Archive for March, 2022

Thoughts on “Scream 2”

March 31, 2022

I’m continuing on from watching and commenting on the original “Scream” to the sequel “Scream 2”.  The basic premise here is that the movie of “Scream” has been released based on a book by the reporter from the first movie, but once it’s released a killer starts killing under the guise of the murderers from the first movie.  Meanwhile, Sydney — the heroine from the first movie, played by Neve Campbell — is trying to get on with her life and having a killer from her past start killing people and her friends and taunting her and trying to kill her is indeed getting in the way of that.

The big thing about this movie is that it tones done both the humour and the winking-at-the-camera and parody of the first movie.  There are some elements of this — comments on how sequels always suck in a film studies class, for example — but they aren’t anywhere near as prominent as they were in the first movie.  About the best scene that combines both, though, is in the ending, where the killers are revealed to be the mother of one of the killers from the first movie and the guy she tricked into helping her, and Sydney and the reporter both note that she comes out of nowhere and the movie gave no indication that she was the mother of one of the killers and that she doesn’t really look like what the mother of the killer was supposed to look like (presumably, as I didn’t go back to check).  They make a direct reference to “Friday the 13th” where the killer was Jason’s mother and that movie also gave absolutely no clue that such a person existed, let alone that the killer was Jason’s mother up until the “big reveal”, and both movies also utterly unconcerned about that and don’t seem to expect anyone to care (“Friday the 13th” because its structure was such that it didn’t matter and that who the killer was wasn’t really a mystery, “Scream 2” because it’s good for some self-referential humour).  Since I really liked the approach in “Friday the 13th”, I enjoyed the callback to it.  But those callbacks are less frequent and less clever than they were in the first movie.

Beyond that, the rest of the movie is mostly unremarkable, except for one oddity:  I found myself, at times, getting bored during the action scenes.  This is not at all normal.  In general, I might find that the movie is dragging in the exposition or character points, or if the tense parts drag on for too long, but in general once someone is actively under threat from the killer or killers I should at least not be bored, especially when the person being attacked is the heroine from the first movie that I don’t want to see die.  I’m not sure why that happened, but it does seem like the scenes, well, simply dragged on too long.  Yeah, the killer is trying to kill the person, but it seems to be taking too long for that to be resolved one way or the other.  I wonder if the tropiness of the movie was responsible for this, since the movie is pretty much built on tropes and so there weren’t really any surprises over who would die and who would live, and the movie like the first one made a point of reminding us that this was a movie that was following the tropes.  Add in that the action portions of the movie did seem to be longer than they were in the first movie — the first movie did more building of suspense and more flashes to ironic contrast scenes — and we have scenes where we know what the outcome will be that are longer than normal but that aren’t actually any more interesting from an action perspective.  The killer isn’t killing the people in a particularly interesting way, nor do the victims defend themselves in a particularly interesting way, nor is the action used in a way to parody horror movies or horror movie tropes, so the scenes are just … longer, to no real benefit.  And ultimately that ends up boring me at times.

That being said, though, the movie isn’t bad.  Compared to some of the other horror movies that I’ve been watching, it generally works and seems to still have an at least rough idea of what it wants to do and does it competently.  As I’ve said in the past, that’s enough to turn it into a movie that I will put in the closet to rewatch, and so it’s going to end up there and would even if it wasn’t already in the same pack with “Scream”.  I wouldn’t call it classic and it’s not as unique nor does it seem as innovative as “Scream”, but for me it works well enough to be worth a rewatch at some point.

Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 8)

March 30, 2022

So this is it, the last season of House.  Because it had a somewhat odd way of dividing up its episodes per disk, I had to look ahead at the beginning of the season — and, in fact, in the previous season — for planning purposes and saw that the last episode was entitled “Everybody Dies” (a callback to the first episode entitled “Everybody Lies”) and mused that it would be hilarious if the end of the episode really was that everyone died, in some disaster or something.  Of course, I was pretty sure that that wasn’t what happened, because if it had happened I was sure that I would have heard about such a controversial ending for a show that was known in popular culture, like the ending to “The Sopranos”.  Given that, I was a little surprised when malcolmthecynic commented on the previous post that some people really didn’t like the finale.  I’ll get into what I thought about it later, but first I should go through what I thought of the season as a whole.

The season starts with House in prison for running his car through Cuddy’s living room window at the end of the previous season, which was a plot point that I didn’t care much for.  It got even worse since Cuddy did not come back — Lisa Edelstein had a bad contract dispute and left because of it — and so there wasn’t really any way to resolve it or show any real follow-up from it (although the creator said that if he had known she wasn’t coming back he wouldn’t have done it).  So perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t care much for the prison opening either.  The worst part about it was that it had to contrive a medical drama for him to solve, which meant that he needed to find a sympathetic doctor to allow him to actually try to do that.  The only saving grace from that is that the doctor — Adams — actually sticks around for the rest of the season, but the problem I had with that was that they didn’t really make that clear.  The problem is less that they didn’t mention it — although they pretty much dropped a couple of lines to reference it — but that the actress changed her look significantly between the first episode and later episodes and so we couldn’t really tell that it was her by looks, which then meant that they really should have made it a bit more obvious that she was the doctor from the prison instead of going for clever lines instead.

Another issue with the prison opening is that they built it so that House gets his sentence extended at the end of it — he was supposed to be let out on parole but what he does to investigate the case breaks enough rules that it gets revoked — but since they weren’t going to have a complete season with House in prison they need to find a way to get him out of prison, which comes in the form of Foreman — the new head of the hospital, replacing Cuddy — swinging a complicated deal to get him out so that he can solve a strange medical problem, with a whole set of conditions including having an ankle bracelet and having to listen to Foreman.  The issue is that all of this could have followed on from the original parole hearing, especially given that House wasn’t exactly co-operative in the hearing.  So they could have used the original idea to get him out and have him not be reported because he only did it to save the other inmate and things would have been exactly the same, without having to contrive a new agreement to get that to work.  In addition, Foreman brings House back but has closed the diagnostics department, which then forces House in the first few episodes to try to raise the funding he needs to bring everyone back and open it again, which also involves some antagonism with the department that took it over, and all of this is the same-old “House is a jerk” model that we’ve come to know so well and that I had lost patience with in Season 7.  House as a jerk only works when he’s somewhat sympathetic for whatever reason and so we feel free to laugh at the nasty things he does, but if we aren’t sympathetic to him — like, for example, when all of his problems are his own fault and he knows that going too far will get him sent back to prison which even he has to know isn’t a good thing for him — then it all falls flat, and the early part of the season is pretty much House being a jerk for no real good reason.  Sure, you can argue that getting his team back might be good for them as well as for him, but that’s not much to hang sympathy on and it’s undone by the fact that he deliberately tries to court rich patients in the most obvious and stupid way possible to get them to donate the money to keep the department open.  I would have far preferred House having to convince his team to come back than having to raise the money for his department, and ending up getting more money than he really needed.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the two new team members aren’t all that interesting.  What the show seemed to be attempting was to make these characters interesting by making them self-contrasts, with aspects of their personality seeming to be inconsistent with other parts, which actually isn’t a bad idea.  Adams (the doctor from the prison) is the more interesting, as she fits into the role of the liberal moralizer who wants to work for those causes but being wealthy is quite comfortable with her literal privilege, who is willing to use her money to her advantage and to mess with Park (the other new doctor), which would appeal to House.  But they didn’t really focus on that and keep up with it, so Adams kinda fades into the background and all of that is lost.

As for Park, I really didn’t care for her.  They seemed to be trying to set her up as being a more shy and passive person who had a temper and could be aggressive at times, but the only real evidence they gave for that seemed to be that she wasn’t all that attractive, was a bit mousy, and was Asian, and you could perhaps add in the stereotypical Asian notion that she was subordinated by her parents.  However, they never really made that more passive nature something that came out in her behaviour.  She is introduced as being in trouble for punching out her attending because he grabbed her butt, and from what’s said it’s not that he had done that frequently or that she had had that happen to her a lot and finally snapped, but more like an instinctive action, and when Adams starts messing with her Park quite quickly brings up that incident as a threat (which Adams doesn’t take seriously, which actually helps her character more than Park’s).  For the most part, Park acts far too aggressively for the contrast to work and her constant aggression is just annoying.  It also hurts one of her main arcs, as she starts to worry that no one likes her and when called out on it by House ends up trying to get to know them better … by specifically asking Chase out for drinks in what could have been a kind of date.  This does not make her sympathetic, because knowing everyone involved this is a way for her to, well, pretty much offend all of them.  Chase might have been offended by her asking him out, especially since when he demurs on the basis that he doesn’t want to date a co-worker she brings up that he married one (Cameron), which should have had him reply “And look how well that turned out!” instead of making him agree to it.  There was a hint of some chemistry between Adams and Chase, and so Park risked annoying Adams by making a move on someone that Adams might have liked or at least someone that Adams thought was more appropriate for someone like her to date than someone like Park (both Adams and Chase were, of course, very pretty), so she risked alienating the person that kicked off Park’s paranoia about not being liked.  As for Taub, while it’s possible that he would be offended that Park wasn’t interested in him, it was actually more likely that given that everyone knew that Park was worried about not being liked he would be offended that she would exclude him from things like that and so wasn’t worried about whether or not he liked her, which is entirely consistent with his personality.  So Park wants to be liked and when spurred on that decides to try to get a date, which is not the way for her to get what she claims she wants.

Ultimately, that’s my main problem with the character in its entirety:  she is set up as wanting to be liked and respected, but sees no need to actually act towards people in a way that would get them to like and respect her, instead in general insisting that because she’s worked hard for what she has that they should respect that.  But her original fight with Adams is over being unable to accept any favour from anyone else, even a cup of coffee, because she can’t accept charity, which is something that someone who is incredibly socially stunted would do, and is going to annoy a lot of people.  Moreover, the writers seemed to want to use her as a contrarian character, and so give her a lot of controversial opinions that clash with the views of everyone else, especially Adams.  So she seems to care little for social conventions, is aggressive, disagrees with everyone all the time, and yet is incredibly worried about people liking and respecting her, so much so that when she decides to do something about it she goes about it in the worst possible way.  And this could have worked, if she had been called out on it and if it had gone badly for her.  But she isn’t called out on it and we never seem to see her aggression as being a bad thing that causes her problems (er, beyond her almost getting fired for punching her attending doctor, which itself is a sympathetic case).  That makes Park, to me, just a really annoying character.

