Licinius wrote:

Some thoughts from a pseudonymous political consultant:
1) The filter for politicians hardly selects for spontaneous television charisma at all until the very highest levels. Typically the types of offices one holds prior to being a Governor or a Senator (Congress, lesser statewide office, Mayor of a medium-sized but not too big city) are offices that select for skill-sets like working a room of a handful of insiders, and avoiding making mistakes; not spontaneously debating on camera. Let’s say at any given point in time there are 1,000 people in the country in one of these “feeder” offices (Congress, Statewide elected officials, mid-city mayors, etc).
2) Governor and Senator positions select a little bit more for charisma and media presence, but not much, and usually they only do so in big expensive contested Senate Races – not in the safe blue or safe red states that most Senators and Governors represent. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that no more than 50 out of 150 Governors and Senators were elected in the sorts of elections that test a person’s debating mettle and television presence. This doesn’t seem like a process where one is going to end up with tremendously charismatic TV personalities running for president. But it does pose an interesting puzzle, because it would seem to me that professional entertainers could wipe the floor with politicians.
3) Very rarely do celebrities or CEOs run for offices that are “to scale,” or things that they could easily win. If Carly Fiorina had run for an open Republican seat in Congress instead of Senate on her first shot, she’d be a shoo-in. Ben Affleck would be iffy for Senate, but he’d coast to a victory in Congress (and then Congressman Ben Affleck could easily rise up the ranks and build a political career from there, if he had the patience). When they do run for things that are “to scale” – like Kevin Johnson running for Mayor of Sacramento – they tend to win. When they do things not to scale – Chris Dudley running for Governor of Oregon – they tend to lose.
4) Being an entertainer/CEO is generally a better life than being a politician. This selects for second tier CEOs and entertainers running for office, not first tier ones. Al Franken was an entertaining guy, but he was hardly a first-tier celebrity prior to running for office. For him, running for Senate was a step up in status. For somebody like John Stewart or Stephen Colbert, not so much. Similarly, Bill Gates and Tim Cook have nothing to gain by running for office, so the businessperson candidates we get are generally not first-tier. No offense to Carly Fiorina, she has “succeeded” more than the vast majority of people ever will in her field, but she has dedicated her life singularly to making money, and there’s thousands of people who have done a better job than her. She’s the businessperson equivalent of a State Attorney General, not a Governor or a Senator. Trump fares a little better, but still, there are dozens of more successful businessmen in the U.S. than him. If you were to rank all the politicians in the U.S. in terms of electoral success, all the legitimate presidential contenders would be in the top 150. Would anybody make the case that Carly Fiorina is one of the top 150 businesspeople in the U.S.?
5) This leads to the interesting observation that CEOs and entertainers may be so much more talented at some aspects of charisma than politicians are that a C-list CEO or entertainer might still be more compelling than an A-list politician. And if an A-list entertainer or CEO ever decides to run for major office (like Arnold running for Governor), they’ll have a real shot at winning.

Here is what some Chinese thought of the candidates.  Here are comments from David Brooks.

I watched about an hour total, mostly because my father-in-law has been regularly engaged in this Methodenstreit.  Two related facts struck me:

1. I know this is hard to believe, but not every participant did remarkably well from a marketing point of view.  Put aside whether or not you agreed with them, more than one candidate was disappointing in terms of voter appeal.  Yet these were, for the most part, professional politicians.

2. The two participants who have done the best relating to voters, through the media, are the two former CEOs, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.  Overall that is true even if you think Trump had a subpar performance this debate.

A priori, you would think that being a professional politician selects exactly for people who can do well in a televised national debate.  Yet, from this limited number of data points, it is the CEOs who have the relevant skills.

What should we infer about the relative filters for CEOs and politicians?

a. Do CEOs work with real people more?  Or perhaps the CEO filter requires a greater diversity of life experience.

b. Is the CEO market simply tougher, more competitive, and more demanding of talent, given how much money is on the line?

c. Do CEOs have an easier time being eclectic or perhaps talking tough?  After all, they’re “the boss” and they can on a regular basis make tough, oppositional decisions in a way that a mainstream politician usually cannot.  (Indeed Fiorina and Trump have done plenty of this.)  This seems to be a time when many voters prefer eclecticism and outside the box flair.

d. Is there something else about the filtering process for professional politicians?  What might that be, if not the ability to be good on TV?  You might think “ability to raise $$ from big donors” is a major filter, but I would think the donors would care enough about electability for this to collapse back into the original question of why the CEOs are doing better on TV.

