Television

In early April, shortly after his team celebrated a postseason championship, a George Washington men’s basketball player visited a campus Title IX coordinator to log complaints about Coach Mike Lonergan. Lonergan, the player believed, had created an offensive, intolerable environment, evidenced in his mind — and in the minds of many of his teammates — by the spate of transfers during the coach’s five-year tenure.

There is much more to the story, here is just one bit, from a player:

“It was always weird. When he goes on those rants, it’s like, how do you react? How do you respond to something like that? Players kind of just stayed away from him. We knew every time it would be you and him, he would go on some kind of weird rant. We would just kind of stay away from him. He did a great job in terms of winning. Off the court, something weird is always going to come out.”

Can you imagine that response to either Bobby Knight or John Wooden?  But at GW many players have left the school, refusing to play under the coach’s tutelage.  He may yet be dismissed and possibly also sued for creating an abusive environment.  In the old days, at the end the team wins, everyone bonds, and the coach is a hero.  Or was it really ever like that?  Maybe we have just stopped pretending.

That is via Peter Boettke.  Via Mark Thorson, the Japanese just made their last VCR player.

This topic seems to have entered the news cycle.  I am not sure how, so I thought I would add a few observations in the interests of clarity:

1. Under the most plausible “yes” scenario, Lucifer inhabits the corpus of us all, not just the Clinton family grandchildren included.

2. The correct answer is still “probably not.”

3. Is there a greater chance that Hillary Clinton is in fact Lucifer himself, rather than merely being possessed by him?  (Would that not also be a new kind of transgender relation?)  No, more likely she would have a Satanic familiar.  In most equilibria, the number of familiars is greater than the number of Satans.  Far greater.

4. Saul D. Alinsky once cited (Milton’s) Lucifer: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”  Who does that sound like?  Not Hillary.

5. I find it striking how many observers can so suddenly grow intolerant of religious sentiment, once such sentiment upsets the status relationships they are so intent in seeing through.  It is considered politically incorrect and indeed downright unacceptable to mock those who believe the Deity is present in various religious ceremonies.  Yet may not the Deity’s former premier angel also reside somewhere?  Is it more plausible to believe the demoted angel haunts an obscure mold or grape than that he has carved out a small corner in the crook of the elbow of Hillary Clinton?  What if someone held the latter to be true on grounds of religion and faith?  Is the chance there simply too low compared to the chance of other specific religious beliefs being true?  Where exactly is the probability threshold set for allowed mockery?  How many other people would you need to have believing that with you before it would be “a religion” rather than…?

6. No sir, the separation of church and state will not save you here.  If you indeed felt Lucifer inhabited the corpus of Hillary Clinton, it would be strange to stay silent about such ontology on the grounds of the First Amendment.  So any potential ridiculousness of said belief must derive from epistemic grounds, and not its political implications or uses.

7. The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there.  They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal.  That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways.  We are a small church seeking to become larger.”  Is that not how many smaller churches behave?  Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved?  Did they have any influence?  See also the remarks of Cass Sunstein.

8. You may or may not agree with the true message of the Convention, but if you think it is merely stupid you are, sooner or later, in for a big surprise.

That question came up briefly in my chat with Cass Sunstein, though we didn’t get much of a chance to address it.  In the Star Trek world there is virtual reality, personal replicators, powerful weapons, and, it seems, a very high standard of living for most of humanity.  The early portrayals of the planet Vulcan seem rather Spartan, but at least they might pass a basic needs test of sorts, plus there is always catch-up growth to hope for.  The bad conditions seem largely reserved for those enslaved by the bad guys, originally the Klingons and Romulans, with those stories growing more complicated as the series proceeds.

In Star Wars, the early episodes show some very prosperous societies.  Still, droids are abused, there is widespread slavery, lots of people seem to live at subsistence, and eventually much of the galaxy falls under the Jedi Reign of Terror.

Why the difference?  Should we consult Acemoglu and Robinson?  Or is it about economic geography?  I can find think of a few factors differentiating the world of Star Wars from that of Star Trek:

1. The armed forces in Star Trek seem broadly representative of society.  Compare Uhura, Chekhov, and Sulu to the Imperial Storm troopers.

