Entropy Arbitrage Newsletter, October 2022

Today is Gnuday, 20 of Skarl 4115. [4115.07.20]

…assuming you follow the Common Calendar, of course, but I assume you probably do not. Or should. Ahem. Newsletter!

Entropy Arbitrage welcomed visitors from Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong SAR China, India, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, and Åland Islands this month, which never fails to please me. Remember, all content is made available under the CC-BY-SA license, so if anybody needs to provide a translation, you don’t need my permission, provided that you comply with the terms of the license. However, feel free to ask for help or otherwise reach out, too.

October’s Idle Thoughts

Welcome to the twenty-eighth issue of the Entropy Arbitrage newsletter.

Political Ad Cookie-Cutter

As we in the United States get close to election day—this Tuesday as the newsletter goes out, today, as the Buy Me a Coffee members read this, pardon the cheap plug—I can’t help focusing on how Republican candidates seem to have two and only two ads.

First, we have the polished and timeless adolescent angst: In recent years, some bad things have happened, making some people unhappy. Therefore, maybe, we should elect somebody different. I’m A. White-Guy, and I approve this message. They don’t identify the bad things that they claim to have happened, nor do they seem to know or care who currently holds office. The entire message comes down to “time for a change,” but not for the ad, I guess.

Alternatively, we have aggressive adolescent angst: Under Biden’s administration—insert photographs of (gasp!) women, with their mouths open—life has no meaning and wealthy people risk the IRS requiring them to pay taxes. Therefore, we must elect a wealthy white man who believes that people who can’t pass as wealthy white men shouldn’t have rights. I’m A. Whiterman, and I approve this message.

Now, I know why they don’t have more substance, and you probably do, as well: Republican’s don’t have policies that help people, so they can only run on vague platitudes and some occasional fear.

My question, though? Who do these ads sway? What does the target audience look like? Neither of these ad templates make a case for anything, so either the viewer already believes that Democrats secretly run a baby-eating cult or whatever and presumably doesn’t need a reminder to hate, or the viewer doesn’t and changes the channel. Maybe this serves as a prelude to an explicit incitement to violence, but honestly, if they find Nancy Pelosi and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez terrifying—as their montage of the terror of Biden’s America implies—then I don’t think that they have much violence in them…

Update: Gutsy move, Lee “Defund Planned Parenthood” Zeldin, buying ad time on Hulu during episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, also demonizing women in New York politics. I don’t know that we have the same view of the show’s demographic appeal, but maybe it has a lot of viewers who think of it as a how-to show.

Update #2: The Republican Party in general now has the message that the elections have nothing to do with abortion, because the Supreme Court left abortion up to the states…where those elections happen. And Mitch McConnell has called an abortion ban “possible” if Republicans retake the Senate. In other words, a bold lie.

Vote 2022 Notes

Having sent out my absentee ballot, I wanted to throw together some notes on the experience. I doubt that they’ll help many people, since the newsletter won’t go out until after the election, but may provide some amusement.

First, the state now covers the return postage for the oversized ballot envelope. Excellent. We’ve had a lot of confusion about how much postage we need, so people just loaded the envelopes up with stamps.

Second, I complain to someone about this for every election, but I hate the fact that all the judicial candidates run unopposed, on Democratic, Republican, and Conservative tickets. Especially in 2022, I find it highly improbable that the Republican Party would nominate anybody who I would want to see on the bench, because the GOP now has a policy of never compromising or allowing anything to function. The Democratic Party appears to have considered this possibility, because for one seat, they chose not to run anybody, which…doesn’t solve the problem. Do we have so few people qualified to serve as judges?

Third, we seem to have lost the person who runs under the auspices of the Stop LIPA Party—a political party whose platform centers on re-privatizing our local power company, after the state took it over in the midst of a massive scandal, and they keep going despite the fact that the re-privatization happened quite a few years ago—but we have somehow gained someone running with the Lyndon LaRouche Party. Seriously?

For those who have not had the dubious pleasure, LaRouchian economic policy shifts with the wind beyond a gold-backed currency and financial regulation, an odd marriage, to say the least. It has gained notoriety, however, more for its obsession with pursuing next-generation science, militarism, and conspiracy theories. They want space-lasers to stop the conspiracy of British and Dutch bankers from leading us into interventionist wars. They want to get rid of the Affordable Healthcare Act, but have no plan to do better. And they love calling everything a false flag attack. I don’t know, maybe they’ll pull some voters who think that QAnon has too much novelty to it…?

