Archive for August, 2022

Thoughts on “King Henry the Fourth”

August 31, 2022

“King Henry the Fourth” is another historical, following on from “King Richard the Second”.  This one is in two parts, and the first part roughly describes King Henry the Fourth putting down a rebellion spawned by Hotspur while showing how his son — the heir to the throne — is a brigand and a wastrel and not on good terms with his father yet accepts fighting against Hotspur and makes a good show of himself, while the second part focuses on another rebellion following on from the one in the first part where his son again accounts well for himself and ultimately takes the throne at the end when his father dies.

I’ve commented in the past that I think one of the main reasons why I don’t care that much for the historicals is because they seem to rely on the audience having knowledge of the events and so already having feelings for the major characters, as the plays don’t really develop the characters all that well.  Here, that perception is only made worse by the fact that King Henry the Fourth doesn’t appear all that much in a two-part play that is ostensibly all about him.  We get him commenting on his son and negotiating with Hotspur, and a few other scenes (including his death) but by no stretch of the imagination is he the focus character for the play.  But for the most part he’s the only real character that carries on from “King Richard the Second”, and given that I, at least, found him to be sympathetic — he only rebelled because Richard took his lands to fund his wars and only took the crown because Richard basically just handed it to him — for pretty much everyone else I would have to build up that impression during the play, and for the most part everyone else is either not terribly sympathetic or else is opposing the one character that I remembered and liked from the previous play.

This hits me the worst for the rebellions.  Hotspur is rebelling against the character that I felt sympathy for and that I know didn’t take the throne invalidly, and so I’m not going to be inclined to think the rebellion legitimate.  And yet in one conversation he outlines that Henry the Fourth promised him some things for his help and didn’t deliver, but given that I don’t know the historical background I have no idea if this is true or not or if there were other reasons for that, and Henry does promise to make up for that in some way which makes me think that they should have been able to resolve it peacefully, and yet it results in a battle that ends badly for Hotspur.  I can’t help but think that the play wants me to be more pleasantly disposed towards Hotspur than it really gives me reason to be, especially since both he and the later rebellion hold Richard in high regard and yet I didn’t find any redeeming qualities in him from “King Richard the Second”.

And yet the resolution of the second rebellion in the second part moves things the other way a bit.  I never felt like they had any real reason to rebel, and when Henry’s son John and another retainer negotiate a peace promising to address their concerns — about the only reason for them to rebel, even though they talk about avenging Hotspur and Richard more — I felt happy that it would have a peaceful resolution … and then when the rebelling army leaves the two of them arrest the leaders of the rebellion anyway, while still saying that they kept their word because they were going to resolve their concerns.  This comes from John, who is portrayed as the good and honourable son, and a reasonable retainer, instead of coming from the shady Harry, and this reflects on the leadership of the army and ultimately on Henry himself.  So that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

This is the play that contains the character of Falstaff, who is a fairly well-known Shakespearean character.  And yet … I wasn’t all that impressed.  He is indeed an aging rogue and works pretty well as that, but the issue is that he’s not a roguish character around average or even good characters, so that he could provide some comic relief, but he’s a roguish character surrounded by scoundrels — including the Crown Prince — who are no better and often worse than he is, as when the group decides to engaging in some banditry and the Crown Prince decides to ambush the ambushers as a “joke”, he and his compatriot note that all the others will run away immediately while Falstaff while put up a token fight and then run away.  So Falstaff doesn’t provide a contrast to his companions as comic relief, nor is he in any way a moderating influence to stop them from doing terrible things in favour of more fun jokes.  He’s a cad among cads, and I’m not interested in following cads.  So when he’s with them he’s an unsympathetic character and when he’s alone he’s still an unlikable character.  I can see the appeal of the character, but the context of the character ended up with me considering him rather unlikable, which hurts the appeal for me.  In a different context, I think the character would really work well, but he doesn’t work so well for me in this context.

That being said, his ending as part of Harry’s — soon to be King Henry the Fifth — redemption arc is actually a brilliant scene.  After being a constant companion and having Harry bail him out of trouble, and after joining the army at least in part to help him and expecting a reward that would get him out of his latest debts for doing so, Harry after his ascension essentially tells him that he doesn’t know him and banishes him and his companions.  I could really feel the shock that Falstaff had to be feeling at that point, so it’s a brilliant line in a brilliant scene, especially since it’s a little ambiguous whether King Henry the Fifth has reformed and so doesn’t have anything in common with them anymore and so finds them to be a potential embarrassment, or whether he just considers them an embarrassment and so the banishment is more than they deserve, or whether he just has no need for them anymore and wants to get rid of them and so he’s essentially betraying them.  That being said, Harry’s redemption is a but unearned and he was never really a sympathetic character, but the next play is named for him and so I’ll forgive the ambiguity in the hopes that this can play into that play.

Shakespeare also gives a little speech at the end of the second part somewhat apologizing for Falstaff and imploring the audience to say whether they want him to appear again, which is similar to what he did for the play in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  If I was staging these plays, I’d leave those scenes out, as they don’t add much in my opinion and can be really annoying, especially since it seems a bit passive-aggressive.

At any rate, as another historical I didn’t care that much for it and continues the string of my not liking the historicals.  Sadly, the next play is another historical, in “King Henry the Fifth”.  So far, all these are doing is making me yearn for plays like “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”.

Thoughts on “The Client List”

August 30, 2022

So after using “CTV Throwback” to test out my Roku, I found that there were a lot of shows on there that I’d want to watch, and while it has commercials they are less than you’d see on normal television — although they’re repetitive — and so found that it was a bit of a pleasant surprise.  However, I have way too many things to watch to focus on that one, especially since it has commercials (and since there doesn’t seem to be a way to power Roku off and since it gets pretty warm it’s also not something that I can watch in the winter since deliberately unplugging it when there’s a lot of static electricity in the air is a recipe for disaster).  So instead I decided to test that out a bit more with a show that I couldn’t get anywhere else in “Time of Your Life”, and then decided to wrap up my Jennifer Love Hewitt exploration with “The Client List”.

The basic premise here is that a young woman with two kids has her husband suddenly abandon her with a huge debt load and with her having no job, but she runs into someone she used to work with who says that she makes tons of money at a massage parlour/spa and recommends that she apply, and when she does she discovers that while it does operate legitimately for very special customers — the ones written down on the titular “Client List” — it offers extra services, including “happy endings”.  Riley (the woman) is shocked at first but as the bills mount and the tips for regular massages turn out to be rather small she eventually agrees to do that, trying to balance her secret life with her friends and family and all the issues that follow from her husband leaving her.

Now, what I noticed first is that while this wasn’t a bad show, it wasn’t really my type of show.  It really, especially at first, came across as what I feared “Ghost Whisperer” would turn out to be:  a somewhat dramatic premise that focuses on the more normal and romantic drama as well as on relationships and balancing relationships and all of that jazz.  There the underlying drama element was ghosts while here it was the illegality and potential immorality of her being a sex worker.  But while “Ghost Whisperer” did focus more on the ghosts than on the simple relationship drama, “The Client List” focused more on the relationships — including her forming a relationship with her husband’s brother, who always had a crush on her — and used the sex work as a complicating element, not as the focus that the relationships were formed around.  As I just said, this didn’t make the show bad, especially since Riley’s personality is almost identical to Melinda’s and I liked Melinda so I like Riley.  But that’s not the typical sort of show I go for, either preferring the more melodramatic drama of soap operas — and not even all that many of those — or else shows that doesn’t really have that kind of relationship focus at all.  So, yeah, it’s not the sort of show I normally watch and so I’m not at all the audience for this show.

Which, of course, makes it somewhat difficult to talk about it, especially if I’m going to criticize it.  If I criticize the elements of it that I don’t like, I run the risk of criticizing those specific elements that are there because the intended audience like it, and it’s not fair to criticize a work for doing precisely what its intended audience wants them to do.  And it’s even risky to praise it, since things that I like about it may be things that turn off the intended audience.  Given that this is a show that lasted two seasons and a total of 25 episodes, it has to be seen as a bit of a failure — especially for an American show with this much star power (Cybill Shepard, for example, plays Riley’s mother) — and so there was likely something that was appealing about it but things that didn’t work, and having watched it I’m going to want to talk about where I think it might have went wrong, while having to be careful to not end up saying that it went wrong because of the things that actually appealed to the intended audience.  That being said, I think I did manage to find a flaw that even those who like that sort of show would have had issues with.

Especially given my specific reaction to the show.  Late in the run, I found myself comparing it to what I thought of “Time of Your Life” and was thinking that despite its length it’s something that I might be willing to watch again, unlike that show.  And then about a half hour later I found myself completely frustrated with the show and wondered why in the world I’d ever thought that.  And the reason, it seems to me, is that I like the characters and the performances, and there are some good side plots involving them.  A number of them as well — Riley’s best friend Lacey and her husband Dale, Nikki the young college student at the spa, her mother at the salon she works at — work very well as lighter characters that can add some humour and some comic relief from the drama.  So I like seeing the characters and would like watching them and even getting to know them better.  That made me want to potentially rewatch it.

