The Map is Not the Territory

Someone asked me about my Unreview rules recently:

  • I have to pay for it,
  • I have to like it,
  • I do my best to use E-Prime.

Well, here’s why.

 

Imagine someone who reviews movies after only seeing the trailer. Or reviews books after reading the back cover. Or reviews games after only reading the rules.

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody does that. Those people don’t exist. Well, you’d only be partly right. The first two don’t exist. But the last one is actually commonplace. I see it all over the internet.

The fact of the matter is, reviewing a game after only reading the rules is exactly like reviewing a restaurant after only reading the menu. One of my favorite little lessons I learned from studying Zen (stolen from Alan Watts) goes like this:

 

I can give you the recipe for baking the cake.

I can give you the ingredients.

But I can’t tell you good it will smell when it comes out of the oven,

Or how it will taste.

 

Let me give you a couple of examples.

In many editions of the World’s Most Popular RPG, rolling a 20 gives you a critical hit. It’s also an automatic success. That’s a rule. There it is. Look at it.

 

Of course, that doesn’t tell you at all about the emotions rolling around the table when the DM says, “You have to roll a 20 to succeed.”

It doesn’t show you the tense moment before someone rolls that d20.

And it doesn’t show you the cheer that rises from a table when it happens.

 

Those moments cannot be written down in rules. They’re what James Joyce called “sublime moments.” A short period of time that words could only fail to describe. Even now, writing it down, have I really captured that cheer? Has anyone? I can tell you about it. I can even try to show you that moment with lyrical prose, invoking your own memories of that one time you needed to roll a 20 and you did it and saved everyone’s lives.

But does it really capture that moment?

Gaming moments are sublime. That’s why gaming stories are so boring. Okay, for one, they’re usually told by people who don’t know how to tell a good story, but the other part is the moment was so magical…you just had to be there.

I’ll use a video game as an example. I used to play a lot of Left 4 Dead 2. That’s two teams competing for survival. Each round, they take turns playing the survivors and the zombies. The heroes want to move from one safe house to another and the zombies want to stop them from doing it. Pretty simple, right?

Except in the world of L4D, nobody is Master Chief. You need a team of four to make it, all working together, fighting for every damn step you take. It is an intense, brutal and merciless game. And there’s one mechanic that makes it all sing.

When you get knocked down, you need someone else to get you up.

Now, I know this mechanic has been lifted in other games—I’ll talk about one of them in a moment—but this is the point. When you go down in that game, you know there’s a good chance you’ll be…left for dead. Because going back in a game that’s all about going forward means you’re losing. When you play the game as the zombies, the whole point is to keep them from moving forward and pulling people back. So, when you go down, the whole team has to stop and get you back up.

As zombies, whenever you get one of the survivors down, it’s progress. Getting two down…oh, buddy. That’s the end.

So, here’s the situation. I’m playing online with strangers. Just two of us have made our way across the map, fighting for every step, like I said above. There’s just two of us left. The safe house is in sight. We get to the door and…my buddy gets pounced. I have a choice. I could stay in the safe house and score points, or I could go back and get him, and thus, score more points. But if I go back outside, there’s a whole host of baddies waiting to jump me. So, the obvious choice is staying inside.

I don’t take the obvious choice. I use a med pack and heal myself up. I take a shot of adrenaline so all my actions are fast-fast-fast. I grab the grenade launcher.

All the while, I’m saying over the mic to my buddy, “I’m coming back for you.” And my buddy is shouting, “Don’t you come outside! Don’t you come outside!”

I just tell him, “I’m coming back for you.”

I open the door. Fire the grenade launcher to kill the zombie that’s on him. (For fans of the game, it was a hunter.) Then, fast-fast-fast­, I get him back up and fire the grenade launcher again, just in case. And together, we shut the door.

“Holy shit!” the other guy shouts. “You come back outside whenever you goddamn want!”

Another story. I’m currently playing Mass Effect: Andromeda multi-player. Similar deal. Four players against waves of baddies. We have to work together to win. And, like in Left 4 Dead, if you go down, someone else has to get you up.

When you’re playing with friends, chances are, folks will run to pick you up. But when you’re playing with strangers, your odds are 50/50%. So, when you go down and you see someone running across the map to get you…there is nothing in the world like it.

I can show you the mechanic, I cannot tell you how the cake will taste.

Anyone who reviews a game without playing it is missing 90% of the game. And that 90% only happens at the table. I’m not talking about player banter, I’m talking about seeing a mechanic in play and how it affects the table. You can’t tell those kinds of things by only looking at the rules. You have to see them in play.

And until you do that, you’re just reviewing the movie after reading the script. Sure, you may get to see the best lines, but you’ll never see the actors or the special effects or the editing choices.

Or, you’re reviewing the album after looking at the sheet music. I’m sure Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah looks pretty boring on the page. But hearing it…now that’s something else.

I’m going to Italy later this year. I plan on seeing Michelangelo’s David. Because seeing the pictures doesn’t do it justice.

When I went to Scotland, the thing I wanted to see most was Rosslyn Chapel. Why? Because I had seen pictures and I wanted to see the real thing. Watching your favorite band in concert on video is not the same as being there, watching them live, surrounded by a few thousand other fans who are just as excited to see them as you were.

And saying that someone who saw a concert on video is the same as seeing a band live, well, that’s as silly as…oh, I don’t know… maybe…

…reading the rules and thinking you’d played the game.

[REDACTED] Died For Your Sins: A Reflection on Avengers Endgame

 

I was at a game convention somewhere and a young lady was talking to me about Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea. Specifically, she was telling me about characters she loved and how her GM put those characters in their game so she could interact with them. She not only got to do that, but she got to save one of her favorite characters from danger. “That was amazing!” she told me.

“That was the point,” I said. “Make players fall in love with the setting, then put it in jeopardy.”

“But how do you make characters you know the players will fall in love with?” she asked.

I smiled and told her, “Because I fall in love with them.”

