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Nostalgia

By Taylor Marvin

Here’s the image that greets users logging in to Flickr today:

I don’t know if it’s worth reading too much into this, but none of the four cameras hanging around our intrepid photographer neck in the stock photo Flickr chooses to represent their business are actually capable of easily uploading photos to a website.

This photographic nostalgia is common — iPhone apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram are frequently used to wash out images, or mimic antiquated sepia or Polaroid photography. Sometimes — like in a recent Foreign Policy photo series chronicling the war in Afghanistan through Hipstamatic — these effects are used to create images of incredible power and haunting beauty, but more often they’re used as a lazy gimmick that parodies the great images of the last century. This trend is inconsequential, but it is interesting. Modern digital cameras are light years more capable than their analog predecessors, producing images of unparalleled clarity and detail. The irony of passing modern images through programs explicitly designed to make them look darker, grainier, and in general shittier can’t be lost of most people.

Though of course, the heaviest users of these apps are my generation, people young enough to have never experienced analog photography. Absence make the heart grow fonder.

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Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

John Singer Sargent, Spanish Dancer, 1879-82

John Singer Sargent, "Spanish Dancer", 1879-82

The due-process-free assassination of US citizens is now a reality.

The un-Bush.

Michael Lewis on the coming California bust.

Air-Sea Battle: An operational concept looking for a strategy (via Information Dissemination).

Did Netflix screw up? I don’t think so.

Will America survive the great recession?

Frank Miller’s Holy Terror is fodder for the anti-Islam set.

RJD2 – Smoke & Mirrors

How Much For A Kalashnikov?

By Taylor Marvin

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a UCSD history professor who had recently traveled to Lebanon. While there he met a Syrian friend, who urged him not to travel to Syria for fear of “armed gangs” roaming the streets. The professor I spoke with was puzzled: did his Syrian friend mean to say that the overwhelmingly non-violent anti-government protesters who have been demonstrating against the brutal Syrian regime were armed and violent? Yes, his friend replied, explaining that anyone in Syria could buy an AK-47 for $2,500. Laying aside the interesting question of why the professor’s Syrian friend chose to relate the Assad regime’s anti-protester propaganda, how reliable is this price? Can you get an AK-47 in Syria for $2,500, a price many times an average worker’s monthly salary?

First off, why the AK? The AK-47 and its myriad variants are overwhelmingly the predominant human weapon of the last half century. First invented in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, the AK was designed to be easy to manufacture inexpensively, exceedingly simple to operate, and virtually indestructible. The design Soviet weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov eventually settled upon fit these requirements perfectly. Manufactured from stamped steel and with few parts, the AK line’s effectiveness and reliability became legendary — there are many stories about the AK’s ability to fire when packed with mud or sand, an effectiveness that was an obvious contrast to the notorious unreliability of American Vietnam-era M16s. Throughout the Cold War the Soviets widely exported the inexpensive AK to client states at extremely low cost, distributing staggering numbers of individual weapons throughout the world: 100 million AK variants are estimated to have been produced, compared to 8 million of the comparable American M16. The huge numbers of AKs produced and the widespread availability of its 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, combined with its easy of use, have made it extremely popular in armed conflicts, and AKs are featured on the flags of both Mozambique and Hezbollah.

Interestingly, the $2,500 price reported by my professor’s Syrian friend is actually abnormally high. AK-47s are typically much cheaper simply because so many have been produced that even the high demand doesn’t overwhelm the supply. Over 100 million AK variants have been produced. However, only one tenth of this number were legally produced in Soviet arms factories or under license — the rest are unlicensed locally produced copies. The wide proliferation of locally produced AK variants have dramatically lowered their retail prices. For example, in small rural Kenyan town in 1986 an AK could be purchased for 15 cows. By 2005 the price had fallen to four cows. Today’s prices for AK variants vary widely by location. Figures are taken from Killicoat, 2007 and given in 2005 US dollars:

  • Asia: $631
  • Africa and Middle East: $ 267
  • Eastern Europe and former Soviet States: $574
  • Americas: $442
  • Western Europe: $ 990

Hmmm. That would put our $2,500 well over the 1986-2005 average, especially for the Middle East. However, on second though this disparity does make sense. World prices have been increasing, averaging $534 in 2005 from a low of $448 in 1990 (though the sample size for 1990 is much smaller and potentially problematic). Additionally, the Syrian police state has done a much better job than its often anarchic neighbors at restricting small arms imports. This supply bottleneck would imply a higher Syrian retail price much closer to the Western European, rather then Middle East, average. Additionally, AK prices vary considerably by variant. A short-barreled version, once favored by Soviet special forces and made famous by frequent appearance in videos by Osama bin Laden, regularly costs twice as much as more common long-barrel variants. If my professor’s Syrian friend is referencing the price for a short-barreled variant the figure he gave is actually low.

