Gongol.com Archives: August 2017

Brian Gongol


August 2017
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August 1, 2017

Computers and the Internet Russia bans the use of VPNs

Starting November 1st. That's the kind of intrusion on individual privacy rights that most people probably don't understand, but it's a huge encroachment.

News Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics

May they break the usual patterns and have a profitable, successful, and durably positive outcome -- but don't count on it. We'll hear a lot of claims that "This time will be different" -- but it rarely is.

The United States of America Virtues still matter

An excellent commentary from David French on remaining true to a virtuous system of values in politics in a time that doesn't seem to reward those much

Aviation News Aboard the last United Airlines 747 flight

Not a whole lot of aircraft have ever had a kind of mystic hold on people -- the 747 and the DC-3 are probably the two at the top of the list.

News Deliberate mixed-use developments "in-a-box"

"Urby" developments appear to deliver what some would denigrate as a sanitized version of urban living. Others would argue that it's a way to radically increase the value of an otherwise low-rent property. In truth, it's probably somewhere in between. There's not an especially great history of the long-term outcomes of heavily-planned development projects, especially not when tied to things that seem trendy (like millennial-themed urban living).


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August 2, 2017

The United States of America Let us ask less of the Executive Branch

George Will, a prominent conservative critic of President Trump, argues that some good may come of the damage Trump does to the country if it gets us to move away from our national infatuation with a strong Presidency. The commander-in-chief isn't (and shouldn't be) the legislator-in-chief.

News Is immigration justified only by the expected work value of the immigrants?

It's not particularly true to our national character to think of immigrants purely as factors of production -- nor is it particularly consistent with the long-term good of the country. Many of us here today are the descendants of low-skilled immigrants like fur trappers, subsistence farmers, and woodsmen. The administration's proposed rules for skills-based immigration are more of a ploy than a thoughtful approach to reforming the system.

News When the boss becomes an obstacle...

...work may simply flow around the blockade. That's what some people think is happening in the White House now, with the President acting as the obstacle.

News Norway's "nice" prison

If freedom is the ultimate value, shouldn't a lack of freedom be the real punishment for most criminals? Shouldn't we do whatever is best to actually reform (or "correct") inmates so they don't re-enter the system after release?

Business and Finance "Re-skilling": A phrase to get to know

It's an inevitable byproduct of economic and technological progress that most people aren't going to be able to stick with a static set of skills throughout their working lives. It's time to get our policy priorities straight so we can accommodate.


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August 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Sen. Jeff Flake: Trump won on "oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions"

Not a small thing for a seated United States Senator to say about a President (nominally) of his own party

Threats and Hazards CNN reports Mueller investigation into Trump money ties

"Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections..."

News Don't start a trade war: It hurts here at home

Nebraska could get hit hard by tariffs imposed by Japan on beef they get from us

News Does international democracy promotion matter to our national interests?

First and foremost, America's allegiance ought to be to supporting self-determination around the world. But it's pretty hard to extract self-determination from democratic processes. This is a very important question, because the way we frame our values and priorities in diplomacy shapes how we act.

News Mark Zuckerberg hires a pollster

Naturally, this stokes the fires of speculation that he's thinking about running for office -- perhaps even President. Does one have to assume he wants to be the front man? Might he be investigating in the interest of finding a prospective winner to back?


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August 4, 2017

Business and Finance Industrial espionage only works in the beginning

Research based on what happened when East Germany stole West German ideas suggests that it works in the short run to steal ideas -- but in the long run the cost of stealing starves the flow of money to organic research and development.

Business and Finance Silicon Valley workers cost too much for Japanese automakers

Toyota and Honda are looking for Japanese talent to bridge the gap between the world of automaking and the world of high technology. There's too much competition for the hot employees in Silicon Valley. Take note: What made Toyota and Honda successful as they emerged from obscurity was operating under serious constraints in their early years. Adapting to adversity is in the corporate DNA of both companies, and it makes them tougher when they develop skills on the inside. Meantime, Toyota and Mazda are cross-investing and building a joint plant in the US.

News "Our commanders-in-chief, not our commanders in the field, are responsible for this failure"

Senator John McCain fires a shot across the bow at the Trump Administration over Afghanistan policy

Aviation News Boeing and SpaceX both plan manned spaceflight in 2018

NASA hasn't done manned spaceflight since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

News What's going to replace the old Des Moines YMCA?

The prime riverfront property has been empty for months now, and the Federal government is threatening to build a new Federal courthouse there. The city is not amused; for predictable reasons, the city government would rather see the property become a high-tax-revenue private space instead of an untaxable Federal property. Similarly, one can see why the why Federal employees might be interested in erecting a courthouse on what's one of the most attractive properties in the entire city. If you can't control much about how much people get paid (and Federal pay scales are what they are), then you can offer "compensation" in the form of a great view out the window in a beautiful new building.


