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Plex Offers Over a Thousand Ad-Supported Movies on Demand: The films are “free” as in “ad supported”, but it’s still an interesting move. While I’m a long-time Plex user, I’m not sure if I’ll take advantage of this (I have an extensive personal movie and TV collection as it is, plus some of the big-name streaming services), but it may well be worthwhile for plenty of other people.

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Love Death + Robots

I watched all of Love Death + Robots on Saturday, and while much of the animation was impressive and parts of it were interesting, and I enjoyed a few of the episodes, as a whole, it was rather “meh”. They definitely weren’t kidding about the NSFW warnings, though: bloody, gory violence, language, and lots of nudity with a definite “male gaze” issue throughout many of the entries.

Speaking about the Netflix animated anthology series in a press release, Miller made it clear that viewers should expect mature content.

“I’m so f**king excited that the creative landscape has finally changed enough for adult-themed animation to become part of a larger cultural conversation,” he said.

While some of that excitement is justified – the vast majority of LDR looks great and many of its 18 short episodes are amusing, clever and shocking in the best possible way – gratuitous female nudity once again sticks the male and female characters on an entirely unbalanced playing field. Nudity on screen is fine – we’re all for it, in fact. But this is something different.

My personal rough rankings of the various pieces, from most to least enjoyable (if you’re cherry-picking episodes, for me, 1-8 are worth watching, 9-12 are not terribly objectionable, 13-18 are the most skippable):

  1. Three Robots: One of three entries adapted from short works by John Scalzi, all of which ended up in my top picks. Amusing story of three robots touring the ruins of Earth.
  2. Fish Night: I liked this one because it’s pretty and weird, though I’m not surprised to see it’s one of the lower-rated episodes on IMDB.
  3. Zima Blue: Neat animation style, and an interesting story with a fun ending.
  4. When the Yogurt Took Over: Hyper-intelligent yogurt saving humanity. Just silly.
  5. Helping Hand: When an EVA goes wrong, an astronaut has to figure out if she can save herself. Made me cringe, but because of what was happening, not because of how it was presented.
  6. Ice Age: Another short and silly entry. Remember to clean out your freezer!
  7. Alternate Histories: Goofball explorations of possible timelines prompted by killing Hitler in various ways.
  8. Good Hunting: I really liked the overall arc of the story of this one, though it’s also the first (in this ranking, not in presentation order) to use sexualized violence as part of the plot.
  9. Blind Spot: An average high-speed heist story, with a rather unsurprising final resolution.
  10. Suits: Farmers in mech suits defend their fields from an invading horde of aliens. Shrug.
  11. Lucky 13: I’m generally not big on military SF; most impressive for digitizing actress Samira Wiley so well that I actually recognized her character as the actress (and checked to see if it was really her, or if they’d just designed a character who strongly resembled her).
  12. Sucker of Souls: Archaeologists and mercenaries against vampires. With cats.
  13. Beyond the Aquila Rift: Not an entirely uninteresting story, but spent a little too much time on the sex scene (and sure, there was arguably a shock payoff for that at the end, but still…). It felt more like a “look what we can render/get away with” scene.
  14. The Dump: Relied too much on hick stereotypes and male-nudity-as-(unfunny) humor.
  15. The Secret War: WWI Russian soldiers battling an unstoppable enemy. Similar reaction as with Suits, only that one was was slightly more interesting due to the mechs.
  16. Shape-Shifters: Werewolves, lots of gore, and hoo-rah! militarism.
  17. The Witness: While the story itself wasn’t bad, and the animation style was neat, it ends up being primarily watching a terrified naked woman run away from a male pursuer.
  18. Sonnie’s Edge: Mentally controlling giant beasties to fight each other is rather cliché, but using off-screen gang rape as a motivating factor and more “look, they’re letting us animate naked women (at least until we kill them)!” scenes failed to impress me.
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Linkdump for February 27th through April 12th

Sometime between February 27th and April 12th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

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Linkdump for April 2nd through April 7th

Sometime between April 2nd and April 7th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Custom Men’s High Tops: Custom printed pseudo-Chucks for $89 CAD (roughly $66 USD). Out of my budget now, but in the future….
  • Mastodon Is Like Twitter Without Nazis, So Why Are We Not Using It?: I'm @djwudi on mastodon.social, if you're over that way.
  • Joss Whedon’s Greatest…hits?: My new album, Joss Whedon Kind Of Really Sucks and Even Though I Have and May Continue to Enjoy Some of His Shows or Aspects of His Shows That Doesn’t Mean That I Don’t Need To Recognize How They Have A Lot of Problematic Elements, is coming out next week!
  • How to Make the Electoral College Work for Everyone: The Constitution asks us to elect a president of the United States, but what we get is a president of Ohio and Florida. There’s an easy way to fix that.
  • UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it: The information networks we’ve built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor. “Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’ ” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”
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Linkdump for March 31st through April 2nd

