What I'm Watching and Criticizing: The Good Place

So, up front: This is a trashy show in a lot of ways, that's trying to be much, much higher and mostly failing. It exists so someone who wasted their college tuition reading philosophers can pick up a paycheck name-dropping Kant in each script; Kudos to that guy for finding a way to make philosophy pay. (disclosure: I also read philosophers in college and since, mostly on my own time, and never tried to extract money for it.) But it is not written as a philosophy treatise, though it occasionally tries; mostly it's just a dumb sitcom.

The main cast are a trashy girl-next-door mean chick, a hot chick with an English accent I hate, a philosophy nerd (irony/shitty writing: black guy, entirely teaching from texts written by old white guys, all but the latest of whom kept slaves; not a single non-honky philosophy is ever discussed), and a moron, trying to survive an afterlife where they don't quite seem to belong, run by well-past-sell-date Ted Danson and a slightly frumpy robot girl (who says she's neither), in standard sitcom cycles (literally: There's mental reboots that happen so episodes can restart at the beginning), though it does change up the formula eventually. I do like the hot chick and the mean chick; they have character. Maybe the robot girl, even limited by her role. Sadly, the nerd is one-note, the moron is barely able to breathe in and out without electric shocks, the ancient stick-figure of Ted Danson is stiff and overacts when he does break being stiff.

The key premise of the show is that you earn "points" by your actions in life, which sorts you into "The Good Place" or "The Bad Place". There's, uh, roughly everything wrong with this.

Obviously first, there's no magical afterlife. It makes no sense: There's no evolutionary advantage to an afterlife, and Humans being the only animals who can rationalize and make up stories to deal with our fear of death is infinitely more likely than that a magic sky fairy suddenly gifted Homo sapiens with an invisible remote backup system. When you die, your brain patterns rot and the program that was you ceases to be recoverable in about 5-10 minutes. There's probably nothing like an Omega Point or Roko's Basilisk for the same reason; that information won't survive from the current hot period of the Universe to the long cold efficient computational period, so no AI can reconstruct you. I'm as sad and angry about this as anyone, but I don't delude myself.

Second, even if we say "YER A WIZARD HARRY" and you have a magical afterlife, it's populated by immortal beings (IB), somehow. Where do they come from? How does that evolve? How do they get magical powers? If Humans can get a half-measure of sanity and wisdom by 40, 60, 80 years, every IB should be perfectly enlightened and know every trick and skill possible by 1000, 100000, 13.5 billion years old. The IBs shown are as stupid and easily-tricked as Humans, when you get to The Actual Plot of this show. To pick the exact opposite of this show, Hellraiser had an internally consistent magical afterlife: "Hell" is an alien universe inhabited by Cenobites with a wide range of power, whose experiences are so powerful that they would seem like torture to a Human; they collect Humans who seek that experience with magical devices, not to reward or punish meaningless behaviors on Earth; good or evil means nothing in Hellraiser.

Every IB in this show is insultingly stupid, repetitive physical tortures by frat boy demons, inferior to Torquemada's work here on Earth; farting evil robot girls; a neutral Judge too silly to be on a daytime TV show who only wants to eat her burrito. Low, low, lowest-fucking-brow comedy quite often.

Third, and most damning (heh), any system of morality with a scoring system then becomes solely about that scoring system. If "God and/or Santa are Watching" as Christians claim, you must act good according to the dictates of the Bible to score high enough to enter Heaven; it doesn't matter what's logically right and wrong, only the specific rules of an eternal sex-obsessed Middle-Eastern tyrant. Everyone who ate shellfish or wore mixed fibers or got a tattoo, forbidden by Leviticus, or failed to commit genocide & slavery when ordered by a prophet of God, as throughout the entire Old Testament, or masturbated to anyone but their lawfully wedded spouse, as forbidden by Jesus in Matthew 5:28, is gonna have a real bad eternity in Hell.

The scoring system for The Good/Bad Place makes it impossible to commit a "selfless" act unless you're a total moron (so, possibly the moron character, but he's unthinkingly rotten as often as nice). They treat this as a feature, as if you can only do good deeds when you can't see the score.

