Quotulatiousness

July 31, 2017

“If you’re wondering where Anthony Scaramucci learned to talk and behave […] ask him how many times he’s seen Glengarry Glen Ross

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Anthony Scaramucci is doing his very best impression of “Blake”, says Kevin Williamson:

Glengarry Glen Ross is the Macbeth of real estate, full of great, blistering lines and soliloquies so liberally peppered with profanity that the original cast had nicknamed the show “Death of a F***ing Salesman.” But a few of those attending the New York revival left disappointed. For a certain type of young man, the star of Glengarry Glen Ross is a character called Blake, played in the film by Alec Baldwin. We know that his name is “Blake” only from the credits; asked his name by one of the other salesmen, he answers: “What’s my name? F*** you. That’s my name.” In the film, Blake sets things in motion by delivering a motivational speech and announcing a sales competition: “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize? A set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired. Get the picture?” He berates the salesmen in terms both financial — “My watch cost more than your car!” — and sexual. Their problem, in Blake’s telling, isn’t that they’ve had a run of bad luck or bad sales leads — or that the real estate they’re trying to sell is crap — it is that they aren’t real men.

[…]

These guys don’t want to see Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. What they want is to be Blake. They want to swagger, to curse, to insult, and to exercise power over men, exercising power over men being the classical means to the end of exercising power over women, which is of course what this, and nine-tenths of everything else in human affairs, is about. Blake is a specimen of that famous creature, the “alpha male,” and establishing and advertising one’s alpha creds is an obsession for some sexually unhappy contemporary men. There is a whole weird little ecosystem of websites (some of them very amusing) and pickup-artist manuals offering men tips on how to be more alpha, more dominant, more commanding, a literature that performs roughly the same function in the lives of these men that Cosmopolitan sex tips play in the lives of insecure women. Of course this advice ends up producing cartoonish, ridiculous behavior. If you’re wondering where Anthony Scaramucci learned to talk and behave like such a Scaramuccia, ask him how many times he’s seen Glengarry Glen Ross.

What’s notable about the advice offered to young men aspiring to be “alpha males” is that it is consistent with the classic salesmanship advice offered by the real-world versions of Blake in a hundred thousand business-inspiration books (Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World is the classic of the genre) and self-help tomes, summarized in an old Alcoholics Anonymous slogan: “Fake it ’til you make it.” For the pick-up artists, the idea is that simply acting in social situations as though one were confident, successful, and naturally masterful is a pretty good substitute for being those things. Never mind the advice of Cicero (esse quam videri, be rather than seem) or Rush — just go around acting like Blake and people will treat you like Blake.

If that sounds preposterous, remind yourself who the president of the United States of America is.

Trump is the political version of a pickup artist, and Republicans — and America — went to bed with him convinced that he was something other than what he is. Trump inherited his fortune but describes himself as though he were a self-made man.

Update: I guess he came in third.

Craft brewers are good examples of “evasive entrepreneurs”

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rosemarie Fike explains why craft brewers almost always push tours of their premises and souvenir glasses, mugs, coasters, and T-shirts:

This summer I’ve been enjoying a lot of microbrewery tours — even though the main attraction isn’t the “tour” I pay for, but the free beer that comes with it. In fact, the breweries must know that’s why people come. So why don’t they just drop this tour façade and sell us the beer?

Regardless of which brewery you visit, you pay a mere $10 for a pint glass with the brewery’s logo on it. As a thank you for purchasing the pint glass, they then grant three tickets you can redeem for free “samples” — which are actually full-sized beers.

There are also usually food vendors and live music. This atmosphere combined with the inexpensive libations draw sizeable crowds to these “tours” — where only a handful of patrons actually tour the facility.

But why do the breweries insist upon selling us the pint glasses, when most of us only really want what goes inside?

In conversation with the brewery owners, I learned that the breweries in my town aren’t legally allowed to sell beer directly to consumers in the way a bar can. But there’s nothing in the law preventing them from giving their product away.

In response to those incentives, they sell customers a pint glass (or charge them for the “tour”) and rent some of their property out to food vendors to subsidize the cost of getting their product into the hands of eager consumers without technically charging them for it.

It’s far from an ideal situation for these businesses, but it allows them to introduce new people to their product and to earn some revenue in the process — even if it’s less revenue than they could earn if they were allowed to just sell people the beer. It’s a clever arrangement and a perfect example of evasive entrepreneurship.

Byzantine religion – not a joking matter

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

When Tamara Keel isn’t talking about guns, she apparently relaxes by talking about Byzantine history:

Court of Emperor Justinian with (right) archbishop Maximian and (left) court officials and Praetorian Guards; Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The dark-haired bearded man to Justinian’s right is believed to be Belisarius. (via Wikimedia)

So, this Maximus dude was a bureaucrat in the Byzantine Empire who apparently had religion as a hobby, as did everybody in Constantinople back then. All the Byzantines did was watch chariot races, debate arcane theological matters, and riot and/or kill each other over differences of opinion on chariot races or arcane theological matters. (Oh, and they engaged in so much intra-governmental intrigue that they went in the dictionary for it.)

At some point, Maximus dropped out of government service and took up religion as a full-time occupation, leaving the city of Constantinople for a monastery in Anatolia. Skipping town ahead of the invading Persians, he landed in Carthage, in Eastern Roman hands for the nonce, thanks to Justinian and Belisarius’s ruinously expensive Mediterranean campaigns.

The big argument in the Church (there was just the one, back then) at the time was between guys who thought Jesus had two natures, human and divine, but only one divine will, and other guys who thought that Jesus had not only two natures, but also a human will and a divine will. Seriously. This was a very big deal and dudes were killing each other over it.

