FiveThirtyEight: Political Coverage from a Data-Centric Prospective
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ESPN-owned FiveThirtyEight is a creation of a statistician that managed to predict the result of the 2012 presidential election. The site offers political commentary based on data.
Things That Caught My Eye
Eli Manning is the quarterback of the New York Giants, has two Super Bowl victories under his belt and is still somehow poised to become the second banana quarterback on his team. It’s possible that New York will select a quarterback with their second pick in the draft. There have been 31 quarterbacks who threw 25,000 yards or more with a single team and made it to at least one Super Bowl; 23 of them are no longer active, and only seven of them had to sit and watch their team use a first round pick on a quarterback. This will lead to an instant fight for the starter spot; in the past decade 13 quarterbacks were drafted in the top five, and the longest wait those 13 players had to start was nine games. [FiveThirtyEight]
Using a dataset of about 175,000 contests, curling is now poised to see its own stats revolution. One example of how the numbers are changing the game is that it’s been long held that being down with one hammer in the last end is superior to being on the other side of that. This is a misconception — even though that situation means the curler controls their own destiny, they actually only win 40 percent of the time. [CBC]
Desiree Linden was the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985 with a time of 2:39:54. That’s the slowest time since 1978 and likely due to the absolutely abysmal weather conditions endured during the race. [FiveThirtyEight]
Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?
Mike Trout is 7.6 more wins above replacement away from catching Ty Cobb’s record as the greatest position player through age 26 in history. This is hard, but doable; Trout averaged 7.9 WAR per 146 team games over the past three seasons, so all he’s got to do is not slow down. [FiveThirtyEight]
The New York Mets are good again, judging at least by their first few games. This may be because the team is pitching well again, and generally the Mets win or lose by their pitching alone. In 2015 and 2016, when they had a really outstanding pair of seasons, 52 percent of the team’s WAR value was derived from pitching, compared to the league average of 42 percent. [FiveThirtyEight]
The Philadelphia 76ers won 37 of their past 48 games, which is pretty ridiculous given where they were just a few years ago when as part of The Process they lost 253 games over a four year period. Indeed, they have a 21 percent chance of making the Finals. Trust the process, it would seem. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]
27 percentage points
Looking at the bottom of extra innings, we can get a true sense of how umpires can be influenced by external factors like “wanting to go the hell home.” Teams in extra innings who are in a position to win get as much as a 27 percentage point increase in the rate of called balls in some regions of the strike zone, while teams in a position to lose can see a 33 percentage point increase in the rate of called strikes in certain parts of the area above the plate. [FiveThirtyEight]
Leaks from Slack: Geoff Ruins A No No edition
so… we never went curling in Jersey
THAT CAN BE FIXED AT ANY TIME, GALEN
NBASee more NBA predictions
Oh, and don’t forget
If the majority of mock drafts are to be believed, the New York Giants are poised to draft one of the elite quarterbacks available in next week’s NFL draft despite having Eli Manning, the franchise’s all-time leading passer, still on the roster. The NFL is far from a beacon of benevolence, but even for this league, it seems kinda rude.
Whether it’s purely optics or genuine respect for a player who will one day have his number retired, franchise-leading passers have traditionally been spared the humiliation of watching their replacements earn a nearby locker. When the opportunity to draft a highly touted quarterback prospect presents itself, a team tends to get rid of the veteran — like the Colts did with Eli’s brother after Peyton Manning’s 2011 neck surgery allowed them to reboot with Andrew Luck. Even Jay Cutler, who wasn’t exactly earning the keys to the city of Chicago, was given the courtesy of a release last year by the Bears well before they traded up one spot to take Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick.
Eli Manning is the Giants’ all-time leader in passing yards (51,682, sixth in NFL history) and a Super Bowl MVP (twice). New head coach Pat Shurmur says that Manning would understand if the Giants drafted his ultimate replacement. But it’s clear that Manning is still firmly in the Giants’ plans, largely on the strength of a single 434-yard passing day on Dec. 17 against the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. So if they selected a quarterback with the No. 2 pick, the Giants would essentially have two franchise quarterbacks at the same time — a current and presumed future one.
To see how rare this is, we looked at a select group of quarterbacks who can roughly match Eli’s level of prestige with an NFL team. To make the list, you must have thrown 25,000 yards for one team and also made at least one Super Bowl.1
Of the 31 non-Eli quarterbacks who fit this criteria, eight are still active — and none of those QBs have yet had his team anoint a first-rounder as replacement. Among the 23 franchise quarterbacks who are no longer active, only seven had to watch their teams use a first-round draft pick on a new QB while they were still on the roster.
Wait until he’s gone…
Nonactive QBs with at least 25,000 yards and a Super Bowl appearance with one team who saw their team use a first-round pick on a quarterback while he was still on the roster
|Quarterback||Team||Draft Pick||Pick No.|
|Terry Bradshaw||Pittsburgh||Mark Malone||28th|
|John Elway||Denver||Tommy Maddox||25th|
|Boomer Esiason||Cincinnati||David Klingler||6th|
|Brett Favre||Green Bay||Aaron Rodgers||24th|
|Joe Namath||New York||Richard Todd||6th|
|Fran Tarkenton||Minnesota||Tommy Kramer||27th|
|Steve Young||San Francisco||Jim Druckenmiller||26th|
Two teams with franchise quarterbacks drafted replacement QBs with top-10 picks. In 1976, the Jets drafted Richard Todd with the sixth pick while keeping Super Bowl III hero Joe Namath on the team. That year stands out as perhaps the worst in franchise history, which is saying a lot when you’re talking about the Jets. First-year coach Lou Holtz didn’t even finish the season, and Namath left New York after the season for the Los Angeles Rams. And in 1992, the Bengals drafted David Klingler at No. 6 to replace Boomer Esiason. But Esiason’s resume was nothing compared to Manning’s: He notched only 27,149 yards in Cincinnati and made just one Super Bowl, a loss to the 49ers.2
Yes, in some cases the future and past co-existed peacefully. (Sort of.) Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers were teammates for three years with the Packers, but Rodgers didn’t take the job until Favre announced his retirement in early 2008 (before unretiring and and being traded to the New York Jets). In other cases, teams have used a higher draft pick on a future quarterback, like the Buffalo Bills did with eventual Jim Kelly replacement Todd Collins (45th overall) or the Denver Broncos did with Brian Griese (91st overall), who eventually replaced John Elway six years after the Broncos’ attempt with first-rounder Tommy Maddox fell flat. Like Rodgers, both Collins and Griese only assumed their full-time jobs when the incumbents were gone.
The Giants have said they believe that Manning can play for “multiple years.” But quarterbacks drafted No. 2 don’t wait around to start like Rodgers did after being selected 24th overall in 2005. During the past decade, 13 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top five, and 10 started their first game with the team. The longest wait to start was nine games by Jared Goff in 2016. So if the Giants take a quarterback second overall, they likely would create an instant quarterback controversy.
Whether the Giants should remain committed to Manning is another question entirely.
To test this, we can compare Manning’s performance last year to the final seasons of our two franchise hero quarterbacks who watched their teams draft their top-10 replacements: Namath and Esiason. We’ll use stats adjusted for league year from Pro-Football-Reference.com, including passer rating, yards per pass attempt and adjusted yards per pass attempt (which assigns a positive yardage value to touchdowns and a negative one to interceptions). On this scale, 100 is viewed as exactly league average. Manning’s average in the three statistics last year was just 84, far worse than our other two lame-duck quarterbacks. Even Namath was much better in 1975 measured this way (average of 94) despite being viewed as a shadow of his former greatness.
Whether he deserves it is another story
How Eli Manning’s 2017 season compares with the final seasons of two quarterbacks before their top-10 replacements were drafted
Each quarterback threw for 25,000 yards and made at least one Super Bowl for his team and was on the roster when his replacement was drafted.
Of course, this is all moot if the Giants decide to skip over Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or any other quarterback available after the Cleveland Browns pick. And there are signs that new GM Dave Gettleman, who was the Giants’ director of pro personnel when the Giants acquired Manning in 2004, seems increasingly unlikely to make Manning a caretaker. Instead of blaming Manning for the Giants’ offensive woes last year (31st in scoring), they’ve rebuilt his offensive line and now could use their highest draft pick since 1981 on Penn State superback Saquon Barkley, who would instantly improve a running game that’s ranked 26th on average in efficiency the past five seasons. That would open up the offense for the safer and more efficient play-action passes that are the focal point of Shurmur’s offense: Last season in Minnesota, his offense led the league in play-action passes (26.4 percent of pass plays) and had the highest efficiency on these throws (86.6 QBR on a scale where 100 is best).
In other words, the Giants could scrap the plan of rebooting their offense with a new quarterback and instead reboot their quarterback with a new scheme and a new weapon.
On Tuesday, the FBI restored 70 data tables that were missing from the 2016 Crime in the United States report, providing data that researchers consider crucial to their understanding of crime trends in the U.S. over time. The yearly report is considered the gold standard for tracking crime statistics in the United States, gathered from over 18,000 law-enforcement agencies in cities around the country. But the 2016 report, the first compiled under the Trump administration, was missing dozens of data tables that researchers rely on.
The data tables were first noted as missing months ago. In October 2017, FiveThirtyEight reported on their absence, and that November, criminologists lodged a complaint with the FBI over the missing data. In December 2017, FBI Director Christopher Wray faced congressional questioning over the missing data, which he promised would be restored in “a few weeks.” In March 2018, the data had still not been published, and five senators wrote a letter to Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking why the data had not been restored.
But now it is back up. “The decision to publish the amendment is in response to user feedback highlighting the value of additional illustrations of the data,” FBI spokesman Stephen Fisher said in an email to FiveThirtyEight. “The FBI plans to continue publishing all tables annually.”
Additional reporting by Jeff Asher.
