Commentary Magazine


Topic: Derek Jeter

Infallible Election Prognosticators Tend to Have Brief Careers

Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

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Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

As Dylan Byers notes today in Politico, Silver is fast on his way to being a one-term celebrity. Having become the top liberal swami by predicting the 2008 election, it’s fair to ask whether as many people will pay attention to him if it turns out the forecast model he has been using all year to reassure worried Democrats that President Obama had to win was fatally flawed. But the possibility that Silver could be wrong or had let his own bias affect his judgment is sending his liberal fan base over the edge, as this post by fellow Timesman Paul Krugman indicates.

Let me stipulate that some of the attacks on Silver’s attempts to establish what the percentages of an Obama win are a little unfair. His model, like similar attempts to weigh the percentages in baseball games, is a matter of probability not certainty. A game-tying home run in the ninth inning can make previous projections that the team with the lead had a 95 percent chance of winning look silly, even if they were reasonable at the time. But the problem with his forecast model is not just that it’s not infallible, but that it is probably a little harder to being purely objective about political analysis than baseball. There are just too many moving parts and political judgments about which polls to believe to make his system work as well as his PECOTA model for projecting what a player will do in the upcoming baseball season–and even that is often wrong.

Even when I think Silver’s conclusions are incorrect, I learn something from his analyses. But those who point out that his Times on-line column that has consistently showed the president with a 75 percent chance of winning the election appears absurd in a race that is a tossup or heading in Mitt Romney’s direction are not off base.

Silver survived his whopper of a mistake in underestimating Derek Jeter. He’s not likely to fare as well if he has been calling the presidential election wrong all year.

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More on Yoo and Bybee

As I and others noted over the weekend, the final report by the Justice Department on John Yoo and Jay Bybee leaves one wondering how this kangaroo proceeding lasted as long as it did. How did the Office of Professional Responsibility get so far offtrack, and why was the advice of respected attorneys, including that of outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey, not heeded well over a year ago? Incompetence collided with bias, it seems.

As to the incompetence, Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain:

We don’t mean to be insulting, but the plain fact is that OPR is not, and has never been, equipped to second-guess OLC. The office’s role is a limited one focused on ethical violations; it is not staffed with experts on constitutional law or national security. It would be preposterous to rely on OPR’s judgment about hard questions of constitutional and statutory law over that of OLC or the Solicitor General’s Office. As Andy McCarthy has said, “having OPR grade the scholarship of OLC is like having the Double-A batting coach critique Derek Jeter’s swing.”

Quoting Yoo’s attorney Miguel Estrada, Burck and Perino get at the root of the problem: “It is probably a three-way tie between stupidity, rank incompetence, and partisan malignancy.” And given the malicious leaking of OPR’s work during the investigation, it is hard to escape the conclusion that is was only innocent incompetence at work.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors name some names responsible for this travesty:

The rotten quality of the OPR efforts—and Mr. Margolis’s repudiation of them—raises real questions about the lawyers who produced this work. H. Marshall Jarrett, who supervised the first OPR draft, is a protégé of Mr. Holder who managed not to produce his draft report until the Bush Administration was preparing to leave office. After Mr. Mukasey “memorialized” his concerns, as his letter put it, the Jarrett draft was leaked without the Mukasey response. Mr. Holder reassigned Mr. Jarrett in April 2009 to lead the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, an arguably more powerful post. His OPR effort makes him unfit for such a job.

Mr. Holder replaced Mr. Jarrett at OPR with Mary Patrice Brown, who tried to salvage OPR’s original conclusions with a new but equally deficient argument. After abandoning OPR’s earlier specific allegations that Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had violated D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 to provide competent representation and rule 2.1 to exercise independent legal judgment, Mr. Margolis writes, Ms. Brown’s final report “did not specify the rule or rules of professional conduct that were violated.”

Instead, she added consideration of a “best practices” memo and guiding principles. Mr. Margolis writes that these documents raise several concerns, not least that “neither of them existed at the time Yoo and Bybee worked at OLC.”

