Three years ago, The Los Angeles Times published a feel-good story on the Little Free Library movement. The idea is simple: A book lover puts a box or shelf or crate of books in their front yard. Neighbors browse, take one, and return later with a replacement. A 76-year-old in Sherman Oaks, California, felt that his little library, roughly the size of a dollhouse, “turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community,” the reporter observed. The man knew he was onto something “when a 9-year-old boy knocked on his door one morning to say how much he liked the little library.” He went on to explain, “I met more neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years.”
Since 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a little, free library to honor his late mother, who loved books, copycats inspired by his example have put thousands of Little Free Libraries all over the U.S. and beyond. Many are displayed on this online map. In Venice, where I live, I know of at least three Little Free Libraries, and have witnessed chance encounters where folks in the neighborhood chat about a book.
I wish that I was writing merely to extol this trend. Alas, a subset of Americans are determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they’ve taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.
Last summer in Kansas, a 9-year-old was loving his Little Free Library until at least two residents proved that some people will complain about anything no matter how harmless and city officials pushed the boundaries of literal-mindedness:
The Leawood City Council said it had received a couple of complaints about Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library. They dubbed it an “illegal detached structure” and told the Collins’ they would face a fine if they did not remove the Little Free Library from their yard by June 19.
Scattered stories like these have appeared in various local news outlets. The L.A. Times followed up last week with a trend story that got things just about right. “Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country’s biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books,” Michael Schaub wrote. “Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they’re in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections.”
February 24, 2015
February 20, 2015
Sarah Hoyt recently bought a new washer, and realized something while being lectured about her choice by the salesperson:
Which is when I realized I was in the presence of a true believer whose mind would not be dented by facts. I let Dan lead her to the computer and make up the order, and older son has nicknamed me “She who makes washer saleswomen cry.”
So, what is the point of this? If it were just a funny story about buying a washer, I might still tell it, but it’s not.
Look, the problem is that we are being ruled (and yep, ruled, not governed) by a group of people who, like the saleswoman, think the intention is the thing.
We’ll leave aside for a moment the need or wisdom for water/electricity/etc. saving. First, in Colorado water is expensive so saving it is always a good idea. Second, that is not what their measures are achieving.
Take our first exposure to water saving toilets, twenty some years ago. We built a new bathroom and needed a toilet and the only ones for sale were “water saving.” What this meant in practical fact was that I acquired a new hobby: flushing the toilet.
The toilet worked (supposedly) with half the water, but it took four flushes to get anything, even a little bit of toilet paper, down. Do the math. I was expending twice as much water, and a lot of time and frustration. (We quickly switched to air assist. After the experience.)
In the same way, our current dishwasher complies with water and electricity saving measures. This means to achieve the same temperature, it has a thick coat of insulation ALL around. Which means it takes half the dishes at a time. Again, do the math. I have to run it for twice as long, which means no savings.
It has an additional unamusing quirk. Every time you wash, you have to select hot wash and sanitizing. Otherwise it just sloshes some water at the dishes and calls it done. We didn’t figure this out for five years which means for five years we conducted a study in epidemiology. I mean, guys, even in the village, when we were poor as Job, grandma boiled water for the final dish rinse to be as hot as possible. Otherwise you not only get not really clean dishes, you get to share the germs of everyone whose dishes go in the same water.
Then there’s the washer. The first we bought was the Neptune, years and years ago, which was so water saving it developed mold and mildew.
The current one recycles the water, so it washes better, but the rinses must happen, and the rinses, again, make it use the same water as anything else. All the low-water washers need a lot of rinses.
“But Sarah, you have a condition that makes you sensitive to detergent. Other people don’t.”
Granted. Which is why there hasn’t been an uprising with pitchforks, or at least washing mangles, yet. Because for the last five years I’ve been a slave to that washer and I’ve always been behind in the wash to the point that we ended up buying four times the clothes we needed, because the wash was bound to be backed up. When each load takes a minimum of two hours (the boys also react to detergent) and you have 14 or so loads a week (not counting cats peeing on Robert’s bed – yes, always his bed. Don’t know why) things slow to a crawl.
