The pirates are ready for more Netflix removals

Well, another batch of popular shows are being removed from Netflix. And quite a few people are ready to just pirate the shows. I’m not quite sure whether the network execs aren’t thinking this sorta thing through or just assume everyone forgot how to acquire things for free. Piracy rates plummeted when Netflix, Spotify, etc. got big because, sure, you could download things one by one for free, but then you have to remember to do it and manage a library and have storage space and all those annoyances. It’s easier to drop $7 a month to just have everything you want or might want in one place, ready to go whenever, and already managed in the cloud.

I get why they’re doing this: They all want their own streaming services now. Except that kills the benefits. Now it’s $7 or whatever per service, which would quickly let prices approach the old cable range, not in one place, requiring switching services depending on what you want, and managed with irrelevant borders. (Music has the added drawback of not being able to shuffle everything. Just whatever is on what you’re using at the moment.)

At that point, well, piracy is looking a lot nicer. (I’ve seen quite a few people at least see themselves as justified enough if they buy one service and then steal the rest. “I’m already paying for Netflix. I’ll just steal whatever HBO refuses to put on.”) Maybe some estimates have the gain from the people jumping on board the new services outweighing whatever loss there is from not collecting from existing services. Regardless, theft technology has gotten a lot better over the past several years, so perhaps this time we won’t see legal trolls trying to ruin people’s lives as much this time around.


The poetry aisle at Wal-Mart is awful

I read this article to make sure I wasn’t missing something. But, no, it’s indeed the case that finding anyone who seriously cares about poetry or creative writing generally has anything good to say about Kaur’s work. It’s pretty transparently vapid.

What’s left me at a loss is why I actively dislike it. Sure, it’s a bunch of platitudes published by a major publisher and getting a lot of attention. But most popular films are the same. Most popular music is, too. Which is fine. I’ll gladly say I enjoy stupid stuff sometimes. Not everything needs to be Infinite Jest or Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. I liked the new Spiderman movie.

My best guess is that it’s actively interfering with the activities of people who might read or write better, worthwhile things. Someone picking up poetry or postmodern poetry picks this up and thinks it’s the deep stuff. Nobody watches Transformers and thinks it’s thoughtful cinema. It’s one-liners and explosions. Milk and Honey is one-liners (with a bunch of pointless line breaks) mixed in with stories with hard-hitting subject matters.

I’m not just assuming this is what happens, either. Look at people defending it and you’ll quickly find people saying things similar to “Look, if you don’t like the style [of having no regard for form or the use of language] then you just don’t like [post-]modern poetry.” Because they think that’s the extent of it. And then the door is open to anyone to criticize the good stuff on the basis of the bad stuff.

It hardly is limited to poetry, but this particular work got put it in my mind. You definitely see it elsewhere. “It’s just my style” is not an excuse for terrible artwork, either. Style is not a replacement for skill. Hitting random notes on a guitar or piano doesn’t constitute avant-garde; it constitutes being too lazy or disinterested in the actual skill or art to bother learning. Saying bogus unsupported nonsense with some idiosyncratic word usage doesn’t constitute philosophy. There’s a reason people who innovate in the newer, less (apparently) structured styles of anything first go through the process of how to do things the old way.

My hands are hardly clean, either. I’ve written tons of awful stuff that had no chance of ever being worthwhile. I thought “Oh, if I write free verse, I can disregard rhythm, rhyme, and word choice! Great!” (Yes, back to poetry.) Which was stupid. I still can’t write free verse (that isn’t complete trash). The rest of my work isn’t great by any means (at least I don’t think so), but maybe some of it has hope. And if I get the hang of playing in traditional forms to get them to do what I want, and then breaking the rules in small ways to get them to do neat things, then I’d love to move on to breaking all of the rules purposefully. But I’m not about to skip the parts where I bother learning the craft.

