The number of successful pirate hijackings has dropped since November 2011 when over 40 successful attacks were recorded for that month alone.  In comparison, in 2012 there were only 15 successful attacks off the East African coast, according to UN figures.  The drop has been attributed to increased private armed security on the part of commercial vessels and anti-piracy task forces from foreign governments, which have been supported by enforced prosecution of hijackers.  Maritime law before 2011 did not allow armed security on commercial vessels, but the International Maritime Organization has since added it to itsguidance on best management practices for piracy for high risk areas.  Although the situation has seen improvement, some pirate groups have turned to inland hostage taking and hijacking attempts still continue.

There is much more here.  By the way, I enjoyed Captain Phillips, which I took to be quite critical of the U.S. military and which is best understood as seeing the two stories as running parallel commentary on each other.

The markets in everything angle is this:

Not all of the crew cooperated with the movie, and those who did were paid as little as $5,000 for their life rights by Sony and made to sign nondisclosure agreements — meaning they can never speak publicly about what really happened on that ship.

It’s the film’s version of events — and Hanks’ version of Phillips — that will be immortalized.

There is more here.

Nobel Offices

by on October 10, 2013 at 2:30 pm in Film, Games, Web/Tech | Permalink

Here is a panoramic peek inside the offices of a number of Nobel prize winners, including Al Roth for economics. More interesting than it sounds with lots of Easter eggs.

Hat tip: Justin Wolfers.

That is a 2013 paper by Adilov, Alexander, and Cunningham, here is the abstract:

Space debris, an externality generated by expended launch vehicles and damaged satellites, reduces the expected value of space activities by increasing the probability of damaging existing satellites or other space vehicles. Unlike terrestrial pollution, debris created in the production process interacts with firms’ final products, and is, moreover, self-propagating. Collisions between debris or extant satellites creates additional debris. We construct an economic model to explore private incentives to launch satellites and to mitigate space debris. The model predicts that, relative to the social optimum, firms launch too many satellites and under-invest in debris mitigation technologies. We discuss remediation strategies and policies, and calculate a socially optimal Pigovian tax.

While we are on this topic, I very much liked the movie Gravity, which although it has some dialogue hearkens back to the silent classics of the past.  It has spectacular visuals, a “great stagnation” element, a don’t try to be Icarus, live in the mud, and be reborn and baptized in the water element, a reinterpretation of The Book of Job, and a “who builds the best infrastructure anyway?” theme.  On top of all that, it is subtle running commentary on the 1969 film *Marooned* and how much the world has, and hasn’t, changed since then.

My interview with Eric John Barker

by on September 29, 2013 at 10:48 am in Books, Economics, Film, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

It is here in excerpts, mostly about Average is Over, but with some twists, here is one part:

TC:…That’s right, and Obi-Wan also tells Luke, “Finish your training in the Dagobah system,” right? How many times did he tell him? Yoda tells him. Yoda. What does Luke do? He tells Yoda to get lost. So I think as humans we’re somewhat programmed to be a bit rebellious and to not want to be controlled, which is perfectly understandable given that others are trying to control us as often as they are. But that’s going to mean in those new settings, which we’ve never biologically evolved to handle, we’re going to screw up an awful lot. Just like Luke did not finish his training in the Dagobah system.

Eric’s very interesting blog you will find here.

Book and movie splat

by on September 28, 2013 at 8:03 am in Books, Film | Permalink

1. Ilya Somin, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter.  From my colleague at GMU Law, I have not yet read this one.

2. Damien Ma and William Adams, In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China’s Ascent in the Next Decade.  How often does a book have both a good title and subtitle these days?  The authors are more pessimistic about China long-term than I am, but nonetheless this is a very interesting take on The Middle Kingdom.

3. Clare Jacobson, New Museums in China.  Good text but mostly a picture book, I loved this one.  Stunning architecture, no art, full of lessons in multiple areas, think of it as a Straussian picture book with beauty on its side too.

4. John Durant, The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health.  A useful overview of its topic, with an influence from Art DeVany, but you will not find recipes for either “grubs” nor “worms” here.

5. John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election.  Good, sane tome on how the fundamentals matter and lots of campaigning ends up being cancelled out by the campaign of the other candidate.

From another direction, In a World… is a subtle and entertaining movie with much economics in it, most of all the economics of superstars in the “voiceover” sector.  The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceacescu is mesmerizing, like watching one of the great silent films of the past, and the scenes where the Chinese communists praise the Romanian communists are some of the best ever filmed.

Two movies about killing

by on August 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm in Film | Permalink

The first is “The Attack,” directed by a Lebanese-American and set mostly in Tel Aviv and Nablus.  It has reportedly been banned in at least 22 Arab countries and in the Middle East it can be seen only in Israel.  The plot line is that a prominent Arab Israeli surgeon, living in Tel Aviv, discovers that his deceased wife was in fact the perpetrator of a suicide bombing.

