Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under The News

David Meyer Lindenberg, writing for Mimesis Law, on the rather high number of dogs killed by American police every year. The other surprising thing:

The police penchant for shooting dogs gets totally inexplicable when you realize that not one cop has been killed by a dog in the past 80 years. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the last cop to die in this way was Officer Jackson Bennett of Gainesville, FL, who was bitten by a rabid street dog while on patrol and died April 27, 1936. Domesticated dogs haven’t killed anyone in at least the last century.

A century! That can’t be true, can it?

Published on under The News

Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic, writing about… well, that thing we’re all obsessed with. He argues that the political process has become so decentralized that it barely takes any actual support to make it onto a ballot.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the first 12 presidential-primary contests of 2016, only 17 percent of eligible voters participated in Republican primaries, and only 12 percent in Democratic primaries. In other words, Donald Trump seized the lead in the primary process by winning a mere plurality of a mere fraction of the electorate. In off-year congressional primaries, when turnout is even lower, it’s even easier for the tail to wag the dog.

In the 2010 Delaware Senate race, Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell secured the Republican nomination by winning just a sixth of the state’s registered Republicans, thereby handing a competitive seat to the Democrats. Surveying congressional primaries for a 2014 Brookings Institution report, the journalists Jill Lawrence and Walter Shapiro observed: “The universe of those who actually cast primary ballots is small and hyper-partisan, and rewards candidates who hew to ideological orthodoxy.”

This is actually one of the conclusions—not premises—of Rauch’s argument. His premise is that political power brokers, backroom dealmaking, and the kind of shady things most people hate are actually pretty healthy for a democracy.

I’m not entirely certain, but it’s an argument worth entertaining.

Published on under Educated Guesses

Lauren Woodman asks an interesting question:Are we too obsessed with data?:

In the 1970s, 7-Eleven in Japan became independent from its parent, Southland Corporation. The CEO had to build a viable business in a tough economy. Every month, each store manager would receive reams of data, but it wasn’t effective until the CEO stripped out the noise and provided just four critical data points that had the greatest relevance to drive the local purchasing that each store was empowered to do on their own.

Those points – what sold the day before, what sold the same day a year ago, what sold the last time the weather was the same, and what other stores sold the day before – were transformative. Within a year, 7-Eleven had turned a corner, and for 30 years, remained the most profitable retailer in Japan. It wasn’t about the Big Data; it was figuring out what data was relevant, actionable and empowered local managers to make nimble decisions.

I worked at a Hollywood Video in college, and always wondered why they collected information about the weather at the end of the day. “Knowing” was apparently the only half of the battle Hollywood Video successfully waged, as they went bankrupt before I made it out of law school.

Of course, in order to pick the four right data points out of the “reams of data,” 7-Eleven’s CEO had to have reams of data to begin with. It’s a multiple choice test that the CEO passed, not a fill-in-the-blank test.

Published on under You've Got Time

Former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was actually convicted for manslaughter for the death of an unarmed black man, isn’t going to prison. He will receive five years of probation instead:

Liang faced up to a 15-year prison sentence for the second-degree manslaughter of Akai Gurley, but New York supreme court judge Danny Chun reduced his conviction to criminally negligent homicide moments before the sentence was delivered. The prosecution stated its intention to appeal against the reduction in charges. But the sentence handed down was nearly identical to what was recommended by the DA, Ken Thompson, in March.

There’s a lot going on here. I’m most struck by the silence of the NYPD Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the largest of the half-dozen unions which represent police officers. Usually, when an officer kills someone, PBA’s President Pat Lynch screams his head off about what a perfect angel the officer was, and what a cowardly thug the deceased was. This case might represent the most that Lynch—the Thrasymachus of Manhattan—has kept his mouth shut in fifteen years.

Then there’s the District Attorney, who after successfully convincing a jury to convict Liang of second-degree manslaughter, recommends five years of probation and community service. (Note that second-degree manslaughter is a Class C Felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.) The judge agrees with the DA and metes out the recommended sentence, but reduces the charge to criminally negligent homicide, a Class E Felony punishable by four years in prison.

So what’s the difference between second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide? In Liang’s case, there’s no difference. The DA recommended probation and community service for the one, and the judge sentenced Liang to exactly that for the other crime. But this here’s a law blog, so roll up your sleeves.

