September 22, 2014

Dallas Symphony shows the perils and issues of the modern orchestra

My brother-in-law's mother passed away a little over a month ago. Her children decided to have her cremated, then have a memorial service ta a convenient time for all, in Dallas.

So, I got an invite, and headed on up from the exurban Waco area. While there, I thought, let's see what the DSO is playing. Answer? Mahler's Ninth! And, the Stokowski transcription of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue, a nice appetite whetter.

So, I go online to order. And problems begin.

On various browsers, on both the Mac at work and the PC at home, with various privacy and protections settings, the website WILL NOT bring up the Meyerson's seating arrangements for me after I click on wanting to buy for Saturday. I have to toggle to Sunday, where it does show that. Then, it keeps showing that when I toggle to Saturday. OK, we have a problem but I an work around it.

Then, I see that even the cheapest seats, in Choral Terrace, are up to $22. OK, not ideal, and a definite increase from when I last lived in Dallas, five and a half years ago. But I know that symphonies (Minneapolis, Atlanta) are struggling. So, I click to buy.

And, I see that that $22 does NOT include a $7 "handling charge." I'm upset at a bit of pricing dishonesty and think about not buying; I wait.

Finally, Saturday morning, I decide to do the deal. Well, by that time, all but two front row seats in Choral Terrace is sold out, and one of those is at the audience end of the one side.

It's OK; there's still one front row center section seat.

I'm told I need to log in. So, I try an old email address, with multiple passwords. None work. I check that account; no password email for the DSO is saved.

So, I call their customer service line.

Closed on Saturdays. I can understand being closed on Sundays, but Saturdays? That's poor customer service for a major arts venue.

So, back to the website.

"Login with Facebook."

I don't like doing that, but, I think, OK.

I'm told the link doesn't work. (And, I had unblocked Facebook Connect on Ghostery, so it wasn't that.)

I figure maybe it's something on my settings on the PC at home. So, a quick drive to the office.

Nope, doesn't work there.

So, DSO? Counting that handling charge, per my best recollection, on the cheap seats, your prices have increased more than 50 percent since the 2008-09 season. When I had season tickets to Choral Terrace, all three classical subseries, in 2004-05, it was $9 a pop; getting one set of six concerts was $10 an event, $9 for each of the second six and $8 for each of the third. Whatever handling charge existed was definitely less than $7 a concert.

And, with all those price increases, you have a website with functionality issues and no Saturday customer service?

So, DSO, I'll think even more carefully about future purchases next time I'm in the Metroplex.

Fort Worth has no choral terrace. Its cheapest seats are the front few rows of the orchestra. They're at $20 plus $3 for handling.  And, that's on the floor, facing the orchestra.

The second cheapest in Dallas is $49 vs. $32 in Fort Worth. Top price, comparing Saturday to Saturday, is $145 in Dallas vs. $68 in Fort Worth.

Yes, Dallas is a better orchestra, and has a larger orchestra to pay. But, it seems like the DSO is pushing its price points.

(And, I tried looking ahead to this weekend's concert, and guess what? The same website issue, on not immediately displaying seating issues, happened for this coming Saturday.

Why smart people — and movement skeptics — do dumb things; irrational, anti-rational, non-rational

Over at Insight, Skeptic's new blogging spot, Barbara Drescher has a nice piece on the "smart people do dumb things," reminiscing on joining Mensa, with the lead-in of a fairly well-known story of a college prof falling victim to the fake Russian lover scheme. That said, such issues, or related ones, aren't confined to Mensa.

Let's see if motivated reasoning gets tackled over there. One can be so smart and so skeptical to be sure that secondhand smoke isn't carcinogenic and that global warming isn't real. Or, one can be so smart and so skeptical to be sure that "little tweaks" to websites aren't criminally fraudulent. Or one can be sure that such smart people in positions of skeptical authority are right when they are being sure. If you're active in "movement skepticism," I don't think I need to name names.

