Thursday, November 29, 2012

Top 10 Things I Learned as a Judicial Extern (in 2001!)

I am kind of a digital packrat. I have saved and kept accessible nearly  every file I created in college and law school (though some of them are now in unreadable file formats). Today, for reasons best left undisclosed, I took a trip deep into the archives.

One thing I stumbled across was a long-forgotten "journal" from my days as "judicial extern" to Hennepin County Judge John Holahan. This was a for-credit internship during the summer of 2001 that allowed me to serve as a proto-law-clerk for Judge Holahan. Part of the deal was that I had to keep this "journal."

It is interesting reading, although there are, of course, many wince-inducing passages.  The journal ends with the following top ten list, which I found pretty amusing:
Top Ten Things I Learned in my Judicial Externship
10. Not all judges wear robes. [I believe this was in reference to Judge Jack Nordby, who wore a three-piece suit.]
9. Copying machines these days have this fancy mechanism that allows you to insert a stack of papers and it will just gobble them up and copy them like magic. 
8. Court reporters and clerks of court wield unbelievable power if they should decide to use it. 
7. There is a surprising amount of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships. 
6. Speaking of homosexuals, I learned that their ineligibility for marriage really screws them over because they have no legal recourse when it comes time to get divorced. 
5. Good lawyers beat bad lawyers in trial. 
4. Excited utterances are an exception to the hearsay rule—that'll come in handy when I take evidence this semester! 
3. "In the end, it's giving that makes you happy."  --Judge Holahan 
2. It's good to be the judge—but you do have to deal with a lot of stupid crap. 
1. The Court of Appeals is a gaggle of idiots!
I can't say that I necessarily recommend that law students sprinkle their writing assignments with phrases like "a lot of stupid crap" and "speaking of homosexuals," but that's the way I roll.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Dumb New Rule for a Dumb Sport

Apparently the USGA and the R&A have decided to outlaw the use of anchored putting in golf. Steve Stricker—Madison's favorite PGA son and great (conventional) putter—supports the rule change.

I don't really care about the rules of golf, but this is ridiculous. Exhibit A:

"There was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier."

In other words, every argument in favor of the ban is based on nothing but speculation and gut feelings.

So why ban the anchored long putter? Stricker says:

"Any time you can take your arms and hands out of it, especially your hands, I think when you can anchor it in your chest, (it) is a huge advantage. I'm not a big proponent of long putters."

OK, fine, but you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Who cares? If it is such an advantage, why don't you do it, Strick? Why don't 90% of pros do it? Just because they are too macho? Gimme a break. Millions of dollars are on the line. If pros really thought anchored putting was an advantage, they'd do it. And if golfers were really macho they'd be playing a real sport. You know, one with athletics involved.

Here's my theory. A country-club culture pervades golf, and the snobs in charge just think anchored putting looks funny. "Why, Millie, this is the worst thing since cargo shorts!" If these people were in charge of basketball they'd have outlawed the jump shot. ("Any time you elevate yourself, especially your hands, in the process of shooting, it is a huge advantage." Cf. Stricker's statement.)

[Cross-posted from Adam[ Chorlton's] WI Sports Blog]

National Security Conservatives

You really must read this blog post over at the Volokh Conspiracy by Stewart Baker, a self-styled "national security conservative." In the post, entitled "Sex Secrets of the Security Line," Baker describes his recent insight into the behavior of men in the security line at the airport. It boils down to this: men see the security process as an opportunity to display their ruthless efficiency and, in so doing, sexually arouse any women in the vicinity. Seriously.
I feel a kind of competitive pressure to keep the line moving. I’m not happy to see more than about six inches of distance between my luggage and the bags in front of me on the belt. Every delay in pulling out my laptop or my liquids, every last minute bit of change I have to throw haphazard into the bin, every stutterstep as I realize it’s a whole-body scanner, not a metal detector, so belt and watch have to come off too –- all detracts from the performance.
* * *
In part we do it to keep our place in the hierarchy of guys.  But in the end, what we’re really hoping for is an Alice Munro moment — that our easy concentration and economical movements will set up in someone “a procession of sparks and chills,” followed a few pages later by, well, what we deserve for all that demonstrated competence.
(The reference to Alice Munro is to a post-opening epigraph from a Munro story in which a female character is titillated by observing her man's competence at the stove. "What we deserve" is sex.)

