Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

I really should learn more about Chinese music.  Mongolian music doesn't count, but Tuvan music is cool.  Here's Huun Huur Tu.  60 Horses In My Herd, the full album.  Tuvan throat-singing is weird and cool.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Legal versus statistical reasoning on Kavanaugh

For many reasons, I am a statistically-trained political scientist, not a lawyer.  We'll skip the Shakespeare today, though.  Instead, let's take some time to go through some of the important differences between how statistical reasoning and how legal reasoning approach the issues with "Brett."

Let's start with the simplified version of a point I have already made.  Suppose we believe that there is a 50% chance that "Brett" committed the attack that Ford alleges.  Note that I am now shifting my language somewhat.  Under legal reasoning, that would constitute "reasonable doubt."  He would be acquitted.  Were we to have a serious confirmation process that properly assessed nominees, though, "Brett" would not be confirmed because a 50% chance of such an allegation being true is too high.  Some of us want Supreme Court nominees of... unimpeachable character, not ones who just manage to show "reasonable doubt."  Reasonable doubt is the standard by which you escape criminal conviction, not the standard by which you secure a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.  Acquittal does not mean innocence.  It means reasonable doubt.

What is the mathematical threshold for reasonable doubt?  Um...  Uh...  There, uh...  Yeah.  There's a reason lawyers say, "reasonable doubt," rather than "convict if probability of guilt is greater than p where p=.95," just to pull a social science number out of a hat.  How would one, or 12, ever put a number like .93 on the probability of guilt in any case?  Unless they hang the number entirely on assessment of DNA evidence, or something similar, that kind of quantification is just too hard in too many cases.  So, you have legal standards like "reasonable doubt," or, "preponderance of evidence" in civil cases.

Understanding what that means, though, clarifies the silliness of saying, "well, we can't convict Kavanaugh, so he must be confirmed."  A 25% Bayesian assessment of the chances of innocence realistically means reasonable doubt, but would you confirm someone to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court if there were a 75% chance of that person having committed a horrific crime?  25%  10%  Really?  Reasonable doubt is not the standard by which decent, intelligent people confirm Supreme Court nominees.  Insert comment about who is neither decent nor intelligent here.

This is the time for Bayesian statistical reasoning.  Updated assessments of the probability of guilt.  Start with Ford's therapist's notes.  Is that direct evidence of Kavanaugh's guilt, in legal terms?  No, but in Bayesian terms, once you have that piece of information, you update your assessment of the probability of his guilt upwards.  Legal versus statistical reasoning.  A court wouldn't give a shit about those notes because the therapist wasn't there.  It was years later.  A statistically trained mind cares.  It is more information, indicating that the claim is not just a political attack.  Enter Ramirez, the Yale student "allegedly" harassed at a party by "Brett."  We now have two separate claims.  Does one claim increase the probability that the other claim is true?  In Bayesian terms, once I have a second claim, I'm going to update my prior that the first claim is true upwards because it suggests a pattern.  In legal terms, one claim is not evidence that the other is true.  They're just two separate accusations.  Legal versus statistical reasoning.

Remember, though, that the issue here isn't the question of whether or not anyone can secure a criminal conviction.  The question is whether or not this is the guy who should be trusted with a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.  There's no "ruining his life," or any such bullshit.  If he doesn't get appointed, he stays a judge on the DC Circuit, which is not exactly a ruined life.

How certain do you want to be about people with that kind of power?  "Reasonable doubt" certain, or as certain as possible?  There is a time for legal reasoning, and a time for Bayesian reasoning.  Bayes' theorem.  It's a law too!

As for Bayesian assessments of "Brett's" chances, they're way down.  Here's the betting with Ramirez's story now public.  At this point, I have no clue.

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

David Jacobs-Strain, "Take My Chances," from Ocean Or A Teardrop.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who has more to lose if there is no Ford testimony?

It is still not clear whether or not Christine Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Since the Republicans on the Committee are all white men, and all hostile to Ford, they want to have a woman lawyer come in to interrogate Ford, which would be highly unusual, and Ford still calls bullshit on this.  Also, Grassley wants to let Kavanaugh speak second, so that when he tells blatant lies, as he no doubt will, she has no chance to rebut them.  This is a standard tactic in pseudo-investigative charades.  Anyway, until these details are worked out, we don't know if Ford actually will testify.  There is no real agreement.  Right now, we are facing a game of chicken.  Sort of.  Who blinks?

