March 30, 2014

State occupational licensing is out of control

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

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.”

December 3, 2013

Some owls are more (politically) valuable than others

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Environment, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:26

In his weekly NFL column, Gregg Easterbrook discusses the once-hot owl preservation efforts which have recently turned into owl execution efforts:

Those who can remember the dim mists of history — say, a couple decades ago — recall that preservation of the northern spotted owl was a major American political issue during the 1980s, then played a role in the 1992 presidential election campaign, then was among the high-profile matters of the Bill Clinton administration. Decisions during the 1990s by the Fish and Wildlife Service, coupled to judge’s orders, effectively ended much of the logging in the Pacific Northwest. This pleased affluent landowners, cost jobs for average people and shifted timber production to Malaysia, where there are almost no environmental regulations.

There are three other birds quite similar to the northern spotted, whose numbers continue to decline. The California spotted owl has a stable population. The Mexican spotted owl probably is in decline: about five years ago, a federal judge placed land-use restrictions on areas of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to protect the Mexican spotted. The barred owl, the third bird similar to northern spotted, doesn’t need special protection as it is population is expanding, based on natural competition.

So the plan is to start shooting barred owls. Excuse me, “culling” them. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to kill at least 3,000 barred owls, which are so similar to spotted owls that a trained eye is needed to distinguish the types. Spotted owls are federally protected, by the Endangered Species Act. Barred owls are not protected. So let’s kill the disfavored owls in order to help the politically correct owls!

As recently as two generations ago, barred owls mainly were found east of the Mississippi, where they are commonly called hoot owls, for their whoot-woo-who territorial marking sound. The recovery of forests across the United States — total forested acres have been increasing for a quarter century — created a migratory pathway for barred owls to spread west. This development was unexpected; the literature of owl protection depicts such birds as so habitat-dependent they are vulnerable to any change. It turns out the barred owl is not fragile, able to adapt to many habitats. Barred owls are also more aggressive than spotted owls; the worry among defenders of the latter is that barred owls will out-compete spotted owls and take their territory in the Pacific Northwest.


Underneath this issue is a fallacy in human understanding of nature: the assumption that the environment and its creatures are brittle things whom the slightest disturbance will render extinct. The environment has survived ice ages, comet impacts and climate change far more dramatic than any that artificial greenhouse gas may cause. Inconveniently for Pacific Northwest environmental lobbyists, birds extremely similar to spotted owls are doing just fine on their own. So get rid of the evidence.

December 1, 2013

An even dumber argument for restoring the draft

Filed under: Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:01

At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls this “justification” for restoring the draft the dumbest argument yet:

While I oppose bringing back military conscription, there are respectable arguments for doing so. The all-volunteer force allows the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful to avoid the burden of fighting our wars. It also makes sending young Americans into harm’s way easier.

But Dana Milbank offers a nonsensical reason for denying our youth the freedom to choose their own path:

    There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.

    A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.

    It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.

    Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.

That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.

November 13, 2013

BC school bans kindergarten kids touching each other

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

Apparently Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in Aldergrove has had a rash of injuries to kindergarten students recently, so the solution is to ban all physical contact between students:

A letter went out to Coghlan kindergarten students’ parents on Friday, one of those types that often sit in backpack over a weekend or are put aside to be read later and somehow never are.

Julie Chen found the letter, explaining a new no-touch policy for kindergarten students, on Monday morning as she was packing lunch for her five-year-old daughter.

It reads, in part: “We have unfortunately had to ban all forms of hands-on play for the immediate future … we will have a zero-tolerance policy.”

Penalties for making physical contact with a schoolmate include being grounded during play time and/or a trip to the office “for those who are unable to follow the rules.”

“I read the letter, it said there had been quite a few injuries, I said, ‘OK,’ and kept reading,” Chen said. “When I saw no hands-on would be allowed, I just got mad, I got so upset.


School employee Arthur Bourke drove up in his van and was happy to defend the policy.

“I don’t know how anyone would be against this,” Bourke said. “They’re trying to make it safe for everybody.

“They do a terrific job here of making sure everyone is safe.

“It’s something we have to do — if we don’t control it, it will get out of hand.”

The letter to parents cited “several injuries” in the past few weeks.

November 7, 2013

Astounding historical ignorance … or is he just trolling?

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

You’d have to go a long way to match the degree of ignorance that the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen admits to in this article:

I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.

Steve McQueen’s stunning movie 12 Years a Slave is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death.

No modern American — working in the media — could possibly be so ignorant, so he must be trolling. H/T to Julian Sanchez for the link.

