Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Wilder/Fury II: Preview

It's been awhile since we had a boxing post on this site, but I've got $40 on Tyson Fury to defeat Deontay Wilder in the rematch, so why not run through my thinking?

Full disclosure: My track record of boxing betting involving any fight not including Floyd Mayweather is not great. So take what I say with a grain of salt -- or as a guide in the opposite direction.

When I visited Las Vegas a few weeks ago, the Wilder/Fury fight was a pure toss-up -- -110 odds for either fighter. That makes some sense, given that their first fight went to a draw. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked Fury in the rematch -- and that's accounting for the fact that as a fan I greatly prefer Wilder. Two things loomed largest in pointing towards "The Gypsy King":

First, most observers thought that if anybody won the first fight, it was Fury. Instead the outcome was a draw. In my experience, when most people thought boxer A defeated boxer B in the first fight, but the judges disagree, boxer A beats boxer B more decisively in the rematch. Think Pacquiao/Bradley. There are exceptions, but they tend to fall into two categories. Either A's win would have been a huge upset (in which case, often the explanation is that B overlooked A, and doesn't make the same mistake twice); or B has a lot more drawing power/promoter backing than A. Neither one applies here: Wilder and Fury are roughly equally popular, and were viewed as evenly-matched from the start. It's hard to imagine Wilder was "overlooking" Fury in their first fight.

But that's mostly me doing amateur psychology on the mindset of the judges. Substantively, I see a much bigger issue for Wilder -- at the very top level, he's repeatedly needed his power to bail him out. That was true in both Ortiz fights, each of which he was losing before he came-from-behind with a knockout. And it was true in the first Fury fight, where he needed two knockdowns (including one in the final round) to scrape out a draw that even then many observers thought he was lucky to get. If Wilder didn't land his one big shot, he loses those fights.

Now of course, if ever there was an eraser, it's Deontay Wilder's power. I don't overlook that. And I get the whole argument that Tyson Fury has to be good for 12 rounds, while Deontay Wilder only has to be good for one second. Even still, it's never a good thing to go into a fight needing a knockout. There's a reason why Randall Bailey didn't win every fight he was ever in. If that's your only dimension, eventually you'll encounter a guy who can neutralize it long enough to take a decision.

And let's not forget -- Tyson Fury might be the one guy on the planet capable of surviving Wilder's power. The punch that dropped Fury in the 12th round of their first fight was the sort of shot I didn't think it possible to get up from. But Fury did, and survived the round. It's not enough for Wilder to land the big shot, it has to actually end the fight. Against 99% of all opposition, that's a foreordained conclusion. Against Fury, it isn't.

Tyson Fury certainly didn't look perfect against Otto Wallin in his last fight. But unlike Wilder, he didn't have to bail himself out of a hole with one punch. Much the opposite, he gritted out a decision under deep adversity (and I'd point out that we really have no idea just how good Wallin is). He showed heart and discipline, two things he'll need in spades against Wilder. But if he sticks to a gameplan and boxes smart, I think he can ride out Wilder's one punch, and get the victory many observers thought he deserved the first time around.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LVII: The Death of Kobe Bryant

When seeking to attribute a given historical happening that doesn't seem to involve Jews to a Jewish conspiracy, one generally can take one of two routes.

The first is to find a connection between a critical figure in the event and a Jewish person in their social orbit. This isn't hard, since most of the prominent figures one would want to build a conspiracy theory around probably know at least some Jews. This is the angle that gave us classics like "Blaming Jews for a coup in Turkey" or "Blaming Jews for Taylor Swift endorsing Phil Bredesen".

But if the connection can't be found or feels to tenuous (though lord knows what could be "too tenuous" for the people in this series), there's another route: it's a distraction to draw attention away from some other news.

The people who -- surprising no one -- immediately jumped aboard the "Jews killed Kobe Bryant!" train appear to be taking Door #2.
More examples of the genre collected here.