However, the issue is that there ends up being way, way too much drama in the show.  As noted, at the start the main premise — Riley is doing something illegal and possibly immoral that she needs to keep from her friends and family but that provides the money she needs to support her family — is a complication to the rest of the relationship drama, not the main focus.  Her starting to date again and becoming attracted to her brother-in-law and all of the issues around being someone whose husband abandoned her and the kids is enough drama for this sort of show.  Later, after she starts an actual relationship with her brother-in-law (Evan), having her husband (Kyle) return at the end of the first season is in itself a bit more drama than a show like this needs, but it isn’t really a problem.  However, they also reveal that Kyle left because he had an addiction to pain killers, which is more drama than was needed, given that he could have just left to try to find a job and make some money to support the family, but it’s not terrible.  However, soon afterwards they pull a bait-and-switch by implying that Riley is going to be arrested for the sex work and instead arresting Kyle because he participated in a theft to raise some money.  Not only is this much more drama than they needed, it doesn’t help at all in making us find him at all sympathetic, which we’d need to do if there is going to be any chance of them reconciling to make the love triangle a real triangle.  That legal angle creates all sorts of other complications, including and especially financially, and takes up a fair amount of screen time and Riley’s drama time.

And on top of that, there’s a lot of other things going on as well.  Georgia, the original owner of the spa, at one point gets Riley to manage things, which starts a rift between her and the person who brought her in, Selena.  This one was a bit odd and made the character less sympathetic because she immediately creates a lot of good ideas and is capable of managing things despite not having any experience with that since her education was indeed only in massage.  If she had done that to work her way through school and had lost her job as something like an administrative assistant, it would have made that more credible and avoided it looking like the show was trying to make her be great at everything.  But this leads to Riley eventually buying Georgia out when Georgia wants to get married, and then having to take over all the issues, including the legal ones, which creates incidents where she needs to manage clients and the police and competitors.  She has to learn how to hire new girls — since the ones from the first season pretty much all left except for Selena — and hires Nikki, a seemingly sweet girl who provides a great balance with Selena, but soon after the two of them have a spat and she quits to go back to stripping for a sleazy strip club owner, which means that they need to rescue her from him, which creates him as an adversary, added to the guy that Kyle stole from.  Meanwhile, Lacey wants to have a baby and Dale doesn’t.  Riley’s main rival Taylor buys the salon where her mother works and her mother wants to try to buy it instead and fails, causing more complications for Riley who wants to help with the financing for that, and Taylor and her mother clash over that.  Dale starts a band again which causes issues because Riley used to sing with that band (which ends up being an excuse to get her to sing, which Jennifer Love Hewitt does love to do in her shows) and Lacey isn’t happy that he kept it from her.  The two of them decide to have a baby but she’s not fully fertile, and when she does manage to get pregnant she ends up being attacked at Riley’s home by someone and loses the baby.  Riley’s mother gets in an accident and gets injured, which causes her to become addicted to pain killers.  Riley opens up the spa to a male masseur and female clients, to Georgia’s objections.  The male masseur and Selena potentially start something, while Selena’s almost ex-husband shows up to formally divorce her and take her beloved horse, which Riley has to help resolve.  Lacey and Dale decide to adopt.  Evan decides to become a police officer and meets a fellow cadet as competition for Riley as a love interest.  And it all comes together when Riley loses the client list which spawns an entire arc where her adversary gets it and tries to use it to avoid the police raiding him.

That’s a lot of arcs, and there are a few others around Taylor and the kids that I didn’t bother to mention.  Remember, this is a show that only had 25 total episodes, with a set of arcs that soap operas would find excessive, with a lot less time and a lot less characters to spread those arcs around on.  The show was definitely overstuffed, and the issue with that is that it doesn’t leave room or time to explore the characters or relationships as much as they should be and as much as the audience would like.  If the audience liked a specific plot or set of characters, they would get to see them a bit more than they got.  Moreover, a lot of the lighter arcs didn’t play well with the more dramatic ones, especially towards the end when the main plots involved people going to jail or being killed or being ruined.  The very last episode is a prime example of this, where in an episode where Riley is desperately trying to get the titular client list back before it ends up getting her sent to prison with a dramatic scheme that includes burning down the spa, they take time to have Derek and Selena have a clash over their relationship.  I didn’t mind the Derek/Selena plot and it worked pretty well, but it just creates a huge Mood Whiplash to flip between the two and spawned in me the reaction of “Don’t you (the show) have more important things to talk about right now?”.  As you can see, a lot of the arcs are lighter than standard drama fare, some are standard drama fare, and some are very dark and dramatic.  It’s a good thing to have some lighter fare as comic relief or even just relief from deep drama, but you just can’t shift gears with it as quickly as they do, or else you’ll ruin your transmission.

The show also has some issues with the relationships.  The more central one is with Kyle, who obviously is not sympathetic since he leaves Riley and who doesn’t become more sympathetic when he returns due to his legal issues and the fact that Evan was presented as far nicer and more reliable than him and who, rightly, is ticked off at Kyle for leaving.  And yet towards the end Riley ends up not feeling that it’s right to date the uncle and so breaks up with Evan so that she can then start to reconcile with Kyle, whom we have no reason to like and who still has legal issues and the like to deal with.  The show actually parodies this at one point — and their own show — with a soap opera that has a similar — if overly dramatic — situation (and it even parodies the fanservice of the show) and concludes that the husband in that case is unsympathetic and the brother is more likable, and yet the show itself didn’t seem to realize that.  Kyle doesn’t really do anything to redeem himself enough to be at least the presumptive candidate for Riley by the end of the show, and so those scenes are a bit annoying.

The less central but more impactful one is with Nikki.  As I noted above, she started as a sweet girl who would make a good foil for Selena.  When they created the “quit” conflict that introduced the adversary to the plot, I thought it was an overly dramatic element and did want to see where it went a bit but felt that it wasn’t necessary.  However, it is revealed later that Nikki is the one who takes the client list, and she did it for that adversary because she’s in love with and having a relationship with him.  At the time, Riley doesn’t know that she took it, but this causes us to no longer consider Nikki a sweet girl, but at least in part as a villain and as someone who is manipulating everyone.  However, a later episode relies on us thinking of her as such, when she teases Selena about finding a date for Georgia’s wedding.  When Riley finds out about it and confronts her, she claims that the adversary threatened to kill her if she didn’t which is believable but isn’t what we saw and know happened, which makes her out to be a liar even in a scene and with words that are supposed to make us sympathetic towards her, especially given that right after it is revealed that she has lost the client list too and is very apologetic, which leads to her helping Riley get it back (and probably to her death, as the adversary, when he finds out, is choking her while demanding to know where Riley went, and while it seems that she does tell him, it’s quite likely that he still killed her).  So a lot of the plots only work with her as someone somewhat sweet and so sympathetic, and yet how the show is built works against that.

What I would have done was have her not be actually in love with the adversary, but instead out of at least fear after Riley gets her out of the situation decides to work with the police to bring him down.  This would have played well and provided a reason why the police, at the end, were closing in on him.  She could have been pretending to be in love with him to get access to where he keeps his important stuff, and a previous episode established that getting the safe combination is important.  He could have asked her to spy on Riley and especially to get the client list, which she does figuring that if she gives it to him she can find out where he keeps those sorts of things and give that information to the police to take him down, but then realizes that either the adversary would use it against Riley or else if the police found it they’d use it against Riley and she couldn’t do that to her after she helped her, which then could lead to all the same events but with Nikki being a more sympathetic and somewhat redeemed character.  It also would make it more reasonable that she’d be able to spawn the raid that pulls the police off for the time Riley needed to get the client list back, since if she was working with them there’d be no question of whether they should trust her word and if it fails she’d be able to fall back on “I guess he played me” rather than having all her credibility shot and so likely ending up in prison over it, with her police immunity gone. Done properly, we can still see that she’s a good character while not hurting the drama.

Then again, Riley herself chides her for being able to seem sweet when she wants to, so perhaps we weren’t supposed to see her as that.  But then the scenes where she does act sweet suffer from the ambiguity, or else don’t work, especially on a rewatch (and of course, there was at least one where it relied on her being sweet after we no longer see her as such).

After watching a show that ends early like this, it always makes me curious to think about whether they knew the cancellation was coming or whether they were surprised.  This show pretty much ties up all the loose ends and leaves little to do in later seasons unless they completely redo the premise or else simply rebuild the spa, making that drama somewhat pointless.  Riley burns down the spa along with the titular client list, her mother moves away, and Lacey gets a baby.  Either they’d have to push the reset button and restore the spa, or else they’d have to deal with the aftermath itself, which would be a quite different show.  So it does resolve the show well enough and makes it so that it would be quite difficult to continue the series in the form it had for the first two seasons.

The show, of course, has copious amounts of fanservice, both male and female, and seems to contrive to add even more, with Riley having to audition as a stripper in the finale as part of her plan.  I don’t mind it, but it does seem contrived to ensure that it happens rather than something that just follows naturally, and so the focus on that again takes up screentime that could have been used to further their plots.  However, they also needed to cut some plots.  Ultimately, while I think that more could have been done with this cast and these characters, most of which I liked, the frustration of the overstuffed drama and ruined characters means that I won’t watch this show again.

