Make it a good one.
Schlock Mercenary: February 23, 2017
31 minutes ago
Comments, observations and thoughts from two left coast bloggers on applied statistics, higher education and epidemiology. Joseph is a new assistant professor. Mark is a marketing statistician and former math teacher.
This isn’t surprising, as the suburban and small town/rural parts of Metro’s service area are over-represented on the board, and they’re simply fighting for their interests. But the risk to the (high-performing, heavily used, high farebox-recovery*) core Seattle routes might be more palatable given that Seattle’s prop 1 funded service hours make Seattle seem flush with service, such that they can afford to give it up. To take Prop 1 money and use it to pay for non-Seattle routes would be flatly illegal, but to achieve the same allocation of service hours through a change to the service revision guidelines isn’t. If this has a significant impact on future service allocations, it’ll be in the direction of reducing frequency in Seattle, keeping the kind of frequency that might support car-free living out of reach, while subsidizing commuter bus service that makes autocentric (for all but commuting to work) sprawl more viable.This approach, if it remains, is a very bad use of incentives. The places that decided not to fund additional services get them via a change in the service revision guidelines simply means that Seattle is paying for everyone's transit. That isn't exactly a good basis to make future transportation policy on as this would eventually make the Seattle folks think they are being played for suckers.
Quick, which is the better deal:
Watch videos online and pay $649 for three credits.
Take a class with a human being and pay $252 for three credits.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. To the extent that folks watched MOOCs in the same way that they watch, say, TED talks, I don’t see the harm in it. But to the extent that the partnership was supposed to be about opening pathways to bachelor’s degrees, it doesn’t come close to comparing to the already-established route of starting at a community college -- in this case, I used the tuition rate of Maricopa Community College, the largest feeder to ASU -- and transferring.
The program didn’t even follow the usual “script” for “disruptive innovations.” It came in at a higher cost than a respected, existing alternative. That’s not how disruption is supposed to work. I have to wonder at the implied invisibility of the single largest sector of American higher education, but that’s another discussion.
ASU was essentially trying to charge premium prices for Prior Learning Assessment and hope nobody would notice. A savvy student could simply watch the MOOC and then take a CLEP exam for credit for less than a hundred bucks. I admire the audacity of the effort, though I admire more the clarity with which most people saw it.
Last night, Senator Ted Cruz demonstrated the depth of his ignorance about all things military when he said (and quoting him exactly is important):BLITZER: Would you carpet bomb Raqqa the ISIS Capital, where there are a lot of civilians? CRUZ: You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops, you use air power directed, and you have embedded special forces to direct the air power. But the object isn't to level a city, the object is to kill the ISIS terrorists...Except earlier Cruz said, like, with his outside voice, this:We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out."I don't know if you caught that. Senator Ted Cruz proposed that as President of the United States, he would use nuclear weapons to bomb, indiscriminately, civilian population centers where ISIS holds people hostage.
Carpet bombing is a tactic, and a measure of last resort. It is also now widely understood to be effectively illegal under the Law of Armed Conflict, which would make the United States' use of this tactic a war crime. It is different from precision bombing, guided by Special Operations Forces, the standard tactic for our armed forces today.
Today, with precision weapons, we drop bombs that go precisely where we want them. We do not drop unguided bombs indiscriminately on civilian population centers, as we have in the past. We, unlike some others, have precision weapons now. The Law of Armed Conflict is pretty clear that if precision is an option, you are not allowed to "carpet bomb" in civilian areas. (You are not allowed to anyway, but there is a mitigating factor that deals with "proportionality" as well. We'll leave that for another time.) ISIS, for its part, does not occupy a whole lot of conventional military-like defensive positions out in the desert either. Its operatives are embedded in the population centers, the villages, towns, and cities. Flattening entire cities to kill a few dozen or even a hundred ISIS fighters would be "disproportionate," just as it would be if we were fighting a conventional military force.
Cruz, on the other hand, is not likable. And thoroughly unlikeable people do not win the presidency.
As I've written, in part from personal experience, there does not seem to be any social milieu in which Cruz has spent any amount of time in in which virtually everyone didn't dislike him. College, Law School, high profile legal work, Senate, etc. He has the uncanny and almost ingenious ability to radiate both intensely grating insincerity with wildly convincing true-believer-ism. His political appeal is geared to people who are alienated and angry enough that the mix of aggression, indifference, and exploitativeness he radiates is one that these people can identify with.