So for the first part of the season I was feeling that the show was the same as it was in Season 7:  some decent moments but overall mediocre, with one really annoying character that wasn’t House.  And then right around the episode “Chase” it got a lot better, for one simple reason:  they figured out that what they needed to do at this point was get House to stop acting like a jerk just to act like a jerk but instead to act like a jerk because he’s trying to spur other people to be better and to help his patients.  In the episode, House replies to Chase’s comment that House is trying to make him miserable like him by interfering that if he wanted Chase to be miserable he’d let him do what he wanted to do — try to break the faith of a nun who wanted to leave the convent and date him but then after almost dying wanted to go back — as that would be the easiest way for that to happen.  From that point on, House is generally doing these things to help people, help patients or make people better.  Even the humourous one where he’s trying to ambush Taub because Taub, after Chase was stabbed by a psychotic patient, was taking self-defense courses to get his confidence back is done not because he wants to shatter that confidence but because he wants to shatter that overconfidence.  The other cases are ones where House himself is feeling miserable and acting out, which is also more sympathetic because, again, he’s not trying to hurt anyone and we can feel sympathy for the circumstances that trigger it, even if we wouldn’t do the same thing.

Which leads into the finale, actually.  Towards the end, Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and wants to take a very risky procedure that if it works has the best chance of shrinking the tumor enough to operate but could kill him.  House reluctantly agrees to help him with it, but it doesn’t work.  Then Wilson is advised to take regular chemotherapy to extend his life and doesn’t want to do it, and House keeps challenging him on it and when called out by Taub on not supporting his friend who doesn’t want to go through pain again neatly points out that he (House) lives with pain every day and has wanted to give up a number of times, and hasn’t, so yeah, it makes sense for him to feel that Wilson is giving up and shouldn’t.  The show does link that feeling to House somewhat selfishly wanting to keep Wilson around a bit longer, which also works in conjunction with the previous comment.  At any rate, House eventually accepts it and agrees to help Wilson live out his remaining time well, but before that happened Foreman tried to show House that there would be life after Wilson by giving House season tickets to hockey right beside Foreman’s, which annoys House so much that he flushes them in various places clogging the pipes, which eventually results in a pipe bursting over an MRI machine that Adams and Park were using, that is traced back to him, which gets House’s parole revoked, leading into the finale, which is House in a burning building with a patient who was a heroin addict who, unfortunately, is dead.  House then has hallucinations again — Amber, Cutner, the love of his life from Season 2 and finally Cameron — as he ponders letting himself die in the fire, only to conclude that he can change and so wants to live, but he goes to the front door and is highlighted there for Wilson and Foreman to see … and then the building explodes, seemingly killing him.  After a funeral where people come back to talk about what House meant to them, Wilson starts to disparage him but gets a text on his phone (that isn’t his) telling him to shut up.  It turns out that House has faked his death and the two of them go off on motorcycles to live out Wilson’s final days.

So … what really happened with the burning building?  The episode sets up that House has a number of devious plans to get out of prison at least until after Wilson dies, so is this one of his plans that he set up from the beginning, or was he really pondering death but decided to change and saw this as a good opportunity to do that?  This is actually really important, because if it’s the former then he would have arranged to burn a building down and possibly even to kill someone — or let someone die — just so that he could avoid prison, which isn’t going to make us feel good about him at the end.  I think that the latter is what’s intended, but then we don’t have an explanation for how the guy died in the first place and how the building caught on fire (the episode does hint that the patient had a habit of falling asleep while smoking, but the fire is a bit too much to be caused by that), but even then we have issues with House doing that, because he denies the patient the dignity of being buried as himself (he had no family and friends left as far as we know, but it’s still not good for him to just disappear) and also leaves his own friends and family grieving over his death when he isn’t.  If he runs off and changes his identity, then they still grieve, including his mother, who we know he does care for.  And if he returns, he’s going back to prison for a while which would indicate real change but will put a damper on any plans he might have to connect with other people.

Now, I know from reading the TV Tropes back and from malcolmthecynic’s comment that some people really like the finale, some hate it, and some are in-between on it.  I think that I can try to analyze why based on Shamus Young’s discussion of the ending of Mass Effect 3, and the things that he says endings are expected to do:

Generally speaking, an audience is probably looking for three key things at the end of a story:

Affirmation – Love conquers all, hope endures, freedom is worth fighting for, the truth will set you free, justice can’t be denied, etc. You save the little kid, the evil overlord is defeated, somebody gets married, everyone celebrates the hero, cupcakes and ice cream. Ex: Frodo drops the ring into Mt. Doom and Saruon is defeated forever.

Explanation – All questions answered. Making sure it all makes sense also falls under this category. Ex: How did Gandalf come back from the dead? What made the Witch King undefeatable? What happens to the Three Rings if the One is destroyed?

Closure – How did things turn out? Did the characters have a happy ending? Ex: Sam married Rose. Frodo and Bilbo went to the Havens. Aragorn was crowned king.

While that doesn’t really seem to be the case for malcolmthecynic, I think a lot of people who really liked the finale do so because they assume that House is going to change his identity — I saw this a lot in the analysis part of the TV Tropes page — and build a new life where he actually manages to genuinely connect with others.  However, I think those that dislike it — and note that I haven’t read the review that malcolmthecynic references — do so because that option means that House probably hasn’t actually changed and is just as much a jerk as he’s always been, and so doesn’t deserve a new life and will probably squander it anyway.  After all, he still manipulated people in a way that causes them pain and seems utterly unbothered by all of that, and the only reason to think that in any way not selfish is because he’s doing that to help Wilson live out the rest of his life, but the show had established that House helping Wilson is not necessarily altruistic.  So they can’t get Affirmation, can’t get Closure, and there’s nothing left to explain.  This would only be made worse by the fact that the entire finale is built around House again resolving to change, and if they don’t feel that he has really changed that all seems wasted.  I chided “Frasier” for doing that, and it’s fair to do that for House as well.  If House has not changed, then the revelation in the finale was wasted, and given what he would have to have done at a minimum to get to this point without being concerned about it we don’t really have good reason to think that he’s changed, and have to think that if this gives him a second chance he’s going to blow it again just like he has all the other times because nothing has really changed about him to make us think that this time it’s going to work.

For me, though, I think the biggest issue with the finale is that it doesn’t really fit into or resolve any of the themes of the series, nor does it reveal what the theme of the series really should be.  To me, the best finales either wrap up the series by appealing to and resolving the major themes and arcs that were already established, or else are a celebration of what happened in the series itself.  Comedies tend to do the latter, while drama series it seems to me do more the former, while Star Trek DS9 did both (which actually confused some people since it did the celebration in the middle of the episode before resolving the last arc).  The House finale is not a celebration of the series, despite all the people who talked about House during his funeral.  So it needs to resolve the arcs in a way that fits with the theme of the series, but the ambiguity here doesn’t do that.  On the one hand, you can feel that House is getting a new life and is going to take advantage of that, but on the other hand the series has shown that House tends to screw up those chances, and so we can’t feel that he’s going to do it this time.  So we don’t know that he’ll fail and don’t know that he’ll succeed, and that ambiguity leaves us thinking that nothing was really resolved.  Yes, you can have “And the adventure continues” endings, but even then you need to resolve the issues and tie back to the themes of the series itself so that “And the adventure continues” seems like something that gives Closure to the series, as things go on in the way they should (the “Justice League Unlimited” cartoon’s ending is a really good example of this).  But here things change too much for that and yet House stays too much the same for that to work.  It doesn’t end on a “the old order changeth” line because we don’t know if or how much House has changed, but things do change enough — like Chase taking over the department — that things will never be the same.

To give an example, if House had actually died in the fire it would have been depressing and disappointing, but it would have tied into the overall theme of the series quite well:  House resolves to change but loses the chance because of his own actions, in this case the schemes he put into place to try to get out of going back to prison and deciding to bury his feelings in drugs, proving that House ultimately did make people better — the funeral scene — but was his own worst enemy.  Or if he had ended up going back into prison and so wasn’t able to spend Wilson’s last few months with him, it would have hit the same theme:  House is his own worst enemy and always screws things up with everyone he cares about.  Yes, that would be depressing, but it would be consistent with what the series had shown over the past eight seasons and so would have dropped Affirmation in favour of Closure.

But that’s not how I would have done it.  What I would have done was make the entire sequence through the funeral a hallucination.  So there never was a burning building and no fake death, and the patient with the heroin would have done that with him and survived.  Since the episode had shown that the patient had offered to take the blame for House’s flushing of the tickets, I would have had the patient get House out of going back to prison by still taking the blame.  Then, House would talk to Foreman about going off with Wilson, and Foreman would have offered to keep the department open for him, and House would say that he isn’t coming back.  Then, at the end, Wilson would ask him why, and House would reply that there are only two things that made him happy:  Wilson’s friendship and his job.  Now that he’s losing both, he has to find something else to make him happy, which ties back into the hallucinations with the love of his life where she comments that he’s certainly lost his chances to be happy with her and with his fake wife, but he could still find happiness out there somewhere.  Why I like this is that it both confirms and repudiates a couple of House’s major philosophies:  everyone lies as the patient and Foreman or Wilson lies to keep him out of prison, but people can do things just to help others.  House comments that the patient is a better person dying than he ever was in life for offering to help him, and notes that actually curing the patient cost him a shot at that, so the patient helping him anyway shows that he was wrong about the patient and, in some way, about people in general.  But it also gives us a reason to think that House really could change this time because he’s giving up the job that spared him from his pain to seek out other ways to be happy, in a way that directly follows from the revelation that he supposedly had.  Maybe he won’t succeed, but this time does indeed seem to be different.

I also have to note here that the finale was going to be disappointing to me because of what it does to my two favourite characters in the entire series.  Wilson, obviously, is going to die and they bring back Masters only for the funeral scene where she only gets to comment that House gave her the courage to quit, which hardly seems worth bringing her back for and, on top of that, isn’t actually true, as House actually broke her and made it so that she couldn’t be there anymore.  And on top of that, we don’t find out if she did her internship somewhere else and became a doctor or went on to do something else, and in her last episode it was left ambiguous about what she’d actually do.  I wanted to find out what happened to her and, well, I didn’t.

That being said, I think I fall firmly into the “in-between” camp.  I don’t dislike the episode.  I think it does wrap up the series and doesn’t leave me frustrated because I want there to be another week or season to wrap up all the leftover issues.  It also doesn’t ruin the rest of the series so that if I wanted to watch it again I wouldn’t enjoy it knowing how it ends.  However, I also think that it doesn’t really manage to close off the series all that well either.  The series ends and I’m okay with the ending, but I feel that given what they had set up it could have been so much better than it was.  So not a classic, but not a travesty either.

