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December 15, 2018

Humor and Good News Important life advice: Never trust a drummer who isn't slightly insane

Every drummer should look like they have a screw loose, you're probably getting ripped off. If you're at a concert and the drummer isn't bouncing her head around like a weeble-wobble in an active seismic zone or making faces like he's trapped in a tank full of nitrous oxide, ask for your money back.



December 14, 2018

News Things have to be pretty bad before a person would chance a dangerous journey with a 2-year-old

(Video) And yet, that's what's happening and causing people to flee from Honduras

Threats and Hazards The real threat from Chinese hackers

Worthy of urgent concern: "China now can not only build dossiers on U.S. citizens of interest, but can also spoof their identities in cyberspace."

News Ballard's search for Titanic was a cover story

They were really looking for sunken nuclear submarines. The quest for Titanic was just a convenient cover story. Now we deserve to know the declassified truth behind Geraldo Rivera's televised trip through Al Capone's broom closet and David Copperfield's performance at the Statue of Liberty.



December 13, 2018

News To tell the truth

A person would need to be as dumb as a bag of hammers to need advice from the FBI...not to lie to the FBI. The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination fundamentally requires that you don't lie in your interactions with the justice system. Tell the truth, or say nothing. If you emerged from high school not understanding that, then you should probably give your diploma back.

News What Pitbull has done to "Africa" is unforgivable

Some songs are great covers. The new cover/overaggressive sample of "Africa" (originally by Toto) is an ear-splitting train wreck.



December 12, 2018

Threats and Hazards Standing by the wrong team

Reuters reports that the President is "standing by Saudi Arabia's crown prince", even though the evidence is overwhelming that he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed in Turkey. Values-free transactionalism is no way to run a foreign policy: We're not selling a used car on Craigslist. If our values don't matter for something, then we're just selling our alliance to the highest bidder.

Threats and Hazards A prediction we should hope is wrong

Conor Sen opines: "This is the last presidential election where the early media attention is going to be focused on statewide officeholders." For the good of Federalism, we had better hope this is not the case. The strength of the United States is directly tied to the strength of the individual states. That's why Federalism works, why the Senate should stay exactly the way it is, and why the Electoral College isn't the abomination that the "national popular vote" movement wants to pretend it to be. If everything becomes a national issue, then there won't be enough room for the states to experiment and differentiate. That's hazardous to the long-term nature of self-government. We need elected officials to prove themselves on the state level before going for national leadership.

Iowa Iowa State Patrol targets tailgaters on I-35

High-speed tailgating is a really stupid risk to take

News What will a deep dive into Trump Organization finances reveal?

What you own is often much less important than who you owe.

Humor and Good News Santa-style arms races

The "Elf on a Shelf" thing is really just a bit out of hand in some quarters



December 11, 2018

Computers and the Internet Online trouble doesn't end with Facebook and Twitter

YouTube -- a far more prevalent medium than either of the "social media" services that get the bulk of the scrutiny -- is a tool too often used to warp the world views of people who think they're learning something. The Washington Post reports that "Google overall now has more than 10,000 people working on maintaining its community standards." But is that enough? Is any number enough? The dance they try to perform is on the line that separates a totally neutral platform for content delivery (which YouTube simply can't be) from a real community (which YouTube has never established sufficient rules in order to be). Even though they call some of their policies "community guidelines", it's not a community unless there is some kind of shared vision of what the end ought to be. And YouTube in its present form doesn't have that. It is a product of the Enlightenment imagination, but it doesn't seem bound to the necessary values that protect Enlightenment-style thinking from drowning in a sea of hate and propaganda.

Science and Technology Simulating surname extinction

How many generations does it take for a surname to die out? Given our patrilineal approach to surnames, it depends on how many male offspring each generation produces on average. If you're not averaging 1.05, your name is in trouble.

Threats and Hazards Only the moderate Congressional Republicans lost in November

Per the Pew Research Center: "Among the Republican House incumbents who lost their re-election campaigns, 23 of 30 were more moderate than the median Republican in the chamber". That isn't a commendation for extremism: It's a really bad sign for the functional health of one of the two major parties in America.

News "Who is going to pay?"

A thought-provoking take on municipal leadership from Alain Bertaud: "This focus on 'a vision' emphasizes top-down control, when the job of a mayor should really revolve around indicators that emerge from the bottom up."

Health Sudoku won't save your brain

There's lots of evidence that mental activity in one's early and young-adult years has a positive effect on the survival of one's faculties into old age. But crossword puzzles and Sudoku aren't the silver bullet.

Humor and Good News Police officer scales building like Spider-Man to save family from burning condo

The story (with body-cam video) will absolutely set your hair standing on end.

Computers and the Internet Technology depends on people who think about how it is used

Predictive algorithms everywhere are good at picking up the clues at things like who might be pregnant. But what about making those systems humane enough to realize when something has gone wrong?

Threats and Hazards The national debt is still a problem. A big one.

Your share: $66,400. Per person. In measurable, real debt alone. That doesn't even begin to count future liabilities. A family of four could buy a nice house for the amount of debt the Federal government already owes in their name.

Science and Technology It's called "safety factor"

Most civil engineering is done with the help of generous "safety factors" -- protective margins of error in our calculations, designed to make sure we're not running too close to danger. Most people don't realize how hard we're leaning on the safety factors that previous generations engineered into our infrastructure. Just take a look at the condition of old bridges everywhere.

Threats and Hazards It matters whether your allies are monsters

In an interview with Reuters, the President says he still stands beside Mohammed bin Salman, despite the evidence that he was directly responsible for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Values-free transactionalism is no way to run a foreign policy. We're not selling a used car on Craigslist. If our values don't matter for something, then we're just selling our alliance to the highest bidder.



December 10, 2018

Computers and the Internet Careful where you put that pyramid

A photographer with a high risk tolerance and an exhibitionist streak documented himself and a female partner in flagrante delicto on the Great Pyramid of Giza. It's not a particularly bright idea, but the response of Egyptian authorities has included the suggestion that the photos were fabricated. And that's where the bigger story lies: It's awfully unlikely that these particular photos were forged. But it's already quite possible to produce convincing photographic fakes, and the rise of "deep fakes" means that even videos can be falsified, convincingly. And that should have all of us at attention. Digital forgery is already real; we just haven't come to grips with it yet. This particular story highlights the notion that officials may be starting to recognize that fake visual "evidence" may exist; but it's not going to be long before those fakes are so easy (and cheap) to produce that any one of us might find ourselves the subject of a fabrication that we cannot disprove. It's already difficult enough for people to erase truthful things they don't like from the Internet -- that desire alone has led to big debates over the "right to be forgotten". But when (not if) it becomes technically feasible and sufficiently inexpensive for someone to produce a convincing forgery of any one of us in a compromising situation, we're going to be in a world of trouble because seeing will no longer be believing. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. All one has to do is to consider how far some people are willing to go to damage their political opponents, harm their romantic rivals, or undermine their competitors. Merge those depravities with the public's voracious appetite for the sensational (or the pornographic), and it's inevitable that in the very near-term future, there really will be fake videos of people doing X-rated things in monumental places.

The United States of America A tribute to Bush (41) and modesty

Wise words from Andy Smarick: "When we're uncertain and modest, we're likelier to be charitable and inquisitive and offer reforms that would incrementally build on yesterday's successes." We are best served by a combination of curiosity, competence, and humility in office.

Computers and the Internet Speeding up the euthanization of Google+

Google discovered another bug that might have exposed the personal details of 52.5 million customers to developers. Per a company announcement, "[W]e have also decided to accelerate the sunsetting of consumer Google+ from August 2019 to April 2019." Google puts a lot of projects out to pasture.

Business and Finance Old GM plants could become new Tesla factories

In a "60 Minutes" interview, Elon Musk indicated that he could be interested in buying manufacturing facilities that GM is taking out of service and using them to build Tesla vehicles. That could be a stretch -- getting the factory floor right is such an imporant issue that Honda has built an entire production ethos out of it -- but Tesla is growing fast, and recycling an old facility might be a way to ramp up production in a hurry. Certainly it would represent a moment of creative destruction. (But, wow, does Elon Musk ever need a sidekick -- like a Charlie Munger to his Warren Buffett or a Paul Allen to his Bill Gates.)

Broadcasting Another new owner for WGN-AM in Chicago?

WGN, currently owned by Tribune Media, is the only radio station in the organization. And Tribune Media is now on track to become part of Nexstar Media Group. So instead of dealing with the outlier (the rest of Tribune Media consists of 42 television stations and some networks), Nexstar may just spin off the legendary AM station. And rumor has it that Cumulus, which owns crosstown rival station WLS, may be interested in buying.

News What's the point of assigning gender colors to toys?

If you're boxing kids into artificially gender-specific toys, you're probably stifling their creative play.

Health Know your expertise

Not everything is a matter worthy of a survey. That includes whether something is a good immunooncology biomarker.

Business and Finance What is a company without any assets?

Any time an investor hears a phrase like "asset-light, high-margin alternative partnerships and services", he or she should wonder...what's the limit to that asset-lightness? And if some assets are going to be required no matter what, then who's going to make the profits off them? People say a lot of silly things in business as a means of trying to obscure what they're really doing or attempting to cover for their own foibles. At some point or another, assets have to belong to somebody -- even if they're inconveniently low-margin.

News The criminal charges resulting from the Mueller special counsel investigation

This documentation of the facts is a legitimate public service, as is the investigation itself. The sentencing memos for Michael Cohen reveal that something awfully rotten has been swirling around the President and his team since long before the 2016 election, and it's well worth remembering the words of Calvin Coolidge: "It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation."

Business and Finance Do markets have morals?

The markets themselves? No. They're just functions of nature -- like the tides. But: The relationship between market freedoms and the broader Enlightenment vision of humanity should be on a lot of minds these days. You cannot secure real liberty without capitalism, but capitalism is utterly precarious without a sense of honor and virtue. They are co-dependent features of a (classically) liberal worldview.


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December 9, 2018

The United States of America From "American Dream" to "American Action"

We need something that the "blue states" and "red states" agree to do together

News Paint it over every doorway in the Capitol Building

Margaret Thatcher: "States, societies, and economies which allow the distinctive talents of individuals to flourish themselves also flourish. Those which dwarf, crush, distort, manipulate or ignore them cannot progress."



November 29, 2018

Threats and Hazards The unpardonable pardon

A deeper analysis of the nature of exchanges between lawyers for Paul Manafort and Donald Trump indicates that the President may be winding up to start fastballing pardons for anyone who might be helpful to protecting him from legal trouble. The problem with that, of course, is that the power of the pardon isn't supposed to be used like that, and to do so would be such a brazen violation of the rule of law that even the hint that he might do it ought normally to be enough to merit serious talk of removing the President from office. The whole situation is likely to precipitate panicked and reckless behavior on the part of the President's inner circle -- a group that has demonstrated a particularly upsetting habit of dismissing the law -- not to mention the truth -- as a nuisance. As noted by the team at Lawfare, the news that Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress in order to protect the President reveals something interesting: "Mueller almost certainly knows a great deal more about what Donald Trump did and said than is included in this document. And that means that Mueller knows what Trump did and what role he played in this matter -- and Trump and his lawyers know that Mueller knows this." For the record, the Founders made it clear (in Federalist Paper No. 74) for what use the pardon was intended: "[T]he principal argument for reposing the power of pardoning in this case to the Chief Magistrate is this: in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a welltimed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquillity of the commonwealth; and which, if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterwards to recall. The dilatory process of convening the legislature, or one of its branches, for the purpose of obtaining its sanction to the measure, would frequently be the occasion of letting slip the golden opportunity. The loss of a week, a day, an hour, may sometimes be fatal." Thus, by a definition left behind by the very creators of the Constitutional order, either the people the President is hinting he'll pardon were guilty of insurrection or rebellion...or the power is being abused by the one who wields it. In this case, the power doesn't even need to be used for the abuse to take place -- merely the hint that it might be used is enough to create the conflict.

Threats and Hazards A suite for Putin at the Trump Tower in Moscow?

BuzzFeed reports that "a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow" -- a freebie to Putin -- was on offer as Donald Trump's representatives sought to nail down the deal to build a 100-story building. This took place, says BuzzFeed, when the primary campaign was nearly over. To call this a massive conflict of interest would be to understate the case by several orders of magnitude.

Threats and Hazards "If...America's ability to lead is corroding, the question of whether a power transition will occur peacefully is hugely consequential"

These are the kinds of questions that should rattle all of us. If you have kids when in your 30s, and if those kids will live into their 80s, then you ought to have at least a century-long time horizon for big-picture public policy issues. And there isn't a bigger picture than this. We are too short-sighted about too many things, and the future of a world order based on rules and peaceful interaction is the kind of thing we can't be short-sighted about.

Business and Finance If you don't buy more new cars, don't demand new car factory jobs

Autos are generally better than they used to be, which means they often last longer. Total US automobile sales are about the same as they were from 1999 until 2007, before they took a nose-dive in 2008 and 2009. But the total number of sales isn't growing. So why should the number of related jobs grow? As Margaret Thatcher once said, "We still live under the continuing and undoubted influence of the first industrial revolution. In negative terms concern with tradition has led to great efforts to preserve, regardless of cost, some of the industries created in the past." She was referring to other jobs in another place and another time -- but the principle is precisely the same today. Romanticizing the past is no way to drive industrial policy in the present. Do people have strong feelings about General Motors and its plants? Yes. Should plant closures be addressed with empathy and intelligence? Definitely. But don't forget that there was a time when lots of US farmland was devoted to growing oats -- for horse feed. The rise of cars and tractors hurt that particular farming sector, but it wouldn't have been wise to prop it up artificially. It's better for the human condition to have moved on to the better way of doing things, even if some people had trouble making the adjustment. And there is ample reason to believe that changes like autonomous vehicles could shake up demand for automobiles even further. The President's approach of trying to threaten and coerce General Motors into doing his political bidding is no way forward.

Iowa A likely tragedy averted

A Des Moines police officer showed restraint in a bad situation caught on camera in September -- when a juvenile pointed a replica gun at him. Imagine having to speak these words: "What were you thinking, you pointed the gun at me? You could have been shot."

Iowa "Canadian woman stranded on Iowa mud road for 3 days survived on kombucha and marzipan cake"

That's one whopper of a headline for a story that could have turned out much worse than it did

The United States of America You guys really ought to read this

The "you guys" vs. "y'all" divide is very much a north-south one. Why isn't it an east-west divide? In fact, why are most American linguistic divides more about different latitudes than about different longitudes? Per some research summarized in the MIT Technology Review, "[B]etter east-west transportation links are analogous to shrinking the width of the US in that direction."

