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Author: James Rogers

ESPN is bleeding

ESPN is bleeding

According to this and this, ESPN (which is owned by Disney) lost 203,000 subscribers in October and is estimated to lose 480,000 more in November. That’s 683,000 households who have given up on ESPN in the two months since the national anthem protests began, .

In 2017, an estimated 98.7 million households had pay TV of some sort. That means that .7% of pay TV-watching households cut the cord and dumped ESPN in two months.

Cable and satellite providers pay ESPN about $6 to $7 per household per month. Assuming an average of $6.50 per household per month, ESPN’s loss of 683,000 subscribers in September and October amounts to a $53.2 million annual loss.

If ESPN continued to lose 480,000 subscribers every month for a year, that would be 5.8 million households, or $450 million in annual subscriber revenues.

How long do you think ESPN could survive with losses like that?

ESPN’s most recent NFL contract requires that it pay $2 billion a year for Monday Night Football. How long could ESPN sustain that while it bleeds subscribers? How long can the NFL last when its TV contracts dry up?

Big institutions are powerful, but they get their power from us when we spend time or money on them We have the power to starve them dry. Dump ESPN. Dump the NFL. Dump Disney.

738 words to clean up Hollywood

738 words to clean up Hollywood

Film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual assault and sexual harassment shouldn’t come as a shock. Everyone’s known that this sort of thing has been going on Hollywood since the 1930s. Corey Feldman and Elijah Wood have each talked about how Hollywood does far worse: pedophilia and sexual exploitation of children.

The question is, why do we tolerate it? Hollywood makes its money because its films get copyright protection. But the U.S. Constitution says that the sole purpose of copyright is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Who can argue with a straight face that an industry with standards like Hollywood’s really promotes progress and useful arts?

If not, then why does Hollywood get copyright protection (and the outsized profits that come with it)? For that matter, why do pornographers and peddlers of obscenity get copyright protection?

These people are our enemies, and they should be treated as such.

So, in about an hour of spare time today, I wrote a bill of 738 words that Congress could pass to fix the problem. It would revoke copyright protections for works during which sexual exploitation takes place, for obscene works, and for works depicting sexual intercourse. Why hasn’t Congress done something like this already? Instead of doing something about it, Congress instead passes laws to extend Hollywood’s copyright protections. Why do they support Hollywood so strongly and so blindly?

A bill like this would be a huge financial shock to Hollywood. But that’s what it will take, at a minimum to force them to clean up. And that’s worth it.

Below is what I wrote in an hour. It’s not perfect, but IT ONLY TOOK AN HOUR. Has no one really thought to do this yet?

Sec. 101. Short Title.

This title may be referred to as the ‘‘Protecting Victims of the Entertainment Industry Act’’.

Sec. 102. Congressional Policy Statement

(a) Subject matter of copyright: In general Section 102 of title 17, United States Code is amended by inserting subsection c, “The Congress finds that the Constitutional grant to Congress of the power over copyright requires that copyrights be granted solely to ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’ This constitutional grant of power of necessity empowers Congress, and Congress alone, to determine what categories of works ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’ The Congress finds that the following works do not ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’ as required by the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 and that the extension of copyright protections to any such works is therefore unconstitutional:

“(1) any work in which sexual exploitation occurred during the preparation, creation, or promotion of the work.

“(2) any work that is obscene.

“(3) depictions of sexual intercourse in sound recordings or motion pictures and other audiovisual works.”

