Gongol.com Archives: July 2014
A case for getting NATO involved in Iraq and Syria
Nobody is eager to get into a new confrontation...but is the risk of inaction even worse?
How red tape ruins a city's economy
Chicago is a great city for many reasons, but its red tape makes business formation a huge uphill battle. And that's entirely the fault of local government.
Billboard criticizing Minneapolis school district rankles feathers
One has to applaud the initiative to hold the authorities accountable for the product they're selling to the public
Piglet on the loose
One of the little charms of living in Iowa is that sometimes the local news is really anything but newsworthy
"Fun facts" that may be fun but aren't really facts
"The Red Flags of Quackery"
How to tell when someone's trying to persuade you of something that's totally wrong
What's wrong with modern advertising and marketing thought
(Video - containing strong language)
There were two derechos in the Midwest on June 30th
A thoughtful perspective on the Hobby Lobby decision
Some "art" is nothing more than conspicuous consumption
Paying millions for some artist's "messy bed" just shows that some people have more cash than brains
Rules on flood insurance won't let people in Pilger, Neb., rebuild homes with basements
Which is a bitter pill to swallow for a town rebuilding after a devastating tornado
How John Oliver's show is something entirely new on television
A satirical news program with segments longer than those on "60 Minutes"
How the Federal Reserve is looking at the labor market
A dashboard tracking the metrics Janet Yellen says will tell them about the progress of economic recovery
Illinois and Chicago are going to be sunk by retirement-benefit costs
The Illinois Supreme Court appears to have cemented their fates
The Onion: "I'm just a free spirit who is entirely financially dependent on others"
Union membership in America is now a government-majority affair
Don't imagine that the Facebook emotions study was an isolated incident
Target Field rolls out self-service beer stations
Just one more amony many small signs that the era of low-skill jobs for humans is over
Google's take on artificial intelligence
Video of the tornado in Newton
Train derailment lands 737 fuselages in a river
A Kickstarter campaign for a bowl of potato salad
How many direct subordinates is too many?
Chicago needs to get its act together
An absurdly violent holiday weekend should have people saying that enough is enough
Uber's effect on the market for New York City taxi medallions
The Panama Canal may just get a competitor in Nicaragua
Ideology divides the House from the Senate
Of course, the practice of catering to interest groups is neither new nor avoidable, but its results may cause us to need to push the "reset" button
Neil DeGrasse Tyson: I'm not worried about the kids
(Video) In an unscripted moment, the public face of astronomy points out that it's adults who have the stupid beliefs, not kids
The Federal Reserve is cutting off its bond-buying program in October
At least, that's the current plan. That may be a rather abrupt stop for a lot of people who aren't expecting it.
2014 reading list -- a mid-year progress update
Tornado warnings mean take cover immediately
Some people in Grundy County barely escaped serious injury because they didn't have time to fully react. Related: Public tornado shelters may be on the verge of becoming a widespread thing.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune to lose a lot of staff veterans in ownership change
Meanwhile, speculation has it that News Corp. is looking at buying the Tribune newspapers.
The legend of the "tavern" sandwich
More machines means fewer low-skill jobs
It's an ongoing development (one that's been underway for generations), but we only tend to notice it when there are periodic down-cycles in the economy...and we've recently been through one of those. The challenge is to think and act upon ways to accommodate the inevitable during the up-cycle, when we have the available surplus resources to invest.
Wrigley Field slated for half-billion-dollar renovation
New bullpens, more signs
Interesting: UPS uses a lot more rail freight than you might expect
New "Homestar Runner" material is on the way
Your relationship with Facebook is not one of equals
Amazon to try dragging FAA into the drone era
Smartphone memories don't really get fully wiped
Yellowstone is an active seismic area
And a hot spot is melting an asphalt road. We ignore the hazards beneath the magnificent national park at our own peril.
New neighbors don't like Iowa City drum circle
Someone call Eric Cartman, hippie exterminator
Iowa data centers play a central role in Microsoft's cloud-computing strategy
They're big investments in equipment with a small impact on the labor market, which is exactly the kind of thing a company like Microsoft is wise to invest in.