My sincere condolences to the Bryant family and all those who died today.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Technically, Any Number of Seconds Can Be Split Any Number of Times

Yesterday, in Chestnut v. Wallace,* the Eighth Circuit denied an officer qualified immunity. That itself is arguably worthy of noting, since the Eighth Circuit is not exactly predisposed to denying qualified immunity.

The case itself is straightforward: a man (Chestnut) quietly observed a St. Louis police officer perform a traffic stop from about 30 - 40 feet away, while leaning against a tree. The officer viewed this as suspicious, and called for backup. A new officer asked for Chestnut's name, birthday, and social security number; he refused to provide the last of these. The officer then frisked Chestnut for weapons, found none, and then proceeded to have Chestnut handcuffed. After about twenty minutes and a conversation with the officer's supervisor, Chestnut was released. Since observing the police does not provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and since people are allowed to not answer questions from the police (such as providing their social security number), no reasonable officer could have had suspicion of criminal activity, and so there is no qualified immunity.

Judge Gruender dissented. This is considerably less noteworthy, since an officer could probably shove a handcuffed detainee off a six-story building and Judge Gruender would conclude he has qualified immunity.

I do want to flag one thing though, from the end of Judge Gruender's opinion. He writes that "police officers are not—and should not be—expected to parse fine distinctions between statutory and constitutional law in split-second decisions." This rhetoric of "split-second decisions" is increasingly common in judicial opinions that seek to insulate police officers from accountability, particularly in use-of-force cases. Maybe we have sympathy for it in that context, maybe we don't.

But it is interesting to see this rhetoric make a near-reflexive showing in this case, as nothing about the police's interaction with Chestnut involved anything like a "split-second decision". There were no sudden movements, no unpredictable reversals or unexpected flinches. Chestnut was far away from the action and was not an imminent threat to anyone. By the time he was placed in handcuffs, the police already knew he was unarmed. That Judge Gruender nonetheless characterizes this case as involving a "split-second" decision suggests that anything the police do deserves that label. But it's just not true. Not every decision a police officer makes in the field is a "split-second" one; the decision to detain Chestnut certainly was not. It was a decision taken after many seconds, under no particular pressures and with ample time to deliberate.

In that same paragraph, Judge Gruender hoarily remarks that police officers in the field are not "participating in a law school seminar." Indeed, they are not. They are taking real actions which have real consequences for real people. Kevin Chestnut was placed in handcuffs for having the temerity to look at the police in public. That's a terrible thing to have experienced; obscured though it might be behind rhetoric of "reasonable suspicion" and the fuzzy line between "detention" and "arrest". We should step out from the legalese fictions that justify qualified immunity, and start taking the reality of what the police do -- and who they are doing it to -- a lot more seriously.

* The opinion was authored by Judge Arnold, joined by Judge Grasz -- and I'll reiterate again what a pleasant surprise Judge Grasz has been on qualified immunity issues.

Monday, January 20, 2020

On the AMCHA "Bringing BDS into the Classroom" Study

The AMCHA Initiative has a new self-published study, which is gaining some attention in the Jewish Press, purporting to show that when teaching courses related to Israel, Palestine, or Zionism, (academic) BDS-backing faculty are more likely load up their syllabi with fellow BDS-supporters, as opposed to giving their students a balanced perspective. Their big takeaway findings are:

  • For academic BDS supporters, a median 78% of syllabi readings are by "BDS supporters", compared to a 17% for non-BDS supporters.
  • All academic BDS supporters have  at least a majority of readings from "BDS supporters", whereas only 6% of non-BDS supporters have a majority of readings from "BDS supporters".

I'd been hearing about this study for awhile, and I was finally prompted to look it over after reading this laudatory account from Daniel Gordon. Gordon argues that the AMCHA study proves that BDS supporters are sabotaging the values of balance and even-handedness in favor of a one-sided propagandistic approach in their classrooms -- so much so that he suggests that either academic administrators or "the public" at large might be justified in interfering with their content.

