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Panic in the Streets of Schenectady!

[ 17 ] April 12, 2014 |

Congrats to Chester A. Arthur’s alma mater on winning the NCAA championship.

And, for even more parochial reasons, extra thanks to Union for eliminating BC in the previous round so that the JOHNNY HOCKEY era can begin tomorrow…

Today’s Specious “Free Speech” Martyr

[ 251 ] April 12, 2014 |

Many conservatives are attacking Brandeis University for denying Ayaan Hirsi Ali her sacred right to an honorary degree from Brandeis University.

What the university is supposed to have done wrong, I can’t tell you. There’s no issue of “silencing”; she has an open invitation to speak at the university. As to whether she should also have a vested right to receive a special honor, let’s consider what she’s actually said:

Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?

Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them all closed, but my party said it wouldn’t fly. Top people in the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but said, “We won’t get a majority to do that,” so it never went anywhere.

Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?

Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.

Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—

Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I’ve been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with—what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.

If one were to substitute “Jewish” or “Roman Catholic” for “Muslim,” the question of giving Hirsi Ali an honorary degree would be moot because there’s no chance it would happen in the first place. And rightly so. (And the context doesn’t help; as you’ll note she is very clear that she’s not talking about “radical Islamists” but “Islam”: “So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as Daniel Pipes says, “Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” he’s wrong?” “He’s wrong. Sorry about that.”) I’m baffled that Brandeis either failed to find or ignored these statements when deciding to give her an honorary degree, but I don’t know why they’re required to go forward with it.

Was the State Department wrong to withdraw the “Women of Courage” award given to Samira Ibrahim after her history of anti-Semitic tweets was uncovered? I certainly don’t think so. And since I think this standard should apply to all religious groups, I don’t understand what Brandeis has done wrong here either.

“Did You See How They Were Living? How Can You Delude Yourself?”

[ 113 ] April 11, 2014 |

Many people, here and elsewhere, have responded to Lisa McElroy’s first combination of strawman burning and blaming-the-victim. But I might be even more amazed by one of the follow-ups:

I don’t understand why it is deplorable. The students enrolling in law schools have the information about job placement, bar passage, etc. Presumably, they have decided that they will fall on the positive side of the statistics. They make the choice to accept the offer of admission. The law school makes a commitment to educate them to the best of its ability. If the law school is so terrible and lacks judgment in admitting students, why would a student then choose to go there? It’s all in the student’s control.

Even leaving aside how strenuously law schools have acted to hide or fudge things like job placement statistics…just wow. Shorter Lisa McElroy: “Why would anyone buy real estate at Glengarry Highlands if it wasn’t extremely valuable?”

I think we can see why the comments were closed…

John Paul Stevens’s Proposed New Amendments

[ 86 ] April 11, 2014 |

I have a review of the great former justice’s new book up at the Prospect. Anyone who proposes a constitutional amendment to eliminate the “sovereign immunity” doctrine is obviously after my own heart. Although of course a constitutional amendment isn’t necessary, at least where citizens of one’s own state are concerned — all that’s needed is to apply the 11th Amendment that is actually in the Constitution, as opposed to the one that’s been informally amended with a bunch of monarchical and neoconfederate gibberish.

As an aside, looking it up again I’m struck by how right the analysis of his Craig v. Boren concurrence remains:

There is only one Equal Protection Clause. It requires every State to govern impartially. It does not direct the courts to apply one standard of review in some cases and a different standard in other cases. Whatever criticism may be leveled at a judicial opinion implying that there are at least three such standards applies with the same force to a double standard.

I am inclined to believe that what has become known as the two-tiered analysis of equal protection claims does not describe a completely logical method of deciding cases, but rather is a method the Court has employed to explain decisions that actually apply a single standard in a reasonably consistent fashion. I also suspect that a careful explanation of the reasons motivating particular decisions may contribute more to an identification of that standard than an attempt to articulate it in all-encompassing terms.

The Stevens/Marshall theory both makes more sense theoretically and probably explains what the Court is actually doing better than the “three tiers of scrutiny” theory. This particularly evident given that Kennedy has pretty much given up even trying to identify which of the three categories he’s applying in LBGT cases. But it’s been true from the beginning — anybody think that the evacuation order the Court upheld while allegedly applying strict scrutiny in Korematsu was narrowly tailored?

…I didn’t focus on it in my review, but you can read excertps from Stevens’s Second Amendment argument here.

Today In Republican Minority Outreach

[ 128 ] April 10, 2014 |

Shorter Ben Shapiro: Everything is racism except racism, but definitely including brilliantly well-executed satire of clowns such as myself.

