Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


Barely Legal

surf-beaver

Talk about the government getting all up in someone’s business:

Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.

The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.

[...]

New Jersey statutes allow waxing of the face, neck, arms, legs and abdomen, but officials say that genital waxing has always been illegal, although not spelled out.

Regardless, almost every salon in South Jersey, from Atlantic City casinos to suburban strip malls, has been breaking the law for years by ridding women, and some men, of their pubic hair for $50 to $60 a session.

Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, said that the proposal would specifically ban genital waxing, and was prompted by complaints to the board from two women who were injured and hospitalized. One of them sued. Lamm said that the state only investigates infractions if consumers complain.

beachbeaver2
What happened to “keep your hands off my body”? If the government can dictate the size and shape of the drapes, what’s to stop it from taking over the whole womb room? It’s not as if the rights of the unshorn are at risk here. In addition, there is a legitimate concern for where women will turn if they lose the right to freely control their bare necessities:

Cherry Hill salon owner Linda Orsuto said that women would “go ballistic” if the proposal passed. She said that some women would resort to waxing themselves, visiting unlicensed salons or traveling to other states, including Pennsylvania, in a quest to remain bare down there.

“The clients are going to freak,” said Orsuto, who owns 800 West Salon & Spa, on Route 70. “It’s a hot issue, and we’re going to have to do something.”

Scary. If the government camel insists on sticking its nose under Jersey girls’ skirts, can back-alley bush removal with rusty razors be far behind? beach-beaver

Now, I understand that some aficionados of adult entertainment from the 70′s might be excited about the return of a tufted tarts and piliferous punani. But that sort of hirsute protectionism treads dangerously upon our most cherished freedoms, and will potentially lead to messy entanglements from which we will find it hard to extricate ourselves (think “velcro”).

Accordingly, I stand firmly behind the women of New Jersey and fully support their rights to depilate as they see fit, with the advice and counsel of their salon professional. So say it loud, ladies, in all your glabrous glory: “We’re bare! Down there! And we’re proud!”

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Reaping, Sowing, etc.

Glad they finally noticed:

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

Of course the greatest stoker of this populist backlash has been the Obama administration. I’ll be the first to agree that some of the financial institutions, such as AIG recently, have played into the populist condemnation by the administration, but instead of being specific about the AIGs of the world, they have instead gone after an entire industry to the point that “banks and Wall Street” are synonymous with crooks, swindlers and liars. Having established that narrative, seemingly purposely, there’s now a huge backlash building which may, in fact, cripple the administration’s efforts pertaining to both.

“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.”

“This has been welling up for a long time,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s aides said any surge of such a sentiment could complicate efforts to win Congressional approval for the additional bailout packages that Mr. Obama has signaled will be necessary to stabilize the banking system.

As it is, there have already been moves in Congress to limit compensation to executives at banks and Wall Street firms that are receiving government help to survive.

Beyond that, a shifting political mood challenges Mr. Obama’s political skills, as he seeks to acknowledge the anger without becoming a target of it. A central question for Mr. Obama is whether his cool style — “in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger,” he said in his address to Congress last month — will prove effective when the country may be feeling more emotional.

And the country is feeling emotional because the administration has been making emotional arguments targeting the industry it wants to help. Not very smart politics. And they’ve now finally realized that.

“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”

The “culprit” has been identified. In their desire to escape blame, government officials in Congress and elsewhere have almost unanimously used their access to the media to vilify banks and Wall Street while pretending they had no hand whatsoever in this debacle. Unfortunately they’ve been quite successful in the scapegoating. However, having established the narrative, they now have to attempt to reverse it because the public rage they’ve helped stoke may prevent them from doing what they think they need to do to turn the financial industry around.

The entire problem that the administration is now recognizing is one of their own making and another indication of their inexperience and lack of foresight. It’s one thing to demonize such industries when campaigning, it is, as they’re learning, an entirely different thing when you do it as the President of the United States. The administration now has to figure out how to reverse a narrative they helped build and establish. That should be interesting to watch.

