Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

February 21, 2016

Aviation News SpaceShipTwo is unveiled

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are hoping the second-generation spacecraft will get them on track again to offer private space flight

Business and Finance Apple is going to borrow on the cheap to buy back its stock

They're going to borrow $12 billion to buy back stock at interest rates starting at 1.3% for one year and rising to 4.65% for 30 years. It's a little nuts to try to forecast Apple's market position 30 years from now -- remember that 31 years ago, Steve Jobs was fired, and he was reinstated at the company just 19 years ago. But in the short term, borrowing money at 1.3% in order to consolidate the ownership position of existing stockholders is pretty sound policy.

The American Way Charles Koch says Sen. Bernie Sanders is right about one thing

The exceptional capitalist says the socialist candidate is right about one thing: It's bad for society to have a lot of people who are kept downtrodden. Koch, of course, differs strongly with Sanders about exactly how to fix that problem -- but that's why it's long past time to find advocates to speak up more openly about the many capitalist solutions that are available to us. Denying that problems exist isn't the way forward: Acknowledging that they do exist, and finding solutions that fit within a thoughtful and sustainable framework is.

Iowa Des Moines police officers to get body cameras this year

Broadly speaking, the idea of police-worn body cameras is attractive. Eyewitness testimony is utterly unreliable, even when it comes from trained witnesses like the police -- so the more actual documentary evidence we have from crime scenes and contested events, the better for justice. But it's not an idea without consequences and drawbacks: Someone has to be responsible for acting as custodian of the video evidence, and that's an area where some police departments have played games when seeking to protect their own when their own have done wrong. Moreover, there are complicated matters of access to the documentary evidence (and whether it becomes public record) as well as questions of civilian privacy (especially for children caught up in events, situations of domestic violence and abuse, and access to police informants) that require thoughtful policies and oversight.

News London's Conservative mayor wants Britain out of the EU

Boris Johnson is a politician with real star power, so this could make things complicated since his own party's leadership is campaigning to stay in. Johnson is a role model for politicians in at least one way: He writes a weekly column for a major newspaper, which is where he announced his opposition to remaining. Imagine how much better-off we all would be if our elected officials were all expected to be thoughtful and regular writers. The act of writing forces a person to clarify their own thinking -- and seeing who can write and elucidate their thoughts clearly, as opposed to who cannot, would be a valuable tool for voters.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 21, 2016

Where is the game theory in Washington?

February 20, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 20, 2016

Airing live on Newsradio 1040 WHO at 1:00 pm Central. Streaming at WHORadio.com/listen.

February 19, 2016

Threats and Hazards How things could get worse in the South China Sea

As China sends more non-military ships into the sea, the de facto rules that have applied to encounters between ships of the Chinese and US navies won't necessarily be regarded -- and that raises the odds of misunderstandings and unintended conflicts. That's a serious problem. We're being gamed, hard, on what's happening in the South China Sea: America is appearing to lose an epochal battle without a shot being fired, and it's not as though there's any recourse to be found by appealing to some kind of higher authority. That's the problem with being the solitary superpower in a world where rising powers aren't interested in playing by conventional rules. Someone in Washington needs to get to work on a comprehensive game-theory review of the situation so we can start anticipating the next steps rather than just reacting. As one observer notes, "this is about strategic posture", and it doesn't matter much if the UN laws of the sea say that China's misbehaving -- they're moving forward at flank speed regardless. That means the only way for us to reach an acceptable outcome is to comprehend what the likely next moves are based upon incentives, costs, collaboration, and conflict (or, in other words, game theory), and to start playing this game of real-world chess several steps ahead.

Computers and the Internet Apple: Oops on that broken-screen iPhone thing

People who got the glass on their iPhones fixed by non-Apple technicians got something called "Error 53". Apple says it was intended to prevent people from bypassing the fingerprint lock, but now they're changing the software to keep the repairs from bricking the phones. The threat of a class-action lawsuit probably didn't hurt.

Business and Finance After the Dow-DuPont merger and three-way split, pretty much everything will just be reshuffled

Des Moines, regrettably, won't get the headquarters operation of the intended agriculture spinoff, but it supposedly won't lose any jobs either

Computers and the Internet The Yahoo saga continues

They're setting up an independent committee to figure out what to do next

News Consumer behavior as predictor of political persuasion

Psychographics meet politics

Threats and Hazards Omaha child who froze to death should have had someone to protect her

The most valuable thing government can do is defend the defenseless. That didn't happen here, and someone needs to figure out why.

Agriculture The rural Midwestern economy continues contracting

The effects of low commodity prices don't stop at the grain elevator

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February 18, 2016

Computers and the Internet Apple fights the FBI over cracking the San Bernardino shooter's phone

People who try to over-simplify the case are going to do harm to our public policies -- it requires nuance to address privacy issues like whether a phone-maker should let police agencies get a back-door skeleton key to the data stored on those phones. Regrettably, media attention is gravitating towards the reaction of one simplistic, reductionist, un-curious bozo running for the Presidency, and that's turning the debate over the issue into a disaster.

