Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dumb Guys Calling Other People Dumb

Really, David Frum has no business calling anyone else on earth dumb... so, of course, he does:

I like walkable urban centers, so I want to take a hopeful view of this Washington Post report about the future of Tysons Corner. Unfortunately for my belief, the story ends with one of the most foolish quotes I’ve ever read about the future of the American city, from Joel Garreau, normally a smart guy.
With broadband, employees no longer need to physically be transported to work. He sees Americans moving to scenic, ideal locations such as the mountains of Montana or the hills of Santa Fe. Garreau splits his time between Fauquier County and Arizona.

“What you’re seeing now is what I call the Santa Fe-ing of the world, or the Santa Fe-ing of America,” he said. “The fastest growth you’re seeing is in small urban areas in beautiful places, because now you’ve got e-mail and Web and laptops and iPhones and all that jazz.”

Here’s one thing we know about the America of the future: It’s going to contain lots and lots and lots of poor, low-skilled people – in percentage terms, many more than the America of, say, 1995. And the America of 1995 already contained tens of millions of poor, low-skilled people. Those people won’t be telecommuting from Santa Fe. If your vision of the future of the American city does not include those people, it’s going to be missing a very large fact.

Which is why, when you look at the actual list of the actual top 10 fastest-growing US cities of 2000-2010, you see no examples of small scenic places (unless you count Orlando, Florida, which I sure wouldn’t).

Frum then gives a list of cities growth by absolute number, and not by the rate of growth, thereby insuring you would not get any smaller areas. Nice going Sherlock.

Gee, I wonder what happens if you look at the actually fastest growing urban areas by percentage growth.

#1 Palm Coast, Fla. - 92% growth
#2 St. George, Utah - 52.9% growth
#3 Las Vegas, Nevada - 41.8% growth
#4 Raleigh, N.C. - 41.8% growth
#5 Cape Coral, Fla. - 40.3% growth
#6 Provo, Utah - 39.8% growth
#7 Greeley, Colo. - 39.7% growth
#8 Austin, TX - 37.3% growth
#9 Myrtle Beach, S.C. - 37% growth
#10 Bend, Ore. - 36.7% growth

Of these only Las Vegas would be in the top ten in terms of absolute numbers. As for the rest of them, they strike me as being a hell of a lot more like Santa Fe than New York or Houston.

Really, David. How dumb can you be?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"No One But Us Non-Bigots Here"

Head shaking time:

An Orange County couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a “church” and not as a private gathering.

Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people”.

That type of meeting would require a conditional use permit as defined by the city, according to Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the couple’s legal representation.

The Fromms also reportedly face subsequent fines of $500 per meeting for any further “religious gatherings” in their home, according to PJI...

“The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 people, with impacts on the residential neighborhood on street access and parking,” City Attorney Omar Sandoval said.

Got that? So, if you want to hold weekly "readings" where you and 49 guests "discuss" Gary Regan's The Bartender's Bible: 1001 Mixed Drinks, well, there is nothing the city can do about it. Have fun. However, if you instead discuss the actual bible, well, then you are a "church" and can be regulated by the city as such.

Sorry folks, but this doesn't pass the smell test.

Only an anti-religious bigot would be okay with this.

Sometime I Hate Being Against The Death Penalty...

...because of how freakishly stupid so many anti-death penalty advocates are. The trouble is they are so stupid they have no idea how much damage they are doing to the cause. The recent example in the case of Troy Davis proves my point.

Its depressing. It begins with an assault on the very idea of reasonable doubt. Yes, eyewitness testimony can be tricky, but the lengths people are willing to go to exonerate Davis in this case is ludicrous. The argument they are making is "sophisticated" in the same way "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is" was sophisticated, and it doesn't help.

Second, this emphasis on portraying these criminals as innocent victims has to stop. The point of being against the death penalty is that you are against it even when the person involved is guilty as sin. If you cannot make the hard argument, but instead try to only make the case that innocent people ought not to be executed (well, yeah), then you have lost the argument before it even started. This is particularly the case when in your zealousness you whitewash actual guilt, as is happening in the Davis case. No objective reading of the evidence leads to Davis' exoneration. You only look like a fool if you insist it does.

I'm sorry but the argument that says "we ought not to have the death penalty because we could make a mistake" is a dumb argument. It invites the rejoinder, "Well, what if we reserved it only for the cases we are really sure of." The response to that has been, "But, how can we ever really be sure of anything..." and BOOM!!!!!! The sound you are hearing is the sound of the minds of millions of Americans closing against you...and, if that is the best argument you can come up with, rightfully so.

The real argument is its unnecessary... its barbarous, as witnessed by the fact it is the way the Taliban does business... and its uncivilized. Actually, I'd argue it is worse than uncivilized, it is anti-civilization. In philosophical terms it is a remnant of the closed society. It appeals to our hive/pack instincts, and not to the rational parts of our being. Lots of people will disagree with me, but at least that is an argument worth having. It helps that that it also the only kind of argument we have a hope of winning. Until we are willing to have that argument we will continue to lose, and we will deserve to lose.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What? No More Free Lunch? I'm Outraged!

I must say I'm finding all the hand-wringing concerning the changes to the pricing of Netflix subscriptions a little odd. (See here, here and here.)

When Netflix started offering streaming movies at no extra charge I was an early adopter, and why not? Even if I didn't use it that often it was free. I also realized that it wouldn't be free forever. Nothing is. The real question becomes then how much would I pay for it. Well, whatever that price is it is under $8 a month.