It’s a lesson I learned a very long time ago. Way back in the ’70’s when I was still in single digits, my father started watching the Wonder Woman TV show. And that’s when I fell in love for the first time. I didn’t fall in love with Lynda Carter—I have no idea who she is. I’ve never met her. But I did fall in love with Wonder Woman. Like I said, it was 1975 and I was only seven years old, so it wasn’t the fact that she was in that costume or that they put her in slow motion when she ran. I fell in love with Wonder Woman because she cared about people and put herself in danger to protect others. She was fair and just and, most importantly I think, merciful. Just one hour of watching Diana accomplished what my parents had failed to do with Jesus.

What Would Diana Do?

She got me into comic books, and from there, I discovered Spider-Man and Batman and Superman and the X-Men and…man, that’s a lot of men. And over the years, I’ve remained a Wonder Woman fan. I’ve always collected her comics, even when they stink. Fortunately, these days, they don’t stink. Since the movie busted box office records, they’ve put some money behind Diana with talented writers and artists telling her story. And to this day, I’m still a fan. I’m still in love.

But you didn’t come here for her. You want to know what that title is all about. All right, but from here on out, THERE BE SPOILERS. I mean it. I’m going to talk about the movie as if both of us have seen it, so if you haven’t, you’d better beat it. Scram. Get lost. Because I’m talking about the movie in 3…

2…

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and before we get there, let me say this: just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean you’re wrong for liking it. It doesn’t make me a better person than you, it doesn’t make you a worse person than me. I don’t like asparagus. I know they’re good for me and I know people love them, but I don’t. Doesn’t make me anything other than a person who has different tastes than you. So before you go off on me for not liking something you did, just remember, there’s probably something I adore (Big Trouble in Little China is the Greatest Movie Ever Made) that you think is cheap rubbish. And that’s okay. That’s why there’s 31 flavors of ice cream. This essay is about my feelings, not yours. I’m not telling you whether or not the movie was good or bad or whether you should like it or hate it. That’s up to you. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. This is how feel. Keep that in mind over the next few paragraphs, okay?

Resuming countdown.

2…

1…

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and fuck you, Marvel.

I was having a great goddamn time watching your movie. I mean, a great goddamn time. I did not like Infinity War. Just did not like it. Mainly because I walked out of the theater saying, “Well, the rest of the world is about to discover what comic book fans have known for decades: death means nothing in the Mighty Marvel Universe.”

Quick joke. Jason Todd, the second Robin, dies at the hands of the Joker and heads off to Heaven. There, in front of the pearly gates is St. Peter with his fiery sword and St. Peter says to Jason, “You lived a hero’s life and you died a hero’s death. Welcome, and be at rest.”

And just before Jason walks through, he looks to the side and sees a revolving door. You know, the kind that’s in front of hotels and stores. Jason looks at St. Peter and says, “Hey, what’s that?”

St. Peter sighs. “Oh. That’s for the X-Men.”

(Joke addendum: So Jason Todd goes through the revolving door instead.)

Lots of laughs, the room booms, I take a bow. Tip your waitress.

And in the meantime, fuck you, Marvel.

Another joke.

Hawkeye and Black Widow are on the cliff and the Red Skull says, “You have to make a sacrifice.”

“What kind of sacrifice?” the Widow says.

Red Skull tells her, “You have to sacrifice the token woman in your Marvel franchise.”

Crowd boos. Aw, was that too soon? Yeah, it’s too fucking soon for me, too.

I fell in love with Black Widow back when she was showing up in Daredevil comics, so don’t you fucking tell me “too soon.”

How about this. How about the fact that I was really enjoying the movie. It seemed like a celebration of everything the MCU had accomplished so far. I was loving it. And I mean loving it. I was laughing. I got choked up a couple times. They had me, right there, in the palm of their hand. An incredible job of storytelling. I’m having a blast.

And then, Hawkeye and Widow go looking for the soul stone. And I’m thinking, “Maybe this is where they save Gamora.” And I was excited.

And then, everything stopped. All that celebration and fun just stopped fucking dead in its tracks. Hawkeye and Widow spend a minute or so fighting about who gets to throw themselves off the cliff, making the sacrifice.

And right then and there, I think:

Oh…one of them sacrifices themselves to get the stone! And the Red Skull says, “Nobody’s ever done that before! Here’s the stone and you both get to live!

This is going to be awesome! Because love saves them both! That’s gonna be—

Wanna hear a joke?

That’s not what happens. Widow sacrifices herself while Hawkeye is crying, trying to hold on to her. And she pushes herself off the cliff, and she falls, and there’s a glory shot of her being dead at the bottom of the cliff and Hawkeye wakes up with the soul stone and cries.

That’s the joke. And I’m the butt of it.

Crowd is dead silent. No sound. I’m standing on the stage, looking like an idiot.

From that moment on, it didn’t matter what Marvel did. I hated this movie. Sure, I loved the first act and the first part of the second act, but they fucking killed Natasha when they didn’t have to. When they had an out. A simple, easy out that follows Storytelling 101: Heroes break the rules and that’s how they win.

Let me say that again:

HEROES BREAK THE RULES AND THAT’S HOW THEY WIN.

“Dormammu…I’ve come to bargain.”

Remember that? Remember how awesome that was?

Remember Captain America believing his friendship with Bucky was stronger than Hydra brainwashing?

Remember Star Lord’s dance off?

Heroes break the rules. That’s how they win.

Marvel could have done it. They didn’t. Nope.

And it got worse from there.

Quick story. I was with a party when I saw Captain Marvel. Three women in the party all came out of the movie with the same thought: “I can’t wait to see her kick Thanos’ ass.”

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but that doesn’t happen. In fact, he swats her away like a bug.

Like a bug.

So, that cathartic moment? You don’t get it. Hahah. Neener, neener. I can just imagine all the internet trolls laughing about that moment right there. They’ve probably got it on slow mo, watching it with one hand on the mouse, hitting “rewind.” Assholes.

