Archive for November, 2021

Thoughts on “Village of the Vampire”

November 18, 2021

“Village of the Vampire” is, I think, an Italian movie that was dubbed into English.  And I have to say that the dubbing is, in general, pretty bad, with the voiceovers being stilted and missing a lot of the emotional nuances that would be necessary for a movie like this.  It’s also a surprisingly long horror movie, coming in at almost three hours, which actually caused me some issues because I budgeted the time to watch it as about an hour and a half to two hours, and it obviously ran a bit long.  However, I actually — and surprisingly — had some slack in the schedule there, so it worked out.  It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Anyway, we start with a scene where two young women are being chased by some kind of horrible creature.  One of them is killed, and one of them comes face-to-face with the creature and screams in horror.  We then see an investigative journalist for some kind of supernaturally-oriented newspaper, who turns out to be the older sister of the woman who screamed at the end of the first scene.  She’s investigating the disappearance of her sister and gets a tip that there’s a village that’s not shown on any map and that no one ever returns from, and that her sister and her sister’s girlfriend went there right before they disappeared.  So the sister sets out to investigate the village and find out what happened to her sister.

I’m not going to summarize the rest of it yet, but will do it as I go along.  We hit one of the main issues with the movie right here, as she arrives at the village after dark and there’s a bunch of creepy scenes, including one where she walks through the village while the villagers watch her, which is supposed to be giving us a feeling of tension and malice except that a) we already know that there is something horrible going on here and b) since we’re less than a half hour into the movie, we know that she won’t be at least fatally attacked.  So it’s a relatively long scene that goes on for a while but that we know isn’t showing us anything we didn’t already know.  The scene itself is done pretty well, but it’s less effective than it could be if we didn’t already know what was going on.

Which is the exact opposite problem we have with various “vision” sequences.  As the journalist wanders around the town and does things, she often ends up having some sort of “vision” or “imagination” sequences, where a bunch of things seem to happen but then the movie snaps back to what she’s doing, presenting it as a dream or a reverie.  The issue is that what happens in these scenes ends up being absolutely correct — the rich founder ends up being a vampire and has turned people, including her sister, and so on — but as it’s being presented as only being in her head there’s no reason for her to have actually figured that all out.  So this is puzzling until the end, where the movie kinda offhandedly reveals that these were visions sent by the vampire in an attempt to … what?  Seduce her?  Feel her out as to whether she could accept it or not?  The problem is that we hear about the visions from the people in the village who are trying to kill the vampire, and so don’t get into his motivations, and by the time she can confront him with them the motivations there are less important than the other things going on in those scenes.  The good thing is that on a rewatch once you understand what those things really are you will look at them in a different way, but on the first watch they seem contrived to present the events as they actually happened even though there’s no way at that point that she could know what actually happened.

Once the vampire is revealed and they start to move against him, there’s a long flashback explaining how he became this way, which is a sad story about his having an abusive father and also a woman that he loves, and having to go away to meet with Dracula, and while he’s gone the father kills his fiance, and so he uses his vampire powers to kill the father and is trying to convert people to what he might see as the happiness of being a vampire.  Now, stopping the movie at that point to flashback to the villain’s backstory is risky at the best of times, but if you’re going to do it you really need to make it pay off.  And the easiest way to pay that off is to have the woman use that to defeat him in some way, or turn him away from evil.  Which, of course, the journalist tries to do, but it fails, and they have to kill him in the end.  Given how brutally he acts, we won’t find him sympathetic, and appealing to that story doesn’t allow him to repudiate his evil and, say, kill himself (there’s a hint that drinking blood of someone dead will kill a vampire, but that isn’t at all relevant to anything in the movie) so it’s a pointless digression, especially if we are to believe, as the movie portrays, that killing all the vampires is the right and only thing to do.

There is, of course, an undercurrent in the movie of him trying to seduce the journalist, and I really think the movie would have been far better off focusing on that and expanding that.  As it is, there’s not much interaction between the two and that undercurrent isn’t really used in the finale.  If the movie had focused on that interplay more instead of having the journalist walk around town, then the vampire could have explained the backstory (instead of his enemies) and we could have a stronger tension between the seductive and seemingly good vampire and his evil nature and acts, which could have culminated with her either killing the vampire she came to love or redeeming him to kill himself.  Instead, the preacher who is the leader of those trying to kill the vampire is the one presented as the love interest and the seduction undercurrent is mostly lost and ignored.

So, there’s a lot wrong with this movie.  And so you might think that this is a movie that I’d be chucking into the “Sell” box.  Except … this is an almost three hour movie that didn’t bore me while I was watching it.  Yes, I did get up to check the running time about two hours in, but that was because the movie was running a lot longer than I expected and I was curious.  But the pacing generally worked and did manage to keep me engaged and not bored with the work.  And the protagonist, although older, was sympathetic enough to make me interested in what happened to her.  This is something that a lot of the hour and a half movies can’t manage, so finding it in a three hour movie that often drags out scenes to no real purpose is quite striking.

So, this will go into my box of books that I might watch again at some point.  It’s not boring and a rewatch might give an different impression, but it’s not good enough to find three hours in my schedule to rewatch.

Damn You Shamus Young!