~McQ

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Podcast for 15 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the week’s events, and the state of modern journalism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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BlogTalk Radio – Tonight 8pm EST

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s): We’ll talk about the week and the progress of the kangaroo and the car converging as we watch. Or if you’re interested in a non-metaphorical reference, we’ll discuss what has happened this week among our financial and governmental gurus to further exacerbate an already bad situation. And, we might touch on a couple of foreign policy situation since that’s an issue that seems to have been mostly ignored.

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Bombers and “Bombers”

Daniel Larison is trying to smack Ed Morrisey around over a particular story:

There is a non-story making the rounds that the Russian military might base bombers in Venezuela and Cuba, provided that the Kremlin wanted to do this. In the same story that is being circulated, the Kremlin ruled out the idea as hypothetical speculation. Naturally, this had no effect whatever on wild accusations of Obama’s foreign policy failure.

As you can tell, Larison is sure there is no smoke or fire with this particular story, but refuses to let an opportunity go by to blame Bush for something, which he proceeds to do. However it seems Larison’s research into the story must have omitted this CNN version. The lede:

Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

I put them in bold so they might catch Larison’s eye. You see, when most people see the words “Russia expressed interest” they interpret them to mean the state of Russia – you know, the country?- is interested enough in something to actually express that interest outloud to where a news agency heard it and reported it. And the words “Cuban airfields” usually mean, well, you know, airfields in Cuba – the object of the Russian interest. The thing airplanes fly off of. The fact that a Russian news agency reported the story about Russia’s interest and Cuba’s airfields, while also mentioning strategic bombers, kind of ties it all together and gives the statement some credibility over and above Larison’s hand-wave of dismissal. It certainly makes it more than a “non-story”.

In fact, Russia has obviously done more than just “think” about it.  Here’s the scoop on Venezuela:

Zhikharev also told Interfax that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered a military airfield on La Orchila island as a temporary base for Russian strategic bombers.

“If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible,” he said, according to Interfax. Zhikharev said he visited La Orchila in 2008 and can confirm that with minor reconstruction, the airfield owned by a local naval base can accept fully-loaded Russian strategic bombers.

Offer made by Venezuelan head of state. Enough interest to host a visit by Zhikharev (Chief of Staff of Russian Air Force).  Further interested enough to scope out the construction necessary to make it suitable for strategic bombers.

Yup – non-story. [/sarc]

But hey, never let the opportunity for a rant get slowed by facts, huh?

~McQ

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Governmental 3 Card Monte

A week or so ago, I highlighted a story about the possibility that Democrats were going to tax your employee health care benefits (after all, those among the 95% who are getting a tax cut have to have something to spend it on) and I was assured this particular plan comes up all the time and never gets out of committee. Well it appears those assurances of nothing to worry about were premature. The idea may not only get out of committee this time, but be signed into law as well:

The Obama administration is signaling to Congress that the president could support taxing some employee health benefits, as several influential lawmakers and many economists favor, to help pay for overhauling the health care system.

So you’ll pay taxes on your private health benefits to pay for health benefits for others, while government tells you how expensive your private coverage is and how they can run it much more cheaply and efficiently if only you’ll pitch in and pay for it.

Question: If taxes on your health care benefits are going to pay for a governmental health care system overhaul, and one assumes the purpose of the overhaul is to bring more and more of the health care system under governmental control, how will government “pay” for all of this in the future when you no longer have private health care benefits to tax?

Read the whole article.  It doesn’t even take a double digit IQ to spot the law of unintended consequences laying in the weeds just salivating over this one.

~McQ

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Years of Math

From an email.

Why? Because I think it is funny. And yes, I understand that we are still capable of and do teach math well.

But as I chuckled about it, this bit of humor is more about our priorities and some cultural issues than math.

1959-2009 (in the USA )

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $ 2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters , but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? 

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20.  What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok.)

6. Teaching Math In 2009

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

~McQ

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Amazon Kindle 2 Review

I am a reader.  I am, in fact, a serious reader.  For most of my life, this was a bit of a financial burden, and over time, an even greater physical burden, since I acquired a library of hundreds of books.  A couple of years ago, I was liberated from much of this by the acquisition of a Sony PRS-500 eBook Reader.  As of this last Tuesday afternoon, my Sony Reader had 400 books stored on it that I had acquired over the last three years.

On Tuesday night, my PRS-500 went Tango Uniform.