Beyond that, the forums at the James Randi Educational Foundation website have had people start threads defending irrational ideas. (I guess that, and the effort involved in moderating them, is why Randi is dumping off the forums.)

More seriously, this is the tip of an iceberg. There's differences, I would say, between non-rational, irrational and antirational actions.

And, I'm going to address a bit more how I see those three as separate from each other.

Non-rational actions are of a few different types.

One is, per Daniel Kahneman, where "fast," reflexive thinking is expected. To riff on our ancestry, if you're on a safari vacation, and the grass rustles, you jump just as much as an australopithecine 2 million years ago, since that rustling grass could signify a lion.

Somewhat similar are non-reflexive, but still emotional decisions. You don't analyze why you like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla or strawberry, you just eat.

Third are leaps of faith and similar actions that are forced decisions. (Not all leaps of faith are forced decisions, of course.) Let's say you have a job offer and have 24 hours to decide whether to take it or not. Interviews have been entirely by phone or email; you've never met the bosses and principals at the other end; you've never seen the work site; you've never met your would-be coworkers. At the same time, you're actively looking to get out of your current employment situation. You may, after you leap, find more information that, had you known it earlier, would have led to a decision not to leap. (The issue of emotional dissonance, an emotional parallel to cognitive dissonance, might come into play on some of these issues.)

Then, there's irrational decisions, like the college professor chasing the fake lover. If we would just stop a minute and do our "slow" thinking, we'd escape many of them. They need no more explanation.

Then, there's anti-rational decisions. A good example is Richard Nixon late in his second term, in foreign policy decisions he made after Watergate started catching up to him. He figured if he acted nuts enough vis-a-vis the Russians, they'd think he actually was nuts. Of course, that could be considered rational, as well as anti-rational.

The whole edifice of North Korea's leadership and its action in foreign affairs might be a more reasonable idea of anti-rational action.

Arguably, the Mutual Assured Destruction stance on nuclear staredowns between the US and the USSR in the 1950s is another.

Interesting, that the first three examples I recognized of deliberately anti-rational action are all international affairs, isn't it? Interesting, and scary.

September 21, 2014

#WendyDavis had one definite whiff in her debate with #GregAbbott

In Friday's Texas gubernatorial debate, candidates each got to ask one another a question:
In the middle of the debate, when the candidates asked each other one question apiece, Abbott asked Davis if she regretted her vote for Obama.
She did not answer directly, instead transitioning quickly into a version of her stump speech.

The moment underlined Davis’ challenge as she tries to make up major ground in the campaign’s final weeks if she is to overcome the 20-year drought of Democrats winning statewide office.

“She didn’t want to be linked with the national Democratic Party while running for a state office for Texas,” (said Paul Jorgensen, a political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American.) “And going into the debate, I’m sure she knew that Abbott was going to try to do that. And so she didn’t want to play into his hand there, but it led to a rather weak answer.”
Yeah, that was weak.

Correct answer? A rhetorical question. Or a string of them.

"Mr. Abbott, do you regret voting for a governor who's now under indictment for abuse of power? Mr. Abbott, do you regret voting for a governor who's now under indictment because he tried to muscle aside the district attorney investigating him for campaign-related financial issues related to you? Mr. Abbott, do you regret not having better oversight as attorney general over donations to politicians that may have led to favorable treatment for donors by the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas?"

Yep, she should have been prepared for this Abbott question with a comeback like that.

But, instead, either she herself or her staff and handlers blew it. In my opinion, she's getting bad advice to not tie Perry's indictment to Abbott every chance she gets. From the day the Perry indictment broke, her campaign staff has kept her buttoned down on this issue, and I think it's a stupid decision.

You're down a dozen or more percentage points in a lot of polling, from what polling we've had. It's time to unbutton and swing for the fences; there's just six weeks left.

We'll see if she does that in the second debate.

We all know, per scorecarding, that she has to rattle Abbott. My mock suggested answer for her to give to Abbott at least would have a chance of doing that. You've got to try to bell Abbott with the word "corruption." After that, Sen. Davis, if you want minority voter turnout for you, not just in percentages but in total numbers, you then have to bell the Abbott cat with voter suppression.

