• California Leads, the NCAA Follows

    USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis hands the ball off to running back Kenan Christon in a thriller against an outmatched Arizona squad.Jon Endow/Image of Sports/Newscom via ZUMA

    Here’s a timeline of recent actions in the college sports arena:

    September 11: The NCAA Board of Governors wants California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a new attempt to pay college athletes….In a six-paragraph letter released Wednesday, the board urged Newsom not to sign the legislation known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, likenesses and images….The board warned that California schools may be declared ineligible for NCAA competition if the bill becomes law because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage.

    September 30: California became the first state to require major financial reforms in college athletics on Monday after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure that allows players to receive endorsement deals….Senate Bill 206 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) prohibits the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

    October 29: The NCAA is finally embracing “change” and starting the process of allowing student-athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, the organization announced on Tuesday. The organization’s top governing board voted unanimously to allow college athletes to be compensated, though the specifics on how college athletes’ compensation will fall on each of the NCAA’s three divisions to craft their own rules.

    Whaddayaknow? After five years of futzing around following the O’Bannon decision, all it took was a little nudge by California and within a few weeks the NCAA suddenly decided to cave in. How about that?

  • The Santa Anita Carnage Begins Anew — Not

    Horse racing season has started at Santa Anita and the carnage is already in high gear:

    This week, there is plenty more anxiety as attention turns to the Breeders’ Cup races, horse racing’s version of the Super Bowl. There will be 14 races, each with purses of at least $1 million, on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita — over a track where there have been six horse fatalities in the last six weeks.

    Thirty horses died during Santa Anita’s last winter-spring meet, and there was some speculation that the sport’s annual showcase might be moved to another venue. Santa Anita’s owner, the Stronach Group, responded to the crisis by enacting several reforms in medication usage and veterinarian care that will be used for the Breeders’ Cup races.

    Let’s do some simple arithmetic. The season lasts 26 weeks, which means that last year 1.15 horses died per week. This year, 1.0 horses have died per week. So things are getting better. However, a more accurate way to measure this is horse fatalities per 1000 starts, which accounts for how many races are run. Here you go:

    Horse fatalities have been dropping for four years in a row and are currently lower than they were in 2010.

    I never really got an answer to my question from last year, namely that the supposed record number of deaths at Santa Anita wasn’t a record at all. It wasn’t even just normal. It was actually less than in any year of the past decade. So why the sudden outcry?

    This year it appears that the fatality rate is down even further. And maybe that’s not good enough. Maybe it’s still high compared to other tracks:

    Nope. Del Mar clearly has a low death rate, but the other three California tracks are all in the same general area.

    You can get different results if you use different statistics, but this seems like the simplest and fairest. And what it says is that Santa Anita has been improving over the past five years and is now about average for horse fatalities in California. So why the hue and cry?

    POSTSCRIPT: The linked article does have some interesting things to say about bisphosphonates, an undetectable drug that can make a horse’s x-rays look better to a buyer, but at a cost of more injuries down the road. That’s worth reading about.

  • It’s the Stone Racists We Need to Worry About

    Will they get as many callbacks as the white folks behind them?Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA

    A popular way of testing for racist attitudes in employment is to send multiple applications to a single job posting. The applications are generally identical except for one thing: the names of the applicants. One has a sterotypically white name (Madison Nash) and the other has a stereotypically black name (LaShonda Greene). Then you check to see how many of the white names get callbacks for interviews compared to the black names. Generally speaking, the white names get called back at a rate 2-4 percentage points higher than the black names.

    Today, Brad DeLong calls my attention to a clever new study that tries to tease out exactly what causes this difference.

    The types specification finds that only about 17% of jobs discriminate against blacks….However, the degree of discrimination among such jobs is estimated to be very severe — the odds of receiving a call back are roughly [] 53 times higher for white applications than blacks.

    In other words, the vast majority of hiring managers aren’t using a racial filter. Only a small group, about one-sixth of the total, discriminates against blacks, but that sixth is massively racist: they all but flatly refuse to even interview someone who seems like they might be black.

    Brad says he’s surprised by this, but I’m not. My mental model of racism in recent decades is that, in fact, most people aren’t especially racist—or at least they genuinely try not to be. However, there’s a segment of the population—yes, these are Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables”—who are still openly and defiantly racist in all things. All by themselves, their racism is so overwhelming that it’s enough to make a noticeable difference in the overall rate.

    Now, one thing to note here is that this method of sussing out racism sets a very low bar. To pass, all you need to do is be willing to interview someone with a stereotypically black name. You don’t have to hire them, just set up an interview. In other words, this experiment doesn’t really suggest that 83 percent of hiring managers aren’t racist in any way, just that they aren’t huge, raging assholes.

