The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

States can charge sales tax on Internet purchases now

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. this morning:

Brick-and-mortar businesses have long complained that they are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes while many of their online competitors do not. States have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

On Thursday, the court overruled that ruling, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which had said that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state.

South Dakota responded to Justice Kennedy’s invitation by enacting a law that required all merchants to collect a 4.5 percent sales tax if they had more than $100,000 in annual sales or more than 200 individual transactions in the state. State officials sued three large online retailers — Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg — for violating the law.

Here's a really interesting bit: "KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and GORSUCH, J., filed concurring opinions. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined."

Ginsburg siding with Thomas and Alito against Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan? That's just weird.

Women's voices have changed

That's the conclusion of a researcher at the University of South Australia:

Cecilia Pemberton at the University of South Australia studied the voices of two groups of Australian women aged 18–25 years. The researchers compared archival recordings of women talking in 1945 with more recent recordings taken in the early 1990s. The team found that the “fundamental frequency” had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades – from an average of 229 Hz (roughly an A# below middle C) to 206 Hz (roughly a G#). That’s a significant, audible difference. 

The researchers had carefully selected their samples to control for any potential demographic factors: the women were all university students and none of them smoked. The team also considered the fact that members of the more recent group from the 1990s were using the contraceptive pill, which could have led to hormonal changes that could have altered the vocal chords. Yet the drop in pitch remained even when the team excluded those women from their sample.

Instead, the researchers speculated that the transformation reflects the rise of women to more prominent roles in society, leading them to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance in the workplace.

I have a lot of friends who might agree; some of them sing soprano and speak tenor. No joke.

I am shocked—shocked!—by this event

New York State has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation for—wait for it—self-dealing and general corruption:

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

Trump immediately blamed "New York democrats," because of course he did.

Pass the popcorn.

New Chicago gang map released

The Associated Press has obtained the latest edition of the Chicago Crime Commission's "Gang Book." It shows the turfs claimed by 59 gangs, including many small areas formed as groups split off from other groups after top leaders go to jail. The book also highlights how social media make gang disputes worse:

Gangs put a premium on retaliation for perceived disrespect. In the past, insults rarely spread beyond the block. Now, they’re broadcast via social media to thousands in an instant.

“If you’re disrespected on that level, you feel you have to act,” said [Rodney] Phillips, employed with Target Area, a nonprofit group that seeks to defuse gang conflicts.

Police say there was a gang connection to most of the 650 homicides in Chicago recorded in 2017 — more than in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Homicides so far in 2018 are down around 20 percent. Police partly credit better intelligence and the deployment of officers to neighborhoods on the anniversaries of gang killings.

So integral is social media to gang dynamics that when Englewood-area pastor Corey Brooks brokered a truce between factions of the Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples in 2016, he insisted they agree to refrain from posting taunts. The gang truce lasted longer than most — 18 months.

Some gangs provoke enemy gangs by streaming live video showing them walking through rival turf. Others face off using a split-screen function on Facebook Live and hurl abuse at each other.

I kind of want to see that map. And I kind of don't. Chicago Public Media has an online, interactive map that doesn't reflect the 2018 changes.

Ribfest 2018

Ah, Ribfest. The bane of my diet.

This year I went back to a couple of old favorites and tried a couple of new ones:

  • Chicago BBQ: Smoky, a little tug off the bone, tangy sauce. 3½ stars.
  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro: Like last year, they glooped on a lot of (delicious) sauce. But the meat tasted better this year, and I got a bit of a lagniappe. 3 stars.
  • Old Crow Smokehouse: I haven't tried them before. They were decent. Good smoke taste, but a little fatty and not a lot of sauce. 3 stars.
  • Fireside Restaurant: The best sauce of the day, tangy and a little citrus. Good meat, smoke, and char.

I may go tomorrow. If I can digest today's bones.

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."

Parker update

We just got back from the vet. The x-rays show that Parker's leg is almost completely healed, so he's finally cleared to go back to his play group. He has no idea about this right now but tomorrow morning he'll be very, very happy.

