Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cracked takes on AirBNB

For a wide range of business models, the advent of the Internet and smartphones greatly reduced barriers to entry, transaction costs , and turnaround time. One predictable result was that very small scale businesses became practical. For instance, before eBay, you probably needed to accumulate at least a few hundred dollars worth of collectibles to make it worth your time to sell them. After eBay, the cut-off was more like 30 or 40 bucks. The basic business was the same. What had changed were the size of the market you could easily reach and the threshold of how big a transaction needed to be to make it worth pursuing.

This could be very beneficial. For one thing, it allows us to take better advantage of people and resources that have been underutilized up till now. On the other side of the scale, there are serious concerns about abuses and unintended consequences. How do you control fraud, guarantee quality, maintain safe and reasonable working conditions? What's worse, the contact point between these vast markets of buyers and sellers often comes down to one company (two if you're lucky). This means there is a huge potential for these companies accumulating both monopoly and monopsony  power.

This might be OK if the "new economy" were occurring under better conditions, but it's not. We have gutted regulation and largely abandoned the concept of antitrust laws. We can't even have an intelligent conversation on the subject because almost the entire discussion now consists of bullshit narratives about visionary CEOs and ddulite  dreams of the future.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

There's always Ann Coulter.. No,wait. Strike that.

The relationship between the nominally liberal mainstream press (exemplified by the New York Times)  and the GOP is an enormously complex story, and I'm still very much paying catch-up with other demands, so I don't have time for connecting the dots (just making individual dots is pushing the bandwidth). I did however want to mention this Josh Marshall post.

 Since at least sometime in the 1980s, the mainstream press has taken charges of liberal bias very seriously. Its response has overwhelmingly been defensive and conciliatory. Media handlers in the conservative movement have gotten very adept at using this as yet another tool to manipulate press coverage.

As is so often the case, Donald Trump has taken a long-standing and highly questionable practice or position and made it so blatant it has to be acknowledged for what it is.

From Josh Marshall:

[T]his year we still haven't heard who the moderators are going to be because the Commission is trying to be sure they pick people who Donald Trump or his supporters won't view as biased against him.

That is a huge, huge problem. Obviously this should always be a top priority. The moderators shouldn't have a bias against either candidate. But Trump of course sees everybody who is not obsequious and toady-ish as biased against him. Over recent weeks he's made Sean Hannity his official interviewer, like a doofus Boswell to Trump's clownshow Dr. Johnson.

He tried to set the tone with those silly complaints about conflicts with NFL games. And the only reason to be especially solicitous of these concerns is that Trump has a history of complaining. This is no more than recapitulating his strategy through life, business and this political race: start with aggressive over-the-top demands, try to assert dominance at the outset so as to engage solely on his own terms and with his dominance already an accepted fact.

In any case, they're not going to find anybody Trump won't claim is biased. No one. Literally, no one unless it's someone like Hannity or Hugh Hewitt. My concern is he's gotten inside their heads with his antics and they'll find someone who is a known softballer or someone who actually is biased in favor of Trump. More likely they will create a situation where the moderator is given a brief which makes them fall over themselves to prove they are not biased against Trump.

Perhaps we'll find out that they're just doing an extra level of vetting to make sure the people they pick didn't say something mean about Trump six months ago or something - though frankly, how many sentient people haven't made some critical comment about Trump in the last year?

Monday, August 29, 2016

The logical result of an illogical policy

[I plan to come back when I have more time and fill in some detail, but for now I think the short version does have a certain pithy quality.]

Due to a largely recent (think 21st Century) cover-your-ass definition of balance, the ethical concerns about then Secretary Clinton meeting with a Nobel Peace Prize winner merits more coverage than Donald Trump being in bed with not one, but two of the five families of the New York Mafia.

Nancy LeTourneau
But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

During the time that Clinton was Secretary of State, the government of Bangladesh was trying to discredit Yunus and remove him from leadership at Grameen Bank due to the fact that he was seen as a political threat.

Matt Yglesias:

According to their reporting, Clinton spent a remarkably large share of her time as America’s chief diplomat talking to people who had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. She went out of her way to help these Clinton Foundation donors, and her decision to do so raises important concerns about the ethics of her conduct as secretary and potentially as president. It’s a striking piece of reporting that made immediate waves in my social media feed, as political journalists of all stripes retweeted the story’s headline conclusions.

Except it turns out not to be true. The nut fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Here’s the bottom line: Serving as secretary of state while your husband raises millions of dollars for a charitable foundation that is also a vehicle for your family’s political ambitions really does create a lot of space for potential conflicts of interest. Journalists have, rightly, scrutinized the situation closely. And however many times they take a run at it, they don’t come up with anything more scandalous than the revelation that maybe billionaire philanthropists have an easier time getting the State Department to look into their visa problems than an ordinary person would.