Next up is the 90s X-Men animated series, which is also back to a blissfully commercial-less existence.

Trunk Diary: HAMR!!!!!

August 29, 2022

All I wanted was to be a police officer.

Yeah, being a police officer is a pretty thankless job in the Empire.  You’re expected to keep the peace and keep the “little people” out of the hair of all the big political bodies like the Sith and the military, while they stir up trouble with their heavy-handedness and expect you to clean it up, and blame you if you don’t manage to clean up their mess to their satisfaction.  Still, being a police officer can be a pretty good job if you know how to play diplomatically with the other groups and keep things quiet.  I was good enough at that to get assigned to Kaas City, which happens to police officers who do really well at managing all the little things.  It’s also hard mode in the game of politics, but I was managing it pretty well and pretty much everyone figured I be one of the few to make it out with a good reputation and a decent retirement.

And then he was assigned to my office.

Slej Hamr, an officer who should never had made it to Kaas City.  I guess he wanted to lock away the bad guys, but he was too violent to be a good cop.  Well, I guess that sort of thing’s not really an issue in the Empire.  But he also wasn’t one to play the diplomatic game, and so it’s hard to see how he managed to get this far without ticking someone off.  I guess his superiors managed to manage him and shield him from that, and his record said that he always solved his cases.  Maybe the guys he arrested weren’t even guilty, but they’d usually rather be in an Imperial prison than face him again.  Which should say something about him.

But I figured I could keep him away from trouble just like his other superiors did, and setting him up with the smart and diplomatic Doreau as his partner helped.  She couldn’t control him, but she could steer him out of the way of most trouble most of the time, and I could patch up most of the rest.

Until the deal with the Sith.

Honestly, that scum-sucking Sith deserved to die, and he made the mistake of picking on Hamr when Hamr confronted him, figuring that being a Sith would mean that he could easily take out a low-budget cop.  But if there’s one thing Hamr was good at, it was violence, and the Sith found himself outmatched, which meant that he soon found himself dead.  Good riddance.

If Hamr hadn’t been so direct, I probably could have arranged something that would have ended up the same way but with less political problems.  Or at least I would have time to bail.  But the Sith wouldn’t let something like that stand, and things moved too quickly for me to get away.  Before they shipped me off as a slave, I heard that Doreau managed to get Imperial Intelligence to protect her, which made me happy.  And that Hamr ran off for Republic space, which made me angry.

The irony is that while Hamr’s anger made me a slave, my anger at Hamr freed me.  Turns out that I had latent Force abilities that my rage brought out and let the Sith find, and since they are hoping to start a war they need all the Force users they can get, and so they freed me and sent me to Korriban to become a true Sith or die trying.  Not what I wanted, but it’s a lot better than being a slave.

The thing is that the Sith want to turn me into their weapon, as a different kind of slave.  But this is gonna backfire on them.  See, Hamr frustrated me.  He exasperated me.  He even really, really pissed me off.  And all of that gave me the power that they want to use and that they have to respect.  But they say that hate is one of the strongest emotions of all, and while I thought I hated Hamr, I didn’t know what the word meant until the Sith screwed me over.  Them, I hate, and it’s against them that I’m gonna turn all that hatred.

What’re they gonna do when Clavell Trunk runs wild on them?

Can Platonic Forms Exist Without a Location?

August 26, 2022

I’ve still be reading but haven’t been commenting much on Only Sky Media because my login timed out and I couldn’t be bothered to try to figure it out again, especially on my work laptop where I might be more willing to make some minor comments during the day while things were compiling or installing.  Also, I’ve been really, really busy lately, including at work, and so haven’t really had the time to follow, well, pretty much anything right now.  But I came across this post by Jonathan MS Pearce claiming that “Platonism is vacuous” and even though he still owes me some considered responses to my criticisms of his nominalism, I thought I’d take it on.  I haven’t been making posts on his stuff because it hasn’t really been big enough for a full post on the topic, and while this post isn’t really big enough for that either on re-reading it there’s probably a bit too much for a mere comment, and if it’s a bit small all that means is that I’ll free up some time to do other things, so everyone wins!

Let me remind you, as he does, about what his conceptual nominalism actually is:

Much of my writing (both here at OnlySky and in my books) has espoused my position of conceptual nominalism—in short, the theory that all abstract ideas are concepts that do not exist independent of our minds. If all sentient life were to die out, then there would be no morality, no mathematics, no human rights. We construct these ideas after arguing among ourselves until we agree.

I, of course, reject this, and one of the reasons I do so is that if this is true, then if I imagined a possible world where there were no sentient beings — which was arguably the case before we gained sentience — then he’d have to say that mathematics doesn’t exist in that possible world, and yet if the only thing that was different between that world and this one was the existence of sentient beings then we’d have all the normal physical phenomena that we have now that we can easily describe with mathematics and so seem to act according to mathematical formulae in a world where there is no mathematics.  Since we can describe it that way, it seems like the concepts not only exist but apply in that world, which makes that last statement quite problematic.  So if nominalism entails that the concepts do not exist in such a world, then it seems like nominalism is just plain wrong, since they have to exist so that we can properly describe that world using them.

Of course, I’ve made a lot of other challenges to that view, but for now let me turn to the only alternative that Pearce considers:

On the other hand, those philosophers who are not nominalists of sorts are realists, and often espouse some kind of Platonic realism. The Greek philosopher Plato believed that abstract ideas such as universals exist outside of human minds, with no spatiotemporal dimension. He espoused some realm where the perfect or ideal form of all ideas existed. Our understanding of such is akin to seeing shadows of these perfect forms on a cave wall rather than seeing them first-hand in clear sunlight.

It always annoys me when he does this, because even if he doesn’t agree with me he should be well aware that I reject nominalism as he describes it but am not a realist either.  My view of conceptualism bridges the two positions, denying that abstract objects have to be real but also denying that they are just invented.  As I have commented in the past, what makes concepts right or wrong has to do with context, and when people disagree it’s not a matter of simple disagreement but often an issue where the two of them are not, in fact, talking about the same thing anymore.  Pearce may not agree with my position, and he may not even think it works as a real position, but the term itself has a long history in philosophy and so at a minimum if he’s going to dismiss it out of hand despite knowing about it — he’s read and talked about getting around to discussing it — then I at least would have liked him to show how my position is either incoherent or reduces to one of the other two.

At any rate, that’s not really here nor there, but it is important to note that Pearce seems to think that either all of our abstract concepts are completely invented and arrived at only through consensus, or there must be real objects out there in the world that define them and so we discover their properties that way.  I think that doing this is probably the only way he can make his nominalism seem plausible from a philosophical level.  I think he is at least for the most part a subjectivist about things like morality and human rights, which is what makes nominalism, which insists that that not only is but must be the case quite attractive.  However, this doesn’t work so well for things like mathematics.  But if the only alternative is that we have to have numbers floating around in the ether somewhere, that seems so ridiculous that he can accept the implication that there is no real right answer to whether “2+2=4” even though that seems odd in and of itself.  As I’ve already talked about, in some sense whether “2+2=4” is true depends on the context, but there still is a right answer, given the appropriate context to the question of whether “2+2=4”, and that follows from my conceptualism:  someone who gets that answer wrong either doesn’t understand the concept they are using, or else is talking about a different concept entirely, which avoids both oddities.

Anyway, part of my issue with Pearce’s nominalism is that it leads to statements like this:

Agreement in these matters usually ends up with dictionaries and encyclopedias being written to reflect the consensus understanding of words and ideas, theories and concepts. These are then manifested in laws that are enacted by lawmakers we vote into positions of power. They become meaningful when they are enforced by entities such as governments, police forces, and legal teams.

The problem is that he’s relying for some sense of “meaning” on them being enforced.  I think he means that they have pragmatic importance when enforced, but the issue is that the meaning of the concept and that enforcement can obviously come apart.  It could obviously be the case that everyone, even the government, agrees that something is moral and yet they enact laws to try to enforce people acting immorally.  If this is the case, what does it mean for that moral concept?  Is it still defined as per the agreement?  It would seem that by his own view it would have to be.  But then in what sense does it make the concept meaningful if it is enforced?  Concepts that go against the agreed on concept would be just as meaningful if they happened to be enforced.  Pearce, I think, wants to make the case that unless humans agree to enforce moral concepts effectively people won’t act in the world as if those are the moral concepts, but again we can easily see that people can insist that a law is immoral precisely because it tries to enforce acting in a manner opposed to what morality really is.  In all of these cases, we need some kind of right definition or idea for these concepts, and if nominalism is going to say anything interesting this is precisely what it is going to deny.  So this idea seems incorrect, and it’s also dangerous since it can justify blindly going along with laws and social conventions because there is no way to say that those things are immoral, because what is moral and immoral is just defined by those things.

But Pearce wants to try to show that realism, and in particular Platonism, is vacuous, as per the title.  He says that he came to this with the aid of an E-mail exchange with Richard Carrier, which might explain where it goes wrong, because it’s a very Richard Carrier argument:  something that sounds profound, but when you give it more than a shallow examination you can see the underlying assumptions that it relies on that aren’t safe ones and are clearly not ones people who hold the view being criticized would accept.

