Gongol.com Archives: October 2017

Brian Gongol

October 2017
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October 7, 2017

News Don't surrender to despair after Las Vegas

Bad people are getting better at doing bad things. That doesn't mean there is truly more evil in the world.

News The danger in decoupling

Pulling away from the rest of the world -- or letting it pull itself apart -- only makes everything more dangerous

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October 8, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."

The words of the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking about a head of state. His own. That's frightening. In particular: "He's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway." The really shocking thing about all of this is the degree to which the national conversation about the President seems to take place as if he's in the next room, and all of the competent adults need to have a whispered conversation out of earshot. It's no way to run a country.

Threats and Hazards Does the President really want to censor the press, or is he just hopelessly glib?

Either way, it's a problem that the person whose job is to lead the free world is so dismissive of the individual rights most central to our way of life that he thinks they can be either abrogated entirely or joked about recklessly. The only bright spot in this debacle is the thought that it might force sensible people to recommit themselves to the principles that matter.

Science and Technology Puerto Rico's governor opens door to Tesla to restore power

Elon Musk claims an island-wide power system "can be done for Puerto Rico" to recover from Hurricane Maria

News Chicago-area pop tax might be repealed

A penny an ounce on sweetened beverages adds up to $200 million a year in government revenues.

Computers and the Internet AOL Instant Messenger to close on December 15th

20 years -- a good enough run for a one-time cutting-edge technology?


October 9, 2017

Weather and Disasters California wine country hit by explosive wildfires

Tens of thousands of acres have burned in a very short time

The United States of America What strange times

A well-known Republican explains why he's (temporarily) in alignment with his usual opponents from the Democratic Party: "The daily cascade of indignities, when considered in totality, diminish the presidency and the country so thoroughly that we should all worry he will leave them both beyond repair."

News The balance between good and evil probably hasn't changed from what it's always been

What's changed is that every act of good or evil has the potential to be amplified through modern tools, both technological and practical. And that's inevitable.

Computers and the Internet "Protecting the digital homeland"

Head of signals intelligence agency in Britain argues that cyberwarfare is as big a deal to them as spying

Computers and the Internet "160 terabits of data every second"

New undersea data cable between Virginia and Spain will move almost incomprehensible volumes of data for Facebook and Microsoft

Business and Finance IKEA plans an aggressive retail expansion

Showroom stores and sales through online outlets both come into the plan

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October 12, 2017

Weather and Disasters Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, no power in most of Puerto Rico

Maybe 10% of the island has electricity. That's a humanitarian crisis, and it's happening to our fellow Americans.

Threats and Hazards Someone's pushing a 5-year sunset clause on NAFTA

That ridiculous idea, apparently being floated by American trade representatives, would undermine the very predictability that makes all the difference for businesses that make investments that employ the people that the isolationists like to pretend they're helping.

News Nixon became a drunk as Watergate unraveled his Presidency

A cautionary tale, perhaps, of what happens when the government is too dependent upon one person -- and that person isn't capable of doing the job

Computers and the Internet Facebook to reveal ad content and targeting regarding 2016 election

What did agents and tools of the Russian government try to do to influence the outcome of the election? This data might help tell -- too late.

Science and Technology Toyota is testing a fuel-cell semi tractor with zero emissions

For all we talk about developments like self-driving vehicles, dramatic changes are happening on the powertrain side of things, too

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October 24, 2017

Computers and the Internet We're a long way from "I Like Ike"

Walter Shapiro: "Even without deliberate foreign interference, it is dangerous for politics to be conducted in an arena potentially free of all public scrutiny. In theory, it is now possible for political campaigns to tailor individualized messages to every voter in America." Technology itself is almost always value-neutral; whether it is good or bad depends upon the hands in which it is placed. And if we're not thinking about making better people, we shouldn't be surprised if the technology is used for bad purposes.


