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December 6, 2016

Threats and Hazards We are supposed to be better than this

(Video) It's very, very hard to face the reality that half a million children are starving to death in Yemen right now. HALF A MILLION. But that is the reality, and the civilized world needs to face it.

Threats and Hazards UN asks for $22 billion

The organization says 93 million people are directly in harm's way due to violence, displacement, and natural disasters worldwide. 93 million people is a population larger than Germany, and would rank in the top 20 countries by population worldwide.

News Make time to listen to Maggie Haberman's take on the President-elect

The New York Times reporter explains more of the "must-know" in an hour than any amount of social media has covered. The first 25 minutes or so of her interview with Glenn Thrush spend a little too much time on inside baseball, so for the listener truly in a hurry, skip forward to the 25-minute mark for the real meat and potatoes.

The United States of America Don't read too much into this "post-ideology" thing

Donald Trump isn't the first vapid populist to hit the electoral scene -- not in the world, nor in America. He won't be the last, either. But ideas matter. As Margaret Thatcher's ally Keith Joseph once said, "We must fight the battle of ideas in every school, university, publication, committee, TV studio even if we have to struggle for our toe-hold there; we have the truth, if we fail to make it shine clear, we shall be to blame no less than the exploiters, the casuists, the commercialisers." In the short run, it's possible to win an election on empty promises. In the long run, something has to fill the void after those empty promises collapse under their own weight. People need answers, they need leadership, and they need something affirmative to believe in. It's up to sensible people on both the right and the left to define some sound intellectual foundations for what comes next.

News America's isn't the only election that counts this year

Ghana is going through a rough economic patch, which is challenging to sound government no matter where you are

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December 1, 2016

Computers and the Internet Netflix is going to let users download some titles

Could be a real game-changer for air travelers -- and parents who want to keep their kids quiet on long road trips

News The Chicago Tribune Credo

"The newspaper is an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide."

Computers and the Internet A revival for the Nokia phone brand?

Foxconn will make the phones, and the company that got its hands on the brand name will be trying to sell feature phones and Android smartphones. On a related note, one might hope that the Gooligan incident that came to the world's attention this week will result in Google taking a more serious approach to insisting that handset makers comply with OS upgrades on a regular basis. The current regime is nonsense and it's dangerous to users everywhere.

November 30, 2016

Business and Finance Don't count on 4% economic growth

The incoming Trump Administration is exercising the same kind of belief in economic magic that too long possessed the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration long bet on 4% GDP growth as a way to fix the Federal budget. It was absurd of them to bet on that assumption; it wasn't going to happen, and any projections based on such a fanciful figure were bound to be wrong. Now, the presumptive Trump Administration Treasury Secretary is making the exact same fantastical promises. This is sheer madness. Utter and complete madness. Would we all like to see sustained 4% real GDP growth? Absolutely -- it would permit the economy to double in size every two decades or so. That would be (literally) awesome. But it isn't going to happen. The United States last had sustained 4% growth rates in the 1960s. Rates were in the low 3% range through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And since then, they've been in the 2% range. Anyone promising 4% annual GDP growth is a huckster, a fraud, and a snake-oil salesman -- unless they can explain precisely what mechanisms they intend to put in place that will cause the economy to suddenly adopt a growth rate twice as fast as anything we've seen since before the Nixon era. Perhaps worst of all is that these people are promising to make the growth rate escalate in part by shutting down trade and getting the government more heavily involved in picking winners and losers. Make no mistake about it: If the only reason a manufacturer like Carrier chooses to build products in the United States is because they're getting sweetheart deals in the form of tax breaks and state-funded incentives, then the economy should be expected to grow at a slower rate than it presently does -- not faster. (And, by the way, if economic barriers are put up that implicitly punish Mexico, then expect the pressure on the border to get worse, not better.) The only way to sustainably raise economic growth rates (without some dramatic event like a war) is to improve the output of the workforce, which is entirely based upon the number of workers and the productivity we get from each one. The number of workers has been shrinking (in relative terms) since the turn of the century, so anyone who pretends to have an answer about economic growth that doesn't center on dramatically raising productivity is a person who is lying to you or is too stupid to be entrusted with any meaningful power. And that's awful, because a lot of people have gotten their hopes up...really, really high.

Threats and Hazards Anderson Cooper has a good question

The CNN anchor wants to know why the President-elect is watching CNN instead of reading briefing materials? People are starting to get careless with phrases like "post-literacy" (which is being used by some to describe Trump) -- and that's reckless. There is no such thing as "post-literacy". There is literacy...and there is illiteracy. If someone is not literate, that makes them illiterate. Don't muck up the language with a new phrase just because it seems catchy. And note, too, that there are several forms of literacy -- all of which it is wise for any functional adult to possess, but most especially a President of the United States. These include, but are not limited to: literacy in its most common sense; numeracy; technological literacy; economic literacy; and scientific literacy. An adult failing to possess (or at least attempting to acquire) functional literacy in all of those areas should be allowed nowhere near the levers of power if the voters have their own best interests in mind.

The United States of America The First Amendment comes first for a reason

Always: Our true allegiance and loyalty should be pledged to the Constitution above all.

Business and Finance Some recommended introductory reading in economics

A few books for the beginner

Threats and Hazards A woman who abandons a two-year-old child isn't a "mom"

Nor is she a "mother". At best, she is a womb-landlord.

November 29, 2016

Threats and Hazards Only a dunce would disregard the value of the White House press corps

The last eight years have been hard on the White House press corps, whether it's been adequately acknowledged or not, because the Obama Administration has been eager to bypass the media "gatekeepers" by using the Internet to promote its own agenda. This has been mildly propagandistic behavior, and it probably deserved more criticism than it got. There was some pushback in 2013 about the White House's habit of staging photographs and leaving credentialed photographers behind, and there have been several instances when the White House Correspondents' Association has protested strongly against unreasonable obstacles to coverage that have arisen during the Obama administration, including exclusion from official events and high expense charges for travel with the President. In a sense, the frustrating behavior of 44 has laid a foundation for potentially awful behavior by 45. As a candidate, Donald Trump routinely stirred up mob-like antipathy for the press, and as President-elect, he has gone so far as to ditch the protective pool. That's not acceptable -- no matter what your political allegiances, the President is a living military command center. It is imperative that his or her condition be independently verifiable by credentialed journalists at any hour of the day or night, and the same goes for the President-elect. As a country, we have made a big mistake in letting President Obama off the hook and not insisting on greater transparency with the independent press corps. Under no circumstances should further ground be permitted to erode as Donald Trump assumes the office -- and if bombasts like Sean Hannity want to stake their ground on absurdity (Hannity: "Why does Donald Trump need a White House press office? He doesn't."), then they are, in fact, enemies of freedom and of representative government.

Threats and Hazards This is no time to roll over and go silent

That the Russian government has clearly acted to try to manipulate our domestic elections should be cause for widespread alarm -- and Republicans who believe in a strong national defense should be among the loudest with the outcry

News Don't get nostalgic for the wrong things

Old photos of the Victorian era may contain some aesthetic beauty, but don't forget how awful life was in the past compared with today

Computers and the Internet After losing a whole lot of data, college tells people not to back up their own data

They lost a mountain of data at King's College London when a backup system flopped at the wrong moment. Now they're saying they don't want to risk people screwing up their new system by making independent backups of their data. That's lunacy.

Weather and Disasters A late-November tornado outbreak in Iowa

Four weak tornadoes after Thanksgiving? It's extremely odd.

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November 28, 2016

Threats and Hazards Aleppo is just days from mass starvation

A massive disaster for our fellow human beings

Threats and Hazards Conflict of interest

The business of the nation must be the President's sole priority. It is a serious problem that the President-elect refuses to acknowledge the severity of his conflicts of interest or to make even the slightest hint of addressing them in a formal way.

Health Researchers find hundreds of new viruses

Viruses aren't just a problem for humans. Looking outside our own attackers, a scientific team found almost 1500 we hadn't known about.

News Associated Press says "alt-right" isn't enough

Without context, the phrase only serves to mask the reality -- and it's the job of journalism to remove that mask

News Russian president uses geography bee to crack imperialism jokes

Putin says Russia doesn't have borders. Then says it was just a joke. But is it?

November 22, 2016

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL is using chemical weapons

Energy spent making up reasons to keep refugees out of the West really ought to be redirected into figuring out what the rest of the world can do to help save the innocent from the monsters

News President-elect promises to back out of TPP

That's bad for America's standing in the world, and it will be bad for our economy

News Leaders make time to read

Words from a potential contender for Defense Secretary

Business and Finance Don't bet the farm on an economic boom

JP Morgan reviews the possibilities and doesn't come up with evidence for a boom

Business and Finance Chinese carmakers are learning the value of brand differentiation

If they want to get the higher end of the market, they'll need different brands than they use at the entry-level

November 21, 2016

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL destroys historical artifacts in its wake

Terrible, but still not as terrible as what they and Syria's Assad regime are doing to living people

Threats and Hazards The President's business should be conducted at more than arm's length from his public role

Specific criticism: The President-elect needs to decide now which individuals are responsible for his business interests, and which are responsible for helping him in government. The time for intermingling of the two has passed. The public is paying for an executive branch run with a full-time commitment, and one that is clear of conflicts of interest. If everyone in the private sector is subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then President-elect Trump must similarly be beyond even the hint of engaging in behavior that might appear to involve conflicts of interest between his public duties and his private money-making.

Computers and the Internet McDonald's will add self-service kiosks in all outlets

The cost of technology is falling fast, and the cost of labor could easily rise dramatically (due to movements like the one for a $15 minimum wage). And customers both spend more and show greater satisfaction with self-service. So anyone who is surprised by this development simply hasn't thought enough about the situation.

Business and Finance Small business formation is at a very low rate

America has historically been a very active generator of new businesses...and if the rate of new-firm formation is down by a lot, that's a symptom of trouble that we need to understand better. Are regulations deterring entrepreneurship? Have we somehow run out of new ideas? Are markets saturated? Is capital too hard to obtain? Are investors too risk-averse?

News Why hotels almost never have "Vacancy" signs anymore

Plenty of obvious reasons, of course -- but also the not-so-obvious, like innkeepers' interests in discouraging bad clientele

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November 20, 2016

News Mitt Romney meets with Donald Trump

It would be very good for the country if Mitt Romney were to serve in a high office during a Trump administration. Romney is a bona fide skeptic of Trump, and he doesn't need the job. That gives him both the moral authority and the freedom to act according to his conscience.

The United States of America If the Democratic Party turns farther left because of 2016, they got it all wrong

The Democrats need to move toward the center, not the left. It does the country no good to have two wingnut political parties.

The United States of America One major thing that hasn't changed since the election

Per the Census Bureau: "Around the time the 2020 Census is conducted, more than half of the nation's children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. This proportion is expected to continue to grow so that by 2060, just 36 percent of all children (people under age 18) will be single-race non-Hispanic white, compared with 52 percent today." This fact, probably more than anything else, will help to secure civil rights in the future. Becoming a majority-minority country is a process that is very good for the well-being of America; despite some fits and starts coming from people who aren't comfortable with the changing face of the country, most of us see and live within diverse family and friendship groups. That's a pretty significant social safeguard.

Business and Finance Paul Krugman versus the facts

He wants government to stimulate the economy again. The evidence shows that it doesn't work like he says it does.

The United States of America How to influence Congress

Hint: Clicking on a Facebook meme isn't the way

November 16, 2016

Threats and Hazards The protective pool isn't an option

A President (or President-elect) who ditches the press protective pool assigned to follow him or her is an individual who underestimates the weight of the office. The President is a walking and talking, living and breathing military command center. The American people require uncontested third-party confirmation at all times where that command center is located and in what condition it is kept. Anything less introduces a level of uncertainty equivalent to threatening the safety of the Pentagon. There should be no doubt about this: On 9/11, the President of the United States was evacuated to an airborne command post -- and even with a small staff, room was made for members of the press to evacuate with him. That's how important third-party validation of the President's security is to the continuity of government. Donald Trump ditched his protective pool this week. He cannot do that again.

News Minnesota police officer charged with manslaughter over shooting of civilian

In the Philando Castile case, the county attorney says: "No reasonable officer who knew, saw and heard what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances." Remember, not only was an innocent man shot, there was a child in the back seat and an adult passenger in the front. The county attorney is showing courage by pursuing the case in this way -- but a Federal investigation ought to be conducted in every case involving a police-involved killing of a member of the public. Oversight regarding the use of deadly force should not be under-applied.

Threats and Hazards Wikileaks was used as a conscious tool of Russian influence

This is dirty politics at its most high-stakes

News "[A]dversarial journalism, not access journalism"

That is what will be required of the mass media in the Trump Administration. Don't show up to be friendly. Show up to hold power to account.

Agriculture Tough times to persist for Midwestern farmers

And that has a spillover impact on the rest of the regional economy

November 12, 2016

Business and Finance People are quitting their jobs, and it's a good thing

The number of people quitting their jobs is now at a ten-year high, and it's the biggest gap between layoffs (1.47 million in September) and quitting (3.07 million) that we've had in even longer than that. Voluntary quitting is a symptom that conditions are good for workers.

Computers and the Internet Russia is soon to ban LinkedIn for "privacy" issues

LinkedIn resisted storing data on computers inside Russia because they could easily be more susceptible to surveillance there rather than elsewhere. But that's not the kind of "privacy" that the Russian government appears to want to respect. Considering the pending move to fold LinkedIn into Microsoft, this is actually a really dumb move on the part of the Russian government. There will be business costs.

Iowa Spencer's one-time largest employer is closing

Terrible times for commodity agricultural production is crushing the market for heavy equipment, which is where the plant's products were used. Employees already knew that layoffs were likely, but the complete closure undoubtedly hurts.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - November 12, 2016

Live at 2:00 Central Time on Saturday afternoon

November 11, 2016

News A letter to America "from an old friend"

A longtime former ambassador to the United States from Singapore has exceptionally thoughtful words for Donald Trump, including: "You should avoid the trap of being held accountable for those remarks. You need not have a bad conscience about it because every US president before you did the same thing. You are just following a well-known US tradition." Decidedly worth reading for anyone who wants some perspective on what the United States should do with regard to Asia.

Threats and Hazards Should the people charged with executing the law be able to benefit themselves by it?

As the Presidential transition gets underway, it's time for everyone to move from generic campaign-style criticism into specific criticism of their opponents. And a very significant point on which criticism is justified is the apparent turnover of Donald Trump's business interests not to a blind trust, or even to an arm's-length management team, but to his own children. That puts him and his family in a very specific position of power to conduct extraordinary and abnormal abuses of political influence for personal monetary gain -- particularly as it becomes clear that those same offspring will be involved in Trump's governing style as well as his business interests. This is not normal, and it's not OK. It opens the door to abuses like the exact kind of "pay-to-play" corruption that Trump himself specifically accused Hillary Clinton of engaging in as Secretary of State while still maintaining familial contact with the Clinton Foundation.

News Start the impeachment countdown clock

An American University professor who has gained a reputation for making accurate contrarian political predictions has noted that he thinks a Trump Presidency could easily be dumped rather quickly by a Republican Congress that (easily) finds legitimate grounds for an impeachment, and then acts swiftly to replace Donald Trump with his Vice President. (Might not be all that controversial if he enrages his base by reversing course on key issues.) But others predicted it before the professor.

News How quickly can the Imperial Presidency be rolled back?

Don't assume powers when in office that you don't want your opponents to have when they win. That's advice we've ignored for a long, long, long time.

News Gov. Chris Christie out as Trump's transition chair

One might wonder how that change came about so quickly

November 10, 2016

News "No problem comes to the president unless it is fiendishly complicated"

The Economist weighs in on the election of Donald Trump with a sobering analysis. Virtually every word should be in boldface and underlined. This is no time for mistakes.

Threats and Hazards Does the incoming administration threaten national security?

The military seems to have bristled under micromanagement by the Obama administration, and while some think that a Trump administration will bring relief, that's not a hope supported by evidence. This is, after all, an incoming President who is known to micromanage his own businesses and who said -- without apparent irony -- that he knew more than the nation's defense leadership. But there's also a story buried in the details: If Trump truly intends to do an end-run around the "Washington establishment", then he's going to have grave difficulties finding people qualified to direct the processes of diplomacy, strategic planning, and military action. There are rules to all of this -- including things like obtaining security clearances. If the machinery of government isn't lubricated by capable actors, then we could in fact find ourselves in a vulnerable state.

News Milwaukee sheriff's idle threats against demonstrators should be scorned

The First Amendment is crystal-clear: Peaceable assembly is a right the government cannot dispute. Period. End of story. To tweet, "There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people" is to spit in the faces of the Founders. Peaceful protests -- even stupid ones -- are an absolute right.

Broadcasting The times call for more journalists like Scott Pelley

The CBS anchor is about as sober as they come. His words on the election are sensible. And he's both smart and tough on his interview subjects.

Computers and the Internet Don't fear workers overseas -- it's automation that takes a real toll on jobs

A local TV weather forecaster jokes that Facebook is "trying to do my job again" by automatically inserting a forecast into his news feed. But it's true: If the forecast is delivered automatically and updated instantly and integrated seamlessly into the rest of your stream of consciousness, then that undoubtedly diminishes the demand for a conventional local TV weather forecast. Maybe imperceptibly at first. Maybe unquantifiably for now. But over the long term, habits can change -- in big ways. Lots and lots of people are insufficiently aware of the impact that automation will have (or is having) on their industries. They'd better get wise.

November 9, 2016

The United States of America Donald Trump wins

Secretary Clinton has conceded defeat, exactly as the proper function of a free democracy requires. President Obama has promised a dignified transfer of power and best wishes for success. Criticisms that applied to him during the election remain valid as an officeholder, though they ought to be delivered with the dignity that befits the office.

The United States of America 1,557,152 Iowans voted in 2016

Iowa had 1,589,951 general-election voters in 2012, and 1,546,453 in 2008. The final number for 2016 will be somewhat higher after some remaining ballots are counted, but this is not an election with an abnormally high turnout.

News The Democratic Party's civil war begins

Both parties are in dire structural trouble. The Trump takeover of the Republican Party overshadowed the simultaneous near-dissolution of the Democratic Party. Now, their meltdown will overshadow the hollowing-out of the GOP. The parties are both in terrible shape.

News Strong words from Van Jones upon the election outcome


Business and Finance Hyundai up-brands its luxury car

Like Honda (which begat Acura), Toyota (which begat Lexus), and Nissan (which begat Infiniti), Hyundai has decided to create an upmarket brand under the "Genesis" flag. There may be a broader lesson to take away for marketing in general: Let your primary brand remain mass-market, and if you need to go up-market, spin up a new brand.

