A Reminder About Sexual Assault

I think Garrett Epps nailed this.

The gendered subtext of this moment is, not to put too fine a point on it, war—war to the knife—over the future of women’s autonomy in American society. Shall women control their own reproduction, their health care, their contraception, their legal protection at work against discrimination and harassment, or shall we move backward to the chimera of past American greatness, when the role of women was—supposedly for biological reasons—subordinate to that of men?

That theme became apparent even before the 2016 election, when candidate Donald Trump promised to pick judges who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The candidate was by his own admission a serial sexual harasser. On live national television, he then stalked, insulted, and physically menaced his female opponent—and he said, in an unguarded moment, that in his post-Roe future, women who choose abortion will face “some form of punishment.”

In context, Trump promised to restore the old system of dominion—by lawmakers, husbands, pastors, institutions, and judges—over women’s reproduction.

And as they point out, the subtext has now become text with the allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh. There are plenty of other reasons to deny Kavanaugh a Supreme Court seat, mind you, but the Republican Party has descended so low that corruption and a dismissal of human rights mean nothing when it harms them (but everything when it harms their opponents). Even Senator Susan Collins, considered to be on the liberal side of the Party, still twists in knots to defend Kavanaugh. These allegations of sexual assault might have been the straw, though.

Of course, now that sexual assault is back in the news, all the old apologetics are being vomited up. “Why didn’t she speak up?” “Boys will be boys.” “You’re ruining his life!” “There’s no evidence.” “This can’t be a common thing.” “Just trust the system.” It’s all very tired, and has been written about countless times before.

For instance, here’s a sampling of my own writing:

Evidence-Based Feminism 2: Sexual assault and rape culture

Debunking Some Skeptic Myths About Sexual Assault

Index Post: Rape Myth Acceptance

Christina Hoff Sommers: Science Denialist?

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case

Men Under Construction

Sexual Assault As a Con Game

Consent on Campus

Colleges and Sexual Assault

Destruction of Justice

Sexual Assault as a Talking Point

“There are no perfect victims.”

False Rape Reports, In Perspective

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Steven Pinker and His Portable Goalposts

Perfect, In Theory

Holy Fuck, Carol Tavris

Recovered Memories and Sexual Assault

Talking Sexual Assault

The evidence around sexual assault is pretty clear, and even in Kavanaugh’s specific case there’s circumstantial evidence that makes the accusations plausible. If people are still promoting myths about it at this point, it’s because they want to.

[HJH 2018-09-17: Added a few more links. Props to Salty Current of the Political Madness thread for some of them.]

Don’t Do This, Skeptics

Science is not kind to minorities. Discrimination can make them difficult to identify and count, which combined with the minority’s relative rarity makes it nearly impossible to gather accurate statistics; convenience samples are the norm. Their rarity mean few people are researching them, so the odds of minority overcoming their discrimination and surviving academia to become a researcher are very small. Conversely, the few number of researchers means one bad apple can cause quite a bit of damage, and there’s a good chance researchers buy into the myths about this minority and thus legitimize discrimination.  A lot of care needs to be taken when doing science writing on the topic.

If you want to learn how to do it properly, read Dr. Harriet Hall’s recent article on gender dysphoria in children and do the opposite of what she does. [Read more…]

Judicial Math

Whew, quite a week of news, eh? The Manafort verdict has stuck with me, if only for this detail.

One of the jurors from the recently-concluded trial of Paul Manafort has described herself as a strong supporter of President Trump. She said she drove every day to the Alexandria courthouse where Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman was being tried with her “Make America Great Again” cap in the back seat, and that she planned to vote again for Mr. Trump if he runs for reelection in 2020. She said she thought prosecutors had targeted Mr. Manafort as a way to get dirt on Mr. Trump, and that she didn’t want Mr. Manafort to be guilty. Nonetheless, she voted to convict him because the evidence of his guilt “was overwhelming.” […]

The jury couldn’t come to unanimous agreement on 10 other counts and a mistrial on those charges was declared. Ms. Duncan revealed that there was just one juror who held out on conviction on those counts, citing reasonable doubt. The other eleven jurors were convinced of Mr. Manafort’s guilt.

