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Significant Digits For Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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


3 wills

Earlier this week, three different wills found in the home of Aretha Franklin, who died in August, were filed in a Michigan court. One, portions of which are nearly illegible, was found under couch cushions and two were found in a locked cabinet. Franklin’s attorney is asking the court to determine whether the wills are valid. [NPR]


7-minute standing ovation

The crowd at the Cannes Film Festival for the world premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” gave the film a seven-minute standing ovation. I mean, I’m as big a Tarantino fan as the next guy, but that just sounds exhausting and frankly annoying. Tarantino won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest prize, 25 years ago for “Pulp Fiction.” [Deadline]


414 million pieces of plastic

Scientists recently surveyed the remote Cocos Islands in Australia for plastic pollution. They found 414 million pieces of plastic debris. That’s a lot, not to mention that most of it was buried beneath the surface. This means that estimates of worldwide plastic pollution, often based on surveys not peering beneath the surface, could be drastic underestimates. [NBC News]


$929 million

Last week, the Trump administration revoked $929 million in federal funding from California that was meant to pay for that state’s high-speed rail project. Yesterday, California sued the administration over the cancellation, with Gov. Gavin Newsom describing the revocations as “political retribution for California’s resistance to Trump’s immigration policies.” [Associated Press]


No. 32

For the first time since O.J. Simpson last wore it for the team in 1977, the Buffalo Bills have assigned a player the jersey No. 32. It now belongs to running back Senorise Perry. “I thought it was retired, but then I was told it was available. Boom, I took it,” Perry told The Athletic. [ESPN]


More than 2,200 games

For the first time in more than 2,200 games over the past century, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play each other on artificial turf. They will do so at Olympic Stadium in London on June 29 and 30 atop something called FieldTurf Vertex. Ah, the national pastime. [Associated Press]


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We’re Hiring A Senior Editor For Video

FiveThirtyEight’s video team is small and mighty. We want to make it bigger and mightier, and we’re hiring a senior editor for video to help us do that.

The senior editor will lead FiveThirtyEight’s video work and will be responsible for expanding the breadth and quality of our content.

We’re looking for someone with editorial vision, strong news judgment and a familiarity with politics, in particular. The senior editor for video will write and edit scripts, do some camerawork and help animate graphics. This role is highly collaborative — the editor will work across the newsroom to identify visual stories and work with our ABC News partners to make the best use of the resources it offers. The editor will also build out a freelancer network to help create more video content.

This position is based in New York City.

Candidates must have:

  • A minimum of six years of experience, preferably within a newsroom.
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  • An interest in FiveThirtyEight’s data-driven journalism.

And we’d prefer candidates to have:

  • Experience writing news stories.
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  • Fluency in Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop and Avid Media Composer.

If this sounds like you, please apply at the listing on the Disney Careers website.

Is The NFL Executive Of The Year Award Cursed?

In a move that surprised many, the New York Jets on Wednesday fired general manager Mike Maccagnan and named head coach Adam Gase as the team’s interim GM. The timing was unusual in that Maccagnan just last month had job security enough to oversee the team’s draft, including the selection of the third overall pick in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Maccagnan was likewise given the freedom to spend $125 million in free agency this offseason, which included paying for easily replaceable production by signing former Pittsburgh star Le’veon Bell at running back. Maccagnan was also reportedly instrumental in hiring Gase, a decision that may have ultimately led to his ouster.

Maccagnan’s fall from grace was precipitous. He was named executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America for the 2015 season, his first as Jets GM. That season, he helped shepherd the Jets to a 10-6 record, coming up a win short of the playoffs. Now, less than four years after being recognized as the top executive in the league, Maccagnan is unemployed.

But perhaps we should have known his days were numbered when he won that award. Shockingly, this honor has become the front office equivalent of the Madden curse. Seven of the past 10 award winners have been fired. Of the three winners who still have jobs, one — Jerry Jones — is an owner who is unlikely to fire himself, and the other two are the most recent recipients: Howie Roseman in 2017 and Chris Ballard in 2018.

Is this award cursed?

