Monday, February 19, 2018

Ranking Winter Olympic Sports

I love the Olympics -- Summer and Winter. A few of my favorite activities include rooting for Winter Olympians from countries which have no snow, rooting for formerly colonized nations to defeat their colonial overlords, and being a sucker for any good personal drama story.

Also, the some of the events are interesting. Here's the full ranking:

Short Track Speed Skating

Demolition derby on ice. This is a sport I'd totally watch off-season. I haven't gotten the chance to watch the mass start version yet, but it seems particularly ludicrously dangerous and therefore extra delightful. It makes me wish that Olympic sprinting didn't have lanes. A+

Snowboard Cross

If you're the sort of person who thinks "NASCAR would be better if they had speed bumps and jumps" (also: hurtling downhill) -- this is for you. Another event with great demolition derby character. But what I really want is for downhill ice cross skating to make it to the Olympics. That's a sport where at the bottom everyone just looks grateful that they've survived the evening. A

Long Track Speed Skating

Like middle-distance running, but more interesting because it's on blades. Something about watching the skaters criss-cross lanes is deeply hypnotic. A-


The best of the "trick" events, mostly because it most closely approximates a Tony Hawk game (or, to be technical, a Cool Boarders game). I hate to say it, as a die-hard skier, but the snowboard version is more interesting. B+


"Who's ready for death sledding!" We can't call it that. Okay, we'll call it "skeleton." Seriously, if the Summer Olympics is about pitting the world's greatest athletes against each other in head-to-head competition, the Winter Olympics seems to be about finding ever-more creative ways to get Europeans to kill themselves. B+


Nothing will ever top Robin Williams referring to this sport as "Norwegian Drive-by". But of all the long-distance sports -- Winter or Summer -- this one's the best. Not just because it involves gunfire, but because the shooting segments actually allow the race to get shaken up on a dime, adding interest and variety to what otherwise would (literally) be a marathon. B


I love the camera shots on Luge, which last for approximately a quarter of second on each turn as an insane German hurtles ball-first down an ice chute (another steal from Robin Williams). B

Figure Skating (individual and pairs)

The marquee event of the Winter Games. It's not that I dislike it, but it's virtually impossible for me to tell the difference between the tricks, so I'm left rooting for falls just to create some visual distance between the competitors. I do appreciate that the area the skaters sit in to wait for scores is officially called the "kiss and cry" area (seriously: I saw it on an official's nametag). B

Ice Hockey

The only sport I can watch regularly outside of the Olympics, which diminishes its Olympic appeal somewhat. Its ranking would shoot way up if the women's game was full-check (it looks like they're using every fiber of self-restraint to avoid laying each other out for sixty consecutive minutes). B

Aerials/Big Air

"Ski jumping? That's for pussies. Make them do a few tricks while they're in the air and get back to me." This is the only trick event where I think skiing does better than snowboarding. B


The ranking of Skeleton, Luge, and Bobsled depends heavily on what you prioritize. In terms of raw speed, Bobsled is fastest, then Luge, then Skeleton. But in terms of reckless disregard for one's personal safety, it goes Skeleton, then Luge, then Bobsled. You can obviously see what my preferences are. B-


The breakout hit of Sochi now feels a little overcooked in Pyeongchang. It's perfectly entertaining, and it's the only Olympic sport I could even vaguely conceive of competing in, but it takes a long time to complete and there are apparently 142 games scheduled over the course of the Olympic Games, which take up valuable TV time that could be used for speed skating. B-

Alpine Skiing

As a skier, I should like this, but once again I can't really tell what makes someone fast or slow so there's not a lot to watch here. Now mass start alpine skiing -- that I could get behind. C+


The marquee snowboard event (and generally-forgotten skiing event) is also the worst of the lot. To the naked eye, at least, it has less speed, less air, and less interesting tricks. C+


All Olympic sports are physically punishing, but moguls is the only one I can't actually watch without feeling my knees twitch in sympathetic pain. As my brother observed "you'll never see a 30-year old Moguls skier." C+

Ski Jump

It says a lot about the reckless disregard for human safety that characterizes the Winter Olympics that you can take a sport where competitors jump the length of a football field from 35 stories in the air and I can be like "but it's kinda boring?"  C

Nordic (Cross-Country) Skiing

The same problem as distance running, or cycling. Not enough happens for too long. More than any other sport in the games though, competitors earn their "collapse in exhaustion at the finish line" moment. C-

Ice Dancing

"Let's start with figure skating, and then remove all of the most interesting parts of it and ensure that at least one competitor always stays firmly planted on the ground, where it's safe." Why? D

Conservatives No Longer Can Conceive of Non-Partisan Motives, Part II

The Mueller investigation is not going to turn out well for the Trump administration.

