September 2007

I’d like to introduce you to Brett Darrow, a mild mannered community college student in St. Louis, Missouri and victim of abuse of police powers. We’ve done stories before about douches like Andrew Meyer who are out looking to make a scene, but this is different. Brett appears to be the honest target and victim of police who want to abuse their power.

It all started in 2006 when Brett received a speeding ticket which he thought was unfair. Since he had no evidence, he decided to install a video camera in his car just in case something like this happened again. Little did he now the saga of police drama it would help him document. Since that day Mr. Darrow has recorded a number of obvious instances of abuse of police power, and he is unfortunately paying the price for his efforts.

In December 2006, he caught on record the first, and least severe, instance of abuse. Having been stopped at a drunk driving road block the officer asks for his license and registration, and Mr. Darrow complies. However when the officer asks where he is headed, a question which is inappropriate to ask in the first place, Mr. Darrow politely declines to answer. The officer detains him illegally, and briefly confiscates his vehicle. When asked why he is being detained he is told:

You better stop runnin your mouth or the other officer will find a reason to lock you up tonight.”

Other than possible damage to his car (the confiscating officer couldn’t drive stick), the night passes without much more abuse, due to Mr. Darrow indicating the conversation was being recorded. But this was only the beginning of Mr. Darrow’s troubles. Earlier this month, on September 10th, Mr. Darrow had another run in with the police. This time in a commuter parking lot where he had arranged to meet his girlfriend to collect some keys he had accidentally left behind. A cop comes over to see what he is doing, and when Mr. Darrow asks what he has done wrong, the cop gets angry culminating in a threat to make up charges:

Do you want to go to jail for some ****ing reason I come up with? …I bet I could say you resisted arrest or something. You want to come up with something? I come up with nine things. Do you wanna try something?

Everything recorded on video, Mr. Darrow submits his evidence to the St. Louis Police Department and the officer is placed on unpaid suspension. By this point, however, things have become more serious, and Mr. Darrow appears to have gained the ire of the whole police department, leading to a death threat being made against him on a police forum. In addition to this death threat, police have been staking out his home, waiting for him on his street. His neighbors have confirmed police near the house at all hours of the day and night.

This level of police abuse is unacceptable and unbelievable. The 12 Angry Men join other members of the media in decrying the abuse he has suffered and applauding his bravery in the face of power.

Epilogue: There is some recent good news in this story. Earlier this week, the officer who abused his power in the commuter parking lot has been fired. Here’s hoping that casting a little more light on this story will make things even brighter for Mr. Darrow.

-Angry Midwesterner

Today’s article is brought to you by “researchers” at NYU and UCLA. In a recent study, designed to troll the heck out of the entire American populace, neuro-science researchers “proved” that the brains of liberals and conservatives are wired differently. Among their list of conclusions were:

  • “conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments”
  • conservatives tend to ignore information
  • “liberals are more open to new experiences”
  • liberals can be expected to accept new scientific and social ideals faster
  • the results “provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity.”

Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find this fascinating! These conclusions are revolutionary, and best of all have been made using Science ™! One imagines that there are several deep experiments correlating data from MRI observations with behavioral experiments, and well designed procedures meant to isolate variables and ensure the proper statistical power to draw these conclusions. One would imagine these things… and be horribly and utterly wrong.

No, it turns out the only experiment conducted was asking subjects if they were liberal or conservative, presenting them with a series of “M”‘s and “W”‘s on the screen, and asking them to hit a button when they saw an “M”. They then recorded correctness, brain activity from a broad region of the brain and from this data drew their specious conclusions.

This is one of my biggest beef’s with modern research, especially from Biologists and Psychologists. People love to draw broad conclusions from results that are utterly unable to support them. Due to media buzz, increasing popular influence, and just plain old bad science, this has become an increasing problem. Whats worse is that it detracts from the credibility of scientists everywhere, and public understanding of what science is. While the research conducted by the scientists at NYU and UCLA was doubtless important, like many researchers in the field, their results are utterly bogus. There is no way they can draw the broad behavioral conclusions that they draw based on people pressing buttons when seeing a given letter.