I don’t know why that juror held out, so let’s instead consider a hypothetical. Earlier, I argued that Democratic and Republican voters were more polarized than first appeared because roughly 10-20% of the population can be convinced of nearly anything. The first juror in the Manafort trial to out themselves bought pretty heavily into some of Trump’s conspiracy theories, so they must have some grip on the general public.

What if this 10-20% of the populace was so deep into these theories that they’d never find one of Trump’s associates guilty? That would be a huge problem if they were on a jury. What are the odds of such an event occurring?

We can calculate this ourselves, via the Binomial distribution.

The expected number of jurors that'll never convict on a 12-jury panel. I'm cheating a bit and using a Beta, to create more visual distance between the 10% and 20% cases; for the latter, only use those values which correspond to an integer along the X axis.Assuming a 12-person jury, if 10% of the population would refuse to convict under any circumstance, then there’s about a 72% chance of at least one such person being a juror; if 20%, then there’s a whopping 93% chance. Since the US Federal courts require unanimity to reach a verdict, those are also the minimum odds of a mistrial on one count!

There’s an obvious workaround, drop unanimity and permit eleven people to reach a verdict. The minimum odds of a mistrial drop to 34%, if 10% of all people would refuse to convict, or 72.5% in the 20% case. Is that acceptable to you, or would you like those values to be lower? We can use math and computers to determine the ideal quorum of jurors needed to satisfy your threshold. Let’s define t as the minimum odds of a mistrial, n as the number of jurors, k as the minimum number of guilty votes needed to achieve a conviction, and q as the proportion of people guaranteed to refuse to convict. For any given combination of those, the minimum odds are

t = sum from p=(n-k+1) to n (n, p) q^p (1-q)^(n-p)

The good news: you can drive t to be as low as you wish. The bad: you accomplish that by inflating the size of the jury pool while keeping the quorum low, which means the weight of the evidence necessary to convict drops. Avoiding partisan bias means more false convictions, and vice-versa, so we have to calculate our preferred trade-off.

A chart of the minimum odds of mistrial, for a given jury size and quorum necessary to convict.

This math is par for the course. Every judicial system puts numbers to these questions:

  1. How many guilty people should be allowed to walk free?
  2. How many people should be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?
  3. How much should we invest into those who have been convicted of a crime, and how should we spend those funds?
  4. How much should we spend on crime prevention, and which programs are the most effective?

For instance, its been estimated that at least 4.1% of all convicts given a death sentence in the US were falsely convicted; is that rate of killing innocent civilians acceptable, or should it be lowered? Of the hundred thirty-seven prisoners freed from US jails in 2017, their average time behind bars was 10.7 years; is putting an innocent person behind bars for that length of time something we can tolerate as a society, or should it be lowered? If it should be lowered, are we going to do that by doing more aggressive post-conviction audits, better training for police and prosecutors, both, or are there more effective tactics out there?

Working out this math also changes our judicial philosophy. If we build our system so that it punishes the guilty, then our false conviction rate had better be low. If instead we build our system so that it makes them better citizens, then putting an already-good citizen in there isn’t a big loss and we can instead tune other variables.

The only real choice here is if we consciously put those numbers in place ourselves, receive a nasty shock when we later calculate them, or pretend those questions don’t exist. Currently, we’re doing a lot of the last two in Canada and the US.

Frequentists Don’t Get A Free Ticket

I’ve been digging Crash Course’s series on statistics. They managed to pull off two good episodes about Bayesian statistics, plus one about the downsides of p-values, but overall Adriene Hill has stuck close to the frequentist interpretation of statistics. It was inevitable that one of their episodes would get my goat, enough to want to break it down.

And indeed, this episode on t-tests is worth a break.

[Read more…]

How Democracies Die

My silence is due to a math-heavy post I’m cooking up on frequentism, in case you were wondering. To tide you over, here’s some reading on a topic I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to.

Those who have lived their entire lives in functioning democracies may find it hard to grasp how easily minds can be won over to the totalitarian dark side. We assume such a passage would require slow, laborious persuasion. It does not. The transition from day to night is bewilderingly swift. Despite what many assume, civilized coexistence in a culture of tolerance is not always the norm, or even universally desired. Democracy is a hard-won, easily rolled back state of affairs from which many secretly yearn to be released.