And don’t get me started on killing Tony Stark. Because that just means I’ll have to come to your house, Marvel, and burn it to the fucking ground.

(Not literally. That’s a metaphor. Or maybe just hyperbole. A hyperbolic metaphor. Yeah. Something like that.)

Tony Stark dying doesn’t mean anything to Tony Stark. He’s dead. It’s his wife and daughter who have to live with that. So, fuck you Marvel for making that little girl who was so awesome an orphan. Because you couldn’t write an ending where Thor and Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel and Spider-Man and everyone else Thanos killed hold him down, beat the shit out of him, cage him, then make him watch as you return the stones back to their proper time lines while he sits in prison for the rest of his…oh, yeah, immortal life. Can’t have that ending. Instead, we’ll have Tony murder a few thousand people.

And hey, Tony didn’t know that Gamora has a good heart, did he? She’s on Thanos’ side, and he murdered everyone on Thanos’ side, which means TONY STARK MURDERED GAMORA, DIDN’T HE?

Didn’t think about that, didya?

Mass murder isn’t what heroes do. It’s what villains do. And maybe that’s why he had to die. Because in the end, Tony Stark chose murder to solve their problem. Fuck you Marvel.

I loved-loved-loved the first half of this movie. And I hated-hated-hated every bit of the second half.

So, fuck you Marvel. Fuck you for giving me a character to fall in love with, then fuck you for giving her a stupid death that doesn’t make sense with the rules you created.

Unreview: Captain Marvel (No Spoilers)

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I try my best to use E-Prime (avoid using any iteration of the verb “to be”) whenever I talk about the thing.

 

The thing I liked most about Captain Marvel and the thing I liked least are both liked to such a huge spoiler, I can’t talk about it. That means I can’t tell you the main reason why I liked the movie so much and the one thing I felt… Well, dammit. I can’t say that without breaking Rule #3. Let me try that again.

I don’t think the thing doesn’t need to be said—I think it does need to be said—but there’s a moment where the filmmakers lay it on so thick, I think it detracts from the point. And that moment, that tiny moment, pulled me out of the movie.

Again, not because I disagree, but because…eh, I should shut up. Because I really like this movie. I like it so much, I’ve moved it up into my top 5 Marvel movies.

When the trailers started hitting the screens, I must admit, I did not feel it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see this movie. (In fact, according to my latest schedule, I’ll be seeing it two more times before Wednesday.) They just weren’t doing it for me. Trepidation crept into my heart. But once Brie Larson hit the screen, that moment died. The trailers completely failed to capture Brie Larson’s screen presence. That woman could loan you 10 points of Charisma and she’d still have 18+. She held my attention throughout the film; from the first tête-à-tête to the first post-credit scene. (There’s two. You should stay for both.)

And the way Marvel handles her throughout matches up with a few other films I’ve seen over the past year. Films like Bumblebee, Alita: Battle AngelIncredibles 2Ant-Man and the WaspOcean’s 8, and many others. Beautiful women who are not sexualized in any way. Sexy as all Hell, but not sexualized. Makes me feel happy. Makes me feel that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood has figured out how to make films women want to see. Hell, that want to see. I mean, I work in an industry where fetish and fantasy are used as synonyms and I’ve been fighting against that shit since 1995. I’m glad to see others are, too.

Funny story and a bit of a side-step, but trust me, it’ll make sense when we swing back. When I was in high school in Georgia, one of my teachers had pictures of both MLK and Malcolm X on his wall. I told him, “I know who MLK is…but who is this?” He gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X to read. When I was done, he asked me what I thought. I told him, “I feel angry. And sad. And confused.”

Later, I went to see Spike Lee’s movie. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and when I went into the theater, I was the only white person there. The only one. I was frightened, but I stayed put. When the movie ended, I looked around. I was certain something was going to happen. And while I watched the film, I realized how few white people were in it. And it was at that moment I realized, “Well shit, this is what it feels like.” That moment when nobody in the theater and nobody up on the screen looks like you.

That walk from the theater to my car in the dark parking lot took a month. But nothing happened to me. Probably because everyone knew what would happen if something did happen to me. That night changed my life forever.

So, back to Captain Marvel. Watching this movie and watching Bumblebee and watching Alita: Battle Angel and watching Widows (why did you not see Widows, people?) showed me something new. All those movies showed me walking, talking examples of “the female eye.” Something I’d heard about before but didn’t understand until I actually saw it. That’s because I’m slow and I need to see things to understand them. When I sat in the theater for Bumblebee and saw young and gorgeous Jorge Lendeborg Jr. taking off his shirt, I suddenly realized: “That’s not for me.” And when the theater responded to him taking off his shirt, I was back in Los Angeles, sitting in a theater of people who didn’t look like me.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

No, wait. That’s not just okay. That’s pretty awesome. Because the people who make movies can make movies that aren’t just about people like me. They can be for someone else. But I still get to enjoy them because they’re great storytelling.

Pay close attention to why Carol Danvers becomes what she is. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but trust me, you’ll want to pay attention here. She isn’t given anything, it’s because of the choices she makes. Because of who she is. This isn’t empowerment, it’s empowering. There’s a difference. Take a Mythology 101 class and learn the difference.

Loved the cat, loved the friend, loved the friend’s daughter, loved Jude Law…

I did not love the Stan Lee thing at the beginning. At the end of it, someone in the theater shouted, “Thank you Stan Lee!”

I shouted, “And Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko!”

That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Weird Weird West: A Hack of the World’s Most Popular Weird West RPG

Introduction

I turn fifty this year. Wow. Five-Oh.

This weekend, as part of my birthday celebration, I had the opportunity to run Deadlands for Shane Hensley. We were chatting over the internet a couple weeks ago and I said, “I’d really like to play Deadlands.

Shane said, “You should run it. I’d drive up (from Chandler to Phoenix) for that. But it would have to be your own weird take on the system.”