Computers and the Internet Is it really living if you're only existing to create an artificial persona online?

The article itself from 1843 Magazine is exhausting to read -- frankly, too much for a sane person to read about a 20-something aspiring "influencer" who needs to spend some serious time contemplating what really matters to her. But embedded in the article is a fascinating chart detailing some major differences -- online and offline -- separating Baby Boomers from Gen Xers from Millennials. There are several areas where prevailing opinions differ from one age cohort to another by 20 to 30 percentage points.


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November 28, 2018

Computers and the Internet Drama in the UK over Facebook

A Parliamentary hearing -- with a total of nine countries participating -- is putting Facebook's privacy-related behavior in the spotlight

Aviation News Lion Air crash resulted from a pilot-vs-computer fight

Airplanes are going to continue flying by wire, so there should be a whole lot of soul-searching about what led pilots to do the wrong thing in response to a computer controller that was also doing the wrong thing -- all of which led to a crash with much loss of life

Business and Finance "Debt owed by businesses is at historically high levels"

In a major "Financial Stability Report", the Federal Reserve notes that "After growing faster than GDP through most of the current expansion, total business-sector debt relative to GDP stands at a historically high level." They're worried, too, about the quality of much of that debt and about the standards being used to evaluate credit. And leverage "remains near its highest level in 20 years." Altogether, these seem like important warning signals that are being taken seriously by almost nobody.

Business and Finance Is the sugar high wearing off?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated 2nd quarter GDP growth at a 4.2% annualized rate, and 3rd quarter growth at 3.5%. Many things are possible, but the decline would be consistent with a wearing-off of the "sugar high" effects of tax cuts from the start of the year. Sustainable high growth rates are preferable to spikes that depend on government intervention.

Humor and Good News What New Orleans eats that the rest of us should adopt

"Gumbo and grilled cheese" is a meal apparently served quite routinely in New Orleans schools. Why this hasn't taken the rest of the country by storm is a mystery, as it sounds truly amazing.

Computers and the Internet Vox populi, vox nauseam

One of the worst things about the rise of social media (other than the Russian trolls and the profligate hate speech, of course) is how it has generated a whole new universe of stories predicated on nothing more substantial than "people on social media are talking about...". It's not great for journalism.



November 27, 2018

Threats and Hazards Justice is blind, but the President's assets aren't

The President tweeted threats at General Motors, and the stock plunged. This kind of behavior would be a problem, even if the President held all of his assets in a blind trust...but we don't even have that much reassurance. How do we know this kind of stock-moving behavior isn't being exploited by people in the President's orbit? It has been clear since before he became President: (1) He likes to attack individual companies in public; (2) He knows his behavior moves markets; (3) His assets are not held in a blind trust and there is little or no transparency about Trump family finances.

Threats and Hazards China's ambassador threatens US over Uighurs

If the US imposes sanctions on China for its apparent imprisonment of a million ethnic minorities, China will "have to retaliate", says their ambassador to the US.

Business and Finance United Technologies completes acquisition of Rockwell Collins, then immediately announces a three-way breakup plan

Not so "united" for long. The company owning the old Rockwell and continuing to own Pratt and Whitney will keep the UTC name. Carrier will become a separate company, as will Otis.

Agriculture Ted Turner is still buying ranches in Nebraska

He's up to more than 506,000 acres of ranch land in the state, and about two million acres nationwide. That's a giant landholding.



November 26, 2018

Threats and Hazards Why does Russia keep transgressing international norms?

Security consultant Molly McKew suggests it's because "[S]tates they target, in rising to their own defense, find themselves condemned and isolated for how they do so, despite doing it alone." Russia's behavior doesn't take place in a vacuum: A structure of relations has been built up that creates the incentives on which they are acting. And one of those incentive structures is that the United States under the Trump Administration shows little to no regard for the importance of peaceful self-determination, and demonstrates open hostility to the idea of doing anything within a framework of international rulemaking and multilateral cooperation. This, unfortunately, is the successor to another deeply flawed view -- that of the Obama Administration's learned helplessness. The current President's reckless enthusiasm for breaking alliances and doing all things bilaterally will have lasting bad consequences. As Dwight Eisenhower put it: "No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations."

Threats and Hazards A gross diplomatic insult

In the words of New York Times reporter Edward Wong: "China is holding two young Americans to try to catch their fugitive father, a former bank official." In addition to being an indefensible domestic practice, this seems to be a gross diplomatic insult as well.

News Blue-collar jobs

The President tells a reporter from the Wall Street Journal: "I happen to be a tariff person because I'm a smart person, OK?" -- which is a statement of utter nonsense. If an economist is required to wear a hard hat at work, has President Trump "created" a new blue-collar job?

News Special counsel's office says Paul Manafort lied and broke his plea deal

Ask yourself this: If you somehow got entangled in a criminal enterprise that became the subject of the most-watched investigation of the decade, what on Earth would convince you it would be a good idea to lie to the Feds? What could possibly be worth doing that?

Humor and Good News The one good thing about winter

From a purely physiological standpoint, air conditioning and heating satisfy basically the same purpose. But for as much as A/C is wonderful on a hot and humid day, it simply doesn't deliver the same psychological satisfaction as a fireplace or a radiator on a cold day.

Weather and Disasters The difference between no accumulation and a foot of snow was barely 45 miles

Iowa's winter storm was...unevenly distributed, to say the least

Agriculture 96% of Iowa's corn has been harvested

Southwest and south-central Iowa still have 10% or so left in the fields



November 25, 2018

The United States of America Enlarge the House of Representatives

The New York Times editorial board joins the chorus: The House of Representatives is too small, and by enlarging it we can do a lot to improve our governance. They back a modest increase in size -- growing from 435 members to 593. But we could easily split every district in two and still not reach an unwieldly stage. Smaller districts would make elections more competitive and diminish the effects of gerrymandering (in those places where it happens, which isn't everywhere). It could breathe some needed life into the intellectual capital of Congress by diversifying the backgrounds of the membership (not just by conventional demographics, but also by occupational background). It would make members of Congress easier to know -- and thus, one would hope, more responsive. And the actual budgetary cost would be trivial compared to the full budget of the United States. Supposing each Congressional office operates on a budget (including salaries) of around $2 million a year, even doubling the size of the House (and keeping every member's staff at its original size) would cost $870 million, or about $2.67 per American. The current limit is arbitrarily small, and it isn't consistent with the Founders' intent: In Federalist Paper No. 77, it was noted of the House that "in half a century it may consist of three or four hundred persons." They knew it would need to grow over time. It hasn't grown in a century. With too many people embracing ideas for changing the Senate in ways that would thoroughly corrupt the basic premises of the Federal system, enlarging the House is a sound plan with meaningful benefits.

Business and Finance Oh, the offers made (to, not by) Amazon!

What Amazon is getting out of New York and Arlington, VA, is a lot. A whole lot. And they also know how much hundreds of other cities would have been willing to give them.



November 24, 2018

Business and Finance What's behind the plunge in oil prices?

A whole bunch of factors, but a surge in US shale oil production, growing stockpiles, and high production levels from many suppliers (some of whom are intent on cutbacks) have all contributed to shifting prices lower.

Threats and Hazards British academic sentenced to life in prison for "spying" on UAE

Matthew Hedges says he was researching his Ph.D. in security. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, one wonders whether anyone who might be out to study the critical topic of security could do so if they had to fear for their own security from the states where they need to do their research.

Iowa Varsity Theater in Des Moines to close at year-end

The owner announced that the one-screen theater on the edge of the Drake University campus is shutting down on December 30th.



November 23, 2018

News Moral imagination

A definition from Jacqueline Novogratz: "[T]he willingness to respond to the plight of others. To envision how to address suffering and injustice."

The United States of America Book review: "MacArthur at War"

A demanding, definitive, and enormous examination of the legend of Douglas MacArthur



November 22, 2018

Science and Technology "Innovation is the real driver of progress"

We are fortunate to live materially better lives which are far beyond the wildest dreams of our predecessors, largely thanks to their hard work. We ought to be dedicated to doing the same for our own descendants.

Humor and Good News Everyone has heroes, and it's hard to know when you might be one of them

A personal and important story about being decent and humane



November 21, 2018

Threats and Hazards When the President challenges the Chief Justice

As long as everyone remembers that the branches of government are co-equal, the Republic should survive. But we've had better moments as a country than one in which the head of the Supreme Court has to defend the independent judiciary. If nothing else, perhaps, we have the opportunity to be reminded of the central importance of the tripartite Constitutional order.

The United States of America How Ronald Reagan laughed off his assassination attempt

Not because it wasn't serious (it assuredly was), but because a sense of humor put Reagan in control of the situation

News A better way to navigate hospitals

Being in a hospital is usually stressful enough; making one's way wherever they're going shouldn't add needless stress to the experience

News What's the news?

News is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo

News The real heroes of education

The educators who think their first job is to get a lesson across to students, no exceptions

Weather and Disasters The incredibly destructive Camp Fire

It's destroyed more structures than the next six most-destructive California wildfires combined



November 19, 2018

The United States of America "No one nests in a hotel room"

An observation from Ben Sasse that dovetails with the rule from economics that nobody washes a rented car. Ownership matters not just in the material sense, but in the civic one, too.



September 28, 2018

Threats and Hazards Real lives of real value face real crisis

The World Food Program reports that 47,000 people in South Sudan are suffering from a catastrophic famine, with another 1.7 million in a state of "food emergency", plus another 4.3 million in a "food crisis". This is a devastating chart documenting an awful catastrophe that is destroying real lives, all of which are just as worthy of value and care as any of ours.

Business and Finance A nation of (economic) illiterates

A Pew study finds that self-identified Republicans and Democrats have -- in very large numbers -- changed their opinions on the security of the American economy since 2015, and whether it is in better shape than it was before 2008. This reflects a problem of knee-jerk partisanship, to be sure. But it also reflects the fact that Americans broadly know little to nothing about the real underpinnings of the economy -- taking cues from the condition of the stock market, or from the words babbled from a White House podium. That's not healthy when a Democrat is in charge, and it's not healthy when a Republican is in charge. And in no case should people substitute their understanding of the economy for a blind faith in any leader to "manage" or "grow" said economy. Politicians can make things marginally worse or marginally better through their policies, but most of the job consists in avoiding doing harm. Presidents don't create jobs.



September 27, 2018

News When a Supreme Court nomination process borders on farce

People have mounting reason for grievance on both sides of the conventional political aisle. This is, unfortunately, what happens when the undercurrent of anti-federalism becomes so pervasive that altogether too many people think that everything must be decided at the national level. If it can't be decided via legislation, they demand it be decided by executive order. And if it can't be decided by executive order, they demand it be taken to a Supreme Court case. Nationalizing every debate polarizes everyone...nationally. It's not good for the civic health of the country.

News Ireland is out to elect a president

Americans ought to be open to the idea of an elected, and mostly ceremonial, head of state, who is allowed to take all the "Executive Time" they might want. Then give us a capable and accountable Chief Executive to run the Presidency.

News Norway and Finland coordinate closer military cooperation

It's pretty easy to forget that Norway has a land border with Russia, which means that both countries have land borders with the same two countries (which surely is an unusual circumstance). Their invigorated spirit of military cooperation most certainly isn't because of plucky lil' Sweden.

Iowa When trans fats are outlawed, only outlaws will have trans fats

A potato-chip maker from Burlington, Iowa, has been struggling mightily to reformulate their recipe after the FDA effectively banned the cooking oils they had long used, because the oils contained trans fats. Good intentions abound, but government regulations can be a pretty blunt instrument.

Iowa Iowa could have frost before October

After an abysmally short spring, now we're headed straight for the cold season without a reasonable stretch of fall. A September 29th frost in Des Moines is supposed to be a 10% probability, according to the historical statistics.

Humor and Good News Pumpkin-spicing everything is a crime

Nobody needs Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes

Humor and Good News Baseball fandom as litmus test

An appreciation for baseball/softball is a pretty reliable precondition of good character, right? At least necessary, if not sufficient.



September 26, 2018

The United States of America Are we learning anything?

Charlie Munger once advised that "Your competitors will keep learning, so you have to go to bed smarter than you woke up." Seeing America (and the ideas upon which it is founded) in the context of global competition -- for the obvious things, like military power and economic strength, but more importantly for the ultimate objective, which is the predominance of the idea of ordered liberty in the world -- a question is in order: Is America going to bed tonight smarter than it woke up?

Health If an overdose of Hot Cheetos sends you to the hospital, you're little more than a walking brain stem

We have a leading contender for "Stupidest Person of 2018", and it's a musician who not only went to the ER after overdosing on snack foods, he went on to tell the world about it on social media. This medical oddity deserves further study, because surely anyone this stupid lacks a functioning cerebral cortex.

Health CDC says flu killed 80,000 Americans last winter

That's an extremely high number -- the worst in 40 years, and likely twice as many as the number of Americans killed in car crashes (40,100 in 2017). Infectious diseases are still very much a threat to us all, and fighting them requires a spectrum of public-health responses that face a lot more resistance than they should. Social media in particular encourages people to share really stupid opinions -- particularly on the anti-vaccination front -- and those bad opinions, paradoxically, spread virally. Real leadership would ask the public-health sector "What resources do you need to drive this number of preventable deaths as close to zero as possible?", and would then seek to marshal public opinion behind making that happen.

Humor and Good News A question for the Show-Me State

Why does Missouri have a river named the "One Hundred and Two"?



September 25, 2018

Aviation News NTSB puts blame on pilots for near-disaster in San Francisco last year

It could have been a giant disaster and was only averted by a last-minute decision to abort the landing -- which would have occurred on a crowded taxiway instead of an active runway. The NTSB model isn't used nearly enough for investigating other causes of preventable harm. It's absolutely worth investigating thoroughly after an incident what happened and why. The NTSB model is quite specific, per its own website: "The National Transportation Safety Board was established in 1967 to conduct independent investigations of all civil aviation accidents in the United States and major accidents in the other modes of transportation. It is not part of the Department of Transportation, nor organizationally affiliated with any of DOT's modal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. The Safety Board has no regulatory or enforcement powers. To ensure that Safety Board investigations focus only on improving transportation safety, the Board's analysis of factual information and its determination of probable cause cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law." We really ought to apply the same scrutiny to all kinds of incidents, with the same objective of finding the root causes of what hurts or kills us.

News Puerto Rico shouldn't be held hostage to one man's attitude

The AP caught the President declaring his opposition to statehood for Puerto Rico "with people like that" in charge. "Like that" refers to the mayor of San Juan, who has been vocally critical of him and of the response to Hurricane Maria. The question of statehood has to be taken far more seriously than this. The citizens of that island, Americans all, deserve an honest hearing untethered to petty jealousy.