October 30, 2016

News Life under ISIS/ISIL in Iraq

Understand: The people forced to live under the terrorist regime are the real victims, and they're the people we should be looking for ways to help.

News Justice Clarence Thomas worries that we're undermining our institutions

The notably conservative jurist seems to be suggesting that the Senate is doing meaningful harm by refusing to act on a SCOTUS nominee. Institutions have a value that transcends momentary politics.

Threats and Hazards Someone hung white-power posters at Iowa State


Aviation News Walk-through body scanners now being tested

Perhaps airport security in the future won't be the nightmare it often is today. Getting people screened swiftly isn't just a matter of convenience -- it's a security issue unto itself. Long lines of unscreened people queued up like cattle are themselves a serious target for attack.

News "A frustrating lack of intellectual ambition for children to match the sporting ambition"

Should American schools look a little more like American gyms? An interesting perspective from a semi-outsider.

October 28, 2016

Business and Finance Health-insurance premiums are set to jump by a quarter next year

Huge consequences follow a failure to address costs in the health-care sector. We've only re-shuffled who pays.

Business and Finance BEA says real GDP rose by 2.9% (annualized) in the third quarter

They've had a recent history of substantial revisions, so take the number with a grain of salt. But if it's true or close to true, then it's very good news. We need broad-based economic growth -- but we also need to be attentive to the likelihood that a lot of parts of the country are experiencing their own local economic slowdowns that aren't reflected in national figures.

The United States of America Why don't more Americans vote?

Is it a sign of complacency or something worse?

News France starts tearing down the "Jungle"

What's the real end game?

Computers and the Internet LinkedIn upgrades job-seeker and company pages

Some of the tools are still in development and roll-out, but it looks like the pending acquisition by Microsoft has put a little bit of new life into the company

October 27, 2016

The United States of America We could have had President Romney

While there are people who support Donald Trump because they're angry or racist or otherwise provoked by his dark messages, there are many others who actually perceive him to be a highly competent individual. While that perception is contradicted (strongly) by the facts, it's a powerful driving force. People are attracted to competence, even if we like to pair it with other shortcomings so that we don't have to feel intimidated by the highly-competent individual. (See, for instance, the personal demons that television writers have given to characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Gregory House, and President Josiah Bartlet.) The huge problem ahead of us is that the American public rejected an indisputably competent candidate in 2012 when Mitt Romney lost the election. Romney's resume was impeccable, as was his personal character. In nominating Donald Trump in 2016, the GOP threw its backing to the illusion of competence. As it becomes virtually certain that Hillary Clinton will win the election and face a hostile Republican House of Representatives (with the Senate likely to be close to evenly split between the major parties), we are likely to see almost no opportunities for anyone to demonstrate real competence in Washington in the coming few years. That, in turn, is going to frustrate voters even more, and make them hunger even further for competence. The best thing for the country will be for multiple non-Washington figures (governors, most likely) to demonstrate great competence under duress (in the face of natural disasters, for instance) and to then gain a foothold in the race for the 2020 Presidential nomination. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen is for the illusion of competence to win again. We have to be on guard against that possibility.

News "But Barry Goldwater wrote a bestselling book outlining a coherent vision"

One of many reasons why 2016 shouldn't be compared with 1964

Health AIDS was probably in the United States in 1971

A truly scary thought, considering how much earlier that was than anyone's realization of the threat

Science and Technology A self-driving 18-wheeler has successfully worked on American roads

Have no doubt: Self-driving vehicles are going to have a huge impact on us in the years ahead

Business and Finance Don't ask the barber if you need a haircut

Harvard's endowment has been performing poorly. Maybe part of the problem is that its managers have had too much power to guarantee their own compensation, independent of performance. Oversight matters!

Computers and the Internet Twitter announces plan to shut down Vine

The short-video-looping service was a $30 million acquisition for Twitter in 2012, but Twitter continues to struggle with actually turning a profit. Since alternatives (like Snapchat) already exist, they're probably pulling back rather than reinvest in new development of the platform.

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October 26, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work A Clinton Presidency will be dogged by the left

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was never really a Democrat anyway, is going to make life miserable for the (virtually certain-to-be) Clinton administration. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren will be a nuisance from the hard-left, too. That's what's so awful about the current state of the parties: There's no business-friendly wing of the Democratic party anymore...just a whole lot of people on the left pushing ever-harder for really bad policy.

Computers and the Internet President Obama gets good marks for parenting in the digital age

He's aware of what his kids are doing online, which may or may not be easier to do with the help of the Secret Service. But he's providing a decent model for behavior for the rest of us.

Iowa Cedar Rapids police will start using bodycams -- with consent

They're going to alert members of the public of the presence of the cameras and ask for permission to film. This may not be the perfect solution, but it's at least one acceptable option for maintaining some privacy rights.

Computers and the Internet Amazon rolls out a bunch of "Dash" buttons

Press a button, order a restock of something you use around the house. It's either the height of laziness or the peak of consumer-economic genius. Maybe both.

News Massive increases in health-insurance premiums should be a bombshell for any Democratic nominee

But because Donald Trump is a wickedly unqualified, undisciplined, and unthinking Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton is getting a free pass on what should be massively damaging news. That's the problem with nominating an awful candidate. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, or Marco Rubio all could have ridden the lousy insurance news to a bump in the polls...but the Republican Party is stuck with the Orange Menace instead.

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October 25, 2016

Aviation News Airbus looks toward a future with flying taxis

Practical over short distances, within metropolitan areas? Let's not count on it. But the future of commercial aviation may very well look like this: Small, self-piloting aircraft ferrying perhaps six passengers at a time over distances of 100 to maybe 500 miles. Likely these would do best when paired with electric propulsion rather than combustion engines. There's a lot of traffic on the Interstate and primary highways across this country that involve people taking multi-hour car trips. An on-demand air service for this kind of travel, made economical by self-piloting aircraft, low-maintenance electrical propulsion, and the use of secondary airports, could certainly beget a whole lot of advantages.

Humor and Good News "Please re-elect Gerald"

(Video) One of the best-ever political spots, and it's for nothing more than a local office. But it does illustrate an important principle: People want their government officials to be competent, even if that makes them lovably goofy as individuals.

Computers and the Internet Own your domain names: The Trump edition

Domain names are cheap. Don't let them out of your sight.

Iowa Should Iowa raise and level the minimum wage?

As when the state tried to raise and flatten the statewide sales tax a few years ago, the appeal is not from those who want higher costs, but rather from those who want uniformity across jurisdictions. Of course, raising the minimum wage is only a symptomatic act if it fails to address the question of why people are only earning the minimum wage. We need to dig deeper and find out what obstacles are keeping people from raising their own level of human capital.

The United States of America Newspaper endorsements in the 2016 Presidential race

An overwhelming majority go for Clinton, even though many have grave reservations about her. Literally none of the major papers have endorsed Trump. Several have endorsed Johnson, including the Detroit News and the Chicago Tribune. Many, like the Cedar Rapids Gazette, are endorsing their first Democratic tickets in a very, very long time.

Humor and Good News One-paragraph book review: "Elements of Eloquence"

A hilariously brilliant but magically unpretentious guide to better writing and speaking

October 24, 2016

News The Pirate Party is polling well in Iceland

Dissatisfaction with conventional politics isn't just an American phenomenon. The question is whether the discontent expresses itself in ways that become fundamentally constructive towards something better. It's not enough to just emit a primal scream.

News Wolf Blitzer and a moment of clarity

Blitzer's usual television style -- a half-yelled, rapid-fire stream of new "urgencies" -- isn't all that useful in the grand scheme of things. But he shines in this clip where he repels an assault of stupidity from a Trump surrogate who doesn't grasp the consequences of attacking the concept of the free press. The means by which Trump has openly undermined freedom of the press on a grand stage are unforgivable.

Business and Finance What is China buying?

A thorough and eye-opening view of the businesses that Chinese companies are buying overseas

Health A third to a half of your personality is in your genes

Fortunately, we all have the free will to construct a lot of good characteristics, even if nature has sealed some parts of us in place from birth. It's not really an exaggeration to say that you are your habits -- and good habits are surprisingly easy to adopt.

News The Republican Party has a lot of reconstruction ahead

With the party chair admitting they may need to reevaluate the "consequences" promised against some of the 2016 candidates who refused to back Donald Trump, consider this: The reconstitution of the party as a functioning organism will specifically require the participation of people who saw what was happening this year and took a stand against it.

October 23, 2016

Humor and Good News Cubs head back to the World Series after 70 years

The team won its first National League pennant since 1945

Threats and Hazards "Goth politics may be the new normal"

What awful things happen after the election? The animal spirits that gave us 2016 haven't been tamed.

Broadcasting AT&T to buy Time Warner

Merging content creation with content distribution. Old Ma Bell has come a very long way back around the block.

News Concession speeches shouldn't be in doubt

Certain niceties are required in a world of self-government

Threats and Hazards "They have achieved complete media and public focus on one bright, shiny object"

Russia's stunts with warships in the English Channel could easily be a distraction from other, nefarious deeds

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October 17, 2016

The United States of America People need dignified ways to change their political allegiances

Mark Cuban, who shifted from Trump supporter to strong Trump critic, shared an article suggesting that people with deeply-held opinions on the election need to be treated like dignified adults as they consider changing their minds on a subject like a general election. This is sound reasoning. Some people on the left aren't thinking about the art of persuasion involved; they are blinded by their own ideology, even as they criticize others. But getting what you want isn't a matter of staking out a hard-core, unforgiving position on the election. It may feel good to vent your spleen, but it doesn't win over people who need a face-saving way to do what runs contrary to their normal allegiances. Asking people "What took you so long?" is no way to win over new allies. It's much wiser to say, "Wherever you're from, we're glad you're here." Not everyone who decides that Donald Trump is unfit for the Presidency is ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. Fortunately, those voters have an honorable alternative in Gary Johnson.

News Iraqi army starts effort to retake Mosul

A huge story, especially for those who have viewed the powerful new Frontline documentary on ISIS/ISIL

News Gerrymandering should be ended

President Obama appears to be looking at districting rules as a major area of his own activity post-Presidency. But it needs to be a push for true, unbiased redistricting -- not just an effort for Democrats to "get more". No party should pursue powers while in office that it doesn't want its opponents to have -- because eventually, everyone spends time in the minority. Gerrymandering is very bad for democracy, period.

News We need more people willing and ready to de-escalate confrontation

Including police officers. It doesn't really pass the "smell test" when a man is arrested for, ultimately, nothing more than walking in the street.

Business and Finance Honda is going to build more CR-V models

And they're going to build them in Indiana. American manufacturing isn't dead...it just has to change and evolve.

October 16, 2016

Threats and Hazards Gun deaths are undercounted

Extremely difficult reading, but extremely important

News Columnist: Sorry, Mitt Romney. We were too hard on you.

And given how things have gone in 2016, why would anyone with as clean a reputation as Romney ever want to run for President in the future?

News David Axelrod interviews Gary Johnson

America's center-left hasn't been forced to debate a serious center-right in this election. Axelrod sounds far too incredulous at highly sensible things that Johnson says -- and that's really bad for the country.

Threats and Hazards America wants a cease-fire in Yemen

The war there is making the future of the Middle East more dangerous and more unstable

News Excluding Gary Johnson and Bill Weld from the debates was a disservice to the country

Two sane, experienced former governors won the nomination of a third party. They have campaigned as decent human beings with the best interests of the country in mind. The Republican nominee hijacked the party, has no experience, and mocks basic tenets of decency. He has egged on supporters who advocate treason. The resulting clown show has sheltered the Democratic candidate from answering tough questions about budgets, the role of government, and foreign interventionism. This is a massive failure of the system.

October 8, 2016

Threats and Hazards Now it's official: US accuses Russia of hacking

"These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process [...] We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."

Threats and Hazards Donald Trump is an unqualified pig

And it brings shame on the nation that he's gotten this far

News And while the scandals make headlines...

...we're still failing to have a serious debate in this country about what to do with our entitlement programs. This is going to break us because it seems like we aren't going to really look for a solution until it's too late. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are talking about it on the campaign trail, but they've been all but totally ignored.

Science and Technology How technology influences writers

The medium at least somewhat affects the message

The United States of America Photos of western Nebraska -- minus the cliches

Really worth seeing

October 7, 2016

Weather and Disasters Hurricane Matthew's low pressure: 938 mb

That's 27.70 inches of mercury, or a drop of 2.22" from the standard pressure at sea level, which is 29.92 inches of mercury. For perspective, using the conversion of 1" Hg to 13.57" of water column, this says that under normal conditions, atmospheric pressure would be enough to push a column of water 33.83' up a vacuum tube. At the center of Hurricane Matthew, there's only enough atmospheric pressure to push a water column 31.32' up into a vacuum. There is so much less air pressure above the eye of this storm that water loses about 2.5' of lift into a vacuum. That's a tremendous difference -- illustrating just what a powerful storm this is.

News "Six reasons conservatives should not vote for Donald Trump"

A corollary: "The Honorable Alternative: A conservative case for Johnson/Weld in 2016"

News Chicago now examining rules to dial back police force

Oversight matters

News "Nightwatch" continues at the USAF

We don't want to think about nuclear war, but the Air Force still has to be prepared for it to happen

The United States of America Another foreign-policy option

Donald Trump has no real foreign policy. Hillary Clinton was the chief executive of the Obama foreign policy, which does not appear to have given us a more stable, peaceful world. Gary Johnson offers an alternative, and while it is probably more engagement-averse than most Americans might expect, it's also safe to assume that most Presidents end up drawn into more engagements than they expect -- not fewer. So starting from a low baseline, a Johnson administration might still find itself drawn into more than expected. Given the alternatives, it's worth serious consideration.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

September 21, 2016

The United States of America Gary Johnson most popular among military officers

The third-party candidate for President tracks ten percentage points ahead of either the Republican or Democratic candidates. And he also makes a good case that technologists should support him, too.

News Some Canadians are packing serious heat

Fearing armed robberies, some Canadians in the Prairie Provinces are going into the fields armed with some serious firepower. And this story -- which obviously runs contrary to the popular image of Canadians as super-friendly people who hate guns -- is a reflection of the fact that in the less-populated parts of the country, it can take a long time for police to arrive. Too long, in fact, for individuals to feel safe. So they arm themselves, and no reasonable person would deny that they are doing the rational thing. If the police take 30 to 60 minutes to show up, you have to serve as your own security. And that's why it is so hard to come up with a principled position on gun control: People who live in sparsely-populated rural areas may have very different reasons for carrying firearms from their counterparts who live in urban areas. And the balance of public safety may very well tilt strongly in favor of arming some citizens while trying to limit access to those same weapons for others.

Broadcasting Stephen Colbert finally finds his voice

His exasperation with Donald Trump seems to have really brought out the real Colbert

News Chicago plans a big wave of police hiring

Almost a thousand new officers. Let's hope they also take a look at the systemic factors and circumstances that have led to the city's awful violence. More police? That's part of the answer. But it's not the whole answer.

News Trump used charity funds to pay legal bills


September 20, 2016

Science and Technology Technology-illiterate people shouldn't control the levers of government

We don't necessarily have to fill Congress with coders, but the people who make and enforce our laws had better understand the big picture when it comes to technology

Threats and Hazards Why was a motorist shot by Tulsa police?

The available video evidence shows no apparent cause for police to have taken lethal action

Computers and the Internet Some HP printers are about to start rejecting third-party ink

HP has long made a good product, but this is taking things too far

Science and Technology At last, the Federal government is setting rules for self-driving cars

While government over-regulation is a bad thing, it's inevitable that some technologies (like self-driving cars) are going to require new or revised rules. It took much too long for the government to respond to the rise of autonomous automobiles, but at least they're finally getting something on paper.

News How libraries used to be a key source of national pride

Libraries have always needed to reflect the needs of their times, and they will continue as institutions of great importance even in a mostly-digital world. They will need careful curation, guidance, and promotion, however.

September 19, 2016

The United States of America "I've never seen a layer of government that didn't have 10% or 20% of excess spending in it"

Vice Presidential candidate Bill Weld, who is on the only ticket in 2016 giving any serious discussion to reducing the size of government, getting the budget under control, or reforming our entitlement programs so we don't go crashing into a fiscal brick wall

Threats and Hazards A lifejacket graveyard to depict the plight of refugees

Reuters says almost 7,000 people have died on the seas trying to escape Syria and other troubled countries since January 2015

Business and Finance ITT Tech shuts down abruptly

It's the most recognizable remaining vestige of the once-great ITT conglomerate. The closure is a huge misfortune to the students who are left as unsecured creditors -- and at a time when continuing education is more important to economic success than ever.

News The Washington Post reviewer really didn't like the Clinton-Kaine campaign book

Good: A manuscript that gives the reader a legitimate insight into the mind of the candidate. Bad: Regurgitated policy papers.

News Apocalypse Watch at Stratcom

A team in Omaha keeps watch 24 hours a day

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September 18, 2016

Business and Finance Never give an unrestricted gift

That might be the lesson to take away from the story of the New Hampshire college librarian whose bequest was partially used to fund a football scoreboard. Many people have looked at this story and used it as a case study in how sports-crazed America has its priorities all wrong, and that's a pretty natural first-order conclusion to take away. But the second-order issues that this story brings to light are perhaps even more important in the long run. One is the problem of entrusting resources into the hands of people who are clearly inattentive to the issues of headline risk and trustworthy custodianship; it's not just a problem at a university in New Hampshire. Another second-order problem illustrated by this story is the problem of eating the seed corn -- when you get a windfall, the dumb thing to do is to spend it right away on something non-productive (and make no mistake about it -- a football scoreboard is a non-productive investment). Windfalls should be used to make long-term investments; if you didn't know the windfall was coming, you won't miss it if you put it to use doing things that may not give you an immediate sense of satisfaction. It's hard to get people to sacrifice for the future, so windfalls should be used to make those future investments seem painless.

The United States of America Manchester Union Leader endorses Johnson-Weld ticket

"Restoration of [...] checks and balances might be the most promising benefit of a Johnson presidency."

Agriculture Driverless tractors? They're real.

Autonomous vehicles aren't just for the highways

Science and Technology "[I]mmediately stop using and power down the recalled Galaxy Note 7"

So advises the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Samsung has already said it's halting sale of the devices over the reported fire risk. It's a hugely embarrassing situation for Samsung. It's a million-device recall.

News "You didn't build that"

In the case of Donald Trump? No, he really didn't. To an extraordinary degree, he has used political connections and tax loopholes to enrich himself.

September 17, 2016

Weather and Disasters Satellite view of a super-typhoon

An awesome display of the behavior of low atmospheric pressure

Threats and Hazards Underfunded state pension programs are a huge problem

A huge problem, that is, of which we are almost totally ignorant

News Texas county settles with family of Sandra Bland

There is no good reason why she should have died while in police custody -- nor good reason for her to have been in custody in the first place. Her family deserves restitution, but it shouldn't be the end of the story.

