More on US vs. UK television shows

From Alex Griffiths:

In a recent article you wrote about the historic difference between British and American panel shows and I wanted to share my theory.

I think that there are two factors at play in the difference between British and American panel shows. 1. Market size, 2. Culture. 3. What is funny in US vs. UK.

1. Historically the small number of domestic television stations that the British television market could make profitable (until very recently 5 at most) meant that unlike in America there was limited choice and further the talent pool of people working on the programmes was also small and so the people making the programmes had both the ability due to being smaller to be relatively nimble to changes in culture and also had little choice but to watch the selection they were picking and so had an incentive to make the programming interesting to watch.

By contrast in America with its comparable size it was easier to fund lots of movies for different audiences but when it comes to television it was more difficult for major networks to necessarily change direction (a TV schedule is zero sum whereas you can simply add new films to a cinema selection) and additionally in American TV you could easily hate what you do and still watch something else on a different channel.

2. Combined with this is a different attitude towards comedy and television culture. In America TV seems to be more “working class” as a medium and aimed more at making people feel good- e.g Friends, Rosanne, Cheers, and even Frasier that most British of American TV is aimed at laughs as Frasier has already made it, whereas in the UK television has been more middle class orientated and about betterment and self improvement even if done with a comic twist. Almost every top British show ever made is about people trying to go upwards economically, politically or socially, e.g. Blackadder, Only Fools and Horses, Fawley Towers, Yes Minister, Porridge.

3. An example of the difference between British and American comedy which I found quite a good summary (I can’t remember who said it), imagines a comedy sketch where a musician is playing a guitar badly and a man comes up and smashes it over the musician’s head. The contention is that an American comic would want to be the one smashing the guitar whereas a British comic would want to be the one getting hit with the guitar. America, the ultimate immigrant nation goes for obvious and broad comedy so everyone can understand whereas the British, comparably more dominated by class distinctions and still a lot more culturally homogeneous, goes for the joke about subverting the norm which of necessity requires an understanding about norms in a society.

I just want to finally add that whilst historically I would say that British panel shows have been better than American ones I think the Internet and its rise in a wider selection of shows, as well as a shift towards just raw viewership numbers as the dominant motivator for television programmes, has meant that there has been a decline in the quality of British television programming and that with every passing year it seems more and more like the US market which is sad but I’m not sure reversible without a UK television subscription service which can afford to raise its ambitions.

U.S.A. fact of the day solve for the equilibrium

Utah’s population grew faster than that of any other state between 2010 and 2020. Salt Lake City has the lowest jobless rate among all big cities, at 2.8%, compared with a national rate of 5.2%. That the state has rebounded so well from the downturn caused by the covid-19 pandemic is thanks to the Wasatch Front, an urban corridor that includes Salt Lake and Provo, home to Brigham Young University. The four counties that make up the Wasatch Front account for at least 80% of Utah’s economic activity, reckons Juliette Tennert, an economist at the University of Utah.

Here is more from The Economist, they also note that Utah ranks at or near the very bottom for metrics of gender equality.

Emergent Ventures India, new winners, third Indian cohort

Angad Daryani / Praan

Angad Daryani is 22-year-old social entrepreneur and inventor from Mumbai, and his goal is to find solutions for clean air at a low cost, accessible to all. He received his EV grant to build ultra-low cost, filter-less outdoor air purification systems for deployment in open areas through his startup Praan. Angad’s work was recently covered by the BBC here.

Swasthik Padma

Swasthik Padma is a 19-year-old inventor and researcher. He received his EV grant to develop PLASCRETE, a high-strength composite material made from non-recyclable plastic (post-consumer plastic waste which consists of Multilayer, Film Grade Plastics and Sand) in a device called PLASCREATOR, also developed by Swasthik. The final product serves as a stronger, cost-effective, non-corrosive, and sustainable alternative to concrete and wood as a building material. He is also working on agritech solutions, desalination devices, and low cost solutions to combat climate change.

Ajay Shah

Ajay Shah is an economist, the founder of the LEAP blog, and the coauthor (with Vijay Kelkar) of In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy, an excellent book, covered by Alex here. He received his EV grant for creating a community of scholars and policymakers to work on vaccine production, distribution, and pricing, and the role of the government and private sector given India’s state capacity.