Here is a New York Times review, but the movie admits of multiple interpretations more than most of its Western press lets on.  Because of a few nude scenes, the director could not find a Palestinian woman to play the lead female role and so he chose a Moroccan.

The second is “The Act of Killing,” which consists of interviews with Indonesian gangsters and murderers from the 1965 pogroms.  The perpetrators are given a chance to stage, reenact, and ponder their deeds, all captured on camera.  This is the most remarkable Hobbesian “document” I have experienced and the ways in which it is compelling go so far beyond other movies that there is no relevant point of comparison and I mean that in a way which is flattering to this movie.  Perhaps imagine the petty tyrant scenes of The Sopranos or Donnie Brasco multiplied fifty or one hundred times in intensity.  Werner Herzog nailed it: “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade… it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.”  It is also a compelling meditation on the human need for narrative and how we do not know what we have done until we start telling it, and even then the process of telling keeps us from the real truth.

Both movies are rich in social science and you should make every attempt to see them.

The new economics of Hollywood

by on August 2, 2013 at 9:29 am in Film | Permalink

Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro‘s robots v monsters action movie, is likely to get a sequel after its $9m (£5.9m) record-breaking opening in China, according to Deadline.

The film, which has performed poorly at the US box office, is currently at the top spot internationally. It is yet to be released in over half of global territories including Spain, Brazil and Japan.

The story is here, and here is a good geopolitical analysis of the film.  I actually preferred the often unheralded Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and no sequels are not always worse.  Just ask Cervantes.

This is a tough one, and I admit failure in advance, and yes I will call upon the diaspora in this case.  But even that doesn’t much help me.  Here goes:

1. Popular music: M.I.A., with Arular and then Kala being my favorite works by her.

2. Science fiction writer, lived in: Arthur C. Clarke lived there for over fifty years.

3. Author: Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, I like but do not love his work.  Two quite recent Sri Lankan novels are Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel, and Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane, both noteworthy.

4. Movie, set in: I can’t think of one.  Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed here.

5. Architect: Geoffrey Bawa, some images are here.

Is Lal Jayawardena the most famous Sri Lankan economist?  And I have had excellent Sri Lankan food in Germany, most of all in Berlin.  There is a takeaways Sri Lankan place in Derwood, Maryland, Spice Lanka, which I have yet to try.  When I was much younger, the Sri Lankan chess player Sunil Weeramantry was always very cordial to me.  And my grandmother had a Sri Lankan friend who, when I was a small boy, used to bring us cashews.  I liked him.  I think of the music — perhaps unfairly — as falling into the “raucous, influenced by cinema, good jolly fun but I’m not going to buy it” category, but I would gladly receive your better-informed recommendations in the comments.

Sorry people, I’ll try harder next time.  I don’t follow cricket and I know virtually nothing about cinema here, I hope to learn more.

How China is reshaping Hollywood

by on July 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm in Economics, Film | Permalink

The German director’s [Roland Emmerich] “2012″ movie was a hit in China with a plot that was gold for patriotic Chinese audiences: As the Earth’s core overheats, world leaders build an ark in the mountains of central China to house people and animals that can repopulate the planet. Scenes from the nearly three-hour movie feature a U.S. military officer saying that only the Chinese could build an ark of such a scale so quickly.

It was seen in China as a refreshing change for audiences after decades of unflattering portrayals of the communist nation in Hollywood movies.

Emmerich said he didn’t make “2012″ specifically to appeal to Chinese.

There is more here.  You will note that in Pacific Rim they do not kiss, respect and loyalty to family are major motives in the plot, and there is nothing approaching a nude scene, except when the female lead sneakingly admires the torso of the male lead.

Here is a well done video from PBS on artificial intelligence(s). Robin Hanson is excellent and is featured around 3:27-5:30.

And so the journey continues.

Let’s put the Scottish Enlightenment aside and turn to some more recent creations.  Here goes:

1. Novel: Alasdair Gray, Lanark.  Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod deserve notice as well.  I don’t relate to Trainspotting.  I understand the case for Robert Louis Stevenson and would wish to jump on board, but usually I lose interest before the end of his books.

2. Painter: Henry Raeburn was part of the Scottish Enlightenment I think.  So where to turn?  Ken Currie?  Scotland is not strong in this category.

3. Classical music: Umm…William Primrose was a strong violist.

4. Architect: Charles Rennie MacIntosh, especially the library.

5. Inventor: James Watt, but there is lots and lots of competition here.

6. Actor: How about Sean Connery?  Don’t forget Zardoz.

7. Movie: Gregory’s Girl.

8. Movie, set in Scotland: The Queen.

9. Popular music: David Byrne was born in Scotland.  I know the Cocteau Twins, Boards of Canada, Franz Ferdinand, and others, they are OK but I do not love them.  Dire Straits and Annie Lennox deserve mention, but overall I suspect many of you rate this group higher than I do.  Jesus and Mary Chain?  While we’re at it, there is Ewan McLennan and Bert Jansch, both of whom I enjoy.