The continued saga of the Midwest's skilled-worker shortage
A dispatch from Omaha
How the Obama Administration tracks sentiment on Twitter
A staffer is assigned to carefully track what press corps reporters are saying in addition to their conventionally published reports
Weird Al Yankovic: "Word Crimes"
(Video) One of his best pieces of work, and that's saying something
Chicago Tribune puts most of its archives online
Everything from 1847 to 1991 is now available.
Even computer companies aren't immune to layoffs
Microsoft is laying off 18,000 people over the next year. Some think the company's internal announcement could have used a little more direct language.
"South Park" cuts a deal with Hulu
There's no better draw than great content. But great content is hard to create.
Wait -- is the Weather Channel getting back to science?
Their new show "Weather Geeks" is being spun as a show for the real science fiends out there. It's to be hosted by a university professor.
Self-driving cars are coming, and it's time to consider the implications
One writer came up with a list of 17 things that could change. There are undoubtedly many, many more.
Ebola is back
Almost 1,000 people have gotten it (in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), and the majority are now dead. This is a very serious problem.
"No wonder the government can't find needles in the haystack -- it keeps storing irrelevant hay"
The same government that can lose all kinds of e-mails from high-level IRS officials somehow manages to keep incredible amounts of data on airline passengers
Cisco wireless routers need updates to prevent crooks from breaking in
Beating cancer is going to take a lot of genetic research
Salk Institute scientists think they've found a gene that signals a cell to stop moving...and when that gene is turned off, it permits the cell to move freely -- which is what causes cancer metastasis.
Big tax breaks lure Sealed Air Corp. to North Carolina
New Jersey will lose a bunch of white-collar jobs over the deal. And did the nation gain anything as a whole? Nope. It's a net loss to the public when states battle each other like this.
Chicago drivers could get refunds for unwarranted tickets from red-light cameras
One-paragraph book review: "Influence" by Robert Cialdini
Pilger (Neb.) tornado hit cattle feedlots, too
An estimated 300 cattle were killed, and lots of buildings and equipment were destroyed, too. The damage to grain bins is visible from the nearby highway.
Helen Mirren uses the Royal Canadian Air Force fitness plan (circa 1950-something)
"Since October, more than 57,000 children have arrived by themselves"
That's the population of a fair-sized American city like West Des Moines. It is significant but it also shouldn't overwhelm our capacity to respond in a humane manner. Bloomberg reports that they'll have to wait an average of 587 days for a court hearing -- which is anything but swift justice. ■ We really have to think through this situation: The level of desperation that parents would have to feel to send their minor children on a trip from Central America through Mexico and through a heavily-guarded border, entirely in the "care" of human traffickers suggests that the situation in their homelands is terrible. Americans don't even send their kids unsupervised to the park without facing charges of neglect. The disparity is troubling -- we're talking about thousands of children under the age of 12, as well as teenagers (and we shouldn't forget that America doesn't even recognize its own teenagers as being mature enough to do thousands of things that fall far short of traveling across an entire country to try to cross a border illegally.) ■ It's worth bearing in mind that "America", in the minds of the parents who try to send their children here, must be so much better than home that it's worth the enormous risk and the inconceivable heartbreak of those children leaving home. That should give us some pause to consider just how fortunate we are to be here. ■ We clearly need to revise our immigration strategy. That people would want so badly to be here -- and that we don't have a system that welcomes more of them through planned, deliberate, and legal means -- tells us that it has to be fixed. There's plenty of room in America (ever been to one of our many places home to only one person per square mile?) -- we just need to put the right system in place for accepting more immigrants in a humane and sustainable manner.
Well, that's embarrassing: US Senator from Montana plagiarized his master's thesis
And not when he was a kid, either
Yet another high rating for Des Moines
Forbes says it's the #2 city for business and careers in America. Lincoln (Neb.) is 6th, and Omaha is in the top 25.