#CancelColbert

[ 110 ] April 10, 2014 |

Well, at least he’s leaving Comedy Central, where he’ll be competing with the iconic show recently and successfully taken over by a graduate of America’s finest institution of higher education.

I have somewhat mixed but ultimately positive feelings about this. The “Stephen Colbert” character on the Colbert Report is a work of comic genius, but diminishing returns will eventually set in, and Colbert has a much broader set of comedic chops. I see no reason why he won’t do very well taking over for Letterman.

Gender Equity and the Washington Post

[ 52 ] April 10, 2014 |

As Dana Houle notes in comments, at the risk of being called shrill by Ruth Marcus it’s worth noting that the WaPo roster of op-ed columnists features 7 women and 25 men. A problem even if they’re all being paid equally!

In fairness, I’m sure Hiatt is having trouble finding qualified women. It’s not just anyone who can meet the high standards being set by intellectual

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and moral titans like Marc Thiessen and Richard Cohen.

This Is Why Fred Hiatt Guarantees Everyone Two Fainting Couches

[ 50 ] April 10, 2014 |

Shorter Ruth Marcus: I guess I support the Paycheck Fairness Protection Act, but I’m much more upset about how Democrats aren’t supporting it in the right way.

It’s also worth nothing that the oft-cited 77% figure is only misleading if you assume that women have an equal opportunity to get the same jobs on the same terms as men, an assumption which is (to put it mildly) implausible.

Much more from Monica Potts.

Is Henry Aaron the Real HR King?

[ 100 ] April 9, 2014 |

I join the opinion of Justice Marchman. I also love this comment:

Bonds’ 762

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should have an asterisk beside it, and that asterisk should reference a note at the very bottom of the list, and that note should read “762 is greater than 755″.

…and as commenters note, Craggs and Posnanski are also excellent.

The Leafs Collapse And Hockey Analytics

[ 84 ] April 9, 2014 |

Happy Leafs Elimination Day! This year’s edition is especially entertaining, and of interest beyond NHL fans, because it represents another disaster for old-school media troofers who, as part of their identity, feel it necessary to attack even the most obvious insights derived from analytic methods.

Sean McIndoe’s Grantland piece at the beginning of the season did an excellent job laying it out. The core of the contemporary analytic view of hockey is an insight similar to Voros McCracken’s transformative insight about pitching. McCracken, and those that applied his findings, found that a pitcher’s strikeout rates and HR rates were better predictors of his ERA going forward than ERA itself, because what happens to balls in play is mostly beyond a pitcher’s control (essentially, it’s a combination of luck and defense.) Similarly, in hockey analysts found that a teams ability to maintain the possession of the puck predicts goal differential better than goal differential itself. In part, this is because shooting percentage isn’t really a skill, but is a combination of luck and goaltending. If you keep getting outshot when the game is on the line, unless you have Dominik Hasek in his prime or something you’re likely to lose in the long run.

One thing worth emphasizing is that the statistics that analysts use as a proxy for possession aren’t complicated or esoteric. Fenwick looks at unblocked shots for and against; Corsi includes blocked shots. The differentials, however, are most meaningful even strength when the games are close. When you see someone discuss a team’s Fenwick or Corsi close” this reflects the fact that the stats are only meaningful if you eliminate the garbage time. because when the game isn’t close it affects the shot patterns. (Just as, when analyzing football, you can’t put a lot of weight on yards gained by an offense in the fourth quarter of a blowout; it’s in the interest of the defense to trade yardage for time, so accumulating yards doesn’t prove much about your ability.)

The Leafs were a key test case because they made the playoffs last year (and made it to Game 7 of the first round) but were a terrible possession team. (I’ll present it ordered by Fenwick close because it was developed by a Flames fan, but as you can see the difference between the two are marginal.) The verdict of the analysts was clear: if the Leafs didn’t make actual improvements they were going to regress substantially. Adding to fuel to the controversy is that 1)the Leafs organization is as notably hostile to analytics as their media sycophants, and 2)this was reflected in their widely-mocked offseason moves.

For much of the year, there was a lot of crowing from the Murray Chass equivalents in hockey, since the Leafs seemed safely in a playoff spot. And this wasn’t because they actually improved. Their Fenwick close is 29th in the league: Worse than the disastrously rebuilding Oilers, substantially worse than the Flames, a poor organization in year one of a rebuild. Worse than everyone but a Sabres team with a historically bad offense. Their Corsi is also 29th. Did this prove analytics wrong? Nope — the Leafs’ success, such as it was, was built on exceptional goaltending and luck in the skills competition that the NHL idiotically uses to award points in regular season games. Their massive collapse at the end of the year, taking them all the way out of the playoffs, is what happens when the luck runs out.

