Deflection, Part III

Earlier, I commented on the NRA’s first non-response to Sen. Ron Wyden’s inquiry about possible Russian financial contributions.

Sen. Wyden persevered and followed up with another request.  The NRA was somewhat more forthcoming in its second response, but was still somewhat evasive.

I have, as a single file, posted Sen. Wyden’s second request, the NRA’s response thereto, and, finally, Sen. Wyden’s most recent follow-up, here.

The Tokugawa gun control plan

A cheap buyout of gunmakers as a gun control strategy.

Japanese musketeers, 16th century

Early firearms were heavily used in Japan in the civil wars of the 16th century, including by the Tokugawa faction that came out on top in 1600 and established the shogunate that lasted until the Meiji restoration of 1868. The Tokugawa ideal was a rigidly stratified and static traditional society, isolated from the outside world. Guns were among the disruptive European innovations that threatened this model, and had to be tamed as part of the overall strategy. The Tokugawa plan for gun control was one of slow strangulation. Gunmakers had to move to the capital Edo and work for the court. Demand was thus steadily shifted to luxury weapons, produced in smaller numbers. Guns did not disappear, but they were successfully marginalised in a now peaceful and regimented society.

American gun control advocates have focused entirely on demand, to little effect. It’s time to take a look at supply. A comprehensive policy would have to cover manufacture, distribution and imports. Let’s start with manufacture. Continue reading “The Tokugawa gun control plan”

Deflection

One of my pet peeves is that newspapers will publish stories about some court opinion or other public document, but not provide any link to the documents themselves.  As a consequence, readers will walk away with only the reporter’s view of why the document was of significance, which view is likely further circumscribed by an editor who is hard put to limit the amount of information in the story due to space considerations.

Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to the NRA.  His letter was prompted by his interest in determining “the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections by abusing the rules governing 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations.”  Sen. Wyden asked for material relating to four specific areas of inquiry.  He received from the NRA only  a partial response to the four specific requests.  I have posted, as a single file, Sen. Wyden’s letter and the NRA’s response with my markups.

The response is, at best, an attempt to deflect the inquiry.   For instance, the NRA was asked:

  • To “identify any remuneration, transaction, or contribution that involved any of the 501(c)(4) entities associated with your organization and any entity or individual associated with any Russian official, Russian national, or Russian business interest.”  The NRA simply ignored that request; and
  • To provide “all documents related to any remuneration, transaction, or contribution” and to identify all such documents that “have already been turned over to United States authorities.”  Both requests were ignored.

Without being specific, the NRA assured Wyden that it always complied with federal election laws. Ultimately, it offered this: “As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections.” (Emphasis supplied.)

In other words, the NRA did not deny that it was, in terms of its lobbying and “educational” efforts, a mouthpiece of the Russians, but merely that Russian cash had not found its way into any direct political contribution fund.

Nothing to see here.

Donald and “The Snake”

Oscar Brown, Jr. is a jazz legend; Sin and Soul will live forever (I’m humming “Signifyin’ Monkey”, from an anonymous African fabulist, as I write).  Not just an influential musician but a social critic and engaged citizen; Nat Hentoff described him as “authentically hip”.

His song, “The Snake” covers an Aesop legend, the farmer who takes a near-frozen snake indoors and is rewarded by being bitten; reproached, the viper says “you knew I was a snake before you took me in”.  The only possible interpretion of this allegory today is that Donald Trump revealed his true nature in the campaign and before, and yet we “took him in”. But he read the words aloud today himself, smirking as usual, at a rally! It’s not only despicable that Trump would dare to besmirch Brown’s memory by associating himself with it, but completely mystifying that he would present himself as that snake so transparently  at a large public event.

Maybe this is for the best: Brown’s reputation will survive, along with his music, and now we have a new, perfectly tailored moniker for the Donald provided by Donald Jeenius Trump, the only man alive stupid enough to walk into such a trap.

“Snake Trump”:  I like it!

[update 23/II: A colleague let me know that Ezra Klein was on this months ago]

The feds get Shortey

If you’ll get over chortling about the fact that the Oklahoma state senator who just pleaded guilty to child sex trafficking was Donald Trump’s Oklahoma campaign chair last year, the case raises some serious questions about federal law and sentencing.

The facts appear to be simple: a 17-year-old boy met Sen. Shortey on line and asked him for help in earning money. Shortey offered him money for sex. The boy agreed, and they met in a motel room. The boy’s girlfriend, who had followed him to the motel, called his father, who phoned the police, who came and busted the pair in flagrante.

