Archive for February, 2022

How Can Canada Fix its Curling Problem?

February 28, 2022

Well, as we just saw, Canada wasn’t dominant at the Olympics in curling, like it had been in the past, and in fact only won one medal, and it wasn’t even gold.  It turns out that even before the Olympics, there was a piece asking why Canada isn’t as dominant anymore and if it was because of our approach to curling, unlike that of other countries.  With everything done and a break before the Briar starts, I figured that today would be a good day to think about that myself.

Canada’s traditional strategy has taken advantage of and created its depth, where we have a number of teams that start from provincial tournaments and the “grassroots” who end up competing at the big national tournaments like the Scotties and the Briar for the right to go to the World Championships.  When it comes time to select for the Olympics, we follow the same strategy, except that instead of breaking it down by province we instead take teams that have qualified using various criteria — most often a ranking scheme based on points — and then again have all of those teams battle it out to see which team gets to go.  How this differs from pretty much other country in the world is that they have far fewer teams that might have a shot at winning one of these things, and so they can focus money and attention on them.  For Canadian teams, they generally have no idea who will go to Worlds or to the Olympics until the various competitions are run, which is usually only a couple of months before the actual events, which reduces the direct prep time the teams can have for those events.  In the other countries, they usually have a pretty good idea that they’ll be going to those events long in advance.  Also, that there’s limited direct funding means that Canadian curling teams tend to have other jobs and so aren’t full-time professional curlers.  The article talks specifically about how teams in other countries are indeed full-time professional curlers, but that’s at the expense of the teams below them as those teams get the lion’s share of the available funding.

So what Canada has is a system where any number of teams get a shot at representing Canada and so even relative unknowns can get a shot, which creates a lot of depth as you get a lot of teams getting a chance, at least, to play games at the highest level and against the best teams in the country.  However, this leaves us not having a declared absolute best, and in fact because teams are limited by province even events like the Scotties don’t necessarily have the best teams because if more than one team in a province is at the top of the standings only one — and maybe two with the normal wild card entries — can go to the Scotties.  So a case can be made that Canada creates the deepest field of curlers but to do that sacrifices the top end potential of curlers.  We have a deeper field of really good curlers but aren’t producing the best curlers in the world anymore.  And, in fact, one reason there is resistance to moving towards a model more like that of other countries is that it would reduce this depth and collapse the number of competitive teams down in Canada to a very small number from the pretty large number we have now.

One thing to consider is that the top end approach can be very bad for a country, as we’ve seen in a number of sports.  If you put all your resources into one or even two top teams, what happens when they age out?  Even here, people had been talking about Jennifer Jones being the best team and the team that we should pretty much always send to these events, but Jones’ team is getting older and she has been inconsistent this season.  It might, in fact, have been a bad thing that she managed to put it all together for a good run at the trials and then returned to her inconsistent ways at the Olympics.  If you have a top end strategy, you can pretty much only decide to switch gears once they start struggling, and then have to find a way to determine what team to focus on?  In the depth-first system, teams will naturally step into the breach if the top end teams start to struggle, as we’ve seen even recently.  Specifically for women’s sports, there is also an issue with family and life circumstances.  Yes, women can sometimes still play when pregnant and with young children — Rachel Homan rather famously did it a couple of years ago — but the change in their bodily mass changes how they throw the rocks and can cause issues for sweeping and so if the players want to start a family there’s going to be some interruption in their training and playing cycles.  We really don’t want to have to say to a women’s team “You can get the funding, but you’d better not have kids in this cycle!”.  So it’s actually a really good thing to have that depth-of-field, even if we sometimes don’t send the best team to Worlds, at least, because we have more teams with some experience at these sorts of events and so who will at least know what it’s like to be there.  Even the best teams don’t always manage to win at Worlds the first time they make it there, but usually do better the second time … if they make it back.

One other thing that was mentioned is the fact that due to the main events — the Scotties and the Briar — being divided up by province there are complicated residency rules to ensure that we can have teams that actually live in those provinces represent them, but doing that runs into problems if, say, one of the players moves away to go to school or get a new job or whatever.  One of the complaints in the article is that maybe we should do away with residency entirely, but another complaint is that teams need to be able to play together to really develop well as a team.  While one way to do that is to again pick a team or two to fund which would then allow them to move to a place and train together, maybe what we should be doing instead is tightening the residency restrictions, forcing more teams to play together and maybe encouraging teams to assemble around a specific geographical area.  Instead of sticking around with their old team, maybe they would focus on assembling or joining a new team in that area.  And maybe some of them will consider moving from an over-represented province to a less-represented province if things like lifestyle and jobs will also work out, spreading the talent out a bit.  So perhaps imports should be done away with entirely and we could have some kind of system where a player who had played with a team can stay with that team for the rest of the Olympic cycle but not beyond, which would get teams thinking about how to play with players in their own area.

Another answer I thought of was that there were complaints that the Scotties and Briar aren’t best-on-best and so maybe we could add another event that is the Canadian best-on-best.  This would add more money for Curling Canada that they could spread around and I know that I’d watch it if it was on.  But then it turns out that there already is one of these:  the Canada Cup.  Which I, a curling fan, had barely heard of and only watched a couple of times.  Maybe they should advertise it more (although I think it’s been cancelled the last couple of years).

The big thing, though, is that the world is catching up when it comes to curling, and as the article notes a number of countries have invested heavily in curling knowing that the field wasn’t as deep as it was in other sports (you can also see this a bit in women’s hockey, although the teams aren’t picking it up as quickly as they have with curling).  The teams at the top that are being used as the prime examples of how the approach of those other countries is really working started out as really good teams first, and then were given the extra money and training and such.  So it’s not just the extra funding and training that’s making them so good, and many of them still manage to lose to Canada’s best teams in the Grand Slam of Curling.  For the reasons I’ve given above, I don’t think Canada wants to lose its depth and I don’t think it needs to.  We might want to pick the team that goes to the Olympics a bit earlier so they have more time to prepare (such as choosing them at the end of the previous year, so back in April) although that might mean that we don’t get the opportunity to send a team that starts the season really hot and could sweep the events (as some teams have indeed done, like Rachel Homan a couple of years back or Einarson at some point in the last couple of years).  I think we need to see good young teams like Mackenzie Zacharias at the Scotties to play against the best and learn from that and get experience at those sorts of high pressure tournaments, as that will only make Canada stronger in the long run.  For the most part, any team that comes out of these tournaments — even the Cinderella teams — is going to be a contender at the Worlds and even at the Olympics, and it would in general only be experience that they would lack … experience that they would gain there.  In fact, it can be argued that the depth in Canada makes our teams better, because our teams always have to play against teams that could beat them.  The Grand Slam — which plays in Canada but includes teams from around the world — might well be the thing that’s hurting Canada the most, as it allows the best teams from around the world to compete against the country with the most depth of great teams (most teams in the events and especially in the playoffs tend to be Canadian), giving them that opportunity that before that only Canada could have.  Still, I think we have to accept that Canada can’t dominate curling anymore, just like we can’t dominate men’s hockey anymore.  If we can turn things around so that we have the success as our junior hockey team — don’t always win but are always in the mix and win a lot against tough competition — that would be wonderful, but as along as we are in the mix and always a decent threat to win that’s probably the best we can hope for.

Everything’s A Trolley Problem … Or is It?

February 25, 2022

A while back, Richard Carrier made another one of his posts talking about philosophy and strongly interpreting it in light of his own personal views, as he has done before for morality and consciousness.  As usual, his main argument ends up being that everything can reduce to his specific worldview and interests, even if most of philosophy wouldn’t really agree with that.  Here, he starts from the Trolley Problem invented by Philippa Foot — he loves to use female philosophers so that he can chide people for ignoring female philosophers — and ends up reducing it to his own position, ironically in such a way that it doesn’t align with what she used it for and in a way that ends up contradicting his own characterization of it.

Most people have probably heard of the Trolley Problem by now, but in essence it’s a philosophical thought experiment where someone is standing by a trolley track, and by a switch that will switch an oncoming trolley to another track.  If the switch is not switched, the trolley will barrel down the track and kill five people who cannot get out of the way in time (the most common example of this is that they have been tied to the track by someone who is trying to kill them).  But if the switch is switched, the trolley will barrel down the new track and kill one person who cannot get out of the way.  The question is:  do you think that it’s morally permissible or even demanded to activate the switch and kill that person in order to save the five people on the other track?

While looking it up it doesn’t look like this was the original intent, how it is most commonly used in philosophical circles — and how I was introduced to it — is as a way to test our intuitions about consequentialism vs deontology.  If you would argue that someone ought to activate the switch because it would save five people at the cost of one person, then you’re using consequentialist reasoning, arguing that the consequences are better for activating the switch which justifies doing it even though you’d kill someone.  If you say that it isn’t morally permissible, then it looks like you’re following some kind of absolute rule that says that you are not allowed to take an action that kills someone even if it would save the lives of more people to do that.  In terms of specific views, Utilitarians should always argue that you ought to activate the switch on the basis that outside specific situations that will increase utility, while Kantians would probably have to argue that it isn’t morally permissible in that you would be using the person on the other track as merely a means to the end of saving the other five people.  You could also argue for it on the basis of moral responsibility, as I actually did when I was deciding what I myself should do, following my interpretation of Stoicism:  I am not responsible for the actions of someone else, and so the person who set up that situation in order to kill those people would be morally responsible for their deaths if I left things alone, whereas if I activated the switch then that would be something I chose to do and so would be my responsibility, and so I would be morally responsible for killing that person, and so would be committing murder.  You can ask how that would apply for something that’s an accident, but since I’m also not responsible for the whims of fate the same reasoning would apply.  Now, this might seem a bit harsh because it can sound like I’m saying that I wouldn’t try to save those five people by having one other person die simply because I didn’t want to be considered morally responsible for killing someone, but the idea is that given that everyone is an innocent if I act then I definitely am responsible and morally responsible for killing someone, and it’s only consequentialist intuitions that make it look like that is a harsh thing to do, based entirely on the idea that it’s better to kill one person than to allow five other people to die.  When that one person would be the direct cause of their deaths, the reasoning works, but it doesn’t work out as obviously when that person is innocent.  Although, of course, there’s a lot of philosophical ink that can be spilt and has been split arguing over these points.

For most people, though, in the base Trolley Problem the consequentialist intuitions win out.  When this experiment was run as an empirical/psychological experiment, most people chose to activate the switch, which pleased consequentialists because it looked like most people’s moral intuitions were clearly consequentialist.  Unfortunately for them, further experiments were run that cast that conclusion into doubt.  The big one was the “Fat Man on a Platform” experiment, where instead of activating a switch you have to push someone with more mass than you in front of the train to get it to stop.  When this experiment was run — even if it was run directly after the original Trolley Problem — most people in this case said that it wasn’t morally permissible to do that, a contradiction that ensured that philosophically speaking the Trolley Problem was going to be something talked about for a long, long time.

Okay, so those are the basics.  How does Carrier characterize it?

Trolley Problems have two particular attributes: one is that they force the experimenter to compare the outcomes of positive action and inaction; the other is that they force the experimenter to face the fact that either choice bears costs. As such, Foot’s Trolley only puts into stark relief a fundamental truth of all moral reasoning: every choice has a cost (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunchand doing nothing is a choice. Both of those principles are so counter-intuitive that quite a lot of people don’t want them to be true, and will twist themselves into all sorts of knots trying to deny them.

The first thing to point out is that Carrier is arguing that the basic principles of the experiment are so counter-intuitive that quite a lot of people don’t want them to be true and spend lots of effort to deny them, which is rather puzzling given that, as noted above, most people answer the thought experiment in the way that would align with Carrier’s reasoning here.  Most people say that they should activate the switch, which means that they would have to accept that doing nothing is a choice and that doing nothing has a cost, if Carrier is right about the experiment.  If anyone is arguing against it, from what I’ve seen it’s generally on the basis that the experiment is too abstract to really get at what our own intuitions about morality would really say.  It’s too artificial to prove anything, which might be why we get those contradictory results.  But again it hardly seems like Carrier’s claim that it’s so counter-intuitive makes sense given that when we are at least supposed to be relying on our intuitions as opposed to our intellectual moral reasoning most people would agree with what his analysis says we should do.  The idea that doing nothing is a choice is probably what makes my response seem harsh, and it’s also pretty common in most media and in many places.  So that doesn’t seem to work at all.

