Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ticketmaster and scalpers help artists

And then there are those much-unloved “service fees” that vendors like Ticketmaster add. In New York, they average 21 percent of the ticket price but, as we heard earlier, they can reach 100 percent of face value.
[Economist Eric] BUDISH: Something that’s not widely understood is that these service fees often — part of them goes back to the venue. ... So Ticketmaster takes all the P.R. hit for these egregious service fees. But actually a lot of that money spreads its way around the rest of the food chain. 
[Head of music at Ticketmaster North America David] MARCUS: It’s actually historically kind of part of Ticketmaster’s business model to take on the burden of that negative sentiment. ... We would say it in the hallways: the reason that we’re successful as we are is because we take those bullets on behalf of the venue, the artists, the promoter.
...
[Stephen] DUBNER: OK, so let’s back up a bit here — the real scalping is going on between who and whom? 
[Scalper Ken] LOWSON: Well, promoters and teams sell directly to brokers. You know, and then those brokers and list them on the marketplace. You know, for a team owner, it’s their ticket. And for a promoter, it’s their ticket, it’s not the artist’s ticket. I don’t know another industry that intentionally advertises one price to intentionally hold it, and resell it secretly.
...
DUBNER: Yeah, but what we’re told is that artists are typically not getting any of that additional markup. Are you saying that’s not the case, that they are getting some of that markup? 
LOWSON:Well, maybe it’s something like that. But their managers are hired to make them the most money. And in the end, you know, if you’re taking a guaranteed amount that’s higher than the revenue from the tickets. It’s like a pre-scalp. 
DUBNER:I just want to make sure I understand it. So it’s not that the artists are, per se, getting a cut — let’s say a ticket sells for $100 on the primary, gets marked up to $500 right? It’s not like the artist is getting any of that additional $400, it’s that the guarantee that their manager negotiates for them is based on a ticket sale price somewhere in between $100 and $500, is that what you’re saying? 
LOWSON: Well, they’re negotiating with, you know, a promoter which is for a flat amount per show. There’s 50 shows on the tour, “we want $50 million.”
--Freakonomics Radio on who's making really money on service fees and scalping 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The similarities between Trump and Bill Clinton

The key for Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton was convincing the public that they were not distracted by the investigations but instead remained focused on doing their jobs and serving the American people. In Mr. Clinton’s case, at least, it was partially an act — while he was able to effectively manage major foreign policy issues even at the height of the impeachment debate, in private he was consumed by the investigation, raged endlessly about his tormentors and at times seemed deeply distracted.

Aides found Mr. Clinton absently playing with old campaign buttons, and at a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it fell to an adviser to conduct the discussion while the president’s mind drifted off. On another occasion, the head of the World Bank called a top White House official after a meeting with Mr. Clinton to say, “It’s like he isn’t there.” During a visit to the Middle East, an aide noticed Mr. Clinton trying to keep his mind from wandering off by scribbling on a yellow legal pad, “Focus on your job, focus on your job, focus on your job.”
--Peter Baker, NYT, on an eerily familiar description of a president. The difference, of course, is that Bill kept it hidden from the public.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prophetic words from Samuel Huntington in 1996

In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. People and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.
--Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996), on our present moment

What causes the gender pay gap?

According to a commonly used measure adopted by the United States Census Bureau, women in 2016 earned 81 cents for each dollar earned by men, both working full-time. ...

What’s more, the gap is a statistic that changes during the life of a worker. Typically, it’s small when formal education ends and employment begins, and it increases with age. More to the point, it increases when women marry and when they begin bearing children. ...

Correcting for time off and hours of work reduces the difference in the earnings between men and women but doesn’t eliminate it.

On the face of it, that looks like proof of disparate treatment. It may seem understandable that when a man works more hours than a woman, he earns more. But why should his compensation per hour be greater, given the same qualifications? But once again, the problem isn’t simple.

