On alcohol and sexual consent

I presume that most people who drink alcohol (i.e., most people) and most people who have sex (i.e., most people) have, in fact, engaged in sex while under the influences of alcohol.  And I would also posit that in a substantial majority of these cases what is happening is not a crime.  Yet, we keep hearing from some quarters that you cannot consent to sex when intoxicated.  But that’s not true and this Slate article makes a strong case for why it is particularly harmful to spread this untruth:

The key is to make clear exactly when it is a crime to have sex with a person who is too intoxicated to be capable of giving meaningful consent. Here’s the proper legal framework: Sex with someone who is too drunk to consent is a crime even if the perpetrator uses no violence whatsoever to force his way. It is a crime even if the survivor does not physically resist or verbally object. It is a crime even if she is not passed out but is conscious before and during the encounter. It is a crime even if she was not drugged or forced or tricked into drinking by the perpetrator but got drunk on her own…

There’s no similar line for determining when someone is too drunk to consent to sex. Instead, the question is whether, under all the circumstances apparent to the perpetrator, a reasonable person would know that the victim was too intoxicated to give a meaningful consent. Under that standard, the prosecution may win a conviction only by proving that the victim’s intoxication was extreme and verifiable. She has to be way past buzzed or tipsy. She has to be very drunk.

The cases and the literature on rape give examples. For example, a person who is falling-down drunk, too intoxicated to walk. Or unable to talk clearly or coherently. Or too uncoordinated to undress herself. Or sick drunk, slumped over a toilet vomiting or urinating on herself. [emphasis mine]

In conditions like these, there’s just no possibility of meaningful consent…

Okay, so here’s the why it’s a bad thing part:

Perhaps because it is illegal for the vast majority of their students to drink in the first place, many colleges do a poor job of explaining the kinds of circumstances in which it is unreasonable to believe that a drunk person is consenting. Some schools tend to issue sweeping warnings, such as: “Never mix drinking with sex.”

This sort of vague preaching is worse than useless. It fails to tell potential perpetrators when they are on the verge of crossing the line. And it may falsely suggest to potential victims that the law protects them against virtually all kinds of intoxicated sex, when it does not. For now, most cases of drunken sex will be—and, probably, should be—beyond the reach of the law. Young women need to know this. They need to know that the law treats sex after drinking as assault only in extreme circumstances.

Good to see some pushback on this unhelpful and potentially harmful approach to thinking about sex and alcohol.  Nobody should ever coerce another into having sex, nor, of course, take advantage of an extremely debilitated state (caused by alcohol or anything, for that matter) to have sex with another person, but that is no reason to criminalize the every day occurrence of people under the modest influence of alcohol having sex.

It’s not my fault I can’t remember– it’s my gender

My wife is often bemused and amazed at events from our life that I have forgotten.  Her theory is that my brain is so full of (largely useless) trivia, arcane knowledge, etc., that there’s no room left for family memories and life events that I completely forget.  My theory is that she’s just good at remembering that stuff; not that I’m bad.  Anyway, it turns out that, well, science.  Women are better than men at recalling autobiographical memories.  From New York magazine:

Researchers are finding somepreliminaryevidence that women are indeed better at recalling memories, especially autobiographical ones. Girls and women tend to recall these memoriesfaster and with more specific details, and some studies have demonstrated that these memories tend to be more accurate, too, when compared to those of boys and men. And there’s an explanation for this: It could come down to the way parents talk to their daughters, as compared to their sons, when the children are developing memory skills.

To understand this apparent gender divide in recalling memories, it helps to start with early childhood — specifically, ages 2 to 6. Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories, and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents…

But the way parents tend to talk to their sons is different from the way they talk to their daughters. Mothers tend to introduce more snippets of new information in conversations with their young daughters than they do with their young sons, research has shown. And moms tend to ask more questions about girls’ emotions; with boys, on the other hand, they spend more time talking about what they should do with those feelings.

This is at least partially a product of parents acting on gender expectations they may not even realize they have, and the results are potentially long-lasting, explained Azriel Grysman, a psychologist at Hamilton College who studies gender differences and memory.

Anyway, interesting.  (It’s not my fault, Kim!)

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a deer on a frost-covered path

Cold Encounter

Photograph by Nicolas Le Boulanger, National Geographic Your Shot

Hoarfrost settles on a moor along the border of Espace Rambouillet, a wildlife reserve near Paris, France, that’s home to deer like this stag and other wildlife. Having heard noises on the moor one day, Your Shot member Nicolas Le Boulanger returned early the following morning “to see the author of these sounds.” He had just arrived at the path when the deer appeared. “It literally jumped up in front of me as if to block access to its secret garden,” Le Boulanger writes. “We watched each other for five minutes, and I took hundreds of photos, but many of the others were missed due to the hoarfrost on the subject, my own shivers, and the rising morning mist that blurred the perspective.”

Supply, demand, and adjuncts

Is it wrong of me to read this Salon article about adjunct college instructors who are living on food stamps and putting together multiple teaching jobs to earn less than than minimum wage on an hour basis and just not feel bad?  I don’t.  Let me say that I think colleges use too many adjuncts and I think that they should pay adjuncts more.  But we are talking about people with graduate degrees willingly taking as little as $3000 per class (we pay $4000 in my department).  That’s simply what the market will bear.  There are a lot more people willing to teach college courses on the cheap than there actually are college courses to be taught, so you end up with adjuncts with very low pay.  If these weren’t the dynamics of this marketplace, adjunct prices would go up a ton.  It’s hard to fault colleges for paying qualified people (now, I would fault them for unqualified people) $3000 to teach a class if there are plenty of people willing to teach at that price.  Or maybe I’m missing something.

