Beyond Public and Private

As someone who has successfully opposed formation of two local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in San Leandro, California, I was disappointed by Jesse Walker's article ("Beyond Public and Private," November), which betrayed a lack of insight into the subject. His characterization of BIDs as somewhat consensual belies the reality, at least in California. Most BIDs in California are created by a small, active group of politically well-connected businesses seeking to impose their vision on the majority of politically less-active businesses. If it were consensual, then the other businesses would voluntarily contribute, rendering a BID unnecessary.

In California, once the municipality has initiated the process, BIDs are theoretically subject to a vote by affected businesses, but the vote is illusory. A successful protest of the BID needs 50 percent of the businesses to affirmatively protest in writing. All businesses that do not properly protest are counted in favor of the BID. This sets up an almost insurmountable barrier: Large percentages of any electorate fail to vote in almost any modern election.

Effective protest is further discouraged through a deliberately consumer-unfriendly process. Notices of the BID are typically sent to businesses in highly technical, arcane language. No form of protest or return envelope is provided. This discourages all but the most literate, knowledgeable, and motivated of businesses from challenging the process. If a business owner speaks a foreign language, tough luck. The business roll often includes businesses no longer operating, but their silence nevertheless counts in favor of the BID.

Once the BID bureaucracy is in place, it does what all bureaucracies do: It focuses on its own self-perpetuation and growth. No matter how inefficiently it delivers services, it will publicly celebrate its putative successes and ignore the tax cost to businesses.

BIDs are essentially perpetual since it is rarely worthwhile for any individual business to expend the energy to oppose bureaucratic entrenchment. As practiced here in California, BIDs are in no sense even quasi-consensual. A few organized businesses seek to compel other businesses to pay so that they might impose their preferences on how capital is deployed. That's called a tax. An associate editor from reason should have few kind words for additional taxes, no matter how pretty the surrounding rhetoric.

Michael Jacobowitz
San Leandro, CA

I was interested to find a quote from my organization, the Oregon Downtown Development Association (ODDA), in your latest issue, when neither I nor any of my staff were ever interviewed. The way the quote was written made it sound like ODDA was quoted directly and (one would assume) recently for the article. This is incorrect. I was told the quote came from Richard Briffault's four-year-old law review article on BIDs, where Briffault quoted from a 15-year-old publication that has been revised and updated twice.

In defense of our position and credibility as an organization, I would like your readers to know that we would never say that large, property-owner occupied buildings are "the most dangerous group" standing in the way of implementing a BID. Often, we've found that it is the larger property owners who see the value of, and provide support for, the BID as it is being discussed and implemented. A BID must provide good value and services to the payers or it risks, and rightfully so, being abolished through an initiative process or by sunsetting.

Walker claims that BIDs are "closer in spirit to a theme park than to a bustling urban plaza." I've discovered that communities of all sizes across the country use BIDs as tools to help revitalize lagging downtown and neighborhood business districts. BIDs are used to help reclaim these commercial centers as the authentic hearts and souls of the communities that they were originally intended to be, where people shop, socialize, gather, and live in real environments, not theme parks.

Vicki D. Dugger
Executive Director, Oregon Downtown Development Association
Salem, OR

Jesse Walker replies: Jacobowitz misunderstands me. I didn't write that business improvement districts are "consensual." I wrote that they're "more consensual than most forms of public administration." The extent to which I think BIDs are a good idea—and anyone who read the piece knows that I didn't exactly embrace them—is the extent to which they represent a devolution of urban power. When the choice is between a business owner's property rights and a BID, I side with the business. When the choice is between having services delivered by a more local, responsive, and self-sustaining unit of government and having them delivered by city hall, BIDs look a bit better.

The quote from ODDA that I used describes a genuine source of conflict, but as Dugger notes, it is also quite old—it dates back to 1988. I apologize if this led anyone to misconstrue the organization's current position.

Roy Moore's Monument

In her article on Judge Roy Moore's attempt to keep a monument to the Ten Commandments in Alabama's state judicial building ("Roy Moore's Monument," November), Cathy Young ignored the 10th Amendment. While some federal-power-grabbing Supreme Court justices may think that the 14th Amendment has overriding authority in this case, I disagree. We are not talking about laws or unfair administration of laws, but about a rock with words carved into it.

