a small part of the episode — which makes those scenes seem very prominent and yet pointless, but overall the humour works pretty well.  I would definitely watch this show again.

Thoughts on the Canadian Olympic Trials

November 29, 2021

So this past week up here in Canada we had the Olympic Curling Trials to decide which women’s and men’s team we’re going to send to the Olympics in February.  Canada is indeed so strong in curling that we could put together a trials with nine teams pretty much all of which would be in the hunt for a medal if they happened to win through, although obviously some of them would be favourites while some of them would be dark horses.  Anyway, since it was on during my last week of work before vacation and I’m working from home I managed to watch a fair bit of the women’s and even some of the men’s — I can see the TV from my work desk — before settling it to mostly watch the women’s playoffs over the weekend.

Let me get the men out of the way first:  Brad Gushue beat Brad Jacobs in a close match to get the nod.  Both of them have won gold medals in the past, although Jacobs’ was quite a bit more recent (he won in 2014 while Gushue’s win was 16 years ago in 2006 when he was, well, obviously quite a bit younger).  I think Gushue should have a good chance to better Kevin Koe’s rather disappointing performance in 2018 where he didn’t win a medal, as Gushue’s been pretty consistently strong over the past four years as well as this season and he doesn’t have the issues with thinking time that Koe tends to have.  He’s also one of the few male players that I like, at least in part because he reminds me of my manager.

The women, of course, had an even more disappointing result in 2018, with Rachel Homan finishing sixth and not even getting to play for a medal (Koe at least lost the bronze medal game).  Early on, Homan had a poor start and the three favourites looked to be Tracy Fleury’s team (which has been having a great season this year), Jennifer Jones’ team, and Kerri Einarson’s team.  Fleury ended up going undefeated in the round robin, Jones was the only other team to finish above .500 for second, and there was a three-way tiebreaker between Einarson’s all-skip team, Casey Scheidegger’s team, and Krista McCarville’s team.  Einarson squeaked out a win over Scheidegger, McCarville beat Einarson, and then Jones beat McCarville to set up a Fleury/Jones final, which Jones managed to win in an extra end.

I’m sure I’ve commented before that I’m not a fan of the Jennifer Jones team, mostly because she keeps beating teams that I like better and also has “Gretzky Syndrome” where while she’s a great player she often gets too much attention when I’d rather the focus be more on the other teams.  That being said, despite my really liking Tracy Fleury’s team I was getting sick of watching them this week because they had something like half of the early round robin draws, and I only got to see, say, Casey Scheidegger once the entire week when she’s a player that I don’t get to see much on the Grand Slam Tour while Fleury, especially this season, ends up making it further and has the rivalry with Einarson and so is seen a lot more.  Anyway, if we look at the last four — Fleury, Jones, McCarville and Einarson — and thinking strictly about who has the best chance of winning a medal, Jones is probably the safest choice.  While she is getting older and so may not be able to make all the shots that she used to be able to make, and also have been inconsistent this season, she’s very experienced and has won gold before with pretty much this team, and so she isn’t likely to buckle under the pressure or have the mental breakdown that Homan had last time around.  Einarson didn’t do all that well at the Worlds when she went, but she’s now worn the Maple Leaf and so should be better prepared for doing that, even at the Olympics.  Fleury’s team is really hot right now, but she has never worn the Maple Leaf and so might not be prepared for all of that pressure, and teams can cool off in a hurry (Homan was hot coming into the Olympics but struggled there).  The most interesting team would have been McCarville, because that team doesn’t play on the Grand Slam and so focuses on the national events, and so they are a lot more experienced than the other teams who play here on the Grand Slam would think, and so she could take them by surprise, and she’s certainly skilled enough because she’s a consistent playoff contender at the Scotties.  However, they don’t get in the games that the other teams get in, and again has never worn the Maple Leaf and so might struggle there.  Jones, again, is the overall safest choice.

And this leads to some calling the whole trials approach into question.  Why not just send Jones every time?  The issue with this is one that I’ve noted above:  Jennifer Jones is getting older and in any professional sport as players age they pick up injuries and the like and just can’t perform at the same level.  This is probably her last chance to go to the Olympics.  So what happens then?  If we never give any of the younger teams a chance, how do they get any experience for when someone needs to replace her?  How do we even figure out who should replace her?  I think the trials is a really good approach, because it gives younger teams a chance to experience high pressure situations and if one of them can manage to upset the more experienced teams then they would at least get a chance to experience the Olympics.  And any team that makes it through the trials is certainly a contender for a medal.  We can’t forget that the last Olympics was the first time that the teams didn’t win at least a medal, and that some of the previous teams were the lower seeds who won the trials and then won gold (like, for example, Brad Gushue).  There are too many really good Canadian teams to just pick one, and assembling a team out of the parts of better teams doesn’t work — it took Einarson’s team 2 years to really get going when it was assembled out of obviously really good players — so I think this works the best.

I will say that the curling, especially on the women’s side, was really, really exciting and tense.  There were a lot of close games, especially the last round robin games and the tiebreakers, and the women’s final was an incredible nail biter, going to an extra end.  The disappointment for me there, though, came because while early on other than Fleury’s team missing shots very early on eventually it settled in to teams making great shot after great shot — and the Einarson/Scheidegger tiebreaker was the same — which is exactly what I like about curling, that progression and strategy.  But the ending was tense because of mistakes.  Jones had a relatively easy shot in the tenth and final end to get two and win the game, but she missed it — and may have thrown it too hard — and only got one, leading to the extra.  And in the extra, Fleury had a relatively easy tap for one and the win that she wrecked on the guard.  The issue here is that it didn’t really seem like these were shots where they had little room to maneuver and had to make a perfect shot, or that these were shots in new areas of the ice where they weren’t sure what it would do.  Jones clearly thought she knew what it would do, and for Fleury they thought everything was fine until it just suddenly went on them.  I’m seeing this more and more in all the curling I watch and it’s annoying me, and often seems to be because of how inconsistent the ice is, where shots often don’t do the same thing.  They often talk about the ice being great but I see far more shots than I remember going awry because the ice doesn’t seem to do what they expect it to.  Is that because the ice is worse than it was?  Is it because the new brooms and sweeping techniques do more damage to the ice and so change things?  Is it because they are all making tougher shots which means that any inconsistency in the ice shows up more?  I’m not sure.  Again, it makes for exciting curling, but I’d far rather be excited by feeling that it’s just great shot after great shot rather than by feeling that it’s miss after miss and so anything can happen.

Anyway, congratulations to Brad Gushue and Jennifer Jones and I will be watching and even cheering for them at the Olympics.  But before that the next curling happens in January (there actually are a couple more events before that but I likely won’t be paying much attention to them) with the Grand Slam returning, the Continental Cup, and the Scotties.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside: Disk 4”

November 27, 2021

I did not know what I was getting into.