Baker's insight is not the source of his own motivation. Rather he claims to now understand why so many other people (men, at least) are frustrated with the TSA. Their stated frustrations carry "a distinct whiff of testosterone," Baker says, and this is because they find their inability to display competence in the security line to be emasculating. So they act out and go into "full high-school rebellion mode." Baker has a series of suggestions to alleviate this frustration.

Although I strongly disagree with Baker's take on the TSA, and probably even his take on the nature of reality, I enjoyed the post because it was an open look into an alien mind. It even gave me my own insight, which is this: I see now that every policy "national security conservatives" promote and everything they do—and I mean everything: the wars, the crackdowns, the mass incarcerations, etc—is part of a lifelong and sadly misguided effort to get laid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Big Ten Expansion: The Legal Angle

As Mr. Gillette recently reported (in a Gillette-Torvik Non-Exclusive Breaking News Item of the Day), Maryland and Rutgers will be joining the Big Ten athletic conference.

One of the footnotes in this news is that the members of the ACC (Maryland's current affiliation) recently voted to impose a $50 million "exit fee" on institutions that leave the conference. (Until September, the fee was a mere $20 million.) In the press conference announcing the decision to go over to the Big Ten, Maryland's president was somewhat dismissive of this requirement, implying that the fee would get whittled down in negotiations: "As far as that exact amount of that sum, that is something that we will discuss in private with the ACC."

Well, the ACC has taken things very public by suing Maryland in North Carolina state court to recover the $50 million. I haven't reviewed the contract between Maryland and the ACC, but I presume the exit fee is styled as "liquidated damages" for the harm caused by Maryland's breach. Such provisions are generally permitted under contract law so long as they don't amount to a penalty. I expect that Maryland will argue that the fee is an excessive penalty that is not meant to recompense the ACC for any damages but rather to penalize it for jumping ship.

Maryland's best argument, it seems to me, is the recent and sudden increase in the fee from $20 to $50 million. Is there any basis to believe that the reasonable approximation of damages suddenly increased 150%? It seems much more reasonable to believe that the conference realized that $20 million wasn't enough to make it uneconomical for members to leave for greener pastures. In other words, it became evident that the fee wasn't punitive enough to prevent breach. Seems like a penalty.

A Gillette-Torvik Prediction™:  Maryland and the ACC will soon settle this suit for an undisclosed sum, "in private." That undisclosed sum will be around $25 million.

UPDATE: They settled for $31 million, publicly.

Seventh Circuit strikes down Illinois's unconstitutional "eavesdropping" law


The Supreme Court denied cert. in this case, so the decision of the Seventh Circuit stands, and the aspect of the Illinois wiretapping law that criminalizes the recording of police officers in public is unenforceable in Illinois.

ORIGINAL POST (5/8/2012):

In an opinion issued today, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional, on First Amendment grounds, the Illinois law that makes it a felony to make audio recordings of police officers in public. Richard Posner (the man, not the kidney) dissented.

Previous coverage here, here, and here.

Congratulations to "Minnesota Litigator"!

In case any Reader(s)™ somehow missed the news, Seth Leventhal's blog, Minnesota Litigator, has been selected by the ABA as one of the 100 best legal blogs in the known universe.

The Gillette-Torvik Blog, of course, is uninterested in accumulating awards, or attention, or readers. Still, we're happy for our sister blog (like ships and sovereign states, blogs are female) and extend our totally non-envious congratulations to Seth and his co-bloggers for this well-deserved recognition.

Cursive will disappear in our lifetimes.

I have horrible handwriting.  Actually, calling my handwriting horrible is probably not accurately describing the awfulness of my handwriting.  I may have the worst cursive handwriting in the world. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Is this news?

The New York Times wants you to know that presidential elections matter when it comes to judicial appointments.  Adam Liptak's story is here.  I am glad to see that someone pointed out that elections have consequences.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Daily News of Bangor, Maine has the story of two local TV newscasters who quit their jobs on-air last night.  Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio announced their resignations from sister stations WVII and WFVX last night at the end of the 6 p.m. newscast.  Neither told anyone of their resignations before the newscast.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kill someone and get sentenced to 10 years of church attendance?

To complete my religion trilogy, the Washington Post has an article about an Oklahoma judge who sentenced a 17-year-old boy to, among other things, attending church for ten years.  The other requirements of the sentence are attending welding school and completing high school.  No word on which part of the sentence the youngster regards as the most onerous.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Was anyone denied Confirmation?

Read the initial post on this story here.

