Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


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 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 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".


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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 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.