Well, I like the idea of giving away things on my birthday, and I know game designers secretly love seeing what other people do with their own ideas (the good ones do), so I told him I’d run it on my birthday and sure enough, he showed up to play. I threw together a quick system that shared elements with Deadlands, but was certainly not Deadlands. I explained the system to the players and started the game.

As with all game systems, the players and I started making small changes during play. We changed when players could look at their cards. We changed what Jokers meant. I improvised a method of randomly picking characters. And ten minutes after we started playing, I added Flaws (you’ll see them below). After the game was over, we all talked about the game and even more changes we would make.

The system you’re about to read is the system that emerged from that session with a couple of minor tweaks thrown in afterward. It’s fast, efficient and deadly. Really deadly. I think its safe to say that my interpretation of Grit was Shane’s favorite element of the game. For most of the mechanics, he nodded, but when I explained Grit, his eyes lit up.

Special Thanks to the other players at the table: my faithful and awesome regulars Fabien Badilla, Jennifer Todd, and the always handsome Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, Ron and Veronica. And to Jessica, who was making a METRICK $#%@ TON of food for my birthday celebration, listening in, and chuckling.

1: Makin’ Characters

Get yerself a bunch of index cards. This is one of them hipster indie games, after all. Every player gets two: one for a name stand that you fold over and put in front of you, and another for your actual character sheet.

On the character sheet, write down your character’s name.

Then, write down three words or phrases that are important to who your character is. This could be Sheriff, Gunfighter, School Marm, Gambler, Coward of the County, whatever you like. Assign a “1,” “2,” and “3” to your three words or phrases. These are your Traits. The one that’s most important t’ya should be the 3, and then go in descendin’ order.

Next, write down yer character’s Flaw. This is something yer character does in spite o’ their best interests.

Then, get three coins or chips or tokens or whatever to represent yer Grit. This represents yer character’s toughness. Sorta. You’ll see.

Optional Rule: If you feel one of yer Traits, and just one of yer Traits, should earn you an additional Grit, you go ahead and give yerself another Grit token. The House (that’s the GM in this game) has’ta approve yer Trait as givin’ ya a Grit.

Now, write down three things that are true about yer character.

Finally, each of the other players tells you how they know your character. How they met, how they get along, anything like that. And you do that fer each of the other characters, too.

That’s when yer done and it’s time ta play.

2: Playin’ the Game

The standard rule is the House narrates the story. She says what happens.

Whenever a player wants to narrate something, she plays against the House.

First, the House deals a hand of five cards to the player and a number of cards to herself based on how hard the situation may be.

  • If the situation is Normal, she deals 5 cards.
  • If it’s Tough, she deals herself 6 cards.
  • If it’s Harder Than That, she deals 7 cards.
  • If Things Are Damn Grim, she deals 8 cards to herself.

Both the player and House try to make the best poker hand.

The player looks at his hand and can discard 1 card per point in one appropriate Trait. So, if a character wants to gun down a villain, and she has GUNSLINGER 2 on her character sheet, she can toss two cards and the House gives her two more. If she had GUNSLINGER 3 on her sheet, she could ditch three cards and the House deals her three more.

Once the player has her final hand, both the player and House compare hands. Whoever has the best hand gets to narrate the scene.

Grit

Because the House gets to narrate the scene (usually), the House can put all kinds o’ heinous hurtin’ down on the characters. The House can say, “You get a black eye,” or “You sprain your wrist,” or “You twist your ankle,” or any other kinda hurtin’.

When this happens, the player can spend a Grit and say, “It don’t matter none” or some other kinda phrase that indicates their character is too damn tough to be bothered by an insignificant consequence such as that.

Otherwise, the player has to write down the injury on their character sheet. If any such injury comes into play during drawin’ cards, the player has to draw one less card for each appropriate injury.

So, if you got a sprained wrist and you’re tryin’ to palm a card during a poker game, or maybe you’re tryin’ to draw your gun faster than the outlaw who’s about to gun you down, you draw one less card.

Now, there’s one exception to this and that’s guns. Whenever your character gets shot, she dies. That’s it. Dead, dead, dead. On her way up to Boot Hill. You done got yerself a wooden coat. The only way to avoid dyin’ from a gun is to spend Grit, but when you do, you have to describe how the gunshot hurt ya, but didn’t kill ya. And it should be bad. If it ain’t bad enough, the House will let ya know. Just make it bad and don’t put the House in the position o’ havin’ ta correct ya. That’s just rude.

Oh, and once per game, when ya invoke yer Flaw, you get one Grit. Once per game and that’s it.

Magic and Other Weird Stuff

If yer character wants t’have magic or steam powered flyin’ machines or somethin’ else Weird, ya gotta make it one o’yer Traits. When you use it, you do the same thing ya do for any other Trait: ya make a draw with the House. If you get the higher hand, you get ta say how it works. If you don’t, the House does. If the House wins, it don’t mean yer Weird stuff don’t work, it means the House gets ta say how it works. Weird stuff is weird and sometimes it does weird stuff.

Who Goes First?

If there’s ever a question about who goes first, have everybody play high card: just throw out a card to each player and they go in the order of the cards. Or, ya can have the highest hand go first. That includes NPCs, by the way.

When Do I Shuffle?

I shuffle after each draw. I also use two decks shuffled together. You may want to do that or you may not, dependin’ on how much fun countin’ cards is fer you and yer players.

Jokers

If’n ya keep the Jokers in the deck, they’re wild cards.

3: Conclusion

And that’s it. That’s all ya really need. Everything else is just window dressin’. Now go get yer friends and play.

And consider this my birthday present to you. Yer welcome, pard’ner. Happy birthday.

 

Presuppositional Apologetics: An Apology

 

 

“So, those with depression and schizophrenia can just choose to not be depressed and schizophrenic?”