And the answer “Oh, you need to use less detergent.” BUT the cleaning went down in proportion to the detergent going down.
I’m not going to talk to other “eco friendly” measures or not extensively. I don’t have the personal experience to.
I do, however, know that the curly lightbulbs were a fiasco. I know that attempts to wish into existence energy by means other than fossil fuels are either failures or scams (Solyndra) and I know that the “enhanced” with “fillers” gas destroys cars, so that they have to be replaced sooner. Now, I’m not an expert, but I’d guess the manufacturing process causes more pollution than just burning regular gas.
So why do they keep passing ever more and more restrictive laws, demanding the thing we use for everyday living meet THEIR standards which as far as I can tell they pull from air?
I think it’s the arrogant certainty that if they keep whipping the dead horse it will get up and pull the load. Or in other words, they’re sure that the only reason they’re not getting what they want is that some mean person is holding it back from them, and if they demand it loud enough and now with more laws, it will eventually be given.
Think of them as the kid throwing himself to the floor in the candy isle and screaming for candy, refusing to hear his mother’s answer that she has no money. That’s about what they are: tyrannical, demanding, infantile and blind to reality.
And of course, when reality fails to comply with their dreams, they just scream louder. Or in this case, they pass laws which distort the simplest facts of daily living for the rest of us.
How long are we going to be hostage to brats who are unable to realize laws don’t cause reality to happen and words have no force to change facts of life?
How long till we get tired of being forced to do household chores inefficiently and paying for it in both time and money, without any appreciable benefit to anyone.
Eric Scheie over at Classical values, when I blogged there, had a post about there being a war on things that work.
He was right, though the intent is “creating a world where things work the way bureaucrats want them to” – which mostly means in defiance of scientific fact.
It is time to take back science, and common sense too.
And in the meantime, we can make washer saleswomen cry!
February 3, 2015
At Techdirt, Timothy Geigner explains why a recent trademark action was (sensibly) dropped:
Here we almost went again. The craft beer space was known for quite a while for its congenial attitude when it came to competitors. That seems to have shifted a bit in the past few years, with all kinds of silly intellectual property disputes arising among breweries. Trademark claims seem to be the issue du jour, not surprisingly, though you’d think with the common public response being backlash this trend would have ceased already. It seems the lesson still needs to be taught, however, even amongst some of the larger craft breweries with some of the best reputations. Lagunitas, for instance, which likes to bill itself as the hip and laid-back beer for the NPR crowd (yes, over-simplifying), saw fit to sue competitor Sierra Nevada over trade dress issues until the public reacted and they quickly backed away.
In a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Lagunitas owner Tony Magee argued Sierra Nevada’s design for its Hop Hunter India Pale Ale — which features “IPA” in large, bold, black capital letters — is too similar to the design for his Lagunitas IPA label.
And here are the labels in question.
Both, as you can see, feature the letters “IPA”, for India Pale Ale, in a bold font that has some degree of similarity. As you’ll also see, assuming you aren’t a blind wombat that’s been dipping into the barley wine for twenty straight hours, both brewery’s names are super-evident on the label, the color scheme is uber-different, the rest of the label isn’t remotely the same, and oh my god, why do we have to keep doing this? The likelihood of customer confusion here is roughly the same as the likelihood that I’m about to sprout wings, horns, and enslave humanity under my forked tongue. I mean, sure, it might happen, but then we all have bigger problems, don’t you think?
January 14, 2015
Cory Doctorow explains why David Cameron’s proposals are not just dumb, but doubleplus-dumb:
What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is, “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back-doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal — and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They — and not just the security services — will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to your co-workers.
But this is just for starters. David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for.
For David Cameron’s proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The very best in secure communications are already free/open source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available, and thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a very high degree of confidence, that the software you’ve downloaded hasn’t been tampered with.