Next week, I’ll give some final thoughts on the series as a whole, including whether or not I’d watch it again.

Accomplishments Update

March 29, 2022

So it’s been pretty close to six months since my last vacation ended and I reworked my schedule, and with another vacation coming up it’s a good time to look back and see how the new schedule is working out (right before my life circumstances change and my schedule also changes, it seems).  And as it turns out I have some interesting things to note about why things are the way they are, which is rather unique.

As usual, DVDs are working out pretty well.  I got through both The Bionic Woman and House M.D. which means that I’ve gotten through two TV series that I wanted to get through at the start of the year, and most importantly wasn’t bored out of my gourd doing that.  I think my pace is significantly slower than it used to be, and when my schedule changes it’s likely to be ever more so.  The big thing with both shows — but especially House — is that my schedule said that I should watch 2 episodes 4 days a week and 4 episodes 3 days a week, which was supposed to align with how the disks at least used to pan out — most DVD collections in the past had 4 episodes per disk for the most part — and with those shows that didn’t work.  House, for example, typically had 5 episodes per disk, except in some cases where it had 4, and maybe 2 at the end.  Since I really hate changing disks in the middle of my evening — my TV watching schedule has me turn off all the lights and everything and just watch right before going to sleep — this meant that in general I would split between watching 3 episodes and watching 2 episodes, and might have watched 4 if it was a 4 episode disk, which completely overturned my evening schedule since on some of the days that I planned to extend my late afternoon/early evening stuff later I was actually starting earlier and on the days that I planned to do little in the late afternoon/evening I actually had free time.  My next show — Party of Five — does the same thing as House, so I’ll be maintaining that “flexible” schedule.

Why does that matter?  Well, doing that means, as noted, that I’m taking longer to watch these shows than I might have otherwise.  The good thing about this is that despite my worries it doesn’t seem like taking the extra time means that I’m getting bored with those shows and so desperately wanting to watch something else.  I would have watched House M.D. for about 2 and a half months and didn’t really notice how long it was taking me.  I have 11 seasons of my next two shows — Party of Five and Ghost Whisperer — which should take me until early summer and hope that they work out as well (although they are unlikely to be as good as House was).  So one of the keys to this schedule is going to be how well I can handle watching one show or similar shows over a longer period of time than normal.  (I’m also running out of shows to watch, with only Heroes and the original Twilight Zone left if I don’t find something else).

I’ve also managed to squeeze some time in to keep up with the horror and science fiction movies.  This is more challenging with the schedule from January and even more so with the new schedule, because it’s difficult to find 2+ hours to watch things when I haven’t just eaten and/or can delay eating for a while, because I cannot watch these things after I eat, because I need to watch them carefully enough to write about them and if I watch TV after eating I usually end up dozing off.  Still, I am a bit ahead in watching for both and hope to keep that up and so keep making regular posts about them in the future.

Books are also working out really well, and also have an interesting link to the schedule.  I had set aside a specific time to work on little writing and programming projects, and then couldn’t figure out what to do in them, and really felt that I wanted to get through some of the classic literature that I hadn’t been reading while still reading and re-reading a bunch of the historical books that I wanted to read.  The issue with that, of course, is that I would normally do all of this reading in the unscheduled time that I have to reading for fun, and it really wouldn’t work to put both of them into that time.  So I took over the projects time and inserted the classic reading into that time, which allowed me to get through “The Divine Comedy” and make progress on the rest of the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft.  I have the complete works of Shakespeare to get through after this.  On the other side, I was able to get through “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and am about halfway through “Storm of War” again, after taking some time to read some new graphic novels that I bought in the meantime.  I plan to keep that time slot assigned to reading in the new schedule (the actual plan is to do that reading while doing laundry, which is a two hour block once a week where I don’t have to pay a lot of attention to the laundry itself and so can do something else, and reading is easier to interrupt when I need to move things from the washer to the dryer than a movie would be).

Video games are, for the first time in a long time, not an utter disappointment.  I managed to fairly consistently play “The Old Republic” and “Dark Age of Camelot”, even though on some says I didn’t manage to play them because other things were happening or a needed to run errands.  Still, that’s all acceptable and for the most part I was indeed still getting in some regular time with them.  As for other games, I started out playing “Hearts of Iron” twice a week, and it was working out fairly well.  Sure, the default game speed was a bit slow, but I started playing as Australia and so found it kinda relaxing, as with there not being that much that Australia can do I was able to start playing while watching game shows and only had to acknowledge messages every so often, do some planning, and select new building and research projects when I felt the desire.  However, I then did the math and figured out how long it took to get through a month in-game at that speed, multiplied that by how many months I had left and divided it by how long I could play a week and discovered that just getting through a round with Australia would take way too long, let alone the multiple rounds I had wanted to play.  And it wasn’t clear how to actually change the game speed (it’s not as easy as it is in “Star Wars:  Rebellion” for example).  So with a vacation coming up I decided to delay the game until I went on vacation and could play for 3 – 5 hours every day and so get through that round and maybe another.  Which turned out to be a good idea because I also had other things infringe on my game playing time and so it would have only taken that much longer.

Still, I had some time to play some games and so started trying to figure out what to play at that time when I had some time.  I decided that I’d take a shot at “Disco Elysium”, but played it for a couple of hours before bouncing off it really hard.  There were two reasons for this.  The first was that the game is pretty dark and I wasn’t in the mood for a dark game.  The second was that the game felt to me like it was balancing itself in a gray area between having a defined character and a player-defined character.  I had a fair amount of choice in what I did and what things I tried, and could choose my archetype which would suggest from my skills what I should do, but the character itself made most of the comments and seemed to be making a lot of decisions and also seemed to have it so that their history was driving a lot of what’s going on.  I can work with a pre-defined character like in the Persona games or in a mostly player-defined character — even with limited real choices — like in TOR or KotOR, but this was just bugging me.  So, yeah, the game didn’t last that long.  I might pick it up again later at some point, but it wasn’t what I wanted to focus on with a month or so until I returned to HOI.

So, since I was watching House, at one point I decided to start a new Wizardry 8 party based on the characters from that show, and was overjoyed when early on the character I had selected for House himself chimed in with “Now don’t do something stupid and get me killed!”, which really fit the character (these sorts of moments are what I really love about Wizardry 8 and why I keep coming back to it despite the fact that I’m never going to actually finish it).  But I ended up dropping that for a couple of reasons.  The first was that while the game was indeed one that I could play for an hour at a time, I ran into the issue that exploring every nook and cranny is important and playing for an hour or two and then not coming back for a week meant that I tended to forget what I had explored.  It does have a decent automap, but that works less well when you are exploring areas with different levels, which is where I was at the end of the monastery.  So that was becoming a bit problematic.  The second reason was that I recalled from my list of games to play and how I wanted to play them I was supposed to start at Wizardry 6, and felt bad for not doing that, but didn’t feel like I’d have the time to get through all of them, and so didn’t really feel like playing it.  And I ended up, as already noted, having things take up that time anyway.  In the new schedule, I have the same evenings set aside for them, although I’ll have less time per day to play.  That being said, the times set aside for MMOs are the same so I should at least be able to play some games in the new schedule.

As might be predicted from what I’ve said above, projects other than the blog haven’t happened.  The blog, as you should be able to tell, is still going at its normal pace, but anything else has not been started.  The good news for this is that I have time set aside to do stuff like that in the new schedule that isn’t taken up by reading.  The bad news is that I’ve tried to run on the new schedule for two weeks now and have not even looked at starting any kind of project.

So, I have a two week vacation coming up, and then I will be on some form of the new schedule, so we’ll see how that all works out.

Women’s World Championships and Curling Free Agency Period

March 28, 2022

At the time of writing, team Canada has just won the bronze medal at the Women’s World Championships, a disappointment for those who wanted them to do better and win it all but a pretty good result considering that it’s been a few years since Canada has won any medal at the Worlds.  Reading some comments after they lost the semi-final, people have been talking about how the team perhaps can’t handle pressure, and there was a bit of talk even among the commentators about what it means for Canada to not be on the top anymore, but in the graphic they constantly showed since 2010 the team that dominated the World Championships has been Switzerland, who is going to play for a third straight gold against Korea, so it’s not like Canada has been dominating and suddenly isn’t anymore.  It’s long been the case that the world has caught up and Canada is seen as a medal favourite but it’s not really surprising when they don’t win it all, or even fall short of winning a medal.  The thing to worry about is that Canada might fall to being a team that’s a tough beat and can make some noise, but isn’t expected to be there when it comes to the medals.  In the most recent Olympics, only the men’s team made it to the medal round — they won bronze — and in the Olympics before that only the men’s and mixed team made it to the medal round, with the mixed team winning gold and the men’s team falling short.  Given that and given that after winning two straight golds — Homan and Jones — they hadn’t won a medal, there’s be some concern that the women’s teams are falling to a spot where they might hit the top six and might, if they play really well, make a medal round, but that’s it, while teams like Switzerland, Sweden, Korea, Japan and Scotland are the teams that can always be counted on to make a run for a medal.  The win here should make people feel a bit better about that, but it still has to be a concern.

I wonder if part of the issue is a failure to properly adapt to the new rules and strategies required in the modern game of curling.  While I don’t see too many obvious consistent strategic errors, the one thing that concerns me is that Canada as a whole fail big time at one of the most recent additions:  the draw to the button at the start of the game to determine who gets hammer and is used in lieu of tiebreakers to determine who finishes in which position at the end of the round robin.  Their lack of success at that is one reason the Canadian mixed doubles team didn’t make the medal round, and the men and women constantly started behind the eight-ball as they fairly rarely managed to win that draw to the button to start with the hammer.  Here, Einarson’s team struggled with it again, and so needed to win to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs and advantages in the playoffs.  Considering that Canadian teams quite often make wonderful draws to the button during games, that they consistently struggle with it before the game is a bit puzzling.  I’m not sure how to fix that, but it’s something that they definitely need to fix to give themselves the best chance of winning international events.

