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October 2017


Most Popular Tags

  • The scale of the changes impending for Bloor and Dundas is, literally, immense. blogTO reports.

  • Alas, the venerable Green Room hidden behind Bloor and Brunswick is set to leave its abode. blogTO reports.

  • I love this proposal at Spacing by Michael McClelland for an archeology park in storied downtown Toronto.

  • I agree with Simon Bredin at Torontoist that it would be a shame for Torontonians to losing public access to the Hearn Generating Station.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 02:58 pm
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[personal profile] rfmcdonald

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting exoplanet transits could start a galactic communications network.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog looks at the connections between eating and identity.

  • The Frailest Thing's Michael Sacasas looks at the need for a critical study of the relationship between technology and democracy.

  • Language Hat notes how nationalism split Hindustani into separate Hindi and Urdu languages.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects on the grim outlook in Somalia after the terrible recent Mogadishu bombing.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen thinks Trump's decertification of the Iran deal is a bad idea.

  • The Map Room Blog links to an article imagining a counter-mapping of the Amazon by indigenous peoples.

  • Neuroskeptic considers the possibility of Parkinson's being a prion disease, somewhat like mad cow disease.

  • The NYR Daily notes that a Brexit driven by a perceived need to take back control will not meet that need, at all.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw looks at the problem Sydney faces as it booms.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at the extent to which an independent Catalonia would be ravaged economically by a non-negotiated secession.

  • Peter Watts tells the sad story of an encounter between Toronto police and a homeless man he knows.

  • Window on Eurasia notes a Sakhalin bridge, like a Crimea bridge, may not come off because of Russian weakness.

Widowmaker brought herself in from the cold, one day, exchanging a list of Talon agents for sanctuary, and at first couldn't or wouldn't say why. Her first breakthrough in explaining herself came in a talk with Lena Oxton, who then helped her break through Angela Ziegler's insistence that Widowmaker was not really a person, and that Amélie Lacroix could yet be recovered. But despite that truth, sometimes, some of Amélie's last memories - mostly but not always tightly compartmentalised away - trouble the spider, and this is one of those times.

This is the sixth in a series of stories set in the It is Not Easy to Explain, She Said continuity, a timeline largely compliant with known canon as of July 2017 (pre-Doomfist/Masquerade), which is when I wrote and posted the first story. It is not part of the on overcoming the fear of spiders AU.

This story follows "It's not easy to explain, said Lena Oxton" in chronological sequence. [AO3 link]

"Do you remember what it was like?"

Lena held Widowmaker's hand, gently, as they sat together, otherwise alone, mid-afternoon, in the smaller canteen at Gibraltar. She drank tea, cream, two sugars. Her counterpart drank obscenely hot coffee, unsweetened, strong, and dark.

For the most part, Amélie's memories stayed safely in their place, out of Widowmaker's way, but there were a few, occasionally, at the border between her birth and the previous woman's death, that picked at her, at times. Dr. Ziegler suggested that was because of the emotions around them - emotions could, perhaps, last long enough, even if the thoughts themselves didn't, to become Widowmaker's emotions as well.

"A little," said the former Talon assassin, after some delay. "Not very much, thankfully. I do not think she was making new memories very well, by then. But there are some."

Lena shuddered a little. "I can't even imagine it."

Widowmaker shook her head. "For her, it was not even the fear of it happening. It was..." She pondered a moment. "It is not easy to explain."

"I can't imagine it would be."

"She would feel, and think, one way, one thing, and then, she would find herself thinking another way, a different thing, a thing like I would think, sometimes, but she would be thinking it, and not me. And sometimes it would be something neither of us would think, but something they very much wanted her to think. And she would believe what she thought, and what she felt, but she would know, she would remember, moments before, thinking very differently about the same thing."

"And she'd fight it," assumed Tracer, "and that would hurt."

"No - but yes? Both would feel like it was her. There was nothing for her to fight. But the difference in the two... that, she found horrifying."

Lena let out a long breathy hoo sound, and took another sip of her tea, before continuing. "So they were making her think... their thoughts, then."

"My thoughts, at least, at times." She leaned her elbows against the table. "Or, to be more correct, the kind of thoughts they wanted me to think. About... how lovely, how beautiful, how perfect it would be when they put her back, and she killed Gérard. And she would believe it, because she could already feel it." The assassin smiled. "As I do, when I kill."

Tracer shuddered. She knew, she knew that the assassin enjoyed her kills - that for a long time, it had been all she lived for. But making Amélie feel that, and Amélie knowing they made her feel that... "Was it you, then? When they did it?" she asked, hoping for an unlikely yes.

The blue assassin laughed, a sound that still made Lena's heart ring every time it happened, no matter the context. "No. I could hardly have imitated Amélie so well for so long. I'd've been discovered, almost immediately. No - it was still her." She took a sip of her coffee. It had cooled a bit, but remained hot enough for her tastes. "That's why it took her two weeks to strike."

"So in the end..." the teleporter said, voice distant in her own ears, "Amélie killed Gérard. And enjoyed it."

Widowmaker nodded. "In a way. They were never above to achieve everything they wanted with her, but they were able to recondition her enough to kill - at least, for a time. And so, she assassinated Gérard, but being torn between the grief and the guilt and the ecstasy..." She shook her head. "That all but shattered her. When she returned, as programmed, they took her apart completely. And built me."

"But you feel some of her... emotions, from then? Her conflict?"