And Scott Lemieux:

There is a liberal critique of the Clinton Foundation, which as recently as last month I found fairly credible, that even if they weren’t doing anything wrong, it created the unnecessary potential appearance of corruption. The view of the Clintons is apparently that literally anything they do will be treated as scandalous so if they think the Clinton Foundation is a net positive it’s worth doing. I suppose both can be true, but the ridiculous reporting this week makes me think that the latter position is more accurate.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Déjà vu all over again

At the risk of repeating myself...

Check out these two ads.

Here's what the Clinton campaign released this week.

And here's one from the Democratic candidate of a few years ago. [Warning: offensive language.]

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adam's back

With the perfect topic for my last week in the Studio City adjacent section of North Hollywood.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

When I have time I need to come back to this

This observation from Paul Krugman is both accurate and important:

But most of all, this kind of punditry, while ostensibly praising the Real America, is in fact marked by deep condescension. One pats the simple folk on the head, praising their lack of exposure to quinoa or Thai food — both of which can be found in food courts all across the country. Sorry, but there are no country bumpkins in modern America. Most of us, in all walks of life, have a pretty good sense of the full range of things our culture offers, even if too many can’t afford to participate in some of it. You might even say that the only segment of our society that seems truly unaware of how others live is a certain segment of the commentariat, blinded by its simultaneous romanticization of and contempt for working-class white America.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Light posting for a awhile

Light posting for the nest day or two due to a well-timed move. I say the timing was good because, starting a week ago, this was the view from my apartment's bedroom window (commencing at seven every morning).

Here's the view from my new bedroom. 

This is a couple of miles from downtown LA and less than a mile from Sunset Blvd. Steep hills make for confusing maps but I don't mind the sacrifice.

Monday, August 22, 2016

College Humor -- "If Internet Ads Were Salesmen "

I keep meaning to do a post about the terrible state of targeted marketing. When I get around to it, remind me to embed this. At least half of the points I want to hit are illustrated here.


After I scheduled this in the form above, Josh Marshall posted a piece on internet advertising and the death of Gawker. It contains an informative primer on how this stuff works.

Many people think that the more popular a publication gets the more ads it will sell. The bigger the audience, the more eyeballs, the more ads wanting contact with those eyeballs. That's not how it works.

There are a million dimensions to the advertising economy, just as many ways of describing it. But you can understand a whole lot about how the whole thing works by thinking in terms of three factors: 1) endemic sales proposition, 2) controversy and 3) influence.

Let's talk first about endemic sales proposition. Because I think it may have played some role in Gawker's demise (on-going legal liability may have played more of a factor or have been the entirety of the issue). A site about clothes has an endemic sales proposition: selling clothes. A site about books: books. You may say well, I only read sites about news and sports but I still buy a lot of clothes so ... Not how it works.

For a variety of reasons, some good and evidence based, others silly, advertisers want to sell you their product when you are thinking about it and in the mindset to buy. This doesn't just mean impulse purchases, but buying in general. In many cases that makes a lot of sense.

For instance, aside from people being really into tech, why do you think there are so many tech sites? Right, because there's a ton of money in video games, devices, computers, everything under the sun. People also tend to buy those things online. Again, we're not just talking about impulse buying. It can be more nuanced and less direct. But if you stand up a site about tech, gaming, computers, etc. and it does well, you have a ready made channel for ad sales. And in the case of tech an extremely lucrative one.

Sometimes it's a little more amorphous but no less ad driven. Why so many 'lifestyle' publications? Well, we all need a lifestyle, of course. And general interest magazines cover many interesting topics. But by and large that's because you're aiming for an audience of people who are affluent and want to read about cool things affluent people do: travel, toys, aspirational personal development. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as they used to say on Seinfeld. But that's what it's about.

Next, controversy. This largely speaks for itself. Advertisers don't want to be around things that upset people or divide people. They want to be everyone's friend. They don't want negative ideas or stories to rub off on them. This isn't an absolute of course. Plenty of sites which court controversy sell tons of ads. Gawker's a prime example. But controversy is always a constraint on ad sales. You just may have other factors that overcome it.

Next, influence. This is an inherently small and nebulous part of the equation. But it's key for many publications. Many ads aren't trying to sell you anything directly. They're trying to tell you stories, shape your thinking, advocate positions. Political ads are like this. But they're mass market since obviously everyone can vote - at least in states without Republican governors and Secretaries of State. But where the money is is with people who are considered influential in various communities, so-called "opinion-leaders".

Here's an example. Go to the subways in New York you'll see ads for storage rentals, lawyers, grocery deliveries, breast augmentations, ESL courses. Go to Washington DC and you'll see ads for ... Kazakhstan or Northrup Grumman or PhRMA or well ... you get the idea. There are lots of people who care a lot about what people in the nation's capital think. And yes, TPM very much plays in that ad space. TPM and similar sites lose big on #1 and #2. But #3 is where there's a business that can drive ad sales.
As a marketing statistician, I'd like to emphasize the point about "reasons, some good and evidence based, others silly." Most of the people buying these ads, including high-level executives at Fortune 500 companies, have a very weak grasp of how targeted advertising works.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What a 12-year-old in the early Fifties expected the 21st Century to look like

The year was 1951, the Publisher was Ziff-Davis, the artist was Murphy Anderson, and the improbable title was "Lars of Mars."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The back of the queue is packed; front is almost empty -- updated

Busy, busy days (details to follow), but we can always count on the Trump's campaign for something to pass the time.