Otherwise, I mostly appreciate absentee ballots, beyond the obvious reasons, because it gives me the opportunity to notice things like this, rather than feeling tense and frustrated as I try to fill out the ballot with a mob waiting for my spot.

An Army of Roger Cormans

I don’t quite know how to present this idea, but it occurs to me that “peak television” has created a kind of stagnation, assuming that it didn’t already exist. We have either highly produced stories about morally ambiguous protagonists who become something like a crime-lord for some sympathetic end or highly produced installment into a long-running franchise where each installment needs to conform to or comment on the formulaic writing in the franchise.

Meanwhile, I keep finding fun original worlds in books. In this month alone, shown below, you’ll find at least five stories that would make fabulous films or serialized shows. And I found those almost entirely at random, looking to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month for the first half and Filipino American History Month for the second half. Other months have focused on different communities, and each has turned up its own candidates, so I don’t believe that I’ve coincidentally happened to find the only interesting books around.

I find myself wondering, then, how we bridge this gap. How do we diversify the sources that studios adapt to the screen, maybe bypassing the big studios entirely?

When I think of the question in those terms, Roger Corman comes to mind. Corman built a long career producing mainly low-budget adaptations of existing works. Many of his films have become the source material for modern franchises or become cult classics. Those films also became entry-points into the film industry for many top actors and directors, also a useful aspect of his work.

Again, I don’t know what to do with this idea, but it seems to me that we really need a generation of ambitious young people with AI-powered software (open source, ideally) that lets them quickly create special effects or substitute performers with quick simulations. Turn those sorts of people loose on A Mirror Mended or Lobizóna, to show the big studios what they missed, and maybe create the next big studio in the process.

Project Previews

October has been busy, so I unfortunately didn’t quite get to everything (anything?) that I wanted.

Watch Your Conscience

I managed to put in a couple of solid days of work on this, but that time ended up going to dumb things that should have already worked. Of course, had I gotten what I needed done, these issues would have become showstoppers, so sometimes we need to live with trade-offs.

For new work, I’ve found it frustrating that nobody seems to have good documentation on the grouped selection control, either providing examples out of context or just showing a method signature with vague explanations. That slows down the work, since so many streaming services exist that it seems cruel to present them as an alphabetized list, when HTML has a way to group them by type.


In no particular order, I present a list of some things that I finished watching, listening to, or read in October.

No, I don’t remember when I started them, unless they were short. You can probably estimate that I watched about an episode of any given “archived” television show per day, though, if that helps. If you’d like to know what I finish watching as I finish it—sometimes I catch something during the narrow window when people can watch it free—you might consider becoming a member at Buy Me a Coffee.

  • Make Your Home Among Strangers didn’t do much for me, with its collection of stereotypes—the over-achiever, the teen mother, the absent father, the controlling boyfriend, and so forth—and the thinly veiled Elián González. I like the writing, often, but it feels inauthentic, the sort of story that I’d expect to come out of a white writer who visited Miami a few times and talks a lot about their Cuban friend. Despite having a known writer, I envision a male writer, based on how often the narrative uses clothes to judge the promiscuity of women. It also hits one of my pet peeves, tediously describing mundane things—“from my chair, I could see three clear drinking glasses, four pens, and the crossword puzzle from a local newspaper on the old table with a glossy layer over it, something that I would later learn people called shellac, and one person had left an ounce or two of some forgotten drink in the middle glass” sorts of things, where none of that will come up again, and we don’t spend any time with the table’s owner for that image to resonate—for no reasons relating to the plot or emotion of the situation.

    • Looking at reviews, to make some sense out of why so many people recommend this book, it surprises me how many reviewers talk about finding the book funny. I don’t see it, unless this qualifies as elaborate performance art. Unless people still find racism, sexism, and classism funny, or feel amused by mere references to the events of 1999, this felt fairly humorless, to me.

  • Unicorn on a Roll continues the Phoebe and Her Unicorn series. I forget where I learned about the series, but I definitely own whoever made that recommendation a thank-you, since I laughed through most of the book. Plus, I only took two sittings to finish it because I forced myself to interrupt reading to run some errands.

