Thursday, January 30, 2020

I Like ‘Picard’ So Far, But ...

CBS All Access needs to tell their Star Trek writers to stop doing this.

Interior, Character A's (study/ready room/lab). Character B enters dramatically.

Character B: I have news.
Character A: What is it?
Character B: I suspect ... you already know exactly what it is.
Character A: No. So soon? This changes everything.
Character B: In ways we cannot begin to describe.
Character A: Be careful, Character B. That kind of talk can have consequences. Unspecified consequences ... so unspecified, in fact, that you would regret ever learning their specifics.
Character B: I understand.
Character A: Do you, though? Do you truly understand?
Character B: More than you could ever know. You see, I too can reveal the possibility of unspecified consequences. And for your sake, I hope you grasp the implications of that.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A very smart family member whom I admire recently shared this quote on Facebook:

My response was this:

It doesn’t take a moral law to recognize suffering. It doesn’t take a moral law to recognize enjoyment. It therefore doesn’t take a moral law to recognize someone taking enjoyment from the suffering of others. It doesn’t require a moral law to care about your friends' and family members’ well-being. It therefore doesn’t require a moral law to dislike the idea of someone taking enjoyment from your suffering or that of your friends and family members. It doesn’t require a moral law to feel a sense of small friendship with a stranger who smiles at you as she rings up your purchases at the grocery store, or one who says, “Here, let me get that door for you” when your hands are full. It therefore does not require a moral law to dislike the idea of someone taking pleasure in the suffering of strangers.

Cruelty and exploitation and spitefulness are not Evil, but they are evils with a lowercase “e,” and they don’t require a moral law to recognize. They only require empathy, which is a quality readily observed in almost all social animals.

When we require adherence to a moral law that is given by a law-giver, we de-emphasize the importance of empathy. And we enable power-hungry people to further undermine empathy through the creation of cruel laws.

We do not have or need laws to enforce morality. We have and need them because some individuals lack sufficient empathy and/or understanding to behave in a manner that avoids unnecessary suffering. And since laws can cause unintended suffering or even deliberate suffering, they cannot be regarded as the embodiment of morality. Rather, they are a necessary evil which we must always regard through the watchful lens of our empathy.

One is, of course, perfectly welcome to believe that empathy has a higher source. But if so, then having granted us empathy, that source has also granted us the only need for and path toward law that is required. Any declaration of a moral law distinct from empathy is therefore unable to prove itself in the way that the author of the quote attempts to demonstrate. It may be accepted as a given by those who so choose. But in mathematical and logical proofs, we should remember that what is given is by definition not proven.

I thought I demonstrated a lot of empathy by writing it that way instead of just saying, "I call B.S. on this quote."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Westworld: What's in a Name?

You know those shows you watch, the ones with lots of big arcs and mysteries that make you wonder if it's all headed somewhere, or if the creators are just making it up seat-of-the-pants as they go along? Battlestar Galactica and Lost come to mind as examples -- stories that delve into the metaphysical and create uncertainty about the nature of the reality experienced by the characters.

Usually, at some point, they give away their hand. The time for payoff arrives -- maybe for a plot thread that's run through one season, maybe for the series as a whole -- and you realize that they've been winging it.

That's not Westworld.

As I watched the first season, I kept worrying that I'd traveled this path before. Apparent inconsistencies and odd bits of presentation made me think, "Yeah, these pieces aren't all fitting together smoothly," or, "Huh? That seems like a mistake."


Westworld is one of the most carefully constructed television shows I've ever seen -- to such an extent that it almost commands me to write about it.

So here's a start, a taste of Westworld's oceanic depth of thought and planning. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but some of this will make sense only if you've watched the show. If you haven't, I highly recommend you do so.

Let's begin with a partial list of characters from the show.