Radio shownotes: Wise Guys - July 19, 2014
Radio shownotes: Brian Gongol Show - July 20, 2014
Cultural and political issues notwithstanding, the Mideast isn't going to be a peaceful place if the economics aren't fixed. There's always instability wherever lots of young men are unemployed.
President Obama calls businesses "corporate deserters" for using international mergers of convenience
A number of American companies have used (or considered) mergers with foreign companies as a strategy for reducing their tax burdens. The President finds this an appealing subject on which to score political points by talking vaguely about things like "economic patriotism" instead of actually fixing the problem, which is that America has the highest official corporate tax rate in the world. This official rate isn't the one that gets paid -- the effective rate is lower because so many companies chase loopholes, credits, tax breaks, and other exceptions in order to reduce the actual amount paid. The international mergers of which the President speaks are just an especially visible method of tax avoidance. ■ It's not really a matter of patriotism (or un-patriotism) -- it's that the companies are behaving rationally (trying to reduce their tax rates) within the boundaries of a tax system that is completely irrational. But actually fixing the problem rather than grandstanding would require the President to stop capitalizing on anti-capital rhetoric, and he's not about to do that. He's not a Communist, but he and his team are terribly anti-capital. ■ The payoff (in political terms) is quick and easy -- it whips up voter enthusiasm against "fat cats" and "big corporations" -- while the consequences are hard to see. But the consequences are real: Every corporation is owned, in the end, by individual people. If the profits of the corporation are taxed directly at the corporate level, and again at the individual level when paid out as dividends -- both times at high rates -- then people are going to make other decisions. ■ Anything short of a 100% tax rate won't halt investment completely, but high rates have at least some effect that discourages investment at the margins. Investment, in turn, is what keeps businesses afloat, and that keeps people employed. Nevermind, though, because the explanation is far less viscerally satisfying to some members of the left wing than villifying those who have accumulated capital and blaming them for what goes wrong.
"Now Americans and Europeans have definitive proof of what motivates a Soviet-style post-Soviet dictator"
A very compelling argument on the nature of our relationship with Putin's Russia -- less Cold War 2, more Mafia-versus-Feds
Johnson County (Iowa) deliberately legalizes driverless cars
The home of Iowa City and the University of Iowa wants to become a test site
But how will they agree on the temperature?
Dubai plans to build an entirely climate-controlled city
Three cheers for innovation prizes
A group including Google and others is offering a million dollars for someone to build a better power inverter. Prizes for defined outcomes are probably the most efficient way to get really interesting public (and sometimes non-public) goods developed.
Plagiarism on Buzzfeed? The shock!
And here we all used to trust Buzzfeed for its penetrating analysis and copious footnotes. The site has always been fluff posted as clickbait, and that's fine enough -- but it's never really been an authoritative source on anything, so we shouldn't be surprised when it falls short of high standards.
Good intentions, complicated execution
Chicago tries not to stack poor people in awful public-housing tenements like they used to, so they've turned to voucher programs. And, in an acknowledgement of reality, they've also seen that it's important to get people away from crime and low opportunity if they are to break out of cycles of poverty. But it's hard not to be taken aback a bit when hearing that some vouchers are being used for rents as high as $3,000 a month. Each individual step in the decision process appears to make sense, but the result sounds crazy.
Does it matter how much a politician gives to charity?
If so, why? And how much is enough?
With Iraq in disarray, who owns the oil?
Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 27, 2014
Amazon wants to sweeten deal on new Fire phone with a free year of Prime
NCAA makes a token effort to track students who may have been concussed
Frank Caliendo...in Morgan Freeman's voice...reading LeBron James's words
What became of the top companies in the first Fortune 500
Success is never perpetually assured
Apple is laying off employees at newly-acquired Beats
Facebook is kicking all of its users onto Messenger
They want people to use a standalone app for chatting, rather than the built-in service previously used inside Facebook
When the police are called in to dispatch a penguin
That this story even makes the news is a good sign that troubles aren't nearly what they could be in the Quad Cities
DMX rides a slingshot
(Video - language not appropriate for some audiences)