This event also tried out the new rule where if a rock touches the centre line it cannot be moved and so cannot be “ticked” to the side during the entire time where guards cannot be removed, and I’m not sure I like it.  My biggest problem with it from the start is that they still have the free guard zone and so corner guards cannot be removed but now centre guards as well cannot be moved.  This seems to be putting too many restrictions on what players can do, which to me is never a good sign.  I’d say that maybe if you put that rule in play you allow corner guards to be removed, but my concern there would be that then no one would ever put up corner guards because they’d just be removed, meaning that everyone would put up centre guards and there’d be only one strategy.  Which led to me deciding what my biggest problem with all of these rule changes are:  they are about restricting what players can do and so are about eliminating options, which tends to force teams to follow the same strategies.  What I’d be looking for are rules that promote a wide range of strategies and make them viable, but what the rules seem to be designed to do is promote rocks being in play and so more scoring.  I’m not against more scoring, but I want that to follow from good strategies and good shots, not the same strategies and depending on your opponents missing their shots, which seems to be how big ends happen these days.  It’ll be interesting to see if this rule is adopted and what will happen to the game if it is.

So, that’s the Women’s Worlds.  If you were expecting me to tell you who ultimately won it, I would normally do that but that game runs too late for me to watch it and write a post about it, and since Canada isn’t in it I’m not as inclined to do that, especially since I’d have to write that post in the morning while working and writing posts while working makes my manager cry.  So I’ll leave it for now and anyone really interested can look it up for themselves.  I will note that I am neutral about who wins because I kinda like but ultimately don’t care that much about either team, which is what makes it easier for me to just ignore that game here.

Given that, let me move on to talking a bit about what’s happened so far in the traditional roster shuffle that happens after every Olympics.  We knew going in that some teams were going to have to change due to various personal considerations, but there have been some big surprises, especially on the women’s side.  Dawn McEwen, the lead for Jennifer Jones’ team, decided to retire to spend more time with her family, and since long-time lead Lisa Weagle had been with the team since moving from Rachel Homan’s team it would seem like the obvious move would have been for her to simply take Dawn’s spot and so the team would continue as it was.  Well, that’s not what happened.  Jennifer Jones moved on to skip Mackenzie Zacharias’ team, which should certainly help their development, and Kaitlyn Lawes took Jocelyn Peterman from her old team and combined that with … Selena Njegovin and Kristin MacCuish from Tracy Fleury’s old team.  Yes, that team broke up as well, which was a big surprise since they were doing incredibly well on both the Grand Slam and national circuits, and seemingly only needed a bit more experience to be able to make it to Worlds and to the Olympics.  Also, in an unrelated move, Casey Scheidegger’s team also broke up, and even though they struggled a bit this year due to a lack of playing time they seemed to be getting back on track, so again that’s another team that could have done great things if they had stayed together.

But the biggest surprise — so far — is probably the latest:  Tracy Fleury joined Rachel Homan’s team after Joanne Courtney stepped aside to focus on her family.  Fleury’s probably going to be a third or a skip, but they haven’t said which yet.  This is puzzling since Emma Miskew is a perfectly fine third and is probably ready to skip a team herself, and I had wondering if she was planning on forming her own team given that Homan’s team was a more Alberta-oriented team and Emma could have picked up some players — including their own alternate who never seems to get a chance to break in with actual team — to make an Ontario-oriented team.  If that was the case, then Fleury joining Miskew’s team would have made a lot of sense.  But here I’m not sure how it will work.  I don’t think Miskew will have too much trouble playing second, but it does take time to adjust to a new position and now three players will have to do that for certain.  Also, Homan before had forced Courtney to adjust how she throws so that everyone would have the same release — making ice reading easier — and now she’ll either have to force Fleury to do that or else have to learn to read different releases.  Either way, it’s going to be tough and something that neither Homan nor Fleury would probably really want to do.  I’m also not really sure that Fleury will fit on the team personality-wise, as being a long-time skip she has a set way of thinking and doing things and Homan herself can be pretty intense which seems like it’s more likely to lead to clashes than it is to the sort of thing that team Einarson has:  Val Sweeting is competitive but would certainly be more willing to let Einarson take over than Fleury seemed to, especially given how when she came back to the team during the Scotties she reinstated her way of playing even though what Njegovin had been doing was incredibly successful.  Miskew has played with Homan forever and so the two of them can work together, but I’m not sure that Fleury can work with Homan as easily.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see what happens, but it won’t take effective until next season.

Which means that outside of the Men’s Worlds, all that’s left are a couple of Grand Slam events that, given the already stated changes, should be very interesting to watch.

Qualia as Input

March 25, 2022

So I talked about consciousness a while back, and after talking about free will for a while I’ve decided that this week I’m going to highlight a rough view of mine that I developed a few years ago but haven’t really thought much about since, which was a view in reaction to representationalism that argue that in that sort of model qualia/consciousness would be an input to the system and so we could not simply claim that consciousness was about having the right sort of representations (a big part of this was outlined here).

Let me start by outlining what I think is actually a pretty reasonable model of human intelligence that uses representationalism as a base.  We start with some kind of input for a domain.  This will typically be sense data, but for some domains it may not be direct sense data of it, such as with fictional worlds from a book.  Once we have that input, we build representations out of that input, mental models that capture the details of the input without actually being that input, so that we can perform operations of it and can reference it without having to re-experience or remember the precise input that we had originally.  From the representation we can then derive specific individual beliefs about the input and overall world that that the representation is capturing.  These individual beliefs are used in our reasoning processes to produce the actual behaviour that we have wrt the things that those inputs reveal to us.

Now, representationalists placed consciousness at the stage of the representations, and so often would argue that qualia itself is a representation.  In some sense, of course, this could make sense, given that our qualia about a thing is not, in fact, the thing itself.  But the issue with this, at least for me, was that it seemed like we could get the same beliefs from different inputs, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to claim that the representations themselves were different.  If someone tells me that a car is red or I see that a car is red, I certainly come to believe that the car is red and I can do all of the operations that I’d need a representation for — including building a memory-driven mental image of the car — without any noticeable difference based on that representation.  In fact, if I can’t imagine the car from a representation built from a description, it’s pretty much always because either my imagination is flawed or else the description was inaccurate or too vague.  So there doesn’t seem to be a significant difference in the beliefs and doesn’t seem to be a significant difference in the representations, so why would we need to make qualia a representation?

You could argue that we do that because there’s no need to introduce something separate like an input to explain this.  I’ve already conceded that qualia and all of the things that I’m calling inputs are in an important sense representations, so why not just accept that they are the representations that we build beliefs from and leave this extra stage out?  The issue is as I noted above:  we have clearly different inputs that produce the same set of beliefs, so we need to capture that difference somewhere.  You can argue that they are indeed different representations and so that would explain it, but then we run into the issue that there seem to be operations that we can perform on them that we couldn’t do from the beliefs that seem to be identical between the two.  To have to have a different representation for each of the things that I’m calling an input but then have to argue that nevertheless they perform exactly the same and can be used in exactly the same ways despite being significantly different representations.  We also run into the issue that we can generate an internal “input” of these things that mimics the other sort of input.  So from a description I can build a mental image, and from a visual image I can build a description in words.  So we don’t need to recall these inputs to restore the input mentally, and so it seems to make sense that what we store is an abstract representation that our processes can use to rebuild those sorts of inputs.  At which point, we would have a generic representation that is not tightly bound to any of the inputs we have, and so we could not differentiate the inputs on the basis of that representation that can be used to generate and recall either input.  Thus, we need to have inputs and qualia really does seem like it’s an input, given that it is spawned by and reflects the external world through sense data, at least.

This was my main objection of Chalmers’ zombies:  if qualia is an input and not a representation, then it is indeed possible for an entity to exist that has all of the right representations and so all of the right beliefs and so all of the right behaviour without having the input of qualia.  However, that’s only possible because it could get all of those representations from a different input, and so that input would have to be reflected somewhere, and by Chalmers that would have to be a physical input, and so we’d be able to find a physical difference in the zombie reflecting that it’s lacking qualia.  I have now become convinced that another problem with the thought experiment, in line with my comment above, is that it only works if qualia is epiphenomenal and plays no causal role in our behaviour, and surely Chalmers’ point was not that one.

Why I like this theory is that it finds a causal role for qualia to play in our behaviour while not reducing qualia to that which produces that behaviour.  It allows us to acknowledge qualia as different and having a different “feel” while still noting that that difference isn’t in the behaviour it produces, which then allows us to explain why we can indeed act the same way towards properties that qualia would normally produce even if we haven’t had a qualia experience of them.  It allows us to explain why AIs seem to be able to reason and act like we do without having to have them have qualia as we experience it, which is pretty difficult to actually reconcile with what we know about computers.  It also allows people like Dennett who are more interested in conscious behaviour and less interested in qualia to split it out from their research projects without having to eliminate from consciousness entirely or even minimize its role in what we think of as consciousness.

Anyway, that’s an idea that I still at least loosely accept, even though I haven’t explored it much in the past few years.  It seems to solve a lot of problems and settle a lot of arguments when it comes to consciousness, but whether it does so fairly is, indeed, open to debate.

Thoughts on “Scream”

March 24, 2022

I have a pack of the first four of the “Scary Movie” movies, and I watch them every so often.  There’s a sharp difference between the original Wayans movies and the later Zuckerman movies, but they work well-enough as a light and goofy parody of horror movies where the horror movie tropes are played entirely for laughs.  What I did know at the time was that the first one, at least, was a parody of “Scream”, which some people noted was odd since “Scream” itself was a parody of horror movies.  However, I have never actually watched any of the “Scream” movies, although as usual I knew things about it that I absorbed from popular culture.  So when I came across a pack of the first three “Scream” movies — I just came across a new pack that has the first four, which I am hesitant to get given that I have the first three already — I decided to pick it up.  It sat in the stack with a bunch of other series that I have (including a bunch of Stephen King adaptations) while I worked my way through my individual movies, but with that stack getting fairly small I figured I should take a break and watch some of the series, and since I had been reminded of it recently (probably when I was thinking about “Party of Five” which is in my stack of TV shows to watch) I figured it would be a great time to watch those movies and finally see them.

The main thing I noticed is that “Scary Movie” really did base their movie on “Scream”, not merely lifting the plot and setting from it but also going through some scenes pretty much word-for-word with some minor jokes and parody added to it.  And in my view this does a disservice to both movies if you’ve watched that one before watching “Scream”.  On the “Scary Movie” end, I came to realize that some of the clever lines and set-ups were entirely lifted from “Scream”, which makes that movie seem much more derivative than it might have originally.  On the “Scream” side, it gives those scenes a sense of “I’ve seen all this before” which makes them seem more dull than they would have otherwise.  Watching “Scream” last dulls a lot of the elements that made “Scary Movie” want to use it as its base in the first place, making it seem less interesting than it would have to those who watched “Scream” without watching “Scary Movie”.

