Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 20, 2017

Three Things

1. The number of our year is prime. To mark the occasion, someone with a mathematical bent came up with a list of fun facts about 2017 titled, "2017 Is Not Just Another Prime Number." Among other things, T.J. Wei notes the following:

The prime number before 2017 is 2017+(2-0-1-7), which makes it a sexy prime, and the prime after 2017 is 2017+(2+0+1+7). 2017 itself is of course equal to 2017+(2*0*1*7).
All I can add is the following observation regarding the last two digits of the year: In American mm-dd-yy notation, 11-13-17 will be the last date featuring three consecutive primes until February 3, 2105.

2. The bad news is that ransomware attacks are on the upswing. The good news is that there is now a place to turn to for help:
[I]t is sometimes possible to help infected users to regain access to their encrypted files or locked systems, without having to pay. We have created a repository of keys and applications that can decrypt data locked by different types of ransomware.
See the bottom of the page for a list of decrypted ransomware threats.

3. Permit me a bit of Inauguration Day humor. Let's hope Donald Trump's jawboning -- or ideas on trade and currency -- doesn't ultimately result in any of the old jobs in this gallery making a comeback.

A couple would be illegal today, but the rest disappeared due to improved technology. The unseen part of that story is that technology freed up labor for other things and created even more jobs than were eliminated. Similar points can be made regarding free trade.

Weekend Reading

"Stealth humor is perfect for anyone who is too spineless to criticize openly and stand behind his opinions." -- Michael Hurd, in "Toxic Humor" at The Delaware Wave

"There are no morally wrong or 'bad' feelings." -- Michael Hurd, in "To Thine Own Self..." at The Delaware Coast Press

-- CAV


Intrusive Parenting Laws Are Already on the Books

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids sounds the alarm over a bill in California, the bulk of whose primary opponents are, unfortunately, anti-vaxxers and the like. But if one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, one shouldn't assume a proposed law is harmless based solely on the opposition it attracts -- or good based on the stated intention of its sponsor. For starters, Jacob Sullum of Reason notes the following:

All of the "rights" declared by [Richard] Pan's bill are vague, and several of them involve claims on other people's resources. In Pan's view, the decision to reproduce gives people a license to raid the wallets of total strangers who had no say in that decision. Furthermore, there are no clear limits to that license, since it's anybody's guess what "appropriate, quality health care" or "appropriate, quality education" might entail, what it takes to achieve "social and emotional well-being," or how the government can guarantee "optimal cognitive, physical, and social development."

The most contentious "rights" in Pan's list are the ones that imply second-guessing of parental decisions and interference with family relationships. S.B. 18 says children have a right to "live in a safe and healthy environment," to have "parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest," and to "form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being." Since it's not clear what happens when a parent's idea of a healthy environment, healthy attachments, or a child's best interest conflicts with a legislator's or a bureaucrat's, you can start to see why the bill's opponents call it "an attempt by power-hungry California legislators to further degrade the rights of parents," argue that it "will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California," warn that "it's extremely problematic to allow a very small group of people to decide what constitutes 'best' for...millions of families," or worry that Pan's dubious, undefined rights "could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child." [bold added, links dropped]
Sullum goes on to note that the state already intervenes on behalf of children in appropriate instances, such as child abuse. He is also correct to note that such a law would invite all kinds of meddling sooner or later.

Let me add that, for anyone who pooh-poohs the threat that such a bill poses to parental rights, many states already have meddlesome laws on the books. From Skenazy's blog, it is possible to learn, for example, that in Maryland, it's illegal to leave a child under eight inside a locked car without someone else at least thirteen years old also in the car. This is supposed to promote safety, so who could argue against it? Allow me...

Consider the following hypothetical: Your sick child, age six, is fast asleep in the back of the car (after a day of vomiting). It's cool outside; your other child's daycare is in a safe neighborhood; the parking lot is heavily trafficked by other parents (many of whom you know); and you park in full view of its office. You need to go inside for less than five minutes to pick up your other child, age four. Your spouse is unavailable to help you on short notice. Maryland law requires you to drag your sick child into the daycare center, if you can't find someone willing to hang out in your car with the sick kid, rather than doing the common-sense thing: Locking the door and making a quick pick-up.

Perhaps Pan's ridiculous bill and the publicity it is attracting is a good thing: Parental rights are already under attack, and the situation will not improve until, for starters, we stop turning our brains off every time someone says something is for the "safety" of "our children."

-- CAV


Will Trump Downsize the Square Foot Next?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At RealClear Markets, editor John Tamny considers the president-elect's repeated assertions that the dollar is "too strong," in light of history recent-enough for someone Donald Trump's age to remember, economic principles, and analogous cases. His last paragraph serves as an apt summary:

While the president-elect talks a good game about the importance of economic growth, talking down the dollar measure amounts to fakery. To believe it works is as silly as a real estate developer believing he can command more for his properties by devaluing the square foot. This is not the stuff of a serious country. [bold added]
This should also serve as a wake-up call for anyone who thinks Trump's business acumen or cabinet picks reveal him to be the antidote we need to decades of central "planning" and intrusive government.