November 17, 2021

So as regular followers of this blog probably already know, I’ve been having a very difficult time finding time to play video games lately.  I have a rather lengthy vacation coming up — I blame my manager — and am planning to play The Old Republic and Persona 5:  Royal during it, which will be the first major game playing that I’ll have managed to get in for months (I did have some sessions finishing off my Dark Side Jedi Consular in The Old Republic, but those sessions were spaced out quite a bit).  It’s also coming up on January, and I’m sticking to my tradition of redoing my entire schedule on New Year’s Day, which is more important this year because this year given that it’s the first year that I spent the entire year working from home I found myself very disappointed in what I didn’t have time to do this year and really, really want to work out a better schedule to do these things (up until the point where I have to go back to work, of course).  Given that I have an hour+ walk in the morning, though, I’ve obviously started pondering what that schedule might be, and the one thing that I decided on early was that I wanted to find a spot for an MMO, and specifically for TOR.

And then Shamus Young talked about “New World”, and suddenly TOR has some competition.

No, I’m not really interested in “New World”.  When it comes to MMOs I tend to be interested in the setting and “New World” purportedly doesn’t properly build out and reflect the Age of Sail, which is a setting that doesn’t interest me that much anyway.  However, in the comments of that post and in other posts I and others have been talking about the features of MMOs that we liked, and that reminded me of MMOs that I had played for greater or lesser lengths of time, or perhaps not at all but that people were saying were interesting, and I started thinking about whether it would be nice to play some of them again.  Such as:

Dark Age of Camelot:  This is on my list on my favourite games, and combines the three mythologies that I most like:  Arthurian, Celtic and Norse.  And it’s still running.  I liked the realms but didn’t care much for the gameplay, but maybe that’s changed a lot by now.  And even if not it’d still be nice to check it out and see what I think of it now.  Yes, TOR has a better story and DAoC didn’t really have one, but there was a good variety of classes with different gameplay.

Lord of the Rings Online:  I played it briefly, and followed Shamus Young’s Let’s Play of it.  I’ve also recently gotten back into the works a bit by re-reading the books and planning on my tradition of rewatching all three of the movies.  So it might be nice to give it a try again, as at least parts of it might be fun, and it probably deserves more play than I gave it the first time.

Star Trek Online:  Lots of people have said that some of the story and quest lines are really, really good, and I do like Star Trek (at least the older series, being less than impressed with Enterprise, Discovery and Picard).  And it is different than the other MMOs I’ve played.  Maybe I should give it a shot.

Now, I’d be interested in trying one of the attempts to save and resurrect City of Heroes, but I’m still not really sure how legitimate those are and don’t have the time and interest to figure all of that out and deal with any aspects that aren’t really kosher.  And I have no interest in World of Warcraft.  And I didn’t like DC Universe Online enough to pick it up again.  And other than Star Trek Online above I don’t have much interest in trying any MMO that I haven’t already tried, as the worlds didn’t seem interesting enough to catch my attention.  So those are the Big Three.  And there’s only one little problem:

When am I going to get the time to try them out?  Looking at what my schedule is likely to be in the New Year, I would barely have time to play one MMO, let alone three or four.  Sure, the others might be games that I can play for shorter stretches than TOR — I always want to finish a planet before quitting in that one, which takes about four hours — but it would still be difficult to fit them into my schedule.  Then again, if I had a time block set aside to play MMOs that I could count on every week, then I could alternate the games and give them some decent time, which could also keep them fresh.  And it would stop me from wondering about whether I want to play them or not.  So more and more I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to stick a couple on my new system and give them a try.

Or not.  I still have some time to figure that out.  But this all started from Shamus Young talking about MMOs again.  The jerk.

Thoughts on “The Lair of the White Worn”

November 16, 2021

So the last of the Bram Stoker novels is “The Lair of the White Worm”, which is the one I had heard of when I bought the collection.  Unfortunately, I heard of it from the movie, which is mostly inspired by rather than an adaptation of the novel.  Still, a number of the elements are, at least, similar, with a white worm — meaning dragon — requiring sacrifices and a seductive woman who seems to be the person who represents or is the white worm itself and so is the main villain.  But the movie is far more salacious than the novel was, which probably explains why the movie is remembered and the book isn’t.

The main plot is that a young man is brought to a place in Derbyshire to apparently eventually inherit it from a long lost relative, and gets embroiled in the supernatural machinations of the woman, another landholder who has his own designs separate from the worm, and in a romance with a woman whose sister is an object of desire for the landholder and so is a competitor for the worm woman.  He needs to try to end the worm while protecting the woman he loves (he ends up failing to protect the sister).

From the introduction, it seems like the versions we have are quite abridged from what Stoker originally wrote, to Stoker’s great displeasure.  I will say that the motivations and machinations of the two main villains and how they all relate to each other are a bit vague, and that the novel itself seems a bit rushed, so Stoker might have a point here.  Then again, I remember “The Lady of the Shroud” and know that when Stoker adds length he doesn’t necessarily add clarity.  And while one of the big problems with the novel for me is how rushed it seems, it also seems like the two villains and their plots are the biggest flaw, and I’m not convinced that giving Stoker more room would do more than give him the time to indulge himself as he does at times in this work as opposed to working all of that out.  So the real issue is that while I can definitely see how a longer treatment could have made it better, I’m just not convinced that Stoker giving it a longer treatment would have worked out that way.  So I won’t be reading this one again either.