Robin Hanson yesterday raised the question of why actors and actresses, in either the literal or the operational sense, do not take over the upper tiers of the political sector.  Take a taller Tom Cruise, subtract Scientology, school him, and put him on that floor — how well would he have done?  Would a George Clooney or Harrison Ford really have no chance?  How about a smart talk show host?

Inquiring minds wish to know.

Translating *Seinfeld*

by on June 26, 2015 at 1:58 am in Television | Permalink

And because of Seinfeld’s unique approach to comedy, it poses special translation problems. In one Radboud University study of Dutch viewers’ reactions to Seinfeld, viewers commonly reported being baffled by the show’s laugh track; the audience regularly missed the joke. Some of those who did laugh told researcher Elke Van Cassel that they were laughing only because the characters reminded them of Americans they knew.

There is more here from Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, of interest throughout, including the discussion of Germany.

Thanks to computerized aiming, HEL MD can operate in wholly autonomous mode, which Boeing tested successfully in May 2014 – although the trials uncovered an unexpected challenge. The weapon’s laser beam is silent and invisible, and not all targets explode as they are destroyed, so an automated battle can be over before operators have noticed anything. ‘The engagements happen quickly, and unless you’re staring at a screen 24-7 you’ll never see them,’ Blount says. ‘So we’ve built sound in for whenever we fire the laser. We plan on taking advantage of lots of Star Trek and Star Wars sound bites.’

More generally, fibre-laser weapons may be on their way:

Despite their modest capabilities, Scharre claims that fibre-laser weapons could find a niche in US military defence in 5–10 years. “They may not be as grand and strategic as the Star Wars concept,” he says, “but they could save lives, protect US bases, ships and service members.”

The full article is here, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

ABC: The Treasury Department recently sold 44,000 one-dollar bills to one person — at a price of $5.95 apiece.

The bills weren’t even all that special — they weren’t very old, and they didn’t have any major flaws that made them valuable to collectors.

What they did have though, was four number eights in a row in their serial numbers — a sign of luck to many people of Asian descent.

And that’s made the bills popular. The Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing says it has sold over 70,000 such “prosperity notes” to thousands of people around the world — not including the huge sale to one individual.

Now that is a high rate of seigniorage. You can buy your own lucky bills from the Treasury. Westerners may prefer the 777 series. There is a discount for bulk orders, but you will still be paying more than a dollar for a dollar. That doesn’t feel lucky to me.

Hat tip: The Blacklist.

I’m passing through Baltimore on the train today (a talk at U. Penn and chatting with Ashok Rao), so I have license to do this.  Here goes:

1. Author: There is plenty to choose from here, including Poe, James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Frank O’Hara, and H.L. Mencken.  I do not love F. Scott Fitzgerald as many do, same with Upton Sinclair, but they deserve mention.  I’ll opt for Poe, with Gold-Bug as my favorite story.  Hammett’s Red Harvest I also enjoy and have taught a few times, delicious incoherence.  Anne Tyler has a few good books, but stop reading after one or two of them.

2. Philosopher: John Rawls, though since we’re talking about Baltimore I feel I should call him Jack.

3. Painter: Morris Louis or Grace Hartigan?  I feel I can do better, help out people.

4. Popular music: Tori Amos grew up in Baltimore, I like her Little Earthquakes and various singles, live cuts, and cover versions, available only in scattered form as far as I know.  Is Dan Deacon popular?  Frank Zappa is a remarkable musical talent, but I don’t actually enjoy listening to him.

5. Jazz: Eubie Blake, there is also Bill Frisell and Billie Holiday.

6. Classical music: Philip Glass was born there, though I associate him with NYC.

7. Baseball: I still remember that old Orioles rotation with Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Dobson, all twenty-game winners in the same year.