-- CAV


Sandwiches of Injustice

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas hits the nail on the head when she calls for the death of the "feedback sandwich," the kissing cousin of the internet's flame sandwich:

[I]n theory, this feedback sandwich -- bad news sandwiched between the Wonder Bread of praise -- is how you are supposed to do it. It's supposed to soften the blow of the bad news. Instead it made me cringe. Now, if this woman had regularly sent me emails praising my parenting, it would have been fine, but she doesn't.
Lucas doesn't use the term, but her further comments about it being good practice to routinely offer praise or timely criticism indicate the nature of the problem with such "sandwiches": There is a dearth of justice in a working relationship in which someone feels the need to do this. I am glad someone has noticed this problem and found a constructive way to address it.

-- CAV


Worry-Warts Are Watching You

Monday, January 16, 2017

A couple of recent stories from Free Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy's parenting blog, have reminded me of Ayn Rand's essay on "The Ethics of Emergencies," which argues that, because emergency situations are not metaphysically normal for man (cited at link), they should not serve as the basis for the ethical system by which he should live his whole life:

It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.

An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible -- such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.).

By "normal" conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue. By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish.

It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save....

The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.
The modern variant of comparing our existence to a hospital or a life boat is to demand that we all live by the imaginary, worst-case dictates of precautionary thinking. Think of the biggest worry-wart you know (and probably ignore), and then imagine that person in power over your daily life. Here are just a couple of examples of this from Skenazy's blog, one from journalism and one from parenting. Here's the first:
A squirrel chomped the leg of a senior citizen sitting on the porch of a retirement home in Deltona. WESH TV reports that the victim ran inside, furry felon still attached, whereupon it bit three more seniors. This is terrible. (Especially for a squirrel fanatic like me. One bad squirrel does not a bad species make!)

Anyway, I bring it up because at the end of this "news" story, the reporter ("Robert Lowe"!!!) says in all seriousness, "Tonight I spoke with the parent company which runs the senior living center here in Deltona. They described in detail what happened but did not say what if anything they're doing to prevent another attack."

That's right. The company did not abjectly, automatically and immediately announce any new measures it will take to make sure this once-in-a-lifetime incident does not happen once-in-a-lifetime again.

What does Robert Lowe think should happen? Perhaps the parent company could chop down all the trees on its property, or cover the porch in wire mesh? Maybe it could hire some squirrel assassins? Give HazMat suits to the golden agers who inisist [sic] on venturing outside?

My point is, this "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!" mentality is doing us in. It's making us dumb, scared, wasteful, ungrateful ... [bold and link in original]
And now, before you laugh at yet another dumb reporter, consider the second, in which a father -- thanks to the courts empowering yet another meddlesome creep with a camera -- received criminal sentencing for making his eight year old son walk home on a familiar route one evening:
[Mike] Tang later asked the court if a man who would not let a 20-year-old walk home at 8 at night struck them as a reasonable judge of danger.

Apparently it did. This was a jury trial and the verdict came back: Guilty. Tang was sentenced to a fine of $220 plus one year of parenting classes plus 56 days of "hard labor" which sounds like breaking rocks, but is basically picking up trash and other menial tasks for the county.

To date Tang has refused to do any of these things and now the county is threatening to suspend his driver's license. Which, Tang pointed out in an email to me, means his son would be doing even more walking..

Tang has filed an appeal even as the court has issued a warrant for his arrest. [bold in original]
The above excerpt hardly does the case justice, so I recommend reading all of it. Do note that Tang correctly assessed the chances of harm coming to his son and made that clear in court -- and that the court labeled this speculation. This court then sided with the fevered speculation of the man mentioned in the first sentence of the above.

After you do, consider the fact that, although such cases are currently rare enough to remain newsworthy, they are becoming common enough that we should speak up about them. Yes, the widespread availability of mobile cameras does mean that we might be filmed or photographed at any given moment. But having to live up to someone else's ridiculous notions about what is "safe" should not and need not be part of the bargain.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 13, 2017

Three Things

1. We got more snow last week and I did well by doing good, thanks to my three-year-old son. At home with him Friday, while my daughter was in kindergarten, I took him outside to play with the snow. Almost at once, the sun peeked out from behind some clouds. "That's sparkly," he said, smiling, and causing me to enjoy again the wonder of snow through the eyes of a child.

After observing me brush off the cars while we were outside, he also spoke up to offer me a good idea for the first time. I was showing him how he could loosen show from his boots by kicking at the steps. He said I should just use the brush. That made me smile, too.

This isn't the first time my son has offered me solid help: He is good enough at remembering where things are that, if I am unsure, I can often ask him where something is and have him come back with it, moments later.

