Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 2, 2013

A Veritable Cornucopia of Links

Markham-suburbs aerial-edit2

1. Joel Kotkin: “The Triumph of Suburbia: Despite Downtown Hype, Americans Choose Sprawl.” Kotkin notes that suburbs have long been unpopular with urban planners and the like (basically, intellectuals like Matt Yglesis; see also, e.g., here and here). Writes Kotkin: “Suburbs have never been popular with the chattering classes, whose members tend to cluster in a handful of denser, urban communities—and who tend to assume that place shapes behavior, so that if others are pushed to live in these communities they will also behave in a more enlightened fashion, like the chatterers.” These days, pro-urban writers often focus on the environmental benefits of high density urban living as compared to the suburbs: “More recent critiques of suburbia have focused as well on their alleged vulnerability in an energy-constrained era.”

Nevertheless, “the simple fact remains that the single-family home has remained the American dream, with sales outpacing those of condominiums and co-ops despite the downturn. … Even as some core cities rebounded from the nadir of the 1970s, the suburban share of overall share of growth in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas (those with populations of at least one million) has accelerated…”

Lots of good data here, and some good analysis.

2. Dan Drezner: “Now, this isn’t the first time Dan Coats has sounded like a dumbass on a morning show. So perhaps, as a public service, someone should suggest that the next time a television show asks him to be on the air to talk homeland security, he go sit in the corner…”

Male Cheetah

3. In America, presidents hurt themselves playing golf or basketball. In Botswana, “President Ian Khama received stitches in his face Monday after being wounded by a cheetah.”

4. This drawing is pretty amazing!

5. Megan McArdle has a pair of posts–here and here–on a proposed piece of legislation in Congress that would require (or allow states to require) online sellers to pay sales tax in the jurisdiction of a buyer who orders a product. McArdle thinks this is a bad idea: “the biggest concern may be the burden this puts on small business. That burden is smaller than it was in 1992, because there is now software that can help you keep track of all the different regulations. But it remains a burden. Fifty states, umpteen localities, all of them with different rules not only about the rate of tax, but which items are exempt. This is a trivial problem for Amazon. But it is not trivial for small businesses that have to know, say, whether to categorize their cookies as a (usually tax-free) grocery item or a (usually taxed) prepared food.”

McArdle (1) notes that sales taxes are regressive and (2) questions the fairness of making out-of-state sellers pay local sales taxes that will go toward funding services from which the out-of-state sellers arguably cannot benefit (emphasis added): “Businesses in states without a sales tax will have to install a collection system that they currently don’t need—and to pay taxes for services that they don’t receive from faraway states. Yes, their goods travel on the roads, but the shippers are already paying tolls and gas taxes to cover the wear and tear. If we think those tolls and taxes are too low, the right response is to raise them, not impose a completely different (and much higher) tax. My colleague argues that they also use common services like the post office, but, of course, the post office is a nominally unsubsidized service that is paid for by postage and the occasional infusion of income from the federal income tax. Which those businesses are already paying.”

She also predicts that this legislation (like most legislation) would benefit the large guys at the expense of the small guys:

For Amazon—the actual target of these laws—this is trivial. Its staff of crack accountants can probably roll these things out before their Monday-morning coffee break. For a small vendor, however, that’s a whole lot of paperwork. Imagine being a small eBay vendor that has to file a different set of tax returns every quarter or every month, depending on who happened to buy your handmade toaster cozies. The bill makes this slightly easier by exempting the smallest businesses and saying that you only have to file one return per state. But that’s still hours and hours of work per month, for folks who are probably already working pretty damn hard.

This bill, in fact, is good for Amazon—it kills off their small-fry competitors who can’t afford the staff accountants (or the software) to file 46 returns every month. And it frees them up to open warehouses in more states, the better to minimize their shipping costs. Presumably, that’s why they’re in favor of the bill.