Here is Pearce’s basic argument:

There are two horns to a dilemma: either Platonism asserts nothing (such that there is no distinction between it being true or false) or it asserts something. Yet if it asserts something, it asserts that abstracts exist and that they have some sort of effect, but that they simultaneously “never exist” and “exist nowhere” (given they have no spatiotemporal dimension).

This appears to be somewhat incoherent.

Except for Platonism, it isn’t, because the Forms — those abstracts — are not material and are not physical.  Thus, they exist, but not as material objects.  Thus, talking about them existing or not existing in time or existing or not existing in space is making a meaningless statement.  Yes, this implies that Platonists think that non-material things exist and can interact with material things in some way, but they come to that as the conclusion as opposed to a starting presumption.  One of the main Platonic arguments is that we can all grasp the concept of a perfect triangle, and yet we can’t get this empirically or from the material world, because no perfect triangles exist in the world.  While it’s been a while since I studied this, from what I recall this is why Plato argues that our souls — which are also not material — must exist in a Platonic realm where they have access to these Forms, so that they can come to know then before they are attached to a physical body.  So we need to have an immaterial soul to be able to connect to the immaterial Forms so that we can come to know the perfect Forms of objects so that we can do classification in this world.  That they are immaterial is the conclusion, not the starting point.

So for this argument to make any sense and be any kind of problem for Platonists, we have to adopt a very strict materialism where only material objects exist and there is no way for any kind of immaterial object to interact with material objects.  Platonists, as I’ve outlined above, clearly reject that and have proposed loose mechanisms for how immaterial objects exist and how they interact with material objects.  Even I, the conceptualist, will not accept that immaterial objects simply cannot exist of, if they did, couldn’t interact with material objects.  If it turns out that the best way to explain abstracts is to appeal to these sorts of immaterial objects, then a materialist presumption is not going to be sufficient to dissuade us from adopting it.

The job of the Platonist is to explain how abstracts have those effects (how they make the world different from a world where Platonism is false). They must also explain how such entities can have effects at particular times and places, without those entities ever existing in any of those times and places.

Claiming Platonism can be true without answering any of this amounts to saying Platonism asserts nothing and is devoid of meaningful content.

But Platonists answered these questions from the very start (as I outlined above), as do pretty much all realists about concepts.  I’m a bit surprised that Pearce, at least, didn’t look to see how Plato addressed these sorts of things (even though it doesn’t surprise me at all that Carrier wouldn’t know that).  You can’t refute Platonism that easily, and one shouldn’t expect to given how long it’s been a position in philosophy.  If these simple questions went unanswered, philosophers really would have noticed by now and noted it or tried to answer them.  It’s only if one has a strong materialist position that this can seem like a reasonable attack, because it can be seen as being at least an empirical impossibility and so something they can’t answer.  But again anyone who holds that position would reject that strong a materialism, so it simply doesn’t work to oppose Platonists.

The problem here is perhaps an epistemological one whereby if we cannot know the Platonic reality—even if it does somehow exist—or if we cannot sense it in any way, then it might as well not exist. It carries no pragmatic utility.

Platonists propose it as the only plausible way to explain how we can have any real knowledge of any abstracts at all, and this sort of knowledge is incredibly important to our intellectual lives.  And, as noted, they proposed a mechanism for us coming to know it.  And all realists propose mechanisms for that as well.  This is simply not a problem for any realism that anyone has considered worth talking about, let alone Plato’s view.

So the argument depends on an assumption that the position(s) he is attacking will not accept, and on unanswered questions that the positions tried to answer.  Thus, it misses on pretty much all levels, even putting aside that there’s another option out there that Pearce doesn’t consider.  It certainly seems that it’s not the Platonist view that’s vacuous.

Thoughts on “V/H/S/94”

August 25, 2022

When I talked about “Deadhouse Dark”, I mentioned that I wasn’t even a big fan of anthology movies.  So why did I pick up this movie, which is an anthology horror movie that’s a continuation in some sense of a famous series of anthology horror movies that I, myself, had never watched?  Well, other than perhaps stupidity, the main reasons are: that it was another Shudder movie and my opinion of them has greatly improved from the first couple; that I thought that this was a good opportunity to get some kind of sense of that series; and finally that, well, it was cheap and so worth the risk like, well, so many of the movies I talk about were.

I didn’t enjoy it very much.

Now, I probably could go through each story segment and pick it apart, but I don’t think it’s worth doing, at least in part because most of them weren’t very memorable.  The one I remember most is the first one, and that’s because it actually did really try to create a vibe that these were videos from the 90s that were being stored and viewed on VHS, even as the plot — monster in the sewers that kills some people and converts a television reporter — wasn’t all that memorable.  But the other segments, in and of themselves, didn’t have that connection to the times, even as at least one of them references Bill Clinton in a situation where they probably would have preferred Joe Biden.  They might be referencing movie and media tropes from the times, but despite being alive then they didn’t jump out at me which means that anything like that would have been lost on me.  So all that’s left is them as horror tropes, and none of them seem all that creative to me.

But as I noted before, the big thing for me is the framing device, and the framing device here doesn’t really work.  It’s basically a raid on the installation that has the videos with them appearing on TVs in roughly related areas, but there’s no reason for anyone to watch them and no real indication that even the police officers raiding the place actually do.  As we approach the end, it becomes clear that something isn’t right with the raiding police officers and the end reveals that two of them are in fact behind the whole thing and are killing off/capturing all the other officers, but that plan makes no sense — they would have to leave anyway since there’d probably be official paperwork and all — and none of this actually sets anything up for the stories or provides any real linkage between them despite one officer being in the last one (he’s not one of the killer officers).  So that leaves is it as a horror segment itself, and not enough happens and it isn’t developed enough to really work as one, with the horror only really happening at the end and us not really having enough of an emotional connection to anyone to really grasp or care about the twist.

So, ultimately, this was the sort of movie that has to hit on all cylinders for me to like it and it stumbled in a number of places.  As you might expect, this is a movie that’s going to go into my box of movies to maybe resell at some point, because I can’t imagine rewatching it any time soon.  This also means that based on the last couple of full movies I’m thinking that Shudder-exclusives might not be movies that I’ll necessarily like, so I’ll probably be more careful in buying them.  I will say that the production values of this one are pretty good and far better than the first two I watched, so it’s still better than those.  But yeah, Shudder can have still have its clunkers just like regular horror does so often.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this …

August 24, 2022

So with there not being a Shakespeare post this week, let me turn my attention to something of equal literary and artistic merit:  “Pretty Little Liars”!

No, that first line isn’t serious, but as those who have been following the blog know I’ve watched the TV series and read the books, and even compared the two.  So they were something I enjoyed and so I have a bit of a soft spot for the universe, although I didn’t bother following up with “The Perfectionists”, in either book or show form.  Thus, when I read about the idea that there was going to be a new series/reboot of the show, it piqued my interest.  But after reading about it, I don’t think it’s going to be all that great.

Let me start with the statement that bugged me the most when I first read the article but that I later decided probably wasn’t as bad as it sounded:

The chemistry between this cast, primarily this main group of of girls, is electric, and something that, as fans of the original Pretty Little Liars series, we really needed.

“The magic is when they’re all together in the library, or they’re all together in the bathroom, and they’re all gossiping and talking about what’s going on, and talking about who’s dating who, and who’s cute and all this stuff,” Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said. “That is the goal,…and that is kind of the secret sauce.”

By talking about it as being the “secret sauce”, it somewhat implied that it was something that this series did that the previous series didn’t, even though the author of the piece clearly would agree with me that that sort of thing was what made the original series good.  Now, on re-reading it the quote doesn’t really imply that, but I think it comes across in sort of the same way as a comment that someone on the rebooted “Charmed” series made about making it feminist that got Holly Marie Combs ticked off enough to ask what they thought the original “Charmed” series was doing.  In both cases, maybe they were trying to talk about having that in the same way as the original series had it, but did so in a way that made their series sound special and something to single out.  Here, I think that’s the biggest issue for me, because the quote here (and the next one about them having independent stories) isn’t something really neat and cool that the series is doing, but instead is essentially what was great about the original series.  So those sorts of things are really table stakes:  if they couldn’t manage to do that, then they shouldn’t be doing the series at all.  They are still going to need to find other things that make them special and not just a shallow copy of the original, but even the shallow copy is at least going to have to do that to be considered any kind of copy at all.