Shortey was first charged under Oklahoma law with “soliciting prostitution of a minor, prostitution within 1,000 feet of church, and transporting for the purpose of prostitution.” (I’d like a slow, careful explanation of why the crime was aggravated by the fact that there was a church within a 333-yard radius of the motel, but perhaps we can leave that for another time.)

The state charges were dropped after he was indicted federally for sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of child pornography: one for sharing videos for with two individuals and another for soliciting a minor for photos of himself. Shortey has just pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking charge, for which he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison (which, with good time, means about 8 1/2 years behind bars). The maximum is life.

Note the elision here. The federal law is designed to get people who run commercial juvenile prostitution enterprises, and in particular enterprises involving interstate or international movement of juvenile sex workers, often involving coercion or deception. That’s as horrible a crime as it’s possible to imagine – morally much more culpable than, for example, homicide done in the heat of passion – and fully justifies extremely harsh sentencing. But Sen. Shortey didn’t do any of that. He purchased sex from a 17-year-old, in a state where the age of consent is 16. (Oklahoma law distinguishes commercial from non-commercial sex, so that the boy’s being under 18 made the offense a more serious one.) Shortey didn’t use coercion or trickery, or in any obvious way abuse his public office. Continue reading “The feds get Shortey”

Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?

Image result for leigh corfman

Leigh Corfman says that she was fourteen years old and waiting with her mother outside a courtroom before a custody hearing when Roy Moore, then thirty-two and an assistant district attorney, offered to stay with Corfman while her mother went into court. Corfman says Moore used that opportunity to get her phone number, and subsequently took her out on several dates. On one of those occasions, he took her to his home, undressed her down to her underwear, undressed himself to the same extent, fondled her through her bra and panties, and attempted to put her hand on his genitals.

If what Corfman says is true, Moore committed a felony under Alabama law (which hasn’t changed in the meantime). Moore says that none of it happened: “I never knew this woman. I never met this woman.”

Moore’s defenders say that he ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that a “mere accusation” (as Donald Trump called it) shouldn’t block Moore’s election to the U.S. Senate. “It’s just he-said, she-said” is the favored phrase. (Moore and his friends also want to ignore the three other juvenile but barely legal girls who say he took them out and kissed them.)

As Mitt Romney among others has pointed out, this is absurdly confused; it’s an attempt to apply courtroom standards outside their proper realm. No one thinks an ordinary political charge needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before voters take it into account, and there’s no reason why a charge that happens also to be felony should be any different. (Moore’s attempt, and that of his supporters, to blame the Washington Post for concocting “fake news,” while it might be effective political rhetoric, lost all of its logical force when the Wall Street Journal re-interviewed the Post‘s sources and found that all of them confirmed that the Post had accurately reported their statements.)

Even if this were a criminal trial, Moore might well be convicted. Leigh Corfman’s sworn testimony would be sufficient to establish a prima facie case. It would then be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the accusation against the credibility of the denial and decide whether they were convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Moore was guilty. Sometimes the jurors decide that they are so convinced, even if it’s simply the bare word of the accuser against the bare word of the complainant: in a mugging, for example, there may be no other witness or physical evidence. If the victim has no apparent motive to lie – while the accused has the strongest of motives, the desire to escape a felony conviction – it may not be unreasonable for a jury to decide that the accusation is convincing enough to convict.

But Moore’s position is actually much worse than that of our hypothetical robbery suspect. Continue reading “Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?”

On arguing with fools, and Prof. Ann Althouse in particular

There’s an old Yiddish expression that translates roughly:

“Never argue with a fool. People might not be able to tell the difference.”

That’s good advice, and the fact that I ignore it too often is, I confess, an error and a fault.

But there’s also an old English expression of equal authority:

“In for a penny, in for a pound.”

So having foolishly engaged via Twitter with Prof. Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and having attracted counter-fire not only from the good Professor herself but from her even less adept colleague Prof. Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee Law School, it seems wise, just this once, to respond at some length. Don’t read on unless you have a prurient interest in folly, or in trolling, the bastard child of folly born of its occasional dalliance with intellectual dishonesty.

Continue reading “On arguing with fools, and Prof. Ann Althouse in particular”

Slaughter of the innocents

Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, set the Flint water crisis in motion by implementing his deeply-felt beliefs (I infer from his behavior, always the best evidence) that spending tax money, or exercising government regulatory power, for the benefit of poor people–especially poor black people who probably vote wrong if you let them grow up–is a moral offense.