8. Soviet spy: Alger Hiss.

9. Movie, set in: I don’t love Diner or Avalon, how about The Accidental Tourist, or Twelve Monkeys?  The first half of Silence of the Lambs is excellent.

For good measure toss in Thurgood Marshall, Tim Page, Babe Ruth, The Wire, Walters Art Museum, the underrated BSO, and Brooks Robinson.  Who or what else am I forgetting?

The bottom line: Lots for one city!  Let’s hope it gets better soon.

The YouTube version is here, the podcast version is here.

I was very happy with how it turned out, as I deliberately set out not to copy the content of any of Peter’s other dialogues.  You can learn how he thinks we will leave the “great stagnation,” whether the AI hype is justified, how he would boil his thought down to the smallest number of dimensions, whether NYC is over- or underrated, why globalization is likely to decline and what that means for different regions, the parts of the Bible which have influenced him most, “the Straussian Jesus,” to what age he thinks he will live, why Japan is special, how his German background matters, his favorite opening chess move, how and why company names matter, and even his favorite TV show, which he calls “schlocky.”

And much, much more, with commentary and questions from me throughout.  A transcript is being prepared as well.

Hat tip: Daniel Altman.

Will Radford and Mathias Gallé have a new and interesting paper on this topic, here is one excerpt:

Law and corporate professions had around 15% of female representation…the medical domain (doctors) had a female probability of 0.23…Religion does not score at the bottom with regards to female presentation (although very low with 0.08). From the professions we selected, Engineering was the lowest (0.05). The highest scoring profession was IT (0.52), which is partly due to the fact that many computer voices were female (computer had 460 female occurrences, versus 247 male ones; and enterprise computer from “Star Trek” was almost exclusively female)

By the way, the number of female writers and directors (in their IMDB database) was at a six year low in 2014.

If you look at most frequent roles for gender, women are assigned hostess, girl, woman, waitress, and mother.  For men, the list swings toward narrator, announcer, doctor, detective, bartender, soldier, and police officer.

In 1980-200, the top “newly popular” role (for both sexes) was “additional voices.”  For the time period 2000-present it was “zombie,” next was “housemate.”

The paper is here (pdf), hat tip goes to Samir Varma.

Here is a new and interesting article on whether there is greater female influence over cinematic box office these days.

Jan asks:

Why is the (global) state of subtitling and closed captioning so bad?

a/ Subtitling and closed captioning are extremely efficient ways of learning new languages, for example for immigrants wanting to learn the language of their new country.

b/ Furthermore video is now offered on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, televisions… but very frequently these videos cannot be played with sound on (a phone on public transport, a laptop in public places, televisions in busy places like bars or shops,…).

c/ And most importantly of all, it is crucial for the deaf and hard of hearing.

So why is it so disappointingly bad? Is it just the price (lots of manual work still, despite assistive speech-to-text technologies)? Or don’t producers care?

UberAlex responded:

It’s interesting to look at the fan-sub community, where they can be a labour of love. They are often considered far superior translations to the official ones.

You can sign up for rsvp or the live stream here, the chat with Peter Thiel is March 31, 2-3:30 p.m. EST, held at the Arlington campus of George Mason University.  It is part of a new event series Conversations with Tyler.

The chat with Jeffrey Sachs is April 7, 3:30 to 5 p.m., again EST in Arlington.  There will be more to come in the Fall.

I will host and talk with guests, but without formalities.  I won’t ask “So tell us about your new book,” or any of the usual soporific chit-chatty questions.  I will try to replicate the conversations I would have with these same individuals in a private setting, except that you all get to listen.  That means launching into substance immediately and seeing how far the back and forth can be pushed.  It also means asking questions that not everyone listening will understand and willing to let parts of the audience suffer in their confusion.  I want these dialogues to be as smart as possible, based on the premise that each guest, no matter how renowned he or she may be, is nonetheless a radically underrated thinker.

The goal is to be never hostile or combative, but always probing.  I’m aiming for the chat to be 1/3 me vs. 2/3 guest, more or less, but about the ideas and contributions of the guest most of all.