News BBC Africa delivers powerful report using "open-source intelligence"

Matching features from an online video to real-world information available from sources like Google Maps, the BBC was able to establish the identities of a group of murderers in Cameroon who were filmed in the act of killing women and children. It is a powerful act of reporting about a devastating case of human depravity.

News On what you say in your high school yearbook

Aren't most high-school seniors who leave behind yearbook quotes at least halfway cognizant that they're depositing a sort of time capsule that will be opened someday?

Humor and Good News Not every innovation is an improvement

The Independent is trying to make the peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwich "a thing". It is not, nor should it be.



September 21, 2018

Aviation News A final reunion of B-47 pilots

One of the mainstays of the Strategic Air Command was an airframe that was notoriously dangerous to its crews. Those veterans have assembled for a final reunion in Omaha.

News Teachers, check your test questions once in a while

Teachers in the social sciences especially might take heed to occasionally check their tests for wildly outdated ideas that represent expired versions of the received wisdom. For instance: A test question on a Canadian exam that sought a multiple-choice answer to naming a positive effect of Canada's "aggressive assimilation" of First Nations children in boarding schools.

News "A man in south Florida..."

Either Florida is a magnet for weirdos or local news outlets there have an uncanny knack for picking up and reporting on the most bizarre behavior imaginable. No other cause seems to adequately explain why we see so many stories like the one about a man who does all of his outdoor work in the nude.

News Texas faces some novel questions

Can a place be a "brothel" if its services are rendered by robots? Does such a place substitute for activity that may have taken place in the shadows before, or does it stimulate interest in taboos? What kinds of regulations should apply: Is it more like an arcade than a house of ill repute?

News Words matter

The use of the rotten phrase "fake news" to describe coverage one doesn't like (rather than actual fake coverage) has a corrosive effect on the culture, even if it's being used tongue-in-cheek. Soon enough, what was once hyperbole becomes ordinary.

September 20, 2018

Broadcasting Local tragedies shouldn't become national clickbait

The practice of sharing awful crime stories from the national wire as though they're local stories is an abhorrent one. At the very least, audiences deserve a simple dateline identification within any summary or social-media post. There are terrible things happening all the time -- like a 16-month-old toddler being shot in Chicago's South Loop -- but people deserve to know whether their local news outlets are truly relaying local stories.

Threats and Hazards What's chasing people out of Latin America?

Per the Wall Street Journal: "The strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year." It's hard to imagine that this is ordinary life for so many people -- but one has to hope that if more Americans could understand what these people are trying to flee, then maybe we could think of our own border situation in humanitarian terms.

News "Would the quality of, say, Harvard's education go down if it became a for-profit?"

A rather good question. We haven't gotten very good yet at brokering an answer to the problem of bringing adult education into the 21st Century. In the United States, higher education is dominated by public-sector and non-profit institutions. There are for-profit schools, of course, but they tend to occupy certain niches and have really never become dominant in the industry in the way that one would normally expect from the example of other industries. A major experiment related to this question is underway as Purdue University absorbs and re-brands the for-profit Kaplan University system. Ultimately, as a matter of economic necessity, America needs to take some strong medicine and begin delivering a lot more high-quality continuing education to adults. This will probably be driven at the state scale, but it needs to happen nationwide. Whether the incumbents are going to be capable of the necessary adaptation (scaling up, improving quality, and mastering distribution) is a great question.

News The Lake Wobegon Effect

With Paul Krugman protesting that he doesn't "spend a lot of time with wealthy and/or powerful people", one has to wonder: Everyone thinks they're above-average in (a) driving, (b) looks, and (c) intelligence, so why are people so quick to insist that they're in the 3rd or 4th quintile for income?

Business and Finance One solution to the San Francisco housing crunch

Why isn't anyone converting old cruise ships into apartment-style housing and anchoring just a bit offshore from San Francisco? Does the Coast Guard or some Federal regulation prohibit this? It has been noted by some that houseboats are competitive with the city's wildly unaffordable residential housing market.

Business and Finance Wells Fargo to reduce workforce by up to 10%

It's one of the most substantial employers in Central Iowa. Whether the cuts will be felt mostly in the retail banking outlets around the country or more heavily in the back office will determine just how significant the news is to Iowa.

The United States of America Firefighters joined by Marines in race into burning building

A senior residence in DC caught fire, and Marines who happened to be stationed nearby came (literally) running to the rescue to evacuate the residents

Weather and Disasters A textbook outflow boundary

When a cool breeze shows up on radar

News Should the 31-year-old recording artist have a 14-year-old texting buddy?

Stories of the friendship between Drake and young actress Millie Bobby Brown carry a clear undertone of disapproval. And yet: Everyone should have inter-generational friendships as a normal and healthy part of human existence. The main thing about that is, simply, don't be creepy about it. If the two of them don't cross any reasonable lines that draw normal boundaries for age and intent, then it's really not fair to cast aspersions on the existence of the friendship itself.



September 19, 2018

Iowa Iowa dropped straight-ticket voting last year

Only eight states still offer it.

Threats and Hazards They're just kids. Where they were born isn't their choice.

Per the Voice of America: "Save the Children said a million more children in Yemen now risked falling into famine, taking the total number to 5.2 million." That is, for perspective, about the same as the combined populations of Iowa and Nebraska. Innocent children who have no choice in the matter.

Threats and Hazards "They don't know whose boat that is...Maybe it becomes theirs"

When below-average intelligence and a total absence of empathy collide.

Socialism Doesn't Work Shining a light on the corruption of the Belt and Road

China's 120,000-person China Communications Construction Co. is taking some heat as people start to pay attention to the corruption that's inevitable from combining practically unlimited (debt) funding with an urgent need to "do something".

Science and Technology The greenhouse as an actual home for living

A cool concept in theory that most people would never tolerate in actual practice.



September 18, 2018

Science and Technology Disruptions ahoy

There are plenty of people who find their occupations disrupted by new technologies, but you have to feel pretty bad for the aerial photographer who spent $250,000 on a Cessna and 35mm film cameras only to be nudged out by any ol' kid with a $250 drone.

Humor and Good News "In Bloom" with extra energy

And wind instruments



September 14, 2018

News China's building a lot of ships, but the US Navy is still the biggest

Most of this analysis is good and reassuring, but there's one intangible factor that deserves careful scrutiny: Who is learning fastest? China's project to build aircraft carriers is less about the ships themselves and more about figuring out how to scale up really big tasks.

News Mayor Daley #3?

Bill Daley is running for his brother's (and father's) old job: Mayor of Chicago

Threats and Hazards Who spent my $3,000?

The Federal budget deficit is on track to exceed $3,000 per person this fiscal year. That's not total Federal spending, it's just the amount being over-spent. That's crazy, and if you think people are living in precarious fiscal circumstances today, the consequences of these deficits are going to be painful.

Computers and the Internet Twitter should add a "dunce cap" button

Some people will get followers, likes, and retweets, no matter how stupid their comments. The least the service could do is offer a counter-vote option for sane people to flag the idiots with a penalty.

Health When the fastest overnight carrier isn't Fed Ex

A story (from May) about a rush delivery of a specialty medication from Omaha to Denver -- mostly via state patrol cars

News Michael Bloomberg in 2020?

The Times of London is reporting that it's a real plan



September 13, 2018

Threats and Hazards Your neighbor probably values democracy, but...

12% of Americans, though, would say that living under democratic rule is a "5" or less on a ten-point scale.

Threats and Hazards The buck stops with the President

President Trump took to Twitter with a cowardly, weak, and uncomprehending reaction to a calamity that occurred on his watch, claiming that revised estimates of the death toll from the 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico were not just exaggerated, but exaggerated specifically by his political opponents to score points. Neither caring about nor understanding the facts, he only wants "wins" with quick attribution -- which makes it a very real possibility that he might wake up one morning and threaten to default on the Federal debt. The threat alone would be devastating, but he's already shared his ludicrous opinion that the debt can be inflated away. "Print money to lower the national debt" is not the point of view of an economic genius. It is not even the point of view of a student who has paid attention through the first two weeks in an introductory macroeconomics course.

Health Bone marrow donation is easier than in the past

A drive in Central Iowa -- looking especially for people with varied ethnic backgrounds -- highlights that many donors can give without any surgery at all

Weather and Disasters What to expect from Hurricane Florence

Some places could end up with four times as much rain as what fell on Central Iowa back on June 30th and July 1st.

News Goldilocks and the three generals

A case for flag officers who are neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "And it is well to remember that caution and timidity are not synonymous, just as boldness and rashness are not!"

Broadcasting A phenomenal use of television

(Video) Illustrating the power of storm surge with immersive virtual reality is a great idea. Every medium has something special it can do that the others can't.

Computers and the Internet Stupid policies are yielding predictably bad outcomes

Prices for PCs spiked in August. In related news, the President's indefensible trade-war approach to doing business with China has resulted in new tariffs.

News To criminalize the victim? Abhorrent.

Local news reports on a few grams of marijuana found in the home of Botham Jean, a man killed in his own apartment by a reckless neighbor who happened to be an armed police officer. If the piece of trivia -- that he may have possessed a tiny quantity of marijuana -- causes you even a scintilla of doubt that this man should be alive and safe in his own home, then you ought to forfeit your citizenship immediately.



September 12, 2018

News Compulsory military service may create perverse incentives

A set of classmates in South Korea got themselves too fat to serve

Threats and Hazards Why Russia's policy of messing with its neighbors yields results

One of the most compelling articles on true political economy that's been on the scene in some time: "[F]ractured regions fuel instabilities and armed conflict by empowering authoritarian governments. This is likely to strengthen Russia’s increasingly institutionalized, and often divisive, presence in the contested areas".

Weather and Disasters The cruel negligence of leaving a child in the path of a hurricane

If you're an adult and make a willing and informed choice to expose yourself and only yourself to harm, so be it. But to put a kid in the path of a calamity BY CHOICE is reckless endangerment.

News A map that really tells you something

A new cartogram of the world depicts where the global population lives and puts those populations to scale, rather than the land masses they occupy. It's quite revelatory. Cartograms are powerful tools for fixing the often erroneous models we naturally carry in our heads.



August 18, 2018

News Consider the challenges some kids face just in attending school

Students in Comoros, for instance, almost certainly don't have potable water, electricity, or adequate toilets where they attend classes.

News Where's the syllabus?

Teachers and professors all over confess to finishing their class syllabi at the last minute. In the modern world -- quickly shaping up as the teach-yourself economy -- it's hard to think of anything more important to a student than a thorough and well-structured syllabus that seeks to comprehensively document what a person should read to understand a subject.

Agriculture Where the corn grows

Iowa alone produces 17.9% of the nation's corn. That's more than any other state, though Illinois and Nebraska both make it into double digits.


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August 17, 2018

Computers and the Internet Google employees leak internal discussion of China search project

A New York Times reporter reveals that an "all-hands" meeting included high-level acknowledgements of a project to deliver search results in China -- where there would be no way to avoid government censorship.

Business and Finance Should Tesla go private?

Notwithstanding the likely huge legal obstacles that could scuttle whatever Elon Musk has in mind, if he is to heed the advice of many enormously wealthy people, he might just do whatever he can to take the company out of public markets. But which partners will he have to take on to make that happen?

Business and Finance What would make Warren Buffett buy an airline?

Not unrelated to the question of Tesla going private is the example of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire may be a public company, but Buffett's management style is that of a private owner (with a very long time horizon). His voting control over the company makes it possible, and his temperament makes it the law of the land. Thus, while he's been burned by airlines before, there's no certainty that he wouldn't reverse himself and capture the whole of an airline (like, possibly, Southwest) if he determines that the fundamental economics of the business have changed from his prior experiences.

Science and Technology How Chicago gets its water

"Water cribs" in Lake Michigan provide one important source of supply

News Amsterdam is using surplus of open water to make room for artificial islands

And those islands are being used to create affordable housing. How interesting. One thing is for certain: Due to the constraints imposed on them by nature, the Dutch seem willing to think well outside the conventional box when it comes to things like engineering and urban policy. Worth watching what they experiment with doing.

The United States of America Scathing and succinct

Retired Admiral William McRaven launches a terse and powerful broadside against the President's behavior: "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation." Security clearances shouldn't become the objects of political tug-of-war -- they should be utilized only for the security of the country. It is the President's choice to make them into something they should not be that has invited the backlash. The McRaven opinion piece is important because it tells people like him that they are not alone, and as Susan Hennessey writes, "courage is contagious". We humans are social animals, and we respond to the cues of others we see as members of our own packs. It's up to those who are less impressionable -- less susceptible to being cowed or bullied or misdirected -- to put on clear demonstrations (of courage, character, stamina, guts, honesty) for those who are more impressionable.

News When far-right nuts mistake themselves for architecture critics

There's probably no reasoning with rabid traditionalists who oppose anything new or urban, but there's nothing anti-conservative about architectural design. Architecture is an honorable expression of human knowledge and an act of value creation. Those are values that are widely celebrated within the tradition of classical liberalism (the main root of modern conservative thought). Reactionary traditionalists aren't really conservatives, so they probably don't get the point.

Weather and Disasters More wildfire smoke is heading Iowa's way

The haze in the skies is coming from Canada

News When prominent people utterly -- and maybe willfully -- misinterpret history

Contrary to what Jerry Falwell, Jr. claims to believe, there is no inherent good to a President who chooses to be vulgar in every sense of the word. That interpretation is an utter perversion of the entire point of representative democracy. The Founders were obsessed with the nature and character of the people who would be chosen to lead the country. To think they weren't is pure ignorance -- and to be so open about being so wrong is utter hubris.

News On the problem of calling modern soldiers "warriors"

It turns out, there's a much deeper set of historical roots involved than might immediately meet the eye. An article that is worthwhile not only for what it says sociologically and about our political/military relationship -- but also because it's a pretty terrific speedy survey of war history. Talking appropriately about the military -- with neither disrespect nor undue deference -- is critical to protecting self-government against the low-probability, high-impact chance that we might take the wrong path. Maintaining the proper lanes is really important.



August 16, 2018

Computers and the Internet Sen. Ben Sasse pushes cyber into the NDAA

Per War on the Rocks: "The relevant section in the NDAA calls for a 13-member bipartisan commission that includes members of Congress, senior executive branch officials, and private citizens...to evaluate 'deterrence, norms-based regimes, and cyber persistence'". We must treat cyberwarfare like the substantial battleground of not just the future, but the present.