2. Captains Kirk and Picard may be overly narcissistic, but they do not descend into true power madness, unlike various Sith leaders and corrupted Jedi Knights.

3. In Star Trek, any starship can lay waste to a planet, whereas in Star Wars there is a single, centralized Death Star and no way to oppose it, short of having the rebels try to blow it up.  That seems to imply stronger checks and balances in the world of Star Trek.  No single corrupt captain can easily take over the Federation, and so there are always opposing forces.

4. Star Trek embraces analytical egalitarianism, namely that all humans consider themselves part of the same broader species.  There is no special group comparable to the Jedi or the Sith, with special powers or with special whatevers in their blood.  There are various species of aliens, but they are identified as such, they are not in general going to win human elections, and furthermore humans are portrayed as a kind of galactic hegemon, a’ la the United States circa the postwar era.

5. The single individual is much more powerful in the world of Star Wars, due to Jedi and Sith powers, which seems to lower stability.  In the Star Trek world, some of the biggest trouble comes from super-human Khan and his clan, but fortunately they are put down.

6. Star Trek replicators are sufficiently powerful it seems slavery is highly inefficient in that world.  In Star Wars the underlying depreciation rate, as you would find it measured in a Solow model, seems to be higher.  More forced labor is drafted into use to repair all of that wasting capital.

What else?

Addendum: Here is Cass on Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

Poking big holes in long-held assertions, Goldberg and his colleagues at Stanford and Yale universities analyzed millions of Yelp and Netflix reviews to reveal that people considered the most culturally adventurous are actually the most resistant to experiences perceived as “crossing the line.”

That is, those dubbed “cultural omnivores” — because they eat Thai for lunch, play bocce ball after work, and stream a French film that night — are the very ones opposed to mixing it up. No hummus on their hot dogs, forget about spaghetti Westerns, and do not mention Switched-On Bach. Those offerings are not considered culturally authentic. They are a hodgepodge to which these folks would likely wrinkle their collective noses — as they did in 1968 when Wendy (nee’ Walter) Carlos electrified J.S. Bach. Today’s cultural elites approve only if the experience is authentic, which means eating pigs’ feet at a Texas barbecue passes the test and slathering a taco with tahini does not.

“We find these people hate the most atypical offerings,” says Goldberg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “They can pretend to be the most open, but it turns out they are not. By being multicultural, they are the most conservative and the most resistant to changes to the status quo.”

Or should we just call it good taste?

Here is the Katherine Conrad article, via the excellent Dan Wang.

Looking for something to do this weekend in New York? Story, a concept shop that completely changes theme every few months, has relaunched this week as a Mr. Robot-themed space. In addition to being a retail shop selling an assortment of gadgets, accessories, and Mr. Robot-themed wares, there’s an “Evil Corp” ATM at the front of the store that will dispense real money (up to $50) if you figure out the four-digit code. The clues are hidden around the store, and we’re told they’ll probably change often.

Here is the full story, with many photos and an address.  To think that they closed Tower Records and Borders for this…sigh.

The bloating of television?

by on April 26, 2016 at 1:47 pm in Economics, Television | Permalink

HBO’s music-industry drama, “Vinyl,” began with a two-hour pilot, directed by Martin Scorsese, that vamped on like the coda to “Freebird.” The series premiere of FX’s drama “Fargo” ran around 97 minutes with ads. “Fargo,” the Coen brothers movie it was based on, ran 98. Episodes of Netflix’s romantic comedy “Love” ambled up to 40 minutes.

As a critic, I’m used to championing greater options for artists. We’re lucky to live in a time when TV creators have freedom from arbitrary constraints. But more and more of my TV watching these days involves starting an episode, looking at the number of minutes on the playback bar and silently cursing.

…Today’s great fattening, like so many trends in TV now, is in part the influence of streaming TV. The only thing limiting the length of a Netflix or Amazon binge show is your ability to sit without cramping. The menu is bigger, and so are the portions.

Every now and then, there is something to be said for appealing to the least common denominator!

That is from James Poniewozik at the NYT.

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.

PAGLIA: Yes.

COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.