    That said, I’m prone to believe that this result is a general one. The evidence I’ve seen suggests that most Americans are, at most, very mildly racist these days. However, there’s still a sixth of the country that basically wishes Jim Crow could make a comeback. This in turn means that perhaps one-sixth of the jobs in America are all but completely denied to blacks.

    There’s value in knowing this, because it provides some idea of what needs to be addressed most urgently: identifying the stone racists, not providing endless diversity lessons for everyone else. This study is well worth a follow-up to see if its results hold up.

  • Boris Johnson Loses Snap Election Vote, But Apparently It Doesn’t Matter

    George Cracknell Wright/London News Pictures via ZUMA

    A few years ago Britain passed a bill that set a five-year term for the prime minister. An election could be called sooner only with the agreement of two-thirds of parliament. Today, Boris Johnson asked for that agreement, but it didn’t go well:

    The prime minister failed on Monday to get the votes of two-thirds of MPs he needed to secure an election under existing laws, after opposition parties largely abstained. However, he said he would table a short bill on Tuesday that would change the law in order to hold a poll on 12 December. He would only need a simple majority for this plan.

    Can one of my British readers please explain this? In the US, the requirement of a supermajority vote is generally meaningful thanks to Senate rules or constitutional mandates. But in Britain, anything parliament can do, it can also undo. So what was the point of the original bill mandating a two-thirds vote?

    I gather that one difference is that Johnson’s “short bill” is open to amendments, which makes it slightly less desirable than an election called under normal rules. Is that it? Or is there some subtlety here that I’m not grasping?

  • NSC Officer Confirms Ukrainegate, Fox News Suggests He’s a Traitor

    Alexander Vindman is a lieutenant colonel who currently serves in the White House as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He was an eyewitness to President Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and on Tuesday he is going to testify before Congress. The New York Times has the story:

    I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement….“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

    Vindman was also present during a White House meeting between American and Ukrainian officials:

    [It was] a stormy meeting in which Mr. Bolton is said to have had a tense exchange with Mr. Sondland after the ambassador raised the matter of investigations he wanted Ukraine to undertake. That meeting has been described in previous testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

    At a debriefing later that day attended by the colonel, Mr. Sondland again urged Ukrainian officials to help with investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

    “Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma,” Colonel Vindman said in his draft statement.

    “I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate” and that the “request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the N.S.C. was going to get involved in or push,” he added.

    Most of this has been reported before, but Vindman is an eyewitness, and an unusually credible one. He’s an active duty officer who’s an Iraq war veteran; he immigrated from Russia to the US at age three; he speaks Ukrainian; and he’s widely regarded as a diligent and earnest civil servant. So how do you deal with someone like that? If you’re Fox News, you do it like this:

    Is there truly nothing these people won’t do or say? This is just so despicable.

  • North Carolina Gerrymander Is Struck Down

    Republican state senators in North Carolina review state maps while drawing new congressional districts on Feb. 16, 2016.Corey Lowenstein/AP

    A couple of months ago a state court in North Carolina struck down the legislature’s gerrymandered maps for state legislative districts. Today the same court struck down the maps for congressional districts.

    (Why a state court? Because the Supreme Court ruled a while back that federal courts shouldn’t get involved in partisan gerrymandering cases. State courts, however, still have jurisdiction.)

    This is good news since the North Carolina case is something of a destruction test for gerrymandering decisions. The behavior of the North Carolina legislature has been almost literally beyond belief: First they gerrymandered based on racial classifications, and after that was struck down they generated a nearly identical map but carefully made sure race was never mentioned in the legislative record. Even then, though, they were so greedy that they created a map that almost literally made it impossible for Democrats to ever win a majority no matter how the vote went.

    If a map like that can’t be overturned, then pretty much no map can ever be overturned. This means that judicial review of gerrymandered maps may be hanging on by only a thread, but at least it’s still hanging on. More here.

  • Historical Truth Is More Important Than “Believable Myths”

    Here is the current cover of National Review:

    I’m ashamed to admit that I had to look up the word clerisy, which turns out to mean nothing more than intelligentsia. I guess that’s the price of going to a state university.

    Anyway, Lowry’s essay is now available to us non-subscribers, so I read it. It’s mainly about the evolution of historiography in the United States, from old-school scholars who reliably extolled the greatness of our country to modern academics who bemoan the way we’ve treated blacks and native Americans and the poor and so forth. Lowry’s essay begins, predictably enough, with the usual conservative grumbling about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States—a book I should read someday, I suppose—which has sold 2 million copies during its existence. This amounts to about 50,000 copies a year, giving it an Amazon ranking of #2,639 in the US history category at the moment. This doesn’t strike me as a mortal threat to American exceptionalism, but I suppose your mileage may vary.