Not that this stops them from getting the headlines and fame, however. Not until the press hires competent science writers who can see these sorts of sham conclusions for what they are.

-Angry Midwesterner

It’s now official: Republicans really do hate brown people. When Hispanic (14.5% of population) and African-American (12.1% of the population) groups felt the need to hold debates among the would-be Presidents, the Democrats were all over themselves to participate. You’d think that the Republicans, following Karl Rove‘s plan for a Permanent Republican Majority would’ve followed suit. But alas for the brothers and mis amigos — only Señor McCain agreed to attend Univision’s event, and none of the Republican candidates agreed to attend the event at Morgan State. They cited “scheduling conflicts.” And if you believe that, I have a wonderful bridge to sell you… it’s in Brooklyn, I believe. What it comes down to is that the Republican candidates only care about the votes of white people and are willing to drop a full quarter of the electorate in the “D” column come the next presidential election. Given the rates of population increase among minorities (45% of children under five are minorities) it appears that the Republican party intends to rush headlong lemming-style into political oblivion. Let’s pause for a moment and see what what states are going to be switching columns.

Combine this with the fact that California (55), New York (31), New Jersey (15), Connecticut (7), DC (3), Illinois (21), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Michigan(17), Vermont (3), and Rhode Island are already quite blue, and you have 259 electoral votes solidly in the “D” Column. Former Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY) notes, “We sound like we don’t want immigration; we sound like we don’t want black people to vote for us.” That’s right, Representative Kemp, it really sounds like your party doesn’t. Which I imagine, makes the Democrats, very, very happy.

Everybody wants to rule the world. —Tears for Fears

Recently I wrote about some reports of surveys of university professors. Today, let’s dig deeper into specifics.

Whether the issue with Evangelicals is a “genuine” expression of prejudice—as in “I hate you because you are X, end of story”—is hard to answer definitively. Certainly the by now well-known fundamental attribution error suggests that it’s important to watch out when we come to this point as it’s very hard to attribute motive accurately, particularly for people you disagree with: “I have my reasons for the things I do, but you are evil by nature.” That said, I’m going to throw out what I think is the modal academic’s unarticulated position, though ultimately it represents mine and I’ll have to hope I’m close enough to the modal opinion for me to be a stand-in.

There is certainly going to be prejudice, much of it social class-based; this is not confined to the academy but is widespread in the population. The extent to which Evangelicals are perceived to be “bubbas” or otherwise lower class will make things difficult for them among groups higher in the social hierarchy. I bet that the view of speaking in tongues in a board room of a Fortune 500 company isn’t very high either. Fire-and-brimstone social conservatism isn’t a great sell among a group that leans to the social libertarian side, either. In addition, with academics, the perception of lack of education is a particularly strong negative—we do like what we’re selling, after all…. 🙂 (Edit: I should note—it’s implicit below—that there is a real diversity among the groups called “evangelical” that many outsiders don’t recognize. The perception among the non-evangelical population is largely the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson types. It’s really the flipside of “professor = left wing atheist” problem I’m talking about.)

