Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Ring Announcer's Dilemma

The below feels like one of those math puzzles, though I don't actually know enough about math puzzles to know if it really is one. It is something I've genuinely noticed and wondered about when watching boxing.

In boxing, there are functionally six types of decisions: A unanimous decision, a split decision, a majority decision, as well as a unanimous draw, a split draw, and a majority draw.

  • In a unanimous decision, all three judges agree in scoring the bout in favor of one fighter.
  • In a split decision, two judges score the bout in favor of one fighter, while the third scores it favor of the other.
  • In a majority decision, two judges score the bout in favor of one fighter, while the third scores it draw.
  • In a unanimous draw, all three judges score the bout a draw.
  • In a split draw, one judge votes for fighter A, one for fighter B, and the third scores it a draw.
  • In a majority draw, one judge votes for one fighter, but the other two judges score it a draw.

When a ring announcer gets set to tell the audience the judges' decision, there are several pieces of information he needs to communicate. By the end of his announcement, the audience should know how each judge scored the fight, and for whom, and of course they need to know the actual result of the fight (who won, or that it was a draw). In general, however, he can announce the three judges' decision in any order he likes. Being a good performer, the announcer would like there to be as much suspense as possible. In practice that means he wants to the last piece of information he reveals to be the result.

The dilemma is as follows: how, if it all, can an announcer accomplish that goal in the case of a majority draw?

Start with a unanimous decision. A bad announcer might deliver the decision this way:

"Judge A had the bout 77-75 for Doe, Judge B had the bout 78-75 for Doe, and Judge C had the bout 78-74 for the winner, John Doe!"

Notice how once the crowd knows both A and B voted for Doe, they know the result even before it is announced. John Doe has at least a majority of the judges, so he won. In order to achieve the result of not tipping off the audience until the very end, a better announcement might go as follows:

"Judge A had the bout 77-75, Judge B had the bout 78-75, and Judge C had the bout 78-74, all for the winner, by unanimous decision, John Doe!"

Notice how by the end everyone knows how each judge voted, and for whom, but the last piece of information they got was the result. Until "John Doe" was said, the crowd didn't know the result of the match.

One can do this for most types of decision. A split decision can be announced like this:

Judge A had the bout 77-75 for Doe. Judge B had the bout 77-75 for Smith. And Judge C had the fight 77-75 for the winner, by split decision, John Doe!"

This works so long as the announcer is permitted to choose what order he delivers the judges' verdicts (i.e., he can make sure the one card for Smith is announced either first or second).

Here's a split draw:

Judge A had the bout 77-75 for Doe. Judge B had the bout 77-75 for Smith. And Judge C had the fight 76-76 -- this fight is a draw!

Here's a unanimous draw: 

All three judges scored the fight the same, 76-76 -- this bout is a draw!

And here's a majority decision:

Judge A scored the bout 76-76. Overruled by Judge B, who scored the bout 77-75, and Judge C, who scored the bout 78-74, for the winner, by majority decision, John Doe!

The majority decision is the toughest one so far -- the alert listener knows once the announcer says the word "overruled" that a majority decision is coming*, but still doesn't know who won.

But what of a majority draw? Consider the following:

Judge A scores the fight 77-75 for Doe. Overruled by judges B and C, who each score the bout even -- this fight is a majority draw!

Here one knows the result of the fight -- that it's a majority draw -- the moment the announcer says "overruled". Why? Well, there are only two ways that A's score for Doe could be overruled -- either B and C voted for Doe's opponent, or they voted for a draw. If it was the former, though, this would be a terrible way to announce it, as the audience would know who won as soon as just one of Judge B or C's card was announced for the other fighter. There'd be no suspense. Given that, we all know that the card was overruled by two judges voting for a draw even before we actually hear it.

What happens if you announce the cards in a different order?

Judge B and C score the fight 76-76, a draw, overruling Judge A, who scored the fight 77-75 Doe.

Nope -- that gives away the result before we ever hear Judge A's card. Similar problems emerge if you try to do something like going B (draw), A (Doe), C (draw) -- once you've revealed that B voted draw and A voted for Doe, then you know that if anyone won it has to be Doe (by majority decision), which means that if Doe did win you'd know as soon as the announcer gave a non-draw score even before they told you who the judge voted for -- and knowing that the announcer wouldn't do that, you know that C's score is going to be a draw and that the fight will be a majority draw. 

*Deep breath*

So ... is there a resolution to this? Is there a way for a ring announcer to announce a majority draw without sapping it of all the drama? I don't know. And I don't know if this "dilemma" reveals anything interesting. But I have noticed it, and haven't been able to solve it (if it can be solved).