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August 5, 2017

Humor and Good News A fine gesture

The Chicago Cubs gave Steve Bartman a World Series ring. Closure.

Business and Finance What keeps young people from working?

One important factor to measure and consider is the minimum wage. The higher the barriers to entry for the young to enter the labor force, the harder it is to get on the great American prosperity escalator. Ideally, we'd look at entry-level jobs as the equivalent of classrooms for the soft skills needed to "graduate" into more sophisticated jobs.

Threats and Hazards Russia has more tanks invading Ukraine than all of Europe has tanks at all

That's an epic imbalance. Russia has invaded Ukraine in a big way, and that's not a settled condition.

The United States of America Some people still look at public service with humility

A thoughtful brief essay on the dignity of serving in the Executive Branch.

Socialism Doesn't Work Don't get fooled again

"[L]eft-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence [...] This is a scandal." Venezuela is a grave example. In the words of the Associated Press reporter who has at last decided it's time to leave the country: "There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement..." Venezuela's catastrophe is man-made, and its only way out will be man-made, too. Unfortunately, they're in the violent score-settling phase of a civil collapse, where opposition leaders are hauled off in the dark of night by shadowy forces.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Iowa are 16" above normal precip for the year

Others are 8" below. And they're not really that far apart.

Business and Finance A novel and interesting angle on the universal basic income

Consider: A complex welfare system rewards those who have the skills required to navigate it successfully. Those are skills that could be put to better use in the working world. While that's not a definitive case for the UBI, it's well worth taking into account. In a similar vein, there are people who doubt the value of revenue-neutral tax reform. They shouldn't be such skeptics: It's the same logic that rewards using an EZ-Pass on a toll road or a touchless card on a subway: Same cost, but with lower "friction" loss. If you pay the same amount but with less transactional friction, you're still better off.

Aviation News NTSB report on narrowly-avoided disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada jet almost landed on a crowded taxiway. The pilots got confused, and the radar system that's supposed to prevent this kind of thing didn't because the plane was in a blind spot. It could have been a calamity of huge proportions, and the pilots involved weren't rookies -- 30,000 flight hours between them.

Health One in 50 US deaths are drug-related

It's a problem that has at least doubled in magnitude in the last 15 years. Any condition like this ought to be treated as an urgent public-health problem, which is how we should have been addressing drugs all along.

News European Council president: "There is a question mark over Poland's European future today"

Wouldn't pushing them away reward the people who want to take their country backwards and isolate the liberalizers?

News Too many generals in the civilian government?

It's possible that we can have several good individuals serving as former military leaders in civil office right now, and still be engaging in a hazardous concept.

News The White House isn't a "dump"

An expensive suit can look like a wreck if it doesn't fit the man. Maybe it's the same with a house that doesn't suit the occupant.

Business and Finance Money as aesthetic object

Retired pennies in the floor

Business and Finance Someone wants to experiment with the Dunkin' Donuts name

Taking the "Donuts" out of Dunkin' Donuts is like taking the "Burger" out of Burger King.

Business and Finance A slip in the trade deficit

Exports are up and imports are down. Among those who will seek undeserved credit for this, who will acknowledge the impact of a weak US dollar in making our exports cheaper and imports from other places more expensive? The dollar is much-weakened (down 8% in value since November), and whether that is a direct result of politics or not, it's entirely unfair for anyone to take credit for "doing" anything politically to level out the balance of trade. Note, too, that the weak dollar has an inflationary effect on the stock market, so when the President tries taking credit for the stock market, he's doing so absent the offsetting impact of what's happened to the dollar.

The United States of America 34 million immigrants are in the US legally

Including 19.8 million who are naturalized citizens, which is a population equal to the State of New York -- the 4th largest state. A true credit to our nation.


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August 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards How deep is the rot?

Robert Mueller may be finding things that most Americans would be appalled to discover

News Addressing a thorny issue by considering the counter-factual

Should Southern cities preserve their Confederate monuments? One answer can be found in asking whether they would erect any new ones today.

News Donald Trump can't define himself without Hillary Clinton

He needs her (or someone like her) to survive. The Democratic Party needs to figure that out.

News California Gov. Jerry Brown becomes a voice of reason within the Democratic Party

Interesting, considering how mercurial a figure he was when he ran for President in 1992

Iowa United Technologies reportedly wants Rockwell Collins

Rockwell is a huge employer in Cedar Rapids (#1 in the private sector and #3 overall), where it's a homegrown institution


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August 7, 2017

News Movie review: "Dunkirk"

Occasionally confusing (by design), "Dunkirk" tells a necessary story of honor

News City thinks man stole 21.5 million gallons of water

Criminal mastermind risks actual prison time for a product that costs less than 1 cent per gallon


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August 8, 2017

Agriculture A recession only some people are feeling

It's hitting the Midwestern ag economy hard. Important: "A full repeat of the 1980s is unlikely[...] But it doesn’t remove the fact that the current downturn is severe[...]"