Business and Finance The President doesn't know the history of tariffs

To claim that the country was "built on tariffs" is to misunderstand the very nature of taxation. There is nothing "great" about import taxation: It had certain administrative advantages to the young republic because the government found it easier to collect taxes at ports than to staff a bureaucracy for inland revenue. Federalist Paper No. 35 specifically counters the President's ignorant assertion that high tariffs are a "great" thing for America. Protective tariffs have been widely used over time, by a wide variety of countries, but the "protection" they offer is illusory and fleeting at best. Just ask South Korea, which is today paying a heavy price for the consequences of government favoritism paid to particular businesses and industries in the name of economic development.

Threats and Hazards "Stand your ground" turns to manslaughter

Americans need to know the overwhelming importance of restraining ourselves to what is a proportional response

Iowa Iowa City mayor issues letter opposing I-380 widening

The Interstate self-evidently needs to be six lanes between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. This opposition is based upon pie-in-the-sky opposition to personal vehicles generally, not a reasonable grasp of the situation.

Humor and Good News Penn Jillette has thoughts

A really engaging interview with someone who self-evidently puts a lot of thought into the matter of thinking

The United States of America Forecasting the election

FiveThirtyEight is out with some odds on who will win where. But whatever you think of the forecast, three cheers for their use of data visualization. Tilegrams are absolutely the right way to represent House districts when you're trying to illustrate control of Congress.

Business and Finance Retaliatory tariffs imposed by China are hurting US automakers

The reality of trade wars: The "wins" are imaginary, and the losses are quite real.

Broadcasting The hate mail is fine

Send it if you must. But at least try to be original or funny or thought-provoking. Dull hate mail is just odious. Everyone in the public eye has to assume that 10% of the people are going to hate your guts, no matter what you do...but when that hate isn't made somehow entertaining, it's just tedious.



August 15, 2018

Threats and Hazards Giant CIA screwup in China

Foreign Policy: "[T]he real number of CIA assets and those in their orbit executed by China during the two-year period was around 30". And it's because the Chinese government cracked the CIA's system for communicating with its sources in China. It's hard to make Internet-based communications tools that can go unidentified behind China's "Great Firewall".

News What really matters in life

A really useful visualization of the remainder of a person's life. In the words of Ben Sasse: "Life needs to be lived and prioritized with the understanding that it is limited. An awareness of one's mortality makes life richer because the important can be emphasized and the trivial marginalized."

Threats and Hazards Attacking an election doesn't require changing votes

Noting the problems that resulted from bad data on the voter rolls in a couple of states, a Pew analysis notes that "To sow confusion in the fall, Russia could hack voter registration systems, altering names, addresses or party affiliations". And that's enough to undermine faith in democratic processes and institutions.

News The paper cranes of Hiroshima

The child who inspired the movement died 60 years ago

Humor and Good News 10-year-old helps deliver surprise baby cousin

She has better presence of mind than many adults

Health Measles outbreak in more than 20 states

Per a news report: "The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated." Voluntarily going unvaccinated recklessly endangers others, especially kids and those with compromised immune systems. Herd immunity matters. It especially matters to those for whom vaccination may not be an option (like the very young, or those undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia), and to leave them defenseless (by choosing to exempt one's self from getting a vaccination without medical need) is a moral failure.

Humor and Good News To be a "pracademic"

A portmanteau to describe "academics who are engaged with practical policy issues"



August 14, 2018

The United States of America Virginia had 747,610 people in 1790 Census

Today, the average Congressional district contains almost exactly the same number of people. Considering that Virginia at that time was home to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe -- the Virginia dynasty -- then perhaps we should consider just how much talent ought to be found in the average CD today.

Business and Finance A thought experiment

What if, instead of a $1 trillion deficit, we were running a $1 trillion Federal budget surplus? What if it were designated specifically to be a "rainy day" fund, for use in smoothing out a downturn? In a truly rational world, the Federal government would run a balanced budget, but would "save" 1% or 2% of GDP in a rainy-day fund. That fund would then be used to buy additional goods and services of various types during a recession. The net result of a Federal "rainy day" fund might then be to allow the government to make certain discretionary purchases at discounted prices during an economic downturn, while providing a defined and predictable quantity of economic stimulus -- fully paid, and about as intergenerationally fair as can be (as opposed, say, to making children born in 2030 pay the interest on debt taken out to provide "stimulus" to the economy in 2008).

Threats and Hazards China may be holding a million people or more in concentration camps

The Uighur people are the targets

Weather and Disasters A full accounting of the July 19th tornado outbreak

High-quality satellite imagery reveals that even more had touched down than radar or spotters had seen

Business and Finance Consumers: Prepare for price inflation

You have the President's trade wars to blame

Weather and Disasters Electrician sees the piece of wood he signed 41 years ago

Notable because he signed and dated the piece -- which was mounted inside the steeple above the Marshall County courthouse that was later knocked down by a tornado -- precisely 41 years to the day before it came down

News "Lincoln officer injured while trying to subdue a naked man"

Someone buy this arresting officer a beer: "[T]he 18-year-old had stripped in the lot, slapped the security guard and urinated on a security vehicle [...] The man then charged toward the officer, police said, and a Taser had no effect on the man"

The United States of America Saluting the Navajo code-talkers

What they did, in service to a country that didn't always pay them adequate respect, is quite the story.

Humor and Good News Lolo Jones puts on her pants two legs at a time

(Video) The most impressive way to put on a pair of pants is also the most labor-intensive.



August 13, 2018

Socialism Doesn't Work America needs two sane parties, and this isn't the way to get there

Gallup reports that 47% of Democrats now view capitalism positively, versus 57% who view socialism positively. That's a recipe for disaster -- a ten-point drop in capitalism's "favorables" in just two years. "Small business" has incredible favorables among the population at large (92%), but that too often translates only into lip service instead of truly responsive policy-making.

Threats and Hazards Is China's place in the Pacific truly ascendant?

And is China's rise irreversible? In a very interesting piece, Hal Brands argues: "[I]t would also be dangerous for U.S. and allied leaders to accept the thesis that China is destined to dominate the region and simply give up on countering Beijing’s ambitions."

News Fugitive strips while on the lam -- in an Iowa cornfield

Running through corn fields in Iowa in August without clothing: Not recommended.

Broadcasting Tom Skilling: 40 years in the same job

If you're going to do television weather in one of the nation's largest markets, Chicago has to be the most interesting pick



August 11, 2018

Threats and Hazards A dire and sad warning to China's exiles

A Western journalist with a long history of reporting on China warns Uighurs outside the country: "Don't go back under any circumstances. The very act of having been abroad is enough to condemn you. They will threaten your family and friends, but your going back will not save them." Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that a UN panel member reported on credible evidence that at least a million Uighurs are being held in political indoctrination camps in western China.

Aviation News Airplane joyride ends in crash

A 29-year-old airline employee apparently took a small commuter airplane from Sea-Tac and crashed it with no one else aboard.

The United States of America Why national leaders should start as local leaders first

A compelling argument from a think-tank consultant who has found his thoughts on national policy strongly influenced by his work on a state committee. People forget that Federalism made sense in the 1790s, when the entire country was less than 4 million people. It makes even more sense today, when 4 million is the population of just a mid-size state. This country isn't uniform, and we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking it is. We're better off with lots of experiments and adaptations suited to local conditions, with a national government mainly suited to defense and protecting individual rights.

Iowa Iowa City Public Library shares "books we hated"

This is a great idea. Some books are better and some are worse than others, and it's healthy to acknowledge that. As Sen. Ben Sasse so well put it: "We must be able to grapple with ideas we don't like, and internalize the distinction between a bad book and a wrong book." There's nothing wrong if a librarian admits to hating "The Great Gatsby" or "Ulysses" or "The Fountainhead". Isn't it healthy for libraries to encourage debate about both writing and ideas? Doesn't that start with honesty? For instance, James Joyce's "Ulysses" is a huge struggle to read. But talking about it (and whether the reader liked it) opens the door to telling someone why they really must read Joyce's spectacular "Dubliners", and maybe sample some of "Finnegans Wake".

News Home delivery of gasoline

For those times when stopping to refuel is asking too much from life

Broadcasting Lightning strike takes KGAN off the air

The lightning blew up a transmission line to the tower, which happens to be one of five transmission towers in Iowa that reach to 2,000 feet -- placing them tied at #8 for the tallest structures in the world.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 11, 2018

Live from the Iowa State Fair from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central Time. Streamed live at WHORadio.com on the iHeartRadio app.



August 10, 2018

News Administration claims it wants a "space force" by 2020

Yet introducing an entirely new branch of the armed forces is not the responsibility of the Executive Branch. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution unequivocally gives that authority to the Congress alone. Also, there's the weighty matter of long-standing international agreements prohibiting the militarization of space. And also the question of whether an entire military branch is necessary for such things. These things are matters for serious study and deliberation, not promotional campaign emails selling merchandise.

Computers and the Internet NATO needs cyber-cooperation, says former Estonian president

He's in a position to have an informed opinion on the matter: Estonia is a past satellite state subjected to Russian aggression and occupation, a forward-leaning and tech-friendly society, and an eager member of the NATO alliance (since 2004).

Business and Finance Retaliatory tariffs slash US auto exports to China

What good is sacrificing the automotive industry for the sake of trying to profit a raw-materials sector (in steel and aluminum) that can't possibly keep up with real demand? The US should pursue cooperative, multilateral approaches to constraining China's bad behavior (like intellectual property theft) -- but that requires a constructive and rules-based approach. Tariffs aren't it.

News Dirtbags gather in DC

On the anniversary of the awful events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, some of the same bad actors are planning to gather in Washington, DC, for another white-supremacist rally. And there will most certainly be counter-protests.

Computers and the Internet West Virginia tests Internet voting

The company providing the technology is adamant that it can secure the votes via blockchain. But it's the human element that should make people apprehensive about any experiment like this. Some Iowa voters got bad information from text messages intended as reminders on primary-election day in June. There is something authoritative and certain about physically appearing at a polling place on election day (or in returning a properly completed absentee ballot) that is simply not replicable in a world of apps and websites. The risk to Internet voting is far less a matter of communications security than one of social engineering.

Threats and Hazards Super-creep breaks into home demanding to see new baby

It happened in British Columbia, where the adult victim found herself fighting off a neighbor with a pair of gloves and a butcher knife



August 9, 2018

News If you don't love America regardless of skin color, you don't love America

Laura Ingraham's idiotic protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, America is about a belief system -- particularly one about the way things are to be done and how people are to be treated. If she thinks that is threatened by the origins of new entrants to the country, she doesn't understand the nature of the country itself.

News A wimp and a liar?

A President who cannot defend his actions isn't a strong person

News An unlikely butterfly garden

Unlikely because of its location: Inside the Omaha Correctional Center. But it's part of a 12-week course offered to some of the inmates. The sooner we train ourselves to ask whether people have productive alternatives to idle time and bad behavior, the sooner we'll make progress against crime. It's best to keep people out of the correctional system to begin with, but when they land there, rehabilitation should be a priority for as many eligible people as possible.

News Ireland's housing shortage in the spotlight

Stories emerge of homeless families taking shelter at police stations



August 7, 2018

Computers and the Internet Social media services need to treat bad behavior consistently

As Benjamin Franklin put it, "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good." It's hard not to imagine that there's an appeal for a big tech-platform firm to get regulated as a public utility -- common carrier rules could apply, and someone else (the government) would be responsible for the hard choices. But, of course, the sweet smothering embrace of quasi-monopoly status tends to make the monopolist fat, sloppy, and lazy...and thus highly susceptible to massive disruption later on. There is a left-wing push for government regulation that fails to recognize the unintended consequences. And the trouble flows in other directions, too: With Google rumored to be seeking a way to provide a censored search engine in China, one must pause to reflect on whether classical-liberal values are strong enough to emerge spontaneously, anywhere, when given enough time (which they would) -- but what service does it do those values (or the people who hold them) to participate in their repression?

Business and Finance Elon Musk openly muses that he wants to take Tesla private

As Charles Koch has put it: "I'd counsel any entrepreneur to do everything possible to keep her company private, no matter how big it grows."

News Florida may be exporting "voracious, omnivorous predatory lizards" to neighboring states

And yet still people have the temerity to ask why we put up with Iowa winters. The frost line is our Maginot Line, people!



July 27, 2018

News Rent controls plus subsidies equals disaster

Bad policymaking isn't excused by good intentions

News Lots of kids remain separated from their parents by US policy

Hundreds were left behind as their parents were deported

News "Fear, by itself, does not exonerate the defendant"

A compelling case for prosecuting the careless use of force -- in uniform or out of it

Threats and Hazards Silicon Valley as a "den of spies"

"[F]oreign spies have been showing up uninvited to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a very long time"

Threats and Hazards The case for a national "political warfare" center

Some things aren't quite war...but they aren't exactly diplomacy, either. That they lack a clear conventional definition shouldn't be the reason they fall through the cracks.



July 26, 2018

The United States of America Advice and consent

Members of the Senate see fit to reassert their authority over bad diplomatic behavior by the President, with Senators McCain, Kaine, Gardner, and Reed joining in a bipartisan bill to "explicitly prohibit the President of the United States from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval". Article II, Section 2 is unambiguous ("by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur"), but even that clarity may deserve a backstop in these peculiar times.

The United States of America Mapping the vote: Intriguing but usually misleading

We really should get used to using cartograms (specifically with hex tiles) when depicting anything that has to do with population or voting. If people can understand subway maps, they can understand cartographic depictions of population, too.

Threats and Hazards "Enterprises to subvert it..."

Federalist 59 has some words applicable to America today

Humor and Good News In the airport, always go for the pretzel

It is metaphysically impossible to screw up a pretzel order, and that means the dunce in front of you, no matter how stupid, will still be out of your way in no more than 90 seconds.

Business and Finance Facebook's $120 billion bad day

Imagine vaporizing the market valuation of about half the farmland in Iowa

Threats and Hazards The Attorney General should be ashamed

The nation's chief law-enforcement officer shouldn't be taking part in "Lock her up" chants. It's not just untoward, it's perverse.

News "Booing the press in general is an unhealthy trend"

Sen. Ben Sasse with a worthy endorsement of the VFW's statement disclaiming the boos directed at the press when the President made ill use of an opportunity to address the organization's national convention. It is a cowardly act to direct mob anger at the press.

Business and Finance Necco shuts down

The candy-heart and candy-wafer company had been troubled for a while, but it sounds like the shutdown was a sudden shock

Weather and Disasters Terrible wildfires in Greece

They've caused dozens of casualties

Agriculture Was there anything really new in the US-EU trade agreement?

