Archive for April, 2022

Moral Motivationalism, Intentionalism and Carrier on Wielenberg

April 29, 2022

Richard Carrier recently wrote a post criticizing fellow atheist Erik Wielenberg’s new paper on morality, using it as a springboard to talk about what he thinks atheists are missing when they talk about morality (that’s the title of the post, BTW), by which he generally means that they don’t talk about the things he talks about and don’t align with his own view.  But in responding to it, he hits a couple of points that are things that I want to note about morality in general, and so it’s worth my taking a quick look at it to highlight those points.

The first thing I want to talk about, though, is a general idea of what the debate over morality is all about, which will lead into a discussion of moral motivationalism.  Carrier summarizes Wielenberg’s point and criticism of William Lane Craig as this:

For example, Wielenberg quotes Craig and Moreland as saying “What does it mean to say, for example, that the moral value justice just exists? … It is clear what is meant when it is said that a person is just; but it is bewildering when it is said that in the absence of any people, justice itself exists” (p. 33). To this Wielenberg responds, “With respect to justice, my view is that there are various obtaining states of affairs concern­ing justice, and that when individual people have the property of being just, it is (in part) in virtue of the obtaining of some of these states of affairs” (p. 34).

Which Carrier ultimately characterizes as this:

I am certain they’d both agree that no God is required for me to say, and be stating an objective fact even, that my girlfriend’s bedroom’s decoration is “Star-Wars-y,” in that it resembles the canonical aesthetic of the Star Wars franchise. Because that isn’t saying anything about how people should or ought to “Star-Wars-ify” their bedrooms. It’s just a neutral statement of fact that the decor meets certain defining criteria. Everyone agrees justice exists in that sense, the only sense Wielenberg ever articulates.

The thing is that both of them are wrong here, as when it comes to the philosophical discussion of morality not everyone agrees that justice or any moral term exists in that sense.  Error theorists, for example, deny that moral terms — at least as moral terms — have any meaning at all, and so won’t agree that there are, in fact, any identifiable states or any set defined criteria for something being just.  There might be a non-moral sense of the term “just” that has that, but in that case it won’t be a moral sense, but some other sense (practical, legal, etc).  And for subjectivists, they would agree that there is a sense in which we can talk about the term “just” and apply a criteria to it, but they would deny that that sense is in any way objective and so that it is determined by the individual itself.  So, for them, to use the “Star Wars” analogy they would insist that people who say that in order for a room to be “Star Warsy” it must reference the Star Wars movies are just plain wrong, and so if someone personally decides that building their room with a Star Trek aesthetic instead should count as “Star Warsy” they aren’t wrong about that and no one can say that they are.  So, no, it’s not the case that everyone would agree that justice exists in that sense.  Some of the most interesting philosophical debates in morality centre around people denying that very thing.

Note that it might seem odd to argue that “Star Warsy”, an aesthetic idea, is more obviously objective than morality is.  The reason it is, though, is because while aesthetics can have subjective elements, here we are indeed talking about something with a clear criteria.  Yes, there are gray areas — you can debate over whether including things from the prequels or sequels really counts, or from the spinoffs like “Solo” and “Rogue One” — but it’s clear that there’s some set criteria for what we mean by “Star Warsy”, which is that it has to have some critical relation to the Star Wars franchise, which is why we can say that a completely “Star Trek”-themed room wouldn’t fit that criteria.  Again, there are some gray areas over how that relation would work, but we clearly say that it has to have that relation.  The debate over morality is that we don’t have that sort of thing that we can say that morality has to relate to, and more importantly we can’t really justify the relations we come up with.  This leads to Error Theory denying that there can be any such relation to give the terms real meaning, and subjectivists arguing that that relation is purely subjective and personal, invented out of whole cloth and up to the relevant group to define.

So if Carrier’s representation of Wielenberg’s premise is correct, then Carrier is actually correct — for the wrong reasons — that Wielenberg is not really adding anything to the discussion of morality, because all he ends up doing is asserting that there is some kind of notion of justice and other moral terms that we can appeal to that somehow follows from people as people, but that’s pretty much just what everyone else is doing.  Like those atheists who try to go after “Something cannot come from nothing” by providing a something to replace the nothing, Wielenberg would be adding another potential thing to relate morality to but would need to justify that, just as people would have to if they appeal to God, or to evolution, or to the concept of morality, and so on and so forth.  The issue is not coming up with alternatives, it’s with justifying that alternative so that we’d all have to accept that, yes, justice exists and has the meaning and the relation that we are claiming it has.

Of course, Carrier doesn’t think that this is what Wielenberg is missing, and what he says about that relates directly to moral motivationalism:

What Moreland and Craig are asking is how it can be the case that justice is moral, as in is “good,” and “good” not trivially, but in a way that motivates our caring about it, and indeed not just caring about it, but wanting our actions to conform to it—and indeed, wanting that more than we want anything else, otherwise we’d just laugh “justice” off as a curious aesthetic and continue preferring other styles of being. Wielenberg never answers this question. It does not even appear anywhere in his article as if anyone has ever asked this question, least of all the superstitious Earthlings he thinks he is answering but isn’t. Yet that is most definitely exactly what they are asking. So his paper is a non-response to their point.

In the comments for the post, someone else calls out Carrier for this, noting that Craig lists three separate points and that what would motivate us to act morally is only one of them, and so they are concerned about other things as well.  In particular, they are interested in what I pointed out above:  how can we know and justify that moral terms really mean and that they have a meaning at all?  Carrier is aggressively dismissive of that, but that commenter is entirely correct that there are at least two different questions here, one about how to determine and justify objectively what those moral terms are, and one about what reason we have to actually act morally once we know what those terms are.

Now, there is a philosophical idea that links them, but it’s clearly not what Carrier is referring to here.  That theory is moral motivationalism, which I came across in a graduate course on morally-minded moral philosophy a while back.  The basic idea, as I understand it, is that for a morality to be valid it must in addition to being correct must also be motivating, such that it is expected that any agent capable of being moral will automatically be motivated by it.  If we can conceive of something that is capable of being a moral agent that is not motivated by that morality, either we haven’t come up with the right morality or else they have some kind of mental deficiency that means that, no, they actually aren’t really moral agents.  This, then, would justify Carrier’s assertion that a proper moral system must answer the question of why we should follow it.

Now, I reject moral motivationalism, and the reason I reject it is because it ends up defining most amoralities out of existence as a meaningful concept.  Moral motivationalism — and Carrier’s view — imply that once one proper understands what is or isn’t moral then they must be motivated by it, and if they aren’t either they don’t properly understand morality or they are being irrational.  However, it seems reasonable to imagine someone saying that they understand what morality is and what the consequences of morality are and yet they aren’t at all motivated to act morally, and we would consider such a person amoral.  In general, the case that immediately springs to mind in such cases is that they understand what morality would entail but that it goes against their own personal interest, so they decide that they’d rather abandon morality in favour of their baser interests.  Sure, we might think that their values are out of whack, but we couldn’t say that it must be the case that they don’t understand morality, or that they are acting irrationally and have some kind of strong mental deficiency.  The strong view of moral motivationalism leaves those as the only choices, which leaves out that kind of amorality, which seems too reasonable a concept to abandon so blithely.

Now, Carrier can do that, because by his view morality follows from our highest value and so they’d have to be assessing their own values and desires incorrectly, which would indicate that they are acting irrationally.  But note that this doesn’t follow from moral motivationalism, which makes it a defining trait of what it means for something to be moral.  Moral motivationalism is a conceptual theory, while Carrier’s is a practical one, mostly that no one will follow a morality that doesn’t motivate us or give us a reason to act on it.  The issue for Carrier, though, is that throughout his entire theory — and his idea of normativity wrt oughts — he seems to assume that we can’t change what we most value and thus most desire.  He uses this idea to conclude that the way to go is to determine what it is that we, as humans, most value and then derive what is moral from that.  But this violates what most distinguishes the normative from the descriptive in that normativity insists that you cannot get an ought from an is, so you cannot determine what we ought to most value from what we at least currently do most value.  Sure, the one thing that pretty much all humans value highly is our own practical self-interest, but that does not mean that that really is what we ought to most value.  It is indeed a valid criticism of someone to say that they need to value their own self-interest less and the self-interest of others more, and in fact this seems to be the prime function of morality.  It should come as no surprise, then, that with his approach Carrier ends up arguing that practical self-interest is what we most value and so he builds his view around that, with an enlightened self-interest that eschews simple brute approaches for a more nuanced approach, but ultimately at the end of the day it really does boil morality down to personal, pragmatic self-interest.

Now, Carrier could have a point here if he could argue — which he doesn’t — that we are incapable of changing that base thing that we value more than anything else (he presumes it but doesn’t argue for it).  But it does seem like we can indeed decide to value some sort of higher principle more than our simple self-interest.  Yes, achieving that higher goal might make us happier, but it makes us happier because we have achieved what we most value, not because we’ve achieved our higher value of being happy by achieving that goal.  So it does seem at least logically and even practically possible that someone could decide that their own self-interest is less important than morality, even if they can’t find a way to show that it would advance their own self-interest to do that.  So what Carrier ends up doing is reducing morality to pragmatics, but the most paradigmatic examples of morality are cases where practical self-interest must be sacrificed in the name of morality, and it does very much seem like this is the very thing that we want morality for, so we should be very suspicious about any attempt to reduce morality to self-interest.  Which is what atheists do a lot of the time when building their moral systems.

Carrier later summarizes a notion in Wielenberg about brute facts:

There is one maneuver in Wielenberg’s paper that might be conceptually useful, even though it trades on a falsehood, and doesn’t get us to what either his paper’s title or abstract promise: he makes a conditional argument of roughly the form, “If we accept theistic defenses of God as a brute fact, then we must accept my defense of moral facts as brute facts.” Wielenberg’s argument is then a fortiori: if God can be a brute fact, then it is even more likely moral facts can be brute facts, as they are far simpler in component structure (indeed, God becomes a useless epicycle: why do we need two brute facts, morality and a divine personality? If all we need is the one brute fact, what evidence remains that we have the other?). I don’t think either is likely to be a brute fact (their complexity is too great, thus requiring too improbable an existential coincidence to count on); and proposing they “are” brute facts still requires us to produce evidence that they even exist in the first place (and Wielenberg doesn’t really do that here, not in what I am pointing out is the required sense).