"I do," she said, a tinge of sadness in her voice. She put down her cup. "It was the only death about which I felt conflicted, until Mondatta, and the fight with you."

Lena put a third sugar in her tea. She needed something sweet right then. "D'ya ever wonder," she said, as she refilled her cup from the teapot, "if they'd done a better job sealing her off, if you might not've started to, y'know, think on your own?"

"Internal conflict as the source of self-awareness? Dr. Ziegler has suggested that idea as well." She shrugged. "I do not know. But let's say it's true - in which case, Talon did me yet another favour. They..." she picked her cup back up, sipped at the coffee, and put it back down, "left me open, on accident, to you." And she smiled again, just a little, at the side of her mouth.

The Overwatch teleporter let out her breath, and her eyes softened just a bit, as she looked into those metallic eyes. "Aw, luv. That's..."

"May I kiss you?"

Lena blinked, putting down her tea. " care about..." She shook her head, just a little. "...things like that?"

"I don't know." The spider shrugged again, this time with something artificial in the nonchalance. "But I am finding I... may. At least, with you. Shall we find out?"

Lena wasn't sure what she expected. Would she be cold? Would she feel wrong, would she feel like some dead - and then no, she did not, she was not, she was none of those things, she was cool, yes, but not cold, cool like the first breezes of autumn, like the first hints of snow off the mountains, not chilling, but invigorating, and Lena returned the kiss, almost involuntarily, herself warm, no, hot, like summer sun, like the last day at a Spanish beach before the turning of the weather, and Widowmaker was just as surprised, finding herself melting just a little bit more, and she gasped, pulling away, panting, looking down at her coffee, thinking, How can she be so warm?, before looking back up at the one who had reached past her eyes of molten gold, and finding she had no words then at all.

"Blimey, luv..." managed Lena, after a moment. "You're... only the second woman ever to make me feel like that with a kiss."

"For me, you," breathed Widowmaker, eyes wide, "...are the first."

"I hope it don't make you feel like killin' someone," Lena half-laughed, half-serious, half-joking, a lot nervous and a little afraid, and if that made more than a whole, so be it. "Chiefly, me."

"Never." Widowmaker reached across the table, grabbing Lena's hands with both of her own. "Do you understand? Never. I could not."

She pulled Lena forward, close, quickly, knocking the teacup across the table, shattering it on the floor, and the smaller woman gasped, startled, but did not flee.

"I do not know why, and I do not know how, but..." The spider kissed the teleporter, again, the meeting short but intense, "...I have found someone I could never kill."

Hooooooo, thought a part of the teleporter, unexpected emotions swirling around her mind, throwing her into responding before she even knew she was doing it. This is not gonna be easy to explain, to... to anybody.

Mostly Links

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 08:44 am
muccamukk: Laura and Jubilee sitting together on a tree branch. Text: Sittin' in a tree. (Marvel: Sittin' in a Tree)
[personal profile] muccamukk
Bidding is open over at [community profile] fandomlovespuertorico.

[community profile] cap_ironman is accepting prompts for its holiday exchange community prompt pool. Read more here.

" Our home on native land". Searchable map of North America's First Nations territories and pre-colonial histories. "There are over 630 different First Nations in Canada (and many more in the USA) and I am not sure of the right process to map territories, languages, and treaties respectfully - and I'm not even sure if it is possible to do respectfully. I am not at all sure about the right way to go about this project, so I would very much appreciate your input." (From [personal profile] umadoshi)

Death of a Modern Wolf by J.B. MacKinnon for Hakai Magazine
Once feared, vilified, and exterminated, the wolves of Vancouver Island face an entirely different threat: our fascination, our presence, and our selfies.

This wolf essay is really worth a read. I've worked with similar problems here (and know many of the people interviewed for the article), and it really frustrating and sad. Fortunately, our local animal has so far come to a happier ending.

(On a related note, I'll post the quiz answers this afternoon.)
Back on the 21st of September, I posted a series of photos that I took just east of Ontario Place, in the area of the new Trillium Park. I had continued exploring west of Trillium Park, into Ontario Place, but I had never gotten around to posting my photos of Ontario Place in all of its mid-20th century modernist grandeur.

Back towards the city #toronto #ontarioplace #skyline #cntower #latergram

Hill #toronto #ontarioplace #hill

Looking towards Hanlan's #toronto #ontarioplace #torontoislands #hanlanspoint #lakeontario #latergram

Shore #toronto #ontarioplace #rock #beach #latergram

Towards the heart (1) #toronto #ontarioplace #architecture #latergram

Towards the heart (2) #toronto #ontarioplace #marina #architecture #latergram

Towards the heart (3) #toronto #ontarioplace #marina #architecture #latergram

Towards the heart (4) #toronto #ontarioplace #marina #architecture #latergram

Towards the heart (5) #toronto #ontarioplace #marina #architecture #latergram

On the pier (1) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #concrete #architecture #marina #latergram

On the pier (2) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #concrete #architecture #plane #marina #latergram

On the pier (3) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #concrete #architecture #plane #marina #lakeontario #torontoislands #hanlanspoint #latergram

On the pier (4) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #concrete #architecture #marina #latergram

On the pier (5) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #concrete #cntower #architecture #marina #latergram

On the pier (6) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #lakeontario #torontoislands #hanlanspoint #boats #latergram

On the pier (7) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #lakeontario #boats #latergram

On the pier (8) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #lakeontario #torontoharbour #skyline #cntower #latergram

On the pier (9) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #lakeontario #humberbay #skyline #evening #latergram

On the pier (10) #toronto #ontarioplace #pier #lakeontario #concrete #architecture #latergram

Anchors #toronto #ontarioplace #anchors #pier #concrete #latergram

There will be more photos tomorrow.