November 2, 2013

Jogging – the exercise of the devil

Filed under: Health, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 11:59

Scott Feschuk loves jogging. Well, he loves some things about jogging: pretty much everything about it except the actual “jogging” part:

I took up jogging recently because I had begun to lose sight of certain things in life, such as my genitals. Year upon year of sports viewing — abetted by halftime nachos, intermission chili dogs and anytime beers—had taken a physical toll. I’m not saying I was out of shape, but I still remember my first run in the springtime: the sweat, the laboured breathing, the searing chest pain. And that was just from climbing onto the treadmill.

Several months later, I am a changed man! Sure, I’m pretty much the same weight and I don’t look any better. And sure, I still consider the stairs to be the Devil’s method of ascent. (Folks, there’s a reason God invented the elevator, the escalator and waiting patiently until the object you want eventually comes downstairs of its own accord.)


Getting injured. Early this fall, I strained my hip and couldn’t run for a couple weeks. This turned out to be an ideal scenario because I could still self-identify as a jogger without having to, you know, jog. I’d wake up and think, “Yep, I’d be out there crushing a 10K run right now if I hadn’t hurt myself being SO SUPER ATHLETIC. Hmm, perhaps my recovery will be hastened by multiple Eggos!” By the way, there’s no quicker way to get in tight with runners than to ask them about their injuries. Runners love talking about injuries. YES, OLD MAN, PLEASE CONTINUE YOUR MESMERIZING TALE OF THE GREAT HAMSTRING PULL OF 1993.

The sense of satisfaction. I like knowing that I play a positive role out there: Other out-of-shape people see me and instantly feel better about themselves. They think, “Sure, my knees are shot and I’m running a 13-minute mile, but at least I’m not getting repeatedly concussed by my own man boobs like THAT guy.”

October 2, 2013

Now we have the real reason for the decline in newspaper revenue

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

If you guessed “the internet” — particularly the internet sites that ate the classified ad business alive — you’re apparently wrong. The real culprit is … an amazingly old-fashioned racist and sexist stereotype:

For years, we’ve talked about the ridiculousness with which many old school journalists want to blame the internet (or, more specifically Google or Craigslist) for the troubles some in the industry have had lately. It is a ridiculous claim. Basically, newspapers have survived for years on a massive inefficiency in information. What newspapers did marginally well was bring together a local community of interest, take their attention, and then sell that attention. What many folks in the news business still can’t come to terms with is the fact that there are tons of other communities of attention out there now, so they can’t slide by on inefficiencies like they did in the past.

Either way, it’s always nice to see some in the industry recognize that blaming the internet is a mistake. However, Chris Powell, the managing editor for the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut’s choice of a different culprit doesn’t seem much more on target. Powell, who it appears, actually does have a journalism job (I can’t fathom how or why) published an opinion piece (found via Mark Hamilton and Mathew Ingram) that puts the blame squarely on… single mothers. Okay, not just any single mothers:

    Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.

September 17, 2013

Revisiting “Sherlock Holmes and the case of public domain”

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:01

If you’ve been following along at home, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been conducting a remarkable rearguard campaign to ensure that the last ten Sherlock Holmes short stories do not enter public domain. Earlier this year, we looked at The case of the over-extended copyright and Sherlock Holmes and the case of public domain. The estate is now involved in a lawsuit where TechDirt‘s Mike Masnick says they are pushing a theory of copyright that might work to infinitely extend copyright protection to certain works:

For a few years now we’ve discussed a few times some of the confusion as to why Sherlock Holmes isn’t considered in the public domain in the US, even though he probably should be. As we’ve explained, all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books except for one are in the public domain. The Conan Doyle estate claims that having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright. Earlier this year, we pointed out that a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar (such things exist!) named Leslie Klinger had decided to file for declaratory judgment that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain, following a legal nastygram from the Estate, arguing that it needed a license fee for Klinger’s latest book.

The Conan Doyle Estate has now filed its response to the motion for summary judgment, and it’s an astounding study of ignorance concerning copyright law and the public domain. While it admits that there are only ten short stories (from that one remaining book) that are under copyright, it still argues that those ten stories lock up pretty much everything else. First, it argues that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson continued to grow as personalities in those last ten stories, and that the stories were non-linear (i.e., some took place earlier in their fictional lives), it more or less encompasses everything, even those public domain works.

    The facts are that Sir Arthur continued creating the characters in the copyrighted Ten Stories, adding significant aspects of each character’s background, creating new history about the dynamics of their own relationship, changing Holmes’s outlook on the world, and giving him new skills. And Sir Arthur did this in a non-linear way. Each of the Ten Stories is set at various points earlier in the two men’s lives—and even late stories create new aspects of the men’s youthful character. In other words, at any given point in their fictional lives, the characters depend on copyrighted character development.