There are some issues here.  The first is that if we are talking about morality and moral facts, God as brute fact is a more credible ground for moral facts than making moral facts brute facts, because the latter is simply assuming the conclusion while the former is saying that if this entity exists then we can ground morality, and the discussion over whether the existence of God is a brute fact or not is separate from the direct discussion of moral facts.  After all, maybe it’s not the case that we need to accept the existence of God as a brute fact and can actually justify it.  Second, the issue for morality is that we want a justification for moral facts, and so subjectivists and Error Theorists won’t accept a statement that they are simply brute facts.  In fact, they will use that as an argument in favour of their positions, arguing that if the best we can do is make them brute facts then they aren’t objective facts at all.  While moral facts wouldn’t be brute facts if they are based on God — even if God’s existence must be set as a simple brute fact — we’d still want a justification for God’s existence before we’d accept an objective morality based on God.  And finally, those who argue that the existence of God is a brute fact in general don’t just assert it, but instead try to argue that the existence of God must be a brute fact because of the nature of God.  No such argument exists for moral facts, nor does it seem like such an argument can exist.  So this move simply doesn’t work from a philosophical perspective.

Carrier goes on to talk about how to ground moral facts, and he wants to ground them in physical facts, but his thought experiment is problematic because it seems to rely on a strict consequentialism that when we consider his thought experiment we are inclined to abandon:

One might ask whether it is moral for a sociopath who does not at all care about others “to torture the innocent just for fun” so long as they are always appropriately consenting adults. Yes, that sounds like some sort of moral Gettier Problem. But think about it. Do we mean to classify mere mental stances as moral or immoral? Or is that sociopath still “behaving morally”? The fact that you are asking that question would mean the question itself has quite a lot to do with what you care about. What is more important, that a sociopath think correctly, or that they always behave in ways you will not find alarming and a social problem to deal with? It’s difficult to intuitively answer that question because it is nigh impossible to decouple “thinking correctly” from “always behaving in correct ways.” Because the very reason you might give to be concerned about “thinking incorrectly” is simply that an incorrect mindset risks causing incorrect behavior; and we can’t really conceive of an incorrect mindset perfectly reliably producing nothing but correct behavior. That would require such an extraordinary set of coincidences as to not even contemplate as a possibility worth considering. Bad minds simply are dangerous because they cause bad behavior. That’s really the only rational reason to care about them. But that would leave bad behavior as the actual thing we have any ground to care about. And even when they are logically inseparable (e.g. you will adjudge pretending to love you as bad, therefore the goods of love can only exist for you with a good mindset in the one who loves you; they are effectively synonymous), we’re still talking about which natural facts we care about.

Which gets us to the physical sense in which Wielenberg’s statement is false. Imagine a world (and indeed, someday someone may even be able to produce and live in it, whether that’s a good idea or not) where “torturing the innocent just for fun” cures all diseases and disorders (mental and physical), up to and including restoring youth and fitness to the elderly, and where nothing else effects any such cure, and where anyone who isn’t ever tortured, rapidly ages and accumulates diseases and disorders endlessly until they become a gibbering, incompetent lunatic—who can be at once fully restored if someone tortures them just for fun. It’s hard to argue that in that universe it is “morally wrong to torture the innocent just for fun.” In that universe, to the contrary, it is arguably morally right to do so. All because we simply changed the physical facts. Which seems to indicate that moral facts are grounded in natural facts.

Okay. How might we push back on that? You could say that, well, the competent should still have to consent. But that won’t apply to those who have become so ailed they lack competence to consent. At that point, is it really more moral to let them die in gibbering madness than to torture them for fun and thereby cure them? We do, after all, deem it moral to perform painful and invasive procedures on children and the insane, when there is sufficient need to, such as to preserve their own life or limb. And in this bizarre alternative world, that’s basically what “torturing the innocent just for fun” simply does. So it seems evident that changing the natural facts, changes the moral facts. Or you might try to argue the world proposed is impossible, but I doubt it (once we have virtual worlds to play in, the “impossible” will have a lot less meaning), and in any case, all you are then arguing is still that the moral fact you insist upon derives from some physical fact (like, the intentions of the “torturer,” or the physical impossibility of “selfish intentions” ever being consistently aligned with “unselfish outcomes”). You thus have just grounded moral facts in natural facts again. You can’t escape this. No matter how you try to maneuver, all you end up doing is defending the same conclusion: moral facts are grounded in physical, hence natural facts.

Now, the main issue here is that we have to ensure that the sociopath is torturing the person just for fun but that the consequences are hugely beneficial.  In order to maintain, though, that the sociopath is torturing the person just for fun we need to accept that the main purpose of the sociopath is not to de-age that person, but instead is just for their own personal pleasure.  And that personal pleasure cannot be based on them feeling that they have done a good deed by de-aging that person, or else they’d be doing it to de-age them and not for fun.  And so the best way to describe the mental state of the sociopath here has to be that in that world it happens to be the case that torturing the person will have those good consequences, but the sociopath would still torture them if it didn’t, and in fact would torture them even if it aged them significantly.  So, ultimately, at a minimum they don’t care if it benefits their victim or not, and instead would do it no matter what the consequences to the victim were.

This is, at best, a strongly amoral stance.  And yet it is the stance that is required for the sociopath to really be doing it “just for fun”.  So we have an intuitive feeling when we shake out the thought experiment that the sociopath isn’t acting morally here.  The only way to oppose that is to argue that the consequences themselves are what determines whether or not it is moral, and so it doesn’t matter that the sociopath doesn’t care about the consequences, which is a very strong form of consequentialism.  But we reject that strong a notion, because it leads to ludicrous notions like someone who tries to poison someone and the result is that the poison cures a more fatal disease they had (that could be an episode of “House M.D.”!) is not someone who attempted murder but is instead a moral person, while someone who gave a person an antibiotic to cure their disease which ends up killing them because the disease they had was preventing a more serious condition (this actually was an episode of “House M.D.”) is, from the moral perspective, a murderer.  The only way to make Carrier’s argument work leaves those counter-intuitive cases open.

Hence, intentionalism, which is the idea that what matters most in determine if the action taken by someone is their intention when they did it as opposed to the strict consequences.  So if someone intended to poison someone to death but inadvertently lengthens their life, then they are still, at least, attempted murderers, and if someone is trying to cure someone and inadvertently cures them, then they are not murderers and did the morally correct thing.  People tend to argue against this by pointing to cases where someone does something that could put people’s lives at risk inconsiderately and ends up killing someone and noting that by this model since they didn’t intend to kill someone they couldn’t be considered to have done anything wrong, but in that case we can note that they did intend to be careless and inconsiderate and so we can easily say that they were negligent because their intention was, indeed, to be negligent in taking that action, while acknowledging that if they actually had checked everything they reasonably could they would have done nothing wrong.  And from this, we can conclude that since the sociopath would torture that person regardless of the consequences they are still acting at best amorally, which means that the change in the physical facts does not change the moral facts in that case, refuting Carrier’s point.

The thing is, this debate is misunderstanding morality in general.  I can never remember which way he stated it, but Bertrand Russell, I believe, divided the moral space up into two broad categories, one which defines the basic moral principles that we use to determine what is or isn’t moral in general and one which takes those principles and applies them to the world to determine what the moral thing to do is in specific cases.  Every single moral code worth talking about has this division between the conceptual principles of morality and the practical application of those principles to our everyday lives.  Yes, even Kant, as his principles are imperatives that we then apply.  While he is chided for making “Don’t lie” a universal principle, that’s actually an application of his imperatives, not a set rule.  As a logical conclusion, it’s not really amenable to being changed if the physical facts of the world change, but things that follow from “Treat people as ends in themselves and not merely as means” very much could be.  And, of course, Utilitarianism has “Maximize utility” as its conceptual principle that we have to work out specifically with every action we take.

No one, then, denies that the physical facts of the world will impact the practical application of moral principles.  If your base moral principle, for example, is “Reduce suffering” then obviously the practical application of that will depend greatly on what causes and doesn’t cause suffering.  But that principle itself won’t change if you change the physical facts about the world, at least not for most moral principles.  And any moral principles that would change risk being descriptive instead of normative as they would follow from “ises”, and moral principles need to be oughts and so need to be normative.  So to go down the route of arguing that moral facts follow from physical facts usually ends up arguing that moral principles follow from physical facts, which means they follow from “ises”, which means they aren’t normative.  So it’s not a move that anyone should want to make.

Ultimately, there are issues to consider here, but Carrier does not do it and it doesn’t seem like Wielenberg does it either.  The philosophical discussions of moral motivationalism and normativity are far more interesting and challenging than what we find here, which is why it was nice for me to be able to talk more about them while talking about this post of Carrier’s.

Thoughts on “Bag of Bones”

April 28, 2022

I had run a bit low on individual horror movies to watch but had a big stack of series to watch — which is why I watched the “Scream” series — and while I now have picked up a bunch of new individual movies I decided that I’d make an effort to get through all of the Stephen King inspired movies that I have.  The issue with them, of course, is that some of them are rather long, as they’re more TV miniseries than simple movies, which is why I put watching that on pause after watching “Stand By Me” about two and a half years ago.  I just didn’t have the time to watch the next movie, which was a two-part miniseries that thus was almost three hours long.  However, I found the time and made the effort to finally watch “Bag of Bones”.

The basic premise is this:  a popular writer is wrapping up his latest work, and he insists that he can only do it with his wife and always gets her to write the last line.  She’s also been doing some work on an inherited home he has that he doesn’t care as much for as she does.  At any rate, she dies in an accident which, obviously, devastates him.  He also discovers after that that she was pregnant, despite the fact that he has a low-sperm count and so it is unlikely that it is his.  Thus, he suspects that he was cheating on her.  He also seems to feel her presence and feels that she is talking to him through the phone ringing, and he starts asking her questions with the code of “once for yes, twice for no”.  He eventually decides to go to the town and find out what happened, and meets a young woman with a young child that he is interested in — and feels that he was guided to in some sense by his wife — but it turns out that the town hides a dark secret that is directly related to his family, as a group of long-term and respected members of the town have killed their daughters by drowning them when they were children, and there seems to be some kind of vengeful spirit who disturbs him and smashes things up.

The big flaw in this movie is that what is actually happening isn’t established until fairly late.  While we get hints through the music and some minor scenes we don’t know that the spirit is even a jazz singer until into we are into the second part, and so don’t get any real hints about what is or might be going on until then.  That’s over an hour and a half into the work, which is far too long to go without getting hints as to what the real story is.  Before that, all we have is the wife’s death and the wife’s cheating storyline, and there isn’t enough mystery in what she was doing to carry the suspense and horror for that long.  Things happen, but we don’t know how it all fits together until later, but the movie doesn’t really do anything to make us curious about what is going on.  Which means that what has to carry us through are the performances, and Pierce Brosnan does a good job with his role, but it’s only enough to keep the movie from being boring, not enough to make it interesting.