Now, they are trying to do that, by reimagining it as a slasher horror series.  I have … some issues with that, which I will get into a bit later.  But another thing they are doing and talking about worries me as well:

It’s Karen, who’s not just mean but racist and homophobic, that brings this new era of a friend group of teen girls together, all with a shared hatred of Karen. We have Imogen and Tabby, along with Faran (Zaria) who is an avid ballet dancer competing against Karen for the lead role in Swan Lake, Minnie “Mouse” (Malia Pyles) whose overprotective moms have her on a very short leash, and Noa (Maia Reficco) who is walking around school with an ankle monitor after spending time in juvie for drug charges.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that in order to make Karen some sort of villain and a main mean girl, they had to tack on “racist and homophobic” (and I realized later while taking a walk the incredible subtlety of calling her “Karen”).  This is problematic.  First, if Karen really is a “mean” girl in the normal sense — and, importantly, in the sense that Allison was in the original series — then we should be able to come to dislike her without having to tack that on to her character.  Thus, it seems more likely to me that they are probably going to lean on that to make the audience dislike her.  However, this is risky for a number of reasons.  First, I’m pretty sure that the people trying to do that are on the progressive end of the liberal scale, and the problem there is that they tend to think that all you need to do is attach those labels to someone and people will automatically dislike them.  What this means is that they’ll fire off one or two comments about that, and then rely on that to drive the dislike of the character.  Since bad things are going to happen to that character, that might not be enough to do that.  Even worse, progressives often see things — rightly or wrongly — as being egregious instances of racism and homophobia that most people don’t see as being that egregious.  So they risk creating a couple of instances of what they consider terrible racism and sexism that much of the audience don’t see as being that bad.  If the main characters go on about it, then — and there’s no reason to put it in if the main characters don’t go on about it — the risk is that the audience will consider them to be far too sensitive over such things, and if it ends friendships or causes them to not help Karen out when bad things happen to her then it will reflect badly on the main characters, and for a show like this to work we will have to like and sympathize with them even if we see them as flawed (which is, again, one of the great things about the original series).  I’m quite certain that the writers here will not allow us to consider their anti-racism and anti-homophobia stances as flaws, so it had better be the case that Karen is really as bad as the writers and the main characters claim she is.

But maybe they will pull that off.  The issue they have then is that in order for the main characters to have to join together to oppose her, Karen is going to have to be popular and so have influence over them that they need to oppose.  This, then, says something about the school and the town itself.  If she’s open in her racism and homophobia and the others go along with it, doesn’t that suggest that they themselves are racist and homophobic?  This then turns it from a town and school that’s ordinary but flawed into one that’s downright horrible.  But if they don’t go along with it, then why do the girls have to come together to oppose her?  Isn’t everyone already against her?  So the issue is really this:  1) what the writers would probably consider ordinary, everyday racism and homophobia would explain no one opposing her, but isn’t enough to make her a villain and so those aspects would seem extraneous, 2) egregious racism and homophobia would be enough to make her a villain but would be something that more people other than the main characters would oppose which would turn it into them fighting the entire school/town instead of Karen and 3) extremely mild racism will make the main characters look bad for opposing it strongly instead of ignoring it.  It’s a very fine line to carry that off without making people other than Karen look bad.

And the problem is that if they use that to make Karen a villain it will be nearly impossible for them to pull off what the original show did for its main villains (especially Allison and Mona), which is to at least to some extent redeem them.  The main villains in the original show were people who wanted status and control and were selfish and shallow, but they had reasons for their attitudes and it’s far easier to have them lose that as they mature and come to realize that it was pointless and so come to treat people better.  If the racism and homophobia is strong enough to be worth mentioning, then that’s a lot harder to overcome, especially to progressive writers.  So I worry that it will come across like the guy in “The Craft:  Legacy”, where she has to have a complete epiphany and go to ludicrous extremes to be redeemed, which will make the character seem unrealistic and annoying.  And if bad things are going to happen to Karen, then it really seems like she needs to be redeemed in some way.  It won’t give anything like the same sort of tone to the series if the main characters laugh at her misfortunes until they start happening to them as well.  Making the villains redeemable meant that people could think that they deserved their misfortunes but when they went over the top we could still sympathize with them and agonize with them over the question of whether their past bad behaviour means that they deserve what they’re getting now.

And having the main characters come together as a reaction to her loses another thing that the original show had:  the fact that the original main characters were part of Allison’s clique and so participated in and benefited from her bad behaviour.  They were all popular, but were all popular because of Allison’s abilities as a mean girl.  When she went missing and when things started happening because of that, they had to face the fact that they themselves were culpable for the bad things she did.  It started out the earliest with Hannah having to face Lucas whom Allison bullied but who was nice to her (and, yes, had a crush on her) and then having to deal with Mona still treating him that way.  Later, when Allison returns, they have to face the conundrum over whether they should stick with their friend in the face of people they know and sometimes even like not being pleased that their tormentor is back and might start doing it again.  Here, though, other than perhaps one character there’s no one who could have that kind of link to Karen, and she would have cut ties with her at the beginning of the show.  Also, like in “The Craft:  Legacy”, in order to have to band together they pretty much all have to be losers, on the fringes of popularity in the school.  But one of the great things about the original series was that these were all popular girls, who had a lot to lose and yet their popularity, to a large degree, came from the mean girl Allison.  For most of them they could have found enough popularity on their own — Aria, ironically, is the one who is the least able to do this because of her artsy nature, but even she could have found her place in the artsy crowd, while Emily was a sports star and would have been able to fit in with that crowd, Spencer was an academic star and a member of an influential family, and Hannah really just needed to lose some weight, as proven when she and Mona took over Allison’s place in the school — but they didn’t, and had it through Allison.  Also, that starting point let them be friends over something that they themselves, at times, might have found a bit shameful, which added a lot to the group dynamic.  All of that is lost with this set-up.

For the most part, I worry about the “racism and homophobia” angle because it changes the dynamic a lot and isn’t at all necessary.  If they really wanted to talk about it, they could have saved it for “A” where it wouldn’t change things all that much, necessarily.

Now, what I’m also worried about is that they want to focus on making a slasher horror version of the series:

We start in Millwood, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1999 at a party where a teenage girl Angela Waters (Gabriella Pizzolo) jumps off the rafters and dies, a pile of blood spreading on the ground, with five girls look down at her in complete shock.

Moving forward 22 years, we meet Imogen (Bailee Madison), who is managing her teen pregnancy in high school. Her mother receives an envelope at her door with a red A, inside there is a poster for a party that says, “Party Like It’s 1999!” and the back reads “Gone but not forgotten. You can’t ignore the past forever. The countdown is on.”

That night, while Imogen and her ex-friend Karen (Mallory Bechtel) are at Imogen’s home, they see a trail of water and blood coming from the bathroom, only to discover that Imogen’s mom is dead in the bathtub with a red “A” on the wall.

The first thing that jumped out at me wrt this scenario is that it’s, well, the exact same scenario that we found in “The Row”, and in “Scream Queens”.  It worked there, but the former is an hour and a half movie and the latter is a mostly comedic short season of half hour episodes.  I know that streaming series tend to aim for shorter seasons sometimes with longer episodes, but in order to be anything at all like the original series I presume that they’d want to have multiple seasons of this show, and this premise isn’t big enough to cover multiple seasons.  Heck, it’s probably not big enough to cover one season, given that the only TV series to try it was a comedy that had a lot more things going on.  So the premise seems a bit small and shallow for a series like this.

The other issue with this is that one of the key components of slasher movies is that people are killed.  Without that, the slasher doesn’t seem like much of a threat.  But if you are going to build a cast of main characters like the ones in the original series — which, as we saw above, they are claiming they are trying to do — you aren’t going to want to kill any of them off.  So, then, who are they going to kill off?  Side characters?  We won’t care and we eventually won’t feel that the main characters are threatened as there would almost certainly be many cases where they could have been killed but weren’t.  There’s a reason that “A” in the original series hurt and even killed people at times but wasn’t a slasher, as that allowed us to feel that the main characters were threatened without wondering why they never get killed or seriously injured.  “A” wasn’t trying to kill anyone, but was willing to do so if necessary.  A slasher-type villain is actually going to be trying to kill people.

This gets even worse when we tie it in to the idea that the main characters are going to have their own plots and issues to deal with.  This was indeed a big part of the original series and was something that worked really well.  The problem is that it worked really well because those side plots generated secrets, and as “A” wasn’t a slasher-type villain they worked on secrets, so the side plots generated secrets that “A” then used against them, providing a dramatic synergy while still allowing those side plots to give us a break from the suspense and tension.  The issue with a slasher-type villain is that they don’t use exposing secrets as their main threat, and by their very nature deal in violence more than that.  So the side plots won’t generate anything for the villain to use, and more importantly if the slasher ever kills any of the important characters in those plots will unceremoniously cut them off and leave them unresolved.  While sometimes that can be done for shock value, if you do it too often then the audience will get sick of it and stop investing in those side plots, which works against what they exist for.  But if they don’t let the villain kill people who are important in these plots then that’s just another set of people who the slasher can’t kill, even as a slasher-type villain needs to kill people in order to be a real threat to the main characters.

Ultimately, what this means is that they are going to build a series around a villain who is supposed to kill people and then fill it with people that, dramatically, they won’t want to kill off.  In general, this means that either they are going to constantly kill off people we don’t care about or they are going to invent characters for the sole purpose of making us care about them so that they can be killed, which is a trick that audiences usually catch onto and react badly to, especially if it isn’t done properly.

And let me cycle back to the main characters themselves:

Moving forward 22 years, we meet Imogen (Bailee Madison), who is managing her teen pregnancy in high school.

