Category: Television

Do conservatives prefer to use nouns?

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.

Why don’t better movies cost more?

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.

Will Wilkinson’s liberaltarian case for Bernie Sanders

A number of you have written in and asked for direct commentary on his recent piece and its sequel companion.  And here is Vernon Smith on Bernie.

I agree with Megan McArdle that the argument doesn’t work.  I would second all or most of Megan’s points about Bernie’s less positive proclivities, including the bone-crunching marginal tax rates and the foreign policy inexperience, while adding another perspective.

One approach is to ask “which of the current slate of candidates should I prefer?”

A second approach, and the one I would suggest here, is “I have a good idea — in this case liberaltarianism — how long should I wait before attaching that idea to a particular candidate?”  I say wait!

A Bernie Sanders presidency, if it somehow did manage to connect up to liberaltarianism, probably would do those ideas more harm than good.  In my view he is not up to being an effective President.  I don’t have the interest in outlining that case at any length, but suffice to say Paul Krugman — admittedly from a different framework — seems to agree.

I enjoyed Megan’s line: “And I have a sneaking fondness for Sanders, who reminds me of any number of folks from my Upper West Side childhood.”

Did it work out for the neoconservatives to attach themselves to Bush 43?  I say no.  Did it work out for mainstream liberals to attach themselves to Obama?  I say mostly yes.  So it can go either way.  How did the Varoufakis flirtation work out for the anti-austerity movement?   In the comments you can debate whether latching on to Ron Paul was good for libertarian ideas, but I don’t think the answer is an obvious yes, to say the least.

It’s not that I want you to support some other candidate in Bernie’s stead, rather I would challenge the view that a candidate needs to be preferred in each and every election cycle.  And as I’ve once argued, analysts, pundits, and others might do better in their commentary, and keep a more analytically detached perspective, if at least some they avoid attaching themselves to any candidate at all.  We are programmed to be loyal to individual people, and perhaps causes too.  While that is often admirable as a personal trait, it also can skew our judgment of policies and platforms.

The Sharks Get Stung

On Friday, Shark Tank, the investment television show, featured two nice ladies from Minnesota and their product Bee Free Honee, honee made from apples. Is cheap, vegan honee a good idea? Perhaps but I was less than convinced by one of the arguments the ladies made for their honee–it will save bees! The ladies argued that reducing the demand for honey will encourage bee farmers to not work the bees so hard thus increasing their numbers.

bee jobI was expecting the acerbic Kevin O’Leary to have a field day with this economic fallacy. Or maybe, I thought, Mark Cuban will throw a dash of common sense into the tank. But no, all the Sharks cooed about this mad scheme. So it is up to me.

Reducing the demand for honey, reduces the demand for honey bees. A cheap, high-quality substitute for honey doesn’t mean a world of bees gently pollinating flowers in an idyllic landscape it means a beepocolypse. Bee free honee will save bees the same way the internal combustion engine saved horses.

Addendum 1You may be concerned about colony collapse disorder. Well, the commercial beekeepers are even more concerned and they have been adapting to CCD and maintaining honey production and pollination services. In fact, there are more bee colonies in the United States today (latest data) than there have been anytime in the last 20 years. CCD is still a problem but it’s the demand for honey and pollination services that incentivizes solutions to the problem. Remember, without honey it’s only a hobby.

Addendum 2:Perhaps the ladies have a sophisticated position on the repugnant conclusion but I doubt it.

Hat tip: Max.

Beware your TV (hi, future!)

Samsung is warning customers about discussing personal information in front of their smart television set.

The warning applies to TV viewers who control their Samsung Smart TV using its voice activation feature.

When the feature is active, such TV sets “listen” to what is said and may share what they hear with Samsung or third parties, it said.

There is more here, via Ted Gioia.

What caught my attention in 2015

This was the year when it became clear that much of Eastern Europe probably won’t end up as free societies.  It’s not just semi-fascism in Hungary.  Poland and Slovakia, arguably the two most successful economies and societies in Eastern Europe, took big steps backward toward illiberal governance.  How can one be optimistic about the Balkans?  I imagine a future where African and North African refugees are bottled up there, and Balkan politics becomes slowly worse.  As for Ukraine, a mix of Russia and an “own goal” has made the place ungovernable.  Where is the bright spot in this part of the world?

