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May 21, 2018

News One-paragraph book review: "Crusade in Europe"

Strongly recommended for anyone interested in history, war strategy, or leadership



May 20, 2018

News One-paragraph book review: "Social Engineering: The art of human hacking"

A long slog through an important subject, but unfriendly to the non-specialist reader



May 19, 2018

News Seattle's going to charge a few big companies $275 per employee as a special head tax

The money will be used for low-income housing and homelessness-related programs. Unsurprisingly, Amazon and Starbucks aren't pleased. The tax is to be collected annually from 2019 until 2023.

News President Trump wants the US Postal Service to punish Amazon

This cannot be viewed apart from an apparent vendetta against Jeff Bezos, who started Amazon and who (separately) owns the Washington Post (which isn't gentle to the President, nor should it be). The President does not deserve credit for reportedly donating his government salary if he is simultaneously using the government to advance his own personal business agenda or to punish others for behavior he doesn't like. It's not consistent.

Humor and Good News Air conditioning or allergy medication?

The people speak (in a totally unscientific survey): They want A/C

News Royal wedding illustrates some of the crazier aspects of British immigration law

The extraordinary case of an American becoming a member of the House of Windsor shows just how many hoops a person in Britain must jump through in order to marry a foreigner for love

Weather and Disasters Why don't we have a technological solution to children being left in hot cars?

There has to be a technological solution to this. Maybe a motion sensor tied to a thermometer and a small cell that dials 911? It can't be too hard or too expensive for Silicon Valley to figure out. We need this to prevent tragedies. While it is evident that technological answers to the problem could end up having unintended consequences (like making some parents less careful), that line of reason mainly reinforces the case for making sure that technologists have a firm grasp on the humanity of the issues on which they work -- from the social implications to the human factors involved.

News Secure your load

A truck traveling down the highway with a ladder barely clinging to the bed

Aviation News Chuck Yeager salutes "The Right Stuff" author Tom Wolfe

One of the few movies that can turn any red-blooded American misty-eyed.

The United States of America Federalist 39: Read it. Learn it. Love it.

The one-paragraph answer to every cheap shot taken at the Electoral College or the nature of the Senate: We have a Federal government, not a national one.

The United States of America Can we compel ourselves to promote the classical-liberal order without the threat of war?

Conservatives need to reject blind traditionalism, and the left has to resist the urge to recycle demonstrably failed experiments. The vigorous generation of new ideas (not just new policies) is good for everyone.

News When Chicago restaurants serve non-Chicago-style pizza

Deep dish needs sauce

Threats and Hazards As the old IBM posters said: "THINK!"

Logically, shouldn't the exit door from the fire stairs on the ground floor have a panic bar that opens outward? In a fire, nobody's coming in and climbing up (other than firefighters).

Threats and Hazards The US has ambassadors in a third of the world and special forces in three-fourths

As Dwight Eisenhower said: "Our concern over these affairs illustrates forcibly the old truism that political considerations can never be wholly separated from military ones and that war is a mere continuation of political policy in the field of force."

Humor and Good News Even New Orleans isn't 170' below sea level

It's low-lying, but not that low-lying

Computers and the Internet A cryptocurrency "mining" computer that doubles as a space heater

When the byproduct of something is so much entropy that it could heat a room, then that thing needs to justify itself in a much bigger way than cryptocurrency ever has. Cryptocurrency is a mania, not a paradigm shift.

Humor and Good News A thought on music

"Four bearded tenors trying to harmonize while one of them tickles a banjo ironically" is NOT a subgenre of alternative rock. Stop playing that crap on alternative rock stations.

Humor and Good News "The turducken of New Urbanism"

A proposal is out to convert a big abandoned office complex in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, into a "metroburb" -- a micro-suburb within a sprawling building

The United States of America The Republican Party can't afford to chain itself to an ethnic identity

Conservatism's roots in individual dignity should be conservatism's main appeal to people of all backgrounds: A belief in pluralism and the security of individual liberty, as goods in themselves -- regardless of race or faith or color or origin.



May 18, 2018

Business and Finance China disclaims plans to cut trade surplus with US

US authorities claimed that China had agreed to cut its trade surplus to the United States by $200 billion. Chinese outlets with quasi-official government status have declared to the contrary. A $200 billion cut would be large and dramatic -- not to mention difficult for both economies to accommodate. It's hard to imagine China voluntarily reducing its economic output by $145 per person without some kind of massive compensation in return. And it's almost certain that such cuts would have a huge impact on both the US consumer and producer markets.

Health Triplets: Identical twins, plus a fraternal

As adults, the three all work in the same hospital -- the one where they were born. Quite a story.

News A big fine for a wolf whistle

An uncompromising view: "Those who break the law will face on-the-spot fines of up to €750". The bill appears to have passed in France's lower legislative chamber and is headed to the upper chamber for approval.

News Former Secretary of State has harsh words for his former boss

Rex Tillerson, to the graduating class at VMI: "It is only by a fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic free society [...] If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as a people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on the pathway to relinquishing our freedom."

Business and Finance Job losses to steel tariffs could get very real

"We could lose 50 to 60 jobs easily", says the chair of a Nebraska company that depends on steel to make parts. Even domestic steel has risen in price under the threat of tariffs (for what else should anyone have expected?), and that's a "tremendous burden" to the company. Hardly an isolated situation.

Business and Finance Chicago's distinctive Wrigley Building sells for $255 million

A massive eight times its sale price in 2011. But, sure, everything's perfectly normal in the real-estate market.

Threats and Hazards Ten people murdered in Texas high-school shooting

Another instance of violence in the ongoing public-health emergency of violence in American schools. This would be a very good time to examine the "No Notoriety" movement -- which asks the media to refrain from publicizing the name, likeness, or ideas of any mass murderer unless necessary to aid in an apprehension. Mass killings have an element of social contagion, so there is a role for media outlets to play in stopping the spread.

Threats and Hazards Bill Gates tried talking the President out of an anti-vaccine commission

The damage that could be done by a Federal government quest to discredit vaccines is almost unfathomable



May 17, 2018

News Obama Presidential Center gets first of many needed Chicago city approvals

The city's planning commission approved the center, so next it goes to the zoning commission. It's a half-billion-dollar plan, so there's understandable interest.

Computers and the Internet Google sister company Jigsaw says it can protect political campaigns against cyberattack

Wired reports that Jigsaw "will start offering free protection from distributed denial of service attacks to US political campaigns".

Computers and the Internet How to tell if it's "Laurel" or "Yanny"

An ambiguous synthesized pronunciation of the word "laurel" sounds like "yanny", depending on the characteristics of the speakers through which it plays. Finding out where the sound crosses over from one to the other is a passing exercise in mass culture, the likes of which are rare now that people watch fewer things in common than in the past.

Business and Finance People respond to incentives

Mortgage interest rates are rising (they're still low by historic standards, but they're at a 7-year high), so it's a big market for sellers of residential real estate

Threats and Hazards Apparent "swatting" incident in West Des Moines

Someone called 911 from a Jiffy Lube in Austin, Texas, to plant a fake report that sent a swarm of police to a house in West Des Moines in pursuit of a murder that hadn't happened



May 16, 2018

Computers and the Internet Don't use personality-testing apps

The data from one such personality quiz (tied to Facebook) got released onto the Internet, exposing quite a lot about 3 million users. There's nothing wrong with a quest to better know the self -- but there's a lot to worry about when the shortcuts to the answers are being peddled online with the help of quizzes that are without accountability for the data.

Business and Finance Finland's test of the Universal Basic Income won't be extended

The measurable results of the experiment won't be shared for a while, but it's being suggested that the UBI under examination wasn't big enough to achieve really ground-breaking results -- they were still too small to sustain even the most modest lifestyle. There are good reasons to experiment with (and study) the UBI, as well as good reasons to avoid it.

News Aon Center plans a gondola thrill ride that would tip over the side of the building

If built, that would make the third major observation deck with some kind of gimmick in Chicago

Business and Finance Salt Lake Tribune eliminates one-third of newsroom jobs

The awful economics of metro-scale newspapers are having a serious effect

News There won't be a Chicago Spire, but two smaller (but big) towers instead

Laudably, they're being designed with setbacks



May 10, 2018

The United States of America When the winners are losers

Don Blankenship lost, but it's still worthwhile to read the compelling argument from Jay Cost that the nature of the primary electorate too often risks giving unelectable nincompoops the nominations to run in general elections. A primary-election/general-election system is a fully honorable and decent way to run a democracy -- IF people vote in the primaries. The problem for the US today is that people (backwardly) think being an independent voter requires sitting out the primaries. No matter how much people resent joining parties, the only way to get good general elections is to have broad-based primary elections. The only way to get good general elections is to have broad participation in primary elections. When sane people step out of the process at the top of the funnel, they end up disgusted with what comes out at the bottom. We really need for sensible centrist voters to get just as mad about stopping the wingnuts as the wingnuts get mad about advancing their pet issues. Every interested independent should pick a party and vote in a primary. You can re-register as "independent" the next day.

Business and Finance Generally good rules for running good meetings

Two additional items absent from an otherwise good list: (1) Include written reports with the agenda wherever they can substitute for an oral report; use the meeting to ask questions and debate rather than absorb info. (2) Not only should someone be in charge of running every meeting, someone else should be the designated Devil's Advocate, tasked with poking at least one hole in every major idea or proposal. Meetings generally succumb to passive groupthink without someone specifically charged with advancing a contrarian view.



May 9, 2018

Threats and Hazards Tell us more about those payments, Mr. Cohen

The President's personal attorney got some interesting project work from a variety of sources upon Trump's accession to the Presidency -- including payments from a high-profile Russian money man

News Keep a close eye on the "Belt and Road"

China's massive global infrastructure initiative isn't an unalloyed good, even for the countries getting the investments

Humor and Good News Rebirth of a dead Kmart

Chicago architects convert a 55,000-square-foot ex-Kmart store into an attractive college-prep school for $10 million

Health Soldier grows her own replacement ear

Built from rib cartilage, doctors carved out the replacement ear and implanted it inside her arm so it could grow. The doctors called the surgery (to transplant it onto her head) a success -- the ear will work, and it will even have nerve function.

Science and Technology Artificial intelligence gets attention from Congress

Sen. Joni Ernst has proposed a bill to create a "National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence", to serve in an advisory role to the President and Congress on competitiveness, risks, and developments in artificial intelligence, both domestically and internationally

News Professional reading lists -- and their limits

An intriguing dive into the nature of professional reading lists -- commonly issued by military leaders, though not found quite nearly often enough elsewhere. Aside from raw personal experience, nothing shapes a person more than the books they read. We'd be better off as a society if there were more open discussion (and debate) about which books ought to be read. Sen. Ben Sasse has made the case for families to create their own reading lists, and that's a worthy suggestion as well.

Agriculture "Chinese buyers are canceling orders for US soybeans"

It doesn't take actual tariffs to create trade disruptions. The threat alone has been enough to create real-world consequences.

News "The genius-bias is a strong one."

An interesting challenge to the way people (specifically men, in this article) credited with works of genius sometimes end up getting a free pass to behave awfully. We should probably grapple with that problem.

News Someone needs to atone for the eggplant emoji

Considering the near-simultaneous explosion in misspelled apps (Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit), the mainstreaming of emojis, and the rise of text-speak, future historians are going to wonder how an entire civilization became voluntarily illiterate all at once. The flexibility of English is one of the main reasons it's become the world's lingua franca, and its adaptability probably encourages creative thinking among fluent English speakers. But text-speak is still crap.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather patterns far quieter than normal

The National Weather Service office in Des Moines notes that on a year-to-date basis, we're at about half the number of severe storm (severe thunderstorm or tornado) watches issued nationwide, as compared to most years. Maybe even less than half.



May 8, 2018

Iowa Foster parents take in their 100th child

After 22 years, they're dialing back a little so they can visit their biological grandchildren

Broadcasting Reel-to-reel tape recorders are trying to make a comeback

Radio geeks all over the world, fingertips still scarred from years of using razor blades to splice RTR tapes, bodies permanently demagnetized by bulk erasers, join in this chorus: "No...no...NONONONONONO!"

News The news is too much like a series of "Arrested Development" quotes

Too much of what's happening around the President involves incompetent offspring, lunatic attorneys, and suspicious foreign dealings



May 7, 2018

News New York's checkered history of political scandal

And that is why "limited" government matters even more than "small" government. Limit what you expect from it. Limit the powers you grant to it. Limit the damage that bad people can do when they get the levers of power. The limits matter even more than the apparent size.

Threats and Hazards The NRA picks Oliver North as new leader

The last three years have been one giant, non-stop natural experiment in escalation of commitment. And that's not a good thing.

Threats and Hazards "Jail is not a place for mental health patients."

A tough look at the problem of increasing rates of violent crime in small-town Iowa. We have layers of problems at play here -- from mental-health issues to politicians' drug-war posturing to overcrowding to underfunding to a punishment-based approach that neglects rehabilitation. The system needs lots of reform.

News Why police don't drive Crown Victorias anymore

Cop-rated SUVs are a whole lot better in a lot of ways.



May 6, 2018

Threats and Hazards Why remove 57,000 Hondurans?

A country of nearly 330,000,000 people surely has the capacity to accommodate 57,000 people without excessive strain. There's no need to be cruel -- which is how the revocation of "temporary protected status" for those Honduran immigrants really appears. They came to the United States after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, and it shouldn't be seen as though the United States simply took on a deadweight of 57,000 people. By and large, people bring economic activity with them: If the border between Iowa and Minnesota were erased, the resulting "state" would have a much larger population, but the underlying economic activity would likely be more or less the same. The failure to understand this is deeply embedded in the conceit that immigrants "take" from the country to which they move. Kicking out the Hondurans really makes no sense at all. It's disruptive and hurtful.

Humor and Good News A+ advertising placement

When the tweet says something about Prince William, but the embedded ad appears to be a picture of an excited anthropomorphic pickle

Threats and Hazards When Putin's team doesn't want you to hold a rally

Doesn't really seem like there's a perfectly innocent explanation for this.



May 5, 2018

Broadcasting Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 5, 2018

Tune in from 2pm to 4pm Central Time

Business and Finance If California were a country...

...it would have the world's 5th-largest economy. Shall we now impose tariffs on exports from California to the rest of the country? Those seem to be in vogue.

Computers and the Internet Stop posting your old phone number on the Internet

A meme going around Facebook asks "Who can still remember their childhood telephone number?". Predictably, people are posting their old numbers in the comments. There's no such thing as a "security" question when people are this gullible. If only people realized that half of the dumb things they share in response to these social-media memes are extremely useful to the types of bad actors who would use their personal information against them. It's bad enough already that it takes virtually no effort at all to crack certain "security" questions like "What was your mother's maiden name?".



May 4, 2018

Threats and Hazards So susceptible to blackmail

Rudy Giuliani has issued a statement apparently intending to clarify that the President's payments to keep Stormy Daniels from talking to the media were "nothing but a family thing", to borrow a phrase (not his words, but definitely his meaning). Besides the fact that the timing of the payment makes it self-evident that this quite certainly wasn't just a family thing, its existence alone highlights a very real security risk: The President's behavior (past and present) and his obsession with image make him dangerously susceptible to blackmail. That is a national-security risk. Think just of the revelation that he scripted his own fitness report: If someone lies when literally nothing is at stake, what could possibly be expected of their truthfulness when there are consequences to be paid for being honest? But when a person lies so casually about things that are so inconsequential (other than to his image), that is a person who is perhaps uniquely subject to manipulation.

Socialism Doesn't Work More control won't preserve authoritarianism -- it will only make the collapse worse

In response to an opinion piece by a Chinese legal scholar proclaiming the pending victory of China's "planned market economy", James Palmer, an editor at Foreign Policy, notes that "Chinese leaders believe -- wrongly -- that they can also use mass surveillance and AI to replace the necessity for openness in governance and freedom of speech and allow total control from the top." If one were looking to start a list of things that will cause massive anxiety and social unrest for the world in the intermediate-range future, one might start with this.

Weather and Disasters Gimme shelter

A creative -- if likely impractical -- approach to providing shelter in-place to those who lose their homes to natural disasters: Inflatable buildings that could be air-dropped into place and raised with helium. Good ideas, though, often emerge out of the seemingly impractical ones. And this particular idea highlights one of the big problems that comes back over and over with natural disasters: People need someplace safe to live and rest when their homes are lost. It's worth rubbing together a few brain cells to see if we can come up with better ways to do that.

News Ending a 42-year police career

Police officer signs off after 42 years, and his daughter (a dispatcher) is the one who gets to acknowledge the final call.

Threats and Hazards Vaporizing 1,800 jobs out of spite

Should the threatened trade war of tariffs exchanged between the United States and China become a reality, one study estimates that Iowa would lose more than 1,800 jobs to the resulting inefficiencies.



May 3, 2018

The United States of America "Scout Me In"

The Boy Scouts of America announce their marketing plan to welcome girls to Cub Scouts (the full launch is later this year, but they report that 3,000 early adopters are already in). They're also changing the name of the program for older kids to "Scouting BSA" starting in February -- since the girls' track in the program is coming in 2019.

Threats and Hazards Spend no time defending the indefensible

Very well-put by David French: "We are not told to rationalize and justify sinful actions to preserve political influence or a popular audience."

Computers and the Internet Twitter's password problem

Oops: "We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log."

Business and Finance But don't call it a "hostel"

A hotel opens in Chicago promising "elegance and refinement" in a "shared room" lodging model. Er...okay. But it's still a hostel.

News Does anyone really know what's going on?

Noah Smith proposes as a basic model of the world that "Nobody knows what's going on, and everyone is trying as hard as they can." A better version of that might be modified to say that the people who are trying their hardest have the most humility about what they don't know. Overconfidence correlates with duty-shirking.

Broadcasting Netflix is fixing Season 4 of "Arrested Development"

Mitch Hurwitz is re-editing the season so that it's in the same chronological format as the rest of the series. Nice.



May 2, 2018

Threats and Hazards Who paid the hush money?

After saying that the President had reimbursed his lawyer for a $130,000 hush-money payment, Rudy Giuliani will probably be forced soon to "clarify" that Michael Cohen was "reimbursed indirectly" via his retainer -- as though a lawyer in Cohen's role acts like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The fact we have a President so susceptible to blackmail is a national-security risk.