This is only made worse by the fact that they don’t use the “once for yes, twice for no” mechanism all that well.  For every question that he asks her, she answers “Yes”, which means that we and he can have no idea if that mechanism is there or understood or even works.  What could have been done was that earlier when he mentioned that he was going back to the town she could have, after he left the room, rang twice for “No”, indicating that the mechanism did work and that there was something dangerous in the town.  Once he went there, she could then have decided to take the opportunity to get him to solve the mystery and end the curse, with the “No” being a momentary weakness in fear of his being lost like the others.  This would have added to the suspense as we would have had a clear indication from the beginning that things definitely weren’t right and safe there and so we’d spend more time wondering what that is.

The situation and curse itself is a bit flawed, at least in the movie.  It turns out that his grandfather and some friends — with the wealthiest guy in town being the ringleader — raped a black jazz singer and then when her daughter saw it happen murdered them both, drowning the little girl.  Before she was murdered but after her daughter was, the singer cursed them and their descendants to experience the same thing she did and so to murder their own daughters.  This has carried on through a couple of generations, but he escaped it because he couldn’t have children.  But on returning to the town he meets the daughter-in-law and granddaughter of the wealthy man, who is trying to take custody of the little girl after his son died, and it turns out that the daughter-in-law killed him when he was trying to kill the little girl.  The wealthy man seemingly wants to kill the little girl as well, and then ends up trying to make him responsible for the little girl so that he would kill the little girl.  He resists and sets out to end the curse, and with his wife’s help finds and dissolves the bodies with lyme, ending the curse.  The wealthy man killed himself earlier for … some reason, and his dedicated servant and likely lover then also tries to kill the little girl, but the writer kills her and pretty much adopts the child — the wealthy man had the daughter-in-law killed to seemingly facilitate the writer taking responsibility and killing her — and so we think that they’re home and free although that they are going for a boat ride might hint that it’s not over.

The first problem with this is that given the backstory resolving the curse by destroying the bodies of the singer and the little girl seems a bit mean.  They were murdered and buried in a way so that they simply disappeared so that no one would remember them, and instead of discovering them, have them be buried and recognized in death and having the crimes committed against them brought to light the main characters instead make it so that no one could ever know what happened to them or give them a proper burial.  This is something that you do to an enemy horror villain, not a sympathetic one like the singer and her daughter.  Yes, the curse was horrific and in the case of the descendants unjust, but their story is sympathetic enough that we really want to see her redeemed by understanding that she’s doing the same horrific and unjust thing to the other little girls instead of having to “defeat” her.

The second problem with it is that the wealthy man is far too much of a designated villain to work, as we don’t really understand why in the world he’s so obsessed with killing off the little girl, even to the point of trying to arrange it so that the writer does it.  If the curse was set-up so that the family of each of the original culprits had to kill one daughter to end it, then it all could have been an attempt to get him back to do his part and end the curse, which would explain most of what happened.  Then it would make sense for him to do what he did, and the killing of the daughter could even have been a last minute move when he sees the opportunity to end the curse, adding something to the simple custody battle that it started with.  As for why his own son would have tried to kill his daughter, the curse could have been that they were doomed to do that through the generations until there was one from each line, and again his family had avoided it and so the curse couldn’t end.  Then when he ends it another way the difference is in how it’s ended, and not just that it’s ended, making a point about morality and ends and means.

The other issue is that the final attempt to kill the girl by the servant/lover is pointless and adds nothing to it.  The movie was already long at that point and adding that irrelevant scene does not help.

The usual issue with Stephen King adaptations is that they’re too short to do what they need to do to make this work, as King tends to add a lot of internal thoughts and the like which makes things more interesting but can’t be done well in a movie.  Length is not the problem here, but the fact that there really isn’t enough plot to fill out three hours is an issue.  That’s why very little happens in the first part and we only start to find out what’s going on in the second part.  Now, it might be the case that that’s all the plot in the novel, but as noted above King’s plots can be a bit thin because of the additional things he adds to the work that keep the reader’s interest that don’t translate well to a movie.  Here, there is little of those additional character- and setting-building elements but the plot is not fleshed out to account for that and the long running time.  So, again, not much happens which leaves only the performances to focus on.

And the performances are good, but only good enough to make it tolerable, not interesting.  As such, this is something that I might watch again at some point but am not likely to rewatch any time soon.

Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 3)

April 27, 2022

While it may be a bit odd to say this about a season where one character develops a serious drinking problem, my overall impression of Season 3 is that it’s a season where nothing much important or momentous happens, and so its plots return to what one would expect from a family drama.

More on that later, but let me start with what is probably the most momentous plot of the season, which also paves the way for Kirsten to exit the series.  After getting back together at the end of Season 2, they settle into a more “living together” type of situation as Kirsten starts to put together her post-academic career, and ends up getting a really great job … that requires her to work a fair commute away from the house, which means that she’s away from home a lot, which Charlie doesn’t like.  The conflict over this lasts one episode before the really big issue is raised:  Kirsten is accused of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis and falls into a deep depression, so much so that she doesn’t even defend herself at the hearing.  It turns out that that happened after the failed wedding and she was clinically depressed, and Charlie pushes her to mention that to maybe get a break, but as already noted she refuses, and loses her degree and that great job, and falls deeper into depression.

There are a couple of things to talk about here, but let me start with the more minor one.  Academics is another thing that I’m not-so-casual about, and I find the whole plagiarism story line a bit odd and confusing.  When she’s confronted about it, it seems like she copied without proper citation about a page and a half of text, which it is later stated is a specific study.  Well, a page and a half isn’t exactly a lot of text in a doctoral thesis which is much, much longer than that, so that she might have forgotten to cite that, as she herself noted, wouldn’t seem to demand that it be invalidated.  So it would have to have been something really important, and so fundamental to the thesis itself, so either it was essentially the theory she had that she was talking about or a critical study that proved her case correct.  Essentially, it would have to be more than that she copied some text without citation, but instead something that cast doubt that she actually did the work necessary for the thesis.  But we know that she did the work and if the thesis was copied someone would have caught it before it was shown to some random person.  Now, again, plagiarism is a big deal in academics and so perhaps it would be the case that any such thing in a doctoral thesis would garner the same response, but as someone who has done academics a bit more than the average person if I’m puzzled by it I think most of the audience will be puzzled by it as well.  It just doesn’t seem to be a big enough deal to garner that sort of response.

The other issue is that this all comes completely out of nowhere.  There’s no hint that this was coming or that Kirsten was indeed that depressed at that point.  So this is another example of the show reaching for drama! as they seem to need to break Kirsten and Charlie up and want to do that with a complex and dramatic depression story line and will bend the rules of the universe to make that work.  After all, this move completely invalidates the issue they set up with Charlie not being happy about her wonderful new job and all of the problems it caused due to the distance it was from the house.  They moved her into an apartment there so that she could stay for three days a week and then have to move her back afterwards.  So it’s a sharp shift in direction that seems to be done just for drama, when the original case had more than enough dramatic tension to work as a plot.

At any rate, Kirsten falls into a full-on depression again, and nothing can snap her out of it.  Claudia eventually calls her parents, who helped her through the last one but whom Kirsten did not want called because they are, rightly, very unhappy with Charlie, and so they come out and do what they both feared:  take Kirsten away back home.  They don’t keep Charlie informed about how things are going, but eventually Charlie goes out there and finds out that she’s a lot better, and she convinces him to simply leave and go back to San Francisco together … but then she falls into a depression again and concludes that the problem is him, that being with him reminds her of the wedding issues and makes her fall back into the old patterns … which in hindsight doesn’t make a lot of sense since having her entire academic world destroyed was probably more responsible for her later depression, but that’s what they go with.  Anyway, he leaves and it seems that it is finally over, but Charlie being Charlie he’s not alone for long as he ends up taking up with Grace, someone from the local homeless shelter and food drive who almost ruins his life when he doesn’t want to sign up for the food program — she accuses him of being a privileged white guy in the paper — but then falls in love with him.

I didn’t care much for the Grace plot, which runs off-and-on for the rest of the season.  It doesn’t help that the relationship started before he broke things off with Kirsten — this is the traditional way relationships work in this family, as Bailey does that with Callie and Julia does the serial version in this season — but there was an interesting sideline where he really wanted a friend instead, which is rare for him.  But it doesn’t take long for him to upgrade the relationship to a romantic one once things end with Kirsten, another example where an interesting thread was introduced and then dropped for another, more dramatic! one.  Then, with good reason, Claudia and Julia are not happy with her replacing Kirsten, especially since it wasn’t all that long after things ended with Kirsten.  But then this isn’t followed up on and instead they end up with her running for city councilor, which Charlie opposes at first but then in the next episode is very supportive of, even doing her campaigning better than she did.  This could have been the set-up for him replacing her as the candidate, but again any idea with that is quickly dropped and the idea that she doesn’t want to have kids is raised, but she finds out that Kirsten couldn’t have kids and so wonders what the difference is other than it being a choice.  Well, we know what the issue is:  Kirsten really wanted kids and Grace doesn’t, and that might cause issues considering that Charlie already has kids.  And so they raise the “doesn’t get along with Claudia and Owen” angle again, despite the fact that the only evidence at this time was that she didn’t want to spend time or pay attention to them while busy with the campaign, which is pretty reasonable.  I think they needed to lean in to the statements she made about the kids being his and being dumbfounded that he would give up a relationship that he wanted for the kids when he retorts that that’s what it means to be a parent.  The idea that she didn’t want the kids to be hers and would always consider them his kids that she was tolerating would be more than sufficient reason for Charlie to note that he really needs someone who was going to be more involved, especially since Owen was just turning four and was going to be looking for someone who didn’t treat him like someone else’s kid that she was looking after at times.

Anyway, this leads to one of the big issues with the season:  the show seems to set up a number of little plots that it then quickly drops to focus on something else.  We start with Kirsten’s job and the tension that might cause but then abandon it completely in favour of the plagiarism plot.  As just noted, that happens a couple of times in Grace’s plot.  After Bailey appeals to Sara to help him get sober, she gets a boyfriend to scupper any potential resumption of the relationship with Bailey for two whole episodes before she dumps him but still tells Bailey she doesn’t want to get back together, which could have happened those two episodes ago and avoided introducing that character.  Julia gets a case where she wants to go to Europe with Justin which causes a problem with her latest boyfriend but that gets ditched in favour of her trying to do fun things and be free when her boyfriend finally discovers responsibility and buys into a motorcycle repair shop.  Claudia meets with the guy who played with her mother and he offers to get her into his conservatory, which Charlie scuppers, and then that’s never really brought up again.  There’s also a potential connection with his son that is dropped.  And so on and so forth.  It almost seems like they try to generate a whole bunch of threads that they could run with which they drop if they come up with something better, which usually means more dramatic!.  This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the threads they generate are too obviously such sorts of threads and so aren’t something that they could develop if they want to but that the audience will forget about once replaced by something else.  There are also so many of them that it becomes a bit ridiculous.  Also, the other threads might have been more interesting but the ones that they are replaced with only have the virtue of at least seeming more dramatic, but I can’t help but feel that some of the other threads would have worked better, or that at least jumping to them would have saved some time that could have been used on other plots.