I made a mistake that I’ve made before, which is looked at one cover and noted that there were two seasons and six disks there, and so assumed that that was the entire run of the show.  Of course, the other cover also had two seasons and six more disks, which I discovered when I noted while starting this disk that there seemed to be an awful lot of disks left in the pack of there were only two disks left that had actual episodes.  So instead of six disks there are twelve, although some of the later ones only have seven episodes instead of eight, so that will be a help.  But this does mean that if I finish this off there will be posts for twelve weeks instead of for six … or, rather, fourteen and eight, given that I split two episodes out into their own posts.  It looks like an even better idea that I’m offloading these posts to Saturdays.  An another advantage is that so far there aren’t really any new episodes that I want to split out into their own posts, making posting a bit easier.

This disk is the first one in the second season, and so far this season seems to be them moving a bit away from horror stories to focus more on simply weird stories, that may or may not be horrific, which puts it far more in the vein of a show like “The Twilight Zone”.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the stories work, and it’s not like the previous season was all that great at horror, but when the stories are more upbeat and even have happy endings it makes the intro narration and especially the ending narration that focuses on being really creepy seem a bit out of place.  I wouldn’t comment on it but especially the ending narration really was out of place in some cases so that it was noticeable.

The first episode is “The Impressionist”, where a struggling but skilled impressionist is recruited by a government agency to work with an alien that they’ve discovered who seems to get upset if the person talking to them is not in sync with their actions.  So he studies the alien and tries to imitate it, but makes the mistake of looking to the people behind the mirror which upsets the alien.  He begs for the chance to try again and, when denied, storms in himself and manages to make it work.  Later, he’s walking along and sees a bright light, which turns out to be the alien who takes his hand and takes him into the spaceship, presumably to take him to their planet.

This episode is mostly nonsensical.  First, it is odd that the impressionist goes with the agent just from seeing a badge despite not wanting to go and not wanting to get involved.  Second, we don’t learn anything about why the aliens are this way.  We also don’t learn if the government got the information they needed and what that actually was (there is a hint at fusion power but that’s never followed up on).  And we also don’t ever figure out why the impressionist seems so happy to go with the alien at the end and why that seems like such a happy ending for him.  So this episode really comes across to me as “Stuff happens and the guy goes off to another planet”, which is hardly compelling television, even though the performances are fine.

The second episode is “Lifebomb”, where a wealthy businessman with heart trouble is approached with an offer of a “Lifebomb”, which is a state-of-the-art medical device that deploys if something terrible happens and has all sorts of things in it to keep him alive until help can come.  He eventually comes around to accepting it, but his wife keeps bugging him about slowing down and spending more time with her, but he needs to keep running his business, which gets him upset, which causes him to have a heart attack.  The Lifebomb saves him , but when he still won’t slow down his wife threatens to leave him and when he stops discussing it with her to talk to a senator she leaves him, and all of the stress gives him another heart attack.  Awakening in a hospital bed, he is depressed and wants to die, but the salesman notes that this is being paid by his insurance companies to avoid them having to pay out his death benefits, and so he can’t.

Not much really happens in this episode, which is a but of a theme in this season, but the big issue here is the ending.  It isn’t clear why he so wants to die, other than that his wife left him.  If they had made it clear that they could keep him alive but that he wouldn’t necessarily have quality of life — he might end up stuck in that bed forever, for example — then it could have been horrific, but if he was able to walk out of the hospital at some point he could go and apologize to his wife and actually slow down, which would fix the big thing that Lifebomb cost him, especially since while she doesn’t like the thing sticking out of his back it doesn’t seem like she wanted him for his money or death benefits.  So it tries to end with this being a fate worse than death but doesn’t spend enough time establishing that,

The third episode is “Ring Around the Redhead”, where an inmate on Death Row tells his story to a reporter.  He’s an inventor who ends up with a strange kinda volcano thing with a ring on it coming out of his basement, and by moving the ring he can see into other dimensions.  He starts exploring them, and eventually discovers some perfect rubies and shows them to a friend of his, who thinks that strip mining these dimensions is the way to go, but the inventor refuses.  Later, he finds a woman who somehow became entangled on his grappling hook, and as the ring has moved he can’t figure out where she was from originally.  He teaches her his language which she picks up very quickly and he falls in love with her.  His friend returns and steals the ring, but then comes back later with a horrible story about what some other denizens did to him.  The friend ends up dead, the girl disappears, and he’s on Death Row.  However, right at the point where he is about to be executed the girl returns to take him to her dimension, where invention happens all of the time, and the journalist calls her editor calling this the story of a lifetime.

As noted before, not much happens here, and as it has a happy ending it’s not at all horrific which clashes with the narration.  It’s also not clear why his being an inventor is so important here.  Overall, it wasn’t a terrible episode but there isn’t much at all to say about it, which again is not a good thing.

The fourth episode is “Parlour Floor Front”, where a young couple is renovating an old and large building but are upset because the parlour room is occupied by someone that they can’t get rid of and they also can’t significantly raise his rent because of rent control.  He notes to a friend that he’d leave if he had somewhere to go, and ends up offering to help them, which means that the husband drafts him as a labourer, where the husband starts to like him while the wife — who was always more upset and angry about the situation — is still not happy.  They also discover that the tenant practices some kind of voodoo, and the wife wants to see if they can find a way to use that against him.  Later, he’s carrying in an expensive and one-of-a-kind vase that he drops, and the wife tears into him over that.  He then casts a curse saying that if he was responsible the curse would be on him but if not it would be on who was really responsible.  The wife starts to get worried because he tripped over a paint can that she left on the floor and that’s why the vase was dropped, and then her husband hurts his wrist, their cat dies, and she falls off a ladder and claims that she was pulled off of it.  She also tells her husband that she’s pregnant, but it seems like she’s lost the baby from the fall off the ladder.  She then goes to the tenant and insists that he lift the curse, and gives him her ring because he is always paid in gold.  This freaks out the tenant and makes him think that he really is cursed, so he hangs himself.  The showing for the dead body is in the parlour, and the husband discovers the ring in the coffin, as all of the cursed gold he collected has to be buried with him.  The husband mentions this to the wife, and then discovers that she arranged all of that, including killing their cat, as a way to get the tenant to leave.  The husband leaves and the wife, not wanting the ring to be buried with him, sneaks down and steals it, under the watchful eye of his friend who watches her take it but pretends to be asleep.  Later, the body gets out of the coffin and stomps upstairs, demanding his ring back, finally taking it from the wife and, presumably, killing her in the process.

This episode doesn’t really hang together, because it doesn’t seem to be able to decide what story it wants to tell.  About the only thing that’s consistent is that the wife is totally unsympathetic, which then makes it bad that she is the only one really threatened. The ending is especially bad, because it would make more sense given the character of the tenant that he wants to ring back because of the evil associated with it and what that would do if not buried than that he considered some sort of prized possession when he didn’t want to take it in the first place.  This episode really needed a consistent story to make it work, because the clash itself could be interesting but the story as written is just confusing.