[PHOTO] Towards North Rustico beach, PEI

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 08:31 am
rfmcdonald: (photo)
[personal profile] rfmcdonald
The approach to North Rustico Beach, facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence, could not be better designed.

Towards North Rustico beach (1) #pei #princeedwardisland #northrustico #rustico #beach #latergram

Towards North Rustico beach (2) #pei #princeedwardisland #northrustico #rustico #beach #gulfofstlawrence #peinationalpark #latergram

Towards North Rustico beach (3) #pei #princeedwardisland #northrustico #rustico #beach #gulfofstlawrence #peinationalpark #latergram


Tuesday, 17 October 2017 08:21 am
missangelique999: (bookish)
[personal profile] missangelique999
I believe there is something else

entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,
so we fall in love.

It could also be true that what we use
everyday to open cans was something
much nobler, that we’ll never recognize.

I believe the woman sleeping beside me
doesn’t care about what’s going on
outside, and her body is warm
with trust
which is a great beginning.

-matthew rohrer

Interesting Links for 17-10-2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 12:00 pm
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[personal profile] andrewducker

The Supreme Court Is Allergic To Math

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 10:00 am
[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Oliver Roeder

The Supreme Court does not compute. Or at least some of its members would rather not. The justices, the most powerful jurists in the land, seem to have a reluctance — even an allergy — to taking math and statistics seriously.

For decades, the court has struggled with quantitative evidence of all kinds in a wide variety of cases. Sometimes justices ignore this evidence. Sometimes they misinterpret it. And sometimes they cast it aside in order to hold on to more traditional legal arguments. (And, yes, sometimes they also listen to the numbers.) Yet the world itself is becoming more computationally driven, and some of those computations will need to be adjudicated before long. Some major artificial intelligence case will likely come across the court’s desk in the next decade, for example. By voicing an unwillingness to engage with data-driven empiricism, justices — and thus the court — are at risk of making decisions without fully grappling with the evidence.

This problem was on full display earlier this month, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case that will determine the future of partisan gerrymandering — and the contours of American democracy along with it. As my colleague Galen Druke has reported, the case hinges on math: Is there a way to measure a map’s partisan bias and to create a standard for when a gerrymandered map infringes on voters’ rights?

The metric at the heart of the Wisconsin case is called the efficiency gap. To calculate it, you take the difference between each party’s “wasted” votes — votes for losing candidates and votes for winning candidates beyond what the candidate needed to win — and divide that by the total number of votes cast. It’s mathematical, yes, but quite simple, and aims to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering.

Four of the eight justices who regularly speak during oral arguments1 voiced anxiety about using calculations to answer questions about bias and partisanship. Some said the math was unwieldy, complicated, and newfangled. One justice called it “baloney” and argued that the difficulty the public would have in understanding the test would ultimately erode the legitimacy of the court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch balked at the multifaceted empirical approach that the Democratic team bringing the suit is proposing be used to calculate when partisan gerrymandering has gone too far, comparing the metric to a secret recipe: “It reminds me a little bit of my steak rub. I like some turmeric, I like a few other little ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you how much of each. And so what’s this court supposed to do? A pinch of this, a pinch of that?”

Justice Stephen Breyer said, “I think the hard issue in this case is are there standards manageable by a court, not by some group of social science political ex … you know, computer experts? I understand that, and I am quite sympathetic to that.”

“What Roberts is revealing is a professional pathology of legal education.”

And Chief Justice John Roberts, most of all, dismissed the modern attempts to quantify partisan gerrymandering: “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe it as sociological gobbledygook.” This was tough talk — justices had only uttered the g-word a few times before in the court’s 230-year history.2 Keep in mind that Roberts is a man with two degrees from Harvard and that this case isn’t really about sociology. (Although he did earn a rebuke from the American Sociological Association for his comments.) Roberts later added, “Predicting on the basis of the statistics that are before us has been a very hazardous enterprise.” FiveThirtyEight will apparently not be arguing any cases before the Supreme Court anytime soon.

This allergy to statistics and quantitative social science — or at least to their legal application — seems to present a perverse incentive to would-be gerrymanderers: The more complicated your process is, and therefore the more complicated the math would need to be to identify the process as unconstitutional, the less likely the court will be to find it unconstitutional.

But this trouble with math isn’t limited to this session’s blockbuster case. Just this term, the justices will again encounter data again when they hear a case about the warrantless seizure of cell phone records. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Data & Society Research Institute, and empirical scholars of the Fourth Amendment, among others, have filed briefs in the case.

“This is a real problem,” Sanford Levinson, a professor of law and government at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “Because more and more law requires genuine familiarity with the empirical world and, frankly, classical legal analysis isn’t a particularly good way of finding out how the empirical world operates.” But top-level law schools like Harvard — all nine current justices attended Harvard or Yale — emphasize exactly those traditional, classical legal skills, Levinson said.