By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner, Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner and Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code <iframe frameborder="0" width="100%" height="180" style="margin:20px auto 25px;max-width:600px;" scrolling="no" src="https://fivethirtyeight.com/player/the-lab/23246946/"></iframe>
Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On Thursday’s show (April 19, 2018), Neil, Kyle and Chris take stock of the NBA playoffs, focusing on the three series that are tied 1-1: Philadelphia vs. Miami, Indiana vs. Cleveland, and Utah vs. Oklahoma City. Should the Sixers’ Joel Embiid come back from injury to face the Heat? Who will step up to help LeBron James? Is Donovan Mitchell good enough for the Jazz to beat the Thunder? They discuss those questions and more.
The crew will be back next week for more coverage. In the meantime, keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, which are updated after every game.
The questions that kids ask about science aren’t always easy to answer. Sometimes, their little brains can lead to big places that adults forget to explore. That is what inspired our series Science Question From A Toddler, which uses kids’ curiosity as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about. The answers are for adults, but they wouldn’t be possible without the wonder that only a child can bring. I want the toddlers in your life to be a part of it! Send me their science questions, and they may serve as the inspiration for a column. And now, our toddler …
Q: Who invented houses? — Micah B., age 4
It’s possible that people have been living in houses since before there were technically people. The oldest archaeological evidence of house construction comes from the famous Oldupai Gorge (also called Olduvai Gorge) site in Tanzania, and the structure is around 1.8 million years old. Nobody knows exactly which proto-human species is responsible for the tools (and houses) found at Oldupai. But, whoever they were, they predate the modern human species as we know it by a solid one and a half million years.
But houses, it turns out, are complicated. They’re more than just the walls around us or the roof over our heads. Houses teach us about what people believe, who they are, and even what their health is like.
Let’s start with that ancient one. A house that’s 1.8 million years old is not exactly in turnkey condition. We are talking about a circle of stone surrounding a slightly sunken spot of earth. It’s about 13 feet in diameter and, in many ways, resembles the foundations of grass or stick huts still being built by hunter-gatherers in other parts of the world today.
But not everybody buys that these circles are the world’s oldest houses, said Peter Peregrine, professor of anthropology at Lawrence University. For one thing, those rocks could have gotten into that same position purely by accident, pushed outward by the expanding girth of a growing tree that left the stones behind when it died. Also, even if proto-humans did put those stones there and build something on top of them, not all archaeologists are willing to count it as a house. Instead, he said, some of the oldest houses that everybody agrees are houses show up in places like Terra Amata, in Nice, France — a 400,000-year-old site where researchers can find carefully dug postholes and the remnants of cooking fires, as well as piles of stones that once served as foundations.
So, what is a house? Given how much time we all spend with houses, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that we have no solid definition to work from. Is a temporary shelter from the sun a house? Is a house a house if it is actually a cave? Are tents houses? It’s hard to identify the earliest houses both because (as at Oldupai) the structures were probably made out of materials that didn’t preserve well and because (again, as at Oldupai) it’s debatable whether those structures were houses at all. And what about animal abodes, do those count as houses? Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology at California State University Dominguez Hills and author of “The Prehistory of Home,” pointed out that lots of animals — from birds to chimpanzees — make things that could be called houses. But we don’t count any of those creatures as the first house-builders.
Instead, what he thinks really sets a human house apart — what makes a house a home — is the culture we layer on top of the architecture. “Only humans, that we know of, have the a concept of ‘home’ where there are so many values associated with that place,” he told me.
And those values, the way we live, seem to be reflected in what we build. “If you find a round house, there’s a very good chance those people are at least semi-nomadic,” Peregrine said. “If you find a square house, those people are likely sedentary.” Compare those ancient structures at Terra Amata, which seem to have had rounded walls, with the squared-off, mud-brick buildings of Çatalhöyük, a 9,000-year-old permanent settlement being excavated in Turkey. Nobody knows exactly why that difference in architecture exists, he told me. But it’s a strong pattern, holding true all over the world. And archaeologists use it to make assumptions about the people who built ancient houses.
You can also learn about the way social relationships were structured in a community by looking at its houses, said Carol Ember, president of the Human Relations Area Files at Yale, a comparative cultural anthropology database. Studying living people over the past 150 years or so has taught us that larger houses are strongly associated with what anthropologists call “matrilocal residence” — cultures where, basically, when a man and woman get married, he goes to live with or near her family. The average house for a matrilocal society has a living area that’s more than six times the average size of a patrilocal house — where a woman goes to live with or near her husband’s family. The basic explanation for this is pretty simple: Matrilocal societies usually involve sisters, and their families, sharing a home and resources. Brothers don’t seem to do that in patrilocal communities.
Studying buildings to learn about people doesn’t just work for traditional cultures and ancient ruins. Our houses tell stories about us today, too. There are documented health outcomes associated with different kinds of housing: People who live in mobile homes tend to show patterns of more disturbed and less healthy sleep; apartments built after 1969 are associated with higher levels of depression, as are buildings where residents lack private yards and apartments where occupants’ front doors open onto a long, shared outdoor deck; the type of emergency housing a person lives in after a natural disaster is correlated with alcohol consumption patterns. There’s a lot you can learn about the social structure of, say, Los Angeles — from economic systems to social inequality — by looking at the differences between the largest and smallest homes, Moore said.
Whoever invented the house invented more than a building — it was an expression of culture that was shaped by the way people lived, and it shaped our lives in turn. Houses are, as Moore put it, “part of the consultable record of what it means to be human.”
So, with that in mind, go clean your room. You never know when an anthropologist might show up.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
That’s the approval rating of President Trump among Evangelical Protestants, the highest it has ever been in PRRI’s surveys. At the start of his campaign and up to wrapping up the GOP nomination, Trump’s approval bounced between 40 and 50 percent. It steadily climbed to the high 60s from the beginning of the general election campaign through his inauguration. [PRRI]
23,000 tons of butter
The Irish butter brand Kerrygold, which is made by Ireland’s largest agri-food cooperative, is having a moment. Last year, it sold 23,000 tons of butter in the U.S. and a billion dollars worth of butter worldwide. Kerrygold has overtaken every other butter brand except Land-O-Lakes in the mere 20 years since it launched in the U.S., and Land-O-Lakes had an 80-year head start. [Eater]
$148,000 a year
Typical cost for a patient to go on Imbruvica, a blood cancer drug. But after a group of doctors found that patients could go on lower and cheaper regimens of the drug without losing efficacy, the drug’s maker changed its pricing strategy to a flat price of around $400 per pill regardless of dosage. That’s around triple the cost of the original pill. So much for cost savings! [The Washington Post]
870,000 homes and businesses
Puerto Rico is reeling from a power outage affecting 870,000 homes and businesses. The outage was expected to last 24 to 36 hours. [The Weather Channel]
70 million men
For a number of reasons, there are around 70 million more men in China and India than there are women. Even now, there are 111 male babies born for every 100 female babies in India, and 115 male babies for every 100 female babies in China. Looking strictly at men and women aged 15 to 29, there are 112 men in China and 111 men in India for every 100 women. [The Washington Post]
Sales of art and collectibles online rose 12 percent to $4.22 billion in 2017. Interestingly, that growth is slowing down, and part of that may be because fewer art buyers under the age of 35 are buying online, with many gravitating to galleries. [Artsy]
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If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
Television shows are writing the 25th Amendment into their ripped-from-the-headlines storylines. Pundits debate the possibilities of the removal and succession of the president if he is incapacitated. Even former FBI Director James Comey has weighed in on whether Donald Trump is “medically unfit to be president.” (He doesn’t think so.) In the unlikely — but politically fascinating — event that a Cabinet were to use the power to oust a sitting president, what would come next?
Let’s take a deeper look at the 25th Amendment and think about what each section of it has meant in the past — and what it might mean for Trump-era politics.
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
The amendment’s initial section revisits what Article II of the Constitution set up from the beginning — the vice president takes over if the president dies or is unable to serve — but with clearer language to clean up previous constitutional confusion. When William Henry Harrison died shortly after his inauguration in 1841, there were questions about whether John Tyler, nicknamed “His Accidency,” was truly the president or just an “acting” president of some kind. Tyler made clear his intent to fully occupy the office and do everything an elected president would have done — and he forged his own path separate from Harrison. Since then, seven presidents have taken office after a presidential death (all before the 25th Amendment was ratified) and one after a resignation. In this way, the amendment codified the status quo.3
What this means now: Many have already discussed the possibility of a President Pence. But it’s worth underscoring how much he represents a different, more establishment brand of Republicanism than Trump. If Trump were to be removed for incapacity, it would be an interesting test of whether Trumpism could survive if carried out by a leader with a very different temperament and political profile — or if that leader would abandon Trumpism altogether.
Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Before this, if the vice president became president, there was … no vice president. That exact situation accounted for 24 years of U.S. history, including a period just before Congress took up the 25th Amendment in 1965. From taking the oath of office in November 1963 until he and Hubert Humphrey were sworn in after winning election in 1964, Lyndon Johnson had no vice president. Instead, the next two people in line (per the 1947 Presidential Succession Act) were both in poor health and, in the words of Roll Call’s David Hawkings, “a combined 157 years old.” This section of the 25th Amendment has since been invoked twice, when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and Richard Nixon chose Gerald Ford to replace him, and when Ford succeeded Nixon as president in 1974 and chose Nelson Rockefeller as his VP.
What this means now: If Pence became president, he could choose his own veep, subject to congressional approval. Depending on party control of Congress, that could get interesting. It would offer a chance for Pence to either choose a Trump ally or move the party in a different direction. Pence’s choice could say a lot about whether invoking the amendment was a reaction to Trump personally or a repudiation of his overall approach to politics.
Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
This section seems like it should be pretty straightforward. It was invoked without controversy twice in the early 2000s when President George W. Bush signed over power to Vice President Dick Cheney for a few hours during sedation for routine medical procedures. But it can get fuzzy.