One would think that's uncontroversial, given that it's already secured guilty pleas from several Trump associates and indictments against several more. "How bad" is an open question, but "bad" surely isn't.

In the wake of indictments against several Russian nationals for interfering in Election 2016, Democratic Senator Bob Casey (PA) suggested that Mueller not release any final report on his investigation immediately before the 2018 midterms.
Casey said he couldn't make any assumptions about where the Mueller investigation is going in light of indictments issued on Friday. But he added that he would recommend Mueller not release a report on his findings near the midterms, when it would distract from elections or cause people to question the election's integrity.
One can agree with this analysis or disagree. The case for disagreement is that the Russia scandal is a valid and important issue that voters should have full information on when making their choice come 2018. The case for agreement is that Russian interference has already badly frayed our collective faith in the integrity of our democratic system and a last-minute FBI report would only further their goal of sowing chaos.

But Glenn Reynolds reacted to the news somewhat differently:


But seriously -- remember last year when (talking about the Russia investigation!) I wrote that conservatives can no longer conceive of non-partisan motives? Great example right here. The only possible motivation of anyone talking about the FBI probe into Russian interference in our elections is a partisan one. Hence, if a Democrat -- one in no position to know what Mueller will end up finding, but one who (like the rest of us) already see it ensnaring Trump associates -- says that he doesn't want a bombshell release right before the election, the only possible motive is ... the report will somehow hurt Democrats. The proffered rationale -- "bombshell revelations of foreign electoral interference right before an election where voters are already mistrustful of each other and on edge is a bad idea" -- doesn't even register. It's like the very concept of being a good civic citizen is just beyond comprehension.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Adrien Broner Arrested On Groping Charges

Adrien Broner, once heralded as boxing next big thing but never living up to the moniker, has been arrested after a woman accused him of groping her at an Atlanta mall.

Responding to the charge, the ever-classy Broner wrote on social media: "Just cause I voted for trump don't mean I'm going around grabbing pussies."

Yeah, I'm voting that he did it. Not just because of Broner's prior brushes with the law (though thus far he's escaped having any of his cases go to trial), and not just because he's a notorious asshole (though even in boxing he stands out), and not just because he voted for Trump (of course he did; also, moths to the flame much?). But the sort of person who'd respond to a sexual misconduct allegation with a flip "Just cause I voted for trump don't mean I'm going around grabbing pussies" is exactly the sort of person whom I totally believe would go around "grabbing pussies."

Thankfully, unlike late-stage Floyd Mayweather, who boxing fans like myself had to pay attention to even as he was racking up domestic violence cases of his own because he was the best fighter in the world, Adrien Broner is basically irrelevant at the top echelons of boxing now. So if this ends up torpedoing his next fight (a scheduled scrap with Omar Figueroa Jr.), we won't be missing much.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Nothing Went On At Fresno State

Last year, I blogged about an emergent controversy at Fresno State, where a faculty member alleged that a Middle East Studies search was canceled due to external "Zionist" pressure. Her claims quickly got substantial attention amongst the usual suspects -- JVP put together a condemnatory letter that quickly amassed 500 signatures -- but there was a crucial component to the case that remained missing.


Like, any of it.

The Fresno State administration consistently maintained that the search was suspended due to procedural problems; reporters who contacted the local Jewish community found nobody who had even heard of the search, let alone organized against it. Against that, those crying Zionist sabotage were left stringing together a few stray (and unattributed) comments allegedly made by some skeptical faculty members expressing concern.

So at the end of the day, was there any "there" there?

Fortunately, Northwestern University Law Professor Steve Lubet took the time to made and wade through a FOIA request for the relevant records that could answer that question. And it turns out that the University's denials were completely, absolutely, and 100% justified. The search was canceled because the finalists were all social scientists, but the position was going to be housed in a humanities department which didn't want to add faculty from outside its discipline. It was that mismatch which caused the search to be delayed a year (presumably so the parameters of the position could be realigned with the areas of specialization of the most interested candidates). Not a single document revealed any contact, let alone "pressure", from Zionist or Israel-advocacy organizations -- leading the President of the Faculty Senate to flatly declare (in an internal document) that the original complaining faculty member who made the allegations was simply "lying".