Speaking of, there's still time to vote in my poll at right, about this year's race.

September 20, 2014

And, newspapers have the money for genius-level ad reps?

I think Editor and Publisher is becoming divorced from reality, more and more. (That said, it probably isn't making money, or close to it, even as an online-only product, and thus is stretching the bounds more and more.)

This new article, about what newspapers should want in their "Net 2.0" sales force, is a good example.

Millennials are a great work force? Really?

Beyond that snark, let's get to the meat of the article.

And, how much is an ad salesperson whom you also expect to be an "educator" and more going to want? Probably more in money, and more in non-monetary compensation, than a newspaper is going to pay based on the overall sales market in the area.

So, let's be skeptical of this:

(360 Ad Sales chief executive officer Ryan) Dohrn advises publishers to hire sales people who can be educators. “New products come out every day and they need to be able to teach people about them.” Communication plays a big part, but Dohrn said sales people should also “listen more and talk less” in order to find what advertisers need.
Related to that, where's the training money coming from? And, do people like Dohrn provide any guarantees?

Then, there’s problems like this in the piece:
Even though “advertisers are fleeing print for digital,” said Dohrn, sales people are constantly requesting help on “how not to cannibalize print for digital.”
 “The problem is marketing,” he said. “Look at where you live and at advertisers like car dealers and jewelers. They’re everywhere. They understand marketing 101. You need to advertise in multiple ways on multiple days.”
 To be successful, Dohrn said sales people need to help advertisers understand multimedia. “Offer a better affordable package that includes print, social media and video. Don’t make it print verses digital.”
But, that IS quasi-cannibalizing, at least. You’re being “forced” to offer a lower price on a multimedia product.

Meanwhile, you have advisers contradicting one another. Remember Dohrn, talking about  selling multimedia packages? Arnie Stein disagrees:
“Look hard at separating your print and digital sales teams,” Stein said. “If your digital revenue is 20 percent or more of your core revenue, consider spinning them off into separate sales teams and working in non-traditional ways.”
So, which is it? Especially if these trainers don’t guarantee results, it compounds the problem. 

Also not mentioned here is the extra time on building different advertising products. That’s especially true if video is involved. Is a smaller-sized daily paper, even one that posts one or two 30-second video quickies a week to its website on the news side, really equipped to shoot video of an advertising client? Erm, no.

If the town is too small for a TV station, the video is still going to be compared in quality to that on the nearest regional station.

And, are you as a paper then going to scrape up the money to get a staff photographer who’s that good at video? And how much salary will he or she want?

Speaking of, we finally get a small dose of realism, three-quarters of the way in:
“The biggest change post-recession is lack of sales staff. There are not enough feet on the street, not enough inside reps making outbound calls to get back to pre-recession revenues,” (Janet) DeGeorge said. “Sales staff cuts have to be replenished in order to get the money back again.” 
But, it's more than just post-recession, at least at larger papers. The big chains continue to cut and cut and cut, even at seven-day dailies of, say medium-small 25K circulation. Those cuts aren't going to be replenished.

I agree with one publisher, that you can find easy non-gimmick tricks, like making the font size in your print classys larger. But, should it have taken this long after the collapse of newspapers, to think about something like that?

Also, that's not digitally-related at all. It's pure print.

September 19, 2014

An old skeptics site gets a shot in the arm

I blogged at the start of the month about the James Randi Educational Foundation's announcement that it had terminated D.J. Grothe and closed its Los Angeles office, and then followed up with wondering if JREF, like the Center for Inquiry a few years ago, might not be suffering from founder's syndrome.

As part of that, I wondered if Michael Shermer/Skeptics Society might take over JREF, while at the same time, noting that its SkepticBlog seemed almost on its last legs.

Well, that has officially changed.