However, a good chunk of the issue I think many academics have with Evangelicals in particular is this: Evangelicals have become the public face of a substantial anti-intellectual movement and, well, intellectuals really don’t like anti-intellectual movements. (Edit: Here and here is a good example of the kind of crap I’m talking about. I can only hope it’s a sick joke but I have my doubts. I bet Senator Brownback would rather not have friends like these….) There is a non-trivial group of hard core moral relativists, mostly concentrated in the humanities, and the staunchly anti-religious who have stronger objections such as Richard Dawkins, but the survey results discussed above suggest that they are quite far from the majority in the academy. The entire attitude of Evangelicals (more particularly fundamentalists, and yes, I know there is a difference, but from a very long distance that’s not apparent or even all that important), is essentially “Everything you need to know can be found by looking in the Bible.” (Fundamentalists in other areas substitute different holy texts, e.g., Das Kapital, The Koran, largely unwritten “tradition”, etc.) For most academics this is a truly alien and essentially horrific basic premise. It’s just not going to fly with people who’s starting premise is “I’m going to look into it… and even then we’re going to argue about it.” Now I won’t deny that there are some very dogmatic academics out there who love their theories to death, but in general the bias of academics is against such views and, at least in my experience, most really aren’t heavily dogmatic. One doesn’t typically go into a job that requires a constant probing of questions with an attitude of dogmatism. The fact that evangelicals are leading the charge against the teaching of evolution is a good specific example, since it is perceived as fundamentally coming from a non-scientific motive.

What about respect for other religions? The authors seemed to have glided by this point in their hand-wringing. If universities were hotbeds of anti-Christian sentiment, you’d expect other branches of Christianity to get slammed. However, the data speaks to the contrary. Why? Let’s look at an example. Catholicism, for instance, has a longstanding tradition of scholarship and a network of universities identified with it. American, Loyola, De Paul, Notre Dame, Marquette and Georgetown are all good examples. (Many American private universities used to be sectarian, but over the course of the 20th Century the connection of institutions such as Harvard (Episcopalian), Princeton (Presbyterian), the University of Chicago (Baptist), etc., were broken or heavily downplayed. And of course state universities have never been sectarian, with possible early 19th Century exceptions.) The big difference between Notre Dame or Georgetown on one hand and, oh, Liberty University (Jerry Falwell), Regent University (Pat Robertson), Patrick Henry College or Oral Roberts University on the other, is the fact that the former are perceived as “real” because they have a long list of high-end scholars, and have for decades, while the latter are tarred (rightly or wrongly) with the anti-intellectual brush endemic to the modern American Evangelical movement. Given the evident quality (or lack thereof) of legal minds graduated from Regent University’s law school, I have to wonder, but rather than speculate, let’s look at course offerings. After browsing their web pages, Liberty, Regent, Patrick Henry and ORU tend to be essentially the equivalent of “teaching,” liberal arts, degree-completion or low-end professional schools, and have quite limited course offerings with little or no science, for instance. One of Regent’s highlighted majors is (surprise, surprise) TV production! They may well provide good but probably pretty limited educations for their students. I don’t know.

There’s a reason for such places, but they aren’t the likes of a Notre Dame… and my money’s on them never becoming so. Let’s consider why. At Wheaton College—one of the best Evangelical schools, and one that does have well-regarded science programs—faculty have to declare how their research is consistent with “biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity.” (Pity the pure mathematician or physical chemist!) They’ve also had issues with faculty conversion, as the dismissal of a professor who converted to Roman Catholicism shows. Having interviewed at Notre Dame some time ago, I can attest that while there is a clearly stated Catholic hiring preference, if being a Catholic isn’t a precondition for your job, i.e., you are not teaching theology or the like and so long as you don’t plan on going on an anti-Pope rampage, you are a viable candidate. Wheaton isn’t lying to you, the job candidate: They tell you right up front what’s up. However, they do drive off people who don’t fit their mold real closely and it will cost the college in terms of scholarship because the number of very solid scholars who also happen to be committed Evangelicals is, by definition, smaller than the number of very solid scholars, i.e., something has to give. By contrast, Calvin College, an Evangelical liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Michigan connected with the Dutch Reformed Church, is quite well-respected more broadly, has science programs, and so on. I’ve bumped into their faculty at academic conferences. So it is possible to make things work.

