Thank God for dashboard cams

This cop is in jail and rightfully charged with a serious crime.  Who honestly thinks he wouldn’t still be out patrolling and doing heaven knows what else if he didn’t have a dashboard cam.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the week:

A herd of white horses gallop through a calm saltwater delta, kicking up spray as they race wildly against the setting sun. Their movements become blurred as they rush along the remote landscape, slowing to a single line when the leader decides he's had enough.The animals belong to several ranches of the Camargue which lies in the Rhone River, in southern France.

A herd of white horses gallop through the calm saltwater delta of the Camargue which lies on the Rhone river in southern FrancePicture: Xavi Ortega/Solent News

Fraternities, bad behavior, correlation and causation

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed asking if colleges should ban all fraternities.  Of course this will never happen, but it is interesting to discuss.  Any why should colleges think about doing this?

While the majority of fraternity members do not commit rape, they are three times as likely to commit rape as non-members, according to a 2007 study. Another study, published in the NASPA Journal in 2009, found that 86 percent of fraternity house residents engaged in binge drinking, compared to 45 percent of non-fraternity men. Fraternity house members were twice as likely to fall behind in academic work, engage in unplanned sex, or be injured after drinking.

Fraternity members were more likely to have unprotected sex, damage property, and drive, all while under the influence of alcohol.

“It’s not just a stereotype,” said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “There is pretty good evidence that fraternity individuals are drinking more, particularly in the heavy range of binge drinking. They have more problems associated with drinking. They have more impairment in occupational functioning related to drinking, such as getting homework and term papers done.

Wow.  Those are some damning statistics.  Of course, there is an implication that fraternities play a causal role in this.  I think they do, but I suspect even more at play is the type of individuals drawn to a fraternity (selection bias!) and that it is the type of young man more likely to abuse alcohol, women, etc.  That said, given what we know of social psychology, bringing a bunch of such men all together in one reinforcing organization does seem like it would only serve to heighten and feed these worst tendencies.  So, ban fraternities?  Not so, say many of the experts:

But, I don’t think you should go about banning fraternities. Punishment is rarely the way to go about anything like this. If you punish a behavior, it comes back with a vengeance.”

In the case of banning a Greek system, that behavior could come back in the form of off-campus houses or underground fraternities that could not be regulated by colleges.

“There’s always the risk that if you force fraternities off campus, they just form their own houses off campus,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “They’re still there, exhibiting the same behaviors, only now they don’t really have to answer to anybody.”

Personally, I’m not convinced.  I suspect that cost/benefit wise you get greater benefit from the ban than the cost of driving the behavior underground.  The simple truth is that there are many, many individuals who will join a university (and thus society) sanctioned organization who will not join an underground animal house.  I imagine the problems would be even more severe in “underground fraternities” but that the actual participation in such organizations would be dramatically lower than in university-sanctioned fraternities.

But you know what, there should be data on this from natural experiments:

For many college presidents, too many aspects of Greek life are not being “done right,” Kruger said, and patience is wearing thin. The colleges that have abolished fraternities — mostly small private liberal arts colleges like Colby, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Williams — say publicly that they do not regret the decision. While the bans at these colleges did lead to secret fraternities sprouting up off-campus, their influence has waned over the years.

Surely somebody has done an actual empirical study at one of these places (and if not, that’s one helluva dropped ball).  Did the problems of binge drinking, sexual assault, academic slacking, etc., actually get better or worse at these colleges?  Give me data!  That said, clearly these universities did not see the horrible backlash warned by the fraternity proponents.

I eagerly await my comments on the great benefit of fraternities.  And I will not discount the very real benefits.  But in my cost/benefit world, those benefits need to be pretty damn good to outweigh the very clear costs.

Cotton and farming

I recommended Molly Ball’s excellent profile of the likely next Senator from Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton.  Cotton’s one problem is that he is from Arkansas and voted against the Farm Bill.  His solution?  Lie shamelessly and keep on lying after being called out by fact-checkers.  Chait is on the case:

Cotton’s opponent, Mark Pryor, has assailed him for this vote. Cotton has shot back with an ad claiming that this only happened because “President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turning it into a food stamp bill.”…

Faced with his controversial vote against the farm bill, Cotton has urgently fashioned himself as an agri-supremacist. He has urged the locals to ignore the judgment of fact-checking journalists who pronounce his ad false: “I don’t think liberal reporters who call themselves fact checkers spent much time growing up on a farm in Yell County growing up with Len Cotton, so I think I know a little bill more about farming than they do.” Cotton’s identity as a onetime farmboy, by this argument, lends him a superiority in any dispute over farm policy that overrides even the facts themselves. Cotton perhaps first developed this epistemological theory while studying philosophy at Harvard.

Cotton goes further still. Molly Ball, in an engrossing profile, reports that Cotton argues against food stamps because its recipients live high on the hog: “They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.” As an argument against food stamps, this is laughably false: The program offers a benefit averaging $1.50 per person per meal, and its beneficiaries are quite poor [emphasis mine]

Cotton is just evil.  The man is Harvard-educated.  Surely he knows how utterly misleading his characterization of your typical food stamp recipient is.  Rather, he would just seek to demonize poor people for his own political power.  Love Chait’s conclusion:

The snag in Cotton’s rapid path to national power turns out to be that his ideology is just a little too consistent. But he has found the solution. He is running not quite as a principled foe of government, but instead as a committed opponent of redistribution. Government is bad insofar as it gives money to the poor and vulnerable. Tom Cotton is going places in the Republican Party.