According to the website LifeSiteNews, Father LaMoine denies that he refused to confirm Lennon Cihak.  Instead, Father LaMoine says that Mr. Cihak decided not to be confirmed.  However, Father LaMoine goes on to say that had Mr. Cihak chosen not to be confirmed, Father LaMoine would have refused to confirm him.  The story quotes Father LaMoine as saying, “You can’t have people out there saying things that are so contrary to the central teaching and doctrine of the Catholic faith, and going through Confirmation.After he put it out in the public, we would have looked like a bunch of hypocrites in confirming him.”  So if one believes Father LaMoine's version of events, Father LaMoine would have denied Mr. Cihak confirmation if Mr. Cihak had let him.  Decide for yourselves whether this is an improvement.

I want to assure our Reader(s)™ that the Catholic Church is not monolithic on this point.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What sort of sick joke is this?

Sports Illustrated reports that the University of Maryland and Rutgers University are discussing joining the Big Ten.  It's fair to say that Maryland and Rutgers are neither Leaders nor Legends.  I can't say for sure, but I suspect that either team joining the Big Ten will be the push I need to give up on college football entirely.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Catholic Church: still messing with children.

This is not a post about recent news of a Roman Catholic priest sexually abusing a child.  Although it would be pretty easy to do a post about that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fewer judicial vacancies?

Yesterday, President Obama nominated 7 people to fill vacant federal judgeships.  You can read the White House press release describing the nominees here.  We have previously discussed the issues surrounding President Obama's nominees--or lack of them--here and here.

Even with the 7 new nominations, there are still 41 seats for which no one has been nominated.  Minnesota does not have any vacancies, but I note that Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and Puerto Rico have open seats.  Mr. Torvik are you ready to serve if your president asks?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Throwing a Holiday Party in Evanston?

Terrific! If you intend to dispense any "holiday cheer," however, the City of Evanston would just like to remind you about a few regulations to keep in mind:
The City of Evanston would like to remind residents that a One-day Liquor License is required to serve alcohol at special events, holiday parties, office parties and other events. Additionally, the city requires alcohol awareness training. A One-Day Liquor License is a temporary license issued for the service of alcohol or beer and wine at special events. Only individuals, businesses or organizations residing in Evanston may obtain a One-Day Liquor License.
The requirement is for all events involving the sale, service and consumption of beer and wine in the City of Evanston and failure to do so may result in a penalty ranging from $500 to $1,000.
The basic regulations regarding Special One-Day Liquor Licenses for special events are as follows:
  • Class F:  Authorizes the sale or service of beer and wine on non-city-owned property. Cost is $150.00.
  • Class F1: Authorizes the sale or service of alcoholic liquor, beer and wine on non-city-owned property. Cost is $150.00.
  • Class X:  Authorizes the sale or service of beer and wine at certain city-owned facilities (Chandler-Newberger Center, Robert Crown Community Center/Ice Rink, Ecology Center, Evanston Arts Center, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Levy Senior Center,  Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Evanston Public Library. Cost is $75 (residents) and $265.00 (non-residents).
  • Class X1: Authorizes the sale or service of alcoholic liquor, beer and wine at certain city-owned facilities (Chandler-Newberger Center, Robert Crown Community Center/Ice Rink, Ecology Center, Evanston Arts Center, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Levy Senior Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Evanston Public Library. Cost is $115 (residents) and $340.00 (non-residents).
  • No more than twelve (12) Special One-Day (Class F) Liquor Licenses shall be issued to any sales address or applicant in any one calendar year.
  • The sale of beer and wine shall only take place from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday, provided also that food is made available during those hours.
  • The Special One-Day (Class F) Liquor License shall be issued to and valid only for the “sales premises” described on the application.
  • The organization applying must obtain liquor liability insurance for the period of time during which beer and wine will be sold. Specific requirements vary depending on type of license.
  • A member of the responsible organization must have completed the State of Illinois Liquor Control Commission’s Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) program and be present at the event.
The above is not an exhaustive list of the requirements. For a full description of the license requirements, see the City of Evanston Municipal Code, Title 3, Chapter 4.
 I can't wait for the holidays (sensibly regulated)!

Two tiers of citizenship.

A citizen of another country who wishes to become a citizen of the United States has to, among other things, take this oath.

In a Cashless Society, There Would Still Be Crime

A very interesting article by Miles Kimball advocates for replacing paper dollars with electronic dollars as the "unit of account" in the United States. Mr. Kimball's motivation for advancing this cause is that this electronic-dollar regime would allow the Federal Reserve to charge negative interest rates, which would allow it to fulfill its full-employment function without having to resort to exotic (and controversial) activities such as "quantitative easing."