Furthermore, heavily faith-identified universities such as Maharishi University tend to come in for some pretty heavy skepticism among most academics; it’s not just Christianity. In short, it’s about scholarship, or perceived lack thereof, and not faith identification or Evangelical attachment per se. Naturally, for faith-based institutions, the priorities are exactly the other way around, Wheaton being a laser-spot-on example thereof. On the double standard towards Muslims also mentioned in the articles, I bet that’s mostly ignorance. If Muslim fundamentalists were as in-your-face about things as Evangelicals have been locally, Muslims would receive far more negative attention from American intellectuals. (Take a look at the current attitudes in Europe as an example of how things could go here.) Right now, most of them are sufficiently far away to be under the radar and appear, as the authors of the Jewish Research press release speculate, to be thought of as underdogs.

A few limitations of the studies: The surveys didn’t indicate the number of foreign-born faculty, or at least I couldn’t tell from digging around in their methodological appendix. There are, of course, quite a few non-American faculty members, who can be expected to have rather different views than the rest of the population. This is a methodological limitation of the study I wish they’d addressed more clearly. They also did a lot of data-dredging, which can lead to capitalization on chance. However, the fact that studies were done at all—as opposed to the usual alternative, anec-data—is a good thing.

In sum, my contention is that much of the disagreement between Evangelicals and academics comes from the fact that we are living in the middle (to end) of what’s been referred to as the Fourth Great Awakening or, to use Pat Buchanan’s term, the “culture war.” It’s a genuine disagreement about fundamental issues. One set of priorities sees faith in received wisdom as the defining feature. The other sees largely unlimited inquiry as the defining feature. These two visions just don’t line up. The conflict’s not going to be settled by an affirmative action program or by self-righteous finger-pointing by anyone. In fact, I don’t think it’ll be settled at all—which isn’t bad so long as things do not spiral out of control. As the quote of Karl Popper at the beginning points out, conflict isn’t a bad thing in a society, but (as he goes on to discuss later), the key is finding ways to manage it so people don’t end up dead. The term “culture war” has been bandied about of late, but there are disturbing and bloody precedents of what happens as they get pushed too far (see Eric Rudolph or the Weather Underground and go down from there). So there is a point to sociological representation and (lightly) enforced tolerance because it’s not good for what are supposed to be broad-based institutions to become “hostile environments” to substantial groups in the population. Indeed, the Air Force Academy has had some real issues with a hostile environment for non-Evangelicals, including observant Jews, Catholics, feeling pressured by the numerous Evangelicals connected to nearby Colorado Springs mega-churches. (The AFA is in Colorado Springs, sometimes known as the “Evangelical Vatican.”) Sometimes we have to do some things to make such institutions open up more we don’t especially like, though “thought police” is something we need to stop well short of, as certain academic disciplines show quite clearly. But the problem is broader than just universities and we shouldn’t be selective or short-sighted about it.

“Sir, what were you thinking? The World Trade Center site is the most sensitive place in the American heart, and you must have known that visiting there would be insulting to many, many Americans,” Pelley [asked].


“Why should it be insulting?” Ahmadinejad [replied].

Interview with 60 Minutes

Many innocent people were killed there. Some of those people were American citizens obviously. We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations.

Ahmadinejad later in the Interview

Pity poor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, puzzled President of Iran. He’s awfully confused about what all the fuss is about. All he wanted to do is visit Ground Zero in New York City, pay his respects to the victims of the 9/11 attack, and, just possibly, make some sort of statement about how bad terrorism is and how tragic 9/11 was. Of course, just whom he believes is responsible for 9/11 might be a question, given his penchant for odd revisionist theories about other historical events. But charity compels us to accept that he really isn’t sure why his presence there should be so disturbing. In fact, he’s sure it’s all just a misunderstanding.

And, doubtless, there could be some misunderstandings, so let’s take a moment and clear them up. Here’s a list of things Iran isn’t responsible for:

  • 9/11 – that was al Qaeda, a fanatic Sunni Muslim group not Iran, a fanatic Shia Muslim country
  • al Qaeda – that was Pakistan’s creation, in part with American funds sent to help fight the Soviets not Iran’s, which supported different vicious fanatics with other funds
  • Saddam Hussein – really, Iran did its best to get rid of this jerk in the 1980s, and sadly their best just wasn’t good enough
  • the Gulf War – Iran sat this one out, happy to see the Sunni nations beat themselves up, and even got a few fine Iraqi planes out of it

So, if anybody is mad at Mahmoud for this stuff, you should drop it, because it’s not really his fault.