Second, it doesn’t seem like that was Foot’s purpose for the experiment either:

In “The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect”, (1967) Foot raises a related case that has been the subject of much subsequent discussion: a runaway trolley is headed toward five people who will be killed by the collision, but it could be steered onto a track on which there is only one person (1967 [VV 23]). Intuitively, it seems permissible to turn the trolley to hit and kill one person, but the problem is that it does not seem permissible to kill one to save five in cases like Rescue II. Why, Foot asks, can we not argue for the permissibility of killing one to save five in those cases by appealing to the Trolley case? As we have seen, Foot argues that negative rights are generally stronger than positive rights. In Rescue II, we must violate someone’s negative rights to meet the positive rights of others, and this is impermissible because the negative rights have priority over the positive rights that is not outweighed by five people’s need for assistance. In Trolley, by contrast, we are not violating negative rights to meet positive rights; the situation pits the negative rights of the five against the negative rights of one, and both choices involve violating someone’s negative rights. In such a case, it seems clearly preferable to minimize the violation of negative rights by turning the trolley (1967 [VV 27]).

On Foot’s view, we are generally not permitted to do something to someone that would interfere with someone’s negative rights, for example, we may not steal someone’s property; yet we may not be required to actively secure their possession of it, that is, we may allow them to lose their property. Foot thereby defends a principle that draws a moral distinction between doing and allowing; she also defends a version of the doctrine of double effect, which states that it is sometimes permissible to bring about a result that one foresees as a consequence of one’s action but does not intend that it would be impermissible to aim at either as a means or an end (1985 [MD 91]).

This analysis does not reference not choosing being really a choice, nor does it claim that each choice always has a cost.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t even reference consequentialism, which is how philosophy commonly uses it.  It focuses instead on whether we can violate negative rights or positive rights, and notes that the Trolley Problem’s answer doesn’t actually generalize to all cases (her “Rescue II” is a case where you run someone over to rescue five people.  So it doesn’t seem like either philosopher or the originator see its purpose as being what Carrier thinks it is, which obviously would make his interpretation suspect.

So let’s return to why people might argue against the experiment.  As I noted, it’s usually because they see it as overly artificial … a criticism that can be made for Carrier’s comparison to Game Theory as well, that it doesn’t work because it’s too artificial:

 I once showed a class of Christian high school students the scene in Beautiful Mind where John Nash explains his revelation of (what would become) Game Theory to his bar buddies, using the “dude” example of how to score with women at the bar: if they all go for the most attractive one, they all block each other and lose, but if they all cooperate to divvy up approaching her friends, they all get dates (yes, not that enlightened an example, but neither is a trolley rolling over people). The students couldn’t get off the notion that the scene meant Game Theory was about getting laid. But getting a date was entirely incidental, just a silly (and intentionally comic) barroom example; they missed the point.

So, let’s look at this Game Theory thought experiment:

You and three male friends are at a bar trying to pick up women. Suddenly one blonde and four brunettes enter in a group. What’s the individual strategy?

Here are the rules. Each of you wants to talk to the blonde. If more than one of you tries to talk to her, however, she will be put off and talk to no one. At that point it will also be too late to talk to a brunette, as no one likes being second choice. Assume anyone who starts out talking to a brunette will succeed.

The Movie

Nash suggests the group should cooperate. If everyone goes for the blonde, they block each other and no one wins. The brunettes will feel hurt as a second choice and categorically reject advances. Everyone loses.

But what if everyone goes for a brunette? Then each person will succeed, and everyone ends up with a good option.

It’s a good thought, except for one question: what about the blonde?

As an example of what I believe is called a “Nash Equilibrium”, this isn’t a bad example.  However, if it’s used as an example for how people should act in the real world, I think it would be fair to argue that it’s too artificial to work.  For one thing, it ignores that if the blonde really is so desirable that everyone wants her above all of the others, then she can afford to be selective and so some of the men wouldn’t be able to succeed even if they approached her on their own.  So in terms of reality the men who are pretty certain that they won’t get selected should bow out on their own, which might solve the entire problem.  Also, as noted at the end the strategy means that the blonde — the most desirable by definition — doesn’t get anyone.  If we can ignore what this means for her — and in a Game Theoretical context everyone is trying to make the best choice for themselves so we can do that — we still run into the problem that someone in the group could have succeeded with her and by definition for all of them that was a better outcome than what they had.  Now, Game Theoretical analyses are all about the argument that everyone pursuing their highest goal means that they end up worse off than if they sacrificed that goal for a lesser one, but if we are going to think about co-operation then we definitely might want to think about ways where at least someone gets the blonde.  Which opens up new options, such as waiting for signals to see who might be attracted to whom.  Even if I thought I might be able to get the blonde — which is highly unlikely at the best of times, but let’s go with that — if a brunette was expressing subtle interest in me and the blonde was apathetic I might indeed be more likely to go for the “sure thing” than try for only a chance at something that was arguably better.  And if she was showing signs of interest in someone else in my group instead of towards me, I’d definitely let them go for it and take a run at a brunette.  And once the group gets down to figuring out who has the best chance at what, then we run into the idea in real life that some members of the group might actually prefer brunettes to blondes anyway, making the division easier to manage and ending up with the group being overall more happy than they would be with this supposed recommendation.  Once we eliminate the men who don’t have a chance with the blonde, the men who have a brunette interested in them, and the men who are more interested in brunettes anyway, there might not be only one person left who’s in the running for a blonde, meaning that he would succeed and the others would succeed with the brunettes.  And if there’s more than one?  They can flip for it or something, because the overall contentment is still better than it would be taking the advice:  one man gets the blonde that everyone wants and the others get brunettes that had to be at least acceptable to them for the original recommendation to work.  This works out at least as well and usually better for everyone except the leftover brunette, who is balanced by the left out blonde in the original recommendation.

This, then, is one of the main criticisms I have of applying Game Theory to real life situations:  there are always far more factors involved that tend to make their recommendations not really apply.  We would almost always have more information than they provide and more wishes and desires to appeal to.  Even in the Prisoner’s Dilemma we likely would have reasons to trust or distrust our partner that would guide us more than that simple analysis.  The video game “Knights of the Old Republic” highlights this, with an AI questioning the main character to assess that character’s personality, and using an example of this where the MC is “playing” this against Zaalbar, who has sworn a life debt to them.  The AI doesn’t accept the argument that Zaalbar can be trusted, but anyone who knows what a life debt is and knows how honourable Zaalbar is — and understands what his “treachery” was actually about — knows that Zaalbar won’t take the deal and so can act accordingly.  Game Theory is often far too abstract to be used, at least, in everyday decisions.

The same, then, is the common objection against the Trolley Problem, although Carrier seems to miss that:

So, too, are people missing the point who act like Foot’s Trolley is a philosophical question about killing people; or who think that even when it is about killing people, that it’s about how to find a way in which all the deaths could be avoided somehow, and so people “respond” to Trolley Problems by inventing a bunch of “what ifs” that allow them to “win the game” as it were, which is again missing the point—because the Trolley Problem is designed to model specifically those scenarios where they can’t all be saved.

Carrier’s right that the Trolley Problem is designed to make it so that not everyone can be saved, to test our intuitions in such cases.  What I think most people get wrong about it is thinking of it as a judgement of one’s moral character or as a recommendation for what people should do in such real life situations.  And so they note that in such circumstances there’d always be other options that the experiment isn’t accounting for and so it isn’t “realistic”.  But as an empirical thought experiment — and it’s far more empirical than philosophical since it doesn’t really highlight any real underlying philosophical principle that we didn’t already know about — it’s meant to be unrealistic and artificial and abstract, because what it’s trying to is test our intuitions without relying on ingrained or societal responses.  Given that, that it’s not realistic is a benefit, because people will have to engage their intuitions to figure out a response rather than just giving what they’ve been taught is the right response.  So criticisms that it isn’t realistic and can’t be applied to real life don’t work because it isn’t supposed to.

Except for Carrier, seemingly, as he thinks that all of our moral questions are really Trolley Problems, which is … dubious, to say the least.  Especially when he gets to these examples:

Consider three examples of failed Trolley Problems:

  • “Doing nothing” to fix the levies whose failure devastated Louisiana in the face of Hurricane Katrina ended up costing Louisiana and the Federal government (and thus every taxpayer in the nation) vastly more than fixing the levies in the first place would have. Hence doing “something” instead would have been far cheaper. Inaction ended up outrageously more expensive—and outrageously deadlier, for those who want a lot of “killing” in their thought experiments. This was a Trolley Problem. In money or bodies. “Flipping the switch” would have killed fewer people—and cost us vastly less in resources. We chose to stand there and do nothing, and then claim it wasn’t our fault.
  • “Doing nothing” to fund the cold-weathering of equipment caused the 2021 Texas Powergrid Disaster, which killed hundreds of people and cost tens of billions of dollars, and immeasurable headache and ruination. While Republicans disingenuously complained about “wind power” not being up to snuff, to push their gas lobby, such that the story soon became how in fact most of Texas’s failed power came from natural gas plants not having been adequately fitted for cold weather, the same truth actually still underlies both: New England and Canada and Alaska and Colorado, for example, have tons of wind and gas plants that don’t get knocked out by cold snaps—because they kitted them out to handle it. Texas was warned repeatedly that a Trolley was coming to kill “twenty billion dollars”; they chose to do nothing and let it. They could instead have done something—in fact, what nearly every other state’s energy sector did—and saved billions and billions of dollars. There would still be a cost. Like, say, the few billion cost to weather-prep gas plants and wind farms; but it would amount to maybe ten times less what doing nothing ended up costing them. Likewise, far fewer deaths. While hundreds died from the disaster they did nothing to avert, we can expect one or two would have died in, for example, workplace accidents in kitting out the equipment (windfarms in particular have a steady death rate associated with their maintenance; but so does the fossil fuel industry, or in fact any relevant industry). So even counting deaths and not money, this was a straightforward Trolley Problem. That Texas lost.
  • “Doing nothing” in the face of a global coronavirus pandemic similarly led to many more hospitalizations and deaths, and far more harm to the economy and national security, than the “mask mandates” and “vaccinations” that millions of lunatics ran about like crazed zombies denouncing and avoiding. Even counting the minuscule threats created by those mitigations (the odd person who might have died from a vaccine reaction or breathing problem), the differential in deaths was vast (hundreds, even thousands to one). Anti-vaxxers suck at Trolley Problems. Even by their own internal logic-–never mind in factual reality.

Carrier, however, contradicts his own interpretation here by using these examples, because these are not examples where you’re forced to choose between two outcomes that you can’t avoid, nor are these cases where the key thing is inaction.  These are all budgeting cases, and budgeting is not a case of inaction vs action.  Budgets get spent in their entirety, so they decided that the money that could have been used to do that was better spent elsewhere, and it’s obvious that in the Trolley Problem we aren’t deciding between immediate considerations and between future considerations, which is commonly how these things get decided when it comes to budgets.  This also leads into another difference in that these cases are about risks rather than about certainties.  In all of these cases, the problems that happened in the future might never have happened, at least not for those individuals, so it’s about deciding what risks someone is willing to take.  In the Trolley Problem, as Carrier himself notes it’s all about choosing between two options where you know what the outcome will be and have to decide which one you’d rather take and which one is better.  And finally, these aren’t actually moral questions at all, but are practical ones, as we can see when we look at some more of his examples:

Even in your own personal life, who to date, what job to take, what school to go to, what hobby to allocate time and money to: it’s all Trolley Problems, all the way down. Do nothing, and date no one, get no job, go to no school, enjoy no hobby. “Nothing” has costs. Nothing is a decision. Often, again, the worst one.

These are all practical considerations about what might make you more happy, and of course there are many more options than the two and you have no idea how they will work out.  You can try to date people and fail, or avoid dating and get a relationship anyway.  These decisions have no actual moral content.  They are as pragmatic as deciding what to eat for supper, and involve just as many costs.  And just like deciding what to eat for supper there is no reasonable choice that is merely doing “Nothing”.  If someone decides not to date, they aren’t deciding to just “do nothing” but are deciding to do something else instead of dating.  Maybe they think that they’re going to fail and don’t try.  Maybe they get tired of it.  Maybe they try and succeed.  Maybe they try to date the wrong people.  And so on and so forth.  There is no simple binary choice here between “Do something” and “Do nothing”, and as already noted we don’t know what the outcome will be when we choose it and are risking costs when we don’t know the outcome.  We are not running Trolley Problems here, but are placing bets and gambling.  And the Trolley Problem is deliberately not a gamble.

So while Carrier wants to make the Trolley Problem the foundation of all of our moral decisions, his examples are not examples of moral decisions and, even if they were, they wouldn’t be Trolley Problems anyway.  At the same time, Carrier uses the thought experiment in the precise way that generates opposition to it by insisting that it must apply to real life despite people noting that it’s too artificial to be used that way.  He doesn’t use it the way philosophy does nor does he use it the way Foot herself used it.  Ultimately, it really looks like he’s contorting it to fit his view rather than analyzing his views to see how they fit with it.