One month later, Imogen goes to school with her friend, horror movie aficionado Tabitha “Tabby” (Chandler Kinney) …

We have Imogen and Tabby, along with Faran (Zaria) who is an avid ballet dancer competing against Karen for the lead role in Swan Lake, Minnie “Mouse” (Malia Pyles) whose overprotective moms have her on a very short leash, and Noa (Maia Reficco) who is walking around school with an ankle monitor after spending time in juvie for drug charges.

Yeah, they’re all pretty much fringe players who could be called “losers”.  They certainly aren’t the sort of people that we would think would have no problems and have a great life.  But one of the great things about the original series was that these were indeed girls who should have had a great life, at least by most people’s standards, and yet when we looked deeper we could see all the underlying issues and problems that they were having.  This generated the secrets and also the separate dramas for each girl.  I maintain that one of the reasons that characters like Hannah and Spencer were so great was precisely because they were supposed to have great lives and acted and treated others like they did but were humbled by what “A” and other people did to them, and the terrible circumstances they found themselves in.  There are no characters here to be humbled, and no hidden darkness to discover behind the happy facades.  So, then, why should I care about them specifically?  It really strikes me that what they are trying to do is hit on a number of current trendy traits to make us care about them from the start, and those traits will fall flat for most of the audience.

So, from this, you can probably tell that I think the premise is horribly flawed.  The writers comment that they wanted something a bit disconnected from the original series, but my big concern — aside from it not being a premise that would work for a show like this — is that it’s too disconnected, not following on from the themes or premise of the original show, which would leave it as “Pretty Little Liars” in name only.   Instead, I would have used things that were part of the show but that were underused as the premise for this one.  The first one I thought of is to use a specific supernatural premise (which would seem to be a no-brainer for writers coming from a supernatural show).  The supernatural was hinted at in the show and explicitly addressed with the spin-off “Ravenswood”, so exploring that a bit more would have worked really well.  The original series ended with the events seemingly repeating themselves with Addison and her friends, so hint that there is some supernatural force that gets something out of this and so repeats similar events every so often (over a longer time period than these shows) but that it didn’t get what it wanted from the “Pretty Little Liars” crew, at least, and so had to try again with Addison and maybe again with these new girls.  Or move it to another town and let the main characters link it back to Rosewood, which would be a great excuse to have cameos from the original actors without having them have to get involved, keeping it in the exact same universe.

The other idea is to take what I thought was the best part of the show, although sadly underused, which was the game scenario.  Instead of making “A” antagonistic, make it so that they are playing a game with the main characters, rewarding them when they do the right thing and punishing them when they don’t.  This allows “A” to be more ambiguous which heightens the mystery of what they want and how the girls are going to finally satisfy them, while keeping a connection to what happened in the original series but focusing on that ambiguous “A” where the original series was definitely more antagonistic.

This is coming to my streaming series, and since I’ve commented on it I probably have to watch and comment on it at some point to see if it turned out as badly as I worried it would be.  I have a bunch of others things to get through first (and it’s not completely out yet either).

Thoughts on “Time of Your Life”

August 23, 2022

I recently hooked up Roku on my TV, which let me access CTV Throwback, which has a number of TV shows that I probably should watch at some point, the first show that I was going to watch was “Time of Your Life”, the short-lived “Party of Five” spinoff starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as her character Sarah from the show.  Now, since the series was short-lived I wasn’t holding out much hope for it, but in watching it I think that its biggest problem might be the same sort of issue that hit “John Woo’s Once a Thief”:  the show that it was that might have attracted viewers was not the show it advertised itself to be.

The premise of the show is that Sarah comes to New York from the West Coast to find her biological father.  Filled with excitement, she goes to see her mother’s old apartment and manages to arrange to stay in the apartment, unaware that someone is still living there.  That person is Romi, who has come to New York to become an actress, particularly in plays.  After that rough start, the two become somewhat friendly, at least, as Sarah runs around trying to find her father.  The most promising prospect turns out to not be her father, but cared for her mother and is interested in helping her, and at the end of the pilot episode Sarah decides to stay to see what she can make of herself all on her own.

The issue that I alluded to above is that the show for the most part seems to be the story of Sarah, and that seems to be how it was pitched at the time.  However, there are a number of other plots going on at the same time, including Romi’s attempts to get acting roles and balance her on-again-off-again boyfriend, the guy who lives in the apartment across the way.  Thus, the show comes across far more as a standard “young people trying to make a go of it” drama than as a story focusing on one lead character and her struggles.  This is not helped by the fact that Sarah’s plots often seem disconnected from the other plots.  But she still gets the headlining role and the show does seem to focus on her as the main character.  So it seems to me that people who came to the show wanting to follow Sarah will probably be frustrated by the fact that there are all of those other plots going on that take up a lot of screen time, while people who don’t really care for Sarah but were looking for a good drama show with a number of plots among a number of people will be annoyed at how central she is to the show.  So Sarah is both too prominent and not prominent enough to satisfy any of the potential audiences for the show.

This is not helped by the fact that Sarah is the wrong sort of character for this show.  The idea would be to take her enthusiastic and optimistic personality and show her impact on all of these people by having that encourage them to keep chasing their dreams, even as they are worn-down and cynical from the struggles they’ve faced so far.  The problem is that Sarah, as a character, was never really optimistic, enthusiastic, or even empathetic, but overall was just incredibly emotional, which led her to get enthusiastically involved in things and to feel for others which spawned her helping them.  But she was also prone to getting really angry and upset about things, often things that didn’t seem worth getting that upset about.  When she was a minor character that we mostly saw through her interactions with Bailey, we could imagine that her outbursts were less her being emotional and more her simply being passive, so that the problems would build and build until the dam burst, which made it more understandable and so more forgivable.  Here, however, she is the main character and still gets overly upset at times.  Not only does this make her really annoying every time she does it (especially when even she knows that she’s overreacted), it takes away from her being the optimistic and enthusiastic person who is for the most part unshakeable in her optimism unless things really, really go wrong, meaning that she can’t be the catalyst for change that she would need to be in the lead role.  So even if you liked Sarah on “Party of Five”, you may not like her here and her character doesn’t work as the sort of character that the show seems to want her to be.

I wondered if this show was originally written with another character in mind for the lead but then was co-opted as this spinoff.  Romi is played by Jennifer Garner, which ads for CTV Throwback seem to hint was already fairly well known from another show (“13 Going on 30”).  At one point, her boyfriend talks about how she’s so much less cynical than he is, except that right before that she had a job filming dating videos and ruins one because the guy says that he’s attracted to someone like her but with bigger boobs, and when she is fired by that company steals the list of people who haven’t had a lot of contacts and throws a party with them promising them the ability to meet people, and charging them $20 a person to get in.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend is refusing to sleep with her because he’s kinda in a relationship with an older, rich person who is helping him out, and doesn’t want to give that — or potentially her — up but doesn’t want to “cheat” on her with Romi despite the fact that he’s falling in love with her.  So who’s the one who’s the more cynical, here?

It’s also the case that her plots interact with more people than Sarah’s do.  Sarah’s big plot that interacts with the most people is when she runs a temp agency and has Romi and the landlord working for her, but that’s about all the interaction she has with them in that plot, as much of it focuses on her somewhat boyfriend Spencer with a little bit of erstwhile suitor McGuire.  Meanwhile, Romi has a plot where she is auditioning for parts while her boyfriend is trying to make something of himself, and he does that by joining in a pyramid scheme by one of the other girls’ new boyfriends.  The boyfriend also becomes friends with McGuire.  When the scheme falls apart, the guy takes off, devastating the friend and leaving J.B. holding the bag.  He gets arraigned for the scheme at the same time as Romi needs to audition in L.A. for a part, and she has to choose between being with him and auditioning for the part.  She chooses the part, although since his hearing was five minutes really he should have told her to go.  But this is far more integrated plot than any of Sarah’s plots.

This makes me think that maybe what they should have done was made Romi the main character and instead of inserting Sarah instead inserting the friend of Romi’s that came over to stay later, coming for a visit and then staying to see if she could make it as a singer/actress herself.  The reason is that what the show did was introduce her in one episode and start a jealousy plot with Romi, and then have her killed off in the next episode to make Sarah not feel safe and to make Romi feel bad for being jealous of her.  This was far too quick to really provide the emotional heft that such a plot demands.  If the character had been around longer, then it would have been more of a shock and we could have let the jealousy angle simmer a bit instead of it coming into play pretty much fully formed, and if the friend had lifted Romi out of her feelings that she couldn’t make it then it would explain why she crashed out when she died.  And her being more optimistic and seeing the city as a land of hope instead of a land of broken dreams would have pretty much replaced anything that Sarah did in those same episodes.

I also should mention Spencer, because it’s the same sort of plot.  He starts out as the jerk son of a rich woman that Sarah works for, and then resurfaces when she goes to work for his stepmother.  He’s still a jerk, but somehow manages to be nice enough to her to get her to date him, but even then he’s, well, still a jerk.  So we don’t see why she suddenly likes him, and then she breaks up with him in an episode or two because she feels he’s trying to run her life while he feels that he’s just giving her the benefits of his experience and giving her advice.  This plot both hits her tendency to get really upset over things that probably don’t warrant her being that upset and a rushed plot where the time isn’t taken to develop why she thinks he’s changed enough to be worth dating and then the relationship ends soon afterwards without any real build up.  Ultimately, she ends up with McGuire, but other than some minor rivalry between the two nothing in that plot really impacts their getting together.