It may not really have been worth a hill of beans, to shamelessly abuse a pun.


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July 25, 2018

Threats and Hazards When the military is such a good hammer, too many things look like nails

The quality of today's professional military makes it an attractive target not only for use in places where it may not be appropriate, but also as a political cudgel to use where there should be a healthy gap between politics and arms. It's a very serious problem if people come to think of the military as the only part of government that produces honest, competent leaders. The public needs to see prominent examples of capable service everywhere from the State Department to state forestry departments. There are troublesome incentive structures at work, including a very unhealthy fetishization of military hardware and even style. Moreover, there is a political hazard at work, undermining the non-military work of government: The hard left never acknowledges that some government programs are administered better than others, and the hard right never admits that some government programs actually work. Absolutism chokes accountability.

The United States of America More true Federalism, please!

Contrary to the claims of those on the left who want to see every issue nationalized (and their counterparts on some parts of the right), some of us are advocates for more true Federalism -- placing decisions as close as possible to the people affected by them, with the maximum allowable room for local/regional customization possible without infringing on the personal liberties of individuals. This is especially valid thinking, considering that most states today are at or near the same population as the entire USA in 1790 (4 million). Not everything needs to be a national issue, and in many cases, many things ought not to be. Time, effort, and psychological commitment expended in pursuit of national agendas (that don't need to be national) sap the country of the motivation and accountability to grapple with the big issues that truly do require Washington's attention. Thus we find ourselves polarized by stupid things and ignoring important ones -- like having a true cybersecurity policy or putting appropriate resources into trade and technology adjustment assistance where entire regions are struggling economically. Local conditions vary widely: The current average sale price for residential real estate in San Francisco is $1,057 per square foot , which is more than the $989 monthly rent on a decent 950-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom, apartment in suburban Des Moines. That's not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course, but when buying 12 square feet in one place would rent an entire apartment for a year in another place, maybe the same policies need not apply uniformly everywhere. It might be bad for cable TV punditry, but it would be very healthy for the country if we advanced a model that insisted on maximal localism (and accountability), reserving the Federal for truly national needs and for those instances where personal liberties were under threat from negligent, malicious, or hostile state and local governments.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela will knock five digits off its currency next month

1,000,000% annual inflation makes it pretty hard for numerals to keep up. It's an entirely man-made disaster, and it's the result of a stupid, thoughtless revolution whose failure was easy to see coming. It was obvious in 2013 that a command economy was a stupid choice. It was obviously a bad move in 2007, when Hugo Chavez was whipping up a siege mentality to consolidate power. And it was obvious in 2005, when it was clear the United States was already making a mistake by ignoring Latin America (and its rising socialist troubles). That's the thing about man-made disasters: They are a choice. And they require choices to escape.

Agriculture Without water, Iraq's breadbasket is collapsing

Nature is to blame, but so are terrible human causes. The world needs surplus food production because problems like droughts happen. And if there's going to be surplus food production, there needs to be trade -- so markets can specialize and farmers can turn a profit. From a systemic perspective, trade wars can cause hunger.

Broadcasting Should you swear at your Roomba?

If you're a broadcaster, yes. The last broadcaster who didn't know how to wilt the flowers and peel the paint off the walls with a solid blue streak was Fred Rogers.

News Omaha man uses pipe bomb to extract vengeance on tree

It dripped sap onto his car. He's 50 years old. His 74-year-old dad is trying to kick him out of the house.

Humor and Good News Bathroom hand dryers are the worst

Sure, they save paper. But they're utterly useless if you need to blow your nose, open a door without touching a filthy handle, or clean up a toddler's mess. Other than that, they're just great.

Computers and the Internet Google Street View prowls Des Moines

Time to mow the lawn and wash the car

News Complexity among 1.3 billion people

Why it's not such a good idea to pigeonhole "China" into a caricature of itself

Socialism Doesn't Work "It will be a useful lesson for all of us, but not a pleasant one."

Columnist Steve Chapman savages the utter stupidity of the Trump trade war. Trade-war behavior and protectionism rackets are just another form of corporatist socialism. There are so many bad executive-branch policies in place -- abandoned multilateral trade agreements, fake "national security" tariffs, and bilateral friction -- that one ought to look forward to the day when people remember which branch of government occupies the Capitol building, and when the occupants thereof rein in the branch that is making a mess of things by overextending its reach.

Broadcasting Mid-week catch-up

Individual segments and the whole episode from the July 21st episode of the "Brian Gongol Show"

Humor and Good News Cop taunts tortoise on tape

A light-hearted laugh at the expense of wildlife

Health Being ready, willing, and able

An Iowan with the right training tried to save lives in the disaster at the Lake of the Ozarks. All the good intentions in the world don't amount to much if you don't have the skills necessary to do something to help.

News CNN gets tapes from Trump-Cohen meetings

What kind of bizarre relationship did the lawyer and his client have that recordings would have seemed necessary? Sounds toxic.



July 24, 2018

Threats and Hazards "What the Kremlin wants is chaos"

Adversaries using tools like social media can be expected to deploy their malfeasance wherever they think it will have the most leverage. That may be on behalf of candidates and causes from the left, or from the right. A reasonable center continues to exist in America. Don't let the agents of chaos and the hyperpartisan freaks convince you otherwise.

Threats and Hazards The enemy within (the grid)

The Department of Homeland Security apparently believes that Russian hackers managed to infiltrate "air-gapped" computer networks to gain access to computer networks belonging to US electrical utilities.

Threats and Hazards No, tariffs are not "the greatest"

The President's grotesque misunderstanding of economics is astonishing. In a single tweet, he manages to misinterpret trade flows, misrepresent negotiating strategy, and miss the point entirely of what takes place when money is exchanged for goods and services. It's hard to be that wrong about that many things and still manage to stay under Twitter's character limit.

Health The mental spirit to beating cancer

Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, a survivor of cancer, has it 100% right -- and his advice should be read not only by anyone who has ever battled cancer, but also by anyone who knows anyone who has. (That means you.) It is both physiological and psychological, and a person needs a support system to make it through.

News Devotion to principles, not a person

There's nothing conservative about a cult of personality

Business and Finance We're risking stagflation

Things that keep one up at night: "The exit strategy from stagflation is an uncertain one unless one reverses the original triggers for its occurrence, in this case removes the new tariffs." The self-inflicted wounds have got to stop.

Socialism Doesn't Work No eating in the workplace?

San Francisco politicians want to ban new workplace cafeterias so that "People will have to go out and each lunch with the rest of us". Seems like a rather dumb priority to think worthy of legislation.



July 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards Buckle up; it's going to be a bumpy ride

Strategist Molly McKew warns: "Putin's appetite for risk is greater than our own, and his mindset antithetical. He will find a way to show that [NATO] Article 5 is hollow by attacking the seams and the gray areas". We urgently need a whole new language to discuss what's happening right in front of us. Lacking a mainstream lexicon to discuss cyberwarfare, proxy wars, and influence campaigns, people get a false sense of confidence: "We're not shooting, so we're not engaged in confrontation".

News A superficial approach to savings with a colossal embedded flaw

In what is surely a naked attempt at clickbait, a columnist has argued that public libraries should be done away with and that Amazon should somehow "take their place". Certain investments are not strictly economic. Some are important to promoting a civic republic. And that's where libertarianism must take a back seat to classical liberalism: There are some circumstances under which the individual's demand to be left alone (and be free from paying for certain public goods) must yield to the need to make some community choices (and investments) so that we can live together in some sort of productive peace. Are public libraries strictly necessary? Not in the sense that a military might be. But ever since Benjamin Franklin made the emphatic case for public lending libraries as an indispensable tool of self-improvement, the American idea of a public library has been founded on assumptions that it is a broad net positive for communities to offer free resources for individuals who are willing to seek out intellectual self-improvement. Escaping a dead-end path shouldn't be excruciating. There is a great deal of social cost to despair, and reasonable investments in preventing people from succumbing to that despair should not be dismissed just because they are imperfect (or incompletely libertarian).

News "Strong leader" as an abomination

Resolved: The phrase "strong leader" should be purged from American politics, starting with opinion polls. "Strong" is an invitation to empty peacockery. What we need is curiosity, foresight, and level-headedness. Curiosity, competence, and humility are far more valuable than over-confidence and shallow displays of dominance.

News The world is getting measurably better

But that doesn't force public opinion to recognize the improvement. Historical illiteracy and innumeracy are in a two-way contest to destroy everything good and right in the world. Technological illiteracy and fundamental economic ignorance are not far behind.



July 22, 2018

Threats and Hazards Diplomacy shouldn't be conducted via late-night angry tweet

What's going on doesn't make sense



July 21, 2018

The United States of America Some favorite Presidents

The obvious choices: Lincoln and Washington. Other very good names: Eisenhower, Coolidge, and T Roosevelt. Those who should be lauded for the totality of their contribution to the public good (even if they weren't necessarily great Presidents): Hoover, Grant, Madison, Jefferson, and J Adams. All compare favorably with the one who merely thinks he's the "favorite President".

Computers and the Internet Garbage in, (inexplicable quasi-religious) garbage out

If you put a bunch of nonsense into Google Translate, it might just spit out something that looks like it came from the Book of Revelation

Health The first test-tube baby is 40

How's that for a cultural touchstone?

Health Antibiotic resistance is growing and research is in the decline

If antibiotics have moved into "public goods" territory, we might have to start subsidizing them in the public interest.

Iowa Ragbrai is about to begin

A warning to motorists in Iowa for the next week

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 21, 2018

Broadcast and streaming live from 2pm to 4pm Central



July 20, 2018

Business and Finance The President has learned nothing about economics

He tweets: "[Monetary] Tightening now hurts all that we have done. The U.S. should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates - Really?" His policies (like intervening in specific industries and with specific companies, pulling out of multilateral trade agreements, and imposing import taxes) are not working as imagined because they are bad policies, but instead of acknowledging that they are bad, he's doubling down and demanding more. And the further steps he might take -- like trying to pressure the Federal Reserve using the power of his office, or threatening to default on the Federal debt -- are things that would be unimaginable under any sensible President with a basic grasp of economics. But those basic assumptions are completely in error with President Trump. And he is at a most basic level incapable of admitting error, so he'll likely make many more bad decisions before he is through. He is obsessed with bilateral agreements and thinks that we somehow need to be in trade balance (or surplus) with each individual country around the world. That's nonsense, and his refusal to learn is an ongoing threat to the economy. In Federalist 53, they anticipated the damage that could be done by government powers that didn't understand what they tried to control: "How can foreign trade be properly regulated by uniform laws, without some acquaintance with the commerce, the ports, the usages, and the regulations of the different States?"

Threats and Hazards The most perverse outcome

Unpredictability, inconsistency, and reckless communication have conspired to potentially create a worst-case scenario of perverse incentives: Trade war leading to a kinetic arms race. Chinese leaders are wondering if the President would take them more seriously on trade issues if they had an arsenal of weapons more like the one possessed by Russia.

Weather and Disasters Cars are not safe places in a tornado

Photographic evidence, should anyone have needed it

Humor and Good News Lucky breaks

Dwight Eisenhower: "The doctrine of opportunism, so often applicable in tactics, is a dangerous one to pursue in strategy." In other words: Take advantage of every lucky break you get, but never count on getting them.

Iowa Staff gets Marshalltown newspaper published even after a tornado

Three cheers for dedicated local journalists, documenting the damage and the cleanup even when their own resources are depleted



July 19, 2018

Weather and Disasters Video shows large tornado going right through center of Marshalltown, Iowa

The local newspaper uses "devastated" to describe conditions in Marshalltown after the tornado. For it to have damaged downtown, the hospital, and the JBS plant means it must have been reasonably wide: perhaps 1/2 mile in diameter. And that looks about the size in the video taken from near the Hy-Vee, looking at the courthouse. Tornadoes also hit Bondurant and Pella. Pella's local newspaper indicates that the Vermeer plant was hit hard but that employees had taken shelter -- which was good, because cars were tossed around the parking lot.

Iowa Marshalltown newspaper decamps to nearby town to get the paper out

The news editor is from Marshalltown and just started the job ten days ago. Local news is indispensable to a community, and an event like the tornado in Marshalltown is why.

Weather and Disasters What the new satellites saw of the day's storms

New satellite capabilities might end up being very useful in augmenting severe weather forecasting and detection.

News "The press needs to be anti-partisan"

A perspective from Mike Masnick, editor of TechDirt. An interesting perspective, but it probably doesn't need to be quite so complicated. Good news reporting always comes back to good questions. So if news reporting is unsatisfactory, then the first place to look is the questions: Are good ones being asked? "News" is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo. Everything else is either "events" or "information". While there are plenty of events to document and informational items to share, those aren't really news. When news (properly defined) is being reported, it ought to illuminate something important that somehow changes whatever was "known" before. It's hard to do that if one starts with a conclusion or a mission in mind. Questions like "Don't you think..." or "Wouldn't you say..." aren't authentic news questions. Nor are questions that rely upon restating someone's untruths or disinformation. Nor are questions that permit the subject to spread a falsehood unchallenged. When the status quo includes disinformation, lies, or falsehoods, then we don't need reporters on a mission to be "anti-partisan", per se -- but we need them to ask questions that change what we know about that status quo.

Threats and Hazards The President was told about Russian attacks on the election process in January 2017

Would his responses -- which have been a cavalcade of denials and deflections -- be different if the person issuing the orders had been Xi Jinping? Or Hassan Rouhani?

Science and Technology Congress needs more nerds

A strong case for re-funding the Office of Technology Assessment. Oftentimes the best money government can spend is on appropriate oversight and qualified professional advice. We also need more elected officials who themselves come from technical backgrounds -- engineers, programmers, scientists, and so on.

Humor and Good News Product placement

Maybe it's out of necessity (hard surfaces, power outlets, and available water), but it still seems wrong for hotels to place coffee makers inside their toilet rooms.



July 18, 2018

Computers and the Internet EU official announces non-trivial penalty against Google

It's an antitrust-type action. But will it actually achieve the intended effects?

Humor and Good News Richard Marx: "I misspoke"

When pop-culture icons of the past redeem themselves with sly critiques of the present. What the President tried to erase by claiming he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would" is not undone by the record of what else he said.

Threats and Hazards Vladimir Putin wants to "interview" a former US ambassador to Russia, and the White House hasn't unequivocally said "no"

This ought to represent an inviolable red line to anyone in Congress. Or the Cabinet. There is no acceptable answer to this request -- which also included Putin critic Bill Browder -- other than "absolutely not" (unless one chooses a more colorful and forceful way to say it).