Well, the first view, Monothelitism, was the official view at the time, but Maximus was a believer in the second, or Dyothelitism. And he and the new Pope, Martin I, called a religious council in Rome to debate on the matter without bothering to ask the Emperor. When the council turned out a Dyotheletic verdict, Emperor Constans II (a Monotheletist) had both Pope Martin I and Maximus arrested.

The Pope got de-Poped and banished to the Crimea, where he died. Maximus was tried and sentenced to exile. However, he would not shut up about Dyothelitism and wound up having a great big show trial a few years later, following which he got his tongue cut out and his right hand cut off so he couldn’t tell people that Jesus had two wills anymore or even write it very legibly. Then he got banished to Georgia. (The one on the Black Sea, not the one you drive through on the way to Florida.)

He died in exile there in 662 AD. Nineteen years later, at the Third Council of Constantinople, the Church (still just the one) decided that maybe Jesus did have two wills after all. Maximus received a posthumous pardon, sort of a more official version of “Whoops! Hey, sorry about the tongue and the hand and the whole exile-and-dying-in-prison thing. No hard feelings, okay? Here, have a feast day.”

I told you they took their religion seriously in Constantinople, didn’t I?

Patents, Prizes, and Subsidies

Published on 17 May 2016

Growth on the cutting edge is all about the creation of new ideas.

So, we want institutions that incentivize such creation. How do we do this? The answer is somewhat tricky.

The first goal for good ideas is for them to spread as freely as possible. The further the reach, the greater the gains. The problem is, if just anyone can use ideas, then why would we ever pay for them? And without the right incentives, why would innovators create new ideas at all?

Imagine yourself as the creator of a new drug. Typically, it costs about a billion dollars to do this, not counting the time and effort needed to get the drug FDA-approved.

Now, if there were no protections in place, then theoretically, once the formula’s known, everyone could just copy the make-up of your new drug. See, the thing about pharmaceuticals is, once the formula’s known, production is relatively cheap. Given that, let’s assume imitations start flooding the market.

Predictably, the price of your new drug will plummet.

Once prices hit rock-bottom, you’ll have no way to recoup the $1 billion you spent on R&D.

Given that kind of result, we reckon you probably won’t want to develop more good ideas.

The US founding fathers anticipated this problem. Knowing that innovators needed incentives to have good ideas, the founders wrote a protection mechanism into the Constitution.

They gave Congress the ability to grant exclusive rights to inventors — rights to use and sell their inventions, for a limited period of time. This exclusive right, is what we call a patent. Patents grant inventors a temporary monopoly over the use and sale of their intellectual property.

Now, as nice as this is, patents are a thorny subject.

For one, how long should patents last? Also, how much innovation is considered enough to merit a patent grant? Not to mention, are patents the only way to reward good ideas?

The answer is no.

There are two more incentive options here: prizes, and subsidies.

Let’s start with subsidies. University and research subsidies are particularly effective in the basic sciences. Since innovations in this space are rather abstract, subsidies incentivize research without requiring the applications of the research to be explicitly named. The problem is, when we’re incentivizing just research, then researchers might pick directions that are interesting, but not particularly useful.

This is why the third incentive option — prizes — exists.

Prizes reward the output of solving a certain problem. Another plus, is that prizes leave solutions unspecified. They provide a problem to work on, but give quite a lot of leeway as to how the problem is solved.

Now, knowing the complexity inherent in patents, you might think that prizes and subsidies are good enough alternatives. But none of these incentives for ideas, are inherently better than any of the others. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all involve their own tradeoffs and questions.

For example, who decides what gets subsidized? Who decides which goals merit a prize?

It’s hard to determine what mix of institutions, will best incentivize the production of good ideas. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all navigate these conflicting goals, in their own way.

And yes, all this talk of incentives and conflicting goals and tradeoffs might be like walking a tightrope. But, it’s a tightrope we can’t opt out of. Certainly not if we want the economy to keep growing.

In our next release, you’ll watch a TED talk from a certain economist that elaborates further on ideas. And then, we’ll wrap up this course segment with the Idea Equation. Stay tuned!

QotD: Naming Mount McKinley as an amusing “up yours” gesture

Filed under: Economics, History, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Just one thing makes me regret the change. “Mount McKinley” was originally named as a amusing “up yours” gesture with which I have enormous sympathy.

The story told by the prospector who pinned the moniker on the mountain is that he had crossed paths in the wilds of Alaska with two advocates of “free silver.” This was a political craze that, like the Dreyfus Affair or the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, took over an entire civilization for a while, but now defies easy explanation. The “silverites” were Western populists and farmers who wanted silver to be accepted as currency and minted into coin “freely” by the government, as gold then was — but at a face price far above silver’s market value. This would have expanded the money supply explosively, letting the chronically indebted off the hook.

Most economists now regard the silverites as having had a ridiculous answer to real problems with a gold standard. But the important point is that the prospector, Frank Dickey, ran into classic monetary cranks of a type that still exists. And he had done so in a unique situation which permitted no immediate escape. One shudders upon envisioning such a hell.

Dickey got so tired of his companions’ laborious tirades — one imagines them arguing with him long, long after he had stopped arguing back — that when they ran across an impressive mountain, he immediately decided to name it after the new presidential nominee McKinley, Great Satan of the silverites. As the Secretary of the Interior’s Order No. 3337 points out, William McKinley never visited or had any other connection with the mountain, or with Alaska. He was, for Dickey’s purposes, a punchline.

Colby Cosh, “Mount McKinley was a most amusing ‘up yours’ aimed at monetary cranks”, National Post, 2015-09-01.

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