Similarly, it’s well documented that when people are nervous about the future small arms prices rise dramatically. For example, in Lebanon in 2005 an AK-47 cost roughly $300. By the start of the Israel- Hizbollah War in the summer of 2006 the price had risen to over $900. Today the Lebanon price is even higher: as of May an AK in good condition cost $1,600, according to reporting by Time. A short-barreled special forces variant costs up to $3,750. Time also notes that the majority of small arms sold today in Lebanon are shipped to Syria to fill demand there. It’s likely that these weapons are resold for even higher prices once they’re smuggled into Syria. This makes the $2,500 figure credible or even low, even though it’s far above the world retail price. Though the vast majority of Syrian democratic protesters are unarmed (and non-violence is a stated goal of the movement) at least some Syrians are willing to pay a large sum for firearms.

High Income Women and Dating Norms

Taylor Marvin

Via Matt Yglesias, Kay Steiger has a great chart from the Chronicle of Higher Education illustrating that women received more than half of all US doctoral degrees in 2009:

Of course, increasing educational attainment by women is a very positive thing. However, it is a major social shift, and one that could have a large impact on cultural norms in our society.

Workers’ incomes are strongly related to their educational attainment. While recipients of professional degrees — most notably MDs and JDs  — typically out-earn recipients of doctoral degrees, most PhDs earn a relatively high salary:

This bodes well for the future earnings of women earning doctoral degrees. What’s especially interesting about the increasing level of female educational attainment is that it has the potential to erase the future earnings gap between men and women at high income levels. Today women still make less than men, regardless of educational attainment. For example, in 2000 a female PhD could expect to earn less than a male with a Master’s degree:

Though this income gap is shrinking, it still exists. But if women continue to receive a larger and larger share of advanced degrees it’s likely that women’s higher average educational attainment will cancel out the gender income disparity at high income levels in the later careers of today’s college students. This is very interesting. There’s a strong likelihood that in a large portion of my generation’s heterosexual marriages women will out earn their husbands, at least at the high end of the income scale.

I’m especially curious what effect this income dynamic will have on dating norms. Most conventional American dating practices are tailored for a society where the typical woman has a much lower income than the average man. Despite its inherent patriarchy these practices arose for a practical reason:  most contemporary American social norms developed in the immediate postwar era, when women did have a low income compared to most men. Many common heterosexual dating norms still reflect this: in most first-date situations men are expected to pay for dinner, a practice based on the expectation that the women have less income available to spend. This practice is also a signaling device: in the large majority of 20th century American marriages men out earned their wives, and the expectation that men pay for dinner is intended to demonstrate that the male is financially secure , making him a suitable husband. Engagement rings are an even clearer example of this logic: male sexual capital in our society is still largely dependent on income, and the tradition that a man spend three months salary on an engagement ring is a practice explicitly designed to allow for male income signaling to potential mates. Engagement rings also function as a commitment device — on some level women demand engagement rings in an effort to increase the likelihood of a proposal leading to marriage, because if a male has to invest a significant amount of money into proposing, he’s less likely to break the contract. Of course, it’s important to note that just because patriarchal dating practices arose for functional reasons doesn’t make them right.

Dating at the extreme end of the gender income gap. Flirtation, by Frédéric Soulacroix/

Dating at the extreme end of the gender income gap. "Flirtation", by Frédéric Soulacroix.

However, in a world where a large percentage of high income women-out earn their spouses these practices will be increasingly archaic. What’s the point of an expectation that a high-earning man buys a female date dinner if there’s a good chance she makes more than him? This may just be male solidarity talking, but it’s hard to argue that this practice fits any definition of fairness. Similarly the traditional requirement of engagement rings, and by extension traditions that place the burden of proposing on men, is hard to justify in relationships where the female is the higher earner. As woman educational attainment continues to increase, we can expect these practices to become less common.

