Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tears of a Clown, and Divers too, over a shortage of Helium

I was away for the past few days in Canada, visiting the folks.

While there I had an opportunity to peruse through and re-acquaint myself MACLEAN'S magazine, a serious news magazine that while sometimes tilts left-materialistic or semi-right-paternalistic-Canadian has the excellent Mary Steyn as columnist and often get things right and is in general very well written.

They also, as it turns out, have a beautiful website that puts many other news magazines and newspaper's websites to shame, including an excellent archive search function.

While reading the dead-tree edition magazine I saw the article in the magazine concerning the recent helium shortage.

Now the magazine began with a rather popular approach to the issue, noting that the scarcity of helium is causing the price of helium and hence helium filled party balloons to go up, but then mentioned some of the other critical applications for helium. In Tears of a clown: helium prices soaring: The helium shortage goes far beyond party supplies
JOHN INTINI | October 22, 2007 |

When you're a kid, nothing gets a party started like helium. In fact, most everyone, at some point or another, has sucked back some of the colourless, odourless and, most importantly, voice-altering gas. It is, after all, one of the few things a kid can inhale without getting into trouble.

But a global helium shortage -- which has doubled prices in the last five years -- is threatening this age-old tradition. It's also proving worrisome to party-supply store owners, and making the life of a working clown a lot more expensive. Suppliers have been forced to raise prices, slash orders (especially to those in the birthday business) and turn away new clients. Some party stores can't get any at all. And those lucky enough to get a line on some helium -- which is extracted from natural gas -- have hiked their prices to cover costs. For instance, The Party Bazaar in Vancouver, which sells about a million helium-filled balloons every year, increased the cost of renting helium tanks by 10 per cent this month (the three-day rental of a large tank, capable of blowing up 500 balloons, is now $159). This shortage could also have a larger effect on the balloon business. Since air-filled balloons currently lack helium's staying power, manufacturers are said to be searching for alternative materials to make balloons.

And the implications could go far beyond birthday bashes and Valentine's Day. In fact, balloons only represent about seven per cent of the entire helium market. The gas is also used in hospitals to cool MRI machines, for laser welding and even by NASA to keep space shuttles from overheating.

As noted in the article, the helium shortage goes far beyond party supplies.

Helium however has a far more noble and glorious purpose than merely making balloons rise and voices squeak, and has another critical purpose overlooked by the article.

Helium is the gas technical divers use to replace nitrogen partially or completely (and sometimes percentages of oxygen) in their breathing gas mixtures when they go into deep water to avoid nitrogen narcosis, and to reduce their decompression obligation and nitrogen buildup, thus making dives both more clear-headed and safer.

The increasing price of helium makes triox, trimix and heliox fills increasingly expensive, and should as the article predicts, the supply of helium be exhausted it will be difficult to find a replacement gas with the same excellent characteristics as helium for diver's use.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Latest Threat to Michigan - Unlicensed Interior Designers

In the midst of Michigan's taxing economic woes, our law makers apparently have plenty of time on their hands.

HB 4772, introduced on May 16, 2007 by Representatives Meisner, Huizenga, Vagnozzi, Coulouris, Johnson, Gonzales, Polidori, Cushingberry, Robert Jones, Valentine, Meadows, Gillard, Leland, Spade, Meekhof, Nitz, Emmons, Stahl, Steil, Pearce, Stakoe and Rick Jones, seeks to protect Michigan from the greatest possible danger.

Unlicensed Interior Designers

Apparently in the midst of all the economic disasters in Michigan -- The highest unemployment, the highest foreclosure rate, the greatest loss of jobs in a non-natural disaster area -- rogue interior designers were overlooked.

After all, you can't have the paint on the wall clashing with the chandelier and the dining room set now can you, it would be so gauche.

This bill, as ably analyzed by Dick Carpenter and John Ross in Keep Michigan interior designers free, an opinion column in the Detroit News, is nothing more than rent seeking on the part of already established Interior Designers seeking to prevent more people from practicing that profession.

Of course, this raises the cost of Interior Designers as it reduces the supply.
House Bill 4772 would force all interior designers to obtain a license from the government before they could practice interior design, or even call themselves "interior designers." The small group of interior designers pushing the bill (for the third time) seeks to create a cartel. That is, they want to establish government-imposed barriers to entry into the industry to limit competition.

The proponents of the bill, led by the Council for Interior Design Registration, argue this licensing scheme will protect public health, safety and welfare. Apparently, the unlicensed practice of interior design is a threat to the public.

The council has yet, however, to produce a scintilla of evidence to support this claim. Indeed, state agencies in Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina and Washington have analyzed the need for interior design licensure and found no potential for harm, according to Designing Cartels, a report on the nationwide push to license interior designers.

If the proposal is enacted into law, applicants for a license will have to pass a 13-hour exam. To even be eligible to sit for the exam, they must complete a degree or certification program in interior design and accrue thousands of hours of experience before they can legally recommend aesthetic and practical furniture arrangements and offer other interior design services.