Jennifer Rubin writes: "[I]f we collectively decide we want more government (or the government we want costs more for the foreseeable future) we should pay for it, not fob it off on the next generation." Letting tax "cuts" become the cart that drives the horse has become a big mistake: The management of tax rates as an economic-growth management tool is really just a warmed-over version of Keynesianism. Instead, we should decide what we want from government, limit those wants, and pay for it.

Socialism Doesn't Work President Xi's ideology is now Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy

Reports the Economist: "The person has become the party in a way China has not seen since Mao."

News The military should have to answer questions when Americans die in service

"[O]ne fundamental part of honoring the sacrifice of servicemembers is understanding why they were put at risk, and demanding that those who did so hold themselves to account.

Business and Finance Chicagoland offers some $2 billion in incentives to get Amazon HQ2

A billion and a half in tax discounts, plus half a billion in transportation infrastructure spending, according to the Chicago Tribune.


October 25, 2017

The United States of America "Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us"

Senator Jeff Flake declares his political independence and his intention to leave after his term expires

The United States of America Pew names eight "typologies" of American voters

It's a little too binary and probably too clever by half. Yes, a lot of people share common beliefs, and they could probably be grouped into something like a dozen clusters. But the pure left-to-right spectrum doesn't really make sense anymore, if it ever did.

Computers and the Internet Fake Facebook accounts -- and why you get friend requests from them

Once a new account gets past Facebook's initial screening process, it becomes a valuable commodity

Business and Finance Is Amazon coming next for the banking sector?

Amazon has already smashed a lot of the retail sector, and if it's driven to keep growing, it could very well start extending its reach into peripheral industries (including banking).

Computers and the Internet Information warfare and free elections

CNN says Cambridge Analytica (which played a major role in the Trump campaign) sought out data potentially hacked from the Clinton computer systems via Wikileaks. The more data-driven campaign targeting and dirty cyber-tricks start to overlap, the greater the risk that people may be driven to really bad decisions at the ballot box. Influence campaigns are nothing new -- the Founders worried about foreign influences on campaigns -- but the removal of mediating institutions (like edited publications) from the chain going from source to destination probably serves to amplify the effects.

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October 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Until further notice, he occupies the commanding heights of the GOP"

Rich Lowry sees the future of the Republican Party heavily ballasted towards a Trumpite populism.

Threats and Hazards "Democrats in Denial"

The party seems, at an organizational level, not to understand that the harder they chase delusional goals, the less prepared they will be to provide an effective opposition. As Damon Linker writes, "Democrats need political power, and they can only get it if they win more votes."

Computers and the Internet How Twitter intends to flag political advertising

Some transparency in this regard will probably be helpful, but what about the bots and the troll farms?

News If you get something for free, maybe you're the product

A report from the Financial Times documents China's "United Front Work Department", which the Communist Party there is using to project its soft power into geographies it doesn't fully control, areas of social life where dissent might pop up, and the politics of foreign countries.

News Urbanization is a global phenomenon

More than 60% of all startups in India are located in three metro areas. Urbanization has a wide range of substantial and durable effects, and we need to start thinking hard about a world where a majority of the entire global population lives in cities. We're already at 54% urban worldwide and rising fast.


October 27, 2017

News First criminal charges from Mueller probe about to arrive

CNN reports that a grand jury has approved charges resulting from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and someone is likely to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

News Almost 2,900 records released on JFK assassination

The National Archives says this is pretty much it for the files that had been kept secret up until now

Business and Finance What if tight zoning regulations in some cities benefits others?

An interesting argument that tough zoning ordinances in some major cities actually has a very positive effect for other places that don't have similar rules -- which dampens the clustering effect that would normally be expected to benefit some of those large cities via a rich-get-richer feedback loop.

Business and Finance A hypothesis on American manufacturing

Why don't we have as heavily industrial an economy as, say, Germany? One argument is that the American economy is so dynamic that skilled people get drawn into post-industrial jobs at a much higher rate here than there, creating a high hurdle for industrial jobs to compete against.

News Massachusetts girl has best score in golf tournament, but doesn't get the trophy

Because she was playing on a boys' team. Seems like a peculiar way to structure things.

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