Sociological Watch: Don’t Look Up @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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Netflix released a film called Don’t Look Up. The story employs tons of exaggeration in addressing how people resist bad news that affects their way of life, though it’s clearly referencing once issue specifically too heavy for this goofy blog. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect to the script that seems to be lost on many people.

As you may know, I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), as well as a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law (Go . . . Scarlet Hawks?). Both fields suffer from the same disease: We don’t know how to communicate well with non-experts. As issues become more complex, they become not only harder to grasp for the uninformed, but also, to be blunt, more boring. This renders the task of communication herculean.

Take for example my first and second RPG copyright posts, which addressed a specific topic. As I’ve explained, my analytics tell me that the first post received 18,952 hits to date (as of 12/30/2021). The second post? Only 1,158. The second post is 2/3 of the argument. That means that people read the first post and then 94% of them gave up (note: this is bad math), missing out on most of what I was trying to say. This was so even though the first post included a caveat that I was nowhere near finished with my argument.

Would it have been better for me to have made a shorter, easier-to-digest, and more direct argument? I don’t think so Despite my disclaimer at the end of the first post, I had a non-negligible number people viciously (i.e., with personal insults) criticizing my first post for making incomplete arguments. These were apologists of WotC (and perhaps RPGs in general) that just didn’t like the consequences of what I was saying, so they were going to criticize me anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t be publishing the second post for a week, that gave them one week to discredit me. I’m not sure if it worked. Did people not read the second post because of a successful campaign to stop it, or did people just get bored? I suspect it’s far more the latter, but both are important phenomena for this discussion, and in other situations, the balance may be different. By the way, I reread the second post while writing this one, and even my eyes were glazing over.

This leads us to science. Scientists run into the same problem, but probably even worse because of the math inherent in their work. As a physics student, I studied areas of math that many people haven’t even heard of, and many of the issues scientists face today can only be understood in terms of math. Scientists try to simplify using analogies, but analogies by their nature will always be incomplete, giving each critic an opening to cast doubt on the science. (“How can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive? This guy’s a quack!”)

Politically connected scientists face additional pressure. Again, I don’t want to get caught up in politics here, so I’ll just say that many scientists depend on financing from politicians, and politicians need to keep their bases happy. When the truth is ugly, very few people want to hear it, and this cascades down to the scientists who must control the tone and content of their statements.

Scientists also face their own social inadequacies. I can’t speak to the modern generation, but going through the physics program, I can assure you that there wasn’t a lot of social skill on display. The stereotypes are valid. Nerds are generally not social butterflies. That makes it difficult for us to communicate even if we’re discussing the price of apples.

Don’t Look Up did a great job of showcasing this difficulty. Going back to attorneys, in legal writing we’re taught to start each paragraph or section with the conclusion, and then back it up with supporting arguments. The scientists in Don’t Look Up should have used that technique. Notice in the talk show scenes how long it took the scientists to make their point. They presented their supporting arguments first. Why? Because they knew some asshole was waiting in the wings to say, “That’s an assertion without an argument! He’s not backing it up!” Well, yeah, not yet. Let them finish. But by failing to start with the statement (spoiler alert!), “A planet-killing asteroid is coming to Earth in six months,” it gave the talk-show hosts the opportunity to interrupt and turn the interview into a farce. By the time the conclusion was stated, it made the scientists look like lunatics to the few people that were still paying attention.

Sometimes you need to lead with the conclusion, and sometimes you need to lead with the supporting material. It’s often difficult to tell those two situations apart, but when your audience is the entire world, maybe you should just get to the point.

Even this post was probably too long.

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Good Watch: The Mind Explained on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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A while back, I talked about Brain Games on Disney+. It’s a great show, but there’s so much science behind how our brains work that close to 10 seasons can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Netflix’s The Mind Explained is a much more focused show — only two seasons so far — that’s a more manageable discussion of anxiety, focus, memory, and other aspects of neuroscience. The human brain is weird (some more than others), and this show does a good job of explaining that. It also targeted a specific issue that hits home for me. You may have a similar experience.

If you watch the episode on focus, maybe you can handle Brain Games. 🙂

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A Star Trek Christmas! @StarTrek #Christmas #StarTrek

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I was raised Catholic, but I’m, let’s just say, unaffiliated at the moment. Still, if there were any reason for me to engage in holiday traditions, it would be Christmas. In fact, people like me have influenced United States Supreme Court precedent on the Establishment Clause, but that’s a story for another day.

Patrick Stewart likes to talk about Star Trek as the modern human’s mythology, and I guess that applies to me. So, here’s my means to celebrate Christmas. Sort of. It’s all the memes that hit my stream this year, some of which are new to me. This is my mythology.

From one of the best episodes of TNG.

Fortunately, I never have to worry about this sort of thing.

Kirk is such a hound dog.

I would buy this outfit.

Ouch.

Some more decorations.

Humans apparently still celebrate Christmas in 2364, as evidenced by their viewing of Christmas movies.

Worf never got it. He never got anything.

But seriously . . .

Worf I get, but Gowron? I had no idea that Klingons celebrated Christmas.

Happy Star Trek Day … I mean, holidays!