The United States of America A beautiful day at the Gateway Arch

St. Louis's signature monument really does make the city stand out



May 1, 2018

Threats and Hazards Don't be your own doctor

The physician whose name went on the medical "report" on candidate Trump says "He dictated that whole letter". To have reached this conclusion really didn't take a great deal of sophisticated textual analysis, but it's nice to have confirmation. The problem isn't just that the report itself was fabricated, it's that the patient insists so much on the fabrication. A person so compelled to lie and exaggerate about the smallest of things cannot be trusted in the big things. If someone lies when literally nothing is at stake, what could possibly be expected of their truthfulness when there are consequences to be paid for being honest?

News "I'm not trying to act like I'm driving a garbage truck in Des Moines"

It's nauseating for these words to come from someone masquerading as a conservative leader. Real conservatives know that people should be judged by their character, not their occupation.

News "Apprehend data instead"

Police say don't try to chase the perpetrator in a hit-and-run accident. Just record everything you can.

Health Homeopathic "remedy" contains saliva from rabid dogs

Homeopathy is a great example of the kind of quackery that justifies some regulation of certain products in the interest of public health and safety. Because...rabid dog saliva, for the love of Salk.



April 27, 2018

Health Gates Foundation funnels $12 million in seed money to search for universal flu vaccine

Coinciding with the centennial of the Spanish flu pandemic, Bill Gates wants to spark some initiative to fix the problem in a revolutionary way, noting that "Not much is being done about the pandemic risk". In a speech, Gates argues that pandemic response is basically nonexistent, and that "we need better tools, an early detection system, and a global response system."

Science and Technology Chinese leadership touts technological "self-reliance"

Autarky tries to make a comeback

Computers and the Internet Mass firings in multimedia

Writers at the opinion site RedState find themselves pink-slipped over their lack of enthusiasm for the President

Agriculture Good trees to plant for Arbor Day

The last Friday in April is a pretty good time to think about planting a tree.

Broadcasting Aaron Sorkin says he's been asked by NBC for a "West Wing" revival

It was a great series for much of its run, but can they really continue a story that took a sharp turn in the last season?



April 26, 2018

Broadcasting Conviction of Bill Cosby

The entertainment legend was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, dating to a 2004 incident

News From CIA director to Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo is confirmed for the job of chief diplomat. He immediately left on a business trip to Europe. The role is challenging under a President who is openly hostile to most international cooperation, and it comes after a series of Secretaries of State who had strongly differing takes on what made them effective. Hillary Clinton, for instance, spent a huge amount of time on the road; Colin Powell wrote that he thought the Secretary of State ought to rely more on others to do the legwork. It's a storied role, to be sure: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all occupied it.

Business and Finance You can have any Ford sedan you want, as long as it's a Mustang or a Focus

The company is phasing out most sedans in favor of building SUVs instead



April 25, 2018

Business and Finance Inflation is showing up in raw building materials

That's going to make new housing cost more

Business and Finance Memos, not PowerPoints

The Jeff Bezos management rule requires writing, revision, and reading -- and that's probably a very good thing for better thinking

Threats and Hazards An extremely good take on Kanye West and President Trump

Damon Young's title condenses it well: "Kanye's politics are what happens when you don't read books"

Computers and the Internet Google starts rolling out Gmail with AI tools

Users can opt-in for now, though it seems likely everyone will be seeing the updates as their standard Gmail experience within a couple of months. The Washington Post's tech columnist notes some positives about the features being added, but noted some skepticism about how well some of the artificial intelligence can actually work without total access to everything you do -- which is something most people probably aren't ready to hand over to Google yet.


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April 19, 2018

News When lawyers take notes

Contemporaneous notes taken by James Comey during his interactions with the President paint a picture that ought to be exceptionally consistent with what any competent observer ought to have picked up by now: President Trump tends not to have coherent, well-thought-out concepts in mind and generally wings it, succumbing more often than not to his instincts and impulses.

The United States of America Senator Chuck Grassley plays the long game on the rule of law

He makes a well-advised point: Processes should be protected when one's own party is in the majority specifically because that party will someday be in the minority

News "[D]ensify around transit"

An interesting turn of phrase to describe how Vancouver has grown -- with residential skyscrapers clustered around stops on the city's light-rail system. An intriguing approach to land use that doesn't seem to be deliberately duplicated anywhere else in North America.

Business and Finance "[E]xcessive automation at Tesla was a mistake"

Tesla has run into production bottlenecks, and Elon Musk says that over-automation was a factor. What's interesting is that Honda reached the conclusion a long time ago that human workers were easier to redeploy to fix bottlenecks than were robots (see the book "Driving Honda" by Jeffrey Rothfeder).

News Unexpected consequences of the Oklahoma City bombing

The terrorist attack had measurable social effects -- a higher birth rate and a lower divorce rate for people in the immediate area

Humor and Good News If George Washington had left TripAdvisor reviews

Travel was a little different in the Revolutionary War era



April 18, 2018

News Barbara Bush passes away at age 92

A dignified person has passed from this world. Her public mission to promote literacy speaks to an aspiration for a better world through the empowerment of individuals.

Threats and Hazards "Russian cyberattack capability is a global problem"

American and British cybersecurity agencies warn in a joint statement: "Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing 'man-in-the-middle' attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations".

Business and Finance Younkers stores will be gone by August

The parent company of the Midwestern retailer has sold to a liquidator, so by August 31st, the stores will be no more. Another retailer dismantled by the new realities of consumer expectations.

News FCC starts process to ban telecom purchases made with Federal funds from going to Chinese manufacturers

Huawei and ZTE would be the primary targets of the new action

News China will lift restrictions on foreign ownership of car companies

By 2022, supposedly, foreign carmakers will no longer be capped at 50% ownership of Chinese ventures to build cars



March 31, 2018

Threats and Hazards Independent autopsy says Sacramento man was shot repeatedly in the back by police

They appear to have concluded that they were being threatened with a gun, when it was only a cell phone. Which leads to the savage satire from The Onion under the headline, "Police repeatedly shoot Tim Cook after mistaking iPhone for gun". America really does need an NTSB for police-involved killings.

Threats and Hazards The President, the interventionist

He cannot restrain himself against the impulse to create enemies, whether real or imagined. While it's only circumstantial evidence, the weight of the evidence is overwhelming that his antipathy towards the Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) is translating into a reckless campaign against Amazon.com (which was started by Jeff Bezos, but exists as a publicly-traded company). Bezos owns about 79 million of Amazon's 484 million shares outstanding, for about 16% of the total. Thus the President's ire is not only un-American, anti-market, and factually dishonest, it is also poorly targeted. At this pace of pointless, patronizing interventionism, he is on track to make FDR look like Milton Friedman. The President's enthusiasm for government intervention in the economy produces lots of wicked outcomes and should be roundly denounced by anyone who considers themselves pro-markets and pro-freedom.

News Immigration, categorically, does not create net new crime

To the contrary, immigrants of all means of entry (legal or otherwise) tend to be less criminally inclined than the public at large. But there is an unfortunate tendency for confirmation bias to creep in, causing people who may have been inclined to have a dim view of immigrants to "see" immigrant crime more than other crime.

The United States of America The 19th Amendment is only two generations old

An indication of just how insufficient America's concept of rights was just 100 years ago, a reminder of just how much progress has been made since that time, and an instigation to remember that much good or much harm can be created in a very short time. It's always a choice.



March 30, 2018

Threats and Hazards Russia tests new ICBM

Video of the missile (NATO-codenamed "Satan Two") has been released. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations." This test, in tandem with the Russian expulsion of 60 American diplomats in retaliation for Western retaliation in response to the attempted murder of two people on British soil, suggests that a reminder is in order: "Proportional response" does not include the aggressor retaliating in equal measure to retaliations. This is an entirely unsatisfactory way for the world to work in 2018.

Business and Finance Amazon rearranges lobbying efforts in Washington

The very large, very national impact of government on Amazon's future business remains one of the reasons the DC metro almost certainly must be in the lead to get Amazon's HQ2. Nothing like being located next to your biggest "customer".

Iowa Dutch painting from 1600 resurfaces in Des Moines

It's a bit of a cheeky image, so it probably got hidden away when it strained the sensibilities of the early 1920s

Computers and the Internet French President Macron proposes "IPCC for AI"

Similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he suggests a group to put real expertise into looking at the ethical consequences of artificial intelligence. It's part of an ambitious set of goals Macron suggests for turning France into a major center for AI, but the ethical component is well worth examining closely. The speed of technological change is ultimately a challenge to our ability to use it well.


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March 29, 2018

Threats and Hazards Reckless economic interventionism

The President has once again turned to Twitter to lash out at an American business; this time, Amazon. Says he: "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!" This screed is so brimming with nonsense that it is almost impossible to parse reasonably: Amazon pays taxes. Amazon uses the US Postal Service (which is a net gain, not a loss, to the carrier). And Amazon is just an efficient conduit on the Internet, but it is by no means exclusive as an online retailer and the troubles inflicted on "thousands of retailers" would be real even if Amazon itself did not exist. Most Americans in any kind of retail or wholesale sector are likely to be both users of, and competitors with, Amazon. As many business leaders have noted (among them, Satya Nadella of Microsoft), increasingly complex business needs have lots of us operating outside of traditional business rivalries. Most of us now have reason sometimes to cooperate with our natural competitors. That's just the evolution of business and a natural result of specialization. All of us, though, should stridently object to the President continuing to call out individual American businesses for scorn like this, and we should object if he were to offer praise, too. It's bad behavior in principle, and it's reckless economic interventionism in practice. But there is a third layer in the case of this particular President, and it is the result of his near-complete unwillingness to follow the well-established norms of the office, like putting his assets into a true blind trust. As was worth notice even before he took office, we have no assurances that he and/or his inner circle aren't profiting from his social-media outbursts -- for instance, by shorting a stock before a rant. To assume the best (that he and his circle are refraining from such behavior) is inexcusably naive. The norms exist for a reason, and his conscious, willful rejection of those norms should not be taken at face value. In the absence of evidence of innocence, the person who deliberately tries to change the rules in such a way as would benefit himself at the expense of others should be assumed to be a cheater.

News "I don't know what that means, a community college"

The President seems to think it's better to call them vocational/technical schools than to call them community colleges. Which might be fine, if that were actually how they operated. But it's an inaccurate representation. Nobody should underestimate the power of community colleges to have a huge effect on adult education in lots of ways -- including, but not limited to, voc-tech.

Aviation News New York Times article actually suggests that men wear track suits in flight

"Thank you for flying Sopranos Airways. Have a cannoli."

Humor and Good News Omaha school administrator donates hair to Locks of Love and raises $6,000

A great example of someone choosing to create value in the world -- not only will someone benefit from the hair donation, but another $6,000 got raised in the process.

Humor and Good News Opening Day is here

In a world that routinely seems positively mad, welcome back to the relentless rationality of baseball.



March 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards China plans a 25% tariff on US pork

Soybeans could be next. This is exactly the kind of reciprocal trade retaliation that Americans should worry about.

Threats and Hazards Denmark and Ireland might sanction Russia over attack on British soil

Can it be? Are the free countries of the world starting to get the picture that shows of unity are among our best tools to push back against adversarial efforts to sow discord here?

Business and Finance Where do your tax dollars go?

The Federal budget represented as a $100 restaurant bill

Health Nebraska doctors turn to state intervention to get 15-year-old into chemotherapy

Even that Original Libertarian, John Stuart Mill, would say that sometimes the state has to step in to protect kids: "Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury."

Iowa Snowstorm forecast comes with tight gradients

Parts of Minnesota and Iowa are going to get about a foot of snow, and neighbors 90 minutes away won't get anything



March 22, 2018

Threats and Hazards Nero fiddles while Rome burns

The President of the United States is engaged in a juvenile taunting match with a former Vice President, while Congress is about to pile another $1.3 trillion onto the Federal debt. If the Federal government were sitting on a surplus of $64,000 per person, voters would be losing their minds demanding rebate checks. Instead, we owe $64,000 per person in Federal debt...and rising.

News National Security Adviser fired

General HR McMaster is out, and John Bolton is incoming

Humor and Good News The sisters rebuilding a university library in Mosul

With ISIS out, they have a chance to rebuild. We could digitize every book ever written and give every child a Kindle as their birthright, and yet we should still consider libraries to be sacred spaces worthy of support and protection. Only barbarians destroy libraries.

Humor and Good News The only thing missing is the exaggeration

Teenager puts a car through the front window on her driving test. The problem is that the story misses a kicker element -- something for the comedians to embellish in search of a life.



March 21, 2018

Threats and Hazards Stop naming and celebritizing the killers

News outlets are naming the Austin package bomber -- a person who has been terrorizing his local community through murder. Would there be any real harm done if news outlets said "As a matter of civic responsibility, we are voluntarily withholding the name of the perpetrator"? A voluntary choice to consign people like this to the black hole of history might help discourage copycats.

Threats and Hazards Man shoots himself after falling asleep with new gun in his hands

This story ends with the public laughing at the expense of the individual who shot himself. But what if this carelessness had ended with him unintentionally shooting a family member who walked in and startled him awake?



March 17, 2018

Threats and Hazards "50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach"

The Guardian reveals a stunning whistleblower claim that Cambridge Analytica used data on 50 million Facebook users -- data that was obtained in contravention of Facebook policies, using "personality test" apps that collected data not only on the user, but on the user's friends as well. And then Facebook was slow to fix the problem: They claim to have acted in 2015, but didn't go on to suspend the parties involved until this week. The New York Times reports that "Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove." This is a huge warning on lots of levels: To resist the urge to share too much online; to hold Facebook and other social media tools at arm's length (they're not your friends); to resist the urge to fall for the lure of "personality tests" tied to tools like Facebook; to know that third parties might collect information on you even if you didn't engage with them; to suspect anyone who claims to be collecting information online for "academic research"; and for a hundred other reasons. Data is being weaponized, and regardless of this particular case, that is only bound to accelerate.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Des Moines metro got 8" of snow overnight

Other places, not 20 miles away, got less than half an inch

Threats and Hazards Former acting FBI director is fired just before retirement

And then the President turned to Twitter to openly taunt him. It doesn't seem wise for a President under investigation to mock people like Andrew McCabe and James Comey, but perhaps his lawyers have a creative defense strategy up their sleeves.

Humor and Good News A new album is out from Stone Temple Pilots

And Generation X rejoiced



March 16, 2018

The United States of America Why you should read "Safe Passage"

The shape of our world today is no accident. Its shape tomorrow ought not to be an accident, either.

News Embedded diamonds instead of engagement rings?

Just because a reporter can find a half-dozen people who do something doesn't make that thing a trend. And while picking on Millennials for sport is a joy of being in Generation X, this really isn't a generational thing. It's just some isolated instances of people being dumb.

Business and Finance A US Senator who gets the big picture

Sen. Ben Sasse demonstrates again (this time in an address to the Heritage Foundation) that the economy isn't served by going back to the 1950s

Threats and Hazards So much stupidity concentrated into one interview

Everyone trying to remain in the public eye has a choice: Whether to be thought-provoking...or mindlessly provocative. The nonsense captured in the Spectator interview with Steve Bannon is definitively of the latter type.

News Justice Department fires former acting FBI director just before he retires with pension

Whether or not there was true merit to the dismissal of Andrew McCabe, openly taunting some of the nation's highest-ranking law-enforcement officers after you fire them probably isn't the most effective way to demonstrate innocence.


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March 15, 2018

Threats and Hazards Sounding the alarm

There is a tension in having the President act both as head of government and head of state. Senator Jeff Flake is right to sound the alarm that the part about being head of state isn't being taken seriously. Preserving the dignity of the office as a tool of moral suasion is one of the reasons why so many people were interested in punishing President Bill Clinton for his bad behavior in office -- it wasn't a matter of policy, it was a matter of behavior. President Barack Obama conducted himself generally quite well as a head of state, but made a lot of errors as head of government. Today, it's entirely incomplete for people to approve of President Donald Trump's policies in government when his words and behavior as head of state are reprehensible. It's time for a pro-civic wing of the Republican Party to speak up and demand accountability for the duties of a head of state.

Business and Finance The US only has a trade deficit with Canada if you exclude services

And excluding services is a ridiculous way to count economic output. Can we all just take a minute to reflect on the anachronism of thinking that goods are somehow better outputs than services? Any parent who has ever encouraged their kid to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer has revealed a preference for providing services. Goods and services need one another -- you can't build a bridge without designing it, too. Someone makes a pair of shoes, and someone else sells them. Boeing can build an airplane, but Delta has to fly it.

Business and Finance Where do traded dollars go when we are a net importer?

A hypothesis: Agglomerative network effects could neutralize the ordinarily negative effects of trade deficits. Suppose we run a trade deficit with country "B", buying things that help increase our growth rate. Country "B" returns some of the resulting cash surplus here, buying property or firms (maybe at inflated prices) that only exist because of the high growth rate in the first place. In a framework where certain imports of goods or services end up contributing to the creation of capital (of which some is sold to the exporting parties), the trade deficit might be more of a catalyst than a cost. In the short run, we show a current-accounts deficit; in the long term, the resulting capital creation (and thus future productive potential) is much greater than the proportion of the capital stock that is sold off to repatriate the dollars exchanged in trade early on. This would depend, though, on the US market having certain characteristics making it a uniquely high-return locaion for investment.

Threats and Hazards Russian cyberattacks compromise power and water plants in the US and Europe

A Symantec executive says "They have the ability to shut the power off. All that's missing is some political motivation". One particular piece of the New York Times report puts the problem in stark terms: "[A]t least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg 'troll farm' known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations." That doesn't preclude the possibility of yet other operations, as well. That's what makes the use of cyberwarfare so unnerving: It involves asymmetries between the inputs required and the outputs it can create. Thus it is highly attractive to those parties that calculate a low cost (in terms of retaliation) for high potential gain. This might be a good time for private and public parties in places like the United States to consider having a backup plan, like secondary operating systems.