Are the words religious in nature, and pretty much Judeo-Christian in origin? So what? They do not have the power of law to affect any decision handed down by the Alabama Supreme Court. Where does it say in our federal Constitution that state courthouse decorations must never offend anyone who happens to read them? Better the Supreme Court should declare the art support programs unconstitutional: They are way more offensive and do abuse my tax dollars.

This rock never asked for anything except tolerance, and the federal judiciary should never have interfered. Roy's rock only affected one courthouse, and the members of the Alabama Supreme Court had all the authority they needed to override Justice Moore's decorating plans for their state-funded floor space.

Margaret R. Wiggins
Bothell, WA

The Spam Wars

Wendy Grossman's "The Spam Wars" (November) was interesting and informative. However, I believe that the economic methods for fighting spam were given short shrift. One of the reasons the "penny per e-mail" method is too often dismissed is that there's not much discussion of exactly where that penny goes. The sender pays a penny, but who gets it? The right answer to that question can mitigate some of the problems Grossman mentions: The penny should go to the owner of the ISP that delivers the e-mail to the final recipient, so that, in effect, an ISP charges others to deliver e-mail to its customers.

Grossman objects that no ISP is set up to charge this way. But 10 years ago, no ISP in the world was set up to validate relayed e-mail or to filter spam. Now both practices are common. This required changes to mail-server software, and adding a "sender pays" system would not be much different.

She argues that it would require an entirely new infrastructure for the industry. But we already have most of the pieces of such an infrastructure, including Internet credit card payments, Internet bill payments, PayPal, and similar services. I've just noticed that even Yahoo! will let me attach money to this e-mail via their "Yahoo! PayDirect from HSBC."

Grossman also worries that "sender pays" would kill free services such as Yahoo! and Hotmail. This is simply one additional cost added to their existing costs. Yahoo! and Hotmail already have to pay for computers, hard disks, bandwidth, and personnel. It's all funded from their advertising. However, at the same time, it is an additional stream of income. Yahoo! and Hotmail will receive a penny for each e-mail they deliver to their customers. They'd probably throw away all their spam filtering software the day such a system is put into place!

Further, the penny doesn't have to be paid immediately upon receiving e-mail. The larger ISPs could easily set up accounts where payments could be made monthly based on the actual auditable number of e-mails. This easily solves the issues of "fractional penny" payments and addresses concerns about massive additional e-mail traffic for processing payments.

Would such a system make mailing lists economically unfeasible? Any mailing list can simply require that each recipient send an e-mail back to the main server for each e-mail they receive. The list can send out 10,000 e-mails to 10,000 customers at a cost of $100. Each of 10,000 recipients sends an acknowledgement e-mail back, so that the list then receives 10,000 pennies.

Any recipient who fails to perform this duty, which they'd have to agree to as a condition of joining, is dropped from the list. It wouldn't be long before mail client software would have a "penny payback" system in place, where the user can control exactly which recipient receives acknowledgements automatically.

A final difficulty Grossman raises is that the system would have to be legally mandated, but can't be mandated worldwide. But this does not need to be legally mandated, although legislation would certainly speed its acceptance worldwide. The Internet community already has numerous standards bodies that create rules and protocols for all sorts of interactions, such as the correct way for two mail servers to interact in sending each other e-mail. The millions of mail servers out there are perfectly free to follow those rules or not.

The ones who break the rules too severely end up being avoided in one manner or another. The "black hole" lists for open relays, for example, already have a large number of ISPs refusing e-mail from anyone who fails to follow the rules concerning open relays. No legislation was required for this.

Market forces would bring most of the Internet community on board eventually, although U.S. legislation would surely give it a jump-start. In the meantime, the customers of ISPs that use the method can have an address book of those for whom they'll "spot" the penny. Senders not on that list can go into the "no penny" folder for later review. This is better than the black hole system, where senders unfortunate enough to share an IP address with a known spammer cannot send e-mail to half the Internet! Instead of e-mail falling into a black hole, the sender would receive a polite note requesting $0.01 to deliver the e-mail.