As the editors remind us, Brown is up for a federal judgeship. Or was, until this travesty of incompetence came to light.

The editors rightly note that Margolis seemed compelled at the very end of the report to throw in some gratuitous jabs at Yoo. (“This is a matter of opinion—akin to writing an op-ed piece—unrelated to the question of whether they behaved unethically, and it is precisely the kind of judgment that Mr. Margolis says earlier in the report that he will not render.”) But as inappropriate as those swipes may have been, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Margolis prevented a grave miscarriage of justice and in the process revealed how biased and incompetent his colleagues are. That is no easy task. The question remains as to what Eric Holder is going to do about those whose work has now been revealed to be so lacking in merit and so bereft of careful analysis. A bar referral? Well, at least a housecleaning seems to be in order.

As I and others noted over the weekend, the final report by the Justice Department on John Yoo and Jay Bybee leaves one wondering how this kangaroo proceeding lasted as long as it did. How did the Office of Professional Responsibility get so far offtrack, and why was the advice of respected attorneys, including that of outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey, not heeded well over a year ago? Incompetence collided with bias, it seems.

As to the incompetence, Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain:

We don’t mean to be insulting, but the plain fact is that OPR is not, and has never been, equipped to second-guess OLC. The office’s role is a limited one focused on ethical violations; it is not staffed with experts on constitutional law or national security. It would be preposterous to rely on OPR’s judgment about hard questions of constitutional and statutory law over that of OLC or the Solicitor General’s Office. As Andy McCarthy has said, “having OPR grade the scholarship of OLC is like having the Double-A batting coach critique Derek Jeter’s swing.”

Quoting Yoo’s attorney Miguel Estrada, Burck and Perino get at the root of the problem: “It is probably a three-way tie between stupidity, rank incompetence, and partisan malignancy.” And given the malicious leaking of OPR’s work during the investigation, it is hard to escape the conclusion that is was only innocent incompetence at work.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors name some names responsible for this travesty:

The rotten quality of the OPR efforts—and Mr. Margolis’s repudiation of them—raises real questions about the lawyers who produced this work. H. Marshall Jarrett, who supervised the first OPR draft, is a protégé of Mr. Holder who managed not to produce his draft report until the Bush Administration was preparing to leave office. After Mr. Mukasey “memorialized” his concerns, as his letter put it, the Jarrett draft was leaked without the Mukasey response. Mr. Holder reassigned Mr. Jarrett in April 2009 to lead the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, an arguably more powerful post. His OPR effort makes him unfit for such a job.

Mr. Holder replaced Mr. Jarrett at OPR with Mary Patrice Brown, who tried to salvage OPR’s original conclusions with a new but equally deficient argument. After abandoning OPR’s earlier specific allegations that Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had violated D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 to provide competent representation and rule 2.1 to exercise independent legal judgment, Mr. Margolis writes, Ms. Brown’s final report “did not specify the rule or rules of professional conduct that were violated.”

Instead, she added consideration of a “best practices” memo and guiding principles. Mr. Margolis writes that these documents raise several concerns, not least that “neither of them existed at the time Yoo and Bybee worked at OLC.”

As the editors remind us, Brown is up for a federal judgeship. Or was, until this travesty of incompetence came to light.

The editors rightly note that Margolis seemed compelled at the very end of the report to throw in some gratuitous jabs at Yoo. (“This is a matter of opinion—akin to writing an op-ed piece—unrelated to the question of whether they behaved unethically, and it is precisely the kind of judgment that Mr. Margolis says earlier in the report that he will not render.”) But as inappropriate as those swipes may have been, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Margolis prevented a grave miscarriage of justice and in the process revealed how biased and incompetent his colleagues are. That is no easy task. The question remains as to what Eric Holder is going to do about those whose work has now been revealed to be so lacking in merit and so bereft of careful analysis. A bar referral? Well, at least a housecleaning seems to be in order.

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