Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Restarting running: 100 days in


Between 1999 and 2008 inclusive, the best I ever managed in a single block was a pathetic 17 runs over 41 days.  In 1998 I did manage 37 runs in a “block” but it was haphazard, with several two-week breaks and a couple of spurts of 5 runs per week that were, frankly, dangerous.  It took me 128 days (18 and a half weeks) to get through those 37.  I should reach 37 this time after 103 days (14 and a half weeks).  I attribute my sticking with it this time to:

  1. Running shorter distances than I have in the past
  2. Resisting the urge to increase my speed too quickly
  3. Never running more than three times per week
  4. This

Media bias and people who are WAAAY out on the political spectrum

Andrew Sullivan points to this research by Pew on how American’s view the bias of the major television networks.  It’s nicely summarised in this diagram (from Pew):

Public perceptions of news network ideology

Andrew makes the obvious and easy comment bashing on Fox:

Clearly the public understands that the network MSM is skewed to the left. But there’s a difference of magnitude between that assessment and that of Fox. Quite simply, most Americans see Fox for what it is: an appendage of a political operation, not a journalistic one. Its absurd distortions, its relentless attacks on Obama from the very start, its hideously shrill hosts, and its tawdry, inflammatory chat all put it in a class by itself.

Personally, I don’t necessarily agree that the MSM is, on average, biased to the left (although maybe that’s just my internal biases talking).  I’ll get to that in a moment, but first …

14% of respondents consider Fox News to be mostly liberal in it’s bias!  That’s almost one in seven.  Just how far out in the political spectrum are those people? What would Fox need to do to convince them that they were neutral?  Actively promote the KKK?

Back to perceptions of bias.  Here is another graphical illustration of the Pew Research data:

US Perceptions of MSM Bias (Pew)

It seems safe to assume that anybody who thinks Fox News is liberal will consider the rest liberal as well, so that explains a large fraction of the “liberal” responses for the rest.  So, excluding the people who are personally so conservative as to consider Fox News to have a pro-liberal bias, this is what it looks like:

US Perceptions of MSM Bias (excl. people who think Fox is liberal)

In other words, when we restrict our attention to people who are not insane [1], the American public agrees with me: by and large, the non-Fox networks are pretty evenly balanced, although MSNBC  is pro-liberal.

[1] Okay, they may not be insane.  I have no evidence than any larger fraction of them are insane than in the rest of the population.  But they do strike me as having some pretty whacky personal beliefs.

The death throes of US newspapers?

Via Megan McArdle’s excellent commentary, I discovered the Mon-Fri daily circulation figures for the top 25 newspapers in the USA.  Megan’s words:

I think we’re witnessing the end of the newspaper business, full stop, not the end of the newspaper business as we know it. The economics just aren’t there. At some point, industries enter a death spiral: too few consumers raises their average costs, meaning they eventually have to pass price increases onto their customers. That drives more customers away. Rinse and repeat . . .


The numbers seem to confirm something I’ve thought for a while: we’re eventually going to end up with a few national papers, a la Britain, rather than local dailies. The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times (sorry, conservatives!) are weathering the downturn better than most, and it’s not surprising: business, politics, and national upper-middlebrow culture. But in 25 years, will any of them still be printing their product on the pulped up remains of dead trees? It doesn’t seem all that likely.

For those of you that like your information in pictoral form, here it is:

First, the data.  Look at the Mean/Median/Weighted Mean figures.  That really is an horrific collapse in sales.


Second, the distribution (click on the image for a full-sized version):


Finally, a scatter plot of year-over-year change against the latest circulation figures (click on the image for a full-sized version):

US_Newspaper_circulation_scatterplotAs Megan alluded in the second paragraph I quoted, there appears to be a weak relationship between the size of the paper and the declines they’ve suffered, with the bigger papers holding up better.  The USA Today is the clear exception to that idea.  Indeed, if the USA Today is excluded from the (already very small!) sample the R^2 becomes 30%.