I don't generally blog about monetary policy, of course, but another reason for moving from cash to electronic dollars is that it makes crime much more difficult and less worthwhile. In a cashless society, economic exchanges always create a paper trail—so illicit exchanges become much more difficult to pull off without getting caught. And much other crime, such as robberies and bank heists, become far less lucrative. There's no point in robbing a bank if that's where the money isn't. Would-be bank robbers are presumably smart enough to figure that out, eventually.

Mr. Kimball's proposal, in which paper money would still exist, just not as the "unit of account," reduces these anti-crime benefits significantly. But presumably cash would still become less and less useful, and less and less common (as it already has become, frankly).

Anyhow, I thought of this anti-crime benefit of electronic money today when I read that, for the second straight day, masked men in Evanston had robbed a pizza delivery man at gunpoint. Of course, they stole the driver's cash and wallets, etc., so you might think that this is the kind of crime that abolishing paper money would eliminate. But, in each case, they also stole the pizzas. The lesson may be that even in a cashless society there will be crime—as long as there is pizza.

The Code of Silence ...

... is alive and well—and costly—in Chicago.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The price of winning

MPR News has an article about how much Michele Bachman paid to retain her seat in the United States House of Representatives.  According to the article the cost per vote of winning was $65.19.  Her opponent, Jim Graves, spent $8.70 per vote.  Of course, he lost by 4,297 votes.  Since he could have lost for a lot less than that, I suppose Mr. Graves overspent on his votes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Senator Charles Grassley does not let things go.

Earlier this year we posted about how Iowa Senator Charles Grassley was unhappy that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was having a judicial conference in Maui.  Senator Grassley thought the conference was too expensive.  In response, the Ninth Circuit politely suggested that Senator Grassley put a sock in it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The single most important question of our lifetime.

Given the existence of graham cracker pie crust, why are other pie crusts still used?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Judge Brim Faces Charges

Yesterday I blogged about how Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim was retained by Cook County voters despite being on indefinite suspension and facing pending criminal charges.

Today Judge Brim appeared in Court—as a criminal defendant.

Apparently the prosecutor has floated the idea of dropping the charges in exchange for Judge Brim stepping down from the bench. According to her lawyer, however, resigning is something Judge Brim "will never do."

The Tribune article has some important information that explains why Judge Brim and others are able to retain their judgeships despite widespread criticism from the bar and media:
Brim was backed by the Cook County Democratic Party as well as the Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County, a campaign committee funded by judges.
So there are two main factors: the Democratic Party and solidarity.The unfortunate fact is that, in Cook County, judgeships are handed out as political patronage. This is a one-party town, of course, and the Party does not turn its back on its own. Once on the bench, the judges are of course deeply invested in not being kicked out. So it's one for all, all for one.

Overall it is probably a good thing that the Cook County bench isn't experience a lot of turnover every two years. But we are clearly seeing the downsides of a system that makes turnover all but impossible.

The Outer Limits of the First Amendment

Out in California, they sure do vote on a lot of stuff.

For example, Los Angeles County had a ballot initiative this year about whether actors in pornographic films should be required to wear condoms. The idea, apparently, is that this will improve the public health by reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However, county lawmakers opposed the measure because it will require the creation of a new bureaucracy:
The county has said the law, pushed by AIDS activists concerned about disease outbreaks, forces the establishment of a new bureaucracy, complete with inspection schedules, a permitting process, a training program for dealing with bodily fluids and a special vault for evidence seized from movie sets. County employees could even be called upon to screen X-rated titles for condom compliance.
What's more, not even public health officials in Los Angeles county supported the measure:
County officials said they were in favor of condom use, but didn't support new local action because the state had jurisdiction for workplace safety and, in any case, enforcement would be too difficult. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county health officer, wrote in a report this summer that it would be challenging to identify "underground, inconspicuous, intentionally non-compliant filmmakers." County lawyers also said they worried that the measure violated the 1st Amendment.
Nonetheless, the measure passed and, as County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, "People voted for it, and they're entitled to have it on the books. It's a challenge we're going to have to confront."

Pornographers, of course, are in an uproar and are threatening to take their business elsewhere:
The passage of the law created an outcry Wednesday in the adult entertainment industry. Porn producers have long said consumers will not purchase movies in which actors wear condoms and on Wednesday, executives and directors once again threatened to move from long-time production sites in the San Fernando Valley to other California counties, Las Vegas or Hungary, Europe's center of adult moviemaking.
Some thoughts:

1) I never thought I'd see the day where government officials in an urban county would oppose a law on the basis that it would create too much bureaucracy but then the people would go ahead and overrule them by saying, in effect, "we want more bureaucracy!" Truly, we get the government we deserve.