Now, one might make the case that, sure, people browse the poetry (or fiction, or philosophy, or religion, or art, or whatever) section, find this sort of thing, and then move on to better things. But, I turn to Harold Bloom:

“What’s happening is part of a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago when I was asked to comment on Rowling. I went to the Yale University bookstore and bought and read a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character “stretched his legs.” I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.
But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn’t, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn’t that a good thing?
It is not. “Harry Potter” will not lead our children on to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” or his “Jungle Book.” It will not lead them to Thurber’s “Thirteen Clocks” or Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice.”
Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, “If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King.” And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read “Harry Potter” you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.
Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I’m 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I’ve seen the study of literature debased. There’s very little authentic study of the humanities remaining. My research assistant came to me two years ago saying she’d been in a seminar in which the teacher spent two hours saying that Walt Whitman was a racist. This isn’t even good nonsense. It’s insufferable.”

Should you start somewhere? Sure. Maybe don’t open with really complex stuff. Starting with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is probably silly. There’s easier or simpler, but still good works. But also, starting with Dawkins’s The God Delusion is probably even worse. It doesn’t tend to lead anywhere worthwhile, but it makes you think you ended up somewhere worthwhile. (Of course, reading something and acknowledging it’s silly fun when it’s silly fun is harmless, but that’s rarely the case in these examples. I’ve noticed a few movies and TV shows get a bit of a sub-audience who thinks there’s something deeply intellectual about them when, in fact, and most people recognize the fact, it’s almost entirely silly fun.)

Bring on disambiguated terminology (CSSism vs Communism)

I say with some regularity a lot of words need to be abandoned because they’re always contorted and the discussion goes off the rails pursuing the One True Definition of a word. But perhaps more imagination needs to be developed before the lexical space can be sorted out.

Take “communism” and “leftism” for example. The former many people associate with the stuff Stalin did rather than, say, classless-stateless-society-ism. And then just focus all arguments on Stalinism without any regard for what the CSSist is actually advocating. And the latter people will say “But in *America* “left” means Clintonian center-rightism.” And then refuse to pay any attention to what the leftist is advocating.

But in discussions on either, a large part of the problem seems to just be CSSism/leftism being beyond the scope of imagination. Immediately when the abolition of private property is endorsed, the assumption is the endorser is in favor of the state owning everything. The only conceivable alternative to private entities owning things is the state owning things. Getting rid of the abstract notion of ownership altogether just doesn’t even register as an option. So of course “Communism” isn’t taken to mean what pretty much every Communist endorses because that isn’t even imagined as an option in the first place.

(My initial attempt at a solution is making the terms even clunkier but imagination-provoking. “Classless-stateless-nobody-owns-anything-besides-in-the-sense-of-use-society-ism” barely fits in a tweet. (But then I suppose compressing everything into meaningless soundbites is part of the problem in the first place. So bring on the excruciatingly long names that are thoroughly disambiguated!))

Pervasive technological problems don’t get solved by just opting out

Interesting article, if you ignore the stupid headline. The mentioned studies connecting screen-based activities and unhappiness is of note. (Though I wonder how ebooks compare to books.)

“As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves.”

Is, well. Something. (Reminds me of the meme showing 80s/90s rock screaming “I kill motherfuckers” and 00s rock saying “I wanna kill myself, motherfuckers”.)

“Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.”

Well someone born in 1995 having an Instagram account (possible only in 2010 and after) before high school would be mildly impressive. Considering the Internet started somewhen in the 60s, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first generation to not remember a pre-Internet world.

(Ofc this is just me poking fun at boundaries at fundamentally spectral things.)

And the best thing about this article is, as long as I’m on the generational boundary, I get to feel smugly justified in refusing to appear in pictures on social media (in general — I still do photos that would have justified a Polaroid).

The article suggests getting away from phones as a solution, but I really question how much good any individual can do for themselves.If the population is full of isolated people, cutting yourself off from the one means of communication with them doesn’t magically bring back the old methods. It just leaves you alone.

Regarding Culture Wars

Regarding Culture Wars:  1 is a nice reminder in the midst of bad news everywhere. Of all the problems to be having, America is having some relatively nice problems. Not to suggest that means we should stop moving forward by any means, but it’s nice to remember.