    This is followed by a brief potted history of how historians have treated US history over the past couple of centuries, climaxing with modern academics and their obsession with identity politics and the depredations of the rich and white against the poor and black:

    What historic challenges do the race, gender, and class obsessions of American historiographers prepare us for today? To win a campaign against heteronormativity? To beat ourselves up endlessly and dethrone historical figure after historical figure over white privilege? To be constantly watchful for the baleful effects of toxic masculinity?

    An anti-national history is, on top of everything, profoundly ungrateful. It fails to credit our ancestors for achievements on an epic scale. It denies the continuities of our history and our dependence on men and women who didn’t know us but bequeathed us the marvel of America. It runs counter to the inscription that John Adams wrote on the tombstone of his forebear Henry Adams: “This stone and several others have been placed in this yard, by a great great grandson from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, patience, temperance, frugality, industry and perseverance of his Ancestors, in hopes of recommending an imitation of their virtues to their Posterity.”

    I would sympathize more with this attitude if not for the fact that I have, personally, never read a popular history of the United States that took this anti-American attitude. Perhaps it’s common in academic monographs used by critical theory professors, but I have no particular evidence of that and Lowry doesn’t provide any. In any case, it certainly doesn’t seem to have seeped very far outside of academia, where history books and history channels and historical dramas mostly still seem to agree that America is a helluva place.

    But all of this is just preface to the main thing that struck me about Lowry’s essay: nowhere does it display any interest in actual historical truth. On the contrary, he approvingly quotes William H. McNeill’s conviction that “believable myths” are necessary to public action. Maybe so—but surely America is not such a horrible place that a fair reading of its history will cause us all to drift into a fatal stagnation?

    One can, obviously, disagree about how important some particular facet of American history is, but modern histories are almost unanimously superior to older tomes that suggested slavery wasn’t so bad; ignored the genocide of native Americans; pretended women didn’t exist; and portrayed the robber barons as noble titans of industry. As a matter of simple historical truth, surely most modern histories are, in fact, more accurate than the books of our parents’ childhoods that Lowry seems to favor?

    Howard Zinn’s #2,639 ranking on Amazon.com doesn’t worry me. What does worry me is an ignorant nationalism that can be unleashed seemingly at will by conservative politicians who want to wage yet another dumb war or win power on the backs of racism and xenophobia. Right now that mindless form of nationalism is, quite clearly, still ascendant in Donald Trump’s America, and it’s a genuine danger. Anyone who genuinely opposes Trump—as Lowry claims to—really ought to be able to see that.

  • Facebook Is Not a Big Player in National Politics

    Brendan Nyhan has a warning for us about Facebook:

    Nyhan’s point is that there’s no particular conservative bias in this list. I’d make a second point: Most of these posts aren’t partisan or political in the first place. Those of us who follow politics as a hobby think that it’s the most important thing in the world, but the rest of the world doesn’t agree. The readership of most political sites is tiny compared to the readership of sports blogs or mommy blogs or gossip blogs.

    This is one of the reasons I’m untroubled about Facebook’s decision not to police political advertisements. I’m no fan of Facebook, but that’s mainly because of their dismal record on things like privacy and data portability. When it comes to political influence, however, there’s little reason to think they play an outsize role. On the contrary, their political influence is minuscule compared to Fox News and talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    We should be concerned about organized foreign influence on Facebook. We should be concerned about Facebook taking an active censorship role. We should be concerned about Facebook allowing third parties to use private information for political purposes. But taking a hands-off approach to political ads? On a scale of one to ten, it’s maybe a two at most. It’s just not worth getting worked up about.

  • Trump Wants a Substantive Defense, Dammit

    Our commander-in-chief is unhappy:

    President Trump said he has encouraged his Republican allies to defend him on the substance of the impeachment probe, instead of focusing on criticizing the process, ahead of another week of scheduled testimony from administration officials.

    Doesn’t Trump realize that the reason his allies are whining about process is because they have no defense to offer on substance? Maybe not. Maybe Trump is so delusional he actually believes that there’s some substantive defense of extorting a foreign country to smear a political rival.

    Luckily for him, the rest of the Republican Party is smarter. They’ll stick to carping about the unfairness of the hearings and, in a pinch, claiming that Trump’s extortion of Ukraine is just a minor slap-on-the-wrist kind of thing, certainly nowhere near an impeachable offense.

    How long will this work? If the modern Republican Party is as shameless as I think it is, forever. We’ll see.