Threats and Hazards "Fire and fury like the world has never seen"

The President makes threats to North Korea. Strength is one thing, and bluster is another. Remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "[O]ur basic national objective in international affairs remains peace -- a world peace based on justice." Also Eisenhower: "We seek not violence, but peace. To this purpose we must now devote our energies, our determination, ourselves."

News Visitors from Chicago tour landmarks in Cedar Rapids

Gives one cause to wonder: Which of today's architects are leaving behind work that people will still tour with interest in 100 years?

Threats and Hazards It's hard to see the debt-to-GDP ratio not reaching 100% in the next ten years

Things look distressing if low interest rates remain. But if they revert at all towards historical norms, things could look downright awful.

News Grassley accelerates investigation of Trump campaign through Senate Judiciary Committee

Most of the interesting stuff thus far has been happening at the Senate Intelligence Committee. Judiciary has been largely sidelined for a while.

Health 2 million opioid addicts

If they gathered in a single place, they would outnumber the entire population of Nebraska

Threats and Hazards Lots of Russian flights in the Baltic with the transponders off

Radio Poland says "Most of the Russian aircraft did not respond to air traffic control."

Threats and Hazards North Korea might now have a miniaturized nuclear warhead

Tie that to one of the missiles they've been showing off, and there's a real problem

Threats and Hazards IED at Bloomington (Minnesota) house of worship

An offense to all reasonable, Constitution-adhering people


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August 9, 2017

News "Fire and fury" meaning nothing?

Some want to discount what the President meant when he threatened North Korea. Note what Calvin Cooldige said: "The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately."

Computers and the Internet Password absurdity

Complex requirements are counterproductive if they mean people just write down their passwords on sticky notes

Humor and Good News Editor chases a manuscript 30 years overdue

If you're this far behind on a writing project, it's probably time to find a good ghostwriter. Or even a bad one.

Threats and Hazards De-escalation isn't dishonorable

Anyone who's eager for war in Korea is thinking of it as an abstraction. The reality would be tens of thousands of individual tragedies -- all the tragedy of a single death, thousands and thousands and thousands of times over.

Business and Finance Honda goes against the grain and stays independent

Other automakers are rushing for tie-ups with one another, but Honda remains stubbornly independent. That's probably true to the company's intrinsic character, and thought it might be a more difficult way to climb, it's hardly the first obstacle in the engineering-heavy company's way.

Business and Finance Productivity is rising, but not by very much

If output per hours worked is only rising by a hair over 1% a year, it's going to be basically impossible for the economy to grow faster unless a whole lot of people start working or a whole lot more hours start getting worked

Computers and the Internet Iowa Homeland Security office issues notice about Kaspersky Labs

Kaspersky makes one of the most highly-regarded computer security suites on the market, but there are a whole lot of suspicions that have emerged lately that the outfit may have troubling ties to the Russian government.

News FBI raided Paul Manafort's house

The FBI search suggests that the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller is stopping for nothing and no one


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August 10, 2017

The United States of America A President has no Constitutional claim to an agenda

If you expect your President to "drive the agenda", then you're doing the Constitution wrong. A timely reminder in light of the President's open heckling of the Senate Majority Leader. Let it not escape our memory that the President's authority even to veto legislation is embedded as a subordinate item within Article I, Section 7. The President is given no Constitutional authority to tell Congress when to do so much as open a window curtain, and that's how it's supposed to be.

Business and Finance Every wasted day without a responsible Federal budget is going to cost us real money

That old line about compounding interest being the most powerful force in the world? It wasn't just personal financial advice.

Threats and Hazards Venezuela has an "all-powerful" new assembly

Don't let anyone sugarcoat the fact that bad government ruins good lives. The people of Venezuela deserve better.

Threats and Hazards President Trump cracks jokes to "thank" Putin for diplomatic expulsions

As stand-up comedy, this isn't clever. As fiscal statement, it's immaterial. As geopolitical strategy, it's nonsensical.

The United States of America Democratic centrists in the fight of a generation

For the good of the country, both parties need strong centrist wings. "Politics as it is, and not as ideologues wish it to be" is an apt description of the overarching problem for both major parties. American politics could use a lot less Santa Claus ("Here's what I'll give you in exchange for nothing!") and a lot more James Madison.

Iowa Iowa's drought is growing worse

Much of the state is now in a drought condition. That's bad news especially for a farm economy that's already weak.