And, of course, “Scary Movie” pretty much spoils the ending, although that didn’t matter so much.

I think that Neve Campbell has the qualities that make for a good horror heroine, as I talked about when I talked about “Saint Maud”.  She’s pretty enough to be sympathetic, but in no way a sexpot, and so she does look like the nice girl-next-door that we in general want to protect and want to see survive the horror happening around them.  Her seeming nice also makes her developing the strength to fight back more satisfying.  So, yes, she’s a very good fit for this movie and works well in it, although at times her delivery can be a bit stilted.

While “Scream” is noted for being a bit of a parody, I don’t think it really is a parody, at least in the sense of making fun of or trying to get us to laugh at or find ridiculous the horror movie tropes.  There are some scenes where it does that — such as with the janitor named Fred dressed like Freddy Krueger — but for the most part the movie remains pretty serious with some minor joke scenes, which is pretty much how horror movies from that era worked.  What I’d say about it, though, is that it less parodies the tropes than it relies a lot on self-awareness, directly referencing the tropes while playing them mostly straight.  For example, in one of the phone calls the Sydney talks about disliking horror movies because of the stupid things the characters do, like running up the stairs instead of running out the door, and then soon after the killer attacks her and she runs up the stairs … but she couldn’t get the front door unlocked in time and didn’t have anywhere else she could run, so it’s justified.  There are far more of these sorts of moments where they reference the tropes but then end up playing them straight and taking everything seriously that it doesn’t work as any kind of humour parody despite the times when they directly attempt to make the scenes funny, but the self-aware humour is actually funny without making the movie itself seem ridiculous or asking the audience to not take things seriously.  The movie still wants us to take these things seriously even as it makes us aware that these things are a bit weird.

As such, the movie is pretty good.  The plot is pretty standard and nothing really special, and the performances and characters are again fairly standard, but overall it works and is generally entertaining.  My personal enjoyment of it was hampered by how many scenes I had already seen in “Scary Movie”, but not enough to make it not entertaining.  Compared to a lot of the other horror movies I’ve watched, it’s definitely better than most despite relying on the same ideas and tropes, and the self-awareness adds a dimension that most horror movies lack.  This is a movie that I am likely to watch again at some point.

Thoughts on “House M.D.” (Season 7)

March 23, 2022

Season 7 starts with House and Cuddy entering into a relationship and all of the trials and tribulations that that involves.  The idea of House entering into a relationship and being completely inexperienced and, frankly, bad at it is a good idea, as well as him being afraid that he’s going to screw it up.  However, as already noted, it’s not really a relationship that I’m at all interested in.  They don’t seem like people who should be in a relationship, as both of them seem too screwed up for that and also their personal situations don’t align very well.  Now, the show does acknowledge that and that could, in fact be used as an interesting character or plot point except that Cuddy as a character isn’t all that interesting, and a lot of her issues end up being somewhat ridiculous ones, and the only reason for them to be together is their long-time association that started with her having a crush on him.  She doesn’t really have a personality that challenges him in any way, like Amber had with Wilson.  So there’s really no where to go with the relationship except, perhaps, to a bad end.

And of course it has to have a bad end, because if House is happy then we aren’t willing to allow him to snark at and manipulate people in what are often cruel ways.  When his life sucks, we can see that as him lashing out at that as following from that, and we can also note that while he often does it for his own benefit he also does it to benefit others.  If he’s going to be happy and have a decent life, then the lashing out component has to fall away and the show needs to ramp up him doing it in even a misguided attempt to push others, either into growing or doing the right thing.  But in Season 7 the show didn’t do that all that often, even in cases where there could indeed have been a motive for that and even where there were hints that that might be the reason he was doing that that were never followed up on, which is a follow-up from the fact that they didn’t really do that in Season 6 either.  While I was willing to grant them some leeway for that in Season 6 they burned all the good will House had from the previous seasons when his life was miserable and I found myself no longer laughing at his snark but getting really, really irritated by it, especially when he unleashed it at the new character Masters who was brought in to replace Thirteen for most of the season who was portrayed as a very smart, very nice and very naive person who, well, looked like House had killed her puppy every time he snarked at her.  At the very least, someone should have pointed out how mean he was being, especially since he kept firing and re-hiring her and she was in tears most of the time when he did that.

Anyway, she’s probably the standout character of the season, and has become one of my favourite characters in the entire show.  She’s played by Amber Tamblyn of “Joan of Arcadia” fame, and is one of a number of young girls/women who became prominent enough in popular culture that I recognize their names and faces despite never actually watching the shows they were known for (Alexis Bledel is the other one that I recall).  So when I saw her name in the credits there was an instant sense of recognition and a predisposition to think that I’d like the character (they were noted for being pretty and seeming nice, which is in line with how Masters is presented here).  Thirteen leaves just as they redid the opening credits to remove Jennifer Morrison (who played Cameron) and insert Peter Jacobson (Taub) and Olivia Wilde (Thirteen), which led me to think to myself that having her leave for what was an indefinite period was a bit of a dumb move given that she was added to the credits and so had to come back at some point, and then they dragged that out so that she only comes back for something like the last five episodes, which had me thinking that they were doing a different dumb thing of putting her in the credits but then not bringing her back when they made it clear that they were doing the first dumb thing.  They really should have just left her out of the opening credits until she came back, as while it does take some effort and the showrunners hated changing the credits — they left the original credits in for the first six seasons even when the focus had shifted from his original team to the new one — it wouldn’t cost that much and, really, just looks a bit cheap.  And a bit confusing if you pay attention to them.

Anyway, Cuddy wants House to replace Thirteen with a female doctor, and when he refuses to and sabotages any attempts by the others to do it — although, to be fair, one of them was terrible, he scuttled one of them as a lesson to Foreman and the last doesn’t want to join because of how paranoid House makes Taub — ends up hiring Masters for him and makes him keep her.  So he actually does have reason to be mean and snarky to Masters, but again the “You killed my puppy!” look really should have warmed his heart in some way, and he never shows that it does.  Also, since she is so emotional someone else — like, perhaps, Wilson, who doesn’t get involved this season — should have told him to stop taking his annoyance at Cuddy out on Masters.  But then again Cuddy’s motives here seem rather odd anyway.  She says that she wants Masters to work with him because she thinks Masters will be a star and she wants to bring Masters to her hospital when she finishes med school, but it’s odd that she thinks Masters working with a House who is forced to keep her against his will is going to do that.  Masters would actually be more likely to never want to work at that hospital again because of how cruel House is and how no one really supported her in any way when she was working with him.  Yes, House has the more interesting cases and since she’s so smart that would likely intrigue her, but her emotional nature and the fact that she already had a couple of other degrees is more likely to get her thinking that she can’t take that and should go do something else.  So Cuddy’s stated reasons for putting Masters with House don’t make sense, and we don’t get any other motive that makes sense either.

It would have made much more sense and worked out better for Masters herself for Cuddy to have put Masters with Wilson, who has interesting cases and is a pretty nice guy, and then have Wilson brought in for a consult (which has happened on a number of occasions) and then have Masters chime in with something very intelligent and so get House intrigued by her intelligence, and so try to “steal” her from Wilson, and since the cases are really interesting that would intrigue Masters, and so he wouldn’t be that harsh with her in the first case but would start to become more harsh with her when her moral nature causes her to not do things he wants her to do and to do things that he doesn’t want her to do, like rat him out to Cuddy.  This would also give her time to be intrigued and so want to stay on these cases, allows him to tell her to go back to Wilson when she doesn’t do what he asks (without simply firing her, which is more devastating) and would explain why he’s impressed enough with her to keep hiring her back when she does something that is indeed impressive.  It would also give her someone to talk to about House which would explain why she isn’t simply crushed by his nastiness and would give the show a way to explain to her — and, at the same time, the audience — why House is doing what he’s doing.

This also would lead to an interesting arc for Wilson, since Masters is emotionally vulnerable and very inexperienced when it comes to relationships, and Wilson is known for making women feel special when he interacts with them.  It would be very easy for her to get a crush on Wilson and have Wilson be both interested in her and realize — even if it’s with House’s help — that it’s probably not a good idea for him to encourage it.  She reminded me a lot of Futaba from Persona 5 as someone who is just slowly coming out of a really hard shell and putting her toe in the water of relationships, and one thing that I’ve noted before about dating Futaba in that game is that it’s too much pressure to be her first relationship:  if it goes badly, she would be devastated and likely crawl back into her hole, especially since it would be with the guy who brought her out of that hole in the first place.  Masters is a bit better off than Futaba was, but it still would be utterly devastating to her to have her first real relationship not work out.  And, as we’ve already seen, Wilson’s relationships, especially the ones based on vulnerability, never work out.  So it would allow for us to explore that aspect in Wilson with a character that we get to see every episode.  Sure, it would have required breaking Wilson and his ex-wife up again, but they did that anyway and it would have given Wilson something to do in the season.

Masters is clearly their third try at the principled person who doesn’t like how House breaks the rules and sometimes treats people.  Cameron was the first and often came across as more of a nag or moralizer than as someone who was really moral and principled, but she was better than Thirteen as the second one who never really came across as someone who was all that moral or principled in the first place.  Masters, when written properly, is the best one, since for the most part she came across as someone who lived by her principles instead of nagging others about them.  She didn’t rat out her fellow doctors for breaking into the house of a patient to look for things that might be causing a problem, but she didn’t go in either.  When she ratted him out to Cuddy, it was less like her trying to stop him from doing that and more like her feeling that since she knew and the rules required her to report it she had to report it, and she was clever enough to figure out both when he was trying to hide something from her and, specifically, what it was so that she could tell Cuddy about it.  This made her much more tolerable in that role when she wasn’t written to react as a moralizer and nag them about it, which happened somewhat inconsistently.

That being said, when she did that the show actually set things up so that she herself could have had an ulterior motive for reacting that way, but the show fails to actually make things like that explicit or even just mention, lampshade or develop them in any way.  For example, at one point Chase is getting pranked by a woman offended by how he treated her at some event, and he can’t think of which of the three women he hooked up with at the party was doing that.  Masters reacts very harshly to that, calling him a “whore” on a number of occasions (okay, twice).  Her disapproving of that isn’t unreasonable, but using that sort of language to talk about it is.  And no one comments on it at all, even as that being strange.  And we know that they will, because Taub comments on her being attracted to a bull rider that he — and she — know that isn’t good for her.  So why not have someone like Taub or Foreman comment on her calling Chase a whore?  Taub, at least, might take it personally since he’s pretty promiscuous himself and so would have some reason to find out what’s driving that reaction.