Well, there’s this:

The most telling phrase in Merklein’s words are “the school as a business.” Colleges across the country have transitioned from bastions of intellectual enlightenment to resort hotels prizing amenities above academics. Case in point: The ludicrously extravagant gyms in America’s larger universities are home to rock climbing walls, corkscrew tracks, rooftop gardens, and a lazy river. Schools have billions to invest in housing and other on-campus projects. Schools have millions (or in some cases “mere” hundreds of thousands) to pay administrators.  Yet schools can’t find the money to hire more full-time professors. If one follows the money, it’s clear that colleges view education as tertiary. The rigor of a university’s courses doesn’t attract the awe of doe-eyed high school seniors. Lavish dorms and other luxuries do.

Despite such execrable circumstances, professors trek onward and try to educate students as best they can. But how good can education provided by overworked, underpaid adjuncts be?

Actually, pretty good in my department.  And whether “run like a business” or not (okay, we are too much) it is hard to expect universities to ignore basic laws of supply and demand regardless of all the other things mentioned above.   In the end, if too many adjuncts are taking literal food-stamp wages they need to be doing something else other than adjuncting.

Just a typical week in American criminal justice

It’s kind of sad that Radley Balko even needs to have a feature of his column named “Police Raid Roundup.”  A couple highlights from this week really struck me:

  • The grandson of a New Hampshire woman who was shot by police during a drug raid says she was reaching for her 18-month-old grandchild when the police fired at her. The bullet ripped through her arm and lodged in her abdomen. Two of the woman’s daughters were arrested on drug charges during simultaneous raids, but neither lived with the woman. According to the grandson, the police then tore the woman’s home apart but did not find any contraband.
  • In a case we’ve been following here at The Watch, an Illinois judge just ruled that police in Peoria did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they raided a home to unmask the identity of the person who had been operating a Twitter account that parodied the town’s mayor. Let me reiterate to highlight the absurdity: A judge has ruled that the police did nothing wrong when they raided a home because someone making fun of the mayor on Twitter. [emphasis in original] …
  • Meanwhile, a federal judge in Utah has ruled that the government isn’t obligated to compensate you when the police damage your home during a mistaken raid. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this ruling. It’s consistent with a long line of qualified immunityrulings when it comes to these raids. But as with the previous item, it’s worth reiterating: The government can send armed men to raid a home, they can then raid the wrong home, and the government is under no obligation to compensate the people who were wrongly raided. [emphasis mine]

Yep, just your typical week of criminal justice in America.

Photo of the day

Really cool set of NASA images from Big Picture:

This picture, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), shows a galaxy known as NGC 6872 in the constellation of Pavo (The Peacock). Its unusual shape is caused by its interactions with the smaller galaxy that can be seen just above NGC 6872, called IC 4970. They both lie roughly 300 million light-years away from Earth. From tip to tip, NGC 6872 measures over 500,000 light-years across, making it the second largest spiral galaxy discovered to date. (ESA/Hubble & NASA / Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

Common Core math

Just came across this nice column in the USAToday that explains my own parental experience with common core math.  My son isn’t learning all the same algorithms that I did– he’s actually learning to understand math:

As a professional mathematician, I’m as firmly against fuzzy math as they come. Common Core lays the foundation for students to have a better grasp of mathematical concepts than present standards and sets higher expectations for teaching and learning.

If that doesn’t sound fuzzy, there’s a simple reason: It isn’t.

To appreciate the changes under way, and perhaps to understand the anxiety provoked by Common Core, it’s helpful to look at math before the core.

Too often, it has been “plug and chug” math. In this approach, math is a bunch ofmemorized rules that don’t make much sense. Follow the rules, and you will get the right answer. Do something different, and you’re likely to get it wrong. “Analytical thinking” consists of figuring out which rule to apply. There is limited need for originality, explanations, or even genuine understanding. Learning enough rules will allow you to solve the problems you are given. Do this for enough years, and you may firmly believe that this is what mathematics actually is. If your kids are asked to do something different, you may be up in arms…

Common Core saves us from plug-and-chug. In fact, math is based on a collection of ideas that do make sense. The rules come from the ideas. Common Core asks students to learn math this way, with both computational fluency and understanding of the ideas.

Learning math this way leads to deeper understanding, obviates the need for endlessrule-memorizing and provides the intellectual flexibility to apply math in new situations, ones for which the rules need to be adapted. (It’s also a lot more fun.) Combiningcomputational fluency with understanding makes for problem solvers who can genuinely use their math. This is what businesses want and what is necessary to use math in a quantitative discipline…

The higher expectations laid out by the Core have been endorsed by every major mathematical society president, including the American Mathematical Society and the American Statistical Association. They called the Common Core State Standards an “auspicious advance in mathematics education.”

But, the Tea Party knows this is bad for your kids because Obama.  Or something like that.  Meanwhile, NC’s wise leaders will ensure that my kids now have math standards that fit the unique mathematical needs of North Carolina (whatever they are).  Hopefully, though, as in other states the wiser heads will largely endorse Common Core standards under a different name and that should be enough to placate the Tea Party rubes.


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