The bottom line: These are people of intellect (remember the Enlightenment!) and also people of action.  For explorers and inventors the record is extremely strong.  Yet for music and some of the arts the contributions are rather faint.

Jim reviews the numbers: “The first Ice Age does $175 million domestically, $206 million internationally.  The second one does $192 million domestically, $456 internationally.  The third one does $200 million domestically and $700 million internationally.”

That is from the new Lynda Obst book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the NEW ABNORMAL in the Movie Business.  The book is poorly written but sometimes of interest for those who follow this topic.

I was surprised how serious a movie it is and also by how deeply politically incorrect it is, including on “third rail” issues such as immigration, ethnic conflict, North Korean totalitarianism, American urban decay as exemplified by Newark, gun control, Latino-Black relations, songs of peace, and the Middle East.  Here is one (incomplete) discussion of the Middle East angle, from the AP, republished in el-Arabiya (here is a more detailed but less responsible take on the matter, by a sociology professor and Israeli, spoilers throughout).

The movie is set up to show sympathy for the “Spartan” regimes and to have a message which is deeply historically pessimistic and might broadly be called Old School Conservative, informed by the debates on martial virtue from pre-Christian antiquity.  But they recut the final segment of the movie and changed the ending altogether, presumably because post-Christian test audiences and film executives didn’t like it.  Here is one discussion of the originally planned finale.  It sounds good to me.  The actual movie as it was released reverts to a Christian ending of sorts.  My preferred denouement would have relied on the idea of an asymptomatic carrier or two, go see it and figure out the rest yourself.

By the way, for all the chances taken by the film makers, they were unwilling to offend the government of China (see the first link), in part because you cannot trick them easily with subtle, veiled references.  Such tomfoolery works only on Americans — critics included — which I suppose suggests a lesson of its own.

Here is a Times of Israel review of the movie, interesting throughout, and it notes that the Israel scenes are simply translated to “the Middle East” for Turkish audiences.

A good film, I liked it.  How many other movies offer commentary on Thucydides, Exodus, Gush-Shalom, Lawrence Dennis, and George Romero, all rolled into one?

Glamour featured film stars on half of its covers in 2012. But the May 2012 issue featuring Lauren Conrad, the former star of the reality show “The Hills,” was the year’s best-selling issue, at 500,072 copies. The magazine now expects to make film stars the minority presence in 2013.

At Cosmopolitan, the best-selling cover this year featured Kim Kardashian in April, with 1.2 million copies sold, followed by the singer Miley Cyrus in March with 1.1 million copies. In 2012, three out of five of Cosmopolitan’s top covers featured the celebrities Demi Lovato with 1.379 million copies sold, Khloé Kardashian at 1.354 million copies and Selena Gomez at 1.334 million copies.

Vogue’s best-selling cover in the first four months of 2013 featured Beyoncé with 340,000 copies sold. In 2012, Lady Gaga commanded the cover of Vogue’s September issue and sold nearly double the number of copies of the January 2012 issue, featuring Meryl Streep.

It’s not just younger women’s magazines that are moving away from film stars. When Redbook landed an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow for its January issue, the magazine featured her with her trainer Tracy Anderson and not in what the magazine’s editor in chief, Jill Herzig, called the “traditional A-lister in a ball gown kind of way.”

It is music and TV which are in the ascendancy.  I blame the globalization of the movie market in part, which skews Hollywood movies more toward Asian male audiences, in turn limiting their appeal to American females.  In general international audiences lower the return to good dialog and raise the return on action and explosions, which on average hurts prominent female roles.  Note that men’s magazines are now having more film stars on their covers.  And there is this:

A recently published study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that the percentage of female characters with a speaking part in the nation’s top movies each year reached its lowest point in the past five years in 2012, at 28 percent. Ms. Coles said it had become so difficult to find female film stars to feature from this summer’s blockbusters that her magazine was publishing an article about the problem.

The full article is here.

Claims about Sony

by on May 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm in Current Affairs, Film | Permalink

A new report from the investment banking firm Jefferies delivered a harsh assessment of Sony’s electronics business. “Electronics is its Achilles’ heel and, in our view, it is worth zero,” wrote Atul Goyal, consumer technology analyst for Jefferies, in the report, released this week.

Here is more.  And oh, there is this:

…Sony’s most successful business is selling insurance. While it doesn’t run this business in the United States or Europe, Sony makes a lot of money writing life, auto and medical policies in Japan.

Its financial arm accounts for 63 percent of Sony’s total operating profit last year. Life insurance has been its biggest moneymaker over the last decade, earning the company 933 billion yen ($9.07 billion) in operating profit in the 10 years that ended in March.