Employment history of the winners of the past 10 awards for the NFL executive of the year from the Pro Football Writers of America

Season GM Team Status
2018 Chris Ballard Indianapolis Colts Active
2017 Howie Roseman Philadelphia Eagles Active
2016 Reggie McKenzie Oakland Raiders Fired Dec. 10, 2018
2015 Mike Maccagnan New York Jets Fired May 15, 2019
2014 Jerry Jones Dallas Cowboys Owner
2013 John Dorsey Kansas City Chiefs Fired June 22, 2017
2012 Ryan Grigson Indianapolis Colts Fired Jan. 21, 2017
2011 Trent Baalke San Francisco 49ers Fired Jan. 1, 2016
2010 Scott Pioli Kansas City Chiefs Fired Jan. 4, 2013
2009 Bill Polian Indianapolis Colts Fired Jan. 3 2012

Source: Pro Football Writers of America

For the seven fired GMs, the average time from winning executive of the year to being unemployed works out to a brisk 1,122 days, or just over three years. Former Colts’ GM Bill Polian leads the seven in time served, with a 12-year run with the Colts and 22 years total as an NFL executive prior to winning a record fifth executive of the year award in 2009. He stepped down as GM after the 2009 season but remained vice chairman of the team, and then he began the decade of despair by getting unceremoniously fired — along with his son, who succeeded him as GM — two years later.

It’s interesting to note that the longest-tenured GMs in the NFL who aren’t also owners — the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Steelers’ Kevin Colbert — have never won the award. Neither has Washington’s on-again, off-again GM Bruce Allen, and he’s been able to hold on to a spot in the organization for the past nine years. Perhaps owners and league observers are giving GMs both too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things come up pear-shaped. Half of the honored executives during the past decade worked as GMs of the Colts and the Chiefs, suggesting that the teams they inherited might have been just as important to their success.

Often, GMs on the list rose and fell based on the fortunes of their head coaches or quarterbacks. San Francisco’s Trent Baalke won the award while paired with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who would take the Niners to the brink of Super Bowl glory. But Harbaugh departed for Michigan, and Baalke was quickly dismissed after he hitched his wagon to a sweaty and confused Jim Tomsula and the ghost of Chip Kelly. Indianapolis’s Ryan Grigson, gifted the first overall pick in his rookie year as a GM, took an absolute no-brainer in quarterback Andrew Luck and reaped the benefits for five years, posting a record of 52-34 as a GM before being fired.

The reigning executive of the year, Chris Ballard, might be an exception. Ballard worked under fellow award winner and former mentor John Dorsey in Kansas City. Dorsey was fired soon after Ballard left for Indianapolis, and some insiders have pointed to Ballard’s management acumen and attention to detail as something Dorsey leaned on and was unable to replicate in Ballard’s absence. Dorsey landed on his feet in Cleveland, however, and he inherited both the first and fourth overall picks in the 2018 draft, setting himself and his team up for success.

If Maccagnan has an opportunity at a second act as an NFL GM, he should probably follow in the footsteps of Baalke and Dorsey and seek out a team with a good coach and a high draft pick. Then he should probably pray that he never wins another executive of the year award.

An Impeachment Push Isn’t Happening Now. What Moves Do Democrats Have Left?

House Democrats are in a bind. The White House refuses to cooperate with their investigations into President Trump and his administration. In response, Democrats have tried to retaliate, most recently taking the first steps toward holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, issuing subpoenas for Trump’s tax returns and pressing the administration for more information about its decision to argue that the Affordable Care Act should be completely overturned. But they’re running out of moves, especially with impeachment off the table for now. And their remaining options aren’t simple — some would be difficult to pull off for practical reasons, and all carry significant political risks.

The traditional path for trying to get unwilling presidents to comply with congressional oversight — taking the dispute to the courts — is slow. So Democrats have started to talk about trying to force the Trump administration to cooperate by jailing, fining or withholding salaries. Some of these maneuvers could prevent the Democrats from looking weak against the White House in the short term, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be effective in the long term — either for giving Democrats leverage over Trump or changing the political narrative.

Fighting it out in court is the most conventional strategy Democrats could employ, and it’s probably the one with the highest likelihood of actually forcing the Trump administration to turn over Trump’s tax returns or the unredacted report on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But legal experts said these cases could take months or years to resolve even if they’re fast-tracked. And Democrats still aren’t guaranteed a win, which means that after all that time, they might end up with nothing to show for it.