Sometime between March 31st and April 2nd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Rosie’s Phenomenal Precision Insult Machine!: Don't reach for those old, tired gendered, ableist, or otherwise lazy and harmful insults. Trust the machine to help you find the perfect, targeted insult for your specific needs! (Does not contain gendered- genital-based insults, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, dis-ableism, body-shaming, slut-shaming. May contain peanuts.)
  • Joss Whedon’s obsession is not feminism: The problem is that at some point in his career, Joss became so intent on the masochistic fantasy of being hated by strong women for being a nerd that he spent a decade writing stories about violating those women to ensure they would hate him.
  • Of dwarves and gender: So one day a dwarf is talking to a human and finally realizes that when humans say woman, they generally mean “person who is theoretically capable of childbirth” because for whatever reason, humans assign social expectations based genital differences.
  • On Wm. Golding’s Lord of the Flies: Basically all the good Golding scholars agree that Lord of the Flies is intended as a condemnation specifically of western positivism and superiority, not a condemnation of human nature.  Golding believed that good societies were possible, but that he was not living in one.
  • What’s Wrong With Using The Word “Gypsy?”: TL;DR: It's racist. Here is a list of myths and realities about the Romani/Roma people.
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Linkdump for March 30th from 13:25 to 16:32

Sometime between 13:25 and 16:32 on March 30th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • The Male Power Fantasy (and why Mad Max and Captain Kirk don’t fit): This relates to a theory I have, which is that the archetypal Western Male Hero is James Bond, to the degree that people (Mainly straight white men) start to see every Western Male Hero as James Bond. Which is to say an aggressively masculine, quip-spitting, hyper violent womanizer. The ultimate Male Power Fantasy. A new supermodel love interest (or two) every film, a gun in his hand, and no consequences for his actions.
  • So many biological genders: If anyone tells you that there are 2-3 sexes in the world I want you to just go ahead and slap them.
  • Fight Club and toxic masculinity (with a side of Mad Max: Fury Road): Hold up – you mean there are people who watch Fight Club and don’t realise that Tyler Durden is meant to be full of shit?
  • Geisha FAQ: Please do not spread misconceptions about these hard-working women artists. They deserve respect and have persevered for centuries with women at the forefront of these professions.
  • Earth is dangerous: I really want a science fiction story where aliens come to invade earth and effortlessly wipe out humanity, only to be fought off by the wildlife.
  • Of privilege and nostalgia: The reality is, there was never a time when everyone could just enjoy things. To be able to say you had that time is to admit the privilege you had at not having to think about problematic behavior because it didn’t negatively affect your life.
  • To everyone else in the galaxy, all humans are basically Doc Brown.: Random Headcanon: That Federation vessels in Star Trek seem to experience bizarre malfunctions with such overwhelming frequency isn’t just an artefact of the television serial format. Rather, it’s because the Federation as a culture are a bunch of deranged hyper-neophiles, tooling around in ships packed full of beyond-cutting-edge tech they don’t really understand.
  • Snarky but amusing and thorough Romeo and Juliet analysis: SUMMARY: Romeo and Juliet is a stunningly rich play that is mostly about how feuds fuck people over badly and how if you have to wait until YOUR KIDS OFF THEMSELVES to figure that out you deserve to lose your children. Romeo and Juliet are victims of the feud and its mindless death-lust, not perpetrators of death on others. They’re not supposed to be figures of ridicule OR representatives of True Love: they’re supposed to make the audience go “oh BABIES, no, you’re going to end so badly” and then be sad when they do.
  • The singular “they”: Next time someone complains about singular “they” I’ll point them to this 17th century rant against singular “you”.
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Linkdump for March 30th from 11:01 to 11:37

Sometime between , I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Star Wars Without Politics Wouldn’t Be Star Wars

Disappointed that these two tweets by Star Wars: Rogue One writers were removed (but not terribly surprised, especially if the deletions were decreed by the Powers Above):

On November 11, 2016, Rogue One writer Chris Weitz tweeted: “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.” He later deleted that tweet after receiving lots of complaints from other Twitter users, many of whom asked him to stop “injecting politics” into Star Wars. Weitz clarified in one response tweet, “My apologies. You have a right to enjoy it as you wish; and I don’t wish to harm my colleagues’ work either.”

Weitz’ colleague, Gary Whitta, had already written his own response to the tweet comparing the Star Wars Empire to white supremacy, which said: “Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.” Whitta’s tweet has also since been deleted.

I have just as much sympathy (to wit: absolutely none) with people whining about “injecting politics” into Star Wars as those who did the same with Star Trek (most recently, regarding Bryan Fuller’s preparation for Star Trek: Discovery). Politics are integral to these stories. Even if you try to ignore the parallels between the Empire and the Nazi regime (which were explicit and intentional in both the original films and in The Force Awakens, so attempting to ignore that is rather ridiculous), the Star Wars prequels open with the Trade Federation controlling a blockade around a planet at the bidding of Chancellor Palpatine…but, no, sorry, that has nothing to do with politics. How silly of me.

All these people really mean is that they don’t want their politics to be called out as the bad guys…but, c’mon, if the shoe fits….