Thoughts on “Ghosts of Chernobyl”

February 24, 2022

“Ghosts of Chernobyl” is again, as far as I can tell, a Russian horror movie.  I had good luck with the last one — “The Widow” — so it remains to be seen if I’ll have similar luck here.

(The answer is “No”).

Like “The Widow”, this movie is a found footage type of movie, in this case entirely literally.  It even seems to be a combination of two found footages, with the first being a chronicle of a group of “friends” who are driving by car across Russia to return to the United States, with all the attendant personality conflicts.  This footage is bookended by footage from an explorer who goes into places people wouldn’t normally go and found it in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.  The original found footage is a mix of digital and film footage, and starts with the group hanging out together which reveals some of their personal issues, and then with them setting out on the road to where they will catch a plane, presumably, back to the United States.  The footage — especially the digital footage — is odd and the guy who found it claims that it was corrupted, which means that it hops around from the normal scenes to some odd scenes — that come into play later — that hint at the horror.  At any rate, they eventually get lost and decide to take a dirt side road to a village, get lost, and start walking.  They stop in a swamp, the Russian guy — the fiance of the only girl — goes swimming, drowns, and then they walk into the ruins of a city in the exclusion area, with some odd things like soldiers shooting people happens.  They then seem to be being shadowed by a strange woman and … it doesn’t end well for them.

The big mistake that’s made here is the same one that was made in “Feeding Grounds”:  the movie spends a lot of time showing that these people are not very nice and have a lot of interpersonal conflicts, but because they are so unpleasant it’s hard to feel the emotional connection necessary to care about whether they live or die.  Sure, as I’ve repeatedly said you shouldn’t need to know that much about a group of people to not want them to die horribly, but I really wish that the movies wouldn’t try to make us dislike them.  This is especially bad here because most of the movie is about these people and their conflicts, as the horror scenes are fairly few and far between.  Moreover, none of the interpersonal conflicts go anywhere.  The big early one is between the fiance and the woman’s friend Dave, and this gets cut off rather quickly when the fiance drowns.  Another issue that they hint at and then play up at the end is that the woman is pregnant, which was clearly going to cause some issues with her relationship.  Nothing comes out of this, even to a point of her getting saved or targeted or captured or something because of it.  So we spend most of the movie watching these morons argue with each other over, well, pretty much everything with some nice affectionate scenes thrown in for contrast and some small scenes with some kind of horror monster that might want to kill them.

The part is also problematic.  The movie reveals at the end that the killer is a little girl who had been experimented upon in the hopes of producing someone with powers (she seems to potentially have some abilities when they start) which, well, works, turning her into someone with strong telekinetic powers that she uses to kill people.  She ended up escaping and being left behind after Chernobyl, as we find out when the guy who found the original footage talks to her grandparents.  This also leads to the “idiot gets himself killed” ending as he takes a doll and records a message from the grandmother and goes back to try to calm down the girl/woman who he had seen brutally kill people.  She takes the doll, but when he tries to approach while playing the message — a song her grandmother used to sing to her — she kills him and takes the doll with her.  This is, of course, an utterly idiotic move since there was no need for him to stay there or try to talk to her to prove that this really was her, and taking one of the grandparents to make the first approach would make more sense, and so all that happens is that he gets himself killed as everyone should expect.  This also makes for a rather poor ending, as we don’t really find out what made her this way or why she just wants to kill everyone or if there’s any hope for her or, well, pretty much anything about her, and the movie ends with her seeming more a tragic villain except for that being totally homicidal thing, and they didn’t need to pull an “everyone dies” twist here because his footage didn’t have to be found footage, and so they could have resolved it in a more satisfactory way … or ended it with him saying that he wanted to investigate it to find out if she could be brought back to society, which would work well as a cliffhanger or as a set up for a sequel.

So, unlikeable characters that are focused on for too much of the movie, while being unlikeable.  Vague and unexplained villain.  Dumb twist ending.  Yeah, this is not a movie that I will watch again.

Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 4)

February 23, 2022

So, at the end of Season 3 I pretty much figured that I was going to have to say something about Season 4 before I finished the series, because it ended with the cliffhanger of all of his team having quit or been fired and so the next season was going to have to start examining the consequences of that, and so either there would be consequences that I’d want to evaluate or else there wouldn’t be consequences and I’d want to complain about that.  And the solution they went with is … both, actually.

The opening keeps the team from the last season in the opening credits and in the opening “walk down the hall” end sequence, which means that they are still going to be main characters in the show.  However, the season opens with House not having a team and trying to use other people as a replacement for his team — including the janitor, which is quite funny — but Cuddy makes a bet with him that if he can’t solve the case on his own he’ll have to hire a team.  Not only does he fail to do things on his own, he also doesn’t figure out the case quickly enough even with bouncing ideas off of other people — again, even people who know nothing about medicine — and so he is convinced to hire a replacement team.  Of course, we already knew that he needed a team and that even he realized that he needed then from an episode where he’s on a plane with Cuddy and drafts passengers to pretend to be his team so that he can solve a medical crisis, but that’s not too big an issue.

As per House, he decides to choose his new team in the way that will most annoy Cuddy, and so he hires something like forty people and starts whittling them down for a good chunk of the season, sometimes in arbitrary and sometimes in slightly less arbitrary ways.  Meanwhile, his team returns to the hospital, as Cameron is running the emergency department, Chase is a surgeon, and Foreman had a job as the head of diagnostics at another hospital but then violates the procedures to irradiate a patient that he thinks — or knows — needs it to save the patient’s life but then gets fired by the head administrator for doing that, which means that he can’t get another job and gets hired as Cuddy’s watchdog over House, which he did for a while back in Season 2.

Now, the issue with Foreman’s firing is that either way someone is an idiot, and it’s just as likely that it’s Foreman as the administrator.  Foreman is shown desperately taking the patient to do the procedure all on his own.  Why would he do that rather than going through the processes or talking to the administrator again?  The only sane and sensible reason is that the treatment wasn’t working and there was a really good chance that the patient would die before he could get permission.  But if that was the case he’d be focusing his defense on that instead of on his just being right.  So maybe he just wanted to prove himself right and knew that the evidence he had couldn’t justify the move he made.  But then the administrator would be right in what she did, and all the hints that she was being too much of a stickler and that he ended up doing the right thing in the wrong way wouldn’t really work.  Cuddy does note that she’s about the only administrator who would allow that sort of thing, but she pretty much only does it for House on the basis that he’s actually right most of the time.  The last time Foreman pulled a stunt like that, he was wrong and killed the patient, so he should have been hesitant to try it again so quickly (it was even the same treatment).  It does end with a nice parallel that Foreman left because he didn’t want to become like House but the action he took there meant that he was fired and couldn’t get another job because everyone else thought he was too much like House already, but the process to get there seems rushed and not properly developed.

I suppose I should talk about Cameron.  I like her better when she heads her own department, because Cameron works best as a character when they let her be confident and competent and do her job, and drop the “crush on House”.  The only issue I have is that she often seems to be getting too manipulative and too smug in her assessments of what’s going on, which is not a good look for her.  Still, she gets less attention now and so even that is tolerable in small doses.  Although they continued her having a relationship with Chase, which was a bad move because it’s utterly irrelevant except for one time where there is a suggestion that House has syphilis and Chase demands to know if she slept with House and she won’t answer, despite it being the case, as far as I know, that she clearly didn’t.  Nothing comes of it at all in this season and so I really wonder why they bothered to mention it.

Now, back to the team selection.  I found the team selection process — while in keeping with House’s personality — boring and pointless.  One issue is that there were certain characters that were going to make it through — Thirteen being the big one — and so they had to bend the selection process to keep them around and get rid of the others, even if it didn’t really make sense.  For example, in one test House pits the men against the women with the idea being that the team that failed to come up with the answer would be fired, but while the women did come up with the right answer the patient died anyway because Thirteen didn’t make certain that the patient took it and did before they figured that out (the dog ended up swallowing the pills — of ivermectin — which didn’t work for that breed of dog) and House … fired all of the remaining women except Thirteen and Amber (who had switched to the men’s team figuring that it would give her a better shot at staying).  He says that in keeping Thirteen he did that because he knew she wouldn’t make the mistake again, but why fire all of the other women?  And, on top of that, it’s just as reasonable for him to blame the men for running in there to do tests and causing the distraction that created the problem in the first place.  But the remaining women were not memorable and were not going to be there at the end, so they had to go somehow, and this was a convenient if rather idiotic way to get rid of them.

That’s actually the other issue here:  the ones who stayed were ones who were slightly more memorable than the ones who left, but that wasn’t saying much.  Thirteen is given as someone who has some mystery in her past that she’s trying to hide, and it’s suggested that House is keeping her because that interests him, but he spends very little time investigating that, and we know that when he has an interesting mystery to solve he will do pretty much anything to solve it.  So we feel like even he doesn’t care that much about it, so why should we?  Amber gets the label of “Cutthroat Bitch” and that’s really what her personality is:  she’s willing to do anything to anyone to get that position.  While that’s an interesting dynamic, as usual they make her the main villain/antagonist and so we know that she won’t get the position because it would lead to an unworkable environment, that the show and the other candidates and even House constantly remind us.  She’s the last to go, but she had to go.  The others have some minor personality traits but nothing that’s all that interesting, and so we don’t really feel that these candidates are as interesting as the people they are replacing.

Now, if the old team had gone away completely, we could forgive that.  Something — either plot or behind the scenes — required ditching the old team that we had followed for three seasons and so it’s not reasonable to think that we would be able to know enough about these guys in a half season, and so when the final team was picked they could be developed and things might get better.  Except, as noted above, the old team was still there.  And brought in and referenced in pretty much every episode.  So in every episode we could see how this new team is not as interesting as the old team was.  As the show itself lampshades, Thirteen is a replacement for Cameron — although seeming to focus more on principles than on niceness — and is in no way as interesting as Cameron is, as we can clearly see every time the show stops by with Cameron.  Foreman comes back in a new role but none of them can fit into his old role the way Foreman did, and none of them have Chase’s charming bedside manner that made watching him interact with patients entertaining.  This team seems to starting behind the 8-ball when compared to the old team, and none of that really improves as the season progresses.  So for me we had a somewhat dull and contrived selection process that, at the end, comes up with an inferior team to what we had in pretty much every way while the show constantly reminds us of the team that we liked better.

(It’s also a bit odd that one of the goofiest and nondescript candidates, Cutner, after being hired starts having intuitions like House does, at about the same level of genius.  That came out of nowhere and thus seems contrived, and makes the character a bit annoying given that).

Another fumble of the season is the aforementioned case where House might have syphilis.  The episode brings in someone who is excessively nice and House doesn’t believe that he could really be that nice, and so suggests syphilis as the reason, and so they posit that maybe that would explain House’s being an excessive jerk, and so test some blood of his they found to check, which happens to have syphilis.  It turns out that House planted that in case someone ran tests on his blood, but pretends that the treatment is “working” to mess with their heads.  The problem with this is that in the previous seasons we already found out why he acts the way he does:  he’s miserable because he’s in pain, and he doesn’t want to admit how miserable he is or how much he cares about people and his patients.  Thus, he isn’t a complete and utter jerk and so there was no reason to think that the cause was syphilis rather than what happened to his leg, and that even those who were close to him in the previous seasons and so who knew that were willing to go along with that makes no sense.

The other issue with this ties into the return of Amber (aka “Cutthroat Bitch”) from being fired.  She returns as Wilson’s love interest, which brings up the issue that Amber is like House and so Wilson is really dating House.  It’s a nice idea, but Amber, at least as she was presented in the early parts of the season, is not like House.  They claim that she’s someone who will do whatever she needs to to get what she wants and doesn’t care about how it impacts others, and say that House is that way as well, but House is not that way.  We know that House cares about his patients and his team and most of the time when he’s manipulating things it’s to help them in some way.  The only times he doesn’t seem to me to be either when he sees something that would make his life a bit less miserable and manipulates his way into getting it — getting access to the big TV from the Doctor’s Lounge to replace his smaller one is an example from this season — or when he’s trolling people.  But Amber in the candidate selection arc was portrayed as indeed only caring about herself and being willing to do whatever was necessary to make things work out for her, in all ways.  We don’t even really get an implication — or too much of a one — that she cares about the patient getting better if that happening wouldn’t benefit her, which is clearly true for House.  That she’s aggressive and manipulative works, but not that she’s self-interested.