This, then, is what David Cameron is proposing:
* All Britons’ communications must be easy for criminals, voyeurs and foreign spies to intercept
* Any firms within reach of the UK government must be banned from producing secure software
* All major code repositories, such as Github and Sourceforge, must be blocked
* Search engines must not answer queries about web-pages that carry secure software
* Virtually all academic security work in the UK must cease — security research must only take place in proprietary research environments where there is no onus to publish one’s findings, such as industry R&D and the security services
* All packets in and out of the country, and within the country, must be subject to Chinese-style deep-packet inspection and any packets that appear to originate from secure software must be dropped
* Existing walled gardens (like Ios and games consoles) must be ordered to ban their users from installing secure software
* Anyone visiting the country from abroad must have their smartphones held at the border until they leave
* Proprietary operating system vendors (Microsoft and Apple) must be ordered to redesign their operating systems as walled gardens that only allow users to run software from an app store, which will not sell or give secure software to Britons
* Free/open source operating systems — that power the energy, banking, ecommerce, and infrastructure sectors — must be banned outright
David Cameron will say that he doesn’t want to do any of this. He’ll say that he can implement weaker versions of it — say, only blocking some “notorious” sites that carry secure software. But anything less than the programme above will have no material effect on the ability of criminals to carry on perfectly secret conversations that “we cannot read”. If any commodity PC or jailbroken phone can run any of the world’s most popular communications applications, then “bad guys” will just use them. Jailbreaking an OS isn’t hard. Downloading an app isn’t hard. Stopping people from running code they want to run is — and what’s more, it puts the whole nation — individuals and industry — in terrible jeopardy.
January 12, 2015
Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick isn’t asking for a lot, he just wants to ensure that his intellectual property is respected … in a way that ensures that his kids won’t starve in the street:
I have to admit that I had no idea that it had been 10 years since I coined the term “The Streisand Effect” until the SkepticHistory Twitter feed called my attention to it earlier this week. I had thought about saving this for the weekend “this week in history” post, but it seems worth delving into today — especially with folks like the thieves at Gawker Media putting up a whole story about it and stealing all the attention and whatnot.
So, yeah, ten years ago this week, I coined “the Streisand Effect,” which was actually on a story about how the Marco Beach Ocean Resort was all offended by the fact that Urinal.net (a site that, yes, still exists and is still being updated) had posted a photo of a urinal from the resort, and the resort insisted that it was illegal to use its name. As we pointed out, this stupid takedown request would only draw more attention, and then we wrote:
How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let’s call it the Streisand Effect.
That last link then went back to a 2003 story about how Barbra Streisand had sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for photographing her house from a helicopter. Adelman had been photographing the entire California coastline, hoping to use it to document coastal erosion, and posted all the photographs online. Streisand got upset that her coastal home was shown, and sued. But, of course, before this, no one knew (or cared) that it was Streisand’s home. The image had been viewed six times (including twice by Streisand’s lawyers), but following the news of the lawsuit, hundreds of thousands of people went to see the photo. It was a story that stuck with me, and seemed to be repeated every few months in some form or another. So when I saw that Urinal.net threat, I just jokingly said we should call such things “The Streisand Effect.”
December 29, 2014
Published on 29 Dec 2014
Our nation’s control freaks got even freakier in 2014 – from jetpacks to parking apps, eco-ATMs and powdered alcohol, they were determined to kill anything cutting edge.
They targeted everything from dogs in parks to births at home, and they’ll sic cops on you for hoarding or smelling bad. You might even get busted for doing things that are legal–like vaping while driving, warning motorists about speed traps, or putting up Christmas lights.
And whether it’s yanking chocolate milk, boogie boards, homemade libraries or sunscreen(?!), the control freaks are (all together now!): Doing it for the children.
It’s fitting, then, that 2014’s Nanny of the Year recipients justified their power grab on the same grounds (although the real reason may have more to do with protecting city officials from future caught-on-tape embarrassments).
Check out how one cop’s rant (“Obama has decimated the friggin’ Constitution”) embarrassed a city council into taking home this year’s top dishonors!