The data shows that women disproportionately seek jobs — including full-time jobs — that are more likely to mesh with family responsibilities, which, for the most part, are still greater for women than for men. So, the research shows, women tend to prefer jobs that offer flexibility: the ability to shift hours of work and rearrange shifts to accommodate emergencies at home.

Such jobs tend to be more predictable, with fewer on-call hours and less exposure to weekend and evening obligations. These advantages have a negative consequence: lower earnings per hour, even when the number of hours worked is the same.

Is that unfair? Maybe. But it isn’t always an open-and-shut case. Companies point out that flexibility is often expensive — more so in some jobs than others.

Certain job characteristics have a big impact on the gender earnings gap. I have looked closely at these issues, including the extent to which workers are:

■ Subject to strict deadlines and time pressure

■ Expected to be in direct contact with other workers or clients

■ Instructed to develop cooperative working relationships

■ Assigned to work on highly specific projects

■ Unable to independently determine their tasks and goals

Occupations with a lower level of these characteristics (like jobs in science and technology) show smaller gaps, corrected for hours of work. Occupations with a higher level (like those in finance and law) have greater gaps. Men’s earnings tend to surge when there are fewer substitutes for a given worker, when the job must be done in teams and when clients demand specific lawyers, accountants, consultants and financial advisers. Such differences can account for about half the gender earnings gap.

These findings provide more nuance in explaining why the gap widens with age and why it is greater for women with children. Whatever changes have already taken place in American society, the duty of caring for children — and for other family members — still weighs more heavily on women. And if you thought that moving to a more family-friendly nation would eliminate the gap, think again. In several nations, including Sweden and Denmark, a “motherhood penalty” in earnings exists, even though these nations have generous family policies, including paid family leave and subsidized child care.
--Claudia Goldin, NYT, on going deeper than "81 cents for each dollar"

Sunday, November 5, 2017

When pro athletes have to pee mid-competition

"Imagine you're an athlete, you've just consumed a ridiculous amount of liquid on a hot day, you can't get off the field and you're in terrible pain," [neurology professor Pete] Snyder says. ...

Thanks to Snyder's study, it now makes perfect sense why Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, admits he lets loose in the pool. It might even provide a scientific explanation for the Red Sox phenomenon known as "Manny being Manny." In 2005, during a pitching change in Boston, outfielder Manny Ramirez claims to have stepped into the Green Monster to relieve himself -- an urge so bad he almost missed a pitch. ("I'm just glad he came back," said Sox skipper Terry Francona.) It also explains one of the NFL's dirty little secrets: At any given moment on a sideline, someone probably is relieving himself while hiding in plain sight. Or trying to. Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder's solution was fairly simple: He says he wet his pants ... in every one of his 82 games as a pro. ...

"Guys are peeing all over the sideline in every game, into cups, on the ground, in towels, behind the bench, in their pants, everywhere," says Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who covered this topic and others in The Rookie Handbook, co-authored by Gross and Geoff Hangartner. ...

So many runners in the New York City Marathon pee off the sides of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at Mile 1 that race veterans can only giggle when they hear first-timers below them on the lower deck talk about the sudden "refreshing" rainstorm they experienced. World-class cyclists still speak in awe of the balletic way former Tour de France racer Dave Zabriskie was able to straighten his right leg, stand tall in the saddle and urinate off the side of his bike while whizzing through the French countryside at 30 mph. In 2005, when Zabriskie became just the third American to wear the appropriately named yellow jersey, it earned him the privilege -- according to the Tour's unwritten rules -- to decide when, where and for how long the peloton was allowed to pee. "That's when you know you've made it in our sport," says former teammate Christian Vande Velde. "It's like, 'I just made the whole peloton stop and pee; I'm the man.'"

Because of cultural and anatomical obstacles, female athletes are forced to plan better and hold longer than their male counterparts. Members of the U.S. women's hockey team have even been known to use the expulsion of urine to measure the force of an opponent's checks. ...