The Amazon Kindle 2

The Amazon Kindle 2

A dilemma immediately arose about how best to replace it.  With the Kindle 2 now out, I had the following choice.  Buy a new PRS-700 from Sony, or get a Kindle.  With the new PRS-700, I could transfer all my old books.  But I was stuck with Sony’s horrendously inconvenient book-buying process.  Or I could get a new Kindle 2, which was a bit cheaper, far easier to obtain books for, but would require a massively inconvenient re-acquisition or conversion of my old books to the Kindle.

I made my choice, and bought the Kindle.

It arrived on Thursday, and I have to say that it’s not only signifigacantly better than the Sony, it’s a fantastic book reader in its own right.

The Form Factor

The Kindle is a bit larger than the Sony due to the QWERTY keyboard in the lower portion of the machine.  It’s still small enough, though to be conveniently sized, and easy to handle.  It’s quite thin, and light.  In fact, the deluxe leather cover I purchased with it is almost as heavy as the Kindle itself.

The one downside to the device’s form factor is the QWERTY keyboard–but that’s pretty much an unavoidable downside.  The buttons are small, and set very close together.  This makes typing a bit slow a laborious.  Of course, it’s physically impossible to get a decent keyboard on a small device, so you know going in that typing isn’t going to be convenient.  It’s no different from a Blackberry or palm device.  The surprise isn’t that the keyboard doesn’t allow convenient typing, but rather that there’s a usable keyboard at all.  The Kindle’s keyboard is usable, and that is probably the best that anyone can reasonably expect.

That having been said, the buttons are designed in such a way as to minimize accidental pressing unless you intend to press them, which is a plus.

The controls are well-positioned on the device.  As you can see from the picture, there are six main navigation buttons along the sides.

Left Buttons Right Buttons
Previous Page Home
Next Page Next page
Menu
Back

In addition to the buttons, there is a joystick control placed between the menu and back buttons for navigating the cursor through the menus.

The nice thing about the design of the buttons is that the depress to the center of the device, not to the edge.  This does a great job of preventing you from inadvertantly changing pages, or going to the home screen by accident while you handle the device.  it’s a small, but very convenient detail.  It’s also nice that there are Next page buttons on both sides of the device.  This is the button you’re going to hit most often, after all, so they are conveniently accessible at all times, no matter how you hold the device.  That’s helped out by the fact that they are significantly larger than the other buttons.

Kindle 2 and Laptop for size comparison

Kindle 2 and Laptop for size comparison

The image to the right gives a good real-world size comparison.  As you can see, the Kindle is conveniently small.

One final note on the form factor.  With the keyboard on the bottom, the screen is raised to the top of the device.  This means that when you read in bed, you can rest the bottom of the device on the covers, and the whole screen is visible.  On my Sony, the covers would obscure the bottom of the screen.  Since I read before sleeping every night, this is a noticeable improvement.

The E-Ink Screen

I was a fan of the eInk technology on the Sony, but there were a few drawbacks.  The contrast beteen the gray background and black text could have been better.  The refresh rate of the screen was also noticeably–sometimes distractingly–slow.  With only 4 grayscale colors, book covers and other images were nearly illegible.

That was a first-generation eInk screen, of course, and with the Kindle 2, there have been obvious improvements to the technology.  The gray background is a bit lighter, increasing the contrast.  The page refresh rate is also much, much faster, which makes “turning” the pages far less noticeable.  It certainly takes less time than turning a page in a physical book.

The biggest improvement is in the fact that the screen displays 16 grayscale colors now.  This makes the pictures far more legible and photograph-like.  In fact, every time you turn the Kindle off, a picture of a some author or literary scene is displayed, and they all look good on the screen.

Device Features

The most convenient of the feastures has to be the different font sizes.  The Kindle not only uses a pleasant and easy to read serif font, it offers a choice of 6 different font sizes.  There’s enough variation in font size to make easy reading for practically anyone.

Navigating through the device is very easy.  No matter where you are, you can get to the main menu screen by pushing the Home key.  The back key gets you out of any menus or secondary screens with one click.

Having to navigate through menus with the joystick control is slightly inconvenient compared to the Sony, however.  The Sony provides ten physical buttons that correspond to the menu items, so instead of navigating, you simply push the appropriate button.  On the Kindle, you have to nudge the joystick to move from item to item.