News Debate commission blocks Libertarian candidate from first Presidential debate

A serious loss for the American public, which deserves to hear from a qualified alternative to a candidate who is a threat to national security.

Computers and the Internet Apple releases new iMessage

And it's a lot more complex than plain old texting

September 16, 2016

Threats and Hazards Colin Powell's email account got hacked

And while it's dismaying that his private communications have been stolen and put on display to the public, a lot of what he's been saying in private is actually quite reasonable

Threats and Hazards "[H]igh caseloads for child welfare workers and a lack of cooperation among agencies"

The things that a state inspector's report says are putting children in Nebraska at risk of serious injury or death. Similar conditions probably apply in other states, too. A civilization has a weighty responsibility to protect its children.

News Expensively bad ideas from Sen. Elizabeth Warren

The economic interventionists of the left wing are on parade right now

Science and Technology Bloomberg takes a ride in a self-driving Uber car

(Video) Self-driving cars are already real

Computers and the Internet Twitter to ease its 140-character limit -- just a little bit

Some links and media will no longer count against the total

August 31, 2016

Business and Finance Successors of the Tribune Company no longer own Tribune Tower in Chicago

They've sold the landmark to a real-estate developer for $240 million. The two successor companies to the original Tribune Co. (one for newspapers, the other for broadcasting) will both operate from the building for at least a while longer, but they're now tenants, rather than owners. The story in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean much. But it is symbolic of two trends taking place in American business: One is the shift to an asset-light framework, the other is the demise of great proprietor-owned institutions. Asset lightness (that is, renting, leasing, or contracting out the things that allow a company to run, rather than owning them outright) seems like an odd strategy in a time of near-zero interest rates (and it may have other substantial shortcomings), but it is in vogue. The demise of proprietor capitalism, though, is more disturbing and may undermine some important aspects of our national character that could make America much stronger in the future. There aren't a lot of great family fortunes that are still tied to businesses run by the families as well. These dynasties have been replaced by venture capitalists, professional managers, and public shareholding. But the problem is that in the long run, anything other than proprietor capitalism runs a very high risk of succumbing to the problem of diffusion of responsibility. If everyone is just a fractional shareholder, then nobody's really in charge. If managers aren't really owners, then their interests are hard to align with those of the owners. If the objective is to cash out with a big IPO or some other short-term exit strategy, then nobody is really looking at the long run. This is not to say that every business should be privately-held, run by a family, and operated according to a 100-year business plan. But if nobody feels a compelling responsibility to a business as an institution worthy of preservation and improvement over a long period of time, then it's hard to see what incentive is created to make good long-run decisions. That's a problem for customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders, each in their own way. And it's probably no good for a country that once depended upon companies like Tribune to contribute to the civic stature and well-being of their communities.

Aviation News At long, long, long last, the FAA has implemented rules for drones

It took them long enough. The government doesn't have to regulate everything...but in those cases where it is obvious that they will impose regulations under the umbrella of a compelling public interest, it's best if they can move quickly to establish ground rules fast enough to permit the private sector to keep up the pace of technological development without obstruction. The government took way too long to acknowledge the reality of drones; they've been in the popular consciousness for years.

Science and Technology Shutting down a Nebraska nuclear power plant will take 60 years

The Fort Calhoun plant (just a bit north of Omaha) is too small to operate competitively, so it's set to stop generating electricity on October 24th. But the full decommissioning will take two generations.

Humor and Good News Vintage posters promoting America's national parks

Truly some magnificent artwork

Broadcasting How Rush Limbaugh turned on his own audience

Either he's believed all along that Donald Trump is a fraud, or he's lying about it now. Either way, it doesn't look faithful to his listeners.

August 30, 2016

The United States of America "In some ways he's a more centrist voice than either the Republican or the Democrat"

The Chicago Tribune says Gary Johnson should be in the Presidential debates. They're right.

Business and Finance European Commission says Apple owes billions in back taxes to Ireland

The BBC reports that Apple paid 1% or less on profits when it should have been paying 12.5%. Corporate tax rates are a complete boggle in the world today.

Computers and the Internet The Facebook news-selection algorithm is already junked

Well, that didn't take long. The very same weekend that they let loose all of their human editorial staff, Facebook began promoting a completely fake story in the news feed.

Aviation News Small-plane parachutes save lives

The key, as with any new safety feature, is in creating a culture where people are expected to use them.

News Women have a hard time liking Donald Trump

As do Latinos and African-Americans. That's not the way to win elections. Or to be a decent human being.

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August 29, 2016

Business and Finance Should the Federal Reserve tie overnight rates to inflation?

The less attractive the overnight rate, in theory, the greater the incentive to make loans rather than parking funds in a "safe" spot. Right now, there couldn't be a lot of greater importance in economics than in figuring out how to put capital to more productive use. There's just so much of it sitting around doing very little good, and productivity has been falling.

Threats and Hazards Illinois State Board of Elections confirms cyberattack

They say the cyberattack started on June 23rd and they became aware of it on July 12th. In the meantime, they think up to 200,000 voter registration records might have been accessed. Unsurprisingly, the FBI thinks it was the work of a foreign group. They haven't pointed fingers at any governments yet, but one could reasonably put Russia, China, and Iran on the list of suspects.

Aviation News Japan races to get passenger jet certified

Into the competitive world market for regional jets, enter Mitsubishi, which is trying to get its MRJ into commercial service by 2018. They say they started with a "clean sheet" for the design. One design feature: No middle seats. Mitsubishi was trying to ferry one of the MRJs across the Pacific to get certified by the FAA, but they ran into trouble with the air conditioning. The project has been underway only since 2008 (making for an 8-year development cycle), which compares favorably with China's new ARJ, which is more than ten years behind schedule.

Health Even animals nap

Fascinating that in 2016, we still don't really have a unifying theory of sleep -- why almost all animals need it, why they need the amounts they do, and what brought it about in the first place. Sleep would seem to be a peculiar evolutionary disadvantage for non-predators, and it certainly seems inefficient that we need to shut down our conscious brains in order to properly store our memories.

News The Sanders campaign will stick around to push the Democratic Party harder to the left

They're sending out fundraising emails with catch lines like, "[O]ur political revolution is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country." Just like OFA, they're establishing "Our Revolution" as a permanent interest group with the intention of becoming an entrenched wing of the Democratic Party.

August 28, 2016

The United States of America Get the Libertarians on stage

In this extraordinary year, the top-of-ticket Libertarians are more mainstream than the top-of-ticket Republicans. And they're more economically and fiscally responsible than either the Republican or Democratic tickets. If they're not part of the debates, then the nation loses. The rest of this story? Either the Republican Party needs to start sounding a lot more like the top of the Libertarian ticket, or the Libertarian Party needs to start getting serious about winning down-ticket races, because the current status of the GOP confederation isn't stable.

Business and Finance Fiat Chrysler looks at Samsung as a "strategic partner"

Samsung, it should be remembered, is a sprawling conglomerate -- not just a maker of cell phones.

Computers and the Internet Facebook has laid off the editors on its "trending news" team

Some programmers will remain on the team to figure out how to tweak the algorithms, but don't imagine that the computers will make decisions that are free of human judgment. The algorithms used will still be imprinted with judgments made by the people who program them, and there's no doubt that publishers will take steps to try to hack the algorithms in their own favor.

News Kids these days...they all think they're going to be famous

A study from several years ago suggests that 31% of American teenagers actually think they're going to be famous. If that influences the way people behave, we should ask ourselves whether it's for good or for ill.

News Much progress on equality for women

But there's still work to be done

August 27, 2016

News This Presidential campaign is killing the GOP with Millennial voters

Not an insignificant matter for the future of the party, since Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers, 83 to 75 million. And 44% are racial or ethnic minorities, too. If the party can't escape the devastating label of the "old white people's party", it might as well close up shop and disband now. The Baby Boomers owe America a huge apology for getting our political climate into this condition in the first place.

Computers and the Internet Facebook to integrate WhatsApp

Anyone using both ought to think before permitting the full integration of the two accounts, on the basis of privacy concerns alone

Weather and Disasters Turkey River crests 10' above flood stage in Elkader

But that was good news, since it was expected to crest another four or five feet higher than that

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 27, 2016

Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 to 4:00 Central Time. Live-streamed on iHeartRadio.

August 26, 2016

Business and Finance China's real-estate bubble...in downtown Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times notes that Chinese companies are developing at least half a dozen large real-estate projects in the city. By the time something like this makes it into the newspaper as a "trend" piece, it's almost always at the full-strength bubble stage. Capital is incredibly cheap, and that's the root cause of all this. But it's also highly speculative, as all real-estate development tends to be. Always contrast investment in categories like real estate with those made in directly productive things like heavy equipment or labor-force training and development. Those latter categories have been sluggish, and that's a bad sign.

Business and Finance Cigarette stores turning to fresh produce

A company executive at Kwik Trip/Kwik Star says "Tobacco products are not part of the future". And capitalism rolls on, evolving to meet changes in consumer demand. Kwik Star runs some excellent stores in northeastern Iowa, and their entry into the Des Moines market will make some already fierce convenience-store competition something to really behold.

Threats and Hazards Why conditions in Syria may get even worse

It's already a vast humanitarian crisis that will weigh on the conscience of civilization for decades to come

Business and Finance Wall Street Journal can't find any former White House economists that support Donald Trump

It's no surprise: He has embraced outrageously high barriers to trade, makes promises with no regard to their consequences, and has talked about making our entitlement programs even more insolvent than they are already. Plenty of economists may decline to endorse anyone, but they'd be mad to let their names get tied to an economic goulash like the one Trump (seemingly without any self-awareness) has proposed.

Business and Finance Uber loses $1.2 billion in the first half of the year

Wonder no more about why they're pushing so hard to get to the model of self-driving car service

August 25, 2016

Threats and Hazards Woman sentenced to prison for letting a 4-year-old starve and freeze to death

Is her sentence long enough? Probably not. It's a story of unconscionable individual depravity -- and of serious institutional failure. If we're truly a good civilization, we should be looking carefully into how this could have happened, and how we can make sure it doesn't happen again. Ever. If government isn't protecting the vulnerable children among us, then it must immediately correct its course with all the focus and energy that can be mustered. It's not enough to just punish those who neglect children after the harm has been done. There is an affirmative duty to protect.

Business and Finance Polk County (Iowa) task force endorses higher minimum wage

The Board of Supervisors will consider it next. If approved, it would hit the upper $10 range by 2019. The minimum wage probably should track inflation, but changing the numbers doesn't solve the underlying problem. It should trouble voters if people are stuck in low-wage occupations because they aren't developing more valuable skills on their own. It should bother people if employers don't value their employees enough to invest in helping them develop higher-value skills. It should bother all of us if there aren't pathways available to make education and skill development accessible and affordable to people who are willing to invest their own efforts in the process.

Business and Finance 700 years of inherited money in Europe

More important than sending money downstream to your heirs is sending some wisdom their way. Without that, they'll only keep the money through luck. With it, they don't necessarily need the money.

News University of Chicago takes a stand on free speech

And a rather firm one at that: It basically tells incoming freshmen that they're probably going to be offended by something along the way.

Computers and the Internet Facebook categorizes your politics

Your behavior tips off the site to what it thinks your political alignments might be, and its ads respond accordingly

August 24, 2016

Business and Finance Brokerage firm says passive investing is "worse than Marxism"

They are both right and wrong. Passive investing is far better than active investing for people who won't spend the time doing research as thoughtful investors. And that's the vast majority. But active, direct investing is much better for a healthy, functioning capitalist economy. So the problem starts with investor unwillingness to care or participate in the process.

The United States of America Is 2016 the breakthrough moment for libertarianism?

Gary Johnson and William Weld, running as ex-Republicans on the Libertarian Party ticket for the White House, are running on a centrist version of the philosophy -- probably not "libertarian enough" for a lot of true believers, but right in line with what a lot of Americans really believe. The party's opportunity is to emerge as the party of the new American center -- whether it strategically grasps that moment remains to be seen.

Aviation News Giant hybrid aircraft experiences "hard landing"

It's intended as a low-cost cargo carrier as an economical and environmentally-friendly alternative to ground- and sea-based shipping. The incident happened on its second test flight.

Business and Finance Just one Howard Johnson's restaurant left

Yet another example of a business that once was dominant and today is a rump of its former self

News White Sox to play at "Guaranteed Rate Field"

What was once known as Comiskey and later undertook the name "US Cellular Field" (which ceased to make sense after US Cellular left the Chicago market three years ago) will now have a truly clunky-sounding name. But naming rights don't change hands unless the buyer thinks it's getting value for the money.

August 23, 2016

Threats and Hazards Chinese chemical factory explosion left a giant crater

Bad things can happen under any economic system, of course, but in the long run, nothing affords better worker protection than a prosperous market economy with political freedom. Those two things together create a virtuous feedback loop for things like health and safety.

Business and Finance Important data: Where household incomes have been falling

Lots of states have seen meaningful, double-digit decreases in real median household income since 1999

Humor and Good News Olympic athlete honored with special sportsmanship medal

Human decency beats winning a race

Computers and the Internet A look at trolling

What makes otherwise perfectly-normal-seeming people turn into raging nutbags online?

News Christie's to auction off Reagan belongings

Furniture, art, knick-knacks, and more

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August 22, 2016

Business and Finance The myth of the "return" of manufacturing jobs

Old-format manufacturing jobs are gone forever. The new ones are much more sophisticated than the simple wrench-turning gigs that a lot of people seem to think have been stolen by trade. ("Easy" manufacturing jobs have been rendered extinct more by technology than by trade, but the jobs are gone anyway.) Production methods have changed, and so must our process for preparing people for new jobs (inside and outside the manufacturing sector) and for helping people to adjust to new conditions. As Geoff Colvin puts it in his commentary: "[T]he leader's job is to embrace the new reality, explaining how it can bring a better future, not a worse one." We ought to give serious thought to making ongoing education compulsory for adults.

Iowa John Deere to lay off 115 employees in Waterloo

Plus 35 in Davenport. Low commodity prices are having a ripple effect in the rest of the Midwestern economy.

Health Family saved by CO detector that was installed two days before

Carbon monoxide is a terrible killer -- and carbon-monoxide detectors are relatively cheap. They are an indispensable tool for safety in any home that contains appliances running on natural gas.

News How did we get to this?

An editorial cartoon that nicely sums up some of the preconditions necessary to turning politics on its head

News High schools are ending the age of the gang shower

Individual stalls are becoming more commonplace, and that's a long-overdue change. Nobody expects people to use open toilet stalls, so why do we expect awkward teenagers (or adults, for that matter) to use wide-open showers? It's stupid.

August 19, 2016

Science and Technology Uber is testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, starting -- now

Uber's CEO said to Bloomberg that self-driving cars will be "basically existential for us". And he's probably right -- and there's a very good reason why they're also getting into the development of self-driving trucks, as well, with the acquisition of a company called Otto. The cost of the driver in either case is a major component of the cost of transportation, and stripping out that cost will make a big difference to ride-hailing services and over-the-road trucking alike. These first self-driving Volvos will have drivers anyway (to take over when required and to take notes on why that human intervention was necessary), but they're going to be there as problem-solving engineers.

The United States of America America's campaign season may look maddeningly long, but there's a method to it

People criticize the length of the American campaign cycle (jockeying for 2020 is already underway), but it's just a different manifestation of the same game that plays out in every electoral democracy. Anywhere people have the right to vote on their leadership, there is always some form of campaign going on, whether that is made explicit or not. British political parties form shadow cabinets so that the voters always have a picture of what the "other" government might look like. Canada's prime minister only appears to have burst suddenly on the scene -- he's also the son of a prime minister. And for as much as the perpetual campaign may annoy us, it's either that or no choice at all. The people of North Korea and Saudi Arabia and China and Syria would probably all willingly tolerate a few campaign ads. And for as long as the campaign may be for the voters, it's also an endurance test (and probably a necessary one) for the candidates, too.

Computers and the Internet Gawker.com is shutting down

Univision is buying the company, but the namesake website is going away. In general, it's unfortunate to see any media outlet slip away if it did anything useful on balance. And if an outlet is going to fail, then it's best if that happens because it fails naturally in the marketplace because it failed to serve the needs of its audience. But in the case of Gawker, it's shutting down because it can't afford to pay a $140 million legal judgment over a celebrity sex tape. Gawker too often found itself making news for really stupid reasons: Like hacking an algorithm to make a Coca-Cola-owned Twitter feed tweet "Mein Kampf" and targeting a media executive for allegedly texting an escort. The stunts undermined the institution's credibility (such as it was), so its departure from the scene probably isn't going to leave a void that necessarily must be filled. And in a true demographic sign of the times, Univision is moving in to pick up the pieces of the Gawker empire.

Humor and Good News The best way to tuck a shirt

Thanks, Internet!

Computers and the Internet Twitter is releasing the "quality" feature to all users

They say the feature will help filter out posts from accounts that aren't "high-value"

News One-paragraph book review: "Churchill on Leadership"

How we decide creates who we are. This book does an unusually good job of explaining how Winston Churchill made his decisions.

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August 18, 2016

Threats and Hazards A vast problem, and a photo of just one small child to prove it

The look in the eyes of a small Syrian boy, shell-shocked by having his home bombed by his own government, is utterly heartbreaking. And it puts a very personal scale on an enormous humanitarian disaster.

Business and Finance States worry that deficits are coming

The economies of many states are actually contracting (into recession, even), even though the nation as a whole is not. That's going to put a pinch in government income from tax and other revenue sources, and it doesn't help at all that the Federal government continues to push unfunded mandates down to lower levels of government.

Threats and Hazards Twitter suspends hundreds of thousands of extremist-related accounts

There's a lot of friction at the boundary between the open world and its tools (like the Internet and social media) and the groups who would see the world closed off (like ISIS/ISIL). The advocates of the closed world clearly aren't afraid to use the tools of the open world against openness, and those of us in the open world are generally unprepared for it. Nobody at the inception of Twitter would ever have imagined that terrorists would use it for propaganda someday -- it's just too far outside the boundaries of our imagination.

Agriculture A look inside the world's largest vertical farm

The arrival of high-efficiency LED lights may actually usher in a whole new kind of farming. Not everywhere, of course, but perhaps in some important places where the people are numerous and the food is far away.

Humor and Good News Ranking every joke in "Airplane!"

A bold endeavor if ever there was one. And stop calling me Shirley.

