Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Lots of Tuesday Links

with 10 comments

* A key feature of the case for Elena Kagan is her supposed ability to convince Anthony Kennedy of things. (Bill makes one version of this argument in the comments, though he himself doesn’t quite endorse it.) Like pretty much everybody I’m skeptical of this; I don’t know what the evidence is supposed to be that Kagan is better positioned to persuade Anthony Kennedy than anyone else on the shortlist, and her record as Solicitor General hasn’t exactly distinguished itself in this regard.

* Nate Silver makes the actuarial case for Elena Kagan.

Wood’s VORJ, we’ll assume, begins at 50, since we’re supposing that she’ll side with the liberals 100 percent of the time rather than 50 percent for her replacement. Kagan’s starts at 40: the 90 percent of the time we’ve supposed she’d vote with the liberals, less the 50 percent baseline.

As we go out into the future, however, the Justices become less valuable as they are less likely to survive. For instance, Wood has about an 18 percent chance of no longer being with us 15 years hence, so we’d have to subtract that fraction from her VORJ.

After about 20 years, Kagan overtakes Wood even though she’s less liberal, because she’s more likely have survived. She continues to provide excess value over [Wood] from that point forward, until we reach a period 40+ years out where both women are almost certain to be dead. On balance, Kagan’s lifetime expected VORJ is actually higher than that of [Wood]’s (1,280 rather than 1,206, if you care), assuming that she’ll defect from the liberals 10 percent of the time whereas Wood never will.

Favoring near-term outcomes at a discount rate of 1.7% or more, though, favors Wood.

* What to do next to stop the spill in the Gulf? The New York Times speculates. Or, you know, we could just nuke it.

* Related: BP makes enough profit in four days to cover the costs of the spill cleanup thus far.

* Something good in the climate bill: Climate Bill Will Allow States to Veto Neighboring States’ Drilling Plans.

* Something good in a very bad-looking November: Richard Burr will almost certainly lose in NC.

* Žižek vs the volcano.

The confusion of natural and cultural or economic concerns in the arguments over the prohibition of flights raised the following suspicion: how come the scientific evidence began to suggest it was safe to fly over most of Europe just when the pressure from the airlines became most intense? Is this not further proof that capital is the only real thing in our lives, with even scientific judgements having to bend to its will?

The problem is that scientists are supposed to know, but they do not. Science is helpless and covers up this helplessness with a deceptive screen of expert assurance. We rely more and more on experts, even in the most intimate domains of our experience (sexuality and religion). As a result, the field of scientific knowledge is transformed into a terrain of conflicting “expert opinions”.

Most of the threats we face today are not external (or “natural”), but generated by human activity shaped by science (the ecological consequences of our industry, say, or the psychic consequences of uncontrolled genetic engineering), so that the sciences are simultaneously the source of such threats, our best hope of understanding those threats, and the means through which we may find a way of coping with them.

* ‘Confessions of a Tenured Professor’: a tenured professor takes note of his adjunct colleagues.

* Middle-class white people are the only people: Atrios discovers a very strange lede at the Washington Post.

The idealized vision of suburbia as a homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family took another hit over the past decade, as suburbs became home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children, according to a Brookings Institution report to be released Sunday.

* Inside MK-ULTRA.

* Inside Alabama.

Just so we’re clear, in the 21st century, Republican gubernatorial candidates are attacked for accepting modern biology and being only a partial Biblical literalist.

* That about wraps it up for Britain.

* And confidential to Playboy: putting the centerfolds in 3D will not save you.

10 Responses

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  1. Here’s the problem with Zizek’s argument: New York Times and Guardian reporting on science ≠ science.


    May 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm

  2. It’s not so much Kagan’s ability to swing Kennedy, per se, as it is her ability to build a consensus generally. Not all SCOTUS decisions come down to a 5-4 split along party lines, after all (though the number of cases that do is discouragingly high), and the point Kagan defenders are making is that she’s really good at understanding where her opponents are coming from and framing things in ways they can understand. Consider that ability next to Liberal Candidate X, who would vote as a guaranteed strong progressive, but who’s vote would be fairly meaningless without the ability to bring *someone* around.

    How shall we measure the relative leftness or rightness of the court? The way most folks have been doing it has been to give each jurist an ideological score and then tally up the balance — Kagan is a liberal 7 while Stevens was a liberal 9 so the court moves to the right slightly. To me, the more accurate way is to look at court decisions. If Kagan only votes with progs 90% of the time (while a Wood may give us 100%) but she’s able to build a majority consensus a few times (where a Wood may not have been successful), then the result is actually a more progressive court.

    When Obama has to replace Kennedy (we can dream), *then* I’ll be screaming for a reliable tree-hugger. I’m not convinced Kagan is a bad call here.

    Bill Simmon

    May 11, 2010 at 8:42 pm

  3. I don’t know why everyone is assuming that Kagan will vote with progs 90% of the time in these mathematical ventures. What if she’s a Kennedy?


    May 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    • I’m not sure Kennedy is the example you want here. He was appointed by Reagan and is indeed a conservative justice (well, centrist in this political climate). I think you’re suggesting Kagan might be a, well, Stevens — someone who was brought onto the court to represent one ideological POV and who did a 180. Those 180s tend to lean toward the left rather than the right. Souter, Stevens, O’Connor (Kennedy to a lesser degree) were all nominated by GOP Presidents and voted in ways the right considered too liberal. Name a similar group of Dem nominees who turned out to be crazy wingers.

      Bill Simmon

      May 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm

      • I agree she’s unlikely to pull a Souter, but even if she’s a Kennedy — in the sense of being another swing vote — that’s a big step down from Stevens.


        May 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm

  4. Obviously I hope that’s what happening, Bill, but we’ll see. I’m still not seeing the actual evidence for Kagan as some uniquely gifted consensus builder — and like Alex I’m worried that she’ll turn out to be significantly more conservative than we’d hope.

    When Obama has to replace Kennedy (we can dream), *then* I’ll be screaming for a reliable tree-hugger.

    SCOTUS justices are fungible. A Democratic president should go for the most reliable leftist he can get every time; it might have been Kagan in a few years, when the politics will be different, but it was someone else this time.

    That is to say we should scream for the reliable tree-hugger every time.


    May 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

  5. The point was that 90% is a totally arbitrary number, and there’s no real good reason to believe that she would side with progs 90% of the time.


    May 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    • I got the point. The number doesn’t matter. Replace “90%” with “X%” where X is some number between 50 and 99. And of course the same problem exists with every other potential nominee. After all, Stevens and Souter were better known quantities than Kagan is and they both wound up being quite liberal. There’s no guarantee ever. All this hand-wringing is pointless.

      Bill Simmon

      May 12, 2010 at 12:51 am

  6. Here’s example number 354 why we need term limited SC judges. One of Kagan’s great strengths is that she’s 50 years old. I think that it’s absurd that she should serve on the same court for, potentially, 40+ years. As much as I like John Paul Stevens, there’s no reason why our national court system should still be strongly affected by the Ford administration 33 years later. Stevens was a good public servant but sometimes presidents make bad choices (see Truman’s choice of his drinking buddy for Chief Justice), and then we have to make grim charts about how Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pancreas affects the current interpretation of the Bill of Rights. I think we might eventually see an imposition of term limits as the trends towards an average longer life and presidents appointing younger and younger justices (Thomas, Roberts, now Kagan) reaches further and further into absurdity.


    May 12, 2010 at 8:26 am

  7. Dan, I’m buying what you’re selling.


    May 12, 2010 at 11:15 am

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