Which runs into a whole heaping plate of problems for that arc, which ends the season.  The first is that Wilson is portrayed as being too nice and caring, and so putting him with someone who is so self-interested is out-of-place for him.  The good thing is that the show recognizes that and has both House and Wilson comment on that, and we could follow up on statements from the earlier seasons where one of Wilson’s ex-wives says that he really genuinely sees women with problems and wants to help them, but ends up cheating on them later, which could imply that when he has fixed their lives enough he gets bored and moves on.  He would have started, as they noted, trying to do the same thing for Amber but when she gets better she would be interesting and exciting enough to prevent him from getting bored, and her aggression could stop him from being a pushover.  The problem, though, is that Amber was portrayed beforehand as being completely self-centered, which would obviously not be a good fit for Wilson.  Again, they smartly play this up with House worrying that that was what happening, and he and Wilson butting heads over that, and there are hints that Amber isn’t as self-centered as she might have seemed — or, at least, not towards Wilson — but those elements are minimized and often contrasted with House and Amber fighting over Wilson at which point she returns to her normal “Cutthroat Bitch” persona, which kinda ruins that.

Now, this could have worked if the arc had been given more time to shake out and so we could have more episodes and events where she points out that she doesn’t need Wilson to take care of her and needs him to take care of himself — there’s a wonderful one with a mattress where Wilson tries to get the one that makes her happy and then a waterbed because he thinks (wrongly) that it will make him happy and she supports him all the way — but this is a pretty short arc that ends the season and ends with … Amber dying.  So we never really get to find out if she is different than what she seemed earlier on or if she has changed being with Wilson, and even in the last two episodes — an unofficial two-parter — they keep interspersing nicer scenes with her acting, well, like her CB persona and the people bringing up that she was that way, so it really hurts the development.  As the episodes are structured, we’re supposed to feel sorry for her and she is used as at least the emotional fulcrum of the episodes, and they keep reminding us of why we probably shouldn’t care much about her, which can be jarring.

Especially since, outside of that, in my opinion the two episodes are absolutely brilliant.  The anguish of Wilson and the moves he’s making that he wouldn’t do otherwise, House going along with them because he wants to help his friend, Foreman pointing that out (although stupidly along with Cuddy going against the wishes and seemingly killing her), Thirteen having issues dealing with it because of the potential that she has Huntington’s, House trying desperately to remember what he saw that meant that she was going to die and risking major brain damage to do that, at least in part at Wilson’s instigation, and then discovering that it was too late … all of that is really, really good, and while the ending with all of them going to say goodbye to her is contrived — since as they note, they didn’t really like her — the way it is shot and written and performed really works, as does Wilson’s goodbye to her and the hint that while House might be recovering — or might not — Wilson might indeed blame him for her death because she was only on that bus because she went to pick House up from a bar and he went away from her onto the bus that then had an accident also works.  It’s just a shame that there are so many scenes that break down because the show didn’t take the time to develop Amber’s character enough and spent too much time reminding us of what we weren’t supposed to like about her.

Anyway, that’s Season 4.  I will likely have to comment on Season 5 if for no other reason than to see how they handle Wilson’s and House’s relationship and the brain damage issues, so we’ll see how that works out (by the time this is posted, I will have started watching Season 5, but as the time of writing this I haven’t even seen one episode yet, which is deliberate).

Addition:  After watching the start of Season 5 — the first three episodes — I want to write out a speculation I have about it to keep a record of it to see if I’m right.  At the beginning of the season, Wilson — my favourite character — leaves the hospital, making comments about everything there reminding him of Amber but there’s also a subplot where House doesn’t want him to go and is encouraged to tell him his feelings, but even when he does that Wilson still leaves.  At one point, House is talking to him and Wilson says that he doesn’t blame House for Amber’s death, even though he wanted to, but he just couldn’t.  However, at one point Wilson also says that it should have been Wilson on the bus with House, and then corrects himself to say that House should have been alone on the bus.  He also talks a lot about House being miserable and unable to grasp Wilson’s loss, even though House has lost things.  I suspect that how this will eventually play out is that it will be revealed that Wilson doesn’t blame House, but blames himself for Amber’s death, for not being there to pick House up that night, for enabling House in his dependence and misery, and in not being able to shake House out of his misery like a good friend should be able to do.  So every time he sees House he can take it not just because of Amber, but because it reminds him of his guilt over not being able to make House better.  We’ll see if I’m right or if they go somewhere else with this (although I’m hoping that Wilson will not be sorta gone forever).

Thoughts on “Waterworld”

February 22, 2022

So this is it, the last movie in that 10 movie pack of science fiction movies.  And as I’ve been hinting at for the last couple of posts, this is a movie that I was actually looking forward to watching because I really, really wanted to see if it was as bad as people said it was.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad, and it was just some sort of disappointment that made people dislike it so strongly.  Maybe it was bad as a major blockbuster movie but could be entertaining as something with lesser ambitions.

It actually really is that bad.

And a big part of the problem is indeed that it’s trying to be a blockbuster movie.  It seems obvious that it’s trying to be Mad Max except all on water instead of on land.  That means that they need to have boat equivalents of the vehicles that we saw in Mad Max, which means that they are using Jet Skis and hopped up boats.  But the vehicles in Mad Max looked cobbled together — they’re kinda dune buggies — and while they can make credible boats that look that way — especially the main character’s boat — the Jet Skis look far too advanced to make that work.  And so we start to wonder what the state of the world is and the state of resources are and all of that, and that isn’t what we are supposed to be thinking about.  So it ruins the action scenes when we look at the Jet Skis and wonder what they are doing there.

We could look past this if this was more of a B-movie, as we could put it aside as part of the overall goofiness of that sort of movie.  But Costner, in particular, really seems to take all of this very, very seriously.  The movie starts with a scene that looks goofy — Costner peeing into a jug to recycle his water use — but is actually really, really serious as it is trying to establish the lack of water in this world.  Although if you can recycle urine you can probably use the same technique to separate the salt from the salt water, and the only reason you can’t drink sea water is because of the salt.  Moreover, I do think that you’d still get a lot of rain — evaporation surely keeps on happening — and I do believe that evaporated sea water isn’t salt water (the salt gets left behind) and so they should still get pretty frequent rains and so should be able to hoard water in that way.  At any rate, this is the same problem as we had above with the Jet Skis, only even worse, as the movie is here trying to make us think about things and yet when we do things don’t make sense.

The sad thing is that while Costner and his character take things very seriously — he takes on a woman and a young child mostly unwillingly but then threatens to kill the child as part of a hard choice, and also for ticking him off — the main villain is, well, an incredibly large ham.  And while that entire gang makes no sense, and the reveal that they were living in a supertanker — which is why they had oil for machines, I guess — is eyerolling, he’s also a lot of fun when he isn’t running up against the serious presentation of the movie (getting badly injured in the first confrontation, for example).  If the entire movie had taken on that tone, it would have been fun and we could have turned our brains off and simply enjoyed it, but that isn’t what they did.

And they don’t even pay off many of their themes.  For example, Costner’s character is some kind of mutant, with webbed feet and gills, and the people he encounters know what sort of people that is and are scared of them and scared of them taking over.  We never meet any other member of his people and have no idea if any of them exist, which means that we have no explanation for how he ended up the way he did, and so no idea what it really means.  There is a dramatic reveal that all of the cities are on the bottom of the ocean, but I think from the beginning of the movie I was pretty sure that’s what was happening, so it’s not that surprising to the audience and this isn’t paid off in the movie.  The big goal is to find some kind of land and the child has a tattoo that’s a map to it, somehow, and she has memories from being there, with some kind of tune, but when they eventually find it it seems like everyone there had been dead for a long time, but there’s a music box that plays the tune, and it seems like the only people there were her parents, and so we have no explanation for how she ended up so far away from that place or why the tattoo was given her or, well, anything about her story.  There’s also a build up with him softening towards the two of them, but at the end he heads out again and leaves them there for … some reason, as it isn’t even really implied that he’s going to bring at least the group of survivors that they were a part of there, or bring the non-gang survivors there, or anything else.  He leaves because he’s supposed to leave because that’s the character archetype he’s playing and he’ll be damned if he’s not going to leave at the end.

Yeah, the movie really is that bad.  It doesn’t really know what it wants to be and can’t pull off the serious tone that it’s trying for.  If it had accepted the goofiness and leaned into that, it could have worked, but it’s far too serious to work as a goofy B-movie and not goofy enough to be fun enough to turn our brains off and just enjoy it.  I can’t imagine that I’ll watch this movie again.  However, it will get to go into my closet of movies to rewatch on a regular basis because there are other movies here that fit that bill, so I might as well just chuck it in there and maybe find something to watch at some point.

Deja Vu All Over Again (Kinda): Final Thoughts on Olympic Curling

February 21, 2022

Back in 2018, Canada had a very disappointing run at the Olympics in curling.  While the mixed doubles team won gold — the first gold awarded it as an official Olympic sport, I believe — the women’s team didn’t make the semi-finals and so didn’t get to play for a medal, and the men’s team played for a medal and didn’t win one.

In 2022, the mixed doubles team didn’t make the semi-finals on an admittedly heartbreakingly close call (although that was a game they could and probably should have put away before that point).  The women’s team didn’t make the semi-finals and so didn’t get a chance to win a medal, losing out on a tie-breaker of draws to the button (teams draw to the button at the beginning of the game to see who gets to start with last rock, and all of Canada’s teams did really, really badly at that) to the ultimate gold and silver winners.  So that left the men’s team, who kinda squeaked into the semi-finals and then lost their first semi-final, meaning that either they were going to go home with a bronze or with nothing.  While I was dreading and anticipating Canada not winning a curling medal for the first time ever, Brad Gushue pulled it out, defeating 2018’s gold medal winner in the United States to at least take home a bronze.

So, in the three curling events, Canada only came home with one medal, like they did last time.  The colour was downgraded and two of the teams didn’t make the semi-finals instead of only one.  So this was only a slightly different result from the last time, and probably more disappointing.  My thoughts on this:

Why was Canada so poor at the initial draws to the button to start the game, which ended up costing them at least one semi-finals berth?  As the commentators noted, it’s not like they tend to have a lot of trouble drawing to the button in-game, so why did they have such a hard time with it at the beginning of the game?  All three of the teams struggled, and so it’s not just one team or team’s attitude.  It’s mindboggling that they would struggle with it so much.

I was mostly watching the curling while work — the Olympics did work really well as background noise — but there seemed to be a trait that Jennifer Jones’ team shared with Rachel Homan’s team:  very aggressive play, leaving lots of rocks in play and “challenging” their opponents.  From what it seems to me in watching them, the attitude often seems to be to indeed call the toughest shots that they can think of and dare their opponents to keep up with them.  I actually found this a contrast to Gushue’s team because they were often calling really tough shots when I thought that it might be better to play it safer, but they didn’t seem to be thinking about it that much and trying to look for the harder shot, but just seeing that one — or seeing it first — and then going ahead confident that they could make it.  The only that Gushue called that ended up losing him the semi-final was a tricky — although probably makeable — double when he could have simply drawn in and taken one and sent it to an extra end, and his hit was off which meant that he didn’t even get the slight roll that he needed to send it to an extra end, but that was the shot he saw and it was probably worth trying it since if he got any roll at all — and didn’t roll too far — he would probably get the one anyway.  So on the men’s side I saw them more as calling the shot that they saw gave them the most advantage rather than deliberately trying to take the game to their opponents, while for the women I saw them more trying to take the game to their opponents (at least in my opinion).

I wonder if this is part of the problem with at least women’s curling and maybe some of the men’s curling when they get outside of the Canadian championships and Grand Slams and compete internationally (I seem to recall that Brendan Bottcher, who last year went to the men’s world championships and didn’t do very well, often plays the same style, as does Kerri Einarson).  The teams that we see have the most success with this are indeed teams that can challenge almost any team they face and at least be at the same level of skill as them, and usually they’d be higher.  When it comes to solely Canadian tournaments and the Scotties they would tend to face a lot of teams with less experience and skill than they have, and so that strategy would really work most of the time as their opponents wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.  So the strategy is to push them hard figuring that either a) they won’t be able to keep up and so you’ll score a  big end or b) they will be able to keep up but won’t be good enough to force you into really tough shots or c) they will be able to force you to tough shots but you’ll make them and so at least limit any possible damage or d) you won’t be able to make the shots and they’ll score a bunch but then you’ll have lots of time to get that back.  This strategy would work really, really well most of the time for them.