News Queen Elizabeth "consents" to her grandson's marriage

Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952. Imagine if we were talking today about Harry Truman (POTUS in 1952) "giving consent" to permit his grandson to marry an actress from the UK. The institution itself is such a peculiar artifact of past civilizational habits that it's interesting to superimpose their order on our facts and see how it would look. All monarchies (even parliamentary ones) are a bit silly -- but if their political gravity didn't matter, they would be republics by now. There's an implicit public consent to the status quo which itself is a form of political power.

News Putting "savings" into Daylight Saving Time

Give us back the hour -- with interest!



March 9, 2018

Business and Finance What men ought to do to promote women in the workplace

Worth consideration: "Integrity is not only knowing and acting on what is right but also, as Yale Law's Stephen Carterimplores, publicly explaining why you are doing so."

News What creates a journalist? Sometimes the comics.

The cartoon pages are the gateway by which kids become newspaper readers. Every successful medium needs a route by which the next generation of audience members is recruited.

Threats and Hazards An impossibly stupid interpretation of the job

Peter Navarro to Bloomberg: "My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his [the President's] intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters." Trying to backfill evidence to rationalize instincts is a far cry from encouraging one's best intuitions. Intuition is the product of experience, study, and self-criticism. President Trump doesn't celebrate any of those; he has instincts. And any animal can have instincts. To have people in such influential positions that do nothing but encourage instinctive behavior is a complete dereliction of duty.



March 8, 2018

Threats and Hazards An obscenely wrongheaded idea

The President takes a potshot at Gary Cohn, his departing director of the National Economic Council: "He may be a globalist but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist, no question. But in some ways he's a nationalist because he loves our country." ■ Straight to the dustbin of history with the idea that a person couldn't love his or her own country and also believe in participating in the global community. Shameful. Ignorant, wrong, and shameful. ■ "No free people can for long cling to any privilege or enjoy any safety in economic solitude. For all our own material might, even we need markets in the world for the surpluses of our farms and our factories." - Dwight D. Eisenhower ■ "If we want [...] a vital, dynamic, innovative economic system, we must accept the need for mobility and adjustment. It may be desirable to ease these adjustments [...] but we should try to achieve that objective without destroying the flexibility of the system." - Milton and Rose Friedman ■ "No nation was ever ruined by trade." - Benjamin Franklin ■ "To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions" - James Madison ■ "The freedom to buy, sell, and trade is one of the oldest freedoms known to man." - Margaret Thatcher ■ The idea that someone can't be both a good American and also a good citizen of the world is as preposterous as the idea one cannot be both a good Iowan and a good American, or a good Chicagoan and a good American. Most of the virtues to being a good citizen are non-rivalrous -- from the local to the regional to the national to the global. Anyone who can't think of themselves as belonging to more than one community of human beings simply lacks imagination.

Threats and Hazards Whose South China Sea?

China's foreign minister drops passive-aggressive commentary about "external powers" and complaining that "there are certain external powers who are unwilling to accept the stability in the South China Sea and always want to stir up trouble". He is, of course, talking about the United States. And he's talking about a place where his own country is building artificial islands to create artificial claims to territory. Singapore's long-time leader Lee Kuan Yew said it pretty clearly: "As China's development nears the point when it will have enough weight to elbow its way into the region, it will make a fateful decision -- whether to be a hegemon, using its economic and military weight to create a sphere of influence...or to continue as a good international citizen...It is in everyone's interest that before that moment of choice arrives, China should be given every incentive to choose international cooperation which will absorb its energies constructively for another 50 to 100 years."

Computers and the Internet What if everyone had to complete an exit interview to unfollow someone on social media?

Would any of us learn?

Humor and Good News Is it too soon for an Irish potato famine joke?

One might wonder

Business and Finance The choice to impose tariffs is a terrible one

A 25% tax on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum. Arbitrary, capricious, untargeted tariffs on basic raw materials used disproportionately in heavy construction? That's a pretty stupid way to address the need for infrastructure investment (that we badly need). It's also a terrible way to behave when we have a massive Federal budget deficit. It's a very simple fact that net imports don't actually hurt GDP -- we produce the same amount with or without the imports, we just don't want to count them as things we create.

Humor and Good News A hot take on hot takes

Very, very funny: "I'm an incredibly verbose piece of journalism that your boss, your coworkers, and your most Twitter-annoying friend have already spread all over social media with the comment 'This.'"



March 7, 2018

Business and Finance What good will tariffs do?

It is possible to do things that put many Americans on pathways to better economic futures that don't involve starting trade wars. Tariffs usually end up as false promises that make lots of things worse while failing to fix what they're supposed to help. "Trade war" sounds a lot more decisive than "updated and reinvigorated trade and technology adjustment assistance", but the latter is really where we ought to be putting a sustained focus. Either we're developing our human capital or we're not. But if we aren't, then we shouldn't expect a rising standard of living. And if we're trying but failing, then we need to urgently reconsider how we're doing it.

Threats and Hazards "We can also do stupid"

The President's utterly preposterous claim that tariffs can be applied "lovingly" is answered by the European counterargument that they, too, can do stupid policy.

Threats and Hazards Holocaust Museum rescinds award to Aung San Suu Kyi

It's for her failure as a civil leader to stop the murders of the Rohingya. Sometimes the only thing we can do is remind people that the judgment of history will be passed on us all, and hope that maybe the desire to be remembered favorably is enough to get someone to do the right thing. It's one of the most important reasons why we have to study history and treat it as important.

Humor and Good News Beautiful art from the dawn of the 20th Century

Gorgeous art, really


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March 6, 2018

News China's military ambitions grow

They're looking to build lots of naval bases all over the Indian and Pacific Oceans

Business and Finance Amazon uses lobbying more than ever

One of the reasons why the DC metro area is almost certainly one of the top two contenders for the Amazon HQ2 project: Government matters more than ever to Amazon's future. Proximity to your target matters.

Business and Finance Lego has too many bricks

They had a pretty big sales drop in 2017

Iowa Democracy belongs to those who show up, indeed

The number of voters who cast ballots in one Des Moines suburb on the sales-tax vote could have fit in a single Suburban

Business and Finance What would Louis Rukeyser say?

What we wouldn't give to hear one of his opening monologues to "Wall Street Week" today



March 2, 2018

Threats and Hazards Punching down

The President fires off a rant against Alec Baldwin, for no sensible reason. He makes a choice, every day, to behave this way. To make these his priorities. To pick these fights. This is a choice.

Threats and Hazards A global trade war isn't "easy" to win

"Trade war" isn't even good nomenclature. "War" conveys an impression of an event with a winner and a loser. But, on net, everyone loses in a trade war. It's more like mutually-assured destruction. The President may rant and rave in capital letters about his outdated notions of what makes an economy, but trade protectionism is the helicopter parenting of economics. Moreover, with the economic damage being intentionally done via stupid tariff policies and trade restrictions, worse things may happen even faster. Federal deficits are soon to eclipse the annual GDP, and a hobbled economy produces smaller tax revenues.

Threats and Hazards The cyberwarfare threat is real. Our response isn't.

Asks Senator Ben Sasse: "Why should the American people have any confidence in their government right now in the area of cyberwar?" A good and urgent question, indeed.

Business and Finance "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

In a computer simulation that closely resembles the distribution of wealth in the real world, "[T]he wealthiest individuals are not the most talented (although they must have a certain level of talent). They are the luckiest." If this is an accurate representation of how talent is rewarded in the real world, then it has really substantial implications for how we choose to remunerate talent (and otherwise compensate it without money, but with things like social esteem). It echoes a comment from Bill Gates: "I am always fascinated by the question of whether the most talented people end up in critical positions -- in politics, business, academia, or the military. It's amazing the way some people develop during their lives." Most likely, there is a great deal of the ultimate outcomes in wealth that is shaped by choices that people make early in their lives -- when pure talent and intelligence don't necessarily determine the quality of decision-making, since they're not informed by wisdom and experience. Getting set in the right direction early on -- often by luck of finding something like an industry on the rise -- might explain much of the outcome. And in that case, it certainly speaks volumes to the impact of family members and other trusted elders who may guide their younger counterparts to the right places at the right times, before they can make informed decisions for themselves.

Threats and Hazards The potential for abuse

According to NBC News: "Some top Qatari government officials believe the White House's position on the blockade may have been a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about the failed deal" to bail out one of his family's investment properties. If personal financial interests are influencing Federal government policy at the very top, that's an inexcusable threat to the idea of good government.

Computers and the Internet Facebook axes the "Explore Feed"

They had tried to separate institutional and personal news from one another, but users didn't like it or use it. So now everything is back together, but with the supposed emphasis on "family and friends"-type content.

Threats and Hazards No impulse control

The President's plans for massive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports appear to have been a completely impulsive declaration made without any serious forethought or planning. There is much to be disturbed by the fact that he, after more than a year in office, still does not understand the fact he needs to show more discipline than the average adult. That's just basic comprehension of the role.



March 1, 2018

News Chinese investment in Finnish infrastructure?

China Daily reports on a speculative project to build a giant tunnel under the Baltic, to link Helsinki with Tallinn, with the backing of "unnamed Chinese investors". And they're talking about building a railway between Helsinki and a northern Norwegian port city -- so China can have access through the (warming) Arctic Ocean to European markets, instead of traversing the Suez Canal. This is what happens when the United States dithers while China is flush with cash and ambition.

Threats and Hazards For whom are they working?

The FBI is investigating what went on behind the scenes of a licensing deal that slapped the Trump name on a building in Vancouver just after the President took office. It was a deal that apparently centered on Ivanka Trump's work -- and it is well past time that Americans know whether she's working for the family business or for the government. There's no room for one of the President's closest advisers to have one foot in the Oval Office and another in financial interests that are influenced by that work. There must be an arm's-length separation of the two -- without that separation, there must be an assumption of bad faith on the part of the people who choose not to separate the interests. If Ivanka Trump is not exclusively working for the people of the United States, then she has no business in the ambiguous roles she occupies.

Threats and Hazards Absurdism masquerading as economic policy: Steel and aluminum tariffs

The President appears to have sprung the idea of massive tariffs as a surprise on just about everyone. They're a terrible idea.

Computers and the Internet Facebook wants your kids

Facebook says it had to "nudge" kids in the 8-to-13 age range to use its Facebook Messenger Kids tool. One wonders: What's so good (for the kids) about trying so hard to get them to use their electronics? It's obvious what's in it for Facebook.

Threats and Hazards Run, do not walk, away from state-secession plans

There are vital interests of highly adversarial people that are served when Americans turn on one another

Business and Finance The Wrigley Building is up for sale

If you have a spare $200 million and an interest in prime Chicago real estate, it might be up your alley

Threats and Hazards Sweden has a problem with gangs using hand grenades

Thanks to certain loopholes in the law, they're a weapon of choice for some bad guys

Business and Finance Kearney Archway turns a profit -- at long last

The $60 million monument across Interstate 80 in Kearney, Nebraska, has gone a long, long time without turning a profit. It's actually quite a nice museum and well worth a visit for anyone in the area or passing through, but it's also a cautionary tale in the hazards of feasibility studies. It's easy to cook the numbers when they're purely speculative to come up with something that balances the books.


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February 3, 2018

Broadcasting Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 3, 2018

Airing live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central -- AM 1040 on the terrestrial dial, or streamed live at WHORadio.com

Computers and the Internet Fallout from fake followers

Movie columnist Richard Roeper, exposed in a recent news report as one of the celebrities who purchased fake Twitter followers, has reached an agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times (his employer) to delete his old Twitter account and start over. Roeper's statement includes the line "On a number of occasions, in an effort to build my brand, I bought Twitter followers." The rules of the game are pretty fuzzy right now: Media outlets want "brand-name" presenters, hosts, columnists, and even journalists -- but the whole idea of "building a personal brand" is largely in conflict with the idea of institutional standards in journalism. Buying fake Twitter followers is a pretty sketchy thing to do, but when the reward structure inside conventional media puts a premium on digital reach, individual journalists are probably going to try it. There aren't a whole lot of clean hands in the commodity-clicks universe.



February 2, 2018

Threats and Hazards We should play no part in our own division

Sen. John McCain's statement today is perfect: "The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests -- no party's, no president's, only Putin's. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him." Just because people don't understand the actions being taken against us doesn't mean they're not real. Just because we don't want to believe that we're susceptible to attack via means ranging from influence campaigns to cyberwarfare doesn't mean we're invincible. And just because it's easy to fall into a divisive and tribalistic culture of internal division doesn't mean we can sustain a republic that way. We need vigorous and intelligent debate, far-sighted approaches to big problems, and a sense that we can be of different opinions without being enemies of our fellow Americans. It's an offense against the republic that the President terrorizes law enforcement from his bully pulpit because of his own selfishness. And with members of Congress acting as accomplices through the release of a memo that the FBI asked them not to, we have a lot of people showing the moral backbone of jellyfish.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's "Belt and Road" includes a media component

The head of China's Xinhua news agency is shown meeting with the prime minister of Laos to discuss "media cooperation". As Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, "China exporting illiberalism and censorship in Asia. Expect much more 'media cooperation' under Belt and Road." If we're not a part of what's happening in the Asia-Pacific region, we shouldn't expect liberty and freedom to fill the void -- not with China's present leadership and the incentive structures they face. As Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore used to say, "To achieve the modernization of China, her Communist leaders are prepared to try all and every method, except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multi-party system."

Business and Finance Stock market falls by 2%

It's a pretty dramatic decline, and a reminder that the stock market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the stock market. A one-day decline of 2% isn't sustainable and rarely reflects more than the animal spirits taking over the market. But in fairness, the stock market has been overpriced for a while, according to any conventional and rational sense of valuation.

Computers and the Internet Facebook resists judging news sources

Mark Zuckerberg, on a quarterly call with stock analysts: "We don't want to assess by ourselves which sources are trustworthy. I think that's not a situation that or a position that we're comfortable with ourselves." It's rather like Zuckerberg has never met anyone outside his immediate psychographic profile. This "wisdom of crowds"/techno-utopian mindset has to go.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve hits Wells Fargo hard

Bank must replace four directors and hold its assets at the same level as punishment for the unauthorized-accounts scandal



February 1, 2018

Business and Finance Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts wildly optimistic economic growth rate

5.4% GDP growth would be fantastic, but there's no way to call it realistic. The fundamental underpinnings to support sustained growth at that rate aren't there.

Iowa Iowa drops from 2nd to 3rd in nation's wind-energy capacity

Iowa added lots in 2017, but Oklahoma added more. Now it's Texas in first, Oklahoma in second, and Iowa in third. Texas is way out in front.

Iowa Meredith completes acquisition of Time

In an interesting historical footnote, Des Moines was once the home to Look Magazine, which was intended to be a rival to Life Magazine. Life is long-gone, but its name lingers as part of the direct-mail media company.

Business and Finance 4th quarter economic productivity slipped by 0.1%

It's on an annualized rate, so the figure itself isn't big. But the stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. Stagnant or declining productivity is not a good bellwether for economic strength, no matter what the S&P 500 is doing. The economy and the stock market have been on totally different paths since 2008 -- the economy fell by something around 5%, and has subsequently grown by a total of maybe 20%. The stock market, by contrast, plunged by 50%, and has since doubled.

Threats and Hazards Was the CIA director's meeting with Russian intelligence bosses "routine"?

That's what Mike Pompeo says. Any contact of that type taking place right now has to be executed with the highest sensitivity to even the appearance of impropriety.

Threats and Hazards Is "Redfish" a Russian-funded propaganda operation?

The Daily Beast says the "grassroots" media organization is an offshoot of RT. Programming ought to be accompanied by an NPR-style sponsorship liner: "Support for this program is provided by...parties who would rather remain nameless, but whose interests coincide with sowing the maximum possible division within Western societies."



January 31, 2018

News A $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

Briefly hinted at the State of the Union, a giant proposal that ought to have some attention. $1.5 trillion is around $4,600 per American. We probably need to spend that much (or more) on a wide range of infrastructure projects, but the needs range widely and call for a lot of technocratic judgment. Saying you'll spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure is like saying you're going to lose 100 lbs. The admission means you probably need to do it, but it matters a great deal whether you're really changing your lifestyle or just banking it all on a two-week juice cleanse. Low interest rates today are a stupendous incentive to borrow for the long term on work that would have lasting value, but whenever "infrastructure" projects are done as a means of putting people to work, the work that is done may not be an efficient use of the capital.

The United States of America Sen. Jeff Flake has twice been a first-responder in the span of one year

At the Congressional baseball game, and again at the train crash en route to the Republican retreat. It is tragic that one person should have encountered circumstances like that twice in such a short time, but good for him for being prepared to do good things.

News The changing American household

A Pew research piece says that 31.9% of American adults live in households containing an adult who isn't the head of household, a spouse or partner, or an adult child of roughly ordinary college age. Of note: "Today, 14% of adults living in someone else's household are a parent of the household head, up from 7% in 1995."

The United States of America Should you love your government?

Your country, perhaps. But your government, never.


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January 30, 2018

Science and Technology Someone claims to be offering "Human Uber"

A tool to provide virtual presence. The low-wage, low-skill, technology-enabled job of the future is...Larry Middleman from "Arrested Development"?

Threats and Hazards Russia names fighter plane regiment "Tallinn"

That's some very serious trolling, naming a military group after a national capital of a former satellite state

Aviation News United Airlines prohibits "emotional support peacock" from flight

Buried lead in this story: Someone has tried to bring an emotional-support spider on board an airplane somewhere.

News Omaha-area grocery store won't sell Tide Pods to under-21s

Isn't there some non-toxic, non-staining, extremely bitter flavor additive that could be added to the external gel of these laundry packs? Wouldn't that be the logical step for Tide and others to take? There were more than 10,000 incidents reported to poison-control centers last year involving children ages 5 and under. As a convenience, laundry packs have tremendous merit. But if there's a reasonable way the manufacturers could offset the hazard of ingestion (whether intentional or accidental), then it's worth asking what stands in the way. All of the buzz is about teenagers consuming them intentionally, but that's happened around 100 times this year -- whereas accidental ingestion by little people happens orders of magnitude more often.



January 29, 2018

Iowa Single-family home in northeastern Iowa contained more than 725 animals

There's no way to make that make sense

Science and Technology Republicans on FCC slam trial balloon over nationalized 5G service

Axios reports that there have been internal debates within the Trump administration about the idea of nationalizing the 5G wireless infrastructure. It appears to be part of an internal discussion among national-security team members, who frame the need to get away from dependence on increasingly dominant Chinese suppliers of 5G technology as a matter of national security.

