Gongol.com Archives: December 2017
Purging bad behavior, retail apocalypse, and what's needed beyond tax reform
The more our foreign policy is driven by reaction to smaller countries misbehaving, rather than by a strategic view of the world as we want it to be, the weaker the United States becomes. To think only (and obsessively) about every possible threat around you is the instinctive behavior of the weakest prey in the food chain. We ought to be much more evolved than this.
Words matter. Ideas have consequences. And the world isn't about to spontaneously order itself around the classical values of human liberty without some help and leadership. The President ought to show that leadership instead of playing right into the hands of authoritarians.
Mitt Romney, speaking out with clarity on the candidacy of Roy Moore and its corrosive effects on the Republican Party. No person so disgraceful in his personal conduct as Moore ought to be making grave decisions in the Senate.
The core of thoughtful American conservatism is a belief that we should be defined by what we think people (and a nation) should strive to be. That's different from defining ourselves by our grievances or by our wants. It's a belief structure under heavy assault, as populists define themselves by everything they resent (like immigration, trade, and change) and the left defines itself largely by what it wants government to give away.
Words like "fundamentally", "extreme", and "most" are getting at least ten times the use they should.
When the drugstore chain owns the insurance company, is that going to result in efficiencies from vertical integration -- or pricing abuse?
Relics of a previous retail transition (in the 1920s) are being put to new use in the 21st Century. As the article notes: "In the 1920s, Sears had its own formula for adapting to an urbanizing, upwardly mobile population. Robert Wood joined the company as chief executive in 1925, and immediately re-focused the mail-order behemoth on brick-and-mortar stores." Urbanization is nothing new, nor is retail turmoil.
One of the most influential graphic designers in modern American history
The preposterous argument advanced by President Trump's personal attorney, that a President "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under and has every right to express his view of any case", is preposterous in that it elevates the President to the status of a sovereign, rather than a co-equal citizen. The Queen of England, for instance, doesn't have a passport because all British passports are issued in the name of the Queen (as sovereign). The President of the United States carries a diplomatic passport, like thousands of other people, because the President is a co-equal citizen. He does not rise above the law just because he is charged with enforcing it; if anything, he is unusually subject to the law, since many laws are applicable to the actions of the officeholder which are not applicable to those of a citizen not in office. That anyone on the President's legal team would suggest that he is less subject to legal scrutiny as a consequence of his office is abhorrent.
The former president has been killed after switching sides in the war, and famine there is getting worse. This is a problem that starts with human failure.
There are strong arguments both for and against the universal basic income (UBI) in theory, which makes it a good subject for practical testing and further study. It might prove to be a great tool for eliminating red tape and freeing people to make choices to enhance their long-term welfare, or it could just be a socialist catastrophe. Experiments like this are going to tell us a lot that is worth knowing.
He's literally found himself asking, "Why do we exist?" GE is prominent in this regard, but not unusual: We've had a shortage of pro-institutional thinking as a country for a while now, which has contributed to institutional weakness in all kinds of areas -- from our hollowed-out political parties to the decline of important businesses to the weakness of cultural and educational institutions. A lot more pro-institutional thinking is needed.
A dramatic move to ban an entire country (and ordinarily a major contender) from the games over "systematic manipulation" of rules against performance enhancements. It's imporant that the Olympics be conducted according to rules -- but it's also not a great thing for the world overall that these particular games will be so prominently fractured. In too many ways, forces are trying to pull the world apart instead of taking advantage of ever-greater connectedness. Vladimir Putin is, regrettably, a champion of pulling apart -- as is Donald Trump.
Tom Nichols asks, "[D]o we finally just abandon the party to loons, or do we stay to try to anchor the party if there's any chance of recovery?" One answer: A political party is a machine for doing things, composed of many factions. The "sane" faction (the conventional center-right) ought to adopt a name, an identity, and a statement of principles -- and fight back, hard.
If you can read the story and still conclude that the US needs to radically cut back on the State Department and other forms of global engagement, then you ought to read more history.
A reminder that government sometimes does stupid things, and that when it does, the best thing we can do is act swiftly to fix our mistakes.
This, naturally, could render the airspace in the region much too dangerous for passenger safety
The President's son won't talk freely to the House of Representatives because he claims a conversation with his father is protected by attorney-client privilege (because lawyers were in the room). That's not really how attorney-client privilege works, and it's not the same as invoking the Fifth Amendment...which is probably closer to the protection he's looking for.