That's an aggressive claim, and one that requires equally strong proof. Yet the AMCHA study provides, at best, mixed evidence regarding who is actually being one-sided. Let me present AMCHA's data in a different way that might generate a different intuition (this is derived from "Figure 1" of the study):

  • 63% of "no BDS" faculty have at least 80% of their syllabus readings come from fellow "no BDS" authors. For 31%, that number rises to 90%.
  • By contrast, just 33% of academic BDS supporters have at least 80% of their syllabus readings come from fellow BDS supporters. And only 7% (aka, one syllabus) has over 90% of readings come from other BDS supporters.
Framed that way, one could argue that it's the BDS supporters who do a better job avoiding overwhelmingly one-sided syllabi. Two-thirds of them devote at least a non-trivial chunk of their syllabi to their ideological opponents. By contrast, BDS opponents are far more likely to completely or almost completely load their syllabi up exclusively with fellow BDS opponents. If the idea is, in Gordon's words, to present "competing narratives", it's far from clear that BDS opponents are doing their diligence in meaningfully presenting the "opposing side".

Now to be clear, I think one can very easily overinterpret this framing as well. Most notably, it doesn't take into account the base rate -- what percentage of authors active in Israel Studies qualify as "BDS supporters"? If it's only a marginal few, then the "no BDS" crowd might be giving their views proportionate weight even if they only occupy 10 - 20 % of the syllabus (and this would, similarly, suggest that BDS backers are significantly oversampling their side relative to its support levels). But base rate levels are very difficult to tease out, and almost certainly vary depending on the specific topic of the course. It's quite plausible that many more authors working on "Palestinian Literature of Resistance" support BDS compared to those working on "Israeli Constitutional Law", and so the fact that a class on the former contains many BDS-backers on the syllabus (or one on the latter contains few) does not necessarily reveal any especial bias on the part of the professor. And that doesn't even go into the over-simplified notion that "BDS support/opposition" necessarily mark out the relevant ideological "sides" for every class.  The difficulties in parsing these out in practice, when they're almost always going to be matters of interpretation, are just some of the many reasons why outside observers should be very leery about substituting their own judgments regarding "balance" and "even-handedness" for that of the professor.

The AMCHA study also raises another pertinent question: Who counts as a "BDS supporter"? Here, the study authors do something rather slick -- they change their answer for the independent versus the dependent variable. The result is to significantly inflate the level of same-side bias that exists on the side of the "BDS supporters".

Here's how it works: For the independent variable -- that is, the professors authoring the syllabi -- the study only includes supporters of academic BDS, specifically, as "BDS supporters". On the other side, "no BDS" professors are those who oppose BDS in all its forms (not just academic BDS but, say, settlement boycotts as well). Those who fit into neither group (people who support some forms of BDS, but not academic boycotts) are excluded.

But for the dependent variable -- that is, which syllabus readings are identified as being authored by "BDS supporters" -- that entire middle-ground category is grouped back into the pro-BDS crowd. Along this axis, "BDS supporter" includes not just academic boycotters, but also
  • Anyone who has supported, or signed a petition in favor of, any form of BDS (including settlement boycotts);
  • Anyone who has supported a boycott of "specific Israeli leaders"; 
  • For Israeli scholars, anyone who either has "challeng[ed] Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state" or "call[ed] on Israelis to resist obligatory military service", regardless of whether they've endorsed any form of BDS or not.
And any reading that is even co-authored by anyone in this expansive category is coded as being by a "BDS supporter".

Putting these two different renditions of "BDS supporter" together, the study is measuring the homophily of what we think of as the hardest core of BDS supporters (those favoring academic boycotts) by asking how many of their syllabi readings are at least co-authored by anyone at least as left-wing as Peter Beinart. This is not, to say the least, an especially illuminating metric.