Dr. Robert Ford
Bernard Lowe
Dolores Abernathy
Theodore "Teddy" Flood
Maeve Millay

William and Logan are visitors to the park. William is a thoughtful, sensitive fellow who's hesitant about the attractions of Westworld -- the carnality, the violence. He meets and quickly grows entranced with rancher's daughter Dolores Abernathy, a synthetic "host" within the park. Logan, meanwhile, is a shallow thrill-seeker intent on making the most of Westworld's unbounded opportunities for self-indulgence.

What does the name "William" mean? Resolute protector. And "Logan"? Hollow.

Maeve Millay is madam at the town brothel in Westworld's main village. She's played with deliriously entrancing verve by Thandie Newton, and both her beauty and her personality magnetize the susceptible whenever she's onscreen.

"Maeve" means "she who intoxicates." Millay could be a play on "milady" -- or it could be a licentious bit of punnery, since "mille" is one-thousandth and "lay" is pretty self-explanatory.

Next, we get a little deeper. Robert Ford serves as creative director of Westworld, having created it decades ago with his partner, Arnold. The two of them invented and programmed the hosts who form the main attraction of the park, and while Arnold died tragically before the place opened, Robert has carried on through a career of genius and fame. Fittingly, "Robert" means famed, bright, or shining.

And "Ford?" A ford is a river crossing, a place where a journey can proceed from one side of dividing waters to the other.

Why can a river be crossed at a ford? Because the water there is low.

Bernard Lowe serves as Ford's right hand. Almost everything Ford achieves, Bernard enables in some way, through his technical wizardry or his stout, quiet loyalty. Like Ford, he's brilliant -- but he's about the least flashy genius you could imagine -- quiet, calm, and humble. That is to say, he speaks in a low volume, his behavior is low-key, and his ambition is virtually non-existent. As the series progresses, we find out how much he has endured over the years and how difficult he is to cow. This is where "Bernard" comes in. It means, "hardy, strong, or brave as a bear."

Now, if low water permits a Ford to do its job, high water might be expected to prevent it. But Teddy Flood doesn't impede Dr. Ford in the least. He's a square-jawed, simplistic character who plays the noble, long-suffering Romeo to Dolores Abernathy's Juliet. As one of the park's artificial hosts, he's completely under Ford's control. "Teddy" might even imply that he's a toy. So what's the significance of "Flood?" Well, midway through the season, the villainous Man in Black (Ed Harris) has an encounter with Dr. Ford, and when he threatens the park's master, Teddy Flood stops him.

Of course, a flood will prevent you from crossing a ford.

As for "Theodore," it means, "God's gift." Possibly, it's sheer coincidence that Michaelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" has an important moment toward the end of the season. But I really don't think there's a lot of coincidence going on in this show.

Finally, there's Dolores Abernathy. "Dolores" is an easy one, even a bit heavy-handed. Plenty of people will already know that the name means, "sorrow." And Dolores more than almost any other character goes through all kinds of hell through the course of the story. But what about Abernathy? Seems like just a handy name for a ranch family, with a bit of a quaint or old-timey ring to it. Nothing watery or river-y about it, right? Actually, as it turns out Abernathy is a place name. It means, "mouth of the Nethy River." Okay, there's a river in there after all! And the mouth of a river is where it meets the sea, right? Dolores repeatedly brings up a dream image she has, of a place "where the mountains meet the sea." She feels this place calling to her -- it symbolizes home and safety and some ineffable goal she can't quite understand. Holy cow, does the Nethy River flow through mountains where they meet the sea?

A little geographic Internet searching provided me with the answer. Now, like I said, I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Dolores is on a journey, and wants to find a place where the mountains meet the sea. If "Abernathy" pinpoints a place where the river Nethy flows through mountains and reaches the sea, that might give something away. On the other hand, if it flows through mountains and doesn't reach the sea, that's kind of foreshadowing too, isn't it? So all I'll say is, the Nethy is a river in Scotland that flows through the Cairngorm mountains.

It gets at least pretty close to the sea.

Is all this just my obsessive imagination run wild? Maybe. One of my searches while writing this turned up a name-based analysis of the show with some completely different interpretations and references. It could just be a fluke that four of the main characters have names that are water- or river-related, and that those names are descriptive of their relative roles and actions in the show.