Ultimately, it seems, Stoker hit lightning in a bottle with “Dracula” and ended up as a bit of a one-hit wonder, as these other works may well be and likely are the most famous of his other works and none of them are all that great.  One of the biggest flaws in Stoker is his tendency to have his characters talk each other up in incredibly exuberant ways at almost any opportunity, which gets really, really grating and takes up time that could have been spent doing other things.  While Stoker seems to be interested in the supernatural, he also tends to avoid explaining or focusing on it, except in “Dracula”.  This is a shame, because focusing on relating a really great supernatural story could have allowed his works to at least stand out and maybe then garner some interest.  As it is, unless the relationships work the novels can be a bit boring.  In “Dracula”, both the supernatural story and the relationships work.  That can’t be said for these three works.

Accomplishments Update

November 15, 2021

So, it’s been about another three months since the last one, and I’m about to head into a month-long vacation after which everything will change (or, at least, I will be doing my traditional New Year’s Day reworking of my schedule and priorities at the end of that vacation) and thus it’s a good time to look at what I’ve managed to accomplish over those three months.

As usual, DVDs are working out really well.  I finished “Gilligan’s Island”, and then moved on to “The Munsters”, “Mad About You”, “That 70s Show”, and “Tales From the Darkside” .  I also should be finished the original “Addams Family” show by the time I go on vacation, after having watched the movies recently.  I also watched the entire Universal “Dracula” run, a large number of science fiction movies, and kept up with horror movies in general.  I even managed to find some time to just watch some movies mostly for fun while doing other things.  I’m about to take a break from new stuff to rewatch “The World at War” and “Babylon 5/Crusade”.  So this is something that I have been able to fit into my schedule regularly and have managed to keep up with really well.

Books are also working pretty well.  I finished “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, and then read “The Hobbit”, re-read “Lord of the Rings”, re-read “Dracula”, and then read some Bram Stoker cult novels.  Philosophically, I got through about four relatively short books of Jonathan MS Pearce’s and then started reading Nietzsche’s “The Will to Power” (mostly because I bought it while reading Dan Fincke’s stuff and he was, if I recall correctly, a supporter), but it’s a collection of notes which makes it hard to read so I’m spinning my wheels on that a bit.  Right now, I’m taking a break — which makes perfect sense heading into a vacation — and re-reading some Ravenloft and Forgotten Realms books for a while.  Still, books are working pretty well, which only makes sense as reading is my main hobby.

Video games are, well, doing terribly.  I did manage to finish a run at a Dark Side Jedi Consular in The Old Republic, and took some small stabs at some other games, but didn’t really play games at all.  I am planning to play some TOR and Persona 5 Royal when I’m on vacation, and maybe some Dark Age of Camelot and Star Trek Online as well.  But, yeah, this is one category that I really need to rethink on New Year’s Day.

And, finally, nothing is happening with projects, other than the blog.  Still, the blog has been remarkably successful, but is also taking up a lot of my time and contributing to the issues with the other categories.  I want to keep it up, but I want to make it more scheduled and contained in the schedule I make on New Year’s Day.

The next update here will be a vacation update, so the next accomplishments update will probably be in April after I see how the new schedule is working out.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 2

November 13, 2021

If disk 2 of “Tales From the Darkside” had been disk 1 instead, I probably wouldn’t have gotten myself into this mess of commenting on every single episode, as while it’s still flawed disk 2 is quite a bit better.  Still, the good thing about it is that there are openly six disks and my watching them is happening over the weekend, so I should be able to find the time to at least do the quick commentaries on them.  And since disk 2 isn’t that bad, I’m going to do all eight episodes in one post.  I had thought that if I found an episode that I felt was actually good I’d give it its own post, but it turns out there isn’t much to say about a good episode, or at least one that’s just good, as that sort of episode would get to be good just by, well, not being bad.  If I come across a really, really good episode then maybe it will deserve its own post.

One thing that this disk shows is that they did manage to get a lot of big names on the show.  Harry Anderson of Cheers and Night Court fame stars in an episode, as does a young Christian Slater, and there are a number of other familiar faces and names.  That might explain why it is remembered enough to get a movie and a DVD release when some other shows didn’t.

Anyway, on to the episodes:

The first episode is “The Word Processor of the Gods”, where the plot is that a henpecked author has his brother, sister-in-law and nephew die in a car accident, but gets a computer/word processor that the young nephew built beforehand given to him after the funeral (because the nephew was building it for him).  There are a lot of comments about how nice the sister-in-law and nephew were and how much of a jerk the brother was, and also about how his wife and his son aren’t nice at all.  Anyway, after setting it up he discovers that it can change reality, and it is implied that the nephew knew that it would be able to do that and had to rush it to get it to his liked uncle.  Anyway, the author soon deletes his son and then his wife from reality, and then has to quickly try to get the breaking down word processor to make it so that he could end up marrying the sister-in-law instead and have the nephew as his own son, because it turns out that he always loved the sister-in-law anyway.  He manages to succeed, and the episode ends with him having a happy family with all of them.

This episode is all right, but it really needed more time to fill everything out.  It’s based on a short story by Stephen King, as we know that his short stories can sometimes be turned into entire movies, instead of a half-hour episode.  The problem here is that the author goes very quickly from discovering that he can change reality to get some money to eliminating his son and then wife.  It would have worked better to show him making small changes that improve things but don’t give him the life he wants until he realizes that what he really wanted was a life with the sister-in-law and nephew, which he then has to rush through before the computer breaks down.  This would have both made the progression seem more natural and less like he’s always wanted to get rid of them, and would also explain why the computer is breaking down because it would have done a lot more reality changing than we saw in the episode.  Also, the episode never explains how the computer came about and whether the nephew set it up as a plan to get revived, as he seemed to know that he was going to die and could easily have done that, but that’s a minor issue since we don’t really need to know that, but it would have been an interesting twist of that had been done.