The menu system is faily intuitive, providing you with slightly different menus, depending on what screen you’re looking at on the device.  At all times, you are presented with menus that are relevant to what you’re doing with the device at the time.

If you find you’re doing something where you can’t actually read your book, the Kindle offers a voice-to-text feature that is surprisingly good.  You get the choice between a male or female voice, and can vary the speed at which the voice reads between three different settings.  The voice is obviously computer-generated, but it sounds closer to a human voice than any device I’ve previously worked with.  It still has trouble pronouncing certain words, but for listening while you drive–or ride your motorcycle–it’s a pretty neat feature.  It’s also neat that the Kindle has a built-in speaker, as well as a 3.5mm mini jack for headphones.

In addition, the Kindle will also play MP3 files.

Unfortunately, some publishers threatened to sue Amazon, saying that the voice to text feature was a copyright violation–which it clearly is not.  Amazon, however, rather than getting involved in a legal battle, allows publishers to disable the text to speech feature, so not every book will be hearable.

The Kindle does not take any external storage media, like an SD card.  It does, however, come with 2GB of onboard memory.  That’s enough memory to store about 1500 books, which seems like more than enough to get by.  Any book you buy at Amazon is perpetually available for download, too so, you can always swap out books if you find that 1,500 books isn’t enough.

Going Online

QandO on the Kindle

QandO on the Kindle

The Kindle contains an EVDO modem that operates off the Sprint 3G network.  When you buy a book from the Amazon store, the book is delivered directly to the device via the network.  In addition, the Kindle is assigned an email address, so you can take your text or RTF documents, and email them to that address, and Amazon will, for ten cents, convert the document to the Kindle format, and deliver it straight to the device as well.

eBook prices at the Amazon store are surprisingly good.  The cost of an eBook is significantly less than the paper versions.  I was able to buy Amity Schlaes’ newest book, The Forgotten Man, for $9.57, as opposed to the $25 hardback price.  In addition to that, I was able to pick up modern translations of some classics, such as Livy’s History of Rome, the collected works of Tacitus in one eBook, Xenophon’s Anabasis, The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Julius Ceasar’s Commentaries on the Wars, and The Histories of Herodotus for about $3.50 each.

In addition to wireless book delivery from the Amazon store, you can also transfer books from your computer to the device via the included USB cable. So, if you don’t want to shell out the dime for wireless delivery to your device when you convert a document, you can have Amazon convert the document and send it to your email address for free, then use the USB cable to transfer it to the device.

I buy a lot of sci-fi at the Baen Books Webscriptions web site, which offers books in the Kindle format.  In addition, nearly all of the books from the Gutenberg Project, as well as many other titles, are all available for free in several eBook formats, including the Kindle, from ManyBooks.  Having the USB connection allows the Kindle to be seen as a hard drive on your computer, and you can transfer those eBooks from your computer to the Kindle.

In addition to going online at Amazon, the Kindle is also a web browser, and you can simply go to a web site and read it.  I’m not sure if this is going to be a permanent feature of the Kindle, because I’m sure Sprint wants money for the use of its EVDO network, so this may or may not be a feature that goes away.  On the other hand, it’s a pretty pretty primitive browser.  It takes forever for a web page to load, and you have to use the joystick to navigate from link to link.  It’s not very convenient, so I can’t see someone wanting to use it on a regular basis.

You can, by the way, turn the wireless on and off as necessary, for lots of battery life extension.

Conclusion

I have been extremely impressed by the Kindle.  The speed at which it works, the ease of obtaining books, and the though that has gone into its design make this a definite winner in my book. (Pun.  Deal with it.)  It has been a pleasure to use for the last couple of days, and from my experience, it is vastly superior to the Sony Reader in nearly every way.  It’s been an absolute joy to use.  Now, all I need is a new Palm Pre, and I’ll be set.

My only problem with it has been how easy and seductive it is to get new books for it.  I just purchased Winston Churchill’s 6-volume memoir of World War II for $36.69.  Clearly, I’m going to have to figure out how to reign those impulse purchases in.