2) It seems to me that the lawmaking system that permits such a thing to occur is sub-optimal. In other words, it is too easy to get these kinds of measures on the ballot in California.

3) I am looking forward to the First Amendment fight over this new law. Porn has often been at the center of First Amendment jurisprudence. Indeed, under the standard set forth in Roth v. United States, the Supreme Court was constantly reviewing pornography to determine whether it was "obscene" and therefore beyond the First Amendment's protection. This led to one of the Supreme Court's great moments, in Jacobellis v. Ohio, when Justice Stewart admitted that he could formulate no legal standard to separate obscenity from protected material but "I know it when I see it." The current standard on obscenity, set out in Miller v. California has essentially ended such investigations and allowed hard-core pornography to proliferate freely. But the proliferation is partly because neither the pornographers nor the prudes want to test the boundaries of the law, for fear of enshrining an unfavorable regime. In other words, the prudes are waiting for their moment. Maybe this is it. (But probably not.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

All the Cook County Judges Are Retained, Once Again

Speaking of judicial retention elections, the Circuit Court of Cook County is a bit of an embarrassment for supporters of judicial retention elections. In order to remain on the bench, judges in Illinois must survive a retention election by getting 60% of the votes cast. But since no one is running against them, this is pretty easy to do. Indeed, no Cook County judge has been thrown out in a retention election since 1990 (though, admittedly, six judges were not retained that year). This despite the efforts of bar organizations and newspaper editorial boards to educate voters and call out unqualified judges for non-retention.

For example, we've blogged here about the controversy surrounding Judge Cynthia Brim, who was barred from the Courthouse and indefinitely suspended after allegedly assaulting a sheriff's deputy—an episode during which a court-appointed psychiatrist later found her to be "legally insane." (Though one questions whether in so opining the psychiatrist was practicing law without a license). Even before this outburst (which has led to criminal charges) Judge Brim was on the various bar associations' chopping block. She was deemed "not qualified" in both 2000 and 2006, yet was retained both times.

Judge Brim was up for retention again this year. For the third time, she was retained. And so were all the other Cook County judges.

By the way, in searching for a news article about how Judge Brim had been found "legally insane," I came across this—which is a news article about a different Cook County judge (Judge Susan McDunn) who has apparently gone insane. She has also been quietly suspended from the bench. Among other things, Judge McDunn has "suspicions that powerful people including officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago have 'ruined [her] life.'" One can only wonder whether Catholic Knight Witch Hunters are involved.

(Judge McDunn was not up for retention this year, but she was not recommended for retention when she last went before voters in 2010.)

Of course, to the extent that the erratic (or worse) behavior of Judge McDunn and Judge Brim is because of genuine mental illness, it is sad, and we can only hope they recover their faculties. But it is difficult to come up with the right adjective to describe the system that allows them to continue to hold the position of Cook County judge despite being widely labeled "unqualified" long before any mental illnesses cropped up. All I can come up with is an noun: democracy.

Alas, democracy doesn't always give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.

What about the Iowa Supreme Court?

Despite the fact that noted idiot Steve King was re-elected, Iowa voters demonstrated more sense this election than in 2010.  This time anti-gay marriage forces were unable to convince voters to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justice David Wiggins.  Mr. Torvik's prediction was two years early.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kyle's Election Prediction: Going out on a Leftward Limb

Based on some shit I read about a change in early voting dynamics in Florida... and some utterly non-scientific observations/inferences from my own early voting experience in Nashville, TN.  Go O!

2012 Presidential Election: Electoral Map: This map displays the projections of the sender and does not reflect the opinions of 270toWin.

Gillette-Torvik Election Predictions: Torvik

Here's my prediction for the electoral college: Obama, 281; Romney, 257. On the popular vote, I'll take Obama 50.1%, Romney 49%. Reader(s)™ please feel free to share your predictions in the comments.

The FiveThirtyEight blog currently predicts that Obama will get 307.2 electoral votes and 50.6% of the vote. I'll take the under on the electoral college.

My state-by-state map:

Friday, November 2, 2012

On Probabilities, College Basketball, and Elections

As Mr. Gillette alludes to in his programming note, Nate Silver—the author of the fivethirtyeight blog—has become quite famous for his election prognostications. He's also become quite controversial.