One hopes that puts this matter to bed. But it is fair to question how this "controversy" exploded in the way that it did. I wrote at the time:
Abba Eban once famously quipped that "If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions." So too, it seems, that if JVP circulates a letter saying Fresno State was devoured by a hellmouth and Israel had summoned it, it would amass 500 signatures within the week.
Lubet uses this to coin the term "Occam's BDS razor": the simplest explanation, anytime anything on campus doesn't go precisely the way pro-Palestinian advocates would like, is the interference of nefarious pro-Israel lobbying. We can see how that mentality shook out at Fresno both "vertically" and "horizontally". "Vertically", a few offhand remarks that were critical of the search proceedings got elevated to cases of "harassment". And "horizontally", these few remarks were roped together to form the locus of an imagined conspiracy of intimidation against the entire search. The ease at which these jumps are made is itself illustrative of antisemitism in its structural dimension -- even the tiniest shreds of Jewish public or private discourse immediately metastasize into dark threats of domineering power. Such moves, I have to think, wouldn't fly (or wouldn't fly as easily) were they not so easily slotted into the grooves of antisemitic discourse.
Lubet concludes similarly: the fact that the allegation of Jewish interference was taken as gospel with virtually no evidence whatsoever, coupled with the (perhaps more alarming, though less surprising) fact that none of the bodies which leveled the accusation at Fresno State have shown any interest in even reviewing the documentation showing that the claim was groundless, is properly thought of as a manifestation of antisemitic conspiracy theorizing.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Democracy Remains the Solution to Hillel's Biggest Problems

Hillel International endorsed Kenneth Marcus for the head Civil Rights position at the Department of Education -- mostly because Marcus is a firm opponent of BDS and campus antisemitism more broadly.

The problem is that (controversy over BDS aside) Kenneth Marcus also is viewed as weak on sexual assault, favoring a rollback of Obama-era regulations designed to get colleges to clamp down on sexual violence.

This has led to serious controversy within Hillel. Hillel International head Eric Fingerhut refused to rescind his endorsement, but did agree that the organization should "consider" altering its policies regarding endorsements and the need for consultation with Hillel constituent members:
In an email sent to campus Hillel directors Friday, Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut acknowledged that the Hillel staff had raised questions about the Marcus endorsement. He said that Hillel International’s board would consider new procedures by which the organization’s leadership would in the future consult with Hillel staff and students before taking public positions on political issues. He also said that he had meant to endorse Marcus’s work on anti-Semitism only, not his position on the campus sexual assault issue.
At the risk of tooting my own horn, you know what would be a great "procedure" facilitating consultation with Jewish students before Hillel adopts a public policy position? Democracy! If Hillel was a democratic organization, this misstep would have been far less likely to have occurred, and the position Hillel did take would have been far more likely to be in line with the actual preferences of Hillel students.

The thing is, democracies are responsive to their actual constituents in a way that Hillel is not. Given Hillel's institutional setup, it's utterly unsurprising that Fingerhut made his decision based on an issue of high-importance to his donor base while being utterly unaware of a countervailing issue of equal if not greater importance to Hillel's actual constituency. Simply put, Fingerhut is accountable to the former but not the latter. So he's going to be well aware of what matters to the former while being blissfully ignorant about the concerns of the latter. And the result is that he'll blunder into errors like this over and over again.

And one more thing: Maybe it's the case that Hillel students actually do care more about Marcus' work incorporating Jews under DOE regulatory protection than they do his conservative views on sexual violence prevention. If that's the case, then maybe a Democratic Hillel would have also given him an endorsement. But one suspects it would've been done in a more qualified and politically sensitive way. More importantly, in that circumstance the endorsement would carry democratic legitimacy that is lacking when decisions are made by the equivalent of an unelected autocrat. Democratic governance is good because it yields more responsive decision-making, yes, but also because it is simply legitimate in a way that Hillel, right now, cannot claim to be.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Talking to Minorities? Oooh... That's a Censorship."

If you're thinking that his musings are going to be an uncreative recycling of greatest-hits complaints about out-of-control student lefties utterly unmoored from any actual account of contemporary campus life, well, you'd be mostly right. 

We do get obligatory swipes at "microaggressions", and fury at accused sexual assailants being adjudicated under the exact same standard of proof they'd encounter were they sued in court (and a far more protective standard than they'd be entitled to in the workplace -- which is to say, there is one), and no less than three references to "cultural Marxism," which is always a good signal to turn one's ears off (on a New York Times editor's ambitions to be "intersectional", he writes aghast: "Does she understand that the very word intersectional is a function of neo-Marxist critical race theory?" Does he understand how many Marxists -- "neo-" or otherwise -- would choke to hear that?). 