* How does he know? Because Judge A's decision to score the fight a draw could only be "overruled" if the two other judges did not have it a draw and did vote for the same person to win. If one or both scored it a draw, then the fight would be either a majority or unanimous draw. And if they didn't score the fight even but voted for different fighters to win, then the result would be a split draw.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Novice Dissident Minority

One of my recent areas of scholarship is the case of the "dissident minority", a member of a minority group who dissents from some important consensus position of the larger group (I use Jewish anti-Zionists and Black conservatives as my keynote examples). In the cases I had in mind, the dissidents are, for lack of a better word, "used" to being dissenters. It's their longstanding position within their larger group. They may be upset by that, they may have found ways to accommodate that, but it's normal for them.

Recently, though, I've been thinking about people for whom this is not true -- that is, people who are not typically in a dissident posture vis-a-vis the larger group, but unexpectedly find themselves there on a particular issue. The debate over the current draft of the California Ethnic Studies curriculum gives a decent example. The consensus of the Jewish community in California is favorable towards the current draft (which was the product of a lot of hard work to undo severely problematic elements in the first draft) -- while there always is room for improvement, and no work written by committee will be perfect, in general the sense is that the third draft is a substantial "win" for the Jewish community. But as on any issue, of course, this is not a unanimous view. There are dissenters who oppose even the current draft and are mobilizing in opposition to it.

For whatever reason, though, on this issue in particular I've seen several actors who are used to thinking of themselves as very much representative, mainstream voices within the Jewish community who have taken up this dissident stance. Such persons occupy an interesting posture. I can imagine it is quite disorienting and even alienating to find oneself "out of sync" with a community that one typically feels relatively well-aligned with. Unfortunately, sometimes that means the persons in that position just fall into one of denial, and try to obscure the obvious fact that they are in a dissident posture. Although they would deride "not all Jews" type language when it comes from groups like JVP or ZOA, once they're in the minority position they may find that formulation increasingly attractive. Perhaps, they think, it is qualitatively different that there are dissenting views not just on the fringes but among (erstwhile) "mainstream" voices. Maybe that does mark out some sort of difference. I'd have to think more on that. But my instinct is that this is primarily a cover to avoid the anxious feeling of alienation where one is lined up against one's usual allies in one's own community.

For now, though, my bottom line in this case is the same as it is in the "Dissident Minorities" case generally. The dissident minorities are entitled to take their dissident position -- this is true regardless of whether they are old dissenting hands or complete novices at the practice. What they cannot do is offer themselves out as a substitute for engagement with the larger group. Opponents of the current draft of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum are entitled to make their case as best they can, with all the vigor they can muster. But what they cannot do is suggest they represent an alternative to engaging with the bulk of the California Jewish community which has adopted a more favorable stance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021


There's a common debate that pops up every time a celebrity or some other figure runs into a scandal, one that's serious enough to threaten their career, but not serious enough to put them in prison. A lot of #MeToo cases fall into this category, though this isn't the only case, but it works as one to keep in mind (think Louis C.K.). At some point, after apologizing (whether sincerely or opportunistically) and laying low for awhile, they'll try to restart their profession. Once this happens, the pattern is almost rote:

  1. Some group of people will condemn the person for trying to restart his career ("You won't believe who's attempting a comeback!"), and/or condemn the venue for hosting him.
  2. A different group of people will defend the celebrity, asking whether or not his "whole life should be ruined" and whether he should be prevented from making a living in perpetuity.
  3. The first group of people will retort that not having access to some celebrity spaces is hardly the same as having one's life ruined nor is it a complete bar on any money-making endeavor. Lots of people, I'm told, live perfectly comfortable and money-earning lives without getting standup comedy specials or starring movie roles. Meanwhile, the person's re-entry into the professional space also will have the effect of rendering it unsafe and/or uncomfortable for members of the group the celebrity had previously victimized.
I think there's reasonable purchase in that third move. However, it does carry with it an implicit promise -- that there is some space where the erstwhile celebrity could enter into which would be legitimate (as a means of making money, continuing with their life, etc.). When one says "'not here' is not the same thing as 'life-ruining'", there is tacit "try over there." And that raises the question: where is the "there" that is okay?

Let's take Louis C.K.. Suppose in the wake of his scandal he takes a random, normal-person job -- I don't know, he's working at a call center. Being a former celebrity, he's quickly recognized. And some of the employees are uncomfortable with him around, knowing what he had done to people like them. What happens if they complain, and say "we don't want Louis C.K. in our office?"