Second is simply ideology. Cruz is way too rightwing for a national campaign. This is almost mathematical. He's very right wing and unlike George W. Bush presents his hard right politics in a pure and unmediated form. That is a recipe for a staggering defeat in a national election. Just as importantly, I do not think Cruz is either temperamentally capable, interested or able to significant shift off those views in a general election. Part of it is character and part of it is simply that he's created to long a paper trail. There is no credible softer, gentler Ted Cruz who cares about people like you.
He would certainly have impassioned and intense support from the base of his party and some of the more conservative elements of the financial services community - something that Trump might struggle with. But beyond that he would have great difficulty.
“We have a triple whammy,” he said. “One whammy is sea-level rise. Another whammy is the water table comes up higher, too. And in this area the higher the water table, the less space you have to absorb storm water. The third whammy is if the rainfall extremes change, and become more extreme. There are other whammies probably that I haven’t mentioned. Someone said the other day, ‘The water comes from six sides in Florida.’ ”This just seems to be set up to make flooding routine and will likely take out the local drinking water too (as sea water invades the limestone). Why is this not a matter of bigger concern?
The second provision relates to a campaign by investors and Democrats to prod the SEC into forcing corporations to disclose their political spending. The idea gained steam from a 2011 petition by a group of corporate law experts arguing that the Citizens United decision made corporate disclosure especially urgent. The petition has attracted 1.2 million public comments, the most in the SEC's history. The budget bill prohibits the agency from spending any funds to "finalize, issue, or implement" any rule on disclosure of political contributions.
As the petition observed, shareholder interest in such disclosure was so strong that more than half the companies in the Standard & Poor's 100 index had voluntarily adopted the policy by 2011. But the pace of adoption had slowed considerably in recent years, suggesting that SEC action is needed.
Indeed, the Supreme Court in Citizens United placed great weight on the value of disclosure -- perhaps naively so. "With the advent of the Internet," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters." Disclosure would enable shareholders to "determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are 'in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests."
But as the law professors noted, this system doesn't work unless shareholders "have information about the company’s political speech....Absent disclosure, shareholders are unable to hold directors and executives accountable when they spend corporate funds on politics in a way that departs from shareholder interests."Now, stop me if you have heard this before but don't the shareholders actually own the company? How does allowing the managers of a company (owned by other people) conceal information about the use of corporate resources help matters? Companies are already dealing with a host of principal agent problems but these can only be compounded by allowing these things to do done in secret. If the political goals of the company advance the interests of the shareholders then should this not be the sort of thing that corporate executives should be able to easily justify?
Again and again over the last six months we've seen Donald Trump take memes and messages which are either implicit in mainstream Republican politics or explicit on the fringes of conservatism and make them loud and explicit. That might be on bashing Mexican immigrants, banning Muslims or any number of other examples. Now we're seeing the same thing with Vladimir Putin.
As I've written on a number of occasions and as many others have noticed, US Republicans are really, really into Vladimir Putin. Yes, yes, they think he's a menace, threatening us in Ukraine and Syria and so forth, overmanning President Obama on various fronts. But it's been pretty clear that for many Republicans, while they decry him as evil and awful, they actually like the way he acts. He doesn't pussyfoot around. He doesn't do nuance. If he doesn't get respect, he invades. He doesn't dilly-dally around in Syria, he just goes in and starts shooting. My erstwhile pals over at Bloomberg news several weeks ago had a lede that read something to the effect of, Barack Obama has been hemming and hawing about a Syria no fly zone for years, Putin just took over the skies overnight.
Trump is now on this, too. First saying he's proud to have the admiration of such a respected leader like Vladimir Putin. And this morning, well, if Putin occasionally has to kill a domestic critic, at least he knows how to lead.
Viewed objectively, the prequels are “bad films” for the same reasons that plenty of other (substantially worse!) special-effects blockbusters are bad films: Poorly scripted, badly acted, tonally askew, etc. But as a young-ish fanboy back in the day, what really bugged me was that they didn’t “feel” STAR WARS enough, by which of course I mean that they didn’t remain slavishly devoted to the aesthetic and trappings I’d grown up obsessed with and didn’t throw out nearly enough references and callbacks and, well… “Star Wars” stuff. Whatever bad things you can say about THE PHANTOM MENACE, you can’t accuse George Lucas of pandering to the audience – that was ATTACK OF THE CLONES
My point is: I’ve long held a sneaky (and depressing) suspicion that if the prequels had been exactly as lacking on a technical filmmaking and storytelling level BUT had also been suitably packed to the gills with the requisite amount of fan-service, said fans would’ve largely overlooked those flaws and still be arguing their merits today.