To really appreciate just how devestating those numbers are, you need to combine it with advertising figures.  Since newspapers take revenue from both sales (circulation) and advertising, the fact that advertising revenue has also collapsed, as it always does in a recession, means that newspapers have taken not just one but two knives to the chest.

Here’s advertising expenditure in newspapers over recent years, taken from here:

Year Expenditure (millions of dollars) Year-over-year % change
2005 47,408
2006 46,611 -1.7%
2007 42,209 -9.2%
2008 34,740 -17.7%

Which is ugly.  Remember, also, that this expenditure is nominal.  Adjusted for inflation, the figures will be worse.

So what do you do when your ad sales and your circulation figures both fall by over 15%?  Oh, and you can’t really cut costs any more because, as Megan says:

For twenty years, newspapers have been trying to slow the process with increasingly desperate cost cutting, but almost all are at the end of that rope; they can’t cut their newsroom or production staff any further and still put out a newspaper. There just aren’t enough customers who are willing to pay for their product what it costs to produce it.

Which, in economics speak, means that the newspaper business has a large fixed cost component that isn’t particularly variable even in the long run.

Tyler Cowen, in an excellent post that demonstrates precisely why I read him daily, says:

I believe with p = 0.6 that the world is in for a “great disruption.”  It has come to MSM first but it will not end there.  In the longer run I am optimistic about the results of this change — computers will free up lots of human labor — but in the meantime it will have drastic implications for income redistribution, across both individuals and across economic sectors.  For a core metaphor, the internet displacing paid journalism and classified ads is a good place to start.  The value of newspapers has been sucked into Google.

[…]Once The Great Disruption becomes more evident, entertainment will be very very cheap.

Which may well be true, but will be cold comfort for all of those traditional journalists out there.

“L’Heure espagnole” and “Gianni Schicchi”

Last night Dani and I went to the Royal Opera thanks to the glories of Student Standby tickets:  £10 each!

It’s luck of the draw for where you end up sitting.  Last night we were in the nose-bleeds, but at the ROH, even there you get a perfect view and no acoustic trade-off that my untrained ears can notice.  We’ve previously managed to get seats that would ordinarily cost hundreds of pounds.

The Royal Opera - L'Heure espagnole

We saw two one-act comedic operettasRavel‘s L’Heure espagnole (the poor-quality photo above is from that – Look!  Giant breasts at the opera!) and Puccini‘s Gianni Schicchi.  Freakin’ hilarious.

One in 20 Australians play the pokies WEEKLY

Stephen Lunn, writing at The Australian, channels the Productivity Commission’s recent report:

[The Productivity Commission] finds the legal ban in Australia on online gaming is a failure, with betting traffic heading to overseas sites that offer little in the way of consumer protection.

In its draft report on gambling, the first in-depth national look at Australia’s gambling industry in a decade, the commission finds that gamblers are losing $18 billion a year, of which $12 billion is lost on gaming machines.

It estimates that around 5 per cent of adults play weekly or more on gaming machines, and 15 per cent of those, or around 125,000 people, are problem gamblers.

Productivity commissioner Gary Banks says “a large number of people have problems with their gambling (and) it is vital that they are given a tool to achieve greater control”.

The commission recommends the reduction in the amount that can be lost on a gaming machine from its current upper limit of $1200 an hour to $120 per hour, and giving people a choice when they sit down on how much they spend, using the latest technologies.

[Emphasis added by John Barrdear]

If we assume that state governments and pubs don’t want to get rid of pokies because they’re so dependent on the revenues, then surely the only serious hope for enacting this would be for it to be a federal law.

Lifting the ban on online gambling and permitting pokies but limiting the loss rate seem sensible ideas to me – they leave people with the freedom to gamble if they wish, but limit the loss to largely one of time rather than having the option of putting the house down.

Of course, the softest still-ultimately-effective policy would be to simply hold the upper limit on loss rates constant while letting the minimum wage and welfare benefits rise with inflation so that the limit falls both in real terms (relative to the cost of living) and relative to household income.