Now I'm about to run to my office, so I'm queuing up these articles to read later:

OK. Chugging some tea, and hitting the CTA. More later.

Drunken fumbling becomes a Constitutional case

A student at the University of Cincinnati has filed a fascinating lawsuit against the school for discrimination in its enforcement of sexual misconduct:

Is it possible for two people to simultaneously sexually assault each other? This is the question—rife with legal, anatomical, and emotional improbabilities—to which the University of Cincinnati now addresses itself, and with some urgency, as the institution and three of its employees are currently being sued over an encounter that was sexual for a brief moment, but that just as quickly entered the realm of eternal return. The one important thing you need to know about the case is that according to the lawsuit, a woman has been indefinitely suspended from college because she let a man touch her vagina.

The event in précis, as summarized by Robby Soave of Reason magazine: “Male and female student have a drunken hookup. He wakes up, terrified she's going to file a sexual misconduct complaint, so he goes to the Title IX office and beats her to the punch. She is found guilty and suspended.”

By some kind of weird alchemy involving the sum of its parts, this strange little event manages to hit upon almost every troubling aspect of the way that these cases are interpreted and punished on the contemporary campus. It proceeds from the assumption that if two drunk college students make out, one of them—and only one of them—is a victim of the event. It resulted in a fairly common but extremely severe consequence meted on students found guilty of very minor offenses—banishment from the university until the complainant graduates. And it suggests how easily the system can be manipulated by a student with an alleged grudge.

I'm curious to see how this turns out. It seems hard to believe that I went to university during a brief, golden age when we were treated as adults. I served 5 semesters on the Student Judiciary Board and heard so many stories of ridiculous student behavior, and still managed to find them odious enough to ban the offenders from campus a handful of times. I fear for our children that they won't ever grow up, because their parents and institutions won't let them.

Active voice, passive voice, weasel voice

The Economist's Johnson column last week (which I just got around to reading tonight) took on verb conjugations in journalism:

On May 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.

English and most other European languages have both an active voice (Steve kicked John) and a passive (John was kicked by Steve). Style manuals, including The Economist’s, generally deprecate the passive voice. It is longer, for one thing. For another, it is often found in heavy academic and bureaucratic prose. Inexperienced writers tend to over-use it.

But critics of the passive often confuse two different things: syntax and semantics. Syntax has to do with the mechanics of putting a sentence together. In Steve kicked John, Steve is the subject and John is the direct object. But in John was kicked by Steve, John is now the subject, even though he is still the kickee, and Steve is still the kicker.

So what the critics really meant is that the Times erred in using an intransitive verb.

I analyzed this not as an argument for a particular kind of prose, but as an argument for learning the vocabulary of the thing you want to criticize. Critics of the Times' headline aren't wrong; they're just arguing the wrong point. One can understand viscerally why the Times' headline got under the skin. But as in so much of life, people on one side argued feelings and people on the other argued correctness.

Until people hear what the opposition really wants to say—until people make an effort to hear it, I mean—we're going to keep talking past each other. That said, I want everyone to read Orwell right now.

Why no one answers the phone anymore

Alexis Madrigal, closer to an X-er than a Millennial, rhapsodizes on how the telephone ring, once imperative, now repulses:

Before ubiquitous caller ID or even *69 (which allowed you to call back the last person who’d called you), if you didn’t get to the phone in time, that was that. You’d have to wait until they called back. And what if the person calling had something really important to tell you or ask you? Missing a phone call was awful. Hurry!

Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?

There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously.

But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone’s ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. Now, if I hear my phone buzzing from across the room, at first I’m excited if I think it’s a text, but when it keeps going, and I realize it’s a call, I won’t even bother to walk over. My phone only rings one or two times a day, which means that I can go a whole week without a single phone call coming in that I (or Apple’s software) can even identify, let alone want to pick up.

Meanwhile, robocalling continues to surge, with a record 3.4 billion of them sent in April—approximately 40% of all calls placed that month by some reckonings.

Welcome to the 21st century, where your 19th-century technologies do more harm than good.