The fifth episode is “Halloween Candy”, where an old and cantankerous man is talking to his son on Halloween, refusing to give out candy despite the fact that he didn’t do it last year and was pranked.  The son leaves candy for him and tells him to give it out, but of course he doesn’t and even tries to scare off and play pranks on the kids himself.  At the end of the day, a strange kid rings the bell and in a deep voice demands “Trick or Treat”, scaring the old man but eventually going away.  Time also seems to stop as the phone keeps saying that it’s midnight.  The strange creature also left his bad around and bugs seem to be spreading out from it.  The old man gets hungry and finds bugs in the kitchen, and then again when he drinks some water.  Eventually, the creature comes in again and knocks him down in a scene that was hinted at in the dreams of the old man.  The next evening, the son returns and finds him there, and calls the police, who tell him that the old man starved to death and looked like he was trying to survive for weeks on only a bag of Halloween candy.

The episode confuses itself by hinting that the old man was always hungry and always wants to eat, but then tries to make his starving to death a consequence of that one night’s time stop, and also has to toss in that it looks like elder neglect.  There’s also a big focus on the events of the night, but they drag quite a bit and so it isn’t interesting.  While we don’t really need to know why the creature does what it does, we really would like to know what it did, especially since the episode implies that it killed the old man directly instead of leaving him to starve.  So this is a pretty confusing episode that doesn’t really do anything else all that well, except for having a couple of decent scares.

The sixth episode is “The Satanic Piano”, where a very successful composer is trying to get a new contract with his label who are holding out against him and are saying that they don’t like his new pieces, which causes him issues and to ignore his musically talented daughter.  He gets a strange call offering him a new type of piano that can help him, and when he goes to meet the strange person he discovers that it can play music based on his thoughts.  He takes it home and plays with it, and his daughter does as well.  He finds out from his manager that the person he talked to was associated with a Satanic group, and the inventor has also decided that he is not the one, but that the daughter is.  We previously discovered that a previous attempt resulted in the death of someone but didn’t fulfill his goals.  Anyway, the daughter and machine disappear, and the musician tracks them down where the guy originally showed the musician the machine.  Inside, he finds the guy draining his daughter’s soul to get some kind of power, and so he tries to shut it down and ends up hurting his hand.  Eventually, he interrupts the procedure by interposing his music through his thoughts into hers, and the machine explodes, and the father and daughter leave together, reunited.

Again, an episode where not much happens.  The performances aren’t bad — and Lisa Bonet plays the daughter — but there just isn’t really much here to grab onto.  It isn’t particularly scary and we don’t get a particularly interesting redemption arc and story.  It could have been good but it just needed a bit more.

The seventh episode is “The Devil’s Advocate”, where a guy who hosts a radio show where he pretty much just berates his listeners comes into the studio and is mostly ignored by the tech and rants about how the police found a dead person in his car, so he had to walk.  Then he goes into his schtick, which is pretty much depressing and insulting.  He reveals that his mother, father, wife and son all died tragically, which is why he keeps saying that he’s given up.  His tech in general ignores him and eventually disappears, and then the calls that are coming in seem to be from the past and who are hearing him without a phone or radio.  Eventually, he finds himself sealed in and then the Devil himself starts talking to him, congratulating him for being such a good advocate and bringing many people to the Devil, and the end of the episode has him with a full switchboard, still being “The Devil’s Advocate” for all of eternity.

This is another episode from George A. Romero, and like “Trick or Treat” it’s an episode that’s a good idea but that isn’t executed all that well.  The idea of him as a real Devil’s Advocate or as a Job who failed his test is a good one, but the episode never really establishes how he brought people to the Devil.  And the sad thing is that they had lots of room to do that, for two reasons.  The first reason is that, as noted, they did actually have the Devil show up to provide exposition, which would have been a wonderful opportunity to go into some detail there.  And the second reason is that the episode spends a lot of time letting us listen to “The Devil’s Advocate” rant, with some things highlighted — like his spilling milk on the meter — that are never really used, and so it spends a lot of time on things that don’t add much.   As it is, the idea isn’t developed enough to be really interesting and the episode seems oddly a bit too long for the idea they actually did develop.

The eighth episode is “Distant Signals”, where an agent is approached by a strange man who wants to recruit the writer and star of an old and unlamented show to write six more episodes to finish it off, as it was cancelled part way through the last season.  He insists that it was the greatest show ever and was mythic, and wins everyone over by paying them lots of gold.  The former lead actor has now become a drunk, and has a lot of problems getting back into acting, but the patron helps him accept that, and the actor gives a wonderful performance.  The final episode and resolution to the mystery of the lead character’s amnesia thrills the patron, and he promises that millions of people will watch it somewhere far, far away.  The writer and actor talk about it, and the actor says that the patron came from an alien world far away where they have just now discovered that it was cancelled, and that it’s likely an important story for them.

“Futurama” did the same thing later, in a more comedic episode but also in one that was a better and more entertaining episode.  As the story of a writer and actor recovering through a revival of an old show, it’s not bad, but it’s trying to talk about weird things and so has to insert the alien plot, which doesn’t really add anything.  This is another case where inserting the weird or horrifying aspects doesn’t add anything to the story and seems shoehorned in.

So far, season 2 is mostly inoffensive.  I don’t find myself absolutely hating episodes, as I did in the first season.  But I’m not enjoying them either.  The best reaction they get from me is “Meh”, and it ranges down to “This is kinda stupid”.  But I have two more disks and two more seasons of this, so we’ll have to see if it manages to improve.

Jonathan MS Pearce’s Critical Examinations: Lies and David Eddings

November 26, 2021

One thing that is exceptionally common in Richard Carrier but that Pearce also references quite a bit is the idea that the Gospel authors were lying and/or making stuff up in their accounts.  Carrier, of course, tends to express those feelings stronger than Pearce, but both of them quite often argue that sections — preferably important ones — of the Gospels are just made up.  Unfortunately, from what I can tell for the most part they rely on two arguments to make that work.  The first is that they don’t think that it’s historically accurate, and the second is that it aligns with the overall theological theme that that specific Gospel is built around.  Thus, the argument is that the story isn’t true and it fits with the theological commitments of the author, and so the reasonable conclusion is that they just made the story up to buttress their theology.  As Pearce constantly says in his book on the Resurrection, it’s theology, not history.

What I want to do here is argue that if we take the Gospel authors — especially Luke — seriously then this isn’t the most reasonable conclusion.  What is more likely is that the link between these stories were invented in the stories they followed, and that the reason they align with their own theology is more due to an interesting feedback loop between them.  In short, the stories were not invented by them to buttress their theology, but were instead selected by them where their theology was an important factor in determining which stories they considered accurate and important.

Let’s start with Luke.  Luke says this (which I’m taking for my own amusement from the New Catholic Bible):

Since many different individuals have undertaken the task to set down an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, in accordance with their transmission to us by those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word from the beginning, I too, after researching all the evidence anew with great care, have decided to write an orderly account for you, Theophilus, who are so greatly revered, so that you may learn the unquestioned authenticity of the teachings you have received.