August 17, 2016

Business and Finance The Economist tackles Warren Buffett's capitalism

The stalwart publication of classical liberalism argues that Buffett's investing style -- which depends heavily upon businesses that have some defense against competition, whether through natural monopoly or some other meaningful "moat" -- isn't especially good for making good things happen inside a dynamic capitalist economy. And, in a sense, The Economist is right: Buffett's style is about safety, not innovation. But on the other hand, Buffett's style is really suited more to the idea of cautious investment as preservation of capital than to economic dynamism, and if people choose to invest with Buffett as an alternative to other "safe" investments like government bonds, then it could be argued that even if the innovations emerging from Berkshire Hathaway are minimal, it's still better for the money to go to work within the private sector than to prop up additional government spending. A great deal of the good that comes from capitalism, though, does come from the willingness of entrepreneurs and daring proprietors to take risks with no certainty of returns.

Business and Finance Losses can't go on forever in a private market

And the losses hitting health-insurance companies may permanently undermine Obamacare. Probably the biggest single shortcoming of Obamacare is that it did nothing to reduce the actual costs of health care -- it only sought to realign who paid for them. That didn't deal with the root problem, and in introducing more government oversight and interference may very well have made the situation worse.

Health Reading may correlate with longer lifespans

It may be correlation without causality, of course, but it may also be rooted in the same kind of effect that some people experience from having pets: Daily reading may serve to give the reader a valuable period of physical rest and mental de-stressing that end up delivering physiological benefits.

Broadcasting Univision buys Gawker

Pushed into a precarious financial state by an expensive lawsuit, Gawker is heading into the arms of a media company with its eyes squarely on one of the most important growth demographics in the United States. Very interesting.

Computers and the Internet Android devices everywhere may be highly vulnerable to attack

Just one more indignity we didn't need right now

August 16, 2016

The United States of America A debate about the future of the Republican Party

The GOP simply cannot survive in its current form; the Trump coalition is small, shrinking, and destructive to the party as a whole. The candidate is a shameless attention hog, which makes the damage he does even more consequential. So, what happens next? Do people try to forgive and forget after November, or is it time for show trials and a purge?

Weather and Disasters More than 20" of rain in two days

The amount of precipitation that fell on Louisiana is stunning

Science and Technology Ford promises fully autonomous cars within five years

It's really too ambitious -- not from a technical standpoint, but from a cultural one. Autonomous cars are absolutely coming...but people resist changes this dramatic if they don't get to see it happening incrementally. "Guardian angel" technologies have to take over first, and people need to adjust to seeing them in their own cars before they'll calmly accept them on the roads in the next lane. For that to happen, we have to put most drivers through a buying cycle with a lot of assistive technology already enabled. That said, autonomous vehicles are a major step forward for public health; human drivers are the most dangerous part of cars. Ford says it's targeting a mass market in ride-sharing.

Computers and the Internet How Facebook and Twitter connect people to news stories

They don't work in the same way

News Tough times for America's golf courses?

Some are trying to revive interest in the sport by making it faster-paced. Seems like the leisurely pace is the main selling point of the game, and changing that implicitly diminishes the aspect of golf as a luxury good. Anyone who fails to admit that golf is a game built on conspicuous consumption isn't being honest.

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August 15, 2016

Business and Finance Boston cheers news of ownership of iconic Citgo sign

What a funny thing about capitalism -- how advertising can become culture, and how under some circumstances people will actively rise to its defense

Humor and Good News Katie Ledecky recreates autograph session with Michael Phelps

The Summer Olympics have been brimming with feel-good moments for Americans

News How might a Hillary Clinton landslide come about?

Some predictions based on the electoral map

Threats and Hazards Abducted Nigerian schoolgirls have been missing for two years

The terrorist group that took them has posted a video in what appears to be a "proof of life" display. Remember that more than 200 girls were kidnapped, and most are still missing.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 15, 2016

A special weekday fill-in appearance

August 12, 2016

Threats and Hazards "Trump is an unwitting Russian agent"

It's possible to be manipulated by (or even just influenced by) forces you neither recognize nor understand. That just makes the situation even worse, since the subject of the manipulation is quite sure he's smarter than everyone else and won't do anything to fix the problem of his behavior. And when he goes on to openly undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process, he fundamentally disqualifies himself from consideration as a serious candidate for office. We can disagree about a lot of things as Americans, but attacking the legitimacy of the electoral process itself -- with no due cause -- is out of bounds. And it's so far out of bounds as to be irreversibly disqualifying.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders buys a third home

The phenomenon is called "revealed preferences": Sanders probably really does think he believes in the fantasy-land version of socialism that he talks about so much. But what matters is not what he says, but what he does. And in buying a $575,000 vacation home, he has revealed that he actually likes private property, at least for himself. And there's nothing wrong with that -- private property rights are fundamental to the American system, and are good for us both economically and culturally. He has every right to have three homes if he can afford to pay for them. If only he could see that the best way to achieve good things via government is usually to address the incentives that surround them, rather than to confiscate income and promise free stuff.

Business and Finance Regulators are stalling the Marriott purchase of Starwood

And those regulators are in China. Might it have anything to do with the fact that a Chinese company was also in the bidding to buy Starwood and lost? Would the Chinese government ever retaliate like that?

Computers and the Internet Accountants: Don't click that email link!

The IRS says that tax preparers are being targeted with a scam that tries to trick them into downloading a keystroke logger that masquerades as an update to tax-accounting software. Keeping your software updated is good; following links that arrive via email is not. Software programmers should always embed a clear "update" link somewhere in the menu bar so that nobody ever thinks to look for program updates via any other means.

Agriculture "[I]t is concerning this is the second year our borrowers aren't profitable"

Many Midwestern farmers growing commodities like corn are finding this to be a less-than-breakeven year, and that's causing trouble for those who have loans to pay. That makes bankers nervous.

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August 11, 2016

Threats and Hazards Who hacked the DNC computers? Russia.

When the FBI is "highly confident" of interference by a foreign power, that's adversarial behavior. These hacks are serious cyberwarfare, and there is no viable alternative explanation other than that the Russian government wishes to meddle with American electoral politics. That is no small matter.

Health Some cold-water sharks live hundreds of years

Which brings up an interesting question about super-longevity: If sharks, pine trees, and tortoises can all routinely live longer than 100 years, then what about their traits could be copied over to human beings? Some people may dismiss the idea, arguing that they don't want to live that long, but fear of aging is all too often really just a manifestation of fear of loss of quality of life. If we could live much longer while maintaining quality of life, then why wouldn't people want to live for 150 years or 200 years? It only seems like an outrageous concept because of our perspective -- in 1900, life expectancy at birth was 47, meaning we have added 30 years to that life expectancy in the course of a little over a century. Just in the last 50 years, American life expectancy at birth has risen by almost 10 years.

Threats and Hazards When the wingnuts get their hands on social media

A former candidate for Iowa's Democratic nomination for the US Senate race posed an irresponsible "just-asking-questions" item on Twitter about rushing the stage at campaign events by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That is, in a word, uncivilized. If you can't tolerate differences of opinion and instead choose to make displays of physical force as a substitute (and it's beyond dispute that rushing the stage at a Presidential nominee is meant to be a physically aggressive act), then you are choosing a path away from civilization. It's idiocy to propose such a thing -- and if people were to follow through by trying to rush the stage en masse, someone would likely end up getting shot and killed by the Secret Service. It's no defense to say "I'm just asking questions".

Aviation News The US Air Force has a pilot shortage

Which just seems bizarre in all kinds of ways, considering the tidal shift to unmanned aircraft

Weather and Disasters New research says a huge Cascadia earthquake is actually more likely than previously thought

It already looked uncomfortably likely...now it's just full-on terrifying.

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August 10, 2016

Threats and Hazards "[T]he armistice is unraveling fast"

Fighting between Ukranian forces and rebels backed by the Russian government is escalating again. Dozens of civilians are being killed each month. This is a dangerous powderkeg, and it's in Europe.

Business and Finance A posture, not a plan

A very good way to characterize Donald Trump's statements on economics. He clearly does not understand how something as abstract as the economy actually works; his inability to escape purely concrete subjects makes that self-evident. This is no minor issue: His Democratic opponent proposes significant new tax increases, but at least shows some grasp of the issue (even if her proposals are dreadfully expensive). The Johnson-Weld ticket gets it best, acknowledging the harm done by both badly-designed taxation and over-spending. Yet another reason the third ticket should appear at the debates.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's political system continues to bunker down

Even though the country is trying desperately to benefit from economic openness, it appears that they're taking the opposite set of steps politically -- closing down pathways that had previously brought at least some outsiders into the political process. This kind of closing-down is going to have ramifications down the road -- just wait and see.

News On the sexist language embedded deeply in sports

Worthwhile reading on a subject that doesn't always get adequate attention from serious people. There are lots of males who probably never give it a second thought, and a much smaller number of people who are really stoked up about it as a political issue. But in the ground between them should be a whole lot of people who may not be sports-obsessed nor politically activated, but who can still look at the subject and reasonably question why anything is a "women's" sport when we never call the corresponding event a "male" sport. To make the male sport the default in our language is something we should reconsider.

Science and Technology So maybe that's not how North America was originally settled

It's been conventional wisdom that people crossed the Bering land bridge and moved south through an ice-free gap between glaciers over northern Canada and those over much of British Columbia. But now some researchers think the first people to come to North America probably just hugged the Pacific coastline because there just wasn't any plant life available in the "ice-free corridor".

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August 9, 2016

Business and Finance American workplace productivity is slipping

It fell by an annualized rate of 0.5% in the second quarter. That's a big deal. A really big deal. That makes three quarters in a row of decline, and it's fairly simple: Without increasing productivity, it's really hard to get a growth economy, especially on a per-capita basis, and most especially if our labor force participation rate is weak.

News Bernie Sanders goes on the attack

His new "Our Revolution" activist group is going after Debbie Wasserman Schultz in her Democratic primary. Rep. Wasserman Schultz is an "establishment" Democrat, and the Sanders group seems intent on tearing that group apart.

Computers and the Internet For as much as the Internet dominates business headlines...

...25% of American workers never actually use the Internet at work for workplace purposes, and 17% say they "hardly ever" do so. That means the Internet has little or nothing to do with 2 out of every 5 American jobs. But to those for which it means a lot, there are high stakes involved -- which is why it's interesting to note that Silicon Valley has made basically zero in contributions to the Donald Trump campaign, but also (significantly) far less to the Hillary Clinton campaign than it did for Barack Obama's campaign.

Humor and Good News Remarkable story about one of the Olympic swimmers from the "refugee" team

Such a humanizing story about an individual who is one of millions of people who are all too easily lumped into a single, often-dismissed category. The civilized world has to tackle the refugees' problems as our own.

Computers and the Internet Medicare regulator to go after social-media abuse of elders

Bullying doesn't just happen in the classroom

August 8, 2016

Threats and Hazards Threatening to flake out on mutual aid fundamentally undermines our alliances

Nations can develop reputations for reliability or unreliability just like individuals can. And if we permit America's broad range of alliances around the world to be undermined by the threat that we might not fulfill our treaty obligations, then we're going to make our world more dangerous without firing a shot. This is deeply serious stuff.

Threats and Hazards Video footage doesn't reflect well on Chicago police behavior in recent killing

The Chicago Tribune reports that police in the city have killed 215 people in the last 15 years, and no civil-rights charges have been filed by Federal authorities in any of them, nor in the hundreds of other police shootings that didn't result in death. Whatever the causes behind it, that number should disturb the reader. Even if every single one of those shooting deaths was justified, it still documents a stunning level of violence. The United States needs an independent Federal authority to investigate every civilian shooting death by police. It should function like the NTSB or the CDC -- both agencies charged with figuring out why bad things happen, utilizing first-class resources. We shouldn't run away from the facts: Whether or not any police officer has done a single thing wrong, we should still insist on civilian oversight that is strong enough to investigate every single case without fear of retribution. That really can only come from a Federal authority.

Threats and Hazards Distracted driving caused a horrible crash in Nebraska

An entire family was killed because a truck driver was distracted. Don't drive distracted. The sooner we can implement "guardian angel" technologies to override human mistakes behind the steering wheel, the better off we all will be.

Computers and the Internet Instagram comes after Snapchat in a big way

Instagram, which is part of Facebook, is now pushing video "stories", and they're pretty clearly intended as rivals to Snapchat videos. It's hard to stay on top of any market in the consumer digital realm, whether you're the incumbent or the startup.

Broadcasting Hulu is ending free video-streaming service

You'll be able to sign up for a subscription to their paid services or you can find the free stuff that migrates over to Yahoo View.

August 7, 2016

News Toxic candidate at the top of the ballot hurts everybody downballot

Things are so ridiculous within the Republican Party as a result of the nomination of a toxic candidate that the Libertarian Party ticket, composed of two former Republican governors, looks like the only reasonable "lifeboat" for voters who don't wish to endorse an expansion of government by voting for the Democratic ticket. When things fall apart at the top of the ballot, it's quite hard for people seeking lower office to do so within the same party.

News Russian athletes banned from Rio Paralympics

An entire team banished over a doping scandal. It's really sad to see -- especially since the Olympics are supposed to promote openness and international interaction -- but the Russian system seems to have been hopelessly penetrated by cheating.

Science and Technology Birds who soar across oceans

Evolutionary processes do some wild things

Iowa Adoring review of Des Moines from a visitor

Yes, there's a whole lot right with this city

News Japanese emperor to give rare speech

If there's anything in politics more ridiculous than a hereditary monarchy -- even when completely toothless -- it's hard to tell what it is

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August 6, 2016

Computers and the Internet 25 years of the World Wide Web

The invention of the WWW was a major victory for openness, and one that faces counter-pressure every day from those who would close off their own parts of the world

The United States of America The struggle of the modern service/fraternal organization

Americans aren't joining like we used to -- not anywhere close to it. And that's keeping many Americans from engaging on a local, social, and constructive level with people who might differ from them on "big-picture" political issues that are decided in the courts and at the ballot box in big numbers. We're fine if we disagree on big issues, but only if we're also healthy enough on a civic level that we take care of our own on a local level.

Health Finnish baby boxes: A great idea, but something more is needed

People are missing the point if they think only about the stuff inside the box that the Finnish government sends to expectant parents. The key, really, is the engagement of the parents. And in places that are more heterogenous than Finland (like Canada), it's being realized that a key element is mentoring -- putting the new parents into a relationship with experienced parents who can give them vital feedback without feeling restrained by social pressure like friends and families often might. Yes, there's absolutely some value in the box itself (which is supposed to convert into a cradle, so that parents don't co-sleep with the baby) -- but much of the value comes from the engagement that is really hard to institutionalize.

Threats and Hazards Louisiana sheriff sends deputies to raid houses of suspected critics

Someone's using the First Amendment to comment online about perceived corruption, and the sheriff doesn't like it. Too bad. Unjustified raids are corrupt in and of themselves.

Threats and Hazards Oversight chief says Chicago police shooting footage was "shocking and disturbing"

An unarmed suspect was killed over a stolen car, and the shooting came from police who were unintentionally firing at each other

August 5, 2016

News The problem with uncompromising capital-L Libertarians

When you define yourself by your outsider status rather than trying to co-opt the vast majority of Americans who are instinctively inclined to agree with most of your policies, then you'll find ways to think it's a bad thing that Gary Johnson and William Weld look like sensible, moderate centrists. The fact is that most Americans tend to prefer being left alone by their government and taxed as little as reasonably possible -- that IS the effective center of American politics. And when you have the opportunity to run your ticket as a viable alternative to a nitwit with no attention span who commandeered the Republican nomination and a terribly unpopular Democratic candidate, your instinct should be to go all-in in support of that ticket, not to complain about how much your own team disappointed you by failing to wave the philosophical flag harder than they did on a national stage.

News Losing all sense of proportion

A woman whose job is specifically to prevent radicalization among her fellow Muslims in the UK found herself detained because an airplane crew had suspicions about the book she was reading -- about Syrian art. Lunacy.

Business and Finance Bank of England cuts interest rates down to 0.25%

This era of near-zero interest rates is going to be one for the history books

Computers and the Internet Facebook aims to discourage clickbait by punishing common clickbait headlines

That's one way to do it

News US Navy to change camouflage uniforms again

New camouflage was supposed to be an improvement, but sailors appear to have disliked them -- a lot.

August 4, 2016

Threats and Hazards "I was thinking about the kids and didn't want them all to be taken"

How could a parent allow a four-year-old child to be neglected to death? And how could a neighbor have permitted her concern about having the mother's other children "taken away" to override the welfare of the child she knew was being neglected? Everything about this story is just awful and indicts the way we protect the well-being of children.

The United States of America Why Republican voters should warm up to Gary Johnson

He's far more in-tune with the conventional Republican belief in limited government than either of the other major candidates in the Presidential race

News The poor, misused word "liberal"

Using it to describe the political left wing -- rather than in its historical context, which connoted openness and liberty -- misguides our politics

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle"

Strongly recommended for job applicants and managers with hiring authority

Computers and the Internet Where are the big technology brands of the 1990s?

Names that once dominated the landscape are now nothing but relics and memories

News It's been five years since color-coded terror alerts went away

They were useless from the moment they were created -- we were never going to go to the lowest levels of "alert". The color codes were just security theater.

August 2, 2016

The United States of America Missing the point of the Libertarian ticket

The LA Times editorial board met with former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson about his candidacy for the White House on the Libertarian Party ticket. From the headline and some of the questions, it appears that some members of the board miss the point altogether: Casting Johnson and his running mate (former Massachussetts governor William Weld) as spoilers to the Republican and Democratic tickets neglects that this is a real "black swan" of an election. The nomination of Donald Trump isn't a philosophical victory or a win for any defined wing of the Republican Party -- it's much more like a hostile virus taking over its host. Trump isn't a Republican in any traditional sense of the word, and his behavior is openly hostile to the party and the interests of other Republicans who will be on the ballot in November. That alone would make this an exceptional election -- but the farce on the Republican side has drawn attention away from the fact that the Democratic Party nearly fissured in two over its own outsider invasion -- Sen. Bernie Sanders has never self-identified as a Democrat, and he gave an aggressive chase after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Democratic race was much closer than it should have been by any conventional standards. So here we are, with an establishment candidate on the Democratic side who had to run the race of her life, a thin-skinned and short-tempered populist (and functionally illiterate) third-party candidate masquerading as a Republican, and a third-party ticket that contains two former Republican governors with four terms in office between them. The Libertarian Party has never had a more mainstream ticket, and it quite likely never will again. And in this bizarre election year, treating them as "spoilers" is unfair and unrealistic. The normal rules simply don't apply in 2016 -- not when a sitting President looks at a major-party candidate and openly says he's unqualified for the job.