Sec. 103. No Copyright Available for Exploitative or Obscene Works

(a) NO Copyright Available for Exploitative or Obscene Works Chapter 2 of Title 17 is amended by inserting Section 206:

“(a) As used in this section, the following terms and their variant forms mean the following:

“an ‘employee’ is anyone hired or contracted to be involved in the creation, production, or post production of a work or anyone seeking to be hired or contracted to be involved in the creation, production, or post production of a work

“‘employment’ is the hiring or contracting of a person to be involved in the creation, production, or post production of a work

“a ‘manager’ is anyone involved in the management or financing of the creation, production, or post production of a work or anyone with authority, or apparent authority, to make decisions about hiring or contracting of personnel for involvement in the creation, production, or post production of a work

“(b) There may be no copyright in the following works, including for any works which were registered, created, or compiled prior to the adoption of this section:

“(1) works in which sexual exploitation occurred

“(A) sexual exploitation has occurred when

“(i) any manager implied or directly stated to any employee that the employee’s employment or continued employment was contingent on

“(a) the employee’s participation in any type of sexual activity

“(b) the employee’s observation of anyone engaged in any type of sexual activity, or

“(c) the recording by visual or audiovisual means of the employee engaged in any sexual activity or in any state of undress that exposes the employee’s genitals, buttocks, or female breasts, or

“(ii) any manager has engaged in any type of sexual activity with an employee

“(2) sound recordings, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, or pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works which depict sexual intercourse of any type

“(3) motion pictures and other audiovisual works, or pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works which depict human genitals or female breasts and which, when the work is taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value, or

“(4) any work that is obscene.

“(c) anyone wishing to challenge the claimed copyright status of a work under this section may bring an action against those who would otherwise be the copyright owner(s) of a work before a jury in any federal district court or in any state court; defendants who are found by a jury to be lacking copyright under this section shall pay to the plaintiff all attorney’s fees and all other legal costs of the plaintiff plus ten percent of the total revenues derived from the work, to be apportioned between by the jury in the case of multiple defendants.

“(1) appeals of copyright challenge actions brought under this section in state court shall be heard by the state’s courts of appeal, and then by the U.S. Supreme Court; appeals of copyright challenge actions heard in federal district court shall be heard by the relevant U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in which the district court is situation, and then by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“(A) Any defendant(s) that lose on appeal shall pay to the plaintiff, for both the trial and appeal, all attorney’s fees and all other legal costs of the plaintiff plus ten percent of the total revenues derived from the work.”

Ignorant voters, bad government

Ignorant voters, bad government

Some people are dumber than others, yet everyone’s vote counts the same.

Surveys since the 1950s have consistently shown that most Anericans are poorly informed about basic, important civic facts about our country, government, and political situation. An academic overview of research since the 1950s about voters’  knowledge found that a majority of Americans didn’t know the answers to questions about

definitions of key terms such as liberal, conservative, primary elections, or the bill of rights; knowledge of many individual and collective rights guaranteed by the Constitution; the names or issue stands of most public officials below the level of president or governor; candidate and party stands on many important issues of the day; key social conditions such as the unemployment rate or the percentage of the public living in poverty or without health insurance; how much of the federal budget is spent on defense, foreign aid, or social welfare; and so on.*

Defenders of our current system may argue that having a republican form of government is designed to solve this problem. They would argue that this is why we elect representatives who can inform themselves about the issues and vote for what would be best for us. But how can an ill-informed citizen know how to pick the best representative in the first place? Indeed, research shows that people’s

political knowledge seems to increase citizens’ ability to consistently con-
nect their policy views to their evaluations of public officials and political parties, as well as to their political behavior. For example, more-informed citizens are more likely to identify with the political party, approve of the performance of office holders, and vote for candidates whose policy stands are most consistent with their own views.**

Moreover, the better-informed demonstrate good citizenship beyond just choosing the optimal candidate or political party. For example,

the larger literature strongly suggeststhat informed citizens are “better” citizens in a number of ways. Specifically, research has found that more-informed citizens are more accepting of democratic norms such as political tolerance; are more efficacious about politics; are more likely to be interested in, follow, and discuss politics; and are more likely to participate in politics in a variety of ways, including voting, working for a political party,and attending local community meetings. Research also suggests that more-informed citizens are more likely to have opinions about the pressing issues of the day, are more likely to hold stable opinions over time, are more likely to hold opinions that are ideologically consistent with each other, and are less likely to change their opinions in the face of new but tangential or misleading information but more likely to change in the face of new relevant or compelling information.***

Some people vote against the public welfare not out of stupidity, but out of naked self-interest, voting for benefits for themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens and future generations.