And so here’s where the first reference to David Eddings comes in, because in the Elenium we have a character that seems to be doing the same thing as Luke claims to be doing here for the story of Bhelliom.  Count Ghasek set himself a goal of gathering up all the stories about the battle and the stone and setting down the most coherent account he could of the entire sequence.  This means that he gathered up a number of odd and even contradicting accounts and had to decide which of them were credible and which were not.  Now, because the story is fictional the accounts were more varied and covered a wider area than we’d expect a real story transmitted merely by verbal accounts, but it is clear that he’d have to sift through the stories and try to eliminate the things that were flourish or were corruptions from the things that were really accurate.  In the story, all they need is a location where it was likely last seen, but for his book he’d need to write down all the things he considered credible and eliminate all the things he didn’t if he wanted to create one consistent narrative, which he did.

If we take Luke at this word here — and as far as I know we don’t have any reason to not take him at his word — then Luke is doing the same thing.  He knew of a number of attempts to write down the various stories that were only transmitted verbally and so were only verbal histories, and knew of a number of those verbal histories, and so set himself a goal to go out, research all of this, and write down what he thinks is the best account so that others can come to believe that it’s true and accurate.  But Luke almost certainly started with an idea of what he thought was true about Jesus when he started, and so from the very beginning he was going to have an at least slightly biased idea of which stories were accurate and which were not.  Thus, from the conflicting accounts, he was going to select stories that fit with his theology.  He was also going to select the ones that he felt were the most convincing as well, which means that as per Pearce’s comments he was going to select the ones that made for the best and strongest narrative, and so the ones that had the most elements of a good story (Pearce at one point notes this tendency in Luke as a way of pointing out that one passage is an odd one for Luke to have made since it doesn’t seem to make for a good story).  So from the start we were going to have Luke selecting stories that fit with his own theology and that fit the style that he was trying to get across.

But the influence doesn’t stop there.  As Luke went around gathering up stories, he was also going to be impacted by them.  So to a large degree his personal theology was going to be impacted and developed by this project.  The stories that he found the most convincing were going to be ones he adopted, and so the theology they developed was going to be the one that Luke himself eventually adopted.  So the stories and theology that we find in his Gospel were going to be heavily influenced by the thread he followed in those verbal histories, and thus by the thread that he found the most convincing.  Therefore, there were going to be other threads that he decided not to follow because he didn’t find it convincing, whether because of its sources or its theology or its historical aspect or its storytelling aspects.

And we can easily imagine that the other evangelists were doing the same thing.  It’s perfectly credible to think that Matthew was following a thread or threads that focused more on Jesus as Messiah and the links to the Jewish scriptures and prophecies, which Luke would have ignored because he was not particularly concerned with that and seems to be writing more for Gentiles.  John could easily be following a thread that was following a specific disciple, which none of the others found particularly convincing or interesting.  Mark seems to be doing something similar to Luke, but given the lack of flourish likely is a more bare bones and historical account and so is following threads that seem more accurate to him and, likely, is him being more stringent and not including things that aren’t covered in all or at least most of the sources that he thinks credible.  The Gospels, then, are accounts that selectively follow specific threads in the verbal histories that align with what each specific author both thought credible and important.

Thus, we would obviously expect each Gospel and the stories in it to align with the theology of the author, even if they didn’t invent a single line in them.  As long as the stories existed somewhere and seemed convincing and important to them given their own views, those stories were going to be included in their Gospel, and would be included even if the authors made a mistake in thinking that they were indeed correct.  Thus, the fact that the stories align with the theology of the author cannot be used as an argument to say that they were invented by the author.  The author is equally likely to select a false account that aligns with their theology as they would be to invent one.

And, of course, following verbal histories is going to be fraught with embellished and inaccurate stories.  And here we return to Eddings.  In the Belgariad, the character of Belgarath poses as a storyteller and presents embellished accounts of the real events that he played a personal role in all the time.  Sometimes, he does that simply to provide a dramatic flourish to make the stories more entertaining.  And sometimes — and importantly — he does that because people ask him questions that he doesn’t know or doesn’t have an answer for, and so he makes something up.  But it’s important to note here that he is indeed talking about real events that he himself played a direct role in and heard from other eyewitnesses when he didn’t.  For any storyteller that is taking the story they heard from him and passing it along, they are going to be in similar situations and are going to invent stories and aspects both for flourish and to answer the questions of the audience, but will only have Belgarath’s original story to work from and so will invent things that make sense to them but that might be entirely inaccurate.  Thus, we’d have a thread with a more or less consistent theme based on the theme the storyteller took from the original stories, but that would have stories added to it that are not actually historically accurate.

Taking the two aspects together, what this means is that if we want to insist that a Gospel author made something up, we’d have to find a reason why it was very important for them, in their account to have that story in their account and to work out the way it did, so much so that they would feel the need to invent it.  But it is incredibly difficult to find such a reason that those who were passing along the verbal histories wouldn’t also have.  You might be able to get that for Matthew’s references to the scriptures, although even there a thread that really, really wanted to make that link would do the same things that Matthew attempted to do and so Matthew could have simply selected the ones that he most liked, instead of inventing the links himself.  What this means, then, is that it’s much, much harder to make a claim that an evangelist invented something than I, at least, feel Pearce and Carrier understand, and certainly harder than the evidence they tend to give, at least in their informal works, for that claim.

So why is that claim important to them?  Recall that Pearce specifically wants to show that the Gospels are not accurate enough to support the claims in them, and as noted wants to claim that they are theology not history.  If he can claim that the Gospel authors made things up, then he can show that they aren’t at all accurate accounts and that anything in them could be completely made up.  So, then, we can’t trust the Gospels at all because we can’t trust the authors of them to tell us the truth.  So if he can establish that the evangelists are willing to out-and-out lie to us, then he can establish that we shouldn’t trust them at all and so shouldn’t trust their accounts at all.  So for Pearce a lot of his arguments are indeed going to be attempts to show that the authors and the accounts are unreliable, and so it’s a boon for his argument to show them as simple liars.  While we would still have to accept that even this process has produced inaccuracies, we wouldn’t be justified in claiming that they are just plain liars and so would have to treat them as accounts assembled from verbal histories, and so would have to apply the methods and standards that we normally apply to such things to determine what is and isn’t correct.  So, obviously, this account does make the Gospels 100% accurate or even incredibly good history, but it does make Pearce’s argument weaker than it would be otherwise.

There are other things to consider in light of this.  One of these is the fact that the Gospels contradict each other.  Pearce and others seem to think of this as being odd and in need of explanation, and Pearce dismisses the “Traffic Accident” example — which states that different eyewitnesses of a traffic accident will give different accounts of what happened — by simply stating that the Gospel authors were not eyewitnesses, which rather misses the point that even given such a clear example different people will see things differently and highlight different things, and so produce different accounts (the movie “Rashomon” is also a good example of this).  Since Luke is explicitly saying that he isn’t an eyewitness but is chasing down eyewitness accounts, the defense works for him.  And we can see from this example that if the evangelists were following specific threads in the verbal histories we would indeed expect there to be differences between them, and those differences would align with their specific focuses and theologies.  So unless they want to take a literalist account the skeptic doesn’t have any reason to think that there wouldn’t be any differences, nor can they simply point to differences as evidence that the story is false without showing how those differences are crucially important to the overall ideas.  That they are different people with different focuses following threads that they find important, interesting and credible is enough to explain any differences other than crucial ones.