On the other hand, there are a few small things that Iran is responsible for, and I’m thinking these might just have some bearing on why we just don’t like poor Mahmoud. These minor things include:

So, quite a legacy of support for terror and violence, frequently against American interests or allies. (I guess that’s why they’ve been on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism every year since 1984.) But all of this is dwarfed, of course, by the piece de resistance:

Since these insurgents are, after all, killing and maiming American soldiers (not to mention droves of Iraqi civilians), well, Mahmoud, you can pardon our suspicion that your tears for the victims of 9/11 are not exactly heartfelt. Especially when we recall your governments various working agreements with al Qaeda in years past. Call us sensitive, but we feel that if you’re actively trying to kill our soldiers, maybe you don’t have our best interests at heart. Let’s face it, there’s a term for countries like yours, and that term is: enemy nation.

And let us not forget Iran’s ongoing quest to develop the biggest bomb of all. That also makes us just a tad bit nervous, and makes us worry a bit that perhaps your stop by New York is for more than just sightseeing. A little pre-target recon, perhaps? Surely not, but you can see why we might be a little nervous, Mahmoud. Perhaps you and the nation you lead might consider actually acting like you want peace and stability instead of sowing chaos and terror in your neighbors and region.

And maybe, one day, you might consider apologizing for sacking our embassy, kidnapping its staff, blowing up a bunch of our other embassies, sponsoring hijacking and murder around the world, and taking an active interest in killing our soldiers in Iraq. In other words, before you start tooling around our cities, you might want to take some action to move your country out of its well-deserved doghouse.

Time for the occasionally awarded prize “Douche of the Week.” This week you get a twofer: Andrew Meyer, winner of the Inaugural Horse’s Ass award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award to OJ.

Horse’s Ass Award: Andrew “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” Meyer

You’ve all seen the video…. UF Student Andrew Meyer, after barging to the head of the line and running off at the mouth asking “questions” to Senator John Kerry, decided to throw a temper tantrum while being escorted to the door. He ended up being tasered for his trouble. While we here at the Angry Man Blog are of divided mind about whether he deserved being tasered (the id part of me screams “yes!”), whether excessive force was used, and whether the perceived nature of tasers act as a lure for LEOs to use excessive force, we are quite unified that he deserved being escorted to the door and that what happened afterwards was largely of his doing. My own more reasoned (non-id) view is that the determination of whether excessive force was used should be left to a board of inquiry to decide. Trial in the court of public opinion with a context-free Youtube video as sole evidence simply isn’t a good way to handle it. My colleagues will, of course, chime in on comments. 🙂

Some people are holding Meyer up as an example of violated right of free speech. While I believe profoundly in the First Amendment, Meyer’s drama queen behavior—far too common on college campuses these days—certainly ain’t it. I’ve personally attended public speeches where jerks like Meyer had taken over the discourse. Let’s not forget this, by their behavior the Andrew Meyers of the world deny others the right to speak by hogging the mike, butting in line and doing all sorts of other forum no-nos. You’ll notice, for instance, that a lot of the crowd clapped when he was being removed. Seems Mr. Meyer has a reputation at UF for pulling these kinds of noxious stunts. One of the rules of the civil disobedience game is “Make your point and when the LEO comes to remove you, don’t be stupid.” Meyer, however, was clearly a newbie and, while happy dishing it out, he sure couldn’t take it when someone decided to call his bluff. The cynic in me said “This is a setup, he’s going to be making the talk show rounds” the day I saw the video. What do you know? The Youtube video was done with his own camera and a few nights back his friends were busy paying off their student loans getting interviewed. I’m sure he’ll be there soon enough. (I won’t link to his web page with videos of his stunts. Google for it yourself but my advice is not to give him the satisfaction.) I later found many of these points made in video essay from a student in Florida (not at UF).