The second episode is “A Case of the Stubborns”, which is a very simple story about an old man who dies of a heart attack but refuses to believe that he is dead, and so keeps walking around, much to the chagrin of his daughter-in-law and grandson.  Various people try to convince him that he’s really dead as he decomposes more and more, to no avail.  Eventually, the grandson goes to a voodoo lady who gives him some black pepper to hide in his napkin, and the old man then sneezes his nose into the napkin and toddles off upstairs to die and be buried.

I give this episode credit for being an attempt at a pure comedy.  There really is no way to make this premise horrifying or even coherent, even in this universe, so they really do have to make this a comedy, and so spend a lot of time doing comedy, even when the grandson goes to see the voodoo lady.  So it’s an interesting idea and they completely commit to it, but I just didn’t find the episode all that funny.  But humour is subjective so others might like it more than me.

The third episode is “Djinn, No Chaser”, which is another comedy episode where some struggling newlyweds buy a magic lamp from a suddenly appearing and disappearing tent and discover that the genie in the lamp is cramped in there and so is cranky.  He can’t get out and so won’t grant them any wishes, but will use his powers to torment them.  The framing device around the episode is the husband in an insane asylum telling the story to a psychiatrist, and after he finishes telling the story up to the point where he goes to the hospital he sneaks out and returns to find that everything is resolved as his wife has gotten the genie out of the lamp using a can opener, and so everything is fine now.

Again, I give it credit for committing to being a comedy, but didn’t find it all that funny myself.  Also, assuming that the order on the disks is either the broadcast order or the shooting or recommended order, two complete comedies in a row is probably not a good idea for a series like this.  Especially in light of the next episode.

The fourth episode is “All a Clone By the Telephone”, which is the episode that stars Harry Anderson is so is also more comedic.  A TV writer discovers that his answering machine is leaving messages on other answering machines and is answering the phone with different messages that are more or less problematic for him, so when he confronts it the machine says that its him from a parallel universe and that its trying to, well, live here.  The writer disconnects it, but then all of its friends — other automated systems — keep bugging him by calling him and so make his life miserable.  When he finds out that it had called a producer and gave a wonderful idea for a TV miniseries that the writer knows nothing about, he reconnects the machine and makes a deal with it to do the actual writing while the machine ends up getting fame for its writing, which is it seems a little bit less miserable than his life before that.

Anderson’s rants are pure comedy, as is the machine’s responses and, well, the premise itself.  But the ending is surprisingly dark for a comedy as he does seem to be somewhat enslaved to doing the machine’s will.  The acting and performances are good, but again I didn’t find it all that funny and am not sure if the ending fits in with the parallel universe idea.  So it’s an okay episode but could be better.

The fifth episode is the first one that I would consider good, and is “In the Cards”.  Here, a fake psychic and tarot card reader known for only giving positive predictions has her cards switched out for another set, and afterwards can only give negative readings about horrific deaths.  This ruins her career and freaks her out, so she eventually discovers the switch was by a rival psychic and goes to get an explanation, and it turns out that the cards had been doing those terrible things to her, and she had received the cards because she didn’t believe in the powers of tarot cards in general, and so gave it to the protagonist because she was an unbeliever, and so the only way she can get rid of them is to give them to someone else who is an unbeliever (otherwise the cards will return to her, as she discovered early on).  She goes to another psychic and distracts her before the reading, swaps the cards, and sits for the reading.  It’s clear that the cards were swapped from the other psychic’s reaction, and so she leaves and tries to destroy the swapped set … but then is mugged and stabbed, and the final scene is her lying there, presumably dead.

The protagonist is clearly pretty mercenary and so isn’t sympathetic, but it works because she really doesn’t deserve the treatment she got from the cards.  There’s also a bit of subtlety in the ending, which may or may not have been intentional.  It seems clear that the cards aren’t reporting these horrible things, but are instead creating them, and the psychic who gives the cards to the protagonist does the swap before the reading.  The protagonist, however, makes the mistake of swapping the cards and then sitting for a reading, which then it seems to me creates her own downfall by sitting for a reading with the cards that cause horrible deaths, and I could see it coming when the swap happened.  So if that was the intent, that was interesting, but they didn’t really explain that or even have her realize it at the end, so whether or not that was intentional is a bit unclear.  Still, overall even with that ambiguity, it’s a fairly good episode that works to get the story out that it wants to get out.

The sixth episode is “Anniversary Dinner”, which is another one that isn’t bad.  It involves a strange, older couple who talk about having a special dinner for their 25th anniversary, and also that the wife wants to have children in the house again.  A young couple drops by looking for directions to another house, with the girl being nice and the guy being a jerk.  The wife invites them to stay with them and do odd jobs, but the guy wants to move on.  Later, she leaves him and does return to stay with them, and it seems that they get really excited when they find out that she doesn’t have anyone who will miss her.  They show her their hot tub and invite her to use it, and the husband talks oddly about how a butcher should not cause fear before slaughtering animals because it ruins the meat.  Anyway, she putters around in the room while they are out getting things for their anniversary dinner, and the husband gets angry at this.  Eventually, he apologizes and they give her wine and get her into the hot tub again, and then the wife starts giving her vegetables by tossing them into the tub, but while the girl thinks it odd she is too relaxed to care, and it turns out that they are turning that into some kind of stew pot and kill her so that they can eat her.  At the end it is revealed that the children are the skulls of the people they have killed and eaten over the years, and that she almost found it which would have ruined the meat.