  • All of Me has a lot of inevitable period flaws, like one character existing to serve as an ethnic joke, but holds together (and holds up) surprisingly well. It also has a far sweeter side than I would’ve expected.

  • The Spanish Love Deception has a lazy structure, honestly. It feels like it wants to retell Pride and Prejudice in a New York business setting, but it makes it abundantly clear that “the Darcy” has a crush on our protagonist, while she obsesses over him and insists that she hates him, but still tries to treat it as a major revelation that she likes the handsome, kind, super-intelligent ex-football player—seriously, the love interest retired from the NFL to become a prominent civil engineer…who also volunteers with animal shelters, by the way, because the author can’t manage any subtlety—who she obsesses over.

  • Staged feels like something that I should have known about sooner. I like David Tennant. I like Michael Sheen. Like everyone else, I lived through COVID-19 lockdowns. I even like Six Characters in Search of an Author. And I laughed enough at each episode that, at least once per episode, I needed to rewind to catch something that I couldn’t hear over my own voice. Do yourself a favor and watch this. I can only really criticize that the second season tries to get a lot of humor from the presence of guest actors, which only works in the rare cases the fictionalized actors have a prior relationship to play off. And don’t sleep the holiday special epilogue, either.

  • Naomi: Season One created the concepts from the (sadly) now-cancelled CW show. While mostly enjoyable, the show dramatically improved on the surprisingly thin story and characterizations, here; this tries to get by with a total of five characters, and most of them serve as sounding boards for Naomi. However, it does do better with the Dee character, and dropping Naomi on a planet packed with other super-beings makes a lot more sense than creating a disconnected Earth for her story.

  • Tumble tells a fairly interesting story, but I feel like telling a story in the voice of a twelve-year-old girl creates a heavy burden of actually needing to sound like a twelve-year-old girl, instead of an adult trying to remember what twelve-year-olds find important and make it readable. It needs to straddle the line of making the protagonist autonomous enough to move the plot forward, but dependent enough to seem like a sixth-grader. I don’t think that it quite cleared that high bar, and aging the character up by a few years would have worked better without needing any changes to the plot.

  • A Long Petal of the Sea felt like a mess, to me, following a handful of people through almost every right-wing government in the Spanish-speaking world, but not seeming to have much interest in engaging with the politics, beyond assuring us that the characters support socialists. But like so many books, has plenty of time for the tedium of mundane, middle-class life. And it name-checks Pablo Neruda every so often, but doesn’t have anything to say about him, either. As usual, maybe I missed something, but I can’t imagine that I should find the “marriage of convenience turns into a real marriage” trope particularly interesting.

  • Lobizóna could easily fill a role that has seemed like a void that needed filling, for readers, a story about a “school” for mystical beings not written by a terrible person or mired in well-known European folklore. And it would make a spectacular TV series or film. I can only think of one objection, which an adaptation would readily fix, that the narration leans heavily on passive voice, and I don’t understand how an editor thought that made sense for such a dynamic story.

  • She-Hulk: Attorney at Law should have problems. Marvel wastes a lot of time on formulaic stories that go out of their ways to make sure that regressive men don’t feel bad. And yet, this show takes that line and dances on, around, and under it, crafting a story that digs at the Marvel formula—not that I have faith that the jabs will change anything—the cult of masculinity on the Internet, and even weaves in She-Hulk’s weird ability to interact outside her stories, to build a satisfying (and hilarious) conclusion. If more shows and films in this franchise took their own paths, people wouldn’t keep questioning why the franchise feels so exhausting to enjoy.

    • If nothing else, watch this for Josh Segarra’s awkward character. You might recognize him from a dismal showing on Arrow a few years back or The Electric Company’s reboot, but he makes “Pug” a delight to watch. And that brings up an interesting point about the show’s alleged hatred of men, because all the major male characters—Bruce Banner, Pug, Morris Walters, Emil Blonsky (mostly), Wong, Matt Murdock, and so forth—each model great behavior in different ways, but only the garbage men obsess about getting credit.

  • Eva Luna starts in a weird place that doesn’t sound like it has—or should have—a relationship with the advertised plot. And then…if you told me that this started as R-rated fan fiction for A Long Petal of the Sea (for which, see above), I’d believe that, with similar structures. If you read the other book and wondered why nobody had anything to say about feces or genitals, they apparently published this book for you. It takes forever to introduce anybody interesting, which at least it does, but even then, those characters exist on the margins, their histories told in summary, rather than shown. And many times, it tries to make a romance work, each time trying to make a power imbalance “sexy,” rather than exploitative. Also, while the book strangely avoids specifics, it seems like the protagonist stays in her twenties for half a century.