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A “No Longer” Watch: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 4 @StarTrek @CBSAllAccess #StarTrek #DISCO

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Yesterday, I whined a bit, and I’m going to keep this going. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really annoyed by Star Trek Discovery. It’s probably still better than The Animated Series, but The Animated Series shouldn’t be taken seriously by adults, so it’s got an out. Discovery, on the other hand, should be taken seriously, and it’s finally gotten so bad that I simply don’t like it.

The Triumvirate

As an old guy, I don’t like the way modern storytelling has proceeded. This is meaningless, as I’m no longer the target audience, but I’m going to share why that’s the case. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy represented the ethos, logos, and pathos of Starfleet, all wrapped up neatly in three characters. Focusing on only three characters has the advantage of developing those characters so thoroughly that the viewers’ appreciation of them is maximized. Modern writing focuses on far too many characters, which means there’s less plot and more minutiae. For example, we know that Chief O’Brien’s wife’s mother was born in 2269; we didn’t know Sulu was born in San Francisco until the fourth movie.

I experienced a similar issue with the TV show, The Flash. Among several issues with the show, one that drove me nuts was that over half the show’s runtime (I’m not exaggerating) had nothing to do with the main storyline. Instead, presumably because the writers weren’t talented enough to produce a complex story, over half of each episode had the characters 1) saying how much they loved each other; and 2) saying why they had to leave and never come back. As for number one, I’m all for character development — that’s the strength of the Triumvirate — but as Kirk once told Uhura, “Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.” In this case, the “too much” isn’t character development itself, but rather how much of the runtime is dedicated to it. As for number two (huh-huh), there were a couple of characters that kept leaving “forever” but returning as soon as an actor needed another paycheck. It was maddening. (Note: The final straw for the Flash was a different issue altogether: A woman with no superpowers deflecting automatic gunfire with a sword. Even Deadpool couldn’t do that, and he’s utter deus ex bullshitina.)

This is what Discovery does. It spreads its development around the personal storylines of so many characters that the plot takes up almost none of the episode. This is easier writing, of course, which is probably why they write it that way. Most modern shows are like this, as have been past seasons of Discovery, but Discovery keeps adding characters, and it’s now unbearable.

The Characters

I know that Mary Wiseman, the actress playing Tilly, has caught a ton of grief for her continued weight gain. A lot of it has been mean-spirited, and I don’t like that. However, there’s something to be said for placing your trust in someone who’s clearly not physically fit to rise to the challenges Starfleet personnel typically face. In the real world, the US Army has engineers, doctors, and other specialized soldiers, and while they’re not all Ranger qualified, they must do PT and maintain a certain minimum level of fitness. There’s good reason for that. How does Tilly get around that? In season 3, they have her “jogging” around the ship and running laps around the physically fit characters. Is this because Mary Wiseman is in better shape than they? Nope. It’s because, well, the script says she does. Who cares if it makes sense? They want her to be one of the stars of the show, so . . . she just is despite everything cutting against it.

Her physical fitness isn’t her only issue. While I don’t like unqualified viewers flippantly diagnosing on-screen (i.e., make-believe) characters with conditions the scriptwriters don’t understand and probably don’t care to understand, it’s clear that the Discovery scriptwriters intend for Tilly to suffer from some mental disability, probably something along the lines of autism. This has been made exceptionally clear in the current season, where her condition has caused her to break inside. Rather than immediately remove her from duties, the script instead had David Cronenberg tell her that the mission she led showed how great she was. He completely ignored the fact that she created the situation in the first place, getting someone killed and almost costing the entire crew their lives. The scriptwriters could have written whatever unrealistic story of heroism they wanted, but they wrote that, and thought they were writing a success story.

The mission was a disaster, though at least the outcome was close to logical: Tilly’s incompetence led at least to one death. So, that particular scene was the worst of both worlds: It had Tilly “win” even though she shouldn’t have, yet their definition of “win” was laughable. There’s no good in there. None.

This is nothing new. For many stories on TV today, many characters succeed not because they employ the most effective and/or skillful path to success, but merely because the script says so. The writers want these incompetent and/or idealistic characters to succeed, so they just do. There’s no rhyme or reason to the success. They get what they want despite themselves, and that poor writing grates on me (as I’m sure mine does on you).

The Simpsons - Old Man Yells At Cloud on Make a GIF
At least I’m self-aware.

Obviously, some of my concerns are generational, so they may not apply to you, but some of it is logical, and if there’s anything a Star Trek fan should demand of a Star Trek series, it’s adherence to logic. As good as its season-opening episodes have been, I think I’m tapping out on Discovery. I’d like to see how the actual main storyline plays out, but it’s not worth sitting through 40 minutes of drivel. Besides, it’ll probably be a cheap ending relying entirely on deus ex machina.

I hope Strange New Worlds turns things around. I haven’t anticipated a Star Trek series this much since The Next Generation.

LLAP, bitches.

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Star Trek Characters as D&D Characters @StarTrek #DnD #RPG #StarTrek

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I’m not sure I agree with Uhura as a Thief. She’s clearly charismatic and never used the mentioned skills. I also would have labeled Scotty an Artificer. If I’m not mistaken (I know very little about 2nd Edition), the Alchemist is a new class in 5th Edition. The artificer goes back to 3rd Edition. Duelist is a build but certainly fits Sulu based on one of his most iconic scenes.

May be an image of text

Why not?

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