But when it comes to the international events, it’s a strategy that can have its main weakness exposed, which is that it requires the team to outplay their opponents.  If the team can’t make their shots, it’s a recipe for disaster, and if their opponents match them shot-for-shot then it’s a coin flip to see who will win.  At the international events, there are more teams that can match them shot-for-shot, even if they aren’t quite as skilled and likely won’t win it all.  Moreover, the ice conditions can be quite a bit different and if the team doesn’t pick that up as quickly as their opponents then they won’t make their shots and so could end up not being able to utilize their overall skill advantage.  In 2018 there were comments about the ice early on and in 2022 the curling was played in what used to be a pool in the 2008 (I believe) Summer Olympics and so it’s likely that at least the ice wasn’t what they would have been used to playing in an arena and so not being able to judge the different ice conditions may well have caused the issue.  So they were going for big shots where if they made it things were great and if they missed things would be terrible while their opponents more often chose shots that might not be the best shots if they made them but wouldn’t be disastrous if they missed them, at least, “the right way” and so came out of their misses in better shape and so were able to put more pressure on, and so turned the tables.

That being said, the games tended to be inconsistent and full of mistakes, and Jennifer Jones all season has been inconsistent and missing shots, so perhaps this was just a continuation of that.

One final note:  Rachel Homan ended up making a Tweet about how devastated she was after losing — and still was — which bothered me slightly because I was seen too many of those be unsolicited and seemingly used to draw attention to herself, but looking at it in context I don’t think that was the case.  I do think that some of the public responses followed the typical recent pattern of being overly flattering in trying to make her feel better about herself, going beyond “It’s okay, we know you did your best” to “You’re such a wonderful person and player and are so great that we can’t fault you!”.  I prefer the former.  On the other hand, after Jones lost she said the right words about playing their hearts out and trying as hard as they could — and I do believe they did — but then ended it with “But we had a lot of fun!” and it boggles my mind that she would think that this was something that she’d say to disappointed curling fans and hope it would make them feel better, because the immediate response is “Maybe you should have had less fun and focused more on your curling and you might have done better!”.  I know that the Olympics can be an experience and am glad that they did manage to enjoy it, but it really seems like a tone-deaf “participation award” kind of response.  It’d be like me telling my manager that I couldn’t get my feature done in time because there was too much to learn and figure out to make it work, but that I really enjoyed the figuring out part.  At best, it’s irrelevant, and at worst it looks like I might have taken too much time having fun and not enough time buckling down to do the work.

Anyway, that’s it for the Olympics for another four years.  There’s lots more curling to come this year, as well as the Free Agency period after a four year cycle where teams start adjusting and ramping up to head to the next Winter Olympics.

Q Who? Carrier on whether Luke used Matthew or another source

February 18, 2022

I talked a little bit about the Q controversy — a supposed common source that both Luke and Matthew used and Carrier’s claim that instead of that being the case Luke might have just used Matthew — while talking about Jonathan MS Pearce’s views on the Resurrection and the Gospels.  However, Richard Carrier just made one of his typically bombastic posts arguing against Q, and while I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole in arguing this — as, again, theology is something like seventh on my list of philosophical interests (after luge) — I felt it worthwhile to examine it a bit, especially in light of the fact that Carrier tends to make very aggressive arguments against his opponents, so much so that he had better be right, and yet here, as is so often the case, it doesn’t seem like he can justify the strong stance he takes.  I mean, the title is “The Backwards and Unempirical Logic of Q Apologetics”, so Carrier had better be able to show that the logic is backwards, unempirical, and most importantly not the sort of logic that he also relies on, and from my perspective he doesn’t manage to do any of those.  Also, the more I read these arguments the less convinced I am that they hold any merit, so much so that I am just being confirmed in my theory that they didn’t use each other but used common sources.  As I’ve noted before, I don’t want to get into that for Mark because I’d need to do a lot more detailed research to really challenge that consensus, but since the consensus seems to be for Q it’s pretty safe for me to point out that Carrier has not done enough to challenge that without having to know the full details of every argument out there.

So, let’s start with Carrier setting out the invalid method he thinks his opponents are using (as an aside, Carrier seems to have now come to the conclusion that in general the opponents that he thinks are the most wrong are using an invalid epistemology instead of just disagreeing with him, and so most of this posts seem to focus on that idea):

But there is a recurring methodological travesty that keeps Q theory alive that is worth calling attention to: defenses of Q always hinge on some modern scholar claiming magical knowledge of the secret thoughts and intentions of ancient authors. Instead of going at history in an empirically logical way, where you look at what an author actually said and didn’t say, at the choices they actually made, and then infer from that what their thoughts and intentions are (which is called “evidence-based reasoning”), Q apologetics starts with presumptions as to what an author’s thoughts and intentions were—typically phrased as what they “must” have been, thus insisting on some sort of existential laws of the universe compelling ancient authors to do modern scholars’ bidding, as if by backwards psychic causation. And then they use that unevidenced presumption to invent new conclusions about the evidence, which then becomes “new evidence” that they use as a premise in another step of reasoning. This is backwards logic, and decidedly not empirical. It should never survive critique or review, in any empirical field of knowledge. But as this field has an unhealthy affinity for Christian apologetics, its standards are quite low when apologetical methods are on display.

Now, I had never seen arguments that even talked about “must” here, and even later Carrier’s examples switch to talking about them saying that they “never” do that, and even with that it turns out that only one source — that was summarizing the debates — actually inserted “never” into the arguments.  For the most part, the arguments tend to be the sort of probabilistic arguments that Carrier in general ought to favour and that he himself uses later on.  The arguments tend to be arguments of the form “If Luke was copying things from Matthew, why wouldn’t he copy this?” or more generally “It’s improbable that Luke would be the way it is if he had access to Matthew”.  Now, of course, all of these arguments are challengeable, but they aren’t obviously backwards, and when Carrier tries to argue that they are he tends to get himself in trouble.

This backwards methodology appears elsewhere in Biblical studies, so it’s a trope, not particular to Q studies. Such as when it’s argued that Luke “would never” have left out the Great Omission, “therefore” that text must not have existed in his copy of Mark, “therefore” that material was interpolated. Empirical reasoning—actual logical reasoning—would work the other way around: Luke chose not to use that material from Mark (everything from Mark 6:45 to 8:26), ergo we are warranted in working out what reasons he might have had not to.

So, Carrier talks about starting from presumptions and then using those presumptions as evidence for the conclusion that they’re trying to prove, and yet what he’s doing here, at least in its short form of the argument, is exactly the same thing.  If we knew that the material was originally in Mark, then we could immediately jump to figuring out why Luke would leave it out, but if there’s any doubt over whether it was in the version of Mark that Luke had then you can’t just jump to that.  Now, what you can do is argue that given Luke’s general project and general approach it makes perfect sense that Luke would leave it out, but from what I’ve read that’s doing the exact same thing as the people that Carrier is claiming are approaching it “backwards”, except that Carrier is arguing the positive side and his opponents are arguing the negative side.  Carrier is arguing that Luke absolutely would have wanted to leave it out and his opponents are arguing that he wouldn’t have wanted to leave it out.  While we may not be able to get absolutely certainty — since we have to do a lot of interpretation — we should be able to come up with which of those seems the most likely.  But what is important here is that both sides are using the exact same approach here:  figure out what makes sense given what we have of Luke and his intentions and then argue what theory is most consistent with that.

In actual fact, the presumption of an interpolation (especially of such extraordinary length) is always very improbable. Even granting abundant evidence that such things occurred a lot in Christian literature, it’s still less frequent than once in every two hundred verses. Which is why you need evidence for such a proposal (and quite good evidence), not just its “mere possibility.”

This doesn’t seem to be a very good argument, especially since they are indeed giving evidence for that proposal, which is that if Luke had seen it in Mark he wouldn’t have left it out, and Carrier actually refutes his own argument that it is very improbable that it happens by arguing that it happens a lot but seemingly not often enough to be taken seriously.  Carrier, therefore, cannot just say that interpolations don’t happen frequently enough to be taken seriously here because they do happen frequently enough to be considered if we have reason to consider it.  That reason is the argument that Luke would have used this material — or, arguably, at least some of it, since it’s pretty large — if he had access to it, and if he had access to Mark and it was in the copy he had access to then by definition he had access to this material … and yet didn’t use it.  So Carrier cannot just dismiss those arguments as not being evidence, but has to answer why Luke would have left it out in light of their claims, presumably, that there is stuff in there that Luke really, really would have wanted to use.

It’s all the worse that not only does its prior probability thus tank this hypothesis, but the evidential probability does as well: since we can prove Luke knew Matthew, the jig is up. Even if Luke’s Mark lacked that material, Luke’s Matthew didn’t, so it is still the case that Luke saw that material and chose not to use it. So “interpolation” becomes entirely ineffective as an explanation for the Great Omission. The evidence supports “Luke chose not to use it” well over “Luke never saw it.” So much for that.

This count is a terrible argument in this context, so bad that I didn’t even realize how bad it was until copying it over just now.  The reason it is bad in this context is that the entire Q debate is over whether Luke had and used Matthew as a source.  The Q theory states that Luke didn’t and all the common content between the two of them came from Q and not from Matthew.  Thus, while Carrier has spent a lot of time arguing for that conclusion the existence of this entire post means that Carrier is very well aware that some people — and perhaps the consensus — disagrees with him.  So he cannot blithely use that as evidence against “The Great Omission” in this context, or else he doesn’t need to analyze the logic of his opponents at all and could just provide his proof.  So saying “I know that people disagree with me, but I know that Luke used Matthew and so can use that to prove that Luke was leaving things out” seems like him assuming his conclusion or, at least, taking a view that he knows people have challenged and arguing that because we must accept that at least somewhat controversial view we can refute this other argument.  You cannot base a response to an argument on an argument that is itself being challenged, especially since the post here is supposedly arguing against those challenges.  We have so many reasons to find that argument dubious that we would really need to settle that first before using this as an example based on Carrier’s argument against Q.

However, the reason that I just realized is that this example could actually be used against Carrier’s argument against Q.  Let’s say that the contextual argument works, and that we indeed have really good reason to think that if Luke had had access to this material he would have used it, and so it doesn’t look like he had access to this material.  Then Carrier’s argument that the material was in Matthew and Luke didn’t use it becomes an argument that Luke didn’t have access to or use Matthew as a source, because the same argument would apply:  Luke would have used it if he had it, so if he didn’t use it then he didn’t have it, so just as he didn’t have it from Mark he didn’t have it from Matthew as well.  If the Mark hypothesis is valid (Luke used Mark) then if you wanted to show that Luke simply chose not to use it then turning to Mark is the more solid argument, because the only argument someone could make is the one that Carrier disagrees with:  that it was an interpolation.  But since it is still a live option to argue that Luke didn’t use Matthew, if the reasons that Luke would have wanted to use at least something from that section are actually valid then it becomes a reason to think he didn’t have access to Matthew, because so far everyone agrees that that was always in Matthew.  And even worse for Carrier, if Luke was using both Mark and Matthew as a source then at least some of the reasons for him not using — he didn’t consider it reliable, for example — go away.

Regardless, Carrier would need to address the arguments that Luke would have wanted to use stuff from it if he had access to it, either by attacking those reasons or by giving reasons why Luke wouldn’t have wanted to use it.  Carrier will ignore the former and take a stab at the latter:

Thus, sound—as in, actually empirical and actually logical—approaches to the Great Omission accept the choice theory and abandon the interpolation theory. After all, Luke often leaves material out, including big chunks (like the “Little Omission” of Mark 9:41-10:12).

Many theories have been proposed for Luke’s Great Omission (for just some of them see, for example, this Stack Exchange; and examples in Pattem, above). If I were to start exploring a hypothesis myself, it would be that Luke needed to cut material to add his own, given the limited length of a standard scroll at the time; and the material he cut exactly corresponds to two of three repetitious cycles of material in Mark (see On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 412-13), which is a typical Markan practice (to employ triplets and threes, often to emphasize specific points; ibid.). That this finding (that that material exactly corresponds to two cycles in a sequence of three in Mark) is independent of Luke’s Omission (it was discovered and proved without reference to it) makes for an unlikely coincidence. It looks to me that Luke saw Mark repeating the same sequence of events three times (albeit each time with different stories expressing the same ideas), and saw an obvious economy in just using one of them (and conspicuously, the first of them). The rest could go. So they did. This is how you use evidence to reach a conclusion.

This … is not a good counterargument.  Sure, Luke might have needed some room to insert his own content, but that doesn’t in any way address why he chose not to copy this section.  You could use that as an argument against his including any of the sections he actually included.  What we need to figure out to assess these arguments is why Luke includes what he includes and leaves out what he leaves out.  The supposedly “sound” approach only notes that Luke leaves things out, but that does only work against a “Luke never leaves anything out of Mark” which, well, we do indeed know is completely false and so no one will make that argument, and so these arguments — if they are at all sound at all, which I cannot explicitly warrant — have to be ones that work not based on “Luke never leaves anything out” but instead on “Why would Luke leave this out?”.  And nothing in Carrier’s approach ever addresses those specifics, which means that he cannot actually refute his opponents other than by saying that they could be wrong … and as he himself notes, mere possibility is insufficient.