The second thing is that this weakens attempts to argue that they used each other as sources.  If they were following threads, then it is quite possible that at times they were following the same threads at various times.  Again, Luke is explicit that he’s following multiple threads and sources, Mark is almost certainly doing so, it’s credible to think that Matthew was as well, and only John, the one most different from the others, is the one where the number of threads being followed was minimized.  It’s also likely that the same stories appeared in different threads, and so each of them could be following different threads and yet coming across and selecting the same stories.  Since the main evidence for one using another as a source tends to be noting that the phrasing of the story is pretty much identical, we can see that if they were following the same thread for that part and lifting the phrasing directly from the story they encountered then the phrasing would be identical even if they weren’t using each other as a source.  And it’s also credible that even different threads could use the same phrasing of the same story if that phrasing was effective, which would also be the precise reason the evangelists would use that specific phrasing as well.  So just from following threads we could find identical stories and phrasings even if they were not using each other as sources.

Now, I’m not crazy enough to challenge the established wisdom that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source.  After all, if Mark was indeed written first then it is reasonable to think that they could have used him as a source and not credited him.  However, the idea that a Q is necessary or Carrier’s claim that Q is unnecessary and Luke copied from Matthew is more open to challenge.  If they followed similar threads, then that could explain their similarities without there needing to be another specific source that they were using, or arguing that Luke had to copy from Matthew.  So all we need are the existing threads, not a Q and not Luke using yet another Gospel as a source for much of his own Gospel without telling anyone.

To summarize, that the Gospels align with the theologies of the authors and include some inaccurate stories is not exactly surprising if we take the authors at their word and treat them like historical works.  This also means that it’s not surprising that they differ from each other.  This seems to me to be another example where skeptics tend to treat the Gospels as having to be more inerrant than a historical treatment of them would require.

Thoughts on “Amityville: The Awakening”

November 25, 2021

I was fooled once before with a movie that claimed the “Amityville” name but turned out to be a cheap and schlocky crap horror movie, and so was a little hesitant when approaching this one.  However, this one is indeed a fully professional Amityville movie.  Unfortunately, it still isn’t all that great.

The basic story is that a teenage girl, her mother, her younger sister, and her comatose and likely brain dead brother all move into the Amityville house, in the hopes of getting the brother treatment.  The teenage girl thinks he’s a lost cause and that they should give up, while the mother refuses to do so.  There’s also a hint that the teenage girl feels responsible for his condition, which it is implied might have something to do with why she wants to give up on him.  Anyway, as he stays in the house he seems to make incredible improvement, while weird things happen elsewhere in the house.  He finally seems to make a full recovery, but is it really him, or is it a spirit from the house taking over his body so that it can live again?

The big flaw in the movie is its inability to make any real links to anything in the movie.  While we do find out later why she feels responsible for his condition, it’s because some guy leaked nude photos of her online and her brother got injured trying to beat the guy up.  Even if she’d feel guilty over that, it wasn’t really her fault at all which makes that a plot point that should be resolved with her realizing that.  But other than it being used once or twice against her by the entity, nothing comes of that.  Additionally, it links to the house and things in the house that I recognize from other media — I have the original series of movies but have yet to try to watch them — they don’t really seem to tie any of that in to what’s happening other than in the most token way.  Also, the mother gives up on religion because of what happened to her son, but then at the end when confronted with the entity seems to find her faith again … but it is irrelevant as she’s unceremoniously killed off.  Pretty much any element they bring up — like the brother wanting to be killed, at least supposedly — is never really developed and paid off, but is instead just there.  That makes it a rather dull movie.

I’ll give the movie credit for having pretty good performances, but it really does feel like the emotional centre of the movie is missing, and so even at the end when she kills her “brother” we don’t really get the feelings that the movie seemed to be hoping for.  I didn’t really connect with anyone or anything in the movie which leaves it emotionally hollow.  I can’t imagine I’d watch this movie again.

Judging by its Cover

November 24, 2021

I had to run an errand a little while ago, and decided that while I was out there I’d take in a short shopping run, hitting stores that I hadn’t hit in a long time for things that I had only been buying from Amazon.  So I hit a bookstore, the video game store, and a store to look for DVDs.  Now, as it turns out I wasn’t really in the mood for shopping, and so only ended up getting one thing, which was the one thing that I pretty much knew that I was going to get, which was a copy of “Persona 5:  Strikers”.  Of course, I have no idea when I’ll actually play it, but it’s a Persona game so of course I was going to buy it at some point when I didn’t have to drag someone to unlock a case to get it out for me.

Anyway, despite my not actually buying much the browsing was pretty revealing.

So I started at the book store, and was browsing around in the science fiction and especially in the history sections.  What I’d do is look at the cover of a book whose title and cover image appealed to me, and then pick it up and look at the back cover for a description of what the book was about to see if I would be interested in it.  There were a couple of books — especially in the history section — where I was somewhat interested in them but wasn’t interested enough in them for the price I’d have to pay.  But in general I could get a good idea what the book was about from reading the back cover (or sometimes the inner flap).  So the pretty pictures and interesting titles of the books were drawing me in and the back cover was giving me enough information to see if I really wanted to buy it or not.

Contrast that to the video game store.  I was browsing the Switch and Playstation 4 sections, and especially in the Playstation 4 section there were a number of games where the title and cover seemed interesting, and I’d go and look at the back cover and … end up having no idea whatsoever of what the game was actually about.  I might get a few short sentences talking about the plot, and a few blurbs highlight the wonderful things it does, but I had no idea what the gameplay was even like (ie whether it was turn-based or real-time combat, for example) or what the story was about.  This was despite the fact that the base price for console games is much, much higher than that for books.  They start above the price I was rejected the books at.  I noted to myself that in order to actually feel comfortable buying one of them, I’d have to go away and do research first to get an idea of what the game was like.  That can’t really be what they’d want because if I leave a store, even if I remember which of them was interesting and look them up later, I’m not that likely to go back to the store to buy it immediately, and am not likely to remember which of them I liked when I finally do manage to get back to the store.  The point of the cool covers and titles on a store shelf is to draw the interest and tap into a desire to buy the game then and there.  If there isn’t enough information on the back cover to fan that desire into the flame of purchase, then that cover is itself utterly wasted.

Things didn’t used to be like that.  You used to be able to look at the back cover of a game — even a console game — and get a general idea of what the gameplay was like so you could decide if it was a game you wanted to play and therefore was a game you wanted to buy.  While the information was often not as detailed as you’d get on a book or DVD, you’d still get enough information to make a purcahse most of the time.  The way things are now, covers are pretty much sabotaging the storefronts, because unless you know what you want to buy you can’t find out enough information while browsing to buy anything, but if you know what you want to buy you might as well buy it online.  This doesn’t seem ideal.

(As a final aside, I did buy “Conception II” from a storefront after doing research on it in-store.  But there was enough information on the cover to get me thinking that it was a Persona-style game, and I had to do the research because of the information it gave me, as I wanted to find out what the combat was like since it advertised it as a kind of turn-based/real-time hybrid and I wasn’t sure I’d like it).