Meghraj Suthar

Meghraj Suthar, is an entrepreneur, software engineer, and author from Jodhpur. He founded Localites, a global community (6,000 members from more than 130 countries) of travelers and those who like to show around their cities to travelers for free or on an hourly charge. He also writes inspirational fiction. He has published two books: The Dreamers and The Believers and is working on his next book. He received his EV grant to develop his new project Growcify– helping small & medium-sized businesses in smaller Indian cities to go online with their own end-to-end integrated e-commerce app at very affordable pricing.

Jamie Martin/ The Queen’s English 

Jamie Martin and Sandeep Mallareddy founded The Queen’s English to develop a tool to help speak English. Indians who speak English earn 5x more than those who don’t. The Queen’s English provides 300 hours of totally scripted lesson plans on a simple Android app for high quality teaching by allowing anyone who can speak English to teach high quality spoken English lessons using just a mobile phone.

Rubén Poblete-Cazenave

Rubén Poblete-Cazenave is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His work has focused on studying topics on political economy, development economics and economics of crime, with a particular interest in India. Rubén received his EV grant to study the dynamic effects of lockdowns on criminal activity and police performance in Bihar, and on violence against women in India.

Chandra Bhan Prasad

Chandra Bhan Prasad is an Indian scholar, political commentator, and author of the Bhopal Document, Dalit Phobia: Why Do They Hate Us?, What is Ambedkarism?, Dalit Diary, 1999-2003: Reflections on Apartheid in India, and co-author author (with D Shyam Babu and Devesh Kapur) of Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs. He is also the founder of the ByDalits.com e-commerce platform and the editor of Dalit Enterprise magazine. He received his EV grant to pursue his research on Dalit capitalism as a movement for self-respect.

Praveen Tiwari

Praveen Tiwari is a rural education entrepreneur in India. At 17, he started Power of Youth to increase education and awareness among rural students in his district. To cope with the Covid lockdown he started the Study Garh with a YouTube channel to provide better quality educational content to rural students in their regional language (Hindi).

Preetham R and Vinayak Vineeth

Preetham R. and Vinayak Vineeth are 17-year-old high-schoolers from Bangalore. Preetham is interested in computing, futurism and space; and Vinayak is thinking about projects ranging from automation to web development. They received their EV grant for a semantic text analysis system based on graph similarity scores. The system (currently called the Knowledge Engine) will be used for perfectly private contextual advertising and will soon be expanded for other uses like better search engines, research tools and improved video streaming experiences. They hope to launch it commercially by the end of 2022.

Shriya Shankar:

Shriya Shankar is a 20-year-old social entrepreneur and computer science engineer from Bangalore and the founder of Project Sitara Foundation, which provides accessible STEM education to children from underserved communities. She received her EV grant to develop an accessible ed-tech series focused on contextualizing mathematics in Kannada to make learning more relatable and inclusive for children.

Baishali Bomjan and Bhuvana Anand

Baishali and Bhuvana are the co-founders of Trayas Foundation, an independent research and policy advisory organization that champions constitutional, social, and market liberalism in India through data-informed public discourse. Their particular focus is on dismantling regulatory bottlenecks to individual opportunity, dignity and freedom. The EV grant will support Trayas’s work for reforms in state labor regulations that ease doing business and further prosperity, and help end legal restrictions placed on women’s employment under India’s labor protection framework to engender economic agency for millions of Indians.

Akash Bhatia and Puru Botla / Infinite Analytics

Infinite Analytics received their first grant for developing the Sherlock platform to help Indian state governments with mobility analysis to combat Covid spread. Their second EV grant is to scale their platform and analyze patterns to understand the spread of the Delta variant in the 2021 Covid wave in India. They will analyze religious congregations, election rallies, crematoria footfalls and regular daily/weekly bazaars, and create capabilities to understand the spread of the virus in every city/town in India.

PS Vishnuprasad

Vishnuprasad is a 21-year-old BS-MS student at IISER Tirupati. He is interested in the intersection of political polarization and network science and focused on the emergence and spread of disinformation and fake news. He is working on the spread of disinformation and propaganda in spaces Indians use to access information on the internet. He received his EV grant to build a tool that tracks cross-platform spread of disinformation and propaganda on social media. He is also interested in the science of cooking and is a stand-up comedian and writer.

Prem Panicker:

Prem Panicker is a journalist, cricket writer, and founding editor of peepli.org, a site dedicated to multimedia long form journalism focused on the environment, man/animal conflict, and development. He received an EV grant to explore India’s 7,400 km coastline, with an emphasis on coastal erosion, environmental degradation, and the consequent loss of lives and livelihoods.

