Gongol.com Archives: August 2016
August 1, 2016
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.
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.
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.
Bob, Gordon, and Luis are being cut from "Sesame Street"
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.
August 2, 2016
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.
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.
Some best practices on Twitter
An unusual friendship develops (regrettably, featuring a sad ending)
Uber gives up on the China market
Selling out before the situation becomes untenable
Dell doesn't want to see Macs in its offices
Should anyone be surprised?
August 4, 2016
"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.
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
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
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
Where are the big technology brands of the 1990s?
Names that once dominated the landscape are now nothing but relics and memories
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 5, 2016
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.
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.
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
Facebook aims to discourage clickbait by punishing common clickbait headlines
That's one way to do it
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 6, 2016
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 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.
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.
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.
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 7, 2016
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.
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.
Evolutionary processes do some wild things
Adoring review of Des Moines from a visitor
Yes, there's a whole lot right with this city
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
August 8, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 9, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Medicare regulator to go after social-media abuse of elders
Bullying doesn't just happen in the classroom
August 10, 2016
"[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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
August 11, 2016
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.
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.
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".
The US Air Force has a pilot shortage
Which just seems bizarre in all kinds of ways, considering the tidal shift to unmanned aircraft
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.
August 12, 2016
"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.
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.
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?
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.
"[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.
August 15, 2016
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
Katie Ledecky recreates autograph session with Michael Phelps
The Summer Olympics have been brimming with feel-good moments for Americans
How might a Hillary Clinton landslide come about?
Some predictions based on the electoral map
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.
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 15, 2016
A special weekday fill-in appearance
August 16, 2016
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?
More than 20" of rain in two days
The amount of precipitation that fell on Louisiana is stunning
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.
How Facebook and Twitter connect people to news stories
They don't work in the same way
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.
August 17, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Android devices everywhere may be highly vulnerable to attack
Just one more indignity we didn't need right now
August 18, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ranking every joke in "Airplane!"
A bold endeavor if ever there was one. And stop calling me Shirley.
August 19, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
August 22, 2016
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.
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.
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.
An editorial cartoon that nicely sums up some of the preconditions necessary to turning politics on its head
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 23, 2016
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.
Important data: Where household incomes have been falling
Lots of states have seen meaningful, double-digit decreases in real median household income since 1999
Olympic athlete honored with special sportsmanship medal
Human decency beats winning a race
What makes otherwise perfectly-normal-seeming people turn into raging nutbags online?
Christie's to auction off Reagan belongings
Furniture, art, knick-knacks, and more
August 24, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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
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 25, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 26, 2016
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.
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.
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
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.
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 27, 2016
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.
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
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
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 28, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much progress on equality for women
But there's still work to be done
August 29, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 30, 2016
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
August 31, 2016
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.
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.
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.
Vintage posters promoting America's national parks
Truly some magnificent artwork
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.