Brandi Chastain, a member of the iconic 1999 U.S. women's national soccer team, leaked into her cleats only once -- during one of her first World Cup practices in Haiti. She remembers it fondly. "Absolutely liberating," she says. "It's hard to feel loose when you have that kind of tension in your bladder." ...

It's common for female athletes to drink less -- and therefore perform worse -- simply because they're worried about how, or where, they'll go to the bathroom. ...

Boxing's golden rule is clear: Never put the gloves on early before a big fight. Once they're secure and the tape is initialed by a boxing commission official, they can't come off. After that, if a fighter is overcome by the combination of prefight hydration and jitters, his entourage has to play a high-stakes game of "not it."

Moments before he was supposed to be in the ring, [boxer James] Toney turned to [Freddie] Roach with a look on his face every trainer dreads. ... "Best way to do it," he says, "pull the cup out, pull the junk down, look the other way."
--David Fleming, ESPN the Magazine, on awkward biological moments

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How slowness helped Martin Luther change the world

Modern professional culture encourages collaboration through instant communication and globalized networks. But [Martin] Luther’s legacy as one of history’s most influential thinkers shows us that there are certain epic projects — such as the systematic rethinking of foundational dogmas — that require time to mature and space to germinate before they are safe for universal exposure. Without that window, they die. ...

...when he produced his more provocative set of theses in October 1517, it took more than a month for any feedback to roll in — despite Luther’s efforts to move things along by sending personal copies to local bishops. ...

...news still traveled by horse and cart in the 16th century, and this fact was critical for Luther. Indeed, it probably saved his life and his ideas — because it meant that he could win over the town before the district, his fellow monks before strangers, Germans before Italians. ...

What sympathy he attracted in his early days was owed, in part, to the intellectual and social capital he’d earned from those who knew him personally and had heard him preach. Many of these friends and admirers took extraordinary risks to defend him, which in turn gave others courage do the same — a cycle that gradually expanded his sphere of support outward from Wittenberg. ...

It wasn’t until early 1518 that Pope Leo X looked at the 95 theses. Having limited access to timely German news, he seriously underestimated their significance and passed off the matter to the Augustinians for resolution at their next annual meeting. ...

It wasn’t until early 1521 that he was formally excommunicated — more than three years after he composed his 95 theses. And by then, as we now know, it was too late to snuff out his influence.

Saul Bellow, in his introduction to Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” makes the memorable point that great and important writing is possible only when one is able to shut out “the noise of history.” This is what Luther managed to do when he created his 95 theses, his translations and the other texts that became part of the Reformation’s early canon. ...

Five hundred years later, there are few writers, artists, designers or intellectuals who do not feel impelled to deliver regular updates on their work online, or at weekly grad seminars, shareholder meetings or workshops with colleagues. ...

These networks make us more professionally productive and accountable. But they also can make us more cautious, since we know that any new idea can expose us to instant censure from complete strangers in other parts of the world who know nothing of our local circumstances. This phenomenon goes by different names — groupthink, political correctness, herd mentality. But in every form, it serves the interest of the orthodox and frustrates the heretic.
--Jonathan Kay, Washington Post, on taking time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why are honeycrisp apples so expensive?

Oftentimes, Honeycrisps are more than four times as expensive as other varieties of apples. ...

There are many reasons that add to the cost of Honeycrisp apples, and it all starts on the farm.

The Honeycrisp variety was developed by the University of Minnesota, which still holds the patent. So for every Honeycrisp yielding tree a grower buys, they have to pay a $1 royalty to the University of Minnesota. That’s not the case for more common and older varieties like Red Delicious.

The trees which grow Honeycrisp apples are relatively weak and yield very large fruit, so they require a trellis system to hold them up and keep their branches from breaking or hitting the ground.

One of the appealing things about Honeycrisp is its thin skin. It adds to the crunch and allows people to enjoy the meat of the apple without breaking their teeth. But that also means the apples bruise more easily, and can be damaged by their own stems during processing.

