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You can’t blame the wreck on the train

March 21, 2015

It looks like the Venezuelan government is still fighting that toilet paper conspiracy, among others.

Fetch me my lance, Sancho!

Venezuela To Start Fingerprinting Supermarket Shoppers

Back in August, when we wrote about the latest instance of trouble in Maduro’s socialist paradise, we cautioned that as a result of the economic collapse in the Latin American nation (and this was even before the plunge in crude made the “paradise” into the 9th circle of hell), Venezuelans soon may need to have their fingerprints scanned before they can buy bread and other staples. This unprecedented step was proposed after Maduro had the brilliant idea of proposing mandatory grocery fingerprinting system to combat food shortages. He said then that “the program will stop people from buying too much of a single item”, but did not say when it would take effect. […]

Unfortunately for the struggling Venezuelan population, the time has arrived and as AP reported over the weekend, Venezuela “will begin installing 20,000 fingerprint scanners at supermarkets nationwide in a bid to stamp out hoarding and panic buying” as of this moment. […]

On Saturday, President Nicolas Maduro said that seven large private retail chains had voluntarily agreed to install the scanners.

Last month the owners of several chains of supermarkets and drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues by not opening enough tills.

It gets better: Maduro also accused Colombian food smugglers of buying up price-controlled goods in state-run supermarkets along the border.

For the first time in recent history the economists who say the effort is bound to fail, are right. They blame Venezuela’s rigid price controls that discourage local manufacturing and the recent slide in world oil prices that has further diminished the supply of dollars available to import everything from milk to cars.

As BBC further adds, in January the hashtag #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela (“Empty shelves in Venezuela”) became a worldwide Twitter trend, with over 200,000 tweets as Venezuelans tweeted pictures of empty supermarket shelves around the country.

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Living free and dying

February 22, 2015

I suppose I wasn’t the only kid who daydreamed about being a hobo, at least among people of similar age and background. I recall reading stories that included hobo characters or which were about hobos and their foot-loose way of life was attractive to a boy living under his parents’ and schoool’s discipline.

So I enjoyed this short documentary about modern day hobos in the U.S. Watching it reminded me that I’d still like to travel across the country by train just to see what’s out there, away from the Interstates and the airports.

Are there hobos in other countries? I don’t know. There are migrant workers, surely; I wonder if they have a tradition of riding freight trains between jobs.


Thinking about hobos reminded me of Hard Times, Studs Turkel’s oral history of the Great Depression. (It’s a good book to read, if you haven’t.) That site has links to audio of the interviews he conducted while writing the book.

Here’s an interview with a former hobo named Frank Czerwonka and another with a fellow named Louis Banks.

Stories about hobos led me to thinking about songs about them. Here’s Jimmie Rodger’s Hobo’s Meditation. I particularly like the cover of this song by Parton, Ronstandt, and Harris on their album Trio.

And I can’t bring up hobo songs without mentioning Roger Miller’s King of the Road, of course. Years ago, I heard a local musician perform this and he described it as ‘flawless’.

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More unnecessary spending

February 21, 2015

I spotted this Jeep in west St. Louis county recently and found the sign pretty funny. After the obvious “Jeeps are awesome” angle, I took it as a joke about libertarians. But I thought it was amusing nonetheless.

At the very least, it might make people think about government spending. And maybe some thoughtful ones will think about who builds roads and how they’re financed.

Paved-roads

Mark Major at The Outlaw Urbanist used the sticker as a starting for point for an editorial. (I haven’t read the whole piece so have no opinion about it.)

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Manifest Destiny updated

November 30, 2014

Here’s a very nicely done clip quoting Carl Sagan about space exploration. If you watch, do so in full-screen mode.

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Net Neutrality? Follow the money.

November 15, 2014

The debate over Net Neutrality reminds me of the time 20 years back when voice-over-IP (VoIP) was just becoming A New Thing. What I remember most is the Pie-in-the-Sky attitude that many folks had about VoIP. It opened up a lot of alternatives for carrying voice calls and there was this attitude of "We’re free of the Phone Company now!"

But we weren’t free of reality. Somebody still had to finance the infrastructure no matter whether you were switching circuits on a T1 line or you were routing packets over a TCP/IP connection. Somebody had to pay for the copper, or for the fiber, or for the radio towers. The Follow-The-Money rule still applied.

