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.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Calling all political science grad students

I don't know how well this is been explored in the past, but something interesting is happening in California this election and there might just be a paper or thesis topic in it for someone.

Phil Willon writing for the LA Times:

Republican voters taking a pass on California's U.S. Senate race, poll finds

Half of California’s likely Republican voters and a third of independents said they wouldn't vote for either candidate in the state’s U.S. Senate race this November, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The survey found that 28% of all likely California voters said they didn’t support state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris or Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and 14% said they were undecided. Harris and Sanchez are Democrats.


The two Democrats will face off in the November election, setting the stage for the highest-profile contest between two members of the same party since California adopted a top-two primary election system.

In the June 6 primary, Harris received 40% of the vote and Sanchez nabbed 19% among the 34 candidates on the Senate ballot. Duf Sundheim, a former chairman of the California Republican Party, landed in third place with 8%.

Since no candidate won more than 50%, the top two advanced to the runoff.

Bill Carrick, a political consultant for the Sanchez campaign, has said the congresswoman is trying to build a coalition that will “cross party lines, cross regional lines — every kind of line you can imagine” to overtake Harris before November.

To do so, Sanchez will likely need support from Republicans and independents because, according to the PPIC poll, Harris leads Sanchez by a 2-to-1 margin among Democratic voters.

Harris also leads among independents. Sanchez leads Harris among likely Latino voters.

Among likely Republican voters, 50% said they would not support either candidate and 19% said they were undecided.

I would be hesitant to infer too much from any election involving Donald Trump, but you could at least get some interesting preliminary results looking at the following question:

Consider definitely non-purple states with open primaries. We can often get the situation we have now in California where voters in the minority party know that their vote for the president will almost certainly have no impact on the outcome and they have no option to vote for a member of their own party in one or more major state-wide race. What impact might this have on minority party districts in the state?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

With Trump, everyone gets their own scandal

Talking Points can explore the Russian connection (and other many stories).

Politico can dig into the mafia associations.

The Washington Post can uncover a history of fraudulent charities.

USA Today can recount the hardships of tradesmen who assumed Trump was good for his debts.

The NYT can find all the material it can handle in Trump University.

Now Vanity Fair takes a deep drive into Trump's finances.

From Nicholas Shaxson:

But Malone also touched on another topic, which opens up a new and very different set of questions. Although she wouldn’t discuss any financial details for the course, she didn’t dispute my observation that its accounts for 2014 showed a loss-making operation. The observation was almost “asinine,” she says, because projects routinely make losses in the early years. This was a “legacy project” for Donald, she says. “This is about the love of the game of golf, the love of the land, and memory of his mother,” who was born and grew up in Scotland. The official accounts filed at Companies House (the British version of the S.E.C.) show, in fact, that for the calendar year 2014, the operating company Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited showed a net loss of £1.1 million ($1.8 million) on revenues of £2.8 million ($4.4 million).

But Trump’s disclosure in July 2015 to the U.S. Federal Election Commission (F.E.C.), under the “income” heading, showed a profit of precisely $4,349,641. We aren’t quite comparing apples with apples here, because the F.E.C. disclosures cover the calendar year 2014 plus preceding months in the current year. This scenario would make sense only if the loss-making operation in 2014 suddenly surged into profit in early 2015, when the course was closed for winter until April 1, then returned (as Malone suggests) to its loss-making ways more recently. Or it could just be an error: mistakes are only human.

But let’s look further. For the Trump Turnberry golf resort, on the Scottish west coast, his F.E.C. disclosures record a profit of $20,395,000—but the accounts for 2014 show a loss of £3.6 million ($5.6 million) on revenues of £9.2 million ($14.6 million). It’s the same story again at his Doonbeg course in Ireland, where he told the F.E.C. his profit was $10,755,683—again, very precise—while Irish company accounts show a loss of 2.5 million euros ($3.3 million) on revenues of 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million).