A big part of the problem is that a single house of Congress just doesn’t have a lot of formal leverage over the executive branch. The standoff between House Democrats and the Trump administration has shown how dependent Congress’s oversight powers are on the cooperation of the executive branch. “This is one of the most significant examples we’ve seen of a Trump-era moment revealing some of the structural inadequacies of our political system,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Faced with a system that’s tilted toward the president, Democrats are being forced to think creatively. And the handful of other options that have emerged would really up the ante — possibly more than they want. They are:

  • Start locking people up. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin raised the possibility that Congress could dust off its “inherent contempt” power, which allows it to arrest and temporarily detain uncooperative witnesses. Raskin said that although many House members weren’t aware of it, its “day in the sun” was coming. The problem is that this power hasn’t been exercised since the 1930s and any attempt to arrest a member of the Trump administration could backfire. Such a move might create the impression that the Democrats’ investigations are pure partisan theater and turn off moderates, or if the official resisted, it might lead to an actual standoff between the executive and legislative branches of government.
  • Issue fines. Some congressional Democrats, including House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, have argued that their inherent contempt power could also allow them to fine administration officials who are held in contempt. Josh Chafetz, who is a professor of law at Cornell University and studies the relationship between Congress and the executive branch, said that issuing fines would be unprecedented, which raises some practical roadblocks: The fine would probably be challenged in court, and no mechanism exists for making an official pay up. A fine might, in the abstract, be seen by the public (or even other members of Congress) as less of an overreach than jailing an official like Barr, but it would be difficult — if not impossible — to enforce.
  • Withhold salaries and funding from the executive branch. A final possibility is to weaponize Congress’s power of the purse, either by cutting off the salaries for administration figures who won’t testify or turn over information or withholding funding for federal programs or agencies. House oversight committee Chairman Elijah Cummings floated this possibility last week, saying that he’d consider withholding pay from executive branch employees who are refusing to be interviewed as part of ongoing investigations. It’s not entirely clear how this tactic would be enforced, though. And any larger attempts to withhold funding from the executive branch would require cooperation from the Senate and might risk another government shutdown. Including measures to dock salaries or withhold money for important programs in budget bills might exert pressure on Senate Republicans or the Trump administration, but the Democrats could also be blamed for any resulting gridlock.

If Democrats pursue the more unconventional routes I outlined above, one challenge for them will be to convince voters that it’s Trump’s behavior — not theirs — that’s unusual. Chafetz said Democrats could try to marshal public opinion with a high-profile event like congressional testimony from Mueller that would highlight the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate. But as the investigations continue, he said, it may be increasingly difficult to maintain the public’s attention. And Americans could grow impatient if the process starts to drag out with no clear end in sight.

This may already be happening. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 57 percent of Americans — including about half of Democrats — believe that continued investigations into Trump would interfere with important government business. The same poll saw an increase in support for impeachment, from 40 percent in mid-April to 45 percent. So it’s not clear whether the findings are a sign that Americans want the Democrats to pull back on their investigations or start moving toward impeachment.

But if impeachment doesn’t become more politically viable, Democrats may be forced to consider whether brinksmanship is the right strategy for forcing the Trump administration to back down and comply with some of their requests. Nothing at this point seems like a straightforward winner: Relying on external mechanisms like the courts would mean Democrats concede ground to the White House and could still result in a loss, and more dramatic responses carry big political risks with no promise of a reward. The question is what kind of gamble the Democrats are willing to take to get the information they want from the president — because at this point, they’re out of safe options.

How The Warriors Finished The Rockets

Playing without injured star Kevin Durant and working with what appeared to be a rapidly thinning bench, you might have figured the Golden State Warriors would be in deep trouble if they saw a half in which Stephen Curry went scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. After all, while the Warriors entered Game 6 having compiled a 29-4 record in games when Durant sat and Curry played, those games involved Curry averaging 27.8 points.