Iowa The people who keep things happening

The municipal utility in Cedar Falls is saluting Roger Kueter, an outgoing board member with more than twenty years of service to his credit. What we too often overlook in America is how much we are defined not by the people at the top of our political system, but by the people who keep the economy and government both functioning on a local level. Everyone has an opinion on who should be in the White House, but arguably it matters far more to most people's day-to-day lives who is running things in City Hall or at the local utility. Who knows what Roger Kueter's opinions are on the hot-button issues of the day? Maybe he's outspoken on them, or maybe he's not. But he's been serving an important role at a major community institution for two decades, and his hot-button opinions don't matter much when he's responsible for helping his community to (literally) keep the lights on. We ought to do a better job of celebrating the lower-profile roles that really make America work. It's easy to envy highly-paid roles on corporate boards, but we need to honor those who put their services to work on a smaller, more local scale.

Computers and the Internet Some best practices on Twitter

An unusual friendship develops (regrettably, featuring a sad ending)

Computers and the Internet Uber gives up on the China market

Selling out before the situation becomes untenable

Computers and the Internet Dell doesn't want to see Macs in its offices

Should anyone be surprised?

August 1, 2016

Business and Finance Worth remembering: We actually have 12 currencies

Even though all American currency is equally valid for use everywhere in the country, we actually do have twelve different currencies (in a sense) because each district bank issues its own currency. There's a good chance that most people overlook the historical nuance of this elegant solution to the need for a common market and a common taxation system, but the different districts actually provide a means of monitoring (and responding to) unique conditions in the different regions of the country. It's an elegant solution to the inherent tension involved in serving a diverse and gigantic economy. Like the Electoral College, it may look archaic to people who don't understand the big picture or the historical context, but both institutions are cornerstones of the durability of a federal system.

Business and Finance Subaru to expand US production

Smart manufacturers take into account whether their products have unique local features or characteristics -- and in the case of the Japanese automakers, a lot of Americans probably don't realize just how much of that production has shifted stateside because it suits local conditions well. Manufacturing is a far more complex object than the caricature that gets portrayed in political debates.

News Entrancing photos of old Soviet-era infrastructure

The Soviets sure liked to build big. Perhaps it was a means of taking psychological compensation for the repression of individual liberties -- building big collective things because individuals weren't allowed to express their own potential.

Broadcasting Bob, Gordon, and Luis are being cut from "Sesame Street"

How sad

News Body cameras are no silver bullet

A body cam on a Chicago police officer wasn't working at the time when an unarmed suspect was shot to death. That doesn't mean it was necessarily misused, abused, or tampered with -- but it does point out that they aren't perfect. Can body cameras serve a useful purpose? Potentially, yes. Is there a need for independent oversight and third-party custody of the evidence? Yes.

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July 31, 2016

Business and Finance A reminder that we still have serious problems, like a $600 billion Federal deficit

$600 billion is too hard to contextualize on its own. On a per-capita basis, shared among about 324 million of us, it's about $1,850 per person. That's the amount by which the United States is overspending every single year. In a family of four, that's $7,400 in deficit spending per year at the Federal level. Compare that to the national median household net worth of about $81,000, and ten years of deficit spending on behalf of four people (plus a little bit of interest) would be enough to wipe out the entire net worth of the median American household. That's obscene. So is the metric from another angle: Our economy produces $18 trillion or so in goods and services per year. A deficit of $600 billion represents more than 3% of that. An economy experiencing consistent growth of 2% a year can easily withstand deficit spending of 1% of GDP -- no big deal. This year's overspending is more than paid for by the expansion of the economy by next year. But an economy that grows at about 1% a year can't handle 3% in deficit spending. And we're being floated two huge bailouts that don't get any of the acknowledgment they deserve: Near-zero interest rates mean that the cost of carrying the Federal debt is small, and by virtually any measure, energy is absurdly cheap right now -- energy cost deflation is real. Those two factors are cushioning us from the consequences of Federal overspending, but they aren't at all guaranteed to last.

The United States of America "Open vs. closed" replaces "left vs. right"

So concludes The Economist. They're probably right. An open-minded conservative and an open-minded liberal probably have more in common with each other than with their party cohorts.

Computers and the Internet Why try to be the "next Silicon Valley"?

Better for a community to chart its own original course

Aviation News China is building its own passenger jet

Note: One of America's chief exports is aircraft

Science and Technology Porsche is working on an electric car

Fortunes for electric cars have really done a 180° turn in the last couple of decades

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July 29, 2016

The United States of America The problem with insisting on more than tolerance

Senator Cory Booker made a speech to the Democratic National Convention in which he made some thoroughly laudable comments -- like "I believe we are an even greater nation, not because we started perfect, but because every generation has successfully labored to make us a more perfect union." Dead right. But he followed with another line that people may want in their hearts to be true -- but that may, in fact, be counter-productive. Senator Booker said, "We are not called to be a nation of tolerance. We are called to be a nation of love." This refrain isn't unique to the Senator from New Jersey; versions of it have been heard before and are echoed in the present. But as lofty as it sounds, insisting that tolerance isn't good enough...is a mistake. Tolerance has a very clear definition: It requires that the individual have an opinion, and be willing to peacefully accept and accommodate the fact that others have different opinions. And that peaceful accommodation is exactly what permits a pluralistic society to function as a civilization. We do not have to like each other -- even families don't always do that -- and we certainly don't have to love one another. But we do have to accommodate our differences peacefully. It is almost certain that when people echo a refrain of "love, not tolerance", they're doing it because it's a poetic rhetorical device. But it's also pernicious to say that tolerance isn't good enough. Tolerance is very, very hard to do well. And when people are told that they aren't permitted to disagree peacefully, but instead have to love their differences, that's simply asking the impossible. Tolerance is ambitious -- but it's also absolutely necessary to a self-governing civilization like ours. Insisting on love is far too much. And it begets overreaction from people who don't want to be told to love what they don't like -- too often causing them not only to reject love, but also to reject tolerance. Thomas Jefferson knew what he was writing when he composed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: "[T]ruth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them." We are better when we are free to disagree peacefully than when we are told to lay down our disagreements. Senator Booker appears generally to be an honorable and decent person, and his speech certainly doesn't leave any trace of deliberate incitement. But he could do more good not by saying, "Tolerance is the wrong way. Tolerance says I'm just going to stomach your right to be different" -- but by insisting that tolerance is essential, even when love is out of reach.

News 63 seconds of the world seen through a child's eyes

(Video) The child is a 4-year-old Syrian girl whose home was bombed by her own government. You can spare the 63 seconds. It is a momentous experience in empathy.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo sale to Verizon probably doesn't mean any meaningful immediate changes for users

Any properties that have survived thus far are likely to stick around once Yahoo becomes part of Verizon, since that's why Verizon was interested in the first place. Yahoo's destiny as a subsidiary and vestige of its former self is a reminder that success on the Internet is never, never, never permanent. High-powered Internet-based businesses have to make a whole lot of right decisions to stay on top -- while upstart rivals still rarely face any overwhelming barriers to entry. Snapchat, Whatsapp, Instagram, and plenty of other examples illustrate how new rivals can emerge at any time.

The United States of America Just get Johnson and Weld on the debate stage

In a year when the instability of both major-party coalitions is at least a couple of standard deviations outside the mean, letting in two expressly qualified former governors is hardly the strangest thing that could be done at the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates.

Computers and the Internet Nebraska state senator accused of keeping his own sex tape on a state computer

There's stupid, and then there's stupid beyond words. It's just not that hard to separate the personal and the professional. And by now, people should realize the dangers in keeping self-incriminating digital media.

July 28, 2016

Weather and Disasters We need more weather radar installations in America

At least in Tornado Alley. The National Weather Service points out that a tornado this week was only detectable at 7,700 feet above ground level, because that's all the closer the radar beam can get. There are lots of places (including meaningful population centers like Waterloo/Cedar Falls) that are much too far from any decent radar coverage anywhere close to the ground, and tornadoes are significant exactly because they are close to the ground. Filling in the national weather radar network wouldn't be that remarkable an investment cost on the grand scheme of things, and people might be shocked by just how much of America is invisible to radar below 10,000'. Iowa, for instance, could use fill-in coverage at Waterloo, Storm Lake, Ottumwa, and Clarinda. Or, for half the cost, we could at least put installations in Mason City and Lamoni and get some improvement. There are lots of holes in the national radar network, and basically by definition they tend to cover places that are less-populated and often poorer. That's no excuse. We as a nation spend billions on uncertain risks like countering terrorism -- but it's strictly a fact that tornadoes and other severe weather events are happening near people who don't have adequate radar coverage. Weak or not, these things are happening in places that are not sufficiently covered. It shouldn't come down to visual spotting alone.

Business and Finance The economy of every state in the Upper Midwest (except Kansas) contracted in the first quarter

State-by-state (or even region-by-region) analysis of GDP growth is valuable because the national economy isn't evenly distributed -- the Northeast, Pacific Coast, and South are all generally doing well -- but the Southwest, Great Lakes, and Mountain West are all far from comfortable. The first quarter is long over by now, but it's likely that conditions are regionally similar today.

Computers and the Internet Security consultants say DNC ignored warnings about cybersecurity

One observer says: "It looks like they just did the review to check a box but didn't do anything with it". And by not doing anything about it, they appear to have left the door wide open to Russian attackers.

The United States of America Rick Perry: "Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans"

The former Texas governor may be redeeming himself on the national political stage by calling out the failures of his own party. He is quite right that the Republican Party needs to pay more attention to issues that disproportionately affect minorities -- and to criminal-justice reforms.

Humor and Good News The tale of Chris P. Bacon

That's the name of a pig. And it cracked up a TV news anchor who didn't see the pun coming.

July 27, 2016

Business and Finance Federal Reserve sticks with rates

"[T]he Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent". The FOMC expects low inflation because of low energy prices, but also hopes for the job market to strengthen. This may be some wishful thinking -- and worse, it may overlook some of the political risks that ought to be considered. Ideally, we'd have a stable growth outlook and could start raising rates slowly but deliberately; this FOMC statement may actually betray the truth that they're more concerned about the situation than they're letting on.

Threats and Hazards WWVPD?

What would Vladimir Putin do? Slate has an argument that he would do whatever he could to put someone like Donald Trump into power in the United States. Maybe that's a bit paranoid, but then again, maybe it's not. Trump is so far outside the norms that he thinks snapping "Be quiet!" at reporters is Presidential behavior. (It's not.) What's important to do here is divine the intent of Russian leadership -- what's the motive, and what are they seeking to gain? With Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spinning the invasion of Crimea as Russia "cleaning up" after Ukrainian mismanagement, it's obvious they aren't above playing dirty. Is it simply a strategic win to have the United States run by a weak wannabe-autocrat? Or is the end game to weaken and diminish regional rivals for power in Asia?

Business and Finance Census Bureau reports two straight months of meaningful declines in durable-goods orders

It's bad news across the board, especially after you take out defense orders.

Computers and the Internet Iowa Department of Public Safety fires employee over social-media rants

You have the right to free speech. But you also have a right to the consequences of shooting off your mouth in a public forum.

Humor and Good News The letter of the law

A woman told to obey a dress code that doesn't accommodate her decided to fight back -- by following the letter of the law in the most outlandish ways possible. Brilliant subversion. It's just not that hard to try to empathize with other people -- and to see that a one-size-fits-all policy for something like a dress code may not apply in a reasonable way to all people.

July 26, 2016

Business and Finance A lot of young men with nothing productive to do

Having a lot of young people (but especially young men) with nothing productive to do is a very hazardous condition. That's what makes the very low labor-force participation rate among young men (particularly those without a high school diploma, but also among some of their peers) a very hazardous situation. Some studies appear to show that many of them are happy to (literally) sit around playing video games all day, but that happiness isn't going to be durable as they age. Low satisfaction will couple with the opportunities that they will have sacrificed by dropping out of the economic and educational systems, and that's almost certain to be a combustible situation in the years to come.

Threats and Hazards Specific Democratic Party employees have been targeted in cyberattacks

It's no accident what's been happening with this cyber-espionage -- it's not impossible to imagine some party other than a state-backed actor being behind the attacks, but it's close. And while China and Russia are the two likeliest states (in terms of means, motive, and opportunity) to try hacking into American political parties, right now it appears that Russia has the biggest motives.

Threats and Hazards The cable-news TV-watcher-in-chief

That's apparently the job that Donald Trump wants, but it's far from the right thing for leadership in the country. He is reported to watch virtually non-stop (a characterization reinforced by videos that show him obsessively watching television on his airplane), and that is a vastly different thing from educating one's self. There is very little novelty and very little original thinking taking place on cable news, and people who are in positions to face new and original problems (like, say, a President) need to be exposed to a lot of information, ideas, and original interpretations of fact so that they will be prepared for serendipitous moments. If the questions that landed on the Oval Office desk were easy, they would have been answered already.

Computers and the Internet Sales are falling at Apple

But the company still claims a gross margin in the upper 30% range, so they have a lot of cushion from which to adapt to new opportunities. The iPhone remains their leading volume item.

Health The world's tallest countries are the Netherlands and Latvia

On average, of course.

News Book review: "Taking Heat", by Ari Fleischer

Verdict: Too many sour grapes.

July 25, 2016

Threats and Hazards Evidence strongly points to a Russian operation behind the DNC email leak

When nuclear powers turn to cyberwarfare like this to influence political outcomes, it's time to pay attention. The FBI has been enlisted to investigate.

Threats and Hazards Threats to abandon our allies are destabilizing and wrong

Donald Trump continues to say things like "We always have to be prepared to walk" on things like our defense agreements with Japan. That undermines national security and global security as well.

Computers and the Internet Verizon is buying the websites of Yahoo for $4.8 billion

They aren't getting the intellectual property or the company's stock in Yahoo Japan or Alibaba

Weather and Disasters Using architecture to solve stormwater problems

Some cities have combined stormwater and sanitary sewers (leftover from the days before that was determined to be a bad practice), and taking some pressure off the system during storms can make things a lot better.

News A county fair inside a (mostly) ghost mall

Omaha's Crossroads Mall is largely empty, and the Douglas County fair has taken up temporary residence.

July 22, 2016

News Washington Post editorial goes all in: Trump a "unique threat to democracy"

A couple of things ought to be borne in mind: First, we have institutions in place to prevent an individual President from over-reaching, and anything that should be done to stress-test those safety nets ought to be undertaken before January. Second, the threat posed by Trump's candidacy is not so much what he would do personally as what he normalizes; he has tolerated, signal-boosted, and winked at a lot of behavior that has been out of bounds in civil society for a long time, and that behavior is a lot more insidious than anything we might expect an Oval Office occupant to do. Third, while opposition to Trump is well-founded, it's going to be very important for his opponents to be specific in their criticisms. Secretary Hillary Clinton likes to lean on the word "dangerous" when describing him, but that's a vague generality. It is actually much more important to lay out clear individual criticisms and to back them up with both evidence and reasoning. For instance, it is evident that Donald Trump isn't a reader. He cannot speak with any fluency about any book that doesn't have his name on the cover (see, for instance, his fumbling with the Bible). Why does that matter? Because it reflects his rather unsettling inability to describe anything in abstract terms. Aside from an idiom here or there, he speaks exclusively in the language of concrete things (just for example, when he says "build a big, beautiful wall", he appears to mean literally that). If there is one thing we should be able to grasp from history, it is that Presidents are rarely called upon to make simple, concrete decisions -- by the time something gets to the President's desk, it is usually complex, abstract, and deeply nuanced. Whatever you may think of the liberal arts in general, they do provide a grounding in and a language for concepts and abstract reasoning. A person who has no interest in that kind of thought process is going to lack a fundamental skill set that is indispensable to the office of the Presidency. Great leaders have fluency in a lot of subjects, including history, that cannot be obtained without reading. Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill -- two great "conservative" leaders of the 20th Century -- were both published historians, just for example. Not every great prime minister or President need be a historian, but they absolutely need basic historical knowledge to do their jobs even moderately well.

The United States of America Sen. Tim Kaine picked as Democratic VP nominee

The Clinton campaign's rollout via Twitter and online seems centered on positioning him as a broadly palatable choice -- a decent guy with center-left leanings, but nothing particularly red-hot.

Threats and Hazards Hackers working for the Russian government broke into the DNC's systems

And now a mountain of internal documents are coming to public attention. Processes matter; the ends do not justify the means. Regardless of what is exposed by the breach, the fact is that agents of a foreign government are actively undertaking cyber-warfare against a major political institution with what is ultimately an underhanded political objective in mind -- an attempt to interfere with U.S. electoral politics.

News Republican defections to Libertarian ticket: DC edition

Four Republican national convention delegates from DC have pledged support for the Johnson-Weld ticket

Computers and the Internet Facebook's Internet-delivery drone takes first test flight

The "Aquila" is intended to hover at 60,000 feet above areas that don't have reliable Internet access and deliver that access via lasers and radio frequencies. The Aquila drones are unmanned and have wingspans wider than the Boeing 737, using solar power during the day and batteries at night to remain in the sky. It's an interesting concept -- Facebook wants tools like this to deliver Internet access to the estimated 4 billion people who don't have high-speed access today, and in developing tools like Aquila, they're trying to leapfrog conventional infrastructure costs and complications. This is private investment in what will surrogate for public infrastructure; Facebook obviously hopes to make money off the new Internet users, but there should be massive social benefits as well, far in excess of Facebook's private net gain.

Agriculture Corn bears some of the blame for insufferable humidity in the Midwest

Transpiration off the plants can add 5°F to 10°F to dewpoints

July 21, 2016

Threats and Hazards What good is an alliance if its partners aren't committed?

The New York Times asked Donald Trump, "If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don't think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?" He answered: "I don't want to tell you what I'd do because I don't want Putin to know what I'd do." Trump is so deeply ingrained in zero-sum thinking that he insists on applying it to world affairs, and that's a very serious problem. Arguing over the value of the Plaza Hotel is a zero-sum game, and unpredictability can confer an advantage to one of the players in such an exchange. But in a question over the defense of NATO allies, it's not zero-sum. There is a preferable and stable outcome to be achieved (peace), and making Putin guess at our response is profoundly destabilizing. It's a bit of logic so basic that it forms one of the key plot elements to the movie "Dr. Strangelove": "Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world?" We don't have to be friendly with Russia (or China, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or Iran...) for us to maintain a stable peace. They only have to know that we are serious and credible. Trump's wobbliness on this matter -- without question -- undermines national security. It's also worrisome that Trump claims not to recognize the historical significance of his slogan, "America First". Great leaders are familiar with history -- enough that they can recognize patterns and game out the consequences of decisions and actions. History doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme. Historical fluency undoubtedly helped leaders like Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt, who were both published historians. Not every great leader needs to match them, but at least some knowledge of history is essential.