In 1897, before he had taken his seat on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a famous speech at Boston University, advocating for empiricism over traditionalism: “For the rational study of the law … the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics. It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” If we hadn’t made much progress in the 500 years between Henry IV and Holmes, neither have we made much progress in the 120 years between Holmes and today. “What Roberts is revealing is a professional pathology of legal education,” Levinson said. “John Roberts is very, very smart. But he has really a strong anti-intellectual streak in him.”

I reached Eric McGhee, a political scientist and research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who helped develop the central gerrymandering measure, a couple days after the oral argument. He wasn’t surprised that some justices were hesitant, given the large amount of analysis involved in the case, including his metric. But he did agee that the court’s numbers allergy would crop up again. “There’s a lot of the world that you can only understand through that kind of analysis,” he said. “It’s not like the fact that a complicated analysis is necessary tells you that it’s not actually happening.”

During the Gill v. Whitford oral argument, the math-skeptical justices groped for an out — a simpler legal alternative that could save them from having to fully embrace the statistical standards in their decisionmaking. “When I read all that social science stuff and the computer stuff, I said, ‘Is there a way of reducing it to something that’s manageable?’” said Justice Breyer, who is nevertheless expected to vote with the court’s liberal bloc.

It’s easy to imagine a situation where the answer for this and many other cases is, simply, “No.” The world is a complicated place.

Documentation of the court’s math problem fills pages in academic journals. “It’s one thing for the court to consider quantitative evidence and dismiss it based on its merits” — which could still happen here, as Republicans involved in the Wisconsin case have criticized the efficiency gap method — “but we see a troubling pattern whereby evidence is dismissed based on sweeping statements, gut reactions and logical fallacies,” Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, told me.

One stark example: a 1986 death penalty case called McCleskey v. Kemp. Warren McCleskey, a black man, was convicted of murdering a white police officer and was sentenced to death by the state of Georgia. In appealing his death sentence, McCleskey cited sophisticated statistical research, performed by two law professors and a statistician, that found that a defendant in Georgia was more than four times as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim in a capital case was white compared to if the victim was black. McCleskey argued that that discrepancy violated his 14th Amendment right to equal protection. In his majority opinion, Justice Lewis Powell wrote, “Statistics, at most, may show only a likelihood that a particular factor entered into some decisions.” McCleskey lost the case. It’s been cited as one of the worst decisions since World War II and has been called “the Dred Scott decision of our time.”

Maybe this allergy to statistical evidence is really a smoke screen — a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality.

Another instance of judicial innumeracy: the Supreme Court’s decision on a Fourth Amendment case about federal searches and seizures called Elkins v. United States in 1960. In his majority opinion, Justice Potter Stewart discussed how no data existed showing that people in states that had stricter rules regarding the admission of evidence obtained in an unlawful search were less likely to be subjected to these searches. He wrote, “Since, as a practical matter, it is never easy to prove a negative, it is hardly likely that conclusive factual data could ever be assembled.”

This, however, is silly. It conflates two meanings of the word “negative.” Philosophically, sure, it’s difficult to prove that something does not exist: No matter how prevalent gray elephants are, their numbers alone can’t prove the nonexistence of polka-dotted elephants. Arithmetically, though, scientists, social and otherwise, demonstrate negatives — as in a decrease, or a difference in rate — all the time. There’s nothing special about these kinds of negatives. Some drug tends to lower blood pressure. The average lottery player will lose money. A certain voting requirement depresses turnout.

Enos and his coauthors call this the “negative effect fallacy,” a term they coined in a paper published in September. It’s just one example, they wrote, of an empirical misunderstanding that has proliferated like a tsunami through decades of judges’ thinking, affecting cases concerning “free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance.”

Another example of this fallacy, they wrote, came fifty years later in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, a 2011 campaign finance case. The topic was Arizona’s public campaign financing system, specifically a provision that provided matching funds to publicly financed candidates. The question was whether this system impinged on the free speech of the privately funded candidates. A group of social scientists, including Enos, found that private donations weren’t following the kind of patterns they’d expect to see if the public funding rule were affecting how donors behaved. The Supreme Court didn’t care and ultimately struck down the provision.

In his majority opinion, John Roberts echoed Stewart and repeated the fallacy, writing that “it is never easy to prove a negative.”

So what can be done?

McGhee, who helped develop the efficiency gap measure, wondered if the court should hire a trusted staff of social scientists to help the justices parse empirical arguments. Levinson, the Texas professor, felt that the problem was a lack of rigorous empirical training at most elite law schools, so the long-term solution would be a change in curriculum. Enos and his coauthors proposed “that courts alter their norms and standards regarding the consideration of statistical evidence”; judges are free to ignore statistical evidence, so perhaps nothing will change unless they take this category of evidence more seriously.

But maybe this allergy to statistical evidence is really a smoke screen — a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality.

“I don’t put much stock in the claim that the Supreme Court is afraid of adjudicating partisan gerrymanders because it’s afraid of math,” Daniel Hemel, who teaches law at the University of Chicago, told me. “[Roberts] is very smart and so are the judges who would be adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims — I’m sure he and they could wrap their minds around the math. The ‘gobbledygook’ argument seems to be masking whatever his real objection might be.”

But if the chief justice hides his true objections behind a feigned inability to grok the math, well, that’s a problem math can’t solve.

UpWords - Max Lucado: [From] 16 October 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 04:40 am
sparowe: (Casting Crowns)
[personal profile] sparowe

The Greatest of Virtues

Today's MP3

Two essential words deserve special attention– Thank you!

Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies link it with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others; less envious, less materialistic and less self-centered.

Gratitude improves self-esteem and enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity. If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder that God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.

The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be okay.” The grateful heart says, “Oh look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”

Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude. One heartfelt thank-you will suck oxygen out of worry’s world. So say it often!

Read more Anxious for Nothing

C-370, An Act to continue VIA Rail Canada Inc. under the name VIA Rail Canada, to amend the Canada Transportation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Deleted scenes from iZombie

Sunday, 22 October 2017 01:35 am
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly
Liv talking to her mother and brother. JFC, we should've seen some of these in season 2. They should not have been deleted! But maybe we'll get some family closure, finally, next season, now that zombies are officially a known quantity.

What Happened To DeMarco Murray?

Monday, 16 October 2017 10:15 pm
[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Tony Chow and Neil Paine

The Tennessee Titans play the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football this week. One of the key questions in the game is whether the good version of DeMarco Murray will show up. Play above to see how much worse Murray has gotten over the last few years.

Posted by FiveThirtyEight


Former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon declared “war” on the GOP establishment at the conservative Values Voter Summit on Saturday. Bannon is reportedly planning to back a slate of primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators next year.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team considers which senators might be most at risk from a primary challenger and how Bannon’s influence could affect the 2018 midterms overall. The crew also discusses the political impact of President Trump’s decision to halt subsidies that help low-income people pay for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

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.

Why The Spurs May Have A Down Year

Monday, 16 October 2017 07:04 pm
[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Chris Herring

The 1997-98 NBA season had little in common with today’s league. There were teams in Vancouver and Seattle; the Warriors were lousy and won only 19 games; and the Utah Jazz shared the NBA’s best record while hitting just 3 threes per game. But the one thing that was the same then and has never changed: The Spurs won at least 50 games.

San Antonio’s regular-season success has been so consistent, we’ve all largely come to assume it over time. The only year the Spurs didn’t win at least 50 games in the past 20 seasons was 1998-99, when there were only 50 games total because of a lockout: San Antonio won 37 games and the NBA title. And given the club’s relative roster stability this summer after last year’s 61-win campaign — one in which a legitimate superstar was born — it would seem prudent to expect another such year from the team in silver and black.

But if there’s ever been a season to wonder whether the Spurs are due for a real regression toward normalcy, this may be the one.

Player health could loom larger than usual this year for San Antonio. The team will begin the regular season without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who was held out of the preseason and now will miss at least the season opener because of a right-quad injury sustained last season. A lack of athleticism on both ends of the floor, particularly if Leonard is forced to miss significant time, figures to stand out more this season than it did last year after a couple of free-agent defections.

And it’s unclear how much longer the Spurs can keep finding moderate success with players who, at least in some ways, seem to go against the grain of the analytics movement that the club has been at the forefront of.

Heading into the start of this season, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions3 peg the Spurs at exactly 50 wins — tied for fourth with Minnesota, an up-and-coming team that may have its own growing pains, and just one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who are estimated to finish No. 6 out West. Only the Atlanta Hawks (projected to have 17 fewer wins) and Chicago Bulls (-14) — teams that started the rebuilding process this summer — are projected to have steeper drop-offs than San Antonio’s 11-game decrease. And if anything goes wrong for them, the Spurs could easily miss that 50-win mark.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never been shy about resting his best players. But being down two starters to begin a season would be navigating uncharted territory. (No public timeline for a return has been set for Leonard.) As such, longtime Spur Manu Ginobili acknowledged that San Antonio might be a bit slower out of the gate this season while teammates try to develop a rhythm without two key players. “We are not going to start full-throttle,” he said. “We’re not going to start as ready to compete as in previous years. But we’ll figure it out.”

The Spurs will have to learn how to create offense without two or three of their most aggressive scorers from last season. Parker, Leonard and Jonathon Simmons, who’s since joined the Orlando Magic, accounted for a whopping 68 percent of the team’s drives to the basket on a per-game basis.4 If both Parker and Leonard are simultaneously forced to miss considerable action, it would put a strain on their teammates, who, despite boasting some of the best 3-point shooting in the league, aren’t necessarily the best shot creators.

There’s also the question of whether some of San Antonio’s players are meant to play specific roles — ones that only work with teammates who accentuate their best attributes. Patty Mills, who had largely perfected his gig off the bench, is the best example here. Mills is a dangerous spot-up shooter off the bench, but he hasn’t proven capable of truly running an offense himself for more than a minute or two at a time.

Part of what sets Mills apart is the frenetic pace at which he plays. He ranked among the NBA’s top-five players in terms of how fast he moves around the court in each of the past four seasons. Yet the energy it takes to play as fast as Mills does — he basically plays a high-speed version of the playground game Tag in order to get open shots — can only be provided in spurts.

Because of how deep the Spurs have historically been, spurts were generally all they needed from Mills. But with Parker out another month or two, that will change this season.

To be totally clear: None of this is to suggest that the Spurs won’t be a good team this year. They just may not be Spurs good. If there’s a team that can overcome these sorts of flaws, it’s one coached by Popovich, who regularly motivates his teams not only to play above their heads but also to adapt from year to year to the ever-changing NBA. (FiveThirtyEight’s preseason forecast had the Spurs winning 52 games last season; they blew that out of the water, winning 61 games.)