News Court tosses California trifurcation vote from the November ballot

Good -- this is not the time for arbitrary and highly divisive internal questions. Whatever the merits of smaller administrative units may or may not be, this is not the time nor the civic environment to argue them.

Science and Technology A pledge against building killer AI is only noble on the surface

Strategic theorist Kori Schake asks, "[I]s anybody exploring the asymmetric vulnerabilities this will create if our adversaries don't likewise constrain themselves?" Nobody wants to build killer robots...but if you have an adversary who might, then you probably shouldn't take all your options off the table. At the very least, we need to actively grapple with the technology, the rules, and the ethics.

Threats and Hazards How can the President misunderstand so much about NATO?

In suggesting that Montenegro is composed of "very aggressive people" who might trigger "World War III", he lays plain that he doesn't get the point of a common security commitment. In the Civil War era, people formed Union Leagues to promote the cause -- is it time for us to start organizing local NATO Leagues?

Weather and Disasters Getting a little close to severe weather

Very strong thunderstorms -- including a large rotating band in contact with the ground -- up close and personal, around Kearney, Nebraska.

Computers and the Internet When Twitter will be better

Looking forward to the day when Twitter has an advanced search that permits a search for "rabbi with a Confucian streak and a sarcastic sense of humor". (In part because that day ought to come after they've found a way to nuke the trolls and mal-bots.)

Aviation News The only true chemtrails are the ones that come out of a crop duster

And, boy, are those crop dusters a lot of fun to watch



July 17, 2018

Threats and Hazards He said "would"

It was insulting when Bill Clinton tried to split hairs over the definition of the word "is". It is insulting now that Donald Trump thinks he can revise history to change "would" to "wouldn't". The President was humiliated in front of a global audience, particularly by his public dismissal of US intelligence services and the US Department of Justice in favor of his naive embrace of the empty words of a known adversary. That is behavior beneath contempt.

News Russian state malfeasance undermines the future of a normal Russia-US relationship

Russia's tactical success at assaulting US elections may end up as a strategic catastrophe -- because what near-term future President has any incentive to treat the Russian government with goodwill?

Threats and Hazards Tariff madness is already backfiring

The persistent costs of tariff madness are going to hang around a whole lot longer than the sugar-rush stimulus of the tax cut.



July 16, 2018

Threats and Hazards Stand for something, lest you fall for anything

The President, insistent on his own instincts, chooses the denials of Vladimir Putin over the evidence (and the advice of everyone who matters) that Russia actively attacked American electoral processes. His press conference beside Putin was profoundly embarrassing: An apology tour, a plea of submission, and a declaration of surrender all rolled into one 60-second clip. It is almost certainly the most cowardly declaration ever issued by someone who has taken the Constitutional oath of office. Today illustrates why we need to work -- fast -- to develop the kind of vocabulary and mental framework for understanding cyberwar that we already have for kinetic war. We have been attacked and remain under attack, and that's not a "both sides are to blame" thing. If the President can't or won't grapple with the complexity and gravity of cyberattack, he should make way for someone who will.

Threats and Hazards No interrogation needed

The United States doesn't need to question the Russians who, as a state activity, conducted a cyber-campaign against the United States in 2016. The indictments make it quite clear that we have them on the evidence. And to imagine that there is some kind of parity with those who have challenged Putin's autocratic ways and sought refuge here is to be as gullible as a child. When the President whines about the state of US-Russia relations, it's an abomination. If he were merely ignorant of history, that would be shameful. But he chooses to be ignorant of the present, which is inexcusable.

Humor and Good News Cutting down an evergreen tree

It can give a person Cub Scout flashbacks



July 15, 2018

Threats and Hazards "Quit messing with America"

Senator Ben Sasse's message for the President to deliver to Vladimir Putin. There's no point to being the world's superpower if we're not prepared to stand up for ourselves. Either we defend ourselves (and a just world order) against criminal malice, or we should prepare for chaos and darkness to fill the void. And we need to be aware that the problem is continuing and probably expanding: Whatever we've seen out of our adversaries thus far is likely just the beginning. This isn't ambiguous: Per the indictments issued on Friday, Russian military intelligence targeted US civilians, organizations, and state governments. This isn't over.

Threats and Hazards President Trump names EU as a "foe"

The European Union isn't our foe, and it is self-evidently stupid to say so.

Socialism Doesn't Work China wants to censor the trade war

The South China Morning Post reports: "Four separate sources working for Chinese media, who were briefed on these internal instructions, told the South China Morning Post that they were told not to 'over-report' the trade war with US".

Science and Technology French company wants to build trains with wings

Airplanes that could detach their passenger compartments for quick ground transportation on rails. A bit far-out, but maybe it makes sense in the highly population-dense European market.

Threats and Hazards Domestic terrorist thwarted by alert witnesses and attentive police

A person planning to blow up a building because he wanted to make a point about the people inside is, by definition, a terrorist



July 14, 2018

Threats and Hazards "[T]he hunt needs to continue, because the witches are very real."

This analysis from David French is lucid, alarming, and important. It takes less time to read than a commercial break on television. It is worth your time.

Science and Technology Some busybodies want a government-run alternative to Google

There's no end to the dumb ideas people are willing to try when they think they can have someone else subsidize their failures.

Computers and the Internet What could have thwarted the Russian spearphishing attacks

Two-factor authentication: Live it, love it, don't ever forget it. (It's the least you can do for your own security.)

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 14, 2018

Should you be mad about the crimes depicted in the indictments issued by Robert Mueller's team yesterday? Not just mad: You should be outraged.


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July 13, 2018

Threats and Hazards "We've said all along we know Russia meddled in our elections"

The Speaker of the House acknowledges the gravity of the indictments issued against 12 members of the Russian military intelligence service thanks to the Special Counsel's investigation. It's a very serious set of counts, and there are probably more to come. People are understandably anxious for the full truth to come out. The indictments have been hailed as "a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement".

Humor and Good News Markets in everything, including naps

Mattress company Casper is offering a "napping store" in Lower Manhattan, where 45-minute nap sessions come with a bed and a pair of pajamas. Open most days from 11am to 8pm. Of course, a proper nap lasts 12 minutes and no longer, so the 45-minute session is probably too long.

News Trump-Putin summit to be held at Finnish presidential palace

How many Americans know that Finland only won its independence from Russia a hair over 100 years ago, in December 1917?

Agriculture The states under attack in this trade war

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "The bulk of punitive tariffs from around the globe falls heavily on Farm Belt and Rust Belt states", and that's no exaggeration. And for the Farm Belt, it happens at a time when total net farm income is at a 12-year low. It's a self-inflicted wound at a time of serious chronic pain.


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July 12, 2018

The United States of America "Americans and their Congress still believe in the transatlantic alliance"

Necessary words from Sen. John McCain, as the President engages in a pattern of behavior that (at best) confuses and frustrates our NATO allies. If this profoundly transactionalist behavior confuses you, that's good: It's bizarre to think relationships are like an Etch-A-Sketch that gets erased every day. As Sam Zell has said, "You succeed or you fail based on who your partners are." That's advice applicable not only in real estate, where Zell made his fortune, but in the world at large.

News Survival in a photograph

A 5-month-old baby was left buried face-down in the Montana woods for nine hours until he was rescued by a search team. He survived and has been released from the hospital. If there is but one thing civilization should stand for, it should be that innocent children ought never to be subjected to malicious cruelty or endangerment.

Business and Finance Is a corporate recession just around the corner?

The more fiddling around with accounting statements, the more people should worry that something is rotten in Denmark.

Business and Finance Interest payments on the Federal debt: 1.6% of GDP today -- 7% later

2030 used to seem like a long time away. But if you have a kid born this year, he or she will barely be in middle school by that time. That isn't the long term...it's now the medium-to-short run.

Science and Technology Replacing plastic bags with banana-based packaging

A fantastic example why the old moniker of "developing" countries is really misleading. The global middle class is growing fast -- and innovating -- and that's a very good development. More people capable of living lives with a little bit of room for comfort means not only a direct improvement to the human condition (which we should cheer!), but also spillover effects for the rest of the world. The United States was massively innovative at a time when it was still in many ways a "developing" country. Innovations have a way of finding their way to the rest of the world speedily, so the more people who have the capacity to experiment and try out new ideas, the better for everyone.

Iowa Better streetlights

The move towards LED streetlights (as opposed to yellow sodium lights) is a welcome upgrade

Socialism Doesn't Work Corporatism is just another form of socialism

Don't fall for any of the ugly cousins in this family

News Move to Australia, then move out of it

A new story about the "micronation" boom in Australia teases the claims some people make to having their own states-within-a-state. It's silly, and it's definitely not the wave of the future -- but we should take seriously the more realistic prospects for city-states to re-emerge in the 21st Century.

Science and Technology We welcome our robot (mower) overlords

But what if the first people to get them are also the ones who had the best suburban diagonals? We'll miss it when it's gone.


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July 11, 2018

News Why did the Thai boys in a cave get so much attention?

Especially when there are so many other problems in the world -- including other children in grave distress? People seem to be more interested when a problem seems well-defined than when it is abstract -- or so large that it becomes abstract in our minds. Not every problem lends itself to that kind of granularity, but even when we're talking about big, abstract problems, we may need to think of ways to make the steps in the process seem more concrete (if we want public support, that is).

News Your opponents aren't going away

And they're probably not evil, either. As Margaret Thatcher put it: "I think some of the bitterness of political strife is reduced when we remind ourselves that many of the people who share our deepest convictions about life are on the other side in political controversy." When prominent voices say that "Even CONSIDERING this [Supreme Court] nomination will cement the first American dictatorship", it's a colossal problem: Vladimir Putin and bad actors like him want the maximum division among Americans against one another. The more people conflate "things I don't like" with "things that are undemocratic", the harder it's going to be to resist the actual threats to democratic processes. And those are real.

News What happened to the windows?

Could someone please explain what happened from the mid-20th Century onward that made people board up windows everywhere in otherwise perfectly functional buildings? What did people find so objectionable about natural light? There's certainly a profound counterexample in certain modernist buildings with walls of glass, but there's a reason people find houses and buildings like that to be truly stunning.

News The world is better with friends

Let us toast to our friends: May they be strong and plentiful



July 10, 2018

Computers and the Internet Is Facebook trying to watch you in retail stores?

Seems like the kind of issue on which we ought to have a vigorous national debate.

News Elon Musk delivers a prototype miniature submarine to Thailand

He can come across in all kinds of bad ways, but Musk has a bias towards action that really is an outlier worthy of some attention (and probably some study).

Business and Finance Striking oil workers in Norway could push prices higher

Low oil prices have been a de facto economic subsidy for so long, a whole lot of people have probably forgotten that things could be any other way.

Iowa A wonderful tribute to Gov. Robert Ray

A great story, told well, about refugees as a success story in Iowa -- thanks to his leadership as governor

Science and Technology An ambitious bucket list

Futurist Ian Pearson wants to do some things you probably haven't thought about yet

Threats and Hazards US government misses deadline to reunite children separated from their families

To what degree the family-separation madness is the result of incompetence and to what degree malice, it's becoming hard to give anyone administratively involved the benefit of doubt.



July 9, 2018

Business and Finance Forget chasing Amazon's HQ2: Cities should focus on their startups

"[E]conomic big bangs can happen anywhere, not just on the coasts." An argument against trying to lure existing hot businesses from elsewhere and for investing in organic, endogenous growth.

News Brexit brings about UK cabinet resignations

Interesting to think what would happen if the US had a similar system, whereby a Cabinet resignation could trigger the downfall of a government. A less far-out version of this would occur if we had a national Presidential recall mechanism, in the style of states like California or Wisconsin. (In fact, more than half of the states have some kind of recall.)

Iowa A tremendous tribute

An exceptional tribute to the departed Governor Robert Ray. Doing the right thing -- like taking in refugees -- may or may not have political payoffs in the short run. But in the long term, character truly does count.

Broadcasting What it's like breaking news

It's hard to describe the excitement of covering true breaking news. It's an intellectual challenge, a social activity, and an adrenaline rush all at once -- a pop quiz, a senior recital, and being down one run in the bottom of the 9th, all wrapped into one.

The United States of America A nominee to the Supreme Court

On one hand, it is right to believe in the co-equality of the branches of government, so the SCOTUS pick ought to be a big deal. On the other hand, we place way too much emphasis on the chief executive and should rather see the Imperial Presidency dialed down than see the other two amplified. We should vigorously support a rebalancing of power among the three branches, in the spirit of Federalist Papers-era Madison. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country."

Iowa Tomorrow: 25 years since the Floods of 1993 hit Des Moines

An event of staggering proportions. We're a much more resilient community in many ways today, but we can't ever let down our guard. There's always more we can do to prepare.


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July 8, 2018

Threats and Hazards Read the briefing book

The President refuses to read the briefing book prepared for him, so "ahead of important meetings, aides have made something of a deal with the president: If we put it in a red folder, please read it." If a 2nd-year TSA screener or CIA field agent refused to read assigned briefing materials, he or she would deserve prompt termination.

Weather and Disasters Building "tiny homes" for Hawaii volcano evacuees

Good to see novel solutions being applied to important problems. Finding ways to house people displaced by natural disasters is a persistent problem.


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July 7, 2018

Aviation News Case study in a disaster-in-waiting that could be stopped right now

But will it? Or will the normalization of deviance win out?

Humor and Good News Something about exuberant dancing Germans is hilarious

Good for a light laugh

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 7, 2018

Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm Central



July 6, 2018

Weather and Disasters An aggregation of coverage from the June 30th flash floods

Rainfall totals of 9" in a short period of time, centered right on top of Iowa's biggest urban center

Threats and Hazards Budget deficits and billowing debt as intergenerational warfare

America's wildly imbalanced budget priorities will spend vastly more on entitlements for the old (and interest on the debt) than it ever will on programs that benefit children. In the words of Margaret Thatcher: "We have first to put our finances in order. We must live within our means. The Government must do so. And we must do so as a country."



July 5, 2018

The United States of America Are you a practicing American?

Being an American takes practice and belief. Some of us just happen to have been lucky enough to have been born here.

News The torment caused by family separations

In the words of Stuart Stevens, "There's not a community in America that wouldn't move heaven and earth to help when an Amber Alert is announced. And yet we have a massive Amber Alert of missing children on the border and it's our government to blame."

Threats and Hazards Russian nerve agent poisons two more in UK

And those two people aren't thought to have been targeted -- they may just be collateral damage from the original attack

News US resettles far fewer refugees in 2017 than in prior years

Having taken in three-quarters of the world's refugees since 1980, the US has closed its doors in a substantial way. That's to our detriment; refugees aren't freeloaders looking for a free lunch -- they're people trying to escape detrimental circumstances at home and make new lives for themselves in a safer place. If we aren't confident enough to be that safer place, then we need to take a long look in the mirror.