News A very thoughtful piece about some very thoughtless comments

Omaha World-Herald columnist Matthew Hansen assesses Rep. Steve King's recent question, "Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?" Kathie Obradovich at the Des Moines Register had a similarly strong response to King's narrow interpretation of history. Western Civilization has done a lot of good throughout history, and a great number of the achievements we recognize in things like technology and the rule of law spring from it. But western cultures have also done terrible things -- like devastating Native American populations; dominating much of Africa, Asia, and South America through imperial force and colonialism; and instigating both world wars. The good to come out of Western Civilization is mainly a result of its commitment to getting better -- to self-examination and improvement. To have turned his comments from stupid into optimistic, all Rep. King had to do was say something like, "I look forward to a future in which all cultures, all people, and all civilizations are free to achieve their full potential. We will see that when we have a world dominated not by force, but by peace, optimism, and liberty." The world is full of untapped potential, and to the extent that the lingering effects of Western institutions have kept that potential from being fulfilled, we should acknowledge it.

Health The good news: Motor vehicle death rates in the US are well below their levels in 2000

The bad news: We still have 30% more deaths per vehicle-mile traveled than the mean for 20 high-income OECD countries. We should be focusing far more public policy attention on this issue than we are -- even if we only improved to the safety level of the second-worst country on the list (Belgium), we'd save 12,000 lives a year, according to the CDC. That's a stunning and unnecessary death toll. More attention should be devoted to problems we can fix, like this one.

Business and Finance How Chicago's congested rail traffic hurts America

Infrastructure matters deeply to a nation's economic health

Computers and the Internet Yahoo reports loss of $482 million on purchase of Tumblr

The company's announcement of quarterly results is a jumble of figures, and that's rarely a sign that things are going well. But the bottom line is that the company has sold off real estate and is looking to sell a bunch of intellectual property -- two signals that they're struggling hard to stay afloat. The Tumblr investment appears to have been a bad one if they're writing it down by that much, and it's hard to recover when a company makes mistakes that big without enough margin for error.

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July 20, 2016

The United States of America "This is a decisive moment in the history of party politics in America"

A whole lot of Americans self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially tolerant. That demographic has been abandoned by the two major parties, but most people don't want to go to the step of becoming members of an outlier third party to express themselves, so they register as independent instead. In 2016, though, the Libertarian Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates are the most mainstream in the party's history -- and they are probably more mainstream than the GOP ticket.

Threats and Hazards US and China meet over the South China Sea dispute

Naval leaders met to discuss things, but China is making no hint of stopping its island construction projects -- and that's a political problem with military repercussions.

Business and Finance Polish government lowers retirement ages

Going down to age 65 for men and age 60 for women. This is populist economics twice over -- goodies for the old (with a promise of earlier payouts) and jobs for the young (by pushing older workers out of the competition). But it won't be sound policy. It's going to cost the country a fortune.

Threats and Hazards Stupefying video of a police shooting in North Miami

An unarmed man with his hands in the air tries to help an autistic person having a crisis, and a police officer shoots him. It's incomprehensible.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft may be making the cloud move in the nick of time

Its subscription-based businesses are doing well at a time when sales of phones and computers are both weak

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July 19, 2016

News Unpredictability: Not always a virtue, or even an advantage

Donald Trump's style -- based on unpredictability -- makes at least some sense when applied to exclusively zero-sum interactions, like property wheeling and dealing. Leaving one's counterparties forever on edge may appear to create an advantage in the short term (even if it may actually be counter-productive in the long run as a reputation emerges for that unsatisfactory behavior). But unpredictability is a terrible characteristic to introduce into any kind of cooperative circumstance or transaction. Game theory would tell you that it's great to be unpredictable when doing zero-sum things like negotiating with terrorists, but even then it needs to be a strategic kind of unpredictability. But when that behavior starts to interfere with what should be a giant cooperative endeavor (like running for President on a major-party ticket), then doing things like plagiarizing inexcusable lengths of text for major speeches is nothing if not destructive to one's purported partners. It may be impossible to salvge the Republican Party after this campaign.

Computers and the Internet Detroit is the "least-connected city in the US"

In terms of broadband and general Internet connectivity, at least. 53% of households had no paid Internet access at all as of 2013. The numbers turn to overwhelming majorities among households under $35,000 in annual income. It's hard to imagine how a community can develop economically when so many households are unplugged from what has become fundamentally an essential public utility.

Computers and the Internet Should social media be analyzed to predict lone-wolf attacks?

There's something vaguely reminiscent of the movie "Minority Report" to the idea, but it may also be the only sane investment that can be made in prevention.

Threats and Hazards Know your world: Turkey is a NATO member

So that coup and counter-coup that went down a few days ago are no small matter to Western allies

The United States of America An idiotic immigration system cuts off vital supplies of brain power

Why the United States persists in resisting the inflow of talented, highly skilled workers is a mystery

July 18, 2016

News Military servicemembers show strong support for a third option

A very substantial number are strongly opposed to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and a very substantial number intend to vote for Gary Johnson or to write in another name. The poll, by Military Times, finds just under 30% of respondents from the Navy are looking at a third option -- and the same proportion of officers across all four branches are doing the same.

News Why would any sane candidate pick Richard Nixon as an exemplar?

It boggles the mind, but that's exactly what Donald Trump is consciously doing going into the 2016 Republican National Convention. A deliberate choice has been made to use the Nixon template. Meanwhile, Rep. Steve King is using the moment to embrace and espouse a most shocking and disappointing philosophy.

Business and Finance Britain's exit from the EU will probably hurt Ireland most

Ireland's interdependence with the UK in economic matters is going to make the extraction process expensive and hard on the Republic, even though they weren't the ones who decided to quit the arrangement.

Threats and Hazards Terrorists or just people out of their minds?

Given the visibility and name recognition of terrorist groups like ISIS/ISIL, it's easy for people who commit insane violent acts to claim that they're acting on behalf of organized groups. But it doesn't serve civilization well to over-estimate the power and reach of the groups involved. That gives them power they want.

News Surgeon who treated Dallas police officers after shootings shares his inner conflict

The surgeon, Dr. Brian Williams, shares his inner disquiet at supporting and serving the police while bearing anxiety and fear of how he will be treated by officers because of the color of his skin. Difficult to watch, particularly given his obvious feelings of anguish over the loss of life, yet strongly recommended. In a reasonable world, he would have no reason for such pain. It's up to people of goodwill to empathize and ask what's holding us back from helping to resolve this kind of anguish.

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July 17, 2016

The United States of America The Presidential contest isn't a two-way race and it shouldn't be polled as such

Third parties are conventionally only a trivial share of the total vote, so for logistical reasons it can often be argued that they aren't worth polling. But in 2016, the Republican Party's nominee-apparent is himself running as though he is in a third party, and there is overwhelming evidence that a meaningful number of likely voters are planning to vote for an alternative to the two major parties. Any poll that only asks about a Trump-versus-Clinton race without at least adding an option for Gary Johnson (the Libertarian candidate, and an unusually serious one) should not be considered a legitimate survey. November's ballots will not be binary, and the state of the race isn't either.

News Will there be a post-Trump Republican Party?

Jeb Bush, writing in the Washington Post: "[A] few in the Republican Party responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and anti-common-sense."

News Thousands detained over coup attempt in Turkey

Hundreds of military officers included

Humor and Good News Where the Libyan dictator's furniture went

Garish displays at Trump Tower

Business and Finance An excellent job-interview question

"If I was to hire you, how would I know if you were doing a good job?"

July 16, 2016

Science and Technology High-school students like science but hate science class

One problem is certainly the way that science classes end up being constructed, and that can benefit from better training for teachers. People who may be highly gifted or skilled at a particular subject may not be simultaneously skilled at explaining that subject or making it engaging for a curious but untrained audience. But another problem is certainly the modern textbook: An overweight, poorly organized, often painfully patronizing monstrosity. The format alone is intimidating (why should it be so much larger than a paperback novel?), and a dismaying number of textbooks are so littered with sidebars, "Questions to Answer", and chartjunk that they are thematically unreadable. Science is really a story, and it deserves to be taught like one.

News Letters of last resort

How the UK instructs its nuclear-armed submarines to act in case of Armageddon

News One vision of a post-2016 Republican Party

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam make the case for a semi-Nixonian Republican Party -- one that doesn't care very much about entitlement reforms and that doesn't mind abandoning several important small-government/libertarian principles. It's not necessarily the right vision for 2017 and beyond, but it's probably a vision worth understanding.

Computers and the Internet 3G and 4G, make way for 5G

The FCC has voted to put some blocks of spectrum to work on behalf of 5G wireless, and there's enthusiastic guessing that it could become a commercial reality by 2020. Wireless data use continues to expand by such leaps and bounds that something has to be done to prevent crippling traffic overload.

Threats and Hazards Missing pages from Congressional 9/11 report released

While it doesn't seem to point the finger directly at the government of Saudi Arabia, it certainly doesn't exonerate the kingdom, either.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 16, 2016

Make money, have fun, clean up after yourself, and mind your business

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July 15, 2016

News Sen. Bernie Sanders rips page from Obama campaign playbook

He's starting three political organizations, including one called "Our Revolution". This reads quite like the "Obama For America"/"Organizing For Action" approach -- and it represents another chip at the foundation of the conventional party system. Sanders never really identified as a Democrat, and now it appears he will continue to operate in a way that will try to position itself as better than the party system, much like OFA.

Iowa Polk County Attorney claims first texting-while-driving conviction

A distracted driver caused a crash that injured a passenger in October 2015, and now she's been convicted and sentenced to 140 hours of community service.

The United States of America "I believe he's going to endeavor, to try"

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, speaking to NPR about Donald Trump and his willingness to change the things that make Ryan unhappy. Paul Ryan isn't sloppy with his words; he's clearly wishing for something much better than what he's seen. Regrettably, emails from Trump's inner circle from the past week suggest otherwise.

Computers and the Internet Technology is only as good as the people using it

And, broadly speaking, most people are inherently good. An example of that emerges as it is reported that a Good Samaritan rescued a baby from the attack in Nice, and used social media to reunite him with his family.

Broadcasting "The Americans" gets five well-deserved Emmy nominations

The FX Network show is really quite excellent. Its real genius is that both the writing and acting are executed with artful restraint. It would be too easy for the show to go over the top, and they manage to instead take the right path. It's excellent television and deserves the five Emmy nominations it received.

Health Are medical professionals suffering from Burn-Out Syndrome?

An article in The Lancet observes that "severe BOS was seen in up to 33% of critical care nurses and 45% of critical care physicians". That's worrisome.

July 14, 2016

News US Senator shares important personal reflections on police

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) addresses the Senate and points out that even as a high-status elected official, he encounters police at what he perceives as an unusually high rate -- for "driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial" -- because of the color of his skin. Many people can identify with being pulled over under weak pretenses -- rolling stops, tail lights out, failure to signal, or license tags that are out of date. But it is hard to argue that some people aren't getting additional scrutiny because of their race. That's a problem because it undermines the legitimacy of the policing profession generally, because that profession derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people.

Threats and Hazards On religious tests

Fox News quotes Newt Gingrich as suggesting a religious test leading to deportation for some. That betrays a fundamental belief that democracy and classical-liberal civilization are extremely fragile. While we do in fact need to pass along the values that keep civilization afloat, and while there are certain existential risks to that way of life, it seems that Gingrich is adopting a view that makes out civilization to be much more fragile than it is. Worse, he appears to embrace an intolerance that makes it inherently more fragile, rather than less. Civil law is undermined when it seeks to police the beliefs of individuals.

Broadcasting Twitter will live-stream the party conventions

The Internet and television continue to grow closer and closer

Business and Finance Competition among the states

A Nebraska think tank is looking at five states as chief economic competitors. This is exactly the kind of economic competition that should take place among the states. That competition shouldn't come in the form of special incentive packages.

Broadcasting NBC News returns to radio

It's back from the dead

July 13, 2016

Business and Finance LA Times says Viacom is about to sell 49% of Paramount Pictures to China's Wanda Group

The Great Asset Transfer continues. American ownership of assets will be exchanged for foreign ownership as a means of rebalancing long-standing trade deficits. Some will involve highly prominent, name-brand assets -- like half of Paramount Pictures. It's going to make some people angry, nostalgic, and/or nationalistic, but the asset transfer is inevitable given our long-standing behavior (and our revealed preferences -- people can pay all the lip service they want to "Buy American", but it's hard to find people willing to pay a true premium price to do it). And Rule #1 of private property may well be that ownership means control, so if you don't want to lose control, you can't give up ownership. Selling equity in a company may be a good way to come up with liquidity, but it's a lousy way to remain in the driver's seat.

News Decisions have lasting consequences

A New York Times map from 1956 shows traffic choke points that remain the choke points of today. This can be taken in two ways, both of which are valid: First, decisions have lasting consequences -- New Yorkers are fighting the same commuting battles today that they did 60 years ago, because of decisions that were made even before then. But, second, it's never too late to start working on correcting an error -- at any time in the last 60 years, someone could have changed the course of the traffic problems and the people of New York might be in a better situation than the one they've apparently suffered for more than half a century. Make decisions, seek to make them definitively and well -- and if they turn out to be bad, change course without delay. Inaction is a decision in its own right.

News No surprise: "Horse-race" coverage has dominated 2016

The horse race isn't the real news -- it's just a documentation of events. News is what happens when there is a material change in our understanding of the status quo. The horse race isn't information, either -- it's just a documentation of events. Those three things (information, events, and bona-fide news) are often packaged together as "the news", but the inability, failure, or dereliction of duty to deliver actual news and/or information tends to reward the pure hype of "events"...and that's how bad things happen at the ballot box. The Fourth Estate really does have a role to play in a democratic system.

Computers and the Internet China hacked the FDIC

Because that's how cyberwarfare works: Rivals and competitors want every possible angle on information that may give them insight into your decision-making. Knowing how the bank regulators are looking at the financial system probably gives the Chinese government some valuable insight into the function of the American economy as a whole. It would be very interesting indeed to find out whether China is selling some of the information it obtains through cyberespionage to private parties. One could imagine that there are firms and institutions that would be willing to pay for insider information, even if it was obtained through tactics that could be appropriately defined as war-like in nature.

News David Cameron's curtain call as Prime Minister

In comes Theresa May as the new PM

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July 12, 2016

Business and Finance It's not that trade doesn't hurt some workers...

...it's just that a more efficient economy (resulting from trade) is capable of absorbing some of the impact and helping the affected workers to recover, while distributing the benefits of trade to the broader public in a significant way. To reduce trade to "us" versus "them" is not only reductionist, it gets things all wrong and harms people.

Computers and the Internet Is the Internet really helping kids from poor families?

Like any tool, it can be used well or poorly. And if it's not being used well, then its benefits may not be going to where they are needed most.

Health DEKA's prosthetic arm gets FDA approval

They plan to start selling late in the year

Business and Finance Did Ireland's economy really grow at a mid-20% range in 2015?

Seems unlikely -- but then again, it slipped by a huge margin when the financial markets cracked a few years ago

Computers and the Internet Beware the data collection of "Pokemon Go"

When something becomes super-popular in a very short time (like the overnight sensation that is Pokemon Go), there's a very good chance that the general public is missing something very serious behind the scenes. In this case, the app appears to gain a huge amount of access to individuals' Google accounts.

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July 11, 2016

Business and Finance Compulsory education -- for adults?

Be skeptical of "compulsory" anything -- compulsion should be a rare choice. But this actually may be a very good idea. Just like it reflects some peculiar social priorities that the government spends lots of money on seniors' health care versus very little on that of innocent youth, it similarly reflects a warped set of priorities that we only seem to contribute to the education of the young. "Lifelong learning" is easily manipulated into a buzz-phrase, but a society with its priorities straight would actually set its political agenda to reflect its socio-economic goals, and those goals should include upward mobility throughout an individual's working life and beyond. Job retraining and skill enhancement shouldn't be an exception; they should be the norm.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela's desperate government seizes American-owned factory

The economy is falling apart in Venezuela because the government's economic policies are nonsense. It is nothing more than wildly imaginary thinking to believe that the government is doing anything productive by confiscating the Kimberly-Clark factory and declaring that production will continue.

Computers and the Internet Facebook faces lawsuit for aiding terrorism

The problem for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others is that they're either purely neutral conduits for the content of others (in which case, anything goes), or they're making editorial judgments about what can and cannot be posted. And if they make even a few judgments, that makes it very hard to argue that they are not responsible for a failure to make others if there are lives at risk. It's not an enviable legal position to be in.

Health Sushi, hummus, quinoa, tofu all better for you than people think

At least, according to the gap between what nutritionists believe and what the general public does

Humor and Good News Everything isn't awful

A neat story on an adoption with what appears to be a happy ending

July 9, 2016

Computers and the Internet Facebook scrambles to make rules for live videos

Announcing: "[I]f a person witnessed a shooting, and used Facebook Live to raise awareness or find the shooter, we would allow it. However, if someone shared the same video to mock the victim or celebrate the shooting, we would remove the video."

July 8, 2016

The United States of America Insulted by the Trump/Clinton race? There is a legitimate alternative.

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and former Massachussetts governor William Weld are on the ballot in all 50 states, and they're considerably more mainstream than Trump and more trustworthy than Clinton. They won the Libertarian Party nomination and while the party itself may be all too often identified with some of its more strident policy positions, Johnson and Weld are actually experienced as elected executives and a meaningfully honorable alternative to the other two tickets. Their platform boils down to "fiscally conservative and socially tolerant". And in their appearance before the National Press Club, they laid out a case for serious consideration. Weld really nailed the situation with one particular line: "Instead of reading 'Art of the Deal' for the 400th time, Trump should read the Constitution for the first time." Some well-versed political experts are skeptical that the two major parties will learn anything from this race, but a clear protest vote may actually carry weight in 2016.

Socialism Doesn't Work It's not "free" college if it's just cost-shifting

Hillary Clinton's campaign is promising "by 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities" -- and "free" college right from the start of the program for students with household incomes below $85,000. Here's the problem: Nobody has a legitimate argument that college costs are under control. They're not. But this is a promise only to cost-shift. Within the plan announcement itself, the Clinton campaign acknowledges that "States will have to step up and meet their obligation to invest in higher education by maintaining current levels of higher education funding and reinvesting over time". In the real world, that's called an unfunded mandate. The campaign is making promises for which others will have to pay. And as for the Federal government's part, the campaign promises that "This plan will be fully paid for by limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers." Exactly what is that supposed to mean, other than Robin Hood accounting? Fundamentally, the flaw in a proposal like this is that instead of amplifying the kind of pricing feedback upon which a market economy depends, it mutes it altogether. That means students may not have the incentives necessary to take education seriously (remember...nobody washes a rental car), major programs with poor economic returns won't have any distinctions from those with high returns, and (worst of all) universities won't have incentives to manage their cost structures. The math doesn't add up, and that doesn't even begin to explore the consequences for private colleges -- one can imagine nothing short of an apocalypse for many of them if they're competing with "free" college. The dirty secret about the sticker price of college isn't a secret at all: The system is full of inefficiency, with administrative positions growing at a rate much faster than teaching positions. If nothing is done to control the actual costs of delivery, then all we're doing with "free" college is cost-shifting to taxpayers, and likely cost-shifting at what would be an accelerating rate. We need lots more access to higher education, and for it to be much more affordable. But passing the buck doesn't fundamentally achieve that objective.