However, there are reasons to doubt this prediction. First, traditions can be extremely durable despite social change. For example, dating practices for college students at my age level could be expected to parallel the norms of a equal income society. While a gender income gap exists today, it doesn’t begin to appear until mid-way through professional careers — the average college male is not expected to earn more than his female counterparts. However, despite this gender income equality in college students the expectation that the male buys dinner early in a dating relationship is still prevalent, at least at some level. It’s possible that this norm exists based on the expectation that a male’s lifetime earnings will be higher than a female’s, but this strains believability — it’s much more likely that traditions are just very durable, even when they don’t make any practical sense. Secondly, while we can expect our generation’s gender income gap to shrink across society, this convergence will be much stronger at high income levels. Because humans typically marry at similar educational levels, while we can expect many high income heterosexual females to out-earn their husbands, this trend will less prevalent for lower earning heterosexual couples. This means that social dating norms based on an equal or higher female income gender dynamic will be more prevalent in high income social groups than their lower income counterparts. However, because social norms are typically highly influenced by media representations — which disproportionately portray high income lifestyles — we could expect high income dating norms to ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the population.

This explanation also ignores the influence of biological, rather than social, determinants on dating norms. Most of human heterosexual dating practices are based around the expectation that women are more sexually selective than men (though not necessarily that they have less actual sex). The requirement that men, not women, propose is the definitive example of this bias, as is the common (and deplorable) practice of stigmatizing promiscuous females while celebrating male promiscuity. Though this can be read as fundamentally unfair, there’s a well documented biological impetus for this dynamic: because reproduction (and by extension, sexual partnerships in general) have typically much higher energy costs in female animals than males, on a poorly biological level females have a real incentive to be much more sexually selective than males. This incentive is reversed in species where males invest higher costs into reproduction than females, like some species of seahorses and birds where the males exclusively raise offspring. We can expect human dating norms (which are, again, fundamentally expressions of reproductive behavior) that are influenced by biological determinants to be much more durable than those primarily due to fundamentally transient gender income imbalances.

What do you think? Can we expect social dating norms to become more egalitarian in the future?

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Image by Wikimedia user Ikiwaner.

Blue into the black. Acacia trees, Nambia. Image by Wikimedia user Ikiwaner.

The best links of the week:

A Hipstamatic tour through Rio’s favelas.

The invention of money.

The alternative US Army professional reading list.

R2Paternalism.

Spencer Ackerman’s on a roll uncovering counterproductive Islamophobia in the FBI.

Related sentance of the week: “The line starts at 3 B.C., implying that baby Jesus was at the extreme of violence” (h/t: Ezra Klein).

Unfortunately “sixth generation fighter concept” is really just code for “someone in our office knows Photoshop.”

France’s burqa ban: women are ‘effectively under house arrest’ (h/t: Andrew Sullivan).

Another mildly disturbing look at the modeling industry: “A distinct ‘editorial’ look is one that sits ‘on the border between beautiful and ugly.'”

Dispatch – Prince of Spades.

Cheney and Presidential Power

By Taylor Marvin

Jonathan Bernstein has a very good piece up arguing that Dick Cheney not only was an incompetent vice president, but blowback against the executive branch overreach he orchestrated has actually reduced Presidential power:

“Dick Cheney is a good example of all of this exactly because his prior reputation would never have led people to guess that he’d make such a habit of botching things. And yet, botch things he did, over and over. Not because he didn’t understand policy, but because he — and by extension, George W. Bush — refused to accept the limitations on the presidency imposed by the Constitutional system of institutions. And as Cheney shows and as Goldsmith says, the consequences are predictable: poor policy execution, followed by a loss of presidential power.”

I agree with a lot of this. Despite Cheney’s extensive experience going into the Bush administration he wasn’t able to accomplish a lot of what he wanted, and Bernsteins’ look at the structural reasons for Bush administration incompetence is convincing. However, I’m just not convinced by the assumption that executive power has actually been reduced since 2008. It’s true that the Bush administration was on the receiving end of a lot of public outcry over its often flagrant disregard for restrictions on presidential power. But this never translated into actual effective legislative opposition for these policies. Warrantless NSA wiretapping and torture were all unpopular at one point or another, but this doesn’t change the fact that there’s a pervasive lack of congressional (and by extension electoral) interest in national security and civil liberties issues.