Thoughts on “Free Guy”

November 23, 2021

A friend of mine sent me a trailer quite some time back for this movie, mostly because the scene where the guy gets hit by multiple cars reminded him of the “Insurance Fraud” missions in the Saint’s Row games.  Watching it, I thought that it sounded like it might be interesting, as a movie based around an NPC in a video game becoming aware of it and acting accordingly.  I didn’t pay much attention to it, however, until I saw it for sale for a reasonable price in the store I browse for such things in and decided to give it a try.

I’m going to talk extensively about this recent movie, including the ending, and so will continue below the fold for those who might want to watch this movie:


Why I Need to Create a Schedule on New Year’s Day

November 22, 2021

Lately, my schedule has been shifting around a bit lately, which sometimes leaves me with extra time that I wasn’t expecting.  For example, the easiest way to watch “The Addams Family” is to put a disk in about an hour and a half before I go to sleep, since each disk (actually, disk side) has about four episodes on it, and when I’m watching stuff before going to sleep I like to turn off all the lights and not have to get up to do anything else.  So that extends my evenings.  And on top of that sometimes my meetings run short, or I plan to work on Saturday morning but then don’t work as long as I planned for.  So I end up with some extra time that I didn’t expect to have.  Since I’ve been complaining about not having spare time, you’d think this would be a great thing for me.  Except … I have a hard time deciding what to do when I get that extra time.  So I end up doing something like, say, reading and none of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

Now, part of the problem is that I’m heading towards a long vacation and towards New Year’s Day.  The former means that I’m putting off the things that I want to do while on vacation to then when I have more set time, and the latter means that certain things I start that I won’t be doing while on vacation will likely be dropped when I decide what I want to focus on next year.  I certainly don’t want to start something and feel pressure to finish it next year, as I want to keep that as open as possible to ensure that I do what I really want to do.  So that pretty much eliminates playing any games, because I’m not likely to finish any of the games that I’m not going to play on my vacation — currently TOR and Persona 5 Royal — before the end of the year, and don’t want them hanging around to consider for next year (I already have Dragon Age:  Origins and Mass Effect to consider there, and don’t want to add more).  Any projects that I want to do I will do over my vacation, plus they tend to be things that I can’t just pick up for a couple of hours, as I need at least a little preparation/planning first.  And the philosophy that I’m currently reading is the Nietzsche which I rarely feel like picking up at that time.

So what I end up doing is reading, writing a blog post, or sometimes watching a horror or science fiction movie.  None of these are useless — as the first one is for fun and the last two are productive for the blog — but it leaves me feeling a bit guilty thinking that I probably could have done something more productive and yet never do.

This sort of thing is one of the main reasons I started making schedules in the first place, because I was constantly finding that I would find myself with some free time to do something, be unable to think of anything to do or decide on what I wanted to do, and then finally pick up something like reading or playing a game and then, after starting that, realizing that there were a couple of other things that I wanted to do that I could have done instead but at that point it was too late.  The schedule a) forced me to decide what things I generally wanted to do, b) forced me to consider them in those time blocks and so forced me to consciously decide not to do them instead of just forgetting to do them and c) let me plan out when I’d have time to do various things so that I didn’t end up with as much unexpected free time, which also meant that when I did have unexpected free time I could use it to goof off instead of worrying about doing something productive in it.  Am I more productive with a schedule?  Probably, although I haven’t worked it out.  At a minimum, it makes me feel better about that because I can look at the schedule, see what’s working and not working, and console myself with the thought that these are choices that I specifically made as opposed to just not thinking about those things I wanted to do until it was too late.

So that’s why I really want to sit down and do a schedule on New Year’s Day, and try to follow it.  I’ll see how that works in 2022.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 3

November 20, 2021

So, I liked disk 2 a bit better than disk 1, and so had a little bit of hope going into disk 3 … which was dashed.  I will say that disk 3 isn’t terrible and doesn’t have as many really bad episodes as disk 1 did, or at least ones that were ruined for me, as it looks like the basic writing issues are mostly patched up.  However, with that out of the way I think it only highlights the big flaw the series has, and which is common in the horror things I’ve been watching over the past few years, which is a limited interest in actually explaining to the audience what is going on.

The best episodes of the series so far, at least for me, are “In the Cards” and “Anniversary Dinner”, and one of the keys to that, it seems to me, is that those are two episodes where what is going on and what is the ultimate cause of the horror are completely unimportant.  It might have been nice to know who created the cursed Tarot cards and why they did that, but there is a hint that someone did it to punish people who would use them but not believe in them, and also it isn’t actually important to the plot at all, since the plot focuses on the torment and stupid mistake of the woman and not on some sort of overarching supernatural threat.  And in “Anniversary Dinner”, the surface explanation seems to be a reasonable one:  this is an insane couple who enjoy doing horrible things to people.  So the fact that the history and backstory isn’t really explained is not really an issue and the episode is as if not more enjoyable for that not having been done.  Which is good, because in half-hour episodes there isn’t really a lot of time to do a lot of things, so the story had better decide what is important and focus on getting that out and leave out anything that isn’t important.

The problem with most of the other episodes, though, is that the horror or supernatural element really would benefit from being explained and they never actually do it.  They could avoid this by making the elements simply malevolent and hurting anyone they can get access to, but the stories themselves always imply some kind of direction and purpose behind the attacks, because they use specific elements and even target specific types of people.  So it’s not just random malevolence that we would all have to fear.  But then we don’t understand what it is about those specific elements and specific types of people that inspire the attacks, and don’t understand what they want, which makes us less scared and more confused.  The ideal from a horror show like this where the events are set in what to all appearances is the real world is the idea that this could happen to any of us, and so leave us with a lingering fear as the end narration suggests.  But if the horror is karmic retribution, we don’t feel afraid because we think we are virtuous, and if the horror targets specific people then we aren’t afraid because we are not them either, and ultimately if we think that there’s a motive but can’t figure out what that is we come away feeling more confused than terrified, and so we don’t at all think that this is something that might happen to us in this world.  Now, in a horror series like this one we definitely want to have some karmic retribution ones (and you could build an entire series out of that) and some comedy ones like “A Case of the Stubborns”, but most of the episodes are ones that are not really karmic retribution, seem directed towards a purpose, but are ones where the purpose is never revealed and nothing is ever explained.  So that spawns in me the reaction of wondering what was going on more than being scared of that happening to me.