But instead of finding themselves in trouble on Friday, the Warriors found themselves headed to the locker room at halftime tied with the Houston Rockets. They earned that halftime deadlock behind both a 3-point explosion from Klay Thompson and timely contributions from several of the same players who had seen their performances maligned earlier in the series. Then, Steph poured in 33 second-half points — including a career-high 23 in the fourth quarter — to send the Rockets home and the Warriors back to the Western Conference finals for the fifth consecutive season.

Thompson knocked down five threes during that first half, pouring in 21 of the Warriors’ 57 points. He scored only six points after the break, but the early burst was key in allowing his team to survive Curry’s frigid shooting. Not that this was anything out of the ordinary for Thompson — he has become something of a Game 6 specialist over the past several years, knocking down in excess of 52 percent of his 3-point tries in the Warriors’ seven Game 6s during the Steve Kerr era. This victory also pushed the Warriors’ record during that time to an incredible 95-9 (and 18-3 in the playoffs) in games when Thompson makes five or more shots from beyond the arc.

Thompson was not alone in buoying the Warriors while Curry struggled. Golden State’s bench players had been absolutely dreadful during this series, but in the first half of Game 6, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko, Andrew Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie actually came to play. That group of seven players combined for 20 points prior to halftime — more than they had collectively scored during any of the previous five games in this series.

Livingston finished the game with 11 points, marking just the fifth time all season he cracked double digits and the first time since the middle of January. Looney hammered the Rockets on the offensive glass, collecting 16.7 percent of available offensive boards while he was on the floor — a rate that would rank among the best in the league if he sustained it over a full season. His 14 points also marked the second-highest total of his playoff career, and Friday was only the third time he’s reached double digits during a postseason game. Cook didn’t score in the second half, but he dished out two extremely timely assists before the break and, late in the third quarter, set up Curry’s first 3-pointer of the game.

The Warriors also got incredibly valuable contributions from Andre Iguodala, who should somehow find a way to include the tape of this game on his application to the Basketball Hall of Fame, if such a thing is possible. Iguodala not only finished with 17 points, but he also knocked down five threes for the first time in six years. His most valuable contributions, though, came on defense, where he hounded James Harden into an 11-for-25 shooting line and came away with a steal on four of Harden’s five live-ball turnovers, including one that essentially sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. Iguodala was Golden State’s preferred defender on Harden throughout the series,1 and Game 6 was an object lesson in why.

Of course, all of those players’ contributions were merely the preamble to Chef Curry getting cooking in the second half. After going scoreless during the first half for the first time in 102 career playoff games, Steph had the most explosive second half of not just his own playoff career but of any player who had gone scoreless before halftime in the past 20 postseasons. Seemingly out of rhythm for most of the night, Curry didn’t really get going until he knocked down one of his classic relocation threes late in the third period. His next shot rimmed out, and a three-quarter-court heave at the end of the quarter came up just short, but he spent most of the rest of the game looking like the Stephen Curry we’ve come to know once he knocked down that corner three.

That Stephen Curry is a killer, and he absolutely killed the Rockets in the fourth quarter, racking up 23 points while shooting 6 of 8 from the field, 3 of 5 from three and 8 of 8 from the line.

Mostly, he shredded the Rockets out of the pick and roll. The Warriors had run a Curry-Draymond Green pick and roll 58 times during the first five games of the series, per Second Spectrum tracking data, for an average of 11.6 per game. They ran that action 10 times during the fourth quarter of Game 6 alone, and those plays resulted in 20 Warriors points, 15 of them from Curry himself. Driving layups, scoop floaters, step-back threes, hitting Green on the short roll so that he could make a 4-on-3 play coming downhill — Curry showed off the entire ball-screen repertoire down the stretch, and the Rockets simply had no answers for him.

Very few teams have had answers for Curry over the years, though the Rockets did hound him into some of his very worst playoff basketball ever during this series. Steph struggled in Games 1 and 2, but the Warriors still came out on top thanks largely to the brilliance of Durant and the under-heralded contributions of Green and Iguodala. Houston rebounded to tie the series by winning the next two games at home while Curry continued misfiring, but in both Game 5 and Game 6, the Rockets squandered opportunities to take advantage of his continued struggles until it was too late, and he managed to get going again. And when Curry gets going like that, the Warriors are near impossible to beat.

Check out our latest NBA playoff predictions.