Business and Finance "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful"

Warren Buffett's axiom applies today, when the World Economic Forum review of global risks rates virtually no concerns over economic conditions.

News Cleveland to retire Chief Wahoo from uniforms after this season

File under: It's about time. Everyone knows that tastes and mores change over time, and sometimes that requires adjusting our present-day reality to match the changes. Does it mean some cultural icons might get sacrificed along the way? Sure. But anyone who is more attached to the rendering of a mascot of a baseball team than to scrubbing pretty blatant racism from the present really ought to adjust their understanding of what's important. We should be happy to take a path toward getting better about how we treat one another.



January 28, 2018

Computers and the Internet Social media ought to mark the end of the vox pop

The "vox pop" (from "vox populi" -- basically, the "man on the corner" interview) has always been a weak spot in journalism. Tying it to easily-manipulated social media buzz only makes that worse. But that's what's happening -- news sources make stories out of the quantity of public reaction to items in social media. But in a time when it's become clear just how enormous and widespread the problem of bot contamination is, news organizations ought to put a stake in the heart of the vox pop altogether.


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January 27, 2018

Humor and Good News It's easier to dream of those possibilities we can see

Aesha Ash is an African-American ballerina who is making herself visible (in full dress) in places people might not expect because she wants "to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background."

Business and Finance Wall Street Journal ranks the semifinalists for Amazon's HQ2

They conclude that Dallas and metro Washington, DC, are in the lead. That's pretty sound analysis.

Threats and Hazards The UN Ambassador shouldn't be subject to crude innuendo

Nikki Haley is shooting down crude rumors that she's having an affair with the President. There's no reason she should have to spend time or energy rebutting the rumors. We ought to have a world where we can all agree that issues of personal character do matter in politics -- without weaponizing rumors almost invariably at the expense of women. Women's reputations are indisputably put under attack far more by these kinds of allegations than men's, and there's no question that tends to have an effect that depresses the participation of literally half of the population in our civic affairs. It's not just scurrilous, it's degrading to our public welfare.

Threats and Hazards "[I]f anyone else had this much contact with Russians [...] they'd be considered a Grade-A security threat"

Tom Nichols gets directly to the heart of the problem: You don't have to believe there's some explicit quid pro quo between the President and the Kremlin to reasonably insist on a thorough investigation of the links. And the Senate had better agree.

The United States of America Democrats pick legacy-name member of the House to deliver response to State of the Union

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert Kennedy, represents a Massachussetts district in Congress. Picking a Congressman from a legacy political family to deliver the response to the ultimate anti-legacy, pro-disruption President in generations is a really dumb idea. The State of the Union address (and its response) is the flagship mass-market political moment of the year. Why they aren't putting the spotlight on a current governor or a recent Cabinet member makes it look rather like they're not taking this seriously. At all.

Broadcasting Radio show notes: Brian Gongol Show - January 27, 2018

Airing live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central



January 25, 2018

Threats and Hazards Two killed in Kentucky school shooting

It truly is a shame on our national character that violence takes so many young lives. It's a real public-health crisis: Homicide is in the top four causes of death in America for each of the age groups 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34, and suicide is the #2 or #3 cause of death in age groups 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34. These should be solvable problems, and we should have a sense of urgency about them.

Threats and Hazards Abusive gymnastics team doctor gets sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison

The sentence for Larry Nassar is deserved, but the judge was speaking to the rest of us when she said, "Justice requires more than what I can do on this bench." What stops the next abuser? Who protects the next victim? Those are systemic duties for all of us. Nassar used powers of manipulation and persuasion to get away with a massive crime spree over many years. One doesn't have to believe there was a broader conspiracy beyond him alone to believe that he was enabled and empowered by systemic and individual failures by others.

News Mayors ditch meeting with the President

The mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans were among those who dropped out of a meeting with the President after the Department of Justice threatened to subpoena a bunch of cities, counties, and states over "sanctuary" status issues. The President took shots at Democrats and others in the meeting with those mayors who showed up at the White House despite the boycott by some. Federalism is taking on some pretty unusual forms these days; the notion of a limited but energetic Federal government is being beaten senseless by a variety of opponents.

Business and Finance What we imagine to be important isn't always what's truly important

In a new Pew survey, Americans rank terrorism, education, and the economy as the "top priorities" for the President and Congress, while ranking the military, climate change, and global trade at the bottom of the list. As Scott Lincicome notes, the fact that an issue like trade falls at the bottom of the public priority list may contribute to why public opinion swings so much on the subject -- and why it remains an area subject to hijacking by protectionists with a vested interest in imposing higher costs on the public at large by shutting down trade. What the public values most isn't always what's most important: In fairness, eating vegetables and flossing are also low on voters' preferences -- but, just like trade, they're almost entirely in voters' best interests.



January 23, 2018

Computers and the Internet British cybersecurity chief: "When, not if" a major cyberattack will target his country

The Guardian notes that "As well as North Korea, intrusions have been blamed on Russia, China and Iran." Now would be a good time to heed the words of Sun Tzu: "[T]he skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field." Cyberwarfare is different from kinetic warfare (where the objective is to blow up things), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a dedicated sense of what it means, both in theory and in practice. The longer it takes for the United States and its allies to treat cyberwarfare with the gravity it deserves, the worse-off we will be. As one observer notes, "people significantly overestimate the effect of Russian influence, and vastly underestimate the potential effect of disinformation from other sources (including domestic ones)". Fortunately, the antidotes to disinformation are effective no matter where the disinfo originates. Unfortunately, a lot of people are either unaware or unwilling to "vaccinate" themselves against any of it.

Aviation News Oldest operational ship in the US Navy completes dry dock work

The USS Blue Ridge (commissioned in 1970) is now back in service after a huge refurbishment. Of note: The US Air Force still flies B-52s built between 1952 and 1962 and only three years ago retired a 52-year-old C-130. To have airplanes in flight that are older than the oldest ships in the Navy seems counterintuitive.

Threats and Hazards Michigan man arrested for threatening to kill CNN employees

Does it have anything to do with the President's non-stop feud with the news media? Maybe -- the possibility certainly can't be dismissed. As columnist Niall Stanage notes: "As I learned growing up in Belfast, when politicians throw lit matches onto gasoline, you'll tend to get fires." Even one person whose anger exceeds his or her self-control is too many, and that hostility shouldn't be stoked from high office.

Business and Finance An America-free Trans-Pacific Partnership moves ahead

Canada, Japan, and nine other countries are marching ahead with a trade agreement despite the dropout of the United States. As Senator Jeff Flake notes, "We're being left behind." All other things being equal: Better a multilateral trade deal than a bilateral one; better low barriers to trade than high ones; better to be inside these agreements than outside of them.

Humor and Good News The one justified conspiracy theory

Individual sheets of select-a-size paper towels are scientifically designed to be 25% too small for any purpose under the Sun.



January 20, 2018

Socialism Doesn't Work Toll roads in North Korea

With nothing better to offer on the world market, North Korea is turning to what is literally one of the oldest stunts in economics to raise hard currency: Toll roads.

News A Presidency misexecuted

Tom Nichols assesses the first year of the Trump Administration, and finds that a lot of collateral damage is being left behind for POTUS 46 to clean up

Humor and Good News Early contender for 2018's "Person of the Year"

An Omaha nurse donates 8 gallons of her own breast milk to a new mother undergoing chemotherapy whose baby has a milk allergy



January 15, 2018

Computers and the Internet Does Instagram withhold "likes" to play on the insecurities of users?

Really quite sick, if true. Ordinary people are at risk of doing evil things when they only look at what technology can do, rather than pausing to reflect on what it should do.

Weather and Disasters Cold weather sometimes rewards you with sundogs

A spectacular display in Iowa

Broadcasting On the passing of Dolores O'Riordan

A true genre, as I think of it, needs a foundational set of performers who set the definitions -- but it also needs artists who push out the boundaries, testing how far the genre can bend before it breaks.

Iowa Midway between the caucuses

An event Iowans mark by lighting corn-scented candles and preparing the guest room for politicians starting their "listening tours".



January 10, 2018

Threats and Hazards Politics corrupt religion

Self-appointed moral authority Jerry Falwell, Jr. says that the President's behavior "is no longer relevant". This is perhaps the best contemporary illustration why politics and religion should be kept apart: Not because religion would overwhelm politics, but because politics can corrupt religion.

Business and Finance The gig economy isn't bias-free

Women get treated differently not just in conventional workplaces, but in the gig economy, too -- even when they're the employers.

News While the United States dithers

The European Union is getting the signals: If the United States is going to hollow out its international presence under the Trump Administration, they're going to have to address a rearranged global power structure. French President Emmanuel Macron is in China, saying "I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win." Europe naturally needs to maintain its own relations with China, but in the long term, we may be witnessing the slow erosion of American hegemony in the world.

News Five things to consider before putting Oprah in the Oval Office

Someone can be inspiring, decent, interesting, and popular. That doesn't mean we ought to hire them to be President. There really are different skills required to be President than what can gain a person commercial success.

Broadcasting Milt Rosenberg, a true radio icon, has died

Milt Rosenberg's show was consistently both intelligent and entertaining. He proved that truly smart talk could be must-listen radio.

Humor and Good News "Efforting a fix"

Why is this particular corruption of the English language so satisfying? Is it because it conveys urgency through its rule-breaking?

Business and Finance Honda's US footprint in a generation

Realizing that the company has only been in the United States for a generation, it's pretty remarkable just how far it reaches

News A beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright home sells in Chicagoland

What's truly impressive is just how good the home still looks at more than a century old. The Prairie Style is profoundly enduring.


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January 9, 2018

Threats and Hazards Deportation looms for more than 320,000 people

The US government has provided "Temporary Protected Status" to people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan as a form of what is basically refugee relief. It's hard to imagine how returning more than a quarter of a million Salvadorans to a deeply troubled homeland. The State Department tells Americans to "reconsider travel" there -- the last level of advisory before "Do Not Travel". Putting substantial strain on Central American countries that can't handle the pressure certainly isn't a way to introduce stability there, which likely only makes conditions worse for Mexico.

Weather and Disasters More than a dozen people killed by California mudslides

With vegetation wiped out by wildfires, there's not a lot left to keep heavy rain from turning the ground into mud

Science and Technology How Americans really sleep

Fitbit data tells us a whole lot more than we've ever really known about how people actually sleep

Business and Finance Omaha developer wants to go back to the future

Or something like that, with old-style buildings in new construction. They would include buildings intended for mixed residential and commercial use -- but one big question looms: If developers are really going to push for new-build live/work spaces, what's going to sustain the relationship? Most business sectors are going to face consolidation and change, so merging living and working spaces with the old model of the "apartment over the shop" is really harder to justify than ever.

Business and Finance Alabama will get huge new Toyota/Mazda plant

Not a huge surprise, given Toyota's previous pattern of site selection

The United States of America Should we have a completely ceremonial head of state?

When times are good, perhaps we'd pick a happy figure -- an Oprah Winfrey or a Johnny Carson or a John Elway. And when people are angry, like many are now, we could handle putting a hothead in the spot to express the popular discontent.

Humor and Good News "Journalism"

Matt Novak: "It was admittedly an odd choice for The Post to just be 110 minutes of Tom Hanks staring at the camera and whispering 'journalism' while getting more and more drunk but honestly it works". Any reasonable person would totally watch this.



January 5, 2018

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 personal challenge: Fix "important issues" about Facebook

It's a grand ambition to want to figure out how the platform is being used for bad purposes and causing harm either through malice or neglect. But -- while trying not to read too much into his declaration -- it's a curiously undirected project, in the sense that Zuckerberg really says only that "I'm looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics." ■ Experts can and should be consulted on issues like these. But the phrase "bringing groups of experts together" is really pretty empty. Lots of experts come together for lots of reasons in lots of places, and in many cases the only result is an empty box of doughnuts and a memo that nobody ever reads. There's no doubt that Zuckerberg himself is an intelligent person, but he's also fortunate to have lucked into being in the right place at the right time with a tool. That's all that Facebook is: A technological tool. And tools are almost always value-neutral; like Teddy Roosevelt once said, "A vote is like a rifle: Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user." A vote, too, is simply a tool. The question is really one of character. ■ And that is the part of the story with the greatest promise -- but also the greatest risk that Zuckerberg's endeavor will end up accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, given the extraordinary control he maintains over Facebook -- the tool and the company -- it is an extension of himself to a degree that has few rivals in history, save a few rare examples like that of William Paley and CBS. So Zuckerberg's plan really doesn't reach far enough: He mostly seems interested in preventing harm, which is necessary...but not sufficient. ■ Being against something bad is not enough; much harm has been done by missions against other bad things. Anti-Communism is an epic example: It was right to be against Communism, but the incompleteness of that mission allowed ills like McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to fill the void. Anti-fascism may have brought together the USSR, the UK, and the United States as allies in World War II, but Soviet anti-fascism was hollow in the sense that it sought to fill the void with its own totalitarianism. ■ Zuckerberg is, in many ways, a techno-utopian: His professed belief is in the goodness of the tools themselves. And that means that an effort to purge the bad from Facebook will be incomplete -- just like anti-Communism or anti-fascism. And it's quite unlikely that any meeting of "groups of experts" will provide the right thing to fill the void. Ultimately, it hinges on Zuckerberg's conscience to decide that Facebook is actually for something -- not the ultimate triumph of technology over bad things, because that has never been and never will be the case. Great technology in bad hands is an awful thing. ■ For himself and for the tool that is such a pure extension of himself, Zuckerberg needs to find a normative philosophy in 2018: Something to strive to be. It will never be enough to be anti-bad, and it will never be adequate to think that perfecting technology will perfect humanity. In choosing something for it to strive to be, Zuckerberg would ultimately narrow the appeal of his tool -- since some people would decide that they object to the goal or conscientiously object. But he would do well to consider the way in which Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, became the benefactor of the Nobel Peace Prize. Like Facebook, dynamite is a tool, used for purposes both good and evil. Nobel's legacy wasn't to convene experts to tell him how dynamite could be perfected. The tool itself wasn't the ultimate end: It was only a tool. But the goodness of humanity itself and the positive goal of peace? That was Nobel's choice. Whatever comes of Facebook in the years ahead, Mark Zuckerberg has to make a choice, too -- and it isn't about perfecting the "anti-bad" of his platform.

Business and Finance How much of GDP goes to Federal-debt holders living overseas?

A non-zero number, but less than 1%. Important, though: If/when interest rates rise, that figure could be at risk if we haven't also brought the Federal budget under control.

Computers and the Internet Double-spacing after a period

It's habitual for a lot of people over the age of 35, and sacrilege to many under that age. In fairness to members of Generation X (who are often caught in the middle -- applying the double-space out of habit, but knowing that people want it gone), the double-space emerged out of necessity in the typewriter age, and stuck around when computer printers still mainly generated output in fixed-width fonts. Moreover, there was something viscerally gratifying about the heavy mechanical "click" of the early PC keyboards, so the double-space lingered, if nothing else, because it was also an excuse to get extra mileage out of clicking the heavy keys.

Business and Finance Know what's unusual about the times in which you live

For anyone who wants to go beyond basic passive investing (which itself isn't a bad policy for most people), there are two essential things to do: Have a cogent investing philosophy, and know what's unusual about the times in which you're living. The era of the conglomerates, just for instance, rose and fell on tax policies and interest rates that were unique to their time. Warren Buffett's early defining move was to pull out of the stock market altogether when it was still boiling hot, since he understood that the times were about to change. And who wouldn't like to take a time machine back to early 2009 with a bag full of cash and a stock-trading account? ■ What's unusual about our times today? Extremely low interest rates (by historical standards), equity valuations that are untethered from conventional estimates of value, a monumental shift in the workforce, and -- not least of all -- a deeply arbitrary and capricious Federal executive branch. Where the Obama administration tended to be hostile toward capital in general, the Trump administration reflects the President's capricious attitudes and eagerness to capture whatever he thinks can be categorized as a personal "win". He (and, by extension, his administration) is quick to interfere with deals not on the basis of law, but on the basis of what appears to count for a short-term political victory. As Tara Lachapelle notes in a Bloomberg Businessweek column, this means that epic mega-mergers like Disney/Fox and CVS/Aetna could all be in danger of rude surprises.

Threats and Hazards "What Wolff is describing is an open secret"

Newly-published book or not, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the President lacks curiosity and knowledge about the world, making him a singularly dangerous Commander-in-Chief.


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January 4, 2018

Threats and Hazards Casual threats of nuclear war

If the President takes nuclear war so lightly as it appears, he has never read any history of war, never pondered the weight of his office, and never cared about any human life besides his own. Certain members of Congress are talking about restraining the power of the President to initiate a nuclear first strike. Policy thinker Megan Reiss quite wisely suggests sending every President-elect to Hiroshima and to a concentration camp, "to contemplate the impact of acting and not acting, and the weight of choosing." Even a war fought with conventional weapons guarantees the loss of thousands of innocent lives. A person who cannot take that seriously is not to be trusted with any weapons at all, no matter what their form.

News Instead of posing with the handbook of "Antifa", how about a Constitutional selfie?

If a member of Congress wants to strike fear into the heart of an abusive President, there's no need to take a selfie with "The Antifa Handbook". Just pose with one of the classics: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Federalist Papers. All three provide the necessary foundation for striking proper fear into the heart of anyone who would misuse the power of the Presidency.

Threats and Hazards The distressing softness of the President's self-confidence

The very thought that the President would threaten a private citizen by sending a "cease and desist" notice -- even to someone as unsavory as Steve Bannon -- is reprehensible. If there is one thing Americans are free to do, it is to criticize officials in high office. That the President has people around him (and likely including himself) who think that their ability to make commercial gains off the family name is of greater importance than the public's right to criticize is a symptom of an irredemable pathology.

Threats and Hazards Death isn't for clickbait

An adult man beclowning himself on film next to another man's corpse is appalling. To use the death of another human being as clickbait is surely an indicator that someone harbors sociopathic tendencies, and both this Logan Paul and anyone who shared his video ought to be not only ashamed but scrutinized for their apparent sociopathy.