  • Archer, season 13 went too fast—I didn’t realize that the season ended, last week—but has returned to form of using its humor (both well-read and slapstick) to talk about important issues.

  • Where Dreams Descend didn’t really work for me. The writing does what it needs to do, but the vague mystical show business in a vaguer fantasy setting made it hard to engage with the characters who felt like they could have come from any book. Some plots seemed interesting, but it seemed like too much book to get at them.

  • While I couldn’t get access to his earliest appearances, Miles Morales, Vol. 1: Straight Out of Brooklyn does a great job of introducing the character and his world. I appreciate the care given to Brooklyn, abstract enough to not make outsiders feel out of step, but detailed enough for people to recognize where things happen, as well as the theme of Silver Age villains getting their acts together. I only really have one objection, that (much like Spidey and His Amazing Friends), they want us to think of Miles as Spider-Man, but also think of Peter Parker as “really” Spider-Man, where Miles stays in Brooklyn. That seems like the sort of compromise that makes no reader happy.

  • Big Shot, season 2 doesn’t quite live up to the first season, trying to milk drama out of multiple will-they-or-won’t-they-but-why-the-heck-would-they romances, only giving brief lip service to the mess in the finale. That said, I do like a lot of the new characters, even if they didn’t bring back any of the other faculty members.

  • Everlasting Nora feels fake, honestly, as if a committee of old white men constructed what they viewed as a Filipino story, rather than anything that feels plausible. The child protagonist has a life that makes Oliver Twist’s story look enviable, but also refuses help at every opportunity, simultaneously clueless and acutely self-aware, and seems to put emotional emphasis on completely arbitrary things. Often, that emphasis occurs in the midst of free associating from the plot to a series of tangential topics. It doesn’t help that the reader of my version affects an accent that sounds more like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd as “the wild and crazy guys” or John Cleese’s taunting Frenchman (and his “outrageous accent”) than anybody from the Philippines who I’ve ever spoken to. It probably has more legitimacy behind it, but it only really lacks a white savior to cover all the paternalistic colonial tropes about the country.

  • A Mirror Mended continues the story from A Spindle Splintered, discussed in August’s newsletter. It improves slightly on the excessive narration, but weirdly scales back on the dialogue that brought the original to life. I still love the story, though, and especially love the (brief) twist of ending a fairy tale adaptation with a democratic uprising.

  • Star Trek: Lower Decks, season 3 continues to annoy me. As I’ve probably said, I love the “second contact” idea, even though they present it as part of the joke. The comedy idea provides opportunities to sneak important ideas through. And I can appreciate having a cast that serves as a proxy for long-time fans of the franchise. However, it doesn’t have anything useful to say, preferring to serve as “a love letter to Star Trek,” which seems to mean making the same tired jokes that even my friends made in the 1990s. They could stress the need for the Prime Directive by showing the effects of interference, or the struggles to keep all the planetary governments happy. Instead, it feels like every episode just runs with “jokes” like “look, we, too, recognize that certain characters have odd behavioral tics.” I keep watching because I hope that it’ll improve, but it doesn’t seem to want to grow past “comfort food for Next Generation fans.”

  • The Wolf of Oren-Yaro has some confounding aspects—forcing the protagonist into sex work, for some reason, or the number of abusive suitors—but it puts a nice spin on high fantasy, the majority of the book could take place almost anywhere but definitely takes place in its setting, and the chemistry between the two leads works well.

Blog Posts for October 2022

In case you missed one and don’t like RSS readers, here’s a round-up of the past month’s worth of posts.

I also revisited and updated some older posts, for various reasons.

Significant changes to the text come with clear and dated markings. Changing the wording or correcting a typo is more routine, but it indicates that I’ve at least been looking at the post. Longer changes probably have a brief write-up in this very newsletter.

The most popular posts on the blog have been Tag: startrek, Tag: freeculture, Recutils — Small Technology Notes, and Belated FSF Discussion for the month.

Articles I’ve Been Reading

You’ve seen some of these already in Friday posts, but here’s more from the sources in my RSS reader that I thought were worth reading.