Jim Lippard
Skepticblog is being replaced with something new. Jim Lippard has one of the first posts. Questions of "why," that run through my thoughts, are answered well right here, in his tracing the roots of modern movement skepticism back to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP:
But what were CSICOP’s original goals, and has the organization successfully met them? What are the goals of the other skeptical organizations that have been formed in the U.S. and around the world since (and in a few cases, before) CSICOP, and are they being achieved? Just what is the value and purpose of “organized skepticism” as a movement, as a set of institutions, as a network of people participating in conferences, writing articles and books, recording podcasts and videos, and interacting online? What does it accomplish, what is the broader social context in which it resides, and what is its relation to the institutions, practices, and subject matter of science? Does it do anything that isn’t already done by science, science journalists, science communicators, historians and philosophers of science, social studies of science, science museums, science educators, and just ordinary amateur science-interested people? What can skeptics learn from these other areas? What does it mean to self-identify as a “skeptic”? Where has skepticism gone wrong, and what can we learn from its failures? Are there alternatives to “organized skepticism” that might better achieve all or some of its goals?
Click the link; you'll learn what Jim plans to cover and more. 

And, for more background, click this link, also included in Jim's piece. Daniel Loxton goes into a bit more depth, already in 2007, on some of these issues.

Loxton, who was one of the last two at Skepticblog, along with Donald Prothero, has the formal announcement for "Insight," along with the complete roster of contributors.

I'm glad to see Michael McRae there, among others. It further internationalizes the place. Blake Smith, please don't totally squelch your bad puns sense of humor in your contributions. I like Tim Farley there, too.

And, all of you, please feel free to follow Lippard's model in your opening contributions.

I'm not totally enthused by a couple of contributors. Offering a semi-blank slate, I won't go into details of the issue involved, or the degree of difference and vocalization thereof, but, I'll be keeping my own skeptical eye out if certain issues of psychology are discussed, and I'm not the only skeptical type -- including a skeptical organization -- who doesn't see these issues there way. Enough said on that now.

And, I'm not at all familiar with Eve Siebert, but hope to learn more about her particular focus. Linguistics-related issues could be fun.

Anyway, more on the whole roster here. I will add that, beyond adding Mike, I hope they add either another "international" person, preferably one of color, an American "person of color," or both. Also, if Barbara Drescher is here, is she still going to be doing anything with Randi, or not? Especially since Randi's own column is reportedly not in the latest issue of his foundation's magazine, that plot thickens, too.

September 18, 2014

The Ron Washington mystery self deepens

The recently resigned manager of the Texas Rangers, Ron Washington, held a news conference today, in which he theoretically addressed why he resigned.

Only thing is, if a rumor of sexual assault is correct, or even close to correct, all he did was dig the hole deeper. And, hence the header of "self deepens."

First, if this were just a case of cheating on his wife, why did he have an attorney there?
Washington entered the ballroom with his wife and attorney Jason Lewis of the Dallas-based Greenberg Traurig LLP.

Greenberg Traurig isn't a penny-ante law firm, either, or even close to it. Not with nearly 50 years of history, 36 worldwide offices including eight outside North America, providing lobbying services in the US, and being publicly traded, per Wikipedia, which also kindly reminds me that this was were Jack Abramoff of vulturedom resided until GT canned him. So, Abramoff's ethics aside, GT is a power hitter.

Second, as for people who say this is all trash-mongering, well, Washington didn't have to hold a presser in the first place, and certainly not one where he tried to sling papier-mâché to cover up cracks in a story line that he didn't have to share anyway.

Third,  Rangers GM Jon Daniels kept Washington on the job after news of his positive drug test in 2009. He and the team did NOT offer a leave of absence in this year’s case, though. Also, nobody from the Rangers was at the presser today.

And, if he does want back in the game, I'm with Tim Cowlishaw — any cloud that still lingers means he gets back in as a coach, not a manager, at least to start.

And, as far as managers? Surely the Rangers could do better than hiring Mr. Super-Utility, Michael Young, next year. I'm sure either Mike Maddux or Steve Buechele would be a better choice. Daniels has also said that interim manager Tim Bogar will get full consideration to be the permanent replacement.