Camille

You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

OK, OK, I have decided Nebraska is not the most obscure state.  How about Idaho?  What can we can think of which is noteworthy from Idaho?  More than you might expect, here goes:

Author: A variety of writers have lived in or passed through the state for a few years’ time, including Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Rice BurroughsA few of Hemingway’s short stories I admire very much.

Poet: Ezra Pound, yes I know he left at age three.  Still, he was from Idaho.

Native American sage and explorer: Sacagewea.  Did you know that her portrait design on the dollar coin is not in the public domain?

Economist: Lant Pritchett was raised in Boise.

Popular music: Built to Spill.

Composer: La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano is one of the better pieces of contemporary classical music, still highly underrated.  Here is a two minute sample from what is more or less a five hour work.

Artist: Matthew Barney, twelve years in Idaho.  Here is an interview.

Barney

Director: David Lynch, who spent formative years in Boise.  Here is a good recent piece on how powerful Blue Velvet still is.  Is it fair to say this state has produced some pretty weird stuff?

Actress: Lana Turner, and Patty Duke just passed away.  Mariel and Margeaux Hemingway also have claims.

Movie, set in: The only one I can think of is…My Private Idaho.

Other notables: Philo T. Farnsworth invented television, more or less, and he also worked on nuclear fusion.

The bottom line: Per capita, this isn’t bad, even if not much of it is associated with Idaho.  I’ll have to look harder for the most obscure state.  It might be Idaho, but it doesn’t deserve to be Idaho.  So perhaps Delaware, Wyoming, and Rhode Island will come under the microscope soon.

I thank Roy LC, Marcus, and kb for essential pointers here.

If it is the most obscure state, I thought it worth a ponder and profile of what they have produced.  And the answers are surprisingly strong:

1. Author: I’ll take Willa Cather over Raymond Chandler, but neither puts the state to shame.  I don’t care for Nicholas Sparks’s writings, but he makes the list.  Malcolm X wrote one of the great memoirs of American history.

2. Actors and actresses: There is Brando, Harold Lloyd, Hilary Swank, Henry Fonda, Montgomery Clift, and James Coburn.  What a strong category.

3. Dancer and singer: Fred Astaire, try this from Swing Time.  For his underrated singing, try “Cheek to Cheek.”

4. Music: I can think only of Elliott Smith, am I missing anything?

5. TV personalities: Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett.  Did you know that Carson learned Swahili on-line after his retirement and became fluent in the language?

6. Painter: Edward Ruscha.

7. Album, set in: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, favorite song “Open All Night.”

8. Movie, set in: Election.  I feel there are others too, Nebraska for one but presumably a fair number of Westerns too.

9. Investor: Duh.

10. Economist: Lawrence Klein was born in Omaha, although I cannot say his is my favored approach.  How about Edith Abbott?

11. Other: I cannot count L. Ron Hubbard as a positive.  I believe I have neglected some native Americans born in Nebraska, maybe some cowboys too.  I don’t have favorite cowboys.

Ruscha

The bottom line: People, this state should not be so obscure!

Angolan arbitrage

by on March 24, 2016 at 2:01 pm in Film, Music, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink

Wikimedia and Facebook have given Angolans free access to their websites, but not to the rest of the internet. So, naturally, Angolans have started hiding pirated movies and music in Wikipedia articles and linking to them on closed Facebook groups, creating a totally free and clandestine file sharing network in a country where mobile internet data is extremely expensive.

Here is more, via Kevin Burke.

I’ll be doing a Conversations with Tyler with her, Tuesday, April 12.  What should I ask her?

An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.

Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall.

“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.

This means that when animated films flop, they flop hard. In fourth quarter 2013, DreamWorks took an $87 million writedown on Rise of the Guardians. Without the charge, the studio would have posted a small profit in the period, rather than an $83 million loss. A few months later, it had to take a $57 million writedown on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.

Interesting throughout, here is the article by Kyle Stock.

Policies can be individually tailored to reflect a company’s confidence in a celebrity. For example, for sponsorship contracts ranging from £1m to £50m, policies can be designed to reimburse the full amount to the sponsoring company in the event of a misdemeanour by the celebrity, or pay out on a sliding scale, depending on the nature of the incident.

