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Sanders, Clinton, and loss aversion

[ 176 ] February 8, 2016 |

loss aversion

Consider the following categories of Bernie Sanders’ supporters:

A: People who support Sanders without regard to what effect a Sanders candidacy would have on the chances of the GOP candidate winning the general.

B: People who support Sanders at least in part because they believe Sanders would have a better chance of winning the general than HRC.

C: People who support Sanders and who are at least at this point essentially agnostic on the question of whether he would have a better chance of winning the general than HRC.

D: People who support Sanders, but who believe that HRC would have a better chance of winning the general. People in this group have a preference for Sanders over HRC that is strong enough to cancel out the cost incurred by HRC’s better chance of winning the general.

E: People who support Sanders only in the sense that they are supporting him in order to help push HRC left, but who don’t actually want him to win the nomination, largely if not wholly because their risk tolerance for a GOP candidate winning the general if Sanders is nominated isn’t great enough to take the risk involved in nominating Sanders.

I suspect that a large portion of Sanders’ support comes from people in the last two categories. What will the effect be on people in these latter groups on the growing realization that Sanders could actually defeat HRC? In other words, how much increased risk of a GOP victory are Sanders supporters who believe, reasonably enough, that HRC would have a better chance in the general willing to run?

This is the kind of question that can only be answered, individually and collectively, when it starts to get real, as opposed to remaining an abstraction, which it seemed to be when Sanders’ candidacy appeared to be an extreme long shot.

A key factor here is loss aversion: most people hate losing about twice as much as they like winning. This is something that one would expect will begin to hurt Sanders’ support among people in groups D and E, as his chances of winning the nomination start to become real as opposed to merely hypothetical.


Super Bowl thoughts

[ 48 ] February 7, 2016 |

(1) I’m really happy for Manning, who was a great QB for Denver for 2.5 seasons and a frankly terrible one for the last 1.5. I’ll be curious to see how the media evaluate his performance tonight: I’d give it an A for effort and a D- for actual performance — indeed overall that has got to be the worst postseason performance ever by the quarterback of the winning Super Bowl team. Off the top of my head I believe Denver had a grand total of two TD drives of more than 15 yards in the entire postseason. But he did just enough not to lose, and that’s all that people will remember in the long run.

(2) I doubt it’s a coincidence that the only downfield passes Manning completed in the game were on the first drives of each half. His arm must give out after a few throws.

(3) Von Miller has always been a massive talent but in the postseason he put on one of the greatest single performances by any defensive player ever.

(4) What a bizarre decision by Rivera to punt the ball with two minutes to go down 14. At least take a safety and try an onside kick if you’re not going to go for it.

(5) Very shaky officiating and it definitely helped Denver overall, although probably not enough to make any real difference.

A great coach would bring in Osweiler for the second half

[ 25 ] February 7, 2016 |

That is all.

Post-debate debriefing

[ 43 ] February 7, 2016 |

Lowry: He’s a replicant, isn’t he?

Koch: I’m impressed. How many questions does it usually take to spot them?

Lowry: I don’t get it Chuck.

Koch: How many questions?

Lowry: Twenty, thirty, cross-referenced.

Koch: It took more than a hundred for Marco, didn’t it?

Lowry: He doesn’t know?!

Koch: He’s beginning to suspect, I think.

Lowry: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?

Koch: Commerce is our goal here at Koch Industries. More Reagan than Reagan is our motto. Marco is an experiment, nothing more. We began to recognize in them strange obsessions. After all they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we give them the past we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions, and consequently we can control them better.

Lowry: Memories. You’re talking about memories.

That’s where the money is

[ 169 ] February 5, 2016 |

hrc and gs

I have a piece on Hillary Clinton’s tin ear in regard to questions regarding the relationship between her personal finances and the financial industry:

“That’s what they offered,” she explained on Wednesday, when asked why she accepted $675,000 from Goldman Sachs alone. That response carried an unfortunate echo of bank robber Willie Sutton’s explanation for why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he supposedly said. (This in turn brings to mind Bertolt Brecht’s remark that robbing a bank is nothing compared to founding one.)

Clinton could have protected her purportedly progressive bona fides in two ways. First, of course, she could have not taken the money. There is something disgusting about the spectacle of someone who was already wealthy far beyond the imagining of ordinary Americans continuing to accept what she claims were unsuccessful attempts to bribe her, even as she was on the eve of launching a presidential campaign supposedly dedicated to protecting the interests of those ordinary Americans against the depredations of the very masters of the universe funneling millions of dollars into her personal bank account.