I’ve been yammering about 3 for quite awhile. Really I’m inclined to believe a lot of GOP higher-ups never want abortion to be banned because they can use that issue to distract from economics for a long time to come. Sanders was a nice change in moving the discussion to economics, and even Trump bringing trade to the center was a good shift. (Now if only someone would bring up the abolition of private property.)

Get over work

Another article getting at our need to get over the idea of everyone working in the traditional sense. All hands on deck made sense when there was more work to do than people to do it. We’re at the point where everyone working 40 hours a week is impossible. We’re going towards a point where everyone working even 10 hours a week will be impossible. Work qua employment isn’t some intrinsically great thing. People don’t need jobs, people need goods and services. If we can get the latter without the former, all the better.

I disagree with the last part of the article, though. Post-employment, “What do you do?” will become a more meaningful question, not less. Instead of commonly getting answers about jobs that really have nothing to do with the person, answers will reflect how one chooses to spend their time without unneeded restraint. Of the people I know who work in jobs that they don’t really care about outside the paycheck, pretty much all of them do far more interesting and worthwhile things outside of their jobs, and those who don’t would if their jobs didn’t suck their energy away.

In response to the common objection that without a need to work people will just become lazy, in places where universal basic income has been tried, employment stays around the same rate. The need for employment is, surprisingly, even lower than the current employment, too. With most office workers only actually working about 20% of the time, if not for a religious devotion to 40 hour work weeks, we could have many people already closer to 10 hour weeks with no drop in production.

Automation is also being held back by (unreasonably) cheap labor. Fast food, for instance, can be mostly automated. Cut off the need for employment and the wages people will demand to do those jobs rather than something more fulfilling will jump up, likely to the point where building the robots is cheaper.

Thinking skill in the STEM fields measures intelligence is bad

For whatever reason math, science, and pretty much any heavily quantitative study has become the metric on which intelligence is based. Someone who can do calculus mentally must be a genius and someone who struggles with fractions must be dumb. I’m not immune to this oddity–I met one particularly brilliant individual years ago and assumed he must be great at maths. (He’s not bad,  but also not significantly above average.) However, this sort of assumption is just toxic for many people. While some people let the cultural assumption roll off their backs, I have friends who insult themselves for being dumb simply because they’re not skilled with a particular mental skill or two.

I’m generally alright at math; I think it comes more easily to me than many others. I got a 3.8 on a math major and likely to have a coauthored paper published soon. But when I try my hand at writing a compelling story or poetry, I often fall flat on my face. Of course, with practice it improves, but if math abilities were an indicator of intelligence generally, I’d expect to be at least average at these things. Being able to craft a driving story, create art that inspires or comforts people, or say things that somehow improve life for people are themselves incredible intelligences to have. If I could trade my logic skills for those sorts, it’d be quite the tempting offer. Understanding people, feelings, aesthetics, etc. is hard. In my mind, far harder than crunching numbers and symbols.

Ultimately this is just a result of misdirected priorities. The pursuit of money and new technology (for the pursuit of money) has distracted us from the happiness and fulfillment those things were meant to serve in the first place. Certainly a lot of math and science is done for joy, knowledge, beauty, or some other virtuous thing, but the state of cultural supremacy they have taken seems to stem from these misdirected priorities. These misdirected priorities speak nothing of the art-oriented people. Quantitative skills have their place in good living, but it’s not the place that’s given them their current status.

As I can imagine certain complaints will come in, I’ll address them right now. I’m not saying everyone is smart. Some people are dumb. If nobody was, being smart wouldn’t really be anything. (I’m not saying just that it wouldn’t be valuable–it literally doesn’t make sense for there to only be smart people. Of course, there is a wide spectrum, but I don’t foresee anyone trying to make an object on the basis of apparent binaryism.) This isn’t to say they have less value as people. There’s a lot of very good things to be besides smart. Being smart is often only a useful trait in more valuable things. Nonetheless, for people who desire to have that trait but consistently fail because what they do is aimed at knowledge or some sort of mental skill but not one quantitative in nature, this attitude is harmful. (The underlying issue of priorities is an issue with a much larger scope. That there is a problem is simple enough to state, and all that is needed for my point here.)