Nick Schweitzer says workers are asked to pick them slowly and more carefully than other types of apples. Instead of being paid by the bin of apples, they’re paid by the hour. Workers are also required to clip the stem as closely as they can to the apple so it won’t bend and puncture the skin as its transported.

Unlike varieties that tend to ripen at the same time on the tree and only require one picking, Honeycrisp tend to ripen at varying intervals and require three pickings before the season ends in November. That means more time spent in the fields for smaller yields. It also means that growers have to suspend picking operations on one variety and move their workers to the Honeycrisp trees in order to catch the apples at their peak.

In addition, they also require more calcium sprayings to prevent an affliction called “bitter pit.”
--Brett Thomas, WoodTV, on a high-maintenance diva

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happiness is found in community, not solitude

Having spent the last few years researching and writing a book about happiness and anxiety in America, I’ve noticed that this particular strain of happiness advice — the kind that pitches the search for contentment as an internal, personal quest, divorced from other people — has become increasingly common. ...

This isolationist philosophy is showing up not just in the way that many Americans talk about happiness, but in how they spend their time. People who study these things have observed a marked increase in solitary “happiness pursuits” — activities carried out either completely alone or in a group without interaction — with the explicit aim of keeping each person locked in her own private emotional experience.

Spiritual and religious practice is slowly shifting from a community-based endeavor to a private one, with silent meditation retreats, mindfulness apps and yoga classes replacing church socials and collective worship. ...

But while placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people. Nearly half of all meals eaten in this country are now eaten alone. Teenagers and young millennials are spending less time just “hanging out” with their friends than any generation in recent history, replacing real-world interaction with smartphones.

And it’s not just young people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that the average American now spends less than four minutes a day “hosting and attending social events,” a category that covers all types of parties and other organized social occasions. ...

All in all — and that includes daily bouts of nagging, arguing and whining — the average American spends barely more than half an hour a day on social communication. Compare that to time per day spent watching television (three hours) or even “grooming” (one hour for women, and just over 44 minutes for men). ...

But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.

And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Understanding Sens. Flake vs. Murkowski vs. Collins' situations

[Senator Jeff] Flake is very conservative. But as I wrote in July, Flake has made no significant effort to use his official powers to block Trump's agenda even on issues where he sits to the president's right, like trade.

Instead, Flake's opposition to Trump has consisted almost entirely of complaining, and now he's not even bothering to seek reelection to the Senate, where he could do something about whatever Trump is doing.

Flake behaves like he is helpless. That's because he is helpless. And he should think some more about why he is so helpless.

Flake is helpless because there's no real constituency in America for what he favors: low taxes and spending, openness to immigration and trade, international collaboration where America honors its commitments, and polite public behavior.

There is one coalition of voters that favors a much larger and more active government than Flake wants. Many of these voters share a portion of Flake's values (they may share his commitment to openness and politeness, for example) but they also oppose him on various social issues where he is conservative and they are liberal. Flake does not have a home in the Democratic Party with these voters.

The other coalition of voters is the one Flake relied on all along to get elected. But it turns out they don't care very much about some of the policy ideas Flake thought were important. And they outright oppose him on others, like immigration. And many of these voters have come to view nastiness and crudity as virtues, since they think politeness norms have been weaponized by an establishment that wants to exclude them — or just because they are jerks.

It was essentially an accident that Flake and elected officials like him were able to harness the Republican electoral coalition for so long to back an agenda that excluded policies those voters cared about (like immigration restriction) and included ones they opposed (like cutting Medicare). Now that's over, and he has nowhere to go.

A look at the non-helpless anti-Trump senators gives a clue about why Flake can't seem to do anything about the things he cares about.

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have broken extensively with Trump to much greater effect than Flake. Their defections have worked because their formulation of personal decency plus policy moderation is saleable to a large slice of the electorate. ...