The author of that piece, Uki Goñi, has some relevant experience.

Although I was born in the United States, where my father was posted to the Argentine Embassy, this does not make me a US citizen, since the Fourteenth Amendment excludes the children of foreign diplomats. Yet I grew up as if I were one, pledging allegiance every morning to the flag on the playground of Annunciation School on Massachusetts Avenue. Later, as a young adult in Argentina, I worked for an English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires and reported on the crimes of the bloody military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. As a journalist, I witnessed first the erosion and then the total collapse of democratic norms, and how a ruthless autocracy can mobilize popular fears and resentments to crush its opponents.

According to that author, the key ingredients to flipping a democracy are A) widespread paranoia, B) a slow and steady normalization of brutality, C) ignorance, motivated reasoning, and misinformation, plus D) a feeling that you’ll turn out A-OK.

For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.

That the guerrillas had failed to occupy any territory for any appreciable amount of time was a fact blithely ignored. The delusion prevailed over reality. […]

… the Nazis’ presence in Argentina normalized their ideology and weakened society’s democratic defenses against the totalitarian ideas they represented. Seeing Nazi flags paraded down the streets of Charlottesville last year, seeing them again in Washington, D.C., this year, makes me realize how different today’s America is from the country where I was born and grew up. It makes me realize how far advanced such a normalization already is in the US.

It backs up what I’d read from other sources. Take this old article, for instance.

When [Milton] Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives. […]

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.” […]

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

Both pieces go into a lot more detail, so I recommend the detour to read them. Just make sure you’re in a comfortable place; not because there’s a tonne of racism or violence present, but because the echos to the current US climate are so strong.

The Cold Calculus of Hiking

For part of the trip, I couldn’t decide which was the tougher scramble: Crowsnest Mountain or Mount Sparrowhawk. That debate was conclusively squashed in the crux of Crowsnest: picture a gully a few metres wide but a good dozen meters tall, filled with loose scree that makes grinding up the channel a slog, and sprinkle in a few upclimbs just to further piss you off. Those two metal chains did indeed make the near-cliff at the top of the gully easier to exit, but there was an awkward section between them with few good footholds. The angle of the rock strata was down-slope, too, which I noted would make that section extremely dangerous when wet.

I didn’t know the half of how treacherous it could get.

===

Weather reports in the mountains are like the Pirate Code. The mountains themselves cause weather and redirect the wind, and tend to be more prone to moisture and wind than the surrounding valleys, making forecasting difficult. I ruled out hiking in Lake Louise or Banff due to 50% chances of rain, but I thought Crowsnest Pass had a 0% chance of rain that day, which didn’t offer much room for a weather surprise. I later learned I’d misread the report and there was a 20% chance in the afternoon, but at worst I’d just have been more slightly more alert to the weather. I would have been on alert anyway, as the high winds of the Crowsnest Pass only make weather surprises more likely. Reading the conditions while on the hike is far more reliable, for obvious reasons, but when scrambling a mountain you spend most of your time with half the sky blocked by said mountain. As unreliable as they can be, weather reports are still vital.

Alas, the forecasts were wrong even before we stepped out of the vehicle. Webcams from the Crowsnest Pass region showed smoke-free skies the previous day, another plus over Lake Louise/Banff, but we arrived to find quite a bit of smoke in the air. To understand why that’s annoying, consider the view when there isn’t much smoke about.

A teeny bit of the view from the top of Mount Sparrowhawk. Click for a bigger version.

This is a small slice of what you see from the top of Mount Sparrowhawk. That long “lake” on the left is actually the Spray Lakes Reservoir, while the stubby one is Goat Pond. There’s a bit of Mount Lougheed in shadow, and dead behind it are The Rimwall (7km away), the Three Sisters (10km), Mount Rundle (25km), and Cascade Mountain (38km). All of those are beneath you! There may only be two mountains higher than Sparrowhawk visible here, Bonnet Peak and Mount Temple, and the closest of them is 70km away. That’s not my record for mountainspotting, but you get the point: clear air on a mountain top earns you spectacular views of distant scenery.

The view from the final ascent of Crowsnest Mountain.