And I’d been worried that I’d get a chance to test this hypothesis ever since it became clear that Disney and Lucasfilm were intent on selling THE FORCE AWAKENS based almost-exclusively around proving that they’d been listening to the last decade-plus of fanboy complaints; with a pre-release hype machine that ignored almost all discussion of story, themes or characters in favor of: “We’re using practical effects and models again!” “NO midichlorians!” “X-Wings and Tie-Fighters and Storm Troopers and The Falcon!” “Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie are all back!” Heck, they even went so far as to hire JJ Abrams – a remarkably UN-remarkable talent whose only skillset of genuine note is being an exceptional mimic of the style and feel of other peoples’ movies. If ever there was going to be a recipe to make O.G. STAR WARS fans spontaneously combust with joy *regardless* of whether or not the movie was actually any damn good, this was it.
BUT! My hypothesis will have to wait for another day. Because in spite of all that (and, if we’re being far, probably because of some of it) STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a pretty damn good movie. And since it in no way needed to be, I suppose that’s damn impressive in its own right.
Make no mistake though: What we’ve got here is effectively the world’s first $200 million STAR WARS fan-film – and I don’t use that designation to be flippant nor entirely critical. THE FORCE AWAKENS is scratching a nostalgia itch out of pure profit motive, but for good or ill the attachment generations of filmgoers have to the sights, sounds and characters of the original trilogy is a real, palpable thing that exists on a level above the base toy-salesmanship that grew to feed off of it. Yes, the narrative is pretty much a leisurely stroll down memory lane (with frequent detours onto Homage Avenue) but mostly feels organic and natural about it at least until you stop and start questioning the coincidences that have always been a big part of the series’ storytelling.
I was talking about this with one of our editors as I came back to New York on the train yesterday. And one key piece of reporting was this piece in The New York Times which reported: None of the background checks "uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad."
That seems pretty clear cut. Now it also appears to be false. And as Erik Wemple notes here, it's a huge difference, much more than a simple difference between posting a private message and posting on your timeline. One set of facts is roughly the equivalent to finding out after the fact that Malik had discussed jihad with friends via email. The other makes the entire government counter-terrorism operation seem incompetent. Even unintentionally, it amounts to mainstream media disinformation.
The Times is kinda sorta correcting itself now and saying it will look into how it got this wrong. The LATimes, which actually got the key fact right, is also in CYA mode.
I say this with some discomfort. Because I have many friends at the Times. And I am certain I will hear from them. But I highlight this because it is a pattern with the Times - to some extent with the elite media generally, but particularly the Times.
Back when I was reporting on 9/11 and the Iraq War and all the different elements of counter-terrorism and national security policy in the early Bush years, I would do my own reporting but also pore over the best reporting to find nuggets of factual details I would weave, with links and credit, into what I was writing on TPM. The Post was simply peerless for this, a constant wealth of information. The Journal was too, though not quite as full as the Post. And there were of course many others, Knight-Ridder, various newspapers, blogs, etc. But the Times was consistently poor.
Or perhaps a better way to put it was that it was poor for my needs. It aimed at such a general audience and seemed focused on writing the broad, definitive piece that articles were published with such a level of vagueness that there weren't a lot of factual details to work with.
So it wasn't that they were wrong or inaccurate necessarily - just vague and unspecific.
Except when they were totally wrong. We know all about Judith Miller's reporting and that of many others' at the Times that credulously accepted bespoke 'leaks' from government officials in the years just after 9/11. Then there was this more recent example of the FBI criminal probe into Hillary Clinton which turned out not to exist.
The New York Times has a serious source pollution problem. As is now obvious, somebody fed the paper bad information on San Bernardino murderess Tashfeen Malik's social media habits. It was said that she was posting jihadist screeds on Facebook. The Times hyped the scoop by stating pretty clearly that the government—and the administration running it—slipped up. It was the inspiration for endless bloviating about how "political correctness is killing people" at Tuesday night's Republican debate. Then comes FBI director James Comey to say that, no, there were no public Facebook posts that the government missed because there weren't any at all.