Of course, if that’s true, it basically presents a way to make copyright on characters perpetual. You just need to have someone continue to release new works that have some minor change to the character, and they get to pretend you have a new starting point for the public domain ticker. That can’t be what the law intended.

Update, 3 January 2014: In a slight surprise, the court has ruled that the character is no longer protected under US copyright laws.

August 3, 2013

“RCMP officers stopping American citizens on the Buffalo side of their border”

Filed under: Cancon, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Where’s the outrage? Nobody seems to care! Oh, but I got the nationalities confused in that headline:

Bit by bit, agreement by agreement, Canada is giving away more and more in the name of trade. To Conservatives, none of this is a threat to our sovereignty, as if the very act of stating so makes it so.

But let us consider this fantasy scenario: RCMP officers stopping American citizens on the Buffalo side of their border. Picture the horrified expression of those resilient New Yorkers as they are forced to slow down on their Interstate highway so as to be greeted by a smiling RCMP officer who is to inspect their property, ask questions about where they live, where they’ve come from, and the like — all part of a so called “pre-clearing” program.

Of course, this scene would never occur. The United States protects, obsessively, their sovereignty. But here in Canada, armed American police officers will now be able to stop Canadians, in Canada, inspecting, checking and asking questions.

Again, the Conservatives will tell us that an armed American cop in Canada is all about trade, jobs and security, not sovereignty. If this is true, then can we not expect to see Mounties stopping Americans on the Buffalo side?

I blogged about this issue last year, too.

May 20, 2013

18-year-old charged with two felonies due to relationship with 15-year-old

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:08

An 18-year-old Floridian is facing two felony charges of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16″ due to a relationship with a 15-year-old girl:

“These people never came to us as parents, never tried to speak to us… and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating,” Kaitlyn Hunt’s mother, Kelley Hunt-Smith, wrote in an statement posted to Facebook. “…They were out to destroy my daughter. [They] feel like my daughter ‘made’ their daughter gay.”

According to Hunt-Smith, police arrived at the family’s home Feb. 16 and put her daughter in handcuffs. Local news website TCPalm.com listed Kaitlyn Hunt’s arrest for “lewd and lascivious battery” on Feb. 18, and the girl’s mug shot is still easily accessible on the Internet.

But the trouble didn’t stop there. The other girl’s parents repeatedly tried to have Kaitlyn, a senior, expelled from school. Despite the Sebastian River High School administration’s denial of their request, and a judge’s order allowing Kaitlyn to remain in school (so long as the girls had no contact), the 15-year-old’s parents successfully petitioned the school board to have Hunt removed from school weeks prior to graduation.

On the one hand, it’s outrageous that Hunt has been charged, but it’s oddly re-assuring that even though it’s a lesbian relationship, it’s being dealt with exactly the same way that a comparable heterosexual relationship would be: treated as a sex crime. And yes, in either case it’s absurd that teenagers are being classed as sexual predators for relationships that would have been considered quite ordinary a decade ago.

May 12, 2013

British emergency wards are overcrowded … so we’ll fine the ambulance service!

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

Hard to come up with an explanation for this perverse policy:

Ministers came under fresh criticism for their handling of the NHS last night after it emerged the ambulance service will be hit with £90 million in fines — as punishment for the chaos blighting casualty departments.

Critics said the fines will simply deprive trusts of vital funds that could help tackle the deterioration in patient services.

A new penalty clause that was written into ambulance trust contracts from last month will levy fines of £200 for every patient who has to wait for longer than 30 minutes for admission to A&E, and £1,000 for each patient forced to wait more than an hour.

You can understand the desire to speed the delivery of injured people to the emergency services they need, but how does it make any kind of sense to punish the ambulance service because the emergency wards they need to get their patients into are overcrowded? Unless the ambulance service has some kind of magic ability to shift priorities in the hospitals, fining them for patients’ wait times makes less than zero sense.

But acute overcrowding in A&E departments has led to increasing ambulance ‘jams’ formed as they queue to unload, with waits of four hours recorded at some hospitals at the busiest times.

Damning new figures reveal that during the past year there were more than 265,000 occasions in England when ambulance staff took more than half an hour to deliver patients into the hands of hospital doctors.

And shockingly, more than 37,000 patients had to wait over an hour to move on to the wards.

Official guidelines say ambulances should deliver patients, clean the ambulance and be back out on the road within 15 minutes. A longer wait is seen as ‘unsafe’.

