SNL's barfight sketch

Last Saturday night NBC's Saturday Night Live included a sketch featuring guest host Don Cheadle and Beck Bennett trying to have a bar fight:


Maybe it's another illustration of how I'm easily amused, but in my defense I'm apparently not alone. According to Billboard the featured song, originally released in 2007, experienced a significant bump in downloads and streaming after the sketch aired. Here's a music video:


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A subset of the Mueller report is implicit in the legal record so far

An Associated Press article by Chad Day and Eric Tucker published Saturday points out that while Robert Mueller's report has not yet been turned in to the Justice Department, let alone made public, a lot of its likely contents can already be inferred from publicly available court records, such as indictments, plea agreements, sentencing memos, etc.

For example, it's clear that the Russian government had started preparing to interfere in the 2016 election at least by 2014 and in the spring of 2016 had focused on opposing Hillary Clinton. Their efforts ranged from breaking into computers and email accounts associated with the Democratic Party and people affiliated with the Clinton campaign to placing a multitude of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton messages on social media using false identities.

Meanwhile many persons associated with the Trump campaign were in contact with affiliates of Russian intelligence and in many cases were interested in obtaining politically damaging information the Russians had or claimed to have about Clinton. Those involved ranged from a young foreign policy advisor named George Papadopoulos to such senior people as Paul Manafort (who had previously made millions as a political consultant to the pro-Russian side in Ukraine and later for a while headed the Trump campaign) and perhaps most famously Donald Trump Jr.

In fact, when it became clear that the news media were about to release a chain of emails setting up a meeting with Russians claiming to be ready to pass on dirt the Russian government had supposedly obtained about Clinton, Trump Jr himself released that email chain via his Twitter account. He also acknowledged that the meeting in question took place in Trump Tower on June 9 and included, besides the Russians and the younger Trump himself, campaign head Paul Manafort and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to those from the Trump campaign, the promised dirt on Clinton was not forthcoming and instead the Russians wanted to talk about the possibility of reducing sanctions imposed by the U.S. under the Magnitsky Act in return for an end to blocking American adoptions of Russian infants.

(More recently the Trump administration as been criticized for failing to enforce the Magnitsky Act; see this post from a few days ago.)

During the investigation that continued after President Trump took office, various members of the administration lied to the FBI about their direct or indirect contacts with Russia, including national security advisor Michael Flynn, campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, et al, who ultimately entered guilty pleas.

So far nothing in the public record related to the investigation appears to directly implicate Trump except for falsely denying the obvious collusion between Russia and the campaign took place. In addition, a number of the people having known or alleged contacts with Russian intelligence have not been indicted for, much less been found guilty of, any crimes. It's likely that there's a good deal more information to be included in Robert Mueller's report, should it ever be made public.

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DNA ancestry testing is mediocre

This probably doesn't surprise you, but while mail-in DNA tests to determine ancestry have some validity, they aren't terribly reliable. In some cases identical twins (who by definition share the same DNA) show somewhat different results even when tested by the same outfit, and for that matter your own DNA might not come back the same especially when tested by more than one company. In the video below Dr Aaron Carroll explains why this type of analysis isn't perfect.


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Where will the Mueller report wind up?

As a reader at Talking Points Memo observed, if the Mueller report more is good news for Trump and his immediate family we can expect to see it quickly, but if it gets hushed up it's pretty likely the president will do his best to keep it from seeing the light of day. So you can pretty much gauge how bad it is by how long it takes to become public after the special counsel turns it in. (The same reasoning obviously applies to Trump's tax returns.)

If it does turn out to be bad news, the following probably illustrates what President Trump would like to happen:


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The problem of one-size-fits-some

A February 23 article by Caroline Criado-Perez in The Guardian points out that across a vast range of things, from medical research to the design of tools, vehicles, and buildings, the implicit assumption has long been that the average person is more or less identical with a typical young man of European ancestry.

That creates problems from other groups that range from mere inconvenience to greater risk of death. Sure, it might not be practical to accommodate everyone's needs under all circumstances, but as the article makes pretty clear, we can do way better with just a little effort.

If I have a complaint about the pieces, it's a minor one, namely that it focuses primarily on the consequences for average women even as it makes clear, if not always explicitly so, that the problem is a lot wider than that that. It may well be true that women are the largest group disadvantaged by the implicit assumption that one-size-fits-men is equivalent to one-size-fits-all (to borrow a line from the article), but children, the elderly, and even a good many men are short-changed as well.

I recommend at least skimming the article to get a notion how many different areas of life are affected. If you want to look into it even more deeply, not that the article is based on the book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men also by Caroline Criado Perez.

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The latest data on extremism and deadly violence in the United States

The Anti-Defamation League has for decades has tracked anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in the United States. In a report released 2019 January 23 (summarized here) the organization's Center on Extremism compiles the latest statistics on murders committed by persons connected with domestic extremist groups and movements in the United States. Most of these murders also take place inside the United States, though there have been exceptions.

Note that this focus excludes murders committed in the United States by foreign members of foreign terrorist groups, the most obvious example being September 11 al Qaida attacks, the most deadly terrorist incident in history. However, various other things I've read suggest that both before and since 9-11, the great majority of attacks in the United States motivated by extremism have been carried out by U.S. residents tied to home-grown extremism, even when the extremism is part of a wider-spread movement.

Three things in the report strike me as particularly interesting.