Vaidehi Tandel

Vaidehi Tandel is an urban economist and Lecturer at the Henley Business School in University of Reading. She is interested in understanding the challenges and potential of India’s urban transformation and her EV grant will support her ongoing research on the political economy of urbanization in India. She was part of the team led by Malani that won the EV Covid India prize.

Abhinav Singh

Abhinav recently completed his Masters in the Behavioral and Computational Economics program at Chapman University’s Economic Science Institute. His goal is to make political economy ideas accessible to young Indians, and support those interested in advancing critical thinking over policy questions. He received his EV grant to start Polekon, a platform that will host educational content and organize seminars on key political economy issues and build a community of young thinkers interested in political economy in India.

Bevin A./Contact

CONTACT was founded by two engineers Ann Joys and Bevin A. as a low-cost, voluntary, contact tracing solution. They used RFID tags and readers for consenting individuals to log their locations at various points like shops, hotels, educational institutions, etc. These data are anonymized and analyzed to track mobility and develop better Covid policies, while maintaining user anonymity.

Onkar Singh Batra

Onkar Singh is a 16-year-old developer/researcher and high school student in Jammu. He received his first EV grant for his Covid Care Jammu project. His goal is to develop India’s First Open-Source Satellite, and he is founder of Paradox Sonic Space Research Agency, a non-profit aerospace research organization developing inexpensive and open-source technologies. Onkar received his second EV grant to develop a high efficiency, low cost, nano satellite. Along with EV his project is also supported by an Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) grant. Onkar has a working engineering model and is developing the final flight model for launch in 2022.

StorySurf

Storysurf, founded by Omkar Sane and Chirag Anand, is based on the idea that stories are the simplest form of wisdom and that developing an ocean of stories is the antidote to social media polarization. They are developing both a network of writers, and a range of stories between 6-300 words in a user-friendly app to encourage people to read narratives. Through their stories, they hope to help more readers consume information and ideas through stories.

Naman Pushp/ Airbound

Airbound is cofounded by its CEO Naman Pushp, a 16 year old high-schooler from Mumbai passionate about engineering and robotics, and COO Faraaz Baig, a 20 year old self-taught programmer and robotics engineers from Bangalore. Airbound aims to make delivery accessible by developing a VTOL drone design that can use small businesses as takeoff/landing locations. They have also created the first blended wing body tail sitter (along with a whole host of other optimizations) to make this kind of drone delivery possible, safe and accessible.

Anup Malani / CMIE / Prabhat Jha

An joint grant to (1) Anup Malani, Professor at the University of Chicago, (2) The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), and (3) Prabhat Jha, Professor at University of Toronto and the Centre for Global Health Research, to determine the extent to which reported excess deaths in India are due to Covid. Recent studies show that that the pandemic in India may be associated with between 3 million to 4.9 million excess deaths, roughly 8-12 times officially reported number of COVID deaths. To determine how many of these deaths are statistically attributable to Covid, they will conduct verbal autopsies on roughly 20,000 deaths, with the results to be made publicly available.

And finally:

Aditya Dar/The Violence Archive

A joint grant to Aaditya Dar, an economist at Indian School of Business, Kiran Garimella, a computer scientist at Rutgers University and Vasundhara Sirnate, a political scientist and journalist for creating the India Violence Archive. They will use machine learning and natural language processing to develop an open-source historical record of collective public violence in India over 100 years. The goal is to create accessible and high-quality public data so civil society can pursue justice and governments can make better policy.

Those unfamiliar with Emergent Ventures can learn more here and here. EV India announcement here. More about the winners of EV India second cohort here. To apply for EV India, use the EV application click the “Apply Now” button and select India from the “My Project Will Affect” drop-down menu.

Note that EV India is led and run by Shruti Rajagopalan, I thank her for all of her excellent work on this!

Here is Shruti on Twitter, and here is her excellent Ideas of India podcast.  Shruti is herself an earlier Emergent Ventures winner, and while she is very highly rated remains grossly underrated.

Our world will stay weird

Aurea Smigrodzki was born in the USA last summer. She is the latest baby at the forefront of science. She is the first baby in history to be conceived with the help of polygenic testing. The test is fully named “preimplantation genetic testing for polygenic disorders”, or PGT-P for short.

Here is further information, the piece being written by the first IVF baby, which is now forty years ago.