For all of the fancy game theory I study, it is amazing how often real politics are explained by the simple stuff, like "chicken."  You know chicken.  Two drivers, customarily piss-drunk, drive towards each other.  Whoever swerves is the chicken.  Whoever doesn't gets bragging rights.  Ideally, you don't swerve, and the other driver does.  Worst outcome is the disaster of the crash.  Obviously.  Second worst is to be the chicken.  You have to face humiliation.  By default, then, second best is if both drivers swerve.  You don't win, but if both drivers swerve, at least you're both chickens.  That's chicken.  There are two "Nash equilibria."  A Nash equilibrium is a set of strategies in which no one actor has an incentive to change strategies given what the other actors are doing.  The equilibria are the circumstances in which precisely one driver is swerving.  It's just a matter of figuring out who swerves.

In reality, though, a lot of the interesting analogs to chicken are games in which the "disaster" isn't that disastrous, or at least, not equally disastrous for everyone.  In chicken, that disaster pretty much sucks, which is why only drunken idiots do it.  Drunken idiots do a lot of things.  Which is not an excuse, "Brett."  Which is not an excuse!  Fuck you, "Brett."

Anyway, Ford wants to testify after "Brett" so that she has a chance to rebut that liar's lies, and she wants a normal Senate hearing, where the questions come from Senators.  If that creates the bad optics of a bunch of angry, old, white men harassing a rape victim, well, that's the Republican Party's fault for being the Republican Party.  Stop being that way, and you won't have to deal with the optics of a little thing I like to call, "reality."  Tell your optics-lawyer to go do something with herself, Chucky, and live with what you are.  Or better yet, change.  Oh, who am I kidding?  That ain't gonna happen.  Anyway, Ford prefers a normal hearing that reveals what the GOP is as clearly as possible.  Craven defenders of a rapist sack of shit, pulling the same crap they did to Anita Hill.  They'll still confirm "Brett," but she wants them to reveal themselves as fully as possible in the process.

Grassley?  His preferences are the opposite.  He wants to hide behind a female lawyer.  He doesn't think rape should be a crime and wants Ford to go back to the kitchen, or something.  But, he's also too much of a fucking coward to act publicly like what he is, because he knows how much backlash there will be if the bullying of Ford comes entirely from the white men leading the party of white men.  He wants to cower behind a woman.  Such a manly man, Chuck!

OK, so what about the disaster?  What about the scenario of no testimony?  The GOP confirms Kavanaugh having not heard testimony from Ford.  How bad is that?  Um... It gives them some bad news stories, which they spin as being Ford's fault for refusing to testify.  A few bad news cycles, at most before Trump's Trumpiness pushes it off the headlines with some new atrocity.  Politics junkies like me never forget it, but hey.  Thomas is still on the Court, and invocations of Anita Hill's name don't change the fact that he has a vote, has had a vote for decades, and will still have a vote for many years to come.  I don't see that as being that bad for the GOP.  They can walk away.

How bad is it for Ford?  She's already getting death threats.  How much worse can it get?  Particularly with whatever creature Grassley wants to unleash on her in his misogynistic cowardice?  (I was going to type, "attack dog," but caught myself because of certain linguistic patterns.  I have no compunctions about "creature" in this context, though.  Have no illusions about what the Senate GOP wants to do to Ford.  If you question my metaphors, ask Anita Hill.)  Yeah, she can walk away.  This is not something she needs in her life, particularly since the probability of this affecting the outcome is so low.  Right now, PredictIt puts "Brett's" chances at 2-1, but a) I think that underestimates his chances, and b) I don't know if his chances are dependent on testimony or something else.  Ford might potentially be able to make the GOP look bad for confirming a rapist, but I don't know if she can actually affect the probability of it.

That means both parties can walk away.  Neither have that much to lose if negotiations break down.  Chicken ends in a disaster when the parties each think the other will swerve.  This could very well go that way.  Right now, the GOP doesn't seem to be bending on whether the questions will be done by the misogynistic old men of the Senate GOP caucus itself, or the female lawyer behind whom they want to hide, for example.  Why not?  They're cowards who don't want to re-create the optics of the Anita Hill hearings, demonstrating what misogynistic scum they are.  Ford has nothing to gain by letting the female lawyer interrogate her.  That combination would mean no hearings.