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“The Brokest Generation” – something that every under-30-year-old ought to read

There are plenty of good writers around, but there are only a few who cause me to pause during reading and think “Oh, how I wish I could write like that.”

Mark Steyn is in that group. Just about anything he writes is worth reading, and he is the best in the business at being funny and thought-provoking at the same time.

Occasionally, though, he captures the essence of an issue in a way no other current writer can. His current article at National Review, “The Brokest Generation“, is in that category. Go read it yourself, and then pass it along to the folks who are going to be paying for the folly of the Obama years (and the somewhat-lesser follies of the administrations that preceeded him).

It’s true irony that the chanting, swaying kids in the creepy Obama videos will be the ones who pay the highest price for Obama’s fumbling foolishness. Per Mark:

As Lord Keynes observed, “In the long run we’re all dead.” Well, most of us will be. But not you youngsters, not for a while. So we’ve figured it out: You’re the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!

The Bailout and the TARP and the Stimulus and the Multi-Trillion Budget and TARP 2 and Stimulus 2 and TARP And Stimulus Meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are like the old Saturday-morning cliffhanger serials your grandpa used to enjoy. But now he doesn’t have to grab his walker and totter down to the Rialto, because he can just switch on the news and every week there’s his plucky little hero Big Government facing the same old crisis: Why, there’s yet another exciting spending bill with twelve zeroes on the end, but unfortunately there seems to be some question about whether they have the votes to pass it. Oh, no! And then, just as the fate of another gazillion dollars of pork and waste hangs in the balance, Arlen Specter or one of those lady-senators from Maine dashes to the cliff edge and gives a helping hand, and phew, this week’s spendapalooza sails through. But don’t worry, there’ll be another exciting episode of Trillion-Buck Rogers of the 21st Century next week!

This is a connection we need to be making over and over again: when the mountain of federal debt finally collapses of its own weight, the younger generation will be hurt the worst. Most of the people who fomented the crisis will have long since passed on, or be comfortable in their retirement because of the assets they were able to accrue at taxpayer and lobbyist expense. They will have gotten what they wanted: time in the sun, running things, letting others pay them obeisance, getting respect they don’t really deserve. Either they are too stupid to realize what they are doing to the next couple of generations, or they are too mendacious to care. The sooner the younger generations learn the con job that has been perpetrated on them, the better.

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20/20 and Reason: “Bailouts & Bull”

Last night’s episode of 20/20 was one of the best I’ve ever seen. John Stossel took on several topics, such as taxpayer-funded bailouts, transportation, medicinal marijuana, universal pre-kindergarten and immigration. Many of the segments are based on and include footage from The Drew Carey Project from Reason TV. Stossel also interviews Drew Carey in some of the segments.

The they are six videos (five below the cut). The first one deals with bailouts. Stossel talks to 18 economists about why the “stimulus” was a bad idea. He asks House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer if debt got us into this recession, then why is creating more debt going to get us out? One economist says that one dollar taken out of the economy is one less dollar to be spent in the private sector.

The second video deals with transportation, and actually starts off in Atlanta (my hometown), and is based on this video from Reason TV. It highlights private toll roads built in Orange County, California, Paris, Chicago and Indiana.

This segment is on medicinal marijuana and Charlie Lynch and is based on this Reason TV video. Lynch owned a medicinal marijuana dispensary in California, which is legal under state law. He was arrested by DEA agents for helping sick people and is now awaiting sentencing, up to a hundred years in jail.

This is the segment on universal pre-kindergarten, a promise made by Barack Obama during his campaign. It’s based in part on this Reason TV video.

Here’s the segment on immigration, which is based on a Reason TV video. Stossel shows how the gate is useless because illegal immigrants still manage to get around it, either by climbing over it or cutting holes in it. Stossel talks to both Duncan Hunter and his son, Duncan Hunter, Jr., about why it is necessary. The younger Hunter asks Stossel, “What is it worth to the American people to not have another 9/11?” Stossel says the fence wouldn’t have stopped 9/11 (the 9/11 hijackers came in the country legally). Hunter says, “It may stop the next 9/11.” Gotta love the fear mongering.

Here’s the final segment of the episode. It talks about how easy it is to make it in American if you live within your means and is based on this Reason TV video.

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