Collins and Murkowski are able to be a lot more soft-spoken than Flake; their anti-Trump actions have done most of the talking. They've had a lot of effect on policy in Trump's America. And they don't seem to intend to leave the Senate anytime soon.
--Josh Barro, Business Insider, on power through bases of leverage

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Was the iconic V-J Day kiss sexual assault?

Late summer, 1945. In the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 100,000 people lay dead, casualties of the United States’ decision to drop a pair of atomic bombs. But in Times Square on Aug. 14, a much different vibe prevails: Japan has surrendered, and the victors are celebrating — drinking, shouting and dancing in the streets.

An American sailor named George Mendonsa spontaneously takes hold of a complete stranger, 21-year-old Austrian-Jewish refugee Greta Zimmer [Friedman], bends her backward, plants a kiss on her mouth and continues on his way. Unbeknown to either, famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt has captured the encounter. The resulting image, published soon after in Life magazine, came to symbolize the exuberance of that moment, in a country overflowing with vigor and youth, at a time when anything seemed possible. ...

In 2012, a London-based blogger who uses the pseudonym Leopard wrote a provocative post on Crates and Ribbons titled “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,’” arguing that Mendonsa’s actions should not be idealized as romantic. To the writer, the kiss represented nothing short of a sexual assault.

The post highlights a series of comments from Greta Friedman’s 2005 Veterans History Project interview, which addresses the issue of what we would now call consent. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Friedman said at the time. “The guy just came over and grabbed!” adding, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” Leopard also cited a CBS News interview in which Friedman said of Mendonsa, “I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip (sic).” ...

Josh Friedman says that his mother is well aware of the discussion, and has expressed a nuanced reaction. Greta Friedman has become friendly with Mendonsa over the years and her son says she considers him to be “a lovely person.” When CBS News reunited the two in Times Square for the interview cited on Crates and Ribbons, Friedman appears to be at ease with the former sailor. She has declined to fault Mendonsa for his actions — taking into account his overwhelming admiration for the nurses on the Bunker Hill — though she is not unsympathetic to the contemporary critique.

“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street,” Josh Friedman says. “(But) she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”
--Andy Martino, New York Daily News, on the past, a foreign country

The great San Francisco auto burglary debate

In San Francisco, where no automobile parked on the street is immune from glass-smashing thieves, some people have taken to posting signs on car windows announcing that there are no valuables inside.

The hope, of course, is that a thief will read the notice and decide: "Huh. No valuables in this one. I guess I'll break into some other car."

On Tuesday, a Reddit user posted a photo of such a sign and posed the question "Do you think it works?" to the Reddit community. A lively debate ensued.

"Sounds a lot like something that someone with valuables in their car would say," wrote a skeptical Maddox83a.

But iamthewaffler disagreed, citing personal experience.

"It's strong signaling that works VERY well," the commenter wrote. "The intended victim for thefts from cars are people who are from out of town, other "safer" parts of SF, etc who don't know that certain areas are very prone to car break-ins. If you have bothered to print out a sign and put it in your window, that shows you know exactly what neighborhood you're in and the chances of anything valuable being in your car are extremely low." ...

About 85 vehicles are reported to have been broken into every day in the city, according to SFPD data for this year. That includes only cars whose owners reported the crime. The actual figure is doubtlessly higher.

This year a total of 17,970 vehicle break-ins were reported from Jan. 1 to July 31, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2016. ...

A few Reddit users suggested that car owners forget about the sign and simply leave the car doors unlocked. But that prompted stories of homeless people sleeping in vehicles overnight, doing drugs and/or having sex in them, and even using backseats as a toilet.
--Mike Moffitt, SFGate, on the country's most beautiful city

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Columbus, Ohio is America's retail laboratory

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a scorching day outside, hot even for late summer in Ohio, and yet I was freezing. I had stepped inside the EB Ice Box, a meat-locker-like display at the Eddie Bauer store here that was cooled to 13 degrees Fahrenheit. The metal-sheathed room looked out onto the promenade of an upscale shopping mall, and featured a large block of ice for a bench. Even though I was wearing a down jacket (the room is meant to be a place where customers can test Eddie Bauer wear), the frigid air had gotten under my skin.