The performances are really good, especially that of the couple, which elevates the episode.  It also does manage to drop lots of hints about the twist — so much so that I knew it was coming — and so the story remains consistent throughout.  While the sympathetic young woman getting killed in the end was a bit of a downer, it also does flow naturally from the story.  The episode is lighter but not a comedy, but again it really does fit with the story as written.  So this episode was also a pretty good one.

The seventh episode is “Snip, Snip”, and I have to confess that for this one I fell asleep during it — I watch these in the evenings before going to bed — and had to rewatch it the next day.  Anyway, the plot is that a struggling professor or teacher tries to use black magic to guarantee that he will win a lottery — with the number 666666 — and then discovers — after he’s ruined his life in anticipation of not needing to care anymore — that the lottery was won with the number 666667.  He tracks down the hairdresser who won it who seems really nice, but it turns out that she also has powers and is stronger than he is, and so ends up sacrificing him and putting his head on her stand of heads (which I figured she was going to do but it takes quite a while for them to show that at the end of the episode).

This one isn’t as good, as it isn’t really clear why she won instead of him and yet why she seems to know about him and wants him to come here.  The implication is that she needed a sacrifice and he ends up being it, but whether she chose him with her powers or whether the spirits betrayed him is never made clear.  Since neither the guy who dies nor the hairdresser are ultimately sympathetic, we don’t really care which of them wins, and there’s no real motivation for them using magic to win the lottery other than that they wanted the money so we can’t choose sides based on that.  Again, this is a decent idea that isn’t executed that well, although it does do the shift from him being the threat to her being the threat pretty well, although I predicted it before it happened.

The last episode is “Answer Me”, which I have to admit I slept part-way through (following on from dozing off in the previous episode) and had to rewatch it as well.  The main plot is that an English actress who was normally living in L.A. comes to New York for an audition is staying in a friend’s apartment, but is kept up all night by the phone ringing and thumping on the wall.  This causes her to fail the audition, and so she keeps looking for work while the phone ringing and thumping continues.  She complains to the landlord, and discovers that the apartment is empty and that a young English girl killed herself in it by strangling herself with the phone cord.  Eventually, unable to take it, she goes to the apartment and discovers that it is empty, and finds the phone and talks to a very disturbing operator about all of this, and then goes back to her apartment.  When that night the noises start again, she goes back to the apartment and ends up being killed by the phone, which strangles her with the cord.

Whether or not you’ll like this episode will depend on how much you like the main character and actress and how she is written.  This is because the actress keeps up a running monologue about what she’s doing and thinking, and she isn’t a particularly pleasant person.  She’s often snarky and upset and angry, but then again in this situation she has some reason to be.  If you find her annoying, then you won’t like the episode, and if you aren’t as annoyed by it, you’ll find the episode interesting.  It also suffers from creating a commonality between the two victims — English women — but not explaining why that matters or what it’s doing.  So it isn’t as good an episode as the others, but structurally is more scary and less flawed in its execution than others.

Next up disk 3, which according to the box ends Season 1.

Jonathan MS Pearce’s Critical Examinations: Introduction

November 12, 2021

So, I’ve read a number of Jonathan MS Pearce’s books examining various aspects of Christianity, because I was conveniently ordering things from Amazon at the time and had heard about them from his blog, and it fit in with the “Examining Sophisticated Theology” thing I did in the past, being an Atheology aspect of that.  I’m going to talk about them off and on for the next while (I can’t promise it will be every week because there might be things that I want to talk about that I don’t want to wait to talk about).  Here, I’m going to start with the part that seems to most interest Pearce at the moment — he has written two recent books on it and is writing a third, although he has another book coming out that’s on more general topics — but interests me the least:  the historicity and accuracy of the Gospels and Bible in relating the Jesus story.

The reason this doesn’t interest me all that much comes from what seems to be the most common way skeptics go about challenging the Gospels or the Bible, which seems to me to be a Shotgun Approach:  fire off a great many arguments about contradictions with history and with each other and hope that by the sheer number their opponents will be overwhelmed and so their case will be made.  Why this doesn’t interest me much is because most of them end up being trivial and unimportant, most properly answered with a “I don’t care” than a “Yeah, that’s a tough one”.  I have long held that to make such arguments work you really need to find the critical components of the story and go after them, as it’s not crucial to the story how many angels or women were at the tomb, but is critical that Jesus was resurrected, for example.  As already noted, I think their hope is that with so many arguments they will overwhelm those who think the stories true and force them to come to the conclusion that they aren’t true, but I don’t think people work that way.  I think what happens instead is that people see all of these small arguments but in general don’t think them important, and so start to think that all of the arguments are just nitpicking, and so start ignoring them, especially if they were able to find reasonable — to them, at least — resolutions to the early ones.  It’s only people who are neutral or especially those who already have doubts that will eventually be overwhelmed by those arguments, concluding that their commitment to the belief isn’t strong enough to bother putting in the effort to resolve all of these arguments.  For any believer, however, for the most part they will be able to easily resolve these small arguments and will be motivated to do so, and so will be underwhelmed by the arguments (if that’s a word).

Pearce, I will say, is not as bad at this as others (I have read his book on the Nativity and his book on the Resurrection).  While he often does add up and reference a lot of really small arguments, he tends to focus on a couple of big cases at least that he then tries to shotgun, arguing that if this main component goes down then the whole thing goes down, and lists lots of reasons why that main component doesn’t seem to be correct.  However, that doesn’t mean that the ones he picks are actually important components or that he isn’t too quick to declare them impossible to resolve, which is something that I will probably go into in other posts.

