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.
Netflix has built socks that read your body to understand when you fall asleep, and then automatically pause your Netflix show.
There is more here, via the excellent Samir Varma.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.