Alternatively, she could at least ask voters to hate the game, not the player.

“Yes, it’s a rotten system through and through,” she could have said. “The revolving door that allows politicians to rotate out of office, take huge fees from people trying to win their favor, and then rotate back in, is absurd and wrong. I plan to do my best to make sure that in the future people can’t do this, because I know after seeing it from the inside just how corrupt it is.” (This, by the way, is not too different from what Donald Trump has been saying, which helps explain his popularity, since it’s so obviously true).

Instead, Clinton is taking the line that this is just how the system works (and will apparently continue to work), but that for unspecified reasons she happens to be the kind of person who can be trusted to defraud the people whose money she took.

That she believes this is a satisfactory response provides a glimpse into the extraordinary complacency and self-satisfaction of our elite political class in general, and of Hillary Clinton in particular. (It also helps explain the remarkable success of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign).

Clinton would do well to contemplate the words of the English writer G.K. Chesterton, in response to the claim that rich politicians cannot be bribed: “The rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man.”

Annals of the academic rat race

[ 185 ] February 3, 2016 |

demon liquor

A prominent molecular biologist at the University of Chicago has resigned after a university recommendation that he be fired for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. His resignation comes amid calls for universities to be more transparent about sexual harassment in their science departments, where women account for only one-quarter of senior faculty jobs.

The professor, Jason Lieb, made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students at an off-campus retreat of the molecular biosciences division, according to a university investigation letter obtained by The New York Times, and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.

If you want to get all technical about it this is what is known as “rape.”

Dr. Lieb, who has received millions of dollars in federal grants over the last decade, did not respond to requests for comment.

Always the dollars.

At Chicago, students praised the university for swift and decisive action. But some students and faculty members also raised pointed questions about whether the university had placed female graduate students at risk by hiring Dr. Lieb . . . He was put on staff despite potential warning signs.

Such as?

Before he was hired, molecular biologists on the University of Chicago faculty and at other academic institutions received emails from an anonymous address stating that Dr. Lieb had faced allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct at previous jobs at Princeton and the University of North Carolina.

Hmmm, better get our crack investigative team on this one.

Yoav Gilad, a molecular biologist at Chicago who was on the committee that advocated hiring Dr. Lieb, said he and his fellow faculty members knew that in February 2014 Dr. Lieb had abruptly resigned from Princeton University, just seven months after having been recruited from the University of North Carolina to run a high-profile genomics institute.

That’s what you call an industrial-sized red flag. So we check the story out and . . .

But Dr. Gilad said that when it was contacted, Princeton said there had been no sexual harassment investigation of Dr. Lieb while he was there.

OK these GUYS are scientists not lawyers, but do you really have to be a lawyer to recognize how meaningless such a statement from the previous employer is under these circumstances? (For instance, have these people never heard of a confidentiality agreement, or the potential difference between looking into claims of sexual harassment and a formal “sexual harassment investigation?”) In short, shouldn’t your candidate have some super-convincing explanation about why, although this all looks really bad on its face, it’s not what it appears to be? Yes, he should! And Leib’s explanation for flat-out quitting a better job than the one you’re deciding whether or not to offer, seven months into the better gig, in the wake of an allegation that this was the second time he had gotten out of Dodge ahead of the posse was:

[Gilad] said efforts to find out more about what prompted Dr. Lieb’s departure proved fruitless.

Well not exactly:

Faculty at Chicago said that Dr. Lieb had told them during the interview process that Princeton faulted him for not informing them about a complaint of unwanted contact filed against him at North Carolina, where he had taught for 13 years. But he told them he had seen no reason to do so because the investigation had not found evidence to support the claim.

Subsequently, he gave permission to Princeton to examine his personnel file. Chicago, too, received permission to look at the file, Dr. Gilad said, adding that the examination of the records did not raise red flags.

Separately, Dr. Gilad acknowledged, during the interviews of Dr. Lieb, he admitted that he had had a monthslong affair with a graduate student in his laboratory at the University of North Carolina.

Maybe these people were born yesterday, but was it in the afternoon? Again, he quit his tenured position at Princeton seven months after he got there, and was flat-out unemployed when Chicago was interviewing him.

At Chicago, the hiring committee struggled, Dr. Gilad said, to balance a desire to protect students with a desire not to convict someone without evidence. He said Dr. Lieb had not been found guilty of any offense at North Carolina. The department of human genetics voted unanimously to hire him.

“It’s hard to say this in retrospect,” Dr. Gilad said, “but what’s the value of investigating anything if an unsubstantiated allegation itself invalidates the candidate?”