Smoky air is more like this. The pretty boomerang is the Seven Sisters (2km away), the sun-kissed mountains are Allison Peak and Mount Ward (7km), and that black mass behind the Seven Sisters is part of the High Rock Range (no more than 15km). It doesn’t have the same impact, right?

It was a lot more alarming, though. This shot was taken above those chains, about 200m short of the summit, and the more I looked at it the more worried I got. The biggest tell for rain is dark tendrils coming down from puffy Cumulus clouds, because that’s precisely what you’re looking at. All that smoke in the air led to deep dark cloud shadows and poor visibility, though, blocking my view. I had to rely on more qualitative tells, which fell outside the frame of this shot: really tall Cumulus clouds and “smearing” that blurs normally sharp boundaries. Overall, I figured there was maybe a 30% chance the haze was hiding rain. On the other hand, those clouds had been building for hours and slowly marching towards us from the North. Shortly before taking this shot, I called an audible: we should turn back. The risk side of the equation outbalanced the reward, even though the flag was waving at us from the summit. There was no way I wanted to be caught between those chains in the rain. We were all hungry and tired from the grind, so I recommended a quick break for food and photos before we retreated.

Shortly after taking this shot, I saw a lightning bolt over Allison Peak.

As we raced back down, I first saw the first clear signs of dark tendrils rapidly coming at us from the High Rock Range, as well as an ominous white “fog.” The rest of the group were pressuring me to find shelter immediately; I agreed and had a place in mind, but it was past those chains. Maybe five minutes before reaching the pair, the wave of rain hit. It really brought down the temperature, and made it tough to navigate through wet sunglasses. There wasn’t much lightning, thankfully, but we couldn’t be more exposed. I almost led us into another gully to the West of the chains, but caught sight of a cairn and was able to steer us true. I was shouting directions to the rest of group as they descended down, as by this time the wind had really picked up. The white fog chose that moment to reveal it was actually pea-sized hail. Fortunately, I saw a ray of hope: there was a bright spot behind Allison Peak, where the sun appeared to be shining through the clouds. This nastiness would pass shortly, and if only briefly we’d have a window of better weather.

But that was only the first half of the treachery.

===

I have a reputation for being impervious to cold. But I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s nothing special about my body. I was that kid who had to come indoors after ten minutes in the cold, and eventually it pissed me off enough to try to find workarounds like how to dress in layers. That was so effective, I wound up ditching my winter coat in favor of a thin raincoat I’d layer over one or two sweaters and a shirt. I could easily adjust for the conditions, or swap out layers as they got wet. And it was cheaper than a proper coat! Nowadays, my standard hiking clothing is a thin exercise T for moisture wicking, a beat-up puffy fleece sweater for insulation, and said raincoat for wind protection. For the lower half, I wear convertible pants as shorts for the outer layer, with some thick tights for insulation and a pair of thick wool socks for either feet or hands.

My record for remaining comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts is 0 Celsius. But I managed that while snow-shoeing in a dense forest on a sunny day; there was no wind to accelerate the loss of heat, the sun was warming my skin, and the physical exertion was just able to compensate for what I was losing to the surrounding atmosphere. When you’re a cardio junkie with the resting heart rate of an athlete, “keep moving to stay warm” is easy advice to follow. It’s one reason why I rarely throw an extra layer on when I stop for a snack, because I know that any chill I get will be gone fifteen minutes after we move again. Conversely, if I threw on the layer I’d overheat at roughly the same time and be forced to stop and change.

So when I snapped that photo on Crowsnest Mountain, I was wearing only my wicking layer and shorts. By the time we reached the chains, what little body heat I’d earned from that exercise was canceled out by my wicking layer dutifully using the rain to rip heat from me. I instinctively stuck to the back of the pack, thanks to years of experience, but that also meant I had to sit tight while the rest of the group descended the chains one-by-one. I could feel my core temperature dropping.

Alas, the layer system has flaws. If there’s only a drizzle, throwing on just the rain coat may temporarily keep you dry, but as moisture accumulates the coat will cling to your skin and suck the heat out of you. The sweater usually fares better in the short term, but offers no protection from the wind and will eventually get wet enough to suck heat even faster. Combining both will overheat you and build up sweat, which again sucks the heat out. I’d wanted to try out a new coat aimed at this middle space, and intended to use it as my insulating layer in case things went sideways; instead, I forgot the coat at home. Everyone else had all their layers on, so my only option was the rain coat destined to cool me down.