Nothing good happened in China’s economy, although more fingers have been inserted into more dikes.  I am not hopeful on the cyclical side, though longer term I remain optimistic, due to their investments in human capital and the growing importance of scale.

I have grown accustomed to the idea that Asian mega-cities represent the future of the world — have you?

Syria won’t recover.

This was the year of the rise of Ted Cruz.

It was an awful year for movies, decent but unpredictable for books.  The idea that Facebook and social media rob the rest of our culture of its centrality, or its ability to find traction, is the default status quo.  Not even that idea has gained much traction.  Cable TV started to receive its financial comeuppance.  Yet on the aesthetic side, television is at an all-time peak, with lots of experimentation and independent content provision, all for the better.  I suspect this is one reason why movies are worse, namely brain drain, but I am hoping for longer-run elasticities of adjustment into the broader talent pool.

Against all odds, Homeland was excellent in its fifth season.

I became even more afraid to move my cursor around a web page, and in terms of content, more MSM sites became worse than better.  Banning photos would solve twenty percent of this problem.

Stephen Curry and Magnus Carlsen were the two (public) individuals I thought about the most and followed the most closely.  Each has a unique talent which no one had come close to before.  For Curry it is three point shooting at great range and with little warning; for Carlsen it is a deep understanding of the endgame as the true tactical phase of chess, and how to use the middlegame as prep to get there.  It wasn’t long ago Curry’s weapons were “trick” shots, perhaps suitable for the Harlem Globetrotters; similarly, players such as Aronian thought Carlsen’s “grind ’em down” style could not succeed at a top five level.  Everyone was wrong.

But here’s what I am wondering.  Standard theory claims that with a thicker market, the #2 talents, or for that matter the #5s, will move ever closer to the #1s.  That is not what we are seeing in basketball or chess.  So what feature of the problem is the standard model missing?  And how general is this phenomenon of a truly special #1 who breaks some of the old rules?  Does Mark Zuckerberg count too?

I realized Western China is the best part of the world to visit right now.  The food trends where I live were Filipino and Yemeni, which I found welcome.  Virginia now has a Uighur restaurant in Crystal City, and the aging San Antonio Spurs continue to defy all expectations.  Kobe Bryant, who “ranks among the league’s top 5 percent of shot-takers and its bottom 5 percent of shot-makers,” has redefined the retirement announcement, among other things.

Top curling teams say they won’t use high-tech brooms.  Just wait.

AnandCarlsen

Bill Simmons estimate of the day

The trouble with podcasts is that they are difficult to grow: while text can be shared and consumed quickly, a podcast requires a commitment (which again, is why advertising in them is so valuable). Simmons, though, by virtue of his previous writing, is already averaging over 400,000 downloads per episode.

Podcast rates are hard to come by, but I’m aware of a few podcasts a quarter the size that are earning somewhere in excess of $10,000/episode; presuming proportionally similar rates (which may be unrealistic, given the broader audience) The Bill Simmons Podcast, which publishes three times a week, could be on a >$6 million run rate, which, per my envelope math in the footnote above, could nearly pay for a 50-person staff a la Grantland.

Most of the article, by Ben Thompson, is about the economics of Grantland.

China fact of the day

The number of people sitting the 2015 qualification exam for broadcasters and TV hosts more than doubled from the previous year as China has tightened the ban on hosts without a certificate.

A total of 13,311 people sat the test on Sunday, compared with 5,908 in 2014. Some well-known hosts also took Sunday’s test, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

The soaring number of examinees was believed to be resulted from a circular the administration issued in June. The circular banned guest hosts in any TV shows, including news, commentary and interview panels, reiterating that all TV hosts must have vocational qualifications.

The article is here, via Adam Minter.

Model this, basketball defense

The veteran forward [Jared Dudley] explained concessions are sometimes necessary and the Suns purposely awarded opponents easy buckets occasionally to speed games up, which he emphasized the Wizards are not considering.

Here is more from Jorge Castillo, who is writing about the desire of the Wizards to speed up their offense, and take more three point shots, and all that entails.

Is the way forward here to model the Suns, the Wizards, Dudley, or all of the above?

From the comments, on CEOs and candidates

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.

What was my impression of the Republican debate?

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*

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.

Sound bites for silent laser systems (life imitates art)

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.