OK, again, not lawyers, but — come on. This isn’t a criminal trial. Or a civil action. Or an investigation of a current employee, where considerations of exactly how much evidence you need before you take somebody’s job away from him are vastly more difficult and pressing. This is a job interview. And there’s a lot of at least circumstantial evidence that your potential candidate might be kind of rapey. Why in the world would you hire him — in a world full of superbly qualified candidates for this kind of job — especially after “efforts to find out more about what prompted Dr. Lieb’s [extraordinarily suspicious] departure proved fruitless.” (Not actually a true statement of course, but accepting it as true for the purposes of evaluating the decision to hire Lieb in the light most favorable to the quasi-defendant here, i.e., Chicago).

But Joe Thornton, a faculty member in the department who raised objections before the vote, said in an interview, “I don’t think that’s the right standard to use.” He added, “It may be a legal standard, but we should be capable of making more nuanced judgments about the environment we’re creating for human beings that are doing and learning science.”

Bless you, other Joe Thornton, for talking some basic common sense, but it sounds as if somebody tried to snow you with the claim that it would in some way be violating Lieb’s legal rights not to hire him under these circumstances. If so, that claim was absolute nonsense. “We think there’s an unacceptable risk this guy may sexually assault a student or three at some point” is — check this out — a perfectly legal basis for deciding not to hire somebody.

So why did they hire him anyway?

Dr. Lieb brought scientific cachet and a record of winning lucrative grants to a department that had recently lost two of its stars to other institutions.

Well then.

Meanwhile, the world’s top science journal noted recently:

How many senior scientists — usually men and usually with significant power over the careers of those in their labs — have been sanctioned and disciplined by their universities for sexual harassment? Nobody knows, especially not young researchers who eagerly apply for their first jobs, spend long hours on fieldwork and feel under pressure to socialize and make contacts after hours and at academic conferences. How many times have colleagues turned a blind eye to inappropriate comments and actions, and made excuses for people who should know better — and who are morally, legally and contractually obliged to behave better? How many young scientists have left positions, or left science completely, because of such behaviour, or because it is seemingly not taken seriously?

We don’t know the answers to those questions. But one thing we do know is that sexual harassment is a serious problem in science. And we know that young female scientists are speaking up about it. We know this not because universities are being transparent about such complaints and how they are dealt with, but because, dissatisfied with the official responses, victims, journalists and others are bringing the facts about these complaints to light.

This was the social context in which the University of Chicago decided to “take a chance,” as they say in parole board hearings, on what they apparently decided was the spectacularly unlucky (but extremely well-funded) Dr. Lieb. Shame on them.

Most predictable lazy framing move ever: David Gergen (natch) asks whether GOP will nominate the “moderate” Rubio over the “extreme” Cruz

[ 125 ] February 2, 2016 |

cruz rubio

Voters on both sides were sending a clear message of no confidence in the economic order. Who can remember a presidential campaign in which the most extreme candidates have done so well in the first round?

It is true, of course, that each party may ultimately embrace a nominee closer to the center. That is obviously the case with Democrats where Hillary Clinton remains the favorite, and Marco Rubio’s surprisingly strong showing will encourage GOP elites to believe they, too, can secure the nomination for a more moderate candidate.

Here’s a list of 20 key issues. Cruz and Rubio either strongly or substantially agree on 18 of them. The dime’s worth of difference between them is that Cruz wants to privatize social security and Rubio says he doesn’t (Florida!), and Cruz says he doesn’t think marijuana is a gateway drug (Rubio probably has to play the unrepentant drug warrior because of his Miami Vice uncle). So even the tiny differences between them split in terms of which one of them is more politically moderate, relatively speaking.

On basically everything else they’re indistinguishable, except that Cruz is despised in a purely personal way by GOP insiders, which hardly makes Rubio more moderate, as opposed to less slappable.

But the conventions of political journalism more or less require Gergen to spew this nonsense from his MacBook Pro, so there you go.

What is the sound of one hand fapping?

[ 201 ] February 2, 2016 |


RNC Statement On Iowa Caucus Results

WASHINGTON – Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus released the following statement on the Iowa caucus results:

“Tonight was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party. The Democrat establishment wanted a coronation for Clinton but is now facing the very real prospect that a self-proclaimed socialist could be their party’s nominee. Tonight was a clear statement that Democrat primary voters find Clinton’s hypocrisy and scandals so unpalatable that they are willing to vote for an unelectable 74 year-old socialist from Vermont. With damaging new developments breaking in her email scandal and an all-but-certain loss next week in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign drastically underperformed when they desperately needed to over deliver.”