And there was no place to run. I could try to work up some heat by marching up and down the mountain, but that would increase my exposure to a lightning strike. To my left and right were cliffs, and the descent would be slow, methodical, and destined to generate little heat. Chilling down isn’t just dangerous because it slows your movement or causes shivering, it also saps your brain power. You become less observant and make more mistakes, which could prove fatal when descending slippery rock. The rest of the group was also counting on my experience to lead them back down the mountain, so I had to stay sharp. And the cooler I got, the longer it would take to warm back up.

I was faced with a difficult decision: I could launch down the chains ASAP, or I could pause to throw on my rain coat and tights. The former sacrificed some cognition and increased the risk of an accident, while the latter allowed the rain more time to wet down my footholds and increased the anxiety of the group below. I let the hail bounce off my helmet for a few seconds as I weighed each option, and cursed my rotten luck.

A puny hail storm that I’d have shrugged off below treeline had just put me in one of the most dangerous situations I’d faced.

===

I reached for my coat. It felt wonderful to be protected from the wind. Unfortunately, trying to pull my tights over my pants and hiking sandals cost me a fair bit of time, and I could hear shouted inquiries from below when I finally reached for that first chain. I debated what to do about my gloves. They were intended to protect your hands while belaying, but had proven useful for scrambling. Now, they were waterlogged and cooling off my hands. I decided to leave them on anyway, as the rain was slacking off and they’d help me on the chain.

I wrapped the first chain once around my dominant arm, to maximize friction, and began carefully inch-worming down the line. I shouted back commentary as I descended the chain. Dangling off the end, I probed the very top of the awkward section. I found an unappetizing mixture of mud-like rock dust and slick footholds. By this time the hail had stopped and the rain was dwindling. The distant bright patch wasn’t the Sun breaking through the clouds, but it was still a rain-free oasis of thin cloud rapidly advancing on us. I called down to the group: I was going to wait between the chains for fifteen minutes, to give the rock some time to dry.

The rain faded away. The damp rain coat slowly sucked away my heat. I kept up a conversation with the rest of the group, unseen below. It soothed their nerves. It soothed my nerves. And it helped me assess my cognitive abilities. The others had made it down safely. They weren’t in the place I’d called a shelter, but they had sheltered and could wait. I meditated over the awkward few metres of rock below me. I hadn’t realized how narrow the walls were on the ascent. I could use that.

I grabbed the end of the chain again and probed. There was a teeny bit less moisture, but more importantly I could see my first few steps. My core temperature was cool but OK. I paused for a bit, contemplating, then called down: I was descending the tricky section.

I’ve never been interested in climbing, but I used to boulder a fair bit and had absorbed a few tricks. When faced with a chimney just wide enough for their bodies, climbers wedge themselves sideways and used friction to overcome missing footholds. The vertical rock was much less likely to be wet than the horizontal footholds, though the friction is strong enough that any wetness didn’t matter. I keep typing “footholds” instead of “handholds” because climbing is really about your feet. Your hands are there to help steady you against the wall and help distribute the pressure a bit, but to a first approximation climbing is just standing in places no sane person should.

Carefully, I tried to examine the rock for a potential foothold. I slowly probed with a foot until it touched potentially-friendly rock. I looked where it landed. I scraped around a bit, to clear off any water or mud-dust, and assess what sort of friction I could get out of the rock. I braced against the sides of the little canyon. I eased myself onto the foothold, not fully trusting it. When I was confident, I did the entire process again. And again.

Three metres down, I noticed the little canyon was getting wider. Bracing against the side was increasingly less viable, yet I was still a good two metres from the chain. A small wave of panic passed over me. I looked up and down the length of the mini canyon, debating if I should head back up or continue on. With a deep breath, I had a look down for my next foothold.

