Sunday, September 27, 2020

Election 2020 :|

This election, like the last one, presents an icky choice for conservatives. I mean, if you're a democrat, the choice is easy. If you're moderate, the choice is also pretty easy. If you're a conservative, you have to make a nasty choice. One candidate is on the wrong side of some important issues (abortion, religious freedom, government overreach in various areas). The other candidate could be argued to have made progress in some areas, while grossly violating social justice in many others (racism, sexism, permanently separating children from their parents, etc.). I have seen a lot of vitriolic Facebook discussion about how to go about responding to this. Just like last time, lots of people I know firmly believe that you have to keep the democrats out of office no matter what, while others firmly believe that Trump isn't worthy of the office and must be kicked out, regardless of the cost in other areas. I don't want to wade into the mess of Facebook comments, but I do want to go on record for where I stand on it all. And then I have one final comment about voting in general.

As I said four years ago, Trump's moral failings make him unworthy of the office, and even if I agreed with him on every policy issue (which I don't), I could never vote for someone who is sexually abusive. Never someone who uses racist comments to attack his opponents. Never someone who tries to make national enemies of a religion to rally his voter base. Never someone who takes children from their parents and says it's to protect national security. Never, never Trump.

[Edit] I realized I hadn't said why his personal character matters in the decision to not vote for him. More on that in this post.

But what about Biden? Well if I lived in a swing state, I might be persuaded to hold my nose and vote for him. But I live in Washington State, where all of the electoral votes will go to Biden anyway. So I'm comfortable voting for someone else, someone who has no chance of winning. (I haven't decided who yet.) Hopefully this vote (and those of other voters like me) will send a message to the party system that not all conservative votes can be assumed based on just a few issues, or on the grounds of  "I'm not that other guy". The idea of a major third party might be a crazy dream, but it is where we should go, so I'll take a little step in that direction. Biden is terrible.

Now, about voting - I've also heard a lot of comments to the effect of "my vote doesn't count". Some people say it in frustration, and others say it to explain their intention to not vote. To that I ask, what do you expect your vote to do? Be the one that decides the election? If your vote is always the decisive one, you don't have a democracy or a republic. You have a monarchy. It's a fallacy to think that a vote that doesn't contribute to the win doesn't count. If everybody thought that way, nobody would vote. The whole point of voting is that opinions are expressed in aggregate. You either participate or you don't. I'll admit that I don't vote on every position that ever shows up on my ballot, but I feel like I have a moral obligation to participate when there's a moral issue on the ballot. And the presidency seems to always have moral issues attached to it. So I guess I'd say that even if the voting system makes your vote unlikely to sway the results of the election, if nothing else you can see it as taking a side. You are making it known that one person is standing up for your position. And personally I feel like I'm standing accountable for what I believe in.

And as a final note, if everybody who doesn't like Trump or Biden voted for a third party, that third party would win. Everybody needs to vote.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Legend of Korra

I just finished watching The Legend of Korra, and I feel like I have to weigh in, since lots of people hate it.

I don't hate it. Actually I thought was pretty cool, although (like in Avatar: The Last Airbender) the episodes that focused on the spirit world were a little wonky. I do see how some people are disappointed with how some of the old characters are treated, particularly the fact that a couple of them are portrayed as having been lousy parents. But if that's the only objection someone has, I think one can look past that and just treat this as a totally separate show, and leave TLA in its own canon. (That's what I've had to do with the new Star Wars and Star Trek movies, and Korra doesn't destroy the past nearly as much as those do.) The show had good characters and a compelling story, and it's nice that each season has a solid ending. (I think each season was at risk of being the last.)

I was a little confused about some of the events in the final battles and stuff. And by that I mean there are some plot holes. But maybe they can be explained away, and since they're toward the end, they don't exactly mess with the show too much. Speaking of the end, it is kind of abrupt. It wraps up the season, but it doesn't exactly tie the show together the way the ending of The Last Airbender did. But it would have been worse if the writers had tried for a four-season story arc and then had to leave it unresolved, so I can't complain about that.

So basically, while it wasn't as epic or endearing as the original, I enjoyed it.

