Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

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 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 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 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 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?

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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.