Of course while Sanders is certainly unelectable,* he’s probably less unelectable than Cruz. If they each win their respective party’s nomination, we’ll have a sort of Zen koan of an election.

*Apparently the intended sarcasm of this phrase is too obscure. The claim in the RNC press release that Sanders is unelectable is obviously ridiculous — under current political conditions, any candidate who wins a major party nomination in the US is electable, in the sense that any such candidate isn’t going to be a genuine long-shot, simply because of structural factors. That applies to both Sanders and Cruz (and Trump as well).

Papering the house

[ 32 ] February 1, 2016 |

“Papering the house” normally refers to giving tickets away to an event, as opposed to actually paying people to show up. But desperate times require desperate measures I suppose.


Update: Bush’s people are claiming this was a prank, probably by a rival campaign.

The party decides, unless it doesn’t , in which case it’s still deciding

[ 92 ] January 30, 2016 |


Or something. Seth Masket:

It would be one thing if the Republican Party had settled on Jeb Bush (or anyone else) and was proving unable to get him across the finish line. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the party simply hasn’t decided. There will likely be all sorts of internal party reform discussions after this year, questioning the party’s system of selecting presidential nominees. But the fact remains that the party has a pretty good system for selecting nominees, and it declined to use it this year. As Julia Azari suggests, the party just decided not to decide.

I haven’t read The Party Decides, but everything I’ve read about the book leads me to believe that it would be hard to produce a more straightforward counter-example to its thesis than Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination. In other words, if that thesis is roughly “party elites will work successfully to ensure that a candidate who is acceptable to those elites will get the nomination,” then arguing that the theory isn’t undermined by a failure of elites to coalesce around an acceptable alternative to an unacceptable candidate — because in that situation the party is “deciding” not to decide — comes close to constructing a theory that isn’t open to dis-confirmation. (Masket isn’t one of the book’s authors, so it shouldn’t be assumed they would accept his description of the applicability of the book’s thesis to the current GOP race).

Masket does acknowledge that Sanders winning the Democratic nomination would contradict The Party Decides‘ thesis.

Again I haven’t read the book, but in the grand tradition of legal academia I will helpfully re-characterize its thesis anyway: In a minimally functional contemporary major American political party, the party decides. In other words, if the current GOP is in the process of actually falling apart, then that would explain why Trump seems to be on the way to winning the nomination.


[ 238 ] January 28, 2016 |


Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on Thursday that his candidate would be “happy” to debate Ted Cruz once the Texas senator gets a federal judge to rule him eligible to run for president.

“Once you’ve gotten that ruling from the federal judge and you’re the last man standing in this presidential contest next to Donald Trump, we’ll be happy to have a debate with you one-on-one, anywhere you want, because that’s the way the system works,” Lewandowski said. “But, as it stands right now, we don’t even know if Ted Cruz is legally eligible to run for president of the United States.”

Amazing as it may seem, it’s in fact true, and in a non-trivial sense, that “we don’t even know if Ted Cruz is legally eligible to run for president of the United States.”

Cruz’s problems here are multiple. First, U.S. federal courts can’t legally issue advisory opinions, so it’s not as if Cruz can just ask the court system to clear up the legal status of his campaign for POTUS. The question can only be resolved through litigation.

Second, it’s far from clear — a phrase that keeps coming up in this context — who is even qualified (“has standing” in law talk) to bring a suit that could, in theory, resolve the matter in time to help Cruz out of the jurisprudential pickle in which he now finds himself.

Third, the real significance of all this is that the Trump campaign merely needs to keep raising doubts in voters’ minds over the next few weeks regarding the — again, legitimate, incredibly enough — question of whether Cruz is legally eligible for the presidency, in order to accomplish Trump’s practical goal of undermining Cruz’s campaign at the margin.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this fiasco is how few people, including most especially Cruz’s own camp, seem to have anticipated that Cruz’s foreign birth could be a genuine legal-political problem.

“Tom can you get me off the hook? For old time’s sake”

[ 50 ] January 26, 2016 |


Abe Vigoda, who was the subject of many false rumors regarding his death in the 1980s, has died.

Of the many great things in the original Godfather film, Vigoda’s performance as Tessio is one of the most memorable.

[SL] The Godfather Epic — the first two movies edited chronologically with outtakes included — is as it happens is now streaming on HBO, and if like me you have minimal concern with authenticity and Artristic Integritude and such it’s pretty awesome, even if you miss the unique texture of GFII. Tessio would have watched it, and Tessio was always smarter.

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