I think its more accurate look at a relative reduction in presidential power in post-2008 as due to the Obama administration’s choices rather than a structural reduction in presidential power; our perceptions of executive power are diminished by the Obama administration’s abandonment of select examples of highly visible executive branch excesses rather than any kind of permanent change.  Yes, the Obama administration has exercised less presidential power than their predecessors. But this has been a choice — nothing’s forced them to roll back executive authority, and the Obama administration has continued to exercise presidential power that’s still extremely high by historical standards — the kill order on US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, and the recent expansion of the US secret war in East Africa. All of these decisions have been largely uncontroversial — there just isn’t a mechanism in American electoral politics to punish most executive branch oversteps. As long as most voters perceive arguably unconstitutional executive programs as targeting only a minority of Americans they won’t demand change. For programs that target foreigners this electoral pressure drops to almost nothing.

Ultimately there’s no reason to suppose the small reduction in executive power under Obama will be permanent. The Obama administration has elected to continue most of its predecessor’s growth of executive authority, likely ensuring that more presidential power, not less, the future normal. This logic is especially evident in the Obama administration’s response to Bush-era torture. By declining completely to censure the Bush administration’s culture of torture Obama has likely ensure that illegal torture of terror suspects will continue under the next Republican administration, an extension of executive power Romney’s explicitly stated he supports (to his credit, Ron Paul’s on the record rejecting torture in all circumstances). Berstein’s right that that Vice President Cheney’s oversteps were bad for public perceptions executive power, but in reality voters don’t really care. In America the executive branch gets to do what it wants.

Healthcare Inflation by the Numbers

By Taylor Marvin

Sarah Kliff has a link to a striking new graphic illustrating the extent of health care inflation in the last 65 years:

Pretty shocking, right? However, this isn’t an entirely fair comparison. Milk available in 1945 is fundamentally the same product as what’s sold today. Healthcare quality, however, has dramatically improved in the same period — for example, cancer survivorship has significantly risen in this period. Healthcare cost inflation is a major challenge to US government long-term fiscal sustainability, but it’s also important to remember that these cost increases have bought significant outcome gains.

Troy Davis and American Exceptionalism

By Taylor Marvin

Minutes before he was scheduled to be executed, the execution of Troy Davis was delayed to allow time for the US Supreme Court to respond to a request by Davis’ lawyers to stay the execution. The Supreme Court has denied this request, and Troy Davis was executed just after 11:00 pm tonight.

Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was present with Davis’ friends and relatives through the delay, was relieved by the short-lived delay but offered a devestating indictment of the US justice system:

“Certainly we’re glad that Troy Davis is still alive, but we are still witnessing, in my estimation, a civil right violation and a human rights violation in the worst way unfold before our very eyes. This is Troy Davis’ fourth execution date. I’m glad that he’s alive, but that in and of itself is cruel and unusual punishment. America can do much better than this.”

The death penalty becomes morally indefensible once the justice system begins executing innocent people. Proponents of the death penalty dismiss this possibility as a fantasy — earlier this month Rick Perry, who’s presided over 234 executions as governor of Texas, remarked that he’s “never struggled” with the possibility that Texas has executed an innocent man “at all.” Unfortunately, this is ridiculous: Governor Perry has almost certainly presided over the execution of an innocent man, and a pervasive racial bias in death penalty sentencing makes claims that the US justice system is unbiased patently ridiculous. Executions that are delayed literally at the last minute based on pervasive doubts about the condemned’s guilt is indicative of a system that fundamentally does not work.

Unfortunately, the US enthusiasm for executions is far from the international democratic norm. In 2010 23 countries carried out documented judicial executions:

  • China (2,000+)
  • Iran (252+)
  • North Korea (60+)
  • Yemen (53+)
  • United States (46+)
  • Saudi Arabia (27+)
  • Libya (18+)
  • Syria (17+)
  • Bangladesh (9+)
  • Somalia (8+)
  • Sudan (6+)
  • Palestinian Authority (5)
  • Egypt (4)
  • Taiwan (4)
  • Equatorial Guinea (4)
  • Japan (2)
  • Belarus (2)
  • Vietnam (1+)
  • Iraq (1+)
  • Singapore (1+)
  • Malaysia (1+)
  • Botswana (1)
  • Bahrain (1)

Of course, there are enormous issues with this list: the US reports all of its executions, while it’s silly to pretend that North Korea does. However, that doesn’t obscure the fundamental truth here: few democracies still execute their own citizens. Other than the United States, there’s only three other fully democratic governments on this list: Japan, Taiwan and Botswana. The United States should not be proud to share a distinction with some of the most oppressive dictatorships on the planet. Americans like to think of their country as exceptional. Unfortunately, in this case we are.