Yet the chaos in A&E departments is so bad that at one, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, doctors were forced to put up a tent to act as a makeshift ward to treat patients alongside the ambulance queue.

April 20, 2013

First world problem defined – high tech toilet faces technological obsolescence

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

Techhive‘s Jared Newman has, uh, the dirt:

Everyone knows the old axiom about consumer electronics: The rapid pace of technology quickly renders your new tech toys obsolete.

It turns out that not even high-tech toilets are immune from that truism. Kohler, which two years ago released its luxurious $6000 Numi toilet, has just announced the second-generation model, and it adds some essential upgrades not found in the current hardware.

The Numi first made waves in 2011 for its built-in speakers, FM radio, MP3 player and accompanying touch screen remote control, as well its hands-free operation and built-in bidet with “integrated dryer.” Equally noteworthy was the Numi’s striking design, and Kohler’s bizarre suggestion that the rich and famous should heed nature’s call in full view of nature.

Kohler’s promotional material for the Numi suggests that when you’ve spent $6000 on a toilet, you want to make sure it’s in full view of the neighbors.

Kohler’s promotional material for the Numi suggests that when you’ve spent $6000 on a toilet, you want to make sure it’s in full view of the neighbors.

April 13, 2013

This from the country that invented hypersentimentality?

Filed under: Britain, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:12

BBC America has what they call a list of 10 things about America that Brits will never understand. A few of them seem likely to be true, but this one is just not right:

6. Compulsive sentimentality
Gushing public displays are usually meant well but give Brits the creeps. For instance, my husband and I recently checked out of a B&B after a two-night stay. Instead of bidding us farewell with a firm handshake and a receipt, the owner — a man in his 50s — latched on to me, then my man, for a prolonged hug. Just when we thought it was over, he announced, “I’ll miss you guys!” No, actually. You won’t.

I can refute the notion that Americans are more embarrassingly sentimental with two words: Princess Diana. Did any country ever show more ridiculous sentimentality than Britain in their “grief” over a former royal person? The old notion of British reserve may still be true in some parts of the country, but most Brits these days seem to take extreme joy in wallowing in sentimentality.

March 4, 2013

Florida student punished for taking part in incident with a firearm

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

His participation in the incident was to wrestle the loaded revolver out of the hands of the football player who was threatening to shoot another player:

A 16-year-old Cypress Lake High School student, who wrestled a loaded revolver away from a teen threatening to shoot, is being punished.

The student grappled the gun away from the 15-year-old suspect on the bus ride home Tuesday after witnesses say he aimed the weapon point blank at another student and threatened to shoot him.

The student, who Fox 4 has agreed not to identify and distort his voice because he fears for his safety, says there’s “no doubt” he saved a life by disarming the gunman. And for that he was suspended for three days.

[. . .]

The teen we spoke to and authorities both confirm the Revolver was loaded. According to the arrest report the suspect, who Fox 4 is not naming because he is a minor, was “pointing the gun directly” at another student and “threatening to shoot him.”

That’s when the student we spoke with says he and others tackled the teen and wrestled away the gun. The next day the school slapped him with a three day suspension.

“It’s dumb,” he said. “How they going to suspend me for doing the right thing?”

According to the referral, he was suspended for being part of an “incident” where a weapon was present and given an “emergency suspension.”

“If they wouldn’t’ve did what they had to do on that bus,” the teen’s mother said, “I think there would have been a lot of fatalities.”

H/T to Charles Oliver for the link.

February 28, 2013

The headline really does say it all

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:51

Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me a link to this article in the Toronto Star. I’m just gobsmacked:

Black police officer faces charges for not investigating racial taunts against himself
A black York Regional Police officer faces misconduct charges for his handling of a farm party turned ugly, when he was allegedly subjected to repeated racial taunts and told, “I would love to see that guy hanging from a tree.”

A black York Region officer faces Police Act charges for not investigating racial taunts thrown at him when he was called to a bush party.

Const. Dameian Muirhead, 33, is charged with three counts of misconduct for his handling of a farm party turned ugly, where he was allegedly subjected to repeated racial slurs and told, “I would love to see that guy hanging from a tree.”

Muirhead, an eight-year veteran, was charged with insubordination and discreditable conduct over the way he allegedly investigated the party on the Victoria Day long weekend in May 2011. A partygoer lodged the complaint, saying he was rudely treated — but Muirhead also faces a neglect of duty charge for failing to properly investigate the racial remarks.

A police disciplinary hearing which began Tuesday was told that Muirhead and other officers were sent to the party after a woman was seriously injured when run over by an off-road vehicle.

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