Pass the Popcorn: How Bad Will Hollywood Get?

December 19, 2014

wws-harris-birdman1

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Check out this excellent essay on the way franchises have transformed Hollywood. It is not, I promise, just another long lament that there are too many comic book movies, too many sequels, etc. The author, Mark Harris, is thinking seriously about Hollywood’s business model, and there are lots of data and interesting quotes I haven’t seen elsewhere. Seeing the list of franchise movies already announced from the major studios really was an eye-opener. And he makes an insightful point about how Hollywood is now so skilled at creating anticipation that it’s forgetting to provide the payoff. What used to be payoff is now only a calculated part of a larger plan to keep building anticipation for the next product.

Now! That having been said, I think Harris is too pessimistic, for two reasons.

1) While Harris acknowledges that not all franchise movies are bad, and some are very good, he nonetheless seems to assume as a basis of his case that artsy movies – that is, movies intended to be serious rather than mere ephemeral entertainment – are, on the whole, more likely to be very good than franchise movies. This has not been my experience. Even if we discount the value of entertainment and judge strictly on “artistic merit,” I think franchise movies are about as likely to be very good as artsy movies. Not because franchise movies are necessarily good, but because artsy movies generally fail to have much more artistic merit than franchise movies. My wife and I were avid moviegoers during the very height of the independent movie era, and we saw a lot of them. Most of them had “entertainment value” rather than “artistic value.” They were witty or exciting or whatever, and we enjoyed them while we were watching them. But most of them were not great art.

Harris estimates that about 150 franchise movies will open in the next six years. At the end of the article he concedes that some of them – “more than two and fewer than twenty” – will be “very good.” Let’s say “more than two and fewer than twenty” is ten movies. That’s less than two very good movies per year, so it’s a conservative estimate. If so, by his own showing one out of every fifteen franchise movies is “very good.” I’d put up that track record against the arthouse any day.

2) Harris assumes consumer tastes will not revolt against the rise of the franchise. Franchises rule because they are financially rewarded. Must this remain so, even after franchises have squeezed everything else off the studio slate? I see no reason to think so, and every indication that consumers are already clamoring for something else. The idiots who run Hollywood just haven’t figured out how to give them anything else. But someone will, and when they do, the bubble will pop. (Barriers to entry in the entertainment sector are rapidly approaching zero.)

On both points, Harris’ argument fatally rests on the assumption that movies made for the purpose of having artistic merit rather than for the purpose of pleasing general audiences are more likely to have artistic merit. Yet there is little empirical evidence this is the case.


Fix Schools by Not Fixing Them

December 19, 2014

resized_can-we-fix-it

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective just went online with my article on how to fix schools by not fixing them:

Wanting something too much can prevent you from getting it. In school, we all knew at least one unpopular kid whose desperate, overbearing desire to have friends and be liked was the main reason nobody wanted to be around that person. Sit down with a loved one and say, “now let’s have a really good talk,” and silence will result. The hypochondriac protects himself from germs so well that his immune system is weakened from disuse, and he gets sick…

It’s an insidious trap. The dysfunctions of the system are so bad, we tell ourselves, that we can only fight them if we give money and power to those who will promote the reforms. Once these people have money and power, they set about consolidating their position, working not to improve education but to reinforce their access to money and power. And because they have been anointed as the people whose job is to “fix the public schools,” they tell themselves – sincerely – that they’re building up their own money and power for the sake of improving education. It’s for the children.

I argue that the reason school choice has the best track record of improving public schools is that “improving public schools” is not its formal purpose:

School choice improves public schools precisely because it does not make an idol out of “fixing the public schools.” In fact, it fixes public schools precisely because it establishes that the educational needs of children are more important than the institutional needs of public schools. Instead of taking children for granted as a captive audience, schools must educate children or lose them.


Fun With Peer Review

December 9, 2014

PHD Comics

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I may have to revise my opinion of Vox; they seem to have taken an interest in the weaknesses of the peer review system. Of course there are a lot of responsible peer-reviewed journals and, well, peers. But there a lot of the other kind as well, and we are long past the point where simply having gone through something called “peer review” ought to count for anything.

One story details how unscrupulous researchers can manipulate journals, including – amazingly – posing as their own reviewers. In highly specialized fields, journal editors may not know who the appropriate reviewers would be, so they rely – apparently uncritically in some cases – on the “recommended reviewers” supplied by the article authors. Who in some cases are simply the authors themselves using another email address. One scientist used 130 email accounts to create a vast, self-validating “peer review and citation ring”; 60 papers were recently retracted after a 14-month investigation uncovered the fraud. A total of at least 110 articles have been pulled in the last two years due to this type of fraud.

Get me off your email list

Figure 1 from the article “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List”

Accepted for publication by the highly reputable International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology

But the other story is a lot better. It details how some journals now survive not by selling subscriptions or getting institutional support, but by charging a fee to publish your paper. They are apparently known as “predatory journals” because they spam the email universe looking for gullible (or, presumably, unscrupulous) people looking to break into publication. “Article mills” (after the analogous “diploma mills”) would seem a more appropriate name.