Then I blinked and was standing next to the chain. I’m not sure why I don’t remember those next few metres; I had successfully fought back that brief bit of panic, and while I was cold I still felt mentally sharp. Maybe I was so focused on the rhythm of easing myself down that I lost track of time? Whatever the case, I announced I was at the second chain and eagerly grabbed it. Thus began another rhythm: release dominant arm, awkwardly slide it down the chain, grip, release the other hand and slide it to meet, look for a place for one foot, look for a place for the other foot, repeat. Within a few minutes, I could see the rest of the group huddled below. Alas, it felt like forever until I was next to them; had someone moved the footholds I used to get up this section? It wasn’t a big deal given my body temperature, so I ambled down like I was pondering chess moves.

I checked in with the group, this time face-to-face. They were in much the same shape as I was, chilled but unharmed and calm. They had blasted through the awkward section without trouble, as they’d been too busy concentrating to let fear overwhelm them. I gave some pointers on how they should descend the rest of the gully, as scree made it terribly easy to send rocks flying into any person below. I took my time to grab a quick snack and readjust my gear, deliberately letting them get well below me. I could descend scree a lot faster than they could, though I kicked up a lot of rocks in the process. As started down I grumpily noted they weren’t sticking to my plan, but they had enough distance between them to be safe.

We reconnected at the base of the gully. The danger level was rising again: the trail split into multiple similar-looking paths, the bright horizon had again been replaced with dark shadows moving in our direction, yet we had one more down-climb left to do. This wasn’t over yet.

===

Just kidding, it pretty much was. That second rain burst was shorter and less intense than the first, with no hail and barely any lightning. It finished before we hit the second down-climb, and that section of rock was surprisingly dry. The rest of the group did try to pick the wrong trail, but after a bit of shouting and wild gesturing on my part I got us all back on what I remembered as the proper track. And my memories proved true.

As we made the final descent down steep scree to the safety of the trees below, the clouds parted and that smell you get from a freshly watered forest wafted up to us. The Seven Sisters were bathed in a beautiful light, the greenery was lusher than we remembered. I tried to rain on things a bit by pointing out that there was a chance the creek we needed to cross had become bigger, but it was unchanged from earlier.

We spent the hike back to the vehicle debating which mountain to try next week.

The Silent Army

Last week, the department was saying this:

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Alex Azar claimed migrant parents who have been separated from their kids under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy should be able to easily locate their children, countering reports about difficulties families have faced. “There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” Azar testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing this morning. Azar said he could locate “any child” in his department’s care “within seconds“ through an online government database.

Thursday, less than a week after they were ordered to reunite children with their families, the department was now reporting this:

Trump administration health chief Alex Azar said Thursday that no immigrant children separated from their parents have been reunited with their families in federal custody — yet — to comply with looming court order deadlines to do so. But Azar said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will comply with the first of those deadlines to take children in HHS custody and place them with parents who are in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement next Tuesday.

Azar said there are somewhat fewer than 3,000 kids who were separated from their parents when they jointly tried to illegally cross the border with Mexico. That is much higher than the 2,047 children that HHS recently said were in its custody. Azar said the new number is higher because a judge has required HHS to reunite all separated children, including ones taken from parents before the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy took effect in May.

The story remained the same Friday morning, then changed again.

Just days ahead of a deadline, the Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite some of the immigrant families it separated. […] “If we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there,” [Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian] said, “and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the time frame.”

After the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said it was troubling that officials still can’t provide precise statistics about families they separated. “It was clear today that the government has not even been able to match all the children with parents,” he said. “That is extremely troubling.”

Things are so bad, this government department is trying to redefine what “reunite” means. Emphasis mine.

“The secretary told us on a conference call that they do not have any intention to reunify these children with their parents. They are going to call it good if they could find anyone else to serve as a foster parent or might have some familial relationship,” [Washington state Governor Jay] Inslee told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes late Friday, when he asked about a June 29 meeting mentioned in a letter addressed to officials on Friday.

“Perhaps we should not be surprised. This whole indignant and traumatic episode was based in inhumanity at the beginning, it was based on deceit in middle, and now it’s based on incompetence. These people have no idea what they are dong — I’ve seen coat check windows operate with a better system.”

[Read more…]

A Little Racist Butterfly

Researchers have noted that, for decades, prison sentences have been just ever-so-slightly more harsh for black people than white people.