In the end, though, remember that these hearings don't really matter.  There is no one in the Senate whose opinion will be dependent on what is said.  Anyone who wants to vote to confirm "Brett" will find a reason to do so in something he says, and find a reason to disregard Ford.  This is all theater.  It always is.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Jim Hurst and Missy Raines, "Nothing to Lose, from Two.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kavanaugh, Keyser Soze, and why the GOP will prevail on most things in the long-run

When discussing the politics of a rapist, I think we need to let a rapist explain things.



It's all about having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  That's the criminal world.  The point of creating a civil society, through government, is to make that not be the case.  We try to create a society of laws so that the Hungarians' approach in The Usual Suspects doesn't work.  You try to do what the other guy won't do, and you get punished.  Not by Keyser Soze, but by the legal system.  OK, I'm not being original here.  This is basically Hobbes.  What do you want?  All the cool stuff has been written before.

The problem comes, then, when one party decides to take the Hungarians' approach to government itself.  You don't need numbers, you don't need anything but the will to do what the other party won't do.  And, there's no Hobbesian "Leviathan" stopping you because you are doing it to vie for control of that leviathan.  That's the point.  You win, and you are the beastie from the depths.

The will to do what the other guys won't.  Like put a fuckin' rapist on the Supreme Court just because you know that the rapist will side with your guy on executive power.  Thank you for explaining that will-to-power gangster thing, Mr. Rapist, sir.  (He really is a good actor, though.  Shame about how so many great artists are shitbags, but I've written enough about that before.)  Yes, "Brett" will probably be confirmed, and he will be confirmed for a few reasons:  1) the GOP doesn't care at all about rape, ever, 2) Trump can browbeat the party into nearly anything, 3) he hates losing, and 4) he wants someone who will take a maximalist interpretation of executive power.  Is it certain that "Brett" gets confirmed?  No, but McConnell is calling it a done deal.  Gee, it's almost as though his mind had been made up long ago, and he doesn't care what Ford has to say because he doesn't think rape should even be a crime...  Why would Ford ever think she isn't going to get a fair hearing?  Hmmm...

And the Supreme Court leads to the broader observation of party tactics.  One party would blockade a seat for an entire year and tell a president that he can't appoint anybody.  They don't care how qualified or moderate.  That would be the GOP.  McConnell specifically.  When Scalia croaked, the GOP decided that they would blockade his seat for a year, regardless of whom Obama nominated.  The posterboy for hypocrisy, Orrin Hatch, even said that Obama would be able to confirm Merrick Garland specifically, predicting, though, that it wouldn't happen.  Obama nominated Garland.  Hatch did his Orrin Hatch thing, backtracked like the master-hypocrite he is, and followed Mitch McConnell's will-to-power approach to controlling the Supreme Court by having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  Blockade the Supreme Court just 'cuz they can.

Let's be clear on this.  Nobody had ever done what Mitch McConnell did.  Nobody had ever really considered it.  They just did it.  Before Scalia's body was cold(er), McConnell said he didn't give a flying fuck whom Obama nominated, Obama alone in the history of presidents didn't get to fill Supreme Court vacancies 'cuz the GOP said so.  Not even if he nominated the one specific guy Orrin Hatch said he could nominate.

This is the will-to-power that will put "Brett" on the Supreme Court because they don't care that he's probably a rapist.  This is the will-to-power that eventually caved and backed Roy Moore.  Yes, the voters of Alabama actually decided to back a Democrat over him, but remember that Mitch McConnell didn't, and nobody in Republican leadership did.

As this is happening, Rod Rosenstein is preparing himself to get fired.  Why?  There is a good chance that he said something about the 25th Amendment and/or wearing a wire around Donny.  In jest or not, his job has been hanging by a thread for a while now, and once he's gone, along with Sessions, who gets fired right after the midterms, Mueller's investigation ain't long for this world.  I've been writing since the beginning that the probability of Trump facing any real consequences for his actions is absolute, mathematical zero.  Why?  The will to power.  Not just his-- the Republican Party's.  If you have an entire political party, with an associated media apparatus, dedicated fully to the proposition that you are above the law, as Donald Trump does, then you are above the law.  There is no leviathan above the Republican Party to impose the rule of law on them because they use the will-to-power to prevent the rule of law through the leviathan.  That's the point.

So, here's how it works.  Let's say the Democrats take the House.  High probability of that.  Right after the midterms, Trump fires Sessions and Rosenstein.  Mueller is probably next.  His investigation is effectively shut down.  Democrats in the House try to take over.  Committee chairs start hearings, issuing subpoenas, etc.  What happens?

