Kavanaugh: a lawyer writes…

From a startling piece by Benjamin Wittes, editor of Lawfare, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and someone who knows Kavanaugh:

If I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I would do it both because of Ford’s testimony and because of Kavanaugh’s. For reasons I will describe, I find her account more believable than his. I would also do it because whatever the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, Thursday’s hearing left Kavanaugh nonviable as a justice.

A few days before the hearing, I detailed on this site the advice I would give to Kavanaugh if he asked me. He should, I argued, withdraw from consideration for elevation unless able to defend himself to a high degree of factual certainty without attacking Ford. He should remain a nominee, I argued, only if his defense would be sufficiently convincing that it would meet what we might term the “no asterisks” standard—that is, that it would plausibly convince even people who vociferously disagree with his jurisprudential views that he could serve credibly as a justice. His defense needed to make it possible for a reasonable pro-choice woman to find it a legitimate and acceptable prospect, if not an attractive or appealing one, that he might sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh, needless to say, did not take my advice. He stayed in, and he delivered on Thursday, by way of defense, a howl of rage. He went on the attack not against Ford—for that we can be grateful—but against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beyond. His opening statement was an unprecedentedly partisan outburst of emotion from a would-be justice. I do not begrudge him the emotion, even the anger. He has been through a kind of hell that would leave any person gasping for air. But I cannot condone the partisanship—which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial—from someone who asks for public faith as a dispassionate and impartial judicial actor. His performance was wholly inconsistent with the conduct we should expect from a member of the judiciary.

ps See also “What Kavanaugh’s drinking tells us about his credibility”.

Boring talks are indeed longer

Lovely piece of informal research reported in Nature:

I investigated this idea at a meeting where speakers were given 12-minute slots. I sat in on 50 talks for which I recorded the start and end time. I decided whether the talk was boring after 4 minutes, long before it became apparent whether the speaker would run overtime. The 34 interesting talks lasted, on average, a punctual 11 minutes and 42 seconds. The 16 boring ones dragged on for 13 minutes and 12 seconds (thereby wasting a statistically significant 1.5 min; t-test, t = 2.91, P = 0.007). For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on, the odds that their talk had been boring doubled. For the audience, this is exciting news. Boring talks that seem interminable actually do go on for longer.

That figures. As Alex Tabbarok commented,

the fundamental explanation is that a boring speaker doesn’t think about their audience. A speaker who cares puts herself in the audience’s shoes, thinks in advance about what is important, how much an audience can absorb in one sitting, where a graphic would be helpful and so forth. A good speaker plans and practices and thus ends up being interesting and ending on time.

Ireland’s need for a new narrative

Last Friday’s Irish Times carried a piece by Charlie Taylor based on an an interview I gave in which I argued that a country that had built its identity (and prosperity) largely on a policy of being nice to big multi-national companies might need a new narrative now that some of its more welcome guests turn out to be toxic.

Tories in La-la-land

The current Tory Party conference is a surreal event. Robert Shrimsley is there for the Financial Times and he finds the collected faithful unable to talk about anything other than… Brexit. “Yet”, he writes,

the need to start talking about something else is obvious. Last week’s Labour gathering caught their attention. Suddenly, they see Jeremy Corbyn’s party developing a socialist economic agenda with potential popular appeal, which terrifies them. So now the talk is of getting back to “real” issues, of tackling society’s perceived injustices, of proving capitalism works for voters.

With six months until Brexit this talk as an air of unreality, as if the stewardess suddenly tasked with landing a plane because the flight crew have all coppapsed switches to discussing the dinner plans for the next night.


Now with added Blockchain, er… database

I get dozens of emails a week from PR firms breathlessly announcing the latest addition of “blockchain technology” to the toolsets of their clients. Most of these puffs are idiotic, but every so often they involve a large and ostensibly serious company.

Like Walmart. Today I find this report in the New York Times:

When dozens of people across the country got sick from eating contaminated romaine lettuce this spring, Walmart did what many grocers would do: It cleared every shred off its shelves, just to be safe.

Walmart says it now has a better system for pinpointing which batches of leafy green vegetables might be contaminated. After a two-year pilot project, the retailer announced on Monday that it would be using a blockchain, the type of database technology behind Bitcoin, to keep track of every bag of spinach and head of lettuce.

Impressive, eh? By this time next year, more than 100 farms that supply Walmart with leafy green vegetables will be required to input detailed information about their food into a blockchain. But… said blockchain will be run and — one presumes — hosted on IBM servers. Since the essence of a blockchain is that it’s a public ledger (so that control and oversight is decentralised) one wonders how a blockchain run on IBM servers is anything other than a fancy ol’ database?

LATER: From the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), when asked (at the Tory Conference) how the government planned to avoid having a hard border in Northern Ireland, replied: “There is technology becoming available (…) I don’t claim to be an expert on it but the most obvious technology is blockchain.”