Published on under Hail Hydra

Confession time: I’m a bit of a political junkie, and there’s nothing like mainlining coverage of the presidential elections. Sweet, sweet black tar polls and thinkpieces. Even if you’re not following along as obsessively as I am, you know that this one isn’t going the way anyone thought it would. Donald Trump has an insurmountable lead for the Republican nomination at this point, and I’ve read an unhealthy number of thinkpieces about why exactly that might be.

If you were to read one explanation, Josh Marshall, editor in chief of Talking Points Memo, has the best version. It’s all about technical debt:

If we do a project in a rough and ready way, which is often what we can manage under the time and budget constraints we face, we will build up a “debt” we’ll eventually have to pay back. Basically, if we do it fast, we’ll later have to go back and rework or even replace the code to make it robust enough for the long haul, interoperate with other code that runs our site or simply be truly functional as opposed just barely doing what we need it to. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s simply a management challenge to know when to lean one way or the other. But if you build up too much of this debt the problem can start to grow not in a linear but an exponential fashion, until the system begins to cave in on itself with internal decay, breakdowns of interoperability and emergent failures which grow from both.

This is a fairly good description of what the media is now wrongly defining as the GOP’s ‘Trump problem’, only in this case the problem isn’t programming debt. It’s a build up of what we might call ‘hate debt’ and ‘nonsense debt’ that has been growing up for years.

But if you want a great description of what exactly this “debt” looked like when it was issued, you want Ben Fountain’s American crossroads: Reagan, Trump and the devil down south. Start with the disappearance and murder of three young black men who were registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi in 1964.

Mississippi officials insisted that the whole thing was a hoax, a publicity stunt to drum up support for the civil rights movement. Mississippi senator James Eastland alleged that the movement’s Meridian office had reported the three men missing in advance of their disappearance, and he called on President Johnson to launch an investigation into “civil rights fraud”. Leaders of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission asserted that the young men were regularly being sighted alive and well, most reliably in Alabama. Others claimed that they were hiding out in Cuba, “with Fidel Castro and the communists”.

The bodies of the young men were eventually discovered buried in an earthen dam. It wasn’t the work of one or two bad apples:

In the months and years to follow, the story of their deaths would gradually come to light: their abduction by a Ku Klux Klan posse; the collusion of local law enforcement; the point-blank execution in a clearing in the woods. Far from being the work of a few vigilantes, a quite distinct picture emerges of a brutal, highly organized power structure procuring the murders of these three young men, then spinning hard to keep the truth from coming to light. Elected officials. Citizens councils. Law enforcement. The “community”.

And that’s where Reagan went to speak the words “I believe in states’ rights”, in his first appearance as the Republican nominee. These days we know it as dog-whistle politics, that coded language Lee Atwater was talking about. Reagan did not, by the way, mention Chaney, Schwerner or Goodman, whose bodies had been found a few miles away. That screaming silence, that was a dog whistle too, and to think that Reagan didn’t know what he was doing is to consign him to the ranks of the epically stupid. He’d campaigned for Goldwater. He was a two-term governor of California, and a veteran of national politics. The Neshoba County speech stands as one of the true masterpieces of the Southern Strategy, a dog whistle that blew out the eardrums of every racist reactionary within 3,000 miles.

I don’t know about you, but that didn’t come up in my American history classes. It seems like an unmistakable message.

Published on under It's a Man's World

Emma Boyle, Gamer-in-Chief at Gadgette, writing about the backlash against easy modes in video games:

It’s because there are so many different ways that I and other people enjoy games that I can’t see what the issue is with giving players the best chance to enjoy a game in their own way. By including invincible mode, Star Fox Zero’s developers aren’t negatively shutting players out; they’re trying to bring more in. They’re trying to make the game enjoyable to as wide an audience as possible by allowing them to customise the gameplay experience to suit either their experience level or simply their gaming priorities.

Unfortunately many players only seem to like customising the gaming experience when it’s a customisation that suits them. There was outrage when a dad changed The Legend of Zelda to make it gender neutral for his daughter but oddly the comments section for this mod that allows players to see “realistic bounce and jiggle” for character breasts in Skyrim didn’t attract quite the same amount of vitriol.

That’s one hell of a mic drop. Also, not to pull Nerd Rank on the kids whining about an easy mode in the new Star Fox, but back in my day, games were impossible to beat. Kids today have it easy, whether they think so or not.