Broadcasting When Must-See TV got philosophical

A frame from an early episode of "Night Court" captures a sitcom confronting one of the great philosophical issues of all time: The individual struggling against himself

Business and Finance Pondering geographic mobility

If urbanization is inexorable (and it's definitely nothing new), then it's worth asking whether government policies should seek to encourage particular kinds of mobility, so that it's easier to move labor around to where it's needed or to get it out of places where it's under-productive. A matter surely worthy of serious debate.

Science and Technology 52% of new cars sold in Norway last year were electrics or hybrids

Despite being a huge oil country, Norway is turning its back on fossil fuels. Electric-only cars are up to 21%.

News Small savings groups help people get on their own feet

A charity that converts donations into tools to help people help themselves is a great thing

News Let's move New Year's Day to April Fool's Day

Wins for those who intend to break their resolutions, and for those who intend to keep them



December 30, 2017

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 30, 2017

Airing live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time



December 29, 2017

The United States of America Who rebuilds the world?

The US ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts around the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools. Assigning tasks to the wrong agency or department avoids accountability, since they can't be blamed for the outcome of a task for which they are not properly equipped. We need just such a department of government -- fully accountable for outcomes.

The United States of America The atomic centrist

A suggestion: Let "atomic centrist" become the name for those people who share a core belief in pluralism, individual liberties, and the rule of law (this core of central ideas being like the nucleus of an atom) -- even if they might have far-flung ideas on individual issues (like electrons). The far-flung ideas on individual policies may make us different from one another and may at times be far apart from one another, so long as we share in common the preeminence of those central values.

News Resolution for 2018: Avoid using empty euphemisms

Words matter, as do ideas. Anne Applebaum makes a good case for working out the words to accurately describe the big ideas moving politics today, since lots of old labels seem no longer to apply.

News Taxes on taxes

A warning: "Prepayments on 2018 state and local taxes before January 1st may be deductible, but only if the municipalities have actually assessed the taxes..."

Weather and Disasters Multiple-truck collision on I-80 kills a driver

Human beings can't control circumstances like the bad weather conditions that swept into Iowa today. The sooner we can take advantage of technological tools for enhancing our safety on the roadways, the better.



December 28, 2017

Agriculture Cargill pipes up for free trade

The White House's hostility to trade is dangerous to the US farm economy. American farmers have some huge competitive advantages on the world market, but if we don't have free access to global trading opportunities, that cuts into the ability of the ag sector to turn a profit on its surplus outputs. People don't always understand that it's often at marginal places on the supply and demand curves where big things happen -- and it's really hard to tell farmers to cut back on the supply, since the individual incentives are always to produce as much as possible of a commodity. Thus, marginal differences in demand can make a huge difference. And with the ag sector in really weak condition in the Upper Midwest, for instance, any further threats to those marginal markets are potentially very harmful. Is Cargill acting out of self-interest? Yes. That doesn't mean they're wrong. (It should also be noted that the national economic statistics often mask what's happening in local economies -- like the pressure being felt in rural areas due to low commodity prices.)

News Nine ways to make a better to-do list

They're different and not necessarily compatible with one another, but they're also pretty decent ideas

Broadcasting The best "Key and Peele" sketch might have been one of the darkest

The show's director thought the spoof of the 80s aerobics competition was his favorite "of the season, and possibly ever". And for good reason: It's executed so brilliantly that it's a real television masterpiece. The plot is super-dark, but yet the whole thing is completely hilarious.

News A faulty arrest could obstruct a Marine's career

A Marine from Clive, Iowa, got arrested on a completely faulty charge. That sloppy work could get in the way of her future career.

Threats and Hazards A shameful op-ed from a sitting member of Congress

Rep. Andy Biggs wants to undermine the unfettered process of fair justice because he thinks it might turn out badly for someone he likes. That isn't how the law works. A rigorous investigation is the right way to reveal bad behavior in high office, and real leaders should welcome the opportunity to expel crooked people from the President's orbit.

Socialism Doesn't Work Profoundly stupid ideas still exist

The Socialist Party of Great Britain promotes a stupefyingly inexcusable interpretation of the facts that would have one howling with derisive laughter -- if it weren't for the dominating fact that millions of human beings have died from their abject stupidity. Do not fall for the idiotic platitude that "perfect socialism hasn't failed because it's never been tried": The fact is that in a world where scarcity inexorably exists, there will always be some form of pricing that determines who gets what. That will either come in the form of rationing and shortages, or it will come in the form of explicit market pricing. The natural world is constrained, which is why plant and animal populations rise and fall. They don't have pricing, so they resolve the allocation of limited resources through the cruel, cold reality of what we tend to call the law of the jungle. If there aren't enough rabbits to eat, the foxes die out. If there aren't many foxes, the rabbits proliferate. That the exchange is made in blood and death doesn't change the fact that the resources themselves are limited. As humans, we have the intelligence to use pricing to make those allocations. It's vastly more humane than pretending like those limitations don't exist...even if "true" socialists are too obtuse to understand that.

News We may feel exhausted with Iraq and Syria, but someone has to rebuild

If we withdraw from a world leadership role, we shouldn't expect peace and order to fill the void. It's perfectly fine to be reluctant about hegemony, but it's not OK to abdicate it. The United States ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts in troubled parts of the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools.

Iowa Iowa celebrates 171 years of statehood

Let's skip the candles on the cake, though.



December 27, 2017

News The daily routines of Bill Gates

The details don't matter -- what does matter is that he's intentional about what he does with his time, sticks to pretty ordinary human routines (like doing the dishes and eating cheeseburgers), and manages his informational diet by reading books and well-edited news sources.

News Flake 2020?

He's not ruling it out, and reasonable people shouldn't either

Health Best friends find out they're actually brothers

Personal DNA kits deliver a surprise

Computers and the Internet Library of Congress will stop archiving all public tweets

The library says it will shift to a "selective" model on January 1, noting that the volume of activity on the site is huge, they will have archived the entire first twelve years of public content for future research, and -- perhaps most tellingly -- "The Library only receives text. It does not receive images, videos or linked content. Tweets now are often more visual than textual, limiting the value of text-only collecting."

News City council refuses mayor the keys to his office

In a small town in Georgia

Humor and Good News Pulling the leg, diplomatically

A gag article in El Nuevo Dia suggests that the United States is trying to return Puerto Rico to Spain. It's only a gag.

News Stop looking for politicians to be saviors

Believe in principles, fight for systems, and treat politicians like employees. They should be hired for good reasons, held accountable for their work, and let go if they don't earn their pay.

Threats and Hazards China's state-coordinated efforts to influence universities worldwide

A warning from Jonathan Sullivan about soft power and hegemony: "Western academic institutions are prone to Chinese attempts to generate influence because they strike at our weakest point: finances." Other countries are going to use what tools they can to try to influence world affairs in their own favor; that means all nations ought to be wary of the ways in which they might be manipulated. This unquestionably includes the use of cyberwarfare, influence campaigns, and even hacking to try to affect the outcomes of elections. But it's also incomplete. Free nations must anticipate attempts at influence by a wide variety of means, by many countries, and by non-state actors, too. Too many Americans have become habituated to close their ears at the word "Russian", and miss the bigger picture. We have huge leverage in the world, so we're an irresistible target for influence campaigns, of many types and from many sources. Naivete is neither a viable strategy nor a productive tactic.



December 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "They thought it was all over and that we'd won the propaganda war"

The United States radically down-scaled its public diplomacy efforts in the 1990s, and President Obama dismissed too readily the warning signs that Russia was adopting a whole slew of tactics to try to influence the West (especially the United States). Many tools having been used already, President Trump refuses to believe that it's a problem (almost certainly because he thinks any acknowledgment of the efforts would undermine the credibility of his election). It's madness, incompetence, and short-sightedness all around. Disinformation is alive and well, and without a strategic approach to countering the bad and promoting the good, we're going to face lots more trouble in the future.

Threats and Hazards Facebook's tool to test whether you follow Russian propaganda content

It's good information, but incomplete. Users ought to know how often they were exposed to "Internet Research Agency" propaganda content via their friends. That's the whole point of viral content -- that you don't have to find it; it comes to you.

Threats and Hazards Disasters in 2017 stretch FEMA to its limits

Almost 26 million Americans were affected by major hurricanes. Puerto Rico's power is still only 65% restored. Things are at least as bad in the Virgin Islands. A quarter of a million Puerto Ricans may have already moved to Florida. It's most likely time for the United States to invest in a true national emergency-response agency with the resources (in equipment, funding, and most importantly, manpower) to act decisively when natural disasters overwhelm local governments' capacities to respond. We evidently don't have that yet.

Humor and Good News 2018 goal: Be more like these people

A few ladies from Omaha who, when they find bargains on necessities (like clothing and blankets), stock up so they can give them away.

Iowa Things to say if you're a national politician showing your face in Iowa

It's inevitable that high-profile politicians bouncing around Iowa will be asked if they're running for President. A bit of advice: If you're here and someone asks if you're running, you're always free to deflect with one of the following: (1.) "I couldn't live another day without trying Tasty Tacos." (2.) "I thought the Butter Cow was on display all year." (3.) "I wanted to see the Bridges of Madison County."

Threats and Hazards Russian warships cruising close to the British shore

The Washington Post reports: "British and NATO leaders have warned of Russian naval activity at levels unseen since the Cold War."


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December 23, 2017

The United States of America Victory with honor

It is a fundamentally conservative principle to be skeptical of power and those who have it, and to almost reflexively resist any vigorous attempts to use it.

Humor and Good News If anyone is still taking nominations for "Person of the Year", please put this woman on your shortlist

Hospital employee works overtime all year so she can buy presents for sick children



December 22, 2017

Broadcasting After 50 years, Charles Osgood is signing off from CBS Radio

Rare is the career where a person can do the same job for half a century. Rarer still is the one where a person can be exceptional at it the whole time.

Socialism Doesn't Work Were 10,000 people killed at Tiananmen Square in 1989?

Some evidence has surfaced to suggest that's the number Chinese officials thought were dispatched. If accurate, this is one of the most damning things reported about a government since WWII. And if anyone thinks that the present government would be above a similar atrocity today, they have greater confidence than they should.

Computers and the Internet Twitter asks users to suggest improvements

Chief among them ought to be some kind of authenticity index. It's well and good that public figures can have verified accounts confirming that they are who they say they are, but the service ought to make it instantaneously visible whether an account is probably an authentic one or whether it's more likely to be a troll or a bot. Measures of authenticity that could easily be formulated into an algorithm for this purpose: (1) The ratio of the account's original tweets to its replies (bots and trolls disproportionately reply to others, mainly for the purpose of harassing them). (2) The originality of the account's tweets (if twenty accounts post identical text at the same time, they're not likely to be authentic accounts). (3) Likes and replies from valid accounts (much like the Google Page Rank method of rewarding sites that have high-quality inbound links).

Humor and Good News Why is English such a fertile language for pun-making?

A question that shapes the comedic talents of fathers everywhere in the Anglosphere. Without puns, dad jokes would be impossible.

Computers and the Internet Eric Schmidt is leaving "executive chair" role at Alphabet/Google

The company appears to anticipate that a non-executive chair will be appointed by the board in January. It wouldn't hurt if more American companies selected non-executive chairs -- the whole idea that one person ought to be president, CEO, and chair of the board is pretty contrary to the idea of at least some oversight by the owners.



December 21, 2017

Aviation News Boeing might take over Embraer

After Boeing set up Bombardier to face nearly 300% tariffs for moving their aircraft across the Canadian-US border, Bombardier teamed up with Airbus. This kind of merger ought not be much of a surprise -- but it'll be very interesting to see whether it has any consequences for the Mitsubishi regional jet.

News On USA Today's strong editorial condemning unfit Presidential behavior

The paper was uncharacteristically direct when, in response to a tweet from President Trump attacking a United States Senator, its editorial board said that "Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed." The follow-up from the editorial board says that all of its statements are the results of consensus, but it really might be interesting to see newspaper editorials start to look like Supreme Court decisions -- in which the various members can join in a majority opinion, concur with it, or dissent from it. That would not only be interesting, but the process of "signing" editorials with individuals' names might help to counter some of the misunderstanding that an editorial board is speaking for the news-reporting side of the operation.

News Children should be in school, not laboring

(Video) A brief story about a 13-year-old boy in Kabul who supports a family of nine by hauling goods through the streets for pay. His father died young and he works so his sisters can go to school. The boy himself? An inspiration. But his circumstances tell us that the world has a whole lot of work to do before we're truly achieving the full reach of human potential.

Iowa What's a college town without rental properties?

Iowa City has decided to limit the number of houses and duplexes that can be rented in any given neighborhood around the University of Iowa to 30%. Paradoxically, the city appears to be concerned that student-dense houses are pushing single-family buyers out of the market.

Aviation News The skies may be friendly, but the airport concessions aren't

Workers from at least four of the restaurants inside O'Hare Airport went on a brief strike during one of the busiest air-travel days of the year. Reflexive pro- or anti-unionism isn't going to get us especially far as the world economy becomes more and more tightly bound together. The more fragile our systems become, the more sensitive they can be to disruptions -- like a food-service outage at Chicago O'Hare, or a power outage at Atlanta Hartsfield, both of which happened this week. In order for society to obtain the large-scale benefits of tight economic integration, we're going to have to either better ways of dealing with some failures (like doing more to make airport power systems more robust), and of thinking through the human elements required to make other things go (you can't have an airport without food -- but it's also hard to create a lot of social status for people working at an airport Chili's Too). Some deep thinking needs to happen about these issues, since the macro-scale forces that amplify them into major issues aren't going away.

Humor and Good News Americans start making our own Scandinavian liquors when the home sources run out

American distillers are now making aquavit. What they really ought to do is figure out how to mimic a particularly tasty (but extremely expensive) Icelandic liqueur called "Bjork".

News Couple tells Nebraska sheriff their 60 pounds of pot were for Christmas presents

Seems like a stretch

Threats and Hazards Few countries have more government debt per person than the United States

Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.

Business and Finance How far would Detroit go to get Amazon's HQ2?

Pretty astonishingly far, according to Crain's: "The proposal ... says the company could operate for 30 years without paying real estate and personal property taxes". Just remember: Sears once was what Amazon is now. The Detroit offer (like others) is reminiscent of the apocryphal exchange between Winston Churchill and a lady: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?" His response: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we're only haggling about the price."

Business and Finance Without productivity growth, wages aren't going anywhere soon

One of the key factors that appears to be holding forth (anecdotally) is the very low rate of transfer of the *skills* to use technology from the highly skilled to the less-skilled. Technological tools have gotten radically better, but only the highest-skilled workers know how to use them effectively. And they don't have the time (or incentives!) to teach lower-skilled workers. Thus certain super-productive workers are getting MUCH more productive, but a whole lot of others are stuck at the same skill/productivity level as they were 20 years ago.

News One-paragraph book review: "On Liberty"

A must-read, and a must-re-read.

News One-paragraph book review: "A Nation of Immigrants"

A brief book from a half-century ago whose spirit remains applicable to a major public policy challenge today

Humor and Good News Love a good rivalry

It's nice to see institutional accounts having fun with each other, as the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star trade barbs on Twitter


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December 20, 2017

Threats and Hazards Government debt per person, per country

One world ranking where it's uncomfortable to be at the top. Japan, Ireland, and the US are the top three. Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.

Business and Finance Women in manufacturing add value

Honda finds that using the brains of women and men alike turns out better products

Business and Finance Tax bill passes Congress

One major unresolved problem: The CBO says it will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, at a time we can't afford more overspending

Computers and the Internet Final examinations via Twitter

Economics prof tests college students via social media

Threats and Hazards Top Presidential advisor still can't pass a security clearance

Newsweek: "Kushner's permanent security clearance was stalled because he initially omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times."



December 18, 2017

Business and Finance "If you dislike the bill, you should dislike it for the right reasons"

The major tax bill going through Congress is imperfect, but its imperfections are correctable through the political process

Aviation News Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson power outage lasted almost 11 hours

The redundant power system was damaged, too

Science and Technology Toyota bets hard on electric vehicles

The company has held out a lot on EVs in favor of fuel cells instead, but is now announcing that "by around 2025, every model in the Toyota and Lexus line-up around the world will be available either as a dedicated electrified model or have an electrified option"

News Chicago cop shoots 18-year-old in attempted carjacking

No matter how you square it, this is a terrible story. Whatever drove the young man to make such a terrible decision will now likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

The United States of America Honest criticism is necessary

People ought to be consistent about what they criticize in government -- and hold their own side to the same standards they would hold the opposition



December 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards The rise of the know-nothing populists in Europe

Anti-immigrant, anti-modernist parties have gained worrisome degrees of strength in parts of Europe

Weather and Disasters Why the California wildfires are so bad

Enormous fires, scaling larger than entire major American cities

News Doug Jones wins race for Alabama seat in the US Senate

The Democrat is a rare winner for his party in that state, but his opponent took a loathsome route

Threats and Hazards Why the Mueller investigation could stir up some ugly reactions

It's quite likely on course to reveal deeply untoward behavior on the part of people closest to the President, and that's going to elicit really bad reactionary behavior

Agriculture The Baltic Dry Index is going up

And since that's a signal of higher export shipping costs, it's really bad news for American farmers who are already dealing with low commodity prices and a President who is too obstinate to see that his anti-trade rhetoric is awful for export-dependent sectors of the economy, like agriculture



December 11, 2017

Computers and the Internet Facebook-related navel-gazing was big 12 months ago

And what real progress has been made since? Can one name anything concrete?

News Iraq says it's expelled ISIS

CNN: "The campaign to eradicate the Islamic State took more than three years and about 25,000 coalition airstrikes."

Business and Finance Taxed more than has been earned

The Senate tax bill might actually contain elements that could result in marginal rates higher than 100% for certain earners

Threats and Hazards Know your adversary

What does Vladimir Putin have in mind when he targets Western elections and instigates cyber-warfare?