The main approach that Pearce takes, particularly in this book on the Resurrection, is this:  he starts from the idea that the claims in the Gospels are extraordinary, and thus require extraordinary evidence to believe.  Then he wants to argue that the Gospels, for various reasons, are not reliable enough to be able to provide that sort of evidence.  He does this by pointing out contradictions between the Gospels themselves and between the Gospels and history, but also by showing that the Gospels are in general the sorts of historical documents that cannot provide that sort of evidence.  He does the latter by talking about how accounts that were not written down generally get corrupted easily, and also notes that ancient stories and histories tended to be unreliable unless they were done by dedicated historians, which none of the purported Gospel writers were (even Luke never claims to be and is never claimed to be a full historian, and only claims to be doing a more historical investigation).  So if they aren’t really reliable accounts, they could never provide the sort of evidence needed to justify that extraordinary claim.

Now, my first objection to this is that Pearce tends to consider anything supernatural “extraordinary” in that way, but the people he’s claiming should be convinced by this actually don’t consider the claims extraordinary in that way.  So this should result in an argument over that first, but Pearce tends to sidestep the arguments and maintain a naturalistic focus in the work, except to take small shots at anyone who is not a naturalist.  As most people reading this blog will know, I reject naturalism and all its works, mostly because I find the stance incoherent and ultimately meaningless.  So that the claims are supernatural don’t make the claims extraordinary to me, and a supernatural being that is claimed to have resurrected is actually less extraordinary than a being that wasn’t claimed to be supernatural.  So it is more reasonable to believe that Jesus qua Jesus was resurrected than any random person, and a lot of the arguments try to tie back to what ordinary people are expected to do, which is another flaw in naturalism.  The other, and perhaps larger, problem I have here is that let’s imagine that this really did happen, and this is the evidence we had.  Why couldn’t someone reasonably come to simply believe this based on this evidence?  Because if it is reasonable to think that this is the sort of evidence we could have, and the events really happened, then Pearce would have to be saying that it would be unreasonable to believe that what actually happened actually happened.  And that does not seem like a good epistemology.

Ultimately, this leads me to the major issue I’m having here:  Pearce — along with other people like Richard Carrier — seem to want believers, after they had read their works, to be compelled to give up their belief that these things happened on pain of being considered completely unreasonable and only acting on faith.  But the only way to be sure to get to that point is to be able to say that they know that these things didn’t happen, which means showing that key components of the story never happened.  You can’t do that by simply showing that the works are not necessarily accurate and are not necessarily reliable.  All that can do is cast doubt on the claims, and you cannot claim to know that something has not occurred by showing that we are reasonable to doubt that it occurred.  You need more than that.  To be fair, they do try to do this by showing that evidence that we should have is missing, but again that needs to be about important points and again they do tend to focus on a lot of points instead of on a few important ones.  While they tend to follow Bayesian epistemologies that rely on probabilities, I do not and do not agree that even under their model you can get to a reasonable definition of knowledge if you can merely claim that a claim is doubtful enough that the probability is low enough so that you can then claim to properly know that the claim is false.  That just seems weird, for the reasons I gave above:  true claims with unreliable evidence actually can’t result in a knowledge claim, so how could we ever know that a claim was false if all we have is that the evidence we have for it does not seem reliable enough to give a high enough probability?

So, for me, the important thing is the positive arguments against the claims, and that means given the evidence given in the books means looking at the cases where Pearce simply says that contradictions cannot be reasonably resolved in those cases where the story is critical to the belief.  Those are the cases that would justify a knowledge claim.  And so all I feel I need to do is show how they could be resolved, even if I can’t demonstrate that that’s what really happened.  Pearce and others really dislike that sort of response, but they need to establish that they can’t be reasonably resolved to make a knowledge claim and if I can show that they can be then they can’t make a knowledge claim.  And they can’t turn that around on me because I’m not making a knowledge claim here, but merely a belief claim.  And for a belief claim, I only need to claim what I personally think and don’t need to hold anyone else to what I believe, which again is not the case for them.

But I’ll get into more details on this when I get into the specific claims.  Here, I just want to outline what I think their project is — at least given their rhetoric — and what I feel they have to provide to succeed at their project. given that I don’t have the same philosophical foundations and starting points as them.  So, for me, they are not going to be able to use their preconditions in the way they normally do.

Thoughts on “Shook”

November 11, 2021

So the second of the two “Shudder” movies that I accidentally bought was “Shook”.  The story here is that a woman who is an online influencer with group of her friends goes to stay at her sister’s house to watch her dog while the sister takes a trip.  Soon after, strange things start happening, and she starts getting phone calls and texts from a strange person who demands that she do certain things and offers her a choice between her friend’s life and the life of the dog, at which point she chooses her friend and the dog is seemingly killed.  Soon after, she’s offered the choice between the life of her friend and the life of her sister, and she chooses her friend because her sister has a fatal disease — that her mother also died from — and she figures that her friend has more time to live and so will use that life more productively.  Soon after, it is revealed that all of the friends were pranking her and broadcasting it to get hits for their channel, which ticks her off.  But then her friends start dying one by one, and she becomes convinced that it’s real this time.  It turns out that her sister was the one who instigated all of this, but was using it as a test for her sister to see if she’d keep her promise to look after the sister as she died from the disease, as the sister did for the mother while the main character pretty much avoided all of it.  Since she’s now convinced that she wouldn’t, the sister tries to kill her, but the woman manages to kill her and escape.