The 25th Amendment wasn’t invoked when Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, despite the fact that the White House physician kept a copy of the amendment in his bag. Bill Clinton didn’t formally put Section 3 provisions in place when he had knee surgery in 1997, saying that he was never under general anesthesia. However, Clinton’s press secretary indicated that the chief of staff had been in close contact with Vice President Al Gore’s staff in case “anything about the 25th Amendment is indicated.”
And there is disagreement on whether Reagan properly invoked the 25th Amendment in 1985 when he underwent surgery to remove a polyp from his colon. Reagan submitted letters to the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore designating Vice President George H.W. Bush as acting president, citing an “existing agreement” between the two. The letters also stated that Reagan was not specifically activating the process laid out in the 25th Amendment and that he did not believe that “the drafters of this Amendment intended its application to situations such as the instant one.”
Some argue that this message reflected the basic spirit of the 25th Amendment, while others suggest that because it wasn’t a formal invocation, it’s not really an instance of a president using the 25th Amendment.
What this means now: When people talk today about invoking the 25th Amendment, they aren’t talking about Trump having minor surgery and temporarily handing the reins to Pence. But the resistance of earlier presidents to using the 25th Amendment in such cases, even though the amendment seems directly designed for those instances, illustrates the depth of the struggle and complications over control of presidential power.
Section 4 (first paragraph). Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Here’s where we transition from historical explanation to future speculation. This section has never been invoked, and it has a number of ambiguous phrases that leave it open to a range of possibilities. For starters, who exactly gets to decide that the president isn’t able to serve? The conventional interpretation of the amendment is that it needs the vice president plus a majority of the Cabinet.4
But with the deciders well agreed upon, if not explicitly spelled out, what does “unable to discharge powers and duties of the office” mean, and who gets to provide the definition? The context for the 25th Amendment was pretty clearly aimed at the kind of physical and mental incapacities that come after strokes, heart attacks and bullets. Woodrow Wilson’s stroke, Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack and John F. Kennedy’s assassination (and the related worry about what would have happened if he had survived but been incapacitated) all informed the debate about the amendment. But there’s nothing in the text that actually requires a diagnosis.
What this means now: This could end up being a test of the authority of the Cabinet as much as anything else. The amendment empowers the Cabinet to take this action. But what we see with Section 3 is that a lot of anxiety about giving up power still looms over the process. Even if the Cabinet followed the letter of the law, it might still look like a palace coup. In order to get around this, the Cabinet has to have a certain amount of stature — an issue that would be put to the test if it sought to remove the commander in chief.
Section 4 (second paragraph). Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session.
In other words, the 25th Amendment provides a way for the president to respond to accusations of a lack of fitness. And that’s where things get interesting. After the president offers a declaration that he or she is able to serve, the Cabinet has four days to object and respond. But who gets to be president during that time? The text isn’t clear. It goes on to say:
If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Many parts of the Constitution are vague, but this one sets the country up for a pretty wild ride. Constitutional scholar Brian Kalt points out: “Section 4 is drafted less than perfectly. The best reading of Section 4’s text — and the clear message from its drafting history — is that when the president declares he is able, he does not retake power until either (1) four days pass without the vice-president and Cabinet disagreeing; or (2) he, the president, wins the vote in Congress. But the text is ambiguous on this point and commentators have frequently misread it as allowing the president to retake power immediately upon his declaration of ability.”
This opens up a possibility that Kalt describes in detail in his book “Constitutional Cliffhangers,” in which the country ends up with two presidents and two Cabinets. In the fictional scenario, the vice president and 11 Cabinet members agree to remove a president whose behavior has been erratic. But she conspires with her chief of staff to “declare that no inability exists,” reclaims power, and fires and replaces the Cabinet that removed her. In this setup, an amendment aimed at preventing a constitutional crises has now created one.
Kalt and others have pointed out that, in addition to the ambiguity of the text, it is difficult to remove a president through the 25th Amendment. In the event that the president disagrees about the incapacity issue, the amendment requires two-thirds of the House and Senate to remove him or her (as opposed to the impeachment process, which requires a simple majority of the House to impeach and two-thirds of the Senate to convict).
What this means now: The provision of the amendment that everyone’s been talking about is the one we know the least about. Since the 25th Amendment was ratified, presidents, vice presidents and White House officials have tread very cautiously around the provisions of Section 4. It seems fairly safe to say that there are lingering legitimacy issues when it comes to members of the executive branch actually talking about removing the president and replacing him or her with the vice president. And even under perfectly innocuous circumstances, presidents seem very reluctant to entertain the idea of being temporarily replaced under the amendment’s provisions.
All of this points to a conclusion we probably already knew: The Cabinet, especially as it’s currently constituted, is pretty unlikely to take action against Trump. But Congress has its own set of political pressures, and if the Democratic “wave” happens, we may see a serious attempt to go after the president. If impeachment proceedings don’t get off the ground, Congress could turn to the 25th Amendment: While Congress can’t initiate removal of the president under the amendment, it can convene a body to investigate the president’s fitness to serve — and such legislation has already been proposed.
Convening an investigative commission might seem like a bureaucratic and indirect step compared with the drama of impeachment. But such a commission might be easier to sell to members of Congress who are wary of impeachment. It might also be a way to address the legitimacy issues that otherwise seem to plague the 25th Amendment — a president’s removal from office may be less likely to be seen as a coup if it comes from the people’s elected representatives. And voting to create a commission might be more palatable for congressional Republicans.
One of the arguments against invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump is that it wasn’t really intended for this purpose. But looking at how the amendment has been used in practice reveals that political context matters, and so does legitimacy. Presidents have avoided activating Section 3 of the article, appearing reluctant to concede even temporary power to their own vice presidents. And Section 4 spells out a process that is legally unclear. It’s likely that any discussion of the 25th Amendment will be about the politics of the moment rather than the precise text of its provisions. Whether we see it put into practice will depend on whether Congress or members of the Cabinet see political benefit in doing so. A critical part of that process would be to overcome the legitimacy challenges and political disruption that using the 25th Amendment would create.
Graphics by Gus Wezerek
In the top of the 10th inning in Sunday night’s nationally televised contest between the Astros and Rangers — one that will most likely be remembered as the night a 44-year-old nearly no-hit the defending World Series champs — the visiting Rangers grabbed a 3-1 lead.
In the bottom of the frame, the home team’s hopes rested on Jake Marisnick, who, with runners at the corners, two outs, and his team still trailing by a pair of runs, worked a 3-1 count against Jake Diekman. A Marisnick walk would load the bases for the Astros, bringing reigning World Series MVP George Springer to the plate, a hit away from tying or winning the game.
On Diekman’s fifth pitch, it appeared that Marisnick had earned a walk. “This is not a strike, this is off the plate,” ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza opined as the networks’ K-Zone showed the pitch a few inches outside.
Home plate umpire Adam Hamari disagreed, however, calling the pitch strike two. Marisnick struck out swinging on the following pitch to end the game, and the outfielder slammed his bat in disgust.
Umps miss balls and strikes all the time. But the strike two in that Marisnick at-bat is emblematic of a larger pattern of borderline calls, albeit one that umps probably produce unwittingly: In extra innings, umpires will vary ball and strike calls in ways that tend to end the game as quickly as possible.
To find this pattern, we looked at pitches thrown in the bottom of extra innings, when the game could quickly end.5 If the away team scored in the top half of an inning and held a lead, as was the case in Marisnick’s at-bat, an umpire hoping for a faster exit would call more strikes, making it more likely that the home team will be sent down quickly. Alternatively, if the home team got a runner aboard, umps would be more likely to favor them by calling fewer strikes, giving the team more chances to get the runner across the plate and send everyone home.
Here’s a chart showing how umps changed their behavior in these situations between 2008 and 2016, a sample of roughly 32,000 pitches. Each square shows the percentage increase or decrease in the likelihood that a pitch is called a strike in that part of the strike zone. The color of each square (green for more balls, pink for more strikes) corresponds with which side umps are favoring, while how darkly shaded the square is reflects the size of the change (in percentage points).
The left panel shows the comparative rate of strike calls when, in the bottom of an inning in extras, the batting team is positioned to win — defined as having a runner on base in a tie game — relative to those rates in situations when there’s no runner on base in a tie game. When the home team has a baserunner, umps call more balls, thus setting up more favorable counts for home-team hitters, creating more trouble for the pitcher, and giving the home team more chances to end the game.
The right-hand side of the chart shows squares at identical strike zone locations, but shaded according to changes in strike rates when the extra-inning scenario favors the away team. More specifically, any time the away team is trying to hold onto a lead in the bottom half of an inning after the ninth. Here, and as in the pitch to Marisnick, umps call more strikes, giving the batting team fewer chances to extend the game.
Altogether, teams that are in a position to win get up to a 27 percentage point increase in the rate of called balls, while teams that look like they’re about to lose see increased strike rates of up to 33 percentage points. Differences are largest in fringe areas of the strike zone, where the opportunity for umpire discretion is the highest: 62 percent of these squares in the left panel are green, while 72 percent of fringe squares on the right panel are pink.6 In both settings, umps are more likely to use whatever behavior gets the game over with the quickest. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. MLB games are already slow, and extra-innings play often comes late at night, which means smaller crowds and fewer television viewers.
MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the league has made no secret of its interest in shortening games. Even so, umpires may not be consciously deciding who should win. Humans are susceptible to various biases they may not be aware of, and even just a bit of fatigue could unintentionally push umpires in one direction or the other on borderline calls.
Moreover, according to sources within the umpire union, umps don’t get paid more when games go to extra innings. In other words, MLB asks them to take on extra work without providing any extra compensation. That’s one more reason they may want the game to end early — their paycheck’s the same regardless.