So Rogue One has already been passing the Furiosa Test (Do people on the internet get mad about it being feminist?), and now Trump supporters might be staying away as well (though, really, the two groups do seem to have a lot of overlap)? I don’t see much of a downside to that. I’d certainly be quite happy going to a movie knowing that there’s a smaller-than-normal chance of being surrounded by those types of people, and given the juggernaut that Star Wars is, I just don’t see a major impact on their bottom line from this. Win-win for everyone!

Except the Empire, perhaps.

A Real First-Class News Experience

From Business Class: Freemium for News?:

I had a perspective changing talk on the subject of pay walls with the chief executive of a big publishing company…. He asked me what I think about pay walls. I told him what I always say: The main currency of news sites is attention and not dollars and that I believe that it is his job, as a publisher, to turn that attention into money to keep the attention machine running. He nodded and made the following, astonishing statement:

I can’t see pay walls working out either. But we need to do something before we lose all of our current subscribers. Sure. It’s a tough business environment, but… But the flight industry is a tough environment too, and they found ways. So tell me: Why do people fly Business Class? In the end, an airplane brings me to the same place regardless of whether I fly Economy or Business Class and the massive price-increase I pay doesn’t compare the difference in value.

People pay for Business Class because they don’t want to be tortured in Economy. They get faster lanes at the terror check. They get an extra glass of champagne. The stewards are more attentive. They get off the plane more quickly. They get the feeling of a higher social status.

He asked whether I knew of a way to apply this logic to online news. What would a Business Class news site look like?

Good stuff here. Since moving to Ellensburg, I’ve been frustrated with my lack of online access to local news. The one local paper is the Ellensburg Daily Record, which only posts a (very) limited number of stories on its website. If you want access to the full paper without subscribing to the dead-tree edition, they offer $5/month access to the full edition. However, from what I can tell, it’s presented in a specialized, locked-down format similar to a fancy .pdf file, through the Active Paper Daily service.

Now, I’m not a die-hard “information wants to be free” crusader, and I really don’t have a problem with paying a reasonable fee for media that I’m interested in. However, I do want to be able to use the information that I pay for, and a specialized browser system like Active Paper, which presents an “exact replica of [the] print edition”, which forces me to “browse through the pages just as if [I] had the newspaper in [my] hands”, is not something I’m willing to pay for. Give me text on a webpage, RSS feeds for my newsreader…information I can use, not something that locks it away.

If the Daily Record (along with many other news sites) were to move to the “Business Class” idea as proposed in the linked article, I’d find a subscription fee for access to a better-presented, ad-free (or ad-light) version of the site entirely reasonable. Let them slap as many ads as they want on the free version of the site, break their stories into as many pages as they want to increase click counts and ad impressions for the free readers, but give me the ability to subscribe to a premium version without all the crap. That’s a model for news sites I’d love to see gain traction.

Unpopular Questions

Okay, folks. Some of you aren’t going to like this at all. However, I think these are questions worth asking.

Every year, I see a strong majority of my friends and acquaintances promoting Banned Book Week, “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment…[that] highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship [and founded on] the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.”

Last April, the internet and many people I know were thrown into a tizzy because of apparent censorship of LGBT-themed books, prompting the creation of the #amazonfail hashtag.

So, now we have the latest uproar over a book with unpopular ideas that is under attack — only this time, the popular call is for boycotting Amazon until the book is removed. And, apparently all the uproar was successful, because it seems the book is no longer available.

So, folks, which is it? Do we decry the censorship of ideas that are unpopular, or do we celebrate the censorship of ideas that are unpopular?

Yes, the content of the book in question is disturbing and advocates unethical, immoral, and illegal behavior. Depending on who you talk to and what area of the country or world you live in, most if not all of the LGBT section of any modern bookstore, including Amazon, can be described in exactly the same way.

Either censorship is horrible and should be battled in whatever form it appears, or it is acceptable and necessary and you just better not be writing anything that people in power disapprove of. But it doesn’t work both ways. At least, not justifiably.

From » Banned? Wait, what?! Stop Motion Verbosity:

Good thing Nabokov wasn’t “investigated” because of Lolita. Of course, Lolita was also banned for a while. But hey! Who cares, right? Wait, maybe it isn’t books that are clearly fiction, it’s manuals and guidebooks.

Good thing the Anarchist Cookbook is banned. Oh, wait, hold on. Right! It isn’t. Because free speech isn’t just protected when you agree with it. Because the alternative is madness.

[…]

You don’t get to call for a boycott to delist a book when you feel like it, without being willing to sit while someone boycotts for a book you like, the next day.

This is why we don’t ban books, remember? Because it’s dangerous and fucked up and wrong. Even when the book is horrible and morally objectionable. Even then.

That’s the price we pay for free speech. And if you aren’t willing to pay it, then you better duck, because that has consequences you may not enjoy for very long at all. About the time someone disagrees with you and you can’t do anything about it, I’d think.

(Via MissAmberClark)

And this next bit is from a 2008 post in Neil Gaiman’s Journal, which addresses a different specific controversy, but the same questions: Why defend freedom of icky speech?:

Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

[T]hat’s what makes the kind of work you don’t like, or don’t read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth defending. It’s because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.

(Via bicyclefish)