And the episode itself provides a potential explanation for that, but messes it up by not doing these kind of references.  Later, she asks Chase if he even likes her at all and says that she had put friends and relationships aside to study but now that she wants to start trying to get them she finds herself unable to get them, and can’t even get a date for the ball that they all have to go to.  So we can see that if she’s struggling that hard to get friends and relationships she would envy Chase’s ability to charm people but would be enormously frustrated that he wastes it on getting things that don’t have real meaning.  In short, he has the ability to get all the things she wants and wastes it on these meaningless flings.  Her saying that explicitly would have really worked to express that and would have made it clear why she brought that up there and would be a better spur for Chase to think about those sorts of issues and so to go dateless to the ball at the end, which doesn’t make much sense as a reaction to her not being able to get a relationship and so implies that maybe he was going to be her date, which would be a setup for a crush plot instead.

However, despite the show having arcs that span over episodes and making references back to things that were mentioned in previous episodes and seasons it really doesn’t do a good job of recognizing the consequences of things that happen in an episode and having later episodes reflect that.  Here, the episode where she has that strange crush on the bull rider comes directly after this one, and while she is hinting at her interest the entire time she actually takes the direct approach to ask him if he wants to hang out, and he gives her a look that makes it absolutely clear that he has no interest in that, and she gives a lame excuse about it not being appropriate to do with his doctor before he can say that and leaves and … nothing else happens.  This episode was written with Masters as being the smart girl who likes the wrong guy and so it ends badly, but the Masters from the previous episode would not take that sort of rejection so easily, where it would be yet another failure for her to move towards getting those things she wants so badly.  They didn’t even show her crying over it in the end of episode musical sequence/summary, and she really, really would have done that … especially since her last episode shows that she is pretty much in tears at the end of the day when House is being a jerk.  So it’s a bit of an inconsistency in the character.  If it was me, I would have made it clear that the reason that she couldn’t find a date for that ball was not that she asked people and they said “No” — because she’s pretty and nice enough that at least one person would have said “Yes” out of pity — but that she couldn’t think of anyone she felt comfortable enough to ask, and then decided to be more proactive about it — as per Chase’s example — and then had that fail — because she chose the wrong person — which would have been devastating and emotional but fit really well into the previous episode and developed her character.

This is a major flaw in the show overall.  Yes, House is the focus and the show is right to focus on him, but the show also wants to try to make the medical cases interesting and emotional and also tries to build arcs for the secondary characters.  What’s frustrating about it is that the show clearly remembers these sorts of things but never mentions or develops those things, and so even though they were originally mentioned long before they seem to come out of nowhere because they haven’t been mentioned again, even when they really should have been.  Yes, there’s not a lot of free time in the episodes but there is indeed time to drop those hints in places where they are talking while doing tests, for example.  This is where Taub highlights Masters’ strange attraction to the bull rider.  Mentioning these things and even developing them more often would really help to build the character arcs, fill downtime, and make the characters seem more like real people and real characters who act consistently … even if that consistency is to be inconsistent.

Early on in the season, I thought that Masters was a bad fit for this season, since House being happy should have him treat her less badly and so causes me to lose my good will towards House when he treats her badly, and her presence doesn’t really add anything to his character here.  I first thought that it would have been better to have her from the beginning as a new character that we could follow through the years who is learning how House works, but the problem with that is that one of her main threads is that she insists on being honest and it works out — even in a way that’s more convoluted — and this would over time challenge House’s view that he needs to do what he does to save the patients, which would change the show or else make House be cruel and manipulative for the sake of doing that, which makes him more sympathetic.  But that doesn’t work that well here either because he was really supposed to have learned his lesson last time, and while the undercurrent still would work if they are going to make House unhappy again — and they do — then it would clash with that.  So, on thinking about it, I thought that she would have been a great character in Season 6, where House was trying to become better but still would feel that being honest didn’t help patients, and her approach could have made him reconsider that but still feel justified, and even be mean to her because he’s trying to make her better and make her tougher and less vulnerable with others being able to point out that he’s going to change her completely and lose all the things that he admires other than her intellect, which would give him food for thought.

And, in the end, that’s what he does to her, in her last episode “Last Temptation”, which I think is by far the best episode in the season.  It focuses on her leaving med school and getting an internship, and her choices are House or surgery and House keeps dangling the offer in front of her but only if she breaks the rules in some way.  She first is supposed to do one more test to officially pass, and House fakes one for her but Masters is uncomfortable with that and Thirteen gets her to do one on her to pass, which House finds out and withdraws the internship, which sends her to surgery.  There is an undercurrent that is not at all explored where I had to wonder why she was so obsessed with the rules in the first place.  House has a good point in that both he and she know that she can do it, and so it would be a waste of time for her to go running around trying to get that one last test in.  The show would have really benefited from House explicitly saying that her obsession with a pointless rule was taking her time away from working with the patient which is her actual job and what he needs her for.  And then someone else could have challenged her on why she was so obsessed with technically following that rule.  Is it because she really thinks that it’s better to follow that pointless rule, or because she’s afraid she’ll be punished if she gets caught?  And if it’s the latter, how come she was so willing to take being fired going against House, or annoying the surgeon to check on the patient that she has become attached to?  You don’t need to have her answer that question, and instead just make it clear that the question hits home and that she either doesn’t have an answer for that … or, perhaps, doesn’t have an answer that she likes.

The patient is a young girl who is planning to set a record with a month-long sail, who ends up getting cancer that would necessitate that her arm is amputated, which would spoil that sail, and so she insists that she won’t get treated until after, which Masters believes will mean that she will die.  Masters then pulls the same trick that Cameron pulled earlier on by giving her something that would make it look like the cancer is spreading and so getting the parents to sign the consent form to amputate while the girl is unconscious (which is similar to what happened to House), which, obviously devastates the girl.  Masters has a sleepless night and then goes to talk to House, and comments that while she didn’t do it to feel happy she thought that she’d feel better about doing the “right thing” even while breaking the rules, and there’s an excellent scene that they needed to do more of where House without words shows that he realizes that he’s broken her and feels guilty about it, with an undercurrent that he did think she did the right thing but it really looks like his attempt to get her to learn what he thought he needed her to learn had consequences that he didn’t foresee.  That’s a wonderful scene in what I think is a wonderful episode, because it gives us a different perspective for an episode with a character that is both new to us and has a different view of the world than the rest of the characters we’ve seen.  It’s a shame that it’s her last episode and I immediately missed her character in the next episode, in part because Thirteen came back to “replace” her and I didn’t find Thirteen that interesting a character and found “ex-con” Thirteen even less interesting, especially since as House explicitly states her attitude has changed to become a lot more like his.

The patient case itself brings up another issue, which is that the show seems to be going TO THE EXTREME!  What we needed in this episode was someone that Masters had to break the rules to save by treating when starting the treatment would mean that the girl would not be able to sail in time for her run.  They didn’t need to have her arm be amputated, which is obviously something that would be disturbing in and of itself and not something that Masters would take that lightly.  Masters treats the issue as being about a stupid record, but losing her arm adds a lot more complicated emotions to the issue.  Given that most of the treatments they talk about for cancer — chemo and radiation, for example — would be ones that would leave her too weak to make her sail, they could have limited it to one of those and get the same results, which would have made Masters’ views more reasonable and would have turned it into less of a “I caused someone to lose their arm!” issue and more of a “I shattered someone’s dream!” issue, which could have tied well into her simply leaving the hospital at the end since it would have potentially caused her to lose her dream as well.  All that it serves is to make the outcome more extreme and DRAMATIC! which the show really doesn’t need.

This also applies to how House and Cuddy break up.  There’s a decent episode where House is distracted by his relationship with Cuddy and so doesn’t pay attention to his case, and the patient ultimately dies.  House gets drunk, goes and talks to Cuddy, and says that he’d rather some of his patients die than lose her, which she seems rather disturbed about.  This would have been a really nice issue to break them up over, with him being comfortable with that but her not being comfortable with that and having it really bother her.  Instead, they give her rather convenient cancer that House does not handle at all well, and he stays away from her but comes back at the end, but then she finds out that started taking Vicodin again — seemingly during her issues but it isn’t clear when he started — and says that she can’t rely on him to be there for her and breaks up with him.  As noted, this is far more extreme and dramatic a plot point than they needed.  Second, it’s also nonsensical, because when he wasn’t on Vicodin he couldn’t be there for her and when he was he was there for her, so her causation seems backwards.  If she didn’t think she could keep him from his addictions that might have worked, but not as presented.  Third, that he fell apart as a reaction to a threat to her and a fear of living without her is expected for him and something that she should have expected and wanted to work with him on.  It’s not like he was ignoring her simply to do something he wanted to do (which he often kinda did already in the season) but because he couldn’t take the situation now that he cares about her and has someone to care about.  So, given that her reasoning seems flawed and the situation only shows how much he really does care, it seems both stupid and mean for her to dump him over that.  But the situation was more dramatic, and so it goes.

This sort of problem carries over to the season finale.  House previously tried an experimental drug to fix his leg that gives him tumors, so he tries to remove them himself, fails, and tries to call people to help him but he could only get Cuddy, and they somewhat reconnect over that and he finally stops ignoring her and they talk about it a bit, with a scene where he gets angry over her dismissing him but they seem to share a touching moment, and so he goes to her place to return her hairbrush clearly in the hopes of trying to get them back together … and she is having lunch with a new guy that her sister wanted to set her up with and that she turned down the first time.  So House gets angry and drives his car through her living room window and walks away, and seemingly hides out in some tropical location somewhere.  While this is definitely extreme, it’s also not nonsensical and unnecessary.  Given that connection that they might have had, why in the world would Cuddy suddenly decide to go on a date with that guy?  She could at least have waited a day, especially since she didn’t seem to be all that interested in him in the first place.  House driving the car into the window is not inconsistent with his character, but was also unnecessary and seems to only exist for him to do something so terrible that Cuddy will never want to see him again, which will obviously have to be resolved in some way in the next season.  More importantly, such a cliffhanger isn’t needed.  People will not decide to not return for the next season if there’s no dramatic cliffhanger to draw them back, and they already had a good cliffhanger:  end with the scene where Cuddy and House seem to connect and get people wanting to see next season what, if anything, comes from that.  But being overly dramatic makes things seem more contrived and ridiculous and doesn’t really add anything to the emotional content of the episodes.