Business and Finance Trade war begins tonight

Tariffs and counter-tariffs are scheduled to become no longer threats but reality. And that's just stupid. The President is threatening to escalate from taxing $34 billion in imports to $500 billion. It's hard to stop the bleeding from a self-inflicted wound.



July 4, 2018

The United States of America America is neither doomed nor perfect

America is, and always has been, a work in progress. We have work to do today, and more to do tomorrow.

The United States of America Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old on July 4, 1776

Wisdom doesn't always wait for age. Benjamin Franklin was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence, an act that truly put everything on the line for his country. Age is no excuse to stop being a patriotic servant of what is good and right.

Threats and Hazards China's debt-based diplomacy is no trivial matter

The country's "Belt and Road" initiative may be creating a lot of tangible infrastructure projects all over the world, but those projects aren't being done for charity, and they're not all necessary. China's bankrolling them in the expectation of making money off the construction work itself, as well as off the financing. And the government is so touchy about it that it has gotten aggressive with Australian journalists who asked questions about it.

Business and Finance Meet the people defending trade

It needs a robust defense in this era

News Fastball's catchy song "The Way" is about a real-life tragedy

Which certainly tempers the story a bit

Humor and Good News It's Independence Day

Not, as some on Twitter have mistyped, "Independance" Day. Though it might be fun to see whether anyone could do justice to the Declaration of Independence in the form of interpretive dance.


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July 3, 2018

Threats and Hazards Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia really did try to influence the 2016 election

There's no (reasonably) denying Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. There's no (reasonably) denying they're trying the same in 2018. And 2020. And 2022. There's no (reasonably) denying that other states and non-state actors are trying, too.

News Boring politics are good politics

The three key attributes of a good political leader: Curiosity, competence, and humility. (It's that third one that keeps things the right degree of boring.)

News Syrian government wants 5.6 million refugees to come back

To go back would take an act of extraordinary faith in a government that hasn't earned it

News Why are people torching their credibility?

Commentators like Brit Hume are seeking to argue that certain principled conservatives who stood against the election of Donald Trump are now "standing on a shrinking sliver of ground". After Charlottesville, family separations, and a nascent trade war with Canada...if you still think that people like Tim Miller are the problem, then you're the one missing the point.

Threats and Hazards A heart-wrenching attack in Idaho

A refugee child was killed at her own birthday party. As one resident put it, "I felt how defenseless those kids were, and how their parents felt they couldn't protect them in those moments."

Threats and Hazards China is trying to drive a wedge between the US and Europe

The Chinese government is making opportunistic use of President Trump's indefensible trade aggression to try to wedge the US away from historic allies in Europe. It's an opportunistic tactic in service of a very long-term strategy. As Dwight Eisenhower put it: "So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord."

Science and Technology Technology is only as good as the people using it

Nebraska State Patrol uses FLIR technology to find and rescue a man who got lost and disoriented in a corn field

Iowa Most photos of fireworks are overrated, but not this one

A spectacular shot of downtown Des Moines



July 2, 2018

Threats and Hazards "National security" isn't a blank check to do stupid things

Tom Nichols: "This is not a serious appeal to national security, but an attempt to use a magical incantation to shut off debate and dissent."

Threats and Hazards "There is no failsafe...There is, in fact, only us."

The people who think there's nothing to lose by putting a wrecking ball to the world order, to the function of the Federal government, or to the classic notions of civility that make the country function? They are sorely misguided. As Eisenhower put it, "[W]e view our Nation's strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere."

Computers and the Internet Unless you type slower than 20 words per minute...

...there's really no excuse for non-standard abbreviations.

Threats and Hazards Protectionism, no matter what?

The Commerce Secretary says the President isn't going to alter course on his trade war against the world, no matter what the stock-market reaction. Putting aside for a moment that the stock market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the stock market, the real worry here is that, as the economic consequences of bad trade policies mount, the President will not only "not be deterred"...he'll double down. Because that's what he does when backed into a corner: He always doubles down. As even Canada retaliates against our nonsensical policies, one doesn't need to begrudge those who wanted to believe the President when he promised that trade wars would be easy to win. He's a masterful self-promoter, and people have been buying what he's been selling. But it's time to tell the emperor that he's naked: Trump's trade wars are stupid.



July 1, 2018

The United States of America The Supreme Court isn't the only guarantor of rights

If you don't trust most of the people most of the time with most of the things they do, you don't have a political problem -- you have a people problem.

News Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wins Mexican presidential race

A leftist takes over south of the border

Computers and the Internet A lamentation for Google Reader

Gone five years and never suitably replaced, Google Reader was the catalyst that made RSS feeds work.



June 23, 2018

Broadcasting Radio show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 23, 2018

Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 to 4:00 Central



June 22, 2018

Iowa Train derailment in northwest Iowa spills crude oil into flooded river

Business and Finance EU imposes counter-tariffs on American goods

Steel, clothing, makeup, bourbon, and more. What genius put it in the President's head that import taxes are a good idea at just the moment when the Baby Boomers (the largest generation) are moving en masse into their fixed-income retirement years? The President wants to slap 20% tariffs on European cars now, apparently ignorant of the fact that BMW and Mercedes build cars in the United States.

The United States of America George Will memorializes Charles Krauthammer

News Colorized photo of a young Auschwitz prisoner

Stripping these photos of their colorlessness takes away the psychological distance that can allow us to let down our guard against present-day evil. Colorizing history isn't always a good idea, but sometimes it has merit.

Health Brett Favre wants no more youth tackle football

Iowa Huge ranges in college attainment levels just miles apart

Iowa has some counties where about 60% of adults have at least an associate's degree. Not far away -- and sometimes immediately adjacent -- are counties where the rates are in the 20% range. The gap is most substantial for the most rural counties, and that could make it hard to hit a statewide goal of getting 70% of adults through some kind of post-secondary training or education by 2025. A four-year degree isn't for everyone, but the vast majority of people will need some kind of post-secondary education if they want a reasonable level of material economic comfort.

News Charles Krauthammer passes away

He wasn't always right (who is?), but when he was right, he was quite usually spot-on.



June 21, 2018

News The shame of a family-separation policy lingers well after its suspension

The Economist: "The history of America's moral corrections suggests that what they lack in spontaneity they make up for with momentum."

Computers and the Internet SCOTUS opens door for states to collect Internet sales taxes

Science and Technology Brains in petri dishes

Scientists at UCSD are making Neanderthal mini-brains (organiods) out of stem cells and recovered Neanderthal DNA. The list of questions it raises is long. The research is aimed at studying the features of our brains that make us social animals, but these are proto-brains, after all. It's argued that the organoid brains can't think and have no sensory inputs, but studies (including some driven by biotechnologies like CRISPR) are pushing on the boundaries of what needs strict ethical scrutiny.

Agriculture "Two of the top three export destinations for U.S. pork have added a tariff in retaliation of United States tariffs"

Trade warring is very real

The United States of America "He resumed the plough with industry"

Having won the war with violence, the newly independent Americans secured the peace with their productivity



June 20, 2018

News Handing over the keys to the GOP

Absent a change like fusion voting or ranked-preference ballots, a two-party system is basically inevitable under America's first-past-the-post electoral system. So while it may be a respectable choice for people to resign from their parties in protest, whoever remains tends to get control of the infrastructure that's generally necessary to win elections. It's time for people who have historically been aligned with the Republican Party to think hard (and speak up) about what the party should stand for. The utter vacuity of the man in the Oval Office and the shapelessness of whatever Trumpism is conspire to make it insufficient to be just "Never Trump" or "Anti-Trump". Necessary, maybe. But insufficient. He is a void, so what follows must not also be a void.

Health Atul Gawande picked to head up Berkshire Hathaway/Amazon/JP Morgan health company

His book "The Checklist Manifesto" is one of the best books on cognition. He's tackling a giant project here, but possesses a well-qualified mindset for the job.

The United States of America Being serious about immigration doesn't require being cruel or indifferent

A lucid, temperate, and humane opinion on immigration from Jonah Goldberg that ought to occupy the mainstream of public opinion: "[S]o long as there are very poor countries, very poor people will understandably want to move here."

Threats and Hazards An 8-month-old baby taken from his parents

An utterly breathtaking account of what kind of stress the family-separation approach places on children. An 8-month-old infant is utterly helpless -- and anyone who would bend over backwards to defend a bad policy instead of defending the child is a scoundrel. As the Bloomberg editorial board opined, "The cause of better policy, and the reputation of the United States, aren't served by willful cruelty directed at innocent children. This deplorable strategy should end immediately. Trump started it, and Trump can stop it."

News Business can be a guardian of a free and open society

United Airlines says it won't fly separated children for the government

News World Refugee Day

Worthy causes on this day: Catholic Relief Services and the UN High Commission for Refugees

Humor and Good News "We're Generation X, and we've had it up to here with your attitude."

Emmanuel Macron castigates a punk kid who got a little too familiar



June 19, 2018

Threats and Hazards Who's the disingenuous party here?

China's ambassador to Australia accuses the Aussies of having a "cold war mentality". Nevermind that Australia has more than adequate reason for concern over Chinese influence campaigns (attempting to manipulate elections and even local-level governments) and abundant cause for concern over China's aggressive posture in the South China Sea. Look for this rhetorical tactic to show up again and again: A sort of geostrategic gaslighting.

Threats and Hazards Separating children from their parents at the border isn't an immigration policy -- it's an act of cruelty

What is being done in our name as a country merits protests to Congress. As John Stuart Mill wrote: "A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy [barbarism] must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it."

Business and Finance We don't have a lot of options in case the economy turns south

The demand for happy talk is endless, but economics requires grappling with cold, hard reality. We not only have a shortage of tools for stimulating an economy gone bad, we also have politicians bent on doing things that will actively make the economy worse. And with politicians engaging in a "lurch toward protectionism", the anxiety created by today's dumb behavior in a fair economy will linger even after we muster the will to turn back away from protectionism and re-embrace free trade. Much of the damage is done just by the threat. In the words of Milton and Rose Friedman, "Competition in masochism and sadism is hardly a prescription for sensible international economic policy!" Tit-for-tat tariffs are madness.

Business and Finance Walgreen's replaces General Electric on the DJIA

Really taking the "industrial" out of the "Dow Jones Industrial Average", aren't we? Creative destruction is a cruel thing.



June 16, 2018

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 16, 2018

Broadcasting live at 2:00 pm

News Are we in a "prewar" moment, a "postwar" decline, or something else?

Nobody is offering a grand vision of aspiration at the national level. In its absence, we get petty animosity and small ideas amplified to 11. We can and should be better, but we need narratives selling why and how.



June 15, 2018

News "The Trump Doctrine is winning and the world is losing"

Stellar opinion writing by Kori Schake. The world order isn't an all-you-can-eat buffet where our allies stuff themselves and the US foots the bill. It's like a buying club where, by pooling our resources, we all ultimately pay less. A Costco for Peace, if you will.

News Refugees are people, too

During WWII, when the United States had less than half the population we do today, we managed to humanely accommodate 400,000 POWs from the Axis countries -- on American soil. With leadership and imagination, we can find humane ways to accommodate refugees today.

Agriculture How much erosion from the latest rains?

It turns out, quite a bit. Soil, once lost, is really hard to replace. Really, really hard.

News An unfortunate counterbalance

After the "MPR raccoon" story, an unfortunate counter: Police in Bismarck are investigating a report of a hamster being thrown from a building. It may sound trivial, but anyone who demonstrates unrepentant cruelty to animals might very well have the same depth of cruelty with other humans.

Humor and Good News That's one place to put a lawn chair

The Platte River in Nebraska is so wide and shallow that people wander out to the middle of it and plant their chairs on sandbars



June 13, 2018

Threats and Hazards A disgrace

When asked by the Voice of America what message he would send to the North Korean people, President Trump responded with praise for Kim Jong Un and a self-adoring diversion about what great chemistry he felt with the dictator. His answer is a disgrace. He should have heeded the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism."

Business and Finance The Federal Reserve's crystal ball: The economy will cool down, but we're pretty hazy on when

Big picture: No one is really quite sure why the economy is in the condition it's in. That makes it pretty hard -- even for the Federal Reserve -- to say how long it'll stay that way, especially with big structural risks lying in the weeds. What happens if oil prices keep rising? What happens if we get into a circular firing squad of tariffs? What happens if POTUS hints at defaulting on Federal debt? What happens if China moves against Taiwan? And what happens if our titanic Federal debt (and underfunded obligations) isn't reined in?

Threats and Hazards May our divisions cease

A ballot proposal (called "CA-3") would divide California into three states. Until American politics cool off a bit, efforts like this should be treated as if they were foreign influence campaigns designed to stir up division and create strife...because there is a very real, non-zero chance that's what's going on. Anyone with a marginal familiarity with history ought to recognize the maxim "divide et impera" -- divide and rule.

News A vignette about separating children from their parents

We face a public-policy choice right now about the treatment of foreign children. That bears serious scrutiny. We need to remember the regret we as a country should feel over our similar policy choices circa 1938. The violence in places like El Salvador may not be state-run, but it is on a huge scale, and the kids who flee from it are true refugees. They deserve humane treatment as such. During WWI, Herbert Hoover led a US program to deliver food aid to people in occupied Belgium so they could avoid a famine. We helped because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the legal circumstances surrounding the German occupation. Americans don't have to wait for perfect law and order before choosing to do what is right, just, and compassionate. If the extraordinarily daunting nature of the journey is not itself enough of a deterrent to keep people from trying, then what good comes of us applying cruelty on top of it? In a quest to be a "great" country, we shouldn't torch the values and practices that make us good.

Threats and Hazards This "enemy of the people" nonsense must stop

The President's antipathy towards the free press looks especially nefarious in contrast to his fawning over North Korea's dictator



June 12, 2018

News A paper was signed in Singapore -- but what?

Americans will, sooner or later, be privy to what was signed. But you can be sure the North Korean people will be fed a line of propaganda about "forcing the imperialists to acknowledge the indomitable might of the Juche Ideal" or somesuch. That's a win for Kim Jong Un -- at US expense.

Health Would you take a longer life (with high quality) if it required working longer?

There's no telling what's in store, but odds are good that the year 2100 will be amazing. Do people hate work? Over-discount extra quality years of life? Not really care that much about living? Attitudes on this will have a big impact on important policies -- like how we fund retirement programs and health care.