Business and Finance US Labor Secretary Tom Perez: "The more you strengthen collective bargaining, the more you strengthen the middle class"

While there's no need to deliberately take action against labor unions (they can certainly fill vital roles and have in the past), there's no substance to the claim. You strengthen the middle class by promoting productivity, technological progress, skill development, and economic growth. Unionization didn't save the auto workers at the Big Three in Detroit -- it only cost-shifted. If we had a more German-style approach to labor/management relations, the secretary may have a point -- but that's not his claim.

Threats and Hazards Shameful: Former Penn State football players want Joe Paterno statue reinstated

Paterno knowingly permitted the abuse of children for decades. What we enshrine, we honor. That deserves no place of honor, period.

News Jill Stein offers Green Party nomination to Bernie Sanders

Stein is the likely Green Party nominee, but their actual convention isn't until August 4-7. In an "open letter to Bernie Sanders supporters", Green Party leaders argue that "You can try to reform the Democratic Party as others have tried to do for decades through Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, Howard Dean's Democracy for America and Dennis Kucinich's Progressive Democrats of America or you can leave it." They seem to hope they can also get Sanders to "leave it" -- even though he's never really been a committed Democrat in the first place.

Computers and the Internet Full, affordable, credible electronic degree programs cannot arrive soon enough

Coursera's president thinks it's coming in five years

Computers and the Internet Malware attacks 10,000,000 Android devices

And initial reports suggest it's only going to get worse as the trouble spreads through vectors like drive-by downloads.

Weather and Disasters A simple but excellent illustration: Why Tornado Alley is where it is

The ingredients are just right for trouble from Texas to South Dakota (and, regrettably, into Iowa)

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July 7, 2016

The United States of America Chicago Tribune editorial promotes third-party Presidential voting

On the Libertarian and Green party tickets, they opine: "Can either win? Not this time. But that's no reason Americans disgusted with the major party choices have to settle on either." The probability of a third-party win is non-zero, but it's exceptionally low. But on the other hand, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is running as a third-party candidate himself. Donald Trump has no legitimate credentials as a Republican strategist, leader, or thinker; he even led the New York Times to believe that he's not even sure he'd take office if he won. That's not a mainstream or even slightly serious candidacy. So if one of the two major parties has been hijacked by a virus that has infected its host, is it really behaving like a major party anymore? The stable long-term outcome of any first-past-the-post electoral system like our own is a party duopoly -- each party composed of a batch of sub-groups that form an electoral coalition before election day (rather than after, as they do in parliamentary systems). But in the short run, that duopoly can become unstable, as it quite clearly has today. What is unusual about our circumstances right now is that both major-party coalitions are unstable. In historical context, we had the First Party System (Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists/Democratic-Republicans), the Second Party System (Whigs vs. Democrats), the Third Party System (Republicans vs. Democrats), the Fourth Party System (Republicans in the North; Democrats in the South), the Fifth Party System (Republicans vs. New Deal Democrats), and possibly even a Sixth Party System (Republicans in the South and rural areas, Democrats in the North and urban areas) today. Major parties have fallen apart before over sectionalism and hot-button issues (like the Whigs in the 1850s), while at other times, they've just run out of steam. If we are in the midst of a realignment today (which we very well may be), then a meaningful third-party vote at the top of the ticket would be a substantial signaling device. We should also give serious thought to permitting fusion voting nationally; right now, it's almost impossible for two parties to name the same candidate in most places, and fusion voting would permit that to happen. It's used in New York most prominently. The use of fusion voting would permit the different subgroups we already know to coalesce in a more express way. And in an election cycle that is less popular than a dumpster fire, in the words of Senator Ben Sasse, we ought to be open to possibilities that may give us more pleasing outcomes. Strictly from a mechanical standpoint, it can hardly get worse than a system so badly fractured that the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is actively bullying and threatening the Senators of what is nominally his own party.

News Facebook Live streams a police-involved shooting

A passenger in a car in the Twin Cities metro broadcast a live stream of the instantaneous aftermath of her boyfriend's shooting death by a police officer. By all reasonable appearances, it looks bad -- really bad. And it follows on the police-shooting death of another civilian in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, only really a matter of hours prior, which similarly looks like an abuse of power.

Threats and Hazards ISIS attacks Baghdad

Hundreds of people were killed, and we shouldn't have any less regard for their deaths than we should if the attack had happened in the United States

Computers and the Internet Twitter live broadcast of Wimbledon

A probable preview of what things will look like when Twitter streams ten Thursday Night Football games live this fall. Video on the left-hand side of the page (on a large monitor) with related tweets on the right. Is it broadcasting? Is it social media? Is it both?

Computers and the Internet A 60-terabit-per-second Internet cable under the Pacific

It stretches from Oregon to Japan.

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July 6, 2016

Threats and Hazards Chinese newspaper says its country should prepare for "military confrontation"

China is claiming huge parts of the South China Sea, and "heavy US intervention" makes for a very attractive boogeyman.

News Praise for Saddam Hussein? It's nothing new.

Through garbled syntax and bad grammar in a speech this week, Donald Trump endorsed Saddam Hussein's methods of dealing with terrorists. It's nothing new: He's done it before and on several previous occasions. But why double-down on a stupid argument at a time when the politically sharp move would have been to let the Clinton campaign roast a little longer over the FBI's e-mail report? The FBI director was not pleased with what they found, even if the agency did not recommend any criminal charges. Once in a while, it's best to just shut up and let the facts speak for themselves instead of making up stories (no, Hussein was not an efficient killer of terrorists) that give the appearance of endorsing brutal dictators?

News Syrian refugees in Canada spill over with gratitude

It's necessary to use words like "refugees" to describe groups of people -- but it's also unfortunate. They are individuals and they are families, and among them will inevitably be some bad actors, just as there are in every population. But the vast majority, just as in every other population, are people seeking to live decent lives and do the best they can for their families. We shouldn't permit ourselves to forget that where you are born is no choice of your own -- and for every person living in a war-torn or impoverished country, the only difference between any one of them and any one of us is a roll of the cosmic dice. Canadians should be proud of the mercy shown by their country.

Weather and Disasters Lightning can strike the ground 50 miles away from any precipitation

The National Weather Service office in Kansas City shares a radar loop with lightning strikes illustrated. It's pretty sobering stuff. (Remember: Thunder travels about a mile in five seconds, so any thunder you can hear means lightning is much closer than 50 miles away).

News Why the odds favor Newt Gingrich as the 2016 Republican VP nominee

His closeness with Donald Trump is confirmed by Trump's own statements that Gingrich would be "involved" in his administration. Expect it to be more than that -- Gingrich fits the template that suits Trump best: A nationally-known individual who has experience at the Federal level (as Speaker of the House) who relishes the opportunity to play attack dog against the Clintons (which he has since the 1990s). It would be surprising to see Trump pick anyone else.

July 5, 2016

The United States of America How the financial markets responded to 1776

When the colonies that became the United States departed from British control, the bond and equity markets (such as they were) responded accordingly. Government bond yields rose (in other words, the British government had to pay more to borrow money) and the equity markets declined (reflecting concerns that the war would cramp the economy). An interesting question: On balance, is the world wealthier today than it would have been in a parallel universe where the United States remained under British control? Naturally, it's impossible to fully investigate a counter-factual like that, but it is possible to model some of the internal questions. Has there been more technological innovation because the United States won independence than if it hadn't? The answer there is probably yes: The United States seems to have been unusually fertile ground for innovation for many generations, probably due to a combination of legal, social, and economic motivations. One could also ask whether the presence of a giant free-trade bloc spanning the width of a continent has been fundamentally productive for world trade. Again, the answer is likely yes -- and it probably would not have formed had the United States remained under British control, because the Crown didn't have the same incentive to pursue territorial expansion (like the Louisiana Purchase) as did the independent Federal government in Washington. So, if one accepts the premise that economic growth and innovation for the United States has also been good for the global economy, then at least some of the big-picture questions suggest that July 4, 1776 was a good day for a lot of people outside the 13 colonies.

Threats and Hazards ISIS may have 3,000 girls and young women in slavery as sex objects

These are human beings who are suffering. They only differ from any of the rest of us by accident of birth. You don't get to pick where you are born -- and for most people, that's where you remain. Nothing but a sort of cosmic roll of the dice separates any one of us from having been in someone else's shoes.

Threats and Hazards More than 2,000 people have been shot in Chicago so far this year

That includes 66 over the Independence Day holiday weekend. That is completely out of control.

Threats and Hazards The anti-Semitism has to stop

It is alarming that a Presidential candidate who uses a social-media outlet like Twitter as his primary means of communicating with the public has repeatedly given virtual winks and nods to anti-Semitic participants in those same social-media forums. Free speech is everyone's right, but it's also appropriate to criticize. And it's doubly important to criticize those who thoughtlessly amplify inhumane messages by sharing them with a broader audience. Civilization depends on each generation's commitment to upholding the traditions of classical liberalism -- the ideals of the Enlightenment. It's a shame to see today's technologies being used to echo a mentality that would bring back the Dark Ages, and it's utterly alarming to see it being done by a major-party candidate for President.

Computers and the Internet BlackBerry is pulling the plug on "Classic" units

Goodbye to the tactile keyboard. That's really too bad -- on-screen keyboards just aren't as finger-friendly for a lot of people as the old tactile versions, and none of the smartphone makers seem to be filling that niche anymore, which is odd, considering the number of services like Facebook and Twitter that depend so heavily on people generating written content while on the move.

Computers and the Internet China is taking live-streaming to a whole new level

Tens of thousands of people live-stream what they're doing and even receive gifts from viewers as compensation

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July 4, 2016

The United States of America The Declaration of Independence

Still a model for telling the world in clear, plain language why extraordinary action was called for

Business and Finance "[F]inancial crises tend to radicalize electorates"

How financial conditions lead to candidates like Trump and Sanders

News French police on the beach -- swim trunks and pistols?

The need to patrol public beaches is evident. How the police should arm and dress themselves is not.

Computers and the Internet Beware the echo chamber

As Facebook changes its algorithms for the news feed once again, the risk grows that too many people will get too much of their news and opinions from inside the echo chamber of people who are already a lot like them. And it's going to really punch a lot of digital publishers in the gut, too. Many of them have come to depend upon reliable Facebook-driven traffic as a business model. Bad idea.

The United States of America The Presidency after dark

President Obama's late-night work habits sound like a reasonable way for a person like him to process the incredible volumes of information that go along with the role of the chief executive

News Empty promises

Donald Trump simply cannot do many of the things he promises to do. And that makes him a very troublesome candidate.

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June 30, 2016

News Rational government sounds much better than it would actually be in practice

Ironically, perhaps, the best evidence against a purely "evidence-based" government is the terrible misuse and abuse of "rational" arguments for terrible government behavior. Principles and ideas still matter.

Humor and Good News Auctioneers with a beat

(Video) Close your eyes and try not to picture Busta Rhymes

Science and Technology Americans are all over the place when it comes to self-driving cars

An overwhelming majority say in one survey that they're OK with autonomous cars -- yet there's all kinds of blowback to the news of a fatal crash involving an auto-piloted Tesla. Some crashes are inevitable, but if guardian-angel technology can keep us from getting into quite so many bad situations, then we'll all be much better off.

Business and Finance The most American-made cars are from Toyota and Honda

Contrary to what the nameplates might suggest, Japanese cars are often very American

Computers and the Internet "Progress" towards a sale of Yahoo's assets

This long, drawn-out process can't be doing anything to help morale

June 29, 2016

The United States of America 30-year-olds in 1975 versus that same cohort today

Today's 30-year-olds are better-educated, much less likely to have been married, vastly less likely to be living with a child, substantially less likely to be homeowners, and somewhat less likely to have achieved a middle-class income. Very interesting stuff.

Computers and the Internet Facebook changes news feed to favor people

The site is going to do whatever it takes to make sure that users visit as often as possible, for as long as possible. And if that means scaling back the amount of "publisher" content in favor of what individuals like and share, then that's what they're going to do. Woe unto any publisher that has built a business model off of social sharing, though -- which, anymore, is most of them.

Business and Finance A quick history of the $20 bill

Who belongs on the currency? Plenty of admirable people. There's room for Harriet Tubman there, too.

Computers and the Internet The robots are coming to take your jobs: The lawyerly edition

An "AI lawyer" is fighting tens of thousands of parking tickets and winning

News Five Thirty-Eight forecasts overwhelming odds in favor of Hillary Clinton election

The former Secretary of State and Senator from New York may not be very popular, but she's running against someone whose celebrity is mainly based upon being a celebrity, and who cashed-in on his name by selling it to crooked licensees. As Benjamin Franklin sought to remind his contemporaries: Mind your business.

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June 28, 2016

Threats and Hazards "Russia has been engaged in an increasingly aggressive gray war across Europe"

American diplomats report harassment ranging from nuisances to criminality, executed by Russian agents. It goes well beyond the level of fraternity pranks.

Agriculture Convenience stores, fresh food, and food stamps

The law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head

News Sen. Bernie Sanders: Condescending, ungrateful, and uncooperative

He lost the race for the Democratic nomination, and he's making every signal that he wants to burn down the ship

The United States of America A political typology of the United States in 2014

Probably not all that different from how it looks today -- and the fissures are showing. Our political parties are coalitions that form before the general election day...but they're not holding together very well in 2016.

News What the "Brexit" from the EU means to Northern Ireland

One person's Twitter rant about the effects on the one part of the UK that will still have a land border with the EU after the UK leaves. It's sad, angry, and in a couple of cases vulgar -- but well-worth reading.

June 27, 2016

Computers and the Internet An app to help deter human trafficking (that is: sex slavery)

Taking photos of unoccupied hotel rooms can help with the prosecution of those who take advantage of their fellow human beings for exploitation

The United States of America George Will resigns membership in the GOP

He says Donald Trump has infected the party and it is no longer behaving in a way that reflects his principles. And he declined to enter a catfight over the story because Trump "has an advantage on me because he can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters and I can't".

Science and Technology A remarkable look at the deflation in solar-power production costs

Costs have supposedly fallen by 80% since 2008

Business and Finance S&P drops UK's credit rating over EU departure

One thing is certain: The buying power of the pound versus the dollar has declined considerably in the wake of the "Brexit", so it's a fine time to be an American buyer in the hunt for British stocks.

Aviation News The FAA's new commercial drone rules

Playing catch-up at this stage

June 25, 2016

Aviation News FAA issues new rules on commercial drones

Computers and the Internet The Chicago Tribune has been Tronc'ed

No longer the Tribune Company, it's now "tronc", for "Tribune Online Content". A ridiculous brand name. In the long run, what will be interesting to see is how much they depend upon algorithms to generate news stories for coverage, in the same style as Netflix comes up with new programming based upon known user interests.

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June 24, 2016

Computers and the Internet Pebble promotes its new "Core" as an Amazon Alexa device

The Core is set to retail for $99, but the company is using a Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund, and will sell the miniature device to early backers for $79

News Is the British vote to depart the EU a signal of a less-open world?

Quite possibly. There are many reasons that may have led to people voting either way on the referendum -- thoughtful Euroskeptics who voted to leave probably don't share a lot in common with nativists, and the people who voted to stay because the EU subsidizes their incomes probably don't have a lot in common with those who want to welcome more immigrants. But on balance, even though the EU is a bureaucratic juggernaut with structural flaws that probably doom it in the long run anyway, its diminishment does tend to push in the direction of a less-open world, and that does not portend well for the future.

Computers and the Internet Digital publisher says that Twitter engagement rates continue to decline

The co-founder of widely-read site The Next Web says they're seeing less and less click-through from links shared on Twitter, even when people are re-sharing their articles more than ever. The conclusion: People breeze past a headline, share it because they think it's supposed to be interesting, and then move on without actually reading it. That could certainly be trouble for Twitter, but it also suggests that social media is becoming a monster that eats itself. If the purpose is to show that you're sharing things (rather than experiencing or learning from them), then it's not a productive utility. And Twitter isn't the only site where this is happening. There is clearly sharing-for-show taking place on other platforms, like Facebook. That only tends to exacerbate tribalism (in the sociological sense) and identity politics, rather than making us better off.

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June 23, 2016

Business and Finance Tesla to buy SolarCity

One Elon Musk venture acquires another. It probably makes abstract sense without making practical sense: They may very well fit together, but they both struggle to make a profit.

Threats and Hazards Social Security Trustees issue annual report

The Social Security program is officially going to begin running deficits by the end of the decade. And "the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund will be depleted in 2028, two years earlier than projected in last year's report". We're in a world of trouble.

Business and Finance Airbnb confronts problems of discrimination

As more freedom and laissez-faire finds its way into some markets (like lodging), it reveals that discrimination persists -- and reiterates how hard it is to legislate decency and respect into people. On a related note, the New York state legislature has gone on the attack against home-sharing.

News Britain's clear ballots

Nobody voting on the EU referendum will be able to argue that they misunderstood how they were voting. No hanging chads there.

Computers and the Internet Pew survey: 71% of US adults think it would be a career disadvantage not to have broadband at home

The Internet has more or less reached the status of public utility -- like water or electricity. Those without it are missing a fundamental, core piece of infrastructure of modern life.

June 22, 2016

News Three critical traits of a good elected official: Curiosity, competence, and humility

And if a candidate for office never leaves a bubble of self-reinforcing messages and ventures out to learn more (or even acknowledges that there is more to be learned), then that candidate is dangerously unqualified for just about any job in the public trust.

News Chicago passes new regulations on Airbnb

A local community has the right to a considerable amount of self-determination, but it should also be considered whether regulations are actually being used to preserve the health and safety of the public, or if they're just being used as a blunt instrument because some people don't like some things. The opponents of short-term home rentals in Chicago include some people who say that it's dragging down their neighborhoods by creating transient communities. Some supporters, though, come from among those who need to make income off their homes when not in use just in order to make the payments. In theory, home-sharing should be a social good -- if it's putting homes to use that otherwise would have been unoccupied for a day, a weekend, or even a month, then it's highly efficient to put those properties to use. That doesn't mean that abuses and other externalities couldn't become a factor; they could. But we have to be hesitant to use the blunt instruments of regulation.

Business and Finance More regulations and higher minimum wages appear to be reducing options for young workers

The less fluid the labor market becomes, the harder it is to enter. That may seem like a luxury to people who are already up the food chain, but when you keep young people out of the labor market at ages 16 through 25, you keep them from getting on a track to upward mobility. Soft skills matter!