As I’ve noted before, I like Peter Jacobson’s performance and some of his lines but really dislike his character arcs.  This season’s arc is no exception.  After breaking up with his wife, he takes up with a young nurse and then also starts having sex with his wife again.  The nurse gets pregnant, and it takes an overly dramatic scene to get him to realize that he wants her to keep the child, while at the same time his wife is constantly trying to call him and he is ignoring it because he doesn’t want to tell his wife that he is having a baby with another woman.  So of course the reason his wife is calling him is to tell him that she is also pregnant.  This arc is both obvious and seems contrived, and so comes across as rather stupid.  It’s also too ridiculous to be taken seriously but it’s too serious to be merely a joke/Butt Monkey plot, which doesn’t help.

In summary, this is the first season where I’d agree with malcolmthecynic that it was mostly mediocre with some good episodes and scenes, although the good episode is mainly “Last Temptation”.  I will definitely miss Masters as she brought something to the show that it didn’t really have, and I was always underwhelmed by Thirteen who is the replacement.  Still, it’s still entertaining enough that I didn’t mind watching it, so let’s see what happens in Season 8, the final season.

Transformers What If?

March 22, 2022

I was tiring of there being nothing on TV during the day while I was working, and didn’t feel like listening to music all day, and so decided to rewatch the original Transformers cartoon.  I noted in the first episode that Megatron takes Starscream with him on his mission, and leaves Shockwave behind to hold Cybertron until he returns.  As we all know, Megatron didn’t make it back for several million years and in the meantime Shockwave had managed to make Cybertron Decepticon dominated although energy was a huge issue for the planet.

Which made me wonder:  What if Megatron had left Starscream behind and taken Shockwave with him on the mission?

Now, this would seem like a stupid thing for Megatron to do.  Shockwave was an incredibly loyal Decepticon and certainly wouldn’t have pulled any shenanigans in an attempt to take over leadership of the Decepticons, while Starscream even in the first episode openly says that his goal is to depose Megatron and take over.  Leaving Starscream behind on Cybertron, even though the mission was supposed to be a short one, would only give Starscream an opportunity to solidify a power base and take over.  Surely it would be far better to keep Starscream close at hand to be able to see what he was planning and stop it before it started rather than try to patch things up later.  So it only makes sense to take Starscream and leave the loyal Shockwave behind.

On the other hand, Shockwave had more raw power in his space gun form than Starscream did, and seemed to be more heavily armoured.  Thus, it is not unreasonable that Megatron might have decided that he needed that extra raw power and been tempted to take Shockwave with him, reasoning that while Starscream was almost certainly going to try something, the mission would be fairly brief and Starscream was not well-liked, so even if he seized power Megatron, returning with the greatest and most prominent Decepticon warriors — who would certainly be loyal to him or at least more loyal to him than Starscream — should be able to depose Starscream and possibly decide that Starscream isn’t worth keeping around anymore.  So he could choose to maximize his changes of success on the mission knowing that the risk of Starscream permanently deposing him were slim.

So, given that, what might have happened?  And I think that if Megatron would have done that, he would have conquered Earth but the Decepticons would almost certainly have lost Cybertron to the Autobots.

The first point is one that I didn’t think of until I got later into the episode but has been noted by a number of people:  the only reason the Autobots were revived at all was because of Starscream.  The Ark restores a Decepticon first who then restores all the Decepticons — the Decepticon was knocked into a repair beam by the volcanic eruption — leaving the Autobots unconscious.  As they are leaving, Starscream fires at the remnants of the Ark as a parting gift, which knocks an Autobot into the beam which allows them to be revived.  If Shockwave had come along instead of Starscream, he wouldn’t have done that and so the Autobots would never have been revived, and since the Earth forces were helpless to oppose the Decepticons Megatron would have easily conquered the Earth and drained it dry.  Sure, a more dramatic “What If?” would have someone come along later and revive them, but I think it reasonable to argue that without contrivances that wouldn’t have happened until the Decepticons were able to conquer the Earth.  So, without Starscream, the Decepticons conquer the Earth.

Now, how to things work out on Cybertron?  Shockwave is constantly presented as a feared warrior with a lot of raw power who has been proven to be able to lead the Decepticons from the position they were in at the start of the show to dominating Cybertron.  Starscream’s leadership, on the other hand, pretty much always leads to disaster.  Now, Shockwave’s abilities are a bit of an informed trait because every time he comes up against any of our heroes he loses, and often in a fairly humiliating way.  However, consistent with how he is presented in the comics and in the Transformers Universe profile of him, he tends to get outmaneuvered by his opponents being creative and seems more staid and logical.  Those are great properties to have when leading a group that has an advantage in a long campaign to solidify that advantage and stamp out the last remaining resistance.  Shockwave is patient and considered and has significant technical and scientific knowledge that would allow him to invent new solutions to help with that campaign.

Starscream, on the other hand, is arrogant, impulsive and impatient.  Like Megatron, he is known to overreact to minor slights but unlike Megatron he’s not smart enough to temper that when he needs to.  Thus, he’d be quite likely to prefer large scale assaults and attempts to stamp out the remaining resistance rather than the slow and patient process of consolidating and securing his gains before moving on that Shockwave would likely prefer.  Given that there are still some significant Autobots left on Cybertron — the female Autobots, if no one else — they would be likely to be able to sucker him into ill-advised attacks or feints that would allow them to take back territory that he had already gained.  Moreover, he isn’t all that skilled technically and scientifically, although he does have some ability in that area.  So we can’t even be certain that he would ever invent the Space Bridge, which would cause problems for Megatron back home when he finally gets back in touch with Cybertron.  But, again, at that point Starscream would have likely blundered the war on Cybertron so much that the Decepticons would be a small resistance group while the Autobots were in charge.

So what we’d end up with is Megatron on Earth with access to all of its energy while Cybertron was still somewhat energy poor but in the hands of the Autobots.  Megatron, again, would have the energy resources but perhaps not the warriors to retake Cybertron.  At this point, it isn’t clear who would win, especially if the Autobots on Earth could be revived to cause problems there.  But that’s … another story.

“Time Will Tell How Much I Love You”

March 21, 2022

The next essay in “Doctor Strange and Philosophy” is “Time Will Tell How Much I Love You” by Skye C. Cleary.  The main thrust of this essay is to examine the ideas of friendship and love as espoused by Nietzsche through Doctor Strange and his relationships with Wong, The Ancient One and Christine Palmer.

Now, a while ago I had tried to read Nietzsche, and didn’t make much progress.  As evidenced by this essay, I probably should have started with “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, since that actually makes a more direct and consistent argument as opposed to “The Will to Power” which is just a set of notes on the various topics.  That being said, Cleary’s analysis makes me question how useful his philosophy could be, because it is clear that a lot of his ideas do not follow from a philosophical analysis, but instead from his own personal hang-ups, including that of love and friendship, which means that he often identifies love and friendship and their best qualities in ways that leave them unrecognizable to most people.

One of the issues introduced early in the essay is about pity, and the idea that a friend shouldn’t be someone who pities you.  Strange accuses Palmer of pitying him when she comes to visit him after the accident, and the essay implies that this is incorrect and Palmer really does just want to help him.  However, his charge towards her is valid:  that she’s paying so much attention to him and is possibly feeling more love feelings for him because he’s finally someone who needs her and she herself is attracted to that need.  So her love for him might not be the valid, passionless love that Cleary suggests they have.  Perhaps her loving feelings really are kindled or rekindled by her pity.  On his side, the rational love that Clearly suggests he had for her might not have been any kind of love at all, and he might never have cared for her.  Perhaps, then, if they are to have a real relationship it would only because both of them have moved past their own issues to feel real feelings and emotions for each other.

There’s also a notion of friends being there primarily to challenge each other, and Cleary notes that The Ancient One, Palmer and Wong all do that.  However, all Wong does in the movie is simply not be as impressed by Strange as Strange is by himself.  Palmer as well doesn’t really challenge him in a way that is aimed at challenging him but is instead her challenging his views as a way to validate her own against the challenge he makes against her own worldview.  And it’s difficult to claim that The Ancient One challenges his narcissism when she kicks him out of the temple given that she herself is very narcissistic — after all, she’s only still alive due to a pact with the darkness because she saw herself as the only one who could oppose the darkness — and given that it was only when Mordo interceded with her on Strange’s behalf that she considered that his dedication might make him worthy of her training.  None of them, at this point, seem to really be friends, and it’s Palmer who comes closest, but that’s only because she seems to actually care about him and wants to impart her philosophy to him so that he can adopt that philosophy that she thinks is clearly better for him.  That’s what a friend does for most of us, but it might be difficult to square that with Nietzsche’s philosophy.

At any rate, I don’t think any of the characters in Doctor Strange really reflect Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, unless Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is merely a self-absorbed jerk.  Which, to be honest, it might well be.  I guess I’ll have to get through more of Nietzsche to really say for certain, but this essay does not make me think that there might be something to Nietzsche that I’m missing.

Jonathan MS Pearce on Free Will and Moral Responsibility

March 18, 2022

Continuing my look at things people have been saying about free will recently, let me take up this post by Jonathan MS Pearce on the topic that continues the theme of hard determinists and compatibilists trying to minimize the gap between them and expand the gap between those two positions and libertarianism.  But first let me look at his definitions.  He starts by defining libertarian free will:

Definition o’clock: I define libertarian free will as follows:

The real ability to consciously and rationally do otherwise in a given situation.

This is a position that I’ve likened to the “Humans evolved from apes” definition.  It’s true as far as it goes and works as a rough folk definition, but stating it this way lends itself to generating rather poor arguments that don’t really get at the issue, such as arguments that for this to work it must be the case that if we “rewound time” and replayed that decision with the same starting conditions the decision could or would change, when most libertarians would argue that most of the time it wouldn’t, or arguments like Locke’s that if someone was locked in a room then even if they weren’t aware of that their decision to stay in the room couldn’t be free.  Here, Pearce will add on using this to differentiate this view of free will from compatibilist free will in a strong way despite the fact that they are closer than he admits.  This is his definition of compatibilist free will:

Mot philosophers are compatibilists, which is to say that they believe free will and determinism are compatible. Or, if cause and effect works in any of the ways mentioned above, we can still have free will. But, and this is a big but, they would define free will slightly differently. It would be something like this:

The ability for an agent to do what they want.

This definition, though, is a pretty poor one.  First, this is not the definition of compatibilist free will, but is instead one specific position compatibilists may hold that would allow them to argue that we do have some freedom in our choices while accepting that the decisions are still deterministic.  Second, this option is itself one that libertarians can adopt — and is one that I, personally, have considered — by arguing that we have some ability to determine what our desires are but our decisions are always determined by processes simply iterating over what we want and what we believe.  So not only does it not properly capture compatibilism, it also is a position that isn’t unique to it.

