Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Third-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

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.

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 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 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.

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)

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 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 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.

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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

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.

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 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 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 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 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

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 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 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".

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 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.

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 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.

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 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 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.

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 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

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 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

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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 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 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

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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 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.

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.

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

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 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 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 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 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