The UCLA tasering case from last year is more difficult, but again, the whole thing would have been avoided if the student hadn’t decided to throw a temper tantrum worthy of a cola-infused three year old two hours past his nap, i.e., if he’d chosen to act like an adult. The mix of student self-righteous indignation and cop Eric Cartman-esque “You will respect my authoritah!” mental rigidity (supported, I suspect, by a substantial mutual dislike of mostly working class cop versus mostly upper/upper-middle class student) seems to be a heady brew indeed. In fact this independent report from UCLA discusses these points and should become required reading for university police departments on how things can go horribly, horribly wrong. The temptation is to blame one side and therefore exonerate the other, but as the UCLA report says, there’s plenty of blame to go around. We’ll see on the UF case, but my bets are with the cops on this one.

Enjoy your fifteen minutes, bro.

Without further ado, here’s

WordPress divider

Lifetime Achievement Award: OJ Simpson

A Lifetime Achievement Award goes to OJ for reminding us of how much of a scumbag he really is:

  • There was that wonderful episode back in the mid 90s which does not bear repeating…
  • There’s the book “If I Did It,” originally slated for publication by Rupert Murdoch’s schizoid business empire that simultaneously owns trash TV outlets, the New York Post, and “family values” icons like Fox News, and now published by Ron Goldman’s family…
  • Now there’s his attempt at a ghetto-style recovery of what he claims was stolen property, done that way, presumably, to avoid having any of it getting reported as part of his assets to avoid the civil judgment against him from that episode in the 1990s.

The Juice’s definitely got some screws loose. If we’re lucky, he’ll disappear and spend the rest of his old age in the slammer and we won’t have to hear about one Orenthal James Simpson—a great running back, but a poor excuse for a human being—again for a long, long time, if ever….

Mildly Piqued Academician

There can be no human society without conflict: such a society would be not a society of friends but of ants. —Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

A few months back the results of two large representative surveys of the political views of university faculty were published with little fanfare. This was reported on a web page of the Allan Bloom-inspired group Minding the Campus, but the details for the one by Jewish Research is here. (MtC seems to mostly have just copied what Jewish Research said.) Here is a link to another study, done by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons at Harvard and George Mason, respectively. There was a little press coverage, e.g., this article in the Washington Post by Alan Cooperman. In the big scheme of things, this isn’t an enormous issue, so fair enough, but I still figured it would be worth some analysis.

In short, university faculty do not resemble the general population on their political and religious views. The data show that university faculty are similar to other “elite” groups of highly educated people in the society, i.e., more liberal than the norm, less religious, less likely to have voted for George W. Bush, etc.

Big surprise, there.

What’s interesting is what the studies don’t show. While university faculty are more liberal, less religious, etc., things are not monolithic. The vast majority still describe themselves as religious, have some involvement in a church, and so on. For instance, atheists—rare in the general population—are more common among university faculty, but by no means even close to a majority, making up about 8% of the respondents, with agnostics being about 12%. This is about three times the rate of the general population. The survey done by Gross and Simmons had an important caveat: Community colleges and state comprehensive universities have faculty that resemble the ordinary population more than elite institutions, which shouldn’t be shocking, either, since they tend to be drawn more from the ordinary population. This is important because a substantial majority of students attend these universities, not elite institutions. So in a sense, often the discourse is about what goes on at elite universities… which we shouldn’t really expect to resemble the general population much at all. The authors slice and dice the data in other ways; take a look at the original studies for more. The Gross/Simmons study is probably the one to read as it is much shorter and better written. (If you do, keep in mind that the margin of error for both surveys is about +/-4% on any estimates and if you want to be safe, don’t interpret differences less than about +/-6% as meaning much.)

