Everyone knows that Hollywood makes a big push in the summer since this is when they make most of their money. Or do they?
The Wall Street Journal tried to slip through the following nugget, hoping that reader-innumeracy would cover up their own innumeracy. In a June 25 article entitled "Summer of 44" they pointed out that the summer season is so important to Hollywood because:
"...the 18-week summer season ... accounts for 40% of all ticket sales..."
Do the math: 18 weeks is 35% of the year. That's right, they are worried to distraction about making 40% of their revenue in 35% of th year, while giving (obviously) short shrift to the 60% of their money that they take in during the other 65% of the year.
I just finished In Praise of Commercial Culture. Yes, I did find out about Tyler Cowen's book from the advertisement on Marginal Revolution, and yup, I bought it there and sent a little money to him through Amazon. You can too if you click the link or cover photo above.
The book is not really an economic explanation of commercial culture, but rather a sequence of lists and discussions about culture - that is commercial in nature. The former would have interested me more, but the buying public less. And, I think the appeal is to someone who is culturally oriented, but finds commercialization bothersome at best and probably much worse. So, the title is very descriptive of what you'll get when you read it.
This is not a book with a lot of big thinking (and that may be that I am used to thinking about culture as an economist), but it does have a lot of good trivia. Here's what caught my attention:
...I witnessed once again how the nation's media stakes out a position, sets it up in a box, the size and shape and color of which senior editors and producers have a bigger say in dictating than the reporters who are filling it, then rearrange the contents to conform with their version of the truth come what may.
What ticked her off? The interpretation of the 9/11 panels results by the national media. Specifically how a report about the development of Al Qaeda was twisted into diatribes about "Bush's War".
Why should you or I care what she says? Because her brother was pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She's not angry at complacent Americans (in the 90's), (possibly) incompetent crisis response (in 2001), the Bush administration (over the last 4 years), or even the 9/11 commission of this spring. She's angry at the major media and the Democratic party of today. Are they listening?
Conrad Black says: "Canadians are probably more closely integrated with the American economy than is the state of California." I'm sure this will upset Canadians, but I wonder if Californians would be secretly pleased with this comment.
I didn't know what to put in, so I entered "someone who is closed minded". A ranked list of possibilities came up and # 3 was "liberal". Conservative was all the way down at # 916 between attitude and pardon. Read what you will into that one.
I'm not sure how this reverse dictionary generates its information, so I can't say whether this is just google-bombing or not.
Homing pigeons find their way by following roads. Scientists had thought that they use the position of the sun to determine direction. Apparently not, as documented in this Daily Telegraph article entitled "How Do Homing Pigeons Navigate".
I'm somewhat dissatisfied with this answer. In science it is always important to know what the axioms or primitives are of the research. In this case, how did people know homing pigeons existed before there were large road nets? What did they home by when there were no roads?
If the government priced the same way that firms do, more civilians would have traveled to space on their own dime. But, they don't ... and its probably because a bureaucrats job isn't on the line when making that sort of pricing decision.
I bring this up because it looks like the Ansari X prize is going to be won soon. This is a privately donated prize of $10 million that will be awarded to the first private group to put a 3-person vehicle in space, bring the vehicle back, and do it again within 2 weeks. The lead group made the first successful leg on Monday, and isn't expected to have a problem repeating the performance. You can even catch up on the news at a blog entitled Ansari X Prize Space Race News.
The odd thing is that the prospective winner has spent well in excess of the value of the prize. Why would someone spend (the rumoured) $20 million to win $10 million? The obvious answer is that this is like buying an option on the stock market - there will probably be a lot of business in the future to make up the difference.
Yet, governments have been able to take people to space for a long time. Why don't they take more? Hmm. NASA has never allowed "passengers". This is tantamount to saying that the price to buy a ticket as a passenger is infinite. No surprise that there were no takers. The Russians are more reasonable, and have taken a passenger for about $20 million.
What is so odd about this is that if, say, NASA were private, they would never have charged so much. The reason is that businesses charge close to their marginal cost for most goods. If they have some market power, they may be able to charge more for a while, but this just encourages others to undercut the price.
And what is the marginal cost of taking a passenger on a spaceflight? It's effectively zero. Not literally zero, but really close in the big scheme of things. Once you've built the rocket, and the launch pad, and the control facilities and so on, the cost of taking one additional person is miniscule. Maybe not zero, but did it really cost NASA an arm and a leg to haul Jake Garn into space for a joy ride?
My guess is that taking one additional person, as an almost untrained passenger, on a rocket mission to space would cost under $500,000. At that price, people would be lining up to do it.
Why didn't governments price space travel this way (aside from the fact that they may just not have wanted to be in that business)? The primary reason is that government agencies are very bad at pricing things optimally. Businesses price at marginal cost because their future is on the line. Maximizing profits is the best way to ensure their future in that enterprise. But, most governments price to cover average total cost - the average amount needed to avoid losing money. The problem with this is that it means that a government bureaucrat somewhere decided that a passenger on a rocket should have to pay for a chunk of, say, Cape Canaveral. This makes the opportunity prohibitively expensive.
If you want to go to space but haven't had the chance, blame a bean counter.
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