News Women discover -- at age 72 -- that they were switched at birth

One of their mothers is still alive

News 40 floors of fire escape

A missed opportunity, perhaps, to demonstrate the Coriolis effect

Computers and the Internet Don't accept USBs from strangers

USB giveaways at the summit: Mating American weakness for free stuff to a super-convenient vector for putting really bad things on computers.



June 11, 2018

Humor and Good News The Federalist Lottery

A modest proposal: Every state names one of its own to be President, and we drawn the winner at random. New York serves a penalty suspension of four score and seven years for what it served up in 2016.

Business and Finance Chinese factory workers are drifting into the service sector

Oft-overlooked fact: Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and IT managers are all in the service sector. Whether a person's work produces a thing that fits in a box is a really arbitrary way to judge its value.

The United States of America Are we victims of the G7? No way.

We're not the first generation to face economic challenges -- but we're among the first to have the choice to face them in cooperation with allies who share our values. That's a strategic advantage, not a weakness.

Threats and Hazards Insulting allies, sucking up to adversaries

Is this really why we pay taxes?



June 2, 2018

News Missouri's governor resigns

From a practical standpoint, this case is a great argument for the maximum diffusion of power via a federal system -- limiting the impact of officials who are corrupt or lacking in judgment. It also illustrates exactly why we should look first at governors (past and present) when searching for Presidential candidates. A governor's office is the next-best thing to an Oval Office simulator. It tests who shines or fails under scrutiny.

Weather and Disasters USGS: Please don't roast marshmallows over Hawaiian lava flows

One must hope Americans aren't really that dumb, but someone asked. Who among us hasn't stood over a lava flow, like a metaphorical Colossus bestride Madame Pele, demanding that the Goddess of Fire suit our mortal demands for a S'more?

News Mitt Romney wrote in his wife for President in 2016

"I wrote in the name of a person who I admire deeply, who I think would be an excellent president"

Iowa MidAmerican Energy plans 100% renewable generation by 2020

The company will retain conventional generation capacity, but the company generates so much electricity from wind turbines that they'll be able to generate the equivalent of annual demand from renewable sources. Iowa: Where the corn, the tractors, and now the electricity, are all green.

Aviation News Singapore Airlines launches world's longest flight in October

An Airbus A350-900 will go from Singapore to Newark, taking 19 hours to get there. Singapore, it should be noted, is a city-state of 5.5 million people, about half the geographic size of Polk County, Iowa, and with no special natural resources to its name. Point being: A free market under the rule of law can create quite a lot, even starting with very little.



June 1, 2018

Threats and Hazards The North Korea deal is an experiment in real time

Kori Schake: "[O]ur foreign policy successes have resulted not from outsized bets, but from cautiously capitalizing on opportunities [...] And that approach is antithetical to President Trump, especially since he doesn't appear to be winning."

News Book review: "Suicide of the West" by Jonah Goldberg

We have the Enlightenment to thank for much (or even most) of what's good in our world today; Goldberg's book is a rousing reminder of that good

Humor and Good News The great anti-tariff shirt is still for sale

What we really need is for Snoop Dogg to narrate this shirt. Seems to have worked for hockey, wildlife videos, and Martha Stewart.

Threats and Hazards The Trump Doctrine: No deal without a relationship

If everything comes down to a "relationship" between two leaders, there's never any room left for multilateral agreements. Fundamentally, multi-party agreements require submission to common rules, which is what makes them robust and effective. Rules work better than "relationships" for promoting a world order we desire. (And, it should be noted, the President is terrible at assessing who is a "friend" and who isn't. He is buttering up Kim Jong-Un while sticking a finger in Justin Trudeau's eye.)

News Why does the President get to lie so much?

Tim Miller: "Trump has abused the media into grading him on the steepest of curves and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has proven time and again he deserves nothing but the most extreme scrutiny."

Business and Finance Loose lips sink economic ships

The President turned to Twitter to prematurely tease the release of economic data on unemployment figures. He was, of course, already in possession of the data, so he was treating it as a moment to promote himself -- but now he's created an expectation that when the figures are good, he'll say something about them. That's why this kind of data is treated with great secrecy. As economist Justin Wolfers asks, "Who wants to buy U.S. stocks, if you think there's a chance that you might be buying from someone who's selling based on Trump having said something to them on the phone last night?" Moreover, when the President is reckless with carefully-regulated information in public, it must be assumed (until evidence is delivered to the contrary) that he is even more reckless with it in private. The burden of proof is now squarely on the President and everyone in his orbit to prove that they are not engaging in self-enrichment by sharing privileged information -- or by attempting to manipulate financial markets to their own gain. There is no longer any room for the benefit of doubt.

Weather and Disasters May was Iowa's hottest ever

Following one of the coldest Aprils, so the whiplash is palpable

Threats and Hazards Walking down the street with $100 bills hanging out of your pockets

The Department of Homeland Security has evidence of high-tech cellphone surveillance taking place around the White House. Not unrelated: The President still chooses not to follow adequate procedures to use a secure phone.



May 31, 2018

News Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is very, very displeased

He promises immediate and equivalent retaliation against President Trump's arbitrary tariffs. Sticking it to our allies is a stupid and short-sighted policy. As Senator Ben Sasse has noted, "Blanket protectionism is a big part of why we had a Great Depression." If you don't want to understand the problem with tariffs from an economic standpoint, then try at least to understand it from a historical one. Or even look at it from the perspective of the US aluminum industry, which itself opposes the tariffs.

Business and Finance "This short-term 'economic sugar high' cannot continue indefinitely"

That the US economy is performing well according to the current metrics is a fine thing that makes people feel good. But the growth rate has some artificial boosters behind it, and the fundamentals (which include a speedily deteriorating Federal budget picture and a lot of political risk) don't inspire confidence for the current rates to continue for long. And when that rate slips toward the historical/fundamental norms (or even turns south and dips into recession), the insulin crash following the sugar high is going to hurt.

News "[N]o one really keeps track of the children placed in custody"

America is simultaneously doing two things that need urgent review and attention from officials with a moral compass: First, in the words of a writer at the Niskanen Center, "What changed was the enactment of the 'zero tolerance' policy that requires all parents who cross illegally be put in criminal proceedings, rather than the more expedient civil removal proceedings [...] even if they claim legal asylum." Second, we're seeing a failure in the quality and oversight of the system that is supposed to take responsibility for the welfare of the immigrant children who are in the government's care. Surely we can do better than this on both fronts.

Iowa Mercy plans a mental-health hospital in Clive

A community shouldn't be caught short-handed when it comes to dealing with traumas affecting the brain any more than it should be under-prepared for illnesses affecting other organs of the body. An expanded supply of patient beds (100 for inpatient care) would be a great development for the metro area.

Computers and the Internet Alexa is listening

An editor at MIT Technology Review takes the unusual (but entirely valid) step of listening back to what Alexa has recorded in her house. And it's a lot, including plenty of things she didn't command it to do.

Humor and Good News Woman runs half-marathon in a suit

To win a Guinness world record. So now it's yoga pants at the store and suits on the track.

News Ideas matter, as much as ever

Imagine a 20th Century minus the two world wars. You can't, really, unless you can also imagine a 20th Century without the ideologies that triggered those wars. That is your simple proof that ideas matter. Fight the bad ideas with good ones, before it comes to arms.


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May 30, 2018

Threats and Hazards There's nothing sane about steel and aluminum tariffs against our allies

To wreck the trade system like this is reckless, self-defeating, and not at all consistent with the supposed national-security purposes of the tariffs

Threats and Hazards Surveillance by China's domestic police is much worse than you think

A nation can get rich, but material wealth isn't worth much if it impoverishes the soul. The Communists there might be running a great power, but it isn't a good one.

News New York Times shows sensible restraint

"[W]e intentionally didn't name any of the perpetrators" of school shootings. Good for them. It's clearly a problem with socially contagious effects, and doing anything to grant notoriety to the perpetrators contributes, even if unintentionally, to the problem.

Agriculture A 440-year-old white oak

Felled by a storm, the tree's cross section is going on display at the Wallace State Office Building

Business and Finance Former JC Penney CEO thinks 75% of shopping malls are doomed

He thinks the ones that will survive are the ones with Apple stores and Tesla branches



May 29, 2018

Threats and Hazards "[B]aseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests"

The President's comfort level with conspiracy theories is not only much too high, it's a hazard to the public

Threats and Hazards "What will historians 50 years from now know that Trump and Kim do not now know about their own nuclear standoff?"

High stakes, limited information, and volatile personalities -- a combination that certainly amplifies the risk of something going wrong

Computers and the Internet Today's tech giants aren't forever

At least not if they face level playing fields of competition. But the story could turn out differently if companies like Google and Facebook are able to manipulate the rules in such a way that they become, either explicitly or implicitly, like public utilities.

Aviation News Smartphone-driven miniature missiles

Lockheed Martin is developing a miniature missile, "roughly the size of a collapsed umbrella", intended to intercept drones and other small devices capable of putting a kinetic payload in the sky below the threshold of normal radar detection

News EU considers banning single-use plastics

Plastic straws could be gone, and plastic bottles close behind them



May 27, 2018

Computers and the Internet FBI asks if you'd kindly reboot your routers

Their request: "Foreign cyber actors have compromised hundreds of thousands of home and office routers and other networked devices worldwide. The actors used VPNFilter malware to target small office and home office routers."



May 25, 2018

Threats and Hazards Federal government workers have lost track of 1,500 migrant children

They were separated from their parents by our draconian policy on border-crossing, and now it's unclear where 1,500 of them have gone. That's truly appalling. If this isn't a firing offense for people up and down the chain of command, what is? These are children we're talking about. Like the video of children being gassed in Syria, or like pictures of children being starved in Yemen, this story is a massive transgression that feels even worse to any reasonable person with little people at home whom they would defend with their very lives. A century ago, Herbert Hoover was known as the Great Humanitarian. Put aside anything you think about his Presidency -- as a private citizen, he had done more to rescue refugees and save young lives from starvation than anyone alive today. Where is our Hoover in 2018? Who is empowered to step up to solve these problems? Who is being invited to do so? Does anyone know where even to start?

Socialism Doesn't Work China plays hardball with Taiwan

The Communist government on the mainland is engaged in a pressure and isolation campaign to put the screws to the Republic of China. And it's happening at a time of edgier relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

Computers and the Internet "As unlikely as this string of events is..."

How an Amazon Echo recorded a household conversation and sent the clip to a family acquaintance

News Where are the nerds?

A complaint from Britain that describes a problem often encountered in the US, too: Not enough nerds in the rooms where big decisions are made. Not everyone needs to be a technician...but at least a couple should be in the room, most of the time.

Threats and Hazards Nebraska drug bust uncovers enough fentanyl to kill 26 million people

In a time of big numbers, this one is huge

Weather and Disasters A dynamic display in the clouds

Storms bubbling up in Iowa

Weather and Disasters 10 years after the Parkersburg EF-5 tornado

When the EF-5 is classed as total devastation, it's not an exaggeration

News Overcrowded city life is overrated

There are certain opportunities available only in certain very large cities. But there are also hidden costs that go along with megalopolitan living that people too often overlook when evaluating whether to live there. For example: Getting out of New York City by road on a holiday weekend is a complete nightmare. Same for most other really large cities. The time spent in traffic in the biggest cities -- as compared with somewhat smaller cities that offer, say, 75% of the same amenities -- is an enormous toll to place on one's existence without some kind of compensation.

The United States of America Defense Secretary Mattis addresses Air Force Academy graduates

"It is now your responsibility to ensure our adversaries know they should always prefer to talk to our Department of State, rather than face the US Air Force."



May 24, 2018

The United States of America "Because it's about the flag, the censorship is even worse"

A thoughtful -- and conservative -- rebuttal to the NFL's plans to crack down on expression during the National Anthem

News No North Korean summit

The President has abruptly cancelled his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong-Un

Iowa Census Bureau names the fastest-growing cities in America

Ankeny, Iowa, is #4. The growth rate has been pretty remarkable.

Science and Technology A 3D-printed tiny home

(Video) Making it out of concrete is pretty cool, and permits a one-day production cycle. But it's worth asking whether the constraint on building high-quality homes in poor places is a shortage of labor, the cost of materials, or something else. Is a 3D printer really removing an important constraint?

The United States of America "You can go elsewhere for a job, but you cannot go elsewhere for a soul."

Senator Jeff Flake offers a pointed set of remarks at the Harvard Law School commencement ceremony



May 23, 2018

News NFL will require players to stand for the National Anthem or teams will face fines

But let's ask some serious questions: Will the NFL do anything to actively address the problems that players sought to highlight with their gestures during the anthem? Will the league do anything to counter the false narrative that players were protesting the flag or the anthem, rather than conducting a protest during the anthem but not directed at it? Will the league require players, coaches, and referees to salute the flag with hands over their hearts, as proscribed by Flag Code? Will the NFL cease the use of giant, field-covering flags as prop, which is behavior expressly in violation of Flag Code, which prohibits the flag from touching the ground or from being "carried flat or horizontally"? Will the NFL put its money where its mouth is and put a halt to all sales of food and beverages during the playing of the anthem (the 49ers are hinting they'll suspend sales in just such a manner)?

Business and Finance US trade negotiators want to cut visas for Canadians and Mexicans, too

Unless those workers have some kind of bizarrely low marginal propensity to consume, then letting them into the country to work has, broadly, an economy-expanding effect. The United States is the world's most powerful magnet for talent, and the more of it we attract, the stronger a country we are.

News Pope OK with a man being gay

A man reports that Pope Francis expressed compassion for him when he revealed that he was gay, saying "God made you like this and loves you like this and it doesn't matter to me. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are." That might be the kind of statement that aggravates the doctrinal purists, but regardless of its conformance with dogma, the Pope's reported statement sounds everything like one of pastoral care and concern. The Pope is, after all, a priest. And one would hope that any priest faced with another human being's anguish would choose to demonstrate concern, respect, and love rather than beating that person about the head with a strict interpretation of doctrine.

News Chicago City Council approves half-billion-dollar Obama Presidential Center

Only one alderman voted "no" -- because he objected to the $175 million the city is supposed to spend on infrastructure directly related to the center (with no plans for where the money will be found). And that's not a bad objection to muster. The tradition of building Presidential libraries is a neat one -- if they're sustainable projects with true educational and historic merit, and not just giant monuments to ego.

Threats and Hazards A look at Russia's crooked Facebook ads

Perhaps the biggest problem with the ads is their propensity to normalize really stupid, unthoughtful attitudes as a substitute for real thought



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


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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


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.



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.



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.



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.


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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.'"


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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



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.