Two groups, however, get singled out for special opprobrium among university faculty: Mormons and Evangelicals. I don’t pretend to understand the issue with Mormons aside from their appearance as a “mystery cult”—special underwear, closed temples, tales of revelation in upstate New York, and a history of polygamy will do that. But Mormons are far from popular among other groups, including Evangelicals, who like them even less than I suspect most university faculty do, so it’s unclear what to say about that. (Edit, 12/20/08: It seems that the Southern Baptist Convention may be responsible for much of the negative attention against Mormons.) On the issue of Evangelicals, the press releases have a certain doom and gloom aspect to them. From the press release on MtC:

Authors of the survey call this finding “alarming” and say those surveyed “have identified a deep and wide breach in the promotion and protection of diversity and open debate.” The report wonders about the long-term impact of prejudice against Evangelicals on campus and says it “stands out prominently in institutions dedicated to liberalism, tolerance and academic freedom…Colleges and universities have some serious soul-searching to do about these findings.”

Soul-searching? Hmmm…. Partisan agendas aside, lying behind the press release is, I believe, a theory of sociological representation, i.e., one that says that the distribution within an institution should resemble the society at large. (“Theory” here is being used in its philosophical, not scientific, sense.) In a sense, sociological representation is not a crazy notion, although different groups in our society can and do take it way, way too far, leading to things like the widespread gerrymandering of the 1990s to increase the number of representatives in the House from minority groups, made possible by an unholy alliance of left-leaning minority groups and conservative Republicans, both of whom could only agree on one thing: a desire to pick the voters rather than the other way around. The truth is, people self-select into all sorts of groups all the time. Furthermore, if you allow free association, identifiable sub-groups within society will not, in general, end up looking the population at large. For instance, people going into business tend to be much more financially motivated and generally economically conservative than Joe Average. I don’t hear conservatives hand-wringing about that.

2005 Economics Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling actually wrote a fascinating book considering (among others) the topic of segregation by individual choice, Micromotives and Macrobehavior, showing that very mild preference for “people like me” leads to near-total segregation quite quickly. (For the geeks: Schelling’s model was actually the first example of a cellular automaton model used to answer a real research question.) The result is counter-intuitive, but if you want to see what I mean, observe any large cafeteria where people get to choose their seats. Or you can play with Schelling’s model yourself (some assembly required). Anyway, the point is that underlying the hand-wringing about the fact that university faculty—and a lot of other social groups—fail to resemble the average population lies this notion of representation. Of course, many conservatives reject such a theory when it is applied in areas such as court membership (does the composition of the SCOTUS resemble the population at all? should it?), juries, boardrooms, and so on, but do seem to believe it about university faculty. Liberals like it when it comes to institutions they don’t control and feel the opposite in institutions they do. It’s not a good idea to trust the partisans on this issue (or, IMO, any issue, but that’s another story). Better, instead, to dig a little deeper….

(Continued here)

Consider the following statistics:

  • 40% of University of Virginia (UVa) students consume an average of six or more drinks a week.
  • 24.4% of UVa students don’t care if their friends drink and drive.
  • 33.5% of UVa students don’t mind if their drinking causes problems for other people.
  • 16.5% of UVa students are too scared of the cops to call 911 when one of their friends has alcohol poisoning.
  • About one in twenty UVa students has gotten into a fight while drinking.
  • 25.4% of UVa students drink alone and/or go to frat parties without anyone there that they know.
  • 35.1% of UVa students will leave their drunk friend with a stranger.
  • 10% of UVa students who drink have been injured at some point because of their drinking.

Now, consider the source of these statistics, namely a web site that is supposed to convince UVa students that other students don’t drink. The idea is that students will be overwhelmed by how many of their peers do the right thing, thus causing students with drinking problems to abandon all of their foolish and irresponsible habits.

Of course, to make this argument more convincing, all of these statistics are provided in reverse. For instance, they assert that 60% of UVa students consume 0-5 drinks per week…

I guess you’ll have to excuse me if I’m still underwhelmed by those numbers.