The controversy stems from his model's assessment that Barack Obama has about an 80% chance of being reelected next Tuesday. Many pundits, particularly Republican ones, think this is crazy (or worse). They point to the fact that national polls have been tied or given Mitt Romney a narrow lead for weeks and say the race is as best a tossup.

Silver's defenders—and Silver himself—respond with some variation of, "the math is the math." They point to the state level polls, which Silver's model relies heavily on, and which currently show Obama with a small but clear and sustained lead in enough swing states to take the Electoral College with relative ease.

In a way, both sides of this argument are right. I think Silver's model's estimate of an 80% probability of Obama winning is highly plausible. But I also think it's fair to label that a "tossup."

To understand why, you need to understand that Silver comes from the world of sports. In particular, he's among the line of people applying "advanced stats" to baseball and other sports to yield stunning new insights: Bill James; sabermetrics; "Moneyball";; etc.

Let's talk about Ken Pomeroy. His superb website ( has for many years been applying advanced, tempo-free statistics to college basketball. His model allows him to create a "win probability" for every game of every season. This win probability largely tracks the Vegas betting odds. It's pretty amazing.

But here's the thing—it turns out that teams with an 80% win probability lose all the time. Not every time, of course, or even most of the time. But they lose with almost clockwork regularity. In fact, they lose about two out of every ten games.

Here's a painful example from last season. Wisconsin versus Marquette, at the Kohl Center, on December 3rd. Wisconsin came into the game 6-1, having utterly destroyed some inferior competition (e.g., an 85-31 victory over Kennesaw State) and having just lost, on the road, by 3 points to preseason #1 North Carolina. Marquette was undefeated but untested. There was cause for worry, as they had just narrowly scraped out a 59-57 win over lowly Norfolk State.

Considering their relative performances and Wisconsin's significant home court advantage, Pomeroy's computer gave Wisconsin an 83.2% chance of winning. Yet Marquette led almost the entire game, opened up a double-digit lead at half-time, and won going away, 61-54. In other words, the 83.2% favorite got whipped.

(I would link to the Pomeroy data, but it's behind a paywall. I encourage you to pay the $20 to get access to it.)

This is important because Nate Silver's model is fundamentally similar to Ken Pomeroy's model. Neither is predicting what is actually going to happen. Rather, both use historical data to spit out a probability that something will happen in the future. And if you follow Ken Pomeroy's model closely, you will know that an 80% favorite is not really a very "big" favorite. Because you will have experienced your favorite team losing as an 80% favorite many times. Indeed, last year Wisconsin lost twice to Iowa, games in which Pomeroy's computer said it had a 98.3 and 81.9 percent chance of winning. Given those percentages, Wisconsin had a 99.7% chance of winning at least one of those games. (This is hard to swallow, given that Wisconsin would have won a share of the Big Ten title if had managed to win just one of those games.)

There is a psychological difficulty in taking this concept of win probabilities and transferring it to elections. In sports, there are often dozens of games going on every single day—particularly in college basketball. So the "probability" aspect of Pomeroy's model makes some intuitive sense because you can watch it play out in front of your eyes over the dozens of results. But there is only one presidential election at a time. So it is not very intuitive to think of the result probabilistically. You have to start thinking about multiple universes, or something.

Anyhow, here's my conclusion based on my experience as a college basketball fan: Obama is the favorite, but he's a precarious and narrow one. His team better show up on game day.

Today's Lessons

Two lessons for our Reader(s)™ this morning.

(1) If you leave your car running in the middle of the road for 25 minutes, it might get stolen.

(2) When you are planning a robbery, it is important to get the details right. For example, if your plan involves lots of text messages with your accomplice, make sure you've got your accomplice's phone number right. Otherwise, you might accidentally send your guilt-proving texts to a 12-year old, who will then turn them over to the police, who will then arrest you.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Programming note

I'm going to be travelling a lot November 2-9 and will probably not post during that time.  Mr. Torvik will undoubtedly pick up the slack while I am gone.  By the time I get back we will know whether or not Nate Silver is still a genius.

Cook County Mails Voter Registration Information to Wrong Addresses

According to the Evanston Patch:
An unknown fraction of about 1,500 people were sent someone else's voter information due to a clerical error at the Cook County Clerk's office. The Clerk's office says the info is incomplete and harmless.
Well, I am just shocked.

He fled on a what?

When I spent a summer as an extern for one of the greatest judges of all time, I got to see a few bank robbers get sentenced.  I came away with the conclusion that trying to rob a bank is one of the stupidest things one could do.