So remember this when you hear that the Avalanche – a young team in the playoffs ahead of schedule despite terrible possession numbers — are defying the NERDS because of Patrick Roy’s coaching wizardry or whatever. Either they’ll actually improve, or the odds are overwhelming that they’ll be picking in the lottery again. But I, for one, hope the Leafs never change…

Brendan Eich Contributed to a Disgraceful Campaign

[ 176 ] April 9, 2014 |

A valuable reminder:

It’s proper to revisit that campaign, which established a new standard for odious political advertising. That’s a real achievement, given the deceitful nature of most of the TV campaigns for and against California ballot propositions.

Over at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern has compiled a remembrance, with videos, of the Proposition 8 campaign to which Eich donated $1,000. As Stern observes, the focus of the campaign was on the effect of gay marriage on children. (Recall that Prop 8 overturned a California court ruling legalizing gay marriage and wrote a gay marriage prohibition into the state constitution, so a “yes” vote was anti-gay marriage.)

More contemptably, several of the commercials suggested that legal gay marriage would “confuse” children who would have to be taught about it in school. One depicts a schoolteacher fretting to his principal about the mandate that he’ll have to introduce the concept in the classroom: “Just don’t call it marriage, and confuse a kid with a social dynamic that they can’t possibly understand.”

That ad, by the way, spelled out another theme of the campaign, that the failure of Proposition 8 would introduce a new level of government coercion. The teacher ad came complete with ominous music as the principal explained that “our hands are tied here.”

Another ad featured a little girl interrogating her gay fathers about where babies come from if not from a mommy and a daddy, as they shift uncomfortably in their seats trying to conjure up an answer. A third ad featured Pepperdine University law professor Richard Peterson warning that “second graders” would have to be taught that “boys could marry boys.” (Pepperdine objected to being named in the ad, but the sponsors refused to remove the identification.)

As Stern observes, “The campaign’s strategy was to debase gay families as deviant and unhealthy while insinuating that gay people are engaged in a full-scale campaign to convert children to their cause.” 

It’s nearly impossible to overstate just how odious that campaign was.  No argument that opposing same-sex marriage isn’t bigotry could survive an examination of the rhetoric of Prop 8 supporters.

“…awesome in its evilness.”

[ 100 ] April 8, 2014 |

A very good discussion between Harold Pollock and Jonathan Gruber on the Supreme Court decision that will kill some of society’s most vulnerable citizens:

Jon: I think, Harold, the single thing we probably need to keep the most focus on is the tragedy of the lack of Medicaid expansions. I know you’ve written about this. You know about this, but I think we cannot talk enough about the absolute tragedy that’s taken place. Really, a life-costing tragedy has taken place in America as a result of that Supreme Court decision. You know, half the states in America are denying their poorest citizens health insurance paid for by the federal government.

So to my mind, I’m offended on two levels here. I’m offended because I believe we can help poor people get health insurance, but I’m almost more offended there’s a principle of political economy that basically, if you’d told me, when the Supreme Court decision came down, I said, “It’s not a big deal. What state would turn down free money from the federal government to cover their poorest citizens?” The fact that half the states are is such a massive rejection of any sensible model of political economy, it’s sort of offensive to me as an academic. And I think it’s nothing short of political malpractice that we are seeing in these states and we’ve got to emphasize that.

Harold: One of the things that’s really striking to me is there’s a politics of impunity towards poor people, particularly non-white poor people that is almost a feature rather than a bug in the internal politics in some of these states, not to cover people under Medicaid, even if it’s financially very advantageous to do so. I think there’s a really important principle to defeat this politically, not just because Medicaid is important for people, but because it’s such a toxic political perspective that has to be … It has to be shown that that approach to politics doesn’t work because otherwise, we will really be stuck with some very unjust policies that will be pursued with complete impunity in some of these places.

Jon: That’s a great way to put it. There’s larger principles at stake here. When these states are turning – not just turning down covering the poor people – but turning down the federal stimulus that would come with that.

Harold: Yeah.

Jon: So the price they are willing … They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.

Again, it would be unfair to blame the Supreme Court for this if there was a clear constitutional command that the ACA’s funding mechanism plausibly violated, but there isn’t. The relevant precedent overwhelmingly suggested that the mechanism was constitutional, and applying the logic of the decision leads to transparently absurd results. But while the Supreme Court handed them the tools, it’s the Republican statehouses that are standing between medical facilities and the working poor, declaring “unnecessary suffering and death now, unnecessary suffering and death tomorrow, unecessary suffering and death forever!”

…Lithwick on the evil in Virginia.

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