But perhaps a greater point is that the show supports this depth of thinking. There's a huge amount going on in every episode, including tiny details that mean nothing the first time you watch an episode, but make your eyes bug out when you re-watch with an understanding of the season finale.

If you like entertainment that expects you to think, and you haven't already done so, you should check it out.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Luka's Dawn by A.M. Manay!

I've thoroughly enjoyed the November Snow series by my fellow Self-Published Indie Network author, A.M. Manay. It's a vampire-faerie-werewolf-psychic adventure extravaganza with a huge cast of intriguing characters and an appealing mix of fun, thrills, thought, and heart.

If this sounds like a good combo to you, I'll call your attention to the newest addition, a short story called "Luka's Dawn" -- although spoiler-phobes will want to start at the beginning, since this one is pretty much chock-full of important details about the rest of the series. Manay has a clever way of playing with spoilers, though: the first November Snow book is truthfully called She Dies at the End, and even when the foreshadowing makes you certain what's coming, things still surprise you when you get there.

Anyway, I had the privilege of beta-reading "Luka's Dawn," and it's a splendid addition to the series. You can pre-order it here if interested!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One of my compatriots at the Alliance of Self Published Authors, W.O. Cassity, is releasing a Lovecraftian horror story next month.

Here's a short excerpt for all who might be interested:
     Skulking over the ledger’s musty-scented pages, Dr. Livingston dipped the oversized quill into the emerald-green inkwell before penning the latest entry:

11 November 1877
Bethlem Royal Hospital Bedlam
London, England
Subject 41 expired at approximately 10:22 p.m., possibly due to cardiac arrest once again. I wait for my assistant Hensley to deliver and release the corpse to the hospital morgue. My only concern is that there may perhaps be further inquiry into the claw-like contusions upon the deceased's forearms and along his facial cheeks. I still cannot fathom how the subject, who was restrained, managed to damage himself in such a way. Both Hensley and I agree that the peculiar wounds appeared to spontaneously appear across the patient’s flesh of their own accord.
Having witnessed this entire incident, I must admit that further precautions are still a necessity as I continue to push on toward a resolution to this condition. The screams of the patient still reverberate within my ears at those haunting terrors, which only existed in his tormented mind. My first assertion is that the patient’s experience became so vivid, he was somehow able to enact the subjective manifestations of his consciousness into literal lacerations upon his extremities. Perhaps Hensley and I are the first to witness the true potential of the human mind to inflict its falsely perceived stimuli upon the body during a controlled experiment. Mind over the material world indeed! This may warrant further exploration in the future after I have completed my current work toward a cure for dementia praecox.
When Hensley returns, he will prepare Subject 42 for her time in the chair. I will administer the new cocktail of ingredients according to the schedule after readjusting the chloroform and nitrous oxide levels for proper sedation during the procedure. Even though she’s much smaller than Subject 41, we still need to gauge the appropriate levels of anesthesia so Subject 42 will remain conscious yet controllable and programmable during the procedure.
As I understand it, Subject 42 has a peculiarly heightened state of hysteria, so perhaps this will allow us to mark any substantial improvements in her mental realignment using the electric resonating device with profound measure. It was difficult to identify the response from Subject 41 due to his condition’s tepid state and mannerisms.
Regardless of tonight’s setbacks, I have the utmost certainty that I can mitigate the issues Subject 41 experienced tonight. It is too soon for me to surrender now and too dangerous for me to stop. Questions are being asked already and if I do not have an answer to Annabelle’s condition soon, I may not be able to cure her ailment before they forcibly return me to New York if they discover what I have been doing. Certainly, they would shower me with accolades upon my substantial progress, but the board will need to see results and I need to save Annabelle if I am to marry her. She would definitively accept my proposal of marriage with a clear mind, for who else could liberate her from Dr. Kraepelin’s diagnosis other than the youngest fellow to be accepted by Bethlem Royal Hospital? At the age of thirty-seven, I will become renowned for such an achievement and therefore, Annabelle would accept me unconditionally.