In a series with MVP candidates like Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard, or even a scorer like C.J. McCollum, Jrue Holiday wasn’t the most likely player to have the biggest impact on the first-round series between the Pelicans and Blazers. Yet that’s what is happening so far, and the New Orleans guard — who has put the Pelicans up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series with clutch play after clutch play — is on the cusp of giving Blazers fans the sorts of nightmares they haven’t had since the Greg Oden era.
Perhaps the most fascinating element of Holiday’s performance, though, is how many of the little, often unnoticeable, things he’s done to help seal each victory. A handful of plays in these two games have shown just how underrated the 27-year-old has been at times during his career, one in which many of his best attributes haven’t always been captured by traditional box-score statistics.
Take a look at this reel of eight plays from the first two games of the series. Each is an example of Holiday doing something to earn an extra possession for his team while taking one away from his opponent. Also take note of the time of some of these plays: Half occur in the fourth quarter, when the stakes are highest.
So far, Holiday has had a hand in basically every facet of this series, which would mark the franchise’s first playoff-round victory since 2008, when it had Chris Paul and was still named the Hornets. Holiday is executing a scary two-man game with Davis, hitting nail-in-the-coffin jumpers and averaging 27 points and 5.5 assists. On the other end of the floor, he’s suffocating Lillard (0-for-4 for zero points and two turnovers when guarded by Holiday on Tuesday night) and McCollum. In fact, the team as a whole is shooting only 25 percent (6-of-24) for the series when guarded by Holiday, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information Group.
And then there are the momentum-busting 50-50 plays you just saw in the video above, in which he’s blocking shots and winning crucial loose balls. He’s single-handedly responsible for enough extra New Orleans possessions to potentially tip the scales of the series.
But here’s the thing: It shouldn’t be surprising that Holiday is doing all this. He’s basically been doing it all season, despite getting limited attention. Consider, for instance, that he finished the season tied for fifth in the NBA in loose balls recovered per game, with 1.6. He had active hands on defense, ranking seventh in the number of deflections per game he caused. And he blocked 64 shots this past season, more than anyone standing 6-foot-5 or shorter, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He ranks best in the NBA among starting guards in defensive efficiency in guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers, according to data from Synergy Sports Technology.
“He’s been really, really good the whole season, so this is not a surprise or anything,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “In my opinion, and I may be a little bit biased, but if you can tell me a better two-way player in the league right now — Kawhi’s not playing, and I understand that — I’m willing to listen. What we ask him to do, and the things that we ask him to do offensively? He was just great tonight.”
This isn’t to say that Holiday hasn’t ever gotten credit for his play. Once upon a time, he was an All-Star in Philadelphia, before The Process began. And he was certainly paid like a star last summer, when the Pelicans signed him to a five-year, $126 million contract. And he at least figures to be in the mix for an All-Defensive team honor this season.
Still, you aren’t alone if you weren’t familiar with his game until this past weekend. Injuries held him back for a couple of years after he needed two surgeries on his right leg. And he drew headlines and well-wishes throughout the league last season when he essentially took a leave of absence to be with his wife, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the midst of a pregnancy.
His offensive game took a bit of a backseat in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, which forced Holiday to figure out a way to adjust his game to fit with that of two post-oriented stars. (If he maintains this level of play, the Pelicans may be forced to make a difficult choice on whether to re-sign Cousins, the All-Star free-agent-to-be who ruptured his Achilles in the middle of the season.)
But in a number of ways, this was a breakout season for Holiday, who shined in his role offensively. He was a fantastic finisher around the basket, ranking inside the top-10 in restricted-area field-goal percentage among guards. Holiday was one of the more accurate midrange shooters in the NBA. And despite playing alongside Rajon Rondo, who sometimes plays so unselfishly and records so many dimes that it can disrupt the flow of the offense, Holiday — one of the NBA’s most prolific long passers — was often the man setting up Rondo first, finishing in the top 10 in the league in secondary assists. That would get him recognized in the NHL but goes unnoticed in the NBA.
So even though it has been a shock for many to see Holiday emerge before our very eyes, much of that may be because there weren’t enough eyes being directed on a player of his caliber in the first place.
In space, no one can hear you scream — because sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum, but also because you would need some sort of radio relay to carry the message, what with the distances being so extreme. And this goes for any sort of communication. Snapshots of Pluto’s heart, photos from Mars, images of a hellflower bouquet at Jupiter’s north pole: All of it streams back to Earth in a trickle via radio waves, a weak form of light. But that means space communication is limited by a most intractable, most inconvenient law: The speed of light is finite.
Since the first satellite launched 61 years ago, spacecraft have relied on radio waves to communicate with Earth. But radio has its limitations. The airwaves are crowded, and what’s worse, radio signals degrade with distance. Facing a constant barrage of beeps and bits from an increasingly busy — and multinational — solar system, NASA and other space agencies are studying how to shore up and speed up space communications. A sort of multifaceted public works project is under way to get space telecommunications into, well, the space age.
On Earth, telecommunication is instantaneous almost no matter where you are, and that’s thanks to physics, as well as the series of tubes that make up the internet. Radio waves travel readily through Earth’s atmosphere, and cellular and satellite technology makes it possible to stay connected anywhere. But things get a lot more complicated when you leave Earth. Radio waves become diffuse as they spread across great distances, so transmissions require lots of power and large antennas. And it just takes a long time for them to travel a long way. We can receive 1.5 megabits per second from Mars, which is an average 200 million kilometers from Earth. From Pluto, 7.5 billion kilometers out, download speeds are more like 1 kilobit per second.
“It takes 1,500 times longer to download an image from Pluto than from Mars,” said Stephen Lichten, manager for special projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We can send robots beyond the outer reaches of the solar system, but they still communicate essentially at dial-up speeds.
Typically, spacecraft call home via the Deep Space Network, a collection of giant radio antennas managed by NASA.7 The network’s antennas are distributed equidistant on three spots on Earth. They serve as the lifeline to the world’s space fleet. But they can only do so much, and they’re almost always operating at capacity. “Our current scheduling techniques work quite well when missions are spread across the sky as they typically are,” said Lichten, who leads a project to deal with concerns about the Deep Space Network’s workload. “It is more challenging when missions are ‘clumped,’ such as when a large number launch at the same time for the same destination.”
Last year, NASA’s Mars program manager told scientists that the agency was concerned the network would be overloaded in 2020 and 2021 by a flotilla of Mars missions, which included probes from SpaceX, India, the United Arab Emirates, the European Space Agency and NASA. In response, Lichten said, NASA made a host of upgrades and changes to deal with the load, including working with other countries and with Morehead State University, in Kentucky, to use their antennas as necessary. These changes, along with a drop in the number of missions scheduled for 2020,8 have allayed most of NASA’s worries about a Mars traffic jam, Lichten said.
Still, the capacity issue isn’t going away, so updates to the Deep Space Network antennas are underway to help.
“There is always going to be more demand than there is availability,” said Sonny Giroux, Deep Space Network program manager at Peraton, which subcontracts with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to operate the Deep Space Network antennas. Peraton and NASA recently developed a program that equips each antenna with four separate deep space receivers so that one antenna can do the work of four. Spacecraft can call home simultaneously, and software sorts out competing streams of data. This means that the nearly three dozen spacecraft out there don’t have to hear the proverbial hold music when they try to ping Earth.
Even better solutions are in the works. NASA is already testing a form of interplanetary internet called disruption tolerant networking; it’s basically a system of relay stations that can hold information in transit, serving as a buffer against delays or glitches. Future spacecraft might have their own small relay stations, making it easier for them to wait on hold if necessary. NASA is trying this approach on a small scale for its Mars mission launching next month: It’s bringing along a pair of relay satellites that will send Earth a play-by-play of the craft’s descent and landing.
The InSight Mars lander will study the interior and history of the planet when it arrives Nov. 26. Usually, when a mission like InSight is preparing to land, it would use the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or Mars Odyssey orbiter as a relay station to Earth. But those two satellites won’t be able to help this time, because they won’t be in the right geometric position to transmit straight to Earth. So, the two relay satellites, known as Mars Cube One, will act as radio relays, said Andy Klesh, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who leads the Mars Cube One mission. The satellites will receive InSight’s beeps and tones as it descends and then volley them back to Earth so that its human managers can ensure that everything is fine.
Humans could just wait an hour to find out if the $1 billion spacecraft is OK. But nobody wants that, and more expedient information might be vital to helping the craft land safely (or understand what went wrong if it doesn’t). The Mars Cube One satellites are 14.4 inches by 9.5 inches by 4.6 inches (about the size of a Costco cereal box), much smaller than a typical satellite, and are relatively cheap. If all goes well, similar tiny, inexpensive relays could be used to monitor new missions on Mars or the moon, where orbiters are scarce and often overworked, lacking the time or bandwidth to serve as dispatchers.
While radio antennas remain the backbone of space communications — for now — the future is in lasers. Laser communications systems encode data onto a beam of optical light (as opposed to radio wavelengths) and then transmit it between spacecraft and to Earth. Focused laser light operates in wavelengths 10,000 times shorter than radio waves, meaning that lasers can pump out more information per second. As a result, laser data-transfer rates are 10 to 100 times better than those of radio systems. Lasers are also better at maintaining their signal strength across vast distances.
The technology was first tested on the moon in 2013, when the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter received an image of the Mona Lisa while simultaneously scrutinizing lunar craters and terrain. The transmission marked the first time that scientists had used a laser to send information across space. But NASA still needs to test it on a broader scale.
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration mission, launching next year, will do just that by beaming data to and from a satellite. It will be closely followed by the Psyche mission, which is traveling to the dark heart of an asteroid and, like InSight, is bringing a play-by-play caller. Psyche’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment will test a new deep space optical transceiver and ground data system that uses near-infrared lasers to send data back and forth. But that won’t launch until 2022.