— Me, debating freewill

 

I suffer from depression. All my life. Actually, it’s more than depression. Recently, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder because the older you get, the faster your body breaks down. And that means there are times I’m not completely in charge of my brain. (Actually, nobody is really in charge of their brain, but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Let’s just say that once you discover you have something wrong in your head, you start studying how the brain actually works, and you never like what you find out.) When a bout of depression hits, it doesn’t wear boxing gloves. Or, maybe it does, because you can actually hit people harder with boxing gloves, you know. Which is one of the reasons why MMA is safer than boxing. And…

…yeah. Brains. Funny things.

When I get hit with a bout of depression, I stop doing the things I love. I stop eating. I stop showering. I stop getting out of bed. I stop reading. I stop writing. And I become fixated on stupid things. I start to clean. A lot. I re-organize my comic collection. I move around the book shelves and the books on them. Then, I do those things all over again. You just can’t tell what I’ll obsess over when depression comes a’calling with its haunting siren song.

This time, it was weird. This time, it was presuppositional apologetics. From Wikipedia:

 

Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian.[1] Presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true.

 

So yeah. I got caught up in that. In fact, I watched hours of Youtube videos. And a couple people really caught my attention. Caught it and wouldn’t let go.

Matt Slick

I watched people like Matt Slick go on and on about his version of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God and watched even more hours of people dissecting it and demonstrating its mistakes. And it has huge mistakes. Like, right in the first premise argument killing mistakes. As someone who studied philosophy in college, declared philosophy as a major, tutored philosophy and did student teaching, I took one look at Slick’s TAG and shook my head. If he had turned it in while I was a student teacher, I would have returned it with an “Incomplete” grade. It’s so wrong, it isn’t even wrong. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how to build a disjunctive syllogism. What is a disjunctive syllogism, you may ask? I’m happy to answer!

A disjunctive syllogism (modus tollendo ponens) is a valid argument form which is a syllogism having a disjunctive statement for one of its premises. It usually looks like this:

{\displaystyle {\frac {P\lor Q,\neg P}{\therefore Q}}}

Or:

P versus Q.
Not P
Therefore, Q.

A real example for illustration:

This die either has 10 sides or 20 sides
The die has 10 sides
Therefore, it does not have 20 sides

In other words, by affirming the P, you disconfirm the Q.

However, Matt’s lists his syllogism like this:

 

Either God, or not-God.

Not-God cannot account for the laws of logic.

Therefore God can account for the laws of logic.

 

Now, there are so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start by stripping away the text and go for the way he structures the argument, which may help us see the most basic problem.

In short, Slick’s argument attempts to use the following form:

 

P or —P

Not —P

Therefore, P

 

The basic problem here is Slick’s formulation is essentially just begging the question. And no, “begging the question” doesn’t mean “raising the question.” It means that you include your conclusion in one of your premises.

He’s also created a false dichotomy, which undermines his disjunctive syllogism. (He also likes to move away from evaluating the form of his argument and get to “the facts,” which demonstrates he knows there’s a problem here.) When I say “This die has 10 sides or 20 sides,” I offer two choices. There are no other choices available in the argument. But by presenting “God” and “not God,” he has not presented a dichotomy. (He likes to say “true dichotomy,” which is a lot like saying “code of bushido” or “ATM machine” or “PIN number.”) He also ignores the fact that “not-God” (which he calls atheism) also includes all world views that do not include the Christian God. That includes Buddism, Hinduism, Platonism, and any other world views we haven’t discovered yet. It also makes a category error of defining “atheism” as a world view, which it clearly is not.

This brief video covers some of the basics here as well as some other really fun objections. There are other videos, but because Rationality Rules invokes Odin and Valhalla, it’s my favorite. Take a peek.

 

 

Darth Dawkins

Darth Dawkins, aka Darwin’s Deity, aka Evolution False, aka a dozen other pseudonyms is the presupper that I could not stop watching. Not because I found any of his arguments intriguing or compelling, but because he really is a train wreck. I mean, a train wreck of highly combustable, radioactive material. Watching a video with “DD” is like watching Godzilla plow his way through a city. And not fun, cool, anti-hero Godzilla…wait. No, not like Godzilla at all. Godzilla is fun. Comparing this guy to Godzilla is an insult to Godzilla, and I must now apologize.

DD’s chief argument works like this:

 

Because atheists cannot justify their presuppositions, their entire world view is irrational. Therefore, they can’t even justify they exist.

 

This is the kind of shit philosophy professors pull on freshmen. It’s invoking the problem of hard solipsism, that nobody can be sure that anything outside their own mind is real. It’s something you learn in Philosophy 101, it freaks you out, you try to find ways around it, discover you can’t, and then, you either live with it and get on with your life, or you have an emotional breakdown and turn to magical thinking to save you. DD believes this little problem—which has been around for centuries—is “news to atheists.” The problem of solipsism has been around since before Socrates and Plato and has been addressed by philosophers ever since. Renee Decarte’s famous “I think therefore I am” directly addresses it. But for some reason, DD thinks it’s some kind of magic trick to convince people to turn to his god.

If you’re really curious, I can explain the problem. If you’re not, skip this paragraph and move on. See, when you ask someone, “How do you know that?” and keep asking them, eventually, they have to say, “That’s what I see and what I think.” Eventually, everyone hits epistemological bottom. You can’t prove Aristotle’s three logical principles (presups like to call these “logical absolutes,” but in no Philosophy class in the world will you hear a professor use this term): the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle. We cannot prove these to be true other than experiencing them, and since our senses can deceive us, being 100% certain about anything is impossible. That’s the problem.

Presups like DD like to use the solipsism problem in extremis. In other words, if you can’t be 100% certain about something, YOU CAN’T KNOW ANYTHING!!!11!!!!!! Which is false. While our senses can fool us, that doesn’t mean they always fool us. In fact, we can attribute degrees of certainty to propositions. If I take my glasses off, is my eyesight better or worse? Clearly it is worse, therefore, my eyesight has degrees of certainty. I can still see the eye chart, but not the lower letters. DD also uses the old Sye Ten Bruggencate trick of asking, “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?” Well, to begin with, proving a negative is almost impossible, and it’s shifting the burden of proof. It’s also a disingenuous question. That is, asking someone to prove something that you don’t believe. Do you believe we’re all brains in vats? No? Then don’t ask me to prove something neither of us believes. And until you can prove I’m a brain in a vat, I’ll keep believing I’m not.