I think that’s the issue that I’m having that makes me feel like little of importance happened.  Yes, the plots were dramatic, but for the most part they don’t really let us learn anything about new about the characters nor does it seem like it’s going to be the impetus for them to make major changes in their characters.  Sure, it’s dramatic for Bailey to become an alcoholic, but all that plot will do is try to return him to the person he was, and the reason he gives for becoming that is the one that he already complained about before.  How Charlie loses Kirsten isn’t going to change his outlook on life, and what makes him dump Grace is a lesson he should and likely did learn a long time ago.  And so on.  They’re dramatic, but don’t really add to the characters in any way.

What I think the show likely got props for and deserves props for is that unlike other family dramas it doesn’t take these dramatic situations and settle them simply in one episode, but both extends the plots to show the lead-up and the aftermath, but also references the issues later and has it cause issues later.  Julia’s pregnancy, for example, was “resolved” with a convenient miscarriage, but it has consequences for the rest of the season and pops up here as well, as well as having an impact on Bailey and Sara (as they were just going to have sex when her getting pregnant scared them out of it).  As noted, Kirsten’s depression is not a one-and-done thing and ultimately that she would not escape that depression ends the relationship with Charlie.  For Bailey, Claudia finds out that her father was an alcoholic as well and that her mother threatened to leave him if he didn’t quit, and so tries to do the same thing to Bailey.  In an ordinary family drama, this would work, but here it doesn’t and it takes him hurting Sara in a car accident to get him to seek help.  They don’t make these sorts of conditions trivial or easily solved, and they have ripples that carry over to the next episodes.

A couple of minor issues.  The first is that Claudia gets little focus or plots in this season, but ends up having an incredibly bad year, watching the family fall apart and argue with each other, her favourite sibling fall into alcoholism, being left to manage the house and then getting yelled at when she makes mistakes when she shouldn’t have been doing that alone anyway, and having a great opportunity taken away from her for what even to the audience seem like terrible reasons.  Lacey Chabert does a great job playing the character that all of these things are happening to, but I really wish the season had done more with the character than try to find ways to make her miserable.

The second is how terribly the character of Libby was treated.  She started out in the pilot as Julia’s friend, but was dropped because she admittedly would not have fit well with the “wild” Julia that was developing there.  She’s then brought back to be a minor rival for love interest Justin who gets horribly dumped soon afterwards.  We don’t hear from her again until her last episode, where she gets one line to show that she’s a bit ambivalent about being accepted to Harvard and then kills herself from the pressure of that, an event that does nothing more than prompt Julia to not go to college, at least right away.  She exists only to provide plot elements for Julia, and nothing else, which I find very disappointing given that I liked the character.

For all of my complaints, the show is still entertaining enough that I’m not regretting watching it.  I feel that this season isn’t as good as the other two but that probably follows from the fact that it doesn’t have as momentous — for the characters — plots as the other two and so is more in line with what you’d see in most other family dramas.  Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it is a bit of a let down from what happened before.  I also like a number of the performances, especially Lacey Chabert’s, and Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Sara can be interesting when she comes across as being nice and less as being forceful.  Still, this is definitely heading for the box of shows that I might watch again at some point.

Out of Practice

April 26, 2022

While musing about which games I was going to play after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I started thinking about a big difference between the games I played when I was younger and the games I play now.  Most of the games I played back then were games that I had to in some sense practice in order to play well.  The one that most reminded me of that was my recalling an attempt to play a quick game of “Defender of the Crown” and then recalling that I’d have to learn the mechanisms again, such as learning how to use the catapult to knock down walls, or learn the jousting mechanism again, or learn the fencing mechanism again for raids and to rescue the fair maidens (and actually get a bride with I couldn’t with the C64 version which had a bug in that scene that crashed the game when you did that).  I also remembered that I really love “Pirates!” but then recalled that in order to do well with it I would have to learn the sword fighting game and the ship combat system again.

Now, in my younger days I was really, really good at these mechanisms.  I was good enough at jousting that I could eliminate most of my competitors’ lands just by jousting them for land.  The catapult part was automatic:  three rocks and then three Greek fires and then attack.  In “Pirates!”, I was so good at swordplay that I could attack when greatly outnumbered and win just by beating the enemy captain, and only remember one case where that failed when the numbers were hugely against me … and I almost won that one, too.  So at the time I was indeed able to play and practice enough to get good at these mechanisms, and in fact not only good but exceptionally good.

But when I think about the games I play now, I don’t think I play any games where that is required, and the necessity to practice mechanisms seems to turn me off of playing those old games.  Sure, there’s learning that I had to do, at least, in playing the Persona games, but that’s about strategizing, not about practicing to get the right muscle memory.  Dragon Age and Mass Effect are games with more real-time combat systems but I’m not in any way mastering it and am still mostly in button-mashing mode with the strategic activation of abilities, and I gripe about the real-time systems in both of them.  I’ve gravitated away from sports games and more action-oriented games to games where strategy is more important than actual reflexes, and when I consider playing sports games or other games like that I don’t feel that I have the patience to take the time to learn those mechanisms, which is why I prefer playing sports games on a difficulty that’s too easy for me than go up another level and have to learn or relearn the mechanisms to get good at that level.

There are a couple of games where I still have to do that, specifically “Pinball Arcade” and “Everybody’s Golf”.  However, both of those games either start easily enough or have enough easy tables that I can for the most part start out doing well enough that it doesn’t bore me and so I can develop as I go along.  Since there were other elements in games like “Pirates!” and “Defender of the Crown”, I guess that might have been the case there as well:  while learning the strategy of those two games I was able to do just well enough to not get frustrated at my constant failures and keep playing for fun until I was able to master the mechanisms.  So perhaps my fears are a bit overblown, and are fostered not by not being able to do well enough to have fun, but instead by not being able to do as well as I remember myself doing and not wanting to take the time to get back to my practiced level, since time in general and game-playing time specifically is too precious for me to try that.  However, I still do have an aversion to games that require practice to master their mechanisms to make progress.  So I suppose I definitely should stay away from “Dark Souls” …

Could the Baroness be Redeemed?

April 25, 2022

So after re-watching “Transformers” while working, I decided to re-watch “G.I. Joe” while working, and even though I was only half-paying attention to it I started musing about a point in it like I did for Starscream while half-watching “Transformers”.  This time, I mused about whether the Baroness could be redeemed, in the sense of whether she could legitimately turn to the good side and even join the Joes.

Now, I’ve watched the live-action movie, and in that one the Baroness character actually does seem to be redeemed.  However, that mostly follows on from her being in love with Duke and, for the most part, only joining Cobra out of bitterness and a desire for vengeance (with perhaps a bit of brainwashing, if I recall correctly).  So when the issue with Duke is resolved and her bitterness goes away, she’s open to essentially returning to the side of good and falling back into a loving relationship with Duke.  She might never really be able to join the Joes, but she’s not going to be a bad person and is going to revert to her all-American girl persona.

Of course, I commented that I didn’t like that approach because it didn’t feel like Baroness, so I don’t think that the cartoon Baroness will be able to use that route.  However, the love angle is actually more in line with the cartoon than I originally would have thought, because a major point of the character was her love interests and the fact that she was, in general, pretty loyal to them.  She’s pretty much in a relationship with Destro and they seem to be, for the most part, fairly dedicated to each other, and she rarely works against him unless he’s disrespecting her.  There’s even one episode where she gets the ability to control the minds of people and when she feels free to get them to add someone else to hail instead of Cobra Commander she doesn’t make them hail her, but instead hail her and Destro.  In another episode, in another reality she actually fell in love with someone from G.I. Joe and leads the resistance to Cobra in that world where Cobra dominates and the Joe she was in love with had died.  So it’s possible that she could be redeemed by falling in love with the right person, at which point she’d be pretty loyal to them and be willing to work for their causes instead of evil causes.

Another point in her favour is that she doesn’t seem to have the world-conquering motivations of Cobra Commander and even Destro (at times).  She rarely puts plots in place where she ends up in charge and in general doesn’t work against the plots of the others to take over, even when given the opportunity to.  The only time she really seems to do things like that is, again, when she’s disrespected by the others and so essentially takes charge to put them in their place, or else when she stumbles across something that can rule the world but that only she can use.  For the most part, Cobra Commander can trust her to get her hands on elements of power and give them to him or use them to further his plans instead of striking out on her own.  She seems, then, to want little more than to get access to the power that comes from the group she’s associated with and being in a position of power in that group without feeling that she needs to run that entire group.

But that’s the first strike against her:  Baroness is, for the most part, incredibly self-centered.  She seems to care about herself and what she wants and getting what she wants and not being at all concerned about what it takes to get it.  For the most part, then, she’s probably more amoral than out-and-out evil, although she does seem to enjoy hurting others a bit more than would normally work with simple amorality.  The Joes couldn’t offer her the material gains that she enjoys, and so Cobra would always have an advantage there, at least.  So she would indeed need something like a love interest to make her feel either that she could sacrifice those advantages or rely on what she could generate herself.

The other issue, though, is that she’s also very prideful and also very arrogant.  As noted above, pretty much the only time she works against Cobra Commander or Destro is when they disrespect her, and Destro notes in another episode that she has the most finely honed sense of vengeance that he’s ever seen.  So if she came over the Joes, she’d need to have at least the same authority as she had with Cobra, and even if they did trust her the Joes don’t quite work the same way and so they have to work more directly as a team where it’s not as easy for her to simply order people around or blame her subordinates for their failures.  It’s not a surprise that in the alternate reality she’s not a part of G.I. Joe, but is the head of her own resistance group.  While she doesn’t have to be in charge, she needs to be high enough in the hierarchy to fit her exalted self-image and will react poorly to any disrespect or challenge to her authority.  The G.I. Joe team doesn’t work well with that sort of attitude.

So her amorality means that she will never join the Joes out of a sense of altruism or because she shares their ideals, and her pride will not allow her to accept an overly subordinate position.  She could join the Joes for the love of the right man, but it would be an immense struggle even with that.