But it’s going to be hell on sole proprietorships and other small businesses that can’t afford the compliance overhead. Anyone who has had to file income tax returns in two states can imagine why you might not want to file in almost 50—monthly.

Do read the whole thing.

6. “The Real Life of One (Crazy) Tenured Professor.”

7. Tasha Schoeman: “Impressing a female life form.” (H/T: Katie Renee.)

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8. I didn’t post about it at the time, but last week included ANZAC Day. John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has a timely post about Anzac Day, “the 98th anniversary of the beginning of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, in which Australian, New Zealand and British troops assaulted Gallipoli in Turkey.” Writes Prof. Quiggin: “Thinking about Anzac Day, with the inevitable mixed emotions, I was struck by tihe resemblance of the Anzac legend to that of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War – the same incredible bravery of ordinary men commanded by bungling leaders to undertake a doomed and futile mission. … As we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who went to war nearly 100 years ago, we should also remember, and condemn, the crimes of those, on all sides, who made and carried on that war.” Anderson has some comments on Quiggin’s post.

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Australian soldiers with the First Mentoring Task Force, Mirabad Valley, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, March 2010

See also this post by Nicole Cody about ANZAC Day in modern Australia and about Australia’s continuing military role in Afghanistan.

9. Photos of women fighters in the Syrian Civil War. I especially like the photo near the end of the post showing the woman who wears a keffiyeh (normally a male Arab garment).

10. Jay McNair: “What I’ve Learned About Life From Board Games”:

This has led me to believe that there must be a deep connection between board games and real life. I’m sure many board game enthusiasts will agree. As an example, almost all good players of well-designed board games must have a diversity of assets to win the game. It’s the rare win that comes about by putting all of your eggs in one basket; most top-notch players are the ones who diversify their portfolio.

Good players are flexible in other ways. In complex board games, as in life, every turn has a multitude of choices to make. This can entail sacrifice. Sometimes it’s easy to buy a development card, sometimes it’s easy to buy a city. If I’ve fastened on building a city, I’ll miss the chances I have to exploit the other resources that come along. The best players, I’ve found, are flexible in every moment, and take the opportunities they can get to move forward, even if it means abandoning other plans.

On this theme, see also this post by Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy: “an incredibly high percentage of the successful academics, scientists, and intellectuals from my generation were D&D players in their teens. I don’t think that is a coincidence. Playing D&D also helped get me and many others interested in ancient and medieval history, which remains a major interest many years after I gave up the game itself. … Similarly, the competitiveness and attention to detail that you need to be a good D&D player also come in handy in academia, science and other intellectual fields.”

11. Where is the “most beautifully preserved” Greco-Roman city?

12. Here’s an approximate sequence of events: (1) Jason Collins came out; (2) Chris Broussard, on ESPN, criticized Collins, basing said criticism on Broussard’s religious beliefs; (3) Nicholas Jackson, in a piece for the Pacific Standard, called for censorship of speech like Broussard’s.

Ken at Popehat and Freddie deBoer both do good jobs of deconstructing and eviscerating Jackson’s atrocious misstatements of American law and the principles of a free society. Here’s an excerpt from Ken’s post (emphasis added):

First, Jackson’s censorious fantasies aside, the Supreme Court has been expanding free speech rights for a half-century, not “tightening” them. With very few context-specific exceptions — like speech at schools — the Supreme Court has used every opportunity to reject the argument that the First Amendment permits suppression of speech because it’s “offensive.” In doing so, the Court has relentlessly rejected attempts to expand — or even apply — the “fighting words” doctrine. The Court said it wasn’t fighting words to wear a jacket with the words “Fuck the Draft.” The Court Court held Jerry Falwell couldn’t recover for the humiliation of a Hustler ad parody suggesting he lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse, “fighting words” doctrine or not. The Court overturned flag burning laws, rejecting the argument that flag-burning constitutes “fighting words.” The Court found a broad hate speech law to be unconstitutional, noting that the “fighting words” doctrine could not be applied selectively to disfavored speech. And, as Jackson concedes, the Supreme Court rejected — by an 8 to 1 margin — the argument that Fred Phelps’ douchebaggery constitutes “fighting words” just because it causes emotional pain.