So then he turns to Q and tries to apply the same analysis, about as successfully:

Correct logic would go the other way around. Instead of claiming magical knowledge of what authors “would never” do, you would look for evidence of what authors actually do, and then build your generalizations from those actual particulars.

And, in internal context, we have many examples of how Luke uses sources—because we have one of them: Mark.

So. What do you think happens when you look to see if Luke changes Mark? Gosh. So much for the Q apologists. Luke often changes ****.

This only works from arguments that are absolutely based on “never”, but the arguments from the Stack Exchange he himself links don’t really do that:

Here are some of the arguments people make:

  • Matthew and Luke have very different birth narratives, genealogies, post-resurection accounts, and stories of Judas (assuming Luke wrote Acts). Thus it seems unlikely that they knew each other.
  • If Luke had access to Matthew why wouldn’t he have used more of Matthew’s modifications to Mark?
  • Some of the sayings in common appear to be in a “more original form” in Luke and others in Matthew. For example, Luke says “blessed are the poor” while Matthew says “blessed are the poor in spirit” and many people think the former was likely to be the original, hence Luke wasn’t using Matthew but rather Matthew’s source.

There are more summaries there, but this one is the most clear (it’s a Stack Exchange, which speaking as a software designer is absolutely useless for this sort of thing).  Carrier references all of these in his discussion and some of the others, but never really addresses them, at least not specifically.  (He will talk about the “poor” versus “poor in spirit” one later, which I will talk about when we get there).  But the key is that these are indeed puzzles.  If we assume that Luke definitely used Mark as a source, we have to note that, for example, Mark didn’t have a birth narrative and Matthew had it from the beginning, and so if Luke had access to and copied copiously from Matthew — under Carrier’s theory all of the purportedly common material that Q proponents argue came from Q would have to have come from Matthew — why is his birth narrative so different from Matthew’s?  Carrier will tend to want to argue that Luke just changed it on his own, but we would need to give reasons for his doing that, and Carrier never does do that and it isn’t something that can be addressed with a simple “Sometimes Luke changes things”.  At a minimum, we’d at least want to get some neutral party who doesn’t care to sit down and try to find a consistent pattern to what he keeps and what he doesn’t, even if that really is simply length constraints.  Carrier isn’t doing that and is just tossing out generalities and hoping that they will refute specific oddities and that never works.

He then moves on to talking about a specific scholar that he seems to respect — which, obviously, doesn’t stop him from calling him a liar and irrational — in assessing Dennis MacDonald’s version, which Carrier likes better because it concedes that Luke used Matthew but argues that there also was a Q as well.

We find this backwards logic (and claims to “magical knowledge” about what authors “would never” do) even in the otherwise more credible approach of Dennis MacDonald, whose version of Q theory has the merits that it admits that Luke used Matthew as a source, that Q wasn’t a sayings source but a full Gospel (a complete narrative with an agenda and argument through-line, and not a random hodgepodge like the Gospel of Thomas), and that it followed the same literary conventions as the other Gospels (it was composed in Greek, used the sequenced pericope method of assembly, and emulated other literature for its content—in particular, the Greek text of the book of Deuteronomy). All of that is provably true (however much biblical scholars want to deny them, the actual evidence is extensive and not honestly dismissible). But none of that actually entails his (or any) Q hypothesis. Because all of that just sounds like…Matthew. Why then do we need to imagine a Q? We have “Q”!

Presumably, the reason for adding Q is because there are some things that are in common between Luke and Matthew that it doesn’t make sense to claim came from Matthew.  I am not aware of the specific debate there, but surely if MacDonald accepts that Luke had access to Matthew he’s not simply claiming that the common material couldn’t have come from Matthew but that at least some of it couldn’t have.  This is obviously a weaker argument but not one that Carrier can dismiss by saying that the format of Q aligns with the format of Matthew and so they are the same thing.  Surely MacDonald has some argument from the contents of Luke and Matthew for arguing that we nevertheless need a Q.  And if he doesn’t have that, then all Carrier needs to do is point out that he doesn’t have those arguments and so there is no basis to argue that we need a Q, without relying on these generalizations that he expresses so aggressively.

I’m going to skip the analysis of Papias because I don’t know anything about that and move on to specific differences in the texts, starting with this:

And the same holds for MacDonald’s entire case for his version of Q, which largely rests on a single conjecture about his ability to magically “know” that when Luke simplified a saying in Matthew that’s not in Mark, this “means” Luke is consulting a text that says something more like what Luke is saying, which Matthew had embellished, and therefore this “proves” Q is not Matthew. But as we just saw, no such principle is valid. Luke often does the same thing to Mark. So it cannot be argued that when Luke does it to Matthew that this means he’s then getting such material from somewhere else.

It’s notable that when I pointed this out to MacDonald recently, he got quite angry and sought to browbeat the point away without ever actually responding to it. Which does typify an apologist defending a dogma rather than a historian trying to ascertain the truth independent of their hopes and desires.

Because obviously Carrier himself never gets angry and tries to browbeat points away, and obviously Carrier is never aggressive in his approach which will tick people off even if they have real arguments.  In a post where he’s arguing that his opponents are not empirical and are engaging in flawed logic and even in fallacies, it’s notably that Carrier uses as argument ad hominem here:  challenging him made him mad which means that he’s not acting as a historian and so we should ignore him.  Carrier doesn’t provide an example of the browbeating so we can’t assess if that was indeed MacDonald ignoring the points or expressing anger at being browbeaten by Carrier or something in between.  So, again, this is nothing more than an attempt to attack MacDonald’s credibility instead of his arguments, and in a way that rather resembles Carrier’s approach to debate.

So let’s talk about “simpler” and “more primitive”, which is one of the arguments that is used about some of the phrasings:

“Simpler” does not mean “more primitive” as Q apologists insist, and MacDonald is still too sold on that old fallacious equivocation to concede the point.

Well, this is indeed true, but Carrier needs to do more than point that out as a generalization.  One of the example phrases is the “poor” vs “poor in spirit” quote from above.  Simpler would imply saying the same thing with less words (which many people might say is something that could be done with, well, pretty much everything I write [grin]), but that doesn’t seem to apply here, as “poor” means something completely different as “poor in spirit”.  More importantly, it does seen like “poor in spirit” is a more advanced philosophical or theological concept, moving away from a simple concept of “has no money” towards something more spiritual, and in some sense towards something where that “blessing” doesn’t get lost if the person gets a good job.  But I hesitate to make such an argument because the meanings are too different and, as we’ll see later, tie into different theological views more than simply moving from a more primitive to a more advanced idea.  Moreover, I don’t like this analysis in general because a difference at this level doesn’t say much about which came first or takes precedence.  If we had a clear delineation of the progress of Christian theology at this time, then we could use that to place these things in the right place relative to each other on this line and so might be able to make an argument for which came first or later and settle this, but we don’t have this for Christianity so these sorts of arguments are going to be referencing hugely different theologies and so we need to be concerned more with the consistency of the internal theologies than with consistency across them.

And here we see why it is so crucial to admit that, even if there was a Q, Luke still knew and used Matthew (as MacDonald does, setting him apart from many Q apologists who fear exactly the consequence of that admission I am about to relate): this means Luke saw “poor in spirit” in Matthew’s version and still chose to omit “in the spirit.” This is harder to explain for MacDonald. Because the moment you come up with any reason why Luke would prefer the original to Matthew’s adaptation, you have just come up with a reason why Luke would change Matthew to what he wanted himself. In other words, you just blew up your own theory, by providing a perfectly good explanation already as to why Luke would drop that word and just stick with “the poor.”

Well, actually, no, they wouldn’t have, because even accepting that Luke used Matthew as a reference we still have to explain why Luke would simply go ahead and change Matthew’s “poor in spirit” to “poor”.  Someone in the comments gives a couple of reasons — like that he didn’t think Matthew’s was correct — and later we’ll talk about Luke’s overall project, but if we deny that Luke used any other source then Luke has to be just doing that all on his own, but if Luke was using other sources and at least one of them had that story or saying then Luke instead would be selecting from his sources the one that he thinks most “fits”, which for him is clearly “poor”.  And at that point any argument Carrier can make to show that Luke would prefer the “poor” phrasing now works as well if not better on the other theory:  Luke is assembling from sources and where they conflict he picks the one that best fits with his theological views, as opposed to Luke using a source and changing the meaning of something that he only had from that source to what he likes better for no reason other than that he likes it better.  It’s only if you think that Luke is inherently dishonest that you can prefer the latter explanation, and dishonesty can never be a preferred default because unless you can prove that they lie about everything — and good luck with that — you always need a reason for them to lie in that situation … and in this case that reason cannot be “Liked it better” because the other theory also predicts that the differences we see will reflect what things that Luke himself preferred, but doesn’t have to argue that he just changes meanings willy-nilly.

Now, Carrier’s argument could work if he could show that the only sources that Luke used were Mark and Matthew, because then there’d be no chance of his getting the same story anywhere else.  But we know that’s not true, because there are things in Luke that are not in either Mark or Matthew.  So where did Luke get those from?  Carrier could argue that Luke simply made it up, but that doesn’t work for two reasons.  The first is that if the Gospels were written after Christianity was established, we know that there had to be verbal narratives going around before they were written, and so there were sources available.  We also know from other Gospels that there were threads that differed and aligned in various ways.  We also have confirmation for this from Paul.  Thus, we know that at least some oral histories were around and potentially available to them.  The second reason is because of what this implies for all of the Gospels.  If any Gospel used a separate source, then it is possible that the other Gospels used separate sources as well and, in theory, that their commonalities could be explained by the fact that they all used that common source instead of using each other.  So to make this work, you’d have to argue that Mark invented everything in his Gospel, and then Matthew used Mark and invented everything that wasn’t in Mark, and then Luke used Matthew and Mark and invented everything that wasn’t in either of them.  And then you’d still have the problem that John doesn’t seem to use any of them.  So it’s far more likely that each author used sources outside of the canonical Gospels, whether written or not.

So, Luke had other sources than Mark and Matthew, even if he used them.  And then the natural approach would be to explain differences — and particularly changes — by appealing to Luke finding the altered story in another source and, liking it better, used that instead.  While this would hurt Q theories because we wouldn’t need one source and in particular one written source to explain the similarities, it also hurts Carrier’s argument because Luke could indeed be changing things based on other sources and it definitely opens the door to Luke not needing to have access to Matthew as long as he could get access to enough of the same sources Matthew used for his additions.  If they were using the same sources but not each other, then even verbatim quotes would not be at all puzzling, and so we’d have no reason to insist that they used each other, and then the differences between them can be explained by the use of different sources that suggest different things.  And Luke’s opening to his Gospel does imply that he’s going to be using multiple sources and oral histories to build his Gospel instead of at least relying solely on the existing written accounts.

(And yes, this could be used to argue that he didn’t use Mark either.  Again, I don’t want to get into that, but do want to note here that this would also fix another issue, which is that as Carrier and Pearce note Luke tries to present himself as doing history but doesn’t reference his sources, which was fairly standard — if not universally done — even by historians at the time.  Their theory is that he’s either a bad historian or not really doing history.  This theory would say that he didn’t give them as sources because he didn’t use them as sources, and if he’s tracing oral histories there’s no real source to give, which explains why he gives no sources).

By contrast to this circular reasoning, where you just assume when Luke drops or changes something from Matthew he isn’t using Matthew (and then use examples of when he does that as evidence that Luke isn’t using Matthew), let’s look at what an evidence-based method would do with this same information. Goodacre lays it out: Luke is more concerned about income disparity than the other evangelists. Not only does he add one of the most elaborate and colorful parables on the subject (that of the Rich Man and Lazarus) as well as the conspicuous declaration of Zaccheus (Luke 19:5-9) and the Magnificat besides (in which “the low will be made high, the hungry filled, and the rich sent away empty”), Luke doubles the amount of material about “the poor” throughout his entire Gospel (at least 8 distinct mentions, to the 4 we find in Matthew and 3 in Mark), and specifically (and uniquely) has Jesus say of himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He did anoint me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), which is a direct description of what he then is doing in Luke 6:20 when he says, “Blessed are the poor.” Luke also retains the tale of the Widow’s Mite from Mark (while Matthew dropped it), and makes “the poor” a focus of Matthew’s Parable of the Banquet: where Matthew has the Lord direct his servants to invite “anyone,” Luke instead has the Lord first say “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,” and only then when all have come in, to go invite whoever is left: cf. Luke 14:15-25 and Matthew 22:1-14. It therefore would actually make no sense for Luke to suddenly throw in the self-defeating qualifier “poor in spirit” when the time came to have Jesus preach the point, and every sense for Luke to prefer the more direct statement of simply “the poor.” That is entirely in keeping with his entire practice and intent, multiply evidenced all throughout his Gospel.