December 7, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "How to Win at the Sport of Business", by Mark Cuban

It's no Harvard Business School case study, but most readers will gain something from the text



December 6, 2017

Aviation News Cathay Pacific pilots think they saw North Korea's latest missile

This, naturally, could render the airspace in the region much too dangerous for passenger safety

News Attorney-client privilege is different from invoking the Fifth Amendment

The President's son won't talk freely to the House of Representatives because he claims a conversation with his father is protected by attorney-client privilege (because lawyers were in the room). That's not really how attorney-client privilege works, and it's not the same as invoking the Fifth Amendment...which is probably closer to the protection he's looking for.

Weather and Disasters Dramatic photos from the fires around Los Angeles

Massive fires in southern California -- including one that's almost as large as the Des Moines metro area

Science and Technology Lyft to pilot-test self-driving cars around Boston

PRO: Self-driving cars virtually eliminate human error, which causes 90% of accidents. ANTI: Americans in self-driving cars are likely to spend more time on the Internet, which causes 90% of stupid ideas.

Aviation News Electric-powered airplanes are happening

The Economist: "Dozens of firms are working on electrically powered planes of all shapes and sizes." Hybrid power systems will come first, but all-electric models aren't inconceivable. The advantages are substantial: Higher efficiency, fewer moving parts, reduced noise, and radically lessened air pollution.

Science and Technology Don't be surprised to see a lot more truck platoons in the future

Over-the-road trucking is almost certain to see closely-packed convoys in the future of two or more trucks that travel together (with the help of automation) in order to reduce wind drag. A 10% increase in fuel efficiency is a mighty reward.

News Isn't a "landscraper" just a long, low office building?

Google's new London offices will be more than 1,000 feet long, but only a few stories high. Why that qualifies it for a special name like "landscraper" is up to question.



December 5, 2017

The United States of America Of course a President may be guilty of obstructing justice

The preposterous argument advanced by President Trump's personal attorney, that a President "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under and has every right to express his view of any case", is preposterous in that it elevates the President to the status of a sovereign, rather than a co-equal citizen. The Queen of England, for instance, doesn't have a passport because all British passports are issued in the name of the Queen (as sovereign). The President of the United States carries a diplomatic passport, like thousands of other people, because the President is a co-equal citizen. He does not rise above the law just because he is charged with enforcing it; if anything, he is unusually subject to the law, since many laws are applicable to the actions of the officeholder which are not applicable to those of a citizen not in office. That anyone on the President's legal team would suggest that he is less subject to legal scrutiny as a consequence of his office is abhorrent.

Threats and Hazards The situation in Yemen, somehow, is actually getting worse

The former president has been killed after switching sides in the war, and famine there is getting worse. This is a problem that starts with human failure.

Business and Finance Ontario is experimenting with a basic income

There are strong arguments both for and against the universal basic income (UBI) in theory, which makes it a good subject for practical testing and further study. It might prove to be a great tool for eliminating red tape and freeing people to make choices to enhance their long-term welfare, or it could just be a socialist catastrophe. Experiments like this are going to tell us a lot that is worth knowing.

Business and Finance GE's chief executive asks existential questions

He's literally found himself asking, "Why do we exist?" GE is prominent in this regard, but not unusual: We've had a shortage of pro-institutional thinking as a country for a while now, which has contributed to institutional weakness in all kinds of areas -- from our hollowed-out political parties to the decline of important businesses to the weakness of cultural and educational institutions. A lot more pro-institutional thinking is needed.

News 2018 Winter Olympics won't feature a Russian team

A dramatic move to ban an entire country (and ordinarily a major contender) from the games over "systematic manipulation" of rules against performance enhancements. It's imporant that the Olympics be conducted according to rules -- but it's also not a great thing for the world overall that these particular games will be so prominently fractured. In too many ways, forces are trying to pull the world apart instead of taking advantage of ever-greater connectedness. Vladimir Putin is, regrettably, a champion of pulling apart -- as is Donald Trump.

News Tough questions for sensible Republicans

Tom Nichols asks, "[D]o we finally just abandon the party to loons, or do we stay to try to anchor the party if there's any chance of recovery?" One answer: A political party is a machine for doing things, composed of many factions. The "sane" faction (the conventional center-right) ought to adopt a name, an identity, and a statement of principles -- and fight back, hard.

News How China and India are competing in an arms race of infrastructure

If you can read the story and still conclude that the US needs to radically cut back on the State Department and other forms of global engagement, then you ought to read more history.

The United States of America Happy 84th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition

A reminder that government sometimes does stupid things, and that when it does, the best thing we can do is act swiftly to fix our mistakes.



December 4, 2017

The United States of America "No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor"

Mitt Romney, speaking out with clarity on the candidacy of Roy Moore and its corrosive effects on the Republican Party. No person so disgraceful in his personal conduct as Moore ought to be making grave decisions in the Senate.

The United States of America Will the vital center of conservatism hold?

The core of thoughtful American conservatism is a belief that we should be defined by what we think people (and a nation) should strive to be. That's different from defining ourselves by our grievances or by our wants. It's a belief structure under heavy assault, as populists define themselves by everything they resent (like immigration, trade, and change) and the left defines itself largely by what it wants government to give away.

News The age of hyperbole?

Words like "fundamentally", "extreme", and "most" are getting at least ten times the use they should.

Business and Finance CVS wants to buy Aetna

When the drugstore chain owns the insurance company, is that going to result in efficiencies from vertical integration -- or pricing abuse?

Business and Finance New life at old Sears warehouses

Relics of a previous retail transition (in the 1920s) are being put to new use in the 21st Century. As the article notes: "In the 1920s, Sears had its own formula for adapting to an urbanizing, upwardly mobile population. Robert Wood joined the company as chief executive in 1925, and immediately re-focused the mail-order behemoth on brick-and-mortar stores." Urbanization is nothing new, nor is retail turmoil.

News Iconic designer Ivan Chermayeff has died

One of the most influential graphic designers in modern American history



December 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Running like prey

The more our foreign policy is driven by reaction to smaller countries misbehaving, rather than by a strategic view of the world as we want it to be, the weaker the United States becomes. To think only (and obsessively) about every possible threat around you is the instinctive behavior of the weakest prey in the food chain. We ought to be much more evolved than this.

Threats and Hazards China's state-controlled media loves President Trump's antipathy towards CNN and others

Words matter. Ideas have consequences. And the world isn't about to spontaneously order itself around the classical values of human liberty without some help and leadership. The President ought to show that leadership instead of playing right into the hands of authoritarians.


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December 2, 2017

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 2, 2017

Purging bad behavior, retail apocalypse, and what's needed beyond tax reform



November 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards British prime minister rebukes American President for stupid tweeting

This is really an awful state of affairs -- wherein the head of the Article II branch of the United States government shows neither the self-awareness nor the impulse control to keep himself from stoking the fires of false and misleading representations of the world, to the extent that he causes real and meaningful international harm in the process.

News What cities offered Amazon to entice HQ2

Some of the offers have leaked out, and they're scarcely above the level of municipal prostitution. If one takes it as a given that HQ2 will be built somewhere in the United States, then massive subsidies on the part of some local and/or state government in order to "incentivize" its construction represent a net transfer from the public to a private company, at no net gain to the welfare of the country at large.

News A lonely voice among Democrats, arguing that anti-Trumpism isn't enough

With Democratic fundraising events being headlined by people who think their 2016 shortcoming was that "We just didn't work hard enough", the party needs badly to realize that it has to capture voters who are persuadable -- and they're likely to be found toward the center of the political spectrum (or map, as one might see it). "Working harder" isn't always the answer.

Science and Technology Holographic dead rock stars on tour

Elvis doesn't have to be alive to still be in the building. It's really very weird to think that a holographic singer is something people are willing to pay to see, but there's no accounting for tastes and preferences.

Broadcasting NBC renews "The Good Place" for a third season

Normally, a show renewal isn't noteworthy -- but "The Good Place" is unapologetically philosophical. It's good and entertaining television in its own right, but it makes no excuses for actually exploring big matters of morality. Quite unusual for major-network broadcast television.

News Many more changes coming to Wrigley Field

Renovations are ongoing and involve removing a whole lot of seats for a while



November 29, 2017

News Time should change the "Person of the Year" title

Time Magazine should long ago have clarified that the "Person of the Year" citation isn't an award to be won by changing the name to "Newsmaker of the Year". The fact they haven't made the change is a colossal unforced error that only plays right into the hands of President Trump, who is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he took a press event to honor the Navajo Code-Talkers and turned it into a reckless display of insensitivity. In fact, he remains the leading newsmaker of the year -- but also in fact, no responsible organization in the world would nominate him as the most laudable person or character-driven leader in the world today. Time Magazine, it's time to change the name of your award. Either name the newsmaker of the year, or name the person of the year. One gets credit for commanding attention. The other ought to command respect.

Iowa Meredith purchase of Time Inc. could boost Des Moines

Creative talent will stay at Time in New York, but the Meredith CEO says a lot of support staff will move to Iowa

News Roadblock to Brexit: The Irish/Northern Irish border

So, paradoxically, Britain's past as an expansionist/imperialist state is standing in the way of its ability today to secede from a different political project. It's an incredibly messy situation.

Business and Finance Most of Great Britain is less productive than most of old East Germany

And the old East Germany is much less productive than the old West Germany. Very important for the future of any country's economy.

News No whining

Kat Timpf: "It suggests that President Trump does not understand that his role is to be a servant for the people of the United States -- of all of the people, whether they (or their fathers) like him or not."

News Missive: Welcome to Bizarro-World

Some recent updates



November 28, 2017

Science and Technology Sweden's innovative way of improving road safety

Laudable: "[L]et's create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system." They've decided that it's better to look at the root causes of accidents than to hope they can fix human beings. This is the way a lot of professions ought to operate -- build better systems instead of forever hoping that human beings can be perfected.

Business and Finance On the value of economic historians

Every profession, trade, or craft needs to know from whence it came. Economics is perhaps in need of this more than most, since it's such a constructive field with such a (relatively) short history as a science.

News Parents all over the world spend more time with their kids now than in the past

Labor-saving devices in and around the home probably play at least a partial role. Will new ones on the horizon create even more family-based leisure time?

Iowa It's fun to have limited competition

Iowa doesn't have a whole lot of big highway contractors

News Why Chile is so long and narrow

History has left some weird results in its wake


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November 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 400,000 tweets about Scottish independence came from fake accounts

No surprise: Russia looks to have been behind most of them. The age of memetic warfare is here, and to not recognize that is as stupid as to not recognize tanks rolling across a border.

News Secret Service recollections of the Kennedy assassination

An event that has long since entered the realm of myth is one that happened to real people -- some of whom are still alive. Interesting to read the recollections of one of the men closest to the event.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds killed at a house of worship

At least 235 people were murdered in Egypt as they gathered to pray.

Health If you're going to need CPR, need it in public (and be a man)

Study finds that people are more likely to get CPR in public than at home, and that men are much more likely to get CPR than women. That's really important information, and certainly gives the public-health sector something to do.

News What comes first?

Most obituaries identify a person's place within a family. Your co-workers and your government aren't your survivors. Life ought to be organized accordingly.

News "We do not seek to confront anyone."

Margaret Thatcher's words from 1979 bear remarkable timeliness today: "We do not seek to confront anyone. The world is too small and precarious a place for that. We and the Communist world share a common interest in the avoidance of war, and in the development of trade and commerce. We long for the freer movement of people and ideas."



November 23, 2017

News Rwanda offers to take in 30,000 refugees

Appalled by the news that slave auctions are taking place right now in Libya, a small country with a modern history of genocide is trying to atone for its past by stretching to protect human rights today.

Humor and Good News An antidote to the apocalyptic drumbeat

It's hard to get away from the world of bad news, but a story about a woman who volunteers to hold sick kids in the hospital is a decent antidote.

Threats and Hazards Just what is going on here?

Was the idea of running for President part of a big quid pro quo between Donald Trump and people he needed in Russia? An extraordinary claim, for sure -- demanding equally extraordinary evidence.

Science and Technology Does an author have to be a human?

Does artificial intelligence have a claim to copyright? Does the person who created the AI have the right to what it produces? Per the Constitution, intellectual property protections exist "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". If AI is strictly a tool, then the creator of the AI has no more right to its output than the maker of a pen has a right to what someone writes with it. This may seem like an issue for sci-fi, but computers can already generate original music at the click of a mouse and some news organizations already use AI to write news stories. The sooner we start to wrap our brains around the issue, the better. Computers are not only here to stay, they're going to end up doing a lot of things most of us never expected.

The United States of America Thanksgiving: A symbolically appropriate day to try something in honor of American Indians

Also, a really appropriate day to give to the American Indian College Fund



November 22, 2017

Computers and the Internet The party of limited government needs to get behind technology in the public sector

(Video) A compelling argument advanced by Kristen Soltis Anderson in conversation with Bill Kristol

Computers and the Internet Uber was hacked last year for data on 57 million accounts

That they paid the attackers and didn't disclose the breach until just now is not a good sign for them

Science and Technology The world is radically more electrified than it was 25 years ago

It would be hard to overstate just how important electrification in the home really is for human development. Food refrigeration alone is revolutionary.

Business and Finance A big gap between economic performance in big cities and small towns

When you see big macroeconomic stats, remember that they aggregate the experiences of 325 million Americans. What's happening to us on the neighborhood level varies widely. This has deep meaning for a bevy of public policy issues, from education to infrastructure.

Socialism Doesn't Work Video of a defecctor escaping North Korea should give each of us a start

The desire for freedom clearly represents something deep within human beings



October 27, 2017

News First criminal charges from Mueller probe about to arrive

CNN reports that a grand jury has approved charges resulting from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and someone is likely to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

News Almost 2,900 records released on JFK assassination

The National Archives says this is pretty much it for the files that had been kept secret up until now

Business and Finance What if tight zoning regulations in some cities benefits others?

An interesting argument that tough zoning ordinances in some major cities actually has a very positive effect for other places that don't have similar rules -- which dampens the clustering effect that would normally be expected to benefit some of those large cities via a rich-get-richer feedback loop.

Business and Finance A hypothesis on American manufacturing

Why don't we have as heavily industrial an economy as, say, Germany? One argument is that the American economy is so dynamic that skilled people get drawn into post-industrial jobs at a much higher rate here than there, creating a high hurdle for industrial jobs to compete against.

News Massachusetts girl has best score in golf tournament, but doesn't get the trophy

Because she was playing on a boys' team. Seems like a peculiar way to structure things.



October 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Until further notice, he occupies the commanding heights of the GOP"

Rich Lowry sees the future of the Republican Party heavily ballasted towards a Trumpite populism.

Threats and Hazards "Democrats in Denial"

The party seems, at an organizational level, not to understand that the harder they chase delusional goals, the less prepared they will be to provide an effective opposition. As Damon Linker writes, "Democrats need political power, and they can only get it if they win more votes."

Computers and the Internet How Twitter intends to flag political advertising

Some transparency in this regard will probably be helpful, but what about the bots and the troll farms?

News If you get something for free, maybe you're the product

A report from the Financial Times documents China's "United Front Work Department", which the Communist Party there is using to project its soft power into geographies it doesn't fully control, areas of social life where dissent might pop up, and the politics of foreign countries.

News Urbanization is a global phenomenon

More than 60% of all startups in India are located in three metro areas. Urbanization has a wide range of substantial and durable effects, and we need to start thinking hard about a world where a majority of the entire global population lives in cities. We're already at 54% urban worldwide and rising fast.



October 25, 2017

The United States of America "Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us"

Senator Jeff Flake declares his political independence and his intention to leave after his term expires

The United States of America Pew names eight "typologies" of American voters

It's a little too binary and probably too clever by half. Yes, a lot of people share common beliefs, and they could probably be grouped into something like a dozen clusters. But the pure left-to-right spectrum doesn't really make sense anymore, if it ever did.

Computers and the Internet Fake Facebook accounts -- and why you get friend requests from them

Once a new account gets past Facebook's initial screening process, it becomes a valuable commodity

Business and Finance Is Amazon coming next for the banking sector?

Amazon has already smashed a lot of the retail sector, and if it's driven to keep growing, it could very well start extending its reach into peripheral industries (including banking).

Computers and the Internet Information warfare and free elections

CNN says Cambridge Analytica (which played a major role in the Trump campaign) sought out data potentially hacked from the Clinton computer systems via Wikileaks. The more data-driven campaign targeting and dirty cyber-tricks start to overlap, the greater the risk that people may be driven to really bad decisions at the ballot box. Influence campaigns are nothing new -- the Founders worried about foreign influences on campaigns -- but the removal of mediating institutions (like edited publications) from the chain going from source to destination probably serves to amplify the effects.



October 24, 2017

Computers and the Internet We're a long way from "I Like Ike"

Walter Shapiro: "Even without deliberate foreign interference, it is dangerous for politics to be conducted in an arena potentially free of all public scrutiny. In theory, it is now possible for political campaigns to tailor individualized messages to every voter in America." Technology itself is almost always value-neutral; whether it is good or bad depends upon the hands in which it is placed. And if we're not thinking about making better people, we shouldn't be surprised if the technology is used for bad purposes.

News

Jennifer Rubin writes: "[I]f we collectively decide we want more government (or the government we want costs more for the foreseeable future) we should pay for it, not fob it off on the next generation." Letting tax "cuts" become the cart that drives the horse has become a big mistake: The management of tax rates as an economic-growth management tool is really just a warmed-over version of Keynesianism. Instead, we should decide what we want from government, limit those wants, and pay for it.

Socialism Doesn't Work President Xi's ideology is now Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy

Reports the Economist: "The person has become the party in a way China has not seen since Mao."

News The military should have to answer questions when Americans die in service

"[O]ne fundamental part of honoring the sacrifice of servicemembers is understanding why they were put at risk, and demanding that those who did so hold themselves to account.

Business and Finance Chicagoland offers some $2 billion in incentives to get Amazon HQ2

A billion and a half in tax discounts, plus half a billion in transportation infrastructure spending, according to the Chicago Tribune.



October 12, 2017

Weather and Disasters Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, no power in most of Puerto Rico

Maybe 10% of the island has electricity. That's a humanitarian crisis, and it's happening to our fellow Americans.

Threats and Hazards Someone's pushing a 5-year sunset clause on NAFTA

That ridiculous idea, apparently being floated by American trade representatives, would undermine the very predictability that makes all the difference for businesses that make investments that employ the people that the isolationists like to pretend they're helping.