Dalek Relaxation Tape

by on March 15, 2015 at 7:58 am in Television, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

If you are not a Doctor Who fan, your mileage may differ but this had me cracking up:

I’ve been receiving numerous requests for more of my “totally conventional views,” and someone asked me about HRC.  We’ve never covered her in the past, so why not?  But by construction of this series, none of what follows is at all new and probably there won’t be any discussion in the comments.  But with that in mind, I’ll offer up these points:


1. Women are judged far more by their looks than are men, and Hillary’s are not right for the presidency.  She doesn’t seem composed enough, schoolmarmish enough a’ la Thatcher, and frankly many men, when they see her in their mind’s eye, imagine a voice saying “Look here, buster…!”  Her hair is not properly ordered for the Executive Office, and I suspect many Americans want for their first female President to appear somewhat ageless.  I am not suggesting any of this is fair or even an efficient form of Bayesian statistical discrimination, but it is a reality.

2. If not for factor #1, a healthy Hillary would be a shoo-in for demographic reasons, but as it stands her chances of winning are overrated.

3. A Clinton Presidency is the most likely of any, from the major candidates, to serve up significant and enduring market-oriented reforms.  She could bring along enough Democrats to work with the Republicans, and reclaim a version of the old Clinton legacy.  That said, her presidency also is more likely to effect change in the opposite direction as well, so the net expected value here is hard to calculate and still may be negative.

4. Given #1 and #2, and other gender-related factors, your opinion about Hillary, no matter what it may be, is less reliable than you think.  That suggests you should think about her less rather than more (sorry people for this post, what did Wittgenstein say about that ladder?), because I don’t think you’re going to see much of a payoff from grabbing here at that third derivative.

5. The willingness of the Clinton Foundation to solicit donations from foreign governments and leaders is corrupt, and yet mostly receives a free pass, in spite of some recent coverage on corporate donations.  I read recently they might stop soliciting donations “…if Hillary runs for President,” also known as “hurry up and give now!”  Arguably we would be electing a political machine as President of the United States, even more than usual.

6. Democratic intellectuals and operatives are quite unexcited — or should I say “fervently and passionately unexcited” — about the prospect of a Hillary candidacy.  The energy is already drained from the room, and they haven’t opened the door yet.

7. There is still the question of how the press, and the American people, might process any subsequent revelations about Bill’s “activities” since leaving the White House.

8. It will be hard to avoid giving the public “Hillary fatigue,” given how many years she has been in the public eye.  This is another reason why I think her chances are overrated, plus she will have to be very careful to carry herself in the debates just the right way, see #1 and #2 again.

9. It is easier to transcend race than gender.

I have seen this future in the eighth-floor apartment of Lee Chang-hyun in Seoul (pictured at work, above). At around midnight, he goes online with a couple of friends and performs his meal, spicy raw squid one day, crab the next. “Perform” is the right word. He is extravagant in his gestures, flaunting the food to his computer camera to tantalise the viewers. He eats noisily and that’s part of the show. He’s invested in a good microphone to capture the full crunch and slurp.

This is not a private affair. Some 10,000 people watch him eating per day, he says. They send a constant stream of messages to his computer and he responds verbally (by talking) and orally (by eating, very visibly and noisily).

If the audience like the performance, they allocate him what are called “star balloons” and each of these means a payment to him and to the internet television channel on which he performs. He is coy about how much he earns but the BBC has estimated, by noting the number of star balloons on his screen, that it would run into several hundred dollars for a two-hour stint.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Claire Hill.

The largest conglomerates are still in the lead:

When we sum up the many networks owned by each media conglomerate, we can see how mighty these giants truly are. Netflix may be the largest “cable channel” by more than 100%, but it ranks 7th among cable television groups. Add in broadcast, and the delta is even greater. Not only is Disney more than three times as large as Netflix, but the OTT service makes up only 5% of total US video consumption per month. It may be that no single channel has the breadth of content and scale to be a serious Netflix competitor, but their parents certainly do.

That is from Liam Boluk.  Here is Boluk on the economics of Youtube: “Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) is already more popular than scores of Hollywood TV and film celebrities.”