I think something very similar is happening today in the debate over Net Neutrality. Subscribers want unlimited access to whatever source they choose for a flat fee. They’re thinking, "We’re free of the Phone company/Cable company now!" Meanwhile, ISPs want to be paid based on the traffic they have to carry since the Internet is no more an unlimited resource for video than it was for voice calls. Somebody still has to pay for the copper… etc.

Netflix and (Google’s) YouTube accounted for half of peak-time traffic at the end of last year. As of last May, Netflix accounted for over 1/3 of downstream bandwidth by itself. Maybe you’ve said good-bye to your cable company, but you’ll never say good-bye to the need to finance the infrastructure.


9 questions about network neutrality you were too embarrassed to ask.


So I liked Coyote’s post this week looking at the bottom line for Net Neutrality. If you’re interested in the topic, read the whole thing.

Net Neutrality is Not Neutrality, It is Actually the Opposite. It’s Corporate Welfare for Netflix and Google
November 12, 2014, 12:24 pm

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like. There is a battle that goes on in the marketplace in virtually every communication medium between content creators and content deliverers. We can certainly see this in cable TV, as media companies and the cable companies that deliver their product occasionally have battles that break out in public. But one could argue similar things go on even in, say, shipping, where magazine publishers push for special postal rates and Amazon negotiates special bulk UPS rates. […]

What “net neutrality” actually means is that certain people, including apparently the President, want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators (no surprise given Hollywood’s support for Democrats). Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP’s a lot of money to provide. But Netflix doesn’t want the ISP’s to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses – Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion’s share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it. Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators. […]

Don’t believe me? Well, AT&T and Verizon have halted their fiber rollout. Google has not, but Google is really increasingly on the content creation side. And that is one strategy for dealing with this problem of the government tilting the power balance in a vertical supply chain: vertical integration.

Postscript: There are folks out there who always feel better as a consumer if their services are heavily regulated by the Government. Well, the Internet is currently largely unregulated, but the cable TV industry is heavily regulated. Which one are you more satisfied with?

And I also ran across an interview with Mark Cuban this week. He had similar thoughts. (My emphasis below.)

Mark Cuban On Obama’s Plan For The Internet: ‘The Government Will F— The Internet Up’

Mark Cuban is not a fan of President Obama’s plan for the internet.

He’s been bashing plans to regulate the internet, and questioning other people who support it.

Over email we asked him about the potential for small companies to be stifled by internet providers.

His reponse: “I’m more concerned the government will f— it up.”

Obama thinks the internet should be reclassified to be considered a utility like telephone lines. This would allow it be regulated, and protect consumers and companies that rely on the internet. […]

The fear is that internet providers like Comcast are going to prioritize the traffic of certain companies over the traffic of other companies. In this scenario, it’s harder for a young company to take on older, more monied companies.

Cuban thinks this is an idiotic concern. We asked him if he was worried that internet providers would hurt startups.

“Hell no,” he said. “Since when have incumbent companies been the mainstays for multiple generations?”

He believes that startups blow up older companies despite an unregulated internet that allows internet providers to prioritize certain traffic streams.

Overall, he thinks the current debate is too narrow and short sighted.

“There will be so much competition from all the enhancements to wireless that incumbent ISPs will have to spent their time fighting cord cutting,” he said. […]

As Coyote and Cuban point out, what it comes down to is how this industry grows and who should be trusted to regulate it.

It’s an easy call in my opinion. No matter how limited my choices for ISPs, I can find a better ISP easier than I can find a better FCC. I remember the days before telephone deregulation.

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Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em

November 15, 2014

I’ve been smoking for 45 years (nearly as long as I’ve been paying FICA, now that I think about it). And I get the externalities of smoking, so I don’t feel aggrieved when people or organizations prohibit smoking on their property. No problem: I’ll respect their air and grounds.

I’ve got tenants who are heavy smokers and, yep, that house has a definite stink to it. We’ll need a few gallons of KILZ when they move out. Again, no problem. It’s their home and we knew they smoked when they signed the lease. The clean-up is a very minor cost, all things considered.

What I do have a problem with, though, is when the Nicotine Nazis get their hands on the levers of power and start proposing regulations like the one described below. Banning tobacco sales is just another form of Prohibition, after all, and we know how well prohibitions work.

What we learn from history is that we never learn from history (said whomever you want to credit with that adage).

