Gongol.com Archives: October 2013
Brian Gongol


October 2013
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October 6, 2013

Business and Finance Thanks for the enthusiasm, but let's stick to the facts
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and at one point said, "[I]t's my job to try to make sure we strengthen the economy, and I spend every day trying to do that." While the superficial enthusiasm for the economy is nice to hear, that's not the job of the Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury Department does a lot of things, but the original Treasury Act of 1789 didn't say anything about a responsibility to the economy as a whole; instead, it charged the Treasury with making and keeping accounts by collecting taxes and other revenues and by managing how they are spent. At a time of government shutdown, perhaps it's worth asking whether we're keeping the Treasury occupied enough with its essential tasks, and not over-extending the scope of responsibility far more than is healthy for the department (and the country). Mission creep that grows to the extent that the Treasury Secretary thinks his primary job is to manage the economy (rather than to collect taxes and pay the nation's bills) probably points us in the wrong direction.

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October 14, 2013

News Chinese state media call for "De-Americanization"

Humor and Good News Fukushima Industries needs some branding guidance

News Popular beliefs that hold back the world's progress
Surprisingly thought-provoking analysis from Cracked

News Banksy goes undercover
Is art really all that attractive if people don't know who the artist really is?

Humor and Good News Tobias Funke times six

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October 15, 2013

Business and Finance Another argument for this being the Era of the Judgment Economy
The "knowledge economy" isn't what really matters. As has been argued here since at least 2009, we are in the Era of the Judgment Economy.

Broadcasting The hidden number in "Futurama" episodes

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October 16, 2013

News How can the Old Gray Lady not understand the institutional imperative?
They've renamed the International Herald-Tribune as the "International New York Times". Silly move. They've been building the IHT brand for over 125 years...so why pull the plug?

Agriculture Why ethanol just got a lot cheaper

News Pope Francis worries some conservative Catholics
That's too bad. His attitude about what's really important has been refreshing.

Iowa Iowa and Nebraska are the two most fiscally-sound states in the country

Iowa UNI College of Business Administration gets "Best Business School" endorsement

Health The addictive Oreo

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October 17, 2013

Business and Finance Warren Buffett's latest round of one-liners
Speaking in Washington, DC, the investor noted (on the subject of women being kept out of business and public policy for much of America's history): "Look at how far the country came using half of its talent. Think of what we can do using all of it."

Computers and the Internet Twitter changes its direct-message policy
And that could lead to a bit of spam if you're not careful

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg buys out the neighbors
Facebook's founder wishes not to become a tourist attraction, apparently

Computers and the Internet Apple gets its space-saucer world headquarters
They're building it in Cupertino, California, where the city council just approved the plans for the enormous, heavily-stylized campus

News All copy, no originality
Chinese cities are being built as intentional replicas of other world cities. Ironically, this copycat behavior is happening at the same time as Chinese cash is being used to buy up lots of real "original" assets elsewhere.

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October 18, 2013

Business and Finance Mortage rates remain bargain-basement low, but rates paid on savings are even lower
Problem: Banks got into a lot of trouble a few years ago for not having enough capital, particularly when some of their loans went bad. Solution: They're trying to increase capital by spreading the gap between what they charge borrowers and what they pay to savers. But that, in turn, is locking up lots of money in the banks without actually making it circulate through the economy. And that's partially why we have a very low monetary velocity right now. Super-low. Which in turn is how the Federal Reserve can keep on trying to "quantitatively ease" the economy without actually causing any serious price inflation. The enormous -- titanic, really -- task ahead of the next Federal Reserve chair (presumably Janet Yellen) is figuring out when the monetary velocity corner has been turned, and then taking money out of the economy fast enough to prevent inflation but not so fast that it chokes off the economy. It's going to be one of the biggest challenges in economic history, and godspeed to her.

The United States of America "Competence and humility"
An endorsement for Joe Lhota in his run for mayor of New York City says he "possesses a refreshing combination of competence and humility." Those are two of the three most important things we can find in our public officials. The third is curiosity, and Lhota seems to be an intellectually-curious guy, as well.

Computers and the Internet Now presenting: Windows 8.1

Threats and Hazards Criminal teams are hiring computer hackers to facilitate drug-smuggling

Aviation News Give it two more years and we might have flying cars

Science and Technology Maybe early humans weren't a bunch of different sub-species after all