The vast majority of their league-best defense is still intact. And the team’s basketball IQ — for example, its ability to know exactly who to leave open, evidenced by its league-best defense against corner threes — is uncanny, sometimes making up for what the Spurs lack in athleticism. While the Spurs didn’t land Chris Paul this summer, convincing Rudy Gay to sign on was a coup — he’s someone who can help fill in for Leonard if need be and reasonably match up as a small-ball power forward against teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers.

The Gay signing fit a recent trend for the Spurs, one that both explains how they’ve remained contenders and illustrates what could end up making them mortal again at some point: San Antonio has developed a knack for picking up players who aren’t necessarily a perfect analytical fit based on where the league is headed.

LaMarcus Aldridge, for instance, joined the Spurs in 2015, right after he’d fired up a league-high 11.1 shots per game from midrange — a look today that’s widely considered to be the most inefficient shot on the floor. Upon leaving the Trail Blazers, he said he didn’t want to play center exclusively, even as scores of power forwards have made that shift in light of the small-ball movement. Yet the Spurs got considerable mileage out of him despite his inefficiencies and did so by playing him often at the center position. A year later, they added Pau Gasol, who also seemed a dubious fit because of his lack of defensive mobility. But San Antonio, which deserves credit for allowing Gasol to let it fly from 3-point range, also managed to withstand his defensive shortcomings as the team logged the league’s best defense last season. (The Spurs surprisingly gave the 37-year-old Gasol a new three-year, $48 million contract this past summer.)

Gay fits better than either Gasol or Aldridge did, both in terms of his contract and his playing style. But it’s also not clear yet whether he’ll be himself, given that he’s coming off an Achilles tear. He played well the past few years but did so for losing teams out in Sacramento. Before that, the analytics friendly Grizzlies and Raptors both dealt him away and then immediately saw their on-court product improve.

The Gay signing is the type of head-scratcher that the Spurs have proved their doubters wrong about in the past. But at some point, going against the grain will stop working for the Spurs. And between those gambles and the injuries to Leonard and Parker, there may finally be enough loose strings to bring San Antonio’s amazing 20-year run to an end. After all, no team — not even the Spurs themselves — can be Spurs-level good forever.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Posted by Walt Hickey and Morgan Jerkins

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

My roommate thinks it’s hilarious to steal test tubes from our university’s chemistry lab and fill them with his bodily fluids. He keeps the test tubes in our fridge. He says he’s saving them to prank someone, but I can’t say anything about how much I hate it because the person he pranks will then be me. I can’t touch them to throw them away because they’re disgusting. So far I just nervously laugh and change the subject whenever he brings them up. Don’t know what to do, and I’m running out of options. — From Jacob

Walt: Buckle up, readers.

Morgan: Oh, my God. Report him. Get a mediator immediately. Jacob needs to go down to the university housing offices as soon as he can.

Walt: I’m still in shock after reading this one.

Morgan: People are terrible.

Walt: I can think of only three or four acceptable reasons to have bodily fluids in the freezer, and “pranking people” isn’t any of them.

Morgan: Three?!

Walt: Or four!

Morgan: Don’t even tell me. I just ate breakfast.

Walt: Anyway, barring the possibility that the roommate is lying and the fluids are actually for an embarrassing medical condition, they gotta go. You think the best strategy is to call the housing people? What if they’re in off-campus housing?

Morgan: If they are off-campus, have a sit-down with him and tell him about his problem with the test tubes. But if that anxiety over whether he’s going to get pranked doesn’t go away, start looking for new places. Don’t tell the roommate.

Walt: I think this may be a situation where becoming a fan of fresh, never-frozen foods and continuing to nervously laugh and change the subject is not the worst option!

What if he just threw all the test tubes out? (Bear with me here.) What is the worst thing that could happen?

Morgan: Are you trolling?

Walt: I’m just considering our options here.

When I talked about this internally with a few colleagues, esteemed science reporter Christie Aschwanden suggested getting a test tube of his own and filling it with something yellow and drinkable and then just walking into the room and drinking it. That could make it real enough to end the conversation.

Morgan: Oh, no, absolutely not.

Walt: This guy thinks he’s such a prankster.

Morgan: No. No. No! We are talking about bodily fluids here. It’s too much of a risk! Just talk to the roommate!

Walt: But, realistically, if I think what’s happening is happening, the guy is just keeping a container of clean urine in the freezer so he can pass a drug test after graduation. Which falls under “Walter’s Four Potentially Acceptable Reasons To Keep Bodily Fluids In An Appliance.”

Really, it’s the “not asking first” that is getting to me here.

Morgan: I think this roommate is just weird as hell. Let’s not try to wring reason out of all this. Jacob hasn’t told us if this roommate smokes weed or shoots any type of drug, so it may not even be about a drug test.

Walt: In which case “just throwing them out” violates roommate protocol but not as much as keeping urine in the freezer. So Jacob should just do that if talks break down.

Morgan: But if he does that, I’m worried that roommate might piss in Jacob’s orange juice or something.

Walt: To rip off an old proverb, “The best time to start staying on a friend’s couch is three weeks ago. The second best time is now.”

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran Aug. 9-12 and received 1,009 responses. We presented respondents with Jacob’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Call a mediator if you can.


  2. Sit down and have a talk with this person.


  3. Just throw them out.


  4. Attempt to counter-prank your roommate.


  5. None of the above is good advice.


Morgan: Oh, God. Now I’m nauseous.