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh hits a cash crisis

Starving the beast is one way to defeat it -- but don't be surprised if the beast lashes out when it's injured

Business and Finance The gasoline market may be foretelling a summer recession

Timing a recession is really hard to do, because they usually depend upon unpredictable triggers. But there are lots of conditions currently in place that should give us concern that a recession could happen.

Socialism Doesn't Work Left-wing economists rebuke Sanders campaign for unreasonable economic promises

When even the people inclined to side with you say your assumptions (like growth in excess of 5% a year even under greater burdens of regulation and taxation), then it's time to stop playing Santa Claus and get real about causes and effects. You can promise some things under socialism -- but ultra-fast growth rates are decidedly not among them.

Threats and Hazards Time is running out to resolve the South China Sea conflict

It's mostly an academic or diplomatic conflict at this stage -- but there's plenty of dry tinder waiting to ignite into a conflagration. Time is running out.

February 17, 2016

Business and Finance "Millennials' political views are...at worst, totally incoherent"

An incredibly important takeaway: "Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey." As a cohort, they're not necessarily alone in their economic illiteracy -- but we as a country should be ashamed that we haven't gotten better over time at teaching people the fundamentals of economics. That's exactly the type of thing that we should be getting better at teaching all the time -- and it would appear from the outcomes that we're actually getting worse.

News 70% of Saudis are under age 30

And there aren't any jobs, especially now that oil prices are crashing and the government is running out of ways to subsidize employment. This is potentially a nightmare scenario for extremism -- nothing is more destabilizing than lots of young people with nothing worthwhile to do. The Saudi government may very well find itself extinguished by the curse of oil wealth. Resource bonanzas are a terrible thing if they aren't managed wisely in the boom years.

Computers and the Internet Ransomware cripples an LA hospital

Cyberwarfare is everywhere

Humor and Good News Paul McCartney, Woody Harrelson, and Beck try to walk into a bar...

The three were rejected from a party around the Grammys because the bouncer didn't recognize them. The look on Beck's face is hilarious.

News An eye-opening view of the political climate

Some of the possible factors feeding into the frenzy for Presidential candidates who don't make any sense. Make no mistake about it: We're in dangerous times when more than a third of Trump supporters identify with white nationalist views.

February 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet Computers enter the art market

As creators of art, which makes it interesting. Some humans will complain that computer-generated art lacks something about the soul, and they could be right about that. But there's so very much bad art already in the world, created by human beings, and we can hardly be sad about it if that crappy art gets driven out of the market by comparably better computer-generated art. On balance, isn't that a good thing for human civilization? Wouldn't a world in which computer-generated art and good human art both flourish be a more beautiful world?

News VA suicide hotline sent people to voice mail and never called back

A test of a civilization's health is how it treats the most vulnerable. Veterans calling a suicide hotline really couldn't be much more vulnerable.

Computers and the Internet Stephen Fry quits Twitter (again)

The laudable wordsmith and popular actor finds the environment just too hostile to continue engaging with it

Threats and Hazards The situation in Syria just continues to get worse

Another airstrike on a hospital. Millions of people displaced. Tens or hundreds of thousands of children running for their lives rather than living in security and going to school. The consequences are going to be profound.

Agriculture Japan is getting the world's first robotic farm

Vertical farms are the next logical step -- but only if the cost of transportation rises or the cost of electricity falls. Those are the most likely triggers for making vertical farming economically feasible on a large scale.

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February 15, 2016

The United States of America A thoughtful reflection on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia

Scalia could be curmudgeonly and immovable, but he was also brilliant. He vigorously advocated a perspective on the law that should always be heard, even if it shouldn't always prevail.

News Things aren't as free in Hong Kong as it may have been believed

Rioting and protests have been happening, and not everybody is a fan of mass assembly

Business and Finance Deutsche Bank worries that only the Federal Reserve can prevent stock-price declines

If the Fed raises interest rates, that could touch off trouble for companies that have borrowed too much, and that could put the hit on their stocks

Science and Technology Cedar Falls Utilities establishes a "solar garden"

They're installing a bunch of solar panels and customers are buying shares to cover the installation price in exchange for credits on their power bills

News The private sector isn't the only place where poorly-supervised executives pad their own pay

The Chicago Transit Authority is dealing with pension payments that executives could start collecting in their 40s

Aviation News Air Force One and how the Boeing 747 has evolved with time

The airframe, which has been in the air since 1968, has undergone incremental improvements over time that mean it goes farther, faster, on less fuel today than previous generations. That's the value of incremental improvements accumulated over time. Revolutions come from time to time, but continuous improvement is far more powerful than people generally acknowledge.