Trump tells them to go fuck themselves.  He refuses to comply, and tells everyone in the executive branch to refuse to comply.  He fires everyone who even thinks of complying.

Lawsuits ensue.  They make their way up through the courts.  They get into the grabby, rape-y hands of "Brett."  What does "Brett" say about this?  He says Trump can do whatever he wants because he's President.  On his side, "Brett" has Plagiarist-Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, and they drag Roberts along.

What then?  Impeachment?  Sure, go ahead and move on articles of impeachment.  Even if the Democrats took the Senate, there's no way to get 2/3.  Mueller's findings probably get buried when Trump pulls his Saturday Night Massacre, and anything he can't bury, Fox News just lies about, following Donny's lead.  Anyone want to challenge any of this?  Guess where this goes, ultimately.

That's right.  The US Supreme Court.  Hi, "Brett."  Neat and tidy, right?

And of course, I have to put in a little reminder about what a fucking moron your hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was for not stepping down when Obama could have named a replacement.  She dies, and the wages of the Nietzschean approach to politics just expand and get locked in for that much longer.  Ginsburg is a narcissistic moron, and you should stop liking her.  Anthony Kennedy is smarter than she is, and that's why we are having this dust-up.  Understand that.

So, what now?  Um... Uh... Why would anyone ask me that?  I'm just the peanut gallery.  I write the occasional book with academic jargon, math 'n stuff, and rant on this pretentious, little blog, but I kind of think we're fucked.  Why?  Because one party has decided to adopt the approach of the Hungarians from The Usual Suspects.  Democracy doesn't actually work based on rules.  It works based on norms.  When one party no longer abides by those norms, and instead decides to adopt the Nietzschean will-to-power approach, doing anything and everything to seize power, I don't know what the response is because the problem isn't a constitutional/structural problem.  The problem is that party.

There is no legal, constitutional or structural solution to the problem of one party gone this far wrong.  They can be defeated so badly that they fade out of existence, but a) that's hard to do intrinsically, b) that's really hard to do when that party has a powerful media apparatus supporting it, and c) that's really hard to do when the problem is that so many people supporting that party do so because they, themselves are evil.  Yes, I will use the word, "evil."

Donald Trump is cartoonishly evil.  And I do mean "cartoonish."  The best demonstration, for those who never caught this, was Mark Hamill.  His "Joker" was great, and it was amazing what happened when he started reading Trump's tweets, word for word, in his Joker voice.




If your words sound like something an actual, literal cartoon villain would say... dude.  Somethin's wrong here.  Donald Trump is a cartoon villain.  The problem is that the Joker he most resembles is from The Killing Joke.  If you are a comic book person, you know what I'm talking about here...  The animated Batman show never went that far, but Alan Moore... um, well, you should read it.  The Joker is supposed to be scary.  Anyway, then there was that fun game from a while back:  who said it?  Trump or Mussolini?  Trump is cartoonishly evil, and his appeal to his fans is based on racism and misogyny.  Period.

So, overwhelm them in an election, right?  Here's the problem with that.  Too many voters are just stupid.  They think that the economy is directly controlled by the president, so if the economy is doing well, then the president is a genius.  I've written about this enough before that I won't elaborate again here, but it means that the country is subject to dumb luck.  We could very well get to 2020 with an economy in decent enough shape that the collapse of democratic civil society and the rule of law doesn't stop the racists, misogynists and nincompoops from reelecting the most idiotic and cartoonishly evil politician in the history of this country.  Remember, though, that Trump is just a symptom of the problem.  As I have written many times before, he is the logical conclusion of trends that began decades before, and the party that tolerates him does so because they will accept anything for the sake of victory.  That is what the will to power means.

So, yes, "Brett" is probably going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.  That is both a demonstration of what Keyser told Agent Kujan about the Hungarian strategy, and a furtherance of the goal of locking in power.

The rule of law is supposed to prevent the Hungarian approach of getting your way by having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  However, if you take that approach to the control of government, who's gonna stop you?  If one party has the will to do what the other party doesn't, guess who wins?

A few weeks ago, at the APSA, one of my grad school colleagues accused me of being a nihilist.  I'm not a nihilist.  I'm a fatalist.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, "The Power and the Glory," from Drum Hat Buddha.