All in all, I think the method is worth additional investigation. The only people who really can't afford a penny per e-mail are the ones who send out millions per day: spammers.

Alvin Sylvain
Temecula, CA

I know Wendy Grossman has put tremendous thought into the community-based solution to the spam problem, but I have to ask one question: Why is the burden of controlling unsavory activity to be placed on the community? In the offline world, isn't that what we have laws for?

I am one of those libertarians turned rabid anti-spam law advocates precisely because letting spammers continue unfettered is anti-libertarian. "Do what you want unless it harms someone else" is a libertarian credo, but spam clearly harms other people. Even if a technology-based solution works flawlessly, I still must advocate laws and enforcement, simply because spam harms others.

Spammers steal other people's resources: bandwidth, server capacity, whois databases, netadmin time, time spent deleting. When people are stealing, we don't solve it through benign vigilantism. We call the cops.

Mark Metz
Hollywood, FL

Queer Science

In her review and indictment of J. Michael Bailey's book ("Queer Science," November), Deirdre McCloskey uses no evidence to refute his findings. Furthermore, she fails to explain just how any of Bailey's theories would be harmful to the transgender community.

McCloskey implies that Bailey has a "conservative" agenda because his sex research has led him to classify male-to-female transsexuals into two distinct categories. She provides no alternate theories or meaningful rebuttal, but instead lambastes Bailey for daring to study the issue.

Perhaps McCloskey wants everyone to believe that there are male and female souls floating about that, through some trick of nature, are assigned to mismatched bodies. That is fine and good, but it isn't science. Her reaction to Bailey's research is like a child covering his or her ears and screaming to avoid hearing the truth.

Bailey is not a Christian fundamentalist with a political agenda, nor is he homophobic. He is a psychologist looking to illuminate the mysteries of gender dysphoria. It is unfortunate that McCloskey, a supposed scholar, would respond in such an unscholarly fashion. It is also unfortunate that a woman who preaches acceptance takes arbitrary swings at institutions like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, implying they are all homophobic yokels. McCloskey's article was not a review; it was a rant.

Ron Holsey
Myrtle Beach, SC

Deirdre McCloskey replies: I do provide evidence—for instance, the evidence of my own life and, indeed, of the Chicago women and children Bailey so brutally exploited to write his book, some of whom I know well. My view of gender crossing is the standard scientific one—not Professor Bailey's or (it seems) Ron Holsey's. The "alternative theory" Holsey asks for is available in the numerous competent books and articles on transgender, few of which, I'm afraid, Professor Bailey has read. Providing new evidence is the responsibility of people who want to change science. Bailey has none.

I did not accuse Bailey of being a Christian fundamentalist. As a devout Christian myself, I saw no sign of religious depth in his book. I said, what is true, that the homophobes and the transphobes and, yes, the Christian fundamentalists of a certain sort are delighted by his book, and are even now actively conspiring to use it to reverse the freedoms flowering since the 1960s.

If Bailey and his friends do not want people to be upset by their work, they should do better work. It is not I but the head of the Kinsey Institute who called Bailey's book "not science," an opinion then repeated by the president of the main scientific and therapeutic group dealing with transgenders.

My one regret—I thank Ron Holsey for giving me a chance to repair some of the damage—is my ill-advised witticism about homophobic yokels at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I apologize. Of course not all members of the VFW are to be classed with Bailey's friends. It was unfair of me to associate defenders of our freedom with such bitter enemies of it.

The Gipper and the Hedgehog

Glenn Garvin writes that Jimmy Carter has a degree in nuclear physics ("The Gipper and the Hedgehog," November).

Carter does not have a degree in nuclear physics, nor does he have a degree in physics. Carter has a B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy. This degree, awarded in 1946, was not in physics. He took some classes in nuclear engineering and nuclear physics while in the nuclear submarine training program at Union College, but he did not receive a degree from that college.

Henry E. Heatherly
Lafayette, LA