Thankfully, Sullivan spares us a literal appeal to the First Amendment, but his invocations of its "spirit" appear to collapse "censorship" into "outgroups publicly disliking what I have to say", and delegitimizing their temerity is more or less the core thesis of the argument. Free exchange of ideas indeed.

But I confess that Sullivan did introduce me to one element of PC-culture that was genuinely new to me. These were the "sensitivity readers", by whom Sullivan tells us "Books are censored in advance ... to conform with 'social justice' protocols." 

Goodness, that sounds positively awful! But fortunately, Sullivan provided a link to educate us on the contours of this new threat. And there, we encountered a truly harrowing tale: a young-adult author who ... voluntarily reached out to a readers from a community she was writing about to elicit their reactions on her draft.* Yes, we've finally reached the stage where even speaking to outgroups is a form of "censorship". How indeed could the free exchange of ideas survive such terrors like ... talking to the sort of people you're writing about? (To be fair to Sullivan, there's an element of self-interest in play here: one highly doubts any of his ideas could survive the encounter).

There's something to be said about cultivating a spirit of open inquiry that goes beyond opposing de jure censorship. It should be obvious that "speaking with people different from yourself and modifying your views in the wake of the encounter" has very little to do with that spirit. But the larger problem writers like Sullivan obstinately fail to grasp is that part of open inquiry includes considering whether our positions or ideologies create or perpetuate injustices (whether against socially-identifiable outgroups or anyone else). If censorship can exist beyond the formal power of the state and includes leveraging social power to preemptively prevent certain views from being heard, than there's almost certainly no more committed censor in Sullivan's column than Sullivan himself.

* Admittedly, the article indicates that sometimes "sensitivity readers" are not hired directly by authors but rather provided by the publishing house. I can sympathize with how this may feel like "censorship" to a writer, but in our more sober moments we tend to call it by the more prosaic name of "editing".

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

What's In Peer Review For Me?

UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge continues to decline peer review requests from law reviews (for friends in different disciplines, law is unique in that nearly all of our scholarly journals are run by law students -- up to and including article selection. A few top journals have started to move towards a "semi-" peer review system where they solicit comments from outside academic reviewers, typically to supplement their own internal deliberations. I give a qualified defense of the law review system here). This is a blast in the past for me, as Bainbridge's initial broadside came against the University of Chicago Law Review shortly after I left that august institution (see my guarded comments here).

Bainbridge has several reasons for not participating, but he devotes an extended amount of time to a discussion of self-interest, featuring an guest appearance from Adam Smith:
Why on earth would I ever want to review an article for them? To be sure, there are things one supposedly does for free for other law schools because they are for the good of the profession. Writing tenure letters springs to mind. Yet, while doing so is for the good of the profession, it can also be personally beneficial. If I write a tenure review letter for your tenure committee, the members of that committee will feel obliged to return the favor when I'm chairing our tenure committee and need outsider reviewers. Professors at other schools read my brilliant tenure review and conclude they should hire me instead of promoting the candidate. I take the job offer to the Dean and she gives me a raise. And so on. But what possible benefit do I get from giving a review to bunch of kids who may or may not end up in law teaching? I'm a rational economic actor. My time is valuable. There are opportunity costs entailed in responding to your request. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages." So make it economically rational for me to respond affirmatively.
Actually, this made me think of one reason someone in Bainbridge's position might want to participate in peer review: to influence the window of prestigious legal scholarship in a direction more amenable to his scholarship (and more generally, ideological predilections).

It is a common complaint of conservatives in academia that one barrier to their success is the hammerlock the left-wing majority has over article selection -- supposedly elevating mediocre (but ideologically congenial) leftist scholarship while knocking out good conservative contributions. I don't know if Bainbridge feels this way about the areas he writes in (corporate law), but presumably even shorn of a partisan valence Bainbridge has a vested interest in facilitating a match between scholarship is thinks is actually good and that which deemed "good" via the signal of elite article placement. At the margins, this could help in quite directly (by making his own scholarship more closely resemble that which is considered to be cutting edge), and at the very least it offers a benefit to his ideological school (to the extent he cares about such things). When Bainbridge declines to review articles for top law journals, the reviewer they replace him with may be one with very different views on what makes for a good corporate law piece. The net effect will be to push the contours of well-regarded scholarship in his discipline away from Bainbridge's preferences.