Note: Updated for clarity.

New Girl and TV’s Depictions of Asian Americans

By Taylor Marvin

Foxs New Girl.

Fox's "New Girl".

Last week I watched the premier of the new Fox series, New Girl. The show, which follows a 20-something girl moving in with three singly guys, was mildly entertaining (Jessica Grose’s description of Zooey Deschanel as “terminally adorable” is pretty spot on).

What I found interesting about the show is that the pilot included a minor, presumably one-time character portrayed by an Asian American actor. Despite making up 5% of the US population, Asian American actors are fairly rare on TV. What was especially interesting about New Girl’s use of an Asian American actor is that his ethnicity wasn’t touched on at all — I doubt that the script specified that the character was even of Asian descent. This is notable. Unlike African American or Hispanic characters, when TV shows feature Asian American actors their ethnicity usually plays an integral part in the way their character is presented. Modern Family is a good example of this. Despite being notably progressive in its depiction of gay couples, one of the few Asian American characters depicted in the show — a doctor played by Suzy Nakamura — is defined by her Asian heritage: the character’s role in the show is as an Asian other the predominantly white leading characters can react to, rather than a fully realized personality. Here she is talking about her mother’s high expectations and her refusal to be defined by them:

This isn’t wholly problematic. In this scene Modern Family recognizes that stereotypes can be harmful, while also acknowledging that in some individuals they’re also true. However, the real problem here is that Modern Family has room for an Asian American character only when she’s defined by her Asianness. Of course there are exceptions to this portrayal — American-born Korean Canadian actor Grace Park’s work on Battlestar Galactica and Hawaii Five-O is a good example — but it is prevalent.

Grace Park in Sci-Fi channels Battlestar Galactica.

Grace Park in Sci-Fi channel's Battlestar Galactica. You should watch Battlestar Galactica.

New Girl is different. In the pilot, the Asian American character is portrayed [mild spoiler alert] as a complete douchebag. The central plot arch of the pilot is Zooey Deschanel’s depression over recently breaking up with her cheating boyfriend and her new male roommates’ efforts to cheer her up by taking her out to meet someone new. Deschanel’s initially hesitant — her character Jessica is portrayed as dorky and uncomfortable dating (though it strains credibility to believe that anyone that looks like Zooey Deschanel wouldn’t have men fighting over her). Despite her initial humorous failures, she’s soon approached by Peter, an attractive Asian man portrayed by actor and model Jack Yang, who arranges to meet her the next day. This is a turning point in the episode — Jessica begins to emerge from her depression and is breathlessly excited for her date. However, Peter doesn’t show, dismissing Jessica as too clingy and explaining to Jessica’s new roommates that he “just wanted to hook up”. Her roommates rush to find Jessica waiting forlornly in the restaurant, an act of caring devotion to their new roommate that cements their friendship.

On many levels, this portrayal of an Asian American is encouraging. Yes, Peter’s a douchebag. But the show’s open about this, and his Asian heritage plays no part in the fact that he’s an asshole. Unlike Dr. Minura in Modern Family, Peter’s place in the narrative structure of New Girl exists in his personality, not his ethnicity. Of course, there are lots of Asian guys who are good looking douchebags, and it’s encouraging that television writers are starting to portray Asian American characters as real people with personalities outside of their ethnicity. Additionally, Peter isn’t alone in being an asshole: one of Jessica’s male roommates is depicted as drifting dangerously close to a douchebag stereotype, a joke New Girl’s writers rely on through the episode.

Actor Jack Yang. Image via IMDb.

Actor Jack Yang. Image via IMDb.

On there other hand, there are still some potentially problematic issues here. To what extend does Peter’s character exist as part of and perpetuate a form of the model minority myth? The fact that he’s a player notwithstanding, Jack Yang’s character is still depicted a reassuringly model member of aspirational society: he’s good looking, and upper middle class (though admittedly all of the show’s characters are), conventionally well dressed, and hangs out with white people. Again, I’m not saying that this isn’t realistic — there are lots of Asian American guys who do all of these things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But despite the fact that New Girl depicts Peter as an asshole, in many ways he’s still fits into the popular American stereotype of Asian Americans.