This looks like a pattern: in each case a loss for 2014 in the company filings morphs into a large profit (for 2014 plus a few extra months) in his F.E.C. filings. This would be compatible with other analyses suggesting Trump is prone to hyping his wealth and income. Shawn Tully at Fortune magazine, using rough but reasonable calculations, estimated in March that Trump had been putting in gross revenues in his disclosures, where he should have been putting income, after stripping out costs, and that his true income was probably between a third and a half of the £362 million ($514 million) he claimed in his July 2015 disclosure.

When I pressed Trump on the discrepancy between the Scottish and Irish filings and what he had reported, he said that the disclosure was “a revenue number: it is not a profit and loss number.” His C.F.O., Allen Weisselberg, who was also on the phone line, echoed that this was a “revenue” number. Yet, in February, Trump told Bloomberg News that these same Scottish and Irish numbers on his disclosures represented “projected future income”—a different thing again, which is certainly not what the F.E.C. asked for.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Quote of the Day

This is Joseph.

Nice quote on CEO pay from Stumbling and Mumbling:
Of course, £5.5m is tiny in the context of companies worth £30bn+. But then, so is employee pilfering. Does that thereby become acceptable?
It points out that the magnitude of a problem (in terms of economic impact) does not influence the morality.  It also kind of suggests that if we ignore small problems (pilfering, escalating pay) then they might become larger problems.

The loss of plausible deniability

One important point to keep in mind while following this years election is that, of the truly objectionable things about the Trump campaign, very few are actually new. Instead, we have all sorts of practices that have always been unacceptable, but which are now being presented in a way that makes them undeniable.

If you remember the elections of 2000 and 2004, you will probably recall talk of Karl Rove and his mastery of "political jujitsu." It was generally discussed as if it were some sort of mystical Jedi mind trick that allowed Rove to make strings into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths. Mainly, it came down to the realization that most reporters would respond to obvious lies with straight faces and no follow-up questions.

In 2004, I remember Republican operatives making the argument that George W. Bush's military record compared favorably with that of John Kerry. Just to review, Kerry was a legitimate war hero in terms of courage, sacrifice, and effectiveness. On the other side of the ledger, even if we push aside all of the accusations and contested points about favoritism and completion of requirements, there is a relatively cushy stint in the National Guard.

These and other clearly untrue statements were usually allowed to stand largely because this was a symbiotic relationship. It was in both the source's and the journalist's interests to keep this relationship going and not to push the boundaries in either direction.

The lies we've been hearing recently are not necessarily that much more blatant, but Trump and associates are no longer observing the social conventions that traditionally went with them. If a reporter asks about your candidate's military service and you reply by saying all sorts of nice things about the National Guard, that reporter can move onto the next question without looking like a complete moron. If you look reporters in the face and tell them that twice cheating on then dumping your wife for a younger, more glamorous woman qualifies as a sacrifice, you leave the reporters looking like asses just for letting you get the words out of your mouth.

Which brings us to (from TPM):
Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim soldier, said in his speech at the Democratic convention last week that Trump had "sacrificed nothing." And Trump hit back over the weekend, saying that he's "made a lot of sacrifices," like creating jobs.

During a CNN panel discussion Sunday, Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes defended Trump's comments.

"Mr. Trump was responding to the fact of sacrificing. Nowhere ever did he ever say that his sacrifice was equivalent or more or even close to what the Kahn’s had given up," she said.

CNN host Fredricka Whitfield then asked, "Is creating a job considered a sacrifice?"

"You know what, creating jobs caused him to be at work, which cost him two marriages,” Hughes said in response. “Time away from his family to sit there and invest.

Clinton surrogate Bernard Whitman jumped in to say, "infidelity cost him."

"No, actually being away from his family, he’s admitted it,” Hughes insisted. "That is the spin of the media and ongoing bias."
 "Creating jobs" normally implies actually paying the people who do work for you, but we can save that for another day.