To fix our system, we need voters who are informed, engaged, and public-spirited, rather than ignorant, apathetic, and selfish. Maybe it’s time we stated imposing some basic requirements about voters’ knowledge before they’re allowed to vote.

*Michael X. Delli Carpini, “An overview of the state of citizens’ knowledge about politics,” in M. S. McKinney, L. L. Kaid, D. G. Bystrom,  and D. B. Carlin (Eds.), Communicating politics: Engaging the public in democratic life, pp. 29-30, http://repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/53

**Same, p. 35 (citations omitted).

*** Same (citations omitted).

The Church of Social Justice 

The Church of Social Justice 

I’ve said it before: religion is an innate part of human nature. Someone can give up on organized religion, but he can’t give up on being human, so religiosity will still be a part of his character. Those who give up on church just transfer their religiosity to other things. Unfortunately,  most of them are poor replacements. And the worst replacement is the most common:the Church of Social Justice.

To show what I mean, let’s look at some academic definitions of religion. The first is from cognitive anthropologist Scott Atran:

Roughly, religion is (1) a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception.*

Anthropologists  Richard Sosis and Candace Alcorta defined it as “myth, ritual, taboo, symbolism, morality, altered states of consciousness, and belief in noncorporeal beings.”** Sociologist Emile Durkheim defined it as a “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things . . . that unite into one single moral community . . . all those who adhere to them.”**

The social justice movement fits almost all of these characteristics. Here are a few that most readily came to mind: 

counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents / belief in noncorporeal beings: blame the world’s problems and personal misfortune or lack of succsss on vague,  unprovable notions like “institutional racism” and “the patriarchy”.

myth: hate hoaxes, retconning diversity into the past in ridiculous ways (such as the BBC portraying sub-Saharan Africans living in Roman Britain as typical)

ritual: protest marches, diversity seminars

taboo: violating PC culture,  microagressions, cultural appropriation 

morality: violating the taboos above are often considered unpardonable sins

sacred things: worship of diversity for its own sake, sacralization of anything on the fringe-the fringier the better, abortion 

I’ll make posts in the future as I come across more examples of religiosity within the social justice movement.
* Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion,  2002

**Richard Sosis and Candace Alcorta, “Signaling, solidarity, and the sacred: the evolution of religious behavior,” Evolutionary Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 6, Nov. 2003, pp. 264-274, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2Fevan.10120http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/sosis/publications/sosisandalcortaEA.pdf.

Dump Google

Dump Google

Google apparently dropped all the accounts of a statistics professor, with no warning. His activities and his blog were apolitical, but that didn’t seem to matter to Google. He lost his blog archives, his email address, and years of archived emails. Google tried something similar with psychology professor Jordan Peterson until public outcry forced Google to back down.

Google has taken too much power over modern life, to the point where it has near-absolute power over many people’s digital lives. And as Lord Acton pointed out, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The thing is, Google only has the power that we give it. We could destroy Google in a week, if we wanted to. If we all stopped using it, it would lose all of its adverting revenue and fall apart.

Don’t use Google. For that matter, it’s best to avoid any free internet service financed through advertising. With all of those services, YOU are the product being sold to advertisers. So, avoid services supported by advertising. Use services you pay for so that you’re the customer and not the product. Or use fremium businesses that don’t accept advertisers, but instead provide a free service that you can upgrade with more features by payng. At least to them, you have value as a potential customer.

I pay for my blog’s hosting. I pay for my own email. I am their customer, not their  product.

And for when you can’t avoid using Google, always use an adblocker to starve it of revenue. My favorite is Ublock Origin, available for Chrome, Firefox, and Palemoon.

UPDATE: After the story spread on the internet, Google restored access. Most of us wouldn’t be so lucky.