News Nixon became a drunk as Watergate unraveled his Presidency

A cautionary tale, perhaps, of what happens when the government is too dependent upon one person -- and that person isn't capable of doing the job

Computers and the Internet Facebook to reveal ad content and targeting regarding 2016 election

What did agents and tools of the Russian government try to do to influence the outcome of the election? This data might help tell -- too late.

Science and Technology Toyota is testing a fuel-cell semi tractor with zero emissions

For all we talk about developments like self-driving vehicles, dramatic changes are happening on the powertrain side of things, too



October 9, 2017

Weather and Disasters California wine country hit by explosive wildfires

Tens of thousands of acres have burned in a very short time

The United States of America What strange times

A well-known Republican explains why he's (temporarily) in alignment with his usual opponents from the Democratic Party: "The daily cascade of indignities, when considered in totality, diminish the presidency and the country so thoroughly that we should all worry he will leave them both beyond repair."

News The balance between good and evil probably hasn't changed from what it's always been

What's changed is that every act of good or evil has the potential to be amplified through modern tools, both technological and practical. And that's inevitable.

Computers and the Internet "Protecting the digital homeland"

Head of signals intelligence agency in Britain argues that cyberwarfare is as big a deal to them as spying

Computers and the Internet "160 terabits of data every second"

New undersea data cable between Virginia and Spain will move almost incomprehensible volumes of data for Facebook and Microsoft

Business and Finance IKEA plans an aggressive retail expansion

Showroom stores and sales through online outlets both come into the plan



October 8, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."

The words of the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking about a head of state. His own. That's frightening. In particular: "He's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway." The really shocking thing about all of this is the degree to which the national conversation about the President seems to take place as if he's in the next room, and all of the competent adults need to have a whispered conversation out of earshot. It's no way to run a country.

Threats and Hazards Does the President really want to censor the press, or is he just hopelessly glib?

Either way, it's a problem that the person whose job is to lead the free world is so dismissive of the individual rights most central to our way of life that he thinks they can be either abrogated entirely or joked about recklessly. The only bright spot in this debacle is the thought that it might force sensible people to recommit themselves to the principles that matter.

Science and Technology Puerto Rico's governor opens door to Tesla to restore power

Elon Musk claims an island-wide power system "can be done for Puerto Rico" to recover from Hurricane Maria

News Chicago-area pop tax might be repealed

A penny an ounce on sweetened beverages adds up to $200 million a year in government revenues.

Computers and the Internet AOL Instant Messenger to close on December 15th

20 years -- a good enough run for a one-time cutting-edge technology?



October 7, 2017

News Don't surrender to despair after Las Vegas

Bad people are getting better at doing bad things. That doesn't mean there is truly more evil in the world.

News The danger in decoupling

Pulling away from the rest of the world -- or letting it pull itself apart -- only makes everything more dangerous



August 18, 2017

Science and Technology Who honestly thinks life was better 50 years ago?

Anybody who says things today are worse is welcome to turn in their smartphones, laptops, air bags, microwave ovens, and basically all chemotherapy drugs.

Business and Finance "Technical patterns" signaling a stock-market crash ahead?

Technical analysis is nothing more than astrology for stock-watchers.

News Short-term thinking puts long-term American interests at risk

Survey finds that a lot of military and foreign-service professionals in the Pacific think China's within 20 years of being the hegemon there

Threats and Hazards 13 killed in Barcelona terrorist attack

And Spanish police think they saved a lot more after a raid

Business and Finance Lots of management layoffs at Union Pacific

Putting a lot of white-collar talent on the market in Omaha

Health Cleaning up a broken CFL

It may be no real risk at all, but the recommended cleanup process rivals Chernobyl



August 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Why retain monuments to traitors?

The President tweets his opposition to removing Confederate statues from public display. This is a good time to re-familiarize with the drawbacks of the endowment effect. Just because we already have something doesn't mean it's valuable enough to keep. If we need monuments to keep public spaces beautiful, perhaps Rosa Parks statues would be a good substitute for those of Confederate generals.

Threats and Hazards War crimes are no solution

The President has tweeted out his endorsement of a fictitious counter-terrorism strategy. You will not find such nonsense recommended anywhere in the US military's wide range of professional reading lists.

Business and Finance A plan to revitalize the American economy

Some good ideas; others may need some work. All worth serious examination.

Threats and Hazards Don't impute motive where it does not exist

There's really no reason to think otherwise: The President is just winging it.

Aviation News What stops airlines from making seats smaller

At some point, it becomes impossible to effectively evacuate in time to stay in the good graces of the FAA

News It's getting difficult to recruit enough truck drivers

One major issue: Depending on how quickly autonomous vehicles reach the mainstream, this could be an occupational track heading into a narrow lane

Computers and the Internet A bad prescription for social media

Columnist Leonid Bershidsky correctly identifies that anonymous accounts on social media are responsible for a whole lot of bad behavior and cultural damage. But then he suggests that social-media sites "should be regulated in the same way as a TV station or a newspaper, which always knows the authors of the information it publishes." This argument is both radical and misled. The notion that government should step in to regulate social networks betrays a wildly misplaced confidence in the virtue of the regulators.

Health Scientists find a whole lot of genes that affect intelligence

The genes themselves aren't new, they're just newly-discovered. If we start to develop truly new genes...that would be a game-changer.



August 16, 2017

News Former Presidents issue joint statement

The Presidents Bush make an easy call: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms." The statement should really be so obvious as to not even bear repeating, but the fact a sitting President struggles to make any such statement makes it necessary for his predecessors to say so. And in so doing, they exhibit an awareness of their joint legacy that escapes those who seem to think we should commemorate people on the wrong side of the Civil War. Isn't the idea that history may judge our behavior by a higher standard a fairly important tool to incentivize good behavior in the present? If your view of history is that it is static, then you're missing the point. It's not to be memorized. History must be grappled with. A compendium of names and dates is just a list. To really appreciate history is to struggle with questions of context, meaning, and choice. Sometimes, that may cause us some discomfort -- like when we have to acknowledge that the Founders were imperfect. But treating the Founding Fathers like humans rather than demigods is good for us. It says we have a duty to try to be even better than them. When we put the Founders on an untouchable pedestal, it says we are "less than" -- when in fact, we honor them most by trying to be greater. To understand their time (the Enlightenment) is to understand that they saw humanity as a work in progress, to be constantly improved upon.

Business and Finance Naming a company after yourself may correlate to higher returns

Whether it's causal or just coincidental is a different question -- but putting your name on the door might make a difference

News America's two major parties are in distress

They're factionalized to an extent we haven't seen in a long time

Threats and Hazards Kenyan police beat a baby to death over politics

The inhumanity of subjecting an innocent child to murder over adults and their politics should be incomprehensible to us all. It is most surely an abomination.

Science and Technology The merit in diversity for its own sake

Different people have different needs

News Advisory council shutdown

The President declares he's shutting down advisory councils -- after the businesspeople on the councils already quit en masse. The easier (and better) choice would have been to take responsibility for his own behavior.

News China's (expected) new vice-chair of the Central Military Commission

He appears to have been selected on merit, rather than connections. That's apparently a big change for China's military hierarchy.



August 10, 2017

The United States of America A President has no Constitutional claim to an agenda

If you expect your President to "drive the agenda", then you're doing the Constitution wrong. A timely reminder in light of the President's open heckling of the Senate Majority Leader. Let it not escape our memory that the President's authority even to veto legislation is embedded as a subordinate item within Article I, Section 7. The President is given no Constitutional authority to tell Congress when to do so much as open a window curtain, and that's how it's supposed to be.

Business and Finance Every wasted day without a responsible Federal budget is going to cost us real money

That old line about compounding interest being the most powerful force in the world? It wasn't just personal financial advice.

Threats and Hazards Venezuela has an "all-powerful" new assembly

Don't let anyone sugarcoat the fact that bad government ruins good lives. The people of Venezuela deserve better.

Threats and Hazards President Trump cracks jokes to "thank" Putin for diplomatic expulsions

As stand-up comedy, this isn't clever. As fiscal statement, it's immaterial. As geopolitical strategy, it's nonsensical.

The United States of America Democratic centrists in the fight of a generation

For the good of the country, both parties need strong centrist wings. "Politics as it is, and not as ideologues wish it to be" is an apt description of the overarching problem for both major parties. American politics could use a lot less Santa Claus ("Here's what I'll give you in exchange for nothing!") and a lot more James Madison.

Iowa Iowa's drought is growing worse

Much of the state is now in a drought condition. That's bad news especially for a farm economy that's already weak.

News Cruise ship blackout

Passengers on an around-the-world cruise were told to help turn it into a ghost ship at night when traveling around the pirate-infested waters of the western Indian Ocean.

Iowa A dramatically renovated Lawther Hall

(Video) A classic building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa has been radically updated



August 9, 2017

News "Fire and fury" meaning nothing?

Some want to discount what the President meant when he threatened North Korea. Note what Calvin Cooldige said: "The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately."

Computers and the Internet Password absurdity

Complex requirements are counterproductive if they mean people just write down their passwords on sticky notes

Humor and Good News Editor chases a manuscript 30 years overdue

If you're this far behind on a writing project, it's probably time to find a good ghostwriter. Or even a bad one.

Threats and Hazards De-escalation isn't dishonorable

Anyone who's eager for war in Korea is thinking of it as an abstraction. The reality would be tens of thousands of individual tragedies -- all the tragedy of a single death, thousands and thousands and thousands of times over.

Business and Finance Honda goes against the grain and stays independent

Other automakers are rushing for tie-ups with one another, but Honda remains stubbornly independent. That's probably true to the company's intrinsic character, and thought it might be a more difficult way to climb, it's hardly the first obstacle in the engineering-heavy company's way.

Business and Finance Productivity is rising, but not by very much

If output per hours worked is only rising by a hair over 1% a year, it's going to be basically impossible for the economy to grow faster unless a whole lot of people start working or a whole lot more hours start getting worked

Computers and the Internet Iowa Homeland Security office issues notice about Kaspersky Labs

Kaspersky makes one of the most highly-regarded computer security suites on the market, but there are a whole lot of suspicions that have emerged lately that the outfit may have troubling ties to the Russian government.

News FBI raided Paul Manafort's house

The FBI search suggests that the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller is stopping for nothing and no one


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August 8, 2017

Agriculture A recession only some people are feeling

It's hitting the Midwestern ag economy hard. Important: "A full repeat of the 1980s is unlikely[...] But it doesn’t remove the fact that the current downturn is severe[...]"

Threats and Hazards "Fire and fury like the world has never seen"

The President makes threats to North Korea. Strength is one thing, and bluster is another. Remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "[O]ur basic national objective in international affairs remains peace -- a world peace based on justice." Also Eisenhower: "We seek not violence, but peace. To this purpose we must now devote our energies, our determination, ourselves."

News Visitors from Chicago tour landmarks in Cedar Rapids

Gives one cause to wonder: Which of today's architects are leaving behind work that people will still tour with interest in 100 years?

Threats and Hazards It's hard to see the debt-to-GDP ratio not reaching 100% in the next ten years

Things look distressing if low interest rates remain. But if they revert at all towards historical norms, things could look downright awful.

News Grassley accelerates investigation of Trump campaign through Senate Judiciary Committee

Most of the interesting stuff thus far has been happening at the Senate Intelligence Committee. Judiciary has been largely sidelined for a while.

Health 2 million opioid addicts

If they gathered in a single place, they would outnumber the entire population of Nebraska

Threats and Hazards Lots of Russian flights in the Baltic with the transponders off

Radio Poland says "Most of the Russian aircraft did not respond to air traffic control."

Threats and Hazards North Korea might now have a miniaturized nuclear warhead

Tie that to one of the missiles they've been showing off, and there's a real problem

Threats and Hazards IED at Bloomington (Minnesota) house of worship

An offense to all reasonable, Constitution-adhering people



August 7, 2017

News Movie review: "Dunkirk"

Occasionally confusing (by design), "Dunkirk" tells a necessary story of honor

News City thinks man stole 21.5 million gallons of water

Criminal mastermind risks actual prison time for a product that costs less than 1 cent per gallon



August 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards How deep is the rot?

Robert Mueller may be finding things that most Americans would be appalled to discover

News Addressing a thorny issue by considering the counter-factual

Should Southern cities preserve their Confederate monuments? One answer can be found in asking whether they would erect any new ones today.

News Donald Trump can't define himself without Hillary Clinton

He needs her (or someone like her) to survive. The Democratic Party needs to figure that out.

News California Gov. Jerry Brown becomes a voice of reason within the Democratic Party

Interesting, considering how mercurial a figure he was when he ran for President in 1992

Iowa United Technologies reportedly wants Rockwell Collins

Rockwell is a huge employer in Cedar Rapids (#1 in the private sector and #3 overall), where it's a homegrown institution



August 5, 2017

Humor and Good News A fine gesture

The Chicago Cubs gave Steve Bartman a World Series ring. Closure.

Business and Finance What keeps young people from working?

One important factor to measure and consider is the minimum wage. The higher the barriers to entry for the young to enter the labor force, the harder it is to get on the great American prosperity escalator. Ideally, we'd look at entry-level jobs as the equivalent of classrooms for the soft skills needed to "graduate" into more sophisticated jobs.

Threats and Hazards Russia has more tanks invading Ukraine than all of Europe has tanks at all

That's an epic imbalance. Russia has invaded Ukraine in a big way, and that's not a settled condition.

The United States of America Some people still look at public service with humility

A thoughtful brief essay on the dignity of serving in the Executive Branch.

Socialism Doesn't Work Don't get fooled again

"[L]eft-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence [...] This is a scandal." Venezuela is a grave example. In the words of the Associated Press reporter who has at last decided it's time to leave the country: "There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement..." Venezuela's catastrophe is man-made, and its only way out will be man-made, too. Unfortunately, they're in the violent score-settling phase of a civil collapse, where opposition leaders are hauled off in the dark of night by shadowy forces.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Iowa are 16" above normal precip for the year

Others are 8" below. And they're not really that far apart.

Business and Finance A novel and interesting angle on the universal basic income

Consider: A complex welfare system rewards those who have the skills required to navigate it successfully. Those are skills that could be put to better use in the working world. While that's not a definitive case for the UBI, it's well worth taking into account. In a similar vein, there are people who doubt the value of revenue-neutral tax reform. They shouldn't be such skeptics: It's the same logic that rewards using an EZ-Pass on a toll road or a touchless card on a subway: Same cost, but with lower "friction" loss. If you pay the same amount but with less transactional friction, you're still better off.

Aviation News NTSB report on narrowly-avoided disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada jet almost landed on a crowded taxiway. The pilots got confused, and the radar system that's supposed to prevent this kind of thing didn't because the plane was in a blind spot. It could have been a calamity of huge proportions, and the pilots involved weren't rookies -- 30,000 flight hours between them.

Health One in 50 US deaths are drug-related

It's a problem that has at least doubled in magnitude in the last 15 years. Any condition like this ought to be treated as an urgent public-health problem, which is how we should have been addressing drugs all along.

News European Council president: "There is a question mark over Poland's European future today"

Wouldn't pushing them away reward the people who want to take their country backwards and isolate the liberalizers?

News Too many generals in the civilian government?

It's possible that we can have several good individuals serving as former military leaders in civil office right now, and still be engaging in a hazardous concept.

News The White House isn't a "dump"

An expensive suit can look like a wreck if it doesn't fit the man. Maybe it's the same with a house that doesn't suit the occupant.

Business and Finance Money as aesthetic object

Retired pennies in the floor

Business and Finance Someone wants to experiment with the Dunkin' Donuts name

Taking the "Donuts" out of Dunkin' Donuts is like taking the "Burger" out of Burger King.

Business and Finance A slip in the trade deficit

Exports are up and imports are down. Among those who will seek undeserved credit for this, who will acknowledge the impact of a weak US dollar in making our exports cheaper and imports from other places more expensive? The dollar is much-weakened (down 8% in value since November), and whether that is a direct result of politics or not, it's entirely unfair for anyone to take credit for "doing" anything politically to level out the balance of trade. Note, too, that the weak dollar has an inflationary effect on the stock market, so when the President tries taking credit for the stock market, he's doing so absent the offsetting impact of what's happened to the dollar.

The United States of America 34 million immigrants are in the US legally

Including 19.8 million who are naturalized citizens, which is a population equal to the State of New York -- the 4th largest state. A true credit to our nation.



August 4, 2017

Business and Finance Industrial espionage only works in the beginning

Research based on what happened when East Germany stole West German ideas suggests that it works in the short run to steal ideas -- but in the long run the cost of stealing starves the flow of money to organic research and development.

Business and Finance Silicon Valley workers cost too much for Japanese automakers

Toyota and Honda are looking for Japanese talent to bridge the gap between the world of automaking and the world of high technology. There's too much competition for the hot employees in Silicon Valley. Take note: What made Toyota and Honda successful as they emerged from obscurity was operating under serious constraints in their early years. Adapting to adversity is in the corporate DNA of both companies, and it makes them tougher when they develop skills on the inside. Meantime, Toyota and Mazda are cross-investing and building a joint plant in the US.

News "Our commanders-in-chief, not our commanders in the field, are responsible for this failure"

Senator John McCain fires a shot across the bow at the Trump Administration over Afghanistan policy

Aviation News Boeing and SpaceX both plan manned spaceflight in 2018

NASA hasn't done manned spaceflight since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

News What's going to replace the old Des Moines YMCA?

The prime riverfront property has been empty for months now, and the Federal government is threatening to build a new Federal courthouse there. The city is not amused; for predictable reasons, the city government would rather see the property become a high-tax-revenue private space instead of an untaxable Federal property. Similarly, one can see why the why Federal employees might be interested in erecting a courthouse on what's one of the most attractive properties in the entire city. If you can't control much about how much people get paid (and Federal pay scales are what they are), then you can offer "compensation" in the form of a great view out the window in a beautiful new building.



August 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Sen. Jeff Flake: Trump won on "oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions"

Not a small thing for a seated United States Senator to say about a President (nominally) of his own party

Threats and Hazards CNN reports Mueller investigation into Trump money ties

"Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections..."