I figured out the first twist pretty early on in the movie, and was wondering if the second time things started up it was going to be another fake out just to freak her out some more.  That obviously didn’t happen but it might have been interesting if it had.  The main issue with the plot here is that the sister is a little too insane a little too quickly to make it work, and the handwave that the disease is responsible for this makes her legitimate complaints a bit weaker.  It’s also never really clear just how bad the main character was during that time and at what point the sister went insane (it is revealed that she killed her mother and then left her embalmed in the closet, but the former could have been a mercy killing that meant that the latter was her being driven insane out of guilt).  Also, why all her friends would sign on to torment her that way is a bit strange.  That being said, it seems to have been for money and revelations about all of them explain why money was a factor for them.

But given all its flaws, it’s still a pretty good movie.  For a minimalist movie — most of it takes place in one house and focuses entirely on her — it does a good job of building suspense and developing the character of the main character, and making her into a sympathetic character from a clearly flawed character.  It’s interesting to follow her and we really want to see her win in the end.

That being said, it also makes the mistake of trying to make a shocking ending that might be setting up for a sequel, as the sister, who was presumed dead, shows up on camera — most of the events are shown on an Internet camera view — alive and insane.  The problem is that she really only had a grudge against her sister and she wasn’t going to be able to try the same sort of tests anymore, especially after being committed to killing her outright in this movie.  So if this leads to a sequel, it will be a completely different type of movie, and if a sequel is made that is the same type of movie.

Still, this was a much better movie than the first two Shudder movies that I watched, and like “Stay Out of the Attic” it will go into the box of movies that I might watch again at some point, which is again far better than the first two movies managed.

Giving the Player Hard Choices

November 10, 2021

So on a post of Shamus Young’s talking about Prey 2017, a discussion arose around moral choices in games with the idea being expressed to have really meaningful moral choices in a game there must be mechanical differences between the “good” and “evil” so that the player is tempted towards one side or another.  If the choices don’t have any consequences for the player, then there’s no meaningful choice at all.  I disagreed with this idea.

A comment by Redrock summarizes the argument pretty well:

You can’t really test the altruism of a character, because characters aren’t real. That’s just asking the player “what kind of character do you feel like playing as today?”. Which isn’t bad or anything, just not the type of experience I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the type of game that speaks directly to the player and aims to trigger genuine introspection. Those games are rare because they should be willing to alienate some players by not being all that fun from time to time.

Which is fine. Movies and books that aim to trigger introspection are rarely pure entertainment too. But I do think that we need more games like that, games that wield mechanics and narrative in equal measures to really push and prod the player.

The problem for me is that the choices they are talking about tend to be moral ones, or specifically altruism vs egoism, but it’s very difficult to test that by appealing to the player, because players have very different motivations from the people in the game or who would be in that situation.  If you are trying, then, to judge or test them based on those choices, you will run into the problem that you have to make assumptions about their motivations, and if you get it wrong and judge them anyway they will get very upset at that judgement.

So, imagine that we take the common suggestion from that comment thread about giving less resources to the altruistic choice, which seems to capture the essence of the altruism vs egoism choice:  give up resources to help others or take the resources to help yourself.  The problem is that players are playing a game, and so when given this choice might take the resources only because they know that they aren’t that good at this sort of game and so would need the extra resources just to finish it.  Or, at least, that they are worried about running out of resources and so want to make sure that they have enough to finish the game.  We know that players will quite often change their behaviour to make their game experience better or to ensure that they have the levels/resources to finish the game given their skill levels.  In most RPGs, my main strategy is to ensure that I’m overleveled and so to grind more than usual just to ensure that the level advantage can make up for any lack of skill that I might have.  I also spent a lot of time in Dragon Age Inquisition exploring every nook and cranny to make sure that I had enough resources and levels to finish the game, even though neither I nor my character were explorers.  Shamus Young criticized the Mass Effect Paragade system for assuming that his Renegade character wouldn’t want the XP rewards from “helping” the other team out.  In general, the mechanics are what the players interact with to play the game, and so we will do a lot of things that we find odd or out of place just to play the game.

So if we are looking at the mechanics and thinking about things in a mechanical way, and we are presented with one of these “altruism vs egoism” choices, what are we likely to do?  We are likely to think of it as a mechanical choice and work it out to the best mechanical outcome for us.  We are, therefore, quite unlikely to think of it as an altruism vs egoism choice at all.  So if the game then turns around and later judges us as altruistic or egoistic on the basis of that choice, we are likely to react with indignation.  After all, that was a mechanical decision not a character decision.  All I was doing was engaging with the mechanics to set things up so that I can best interact with and enjoy the game mechanics.  Unless the game makes it a character choice, then I’m not going to treat it as one.  But then if it is made into a character choice then I’m likely to judge it on the basis of the character that I’m actually playing, which may not be me but may not be.  So then aiming a judgement at the player for something their character did will fall flat as well, as they will either pass that criticism on to the character, or else will be annoyed at the game for not understanding that the player and the character are not the same person.