News Cruise ship blackout

Passengers on an around-the-world cruise were told to help turn it into a ghost ship at night when traveling around the pirate-infested waters of the western Indian Ocean.

Iowa A dramatically renovated Lawther Hall

(Video) A classic building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa has been radically updated


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August 16, 2017

News Former Presidents issue joint statement

The Presidents Bush make an easy call: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms." The statement should really be so obvious as to not even bear repeating, but the fact a sitting President struggles to make any such statement makes it necessary for his predecessors to say so. And in so doing, they exhibit an awareness of their joint legacy that escapes those who seem to think we should commemorate people on the wrong side of the Civil War. Isn't the idea that history may judge our behavior by a higher standard a fairly important tool to incentivize good behavior in the present? If your view of history is that it is static, then you're missing the point. It's not to be memorized. History must be grappled with. A compendium of names and dates is just a list. To really appreciate history is to struggle with questions of context, meaning, and choice. Sometimes, that may cause us some discomfort -- like when we have to acknowledge that the Founders were imperfect. But treating the Founding Fathers like humans rather than demigods is good for us. It says we have a duty to try to be even better than them. When we put the Founders on an untouchable pedestal, it says we are "less than" -- when in fact, we honor them most by trying to be greater. To understand their time (the Enlightenment) is to understand that they saw humanity as a work in progress, to be constantly improved upon.

Business and Finance Naming a company after yourself may correlate to higher returns

Whether it's causal or just coincidental is a different question -- but putting your name on the door might make a difference

News America's two major parties are in distress

They're factionalized to an extent we haven't seen in a long time

Threats and Hazards Kenyan police beat a baby to death over politics

The inhumanity of subjecting an innocent child to murder over adults and their politics should be incomprehensible to us all. It is most surely an abomination.

Science and Technology The merit in diversity for its own sake

Different people have different needs

News Advisory council shutdown

The President declares he's shutting down advisory councils -- after the businesspeople on the councils already quit en masse. The easier (and better) choice would have been to take responsibility for his own behavior.

News China's (expected) new vice-chair of the Central Military Commission

He appears to have been selected on merit, rather than connections. That's apparently a big change for China's military hierarchy.


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August 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Why retain monuments to traitors?

The President tweets his opposition to removing Confederate statues from public display. This is a good time to re-familiarize with the drawbacks of the endowment effect. Just because we already have something doesn't mean it's valuable enough to keep. If we need monuments to keep public spaces beautiful, perhaps Rosa Parks statues would be a good substitute for those of Confederate generals.

Threats and Hazards War crimes are no solution

The President has tweeted out his endorsement of a fictitious counter-terrorism strategy. You will not find such nonsense recommended anywhere in the US military's wide range of professional reading lists.

Business and Finance A plan to revitalize the American economy

Some good ideas; others may need some work. All worth serious examination.

Threats and Hazards Don't impute motive where it does not exist

There's really no reason to think otherwise: The President is just winging it.

Aviation News What stops airlines from making seats smaller

At some point, it becomes impossible to effectively evacuate in time to stay in the good graces of the FAA

News It's getting difficult to recruit enough truck drivers

One major issue: Depending on how quickly autonomous vehicles reach the mainstream, this could be an occupational track heading into a narrow lane

Computers and the Internet A bad prescription for social media

Columnist Leonid Bershidsky correctly identifies that anonymous accounts on social media are responsible for a whole lot of bad behavior and cultural damage. But then he suggests that social-media sites "should be regulated in the same way as a TV station or a newspaper, which always knows the authors of the information it publishes." This argument is both radical and misled. The notion that government should step in to regulate social networks betrays a wildly misplaced confidence in the virtue of the regulators.

Health Scientists find a whole lot of genes that affect intelligence

The genes themselves aren't new, they're just newly-discovered. If we start to develop truly new genes...that would be a game-changer.


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August 18, 2017

Science and Technology Who honestly thinks life was better 50 years ago?

Anybody who says things today are worse is welcome to turn in their smartphones, laptops, air bags, microwave ovens, and basically all chemotherapy drugs.

Business and Finance "Technical patterns" signaling a stock-market crash ahead?

Technical analysis is nothing more than astrology for stock-watchers.

News Short-term thinking puts long-term American interests at risk

Survey finds that a lot of military and foreign-service professionals in the Pacific think China's within 20 years of being the hegemon there

Threats and Hazards 13 killed in Barcelona terrorist attack

And Spanish police think they saved a lot more after a raid

Business and Finance Lots of management layoffs at Union Pacific

Putting a lot of white-collar talent on the market in Omaha

Health Cleaning up a broken CFL

It may be no real risk at all, but the recommended cleanup process rivals Chernobyl


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