Presuppositions cannot be proven. They’re an accepted part of philosophy. If you walk into any philosophy department in the world and start making claims such as “You can’t know you’re a brain in a vat!” and “You can’t justify your presuppositions!”, you’ll get laughed out of the building. In philosophy, we all agree presuppositions cannot be justified. That’s what makes them presuppositions.

And so, with that in mind, if a presuppositional apologist uses God as a presupposition, doesn’t that mean they can’t justify the existence of G—

 

SHUT YOUR DIRTY MOUTH, ATHEIST! YOU CAN’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE NOT A BRAIN IN A VAT!

I DON’T NEED TO TALK TO YOU! 

 

And yes, that’s the typical rhetoric tactic of presups. Screaming insults at anyone who tries to ask them questions. But there’s another tactic presups use. And it’s essentially asking you the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”

The Presup Red Herring

See, when I was in college, in debate club, we had a rule: no red herrings. A red herring is “a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic” (wikipedia) designed to avoid answering questions. It goes like this:

Me: “If God is one of your presuppositions, how do justify it?”
Presup: “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Sorry, that doesn’t answer my question.”
Presup: “I asked you a question. How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Excuse me, I…”
Presup: “If you’re not going to answer my question, we can just stop talking. See, this is a typical tactic for atheists. They refuse to answer questions.”

 

If you think I’m making this shit up, just watch the following video. I assure you, I am not making this shit up.

 

 

Standard tactic. Institute a tone of interrogation with you asking all the questions. Then, when someone asks you a question, ask them a diversionary question in return and get upset when they don’t answer. There are hundreds of hours of this.

And I’ve. Watched. All of it.

Conclusion

This morning, an old friend of mine posted something on Facebook. And like an incantation, it broke my spell.

 

“The primary problem faced by those attempting civil debate is that moral, rational, and scientific arguments don’t work on those with immoral, irrational, and unscientific mindsets.”
— my friend Greg

I sincerely believe both Matt Slick and DD are trolls. They’re not trolls like my friend Ken—who may be a curmudgeon, but he’s a sweet and generous curmudgeon who looks out for other people—but people who aren’t interested in having honest debate.

I debate to learn. Slick and DD debate to win. They aren’t interested in truth or convincing others. They just want to score points.

For those two weeks of depression, I wanted to find out how to contact these people and engage with them. But engaging with them won’t do anyone any good. And if I ever did engage them, I wouldn’t engage their arguments. Instead, I ask the following questions:

 

  1. Can you please show me a Youtube video or podcast where these arguments convinced someone to give up atheism and begin believing in your God?
  2. Have you ever submitted your arguments to a logic or philosophy journal?
  3. Do you agree using rhetorical techniques such as red herrings and other distractions do not benefit a discussion but only cause confusion and frustration?

 

That’s how I’d engage with them. Fortunately, I don’t have to because I don’t want to. Not anymore. Greg’s words lifted the haze off my head. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A friend giving you a smack in the face (metaphorically, of course) that wakes you up.

And if you ever wanted to know how far my head can go down a rabbit hole, now you know. Sorry about that.

Unreview: WWE 2018 Survivor Series

 

Vince McMahon has committed many sins in his life (And by “sin,” I mean the original meaning of the word: “falling short.”), but this is perhaps the one sin for which a wrestling promoter can never be forgiven: he has lost control of his audience.

Everything you see in a wrestling show leads to a single purpose: to control the audience. Make them cheer, make them boo, make them laugh, make them cry. Wrestlers do this in their matches by structuring the contest in such a way that you feel what they want you to feel. The villain cheats, you shout angry epithets at the ring. The hero makes a comeback, you jump to your feet and cheer. And a wrestling show is constructed in the very same way. Just like plays, movies, books, and TV shows, promoters design their wrestling shows to manipulate the emotions of the audience.

Last night on WWE’s 2018 edition of Survivor Series, after taking a brutal and seemingly endless beating which left Ronda Rousey with a beet red chest, a broken lip, a bleeding ear, criss-cross marks on her arms, and visible open wounds, the crowd boo’d her out of the building. The problem was, the beating she took was designed to make the crowd boo her opponent…who walked out of the arena with cheers and chants of “Thank you!” It was the exact opposite result McMahon and his writers wanted.

Watching Rousey walk the ramp to the back choked me up right to the edge of tears. Yes, wrestling matches are choreographed stunt shows, but you can’t fake gravity and you can’t ignore pain. The beating Rousey went through was real. You can watch it. Just do a Google search and look at what her body looked like.

See those marks on her arm? Those aren’t make up. Those are legit marks from getting hit over and over and over again with a shinai. The woman was in pain. The attack—performed by Ric Flair’s daughter, Charlotte—was one of the cruelest and vicious things I’ve seen in years. And as a wrestling fan, I lived through the Horseman beatings in GCW. I saw the Piper-Valentine strap match. I’ve seen Bruiser Brody and Abdullah the Butcher. And I watched the Mick Foley-Undertaker Hell in a Cell match live, holding my breath the whole time. This was uncomfortable to watch because Charlotte did not pull any punches. It felt real.

And yet, when it was over, Charlotte was the one who was cheered and Rousey’s hometown crowd simply turned on her. The exact opposite effect of what the creators desired.

How could this happen?

Because Vince McMahon has lost control of his audience. And tonight was just a symptom of a much deeper problem: he thinks his fanbase is stupid.

Let me explain using an example from last night. In wrestling, there’s a long tradition of something called “the promoter’s son effect.” That is, whoever happens to be in charge of the wrestling company pushes his (or sometimes her) son above all the other talent. This creates resentment in the locker room as they watch someone without as much talent, charisma, or wrestling skill gets pushed above and beyond everyone else. It was true of the Von Erich boys in World Class, it was true of Greg Gagne in the AWA, it was true of Erik Watts in WCW…the list simply goes on and on.