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October 19, 2013

Business and Finance Retirement-savings insecurity keeping older workers from retiring
Some of the surveys suggest that half of people in the upper age ranges of the workforce are putting off retirement. We find ourselves in a complicated spot: Part of the point of Social Security was to ensure that older workers got out of the workforce so that younger workers would have someplace to go. If the older workers don't depart, there's a surplus of labor and wages are pushed down. But here's the rub: Social Security isn't enough for a comfortable retirement, and everybody who honestly looks at it knows that. So we (very sensibly) encourage people to save and invest on their own for retirement. This, in turn, makes us both workers and capitalists. But, ironically, as we pour money into retirement savings (in other words, increase investment capital), our interests as capitalists cause us to demand higher returns on our investments. And right now, the real gains in profits aren't coming from investing in new workers -- they're coming from automation, computerization, and other investments in equipment. Why hire new workers when there's so much uncertainty in doing so and so much greater certainty in the returns to better computers, robots, and machines? That's why we are still talking about a more than five-year-long "jobless recovery", in which the nation's total output is back to normal, without the same number of workers as before. Big companies are letting go of workers while still trying to get the same amount of business done, and that only happens when they're able to employ tools that make their remaining workers more productive. It's complex -- and anyone who tries to break things down into oversimplified matters of things like "corporate greed" just doesn't get that complication. Most people are both workers and capitalists at the same time, and there are important reasons to figure out how to avoid high and persistent unemployment without wasting the resources that help savers and investors enjoy something in retirement.

Business and Finance Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase reach $13 billion civil settlement
The bank's going to have to pay $9 billion in fines and penalties, and essentially rebate $4 billion to customers. Oy. It's been argued that JPMorgan is paying a big penalty for having salvaged the biggest bank failure in US history back in 2008...which the government, of course, wanted somebody to do.

Humor and Good News Is it too soon to find out what ads we'll see during the Super Bowl?
Nestle is going to roll out a Butterfinger-based version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. This development is going to do wonders for American waistlines.

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October 20, 2013

Business and Finance Progress towards ending poverty
The Brookings Institution reports that the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half worldwide since 1990. That's exceptional progress, with more to be made. They think it may be possible to get to a point where almost nobody is left in extreme poverty by 2030, which would be a remarkable win for humanity. The tools that encourage the growth that unlock human potential and take us towards having a truly global middle class aren't going to come from command-style economies, and never have.

Health Maybe we sleep so our brains can take out the chemical trash
Proteins that build up inside the brain and that can form harmful plaques may be flushed during sleep, allowing the brain to remain healthy

Science and Technology It's hard to find a more optimistic futurist than Google's Ray Kurzweil
Google's director of engineering, who just spoke in Omaha, thinks we're close to a future with 150-year-old people and nanobots floating through our bloodstreams, cleaning out our arteries. It will be interesting to see whether his big-picture visions have an influence on Google, which for all its successes is still utterly dependent upon advertising dollars (they're 92% of all Google revenues). They have the people and equipment necessary to make some bold innovations in important areas that could be highly profitable. But unlike Microsoft, which is so integral to commerce that it has a big cushion against change, Google is driven by speculation about what could make money someday -- not by an engine of profits that more or less guarantees income, even if they make a few errors. It's a tough place for such a significant company.

Threats and Hazards What kind of brokenness causes people to take a flesh-eating drug?
A synthetic drug meant to be a lot like morphine is pretty well likely to kill its users within two years by eating their flesh. It's virtually unfathomable that (a) anyone would produce it or (b) anyone would take it. Something is profoundly broken in the minds of both sets of people. To think that they're of the same species that made it to the moon.

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October 29, 2013

Iowa Sioux City is on the hook for a bad loan it co-signed

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October 30, 2013

Business and Finance Spain's economy grows at 0.1%
Which is enough to technically end the recession there

Humor and Good News Whomever came up with the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man" concept is an advertising genius

Business and Finance PriceWaterhouseCoopers wants to buy Booz Allen Hamilton
There aren't enough available characters on the keyboard to spell the resulting name

Business and Finance Kiplinger Letter forecasts Chinese buyers to put $1 trillion into US assets over the next decade

News Some gang of idiots decided to put "We love you long time" on a billboard in Portland's Chinatown

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October 31, 2013

Business and Finance Chinese state-run news media accuse Starbucks of overcharging Chinese consumers
Who knew that they were being held at gunpoint and forced to buy coffee?

Business and Finance Half of people approaching retirement are adding debt faster than they're saving

Computers and the Internet NSA accused of spying directly on Google

Computers and the Internet It's not a coincidence that Android's latest release is called "KitKat"
They've been naming the different iterations of the operating system in alphabetical order, using dessert names (ice cream sandwich, froyo, and so on), but this one's a "branding partnership".

Business and Finance What Americans own of foreign companies
There's a lot of fretting about foreign investment in the United States, but it's worth noting that Americans own foreign stocks as well. And at the end of last year (the last time for which data are available), Americans held on to $5.3 trillion in stock in foreign companies, and another $2.5 trillion in their debts.

Health "Football is bad for you, and that's ok"
A columnist argues that it's the maintenance of the illusion that there can be safety behind pads and helmets and mouth guards that really makes things dangerous

Business and Finance A little less compensation for investment bankers?


Iowa Iowa's traffic-enforcement-by-camera debate continues
Police representatives showed up to a hearing in Ankeny to argue that traffic-enforcement camera systems should be kept

Humor and Good News Good advice on the art of being a man
From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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