As you can see above, the “peer review” process becomes somewhat lax in these cases. One pair of scientists slapped the above-referenced article and began submitting it to peer review spammers. They were amused to discover that one journal accepted their article for publication. Another journal not only accepted but published an article (consisting of nonsense text) by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel. It now sends the authors regular demands that they pay their $459 bill.

But it’s not just spam scammers – peer review controls are easy to get past even at some highly reputable publishers.


Welcome to Weimar!

November 14, 2014

minaj11f-2-web

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s been a while since we had a post on union goons shutting down debate by force. It happened again yesterday at AEI.

In other news, the central bank has spent years flooding the economy with cheap money, and fascist imagery is now cool and transgressive.

Willkommen . . . bienvenue . . . welcome!


Forster-Mathews over/under challenge- place your 2015 bets now

November 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Election coverage inevitably drifts to beltway drama, but I’m at more than a bit of a loss to understand why. It’s kind of like the nation’s bizarre fascination with 32 football teams running the same offense and defense when a far more interesting and gloriously chaotic brand of football rumbles along in the colleges. My memory gets fuzzy trying to remember the last positive and interesting thing to happen in DC. The action in America is out in the states.

Longtime Jayblog readers will doubtlessly recall the world-famous bet between our own Greg and WaPo columnist Jay Mathews regarding whether parental choice programs were just too politically difficult. They eventually decided to put the over/under for new school choice programs or expansions in 2011 at 7, with the loser picking up dinner.

I can’t remember whether the total got to 21 that year or not. If not, it was close. The school choice movement easily cleared the bar again in 2012. Then in 2013, it was time for a three-peat!  Finally in 2014, the pace slowed a bit nationally in an election year and the Forster-Mathews bar proved too high.

And now?

Only time will ultimately tell, but the elections of 2014 must look pretty bleak if you are burdened in life with reactionary K-12 preferences. Scott Walker for instance not only just won his third statewide election in four years, he’s talking about expanding school vouchers into new districts and providing choice to children with disabilities. Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated in his victory speech “Schools and choices open to some parents should be open to all parents.”

Out in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Republican, Independent Democrat Charlie Crist in an epic battle. It did not escape the notice of some that the tight margin could have been swayed by the parents of the parents of the near 100,000 children participating in Florida’s private choice programs this year.

In Indiana, Republicans added to their already large legislative majorities and the same thing basically happened in Ohio. A few years ago, an observer of Nevada politics told me that the map of Nevada House were drawn such that a Democratic majority would live at least as long as the current map. Well lo and behold, Gov. Sandoval gets reelected with 70% of the vote and the Republicans capture both chambers.

The WaPo produced this handy map:

This same article notes that Republicans hold unified control over both chambers and the chief executive in 24 states compared to 6 for the Democrats.

Don’t ignore Blue states however. Out in New York, easily reelected Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed public support for tuition tax credits. From the linked story:

Mr. Cuomo echoed the assemblyman’s call for the passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit, which would help parents pay for religious schools–which the governor compared to his expansion of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to cover yeshivas and his public funding of busing for students of Orthodox Jewish schools. Mr. Cuomo claimed such funding is simply equitable and right.

“It’s not charity, it’s not a favor. It’s justice. TAP. Public transportation and the school buses, that was justice. Education tax credit–this is a matter of justice,” he said as the crowd broke into applause. “I want you to understand that’s the way I see it. On a personal level, this is a very important relationship that I honor. And as governor, I have sworn to do justice. And there have been a number of great injustices that your community has endured for a long, long time. And it is my profound wish that we should work together and we should resolve them and bring justice to the community that we deserve.”

This is welcome news, as the private choice movement has made very limited progress overall in the mega-states of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois aka where a whole bunch of the kids are located. Charter schools however are rolling along in all of those states, and they seem poised to crush private schools at a much higher rate than low-performing district schools. Even Florida’s nearing 100,000 private choice children in private choice programs seems small when viewed in this fashion. The Illinois $500 personal use tax credit comes across as a bit of a cruel joke when put into this context: the state will lavish many thousands of (increasingly hard to come by) dollars on you if you choose to attend a district or charter school, but will give you a $500 tax break if you choose to bear the financial burden of sending your child to a private school if you have a sufficient tax liability.

The Illinois credit may only be a small step in reducing double payment penalty, but it is more than California, New York or Texas has done to date while charters continue to surge. In the end, private schools ought not to be preserved by nostalgic state lawmakers, but rather (if it is going to happen) by the free choice of parents operating on something approaching a level financial playing field. We need both broader and better designed account-based programs.

Finally choice proponents need to be aware that even seemingly shiny legislative majorities spring on you like a bear trap if you mistake them for an actual consensus. Proponents must never forget the need to persuade a broader universe of opinion leaders and the public regarding the justice of their cause.

Okay so with all that said, I will take the over in 2015. What about you?