Premiums vary, but brokers say they tend to start at 0.25 per cent of the sum insured, or just under 1 per cent, on average, for more bespoke arrangements.

Cover can also be arranged for different types of risk. One of the main types is loss of profit, if customers stop buying certain products in the wake of a celebrity’s disgrace.

And this:

But, as with all insurance, it pays to read the small print and understand the factors that determine the success of a claim. “If someone has a squeaky clean image, the threshold for disgrace is lower than it would be for a hellraiser,” Mr Rackliffe explains.

Here is the David Oakley and Oliver Ralph FT story.

The researchers, led by Dr Aleksandra Cichocka of the School of Psychology, also established that conservatives generally, to a greater degree than liberals, tend to refer to things by their names, rather than describing them in terms of their features. An example would be saying someone ‘is an optimist’, rather than ‘is optimistic’.

This use of nouns, rather than adjectives, is seen to preserve stability, familiarity and tradition – all of which appear to be valued more highly by conservatives than liberals.

Because nouns ‘elicit clearer and more definite perceptions of reality than other parts of speech’, they satisfy the desire for ‘structure and certainty’ that is common among social conservatives, the research authors found.

The research was based on studies carried out in three countries – Poland, Lebanon, and the USA. The US study compared presidential speeches delivered by representatives of the two main political parties. The sample included 45 speeches delivered by Republicans, considered to be more conservative, and 56 speeches delivered by then Democrats, considered to be more liberal.

The (gated) paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.

This is from an email from Ashok Rao:

You might have addressed this. On iTunes – to some extent – they do, though this appears to matter more with something you might call “scale of production” than quality of movie. Avatar is still at $15 compared to $10 for most others mainstream films (with very crappy and very lowbrow comedies sometimes lower).

But in general it seems absurd that westerns that I’ve never heard about cost as much as Harry Potter. Some points:

Does the movie industry – and ensuing bargaining with important agents like Apple – prefer completely homogenized pricing? Certainly it might be negative signaling that “we know this movie is trash” but that shouldn’t matter after the initial critic and audience review cycle is over.

A lot of crappy movies might make for good TV fodder, though the pricing structures are complicated enough that I have no idea exactly where or how this happens.

The comparison doesn’t even need to be on quality. How on earth does Godfather still cost $15 a pop – isn’t it going to be in the public domain soon?

My gut tells me piracy is a key instigator though I don’t know how exactly. Logically I feel it’s just the opposite. The price elasticity of someone who will not pirate to begin with is much lower than someone who will, on average…

Are there multiple equilibria? 1) Given that the price elasticity of non-pirates is low, you can and should charge them similar rates but 2) Given that pirates are highly elastic it makes sense to price quality.

Is the fact that I’m browsing on iTunes at all enough of an information signal to segregate the market?

It appears Netflix is what will change this entirely, and iTunes prices are completely irrelevant because no one plans on buying Sharknado 2 in HD anyway.

The other interesting question (which also requires a finessed understanding of Netflix economics) is comparing the entertainment value of television vs. cinema on the dollar. It appears there is a “timepass” value to both and a completion value for movies (and TV as well, but distributed over n episodes so basically 0).

One season of TV, which might be about 20 hours of entertainment, is frequently only 2x one movie which might be 2 hours of entertainment. Is the “scale of production” and completeness factor enough to justify 10 hours of entertainment? It is also the case that the median show and median movie are converging in parity on the margin, and increasingly on average too.  – You would have to watch many hours of TV before reaching a cliff in quality where the marginal movie is dramatically better than the marginal show, versus a baseline of the best show vs. best movie.

If you insist on legal purchases only learning to read subtitles on Hindi movies is also a really cheap hack to amazing entertainment – foreign films otherwise tend to be too highbrow though that might be a rather lowbrow thing to say.

These are of course “demand side” factors, though after a reasonable period of time the supply side should largely be a sunk cost and somewhat irrelevant.

By the way, there is a new app –called Atom — which among other things will help groups of moviegoers receive discounts for movies which are doing less well.

And here is my earlier post on the uniform pricing of movie tickets.