As a whole, these findings undermine the so-called ‘‘no discrimination thesis’’ which contends that once adequate controls for other factors, especially legal factors (i.e., criminal history and severity of current offense), are controlled unwarranted racial disparity disappears. In contrast to the no discrimination thesis, the current research found that independent of other measured factors, on average African-Americans were sentenced more harshly than whites. The observed differences between whites and African Americans generally were small, suggesting that discrimination in the sentencing stage is not the primary cause of the overrepresentation of African-Americans in U.S. correctional facilities.

Mitchell, Ojmarrh. “A meta-analysis of race and sentencing research: Explaining the inconsistencies.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21.4 (2005): 439-466.

Not as widely noted: incarceration sorta behaves like a contagious disease. [Read more…]

The Call Is From Inside The House

White supremacists face a problem: if they openly stated what they believed, people would recoil in horror, yet if they don’t state what they believe how will they know where their friends are? The obvious solution is to use coded language, which at minimum will fly over the heads of normies and at maximum get parroted by them out of ignorance. So what sort of codes do white supremacists use?

14 Words” is a reference to the most popular white supremacist slogan in the world: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The slogan was coined by David Lane, a member of the white supremacist terrorist group known as The Order (Lane died in prison in 2007). … Because of its widespread popularity, white supremacists reference this slogan constantly, in its full form as well as in abbreviated versions such as “14 Words”, “Fourteen Words,” or simply the number “14.”

Trump’s been infamous for repeating white supremacist language, which isn’t surprising if his rumoured reading habits are true, but this has emboldened his supporters to break out the codewords. Both Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter have been caught spreading the “fourteen words” signal.

Coulter’s “14!” was overwhelmingly answered with “88,” a reference to another one of [David] Lane’s white supremacist terms. It stems from his “88 Precepts,” a list of statements on what he calls “natural law.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 88 is often used among neo-Nazis, because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet and 88 stands for “Heil Hitler.”

With that background, you can imagine why my eyebrows shot up when Salty Current shared this link.

This is an actual story on an official government website with a 14-word headline starting with “we must secure”. This is not an accident. There are actual Nazis-who-call-themselves-Nazis at DHS.

That press release looks quite different from other White House press releases. It’s not connected to any action by the White House, and even when compared to fact sheets it’s lacking any paragraphs to give proper context. Posted on the 15th of February, it consists of 13 bullet points broken by 1 non-bulleted paragraph. It has a twin, also released on the 15th and also asking to “secure the nation,” consisting of a one-sentence opening paragraph followed by 15 bullet points.

That first release has an odd paragraph (emphasis mine):

The increase in claims filed is not associated with an increase in meritorious claims. As of FY 17, the asylum grant rate for defensive applications in immigration court is approximately 30%. On average, out of 88 claims that pass the credible fear screening, fewer than 13 will ultimately result in a grant of asylum.

Chris Hayes points to this as a potential explanation:

Interviews to assess credible fear are conducted almost immediately after an asylum request is made, often at the border or in detention facilities by immigration agents or asylum officers, and most applicants easily clear that hurdle. Between July and September of 2016, U.S. asylum officers accepted nearly 88 percent of the claims of credible fear, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

While that and the non-14 bullet points are enough to calm his fears, they aren’t enough for me. Read back through the first press release, and you’ll see it loves giving two-digit numbers in percentages. Yet when handed the figure of “88 percent,” it dropped the percentage mark.

The popularity of “14 words” is both a blessing and a curse; it makes it easy for white supremacists to see their allies, but it’s also easily spotted by other people. If those press releases contained exactly 14 bullet points, there wouldn’t be any plausible deniability that a code was involved. A logical way to keep up the code, then, would be to dance around it a bit; throw out a lot of 13’s and 15’s instead, and have the normies tie themselves in knots debating if there’s a code there at all. After all, what are the odds that someone who uses white supremacist language, shows sympathy to white supremacists, and might have a white supremacist as their father, would go on to surround themselves with white supremacists or people sympathetic to their cause?

For white supremacists, however, there is no debate. All that confusion helps them get the word out that they’re not alone, that there are many other people sympathetic to their cause, and that some of those supporters hold the highest offices in the US of A. It’s a message to stay strong and keep the faith.