Of course, this sort of analysis is another way of saying that "self-interest" -- defined broadly enough -- can include a whole host of "good for the profession" (or community, or society) values. But that seems to reflect a sociological observation that those most keen on quoting Adam Smith are often those most blind to that sort of "self-interest". If conservatives decline, on grounds of "self-interest", to partake in "selfless" acts of professional courtesy like providing peer reviews, and liberals -- more amenable to doing things for good of the community -- take their place, well, each may reap what they sow, and the corresponding ideological state of "elite" scholarship perhaps shouldn't surprise us.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anyone Can Be "Not Racist" To Someone (With Bonus Right/Libertarian Intercession!)

After viciously beating an African-American man in an Iowa bar,  Randy Joe Metcalf was convicted of a federal hate crime and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In relevant part, the federal statute says that "[w]hoever . . . willfully causes bodily injury to any person . . . because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person . . . shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both[.]"

The evidence surrounding the "because of" race element of the crime against Metcalf was substantial (and -- fair warning -- quite graphic). During the night of the attack (and into the following day), witnesses heard or saw Metcalf:

  • Brag about burning crosses in front of an African-American family's home.
  • Tell the bar owner "I hate fucking niggers."
  • Show off a tattoo of a swastika to said bar owner and another bar patron while saying "that's what I'm about."
  • Call the friends of the African-American man whom he'd later attack "nigger lovers" and "nigger loving cunts."
  • Exclaim, in the course of attacking the man, "fucking nigger!" and "die nigger!"
  • Tell a friend the following day that "the nigger got what he had coming to him."
What was Metcalf's main factual defense at trial?

That he wasn't racist. And indeed, the man with the swastika tattoo who savagely beat a man while hurtling racial slurs called seven witnesses who were prepared to testify that he was in no way a racist.

Un(?)surprisingly, the jury didn't buy it, and voted to convict. And the Eighth Circuit just affirmed that conviction, so it looks like Metcalf will spending quite some time in prison.

That was all I initially planned to write. But while rereading the case for this post, I came across another interesting tidbit: Metcalf had some powerful right-wing/libertarian allies filing amicus briefs on his behalf. The Cato Institute, the Reason Institute, The Individual Rights Foundation (an arm of the David Horowitz Freedom Center), the Center for Equal Opportunity, and two right-wing appointees to the United States Civil Rights Commission (Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow) all interceded to argue that the relevant provision of the federal hate crimes statute is unconstitutional as in excess of Congress' enforcement power under the 13th Amendment (I've read all the briefs, though it seems only the Cato Institute's is publicly available).

Now to be clear, even repulsive White supremacists have rights, and I don't think it's an endorsement of White supremacy to file an amicus brief in a White supremacist's criminal case. But it is worth tracing the precise argument these groups felt so passionately about that they'd intercede on behalf of a guy like Randy Joe Metcalf. 

Part of their argument is that the 13th Amendment only permits barring so-called "badges and incidents" of slavery (such as being targeted for physical assault on basis on one's race) when it is necessary to prevent the literal reimposition of slavery. Since, amici argue, there is no realistic change of literal slavery reemerging, it is no longer (if it ever was?) necessary for the federal government to ban racially-motivated assaults in order to pursue the constitutional ends of abolishing slavery (if you think they've been emboldened by Shelby County, you're right).

The other half of the argument is that hate crimes prosecutions, in particular, are a dangerous tool to give to the federal government because they're more susceptible to public outrage and thus "double jeopardy" prosecutions. This is a highly revealing argument. The double jeopardy clause doesn't apply when the federal government prosecutes its own criminal law (even after a completed state prosecution covering the same incident). The amici argue that the federal law here exceeds Congress' constitutional authority; but if that's the case the double jeopardy complaint is superfluous -- the law's just unconstitutional in its own right. So what's the point of bringing up double jeopardy?

The point is one of policy, or more accurately, of worldview. The argument is that "hate crimes" are particularly likely to arouse public anger and legal response, and that therefore we're more likely to see zealous prosecution (up to and including using these federal laws to get a "second bite at the apple" in the event an initial state prosecution fails). In doing so, the Cato Institute and its cohort wish to evoke a particular vision of civil rights laws -- wherein they're mainly a tool of oppression and governmental overreach and so must be highly limited and closely watched. They present a world where the government can hardly resist the pleas of minority communities for justice in the case of racist crimes; where the main problem when it comes to race in our society is too much zealousness in protecting outgroups. Who will think of the poor White supremacist, reviled by all and protected by none (except, of course, a President who thinks some among his number are "good people")?

It was difficult to swallow this logic in 2013, when Shelby County was decided. In 2018, it would be laughable save for the fact that it appears to be virtually indestructible. Just as for some people there's no amount of evidence that could establish someone to be racist, for some organizations there's no amount of evidence that could establish racism as an actual, non-trivial problem in American society.