Walt: This is not the decisive response in favor of alerting the authorities we were hoping for.

Morgan: Can you REALLY talk to a person like that?

Walt: How negotiable is — at best — urine in the freezer? Can this wild card be reasoned with? I still contend, as do a quarter of respondents, that disposing of the samples is the most expedient route out of this jam.

Morgan: I really think a mediator needs to get involved here. I can’t believe people didn’t think that the most extreme option is justifiable here.

Walt: It seems like a solid majority is in favor of talking regardless of the age; young people were more amenable to phoning in backup:

18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
Call a mediator 11% 8% 5% 5%
Have a talk with this person 46 50 57 56
Throw out the fluids 26 27 23 23
Counter-prank your roommate 8 3 1 1
None of the above is good advice 9 11 14 16

Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

Morgan: Psh. I am judging these people so hard right now.

Walt: Eight percent of the future leaders of America will roll the dice on counter-pranking the madman. Risky as heck, but, hey, fortune favors the brave.

More of our advice:

These Dodgers May Be Different

Monday, 16 October 2017 03:32 pm
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Posted by Neil Paine

Between 2013 and 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers won 369 regular-season ballgames (second-most in baseball) and played the second-most playoff games (30) of any MLB team. They advanced to the National League Championship Series twice, each time coming within a couple of wins of securing the franchise’s first pennant since 1988. But L.A. also had a knack for throwing away winnable games, losses that crippled any chance of postseason success. Whether they were falling short despite starting one of the best pitchers in the game or otherwise finding ways to lose, the Dodgers would show clear championship potential and then promptly bungle it.

This year, however, Los Angeles has turned that narrative on its head. The Dodgers had MLB’s best regular-season record, and once again they’ve found themselves against teams with on-paper upset potential in the form of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. They’ve even found themselves trailing early on multiple occasions. And yet, L.A. has been the one storming back and winning at the expense of another team’s misery.

Maybe these Dodgers really are different after all.

During that 2013-16 period, the Dodgers lost nine playoff games during which they had at least a 60 percent chance of winning at some point, according to The Baseball Gauge — including five in which they had at least a 75 percent win probability. On the other side of the ledger, they won only six games in which they had at least a 60 percent chance of losing, and three with at least a 75 percent chance of losing. In other words, L.A. excelled at botching games from ahead and struggled to win from behind.

The Dodgers don’t choke anymore

Postseason wins and losses by the Los Angeles Dodgers that featured big comebacks or collapses, 2013-17

Dodger comebacks (wins) …
2017 NLCS Cubs 2 64%
2017 NLCS Cubs 1 75
2017 NLDS Diamondbacks 2 72
2016 NLDS Nationals 5 77
2016 NLDS Nationals 4 65
2015 NLDS Mets 2 79
2013 NLCS Cardinals 5 68
2013 NLDS Braves 4 78
2013 NLDS Braves 3 73
… and Dodger collapses (losses)
2016 NLDS Nationals 3 67%
2016 NLDS Nationals 2 79
2015 NLDS Mets 5 75
2015 NLDS Mets 3 84
2015 NLDS Mets 1 62
2014 NLDS Cardinals 4 84
2014 NLDS Cardinals 1 98
2013 NLCS Cardinals 1 74
2013 NLDS Braves 2 65

A big comeback or collapse is defined as games where the eventual loser had at least a 60% chance of winning at any point during the game.

Source: The Baseball Gauge

This postseason, however, the Dodgers have three comebacks from win probabilities below 40 percent, including two against the Cubs to start the NLCS. And they didn’t let up with huge leads against the D-Backs in the Division Series — the kinds of games they ought to win but haven’t always in the past.

Facing the defending champs, the Dodgers have been the ones performing heroics at the plate — in Game 2, Justin Turner cranked L.A.’s first postseason walkoff home run since Kirk Gibson’s iconic blast 29 years earlier (to the day). And the Cubs have made the head-scratching managerial decisions (Joe Maddon brought past-his-prime starter John Lackey into the ninth inning instead of closer Wade Davis). The Dodgers won even though Clayton Kershaw didn’t have his best stuff, a situation that has doomed them in playoffs past. They look every bit the part of the dominating club we saw at midseason, when they were clear World Series favorites.

There’s still time for Chicago to mount a comeback of its own, of course. The Cubs were down 2-1 to the Dodgers last year, with only about a 30 percent chance of winning the series; right now, that probability is about 20 percent. But it would require one of the biggest LCS comebacks of the past couple decades, against a Dodgers team that might finally have all the pieces in place to escape its history of playoff disappointment.

Beside The Points For Monday, Oct. 16, 2017

Monday, 16 October 2017 02:25 pm
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Posted by Walt Hickey

Things That Caught My Eye

Mr. Kaepernick Goes To Washington

On Sunday, representatives of Colin Kaepernick — the free agent NFL quarterback best known for launching a league-wide protest over police mistreatment of African-Americans and who has not been signed to a roster — filed a complaint alleging collusion between teams essentially blackballing him from the league. While this is interesting in and of itself, there’s a bigger component of the filing that affects the whole operation: Under the collective bargaining agreement, the entire CBA can be terminated if there’s clear and convincing evidence of one incident of collusion involving one player. Whether there’s actual evidence is to be determined, but the Kaepernick case now has immense ramifications and could potentially give players lots of leverage over NFL owners in a hypothetical negotiation resulting from the threat of CBA termination. [NBC Sports, ESPN, Mike Freeman]

Cricket picks up in the U.S.