For something less amazing but more disturbing we turn to Marketplace and a profoundly annoyed Kai Ryssdal.

Comment would be superfluous.


From Yahoo:
In a conversation with Yahoo News shortly after the conversation aired, Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and attorney at the Trump Organization, said he believed he “controlled the interview” with Brianna Keilar.

“I think I unraveled her,” Cohen boasted.

Earlier comment on comment still holds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

If James Whitmore were alive alive he'd be booked solid

I don't want to get too deeply into this (we have too many threads running already) but Ken Levine (Writer/director/producer of may be two thirds of the television, you've ever seen) has an excellent post up on the economics of theater, both in general and specific to Los Angeles.

Anyone who has any interest in the politics of organized labor should dig a bit further into the Actors' Equity story, if just for the strange bedfellows moment of seeing Tim Robbins on the anti-union side of the debate.

In her Playbill bio, Ms. Mode notes that since 2001 FULLY COMMITTED has been one of the ten most produced plays in the United States. Very impressive. And not to take anything away from it…


It’s one actor, one desk, and two phones. It also must be one of the ten cheapest plays to produce in the United States. The actor gets quite a workout, but still, it’s very doable. Especially if a theatre is planning its season and has another play that requires say...actual costumes.

The theatre scene is really run today on a tight budget. When I wrote my first play it was extremely well received and got big laughs during staged readings. But the late Garry Marshall summed it up. He read the play, called me, and said: “Very funny. Too many people.” Neophyte that I was, I had written a play with seven characters. In today’s world, that was like writing LES MISERABLES on spec.

The requirements today (unless you’re Tony Kushner or Tom Stoppard) are this: No more than four actors, preferably one set or just a few props that can suffice for a set, and not a lot of wardrobe or effects. I feel bad for us playwrights because that severely limits the kinds of plays we can write, but I feel worse for the actors. Twenty years there were a lot more parts out there for thesps. And unlike writing where all we need is an idea and Final Draft, actors have to be hired in order to practice their craft.


Getting a play on Broadway, even a modest one, requires a bankable star. If Jesse Tyler Ferguson was in THE MINDY PROJECT, as sensational as he is in FULLY COMMITTED, no chance does he do that play on Broadway.

In Los Angeles, we have the added hurdle of the ridiculous Equity mandate that actors be paid minimum wage for all performances and rehearsals for shows playing in venues of 99 seats or less. Two-thirds of their membership voted NOT to enact that provision but the Equity board in New York ignored them and instituted it anyway. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New article

This is Joseph

Here is an interesting article on Education Reform that might be worth looking at.  One of the authors should be familiar to our readers. 

I grew up with a lot of Trae Crowders

And they're still easier to find than you might think.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Test-based education reform -- when a means to an end becomes the end itself

From 11-year-old Peyton Mears:

From Valerie Strauss writing for the Washington Post [emphasis added]:
In Florida (you knew it was Florida, didn’t you?), some third-graders — including honor students — are being forced to retake third grade because their parents decided to opt them out of the state’s mandated standardized reading test this past spring.

An undetermined number of third-graders who refused to take the Florida Standards Assessment in reading have been barred from moving to fourth grade in some counties. A lawsuit filed by parents against state education officials as well as school boards in seven Florida counties says counties are interpreting the state’s third-grade retention law so differently that the process has become unfair. Test participation, therefore, is more important than student class academic achievement.

On Friday, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers held a hearing in the suit about the third-grade retention law, which was passed years ago, when Jeb Bush was governor and at a time when there was no movement among parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. Now the opt-out movement is growing, and officials in Florida as well in other states are trying to figure out how to handle students who won’t take mandated standardized tests. It is unclear how many students in Florida opted out of the 2016 test, though in New York state, 21 percent of public school students did.
There are few decisions that conscientious educators take more seriously than whether or not to have a child retake or skip a grade. Sometimes it turns very badly (the resulting anxiety stayed with Charles M. Schulz for the rest of his life); other times it's the best thing that could happen to a kid. Children have different abilities and they develop at different rates. Being held to some Procrustean standard can be unimaginably stressful.

To hold back kids who are performing at or above grade level, to take them away from their friends, to make them slog through a year of mind-numbing boredom just to punish certain parents is perhaps the most inexcusable policy decision I've ever seen. If this goes through, it will be a traumatic experience for most, possibly all, of these children and will do permanent damage to their educations. 

For the record, the vast majority of people who go into education (even those who disagree with me) do so for the best possible motives. I'm sure this applies to these Florida state education officials, but I'm equally sure that the officials' good intentions will be damned little comfort to a ten-year-old who has to pay for these decisions. 

Friday, August 12, 2016


When someone makes the inevitable movie of this campaign, they should make sure to include Trump tweets in the scene breaks. These 140 character glimpses into the id have added greatly to the surrealism of the past year.