The case against the Supreme Court

Law professor and scholar Erwin Chemerinksy has written a new book about the Supreme Court.  Some particularly interesting excerpts from Dahlia Lithwick’s interview with him about it:

Your argument for the failure of the court rests largely in the criticism that the most central role of the Supreme Court is to “enforce the Constitution against the will of the majority.” I imagine that a lot of your critics would disagree with that assessment. I imagine others would contend the Roberts court does protect minorities, say, when it protects the rights of billionaires to contribute to campaigns, or of religious Christians who don’t want to fund contraception. What makes you so certain that acting as a counter-majoritarian check is the defining role of the court?

I think that there are two important questions here. First, why believe that a pre-eminent role of the court is to protect minorities? To me, it goes to the question of: Why have a Constitution? Why should a democracy be governed by a document that is difficult to change? It is not to protect the majority; they generally can protect themselves through the democratic process. It is minorities who cannot protect themselves through majoritarian democracy. I believe that the Constitution exists especially (though not exclusively) to protect the rights of minorities of all types.

Second, who is a minority? That is a difficult question. The key, based on my definition above, is those who are unlikely to be able to protect themselves in the majoritarian process. Examples include racial minorities, criminal defendants, the homeless, prisoners. Billionaires obviously are very able to protect themselves in the political process.

Also, I have been railing against John Robert’s “balls and strikes” ever since he said it.  Loved to see Chemerinksy strike it down and extend the metaphor:

It is a grossly inaccurate description of what Supreme Court justices do. Supreme Court justices do not simply call balls and strikes. They determine the rules and the strike zone. Justices have tremendous discretion in the cases coming before them, and the descriptions of Roberts and Sotomayor portray it otherwise. Every Supreme Court decision makes the law. When the court decides whether states can prohibit marriage equality, that will make the law whichever way the court describes it. John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor would have been confirmed almost no matter what they did at their confirmation hearings. Each gave the American public a very misleading sense of what the court does.

Screwed in the ER

Yet another excellent NYT story on how various health care entities are always finding new ways to screw us over.  The latest?  In-network Emergency Rooms that hire out-of-network Emergency physicians.  Yep:

Patients have no choice about which physician they see when they go to an emergency room, even if they have the presence of mind to visit a hospital that is in their insurance network. In the piles of forms that patients sign in those chaotic first moments is often an acknowledgment that they understand some providers may be out of network…

But even the most basic visits with emergency room physicians and other doctors called in to consult are increasingly leaving patients with hefty bills: More and more, doctors who work in emergency rooms are private contractors who are out of network or do not accept any insurance plans…

While patients have complained of surprise out-of-network charges in hospitals from some other specialists — particularly anesthesiologists, radiologists and pathologists — the situation with emergency room doctors is even more troubling, patient advocates say. For one thing, patients cannot be expected to review provider networks in a crisis, and the information to do so is usually not readily available anyway. Moreover, the Texas study found that out-of-network fees paid to emergency room physicians eclipsed the amount of money paid to those other specialists…

The average salary of an emergency room physician was $311,000 in 2014, rising from $247,000 since 2010 — a period when many other types of doctors experienced declines in salaries, according to Merritt Hawkins, a physician staffing firm.

Read the article for the depressing details of patients who thought they were doing everything right only to get saddled with outrageous medical bills.  Even better, though, is Drum’s rant in response:

This is a great scam for everyone. Presumably hospitals save money because freelance ER docs cost them less. And the ER docs cost less because they know they’ll be able to run the ol’ out-of-network scam on lots of patients, thus raking in the bucks. It’s a win-win.

As a result, during a period of economic stagnation that produced zero wage growth for everyone else, ER docs are now making $64,000 more than they did four years ago. And they’re doing this by preying on the most vulnerable, most easily scammable members of society: folks who are flat on their backs and almost by definition unable to understand what’s going on around them. Not that it would matter if they did, of course. The law provides no recourse even if you don’t like this system. That’s the way things roll in the American health care system.5

If this kind of stuff doesn’t make you pop a vein, I’m not sure what would. It’s right on a par with the telemarketing ghouls who prey on senior citizens with dementia. Except that these guys wear white coats and are welcomed into all the best country clubs.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest this just doesn’t happen in other modern nations with rational health care systems (and substantially more government involvement).

Photo of the day

It’s Fall so it must be giant pumpkin time.  From the Telegraph’s photos of the week:

Stuart Holden has produced a monster 600lb pumpkin after making a £25 bet with his friend. Stuart, 28, hadn’t grown any big vegtables before but gave it a go after shaking hands on the wager and his fed-up pal’s squash plant hasn t even reached 100lbs. Sitting pretty is Stuart’s baby stepdaughter Amelia Croxon.Picture: Red Williams/Archant

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