In the meantime, communication lines between Earth and the moon could get much busier, especially if the U.S. develops its long-planned and much-debated Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and heads back to the moon. The LOP-G — which used to be known as the Deep Space Gateway and which will, at some point, get a better name — would be a space habitat with a power and communications station, situated near the moon. In the meantime, Earth’s satellite should probably get its own telecom network, said Clive Neal, a geochemist at Notre Dame and emeritus chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group. Such a lunar network would alleviate, and maybe even bolster, the Deep Space Network, he said — especially if human explorers make their way back
“Knowing how many national space agencies are looking at the moon rather than Mars, this is something where the U.S. could lead us beyond the Earth-moon system again,” Neal said.
As in all things, money may dictate the future of the Deep Space Network, and all space communications. Lichten said the network’s operators are constantly juggling maintenance and upgrade needs to stay within the program’s budget. “The DSN has been extremely reliable, but it takes constant vigilance to keep it that way,” he said.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
In what is absolutely the sign of a functioning republic that has achieved its goal of delegating the onerous responsibilities of government to a small, capable group of people so that the remainder of society can carry on with their day-to-day lives, every single book to hit No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List in 2018 so far has been about contemporary politics in general and President Trump in particular. That trend is set to continue with James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” which hit shelves Tuesday. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” unseated a nice book about Leonardo da Vinci in mid-January, and since then it’s been Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s “Russian Roulette” in March, then “Dear Madam President” by Jennifer Palmieri, then (presumably) Comey’s tome. [CNN]
San Francisco has ordered three motorized scooter rental companies to stop operating unless they can ensure users are obeying state laws and not jeopardizing the public. Those of you with friends out west have certainly heard them complain about the Biblical plague of scooters — some potentially rented from LimeBike, Bird or Spin — that have cropped up in swarms recently. Certainly the transit issues are bad, but in my estimation they amount to just one-tenth of one MTAs-worth of problems. [The Associated Press]
Justice Neil Gorsuch — newly appointed by Trump — sided with the traditionally liberal wing of the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling that a law requiring the deportation of immigrants convicted of some violent crimes was unconstitutionally vague. The Trump administration was not pleased with the decision. [Reuters]
At least 100 buildings
There are at least 100 buildings in San Francisco that are both over 240 feet tall and built on ground that has a very high chance of liquefying in an earthquake. The city — whose notions of zoning appear more Pythonesque than YIMBY — has potentially underestimated the damage a sufficiently large earthquake could do to large buildings given the unprecedented nature of The Big One. The drunkenly listing Millennium Tower — which has sunk a foot and a half and leans 14 inches — is perhaps just the beginning. [The New York Times]
This year’s class size for the annual exorcism course at the Vatican in Rome. Priests from 50 countries have arrived for “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation,” which teaches the rituals behind expelling demons and how to identify demonic possession. (The course costs €300, or about $370.) If you are a young adult novel editor and would like to hear more about my pitch for a seven-book YA series set at Exorcism School, my twitter is below. [BBC]
More than 8,000 stores
Starbucks will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores on the afternoon of May 29 for racial-bias training. The move comes after two men were arrested for “trespassing” while peacefully waiting for a third friend to join them in a Philadelphia Starbucks location. [The Guardian]
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For years, the story of the Los Angeles Angels has been one of how far a singular talent — future Hall of Fame outfielder Mike Trout — could drag a group of otherwise unspectacular players. The answer was usually “not much further than 85 wins” — and even fewer in recent seasons. This year’s Angels are turning that narrative on its head, however, and it’s not just thanks to the emergence of two-way rookie Shohei Ohtani. Going into its game against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night, L.A. has begun the season as a case study in how successful a team can be when a player of Trout’s skill is finally surrounded by a handful of worthy teammates.
Trout, of course, is just as good as ever. If it seems like we write about his otherworldly consistency every season, that’s because every season he somehow finds a way to keep adding to his legend. This year, Trout is once again the betting favorite to win the American League’s MVP award, and he leads the AL in Baseball-Reference.com’s version of wins above replacement (WAR).9 Once he gets that .244 batting average on balls in play straightened out (his career BABIP is .353), this will end up looking like a vintage Trout season — which is to say, the kind of year you’d expect to see out of the greatest player ever.
(Yes, here comes the G.O.A.T. talk again: With 146 games remaining this year, Trout needs just 7.6 more WAR to catch Ty Cobb as history’s greatest position player through age 26. Over the previous three seasons,10 Trout has averaged 7.9 WAR per 146 team games, so he has a good chance to be back in his familiar perch before season’s end.)
The Angels have been spoiled by Trout for so long that it’s easy to take his greatness for granted. That’s especially true because he plays a sport in which the best player on the planet can really only improve a team’s record by something like seven or eight wins over league average in a 162-game season. LeBron James, by contrast, added about 20 wins above average to the Cleveland Cavaliers this season11 in roughly half as many games. While elite basketball players can carry mediocre teammates far, baseball’s superstars need more help. This year, Trout is finally getting that help.
Last season, shortstop Andrelton Simmons was the only one of Trout’s teammates to play at a substantially above-average clip, according to WAR.12 But this season, Trout has 11 teammates on pace for 2.0 or more wins above average and seven on track for at least 3.0: Ohtani, Simmons, Justin Upton, Tyler Skaggs, Rene Rivera, Jefry Marte and Zack Cozart. Even the legendary Albert Pujols, who was infamously the worst player in baseball last season according to WAR, has been much better this year, tracking for a shade over 2.0 WAR per 162 games.
The result has been the best team in baseball by WAR in the early going and easily the best performance by a set of Trout teammates in any season of his career:
Some of these early standouts are more likely to stay hot than others. In large part because of his outstanding work with the glove, Simmons has been one of the best (and most underrated) shortstops in the game for years. Upton13 and Cozart were very good last season as well. Ohtani’s stellar raw skills and versatility mean he’ll probably keep contributing throughout his rookie season. And Pujols’s hideous 2017 numbers might have been an aberration after all. Other players, such as Skaggs, Marte and Rivera, might fall off pace, given their track records. But even if a few of Trout’s teammates do come back to earth, this is still looking like the strongest Angels team Trout has had to work with in a while.
Fittingly, no team has tacked more points onto its FiveThirtyEight power rating since preseason than L.A. has so far. It’s not like we’re rating the Angels ahead of the defending world champion Astros in the AL West or anything yet — Houston is still a solid 53 percent favorite to win the division. But Los Angeles should at least pose a fight. And that’s more than the challenger in this division has been able to say in a while: Over the past decade, no division has been decided by more games on average than the AL West, whose average winner was clear of the runner-up by 9.8 games per season. With Trout playing like, well, Trout, and his teammates giving him the support he deserves, the Angels look like a team to be reckoned with again.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Here’s my plan, if it works for everyone: The overarching question will be “Is James Comey’s book/publicity tour helping or hurting the case against President Trump?”
You can interpret “the case” however you want, but I mostly mean it politically.
To give the convo some structure, we’ll go through the six claims Comey makes that are highlighted in this BBC article and say whether each helps or hurts.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Sure.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Let’s go!
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Ready.
micah: Also, FiveThirtyEight Features Editor Chad Matlin is obsessed with the Comey story, so he’s lurking in this chat and is going to chime in occasionally.
chad: Point of order: I am obsessed with Comey as essentially a character out of a literary political thriller. He’s flawed in all sorts of ways that make him extremely compelling and unable to be plopped into a villain or hero bucket. He essentially admits that he has an ego and a devotion to integrity, which makes it very fascinating to try to tease out where one starts and the other stops.
I agree, Chad.
He is a character who has tangled thoughts on his own actions.
micah: No. 1:
“When asked if he considered Mr Trump fit to lead, the former FBI director said he did not believe claims about Mr Trump’s mental health, but did see him as ‘morally unfit’ to be president.”
Help or hurt?
clare.malone: I’m less concerned with whether Comey thinks Trump should be in office: We care more about Comey’s observations of his interactions with Trump — whether or not he thinks the president obstructed justice, etc. At least, I think we should care more about those.
micah: The media doesn’t seem to care more about that, Clare.
clare.malone: Well, like Comey, I am a morally superior force in the world, Micah.
I am SANCTIMONY embodied!
natesilver: Yeah, I don’t really give a fig about Comey’s view on Trump’s character, except to the extent it reflects proprietary knowledge that Comey has based on working with him. Instead, the assessments Comey makes about Trump in the ABC News interview seem very arm’s-length — as though he’s a political pundit.
perry: Helps. I think someone of Comey’s stature saying that the president is “morally unfit” is important. He is kind of echoing the Never Trump/John McCain/Jeff Flake view, which is not a hugely influential one, but it does have some influence, so it’s part of why Trump is fairly unpopular.
Clare and Nate, why do you think Comey-as-pundit hurts the case against Trump?
clare.malone: Because it distracts from the narrative that actually matters: Comey’s word against Trump’s on a number of occasions where it is a he said/he said.
I don’t think Comey needs to bolster his argument by being bombastic about Trump being unfit.
natesilver: Yeah, it lowers his stature. Comey’s authority comes from having had a seat at the table and having seen Trump up close and personal — not from having particularly good judgment, since there are all sorts of questions about his judgment.
clare.malone: He already has a good reputation as a man-of-the-law, truth-teller type.
natesilver: Right — I think a Chief Justice John Roberts “My job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat” demeanor would serve him better.
micah: I mean, let’s say Comey has the influence Perry mentions with ~3 percent of Americans — that’s something.
I just don’t know if there are really any neutral observers anymore.
OK, No. 2:
“Another portion of the interview handled the sacking of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in February 2017 for lying about contacts with the Russian ambassador in Washington. The former FBI head said Mr Trump had tried to pressure him into dropping any investigation into Mr Flynn. ‘I took it as a direction,’ he told Mr Stephanopoulos. ‘He’s — his words were, though, “I hope you can let it go”.’”
clare.malone: I think help. He’s being honest about the words, but also his interpretation of them — which presumably includes the way the president said it, the tone, emphasis, body language.
natesilver: Help, I guess … but wasn’t that news already public like six months ago?
clare.malone: It’s Comey being transparent about the interaction.
perry: I don’t know if this one matters as much, because this is basically what Comey said last year during the Senate hearing, as Nate said. He put the legal term “obstruction of justice” in there, but this is the core of what he told the Senate back last year.
natesilver: Yeah, I’m gonna say neutral because there’s no news there.
clare.malone: Repetition of relevant facts matters.