Nor has the Court been willing to carve out new exceptions to the First Amendment. The Court refused to create a new First Amendment exception for lies about military credentials. It refused to create a new exception for depictions of animal abuse.

In short, the “fighting words” doctrine is dying. It’s quite rare to see it used to justify censorship. What Nicholas Jackson is asking for is not the minor tweak to current doctrine that he suggests, but a wholesale reversal of fifty years of free speech precedent. Why does he think we should do that?

(Clark at Popehat has a post responding to a couple of points in Ken’s post. The comments at both posts are worth perusing.)

And here’s a bit from Freddie’s post (“actually, let’s not censor opinions we don’t like”) (italics in original, bolded emphasis added):

It’s important to point out from the start just how lousy of an argument the piece is, as an argument. What exactly is the justification here? You’ve got a vague, deeply confused consideration of the “Fighting Words” legal doctrine, which does not mean nearly what Jackson (writing wholly outside of his expertise) thinks it means. He simultaneously invokes that quasi-legalistic reading and yet acknowledges that it doesn’t do what he wants it to do. It’s all very confused.

Jackson gives the game away when he says, “frankly, I don’t want to listen to your bullshit.” That pretty much sums it up: Jackson doesn’t like to hear certain things and wants to legal forbid them. Which is at once juvenile and authoritarian. Guess what, Nicholas: I don’t particularly want to read censorious bullshit like yours. Those are the wages of living in a free and open society. There are a few places where you can be sure that people aren’t free to go around saying whatever they like, willy nilly. North Korea springs to mind.

Jackson writes, “The problem with the doctrine as it currently stands is that it implies incitement of violence or hatred by the receiver against the giver. It doesn’t consider violence or hatred by the receiver against the receiver, violence or hatred against the self.” Is Jackson even remotely aware of the consequences of this thinking? That we should ban any communication that might result in someone killing himself? What if hearing someone advocate for a flat tax makes me want to self-harm? I’m not joking: if the standard is the capacity for a statement to incite self-harm, then there is no protection over any opinion. Any utterance can be an incitement to violence. This is a country where people can get beaten into a coma for complimenting another person’s car. People who self-harm are typically people suffering from mental illness. Holding our right to free expression hostage to the whims of the violent behaviors of individuals is perverse and unworkable.

Free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment because those protections come first, because they are the life blood of a free society. Free expression is a non-negotiable precondition of a functioning democracy. Without the power to offend, free expression loses all meaning. Besides: censorship never addresses the root causes of the sentiment that is expressed. Germany bans Nazism. Germany has a huge neo-Nazi problem. Censorship doesn’t eliminate ugly sentiment. It pushes it underground, where it festers and multiplies. Censorship contributes to the sense of persecution and the conspiratorial attitudes that feed extremist groups. Bringing those attitudes into the light, to be exposed and debated, is the only way to combat the incorrect, the ugly, or the cruel.

Indeed. (We’ll overlook the historical fact that what is our First Amendment [the one with the free speech and free press and free exercise of religion stuff] was actually amendment #3 in the list that James Madison sent through Congress; the states just didn’t ratify #1 and #2 back in 1791.)

Image Credits:
(1) An aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario. Photo by IDuke, November 2005, and used under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
(2) Photo by Valentina Storti, June 2011, and used under a Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
(3) The Australian flag flies proudly above an Australian Light Armoured Vehicle parked inside an Australian and Afghan patrol base in the Baluchi Valley, Oruzgan Province. Photo by MATEUS_27:24&25, January 2009, and used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. Source: Flickr.
(4) Photo courtesy Australian Department of Defence, and used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license. Source: Flickr.

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