Saturday assorted links

1. The reality show about activists has been…cancelled!  In both senses of the word, it seems.

2. Romer on boosters.  And brutal.  Ouch.  Yet Naftali Bennett has it right.

3. On Australian nuclear submarines.  And further analysis.

4. “Mr. Baker is the brains and the propulsive force behind an audacious new proposal to span the East River with a hybrid structure that would be part building, part bridge, and part mass transit conveyance…

5. Property boom on the Northern Irish coast?

6. Ross D. on The Matrix.  Says it is good.

Maybe the last sentence here is wrong?

“Barbarism” is perhaps best understood as a recurring syndrome among peripheral societies in response to the threats and opportunities presented by more developed neighbors. This article develops a mathematical model of barbarigenesis—the formation of “barbarian” societies adjacent to more complex societies—and its consequences, and applies the model to the case of Europe in the first millennium CE. A starting point is a game (developed by Hirshleifer) in which two players allocate their resources either to producing wealth or to fighting over wealth. The paradoxical result is that a richer and potentially more powerful player may lose out to a poorer player, because the opportunity cost of fighting is greater for the former. In a more elaborate spatial model with many players, the outcome is a wealth-power mismatch: central regions have comparatively more wealth than power, peripheral regions have comparatively more power than wealth. In a model of historical dynamics, a wealth-power mismatch generates a long-lasting decline in social complexity, sweeping from more to less developed regions, until wealth and power come to be more closely aligned. This article reviews how well this model fits the historical record of late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages in Europe both quantitatively and qualitatively. The article also considers some of the history left out of the model, and why the model doesn’t apply to the modern world.

That is by Doug Jones, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Ireland during World War II

The Republic of Ireland of course was neutral.  I had not known these facts:

1. Irish were allowed to emigrate to Britain to work, but with assurances they would not be conscripted.

2. Ireland engaged in heavy censorship during the War, mostly to stop people from getting the impression that the War was a moral struggle between good and evil.  The government wished to avoid pressure to enter the war, fearing the initial strong support for neutrality might fade.  This censorship even covered the telephone and telegraph, or at least tried to.

3. German broadcasts to Ireland did get through, and “There was still a tendency in Ireland at the end of the war to believe that Irish suffering was more marked than that experienced anywhere else in Europe, a narrow mindset which government policies facilitated.”

4. Erwin Schrödinger spent much of the War in Ireland.

5. The Belfast Blitz of 1941 made 100,000 homeless and damaged 53 percent of the homes in Belfast.

6. Following the death of Hitler, Irish Prime Minister Éamon de Valera visited the German embassy in Dublin to express his condolences, an action that was much criticized at the time.

That is all from The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, a quite good book by Diarmaid Ferriter.

Gödel Prize Winners Don’t Cosplay

Tim Roughgarden, a top-notch computer scientist (co-winner of a Gödel Prize), is teaching a class on blockchains. He’s only just begun to put up material but I liked this bit of “hype” from Lecture One.

It’s worth recognizing that we’re currently in a particular moment in time, witnessing a new area of computer science blossom before our eyes in real time. It draws on well-established parts of computer science (e.g., cryptography and distributed systems) and other fields (e.g., game theory and finance), but is developing into a fundamental and interdisciplinary area of science and engineering its own right. Future generations of computer scientists will be jealous of your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this new area–analogous to getting into the Internet and the Web in the early 1990s. I cannot overstate the opportunities available to someone who masters the material covered in this course–current demand is much, much bigger than supply.

And perhaps this course will also serve as a partial corrective to the misguided coverage and discussion of blockchains in a typical mainstream media article or water cooler conversation, which seems bizarrely stuck in 2013 (focused almost entirely on Bitcoin, its environmental impact, the use case of payments, Silk Road, etc.). An enormous number of people, including a majority of computer science researchers and academics, have yet to grok the modern vision of blockchains: a new computing paradigm that will enable the next incarnation of the Internet and the Web, along with an entirely new generation of applications.

I share Tim’s excitement at the possibilities. Indeed, I had the pleasure of working with Tim advising a blockchain project (sadly killed by the SEC). By the way, Silvio Micali, another winner of the Godel prize, is a prime mover behind the Algorand blockchain.

Addendum: Here’s a perfect example of a mainsteam media article stuck in 2013.

What should I ask David Rubinstein?