The ice box was a gambit designed to attract the one thing so many stores like Eddie Bauer seem to be missing these days — customers.

For shoppers, this city of 860,000 smack in the middle of a swing state, can feel like an alternate reality, a place where up is down and down is up. Frumpy department stores feature personal shopping services and boutique wellness amenities. Workaday grocery stores like Kroger offer exotic fruits and freshly baked artisan breads.

Even the fast-food business is living in the future. McDonald’s is offering table service from friendly waiters. Robots are taking orders at Wendy’s. Chipotle started a chain that serves hamburgers. ...

A combination of demographics, geography and luck turned Columbus into the nation’s consumer laboratory. This Rust Belt city has historically been a microcosm of the national population’s age and ethnicity, ranking fourth among metropolitan areas in its resemblance to the United States over all, according to data compiled by WalletHub. ...

Ohio State University’s 65,000 students mean young shoppers are always on hand. Columbus is within a day’s drive of nearly half of the United States population, making it a convenient hub for distribution. The city’s relatively small size and contained media market make it affordable for companies to run advertising campaigns and measure their effectiveness. And its relatively low profile allows brands to try something and fail — without the scrutiny they would draw in New York or Los Angeles.

Perhaps most important, a robust network of retailers and service providers — from big brands like Abercrombie & Fitch to small design firms that focus on store layouts — has taken root in Columbus. Today there are more fashion designers in Columbus than in any other American city besides New York and Los Angeles.
--David Gelles, NYT, on the advantages of being in the middle

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Who tends to be happier with their marriage?

People are being pickier about who they marry and waiting longer to tie the knot. And with half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s gotten a lot easier to exit unpleasant unions. So, the state of the American marriage should be happier than ever, right?

Instead, the quality of American marriages has dropped significantly. While most Americans say they’re  still “very happy” in their marriages, the number is down from the early 1970s, from 68 percent to 60 percent.


More men say they’re happier with their marriages than women do, for example. That’s consistent with other research suggesting that men tend to get more out of being married than women. Not surprisingly, religiosity—which usually emphasizes family and fidelity—also appears to play a role in marital happiness.

It’s more difficult to pinpoint why Americans with extreme political views are happier than moderates. “It’s possible that the people with more extreme political views are more likely to have a spouse who agrees with them,” Cohen said.

Of all the factors analyzed by Cohen, however, the one with the greatest effect on Americans’ marital happiness was economic status. ... it turns out there’s a 17-point gap between the happiness in lower- and upper-class marriages.

--Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, on correlates of marital happiness

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How to write a Nobel Prize winning novel in 4 weeks

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.

So [my wife] Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one. ...

This, fundamentally, was how The Remains of the Day was written. Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on. ...

I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash.

I should say that by the time I embarked on the Crash, I’d consumed a substantial amount of “research”: books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars, many pamphlets and essays from the time, including one by Harold Laski on “The Dangers of Being a Gentleman”. I’d raided the second-hand shelves of the local bookshop (Kirkdale Books, still a thriving independent) for guides to the English countryside from the 1930s and 50s. The decision when to start the actual writing of a novel – to begin composing the story itself – always seems to me a crucial one. How much should one know before starting on the prose? It’s damaging to start too early, equally so to start too late. I think with Remains I got lucky: the Crash came just at the right point, when I knew just enough.
--Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian, on just doing it

The Wu-Tang Clan's cryptocurency

A good indication of the froth in the cryptocurrency market is that Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan is launching a cryptocurrency called Cream Cash, and it's not called Wu-Tang Coin because someone else already has that name. (I mean, it's probably called Cream Cash because that's a better name, but the fact is that there's already a Wu-Tang Coin.) The history of the Great Crypto Boom of '17 will include a whole chapter on Wu-Tang-themed coins, and that chapter will have multiple independent narratives. Really I would not have predicted in 1994 how much of 2017's financial news would involve the Wu-Tang Clan. They really rule everything around cash.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pepe's seriousness about pizza sauce

Canned tomatoes with predictable behavior and excellent flavor are particularly necessary at a place like Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, one of the most celebrated pizza destinations in the country. ...