Raucous hearing on tobacco sales in Westminster halted

WESTMINSTER — An unruly public hearing on a proposal to prohibit the sale of tobacco products came to a sudden and rowdy halt Wednesday evening after shouting and clapping opponents of the ban repeatedly refused the chairwoman’s request to come to order.

The ban, proposed by the Board of Health in this Central Massachusetts town, would be the first of its kind in the state. It has led to angry reactions from residents who worry that it will hurt the local economy and allow government too much discretion in controlling private conduct.

“This is about freedom; it’s my body and it’s my choice to smoke,” said Nate Johnson, 32, a Westminster farmer and auto body worker. He was puffing on a cigarette at a rally before the hearing where opponents held signs saying “It’s not about tobacco — it’s about control” and “Smoke ‘em if you got them.” […]

The ban would cover sales of products containing tobacco or nicotine, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes, which use batteries to heat nicotine-laced liquid, producing a vapor that is inhaled.

The proposal, made public Oct. 27, touched off an intense reaction from opponents. More than 1,000 of the town’s 7,400 residents signed a petition against the ban.

I was tickled to read about the residents of Westminster raising hell about this proposal. Evidently there were even non-smokers upset about the proposal — as they should have been since it’s the kind of idea that reminds you of Mark Twain’s comment about school board members.

whats-next-in-westminster-massCJ GUNTHER/EPA

“What’s next?” is a very good question. It’s one we ought to be asking ourselves about practically everything the government plans or does.

And just as a matter of curiosity, doesn’t it strike anyone else as curious that several states are now allowing the sale of marijuana to be smoked – Massachusetts itself may allow it – and this Board of Health wants to ban the sale of tobacco?


Here’s some commentary about a topic related to my question above. It’s from Kevin Williamson at National Review (1/28/15).

A Lifestyle So Good, It’s Mandatory

California has effectively decriminalized marijuana (possession of less than an ounce is a civil matter roughly equivalent to a speeding ticket — a rarely written speeding ticket), and the state has a medical (ahem) marijuana program that is, for the moment, largely unregulated. At the same time, the state is launching a progressive jihad against “vaping,” the use of so-called e-cigarettes that deliver nicotine in the form of vapor. The state public-health department says that this is justified by the presence of certain carcinogens — benzene, formaldehyde, nickel, and lead—in e-cigarette vapor. But by California’s own account, all of those chemicals are present in marijuana smoke, too, along with 29 other carcinogens.

If that seems inconsistent to you, you are thinking about it the wrong way: For all of its scientific pretensions and empirical posturing, progressivism is not about evidence, and at its heart it is not even about public policy at all: It is about aesthetics.

The goal of progressivism is not to make the world rational; it’s to make the world Portland.

Vaping is, from the point of view of your average organic-quinoa and hot-yoga enthusiast, a lowlife thing. It is not the same thing as smoking, but it looks too much like smoking for their tastes. Indeed, California cites the possibility of vaping’s “re-normalizing smoking behavior” as a principal cause of concern. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, says that vaping should be treated like “other important outbreaks or epidemics.”

But epidemics of what? Prole tastes?

In addition to regularly writing incisive opinion pieces, Mr. Williamson was also a cell phone vigilante a couple of years ago.

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"Don’t be evil" my aching back

November 11, 2014

I’m taking this report at face value. Assuming it’s correct, this is an amazing show of chutzpah. What do you think that solar plant is, Google, a sports stadium maybe? (My emphasis below.)

World’s largest solar plant applying for federal grant to pay off federal loan

Struggling solar thermal plant seeks huge taxpayer bailout

After already receiving a controversial $1.6 billion construction loan from U.S. taxpayers, the wealthy investors of a California solar power plant now want a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan.

“This is an attempt by very large cash generating companies that have billions on their balance sheet to get a federal bailout, i.e. a bailout from us – the taxpayer for their pet project,” said Reason Foundation VP of Research Julian Morris. “It’s actually rather obscene.”

The Ivanpah solar electric generating plant is owned by Google and renewable energy giant NRG, which are responsible for paying off their federal loan. If approved by the U.S. Treasury, the two corporations will not use their own money, but taxpayer cash to pay off 30 percent of the cost of their plant, but taxpayers will receive none of the millions in revenues the plant will generate over the next 30 years.

Can we get the government out of the habit of picking "winners" and let the market decide what projects get financed? It’s time for some of that Separation of Market and State that I go on about.

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