News Don't start a trade war: It hurts here at home

Nebraska could get hit hard by tariffs imposed by Japan on beef they get from us

News Does international democracy promotion matter to our national interests?

First and foremost, America's allegiance ought to be to supporting self-determination around the world. But it's pretty hard to extract self-determination from democratic processes. This is a very important question, because the way we frame our values and priorities in diplomacy shapes how we act.

News Mark Zuckerberg hires a pollster

Naturally, this stokes the fires of speculation that he's thinking about running for office -- perhaps even President. Does one have to assume he wants to be the front man? Might he be investigating in the interest of finding a prospective winner to back?


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August 2, 2017

The United States of America Let us ask less of the Executive Branch

George Will, a prominent conservative critic of President Trump, argues that some good may come of the damage Trump does to the country if it gets us to move away from our national infatuation with a strong Presidency. The commander-in-chief isn't (and shouldn't be) the legislator-in-chief.

News Is immigration justified only by the expected work value of the immigrants?

It's not particularly true to our national character to think of immigrants purely as factors of production -- nor is it particularly consistent with the long-term good of the country. Many of us here today are the descendants of low-skilled immigrants like fur trappers, subsistence farmers, and woodsmen. The administration's proposed rules for skills-based immigration are more of a ploy than a thoughtful approach to reforming the system.

News When the boss becomes an obstacle...

...work may simply flow around the blockade. That's what some people think is happening in the White House now, with the President acting as the obstacle.

News Norway's "nice" prison

If freedom is the ultimate value, shouldn't a lack of freedom be the real punishment for most criminals? Shouldn't we do whatever is best to actually reform (or "correct") inmates so they don't re-enter the system after release?

Business and Finance "Re-skilling": A phrase to get to know

It's an inevitable byproduct of economic and technological progress that most people aren't going to be able to stick with a static set of skills throughout their working lives. It's time to get our policy priorities straight so we can accommodate.


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August 1, 2017

Computers and the Internet Russia bans the use of VPNs

Starting November 1st. That's the kind of intrusion on individual privacy rights that most people probably don't understand, but it's a huge encroachment.

News Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics

May they break the usual patterns and have a profitable, successful, and durably positive outcome -- but don't count on it. We'll hear a lot of claims that "This time will be different" -- but it rarely is.

The United States of America Virtues still matter

An excellent commentary from David French on remaining true to a virtuous system of values in politics in a time that doesn't seem to reward those much

Aviation News Aboard the last United Airlines 747 flight

Not a whole lot of aircraft have ever had a kind of mystic hold on people -- the 747 and the DC-3 are probably the two at the top of the list.

News Deliberate mixed-use developments "in-a-box"

"Urby" developments appear to deliver what some would denigrate as a sanitized version of urban living. Others would argue that it's a way to radically increase the value of an otherwise low-rent property. In truth, it's probably somewhere in between. There's not an especially great history of the long-term outcomes of heavily-planned development projects, especially not when tied to things that seem trendy (like millennial-themed urban living).


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July 31, 2017

Business and Finance When the President damages the dollar

Political risk has a real cost, even if people don't realize it

News Remembering the I-35W disaster

The 10-year anniversary should serve as a reminder of just how badly we tend to neglect our infrastructure: How much did people all over the country care about dangerous neglect in the immediate aftermath, then cease to care later even though nothing really had been done?

Threats and Hazards Children traumatized by life under ISIS

They deserve a better world than what they've been given

Science and Technology How Alphabet wants to try storing energy

The Google parent company has obvious reasons to want to capture and store energy on the cheap

Science and Technology The Tesla Model 3 is almost here

And it goes farther on a single charge than people might have expected



July 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards Former Secretary of Defense is on high alert for nuclear war

Bill Perry: "I believe that today the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War"

Threats and Hazards Official NYPD response to the President on police brutality

"...sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public"

Threats and Hazards Terrorist plot in Australia

A plan with an "improvised device" and no clear tie to an organized group

Science and Technology Nebraska small towns pitch eclipse as tourism opportunity

Some of the best eclipse-viewing will happen in some of the most sparsely-populated territory in the country

Broadcasting "Friend from College" could do better

The cast is fantastic. The soundtrack is spectacular. The script falls short.



July 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Now that the west is conscious, again, of Russian active measures, where else could Russia use its cyber capabilities, and to what end?"

We've already seen what the agents of cyberwarfare can do to a political system. What about their impact on economic ones?

Iowa Iowa State Patrol to go undercover to enforce laws against texting-while-driving

Discouraging the practice of distracted driving is a fine idea in theory -- but it's also worth asking just how comfortable we are with sting-type operations that are specifically intended to surprise ordinary people with police enforcement

Threats and Hazards Political peril on the road ahead

The administration's erratic behavior means there may be no road ahead. Al Hunt suggests that "...it's not crazy conjecture that a president who doesn't think the rules and laws apply to him would try to replace the attorney general with somebody not recused from the Russia probe."

Business and Finance OECD looks at state-owned enterprises and foreign investment

Key: "As bearers of state as well as commercial interests, SOEs may place their emphasis on strategic acquisitions, such as advanced technologies for example, on non-market terms." This means state-owned enterprises looking to invest in other countries might behave in ways that would wildly distort market outcomes. Suppose, for instance, that it's considered in the national interest to gain some form of security or military technology by any means necessary; in that case, a supplier company (like Lockheed Martin or Northrup Grumman, in theory -- or even Microsoft or Kaspersky) might find itself the subject of a takeover attempt that may not reflect market realities. This distortion may be one of the strongest cases for domestic political intervention in the case of foreign asset purchases.

Broadcasting New York Times expects apology from "Fox and Friends"

The newspaper submits a demand that the broadcaster retract and apologize for a segment that accused the paper of foiling a government plot to kill a terrorist. Given the program's strange and disproportionate power to influence the President of the United States, this is more than a mere dispute among rivals.



July 23, 2017

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Yellen: "Congress should be taking into account" the impact of debt

Higher interest rates are likely if not inevitable, and with productivity growing only very slowly, there's a serious collision course ahead between Federal borrowing and private-sector growth

Threats and Hazards The President does not have the support of former intelligence leadership

The big question is whether the views of emeritus spy chiefs reflects the attitudes of current spies. It seems like more than a case of sour grapes.

Iowa Major flooding in northeastern Iowa

Sumner and Fredericksburg both saw colossal rainfalls

Broadcasting Univision is looking for a sale

The company owns about 60 radio and 60 television stations, and they're trying to find a way to either go public through an IPO (which appears to be their distant second preference) or sell out to another media company. It's actually a bit surprising that anyone would want to give up control of such a premier property in a specialty media market (one which shows no signs of shrinking).

Business and Finance Wyndham buys AmericInn

A move of interest to the Midwestern hospitality market, involving about 200 hotels



July 21, 2017

News Minneapolis police chief resigns over civilian shooting death

Justine Damond and Jamar Clark were both unarmed civilians killed by Minneapolis police officers during the outgoing chief's tenure.

Threats and Hazards "Nothing compelled them to be Good Samaritans"

A group of teenagers apparently watched, mocked, and recorded as a man drowned in a Florida pond on July 9th. They might be free of legal culpability for choosing not to render aid, but they might face prosecution for failing to report a death.

Threats and Hazards The state of the First Amendment isn't uniformly good

The Newseum Institute finds that only 49% of people ages 18 to 29 believe in universal freedom of religion

Health 360,000 people with cholera in Yemen

That's just in the last three months. An appalling figure.

Computers and the Internet 21% of American adults are online but don't use social media

For as much as Facebook and Twitter and their cousins are discussed every single day in the news, one in five of us don't use them (but aren't holding out on the rest of the Internet). Another one in 10 doesn't use the Internet at all.



July 15, 2017

News Social Security trust fund will go broke before today's newborn is out of high school

How can this be made more plain and clear? We've gone along with a giant national lie that the problem would resolve itself. It hasn't. It won't. When the trust fund is gone, payments will drop as Social Security becomes fully pay-as-you-go. Yes, 2034 seems a long way away, but if you can remember Y2K, then you should be able to project ahead to 2034 with equal ease.



July 14, 2017

News Representative from Connecticut wants mandatory on-camera White House press briefings

Representative Jim Himes wants the on-camera press briefings to become mandatory. In theory, sure -- the manner in which the present administration has run away from legitimate scrutiny from the press, including their ridiculous approach to on-camera/off-camera press briefings, is an abomination. But is this a legitimate use of Congressional authority? It's hard to say that it is. Just consider applying the same test to the third branch: Could Congress order the Supreme Court to allow cameras? One would think not. It's important not to over-reach in the course of trying to execute legitimate inter-governmental oversight. This has close parallels to the illegitimacy of the White House project to demand voter data from all 50 states: To the extent that existing standards are in place to permit retrieval and requests for voter documentation, it may be hard for states find the legal authority to reject the Federal request for that data. But it's still a substantial overstepping of norms for the Federal government to make such a request (especially when there is no evidence to indicate that the states have somehow become incapable of conducting legitimate, free, and fair elections on their own). Moreover, it is a clear violation of the intent of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which in no uncertain terms reserve all unenumerated rights to the people and all unenumerated powers to the states and the people. If the Federal government isn't acting to prevent a state from encroaching on the rights of citizens, then it really has no standing to tell anyone what to do with their elections.

Computers and the Internet If you contact government officials, watch out for your own privacy

The Federal commission that claims (dubiously) to be examining the integrity of elections took public comments -- then, apparently, revealed the personal contact information of at least some of the people who submitted public comments. If you're going to contact officials in a way that will go on the record, make sure you're using a PO Box, a public-facing email account, and a telephone number that masks your own (like, for instance, a Google Voice number). Put no faith in the people who take your comments to redact your private information for you.

Computers and the Internet Alexa device didn't call 911 for a domestic-violence victim

But that's how the sheriff's office wrote up the story. Though the device can't initiate a 911 call, there's a lot that can legitimately be done to make our smartphones and other gadgets into better tools for putting technology in service of human needs. It's not much to ask that artificial intelligence tools like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant should be programmed to take notice of situations, searches, and queries that might indicate that the user is at risk of an imminent health problem (mental or physical) or is in some form of danger.

News Florida school district prohibits routine homework for elementary-school kids

Instead of busy work, the superintendent wants parents to spend 20 minutes a day reading with their kids. This is an utterly laudable plan.

News Kid Rock claims he's a real Senate candidate

If the Senate is supposed to be composed of two people from each state, representing the best discernment and judgment that can be found in each of those states, then a recording artist like Kid Rock is a real test of those standards. Shouldn't the bar be higher for entry into either house of the national legislature than fame alone?

Science and Technology Omaha Public Power District to get 40% of electricity from wind by 2019

The better we can get at energy storage and recovery, the higher those figures could potentially go



July 13, 2017

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve president has some reasonable observations and concerns about the economy

Robert Kaplan: "[W]e are in the midst of a fragile equilibrium regarding global oil supply and demand"; "[W]e are moving very close to full employment in the U.S."; and "Our economists at the Dallas Fed believe that the skills gap in the US is substantial." And one other thing: "[T]here are likely limits to the ability of countries, including the US, to further increase debt to GDP in order to generate higher levels of economic growth...raising questions regarding fiscal sustainability which, if not addressed, could negatively impact longer-run economic growth."

Iowa Iowa's 28th baby surrendered under "safe haven"

It's hard to fathom what kind of emotions go into a decision like this, but we should be very glad we have a way to protect these little lives. Also interesting: Looking at how other countries handle this agonizing decision. Germany has a two-track approach, which includes not just a safe-haven option, but also the option for "confidential birth" to protect those mothers who may be at risk of domestic violence or other hazards.

News Vatican goes after "evangelical fundamentalism"

It's a pretty spicy editorial, with a reference to the effort to "submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism". It also argues that "[Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a 'party.'" Especially interesting: The piece condemns the use of "an ecumenism of conflict" -- alliances of political convenience between Catholics and non-Catholics who have short-term political objectives that would serve mainly to cement larger, long-term theological separation. Quite interesting.

News Florida state attorney pulled over for...what, exactly?

Dubious traffic stops should not put anyone at undue risk (or even inconvenience) due to the color of their skin

The United States of America Population shifts

Texas grew from a population of 23.9 million in 2007 to 27.8 million in 2016. That increase (just shy of 4 million) is greater than the entire population of Iowa (3.1 million). We should really see lots more maps that use tilegrams to illustrate elections, since geographic size is so disjointed from population.


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July 12, 2017

Business and Finance How brain drain hits small countries

In this case, it's Finland. But similar circumstances apply not only to small nations, but to small states as well. As the global urbanization trend continues, so will the concentration of population in some of the world's largest urbanized areas -- and some of that will suck human capital out of lesser-urbanized places. Not everyone wants to live in London or Tokyo or New York City, but it will take a concerted effort by the Helsinkis (metro population: 1.3 million), Winnipegs (800,000), and Des Moineses (600,000) of the world to make sure they retain and develop their share of highly skilled civic, educational, and business leaders in the face of high returns to urban agglomeration economies.

Business and Finance Is a trade deficit a symptom of living beyond our means?

On the surface, yes. A net trade deficit with the rest of the world is often a symptom of a country that consumes more than it produces. But...there's also the question of capital flows. If a country has lots of valuable capital stock (factories, intellectual property, real estate, and so on), then it's possible to exchange things we have for things we want. It's not perfect -- it's like living off a trust fund -- but it's not necessarily living beyond our means. And, importantly, if we create new capital stock (for instance, by building expensive new real estate projects like the new second-tallest skyscraper in San Francisco), then it may be possible to buy things, send cash overseas, then get some of the cash reinvested back in the country. And depending on factors like property bubbles and the impact of agglomeration economies, it may be possible for foreign direct investment to come back to buy overpriced capital, reducing the relative cost of the net imports.

News "Does starting a band called ThugHammer count as a plan?"

The Onion spoofs the new requirement imposed on students in the Chicago Public Schools -- requiring them to have some kind of documented plan in order to graduate from high school. The plan goes into effect for the Class of 2020, and while it is completely understandable why something beyond a high-school diploma really is the de facto standard for a comfortable socio-economic future, that's a far cry from making it into a de jure standard. The advocates for a "Grade 14" policy (like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan) appear to be well-intentioned and get the problem generally right -- as the economy has grown more sophisticated, so have the expectations for people to be prepared for work -- but the prescription runs the very real risk of being, well, too prescriptivist. Creating true "lifelong learners" is a much bigger challenge than simply moving the goalposts for what it means to "finish school".

Computers and the Internet Microsoft to push for rural broadband access

They're proposing to conduct twelve experimental installations of broadband-over-TV-spectrum. Using the "white spaces" in the spectrum is supposed to be a cost-effective way of reaching people in places with population densities between 2 and 200 people per square mile. That basically describes all but about half a dozen counties in Iowa, though the state is not on Microsoft's list for the test runs. Nobody should choose not to recognize the economic, educational, and cultural impairment that is imposed today by a lack of access to high-speed Internet. We haven't chosen yet to give it the same kind of legal status as other near-universal utilities like electricity and water, but it's not far from being just as essential, at least in economic terms.

Threats and Hazards Why we should all worry more about North Korea

One scholar of arms control worries that we may already be down a path of no return towards open conflict with North Korea -- and no matter what we do to put up defenses here in the United States or abroad (as in South Korea), there may be targets that are vulnerable to attack in ways we cannot defend effectively -- and one of those is Seoul.



July 10, 2017

Threats and Hazards Love your country first

The President's affections for Vladimir Putin are unjustified

Computers and the Internet Sen. Lindsey Graham: Cybersecurity cooperation with Russia is incredibly dumb

We need to take cyberwarfare seriously. To do so with the "help" of one of our major cyber-adversaries would be preposterous.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders resumes campaigning for President

He's going to keynote a left-wing convention in Iowa on July 15th.

The United States of America Couple has been to every county in 49 states

Alaska, alas, is too much work

Business and Finance Dalian Wanda Group sells off controlling stake in hotels and tourism projects

It's a substantial retreat from the investments they had been making in Chinese real estate, supposedly to reduce debt and free up cash. That could also be an early warning signal of trouble ahead for Chinese financial markets.



July 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards Two Presidents, zero serious strategy for cybersecurity

Both Presidents Obama and Trump deserve blame for failing to take seriously the threat of cyberwarfare (in all its forms, from attempts to steal voter lists to efforts to interfere with voting machines to influence campaigns and microtargeting). It's a high-leverage problem: Bad actors can get their hands on powerful cyberweapons with little investment and can do asymmetrical damage.

Threats and Hazards CNN says Russia has 150 spies in the United States

That's a significant non-zero number, and certainly doesn't count the number working on things like "signals intelligence" back home

News "[T]he White House hasn't submitted nominations"

Of 564 high-level appointive positions being tracked by the Washington Post, 68% have no nominee. That's after 168 days in office.

Threats and Hazards Russia's government is overcompensating for a bad economy

To understand why the Putin regime would want to meddle with foreign elections, look at the state of the Russian economy. A bad economy raises the proportional returns to investment on creating chaos elsewhere. People perceive relative status -- so efforts to make everywhere else look "just as bad" may be a more effective strategy than fixing what's falling short domestically.

Health Iowa City/Cedar Rapids hospitals agree: Fireworks injured a lot more Iowans this year

Lifting the ban on the sale of fireworks may have seemed like striking a blow for freedom, but dozens of people were injured in the process



July 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards Mind the gap

We can manage a gap of one or maybe two percentage points between government revenues and government spending (as a share of GDP) -- if the economy grows faster than the gap. But not what's on tap: 23.6% in spending and 18.4% in revenues (ten years from now). Deficits aren't free.

News Nebraska election officials put up resistance to Federal snooping

The states are in charge of elections for good reason -- unless they show a specific inability to conduct them freely and fairly, it should remain that way

Computers and the Internet Why is rural broadband access a fight?

Many serious policy issues are treated inconsistently because we haven't decided whether Internet access has the status of a public utility.

Business and Finance Why do American companies make aluminum in Iceland?

Per the New York Times: "Electricity in Iceland costs about 30 percent less than what Alcoa might pay in the United States." Iceland got into the smelting business because it needed to find something to replace fisheries. That's the effect of specialization in action.

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