He is also a very strong (not the strongest/rape-and-incest) abortion opponent, and we don’t have to infer, because he’s on the record about that. It turns out he and his gang of vicious, reckless, subordinates committed the biggest mass abortion episode in US history; lead in Flint’s water not only damaged thousands of little kids for life, but killed hundreds in utero.

Nice, Rick.

Type K Error

What statisticians call Type 1 errors (incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis) and Type 2 errors (incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis) initially arose from signal detection theory: is that blip on the radar screen a signal or just noise? The two errors were known to us engineers (my former life) as either a false alarm or a missed detection.

But these are not the only statistical errors that can occur. Andrew Gelman proposed two additional statistical errors, Type S (confidently stating that a value is positive when it is negative, or vice versa) and Type M (confidently stating that a value is small in magnitude when it is large, or vice versa). They have less to do with the actual statistics than with interpretation of those statistics.

In furtherance of Gelman’s extension of statistical errors, I’d like to propose a new one, the Type K error. This is in recognition of the attempt by Kris Kobach (Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of a federal voter fraud commission) to deny the vote to (at least)  tens of thousands of US citizens in order to prevent the two or three improper votes (out of millions cast) from occurring. [My numbers may be off, but you get my meaning.]

There have been other manifestations of this “error” in recent days. A report detailing the economic consequences of admitting refugees did not include the overwhelming financial benefits they provide over the long haul. In other words, the Type K error might be defined as “the deliberate and wrongful act associated with a statistical evaluation of the effect of only one side of a policy.”

A week to remember

Tomorrow morning, congress will be back at work, with a dozen working days to knock off a list of tasks that would be daunting even without an infantile, grievance-besotted, Russia-crazed president throwing sand in the works, and even if its own managers didn’t have a Freedom Caucus of know-nothing ideologues hanging on its ankles, and even if Trump hadn’t just tossed it the anvil of immigration reform.  Wow.

But that’s not all; this month only (but continuing for weeks and months of political hassle), you also get Harvey recovery, and wait, if you order now, and also if you don’t, you get two or even three additional exciting climate/weather events !  “Disturbance 1” is chugging west from near Cabo Verde at 10 mph with (at this writing) an 80% chance of getting organized within five days; “Disturbance 2” is brewing up exactly where Harvey started as a little baby orange X in the southern Gulf.

Irma is shaping up to be a very interesting event, as it is now drawing a bead on the east coast of Florida, likely to sail over warm water south of the Bahamas, turn right, and run north along the coast as a 3 or a 4. Of course these projections have a wide error band, but for now, let us reflect on what Neil Frank, the former director of the National Hurricane Center spent his career warning us of about just this storm.

(1) Evacuation routes in this region mostly run north and south; roads going inland (and you have to go a ways inland to be ahead of the storm surge) are basically narrow streets that peter out quickly among the alligators.  If the storm is following the shore north from about Miami, driving along the coast is not going to help you much.

(2) Almost no-one living on this coast has ever experienced a major hurricane and has no idea what to expect. Since the last one, there’s been significant sea level rise, increased paved area, land subsidence, and lot more people. There is no real high ground in  south Florida. Whole streets in Miami flood now just from a high tide.

(3) From Boca Raton south is a miles-long row of high-rise condominium towers lined up along the beach like dominoes, many taller than the space between them.  They are built on sand under (i) Florida building codes and (ii) Florida local government administration. The former are not as insouciant and optimistic as the rules that put Houston under water last week, but close; the latter is not as corrupt as Louisiana’s, but, um…my father had an expression “as crooked as a dog’s hind leg” …

Frank used to predict that the storm surge will wash the sand out from under some or many of these buildings and they will tip over, perhaps into the condo tower next door. If evacuation doesn’t work, there will still be people in them.

(The governor overseeing this mess will be the deeply odious, reactionary, willfully ignorant, climate denier Rick Scott, who’s idea of Christian charity is drug tests for welfare recipients, and of responsive government is allowing Floridians to be sure their children don’t learn anything they don’t know, like evolution.)

Irma is due (according to current model runs) about next weekend; the other two, too early to tell. Oh yeah, Russiagate continues to slowly fulminate, and North Korea…oy.

The writer Saki, back at the beginning of the last century, said “the Balkans create more history than can be consumed locally.” I think current times create more news than society, or anyone in it, has the bandwidth to cope with. Or that the remaining adults in government can react to usefully.