New Girl’s depiction of Peter’s relationship with a white girl is similarly mixed. On the one hand, New Girl has absolutely no problem with an attractive Asian man attracting the white and equally hot Jessica, and Peter’s depiction as suave and exceedingly comfortable around attractive women is a refutation of a common stereotype of nerdy and socially awkward Asian men. However, to a predominantly white audience Peter is arguably less threatening because he’s a promiscuous player — he’ll go after white girls for sex but not for permanent partnerships, which is in many ways more threatening to insular white society.

But then again, how much does this matter? The show’s depiction of Peter is realistic — there are Asian guys who are douchebags, and if the script calls for an asshole, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be Asian. Right? I’m genuinely curious: what do you think?

More on Netflix

By Taylor Marvin

Netflix is splitting itself into two companies. The streaming business will remain Netflix, while the mail DVD business will be spun off into a new company, the unfortunately named Qwikster. This move seems to be driven by the rising costs of operating the distribution network required for shipping DVDs, and Netflix’s relative unsuccessful attempt to secure content for streaming at a low enough price to attract consumers. Netflix first attempted to dramatically raise its prices; when it became obvious that it was about to begin hemorrhaging subscribers, they split the company in two.

It isn’t surprising that Netflix has run into this wall: content providers have always been wary of the entire concept of unlimited access to media. This is understandable. Media companies have always wanted a distribution model that forces consumers to pay for content every specific time they consume it — after all, they want to make money. On Demand is the closest they’re going to get to this best of all possible business models, but despite heavy marketing by the cable companies this entire model has never really taken off, mostly because consumers understand that it’s very expensive for what they actually get.

DVD sales are the next best thing. Unfortunately for the media companies DVDs, especially of TV shows, aren’t a great purchase for consumers. I really like the show Community. Because it’s on a network channel, I get to watch episodes of the show when they first air for free (or at least I don’t pay money for it — I pay by viewing ads). If I can’t catch the show when it airs, I can wait and watch it on Hulu or NBC’s video site, again for free. However, if I want to watch an episode again — barring Netflix or pirating — I have buy the DVD box set. However, this is hard to justify from a cost perspective. When it’s free to watch an episode the first time its hard to pay $30 for the ability to watch them again, especially when most consumers will go through and rewatch a show less than a half dozen time a year. Of course, I will buy the DVD set of shows I particularly like or admire — like Game of Thrones — even though the number of times I’m likely to rewatch it doesn’t justify the expense. In a sense this is almost of form of charity: buying a show at least partially to reward the efforts of creators I admire rather than just my desire to rewatch the show. This makes DVD sales a potentially unreliable business model for supporting media companies.

That leaves streaming. But any streaming service — whether it’s Netflix or another competitor — has to compete for at least part of its customer base with pirating, whose only real cost is inconvenience. That competition places a firm ceiling on how much streaming services can charge and retain a comprehensive market. This caught Netflix in a bind: pressure from content providers forced them to raise their price above this ceiling, and subscriptions began to plummet.

That’s part of why Redbox has such a potentially durable business model — unlike Netflix, Redbox is a complement, rather than a substitute, for pirating content. After convenience, presentation is pirating’s greatest weakness: for most people, illegally downloaded movies can’t be displayed on a TV. This isn’t a problem for movies you want to watch by yourself, but it is for social movie watching. This dovetails nicely into Redbox’s content library: the greatest criticism of Redbox is that it’s restricted library is almost entirely comprised of recent hits — mostly action movies, horror, and comedy — which are exactly the kind of movies people are most likely to want to watch with friends. Netflix was always celebrated for offering access to a long tail of foreign or classic films that weren’t avaliable elsewhere, but in many way this was a poor strategy. In addition to having small audiences, these are movies that most people watch alone or with a partner. It’s convenience meant that most people would prefer to watch these types of films in the comforting familiarity of Netflix, but there isn’t a huge marginal cost of pirating these types of films. This particularly hurts because limited audience films are the cornerstone of Netflix’s streaming library, because they’re so much cheaper to license. The only way the newly independent Netflix streaming business is going to match its previous success is if it dramatically improves its streaming library, but the loss of Starz and the continued reluctance of the content providers to buy into the unlimited streaming business makes this unlikely. Again, this bodes poorly for the future of the company and media streaming in general.

Update: Farhad Manjoo has a hilarious observation: “In a sign of how hastily Netflix arrived at this idea, it seems to have forgotten to search for @qwikster on Twitter. That handle is owned by a person whose avatar is an image of Elmo smoking a joint.”