In philosophy without gods, you can choose to do good (try to define "good" in less than 10,000 pages…) instead of evil (same) because your personal or societal reward system is rigged that way (laws, in general), or because you selfishly want to look altruistic (maybe virtue-signalling to attract a mate), or because universalizing your behavior means you should selfishly do right to raise the level for everyone including yourself ("think global, act local"), or purely at random, and you have still done good deeds. While the ancient Stoics (especially my favorite, Marcus Aurelius ) respected piety to the immortalized Emperors and gods of the Pantheon, they didn't ask the gods for rules, they found a way to live based on reason, a modicum of compassion, and facing the harsh world that exists.

But once the authorities put in an objective score system in with infinite reward/punishment, you must act to maximize your score; there's no moral debate possible, you would just find the highest reward you can achieve each day and grind on it. Those born with the most wealth and privilege will be much more capable of raising their score instead of attending to life's necessities, so the rich get rewarded, the poor get punished.

This show seems to think Jiminy Cricket sits in your head as a quiet voice without any training, and you just have to listen to it to know good and evil. There's a discussion about Les Miserables re stealing bread (worth exactly -17 points), that's only used for mockery, but in real life that ambiguity is impossibly hard to make rules for.

I liked Eleanor and Tahani, and sometimes Michael, playing off each other enough to keep watching this through S2, but every time Chidi speaks I roll my eyes and wish that just once he'd reference someone not on the Dead Honkys shelf; especially not Prussian Immanuel Kant who wrote some of the earliest texts on "scientific racism", including such gems as "The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling" (1764, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime). Fuck that guy.

★½☆☆☆

China, Shenzen, and Quality Control

And much more. There's a good lesson there, and it's not just in China, they're only the worst-case end scenario. I look at this shit and see us in 20 years.

Beer (since they bring that up in the first video) is in a precarious place. Since the '80s, we've had some great microbreweries come up like Ninkasi, Big Sky, Deschutes. We used to have good regional beers like Rainier and Lucky, but then they were bought by giant breweries and turned into fake labels. The "mainstream" beers are garbage, mildly contaminated water you wouldn't wet a pigsty down with, sold entirely on marketing budgets and association with sportsball. If I see someone drinking Coors or Bud, I know they're tasteless and scream at hooligans on TV giving each other concussions. Microbreweries are often on shoestring budgets and one downturn can kill them; happily it's easy to homebrew and start a new microbrewery, but it's a thin line keeping us from going dry or drinking fucking Pabst.

We've very stupidly sent all our electronics manufacturing over to China. If you want good hardware from China, you have to stand over them and QA everything like Apple does, and then get accused of using slave labor, which it is (best-paying slave labor in China, but still so unethical it makes me nauseous). Huawei's CFO has been arrested, and many places aren't using their equipment now because they almost certainly have CCP spyware, but it's still the only place that makes most electronics. This is civilization-ending-level stupidity.

We should have our own Shenzen SEZ (I'm not suggesting loosening our environmental or worker protections, weak as they are under the hideous cheeto person's administration; but some tax incentives would be great), and be making our own hardware for secure systems, but even if we could get workers to do it, we don't have anyone to train them. We used to have Radio Shack for learning to make electronics, but RS fucked it up by selling garbage consumer toys (mostly sourced from China), so they were driven out of business by cheaper online ordering of garbage consumer toys. So we're at the mercy of another country being driven into self-destruction.

US physical infrastructure is crumbling in many places, and entire cities like Detroit are unsafe to inhabit, because politicians have no reason to do anything about it; all money goes back to the companies that bribed them into office, while poor people in cities by definition don't have enough money to bribe them (PR con artists call these bribes "campaign finances"; I call them malfeasance and we should hang them all). The culture of "not my problem" is just as endemic here, in non-"Communist" countries; if we haven't collapsed as far yet it's because most of our buildings are under 100 years old and we build over things faster than they rot.