October 5, 2014
For a change, it isn’t anything he said:
Top Gear‘s crew has had to abandon their cars at the roadside and flee Argentina after being pelted with stones. The incident happened after it emerged they were using a vehicle with a number plate that apparently refers to the Falklands War.
A Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982, was among those abandoned. BBC bosses have said the number plate was merely a coincidence and was not chosen deliberately, but it led to protests in Argentina, including a demonstration by a group of war veterans who protested outside the hotel used by the show team.
The executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, said: “Top Gear production purchased three cars for a forthcoming programme; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate, or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.”
Even if Wilman is dissembling about the license plate … just how flipping sensitive do you have to be to object to a sort-of abbreviation, in a foreign language, in the characters on a license plate? Who would ordinarily notice or care what the license plate may or may not hint at, unless someone is busy trying to stir up trouble? That said, Top Gear thrives on controversy, so it’s quite possible that they hoped they’d draw some attention, but probably not to the extent of being forced out of the country.
Update: Clarkson is now accusing the Argentine government of setting a trap for the Top Gear film crew.
The presenter was said to have infuriated locals by driving through South America in a Porsche with the numberplate H982 FKL, seen as a goading reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.
However, Clarkson said the plate was “not the issue” — he claimed it was an unfortunate coincidence and that he removed it two days into the trip — and blamed the state government for orchestrating an ambush by mobs armed with pickaxe handles, paving stones and bricks.
“There is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap,” Clarkson said.
“We were English (apart from one Aussie camera guy and a Scottish doctor” and that was a good enough reason for the state government to send 29 people into a night filled with rage and flying bricks.”
He claimed the crew were “plainly herded into an ambush” and said: “Make no mistake, lives were at stake.”
The team were confronted at their hotel by a group claiming to be war veterans.
“Richard Hammond, James May and I bravely hid under the beds in a researcher’s room while protesters went through the hotel looking for us,” Clarkson said.
They then fled by plane to Buenos Aires — having “rounded up the girls” on the team — leaving the rest of their crew behind.
The crew were forced to make a gruelling six-hour trek to the Chilean border, abandoning the Porsche and their camera equipment at the side of the road.
August 24, 2014
It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch — hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into — some fearful, devastating scourge, I know — and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever — read the symptoms — discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it — wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance — found, as I expected, that I had that too, — began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically — read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.
I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
August 23, 2014
The second known fact is that people prefer the side of the room to the middle. This is obvious from the way a restaurant fills up. The tables along the left wall are occupied first, then those at the far end, then those along the right wall, and finally (and with reluctance) those in the middle. Such is the human revulsion to the central space that managements often despair of filling it and so create what is termed a dance floor. It will be realized that this behavior pattern could be upset by some extraneous factor, like a view of the waterfall from the end windows. If we exclude cathedrals and glaciers, the restaurant will fill up on the lines indicated, from left to right. Reluctance to occupy the central space derives from prehistoric instincts. The caveman who entered someone else’s cave was doubtful of his reception and wanted to be able to have his back to the wall and yet with some room to maneuver. In the center of the cave he felt too vulnerable. He therefore sidled round the walls of the cave, grunting and fingering his club. Modern man is seen to do much the same thing, muttering to himself and fingering his club tie. The basic trend of movement at a cocktail party is the same as in a restaurant. The tendency is toward the sides of the space, but not actually reaching the wall.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Personality Screen, Or The Cocktail Formula”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
August 1, 2014
I notice that people always make gigantic arrangements for bathing when they are going anywhere near the water, but that they don’t bathe much when they are there.
Sea-side scene: It is the same when you go to the sea-side. I always determine — when thinking over the matter in London — that I’ll get up early every morning, and go and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack up a pair of drawers and a bath towel. I always get red bathing drawers. I rather fancy myself in red drawers. They suit my complexion so. But when I get to the sea I don’t feel somehow that I want that early morning bathe nearly so much as I did when I was in town.