The best definition of “free” that I’ve come up with for compatibilists is this one:  a free choice is one that is produced by our normal decision-making processes under the conditions where they are acting normally.  An analogy for this is with the digestive system, where we can distinguish between whether something is the result of that process not merely by looking at whether we have nutrients in the blood, but instead by how those nutrients ended up there.  So if someone is receiving nutrients through an IV, those nutrients weren’t put there by the process of digestion and so are, perhaps, non-digested nutrients.  By the same token, if a decision is not made by the parts of the brain that typically produce decisions or if those parts of the brain were interfered with — by, say, a tumor — then we can say that those decisions were not “free”, and so don’t reflect “free will” and so the person isn’t responsible for them and so the person isn’t morally responsible for them.

Now, you may note that aside from talking about the brain specifically doing that this definition is, again, pretty much one that libertarians would also accept.  The reason for that is that the rough idea of free will is indeed the thing that compatibilists and libertarians agree upon, and that hard determinists disagree with compatibilists about.  Where libertarians disagree with compatibilists is over whether we can have this sort of freedom in a deterministic world, and so they disagree that the world is deterministic, which is what compatibilists and hard determinists agree on.  So libertarians agree with compatibilists about what it would roughly mean for a choice to be free, but not that deterministic processes can do that, and hard determinists agree with compatibilists that the only option for these decisions is that they are determined but not that their choices are or can be meaningfully free in that way.  Which is why most hard determinists end up trying to collapse the distinction between normal and abnormal decisions (as Pearce does here).

Thus, Pearce’s statement here isn’t true:

The thing is, I am both a hard determinist and a compatibilist, it just depends on which definition you are using. I argued in my first book, Free Will? An investigation into whether we have free will or whether I was always going to write this book, that the compatibilist position is largely a semantic one. As Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

He can’t be both a hard determinist and a compatibilist depending on what definition is being used, because he himself sees no substantive difference between decisions produced by typical or atypical decision-making processes, and compatibilists do.  They would clearly draw a sharp distinction between a kleptomaniac stealing something because of their overwhelming urge and someone who steals something because they want it and can do it.  Hard determinists tend not to, and then to argue (like Jerry Coyne usually does) that the distinctions and categories that follow from the common notion of free will are not at all useful, meaningful or beneficial and that all we want are concepts that allow us to determine how to shape behaviour to produce behaviours that we think better or more reasonable or, well, more in line with what we want.  But in order for the positions to merely be a semantic difference, it must be the case that the hard determinist can either capture or eliminate all of these distinctions, or else the difference would be functional, not semantic.  If they have to include most or even all of these distinctions, then they might be able to claim that it’s a semantic difference … but not in a way that helps them, because at that point they have captured pretty much everything that everyone involved — compatibilist, folk, and even libertarian — thinks is important about free will but are just balking at calling it “free will” for some reason, even though, again, most people understand those things as following from free will and not being there if there is no free will.  And since there are differences in how we need to treat kleptomaniacs vs people who steal to survive vs people who steal to gain monetary advantage vs people who steal for the heck of it and since those differences are neatly captured by our existing language and concepts then that sort of hard determinist position seems pointless.  They are just going to have to invent the same concepts and language but will have to call them something different, so why bother?  To avoid any hint of anything that might be called a “soul”?  To avoid having to worry if the libertarian claim that deterministic processes can’t actually allow for those distinctions might actually be correct?

Pearce himself, of course, does seem to be a bit overly concerned about religion:

I argue with a lot of Christians about all sorts of things. But if they are Christians who believe in heaven and hell, who believe in divine judgment based on what we do in our lives, and having moral responsibility for doing so, then they have a problem.

Indeed (and I have frequently said this about debating people like William Lane Craig), if they cannot refute this argument—if they can’t establish how libertarian free will exists—then the rest of their God-belief falls down. Their theism rests inexorably on the foundations of a coherent notion of libertarian free will.

Pearce gave a quote from Strawson about that, but it doesn’t show that the concept is incoherent.  As my latest way of framing it states, what we really, really want is not some kind of completely “causeless” free will or free choice, but is instead one that follows from intentions, and where the decisions are made from understanding the meaning of things instead of mere “symbolic” processing like a simple stimulus-response model.  And it’s hard to get that in a deterministic model and a brain model because it looks like the outcome of the decision-making process is determined before it even starts, and the decision-making process is the only one that can actually consider meaning and intent and change its outcome based on that.  Neurons don’t process things on the basis of meaning, and given that it looks like the meanings and intents considered wouldn’t have to be the ones we are using or wouldn’t even have to be there to get the results we do.  So contrary to Pearce and perhaps Strawson, free will for libertarians isn’t about denying our nature, but instead about being able to make decisions considering our nature, and the ability to indeed change our nature or act according to it or reject it.  Based on our experiences, it really does seem like we can do that, and so if Pearce is going to argue that we really can’t that’s a flaw in his view, not in the libertarian view.  The libertarian is indeed noting that we need some kind of process that can actually consider it and, as I am arguing, a form of causation that can pull that off.  If deterministic causation and quantum causation can’t do it, then it really looks like we need some kind of causation that can, and assertions that there is no such kind of causation cannot overturn our impression that, nevertheless, it happens.

And turning to religion is a bad move.  If God is creating us and creating all mechanisms, and needs a mechanism that will do that, then He could indeed create such a mechanism.  It just wouldn’t be deterministic, and that’s pretty much all Pearce has to rely on here.

Pearce then turns to trying to argue against how we could identify moral responsibility at all:

Apportioning moral responsibility to one agent because their action was the closest caused to the effect is very simplistic. It is like saying the green snooker ball was responsible for knocking the red one in as it was the most proximal cause. This says nothing about the fact that it had rebounded off the yellow, after the blue, after being hit by the white cue ball, itself shot by the snooker player, involving all their causal circumstances, including all their training, the support from their parents, the evolution of man, and the big bang. Without each and every necessary condition and event, the red would never have been pocketed.

So was the green ball responsible? In some small, arbitrary sense, along with all other aspects of the causal circumstance. Was it ultimately causally responsible? No.

What does this say about moral responsibility?

Now such philosophical exactitude doesn’t easily help people organize society and suchlike, which is why we have shortcut rules of thumb: you pulled the trigger, you’re responsible. But that’s not technically correct.

Except, we can indeed easily make these distinctions by appealing to intentionality.  We in fact do not assign moral responsibility on the basic of proximity.  Taking his own example, we would distinguish between the green ball being the proximate cause but would also argue that the person with the cue stick who started off that specific chain would actually be ultimately responsible from the perspective of intention.  It was that person’s intention that caused that to happen, and we can analyze that result on the basis of that intention to explain why that happened as opposed to something else … even if they were trying to do something else, like hitting the yellow ball and accidentally hit that one.  And it’s from the latter responsibility that we derive moral responsibility.  But this isn’t just a presumption or an artifact of our language, as we can differentiate — and seem to need to differentiate — between the rock that strikes and breaks a window and the person who picked it up and threw it to break the window, and it’s the latter who is morally responsible for breaking the window and not the former.  Not convinced?  Okay, note the difference in experience and internal decisions between the case where you throw a rock at a window and break it and I throw you at a window and break it.  You are morally responsible in the first case but are not morally responsible in the second case.  That difference is a difference in intent and we can track the specific differences in internal experiences that make you responsible in the first case and me responsible in the second case.  That’s a real experiential difference that cannot be simply illusory if we are going to grant that we have any kind of consciousness that has any impact on the world, and yet just from that we can come up with perfectly reasonable ideas of moral responsibility.  So why, then, is it at all reasonable to claim that moral responsibility doesn’t exist?

Back to God:

The problem here is saying that (1) God is the only originator of a causal chain, but also, (2) human agents are the originators of causal chains every time they make a freely willed decision!

Alas, I digress. The takeaway point here is that theists can’t have it both ways, believing in both libertarian free will and the KCA. Neither work, and both are mutually exclusive.

That’s only if you claim that humans are indeed the originator of a new causal chain, as some libertarians do claim.  But this fails because arguments like the KCA link to and can benefit from the Thomistic arguments, which don’t have one simple notion of causation, and so would allow for God to create a mechanism in the strong sense needed for creation that then causes decisions in the right way to produce free will decisions.  While I think Ed Feser is a bit harsh at times on those who reject the Aristotlean idea of causation, here is indeed one case where a) you need to understand that to make a real criticism here and b) it starts to look like that sort of model avoids all sorts of crazy problems that denying it would cause.  So, no, they aren’t obviously mutually exclusive, and it only appears so if you adopt a very specific idea of causation that itself is somewhat dubious.

I will finish with Pearce’s quote from Pereboom on moral responsibility:

Living without a conception of our choices and actions as freely willed in the sense required for moral responsibility does not come naturally to us. Our psychologies and our patterns of behavior presuppose that our choices and actions are free in this sense. Nevertheless, not only are there good arguments against this belief, but also, despite our initially apprehensive reactions to hard incompatibilism, believing it would not have disastrous consequences, and indeed it promises significant benefits for human life. Hard incompatibilism would not undermine the purpose in life that our projects can provide. Neither would it hinder the possibility of the good interpersonal relationships fundamental to our happiness. Acceptance of hard incompatibilism rather holds out the promise of greater equanimity by reducing the anger that hinders fulfillment. Far from threatening meaning in life, hard incompatibilism can help us achieve the conditions required for flourishing, for it can assist in releasing us from the harmful passions that contribute so much to human distress. If we did in fact relinquish our presumption of free will and moral responsibility, then, perhaps surprisingly, our lives might well be better for it.

This perfectly captures the problem hard determinists get themselves into when they deny things like moral responsibility.  Pereboom asks what we would lose if we give up moral responsibility but then says that we can still have things like freedom from harmful passions and relinquishing flawed ideas to make our lives better … all things that we don’t have control over if we don’t have free will and so aren’t responsible for.  A lot of the things that hard determinists say that we can still have even without moral responsibility are either things that follow from either moral responsibility or the very mechanisms that would give us moral responsibility.  It’s the exact same argument as people who insist that morality is subjective but then insist that we can still meaningfully criticize people for being immoral even if they don’t agree and can even impose our moral views on them, ideas that follow from objective morality but don’t follow from subjective morality.  You can indeed not lose anything important if you smuggle all of the important things into your view, but then it is perfectly reasonable to ask what the point of denying the concepts was in the first place.