< Spoilers below here >

Okay so the main thing I thought didn't make sense was at the end of the big battle. When they destroyed the power core in the exo suit, it blew up the suit (and damaged surrounding buildings). But when the cannon explodes, it blows a hole in the town. It's worse than that, because didn't they eject all of the ammo for the cannon? And when it was attached the suit, it could only fire for like two seconds before needing a reload. But at the end it fires a steady stream for like thirty seconds. Maybe the spirit vines in the area were giving extra power. And of course, it's not at all clear how Korra managed to absorb the energy, or why she even thought it was worth trying. I understand wanting to save someone from getting blown up, but why risk her life for the enemy warlord? And of course, if she could absorb that laser, why didn't she do it during the battle? I'm just telling myself that the spirits were interfering somehow.
(Although on that note, if I were her I'd be furious at the spirits for not helping. They didn't have to fight the war; all she needed them to do was reclaim the spirit vines so it would be a fair fight.)

Sunday, September 13, 2020


I've said before that time travel is always a bad plot point. Writers can use it for suspense, but as soon as you step back and analyze the logic of a story that uses time travel, you end up seeing major problems, all boiling down to the question of "Why didn't they use it to solve that?" And that's to say nothing about causality loops.

Well I've decided that using wishes are just as bad, if not worse. (And by "wish", I mean that a character gets to specify some nearly-unlimited action as a reward for something they did.) Wishes pretty much guarantee that the viewer/reader/player will come up with a better, obvious wish that the character could have used. And then it's just annoying. I recently finished a game that ended with a wish that made most things better, but had one very obvious and terrible side effect. Why didn't the character just say "except for this thing" at the end? And then there's Aladdin - I'm sure we can all think of more effective ways that Aladdin could have used his wishes. And why didn't Jasmine take a few wishes before Aladdin made his third? Wind Waker is another game that completely botches it.

To be fair, there might be a few exceptions. Wishes might be okay if they have very strict limits, or guaranteed side effects (like a malicious wish-giver who will look for loopholes). And I'm okay with a wish as a plot ender if the wish is just "fix everything", and everything does get fixed, like in A Link to the Past. (In general, I feel like there are some implied restrictions on Triforce wishes.)


That said…


The idea of wishes does raise an interesting question: if you were given the chance, what would you wish for?


Again, there have to be limits. If there aren't, your wish would have to be "maximize overall happiness for me and as many other good people as possible, for the greatest amount of time possible". Of course, if you're looking at the eternal perspective, God will make that happen anyway, so that would sort of be a wasted wish, but you could iterate on the exact wording. But to be interesting, the scenario has to have things scoped down. No asking for multiple wishes of course.


I think you'd want to disallow general commands, like "whatever will make me happy" - it has to be specified. Also it should have to be something that can take effect in an instant, and then be over. That would make the wisher think about long-term effects.


You'd probably also want to disallow the word "and", and maybe limit the number of words. Someone told me about a character in Dungeons and Dragons who was granted a wish. He presented a list of very specific things. The dungeon master (acting as the wish giver) didn't even read it, they just said "yep". Very effective in that context, but not a very good story element, so if you're designing the question, you'd want to disallow that.


One more limitation would be useful, I think: you might want to limit the scope of its effects. See, if you can create world peace, then morally you must do it, right? Like if you're Superman, then you'd feel guilty doing anything other than rushing around saving people. So if you want a character to make a more relatable decision, you sort of need to force them to have a certain amount of self-interest in the request. "No affecting the lives of others in ways that don't directly involve a benefit to you", or something like that.


So what would I wish for, given all of those limitations? My gut reaction would be to make me a Plasma Master. (That does have the risk of approaching the Superman problem, but I could set limitations that would reduce the scope of power.) If I had to scope it down even more, I might go for some localized mutant power, like not needing to sleep, or perfect health until the instant I would have died of old age. (But that would have the side effect of making you outlive your kids, which would be lame.) Flight is always a good option. Of course a billion dollars in an unhackable, untaxable bank account would be pretty life changing too, but that's boring. (Plus a well thought-out superpower could make you money - teleportation, for example.) You'd have to use a wish on something that no one could acquire in any other way.


But dude, whatever you wish for, don't make it stupid. Don't be like the time travelers.