Adam Lee on Basic Income

April 22, 2022

The idea of a “basic income” has become popular over the past few years.  The general idea is that the government would pay everyone a basic income — which I guess would preferably be what is considered minimum wage and more likely be a living wage — so that everyone could get their needs met without having to work for it, and then working would be only to provide wants and luxuries or for personal fulfillment.  The best arguments for it are that we could eliminate pretty much all other social programs and so it would save money and ensure that people who are unfortunate don’t starve or are left homeless, and the arguments that I, at least, am most skeptical of are ones that say that it would allow people to choose what they work at and so have more personal fulfillment in their lives.  In general, I’m a bit skeptical of the idea, since being guaranteed a living is definitely something that we are not used to and so it is likely to change society in major ways, ways that I’m not sure will be desirable.

However, Adam Lee is a big proponent of it, and over at his blog at Only Sky he has a post — that was featured for a while — promoting it.  I find a few points in it a bit suspicious, and want to talk about them as well as the idea in general.

Lee starts with working out the numbers, but immediately he starts running into issues where he doesn’t really grasp how the numbers really work out in the world, which is an issue because his main point is that from a practical, real-world perspective this will work:

But if we divided GWP evenly into population—i.e., if the world’s economic output were distributed evenly to every human being—it yields an annual income of $11,000. This world of Gini coefficient zero is an unrealistic hypothetical, like frictionless spheres in a vacuum, but it gives a sense of where the limits are.

For most of us in the West, this would be a severe demotion: $11,000 is below the poverty level, even if you assume people would partner off and form families to share that income.

But for billions of people, this would be an enormous increase. 85% of humanity survives on $30 per day or less. For these aspiring billions, human beings with the same dreams and aspirations as Westerners, that income would bring them from subsistence to stability, even to comfort.

You know, until I did the math, I had a different objection to this.  But then I wanted to work it out for the comparison, and since it doesn’t only include days of work — or, at least, it doesn’t seem to — I worked it out simply by taking $30 X 365 days and got … $10,950.  So, uh, giving them $11,000 a year wouldn’t “bring them from subsistence to stability, or even comfort”.  It would leave them at the poverty line.  They would be, at best, subsisting if that was the only income they had.  Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because that link there was for determining what the global line of poverty should be, and the original reference was the level that was considered poverty level in Denmark.  In those parts of the world that are not Western nations — and if you read the original post he is clearly making the distinction at this point, because it’s only later that he talks about poor people in Western nations — this wouldn’t necessarily apply, for the reason that I was originally going to take him to task.

That reason is that when you’re calculating this, you need to consider more than just the total income.  You need to consider cost of living as well.  In poorer non-Western nations, it’s entirely possible that $30 a day would indeed allow them to live comfortably.  They might even be considered rich in those countries.  The cost of what you need to purchase determines how comfortable you would be given a specific income, and that cost of living is indeed actually related to incomes in that area.  If most people, say, made $5000 a year, then prices in that area would be tied and in some sense normalized to that income.  After all, if they weren’t then people who were renting apartments and selling both necessities and luxuries wouldn’t be able to sell anything.  So, for the most part, prices will converge around average salaries, and so someone making twice that would indeed be wealthy.  The issue in most Western cities is that the average salary or, at least, the salary that most renters and sellers can rely on is quite a bit higher than that $11,000, and so there’s no incentive for them to lower their prices.  Yes, they won’t get the business of those at the bottom of the income scale, but they can make sufficient profits without them.

This, then, also carries over to areas inside a country.  The cost of living in Toronto, say, is quite a bit higher than it is in Ottawa for most things (one reason for me to stay in the latter instead of taking a job in the former) which is a bit higher than it is in the rural area where I grew up.  Housing prices are the biggest example of that disparity, and some things that benefit from a bigger market might be cheaper, but in general that’s how it works.  So you might be able to live pretty comfortably in a rural area for $11,000, but you aren’t going to be able to live at all comfortably on that in a bustling metropolis area.  And a basic income needs to be able to provide for basic needs.  If it doesn’t, then it’s pretty much useless.

So Lee actually messes up the original calculation, but he will have more fun with numbers later.  But first, he’s going to try to prove that it’s Western lifestyles that are the problem:

If you start with the stereotypical Western lifestyle—a large private house, travel by personal auto or airplane, a diet heavy in meat—and try to fit it into $11,000 a year, it seems like serious deprivation. Then again, that lifestyle contains many luxuries which aren’t necessary for a good life. It’s perfectly possible to live happily and comfortably without them. Mr. Money Mustache raised a family on less than $30,000 a year, relying on strategic frugality and a DIY ethos rather than asceticism or deprivation.

So, let me work it out in previous terms.  I, a single bachelor, had as my first apartment a basement bachelor apartment, that cost me $500 a month.  So housing was $6000 a year, which is already over half of what I would be getting.  I also had to pay for electricity and food and all other necessities, so let’s simply ballpark that at $200 a month, for another $2400, which leaves me $2400 a year for everything else I’d need, including transportation.  That would be running me pretty close to the line, but it looks like I might be able to squeeze that in.  Unfortunately, that was 20 years ago.  Apartment prices have gone up quite a bit, and my understanding is that a similar unit to mine is probably at least $1000 a month, which would take over the entire amount Lee suggests everyone be given.  So unless Lee is going to adjust all the prices, it won’t be enough … and again that’s with a system where I deliberately didn’t include a private vehicle — I did have one at the time — or traveling by plane — which I never did — or living in a large private house.  It also wouldn’t leave much if any room for saving for emergencies or for investments, and note that one of the reasons that Mr. Money Mustache could do what he did is that he saved and invested and so had some income there and some savings he could fall back on, which few people starting out can say.  And you can’t say that people would have savings from childhood because even by Lee’s plan that’s probably going to have to be used to, well, support the family, as a family of three under Lee’s plan would make $33,000 which is pretty much the $30,000 that Lee references above.

So, at $11,000, everyone is going to need some kind of job to make money for luxuries like even cable television.  And that doesn’t count that the Internet now might be a necessity.  Also, Lee chides for some odd reason “a diet heavy in meat” despite it being the case that most people who need to, at least, already economize on that and the big expense is fresh fruit and vegetables, which is more what people skip.  Lee here really seems to want to attack the lifestyle instead of making his case.

Which is where we get into more fun with numbers.  Lee got that $11,000 number from this:

In 2021, the world’s population was 7.9 billion people. Over the same time period, the gross world product (GWP)—the sum total of all human economic activity—was around $87 trillion.

This figure encompasses vast inequality, everyone from yacht-owning billionaires to slum-dwelling sweatshop laborers to rural subsistence farmers. But if we divided GWP evenly into population—i.e., if the world’s economic output were distributed evenly to every human being—it yields an annual income of $11,000.

But then he tries to talk about how cheap it would be to get everyone out of poverty, and gives us more numbers:

Best of all, it would be cheap. A relatively small amount of money could make a huge difference in the lives of the poorest. By one estimate, a mere $66 billion—just half of what the world spends on foreign aid already—would eliminate extreme poverty worldwide, if given as direct cash transfers.

Another line of evidence is the expanded child tax credit passed in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. It was a short-lived benefit, since Congress shamefully allowed it to expire. But while it was in effect, it reduced the child poverty rate in the U.S. by almost one-third. It kept 3.7 million children out of poverty. Survey data shows that 91% of beneficiaries spent the money on basic needs like food, clothing, rent and school supplies.

An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that keeping the more generous child tax credit would cost $225 billion per year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s only 1% of U.S. GDP. Clearly, that’s a cost that we could sustain if we chose to. As the price for making sure children have enough to eat and a roof over their head, it sounds like an outright bargain.

So, since $66 billion and $225 billion are quite a bit less than $87 trillion, clearly Lee is not proposing giving $11,000 to each person in the world, which he is fairly clear isn’t possible anyway.  But then we are left wondering what he is proposing that would cost so much less and yet would elevate everyone out of poverty.  It’s certainly not a basic income as he just talked about and said was the thing that would solve it.  So, then, what, in detail, is he proposing?  The two ideas seem to appeal either to foreign aid or to a specific tax credit in one country, but both of those rely on giving money to people who do not have enough by using the tax dollars of those who do.  Yes, we can have some sympathy and be willing to give money to those who don’t, but that’s not at all what a basic income would be, and is far closer to, well, existing social assistance than it is to a basic income.  And in those cases we all do seem to want this to be temporary, hoping that the unfortunate circumstances that landed them in that predicament will be relieved and this will tide them over until it does.  Lee wants to simply give them money but at least in his post gives us no solution so that we will eventually be able to stop doing that, and in fact a basic income system is one that repudiates ever doing that.  So how are those systems going to work in the basic income model that he is actually supposed to be advocating for?

He then talks about other things that we produce more than enough for all:

When you look for it, you see this pattern over and over. The world’s farmers grow enough food to feed 10 billion people, 1.5 times the current population, even without accounting for how much food goes to waste. Global energy production, if it could be redistributed equitably, is more than enough for everyone’s needs. In the U.S., there are more empty houses than homeless people. We make so many clothes that some places burn them for fuel.

All these lines of evidence converge on one insight: there’s enough for everyone. No human being needs to go without the necessities of life.

The problem is that these cases are not true, or at least not in the way Lee needs them to.  One of the issues with food is that where it is produced is not always where it is needed, and it costs a lot to move it around and preserve it until it makes it there.  We might be able to do it, but it would cost a lot, which would take away that money that Lee wants to just give people.  Giving everyone in the world that amount of money is not going to make it so that they can afford to pay to get that food distributed.  So that’s at least not as easily workable as Lee insists.  For energy, of course, we can’t distribute it that evenly.  It’s just impossible with the technology we have, so we would need to add generation, not simply shuffle it around.  And that housing number is for New York and is misleading, because some of them were being renovated and some of them were units that were either being held or would have been rented by someone else later (it was a snapshot).  And since most of those were luxury apartments, Lee would have to advocate that homeless people be simply given those luxury apartments, or that we shuffle everyone around to get people who can afford it in.  You can argue that we shouldn’t have them at all, but then if we didn’t then there might not even be those housing units, which wouldn’t solve the problem.  And from his own article the clothes that were destroyed were mold or lead infested, and since outside of things like that clothes can last for a while it is entirely possible that they would have been sold already, so again it’s not that clear that we really do produce that much more.  So it’s not as simple to say that there’s enough for everyone as Lee seems to think.

Especially when he adds things that require money and not just production:

If we wanted to, we could feed everyone, clothe everyone, house everyone, ensure that everyone has health care and education.