So, it doesn’t hurt.
natesilver: I’m a Bayesian, Clare, and it didn’t cause me to update my priors.
clare.malone: I don’t even want to dignify that one. Next!
micah: No. 3:
“I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook.”
So Comey is anti-impeachment.
clare.malone: I don’t actually know how I feel on this one. Sticking by my original logic of “No one should really care about Comey’s feelings about things outside what happened between him and the president,” I would have to say this hurts, since it’s a distraction from the main message.
On the other hand, I guess if he’s trying to look more even-handed and less “Never Trump,” then this is perhaps helpful?
For the sake of consistency, though, I’ll go with “hurt.”
natesilver: I don’t really think it helps or hurts the case against Trump per se.
micah: Let’s get a dose of Chad here.
chad: It hurts, since Comey’s dismissal is what the left uses as proof that there was obstruction of justice. So if the guy who got fired says his firing isn’t enough, then that perhaps has some weight. Since obstruction is fuzzier than Democrats would like.
natesilver: But I sorta agree with Comey that elections are an underrated remedy as compared with impeachment.
clare.malone: Nate, you have to pick one or the other! Help or hurt!?!?
Isn’t that how this game, goes!?
clare.malone: I love that song.
chad: Nate, please don’t make me reveal your karaoke song.
perry: Hurt. I thought Comey’s anti-impeachment stance was interesting. The legal case against Trump (obstruction of justice, etc.) and impeachment are not exactly the same thing. There is a broad coalition of anti-Trump people, from Never Trump Republicans to the Democrats who are already in favor of impeachment. If Democrats win the House, you’ll see the divide between the pro- and anti-impeachment forces. And I think Comey’s view here is important. He is a sharp Trump critic, but he’s warning against impeachment. We’ll likely see some Democrats outside of the party’s most liberal wing echo what he is saying: Let’s beat Trump in the election, not try to impeach him.
micah: So, I’ve largely resisted all the Comey character analysis and ranting about how he affected the election, but I have to say: I found the fact that Comey — the person who arguably threw the election to Trump — used the phrase “let the American people off the hook” pretty galling.
clare.malone: Why, Micah?
micah: Because he sends this letter days before the election that has a meaningful effect, and then sorta chastises the American people to basically “clean up their own mess” — at least, that’s how I heard/read it.
clare.malone: He’s right in some sense, that, say, Republicans nominated Trump.
perry: I think that was his goofy way of saying that the best way to get rid of an unfit president is through the electoral process. I don’t think he was really attacking the voters.
clare.malone: (I knew I was going to get the letter argument, but I do think that we should also remember Comey is probably a pretty disillusioned REPUBLICAN.)
micah: OK, yeah, I agree with him on the merits — elections > impeachment — but he’s not in the best position to tell voters what they should or shouldn’t do during an election.
“In the TV interview, Mr Comey said his belief that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential elections was a factor in how he handled the investigation into the Democrat candidate’s use of classified emails on a private server while she was the secretary of state. ‘I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump,’ Mr Comey said.”
clare.malone: Yeah, that’s a hurt.
That just makes his reasoning for his public statements look … sloppy. Because his whole thing has been, “I was acting by the letter of the law,” but obviously the heightened atmosphere of fall 2016 played a part in his ultimate decision.
natesilver: Throughout the ABC interview, Comey seems extremely preoccupied with appearances — both how he’ll be perceived and how the FBI will be perceived.
Yet he sorta concedes that what he’s doing is against Justice Department protocol.
natesilver: And paints himself as being in a no-win position.
But one nice thing about having protocol and rules and regulations is that they give you a good default answer in no-win situations.
micah: If I could give one piece of advice to the political left, it would be: Accuse everyone of bias against you. That strategy, which a portion of conservatives have used for decades, seems to have all kinds of political benefits.
clare.malone: I mean, the Bernie Sanders people got that memo.
(Not to dredge up old fights …)
(But bring ’em on, I guess.)
perry: This posture in the interview about the Clinton investigation helps the case against Trump in that it weakens the “investigate the investigation” crowd on the GOP side, who say the real crime was Clinton’s behavior, not Trump’s. I thought, with what Comey said about Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned after a scandal in which he mishandled classified information, Comey exonerated Clinton a bit more publicly than he has before. He all but said, “I have seen real email/documents abuse, and Hillary Clinton didn’t do it, but Petraeus did.”
micah: A lot of this seems to come down to credibility to overcome partisanship. Perry, it seems like you think Comey has at least a dollop of that power?
natesilver: There are a lot of parallels between how Comey saw the various scandals and how the press covered them, including wanting to appear tough on Clinton so as to seem nonpartisan.
perry: I’m not sure if Comey or anyone can overcome partisanship. But I think the media is playing a huge role in the Russia investigation process and struggling with questions of telling this story in both an accurate way but also not being perceived as biased against Republicans and Trump. So an independent authority like Comey saying that Trump’s behavior was more questionable than Clinton’s could affect media coverage, if not the public at large.
clare.malone: Is Comey independent, though?
micah: I’m sorta moving in Perry’s direction a bit — if you follow the news super closely, I think Comey at this point reads as fully immersed in the political/partisan fight; he’s “anti-Trump.” But maybe if you’re only paying attention peripherally, “former FBI director” is what really comes through.
Like, resume-wise, Comey is as independent as they come, Clare.
clare.malone: But right now, in our present reality, is he independent?
micah: He’s just not keeping up appearances.
natesilver: In the interview, he comes across as part of #TheResistance.
chad: That says more about #TheResistance than Comey to me.
natesilver: Ehh … it’s not that interviewer George Stephanopoulos grudgingly coaxes answers out of him. Comey seems pretty eager to volunteer his opinions on Trump.
chad: Is Comey playing too much on Trump’s turf, given the personal observations and attacks? Does that weaken his argument? Or strengthen it because those comments are more likely to provoke Trump?
perry: I don’t know that him talking about Trump’s hand size was useful. Or his face color or height. That part of it was problematic.
natesilver: The answer to Chad’s question is:
He’s definitely playing on Trump’s turf by making it personal.
clare.malone: Yeah, it’s not a good look.
chad: Before Trump was elected, Omarosa said all would have to bow down to Trump:
While that was overstated, I do think that there’s a kind of Trump vortex in which people feel they need to fight him on personal terms because his way of argument is so personal and ad hominem. Sen. Marco Rubio had this problem in the primaries, when he tried to fight Trump on Trump’s terms and lost.
natesilver: And Trump doesn’t hugely mind picking a fight with Comey if they both get muddied up.
clare.malone: Comey’s whole thing should be “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” and he’s not making himself above reproach.
perry: Here’s that Comey quote from the book:
“His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his. …
“As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
In the interview, Comey said: “His tie was too long, as it always is … he looked slightly orange up close.”
This all is kind of petty to me.
It’s like how I imagine Russell Westbrook talks about Kevin Durant in private.
clare.malone: Yeah, his editor did him a disservice there. Either in making him put that in or not taking it out.
chad: My thought: Trump is protected politically because of the base, so his detractors have to resort to attacking him personally. But personal attacks are priced in at this point — the people who want Trump out (whether by impeachment or voting) need to start chipping away politically to gain any traction, in my opinion.
“The former FBI boss writes that on at least four occasions Mr Trump raised the matter of unverified claims that he watched prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite during a 2013 Moscow trip.”
Or maybe that statement alone doesn’t hurt … but Comey seems quite interested in gossip about the pee tape, without really providing much substantive insight into it.
He seems too eager to speculate based on incomplete facts.
clare.malone: I honestly don’t know what to think about this one.
Because Comey offers us no further evidence that he knows whether or not this is likely. He just points out that the president was fixated on it.
But like … if someone told me Russians had Kompromat on me, I’d be fixated too!
perry: I’m confused by this one. I think this is the most outlandish detail of all of the Trump scandals. I have tended not to believe it. I’m not sure Comey should have discussed it unless he had real proof. But Jonathan Chait wrote an interesting column recently on why we should consider if the “pee tape” accusation is true. And Comey’s account makes me believe it more, if only because people don’t deny very outlandish things on four separate occasions.
natesilver: But shouldn’t Comey have more insight about this than Jonathan Chait? That’s not meant as an insult to Chait, it’s just that you’d think you’d have a lot more info as head of the FBI.
clare.malone: I mean, maybe some of the stuff he can’t share publicly?
I don’t know.
I think the Steele dossier stuff is a bit distracting, I agree with all of you.
natesilver: Maybe, but Comey can be a very precise communicator when he wants to be, such as in testimony before Congress — he knows how to hint when he has more information than he can reveal publicly.
In the pee-tape stuff, he sounds like a political pundit speculating and gossiping instead, based on having no particular inside info.
micah: I wonder how knowing much what Comey knows and can’t say would affect how we’re reading all this.
perry: I actually think one thing that helps the investigation is what he did know: Comey goes into some detail in the ABC News interview to both 1. say the Russia investigation started with campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, not the dossier and 2. that he considered Steele reliable based on previous work he had done.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein/FBI Director Christopher Wray/the DOJ/the FBI have hinted at this, but can’t say it as explicitly because they are in office now and it would piss off Trump and some of the Republicans in Congress.
natesilver: I guess I just think that Comey doesn’t stick to a just-the-facts posture and that undermines his position.
My favorite line from the Comey transcript so far: pic.twitter.com/ONadbSoWXz
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) April 16, 2018
natesilver: I found Comey’s Congressional testimony very compelling, by contrast, precisely because he avoided speculation.
micah: OK, so we already covered No. 6 (Comey’s comments about Trump’s hair and hands), so let’s end this with … AGGREGATE HELP/HURT.