And McGuire is a bit of a stumble as well, because he’s someone who was a good musician but who backed away from it and has no intention of getting back into it.  The reason for this, ultimately, is because he got into drugs and being in the music scene hindered he’s getting clean.  As the show notes, Sarah already dealt with addiction with Bailey, and so it seems repetitive for anyone who actually cared about her character.  It would have worked better if McGuire just couldn’t take the pressure and so lacks ambition, while Spencer has oodles of ambition but doesn’t care about others very much, while McGuire’s main trait is being willing to help people out (that’s how they met, actually).  Then Sarah could find herself torn between the nice guy who doesn’t want to make anything of himself when that’s her entire goal in the city, and the somewhat jerky guy who definitely wants to make something of himself and wants her to make something of herself too, and wishing that she could combine those traits into one person.  Of course, careful viewers of “Party of Five” would note that that person was pretty much Bailey, which would make them wonder why she didn’t just stay with Bailey, or even go back to them.

The series only got one season, and again I always pay attention to the last episode to see if they knew that they were going to be cancelled or if it came as a surprise.  Like “Ghost Whisperer”, it seems like they might have suspected that it might be cancelled but made the plot so that it could continue if they got the chance.  J.B. goes to jail, but he can get out on parole in three months and so be back after the summer break.  McGuire decides to go out on tour again after finally getting into a relationship with Sarah, but again he’d be back after the summer break.  Sarah finds her father which resolves the initial premise of the show, but the show had moved beyond that anyway.  So they could have picked the series up after the summer break, but most of the big plots are resolved leaving nothing hanging for fans to wonder about.  So it feels complete, yet in a way that would have lent itself to new plots later.

But it didn’t get a second season, and so the only unresolved question is what I thought of it.  It was moderately entertaining, but unfocused.  I didn’t care for Sarah as the lead and liked Romi a lot better, and so thought that the show focused too much on Sarah and not enough on Romi, and the time spent on the various plots doesn’t leave enough time for any of them to be properly developed.  Ultimately, then, it’s a series that I don’t regret watching — especially since it was only 19 episodes — but almost certainly will not watch again.

Next up is another Jennifer Love Hewitt show from Throwback, which is “The Client List”.

Trunk Diary: Introduction

August 22, 2022

Once upon a time, there were three little Imperials who went to the police academy.

And they were all assigned to very hazardous duty.

Of course, all police officers assigned to duty on Dromund Kaas are assigned to very hazardous duty.  Much of the planet remains an untamed jungle, and so duty in the smaller, outlying settlements involves facing off with wild jungle animals and the remains of strange Sith experiments, both in terms of fauna as well as Force-powered spirits and abominations that few even among the Sith can handle for very long.  The Sith claim to like this because it provides an environment to promote strength and cull the weak, but as it turns out few of them would deign to live in that environment that they find so desirable.

Then again, the main city of Kaas City could be claimed to be more dangerous, especially to its constabulary.

Kaas City is the seat of political power on Dromund Kaas, which makes it the seat of political power for the Empire.  Thus, every faction that has or wants power is there and constantly scheming to acquire and preserve their power.  Political power tends to form a hierarchy where the Sith are at the top, followed by the military and by Imperial intelligence.  The constabulary ranks far, far below them, and so are often used as pawns in these power struggles, with little recourse but to just go along with it and hope that they come out of those schemes alive.  Woe betide the police officer who happens to get in the way of one of these schemes, as all of these factions have no qualms about ruining, or even taking, the live of anyone who gets in their way.  Especially the Sith, who add to the troubles by often killing people just out of their own perverse sense of fun.  In theory, the police are supposed to prevent murderous serial killers from pursuing their perverted pleasures, but when that involves the Sith things get far more complicated.  Even those Sith who disapprove of such actions will not suffer a mere police officer to interfere with the actions of a Sith.

Which is what brought about the downfall of our three police officers.

A burgeoning young Sith had … an interesting hobby that involved killing people in horrific ways in an attempt to gain further Force abilities and power.  As the most educated of our officers — Dori Doreau — noted, those rituals were nothing but bunk, and so were nothing more than a fig leaf excuse for the Sith’s perverted pleasures.  Something needed to be done about this situation, of course, but the captain, Clavell Trunk, knew that it had to be handled delicately and diplomatically to avoid facing Sith reprisals.

Unfortunately, his officer Slej Hamr took a more … direct approach.  As it turns out, not only was the Sith ignorant of Force rituals and how to use them to gain power, he also wasn’t a match for a non-Force aware police officer with a set of blasters who knew how to use them.  If left alone, someone else probably would have killed him, but it was his dumb luck to run up against Slej Hamr.

And, as it turned out, their bad luck as well.

The Sith, of course, could not let such an affront stand.  They were all forewarned by a contact Doreau had in Imperial Intelligence, but they all had a differing ability to avoid the consequences.  Doreau used her contact in Imperial Intelligence to join them as an agent, and the Sith they killed was not important or liked enough for the Sith to risk going up against Imperial Intelligence.  But they watched her closely, and when she interfered in another Sith plan they demanded more insurance against her interference, which led to a control chip being installed in her brain.  Once she discovered this due to Republic Intelligence using it against her, she worked to overcome it and take down the conspiracy that was playing both sides for fools.  This left her with a mountain of information to use to work to calm tensions between the Republic and the Empire and to mold them into a shape that was more fair and more just, and less vulnerable to the depredations of greedy and unprincipled people on both sides.

Hamr, on the other hand, as a fully-marked man, could only flee the Empire for the Republic, where he took up the life of a smuggler.  Having to live his life as a law breaker was, ironically, probably the worst punishment anyone could inflict upon him, but he tried to find some sort of lawful employment, working to help restore a rightful ruler to her throne and working as a privateer.  Of course, this ended up with him getting involved in a conspiracy to sell out the Republic to the Empire, which he foiled, leaving him a respected agent of the Republic.  However, it is likely that he will return to work with Doreau, as he has little love for either the Empire and the Republic in their current forms.

Trunk, as the person in charge, was one that the Sith wanted to make an example of, even more than Hamr, whom they considered a skilled brute who wasn’t much of a threat on his own, and was only in the position to act as he did because his captain didn’t quash the investigation when he should have.  So they moved against him quickly and firmly, before he could put any of his own escape plans into effect.  They made him a slave and thought that would be the end of it.

But doing that made Trunk angry, and as it turns out the Sith very much liked him when he was angry, because it revealed that he actually had strong Force abilities that would make him very valuable to them in the war they were fermenting with the Republic.  So they sent him to Korriban to be trained, not considering that maybe taking someone that they had unjustly punished and forcing him to join their ranks might have … unintended consequences …

– Galen Mag’nus

Screwing up AI

August 19, 2022

I read through a post on another blog talking about free will, which reminded me of how Jerry Coyne talks about free will, which reminded me that the real key debate around free will is not about things like “if we replayed the tape of time, would things turn out differently”, but is instead entirely over semantics and reason-responsiveness.  What we want to preserve is the idea that we make our decisions based on what things in the world and words really mean and on how our decision-making processes act on these very real meanings to make decisions on the basis of what these things really are and really mean.  We aren’t merely going through the motions of a simple, step-by-step symbolic processing, and our inner thoughts and inner speech are not merely the results of neural firings that produce the decisions but have a real impact on what those decisions are, so that it is not possible for our inner speech and our decision-making processes to come apart and work on different elements and meanings.

Which then got me thinking about AI, again.  See, the biggest complaint about AI in general has been that it operates on symbols and syntax but not on semantics.  If an inference engine, say, concludes that “Socrates is mortal” from “Socrates is a man” and “All men are mortal”, the debate against the AI really understanding those things is that, unlike us, it doesn’t really seem to know what a man is or what it means to be mortal, but instead seems to be simply matching the symbols it has in its structure.  So it would achieve the same result if it stored and parsed those specific sentences and returned just the result as if it started with a translator that turned them into As, Bs, and Cs, worked on sentences with those in the engine, and then translated the answer back at the end.  But in the latter case, the work of figuring that stuff out would be completely disconnected from reality, and so how could it be figuring stuff out on the basis of what the things really mean?  And in case you think that Deep Learning/neural net systems can avoid this issue, it turns out for them its even worse, because algorithmically it’s the case with them that the parts that are doing the work — the neural connections and that entire infrastructure — are explicitly built to be disconnected from reality.  It’s a design feature of these systems that internally there is no way to find the original propositions or symbols.  So it’s even more disconnected from reality.

But then I pondered this some more, and in thinking about the differences between inference engines and neural nets I had an interesting thought.  What spawned this was my thinking about error cases and how things can be screwed up, and wondering what would happen in each case if something went in and changed the basic stored data and premises and propositions and the like in the world.  For humans, if someone forgets something, they will start to fail when trying to use that and will be able to detect what the problem is and eventually repair it.  Inference engines can do something similar.  Neural nets would have to retrain themselves on examples to correct it, but it actually is the case that in all cases where something external messed with their internal “representations” they would eventually detect that they are getting strange failures and would be able to use their specific learning mechanisms to correct it.