What this “evidence-based method” leaves out is a reason for Luke to feel so strongly about that that he would completely change the meaning of the statement that he is copying from Matthew to mean what it doesn’t mean.  My theory above works perfectly well with this analysis, so Carrier is left asserting that Luke is dishonest and could not have found the phrase he liked better in one of the other sources that we know were available to him and that he obviously used.  Moreover, Carrier even in this post comments that you need to consider alternate theories as well to see if they are more probably, and that’s what he doesn’t do here.  How likely is it that Matthew and Luke could have seen the same phrase in a common source and that Matthew would have changed it from “poor” to “poor in spirit”.  Note that by Carrier’s own analysis Matthew talks about the poor even less than Mark does — Luke is obviously way ahead — and so it actually looks like Matthew doesn’t want to focus on the poor, and so might be willing to interpret it as “poor in spirit” and so add those words whereas Luke clearly wouldn’t because it fits with this theology.  And then we’d also need to consider that they used different sources that had the same story but already had the alterations and so they went with the only source they had and had no contradiction to resolve.  So there are a lot more possibilities here than Carrier considers, and Luke simply changing it doesn’t seem to be the more reasonable one.

Especially since the reason for Luke to just change it is, well, not all that plausible:

(And for those who might wonder why this is so much a focus of Luke, I’d call attention to his declared upper-class audience in his preface, and as evinced by his more florid and elite style and even genre of composition: Luke is deliberately writing to wealthy members of the church, and thus is taking the opportunity to really drive home the point he most wants to make to them. Hence you’ll see that theme continued in Acts.)

If Luke is writing for an upper-class audience, then it would seem that he’d want to avoid the redaction and use “poor in spirit” here, because he would like to have a way to avoid completely excluding his audience from these blessings.  So if he redacted it, it’s not because of his audience, but likely because he believed that Jesus’ message really did focus that much on the poor.  And that impression had to come from his sources.  And any source that really promoted that would itself be likely to have redacted “poor in spirit” to “poor”, so Luke wouldn’t have had to change it at all.  And even if Luke used Matthew as a source, he’d still be able to appeal to those sources to justify the change.  So there is no reason to think that Luke simply changed it on his own, and even if he did he likely did it on the basis of themes established in the other sources that we know he had to have used.

As I go through these arguments, I become more and more convinced that the Gospel writers used their own oral histories and threads, that those threads might have been in common, that some of them followed more threads than the others, and that Luke likely followed more threads than the others (and John probably only followed one specific thread).  This makes a specific Q unnecessary, but also makes Luke actually using Matthew unnecessary as well.  And Carrier’s arguments, as noted, aren’t doing anything to shake that conviction of mine, and I don’t find my logic — or the logic of Q proponents — any more backwards or unempirical than his is.

Thoughts on “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”

February 17, 2022

So, a while ago I watched “Escape Room”, and found it flawed and yet mildly entertaining.  While at the time, at least, it seemed to be fairly unknown, it was at least popular enough to warrant a sequel, “Escape Room:  Tournament of Champions”.  Now, I remember feeling more disappointed in watching the first movie than my post actually says, so when I had heard about it coming out I had no interest in watching it, and when I found it for a relatively cheap price I wasn’t all that excited to find it so that I could buy it.  But then I remembered that I had watched and commented on the first one and so thought that it would be interesting to watch the sequel and see if I liked it any better.  Which I did.

And the problem with the movie is that it loses everything that was at all interesting from the first movie and doesn’t replace it with anything.

In the first movie, we had the character development of the two characters as they had to overcome specific issues they had.  Here, since those are resolved, we aren’t going to have them do that again.  And yet the male character — Ben, I believe — has lost his job for some reason (maybe.  It’s complicated, as I’ll talk about later) and doesn’t have the development he gained at the end of the last one, and the female character has become much more assertive and less shy but is now facing a fear of flying that follows on from how her mother died (it’s not explicitly stated and I’m not going back to the first movie to check, but I guess she was the sole survivor of a plane crash that her mother was also on).  The movie’s main theme is that she needs to be able to overcome that, and at the end the big moment is her deciding to try to fly home after this latest escape room, but nothing in the movie actually references that.  There’s also a flashback to a character in the first movie who sacrificed herself for them and whom she feels a strong kinship with, and then another character who seems similar, but that relationship is never played with at all, so there’s no character development there.  So you’d think that maybe they’d flesh out the shady, powerful organization that was behind these things and they don’t do that either.  We don’t learn anything more about them than we knew in the first one, and in fact their actions here are confusing.  They are too complicated to simply be people betting on people dying, but their actions are too puzzling to work as some sort of complicated plan.

So, given that they couldn’t and in general refused to do the things they did in the first movie, you’d think that they’d want to lean on the “Tournament of Champions” line.  Except that gets mentioned exactly once and is utterly unimportant for the rest of the movie.  Other than a few little mentions of them having done it before, everyone except the leads could have been a completely new set of people.  Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, because it would allow them to flesh out the characters and character relationships like they kinda did in the first movie, except that they don’t do that either.  Most of the movie is spent running around trying to solve the more complex and more time-constrained puzzles, with little time being available for the characters to even talk to each other, let alone really develop relationships.  And some of the previous escape rooms — told to us by the survivors of those games — don’t seem to make all that much sense, such as the religious person who was in a room with all religious people — pastors, from what I understand — supposedly to test “faith”, but that doesn’t make much sense, as in testing that they would have tested pastors against atheists to see if one of the pastors won and so proved that God was watching out for them.  The only reason to run it that way would be if they had already proved that faith mattered and were trying to find the strongest faith for some reason.  That being said, this idea and the character pass quickly out of the movie and are just as quickly forgotten.

Now, I said this about the first movie:

The initial escape rooms in particular had a lot of cases where the deaths could be easily faked. The first person falls through surprisingly deep ice, and the second death is a long fall into darkness.

This movie does pick up on this, with a hint earlier that if you didn’t see a death it didn’t happen and then bringing back the woman that I mentioned earlier (which is why they had to remind us why she is).  In my post, I came up with an interesting way to use that, but in general this is actually a fairly interesting idea as long as they do something with it and don’t ignore the consequences.  However, the only thing it is explicitly used for is to bring Ben back when he was believed dead and to have the woman from the first game come back as a designer of these games, and to make an offer to the female character to design the games herself for … some reason.  The female character declines, but they all escape and go to the police with the evidence to shut everything down!  Yay!

Well, except not, and I’m going to spoil the twist here so if you want to watch this movie and be surprised, stop reading now.  The reason the two of them ended up back in the game is because they tracked down clues to the headquarters or whatever and wanted to go and try to bring them to justice.  However, that headquarters is in New York, and the female character doesn’t want to fly.  Early in the movie, she’s in a therapist’s office and is asked what would make her willing to fly, and she says that bring the group to justice would do that.  Which, it seems, they do at the end of the movie and so she decides to fly back, only it’s some kind of trap and it is implied that it is some new kind of game, which then implies that the whole thing was a set-up to get her onto a plane, including the lampshaded “entirely fake police station and news reports”.  Which then begs the question:  why?  Why would they want her to get onto that plane, so much so that they would set up an entirely new game and fake break-up of the group to do it?  What do they get out of it?  If they just wanted her on a plane, they could have simply kidnapped her like they did the first time and like they supposedly did to the others.  So why go through this much trouble?

And this is where the consequences of the purported deaths not necessarily being deaths matters.  Most of the cases are cases where we can’t be sure if people died because the deaths could have been faked.  So was anyone ever killed in these games?  Or is it possible that the only people who die are ones who do stupid things themselves, and the point of the game is not to kill people?  Maybe the female character’s life was never in danger, and maybe there are no other games.  Maybe they just want her for some reason.  Or maybe there have been other games and they see something in her that they want to preserve and train for some reason (one reason I posited was that there is some kind of existential threat out there that either plays these sorts of games or is only vulnerable through something like these games and they’re trying to find and train the best possible people for a mission to stop them).

Raising questions like this is not a bad thing, but the problem is that these questions do not get raised by the movie itself and aren’t even implied by the movie, but only occur to me, at least, when I try to figure out what’s going on.  The movie itself portrays this as simply a bunch of rich people getting entertainment from watching people die, and never hints at any kind of altruistic motive.  But what they do doesn’t actually align with that, and so we start casting around for any other explanation that makes sense.

Which ties back into the airplane thing.  Now, if I recall correctly the first movie ended with something very similar to the plane scene that the second movie ends with, and so the second movie, for the most part, would seem like it is retconning that.  However, the ending here seems to be putting that back on the track by having the second movie end there, but reveal that the second movie was something that happened in-between the cafe scene where they resolve to end the group and the airplane scene that was seemingly to take them to that place but is instead revealed to be what happens after they went there.  This could be clever if the movie had made sure to remind us of that and make sure that we knew that it was doing that, but as it is it looks like they really wanted to have this idea of “Tournament of Champions” but couldn’t make it and the puzzles fit into the airplane motive and ending that they already had, so instead they tried this semi-clever way to make everything fit.  And I’d give them more credit for that if they had really done something with the premise they had here.  But the only at all clever things here are the things that are used to get the plot back on track, and it raises the unaddressed question of why in the world they tried so hard to get her, specifically, onto a plane.  While one group could be betting that they could get her to walk into the airplane trap and so arranging it for that reason, there still had to be easier ways to do that, and so I started grasping around for more sensible explanations, all of which imply that there is something deeper to the organization than we think.

However, I don’t think I want to wait around for another movie in the hopes that that will be revealed, when nothing was revealed in this one.

That being said, I have to give them some credit with the escape rooms this time.  In the last movie, I found the escapes themselves to be boring, but here they are quick and dramatic enough that we don’t really have the time to get bored.  Unfortunately, the puzzles are also ones that we can’t solve along with them, which was one thing that the first movie tried to do.  Still, the escape room sequences are more interesting this time around.

This movie raises a lot of questions that it makes no attempt to answer and that it doesn’t even seem to be aware it was raising, which makes the movie itself rather unsatisfying.  Nothing in terms of plot or character or premise is really developed here either, so we don’t have that to fall back on.  The best I can say about it is that it wasn’t completely boring,  I’m wavering on this, but I think I’ll put it with the first movie and perhaps think about watching them together at some point, which is probably in the box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point rather than to sell.  But it only gets there because of some small lingering good will from the first movie (very small, since I didn’t care that much about that one either).

Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 3)

February 16, 2022

I guess I should resign myself to talking about each season of this show individually, something that I almost never do for a show that I’m actually enjoying.

The reason is that usually for a series I wait until the end of the series and give all of my thoughts on it at the end.  Sometimes, for longer series, I’ll make a post in the middle, or will do a post earlier if something comes up that I want to talk about.  The reason for doing more posts is to avoid forgetting what I wanted to talk about if something struck me right away, or if I feel I have a lot to say avoiding making one incredibly massive post at the end talking about everything that I wanted to talk about during the series.  Obviously, that’s more likely to happen for longer series, as this is.  But, again, it’s very rare that every season is one that I want to talk about in detail and want to get down so that I don’t forget things and don’t want to end up with an exceedingly long post at the end of the series.

There are a few reasons why this series is pushing me to do this.  The most negative reason is that in every season there are enough things that really bug me about it that I want to talk about them in detail.  The more positive reason is that in looking back over the seasons — and it is particularly true of season 3 — the show does a lot of different stories and arcs in each season.  Lots of stuff happens, and so there’s always lots to talk about if those specific plots at all matter or contain anything interesting.  So I end up with a lot of plots that have something that I want to talk about — often, unfortunately, negative — and don’t want to skip talking about it and don’t want to leave it all to one huge post in over a month.  For now, a season seems to be the right balance where I can remember what happened while being able to write a long enough post to make posting about it worthwhile without making one that’s just way too long.  That may change, but for now that’s what I end up doing.

Anyway, onto Season 3!

Season 2 ended with House getting shot, and as we enter into Season 3 it turns out that while being treated for that they came up with some kind of great treatment that fixed his leg and allowed him to talk and even run again.  This, to me, seemed to come so far out of nowhere that I wondered if it all really was a dream.  The other reason I wondered if it was a dream was because as I noted in Season 2, House can’t be happy and can’t have his problems fixed, because then he wouldn’t be justified in being so bitter and cynical and, well, so much of a jerk, and that’s a big part of the humour of the show.  If they fixed his problems, then he’d either have to get nicer or else the audience wouldn’t forgive him so easily for treating everyone else so badly.  As long as he is in pain and abusing the pain medications, we can understand where his cynical attitude comes from and can relate, but without that he would come across as an insufferable genius.  We know that House cares more about others than he lets on, but if his issues went away we wouldn’t have any real reason for him to not ultimately let that out and become nicer.  And then we wouldn’t get the fun of watching him snark at people who generally, but not always, deserve it.

