Dynamist Blog


This press release from FIRE is the first I've heard of what sounds like a truly extraordinary case of trampling on free speech in the name of blocking harassment:

SAN FRANCISCO, June 17, 2004 — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has joined a national coalition that is urging the California Supreme Court to reverse a state appellate court decision that has profoundly chilling implications for free speech. FIRE joins concerned law professors and organizations in arguing that the decision in Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al. (Lyle) could be used to redefine a great deal of constitutionally protected expression as unprotected "harassment." In Lyle, the California Court of Appeal held that creative discussions in which writers of the popular sitcom Friends developed ideas and created scripts could constitute sexual harassment of individuals listening to the sometimes bawdy banter of the writers. The amicus (friend-of-the-court) letter demonstrates how Lyle could have frightening consequences for free speech, especially on college and university campuses.

"This amicus letter challenges a legal decision that could destroy the free and open exchange of ideas both on and off campus," said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy. "If this decision is not overturned, it could transform 'harassment' into the exception that swallowed the First Amendment. This would have a particularly devastating impact at colleges and universities, where bizarre definitions of 'harassment' already are commonly used as an excuse for stifling the free expression of various points of view," Lukianoff added.

If sit-com writers can't tell off-color jokes, nobody is safe. Overlawyered.com includes a notice on the case in its "Fear of Flirting" archives. Over to you, Volokh Conspiracy.


Wired.com's Leander Kahney, a great chronicler of the subcultures of Mac devotees, reports on fans' concepts for new-and-improved iPods:

Take for example, the iSpec video iPod, designed by Joe Kosinsky, director of New York design firm Kdlab.

Kosinsky's iSpec is a futuristic iPod shaped like a pair of Brad Pitt's sunglasses.

Controlled by a finger-mounted splint, video is projected onto the interior of the glass lenses. Earbuds are built-in. The iSpec features an immersive, 3-D interface reminiscent of Apple's experimental HotSauce Web interface developed in the mid-'90s.

To illustrate his ideas, Kosinsky created an impressive video of the iSpec experience as a spec project (hence the name) for his portfolio.

The video, created in Discreet's 3ds Max software, has proven a popular download -- 75,000 hits in April -- and has sparked passionate debate on the Web, to Kosinky's surprise and delight.

"A lot of people think it's real," he said. "They write to me and ask when it's going to come out.... (Others) get very angry. They think it's going in the wrong direction. They say it's a stupid idea: How can you walk and watch video at the same time? I think its great there's such emotions and passion about a fantasy product."

The reaction to Kosinky's speculative design is not limited to the iSpec; many of the concept designs elicit long strings of comments debating their pros and cons.

For links, click through to Kahney's original.


Jonathan Rauch is characteristically nuanced in this column reflecting on Ronald Reagan's record.


Back in the late 1980s, Steve and I knew the L.A. housing market was in a bubble because it cost so much more to buy than to rent. (We bought our condo in 1992, year of recession and riots, near the bottom of the market.) Now UCLA economist Ed Leamer calculates that a similar bubble is at work, particularly in Northern California. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Leamer calculated the average P/E for homes in several California metro areas by dividing the median price for a single family home by the average annual rent for a 2,000- square-foot apartment in each region. (You can get more and better data for apartments than rental homes, and the two tend to track each other.)

His findings: In the Bay Area, the average P/E for a house shot up to 13. 8 in the first quarter of 2004, compared with 7.2 in 1999 and 2000. Today's ratio is more than a third higher than it was 1989, just before housing prices started a multi-year descent.

In Santa Clara County, the average P/E is 15.8 today, compared with 10.3 in 1989.

"We are in a situation that is more extreme than it was in 1989," says Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson forecast.

In the Bay Area, P/E ratios are skyrocketing because rents are falling while home prices are escalating, Leamer says.

In San Francisco, the average rent has skidded to $22.01 per square foot from $31 per square foot in 2000, while the median home price has risen to $606,000 from $450,755.

In Southern California, where the economy is stronger and more diverse, rents are rising, but housing prices are rising even faster. As a result, P/Es are also rising, though not quite as far as in Northern California.

In Los Angeles, the price of a median home rose to $399,000 in the first quarter of 2004 from $215,652 in 2000. Rents rose to $19.35 per square foot from $18.07.

When the economy is booming, investors are willing to pay higher prices for stocks and houses because they think the earnings from these assets will grow faster than normal. Occasionally, they throw common sense out the window and start believing that earnings will continue upward in a never-ending spiral, untouched by forces like competition and economic equilibrium.

Our L.A. condo was recently assessed for more than twice what we paid for it, so at least on paper we're rich. (Keeping it was certainly a better investment over the past four years than selling it and putting the money in the stock market.) But we're in the market for the very long term--think retirement. If you're buying for the short term, don't.


International trade doesn't just lower prices. It increases variety, to the enormous benefit of consumersh. My latest NYT column is on economic research that estimates the size of that gain.

Champagne from France. Silk sweaters from China. Winter blueberries from Chile. Video games from Japan. Beer from Ireland. Silver jewelry from India. Cellphones from South Korea. Shoes from Italy.

International trade does not just offer consumers the same goods at lower prices, which is the traditional economic story. It also brings us goods we wouldn't otherwise have access to. Trade increases the number of varieties in the marketplace. It gives consumers more choices.

"The U.S. used to import coffee from around 25 countries," says David E. Weinstein, an economist at Columbia University. "Now we import it from 52 countries. Beer we import from three times more countries than we used to."

Read the rest here.


I'm in Minneapolis, where a surprising number of bicyclists don't wear helmets. I'll be speaking at 6:00 p.m. at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. My talk is free and open to the public. Details here.

The MIA has a great Modernism collection illustrating the many styles of 20th century design. You can explore it online here. (I've posted this link before, but it's so much fun, I'm posting it again.)


In Friday's WSJ, Milton Friedman reflected on Ronald Reagan's legacy. (The link should work for a few more days.)

I first realized what a truly extraordinary person he was in early 1973 when I spent an unforgettable day with him barnstorming across California to promote his Proposition 1 -- an amendment to the state constitution that would set a limit to the amount the state could spend in any year. We flew in a small private plane from place to place and at each stop held a press conference. In between, Gov. Reagan talked freely about his life and views. By the time we returned to our final press interview in Los Angeles, I was able to give an enthusiastic yes to a reporter's question whether I would support Reagan for president. And, I may say, I have never been disappointed since.

As a good social scientist, Frieman also has data. It doesn't make Bush I look too good, but it does bust the myth--popular among some libertarians--that Reagan did nothing real to shrink government.


The fourth season of The Simpsons is now on DVD. It features the classic episode "Marge vs. the Monorail," much beloved of both Simpsons fans and wonks tired of mass transit hype. A fan's guide to the episode, including the lyrics of "The Monorail Song," is here.

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