Apparently, this is a popular approach to addressing alcohol problems at universities. You can even find consulting companies that will put together one of these “Social Norms” campaigns for your school. There are (at least) two things wrong with this picture.

  1. If I go to a crowded frat party or a popular bar that is turning people away at the door every Friday and Saturday night, I’m not going to be worried that too many of my peers will look down on me for drinking. On the contrary, I’m still going to be more worried that I’m never going to get through the crowd around the bar to get a drink of my own.
  2. If you can do the simple arithmetic that I did at the beginning of this post, then you can figure out that there are very large groups of students who do these things that you are not supposed to do. There are over twenty thousand students at UVa, and so I have to conclude that nearly a thousand of them have gotten in a fight while they were drunk. The first two rules of Fight Club might be not to talk about Fight Club, but they evidently still have quite a few members in their Charlottesville chapter.

The only part that I can’t figure out about all of this is why anyone would think that such a ridiculous campaign would work in the first place. Yes, people are very sensitive to what their peers are doing, but people also already have a pretty good idea of how much their peers are drinking and posters with these messages certainly aren’t going to change that.

PS – Please double-check to make sure that your friends would actually call an ambulance for you if you needed one. Apparently, a fair number of my peers wouldn’t.

The New York Times announced today that it will be discontinuing its Times Select service as of this evening. For those of you who don’t read America’s best newspaper (which, unlike the Wall Street Journal, isn’t run by a neoconservative cabal), the NYT started Times Select a few years back to try to capitalize on some of their most exclusive content. In addition to restricting the archives, the NYT also restricted some of the best columnists you can find online or off. The likes of economics professor Paul Krugman, author Thomas Friedman, law school professor Stanley Fish or socialite Maureen Dowd were for paying customers only.

No doubt Times Select was worth it (or at least 227,000 paid subscribers thought so). However, the $10 million they made off the service annually obviously wasn’t worth the effort. Not only would advertising pay more, but making their Times Select content available for free (again) would better serve the New York Times brand. As an avid reader of the NYT (who started reading America’s second-best paper, The Washington Post for opinions and editorials when Times Select first came out), I am quite excited at the development. I won’t knock the Post — unlike USA Today it has a readership beyond America’s hotel rooms, but it’s still not the NYT. And no matter what people say about the democratization of social media as they participate in the great blogosphere (how I loathe that word) circle jerk, the facts are hard to avoid: Good news and commentary are becoming harder and harder to find in the blogging-driven Age of the Gibbering Yard Ape. I for one am glad that the New York Times is once again making their best and brightest available to us all.

The staff of the 12 Angry Men would like to offer their congratulations to Angry Immigrant, and his new bride, who were married today. Our best wishes to them (and especially to the new Mrs. Angry Immigrant… he’s a handful!) on this their happiest day, and for the countless happier days to come, sharing and growing in their love for one another.

Congratulations! May you both always find happiness with each other, and help each other to grow in faith and love.
– Angry Midwesterner

Congratulations – I’m sorry that my fiancee and I couldn’t be there today, but we wish you both all the best!
– Angry Virginian

May you crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their, er, ah, wrong post. What I meant to say was: All the best!
– Angry New Mexican

As you walk your journey together may you truly be Christ to one another: offering the blessing of love freely given and the challenge to love without limit!
– Angry Overeducated Catholic

Hehe, I think I know where ANM is going with that comment *sly setup, very sly*. Congratulations mate, wishing you all the best. may your journey thru life together be a happy one.
-Angry Fascist Libertarian

I think everyone signing before me managed to come up with all the comments, so I’ll keep it simple: Congrats.

To Love is to choose, and as Milton Friedman said, we are free to choose. Congratulations!
Angry Libertarian

Congratulations on your merger! May your capital grow, your dividends flourish, and your relationship be profitable. Any may you avoid excessive capital gains tax.
– Angry Political Optimist

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