So, let me move on to talking about the episodes.  As with disk 2, nothing really stood out on disk 3, so I’ll cover all of them in brief in this post:

The first episode is “The Tear Collector”, which was one of the more entertaining episodes, mostly because of the heroine.  She’s a woman who has been said and depressed and pretty much crying all the time all her life, so much so that it means that she can’t get dates or, really, have any kind of happy life, which she wants (and her roommate keeps bugging her about).  One day while out on the town she is accosted by a homeless person and runs into a debonair man who, seeing her crying, says that her tears are beautiful and asks her to come by his place.  She does, and he ends up harvesting her tears and says that real and true tears can heal hearts.  He wants to fill a glass swan with them, necessitating that she come back a number of times to do so.  She, of course, starts to fall in love with him, and so turns up at one point just to see him, where she sees him in a room with his collection of tears listening to one of them (he had shown her the room earlier).  She tries to talk to him but he insists that taking her tears is all he can do, dashing her hopes of his being in love with her.  She fills the swan and then leaves, but sees another woman entering as she does so, and so she sneaks back in and steals her swan, knocking over some of the other containers in the process to the sound of wailing.  He demands the swan back, asking if if there isn’t enough sadness in the world, but she runs off and into the street, where she’s almost hit by a cab and drops the swan, shattering it.  The passenger gets out and apologizes, and through a series of comments gets her to smile and says she has a beautiful one, and so it really looks like she’s happier now without her tears and will be living a happier life from now on.

The protagonist is interesting and sympathetic, and it’s nice that she ended up with what looks like a happy ending, which is why this episode is more enjoyable.  However, there are two big, interesting and important questions that the episode raises and never answers.  First, why was she so sad for all of her life, and how is it that his harvesting and collecting of her tears and her smashing that makes it so that she’s no longer so sad?  This is her big character point from early in the episode and the resolution of this is key to the happy ending, and yet we never really get an answer to this.  Second, what did the collector want with her tears?  There are conflicting ideas that he wants it to be able to heal broken hearts or that he wants them so that he can feel emotion at all — he looks like he’s crying while listening to them and is fairly unemotional otherwise — but again this is never explained, despite it being a question that we should really want to know the answer to after watching the episode.  I enjoy the episode because I like the protagonist and her story, but have to recognize — and did feel, at the end — that there’s a lot going on in the episode that should have been and was never explained.

The second episode is “Madness Room”, where a man, his younger wife and a family friend/businessperson are sitting around in his old mansion when playing with a Ouija Board gets the wife to relate the story of the “Madness Room”, a room in the house that was sealed because everyone who stayed in the room goes mad.  They then set out to find the room using the Ouija Board and a number of other clues, and do manage to find a disturbing room.  The wife seems to go mad and shoot the friend and herself, which causes the man — who had a heart condition — to have a heart attack and collapse … but it turns out that it was all a plot so that the wife and friend can get together and have the man’s money, but the instructions had said to lock the door and then toss the key in a crack, so the man had done that, which means that none of them can get out.  As the friend is about to suffocate the man the man tosses a lantern into a corner, starting a fire, and as none of them can get out the wife demands to know why the friend spelled that out as the instructions on Ouija Board and he insists he didn’t, at which point it looks like the ghost of the previous owner that they were pretending to contact starts laughing maniacally, suggesting that it was the one who added it after all.

I predicted that this was all fake from early on — there’s a look between the two when she answers the door for him — but it did work as a decent “Wife and friend fake supernatural event to kill husband by natural causes” plot.  The supernatural element was totally extraneous and even ruined the ending of the episode because there was no real indication of a real ghost beforehand and we don’t really discover what the ghost’s motive was, or even why the ghost would be there at all (since the story of his death was entirely fake).  So if it had stopped with the death of the husband and them getting away with it, or even with the husband in a fit of spite dropping the key in a crack so that they’d all starve to death, it would have been a decent episode.  As it is, the supernatural element only raises new questions at a late date that doesn’t let us enjoy the ending and even the karmic death of the wife and friend.

The third episode is “If the Shoes Fit …”, where a candidate for mayor is staying in a strangely deserted hotel and ends up explaining to the bellboy that politics is about making people happy, not about telling the truth.  Later, when he sends his suit out to be pressed the bellboy returns with a clown suit, which the politician reluctantly puts on, but then when his campaign manager shows up to take him to an event the suit is normal, and then it’s a clown suit again and he ends up riding off into the sunset in a clown car with political slogans on it.

If this was meant to be a commentary on politicians and politics in general, it isn’t all that bad of a one, but then it really doesn’t fit well with the rest of the series.  There’s no real horror and a bit of comedy, but there’s not enough comedy to make it a comedy episode, and so … yeah, I can only guess that it was meant as a commentary on politics, but that’s not because it does a good job of doing that, but instead because that’s the only thing it can be that even remotely makes sense.

The fourth episode is “Levitation”, where a teen and his friend come to a circus and freak show to see a formerly famous magician who was touted as being the only person to do Houdini’s levitation trick.  He doesn’t do that or anything of significance in his show, which angers the teen and so he pushes his way into seeing him to demand why.  It turns out that he did the trick three times successfully, but the fourth time he used his daughter and something went wrong, which is why he doesn’t do real magic anymore.  The teen goes to the next show and heckles the magician until he agrees to do the levitation on him, but as the magician does so he collapses and the teen floats out of the tent and into the sky.

What we have here is a half hour episode where nothing happens and nothing is explained, which is really how I felt after watching this.  They don’t even manage to imply that this sort of issue is the same thing that happened to the daughter, and I don’t know enough about the teen to feel that sorry for him for the situation he got himself into, if he in fact does float off into space and ultimate death.  This has to be the most pointless episode so far.

The fifth episode is “It All Comes Out in the Wash”, where a shady businessman approaches a Chinese laundry where the proprietor offers a full service that, it is revealed, is more washing their consciences than their laundry.  The businessman signs up and it seems to be working, but the proprietor keeps raising the prices, so he breaks the rule and calls him to complain, at which point the proprietor cuts off his service and the service of the guy who recommended it to him (when that was breaking a rule as well).  The businessman talks about hanging tough as the laundry piles up, but then eventually finds out that his friend committed suicide and so calls and apologizes to the proprietor … who calls back to say that he’s won the lottery and so is closing the laundry.  The businessman talks about being able to take it, but then commits suicide by throwing himself out the window, as his friend had done.

This is an episode where knowing exactly what was going on would have greatly improved it.  Was the proprietor providing a real service?  Then maybe they could have found someone else, or maybe he would have passed his business on to someone else.  Was the proprietor merely scamming them and the easing of their conscience that they experienced merely a placebo as they thought that was happening?  That would be interesting and would explain why the only punishment was not picking up the laundry, but there really isn’t anything to support that other than that it would be really interesting and we don’t find out about any kind of supernatural element that could be doing this, and buying a condo in Florida is not actually something that a supernatural agent cleansing consciences would do.  While leaving things open to interpretation is not a bad thing, in general what you need to do to make that work is make it so that there are multiple interpretations that all fit what happened in the episode without the episode being inconsistent (which is why that’s so hard to do).  Here, there are multiple interpretations only because something must be the case and the episode doesn’t give any evidence indicating what is the right case.  I like the “it’s a scam” explanation, but it’s inconsistent with the rest of the series (see “Madness Room” above, for example, where a supernatural element was welded on to make it be supernatural).

The sixth episode is “Bigelow’s Last Smoke”, where a man who is a smoker wakes up in a simulcra of his apartment, but is locked inside.  It turns out that he signed up for a radical program to get him to quit smoking, and so he ends up constantly trying to smoke and getting punished for it, enduring their propaganda and a fake confederate.  Eventually, he wakes up and has no desire to smoke, and thinks it was all a dream, but then the person who talks to him from the program appears again and notes that now they’ll start on his addiction to caffeine.