In software, we do it to ourselves. I dislike/distrust most software, because we have absolutely zero quality control; people ship any damn thing, and even these "walled gardens" don't do anything to stop it. There's so much garbage on the Apple App Store, basically just screenshots and RSS scrapers, or recompiled demo or tutorial book projects, named to take advantage of Apple's shitty search and advertising interfaces, and nobody cares because you can't set a decent price. So only scammers and ad companies and loot-box sellers can make money there. Why does anyone buy a $1000 iPhone when almost all the software on it is shit? Google Play is 100x worse, it's essentially nothing but viruses and scams, because Google's not just uninterested in QA, but profits better from spyware.

Commercial desktop software isn't much better, I think harder about wasting $20 on software than I would on a $100+ non-electronic physical object. In the last 2 years, I have literally upgraded two programs (somewhat reluctantly in one case; old version didn't work on Mojave or I'd've kept using it forever, and the new version can take 5-10 seconds to start, with a splash screen) and bought nothing new, because everything new that I try is shit. I'm using a free thing called "LimeChat" for IRC, because Adium's half-broken by neglect, and it's awful, but slightly better than command-line irc; I wouldn't pay for this.

There's some quasi-commercial stuff where "open source" means you can use the tool but there's ways for the corporation who supports it to make money, and some of these aren't the worst software ever made. WordPress, obviously. Atom's in a dangerous position where it's supported by GitHub, which was making a little money on services, and is now owned by Microsoft, who makes Quality Job #NaN. Will Atom get the performance rewrite finished before Microsoft shutters GitHub? Will it keep working? Nobody knows! Fucking Slack is appallingly bad, not because it's Electron but because non-corporate customers don't matter to them.

Free software is mostly garbage, and we get things like the npm event-stream takeover because nobody maintains their own shit, just make junk and throw it away, and then we're SHOCKED when criminals see this as an opportunity.

As usual, I don't have solutions, only problems. I write my own software so I don't have to rely on other people's software. I ought to grow my own food, dig a well, and stockpile guns and ammo, but I'll probably just turn Reaver if I survive the coming collapse of everything.

Mature Programming Environment

Updating software annoys me.

I like Janie's Red Queen metaphor, a constant chase that gets nowhere, but you have to keep up. Updating software is utterly pointless if the old stuff still works, but if you don't then everything breaks.

If you give a person a program, you will frustrate them for a day. If you teach a person to program, you will frustrate them for a lifetime!

I'd rather like to have one of Vernor Vinge's "mature programming environments", where programming isn't a matter of boiling the ocean by starting over, or fixing code to match new APIs, but finding the parts you need and gluing them together with new code in old, ancient, centuries or millennia-old APIs that Just Work. For quite a while, the NeXTstep/Mac environment was like that, 30-year-old NS programs worked fine. But now everything is broken again.

What I'm Watching: BoJack Horseman

If you think "a dumb cartoon about a horse?", no. This is maybe the best dramedy about depression, success, and failure ever made, live-action or animated (the other contender is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is about the crushing weight of parental expectations told with giant mecha and alien angels at the end of the world).

Finally finished S4 and now all of S5.

S1 was a funny show about depression. Not all that coherent, still wandering between Simpsons gag format and long series drama.

S2 tries to cover up depression with work and success, and has an epic meltdown. The most coherent season so far, but the least fun. The one that hits closest to me.

S3 is the hangover after success, and then gets real fucking dark. But E4, "Fish Out of Water", is something everyone should see; you don't need a lot of context for it.

S4 spends a lot of time in flashbacks, especially to BoJack's mother who is awful. E7 "Underground", E8 "The Judge", and E12 "What Time Is It Right Now" are fantastic, though.

S5 has been more like S1, dramedy with no real point, Princess Carolyn's flashback and the eulogy both dragged on forever, but E8 "Mr Peanutbutter's Boos" 25 years of Halloween parties was perfect. The meta-show Philbert is a dead ringer for many of the crime dramas I watch.

There's long stretches of BoJack that I find almost intolerably dull, and start zipping ahead 30s at a time to see if the plot advances. I have my own family hangups, I can't be expected to care about BoJack's shitty family.