Last night’s PPV was to pit the two WWE shows against each other: Raw vs Smackdown. And in the end, Raw won 6-out-of-6 matches, giving them a clean sweep. Why was the show written this way? To give Shane McMahon—Vince’s son—a reason to “turn heel.” That is, to become a villain.

That’s right. Vince threw an entire show’s roster under the bus so his son could have an excuse to become a villain. He made everyone on that show look weak and/or foolish for his son. Perhaps the ultimate example of the promoter’s son effect.

And he does this thinking the fanbase won’t notice. But there’s a problem here. Wrestling fans are a lot more media savvy than they were back in the ’70’s and ’80’s. More savvy than they were in the ’90’s, when wrestling had its Modern Golden Age. We’ve been through TV and media that have demanded a lot from us. Shows like LostAmerican Horror StoryGame of ThronesThe Sopranos, and Breaking Bad actually forced its audience to smarten up and watch with a critical eye. Websites devoted to finding easter eggs and foreshadowing in shows have made their audiences keener than they’ve ever been before.

Problem is, the WWE thinks they’re still selling their product to rubes and marks.

Used to be, when a villain cheated to win a match, the crowd would get angry at the villain. They left the sports auditorium thinking, “That dirty Ole Anderson is gonna get it when Dusty gets his hands on him!”

But a modern audience doesn’t think that way anymore. When they’re unhappy with a match’s results, they get mad at the promoter.

Case in point: two years ago was the Year of Daniel Bryan. Bryan is a wrestler with incredible skills, one of the best performers in the world. And at the time, WWE treated him like a joke because he didn’t look like Hulk Hogan, John Cena or Roman Reigns. He was a comedy act. The fans hated this and voiced their displeasure whenever they could. They’d chant his name during his matches. They’d chant his name during other peoples’ matches. And when he lost, they’d boo, even though he was a heel. The fans simply did not care how McMahon treated Bryan, they cheered. Because, at the time, the crowd felt that if they cheered loud enough, Vince would change his mind.

Well, their plan worked. Sort of. Daniel Bryan did become the WWE champion…but his reign would be short-lived. He would be played off as a fluke and lose the title to someone of McMahon’s choosing and the fans would be happy to watch it happen. Circumstances would strip Daniel Bryan of the title early: a lifetime of hard matches convinced the WWE medical staff that wrestling was no longer safe. And for two years, Bryan was a non-wrestling talent in the WWE, serving as a manager.

But Bryan was, like last night’s event, a symptom of that same problem. So were wrestlers such as Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka, and Finn Balor. All great talents that the fans were ready to get behind…but Vince remained unconvinced. So, he buried them in the middle of the roster while his hand-picked heroes and villains thrived, despite what the audience wanted.

The crowd believed it could change Vince’s mind. After all, it worked with Daniel Bryan. So, they continued to cheer for their favorites, regardless of what Vince was doing with them. This includes a woman named Becky Lynch.

The fans have decided they love Becky Lynch. And, as a lifetime wrestling fan, I can see why. She’s got talent. She looks fantastic in the ring. She has charisma. And she can put on a damn good show. Everyone loves Becky Lynch…

…so Vince made her a villain.

And the crowd didn’t care. They kept cheering her, no matter what the WWE tried to do.

Last night, Becky was supposed to be on the show. It was supposed to be Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey. Unfortunately, one of Vince’s hand picked golden tickets—the Rock’s cousin, Nia Jax—hit Becky in the face, breaking her nose and giving her a concussion. (The latest in a long string of injuries dealt by the severely undertrained Nia Jax.) That meant the WWE needed to replace Becky Lynch. They replaced her with Charlotte Flair.

As soon as the match started, the crowd started chanting Becky’s name. They didn’t want this match. They wanted Becky Lynch. Fortunately, the two women put on one of the best WWE matches I’ve seen in years. And I mean any match, put on by men or women. I was on the edge of my seat.

And then, in the middle of it, Charlotte just decided, “Screw this, I’m disqualifying myself.” In wrestling parlance, it’s called a “F—ck finish.” And when you do one of these, you have to make sure the crowd is with you, or they’ll turn on the match.

And that’s exactly what happened last night. The crowd was so pissed at the “non ending” of the match, they started booing the hero and cheering the villain.

At long last, the crowd has figured out a troubling truth: if they can’t yell at Vince, they’ll yell at the talent.

Last night’s audience turned into an angry mob, and they were going to throw their feces and fire at someone. Vince wasn’t there, so they decided to throw it at Ronda Rousey. The woman who just went through a real beating, had open wounds on her scalp, on her ear, on her arms and legs. And as she walked up the stage, and she heard those people throwing their derision at her, she started to cry.

That’s when I knew I just couldn’t watch the WWE anymore. I just can’t.

I can’t watch Vince McMahon take talent like Asuka, Bayley, Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, and many, many others and piss their careers down the drain because he doesn’t know how to “get them over” with the crowd.

Sorry, Vince. Your failure of imagination is not my problem. And I’m tired of rewarding it.

 

 

 

Unreview: Suspiria

 

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to pay for it,
  2. I have to like it,
  3. I do my best to use E-Prime

 

Go see it. I mean what I say. Go see it.

Don’t read reviews, don’t listen to anyone else. Just go see it. Sit in a dark theater—alone or with someone you trust—and sit through the whole movie, even through the credits. The whole thing, start to end, to after the end. Go see it.

Why? Because I’m sick and @#$%ing tired of Vancian magic.

What is “Vancian magic?” Well, according to TV Tropes.com:

 

  1. Magical effects are packaged into distinct spells; each spell has one fixed purpose. A spell that throws a ball of fire at an enemy just throws balls of fire, and generally cannot be “turned down” to light a cigarette, for instance.
  2. Spells represent a kind of magic bomb which must be prepared in advance of actual use, and each prepared spell can be used only once before needing to be prepared again. That’s why it is also known as “Fire & Forget magic.”
  3. Magicians have a finite capacity of prepared spells which is the de facto measure of their skill and/or power as magicians. A wizard using magic for combat is thus something like a living gun: he must be “loaded” with spells beforehand and can run out of magical “ammunition”.