Overall, is he helping or hurting the case against Trump?
clare.malone: Hurting his case, overall.
chad: Nate, I’m curious: I know that not sticking to a just-the-facts stance undermines his argument for you as a data-/evidence-based journalist. Do you think it does the same for the public at large?
clare.malone: It makes him into a more entrenched partisan figure I think, Chad.
micah: But, to Chad’s point, couldn’t we just as convincingly argue that Comey’s flare for trolling and the lurid detail he uses helps his case by getting it more attention?
natesilver: It’s hard to know for sure, but I think the stuff about being influenced by the polls is pretty damaging, as are the personal comments he makes about Trump’s appearance.
micah: Hmmmm … I’m starting to wonder whether we’re all being a bit too highfalutin. Donald Trump won the White House, after all.
perry: Nate made the right point: Comey’s testimony on the Hill. His Hill testimony was powerful, detailed, precise and impersonal. The book/interview stuff I have seen (I haven’t read the book) has not had that same discipline. Comey has the right to write a book that maybe is more interesting, and maybe “interesting” for him or his editor means going beyond what he said on Capitol Hill.
But some of the details are not enhancing his reputation for seriousness
natesilver: “Discipline” is a great word here. If nothing else, Comey had a reputation for being a disciplined guy. But he doesn’t come across as disciplined in this PR tour. Nor does his thinking around key decisions in 2016 seem to reflect especially disciplined thinking.
perry: Part of the issue is that Comey last year basically cast the president as a bully trying to obstruct justice in his notes that got published in The New York Times, and he got a special counsel appointed and then bashed Trump on the Hill in a heavily watched hearing.
He has already helped the anti-Trump case a great deal. Beyond having tapes of Trump saying the things that Comey purports he said, I would have a hard time thinking of how Comey could be a bigger part of the case against Trump.
He may have set a standard that is hard to top.
micah: Well, he could have tried to maintain his reputation for discipline and soberness.
Anyway … that’s a WRAP!!! Last bite goes to Chad!
micah: Take the last piece of pizza, Chad.
chad: Really excited for Rosenstein’s book.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
Tesla recorded 722 injuries last year — about two per day — and the rate of serious injuries was 30 percent worse than the industry average. Tesla’s touted injury rate in 2017 of 6.2 injuries per 100 workers has been cast in doubt following an investigation that found the company failed to report several serious injuries on mandatory reports. [Reveal News]
Twenty-six New York City firefighters who were caught with a failed drug test since 2016 were reinstated in the past month, signaling an end to a zero tolerance policy. I’m telling you, “I smoked weed to familiarize myself with the true enemy: fire,” is a valid excuse at work now. [The New York Post]
That’s the percentage of people who, according to a survey by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, said they trusted banks’ ability to safeguard personal information. I’m a Wells Fargo customer who falls on the Dale Gribble end of the “trust in institutions” scale, and that 62 percent strikes me as about right. The shocker is that’s still way, way higher than respondents’ trust in Facebook’s ability to keep their data safe. Only 20 percent of respondents (pre-Cambridge Analytica!) thought Facebook was trustworthy in that regard. [CFO]
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen to upwards of 400 parts per million, which has brought about a doubling of the pollen production of ragweed, according to USDA research. In other words, yes your allergies are getting worse, and yes it’s in many ways due to climate change. [Vox]
That is the eye-popping amount of money Dish Network has to pay as part of a class action lawsuit related to unwanted telemarketing calls. But some of the people who won the money don’t know it yet. The 18,000 people who are eligible to receive somewhere between $2,400 and $30,000 as part of the verdict are hanging up the phone when informed that they can get free money because of a couple of unwanted telephone calls they barely remember. [ABA Journal]
Amount of money spent on stadiums — professional, amateur and college — by state and local governments since 1990, a staggering figure that can be difficult to justify when the on-field product doesn’t necessarily bring in the demand that could economically justify such spending. [The Atlantic]
Check out Besides the Points, our sports newsletter.
If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
Matt Lauer was fired last year from his job co-hosting NBC’s “Today” show in response to allegations of “sexual harassment.” Or was it “inappropriate sexual behavior”? Maybe “sexual misconduct.” These are all headlines about the same reports — just using different language to describe them. As the media scrambles to cover wave after wave of accusations, the variation in language is making an already difficult national conversation about what crosses the line even more so.
The #MeToo movement, a campaign against sexual violence that gained national attention from media reports on allegations against former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, is no monolith. It has brought to light violent sexual wrongs whose heinousness makes them easily identifiable as not only grave moral transgressions but also potential legal ones. Alongside the black-and-white cases, however, are those that involve more subtle behaviors — unwanted touching, offensive jokes, staring and intrusive questions. And it is typically this latter category that has left society at a frustrating loss for words.
This inability to distinguish between different types of unwanted sexual behaviors has arguably had major consequences for a movement that is trying to shift these subtler behaviors from the realm of the historically overlooked to the currently unacceptable. For one, it has left #MeToo open to the (witch-hunt) criticism that bad actors of many different types are being lumped together, with the implication that they should all face the same consequences (to say nothing of the consequent lumping together of the experiences of the victims).
But a path forward, to a clearer vocabulary (and understanding), is possible. Social science research into the kinds of unwanted sexual behaviors that people experience in the workplace has led to the development of some potentially useful ideas and terms — gender hostility, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion — that might help put a name to some of the #MeToo-highlighted behaviors. And there’s precedent for this kind of change: Sexual harassment was introduced as a concept and a term only in the past 45 years and is now in common usage.
We have seen this language problem play out several times since the Weinstein articles were published, but perhaps most prominently in the case of Al Franken. He was a Democratic senator from Minnesota at the time that he was accused of groping and forcibly kissing women at photo ops or events — allegations that were frequently described in headlines with the catch-all term “sexual misconduct.” Franken resigned from office, prompting some liberal commentators to argue that he had been treated unfairly by a movement that was failing to draw distinctions between the variety of accusations being leveled against prominent and powerful men and that a ruined career should not be the consequence of every allegation made via #MeToo. Comparisons between the nature of the accusations against Franken and those against other accused men, including Roy Moore, then the GOP Senate candidate from Alabama, were often wielded as evidence in these articles. The first report that Moore had initiated sexual encounters with teenaged girls when he was in his 30s was published a week before the first Franken allegations surfaced.
Ginger Rutland, a former editorial writer at The Sacramento Bee and a self-identified Democrat, wrote in an op-ed in December: “Sen. Al Franken is not Roy Moore. He isn’t even Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. At most, Franken … is guilty of boorish behavior — not assault, not pedophilia, not even sexual harassment. But with today’s fast-changing, contradictory and confusing reversal of sexual norms, he’s being burned at the stake, walked down the plank, buried alive.”
The allegations against Franken surfaced at the height of Moore’s Senate campaign, and partisanship inevitably played a major role in the response to each. Democratic voters and elected officials (eventually) pushed Franken to resign. Many Republicans stood by Moore. But the two cases were consistently discussed as a pair — even if it was in an attempt to explain why they were different. If a more appropriate vocabulary existed to discuss Franken’s behavior, the situation might have played out differently, and maybe allegations against him and Moore could have been in separate categories from the start.
“People like to use ‘sexual misconduct’ as the basket in which they throw things that they don’t think are bad enough to call sexual harassment,” said Louise Fitzgerald, a professor emeritus of psychology and gender and women’s studies whose research interests include sexual violence. “They want to say things like, ‘Al Franken didn’t commit sexual harassment; it was sexual misconduct,’ and what they’re trying to say is that it wasn’t that bad. But nobody really articulates what they mean by “‘bad.’”
We spoke with seven experts in the fields of psychology, law and communications who have studied gender and sexual dynamics, including Fitzgerald, and they generally agreed that the lack of precise language for some of the behaviors being discussed via #MeToo is a problem.
Naomi Mezey, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school and co-director of the Georgetown Gender Justice Initiative, said umbrella terms such as “sexual misconduct” or “inappropriate behavior” that were being used to describe the unwanted sexual behaviors of men were contributing to the backlash against the movement. “Words like ‘sexual misconduct’ mean everything from rape to a bad date,” she said. “People fear that we’re making the most basic interactions illegal.” She said there would be benefits to breaking down those sweeping terms: “We can think more carefully about the ways in which women feel sexually abused and can think more carefully about what kinds of things we want to make impermissible and permissible.”14
Although the media and society at large are struggling to articulate and understand the differences between unwanted sexual behaviors, social scientists have been thinking about these distinctions for decades. Some have proposed categories that are more specific than the umbrella terms of “sexual misconduct” and “sexual harassment.” And these conceptual frameworks could be a starting point for an expansion of the public’s understanding of, and vocabulary for, unwanted sexual behaviors.
One of these systems was developed by Fitzgerald. Between the late 1980s and early 2000s, she and her team created a framework for sexual harassment that distributes 16 behaviors — such as, “told sexual stories or jokes” and “made unwanted attempts to stroke, fondle or kiss” — across three categories:
- Gender hostility refers to derogatory comments or actions that invoke sex or gender, rather than explicit requests for sex. There are two types — sexist hostility, which is specific to gender (for example, if someone made a joke about women in a meeting) and sexual hostility, which has a sexual component (for example, if someone asked about a co-worker’s sexual activities).
- Unwanted sexual attention includes unwelcome attempts to initiate sexual or romantic relations (for example, when someone repeatedly asks a co-worker out on dates).
- Sexual coercion involves many of the same behaviors as the previous category, but with the explicit threat of consequences — such as being refused a promotion — for not cooperating.
Fitzgerald and her team created the list of behaviors, which you can see below, by building on the work of previous scholars and researching women’s experiences. The conceptual categories also correspond to the legal standards for sexual harassment: The first two constitute the legal idea of a “hostile environment,” and the third maps to “quid pro quo” harassment.