On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till the last moment, and then come down and have my breakfast. Once or twice virtue has triumphed, and I have got out at six and half-dressed myself, and have taken my drawers and towel, and stumbled dismally off. But I haven’t enjoyed it. They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind, waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they pick out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top, and they sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a bit of sand so that I can’t see them, and they take the sea and put it two miles out, so that I have to huddle myself up in my arms and hop, shivering, through six inches of water. And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite insulting.
One huge wave catches me up and chucks me in a sitting posture, as hard as ever it can, down on to a rock which has been put there for me. And, before I’ve said “Oh! Ugh!” and found out what has gone, the wave comes back and carries me out to mid-ocean. I begin to strike out frantically for the shore, and wonder if I shall ever see home and friends again, and wish I’d been kinder to my little sister when a boy (when I was a boy, I mean). Just when I have given up all hope, a wave retires and leaves me sprawling like a star-fish on the sand, and I get up and look back and find that I’ve been swimming for my life in two feet of water. I hop back and dress, and crawl home, where I have to pretend I liked it.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
July 10, 2014
The Tilted Kilt
restaurant chain is suing a golf course for some kind of trademark infringement. Timothy Geigner tries to make sense of the “claims”:
The club in question is the Kilted Caddy Club, a golf course that provides female caddies in kilts for some of their golf tournaments, because nothing helps a man concentrate on sinking that twenty-foot sloped birdie putt like a nice pair of legs. The Tilted Kilt franchise, in case you aren’t aware, provides bar/restaurants in which scantily-clad women in kilts and low-cut button-down shirts serve you sub-par food while the worst music you can imagine plays around you and your fellow degenerate friends. In other words, we’re dealing with two quality organizations here. Well, apparently one side of this equation got their kilts in a bunch to the point of filing a very silly trademark claim.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based Tilted Kilt, which has nearly 100 locations nationwide including one at Broadway at the Beach, says in court documents that the caddy club is copying its distinctive and trademarked “uniforms,” thereby, confusing consumers into thinking the two businesses are related. The Tilted Kilt has asked a judge for a permanent injunction against the Kilted Caddy Club’s use of its name and tantalizing tartan uniforms, as well as unspecified monetary damages.
Now, let’s start off with the obvious problem: the two companies aren’t in the same line of business. One is a golf course (that of course has a clubhouse bar and food, but meh), the other is a bar/restaurant. They aren’t competing against one another. That should probably be enough to toss this thing out already. Add to that the fact that the two uniforms aren’t really all that similar beyond incorporating a bastardization of a traditional Scottish kilt, and it’s all the more difficult to see this going anywhere.
June 17, 2014
Michael Geist talks about another court attempting to push local rules into other jurisdictions online — in this case it’s not the European “right to be forgotten” nonsense, it’s unfortunately a Canadian court pulling the stunt:
In the aftermath of the European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten” decision, many asked whether a similar ruling could arise in Canada. While a privacy-related ruling has yet to hit Canada, last week the Supreme Court of British Columbia relied in part on the decision in issuing an unprecedented order requiring Google to remove websites from its global index. The ruling in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack is unusual since its reach extends far beyond Canada. Rather than ordering the company to remove certain links from the search results available through Google.ca, the order intentionally targets the entire database, requiring the company to ensure that no one, anywhere in the world, can see the search results. Note that this differs from the European right to be forgotten ruling, which is limited to Europe.
The implications are enormous since if a Canadian court has the power to limit access to information for the globe, presumably other courts would as well. While the court does not grapple with this possibility, what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country. Yet the B.C. court adopts the view that it can issue an order with global effect. Its reasoning is very weak, concluding that:
the injunction would compel Google to take steps in California or the state in which its search engine is controlled, and would not therefore direct that steps be taken around the world. That the effect of the injunction could reach beyond one state is a separate issue.
Unfortunately, it does not engage effectively with this “separate issue.”