Increased immigration from the Indian subcontinent has primed the U.S. Cricket for growth. For instance, in the Washington Cricket League there are 42 teams, with another 18 competing in the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board. The sport is huge around the world, and according to the International Cricket Council there are 200,000 U.S. players on 6,000 teams in 450 leagues. I have failed at literally every other sport; maybe in cricket I will finally find my true calling. [BBC]

40-year-old Bostonian achieves personal milestone in New Jersey swamp

Congratulations to Mr. Tom Brady of New England who set a record yesterday when playing in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. After defeating the New York Jets, he beat two retirees — a Mr. Brett Favre and one Mr. Peyton Manning — in cumulative number of regular season wins in the NFL, with 187 across his career. Congratulations. [ESPN]

Best football team in New York

Currently 5-0, the Columbia Lions are the winningest football team in New York City, beating out all the other college teams, the local professional football team, and also the Giants. This is legitimately insane: Columbia, which won again Saturday, hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, and since 1982 have finished .500 or better on only three occasions. [FiveThirtyEight]

College football flips the table

This was a ridiculous weekend in college football. Clemson lost to Syracuse, dropping its chances of making the playoff from 55 percent to 29 percent according to our playoff projections. Washington lost to Arizona State, dropping its chances of making the playoff from 43 percent to 23 percent. Their losses appears to be gains for Ohio State and Wisconsin. [FiveThirtyEight, ESPN]

Vegas, you’re full of it

Right now Las Vegas bookmakers have the Golden State Warriors with around a 47 percent chance of repeating as NBA champions. Our CarmELO system has them closer to a 38 percent shot of repeating. Feel free to use this information of the house edge to fleece your friends at your own leisure. [FiveThirtyEight]

Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!

Big Number

-29.4 points

Aaron Rodgers was injured yesterday and may be out for the rest of the season. This is a massive deal for the Green Bay Packers. With Rodgers starting for all the remaining games, there was a 79.6 percent chance Green Bay made the playoffs and a 53 percent chance they win the division. Without him, those chances drop to 50.2 percent and 25.1 percent, a massive swing of -29.4 points to make the playoffs. [Brian Burke, ESPN]

Leaks from Slack: Gnats


Washington easily the most disappointing franchise in Wild Card era history according to Elo


[Screenshot of a color coded spreadsheet mentioning:

  • 0.00: Washington actual league championship series appearances in wild card era
  • 2.03: Washington expected league championship series appearances in wild card era
  • -2.03: The difference between those numbers
  • {rows and rows of higher numbers}: That difference but for all the other teams who play baseball.

…and other information]


obviously a huge shortfall between expected LCS appearances and actual


Oh, and don’t forget
Women in FIFA18 story mode!

Significant Digits For Monday, Oct. 16, 2017

Monday, 16 October 2017 12:45 pm
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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

19 percent

Percentage of apparel sales that were made online in 2016, up 11 percent in five years. Amazon is poised to enter the sportswear business, according to sources in the industry, news that initially depressed the stock prices of some companies already in the athletic apparel business. [Bloomberg]

31 years old

Austria is poised to have the youngest leader in Europe following elections there Sunday. Conservative Sebastian Kurz, 31, is expected to attempt to form a coalition with a far-right populist party. Kurz’s People’s Party won 31.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, with his potential ally, Freedom Party, receiving 27.4 percent. [The Los Angeles Times]

85 percent

As of Sunday, 85 percent of Puerto Rico still doesn’t have electricity. The governor hopes to have power at 95 percent by December 15. [CNN]

6,663 inmates

Over about one month, 6,663 inmates in Texas contributed a cumulative $53,863 towards Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, which is serious charity from the group, many of whom typically have less than $5 in their commissary accounts. [The New York Times]

360,000 claims

Approximate number of automobile and truck damage claims in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That tally is roughly equivalent to one-quarter of the new vehicles sold in the month of August in the United States. [Bloomberg]

$1.1 million

The campaign fund of President Trump reported it’s paid over $1 million in legal bills over the past three months, and the Republican National Committee has joined the campaign in contributing to the legal fees of Trump family members. The Trump campaign paid $802,185 to Jones Day, $25,885 to the Trump Organization, $237,924 to Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas and $30,000 to Williams & Jensen. [POLITICO]

Check out Besides the Points, my new sports newsletter.

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

  • The Muse song "Neutron Star Collision" went through my head when I heard the news.

  • This Guardian article went into great detail about th
  • You can tell that Bad Astronomer Phil Plait really enjoyed writing about the neutron star collision in NGC 4993.

  • D-Brief notes that Einstein doubted the existence of gravitational waves, ever mind their detectability, and looks at the way GW170817 helped nail down the Hubble constant, measuring the rate the universe expands.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel provides a nice overview of GW170817.

  • Sophia Chen's Wired article takes an interesting look at the culture of gravitational wave astronomy, traditionally secretive for fear of criticism.

(no subject)

Monday, 16 October 2017 09:52 pm
nattalie: (Default)
[personal profile] nattalie
 Last night I stayed awake until 3:30 a.m. playing Magic cards, anyways I got enough sleep because today we didn't work.
It was a quiet day, I just did 1:20 hour workout, laundry, cook, shower and my nails. 
I'm going to do bike now while I play a match of magic cards or maybe while I read something.

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