Anyway, after this he tries to look at whether this is fair, which is one of the main objections to it, which is the main point I wanted to talk about:

Now, you can imagine arguments against this. One common objection is that it encourages laziness and selfishness. Those who make this argument say that if the necessities of life are given away for free, some people will choose to stop working and others will have to pick up their slack. They fear that we’ll end up with the productive supporting the unproductive.

Note, however, that this is a moral objection rather than a purely economic one. It may offend our intuitions of fairness if some people slack off at the expense of others, but it doesn’t threaten to undermine civilization. There are already tens of millions of people who don’t work, whether from age, disability or choice, and that hasn’t caused a collapse. If you believe that people should be forced to work, have the honesty to say that it’s a preference—not a necessity.

Okay, first, since when has Lee been so egregiously unconcerned about morality?  His argument here is basically “Well, yeah, it might be immoral but I don’t want to think about that so let’s just say that it’s practical and figure out the morality later”, which is a sharp contrast to most of his other posts, where morality is to be privileged and pragmatics be damned.  So that he’s so willing to abandon any discussion of morality seems to indicate that he, at least, doesn’t want to talk about that.  Second, he dismisses what he himself considers to be a moral argument as a mere preference, which is again in sharp contrast to how he normally thinks of morality.  Third, he moves from the argument about people slacking off at the expense of others to without any argument calling it a belief that people should be forced to work, which is a rather unfair and manipulative move.

But the biggest problem from a moral perspective — there’s actually a practical problem that I’ll look at in a minute — is that for Lee the idea that we could blithely accept people slacking off and relying on others to support them is completely opposed to the foundation of his own moral system.  Lee relies heavily on justifying morality on the basis of Game Theory and avoiding the “Tragedy of the Commons”, but those are systems that rely heavily on avoiding and producing strong consequences for “freeloading”, which is pretty much defined as “slacking off at the expense of others”.  By Lee’s own arguments, we have thousands of years of an evolutionary imperative to do whatever we can to ensure that people don’t do that, which Lee thinks we can just dismiss because pragmatically we could.  And since his own morality, as noted above, is based on this idea, avoiding “Tragedies of the Commons” and freeloading in general.  We all agree to play by the rules and so adopt a sense of fairness to avoid the disastrous consequences of everyone trying to get ahead at the expense of others.  So Lee, here, is suggesting a solution that violates his entire moral system.  No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about morality here.

But this leads to the pragmatic problem that Lee ignores:  how can he actually avoid a “Tragedy of the Commons” here?  In order for his system to work, he needs it to be the case that more people produce than choose to not work, so that there can be enough production to cover those who drop out.  But if we assume that everyone will have similar reasons to work or not work, then how can he guarantee that?  What happens if those who have the potential to be the most productive drop out and only those who don’t stay in?  Or, more likely, what if people all choose what they do based on what they most want to do rather than what they are best suited for?  Taking myself as an example, I ended up as a software designer and not as a writer or lecturer because I was good with computers and at least with English but I needed a degree that I could get a job with and so went into Computer Science instead of English.  If I had that guaranteed wage, then I could have gone into an Arts degree … or even became a professional student.  While I might have enjoyed that, it wouldn’t have been as productive to society as my current job (er, depending on what you think of my job [grin]).  And most of the examples of what people would now be free to do are precisely of that sort:  pursuing what someone loves rather than what they are best at or what is more valuable to society (in terms of productivity).  I am likely better at writing than at computer programming, but we need more computer programmers than we need writers.

Now, the way most people talk about this, it seems to me, is to play on the idea of “Type A personalities” and argue that the most productive and innovative people will still do that even if they have a basic income, as that is their nature and personality and so they just can’t help themselves.  That might be true for the biggest entrepreneurs, but it’s not true for the bulk of the people who right now work hard at their jobs.  We know that most of those would be more than happy to quit their jobs if they didn’t have to work, as evidenced by the fact that most people will pretty much immediately quit their jobs if they win the lottery, or men who quit their high pressure jobs after a divorce, or people who retire early, and so on and so forth.  Yes, the argument that they will almost certainly not just be idle, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll do something productive, and Lee needs most people to produce more, far more, than they need to make this work.

And Lee’s examples don’t save him, because first those people are in the minority and for those people these conditions don’t apply.  For those who are disabled, we are willing to at least in theory support them without asking that they work because they can’t work, and we don’t want them to starve (and some people, of course, still watch them closely to ensure that they aren’t taking advantage of us, in line with Lee’s own theories).  For age and choice, those are not people, in general, who are doing that at the expense of others because they don’t do that while expecting others to support them.  In general, they have either worked hard — and likely paid into pension plans — and so have generated through their own hard work and productivity the means to support themselves, or else they are willing to make sacrifices so as to be able to live on what they can produce without working.  So that model is not the one that Lee is suggesting, and so he doesn’t can’t use those examples as arguments to say “Well, this happens, and society is still going, so this will work, too!”.  All of those are cases where people are not slacking off at the expense of others:  the disabled are not “slacking off”, and the other cases are not doing that at the expense of others.

So, in order to make this work, Lee needs to ensure that most people produce more than they use so that a minority of people can use more than they produce.  So this immediately calls to mind the Marxist model of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.  Except for this to be freeing, we’re going to need to be able to get more than our basic needs, and Lee is not going to accept — at least for him — people being forced to work at the jobs that they are most productive at.  So what he will need is for most people to fall into the jobs that they are the most productive at and produce more than they take while leaving room for some people to choose jobs that they like more but are not the most productive and produce less than they take.  If this doesn’t just happen on its own, then Lee will hit a “Tragedy of the Commons” and it will all fall apart (in little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together, so you want it more, yeah).

That … will be extremely difficult to pull off.

So, no, his idea isn’t as practical as he makes it sound, and so he is reduced, at the end, to ignoring issues of fairness and returning to the point that he managed to contradict while arguing for it:

Once this truth is more widely recognized, we can go on to ask what’s fair. We can discuss how to divide up the bounty of civilization so that no one is deprived and no one is forced to work to support those who won’t. But the starting point of that conversation has to be the acknowledgment that poverty isn’t inherent to the natural order. There’s no reason it has to exist.

He might even be right that we can alleviate poverty (once we define it).  But we can’t determine that he’s right about that until we determine what the possible ways of dividing things up are, to see if we can actually find one that both suffices and is fair.  And if we can’t, then that would be the reason poverty exists, and he can’t say there’s no reason for poverty exist until he can find a way that is both practical and moral to eliminate it.

Thoughts on “The Leprechaun’s Curse”

April 21, 2022

When I came across this, I actually thought that it was an attempt to revive the “Leprechaun” series of horror movies giving the titular leprechaun a changed appearance.  Since I had watched and talked about that series, and since it was cheap, I decided that it would definitely be worth picking it up and watching it.  The reasons I thought it was part of the series were that the title font looked similar to what the original series had used and the main plot about someone inheriting an estate from a gold dealer who seemed to be using the leprechaun’s gold for things was one that would fit the original series and would be an interesting way to revive it.  However, it turns out that this isn’t an attempt to continue that series, but is instead a low-budget British production that plays off of a similar theme.

The first thing to note about this movie is that the leprechaun looks really, really bad.  Leprechauns are generally depicted as being small, and this leprechaun is taller than pretty much anyone else in the movie, so it gets off to a bad start right away.  Second, the make-up is more a cheap version of what you’d see for monsters like Freddy from “Nightmare on Elm Street” instead of something you’d expect to see in a leprechaun.  And finally, the leprechaun pretty much minces around the screen in a way that looks incredibly stupid and makes no sense.  Add in that the voice is heavily distorted and we have a main villain that’s more unintentionally laughable than really scary.

Now, in the other leprechaun movies having a smaller villain meant that the deaths had to be more creative and even playful, which would allow them to stand out from more standard horror movies.  Here with a leprechaun that’s more normal physically they could actually go back to having more physical deaths.  However, they ended up giving him magic and using that to kill people, which works for a leprechaun but then makes the leprechaun being more normal physically seem even more out of place.  And then they do try for more physical kills, such as the leprechaun carrying a knife and stabbing someone through the eye with a high heel shoe.  The magical deaths aren’t that interesting — it’s basically drowning and suffocating — and the physical deaths aren’t all that creative.  There are some small pranks that happen early on but the movie and the leprechaun aren’t all that playful.

It’s also unclear what the leprechaun’s deal and motives are.  The main plot is that it wants its gold back, which is the standard plot for these things.  And yet even when people offer or even do give it its gold back or promise to do that, the leprechaun still wants to kill them anyway, because it seems to take souls for … some reason.  This aspect only clutters up the work and fits badly with what happens because it makes the leprechaun way too much of a villain for having a backstory of trying to get revenge on thieves.  It actually works really poorly here because the woman who inherited the estate didn’t know anything about the leprechaun or the gold, and her friends don’t either, so it demanding that they give back its gold or it will kill them is ridiculous since they, well, don’t know what happened to it.  This makes the leprechaun seem like a bit of a doofus who has no idea what’s going on despite seemingly claiming that it does (and having the ability to observe what people were doing and so know that they weren’t involved).  Given the personalities involved, a threat to kill people unless they find its gold and offing people every so often to punctuate the point would have worked a lot better, as some of the deaths then could have been the result of them trying to defeat the leprechaun to end the threat and then the ending of finding and returning the gold but killing it so that they could keep it would have made more sense, instead of seeming completely fortuitous and mostly irrelevant to the story.

The movie also raises a number of points that it never pays off, which is never good in a relatively short movie (this one comes in at about an hour and a half).  The woman inherits it from her father, supposedly, but her brother is the one who hid the gold from the leprechaun and is killed early on.  This wouldn’t be a problem, but it introduces a wrinkle that was unnecessary, and the worst part about it is that her father died when she was young and she was raised by her stepmother, and has issues about wanting to know what her father was like, and also has a potentially interesting relationship with her stepmother who isn’t her real mother but has raised her.  Nothing is done with this potential conflict.  In addition, when the pranks and notes start they suspect that one of her friends is doing it because she had been dating the woman’s boyfriend before they started dating — or, at least, the friend was interested in him first — and so is doing it out of revenge (which is stupid in and of itself, because the first thought should have been someone who had an issue with the brother or even the housekeeper instead of her friend).  However, they also show in a couple of scenes the friend and the boyfriend making out, and the woman catches them at it at one point, and all of this … goes nowhere.  It doesn’t even tie into the boyfriend’s death.  So why even raise it in a movie this short?  All of these things make the movie actually drag at times in a way that it wouldn’t or that would feel better if they were paid off at the end, which they aren’t.