In short, the AMCHA study fails to demonstrate that pro-BDS faculty produce syllabi that are more one-sided than their anti-BDS peers. Indeed, it may instead offer some (albeit weak) evidence in the opposite direction. Not only does it almost certainly exaggerate the same-side bias of BDS supporters by contracting and then expanding the definition of "BDS supporters", but even on face the study findings seem to show that the most ideologically-lopsided syllabi -- in terms of giving significant attention to authors on the opposite side of the BDS ideological divide -- tend to come from BDS opponents.

NYTimes Endorses Warren and Klobuchar

The New York Times has officially endorsed not one, but two candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary: Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN). In essence, the Times' picked one candidate from the "moderate" lane and one candidate from the "progressive" lane, while suggesting that either one can and should be acceptable to any decent person seeking to defeat Trump.

The internet reaction, at least in my quarters of it, has been mostly disdainful. The NYT should have had the gumption to make an actual choice. Choosing two people was a cop out. Dismiss dismiss dismiss.

Most of this reaction has stemmed from more left-ward elements. And to be fair, on net the double-endorsement probably helps Klobuchar, who has struggled to gain traction, more than Warren. So it maybe isn't surprising that the left isn't wild about this choice, insofar as it probably does more to help an "establishment" candidate they dislike over a more progressive candidate they (well, some of "they") like or are at least fine with.

But I think there's another element in play here. Recent events notwithstanding, there remains some efforts on the left-side of the party to build a unified front along the axis of either Warren or Sanders, as against the "establishment" wing represented by Biden or Klobuchar. Key to their efforts is a strong distinction between these two wings, such that it is important to maintain progressive unity so we don't hand the nomination to a moderate because the left can't stop fighting amongst itself. This view is very much adverse to the sentiment, communicated by the Times, that all the Democrats (Klobuchar, Biden, Warren, Sanders ...) are fundamentally on the same side, so that we should all be content no matter which of them is picked. This aspect of the editorial is probably what got the most sustained mocking, at least in my feed.

It also is, as you probably know, a view I basically endorse, which is why the Times' double-endorsement didn't bother me all that much. I'm inclined to think that Warren is the best of the "progressive" wing, and Klobuchar probably the best of the "moderate" wing. There's a case to be made for nominating a progressive wing candidate, and a case for a moderate wing candidate, but if the nomination goes in the direction I disprefer I wouldn't view at as a betrayal. Either way, we'd still be getting a candidate who is more-or-less on my side.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What's the Catch of Clickbait?

Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig is suing the New York Times for defamation, stemming from a headline that read "A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret". The lede of the article, in turn, opens by saying "It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying."

Lessig contends that this grotesquely misrepresents the position he was taking, which is to not condemn fundraisers when some of the donors they solicit turn out to be unsavory or disreputable. He also asserts that the Times refused to alter its headline or lede after Lessig complained, preferring a flashy and provocative (albeit misleading) title to one that more accurately (but dully) reflects Lessig's actual view. While the article does give a more balanced presentation of his argument later on, Lessig contends that many people never read past the headline and so will only come away with a false picture.

This is all very interesting to defamation scholars, I'm sure. But I want to focus on what has to be the least important aspect of Lessig's complaint: What does "click-bait" mean?
Defendant's actions here are part of a growing journalistic culture of click-baiting. . . . Defendants are fully aware that many, if not most, readers never read past the clickbait...The use of this tactic represents a uniquely troubling media practice as it relates to the harm to and destruction of the reputation of the target of the clickbait.
Here's my bone of contention: clearly there is an issue whereby readers see only a headline and read no further, rendering moot the presence of a more complex depiction in the body text.

But it strikes me as weird to use "clickbait" to characterize the phenomenon. "Clickbait" literally refers to the use of a provocative or flashy headline as means of prompting ("baiting") readers to access ("click") the whole article. The idea is that the title is so juicy and irresistible that the person who sees it on, say, Facebook cannot help but click the link and read the article.

Now to be sure, part of the function of click-bait is that the site owner only cares about the click, that is, that the reader accessed the page (and thereby juices the site's hit rate for ad revenue purposes). The site probably doesn't care if the reader actually ends up reading any of the article text, much less if she completes it. Indeed, it seems likely that many of the readers who are attracted by the title ("oh man, this I've got to see!") will drift away disappointed once they encountered the more prosaic story underneath.