There's other times when it's the only show that's ever talked honestly about this stuff.

★☆☆☆☆ to ★★★★★ but averaging around ★★★★☆

Rules for the OSR (Old-School Renaissance)

Housekeeping note: I'm still too busy with programming on the new Perilar, and some other things, to get back to my tabletop and/or online chat games regularly, but I'll be moving all my RPG stuff over to this blog from Mark Rolls Dice, I'd like to have one site to maintain which I own.

So, start with basic principles. How do I run games.

I'm a caveman from the '70s and '80s, so my Old-School is literally old and from school, as noted in Five Games. The Old-School Renaissance is my frozen caveman ass being thawed out to do it again.

There's a bunch of guides to how to do this, but they're kind of bullshit. Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming is close to my view, and has gameplay dialogue examples which can be read in funny voices, but it goes on too long about irrelevant stuff. Principia Apocrypha and a bunch of other bloviating diatribes just go on forever, I started to nod off, make a little hand-puppet with my hand and flap its mouth up and down.

Here's my OSR principles:

  1. Let the dice fall where they may. ( Knights of the Dinner Table's Law )
  2. Be excellent to each other. ( Bill & Ted's Law, the inverse of Wheaton's Law )
  3. The Referee is always right, but the players can choose to stay or leave.
  4. Rules are just recordings of what we've previously done. We can change them at any time.

Like the Three Laws of Robotics, each principle is tempered by the ones previous: The Referee can override new rules. But, be excellent to each other. But, don't cheat and take away risk.

Don't Be a Dick

So, Wil Wheaton ( previously "I Hate Twitter" ) was just chased off the Fediverse (he still has an account on a siloed non-federating instance, which isn't really useful to anyone else). His last statement's pretty clear, so I put that down below.

"Please do your very best to be kind to each other. The world is a terrible place right now, and that's largely because it is what we make it."

I know some of the people doing the harassing. There's no point in even arguing with them: They've decided he's in Two Minutes Hate, perhaps because he has a friend whom they don't like, and won't consider "Don't be a Dick", or having empathy, tolerance, or self-awareness that some of them aren't such great friends to have, for one hot second.

While Gargron has condemned harassment, it doesn't fix the problem, since there are entire instances where 4chan-like behavior is accepted; all you can do is block accounts or those entire instances, and it still poisons the Federated timeline for a while.

I'm not sure any level of moderation fixes this shit.

This is why I highly recommend owning your own blog, and broadcasting that out to other services where people can read it; even better, read this and many other blogs in your RSS aggregator or RSS reader ( currently free! ) of choice. It's OK to put some ephemeral chat on other services, but remember those are owned by other people, and are easily attacked by angry, stupid mobs. If a stupid mob shows up here, I don't approve their comments and it's done. It's the Castle Doctrine of online posting.

Wil Wheaton @wilw@mastodon.cloud August 29, 2018, 3:02 PM https://mastodon.cloud/@wilw/100635779449174251 (will be a dead link soon)
I have been notified by an Admin here that they are getting 60 reports a day about my account. As far as I can tell, I'm not breaking any rules, and I've done my best to be a good person here. But this admin is going to suspend my account.

It's the Admin's instance, so I fully support their choice to eliminate a source of frustration, but something to consider: a person who is doing nothing wrong can be run off one instance by a mob from another instance. That seems ... not cool. 1/x

But it's been made very, very clear to me that I am not welcome in the Fediverse, and I hear you. I hoped to find an alternative to the birdsite where I could find the same fun community that existed over there in the beginning, and it's clear to me that I won't be finding that. Before I leave, I want to just make something very clear, because I've spent most of my life being yelled at by people who don't know me at all, and I want the record to be clear. 2/x

During GamerGate, I was dogpiled and mobbed and brigaded and attacked by thousands of accounts. I started using a blocklist that was supposed to help stop that. I did not know that the blocklist I signed up for also had a lot of trans women on it. When I found out, I did everything I could to remove those women from the list I shared. When there were still innocents on the list, I stopped sharing the list entirely. Despite this, a mob has decided that I'm anti-trans. 3/x

This lie that I am anti-trans, or anti-LGBQ, is deeply hurtful to me (I know it's nothing like the pain LGBTQ people deal with every day, as they simply try to exist in a world that treats them so badly, but it is still hurtful in its own way to me). I just want to make it extremely clear: that is a lie, and the people spreading it are misinformed.