Ah, but where it gets interesting is when I thought about how the errors and the like would look to an external user.  Since I can’t see where any real proposition is represented in a neural net (because it kinda isn’t in a neural net) I can propose a method where some external system goes in and randomly screws the system up.  For a neural net, it shuffles weights and nodes.  For the inference engine, it changes and deletes propositions.  And then the thought experiment in my head was this:  “Okay, I let it run and it starts screwing things up.  What would that look like?  Would I be able to figure out what that external system had screwed up in terms on content?  Would I be able to identify what facts or propositions were lost and then be able to restore them?”

This, of course, puts the neutral net system behind the 8-ball from the start, since it doesn’t store propositions in that way.  Even more importantly, shuffling the weights randomly will in general create a disordered set of errors, and so what you’d have to hope to figure out would be what weights and nodes were shuffled, not what propositions and facts and ultimately content would change.  So the very nature of neural nets means that you would never be able to do this because you would be changing the hardware and cannot in any way directly change content, like you can do for an inference engine.  However, that kinda proves my point wrt neural nets, as the reason we couldn’t figure this out is that there is no real storage of content at all, and so we have no real meanings and no real semantics at all, which means that it does seem very vulnerable to the charge that, ultimately, it doesn’t understand at all.

But how about the inference engine?   What I ended up thinking was cool was that in general you would be able to figure out what had changed from looking at the errors.  If you change Socrates to Xerxes in a key statement, then it will start failing to recognize that Socrates is mortal (depending on how things are encoded, of course).  If you delete the proposition that all men are mortal then the same thing will happen.  If the inference engine is sufficiently robust you would be able to narrow down what was changed by asking it a lot of questions and noting what it still gets right and what it gets wrong.  Yeah, you couldn’t do that simply by asking if Socrates is mortal, but if you ask it if Socrates was a philosopher and if Socrates was a man and so on and so forth you will be able to narrow it down to what went wrong.  This is indeed what we can do to ourselves as humans to figure out why our reasoning went wrong in certain cases, so it looks more and more like what we actually do.  And given that, what we would be able to do, at the end of the day, is figure out what went wrong based on what the things actually mean, and from there we can posit that when the inference engine corrects itself it’s doing something similar.

So, since these sorts of random changes will cause clear failures of meaning that we can trace back and correct based on meanings, then doesn’t it really start to look like inference engines do have a concept of meanings and act on the basis of those meanings?  It looks like they only do symbol processing, but at the end of the day the result of that symbol processing really seems to be something that produces results that at least reflect — if not rely on — real semantic understanding.  While a neural net will fail in ways that demonstrate that it doesn’t have any real semantic understanding of what it’s dealing with, inference engines, as far as I can tell, rarely if ever do that.  In a way, this is obvious, as all of its failures will be clear failures of inference, where it fails to make the proper inference from the input and data it has, and doing inferences to us, at least, really seems to be based on parsing the real meanings and coming to the right — or wrong — conclusion based on those meanings.  A neural net coming to the right conclusions can be easily argued to be doing it based on pattern matching rather than real semantic processing, but it’s much harder to do that for an inference engine.  Inference engines, in general, will always be able to be shown to have made its mistakes based on not having the right meaningful propositions or interpreting them incorrectly.  If all of its mistakes are semantic or at least can be interpreted in a way that shows that it “misunderstood” the meanings of the reference points, then can we really say that it’s merely doing symbolic processing and doesn’t understand the semantics?  What more would it need to do to have real semantic processing?

(Okay, now I really want to build and explore inference engines [grin]).

So, can we get real semantics from symbol recognition and processing?  It seems clear — and is even clear when we do it — that if you just look at a symbol and return a response then you aren’t doing that on the basis of meaning.  If I am piling lumber and know to put the “S” mark in one pile and the “V” mark in another, I don’t really know that those mean “Select” and “Five common” specifically and what any of that means, so that is indeed pure symbol processing.  But if I know that to put the “Select” out I have to put the “S” pile out and know that that’s what the customers are going to want to use for specific jobs, then it seems like I would indeed be doing semantic processing and would know what they mean.  And a properly built inference engine can do that, and can even explain why all that works and why it came to that conclusion (which a neural net can’t).  So does that mean that an inference engine is doing more than simple symbol processing?  There doesn’t seem to be anything more to its algorithms than that.  But then does that mean that symbol processing can do semantics?  As per the analogy above, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  So if it can really be said to understand, what does it do differently than pure symbolic processing?  To me, this is far more interesting than whatever people are doing with Deep Learning and neural nets.

Thoughts on “Deadhouse Dark”

August 18, 2022

This is another DVD from Shudder, but if I had paid more attention to it I probably would have skipped it, as I’m really, really not the intended audience for it.  I thought it was a movie, but instead it’s “A Shudder Original Series”, but since it’s a number of episodes packed into the roughly hour and a half runtime of a movie it’s clearly not a full on series like “The Haunting of Hill House”.  Instead, it’s a collection of 10-15 minute shorts in the vein of “Short Treks”, although those are short episodes in a long-established continuity whereas this one clearly does not have a continuity that is that well-known or deep, even though it promises that these are interconnected.

The issue with this for me is that I’m really, really not the sort of person who enjoys these sorts of things.  I’m not a huge fan of anthology movies, and tend to only enjoy them if they have a great framing story that brings it all together, and as separate episodes that sort of framing is completely missing.  I don’t even like short stories most of the time, especially collections of short stories.  I’ve actually only liked Robert Sheckley’s collection(s) and then a couple of stories from some of Roger Zelazny’s collections.  I did also like an audiobook of Robertson Davies’ Christmas stories, but other than that most short story collections leave me a bit cold.  It’s obvious that I like stories that are developed in a way that you can’t get in short stories or short episodes, and so tend to dislike them.  On top of that, I’ve long complained that horror tends to need more time and more room to develop things to build really, really good horror, something that obviously is going to be missing here.

So, as it turns out, I am absolutely not the right audience for this collection, which makes it a bit difficult for me to properly criticize it.  If I ended up loving it I could gush about how it did things so well that even _I_ liked it but if I didn’t then it’s hard for me to criticize it in a way that won’t end up with me criticizing the very aspects that people who like those sorts of things actually like, leaving me vulnerable to valid charges of “You just don’t understand these sorts of works!”.

As it turns out, and as you might have guessed, I didn’t like it.  But I think I can point to some issues with it that will apply even to people who like these sorts of things.

The first is that despite it saying that the episodes are interconnected, they actually aren’t.  Two of them definitely seem to have a link where the serial killer who gets his comeuppance seemingly murdered the mother of someone who keeps trying to forget that it happened but ends up puzzling it out herself anyway, but I don’t see the link between any of the other episodes.  This is bad because without any kind of framing device and because the episodes examine a wide range of horror tropes we don’t have any set context for the world they are in, which means we don’t know what can and can’t happen.  This means that we spend a lot of the time confused about what is and what can happen and how supernatural or not the events are, or why and how they actually happen, or how hostile or not the things are supposed to be.  This was an issue for “Tales from the Darkside”, and that show had much more time to develop the specifics of each specific episode.  There’s a lot less time to do that in these episodes, and since the episodes aren’t interconnected we can’t rely on the world established in other episodes to fill in the gaps, which is something that something like “Short Treks” can do, so things are often quite confusing.  The first episode is probably the exemplar for this, as it ends up with a rather predictable twist — the car they come across is their own car, and the person they saw and dodged was one of them — but we have no idea how or why this can happen and nothing in the other episodes seems to be anything at all like it.  So we end up confused, and as I’ve commented before confusion is not good for horror, as it takes us out of the horror and gets us thinking about how in the world this all works.  We should never be doing that in a horror movie except at the point where the protagonists are doing the same thing.

Another thing that I’ve commented on before is that horror movies sometimes are short, but if they are that short we should never end up being bored during that short run time.  Horror movies do have to slow things down to build suspense and the like, but given that they have to do that boredom should not be the issue.  In short, we should never really feel like things are going to slow when the movie is short, and instead should feel that things are being rushed.  You would expect that a big issue with these really short episodes is that they would feel rushed.  And yet I never really felt that way, and indeed for a number of them — especially the last one — I was indeed bored.  Bored, over a 10-15 minute span, when I’m not bored by, say, the four hours of the extended Lord of the Rings movies.  How in the world did they manage that?  I think in some cases it’s less that they dragged things out — although they did — but that we don’t have the context to understand what things are building to.  Either we’ve figured it out already as in the first episode or we have no idea what might happen and are confused as in the last one.  In both cases, we really just want them to get to the point already, either by finally showing us what we already know or by showing us what actually is going on.  The episodes often, in an attempt to build suspense, take too long to do that, so we’re bored even though we’re only inside that world for about 10 – 15 minutes.

So, this is a series that isn’t the sort of thing that I normally like and doesn’t seem to be a particularly good example of that besides.  This is going in my box of DVDs to possibly resell at some point, as I can’t imagine watching it again.