Considering that he signed up for this himself, it’s difficult to feel that badly for him or to feel that, at the end, he will be in there for life as opposed to until he loses the addictions that he himself probably wanted to lose.  And the punishments don’t really seem all that horrific since he himself spends so much time trying to cheat even though he knows that he will be punished, and especially since the worst that happens is some loud noises and things being taken away.  So I don’t really feel sorry for him, don’t really care if he escapes, and don’t really care if he overcomes his addiction.  Ultimately, all I want is for the episode to end.

The seventh episode is “Grandma’s Last Wish”, where an aging and somewhat senile old woman is living with her rowdy and somewhat idiotic family.  As she’s getting more and more senile, the family looks to put her in a nursing home, and give her one last wish for the last week that they’ll all be together.  She makes a wish, but doesn’t tell them what it is, and so over the next week they all seem to get older and older and hurt themselves so as to be more helpless.  At the end, the man comes to take her away and the entire family is now incredibly old, and the original old woman comments that wishes do come true.

This one is just incomprehensible to me.  While the family was annoying, they did ultimately seem to care about her, and so her glee at turning even the teenage girl old seems mean-spirited.  We also have no idea why she wanted that or what she, herself, got out of it.  There’s an entire subplot where the home seems shady but she ends up having to go anyway, and it doesn’t even seem like she got their vitality from aging them (she does seem to improve a little, but not much).  Also, there’s no explanation for why this wish was granted or who was doing that.  I can’t cheer for the old woman but can’t feel that sorry for the family either, and so ultimately really do not care about any of this. 

The eighth episode is “The False Prophet”, which features a woman who is heading to Texas on the advice of a fortune telling machine to find the man of her dreams.  The bus stops at a rest stop and she goes into the diner to get some food, where she discovers another fortune telling machine that is supposedly the “son” of the original one.  This machine seems to be … interested in her, and tries to convince her to not go on to Texas and stay here instead, and also warns her against a “false prophet”, who seems to be a religious man who enters and tries to seduce her.  She keeps asking the machine for advice, and eventually she ends up being absorbed by it and calling for help while the man, who is not a false prophet, looks on in puzzlement and some horror.

So, interpreted broadly, I guess that the prediction was right and she should have avoided the false prophet, which in this case would be the prophecy machine here.  Then again, the machine implies that this was something set up between it and his mother, which would work against that interpretation.  Regardless, we have no idea what happens to her to what the purpose of doing this actually is.  And she can’t stand in for us because she’s somewhat dim and incredibly naive, and so we have to think that we’d do better than her at this, and she isn’t all that sympathetic because she’s really the sort of annoying person that would buy into all that New Age crap.  The story definitely would have benefited from more explanation highlighting the sinister aspects of this, which they didn’t do.

Also, if you’ve noticed that the episode summaries here have gotten really thin, that’s not because I’m getting tired of writing them and so skimming them.  Those really are the highlights of the episodes and what is really important in them, and I’m as surprised as you are that they’ve gotten so short and thin.  Which I suppose only highlights the problem with it, as the episodes run for the same length but seem to do so much less in that time.

Anyway, that ends season 1.  Up next, the first disk in season 2, where things will hopefully get better but, in reality, I don’t have much hopes on that score.

Jonathan MS Pearce’s Critical Examinations: Possibiliter ergo probabiliter

November 19, 2021

So at the end of the last post I commented that it looked to me like Pearce is making a knowledge claim, and is basing that knowledge claim to a great degree on an argument that there are contradictions that cannot be reasonably resolved between the stories — either with themselves or with the historical record — and so the stories aren’t accurate and so aren’t true.  I noted there that if they base their argument on statements that these things cannot be resolved then all I need to do is show one possible way that they can be reasonably resolved to blunt their claim and so defeat their knowledge claim (at least to the point where it relies on that argument).  I can do this because if they are making a knowledge claim it has to be the case that, well, we really know that their argument is true, and if they are making a knowledge claim and I can introduce doubt into their arguments then they can’t be making a knowledge claim anymore.  If, on the other hand, they were just making a “I believe this” or “This is one credible option” argument then that argument wouldn’t be available.

I also noted there that they wouldn’t like this reply, and the reason is that this is something that Pearce and Carrier constantly call a possibiliter ergo probabiliter fallacy, where they argue that this is arguing “Possibly, therefore probably” and you can’t get from the fact that something is possibly the case to the fact that something is probably the case.  But where this goes awry — at least in the arguments that I will be using that sort of argument against — is that the argument is not being used to argue that something is possible so therefore it is probable so therefore we should believe that and, by extension, believe in the original proposition (usually, for them, the existence of God).  No, instead it’s being used strictly to challenge their arguments, which are presented as “There is no reasonable way this can happen/make sense”.  In that case, if I can show that there is a reasonable way that can happen then their argument falters.  This holds even if they could argue that their take on it is the more probable by whatever standard they are using, because what the argument would do is shift the debate from the one that more favours them of “This doesn’t and can’t make sense” to the one that favours their opponents more of “Which of these is actually the more probable, and if one is more probable than the other are we rationally required to take that option than the other one?”, which involves a lot more epistemology and the like.  And, again, as already noted the former can support a knowledge claim but the latter, in general, cannot (at least not without being able to demonstrate that the have evidence for their alternative that rises to the level of knowledge).

So if I am right that they are making knowledge claims or that their strong stances require them to make a knowledge claim, then all I need to do is introduce doubt, and doubt sufficient enough to mean that they can’t know their position is correct.  So for any argument they make that says that there is no reasonable way to reconcile the stories and events, all I need to do is show that there is a reasonable way to do that to blunt their argument.  As long as I am never stupid enough to make a knowledge claim, I can blunt their argument even if after all of this they still believe that their interpretation is more probable.  On the other hand, they must be careful never to use an argument that their interpretation is possible when they aren’t being challenged by a knowledge claim (Pearce actually does this at the end of his book on the Resurrection, so I hope to look at that when I get here).

Let me finish off this analysis of the typical fallacy claims involved in these arguments by looking at the theistic response of “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.  I think that Pearce is right to point out that that is not true if that absence of evidence is in a case where you would reasonably expect that evidence to exist, and so it is conspicuous by its absence.  Pearce, I think, in general uses this correctly, as he tends to use it against the strong supernatural claims of Matthew — the dead walking through the streets of Jerusalem, for example — by pointing out that if something that strange had actually happened, other contemporary writers certainly would have noted it.  He has to be careful, though, to make sure that the examples really are that strong, because again this argument is vulnerable to a counter that says that we can find a reasonable explanation for why they wouldn’t, and some of Pearce’s examples do seem to fall into that category.

To summarize, because I see Pearce and others as making a strong knowledge claim, I can oppose their claims by raising doubts and so in a number of cases simply raising a reasonably possible alternative as being the case.  It’s important to note this before I get into the specific claims because there I will be arguing for reasonably possible resolutions to the contradictions Pearce sees and I don’t want to have to deal with charges of the fallacy of possibiliter ergo probabiliter.