The implicit promise in position #3 requires that, for at least some non-theoretical set of cases, that complaint has to be turned aside; notwithstanding that part of the force of position #3 is precisely that Louis C.K.'s presence in a given space exacts costs upon the women already occupying it (and that applies with similar, if not identical, force, if he's working at a call center compared to a club). Given that, do we have confidence that the advocates of position #3 will be able to find circumstances where they say "no, we do not support hounding this person out of this space -- they may not be allowed to redeem themselves in the celebrity sphere, but this place is okay."

It seems we have a classic NIMBY problem, or perhaps a N(R)IMBY problem (No Redemption in My Back Yard). Most of us probably are fine in concept that there exist some space where Louis C.K. goes off to live his life, perhaps not as a celebrity, but not in a state of utter banishment either. But none of us want it to be in our backyard. Redemption is a social good, we agree, but it shouldn't occur here but ... elsewhere -- an objection that will attach to virtually all "heres" with nary a suggestion of viable "elsewheres". Ironically, the most likely "elsewhere" that will be stuck with him over their own objection is an elsewhere populated by people who largely lack social power and influence. Indeed, to some extent, this is a feature of the "he can live his life, but not as a celebrity" account -- it's fine for him to seek redemption, but it should occur among the normies.

This is a problem I've puzzled over, and I don't have a really good solution to it. It's no answer to say that the person should do the work of repentance and redemption before they can make a claim to "live their life" in any space -- the work of repentance and redemption occurs in occupied space; it is impossible to do it from a place of social banishment. And if you're accusing me of a strawman -- nobody is arguing for outright "social banishment" -- then my goal here is to call the bluff a little bit and ask "okay, so where is good?" Is it low-level performances in their field? Interviews with journalists about their misconduct? Working at charities? Can we honestly say that in any of these cases, that we haven't seen at least some pushback -- "they shouldn't be here"? And again, it's not that I lack sympathy for what's motivating that pushback. But I am not sure how far it should go, and how far it can limit itself in going.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Trump's "Liberal"* Eighth Circuit Appointees

As many of you know, I did my clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, for the late Judge Diana E. Murphy. It was a fantastic experience. It was also an eye-opening experience, not least because the Eighth Circuit is by far the most conservative court in the country. How conservative is it? I think there's a plausible case to be made that Donald Trump's appointees to the court were to the left of the median active judge on the circuit at the start of his administration.

The active judges at the start of Trump's administration, ordered from most liberal to most conservative (this is my somewhat arbitrary ranking), were:

Kelly, Smith, Shepherd, Wollman, Benton, Loken, Riley, Colloton, Gruender

The ideologically median judge would be Duane Benton. I've italicized the two judges that went senior during Trump's term; he also got two more appointments from judges (Bye and Murphy) who went senior at the tail end of the Obama administration but whose seats were still empty at the start of Trump's term.

Now let's order the current judges (italicizing Trump's appointees):

Kelly, Smith, Grasz, Shepherd, Kobes, Erickson, Benton, Loken, Straus, Colloton, Gruender

Three of four appointees are to Benton's left; the new median is Judge Ralph Erickson. Now, again, there's some amount of arbitrariness to this; I wouldn't read too much into the precise order (e.g., if one flipped Kobes and Erickson I'd hardly have any basis for objecting). Moreover, judges of course can be "liberal" on some dimensions but not on others (Smith, for example, is exceptionally conservative on issues like abortion but is more liberal on issues of discrimination and qualified immunity). And to be clear -- none of these judges (excepting Kelly, the sole Democratic appointee) are liberal under any objective standard. 

But even with all those caveats, there's a decent case to be made that the Eighth Circuit was so outrageously rightward slanted that Trump actually managed to slightly shift the court to the left. That's amazing.

What Happens When There is No Contraception

The New York Times has a harrowing story about women in Venezuela who cannot access contraception. A raging economic recession has made condoms, IUDs, and other birth control products prohibitively expensive for many poorer women; at the same time, the cost of raising a family has also spiraled out of control. Many women have resorted to shady back alley abortion attempts (it is still illegal in the country), but unsurprisingly these are exceptionally dangerous.

If you're a conservative, maybe the fact that it's Venezuela and you can nyah-nyah about it since Chavez is of course AOC's role model for Americana will make the story resonate more. But let's be clear -- America is not as far off from this as we'd imagine ourselves to be. The legality of abortion is on the very brink, and cases like Hobby Lobby threaten contraceptive access as well -- again, especially for poorer women. It may be that in a few years, the main difference between America and Venezuela is that we have proportionally fewer women in the sort of abject poverty that is comparable to that found in the South American country -- but for those who do find themselves in that situation, this story could easily become a U.S. story as well.