Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


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



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.


Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

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 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 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 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.