Nonetheless, it strikes me as a weird to say that "readers never read past the clickbait", because the whole purpose of the clickbait is to drive them to the site with the full article. If they only read the clickbait, then the clickbait has failed, because the actual "clickbait" is the content that one can see without ever clicking through to the site. If the New York Times runs a headline like this, the last thing they want is for me to see that headline on Facebook and then read nothing more. They want the bait to catch me -- for me to click the link and actually head over to the NYT site (where I will, presumably, read at least a little more of the article before realizing I've been, well, baited).

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Delaware GOP Ousts Official Over Antisemitic Remarks

Nelly Jordan, Vice-Chairwoman of the Sussex County (Delaware) GOP, has been ousted from her position after she blamed "Jews" for orchestrating Trump's impeachment and said that they were "going against God's will". Quick thoughts:

  • It's good they did this. I've noted before that the GOP has proven incredibly resistant to implementing any accountability for antisemitism in its party, and this is a welcome break from that trend.
  • That said, the vote was apparently razor-thin, with large numbers of people showing up to back Jordan and rail against "political correctness" and in support of "free speech". So there was significant division in the ranks on this.
  • Quoth one local Republican: "If we were to throw everybody out here who made a racial/ethnic remark, this place would be totally empty." Hey, you said it, not me!
  • Jordan did apologize for her remarks, and -- in what I consider to be an unbelievable upset -- she did not say "I am a strong supporter of Israel". Not once! I wish I wasn't shocked, but I was. Well done, Ms. Jordan!
In other Delaware news, a different GOP official, New Castle GOP Chairman Chris Rowe, resigned after referring to ideological opponents as "faggots" in a social media post. Though he resigned, he wants you to know that:
The Disgrace was not mine, but displayed how weak & timid society has devolved by allowing itself to be injured & offended by viewing a printed word. The words uttered by the Left are words employed by the mentally weak to push shame upon those with which they disagree. They assume because they would be offended, so would their targeted individual or group. Then again, being mentally strong, I do not get offended by words as is your aim.
Kudos to Rowe for showing how mentally strong he is (he proceeded to text the local newspaper and inform them that "The Cancel Culture are now attacking me and causing me hurt.")

Sunday, January 12, 2020

One More Reason Why Black Voters Back Biden

Joe Biden's status as front-runner, right now, rests almost entirely on the fact that he is far and away the top choice of African-American voters. There are many explanations for why Black voters like Biden, but I'll add one more, rather simple explanation, to the fray:

As a group, Black voters are more liberal than the average American. But they're not so much more liberal so as to explain voting upwards of 90% for Democratic candidates. You only reach those august heights when a good chunk of Black voters who might otherwise be Republicans are Democrats solely because the the Republican Party is unacceptably racist. Indeed, there are plenty of Black voters who identify as conservative -- they just don't identify as Republicans. What that means is that there is a good chunk of relatively conservative Black voters who are Democrats. A full 30% of Black Democrats identify as having "conservative" political views (compared to 8% of White Democrats).

So given that there are actually plenty of Black conservatives, a large proportion -- maybe even a majority! -- of whom nonetheless identify as Democrats, it's maybe not that surprising that one sees a cluster of support among Black voters for one of the more high-profile moderates in the race.

And, for what it's worth, this also helps explain why Bernie Sanders -- who has the second-highest level of Black support (Biden is at 48%, Sanders at 20%) -- wins among Black voters under 35. Voters under 35, across all races, represent a more liberal demographic. The corollary to "more conservative Blacks back candidates like Biden" is "more liberal Blacks back candidates like Sanders". That might sound obvious, and in many ways it is -- what obscures it is that we mentally sharply underestimate levels of conservativism (or even moderation) among Black voters because of their overwhelming partisan lean towards Democrats.