June 15, 2014
The average middle school kid in Pennsylvania must be a druggie, if the local school boards mandate drug testing for grade five and up students:
At Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pa., a community 20 minutes north of Harrisburg, an eighth-grader chose to skip the National Junior Honor Society this year, reports Eric Veronikis at PennLive:
Leila May was drug-tested once during her fifth grade year, once in sixth grade and three times as a seventh grader because Susquenita School District randomly tests students in grades five through 12 who participate in extracurricular activities and apply for parking permits.
She always tested negative but her parents have tired of the intrusion and embarrassment and her mother Melinda says they’re weren’t willing to sign another consent form. “It’s sad that this is what we had to resort to. It’s ridiculous.”
Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Board of Education v. Earls (2002) that schools generally have discretion to impose drug testing on participants in extracurricular activities even without particularized suspicion, on the grounds that such activities are voluntary.
Well, I guess the local school board must have good reasons to implement the kind of drug testing regime that professional sports leagues or military organizations might use … although I’m scratching my head to figure out what they could possibly be.
May 22, 2014
At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls attention to the widespread practice of sending minor offenders to prison for failing to pay minor fines:
NPR’s “Morning Edition” has been running a series called “Guilty and Charged,” chronicling the plight of Americans forced to go to jail because they’re unable to pay the court fees and fines associated with very minor infractions. The Supreme Court ostensibly outlawed the practice three decades ago but left the determination as to whether defendants are truly to poor to pay or simply unwilling to trial court judges. Not shockingly, perhaps, they almost invariably presume the latter.
You can listen to Tuesday’s segment, “Unpaid Court Fees Land The Poor In 21st Century Debtors’ Prisons,” at the link. Unfortunately, they only have the audio and not a transcription. Aside from what I’ve already written in the introduction above, what really stood out to me was the sheer contempt judges displayed to indigent defendants. Despite being highly educated professionals supposedly trained in the law and selected for their ability to dispassionately way evidence and reach just results, those featured on the program were positively knee-jerk and sneering. It was as if they’d plucked some random yahoo from a Denny’s, dressed him in a black robe, and had him preside over the trial.
Today’s follow-up, “Supreme Court Ruling Not Enough To Prevent Debtors’ Prisons,” was if anything more infuriating. It dove deep into the case of Kyle Dewitt, an Iraq War vet who went to jail and got caught up in an unending series of problems with the law over catching the wrong species of bass at the wrong time of year.
I’ve long been of mind that we ought to do away with fines as a means of punishment altogether. Whether paying $150 for exceeding the speed limit (almost always some nominal fine for the offense and a much higher amount for “court costs,” owed even if one just mails in the fine and never goes to court) is a deterrent depends entirely on one’s financial circumstances. It was a big deal when I was in college; it’s a nuisance now. Further, those with the means will often spend far more than the fine plus court costs to hire an attorney to plead it to an offense that doesn’t come with points that go against their license or their insurance record. It’s incredibly inequitable.
March 30, 2014
Ramesh Ponnuru discusses some examples of ridiculous state occupational license requirements:
Melanie Armstrong wanted to be an African hair braider, practicing a skill passed down from generation to generation. In Tupelo, Mississippi, where she lived, government licensing rules meant she had to take 300 hours of course work to start her salon: 300 hours, she notes, “none of which covered hair braiding.”
In testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee on Wednesday, Armstrong explained that her “ultimate goal” was to teach others how to braid. Getting the needed licenses to do that would have taken 3,200 hours. None of them taught students how to braid hair, either. That’s more hours than it would have taken her to get licenses to become a firefighter, emergency medical technician, hunting instructor, ambulance driver or real estate appraiser. It’s longer than it would have taken her to get licenses for all those things combined.
The subcommittee — led by New Yorkers Richard Hanna, a Republican, and Grace Meng, a Democrat — was considering the excesses of state occupational licensing. More and more jobs fall under these regulations. In the 1950s, according to one study, only about one in 20 jobs required a license. By 2006, about 29 percent did.
While Armstrong helped get her state to scale back the requirements for hair braiders, the trend is toward more stringent regulation. Patti Morrow, who runs an organization fighting licensing for interior designers, says, “These bills come back year after year like zombies.”