More than a few people have noted that two of the three reporters who were fed this story also had their bylines on the notorious (and thoroughly debunked) piece about how the FBI had launched a "criminal inquiry" into Hillary Rodham Clinton's alleged mishandling of classified materials in her e-mails. Pretty clearly, somebody's peddling bad information and its apparent purpose is to submarine both the current Democratic administration and the prospective one. I'm more concerned about that than I am about the Times' having fallen for it. If the same source is responsible for both of these debacles, then that source should be outed by the reporters who currently are twisting in the wind.
Before the battleship event, I walked up and down the long line of ticket holders— an estimated 800 supporters paid as much as $1,000 to behold the candidate in the flesh — and asked a simple question: What do you like most about Trump? Everybody gave me the same answer. Each person phrased it differently, but it all basically boiled down to one thing — the single characteristic, more than wealth, fame or narcissism, that best defines the Donald.When Trump supporters talk about their candidate being frank and decisive, Romano hears "disrespect." This probably tells us far more about the reporter than about the reportee.
Trump disrespects politics. He disrespects the process. He disrespects the rhetoric. He disrespects his fellow candidates. And his fans love that, because they really, really disrespect politics, too.
“It’s his frankness,” said Mark Gutierrez, a Marine Corp veteran and retired L.A. Water and Power employee. “He’s not worried about being politically correct. He’s just going to tell it like it is. The things that people are feeling, he’s saying.”
His wife, Darlene, nodded. “There’s too much political correctness,” she told me. “People are tired of listening to all these meek and regular promises that the candidates make every four years. Trump just says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”
Further back in the line, a clothing designer named Gina Calabrase echoed what the Gutierrezes were saying. “Instead of being wishy-washy, Trump makes decisions,” Calabrase explained. “He’s saying things that a lot of people aren’t going to like. Usually, a politician would back off in that case. But Trump sticks to it. He owns it — like it or not.”
In fact, the biggest problem for ITHOTS was its lofty production cost. I understand that the cost originally started at $85M but swelled as the director and his crew contended with the challenges of shooting on the water (always costly), followed by VFX which was the primary reason why the film was delayed from its original March 13 date to December 11.
2. A Trump independent candidacy would have down-ballot benefits for the party. Trump would split apart the Republican vote at the presidential level, but the socially conservative white working-class voters who turn out to vote for him would overwhelmingly pull the lever for Republicans in Congress (and in state elections). The deepest risk Republicans face is the prospect of an electoral wipeout that puts its control of Congress at risk. An independent Trump candidacy would close off such a prospect.
A little while ago I went rug shopping. Four rugs were laid out on the floor and among them was one with a pink motif that was dazzlingly beautiful. It was complex and sophisticated. If you had asked me at that moment which rug I wanted, I would have said the pink one.The rug story is simple and accessible, but it does a good job capturing the underlying dynamic. Home furnishings are definitely an area where most of us tend to initially gravitate toward the flashy before having second thoughts and opting for the more tasteful. It is not at all unreasonable to suggest that voting might follow a similar pattern .
This conviction lasted about five minutes. But then my mentality flipped and I started asking some questions. Would the furniture go with this rug? Would this rug clash with the wall hangings? Would I get tired of its electric vibrancy?
Suddenly a subtler and more prosaic blue rug grabbed center stage. The rugs had not changed, but suddenly I wanted the blue rug. The pink rug had done an excellent job of being eye-popping on its own. The blue rug was doing an excellent job of being a rug I could enjoy living with.
The key element of the Kasich myth is the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which he credits with producing surpluses in the 1990s. “I balanced the budget in Washington as a chief architect,” he claimed at the last Republican debate, echoing a frequent boast. Kasich’s iteration of his origin story is almost a pure inversion of fiscal reality.
Kasich, in other words, opposed the two main laws that created the balanced budget in the 1990s, and supported one that had nothing to do with it. He continues to maintain that he would oppose any tax increase, even a budget deal that combined a 10-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes.