There’s value to going beyond the legal categories, Fitzgerald said. “The most important thing in the world is to know what it is exactly you’re talking about, and sexual harassment is so much more than a legal category,” she said. “It’s an experience. We want to know what all aspects of that experience could be.”
Fitzgerald and her team used this framework to build a survey called the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, which asks respondents whether they’ve experienced the specific behaviors. Versions of this survey have been applied to a variety of organizations since then, including colleges and the military, to understand the prevalence and types of harassing behaviors that occur within organizations. Over decades of the survey’s use, Fitzgerald has found that the conceptual categories remain relevant: “The categories cover the universe,” she said.
Any attempt to quantify human behavior has shortcomings, of course. Fitzgerald acknowledges that there are challenges:
- Whether something is offensive or unwelcome depends on the perspective of the person who is experiencing it, she said. Inviting a colleague to dinner, for example, could be seen as an attempt to have sex or to do some innocuous professional networking.
- This kind of framework can’t be used to determine whether some behaviors are inherently worse than others.
- The 16 behaviors that the framework and survey depend on have not been updated recently. That means that any new kinds of unwanted behavior — for example, something like sexting that is the result of technological innovation — hasn’t been taken into account.
Expanding the public’s understanding of behaviors of a sexual nature that may be violating and how we talk about them might seem like a far-off goal. But it’s been done before, with the help of activists and scholars, who played a key role in the development and promotion of the term “sexual harassment” in the 1970s.
“This is an area where academics have been especially helpful in moving the law forward,” said Gillian Thomas, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project.
There have long been terms to describe the most violent sexual behavior, like “rape” and “sexual assault.”15 But starting in the 1970s, the concept of sexual harassment was introduced to refer to other behaviors that people find uncomfortable and harmful, particularly in work and organizational settings. A group of women who were working at Cornell University first used the term to describe unwanted sexual advances at work, and coverage of their activism helped get that phrase into headlines. Around the same time, a book by legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon defined the two types of behavior that eventually became the foundation of the legal notions of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment” harassment. And her work was key to the establishment of sexual harassment in the workplace as sex-based discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Unlawful sexual harassment includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” as well as “offensive remarks about a person’s sex,” according to the agency’s website. But there are limits: The agency also notes that the law doesn’t “prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious” and that harassment is only illegal when it is recurrent or severe.
But as #MeToo has shown us, the understanding of what constitutes unwanted sexual behavior — and how to talk about it — continues to evolve. Tools for moving the conversation forward exist. Will one part of the movement’s legacy be to push society to find the right words to describe it all?
FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code <iframe frameborder="0" width="100%" height="180" style="margin:20px auto 25px;max-width:600px;" scrolling="no" src="https://fivethirtyeight.com/player/politics/23205036/"></iframe>
Former FBI Director James Comey has a lot to say about President Trump and the 2016 presidential election in his new book. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew sorts through which, if any, of his revelations are new or meaningful.
The team also talks about the U.S. airstrikes in Syria and looks at what the public thinks of U.S. humanitarian intervention. Then the gang discusses whether House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision not to run for re-election will affect Republican prospects in the midterms.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
For more than 20 years, the first man and woman across the Boston Marathon finish line have almost always been athletes from Kenya or Ethiopia. But it was an American woman and a Japanese man who won this year’s open divisions. Desiree Linden was the first American woman to win since 1985, finishing in 2:39:54, the slowest winning time since 1978. The men’s field was similarly sluggish — Yuki Kawauchi’s winning time of 2:15:58 was the slowest since 1976.
One likely reason for the unusually slow finishes? Runners faced heavy rain, headwinds and the coldest marathon temperatures in 30 years. Kawauchi was loving the cold, though. “For me, these are the best conditions possible,” he told reporters after the race.
A couple of weeks ago, it was anybody’s guess as to which version of the New York Mets would show up for the 2018 season. Would it be something like the 2016 edition, a solid ballclub that reached the NL wild-card game on dominant pitching and a streaky offense? Or the 2017 squad, an injury-riddled catastrophe from almost start to finish? Or maybe some third kind of team: one possibly able to coalesce into a legitimate contender with better health and a new manager?
A great (and also frustrating) thing about baseball is that, 14 games into the schedule, we still don’t really know the answer. But what few clues the 2018 Mets have provided are mostly encouraging. At 12-2, including Sunday’s walk-off victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, New York is baseball’s second-best team record-wise, trailing only the Boston Red Sox. Ability-wise? Maybe not quite so much. But the team has at least shown that, when it’s healthy — a caveat that perpetually hangs over the franchise — it has the potential to break into MLB’s upper echelon.
When the current-era Mets were at their best in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, their success largely depended on having an elite pitching staff, one that finished a close second behind the Washington Nationals in pitching wins above replacement (WAR)16 over those seasons. The key was a core of flame-throwing pitchers the likes of which had seldom been seen before: a rotation with Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz,17 each of whom ranked among the 35 hardest-throwing starters in MLB, plus a bullpen backstopped by fireballing closer Jeurys Familia. According to WAR, Mets pitchers’ production represented more than half of the team’s value (52 percent) in 2015 and 2016, compared with the league average of only 42 percent of WAR coming from pitchers.
By comparison, the rest of the team was pretty unremarkable in the span, ranking 16th in total WAR from position players. While the lineup had its moments — Yoenis Cespedes’s ridiculous late-season tear in 2015 comes to mind — it was mostly inconsistent, too reliant on the home run and lacking in high-impact talent (especially when Cespedes was injured). And the defense was nothing special, either. So it was no surprise that when the Mets’ pitching collapsed entirely in 2017, dropping all the way down to 26th in WAR because of a combination of injuries and underperformance, the team fell apart as well. There was nothing left to make up the difference.
By the same token, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this year’s improved health and performance on the mound has the Mets back on track. According to WAR, New York ranks second in total pitching value once again, trailing only the Red Sox. The rest of the team has had its bright spots, including the early season play of newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier, but by and large it’s been the same formula as in the team’s successful 2015 and 2016 seasons: Win with dominant pitching, solid hitting and a mediocre-yet-passable combination of base running and fielding.
Can it last? Well, the Mets have won a few extra ballgames thanks to timely hitting that probably won’t keep up at the same rate. But more importantly, because of off-days and a weather postponement, they’ve had to turn to a starter outside their top four only once this season, a Zack Wheeler start on April 11. Other than that, it’s been all Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey18 and Matz — a trend that will dry up soon. And for all the turns taken by those big-name starters, New York is still just 14th in innings per start, with the team again leaning heavily on a bullpen that, to its credit, has been baseball’s most valuable in the early going. (That’s a recent theme, too: The Mets had MLB’s seventh-best bullpen in 2016.)
So it’s still too early to say whether this staff will stay healthy enough all season to keep up its early pace, or if it has enough depth to survive the kinds of injuries that happen to normal teams — even if this year’s Mets aren’t as snakebit as last year’s were. But if they do keep it up, the Mets will join the 1998 San Diego Padres as the only team in MLB’s expansion era to go from the top five in pitching WAR one season to the bottom five the next, and then back to the top five the following year.19 That team ended up going to the World Series; we’ll have to see whether this year’s Mets can follow in those footsteps and cash in on their own red-hot start.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.
By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner, Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner and Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code <iframe frameborder="0" width="100%" height="180" style="margin:20px auto 25px;max-width:600px;" scrolling="no" src="https://fivethirtyeight.com/player/the-lab/23201814/"></iframe>
Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On Monday’s show (April 16, 2018), Neil, Kyle and Chris recap the first games of the NBA playoffs. They focus on the weekend’s big storylines: The Pacers trounced the Cavs in Cleveland, the Blazers had no answer for Anthony Davis, and the Sixers looked like real contenders.
Here are links to what the podcast discussed this week:
- Keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, updated after every game.
- Chris wrote about how Ben Simmons is outsmarting his defenders.
The Philadelphia 76ers, who went from being the NBA’s perennial punching bag to Rocky Marciano in his prime seemingly overnight, are rolling. In what some figured would be a challenging playoff opener against a stout Miami defense, Ben Simmons and his band broke the Heat, 130-103, and did so without their star center, Joel Embiid, who’s still on the mend after breaking a bone near his eye.
Simmons, in particular, passed his first postseason test with flying colors, nearly logging a triple-double despite facing alignments that sought to challenge his limited range as a shooter. One way he managed this: By playing fast, in transition, and making use of the incredible shooting talent around him, which distracts the defense just enough to allow him to make his own move to the basket at times.
Take this beautiful ball fake, for instance, where he blows by two defenders on a quick hitter.
The swift action was brilliant in that it was quick enough to leave both Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson — the two best wing stoppers on a team that tied for fifth in defensive efficiency after the All-Star break — so confused over who would stay with sharpshooter J.J. Redick that neither man ended up hanging with Simmons.
Philadelphia uses plays like these quite often. In fact, the Sixers ranked fourth in the NBA in fake handoffs per 100 possessions during the regular season, according to Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats. And among teams that used fakes at least 200 times, the Sixers led the league in efficiency on such plays, scoring just over a point per fake.20
This partly explains how Philly is getting so much out of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, a pair of scrap-heap signings who, between them, have played for nearly half of the NBA’s teams. They hit enough shots to keep defenses honest, which frees up players like Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who haven’t yet given defenders a good reason to closely guard the rookies all the way out on the perimeter.
As good as the team looks — the Sixers set a record by entering the playoffs on a 16-game winning streak — it’s worth wondering how things might change once Embiid returns. Yes, he’s a dominant force on both ends, but his post-ups figure to slow down the team’s breakneck pace on offense, which in turn could help Miami by giving the Heat more time to align their defense properly.
The Sixers will cross that Ben Franklin Bridge when they get there, though. For now, they look unstoppable.