At the end, the stepmother and woman defeat the leprechaun — she offers it a kiss and spits a protective four-leaf clover amulet in its … mouth? … killing it — and they take the gold and go off to start new lives, despite the fact that with all the murders around there they’d probably be main suspects in the deaths.  But, sure, let’s go with that.  Except that the ending drags because they have a long, drawn-out sequence showing this, which can’t work out well because we know that with such a long ending sequence either the leprechaun was going to show up again or else it would just be a terribly long and boring ending.  So it does, and despite taking lots of time showing their life here they end it on the typical “cliffhanger” ending where after the leprechaun seemingly kills the stepmother he attacks the woman and the movie ends there, which is an incredibly disappointing way to end it in an ending that drags out that long.  If they had made it a longer fight and she came out of it at the end then it would at least have justified being that long a sequence, but they didn’t need to take that long to get to that sort of ending and the things that happen in the ending are, again, pointless and don’t add anything and are not paid off.

As you might imagine, this isn’t a very good movie.  It sets up things it doesn’t need and doesn’t resolve, has an unimpressive villain with an unimpressive villainous plot and unimpressive killings, and drags out most of the movie especially the ending, which is actually quite impressive given how short it is.  This is going into my box of movies to sell when I get the chance.

Thoughts on “Party of Five” (Season 2)

April 20, 2022

My most common refrain while watching this season — that I uttered to myself in almost every episode and usually more than once — was “What an idiot!”, which is obviously not a good sign.  It was aimed at pretty much every character in the show, but most often at Charlie, which is of course not going to make me more enamored of a character that I already didn’t care much for from the previous seasons.  That being said, I think the issue here is less that the characters are idiots, but more that the show is trying to generate drama through overly dramatic situations, when a more low-key approach would work just as well and avoid requiring at least one person to be a jerk or idiot to pull it off.  In addition, the show continually struggles to create characters with flaws and ends up creating characters that are, well, jerks and unsympathetic because it struggles to give the characters any real self-awareness of those flaws.  Also, they tend to walk into their issues with eyes wide open and so when they have time to consider their flaws and that what they want to do isn’t what they should do and yet they seem to walk headlong into it anyway, unconcerned about things like that.  Charlie, again, is the prime example of this but pretty much all the characters get their moments.

The season starts by resolving the wedding of Charlie of Kirsten, as they had gotten engaged at the end of the last season.  The season again wastes Kirsten by having her be tangential to everything except her own “Bridezilla” tendencies over the upcoming wedding, which while not inconsistent is not something that we really needed to have, especially given that they were going to introduce a couple of new wrinkles to follow as they tried to give everyone a bit of drama to start off the season.  Julia over the summer while Justin was away took up even more with the brother of Jill, who was the typical bad boy that Julia had already shown a weakness towards, but his character is inconsistent as well.  This is, of course, going to end badly, but it gives Julia the chance to get concerned about someone that Justin was talking to over the summer and so get sanctimonious over that while doing far worse.  Again, it’s another example where the characters, even though they have plenty of time to think about these things, never seem to realize what they’re doing, even for an instant.  At any rate, eventually Justin finds out about it and they break up, but it doesn’t end there.

But let me return to the wedding for a minute.  The show could have just had them get married and add another wrinkle to the family drama, but again it prefers drama! and so, given that, we can be pretty sure that the wedding is not going to happen.  And given the history of the show, it’s going to be Charlie’s fault.  And it is.  Charlie is having some difficult writing his vows the night before the wedding, and when his bachelor party is delayed he ends up meeting a woman whose husband is cheating on her in the room next door, and as one thing leads to another he gets the chance to sleep with her, but then finally refuses and seems to have settled the question of whether he could only have one woman for the rest of his life.  Then he has a rather odd discussion with the janitor at the restaurant about how one could know if that marriage is really what one wants forever, which the janitor can’t answer, and then he goes to Kirsten and says that he can’t get married because there are too many changes and he can’t be sure that this is what he really wants.  This is strange because the entire point of that plot with the other woman was to have him feel that this is what he wants, so this sudden turnaround doesn’t really make sense.

I can find a way to make it make sense, but this is something that the show itself really needed to make clear where this is coming from given that they made a big deal out of Charlie’s revelation and then proceeded as if it never happened.  My theory is that Charlie was struggling with jitters, and figured that getting the chance to sleep with an attractive woman and then turning it down should have settled them, and it didn’t.  So then he felt that this was more than simple jitters and jumped to a conclusion that maybe he just needed more time to settle into all the changes, because he clearly felt that he loved Kirsten and wanted to be with her.  However, his insistence that “he can’t do this” is clearly incorrect and Kirsten was probably correct that in six months nothing would have changed, and that he just needed to get over the jitters and do it.  Again, though, the show really needed to make that clear, because otherwise it looks like an inconsistency to go from feeling settled to so strongly out of sorts, and Charlie was already not a sympathetic enough character to get away with something like that.

Anyway, after Kirsten pushes him to get his act together, he bails again during the pictures and ultimately Kirsten’s mother tells her to give him an ultimatum:  it’s either today or not at all.  Charlie being Charlie, he runs off for a while before returning right at the point when Kirsten is going to cancel the wedding … but then she cancels it because she can’t face the worry that at any point Charlie might decide to bail again.  This is, of course, a bit odd given that she gave the ultimatum and he ultimately passed, but this can make sense given that the ultimatum wasn’t her idea and that he ran off first leaving her to wonder if he was going to come back might cause her to rethink that idea.  Still, it’s a bit odd way to end it, even if it is dramatic!, which is again the flaw in this show.  So they aren’t getting married.

But Charlie is going on the honeymoon anyway, because the reservations aren’t refundable and, as usual, he just needs to get away.  He takes Claudia with him because Claudia is incredibly upset that he ruined the marriage, but then he promptly meets another woman and ends up sleeping with her, while ignoring Claudia except at one point where she comes back late and he starts going full-on “I’m the boss!” on her, which is obviously not going to make her less upset with him, especially given that he dragged her on this trip and what she was doing was the first thing she’d come across that was actually fun.  Anyway, Charlie also wants something more regular, at least, with the woman he met but she doesn’t, which again is odd given that he was just freed from a relationship.  He might have wanted to get something serious again, but if he was upset by the serious relationship ending he should have been more hesitant to start something with someone else, and so his suddenly wanting something more serious from that pickup doesn’t fit with that.  But consistency, thy name is not Charlie.

More on his issues later, but let’s turn to Bailey.  Jennifer Love Hewitt enters the cast in what I am sure is her breakout role as a girl who is interested in him but that he doesn’t notice.  Hewitt actually really has the right looks for the role because she doesn’t look as “mature” as the other girls in the cast and so is just “cute”, and so we can imagine why someone might overlook her while noting that she seems really nice and is actually quite pretty, especially when she smiles (Hewitt has a really nice smile).  But I think they made a mistake with the character, and the worse part of it is that the issue is, again, consistency.  Sara is presented as being a bit of a klutz and a blabbermouth when nervous, which along with her somewhat shyness puts her into the category of girls who are shy and don’t express their feelings but then when they get going run with them until they say something embarrassing at which point they get embarrassed and run away.  Sara is often too angry and forceful in such scenes, such as when she lets slip that she’s in love with Bailey and then gets angry and storms off when he can only stare at her in shock.  It would have worked better for her to have blurted it out and then run off before Bailey could respond, which could have led right back to the scene the next day where they talk it out, without making her look unreasonable for being surprised that Bailey had no idea what to say when she told it to him.  The show also gives her a “poor little rich girl” persona that it doesn’t follow through with, while still having her be shy and reserved at times but then also to get very angry at Bailey at times, sometimes when it’s his fault and sometimes when it isn’t.  It also adds on an “adopted” character arc that isn’t bad but is just something else to complicate things for her and the relationship.

Now, in the early stages, Bailey tries to treat Sara like Jill, which doesn’t work, which leads them both to conclude that he isn’t ready yet.  Fine.  But then his best friend Will wants to date her, which is again only there to add drama! to things.  Very quickly, everyone discovers that Sara and Bailey are in love and Will bows out, so it adds little to the dynamic other than perhaps as a push for Bailey to get over Jill, which could have been done with a one shot character just as easily.  They have their normal ups and downs, which all culminates in Bailey breaking up with her at the climax of the season because he feels like he has to be responsible for everyone else’s feelings while no one feels the need to consider his, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore (more on that at the end).  They do get back together, though.

I have to say that Bailey is probably the character who comes off the best in all of these things, because even though he often does stupid and insensitive things and acts like a jerk, he does seem to have the self-awareness to know when he’s doing that and usually genuinely apologizes for it, and in fact at times he seems to apologize for things that aren’t really all his fault.  That and the fact that he is in general pretty responsible makes him fairly sympathetic, especially when compared to everyone else in the show.

Back to Julia.  Her bad boy boyfriend ends up having to go away to military school because he steals from the contractor fixing up the restaurant and gets caught.  He tells Julia not to write to him, but says that he loves her before he leaves.  She, of course, almost immediately starts chasing Justin again, and after wearing him down starts dating him again.  As with Bailey in the previous season with Kate, she doesn’t bother to tell the other guy about that, so he only finds out when he comes back.  Soon after, she ends up getting pregnant, which gives an interesting one-episode consideration of abortion — and Sara, having been adopted, makes a good argument as to why she can’t support Julia by noting that she wouldn’t be here if her own mother had made that decision — before a convenient miscarriage resolves the choice, but Julia is still upset and bothered by this (which is not unreasonable) but as is usual for her she takes it out on everyone else, especially Justin, which leads to them breaking up while she tells Bailey not to break up with Sara because she and Justin had an issue and he doesn’t.  However, she didn’t seem to make any attempt to work any of that out while Justin continually tries to work it out, so that comes across as a bit hollow … especially since she ran off to meet her bad boy boyfriend while struggling with this and harbours him as a fugitive and ropes Justin into helping, which obviously went over like a lead balloon with Justin.  So she comes across as being a bit selfish and self-centered, which is fine for a teenage girl but is not going to incline us towards being sympathetic towards her.  (She even at one point gets an idea to get some privacy by getting an attic room when she has her own room and is upset when Bailey wants that room because he’s sharing a room with Owen.  Yes, it was her idea but it was clear that he needed the room more.  She does eventually give in, however).

Claudia also gets her turn to carry the Idiot Ball, where she breaks her arm while ice skating and while off meets a bad girl and becomes friends with her, which gets her to give up the violin after the cast comes off so that she can do all sorts of “normal” things, like smoking and drinking.  Again, this is a plot driven by drama! as it would have worked far better to have her meet up with someone, well, actually normal instead of someone who is clearly a bad influence, to remove that argument from the table.  Then Claudia could have started to enjoy a normal life and wanted to keep it, and been afraid that taking up the violin again would be “uncool” and so would get her cut off from her new friends (outside of the time commitment), which would have played into the ending better when Claudia fears that doing that will lose her her friend when it ended up not doing that while the actual ending has her lose her friend because she doesn’t want to do the more extreme things her friend wants to do.  As it is, Claudia gets a friend that we have no idea why she wants to be a friend with, and it adds ridiculous subplots with smoking and drinking that were unnecessary for the main point of the plot, which is the choice between a more normal life and her musical talent.