This unreasonable meddling in the economy will close off employment opportunities for interior designers and limit consumer choice, which is probably why only four other states in the entire country limit the practice of interior design the way HB 4772 would. None of the other 46 states -- where anyone who wants to may practice interior design -- have experienced any problems whatsoever. Why fix what isn't broken?

The constitutional right to earn an honest living in the occupation of one's choice is a sacred American birthright. Michiganians should head off this threat to occupational freedom.

Exactly so, this bill is simply an answer for which there is no real question.

At least the bill currently permits you to do interior design work on your own property -- as long as you do not hold yourself out as an interior designer, otherwise you could be charged with practicing without a license and potentially face jail time.

Yet another point for those proposing a part-time legislature, 'cause this one certainly has much too much time on its hands if it can think about regulating such a discretionary, non-vital and an industry that has no real need for government oversight.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Denied Entry to Canada, Code Pink activists see red

And its not the red Maple Leaf on the Canadian Flag either.

In Activists Test Border Policy, from the Associated Press, It seems that a couple Code Pink protesters are upset that their "anti-war-related arrests" arising from their anti-war protests show upon on the NCIC and the convictions can deny them entry to Canada.

Of course, what both Code Pink and the AP fail to say is that it was not likely merely arrests but for convictions, which while "related" weren't for peaceful protest for which there is no charge but for some actual criminal offense such as harming property, trying to enter a restricted area, obstructing or other such charge which are, gasp, crimes. The AP fails to inform us the nature of the convictions so we can but speculate, but it sure wasn't just for holding a sign saying "This war sucks".

Canada, already having an over-saturation of leftists, wisely doesn't seem to want more and especially not these two.

More to the point, Canada being the peaceable kingdom, a place with more laws than population and all that, doesn't want those convicted of crimes to enter its country, which is a rather wise decision and will hopefully keep its crime rate low.

Egypt to hire Lawyers for one of the Explosive College Students

Remember the two Muslim students from Florida that were caught near a US Naval Facility in South Carolina with a trunk load of explosive components?

Egypt, recipient of $2 billion annually in US aid is going to spend some of it on hiring an attorney to represent one of the accused Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed.

From Fox News:
Attorney John Fitzgibbons told a judge he was in talks with the Egyptian embassy in Washington and likely will be hired to represent suspended University of South Florida student Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed.

Ahmed el-Qawassni, an official in Egypt's foreign ministry, said the government is closely monitoring the case and confirmed that an attorney is being hired for Mohamed, who was born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents.

"We are responsible for the sons of Egypt abroad with no exception," el-Qawassni said.

Mohamed, 24, and another USF student, Youssef Samir Megahed, 21, are charged with carrying explosive materials across state lines.

Mohamed also is charged with distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction. Authorities allege he made an Internet video showing how to use remote-controlled toys to detonate terrorist bombs.

Megahed, represented by a federal public defender, pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Fitzgibbons said during the brief hearing Wednesday that Mohamed will plead not guilty when he is arraigned Oct. 17.

Megahed, a permanent U.S. resident from Egypt, and Mohamed, who is in the U.S. on a student visa, were arrested during an Aug. 5 traffic stop in Goose Creek, S.C., about 15 miles northwest of Charleston. In the trunk of the car, according an FBI agent's statement, police found 20 feet of fuse, a box of .22-caliber bullets, a drill, several gallons of gasoline, PVC piping and gun powder.

The students told authorities they were carrying fireworks, and that they had been driving near a naval weapons station because they had been looking for cheap gas. Megahed's attorney now contends that he didn't know anything about the items in the trunk.

On Mohamed's laptop, according to the FBI agent's statement, was a video Mohamed made demonstrating how to convert a remote-control toy into a detonator for explosives.

Mohamed defense is apparently not off to an auspicious start given a statement he already made after he was arrested:

Mohamed told authorities he made the video "to assist those persons in Arabic countries to defend themselves against the infidels invading their countries," and that he considered American troops to invaders, according to the agent's statement.

His attorney is still rather optimistic:
After the hearing, Fitzgibbons said he had not seen all the evidence and declined to discuss the case.

"There's always two sides to every story, and I already see a different side to the story than what's been presented," he said.

Kind of hard to spin the story after Mohamed's statement, but hey he's doing a good job as a defense attorney should.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Shutdown ends in hours, Tax increase to Stay

Thanks to two Republicans and 55 Democrats the income tax increase was passed.

And as reported in the Detroit News So is the new extension of Michigan's 6% Sales tax to
tanning, carpet cleaning, ski lifts, landscaping and some 20 other services won narrow passage in the state House as Granholm and lawmakers made an 11th-hour push to avoid sending the state to the brink of a spending shutdown.

These tax increases will suck $1.35 Billion dollars out of Michigan resident's pockets and hit businesses that provide those "discretionary" services right when they don't need an additional expense.

Thanks so much.