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Friday Roundup

I'm offended that you find this offensive.  Christian DeJohn wanted to express his views in his graduate military history courses at Temple University that women shouldn't be allowed to serve in combat.  He feared, though, that this would run afoul of the university's policy against sexual harassment, which rather broadly prohibits "expressive, visual, or physical conduct of... a gender-motivated nature" which "has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment."  So he did what any red-blooded American would do:  he sued, and was rewarded a couple weeks ago by a district court ruling that the University's speech code was so vague it infringed upon constitutionally protected speech. 

University speech codes have long been an embarassment to liberals who believe in the pre-eminence of free speech as a democratic value.  There's certainly a value in discouraging people from degrading minorities, ethnic groups, women, the handicapped, or various other groups, but not at the cost of penalizing such speech, or making up rules so stupid that they bring the entire notion of civility into disrepute, such as Drexel's harassment policy, which bans "inappropriately directed laughter."

Still, I'd be a little bit more impressed with DeJohn if he'd waited until somebody actually complained -- let alone threatening him with disciplinary action -- about what he said before running off to court.  Lord knows there have been plenty of people who were caught up in these codes who should've run off to court, like this poor guy who was threatened with discipline for having the temerity to read a book with a title that other people didn't like.

Take the money and run.  At first blush, this NY Times story offers a simple lesson:  if you're a plaintiff, you're better off settling than going to trial.  After studying over 2,000 trials over a three-year period, the study found that the plaintiffs wound up with less than the defense had offered in 61%, compared to the 24% of cases in which the defendants were ordered to pay more than the plaintiffs had asked.  Only 15% of the time was the decision to go to trial the right one for both parties:  the plaintiff got more than the defendant had offered, and the defendant paid less than the plaintiff had asked.

But if you look closer, you find that while the defendants made many fewer errors, those errors were far more costly:  on average the wrong decision for the plaintiffs cost $43,000 a case, but the cost for a mistake by the defendant was a whopping $1.1 million. 

The reason for this is risk aversion: 

The findings are consistent with research on human behavior and responses to risk, said Martin A. Asher, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author. For example, psychologists have found that people are more averse to taking a risk when they are expecting to gain something, and more willing to take a risk when they have something to lose.

"If you approach a class of students and say, I'll either write you a check for $200, or we can flip a coin and I will pay you nothing or $500," most students will take the $200 rather than risk getting nothing, Mr. Asher said.

But reverse the situation, so that students have to write the check, and they will choose to flip the coin, risking a bigger loss because they hope to pay nothing at all, he continued. "They'll take the gamble."

Road trip.  Let's count up all the weird things about this story, which comes to us courtesy of the Volokh Conspiracy:

  • The defendant is wanted only on a minor felony charge, in Butler County, Kentucky

  • He's in a jail in Bakersfield, California, some 2,000 miles away

  • The Butler County sheriff and a deputy go to pick him up.  In a car

  • At the end of the 4,100 mile trip, they realize they have the wrong guy

Well, at least they had a good time:

On the way there, [the sheriff and deputy] stopped to sightsee at country music star Buck Owens' Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif. On the way back, they bought T-shirts at a souvenir shop.

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