The issue with giving mechanical penalties or rewards for these sorts of choices is that these sorts of choices, to be judged altruistic or egoistic, have to be cast that way inside the world itself.  Even in the example in Shamus’ post, the altruistic or evil choices are framed around events in the world and relationships that the character has.  If the player becomes convinced that there are going to be meaningful mechanical consequences to these choices and are worried about the impact that might have on their gaming experience, then that will cause a separation between the character and the player.  The character might well take the altruistic choice and be able to feel confident that they can win even with the loss, but the player may feel that they need those resources to complete the game or at least to be able to have fun playing the game, and they are playing the game to have fun.  So that will cause the player to stop thinking in terms of the world and start thinking in terms of the mechanics, and then that link to the world will be lost, and so it won’t be thought of as a moral choice anymore, but instead as a mechanical choice akin to what ammo and weapons and armour you buy and equip.

I submit this:  if you’re thinking that you need to add mechanical consequences to get people to think of a choice as a properly moral one and feel the moral pull of it you have already lost, because what has already happened is that the player has stopped thinking of your world as a world and is instead thinking of it as a playground.  If they were really immersed in your world, then they’d feel the choice as their character would feel it, and if they are playing as themselves it would wrench them sufficiently even if there’s only an appearance of a loss, in much the same way as when we are immersed in an ongoing TV show we happily ignore that some plot points are a foregone conclusion because the other option would remove the entire premise of the show, or how in horror movies we’ll ignore stupid decisions made by the protagonists if we are sufficiently immersed in their plight.  If the player feels that there aren’t real consequences of their choice here, then they are at this point quite aware that the game world isn’t real … and, at that point, they aren’t going to think of this as any kind of moral choice at all, no matter what mechanical consequences are foisted on them.  So the trick is to keep the player thinking in terms of the world, not in terms of the game.  And mechanical consequences always make them think in terms of the game.

Thoughts on “The Lady of the Shroud”

November 9, 2021

So, the second book in that three book set of Bram Stoker novels is “The Lady of the Shroud”.  Normally, I’d summarize the plot first and then get into criticizing it, but the main issue here is that the work doesn’t seem to know what plot it’s trying for, so instead I’ll just dive into the criticism.

The book returns to the style that works for Stoker, which is to use journal entries and letters instead of using a narrative style.  However, he starts by introducing a character that will not play a large role in the work and who only exists to talk about how bad a person the eventual protagonist is.  However, soon after that everyone else we see is effusive in their praise of him.  This could have been used to make a point about how different people see things differently, but from this point on everyone talks about how great he is and most of the book is from his perspective, which shows him as being a decent person.  Also, the person from the beginning shows up at his place later and acts like an ass, and so we know that he wasn’t a reliable narrator at the beginning.  Which is fine, but that character is an absolutely unnecessary character who does nothing for most of the book and isn’t even mentioned, so nothing is done with that at all.  So it’s completely extraneous.

The plot starts off as a supernatural one, with the protagonist being visited by a strange woman in a funeral shroud after he moves to a small European country due to an inheritance.  There’s also, at this point, a subplot about preparing the country to fight off attacks from the surrounding countries, Turkey in particular.  However, quite soon it is revealed that the woman is the daughter of the leader of the country who is pretending to be dead after falling into a coma that she recovered from, and the original subplot takes over as she and her father are abducted and have to be retrieved.  They then have to face down the Turks, which they do, and with radium mines and the like the country becomes prosperous, and he marries the woman and becomes the leader of the country.

So, what is the plot?  The supernatural one?  It’s resolved quite early and has a rather dull and uninteresting resolution, which is used more to further the Turk plot than anything else.  The Turk plot?  They’re a complication, not a plot.  The development of the country itself?  That the focus is mostly on the protagonist makes that a side plot for him to follow, not the main plot.  The development of the main protagonist from a more selfish and immature man into a proper and worthy man?  Aside from the introduction, there’s no indication that he wasn’t a proper and worthy man from the start, and he doesn’t seem to develop at all, so that can’t be it.  So what’s it about?  I still have no idea.

It’s also quite long, at over 300 pages, which makes the lack of any kind of real plot all the more annoying.

Ultimately, the book lacks a clear and coherent focus and is too long to lack something for us to focus on.  As such, I will not be reading this book again.

Thoughts on “The National”

November 8, 2021

The second event on the Grand Slam of Curling tour happened this past weekend, and was “The National”.  Again, they went with the model where teams have to win three games before they lose three games instead of a round robin.  Now, this is all happening while I’m working and watching “Dark Shadows” and doing all sorts of other things so I’m not following it as closely as I might have otherwise, but I will say that it is definitely a bit trickier to follow whose doing what and what the consequences of each game really are.  Even in the summaries at the end of a broadcast they can’t simply sum up the standings and say who is in and who is eliminated and who is at risk, but instead have to show the brackets and show who might be playing each other and so on and so forth.  It also means that we don’t know who is going to play each other in any given draw until the relevant draws end.  So if you have a favourite team and want to find out how they’re doing, who they’re playing, or sometimes even when they’re playing, you need to do a lot more work to figure that out.

On the actual event, Tracy Fleury was looking to win two straight events after winning the first one, but Anna Hasselborg — who had been struggling a bit so far this season — ended up beating her 9 – 6 in an extra end.  Hasselborg scored 4 in the third to go up 4 – 1 but Fleury then outscored her 4 – 1 in the next three ends, before the two of them took singles in the seventh and eighth to go to an extra end, and Fleury couldn’t steal the win, leaving Hasselborg an easy hit to remove her stone and score the 3 to win the game.  Since I like Fleury’s team and don’t really care for Hasselborg’s, this was a bit entertaining, but Fleury’s grinding her way back into the match was entertaining.

The next curling is the Canadian Olympic Trials at the end of the month.