Because pizza has just three basic elements — crust, sauce and cheese — each one must be reliably perfect and perfectly reliable. To accomplish this, every fall two grandsons of Mr. Pepe conduct a blind tasting of new-harvest tomatoes from the area around Naples, Italy, that is known for producing (and canning) the best tomatoes.

“We’re looking not only for taste but for the density of the fruit, whether the texture is fibrous or weak, how the flavor changes from the beginning to the end,” said Francis Rosselli, 65, who began working at the pizzeria alongside the founder at age 14.

The Pepe sauce is not cooked, or even seasoned; the tomatoes are simply puréed with their juices before going onto the crust and into the oven. So it’s urgent that the unembellished tomatoes and juice are just right.

Last week, I sat in (but didn’t vote) at the annual tasting. First, we tried seven kinds right out of the can. Four were rejected (too weak, too strong, bland at the end), and the remaining three were carried off to the kitchen to be ground into sauce and tested immediately on an unembellished pie — no cheese or toppings, just tomato and olive oil. All three made good pizza, but we agreed that only one retained its clear, fresh tomato flavor after a turn in the 550-degree oven. ...

For Frank Pepe’s descendants, the annual tasting ritual is more than a business necessity

“It takes us back to the roots,” said Gary Bimonte, 57, the other grandson. “Tomatoes were a big part of our grandfather’s life.”
--Julia Moskin, NYT, on not just your corner pizzeria

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Totoro is not a death god

There’s a persistent rumor, one which we’ve talked about ourselves, that claims there’s a dark side to feel-good anime classic My Neighbor Totoro. The theory holds that while the movie opens with two lively sisters in the spotlight, both of them die somewhere before the end of the film, and the immense huggable Totoro isn’t in fact a forest spirit, but a death god ushering them into the afterlife.

If this creepy interpretation has been spoiling the warm fuzzy sensation you used to get from watching what you once thought was a heart-warming film, you can breathe easy again, as none other than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki has publicly put the rumor to rest. ...

“Everyone gets all stirred up about it on the Internet, don’t they?” he began. “They say things like, ‘They’re all dead at the end of the movie.’” Proponents of the theory often assert that 11-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei don’t have shadows, which in turn marks them as spirits.

This depiction doesn’t entirely hold water, though, according to Takimoto. “I watched the movie, and up until the very end, Mei and Satsuki both have shadows, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do,” replied Suzuki.

“They don’t lose them part-way through, or anything?”

“No, they don’t.”

Still, some people who’ve watched Totoro with one hand on the pause button will probably tell you that in the very last scene, the sisters’ shadows aren’t so clearly visible. But if they’re not ghosts, why don’t their physical bodies block light like they should? ...

At the risk of destroying any more idyllic images, even Studio Ghibli sometimes has to put limits on the amount of time and effort it can pour into a scene. As explained on the Ghibli website:
Everyone, please put your minds at ease. The rumors of Totoro being a death god, Mei being dead, and others rumors of the like are absolutely not true…Someone made them up because they sounded interesting to him or her, and it seems to have spread around the Internet. In regards to comments that “Satsuki and Mei don’t have shadows in the final scene,” it was merely decided that is wasn’t necessary to draw when producing the animation. We hope that people will not believe the rumors, and the PR department would like to officially announce that here.
--Casey Baseel, Sora News 24, on less than meets the eye

Hell is Tinder

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will swipe right on basically everyone.
--Julie Beck, The Atlantic, on gendered standards


Researchers at Queen Mary University, Sapienza University of Rome, and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group created fake male and female Tinder profiles and automatically liked everyone within a 100-mile radius. Their findings, reported by the Washington Post, reinforce what many Tinder users know anecdotally: that women are overwhelmingly more discerning than men.