E. L., PhD

Edgar rested his quill in the inkwell and remained still as he pondered what outcomes awaited him in the final experiment of the evening. A rapping at the heavy oak study door rescued him from his reverie.

“Yes, what is it?” he asked.

“Dr. Livingston, Subject 42 is now prepped for the resonance procedure,” Hensley responded. “Should I start charging the apparatus?”

“Indeed, Hensley. I shall be there momentarily.”

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Something Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Got Really, Really Right

One of my friends linked to this on Facebook today:

I got choked up about this too -- not just when I first got the book, but to be honest, every time I've looked at it since. The art directors for the 5E books did a terrific job being inclusive ... and in a way that's genuine and story-oriented, not forced. If you have any sense of adventure and a yearning for heroism, the picture of that woman on the "Human" entry makes you want to *be* her. It's the truest kind of representation, because it makes you feel human even if you look nothing like her.

Half-orcs and tieflings, on the other hand, kinda got the shaft. Apologies to the artists who did those sections, but ... yechh. Who wants to play a character that looks like that?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Beyond Expectations

When I heard Simon Pegg would be writing the third of the reboot Star Trek films, I was cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because, well, Simon Pegg. Cautiously because ... um ... Paramount. I got a really strong impression that Into Darkness was initially written with the villain not being Khan, and that the studio had him shoe-horned in for completely cynical reasons. So even considering Simon Pegg to be a genius, I wasn't sure he'd be allowed by the suits to work real magic.

When I heard Justin Lin would be directing ST: Beyond, I remained cautiously optimistic despite the caterwauling of many Trek fans that the movie would be turned into The Fast and the Federation. I've never seen any of the F&F movies, but I'm of the impression they're good popcorn flicks, and the trailers for that franchise alone make it clear Lin can bring the spectacle. After the dreary cynicism of ST: ID, I would have been happy with a good popcorn flick version of Trek.

By the time I saw the final ST: B trailer, though, I'd become tepid in my hopes. Each of the trailers seemed determined to make the movie look more action-packed, and none gave an impression of strong story or dialogue.

My son kept asking me when we were going to go see it, though, so last weekend we packed the family in the van and went to the theater. Everyone enjoyed themselves, but as it happened, Joey, the one kid most interested in seeing it, was working that day and didn't get to go.

So last night, I took him and saw it a second time.

What a terrific film.

The first time round, my nitpick circuitry hadn't been turned off, and I found aspects of the movie silly, parts of the plot predictable, and some of the pacing haphazard. Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, I thought to myself, "This is a perfectly enjoyable Star Trek film, but I'm not going to want to see it over and over again."

The thing is, though, the movie kept getting better and better as it went on. The energy ramped progressively upward, but at no point did the characterization slack -- in fact, almost every aspect of the spectacle served as an opportunity to let the beloved Trek ensemble shine. And despite these characters now being 50 years old, the culmination of the story delivers real meaning for them -- and does so with a grace and elegance largely absent from the previous two films.

On a second viewing, all my nits had been picked, and the movie captivated me.

Do you want to see Captain Kirk outwit and outfight bad guys while delivering both gravitas and wry humor? Do you want to see classic McCoy/Spock duels of sarcasm done with genuine invention and an undercurrent of heart? Do you want to see Uhura do more than sit at her console or get choked by a Klingon? Scotty, Chekov and Sulu each getting their moments to shine? Then this ought to be the movie for you.

Star Trek: Beyond overflows with the sensibilities of the original series. Yes, the action gets hyperkinetic at times -- but even that is really in keeping with TOS, if you think back to those space battle scenes where a jerky rotation of the camera would fling the whole bridge crew about with choreographed inertia.

There's more great Trek dialogue in this film than in the previous two put together, more of a sense that these characters fit together as a unit, more pure adventure and entertainment, and a greater celebration of what the Federation is and what it represents.

So much for even-numbered Star Trek films being the good ones!