UPDATE:

The Friedman Foundation has a handy-dandy guide to the governors and how they stand on parental choice.

UPDATE PART DEUX:

WaPo on the teacher unions spending $60m on races and mostly getting crushed. Money quotes:

“We knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. “But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”

and…

“The surprising thing is you now have Democrats who are willing to buck the union,” said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who contributed to Democratic and Republican candidates around the country who want to introduce more choice and competition in public education, and greater accountability for teachers. “You can take reform positions and be successful not only in general elections, but in primaries. It’s a major sea change in the Democratic party that you can now oppose the union and be successful.”

 

 


Peter DeComo for Al Copeland Humanitarian

October 30, 2014

DeComo

Jon David Sacker and Peter DeComo

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the storied tradition of Herbert Dow and the inventors of the heatball, I am proud to nominate Peter DeComo for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year.

DeComo is the chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies, which produces cutting-edge innovative medical technologies that save lives when lungs fail. Get this – ALung makes a gizmo called the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System, which can keep you alive without using your lungs long enough for doctors to perform a double lung transplant, including the time needed for your body to accept the new lungs and start using them.

Pretty awesome, huh? In a perfect world, that alone would be enough to qualify DeComo for public honors.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, and few people have seen that illustrated as starkly as Peter DeComo.

You see, the Hemolung is in active use, saving lives across Europe and Canada – but not in America, the land of its birth. This lifesaving device was invented here, but apparently “for export only,” as Mark Steyn put it. It’s not approved for use in the U.S.

But that didn’t stop Peter DeComo.

This February, Jon David Sacker was rushed to the University of Pittsburgh hospital after his body rejected the transplanted lungs he’d received two years earlier. The Hemolung was his only hope of survival. It was the Hemolung or the hearse for Sacker.

Pittsburgh happens to be the city where ALung manufactures the Hemolung. The University of Pittsburgh is the medical school where the Hemolung was invented. And there were no Hemolungs at the university hospital.

But that didn’t stop Peter DeComo.

The closest Hemolung fit for actual use was in a Canadian town on Lake Ontario. DeComo hopped in the car and personally drove north to the border crossing. He made the trip in the middle of the night, having gotten the first phone call at 11pm. He was met by Murray Beaton from the Canadian hospital, who had popped the device into his car and driven south to meet DeComo. They met and handed off the device in the dark on a tiny dirt road just north of the crossing, and DeComo headed back toward Pittsburgh and the desperately ill Sacker.

Whereupon the border guard informed DeComo that he was not allowed to bring the Hemolung into the U.S., because it was not approved for use there.

DeComo told him that a man’s life was at stake. No dice. Apparently the people who rule our country are perfectly willing to take “someone’s life is at stake” as a reason to actively help terrorists commit more murders and destroy our freedom, but not as a reason to let Jon David Sacker go on breathing.

But that didn’t stop Peter DeComo.

DeComo’s brilliant split-second thinking saved Sacker’s life. The Toronto Star relates the key moment:

Then he changed tactics. He said that he wasn’t really importing the device. Since it was an ALung product and he was ALung CEO, the Hemolung was his property and he was simply retrieving it.

“He closed his little cabin door,” DeComo said. “He made a call and he came out and said, ‘Okay you can go.’”

God bless Peter DeComo.

Are you ready for the kicker? Here it is:

Before they sped off, the border guard shouted out one last comment.

As DeComo recalls, he said: “Hey, let me tell you something. I would recommend that you keep some of that (expletive) on your shelves and next time, you won’t have to make that drive.”

I’m sure he’d love to. In the meantime, since I can’t give him a sane world, I will give him the next best thing: a nomination for Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year.


School Choice and Religious Freedom

October 30, 2014

Marcher with flag

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective has published my article on how school choice promotes religious freedom, pluralism, and peace:

It’s folly to be afraid of letting religious institutions participate in public programs on the same terms as everyone else. That kind of oppressive Kemalism has only exacerbated religious hatred when it’s been tried in places like Turkey or France. Americans have historically been more enlightened.

Believe it or not, school choice often helps children learn to respect the rights of those who don’t share their faith, and has never been found to have the opposite effect. A large body of empirical research (reviewed by Patrick Wolf in an article titled “Civics Exam” in the journal Education Next) finds that private school students are more likely to support civil rights for those whose beliefs they find highly unfavorable. Five of these studies have specifically looked at school choice programs; of those, three found the choice students were more tolerant of the rights of others while two found no difference. No empirical study has ever found that school choice makes students less tolerant of the rights of others.

The occasion for the article is an unwise legal decision as an Oklahoma school choice program winds its way through the painfully slow processes of the legal system:

If the church is burning down, don’t call the fire department! That’s using government funds to benefit a church. If someone scrawls swastikas on the synagogue, don’t call the police! And heaven forbid we allow the mosque to use our municipal water and sewer lines. Alas, Judge Jones doesn’t see things that way, and the case will continue its four-year journey through the courts.


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