Which leads us back to Charlie, whose foibles form the major drama! at the end of the season and follow from this.  Claudia’s teacher catches her smoking, and of course she’s about Charlie’s age and interested in him, and so is his natural prey.  Claudia demands that he not go out with her teacher as a condition of the deal he wants to make to get her to stop smoking, and so of course he almost immediately ignores that and goes after her anyway, with bad results when Claudia finds out.  And of course the teacher wants to take things slowly which Charlie doesn’t want, and so while he had turned down an attractive anchorwoman who was interested in him after he catered her birthday party right after that he immediately seeks out the anchorwoman and has sex with her, in his typical move to punish someone who won’t do what he wants.  At any rate, the teacher eventually gives in but then finds out that he was seeing the other woman, and breaks up with him, and Claudia calls him out on this but Charlie is mostly unmoved.  Well, he soon after finds the anchorwoman with another man and calls her out on that, and when she points out that he did the same thing he argues that he at least feels bad about it, which gets her to reconsider and want to have a more set relationship, even though as far as the show was concerned Charlie doesn’t really seem to feel all that badly about it.  This gets even more inconsistent when later she wants to make things more serious and he says he only wanted something casual … but if he wanted something more casual then he had no cause to get angry at her for dating/sleeping with someone else, as that’s what casual means.

The “I don’t want anything serious” rears its ugly head again, as she says she loves him while receiving a reward which causes him to bail on the relationship, lying that Kirsten wanted him back and he wanted to go back to her.  Of course, the anchorwoman checks it out and finds out that he’s lying, which leads her to seek active revenge against him.  She had loaned him some money to fix up the restaurant and in the interests of “protecting her investment” … gets a group together to buy the building and kick him out (by not renewing the lease).  So they were going to lose the restaurant because of Charlie as he protests that it isn’t his fault, despite the fact that if he had just been honest with her she probably wouldn’t have done this, but Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and his lying to her makes her go extremely over the top in her revenge.  Which, BTW, also makes little sense, but is there for drama!, as her simply calling in the debt could have provided everything the end of the season needed without this over-the-top revenge that makes her look a bit psycho, to tell you the truth.

Anyway, Charlie goes back to Kirsten and actually talks about how he’s ruined everything, which made me wonder if they were finally going to have him show some self-awareness, but then he ruins it by using that as a way to get Kirsten back … right before she is going to marry someone else.  Of course, this doesn’t stop him from trying, and while she’s angry at first she eventually gives in, runs away with him at her wedding, and gets back together with him in a way that is really quite idiotic.  So the start the season by breaking them up and then at the last minute getting them back together, restoring the status quo in an odd and very roundabout way.

As for the restaurant, their missing grandfather had returned earlier on in the series and offered Bailey a scholarship to a far away university so that Bailey could go.  Well, Charlie asks him for help and he goes to Bailey and says that he can save the restaurant, but only by using the money that could have gone to that scholarship.  Bailey is torn by this because he really, really wants to get away, which is again another issue of drama! because Bailey hadn’t really shown a desire to go away and the better explanation is that it was too good an opportunity to give up, which fit better in with his feelings that he was expected to be unselfish and give everything up for others.  Well, the actor is first in the opening credits and we know that Bailey as a person won’t let the restaurant be closed so that he can go away to university, so he gives up the money and the restaurant is conveniently saved.

Okay, I’ve ranted a lot about the season, and, yeah, it’s not a very good season.  That being said, despite it’s overemphasis on drama! it does generally work as a family drama.  I wish they’d tone things down to make them more in line with what family dramas tended to do and put more focus on Claudia who plays the role really well, but it’s entertaining enough that I’m not thinking that it will be a struggle to finish the series.  Still, the show is directly heading for a place in the box of shows that I might want to rewatch at some point in the future as opposed to the closet for shows that I am likely to rewatch at some point, so there’s a lot of room for it to improve and it only has a little bit of wiggle room to avoid being a series that I might try to sell.  We’ll see which way it goes with season 3.

Abandoning “Hearts of Iron”

April 19, 2022

I tried to pick up “Hearts of Iron” on my vacation as I promised, and it just didn’t work.  A big part of that was that I made a mistake in my scheduling.  When I played Persona 5 Royal the same way, I had a very set schedule for my mornings where I knew when I’d quit and so knew that I would have the dedicated time to play the game, so it worked.  I didn’t do that on this vacation, and so found that my mornings kept drifting into the afternoons and so I ended up not having the time I wanted to play.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that curling was on — albeit men’s — but it was incredibly convenient to have that on while eating and then just keep watching it while doing other things.  So the schedule itself wasn’t really conducive to play “Hearts of Iron”.

That being said, a main reason for not playing it was because, ultimately, it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.

I think I’ve talked before about the little things it does that annoyed me, like that you can’t set the production sliders absolutely and that changing the game speed is not at all easy, if it’s even possible.  But what I was hoping for was that when things got going I’d be able to at least see what was going on and watch its history play out.  Now, one thing that really annoyed me was how it displayed information.  Attempts by a country to influence another country got a pop-up, along with when someone gave you a technology.  The latter was only meaningful because if you were researching that thing you stopped researching it, and the former were generally meaningless and were incredibly frequent.  But I could have accepted that except that there was also an area that displayed messages, where those could easily have gone.  And really important things like, say, the decisions that countries made on the various historical events were dumped in there, which is how I found out that Czechoslovakia was wiped out.  They could easily have made those pop-ups and dumped the others into the message box.  Even worse, though, was that the outcomes of battles weren’t displayed anywhere.  I found this out when after Germany annexed Poland I happened to scroll back up to Europe — I was playing as Australia at the time — and noted all sorts of land and sea battles happening in and around France.  This meant that in order to find out what was going on I would have had to watch the areas closely, which was manageable when it was just France but once North Africa got into the mix it was getting problematic.  Once Japan entered the war, it would have been utterly insane.

And they would have, because it seems like “Hearts of Iron” drives things by events rather than gameplay.  French, British, Canadian and South African troops were engaging German, Italian and Spanish forces in Europe and while they weren’t doing great they were holding on and then all of a sudden Vichy France declares independence and they were all gone.  And when I say “Gone” I mean gone.  I couldn’t find them again.  So it looked to me like this was a preset event and choice that happened at the right time and trumped what was happening in the actual theatre, which bugged me.  And then the Allies invaded Italy and while outnumbered seemed to be holding on and the North Africa campaign seemed to be happening and … I was caught between what seemed like either stupid changes to history or events that would wipe it out and started to lose interest.

See, the thing was that I was playing as a nation that wasn’t directly involved because I wanted to see how things turned out.  But not having the updates made it really hard to just watch.  I could go to a country with more options like the United States but again simply watching wouldn’t be a lot of fun.  So I’d need to get directly involved.  But that was pretty much Germany, the Soviet Union or France, unless I wanted to take on a smaller country like Poland that was going to get overrun.  But then those countries might be hit by events which would undo what I had done.  And I wasn’t interested in that happening.  Maybe the post-war era would have been fun, but that was five years away and I didn’t have the patience for it.  I had wanted to try to finish at least that run, but just couldn’t muster the interest to do it.

So, on coming back from vacation I needed to figure out another game, and it wasn’t going to be one of these.  I’m at the end of my WWII books and so won’t get a push from them anymore, and while the other Hearts of Iron games or Paradox games would probably be better I really wanted to do something else.  I considered trying to do the Wizardry 6 – 8 run, but the graphics and gameplay of 6 is too different from 8 for me to get into that right now when I was really interested in 8 and was only looking at 6 and 7 to pull that off.  So I abandoned that idea.  I think I’m going to try to play my human noble in the PC — with full expansions — version of Dragon Age Origins and see if I can get through that.  It fits into my rearranged game playing schedule and is something that I really should get through.

So that’s it for Hearts of Iron, at least for now.  We’ll see how RPGs, my first love, go.

Thoughts on “The Players’ Championship”

April 18, 2022

The Grand Slam of Curling tour continued, with the first of the last two events of the season.  This event follows the “triple knockout” format, where instead of a round robin teams are instead loosely bracketed and the goal is to win three games before you lose three games, which leaves three “sides” that a team can qualify through:  the “A” side with no losses, the “B” side with one loss, and the “C” side with 2 losses.  Which of course always reminds me of this song, which is one reason why the format somewhat bemuses me.  From what I hear, the teams like the format, mostly because it’s more in line with what they encounter in the other, smaller events they play in and also because they feel it best allows the teams that are playing best in that event to make the final, but I’m not that fond of it myself, and I’m not sure that it’s all that great for television.  While you can get some surprise match-ups early on that you wouldn’t get otherwise, the round robin format is also easier for both fans and schedulers to get a handle on what each team wants to do and what games are likely to be interesting or important.  That being said, overall it probably works out either way.

On the women’s side — the one I follow — Anna Hasselborg beat Kerri Einarson in the final, coming back from giving up an early 3 to squeak out a win scoring 2 in the eighth.  Hasselborg had also had to come back in her previous three games from significant deficits, but I found it disappointing because I’m not really a fan of her team.  She also became the first woman to win all of the Grand Slam events.

Of course, this is one of the last two major events of the curling season, and so there was much discussion of the teams that are splitting up or reforming.  Although she lost in the semi-finals, the performance of Tracy Fleury added to the mystery of why they were splitting up, since they played very well together and seemed to be having fun playing together.  That being said, the team that Njegovin and MacCuish are going to will be an all Manitoba team — everyone there will live in Manitoba — and Fleury is moving to Rachel Homan’s team, which had most of the team actually live in Alberta but who could all play as an Ontario team with one import and one birthright and one student.  Now, from what I heard Sara Wilkes is moving back to Ontario and I know that Homan keeps a residence in Ottawa and so might be moving back, so they move from being a team that might have made a move to being an Alberta team to being a team where everyone lives in Ontario.  That being said, while the talent level might be higher on Homan’s team I’m not sure the personalities and roles will work out there as well as it might on Lawes’ team, although the move to bring in another skip and at this point have two players who primarily played skip, one player who primarily played third, and one who has played third might be an attempt to reproduce Einarson’s success, although that didn’t come easy and did indeed rely on the personalities aligning.

Anyway, one more event and then the curling season will be ended.