News A single father -- in his 60s

His wife died suddenly just after giving birth to twins. A remarkable situation and story.

Science and Technology Drowsy driving summit

The Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau is holding a summit on drowsy driving on June 29. While often overlooked in the shadow of its nasty counterpart drunk driving, drowsy driving (and other forms of distracted or impaired driving) remains a major public-health problem. The sooner assistive technologies can be widely applied to vehicles, the better off we all will be.

June 21, 2016

Business and Finance How much does it cost to break even on drilling for oil in America?

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas finds that producers say anywhere from $9 a barrel to $60 a barrel, but averaging from $29 to $43, depending on location

Iowa Des Moines and Omaha trounce other cities at total livability

Affordability, family-friendliness, modest prosperity -- it's a full-package deal

Business and Finance Global Risk Institute worries that debt is reaching chokepoint levels

One executive says "There's debt being piled upon debt being piled upon debt." At some point, rates must rise.

Business and Finance One highly anxious economic analysis

There are too many uncertainties and lingering problems for it to be anything like a boom. The question is whether it's destined to become a bust -- and that's not clear.

News The Trump campaign isn't behaving like a campaign

Probably because it's just a perpetuation of what began as an exercise in shameless self-promotion and has never grown more serious than that. They're funneling 20% of their spending back into Trump interests and circling the wagons against any outside influence.

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June 20, 2016

Business and Finance Book review: "The Ten Commandments for Business Failure", by Donald Keough

A book that ought to be used in business schools to offer a capstone perspective on leadership.

News Book review: "Between Worlds", by Bill Richardson

An interesting political time capsule left behind by a politician whose ideology has largely gone missing

The United States of America How would America look with a multi-party electoral system?

The Economist comes up with a model suggesting how we might look as a "parliamentary" democracy. It's only a hypothetical model, but it's a clever illustration.

Business and Finance St. Louis Federal Reserve rethinks macroeconomic forecasting

No more forecasts of some future long-run steady state. Just a guess at different periods that could emerge.

Computers and the Internet Toyota calls automotive artificial intelligence "guardian angel" technology

This is how the self-driving car becomes a permanent reality. It won't happen in one giant leap (like the Google model), but rather via incrementalism -- culminating in a broad public acceptance that the technology has eclipsed human capacities to drive safely. Autonomous-vehicle technology has to prove that it makes us safer in steps -- if it is measured by the lives it saves from human error, it will be seen as an advancement; if it is measured from an assumption that self-driving cars are perfectly safe, then it will be doomed in the court of public opinion because some accidents will be inevitable.

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June 17, 2016

Computers and the Internet You may be a social-media news consumer, but that doesn't mean you've quit traditional sources

Television and print newspapers seem to be moderately depressed by social-media usage; radio is untouched; news websites actually appear to gain considerably.

Computers and the Internet US Court of Appeals upholds FCC's net neutrality policy

Its treatment as a public utility has consequences -- "net neutrality" isn't a perfect paradigm. There are solid reasons to give some data preferential treatment from a practical standpoint -- even if it's not particularly attractive as a philosophy.

Computers and the Internet Chicago City Council moves ahead with tougher rules for ride-sharing

The least-surprising words in the Chicago Tribune report: "The ordinance, promoted by the taxicab industry..." Fingerprints, background checks, drug tests, chauffeur licenses, minimum fleetwide wheelchair accessibility, pricing, and response time rules are all included. Protections on health and safety can have their place, but the accumulation of proposed regulations looks a lot more like an effort to stifle competition than to serve the public. Restrict new market entrants too much and they might just quit your market altogether.

Business and Finance The enemy of my enemy...

Walmart has announced it will stop accepting Visa cards in mid-July because the card company charges too much on transaction fees. Small retailers are understandably excited to have a big dog joining them in the fight. The fees charged by the credit-card companies in North America are much higher than in other countries and it's high time they experienced pushback.

Computers and the Internet Facebook Live appears to have captured a man's murder

Don't forget who warned a month ago that Facebook Live would become a troublesome place in little or no time at all

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June 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet San Francisco municipal rules are strongly discouraging Airbnb hosts

Municipalities have every right to set reasonable regulations regarding the interests of health and safety. But it's extremely easy for those regulations to become a tool for limiting competition and protecting entrenched interests. San Francisco should beware that hazard. The temptation is great to protect the interests of the well-entrenched, but that behavior (called "rent-seeking" by economists) only serves to harm consumers and the prospective competitors who are squeezed out by the regulations.

News A cartographic look at the influx of refugees into Europe

It's a migration of truly historic proportions, and it will be noted in the history books decades from now. History, though, is often hard to see when it's happening right before our eyes. Europe's challenges are huge: To welcome the newcomers with grace and human dignity, and to quickly get those newcomers to embrace liberal Western values. One of the major threats to those two things is the risk of xenophobia and populist nativism: If people who are refugees feel like they are being rejected and isolated, they may have a harder time embracing local values. Some historical context is in order: Remember that the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church (two of the defining institutions of Western Civilization) made vast use of syncretism in order to spread their influence. At the margins of cultures, the key is to embrace and co-opt -- not reject.

News A Donald Trump TV network?

Vanity Fair says it's under serious discussion, and there's no reason to be surprised by this. Trump's Presidential campaign has been a publicity stunt since the beginning, and now it's gone totally off the rails. A rational person in his position should have walked away from the "campaign" months ago, before it was too late, and leaving on his own terms. But instead, now he faces nothing but unpleasant outcomes: A revolt at the national party convention, an electoral loss to Hillary Clinton, or the prospect of somehow obtaining an office he is unfit to hold. The idea of using the campaign as a base from which to launch a cable TV network may be the only way to lock in something resembling a victory at this stage.

Threats and Hazards A worthwhile examination of "marked" speech

When racists and anti-Semitic bigots use things like parentheses to "mark" names for online harassment, civilized people need to understand the symbols being used so that they can repel the implicit hate speech involved

Computers and the Internet Twitter invests in SoundCloud

Twitter already owns Periscope, so maybe a SoundCloud investment isn't such a big leap. And on a related note, Twitter has just tightened its integration with Periscope, so live video streaming is now a one- or two-click operation from within the Twitter app.

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June 15, 2016

News The President should have a capacity for abstract thinking

Political analyst Nate Silver notes that Donald Trump "learns by rote rather than being an abstract thinker". He is quite likely right about that. When Trump speaks apart from unprepared remarks, his language is starkly concrete: That is, he almost never uses metaphors, similes, or other abstractions. When he says he wants a "big, beautiful wall", there is every reason to believe that he is speaking quite literally about a very large wall. Trump is, after all, known mostly for his real-estate ventures, and those are almost universally known for their emphasis on superficial ostentation: You don't move to Trump Tower because you appreciate subtleties, you move there because you want to show off every possible indication of glitz (no matter how gaudy or gauche). He participated in the construction of an otherwise attractive skyscraper in Chicago, then garishly slapped his name across it in giant letters, to the chagrin of the architect. He doesn't appeal to abstractions like a "shining city on a hill". This may not seem like a problem on first glance, but the fact is that the Presidency is not bounded by concrete problems -- most of the big issues require an exceptional capacity for complex, abstract thought. If it were all a matter of simple, concrete matters easily resolved in the physical world, the Presidency would be something much less than it is. But simplistic concretism is not what the Oval Office requires. The Presidency is usually defined not by what the elected individual thinks he or she is going to do, but rather by the unexpected events to which the administration must react: Events like 9/11 or the collapse of the Iron Curtain. To occupy the office requires an intuitive curiosity about the world and a high-level ability to see the abstractions of the world. Whether you like a candidate's policies or not, this ability is a functional requirement of the job, and a person who doesn't possess that ability is unsuited to the great responsibility.

News The Riviera in Las Vegas has been demolished

More than any comparable country, America knows when to blow up the old and replace with the new. Las Vegas does this better than anywhere else. Sentimentality has its place, but utility should win more often than not. Once something is no longer useful, it's time to replace it with something that is.

Computers and the Internet The disposition of everything Yahoo has bought under Marissa Mayer

An interesting mix of independent products, fold-ins, and acquisitions strictly used to obtain talent

Computers and the Internet Why IBM is now in the weather-forecasting business

Companies like IBM, Google, and Apple are well-advised to apply their technological advantages in markets where advanced computing can provide a competitive advantage. Weather forecasting is one of those areas -- pharmacological research and other subjects where sophisticated modeling would also be appropriate.

Computers and the Internet Facebook working on suicide-prevention tools

Technology is only good insofar as we use it to make people's lives better. So if social media is used as a tool for bullying, it must on balance also provide tools to offset the harm that may come about -- and to be "good", rather than neutral, then social-media sites need to help people who might have slipped through the cracks even in a world without social media.

News The AP has spoken: It's the Chicago L

It should be the "El", since the name comes from the original "elevated". But the AP has spoken.

June 14, 2016

The United States of America Consider the honorable alternative

A Bloomberg poll conducted by the highly reputable Ann Selzer firm shows Hillary Clinton well ahead of Donald Trump in national opinion polling. What matters in the end is not the national poll but the Electoral College split, but it's a big gap. And quite notably, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson shows up with 9% of the vote. Johnson appears to represent the most palatable third option that will appear on the ballot in November -- a two-term governor of New Mexico who held office as a Republican. Johnson right now appears to offer an honorable alternative for those voters who have spent 25 years digging in their heels against Hillary Clinton but who cannot stomach the specter of Donald Trump. Johnson is experienced and eligible in his own right, and while his party may act a little goofy, his principles and his track record both square well with the limited-government tradition that seems to be in exile from the Republican Party this year.

Threats and Hazards How the Russian government may meddle with the US election

It's not a purely abstract concern -- the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee's computer network and stole their research on the presumptive Republican nominee. They're not just casually disinterested in the outcome of this November.

Threats and Hazards "[A]ssaulting fundamental liberal democratic values"

The Washington Post editorial board responds to being banned from Donald Trump's campaign events. And they're right: It is fundamentally at odds with the values of openness and Western civilization for a candidate for President to banish a reputable, mainstream institution from covering his events because he doesn't like their coverage. It's petty and beneath the dignity of the office to which he aspires. One of the Post's staff humorists has responded with a tongue-in-cheek style guide to covering the candidate, which recommends against describing the candidate as "what results if you accidentally leave Guy Fieri in a microwave".

News Get the process right and the results will follow

A thoughtful critique of all those well-meaning but misguided commencement addresses that tell young people to follow their dreams

Computers and the Internet Apple is going to put Siri inside the Mac platform

Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants are both creeping their way more and more into the mainstream

June 13, 2016

News The leopard doesn't change his spots

Anyone who continues to hope that Donald Trump will start behaving like a civilized candidate for the Presidency of the United States is going to end up disappointed. Better to shift away allegiances now, rather than to wait for the inevitable disappointment.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $26 billion

Of all the social networks, LinkedIn has the greatest staying power because it has a specific, business-oriented raison d'etre -- Facebook may be almost universal and Twitter may be ingrained deeply with certain power users and Instagram may be the platform for rebellious youth, but none of them serve an essential business purpose. LinkedIn manages to do that. If you're betting on which of these will still be around in 15 or 20 years, bet on LinkedIn. That doesn't mean that Microsoft is (or is not) paying a reasonable price for it; only that it is buying the most durable asset of its class.

Business and Finance Should smaller investors have access to choices like their wealthier counterparts?

"Accredited" investors have access to a lot of things that smaller investors do not -- but while that's intended as a measure of protection for the "little guy", it also keeps people who want to take venture risks (even with eyes wide open) from doing so. In practice, that means preserving some highly attractive opportunities for those who are already relatively wealthy. Good intentions do not always mean positive results.

Business and Finance A new stock exchange?

One is under development now

Threats and Hazards "Developed" doesn't always equal "civilized"

Qatar has a tremendous amount of prosperity going for it -- but the government there convicted a Dutch woman of adultery in a case involving her own rape. It may be a culture, but that is not the behavior of a civilization.

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June 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet British intelligence exec: The "Internet of Things" is too attractive for terrorists to resist

And they'll try to exploit its inevitable security shortcomings to try to do massive harm to society

Broadcasting Stephen Colbert puts third party Presidential ticket in the spotlight

Some pop-culture exposure could go a long way

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June 10, 2016

Computers and the Internet Promise and perils of using the Amazon Mechanical Turk for social science

It's hard to get the right subjects in the right quantities to do real social-science research. The Mechanical Turk might help -- or it might only look like it's helping.

Business and Finance A fantastic visualization of yield curves

You could spend four years in college going to economics classes to understand yield curves, or you can watch a 9-point slideshow from the New York Times that captures the concept brilliantly. Or both, if you really want to.

Business and Finance The United States isn't supposed to export political risk to the world economy

When American business leaders are forced to explain the prospects of a nightmare candidate making it to the Oval Office, it has real costs to the world economy.

Computers and the Internet Gawker Media files for bankruptcy

Rather than try to pay $140 million to Hulk Hogan after losing a lawsuit to him over invasion of privacy, the company just hopes to sell itself to Ziff Davis after getting bankruptcy protection. Gawker has made serious errors in judgment before, so perhaps it isn't surprising that a bad call has landed the company in today's trouble.

News Georgia, Ukraine want into NATO as soon as possible

And with unpredictability the rule in neighboring Russia, who could blame them? Of course, it's also possible that Russia would take the very act of NATO enlargement as a sign of aggression (and quite likely would), so this is a complex problem.

June 9, 2016

Computers and the Internet Can artificial intelligence make human art better?

Purists will probably reject the idea that computers can help human beings to create art. But if many sketch artists and cartoonists learn by tracing the work of others, and if young musicians practice their chops by playing covers of known favorites, then what's the loss in creativity if we use computers to generate starter ideas that human beings can build upon? Whether or not it leads to any "great" art, this kind of technology should lead to computers that do better at human-like tasks, which we need. But in the end, what harm could possibly come from introducing more good art in all its forms into the world? It shouldn't have to be rare to be valuable.

Threats and Hazards Good people, bad system

The North Korean people are trapped by a revolting, authoritarian state. The system is what's wrong. We should have deep sympathy for the people trapped under it.

The United States of America The consequences of a toxic ticket at the top of the ballot

People are highly disinclined to vote split tickets between the White House and their House and Senate races. So a bad Presidential ticket is potentially poisonous down-ticket. This election is so strange that it's possible we will see odd voting patterns -- like people who vote exclusively for the top of the ticket (and skipping downballot races as an act of protest because they reject "politicians" altogether) or the opposite, in which party regulars (especially Republicans) leave the top of the ticket blank because they can't force themselves to commit to either major-party choice.

Health What in the environment could trigger Type 1 diabetes

If you're genetically predisposed, everything from respiratory infections in infanthood to psychological trauma in adulthood could play a part in triggering diabetes

Science and Technology Tesla is going to sell a cheaper Model S

The Model S 60 will come with a base sticker price of $66,000 -- considerably less than the base price for the fancier version of the same, which runs to just shy of $90,000.

June 8, 2016

Weather and Disasters Paris floods of 2016 vs. Paris floods of 1910

Side-by-side photos tell the story brilliantly

Threats and Hazards Parentheses used as a symbol of hate

ADL highlights the use of the "echo" symbol as a tool of antisemitic thugs

Threats and Hazards ISIS murders women who refuse sex slavery

Unconscionable evil exists in this world. These are serious times.

News Self-awareness isn't for chumps

Metacognition isn't a strong suit for everyone. It's just unfortunate that some people who utterly lack self-awareness are this close to the seat of power.

News Former Secret Service agent publishes "tell-all"

And that should probably be strictly forbidden as a term of employment -- and future receipt of things like retirement benefits. How can a protectee trust their protectors if they have concerns about being "revealed" in a future publication?

June 7, 2016

News "I can change, I can chaaa-nge!"

Donald Trump's behavior as a Presidential candidate (and now presumptive Republican nominee) is a lot like the Saddam Hussein character in the South Park Movie: Lots of promises to change, and then no real change whatsoever. It's no wonder (though it is worthy of note) that one Iowa State Senator has quit the party in protest.

Computers and the Internet Marketing company claims research shows big drop in time spent on social-media sites

Whether that's correct analysis or suspicious data is worthy of further investigation. It doesn't particularly seem like people are spending less time with social media, but there's also the possibility that people are getting real about the huge amount of time that they're devoting to what is fundamentally non-productive activity. The advice remains: Less time with Facebook, more time with book-books.

Computers and the Internet Wall Street Journal says Verizon wants to buy Yahoo's operating business for $3 billion

Second-round bids were due on Monday

Computers and the Internet Facebook is making the Messenger app mandatory

Facebook knows best. Just ask them.

Humor and Good News Woman tracks down the person who saved her life a quarter-century ago

She was in a terrible car wreck as a minor. A nearby truck driver also happened to be a paramedic. He probably saved her life by acting until rescue services could arrive -- but he couldn't follow up because she was a minor. They got in touch briefly long ago, then lost touch, and have found each other again. There's still a great deal of good in most people.

June 6, 2016

The United States of America Senator Ben Sasse: No, I'm still not for Trump

He notes: "[T]he Libertarian Party is something I would certainly consider in the long term", while generally looking unfavorably at the future of the two major parties. Note, though, that the only things that would really run the two-party system off the rails would be proportional voting (not likely to happen inside our federalized system, in which states are independent of one another on Election Day), fusion voting (which is worthy of very serious consideration), or a fundamental breakdown in the value that the party structure brings to the electoral process (which it's too early to say has happened for certain, but isn't entirely outside the realm of plausibility). The stable outcome of a first-past-the-post electoral system like ours is going to be a two-party/two-coalition system. What we're experiencing right now is a deep disruption to both of the coalitions that form the two major parties.

The United States of America Book review: "Seven Principles of Good Government", by Gary Johnson

Johnson's book is actually even more mainstream in 2016 than it was in 2012 -- and well worth reading; the campaign is making a mistake by not printing and giving away millions of copies

Computers and the Internet Teaching survivors of human trafficking how to code

A laudable means of empowering those whose lives were disrupted by evil. The ability to support one's self -- particularly with a high-value skill -- is an important human condition.

Computers and the Internet The Federal Reserve is under almost-constant cyberattack

That doesn't make it any different from almost all big financial institutions, but it's a reminder that today's "wars" don't always take place on fields of physical battle

Science and Technology A robot to fold your laundry

Laugh about it if you want. Call it frivolous if you must. But recognize that labor-saving devices make our lives better all the time and they soon enough just become part of the background of daily life and we hardly ever acknowledge how much time and effort are being saved by everything from crock-pots to dishwashers.

The United States of America AP says Hillary Clinton has locked the Democratic nomination

And the November general-election matchup is now set, barring any bizarre circumstances (and it's been a bizarre campaign)

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