 

I’m sick and @#$%ing tired of wizards being treated like Swiss Army knives. A spell for every occasion! Memorizing spells, forgetting them when cast, and having to re-memorize them again.

I’m sick of it. And I want more people to see this film and understand what I’m talking about when I talk about real magic.

Now, remember: I’m a skeptic and an agnostic atheist (an antitheist on my angrier days). When I talk about “real magic,” I’m talking about the kind of stuff we humans came up with when addressing the world. Anthropomorphic answers to difficult questions. Giving names to powers older and greater than us. I can be an atheist and still find magic fascinating. Specifically when someone does it as beautifully as its done in Suspiria.

The whole movie is about a single magical act. Yes, others happen during the course of the film, but this one important magical act is what we’re talking about here. And this isn’t a spell. It’s what Crowley called “a working.” It’s a prolonged work of art. A demanding work of art. Something that makes you…work for it. An exercise of changing the world through will.

I sat in a dark theater—as you will—and watched this working unfold. The price it demanded. The consequences. The blood. Oh, yes. There’s blood. And horror. Because magic isn’t like reading instructions from a manual. You don’t read the spell from the book and it just happens. You have to pay for it.

Wait. You don’t know the Three Rules of Magic? Here, let me line them up:

 

  1. It always costs too much,
  2. You never get what you want, and
  3. You can break all the rules.

 

Keep those in mind while you’re sitting in the theater. Consider them a compass or a guide. You’ll need them.

That’s why magic is like dance. In fact, dance is magic. It demands more than you can give. Dance until you sweat. Dance until you vomit. Dance until you fall down. Dance until you feel the ecstasy rush through you. To reach that level, you have to pay the others first. You have to pay for it.

And just like the working in the film, the film itself is a working. Art designed to transform. You will not be the same when the lights come back on. You’ll be transformed by what you see.

And that, my friends, is real magic.

 

Unreview: Bohemian Rhapsody

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I do my best to use E-Prime when talking about the thing itself

I write “unreviews” to highlight the subjective nature of reviews in general, and as you’ll see, talking about this film exposes the fact that I cannot be “objective” about it. I loved Freddie Mercury and Queen remains one of the bands who continue to play my emotional heartstrings. I cannot listen to music passively. When other writers like Stephen King say he listens to music while he writes, I just don’t understand that. When you’re listening to Queen, how can you do anything but stop anything else you’re doing and pay attention? I can’t. I start to sing, I play air instruments, or, if it’s available, I get behind my drum kit. Case in point…

Back in 1985, I was a Junior in high school living in Georgia. Live Aid was going to be the biggest concert of all time. Friends of mine and I had MTV on in the background while we played D&D. I was distracted by the music, but it didn’t matter much. Most people don’t remember that before Queen arrived, the show was dull as dirt. The bands who showed up didn’t seem to want to be there. They ran through their 20 minute sets and walked off. “St. Bob” Geldof was worried. His show was going down the toilet.

Then Queen showed up. They weren’t supposed to be there. But they took the stage and, as St. Bob said it, they saved the day. The D&D game stopped dead cold and we watched as Queen showed the other bands how to capture the hearts of a billion people.

I cannot be objective about Queen or Freddie Mercury. That’s probably why I cried all the way through this film.

The plot structure resembles every other band bio pic you’ve ever seen, but Rami Malek uses the same voodoo Karl Urban used to capture the spirt of DeForest Kelly to bring Freddie Mercury to the screen. (I should also say Gwilym Lee does a similar voodoo spell when playing Brian May, the often overlooked musical heart of the band. I honestly thought to myself, “Astrophysicist Brian May of 2018 must have invented a time machine, went back to 1970 and pulled his younger self from the past.) I found myself nodding with the scenes pulled from stories I already knew but my chest heaved every time Malek’s Freddie had to be Farrokh Bulsara: an awkward, sexually confused and lonely geek with big teeth who knew he didn’t belong in the cool kid’s club.

I’ve probably ignored or overlooked a lot of the film’s flaws and I simply don’t care. Moments from the movie broke my heart, and while I wish there cold have have been more of them, I honestly do not care. For example, after watching the scene when Freddie and his beloved Mary watch footage from the first Queen in Rio concert, I will never hear Love of my Life without shamelessly weeping.

Queen made bombastic, hyper dramatic and even hyperbolic music. They threw everything they could at the audience: sound, image and even mythology. That was the whole point of Queen. When Brian May says, “I want to write a song the audience can play along with us,” he meant it. You can say a lot of things about Queen, but one thing you cannot say is they were cynical or insincere. They believed in what they were doing.

This film made me cry and more than once. I was a blubbering mess when my two favorite Queen songs ran over the credits. The first, “Don’t Stop Me Now” is Freddie in full persona: a Dionysian god. The second, “The Show Must Go On,” was written and performed when he knew he was dying. I was wrecked.

While the rest of Bohemian Rhapsody came across to me as a very high priced Behind the Music episode, I simply don’t care. The moments I wanted are there, including a breath-taking full recreation of those 20 minutes that Queen held the attention of the world. And Rami Malek deserves some sort of award for being able to invoke both Freddie Mercury and Farrokh Bulsara.

I cannot be objective about this film. But then again, that’s the whole point isn’t it? We can’t be objective about art. Saying otherwise avoids the whole point of art in the first place: to elicit an emotional response from the audience, to force us to put away our analytical mind and enjoy. Try thinking analytically about any Queen song. Go on. You can analyze the mechanics of it, the musicianship of it, the arrangements, the sound production, but when it comes to Queen, what really matters is how you feel.

BOOM, BOOM, CLAP
BOOM, BOOM, CLAP
BOOM, BOOM, CLAP