So I'm leaving the Fediverse, which has treated me with more cruelty, vitriol, hatred, and contempt than than anyone on the birdsite ever did. 4/x

I know that I'm well-off, well-known, and as a CIS white hetro dude in America, I live life on the lowest difficulty setting. I know that I have very little to complain about.

But I still have feelings, and I really do care about the world and the people in it. What I see is a lot of anger and cruelty directed at the IDEA of me, from people who I just hope don't realize that it really does hurt me, in my heart, to be accused of being someone I am not, and to be the target of a hateful mob. 5/x

Anyway, take your victory lap and collect your prizes. You've made it clear that I'm not welcome here, and even though I disagree with the action this Admin is taking (banning me when I didn't break any rules doesn't seem right), I respect and support the Admin's decision to run their instance the way they see fit.

Please do your very best to be kind to each other. The world is a terrible place right now, and that's largely because it is what we make it.

Bye.

6/end

Liberation in Art but not in Your Stupid Life: 2112, Real Genius, TRON, and Ready Player One

In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:

2112

A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.

Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!

TRON

A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.

Greetings, programs!

Real Genius

A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Ready Player One

A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.

After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"

Just Stories

These stories, they're just stories of their time.

2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".

TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.

Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).

Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.

This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.

So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.

TBL Has Some Regrets

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places … [increasing centralization of the Web] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."
"While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people."
"You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have a heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets."
Tim Berners-Lee, Vanity Fair

On the contrary, Tim, the World Wide Web is very human, and these are not "bugs" or "emergent": It's not a perfect crystalline utopia inhabited by rule-following robots reading RDF tags, but instead it's like an organically grown city, with a mix of lovely things and nice people, and also back alleys and skyscraper offices full of predators. There's surveillance systems everywhere because the predators wanted surveillance, paid engineers well to make them, and it's much harder to stop Internet surveillance than spray-painting a closed-circuit camera.

The Internet didn't create spies, tyrants, or marketing scumbags; the Stasi managed to spy on everyone, and they barely used the few shitty Soviet computers they had. Madison Avenue invented scumbag marketing long before they had "data" supporting their psychological manipulations. Of course now the same kind of villains at the NSA, KGB (FSV & SVR these days, same thing), and Facebook are going to use modern computer networks to spy and manipulate. A poster-board sign isn't going to convince them to stop.

"Oh gosh I just realized I've spent my life deceiving people, and that's wrong!", said absolutely no spy ever. (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is fiction)

Getting more people connected is somewhat positive and empowering for the "last billion"; although you, presumably fellow first-world libertarian/liberal/con-but-not-an-asshole-servative reader, may well not like the political and religious programming the last billion have…

But even if everyone has a computer & unfettered Internet access, it's not going to make everyone freer, they're just more entries in Facebook's databases. The only cheap mobile phones are Android, which is run by and for the benefit of Google's surveillance systems. You can release any kind of utopian decentralized system, and people will say "I want Facebook and Youtube… and what are ads?" and many will end up in it by social pressure and marketing.

Some of us do what we can to exist outside of those networks, but don't get too idealistic about it, or you end up crazy or yet another dead martyr.

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In a short story called “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the discovery of a strange book. Written in an arcane language, the book seems to be one vol­ume of an encyclopedia of another world, intriguingly unlike the world of everyday reality. The world of the volume rapidly becomes a universal obsession: scholarly journals were de­voted to it, people begin to dress and act in ways suggested by the volume. So compelling are the glimpses of the world revealed by the volume that its reality finally crowds out our own, and the world becomes the world of Tlon.
The volume you are holding in your hands is the volume Borges had in mind.
—Michael Swaine, preface to Dr Dobb's Journal Vol 09