While the fake male profiles only matched with other users 0.6 percent of the time, around ten percent of female profiles were liked, mostly by men. The researchers postulate that women are more picky on Tinder, only liking the profiles of men they're attracted to, whereas men play a brutal numbers game by liking everyone in sight.

To make matters worse, men are less likely to send messages: only seven percent of men who matched with a fake profile sent a message, compared with 21 percent of women. This creates a horribly counterproductive feedback loop, wherein women become more picky because everyone they like seems to like them back—and men, faced with increasingly selective women, drop their standards even further.

Type "Tinder" into the App Store, and you'll see a plethora of apps aimed at maximizing your swiping game. Bonfire and Tinder Auto Liker (not an app you want a prospective date to see installed on your phone) will automatically approve every potential match, saving valuable time you can put towards clearing the search history on your work computer or re-reading seminal hook-up classic The Game. Swipe-happy office workers can even install software on their computers so they can auto-swipe continually without using their phones. ...

[Liam:] Saying yes to everyone means you match with everyone who likes you, including that magic overlapping part of the Tinder Venn diagram—those who are willing to match with you and those who you find attractive. Sure, it's a bit of a heartless approach as you end up ignoring girls who message you that you're not attracted to. But app dating in general is a fairly dehumanizing and mechanistic numbers game.
--Sirin Kale, Vice, on dating dystopia

The problem with Rawlsian ethics

Rawls is almost always invoked selectively, rarely being applied across national borders or across the generations, cases where it yields screwy results.  Rawls himself hesitated to approve of economic growth, because it does not maximize the well-being of the original “worst off” generation, which of course has to do some saving.  He had sympathies with the idea of Mill’s stationary state.  It’s fine to reject those conclusions, as indeed you should, but again maybe you’re not really a Rawlsian.  You are a selective Rawlsian, if that. ...

When it comes to redistribution as social insurance, the biggest problems with the Rawlsian method is this.  People have all sorts of preferences across the distribution of income.  Some are merit-related, some liberty-related, some non-Rawlsian-fairness related, some insurance-related, maybe even some rooted in prejudice.  The list of motives and reasons is long.  As the veil is typically used by economists, it strips away all of those preferences but…the preference for insurance.  So it is no wonder that the final construct produces an argument for insurance.  You get out of the construct what you put into it. ...

We do not always apply it to people in other countries, wealthy people who are poor in net terms because they are about to die, ugly men who cannot get sex, and many of the disabled.  Just about everyone is more of a particularist, situation-based egalitarian than they like to let on.
--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, on pushing Rawls to the limit

Monday, September 4, 2017

Posner vs. Sunstein writing deathmatch

In 1997, Ronald Dworkin, a fierce critic of [Richard] Posner’s, wrote an article that was in large part an attack on the two of us. Dworkin argued that we constituted a new “Chicago School,” that we were wrongly dismissive of high theory and philosophical questions, and that we were basically full of nonsense.

Posner suggested that we should do a joint reply, and I happily agreed. As I recall, it was a Friday, and I was determined to write the first draft, so as to shape both the tone and the content. Over the weekend, I worked as hard as I have ever done. On early Monday morning, probably around 7:45, I faxed him a 21-page, single-spaced draft. It lacked footnotes, and it was pretty rough, but, still, mission accomplished. I was pretty proud of myself.

When I got back to my office, I spotted something on my chair. It was from Posner. It had 35 pages. It was fully footnoted. It read like a dream. Needless to say, it was much more polished than mine, and better in every way.

As always, Judge Posner was ahead of the rest of us, even when we run as fast as we can.
--Cass Sunstein, Bloomberg, on pitting two of the fastest writers in legal academe against each other. HT: Marginal Revolution