So they have to hurt his leg again, and they do it very quickly in Season 3.  However, they do it in a way that works out badly with that subplot and is totally unnecessary.  Seemingly as a result of House’s improving attitude — he feels better about himself, at least — Wilson and Cuddy worry that he might be getting too confident in his own abilities and don’t tell him about a patient that he thought he could fix with a simple injection which actually worked.  Instead, they tell him that it didn’t work.  So he loses confidence in himself, and as he does that becomes too cautious.  However, as this happens his leg starts to hurt again, and Wilson, Cuddy and later Cameron — who finds out about their deception and opposes it — start to wonder if that is just the treatment failing or if it is caused by his loss of confidence (Wilson hints that House’s depression might be causing him to no longer do the rehab he needs on his leg, causing it to regress).  At the end, House does find out that he was right and regains his confidence, but his leg regresses to the way it was before.

Now, the reason that I dislike this arc is that both Wilson and Cuddy are concerned for a long time about whether this was impacting his recovery and risked making his leg problem return, and yet they still persist in “trying to teach him a lesson”.  It also doesn’t really make sense that his leg getting better would suddenly make him push the limits with his patients.  Especially since the better reason for his doing that — and therefore for them to try to teach him a lesson — was that his success rate was the justification for his doing whatever he wanted and being confident that no matter how risky it was it would just work out.  It’s also odd since House was pretty much doing that for the first two seasons, so it’s puzzling that it would become a problem now.

To me the key is in something Cuddy does say to him in reaction to one of the things he wants to do that seems risky:  usually, he has medical justifications for why it’s necessary and the right thing to do, but at that point he didn’t have one and so couldn’t give her those reasons.  Thus, he was relying more on his simple intuitions for making these decisions, and that was dangerous since intuitions and guesses are wrong a lot more than calculated risks.  And this, then, could have followed on from the previous season where he finally solved a case that had been bothering him and so might start to feel that with the diagnostic tools at his command and with his brain he can solve any problem, whereas before he always had that one case reminding him that he was fallible.  This by itself could have been the spur for Wilson and Cuddy to try to bring him down to Earth a bit, without any need for his leg to have gotten at all better.  And then the risk — and what could have gotten Cameron upset — is not that it’s risking undoing all the progress made with his leg, but instead that the turmoil is impacting his work.  He’s lost his confidence and so has gone from making risky decisions without justification to refusing to make any risky decisions, which was the thing that made him such a good diagnostician.  And this wouldn’t be a stretch since he was acting that way in this very short arc.  This would have made a far better arc and didn’t contort his friends into risking causing him massive pain that he had just managed to likely cure to teach him a lesson that probably could have waited.

The pain returning as a result of this arc leads into another, longer arc.  House has to pull duty in the clinic as part of his job, which he hates.  He runs into a detective and treats him badly, as is usual for him, but the detective takes it personally and calls House a bully — while attempting to bully him — and House retaliates by inserting a rectal thermometer and leaving the detective there.  The detective then had noted House taking the painkillers and starts a long investigation with the goal of proving that House was an addict with an issue and getting him jailed and his license suspended.  He starts with just an illegal stop and search and jailing House for a night, but as everyone keeps protecting House and the detective stops getting anywhere he targets Wilson, eventually freezing his accounts and towing his car and making it so that Wilson can’t prescribe medications anymore and so forcing him to close up his practice.  He then threatens Cuddy and goes on to freeze the accounts of Cameron and Foreman while leaving Chase’s free in an attempt to divide them.  He then sets up a deal that House doesn’t want to accept but eventually does, only to be told that the detective found new evidence and the deal is off the table — despite House doing it before the deadline.  Eventually it goes to court and while House runs off to save a patient, Cuddy perjures herself to remove the big evidence of House’s addiction — he took the pills of a dead person to attempt to relieve the pain — and the judge notes that House is clearly not a dealer and throws the case out.

The big problem with this is the same issue that they had with Vogler in Season 1:  they make the detective a villain rather than an antagonist.  The detective calls House out for being a bully while being a bully himself, and while he clearly does things he shouldn’t be doing and while it seems like the main reason he’s doing this is because House was mean to him and embarrassed him.  This makes the plot about a jerk messing with House instead of about someone revealing a legitimate problem with House.  And this was so simple to fix, just like with Vogler:  simply make the person doing this someone who was legitimately concerned about what was going on.  If the detective was someone who thought that House had a problem — and House does — then this could be used to explore those specific issues and make us wonder how much of the concerns are valid and how much aren’t.  After all, we know that House is addicted, but know that it isn’t an addiction that impacts his ability to treat his patients.  If the detective was legitimately following up on this because the detective had lost someone to an arrogant doctor who was also on drugs, we could understand the detective’s concern and could understand why they might push things too far while knowing that this isn’t true of House.  This would also have allowed the arc to end with House running out on a trial to save a patient and succeed which gets the detective to understand that House may have a problem but that he’s not likely to kill anyone because of it.  And to keep the corrupt detective in the game they had to have House do enough stupid things to allow him to make a case, so all of that could have been used to keep things completely on the up and up.

And this would avoid one of the issues with Cuddy in all of this.  If the case was legitimate, there wouldn’t be much that Cuddy could do about it.  But the detective here had a personal reason for going after House and definitely went far beyond what would be legitimate in these sorts of cases.  Given that she’s the administrator of a world famous hospital where she can ask for donations in the half million dollar range, why in the world was she taking this from this detective?  Sure, she might have not been anxious to go all in for House when an apology to the detective would have made it all go away, but when the detective started messing with Wilson and so caused her head of oncology to close his practice, and when he was targeting House’s subordinates just to get at him, she really should have called out the lawyers — which she did in earlier seasons — and shown that the detective was on a witch hunt because of a personal slight.  That would have been incredibly easy to do given the history, and would have pretty much quashed even the legitimate things that the detective found, being contaminated by the invalid moves the detective was making.  If the detective was legitimate, then we had a good reason for why she wouldn’t do that:  the investigation was legitimate and as far as they knew the detective had no personal reasons for pursuing the case, so there wasn’t really anything the lawyers could do.

All they needed to do to make this arc work was make the detective be legitimate, and by not doing that it took an arc that could have said something about everyone involved and turned it into another strange round of jerk vs jerk.

I should probably talk about Cameron, since I talked about her in both the previous seasons.  I liked her better in this season then in the previous two.  They pretty much dropped the “crush on House” angle — although they brought it up a couple of times — which was the most annoying part for her.  I also found that she was a good character when they let her be competent and caring, like when she went to bat for House when Wilson and Cuddy were trying to teach him a lesson (an arc that would have worked better if she wasn’t so obviously right when it risked crippling him again and so with her simply pointing out that they are crushing House’s spirit).  However, they also added an arc where she instigates and enters into a “no strings attached” sexual relationship with Chase.  Now, you might think that I’d find such a plot annoying as well since it clashes with her personality, but I actually think this could work if they had — ahem — went all the way with it.  Early in the season, she comes across people who stress the importance of enjoying life and some of whom who point out that Cameron doesn’t seem to have any kind of enjoyable life at all.  So her taking up with Chase would be a way for her to try to change that and embrace life, feeling that because of his personality she wouldn’t fall in love with Chase and feeling that because of his womanizing ways he wouldn’t fall in love with her.  What they needed to do was a) make that explicit and b) wrap that up with her realizing that simply seeking pleasure is not the way for her, at least, to enjoy life.  If they wanted to show that she did indeed need to loosen up, they could have kept that and merged that idea with her normally more serious personality to create a personality that blended the two.

Instead, Chase falls in love with her, she rejects him, and then he keeps reminding her that he loves her — on Tuesday — until after he gets fired, at which point she decides that the relationship is worth pursuing, and also quits her job.

Now, you might have noticed that “firing and quitting” thing.  I deliberately write these posts before watching any episodes from the next season, so as to avoid my thoughts on this season being impacted by how these things are or aren’t followed up in the next season, so I don’t know if these changes will stick, but at the end of this season it really looks like they wanted to get rid of this cast and start over for some reason.  Foreman kicks this off, by making a mistake — irradiating a woman with an infection that crashes her immune system and kills her — that causes him to think that he didn’t want to turn into House, and so we get a short arc where he is quitting and House and others want to try to get him to stay.  House fires Chase while this is going on, Foreman leaves, and Cameron quits as well.  What makes me think at this point that this is a reboot for his staff is that Wilson makes a big deal out of House not dealing well with change, and explicitly noting that he has and plays the same guitar that he played in high school, and at the end of the episode he has ordered and starts playing a new guitar.  This suggests that he is in some way okay with change and will be okay with the changes that happen in Season 4.  If nothing changes in Season 4, they had better have a really good explanation for that, or else there will be big disconnect between the two season.

And, finally, the character I really like is Wilson, a character that I knew nothing about before watching the series.  He works really well for what they tend to use him for, including one episode where he steps in for House when House is away at a conference and it’s really interesting to see him have to deal with the somewhat eccentric cast of characters that House has hired, and also to show that a) he’s pretty smart himself and b) to fit into House’s spot as the genius of the group.

Again, so far the show is entertaining, but it has some maddening flaws in the writing that could make things so much better.

Thoughts on “Seventh Son”

February 15, 2022

I’ve talked about a 10 film pack of science fiction movies that I’ve been watching and going through for a while now, but as it turns out I only watched and am only going to talk about nine of them, because the one in the pack after “Repo Men” is actually “Serenity”, which I have already watched and talked about.  So, obviously, I’m going to skip over that one and talk about “Seventh Son”.

As a movie, this one is mostly inoffensive but also unmemorable.  The basic premise is that a powerful evil witch who was imprisoned for a long time gains power due to a special event with the moon and escapes.  The man who imprisoned her — now an old man — has to try to stop her and after his latest apprentice is killed by her recruits the seventh son of a seventh son to try to stop her.  Another witch is there to spy on them but falls in love with the seventh son and has divided loyalties.  There are a number of adventures that they get up to during the movie, including attempting to find some sort of talisman that would be required to deal with the with permanently.  A big battle ensures that the talisman is present at, and in the end the heroes win and the witch is killed, and her cult is destroyed and broken.

The big flaw in this movie is that it hints at things that are important but never really establishes why they are important or what they actually.  Why is the seventh son of a seventh son so powerful or important?  We never find out.  The talisman is there at the final battle but as far as I could tell didn’t do anything all that important in the final battle.  So with this and with the adventures it really seems like things happen just for the sake of happening without the proper build-up.  For example, at one point the mother of the seventh son is revealed to be a witch herself and faces off with the evil witch … by appearing in a city that the evil witch attacked despite the fact that as far as I could tell the family lived out in the country, and there is no reason or explanation for why she was there other than to reveal that she was a witch and be killed.  So things happen for artificial drama that, unfortunately, come across as artificial drama.

The man who imprisoned her is also a very unpleasant man, so much so that I didn’t care about him at all and didn’t want to see him survive.  Well, okay, for the most part I wanted the movie to really explain what made him that way and redeem him, but he’s still as much of a jerk at the end as during the movie, which makes him ultimately uninteresting.  The ending is also a bit puzzling because the seventh son takes over the other man’s task of fighting evil, but his witch love leaves him before that because his task will mean that they can’t be together, but that was before he knew that he was taking over the role of fighting evil and she had been instrumental in fighting evil a number of times in the movie (and not just in the final battle with the witches), so there didn’t seem to be a reason for them to be separated, which hurts the ending since the two of them were actually sympathetic characters and wanting them to be happy and together is something that the audience is naturally going to want to see.  Splitting them up just seems so completely unnecessary that it’s quite disappointing.

Overall, this is a pretty standard, boilerplate fantasy movie that doesn’t really explain what is going on but also doesn’t seem to be worried about that too much.  It’s only the seventh son and talisman thing that really bothered me, other than the mother showing up for some unexplained reason.  The most memorable thing about the movie, though, is Julianne Moore seemingly having a wonderful time chewing the scenery as the evil witch.  Ultimately, though, that’s not enough to make this a clear rewatch, as the movie isn’t that entertaining in its corniness.  Still, I could probably watch it again at some point.

The last movie in the pack is “Waterworld”.  Before sitting down to watch it, I was really curious to see if I would find it as bad as everyone else said it was.  The next time I write about science fiction, you’ll find out.