Building upon his almost entirely imagined record as mastermind of the 1990s budget surplus, Kasich touts what he and his press clippings call his “plan” to balance the budget in eight years. In actuality, it is not a plan at all. Kasich has a bunch of numbers for spending, but he does not say what he would do to arrive at those numbers. For instance, he would freeze all domestic discretionary spending, a wide catch-all category of general federal spending on scientific research, infrastructure, law enforcement, and many other things. This spending has absorbed deep cuts for several years — so deep, in fact, that Republicans in Congress have had trouble funding tolerable savings and compromised on a plan to cancel out some of the additional cutting. Kasich proposes to hold spending on this category constant in nominal dollars, which means that, accounting for population growth and inflation, services will have to be reduced every year. Kasich does not specify how he would allocate those service cuts.
Balancing that off is Kasich’s plan to cut taxes. There is not yet an official score for the cost of Kasich’s plan, a fact that by itself nullifies the campaign's claim to have a plan to balance the budget. You can't bring revenues and outlays into line if you have no idea what revenue levels will be. Imagine a business claiming it has a target date for breaking even, and then conceding it has no idea whatsoever what its earnings will be.
By the eyeball test, the scale of the revenue lost by Kasich's tax cuts will be absolutely massive. Kasich would cut the top tax rate to 28 percent from its current 39.6 percent rate. He would cut the capital gains tax rate from 25 percent to 15 percent, cut the estate tax rate from 40 percent to zero, cut the business tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and allow businesses to immediately write off the full cost of all investments — a tax cut for the rich of a scale never before seen in American history. Kasich would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, which is nice, though it further raises questions as to where he will find the trillions of dollars in savings to pay for all this. Kasich’s campaign tells me that he believes deep tax cuts will encourage faster growth, undeterred by the clear past failure of his beliefs about tax rates and growth.
In sum, it is inaccurate to say Kasich has a plan to balance the budget. It would be accurate to say that he is promising to eliminate the deficit, but he has a plan to dramatically increase it, at least if you define plan to mean the actual change to taxes and spending that he has specified.
There are a few reasons that guys like these are churning through these food mashups right now. One big one is fast food is losing market share to places like Chipotle, Panera, more upscale, healthier. So a way for fast food to compete is to go in the other direction-- downscale, greasier, sell to their core customers, 18 to 34-year-old guys. Though industry analysts told me it's nearly as many women as men.
And of course, there's money to be made in selling a sandwich that makes people want to take a picture of themselves while they eat it, but only to a point. The question is, will they eat it twice? The Double Down, you know the one where the chicken is the bun, as groundbreaking as it was, it didn't sell that great after people tried it once. Brad, Bruce, Mark, and Eric say it's too expensive to roll out a new product that you'd never order twice.
This is a taco that's the talk of the town.
What they want is something that food industry people say Taco Bell did better than anybody in 2012, when they released that taco whose shell was a Dorito.
It's what one marketing consultant calls a marriage made in belly busting heaven. Doritos, the Super Bowl brand that helped turn America into a nation of chunky chip munchers, providing a nacho cheese flavored shell.
The Doritos Locos Taco sold and sold and sold and sold-- $375 million in its first year. This is an amazing year for Taco Bell. Every sandwich that arrives on our plates here in Hardee's test kitchen, that is the goal.
Assuming both the rumor and the speculation are sound (and there's lots of other evidence that Hollywood has a growing problem with budget spirals), this raises some perplexing questions.
Fans of the DC Television Universe might have some reason to worry. While the creation of the first season of Legends of Tomorrow is underway, it has come out that the CW may have overextended themselves in regards to budget. It seems that the first season of the Legends of Tomorrow is more expensive than the network originally anticipated. Intel from Bleeding Cool is now claiming that the CW may be nixing the idea of a second season, knowing that show will likely continue to become more expensive as it grows. Yikes.
What is it about Legends of Tomorrow that makes it so much more expensive than its predecessor? I can only imagine the multitude of visual and special effects are what is taking such a toll on its budget. Afterall, in a show that revolves around time travel, and where each protagonist has a unique set of superpowers, the effects team must have their hands full. Maybe having one superpowered lead in both Arrow and The Flash allowed for a more budget-friendly production, rather than having to stretch funds across a baker's dozen worth of heroes.
Baumol's cost disease (also known as the Baumol Effect) is a phenomenon described by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in the 1960s. It involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity in response to rising salaries in other jobs which did experience such labor productivity growth. This seemingly goes against the theory in classical economics that wages are closely tied to labor productivity changes.If there's an economist in house, I'd greatly appreciate a knowledgeable take on this, but it would seem we should a disproportionate amount of money going to the people who have had the smallest gains in productivity.