Starship Troopers on economics

Starship Troopers on economics

I’ve been reading Robert Heinein’s 1959 military science fiction masterpiece,  Starship Troopers. I found interesting this discussion about value (during a flashback to a high school):

​“‘Value’has no meaning other than in relation to living beings. The value of a thing is always relative to a particular person, is completely personal and different in quantity for each living human—‘market value’is a fiction, merely a rough guess at the average of personal values, all of which must be quantitatively different or trade would be impossible….

“This very personal relationship, ‘value,’has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him . . . and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song which asserts ‘the best things in life are free.’Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted . . . and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.
“Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” He had been still looking at me and added, “If you boys and girls had to sweat for your toys the way a newly born baby has to struggle to live you would be happier . . . and much richer. As it is, with some of you, I pity the poverty of your wealth”

We’re right—we have an old poem on our side!

We’re right—we have an old poem on our side!

I got an A- in Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School. It was an intensive yearlong class taught by Charles Fried, a distinguished constitutional law expert and former Solicitor General of the United States. So, I speak with a fair degree of confidence when I say that poems inscribed on statues have no legal or precedential value in the American legal system.

That one side in a major national debate continually runs to a poetry quotation as one of their major arguments to back up their policy preferences is, frankly, ridiculous. Relying on poetry quotations is a good sign that you have a weak argument.

Replacing religion with UFOs?

Replacing religion with UFOs?

In my first post on this blog I said that

Religion is an inescapable part of human nature—it has been a part of all human cultures everywhere and at all times. Religion serves important functions by providing, among other things: 1) a way to make parts of our lives sacred and allow us to commune with God (or some higher power); 2) moral guidelines and answers to deep life questions; 3) ceremonies and rites marking major life events; 4) a sense of community and solidarity with our coreligionists; and 5) a signaling mechanism about one’s devotion and trustworthiness.

On July 21 in the New York Times, Clay Routledge, a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University, explained that

People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.

When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.

Established religions aren’t doing as good of a job at fulfilling their traditional roles in our lives as they used to. Consequently, more and more people are giving up on religion. But people who give up on traditional religion can’t escape their innate religious natures. And so they turn to UFOs and ghosts.

But why aliens? They don’t seem to be a good substitute for what religion has to offer. Professor Routledge explains:

A great many atheists and agnostics, of course, do not think U.F.O.s exist. I’m not suggesting that if you reject traditional religious belief, you will necessarily find yourself believing in alien visitors. But because beliefs about U.F.O.s and aliens do not explicitly invoke the supernatural and are couched in scientific and technological jargon, they may be more palatable to those who reject the metaphysics of more traditional religious systems.

And, I would add, the new secularists who don’t believe in UFOs or ghosts almost inevitably end up believing in some kind of new superstition and orthodoxy. The social justice movement is mostly just a new pseudo-religion thst scratches the religious itch of secularists. But such new alternatives are poor replacements for religion. As Professor Routledge points out:

It is important to note that thus far, research indicates only that the need for meaning inspires these types of paranormal beliefs, not that such beliefs actually do a good job of providing meaning. There are reasons to suspect they are poor substitutes for religion: They are not part of a well-established social and institutional support system and they lack a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning. Seeking meaning does not always equal finding meaning.

The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active. The question now is, how can society satisfactorily meet people’s religious and spiritual needs?

We need a better replacement for the old religions than what we have—something that keeps the best parts of the traditional religions, while incorporating our new scientific understanding of the world.

How to avoid dementia, maybe

How to avoid dementia, maybe

The authors of a recent article in The Lancet found nine “potentially modifiable” risk factors that appear to account for 35% of dementia:

Our results suggest that around 35% of dementia is attributable to a combination of the following nine risk factors: education to a maximum of age 11–12 years, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, hearing loss, late-life depression, diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking, and social isolation.

I suspect that genetic factors may affect these risk factors as well, so making behavior changes focused on  these factors may have a limited effect on dementia risk (the authors themselves acknowledge that “[t]he available evidence for the effect of lifestyle changes on cognitive decline is mixed”). But since changing behavior to avoid these nine risk factors is something we should be doing anyway, it’s good to know it might reduce dementia risk too.