One is that during the 10-year period 2009-2018, there were 427 murders attributed to violent extremism. The report notes that as additional information becomes available, the report will be updated, so the number of murders is likely to increase some over time, especially those for the most recent years. However, the total isn't likely to change much. This isn't to minimize the danger or dismiss the pain caused to the victims and their friends and families, nor to suggest that law enforcement shouldn't continue to try to prevent terrorism (such as the violence apparently contemplated by an extremist member of the Coast Guard). Still, it's worth recognizing that at present it's nowhere near the greatest danger we face.

Also, of those 427 murders, 313 (73.3%) were carried out by persons associated with what the report classifies as right-wing extremism. A number of years ago a number of conservative pundits and politicians objected strongly to a Justice Department report on the danger of right-wing violence (perhaps because they didn't realize there was another one about the threat of left-wing violence). These numbers suggest that if one is concerned about domestic terrorism at all, extremist ideologies on the right ought to be taken into account.

Of the the 313 murders attributed to right-wing extremism, 76 percent were tied to white supremacy, 19 to anti-government extremism, 3 percent to the "involuntary celibacy" (or "incel") movement -- basically guys pissed off because the women they want won't have sex with them -- 1 percent to anti-abortion extremism, and the remainder to other right-wing causes. One could of course quibble with the classifications. Very few of those on the far right identify with the "incel" movement, for example, though on the other hand people involved in "incel" appear to be far-right in their other views. Clearly they're not fans of feminism.

It's of course also important to recognize that mainstream conservatives or liberals are pretty much by definition not extremists, despite the tendency of many on both sides to label members of the other as "far-right" or "far-left."

U.S.-based Islamist extremism accounted for 23.4 percent of the 427 extremist-affiliated murders over those ten years. Left-wing extremism, a major basis for terrorism decades ago in Europe and other parts of the world, accounted for the remaining 3.2 percent.

Finally, of the 50 murders last year (that is, 2018) attributed to extremism in the U.S., only 1 death was attributed to Islamic extremism. Of the rest, 39 were tied to white supremacy, 8 to anti-government extremism, and 2 to "incel." Interestingly, the killer deemed motivated mainly by Islamic extremism apparently also had some interest in white supremacy. Of course, any single year's data can be potentially misleading and longer-term numbers are probably more reliable as a gauge of where the dangers actually lie. Again, though, these dangers appear to be pretty small in comparison with the many other causes of violence.

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Seth Meyers interviews John Oliver

From NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers last night, a brief interview with John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO. (It and Game of Thrones are literally the only things I've subscribed to HBO to watch.) I hesitate to call Last Week Tonight a comedy news show because it often does some excellent (if sometimes flawed and tendentious) serious reporting. But it's not a conventional news show either, having a studio audience, and it is of course usually pretty entertaining.

Both parts of the interview are worth seeing, but the second, shorter segment is the funniest, featuring Oliver's recollections of his British childhood, including a very small part as a child in a BBC production of Bleak House.



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Trump ignoring Magnitsky Act to annoyance of Republicans as well as Democrats

In 2009 a Russian tax attorney named Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death in prison, having been locked up for exposing corruption involving the Russian government and oligarchs, denied medical care, and tortured in a failed attempt to make him retract what he'd said. In 2012 Congress passed the bipartisan Magnitsky Act sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) to provided financial sanctions against some of the people responsible for assaults on human rights in Russia. Two years later McCain and Cardin successfully introduced a revision of the law that isn't limited to bad actors in Russia. Following U.S. leadership, similar laws were then adopted in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Baltic states,

In October of last year, 10 senators from both parties wrote the White House a letter that began,

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requires the President, upon receipt of a request from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression, and report to the Committee within 120 days with a determination and a decision on the imposition of sanctions on that foreign person or persons.

The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights, which includes “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.” Therefore, we request that you make a determination on the imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to any foreign person responsible for such a violation related to Mr. Khashoggi. Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government has acknowledged that Kashoggi was murdered by its agents, and it's broadly accepted that this was almost certainly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad Bin Salman al Saud, though President Trump has gone out of his way to give the prince the benefit of every possible doubt.

The administration missed the deadline to respond to the senators' letter and has publicly indicated that it has no intention of following the law, something that has angered members of both parties. A February 11 article in Politico is headlined "GOP livid with Trump over ignored Khashoggi report" and cites critical remarks from a number of senators, both Democrats and Republicans.

(For more background, see this article and this one from October. For more specifically on the Magnitsky Act, see the Wikipedia entry and this August 30 article in Time by Magnitsky's friend and business associate Bill Browder. )

Incidentally, Vladimir Putin really dislikes the Magnitsky Acts, and in retaliation for the original one, Russia stopped allowing Americans to adopt Russian children. As you probably recall, in mid-2016 Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a meeting in Trump Tower in New York with at least five people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, in the expectation (according to a chain of emails released by Donald Trump Jr himself) of receiving information damaging to the Clinton campaign. According to later statements by Don Jr, the main topic actually discussed at the meeting was resuming those adoptions. That pretty strongly suggests the Magnitsky Act came up, and it's plausible the Russians were after a commitment from Trump to back off enforcement of the Act.

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Super Bowl party

I enjoyed the outtakes from Stephen Colbert's Super Bowl party skit more than the final version, but both are reasonably amusing, and anyway I need to post something...

As broadcast:




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