I will be doing a Conversation with him.  From Wikipedia:

David Mark Rubenstein (born August 11, 1949) is an American billionaire businessman. A former government official and lawyer, he is a co-founder and co-executive chairman of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group,[ a global private equity investment company based in Washington, D.C. He is chairman of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, former chairman of the Smithsonian Institution, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, and president of The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. According to Forbes, Rubenstein has a net worth of $3.7 billion.

David also has a new book out The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream.  So what should I ask him?

What I’ve been reading on Ireland

1. Susan McKay, Northern Protestants on Shifting Ground, and also Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People.  These two books straddle a journalistic and anthropological approach to what the titles indicate.  As one Protestant in the text remarked, Irish reunification would work just fine, it is the ten years getting there that everyone is afraid of.  It seems increasingly muddled what actually the Northern Irish Unionist is supposed to stand for — passionate attachment to union with an unwilling or indifferent partner, namely England?

2. David Dickson, The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation.  One of the best books on cities in recent years, and more general than the title might indicate.  I had not known that Waterford was once a rival for Dublin, or fully realized that Ireland has no significant city which is not right next to the coast.  Readable throughout, and gives you an excellent sense of how the Irish pecking order for cities evolved.  Recommended.

3. Fintan O’Toole, Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks.  Most educated outsiders approach Ireland through the lens of its rather prominent literary history (Joyce, Yeats, etc.).  That’s fine, but also somewhat misleading.  This book gives you an alternate tour — focused on modernism and the 20th century — through the visual arts, design, television, theatre, and more.  It should prove eyeopening to many people, and is also a wonderful book for browsing or as a guide to further study.  Harry Clarke’s stained glass “Eve of St. Agnes” work, located in Dublin and produced in the 1920s, is much more central to the Irish narrative than many people realize.

Thursday assorted links

1. “Moreover, we find a marked decay in background parental relatedness co-occurring with or shortly after the advent of sedentary agriculture.

2. Dwarkesh on Emergent Ventures and searching for talent.

3. The first mention of America in European chronicles?

4. New issue of Works in Progress.  Including update on the future of weight loss.

5. Why do no large U.S. cities vote Republican?

6. Experts worried about carbonated water (NYT).

7. The opposite of rational intertemporal substitution: “…as vaccinations roll out and the end of a pandemic feels closer, policies aimed at increasing social distancing will be less effective, and stricter policies might be required.”

Scott Gottlieb’s Uncontrolled Spread

Scott Gottlieb’s Uncontrolled Spread is superb. I reviewed it for the WSJ. Here’s one bit:

If there’s one overarching theme of “Uncontrolled Spread,” it’s that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed utterly. It’s now well known that the CDC didn’t follow standard operating procedures in its own labs, resulting in contamination and a complete botch of its original SARS-CoV-2 test. The agency’s failure put us weeks behind and took the South Korea option of suppressing the virus off the table. But the blunder was much deeper and more systematic than a botched test. The CDC never had a plan for widespread testing, which in any scenario could only be achieved by bringing in the big, private labs.

Instead of working with the commercial labs, the CDC went out of its way to impede them from developing and deploying their own tests. The CDC wouldn’t share its virus samples with commercial labs, slowing down test development. “The agency didn’t view it as a part of its mission to assist these labs.” Dr. Gottlieb writes. As a result, “It would be weeks before commercial manufacturers could get access to the samples they needed, and they’d mostly have to go around the CDC. One large commercial lab would obtain samples from a subsidiary in South Korea.”

At times the CDC seemed more interested in its own “intellectual property” than in saving lives. In a jaw-dropping section, Dr. Gottlieb writes that “companies seeking to make the test kits described extended negotiations with the CDC that stretched for weeks as the agency made sure that the contracts protected its inventions.” When every day of delay could mean thousands of lives lost down the line, the CDC was dickering over test royalties.

In the early months of the pandemic the CDC impeded private firms from developing their own tests and demanded that all testing be run through its labs even as its own test failed miserably and its own labs had no hope of scaling up to deal with the levels of testing needed. Moreover, the author notes, because its own labs couldn’t scale, the CDC played down the necessity of widespread testing and took “deliberate steps to enforce guidelines that would make sure it didn’t receive more samples than its single lab could handle.”

Read the whole thing.

Addendum: My previous reviews of Michael Lewis’s The Premonition, Slavitt’s Preventable and Abutaleb and Paletta’s Nightmare Scenario.