2. My wife and I have a movie night planned in the near future -- but It's her turn to pick, and she wants the new Star Wars movie. Intrigued by favorable reviews of La La Land on HBL (but afraid it might not be in theaters when my turn to pick comes), I made time to catch a matinee showing. This was one of the few times I didn't consult Scott Holleran before watching a movie I picked. But I did look up his review afterwards and found him to be spot-on, as usual:

La La Land comes with realism. This film is not escapism, despite those minimizing it as such. In fact, what's most distinctive about this picture is its blended, balanced sense of a whole life, specifically, the whole life of one who creates. [Director Damien] Chazelle delves into how hard it is to create; how it's lonely, stressful and agonizing, including why it costs and why the artist's life is going to be to some degree cruel, not kind. Like the title, La La Land imports what haters regard as artificial about LA and strips it bare, showing that it's where the artist creates work that adds value, power and life. [bold added]
I highly recommend the movie and, with the desire to see it out of my system, I plan to enjoy Rogue One on its own terms this weekend. But remember: If you do see La La Land, make sure you turn off your oven before you leave home.

3. I encountered the following fun fact while conducting some research: there is a strain of bacteria that can live off caffeine:
[Ryan] Summers and his colleagues found these caffeine-feeding bacteria lolling in a flowerbed on the University of Iowa campus. Although that hardly seems like a logical place for such a stimulated species, Summers explained that it is far from jolting. "Due to the extensive presence of caffeine in the environment, it is not surprising that there are bacteria that can 'eat' this molecule for growth and reproduction," he wrote in a summary of his new research, set to be presented May 24 [2011 --ed] at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.
These are related to a strain that was modified to become the first patented organism in the world.

Weekend Reading

"Every person plays a role in someone else's life, and if their personality changes, so too will that role." -- Michael Hurd, in "Not Everybody Welcomes Change" at The Delaware Wave

"By refusing to labor under the delusion that you'll 'finally' be caught up, you'll get the same things done -- minus all the nervous baggage." -- Michael Hurd, in "You'll Never 'Catch Up'" at The Delaware Coast Press

"What is news that the Democrats and their friends in media, and academia, openly talk about Russian hacking as if there's actual proof that it happened." -- Michael Hurd, in "Dems Sore Losers With Election Hack Outrage" at Newsmax

"If offending others is taboo, then free speech isn't a right, it's a privilege exercised at the sufferance of whoever has the thinnest skin." -- Steve Simpson, in "Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?" at The Hill

Productivity: Not Its Own End

Interestingly, on the very day I decided to buy one of these to evaluate it, I ran into a thought-provoking article (via Allison Green) titled "Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives." My executive summary is that it's because so many people treat "efficiency" as a goal, rather than ask themselves what they want to achieve. Merlin Mann, of Inbox Zero fame sums the problem up nicely:
If you're just using efficiency to jam more and more stuff into your day ... well, how would you ever know that that's working?
The article isn't perfect -- It lays the blame on "capitalism" at one point -- but it can help you put reams of "productivity" advice into better perspective. And, regarding that, see also Michael Hurd (linked above) on getting "caught up."

-- CAV


Controls Breed Bureaucrats

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From a report about a popular Chinese restaurant in Manhattan that recently died from "over-regulation," comes the following little gem:

The de Blasio administration noted the city provides free help to small businesses. The "Small Business First" initiative helps owners save time and money while reducing the amount of paperwork.

Free compliance advisors are available for on-sight consultation aimed at helping small businesses comply with regulations.
Set aside the fact that it is a lie to call anything funded from government loot "free:" What a fine, flesh-and-blood example of the economic maxim that "controls breed controls!" (And I can't help but be reminded of the Soviet-era "political officers" who were attached to military units, either. And cockroaches.)

Regulars here will know that I regard the term "over-regulation" as a misnomer, because the government has no business running the economy. But even if we set aside our concerns with the proper purpose of government, it speaks volumes that, when businesses start dropping like flies due to a combination of taxes and red tape, the solution of reducing one or both doesn't even seem to occur to elected officials. Restaurants in New York face a regulatory environment so hostile that city officials admit that the extra work is too much for many owners -- so their idea of a solution is to charge ahead with the same regulatory burden, and add to the tax burden. And who is to say that having to deal with a government official when one ought to be thinking about how to run his business is going to save much time, anyway? On top of that, it is easy to imagine such "help" coming up with all kinds of new, time-consuming "suggestions" for anyone foolish enough to avail himself of it.

The only thing missing from this travesty is a new regulatory requirement by Mayor Bloomberg that every business must deal with such officials. (For all I know, that's already on the books, too.) In any event, it is clear that officials know there is a problem, and that if anyone even mooted the idea of reducing the regulatory burden faced by small businesses in the Big Apple, the idea was rejected.

-- CAV