I'll admit having to get used to going to a new site to manage my, now, Qwikster queue will be a little annoying, but somehow I'll manage to cope.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

James Fallows Doesn't Know What He Thinks He Knows

*sigh* 'People Don't Realize How Fragile Democracy Really Is'

Two days ago I mentioned the "Goodbye to All That" essay by Mike Lofgren, a respected (including by me) veteran Congressional staffer who had worked for Republican legislators on defense and budget issues for nearly 30 years....

Among the important aspects of his essay is that it goes beyond one now-conventional point of "the worse, the better" analysis: that the GOP's main legislative goal is to thwart Obama, and if that includes blocking proposals that might revive the economy, so much the better for the Republicans next year.

More fundamentally, Lofgren argues that today's Republicans believe they are better off if government as a whole is shown to fail, not just this Democratic Administration. Republican hard-liners might seem to have "lost" the debt-ceiling showdown, in that they wound up even less popular than the Democrats are. But in the long view, Lofgren says, unpopularity for anyone in Congress, including their party's leaders, helps the Republicans: "Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy," because it buildings a nihilistic suspicion of any public effort, from road-building to Medicare to schools. (Except defense.)

This is the kind of eau de garbage we readers get when writers become so partisan they cannot see or think straight. Oh, are there people out there who want all government to fail? Sure there are. On the Right various kinds of libertarians hover around the fringes, and you'll find anarchist types floating around the periphery of the Left as well. But the idea that any of these people represent the dominant political opinion of the Republican or Democratic party is nonsense. Actually, it is nonsense on stilts.

When it comes to mainstream political opinion there is no "nihilistic suspicion of any public effort" anywhere except the minds of folks like James Fallows. Sure there is plenty of suspicion about Washington, but Washington (thank God) does not have a monopoly on "public efforts." In fact, a large part of the complaint many people are making is that the Federal government has become far too overweening, and the result has been that our society has become less democratic. By definition most "public efforts" are local affairs, but increasingly we are not allowed to direct our own affairs unless we get the Feds to sign off on whatever it is we want to do, be it build a bridge or update the curriculum of our public schools.

To the degree that Fallows rejects the idea that power should be located in the people and instead embraces the idea that experts in Washington should govern all of our public affairs, Fallows can be said to be anti-democratic, if not by intent certainly by result.

The sad fact is the ruling classes, and the journalists that spend their cushy lives rubbing elbows with them, are not synonymous with "democracy" in any meaning of the word. And really this is what this all comes down to in the end. Fallows despises (and most likely hates) this tea party rabble which won't shut up and let the rulers rule already. That Fallows calls this impulse respect for democracy is the cruelest irony of all.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Dr. Krugman's Perscription: Bury Head Deeper

Krugman on stuff:

Do the dismal economic numbers really reflect the turn to fiscal austerity? I keep hearing people say no, because austerity hasn’t actually happened yet in America. But they’re wrong.

The fact is that the fading out of the stimulus, and in particular of aid to state and local governments, is already and noticeably leading to substantial withdrawal of government demand.

This is, of course, lunacy. Yes, state and local governments buy services and supplies in the course of their duties and this does act as a source of demand in the economy more generally. However, by far the largest amount of spending in operating accounts is on salaries and benefits for public employees. The idea that such spending should be financed permanently by the use of Federal aid whenever state and local governments run out of money, which Krugman seems to be suggesting, is ludicrous. For starters, people move. Demographic changes and the resulting changes in things like the tax base (which could increase or shrink) or the need for services (which can also increase or decrease) mean that nothing is constant. Just because a government run out of funding for existing services doesn't mean that level of service should be maintained. Krugman believes it does because, for him, government has one big job, i.e. to get bigger.

In the real world, states and localities need to constantly evaluate the kind and level of services they provide, and what staff they need to provide those services. Additionally, those services will not be the same from locality to locality. The preferences of voters in the various locales will also play a large role in determining what is being paid for and what isn't. This is especially true when the funding for these services comes directly from the tax payers in the community. Switching the funding of these services away from local tax payers and towards federal aid has the effect of hiding the true cost of these services. This is great if you believe in the God given right of government to grow larger, but it is nonsense if you believe in democratic accountability and fiscal sanity.

The truth is if Middletown, America wants to have a library system, well, then Middletown ought to be prepared to pay for it without counting on everyone else to pick up the tab if they run a little short. No, if MIddletown runs short they need to ether A) find a local revenue stream to pay for he desired level of service, or B) do less.

What happened in localities across the country was they experienced a boom in revenues when real estate prices soared during the heights of the housing bubble. Their coffers swelled and they did what governments at all levels do when the coffers swell, they spent it. However, they often spent it in ways that created a higher baseline of spending, as would happen when you increase the numbers of employees you are paying. Unfortunately, increasing the number of public employees isn't the same thing as increasing the number of employees in a factory. Factories hire more employees because they believe there is more money to be made. This will come as a shock to many Democrats but, yes, factories can increase their payroll and at the same time increase profits. Public employees, by and large, never create profits. They are there to provide services (some vital, some not), but the money flows one way only.

Now, what happens when property taxes stop going up and in fact begin to decrease? The Krugmans of the world want to say "Nothing should happen, keep right on spending! Money grows on federal trees!"

However, it doesn't. The truth is none of the money spent on maintaining state and local spending at housing bubble rates stimulated anything. Instead all it did was allow politicians, local officials and voters/taxpayers to ignore reality.