Massive fires in southern California -- including one that's almost as large as the Des Moines metro area
PRO: Self-driving cars virtually eliminate human error, which causes 90% of accidents. ANTI: Americans in self-driving cars are likely to spend more time on the Internet, which causes 90% of stupid ideas.
The Economist: "Dozens of firms are working on electrically powered planes of all shapes and sizes." Hybrid power systems will come first, but all-electric models aren't inconceivable. The advantages are substantial: Higher efficiency, fewer moving parts, reduced noise, and radically lessened air pollution.
Over-the-road trucking is almost certain to see closely-packed convoys in the future of two or more trucks that travel together (with the help of automation) in order to reduce wind drag. A 10% increase in fuel efficiency is a mighty reward.
Google's new London offices will be more than 1,000 feet long, but only a few stories high. Why that qualifies it for a special name like "landscraper" is up to question.
It's no Harvard Business School case study, but most readers will gain something from the text
And what real progress has been made since? Can one name anything concrete?
CNN: "The campaign to eradicate the Islamic State took more than three years and about 25,000 coalition airstrikes."
The Senate tax bill might actually contain elements that could result in marginal rates higher than 100% for certain earners
What does Vladimir Putin have in mind when he targets Western elections and instigates cyber-warfare?
Anti-immigrant, anti-modernist parties have gained worrisome degrees of strength in parts of Europe
Enormous fires, scaling larger than entire major American cities
The Democrat is a rare winner for his party in that state, but his opponent took a loathsome route
It's quite likely on course to reveal deeply untoward behavior on the part of people closest to the President, and that's going to elicit really bad reactionary behavior
And since that's a signal of higher export shipping costs, it's really bad news for American farmers who are already dealing with low commodity prices and a President who is too obstinate to see that his anti-trade rhetoric is awful for export-dependent sectors of the economy, like agriculture
The major tax bill going through Congress is imperfect, but its imperfections are correctable through the political process
The redundant power system was damaged, too
The company has held out a lot on EVs in favor of fuel cells instead, but is now announcing that "by around 2025, every model in the Toyota and Lexus line-up around the world will be available either as a dedicated electrified model or have an electrified option"
No matter how you square it, this is a terrible story. Whatever drove the young man to make such a terrible decision will now likely haunt him for the rest of his life.
People ought to be consistent about what they criticize in government -- and hold their own side to the same standards they would hold the opposition
One world ranking where it's uncomfortable to be at the top. Japan, Ireland, and the US are the top three. Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.
Honda finds that using the brains of women and men alike turns out better products
One major unresolved problem: The CBO says it will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, at a time we can't afford more overspending
Economics prof tests college students via social media
Newsweek: "Kushner's permanent security clearance was stalled because he initially omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times."
After Boeing set up Bombardier to face nearly 300% tariffs for moving their aircraft across the Canadian-US border, Bombardier teamed up with Airbus. This kind of merger ought not be much of a surprise -- but it'll be very interesting to see whether it has any consequences for the Mitsubishi regional jet.
The paper was uncharacteristically direct when, in response to a tweet from President Trump attacking a United States Senator, its editorial board said that "Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed." The follow-up from the editorial board says that all of its statements are the results of consensus, but it really might be interesting to see newspaper editorials start to look like Supreme Court decisions -- in which the various members can join in a majority opinion, concur with it, or dissent from it. That would not only be interesting, but the process of "signing" editorials with individuals' names might help to counter some of the misunderstanding that an editorial board is speaking for the news-reporting side of the operation.
(Video) A brief story about a 13-year-old boy in Kabul who supports a family of nine by hauling goods through the streets for pay. His father died young and he works so his sisters can go to school. The boy himself? An inspiration. But his circumstances tell us that the world has a whole lot of work to do before we're truly achieving the full reach of human potential.
Iowa City has decided to limit the number of houses and duplexes that can be rented in any given neighborhood around the University of Iowa to 30%. Paradoxically, the city appears to be concerned that student-dense houses are pushing single-family buyers out of the market.
Workers from at least four of the restaurants inside O'Hare Airport went on a brief strike during one of the busiest air-travel days of the year. Reflexive pro- or anti-unionism isn't going to get us especially far as the world economy becomes more and more tightly bound together. The more fragile our systems become, the more sensitive they can be to disruptions -- like a food-service outage at Chicago O'Hare, or a power outage at Atlanta Hartsfield, both of which happened this week. In order for society to obtain the large-scale benefits of tight economic integration, we're going to have to either better ways of dealing with some failures (like doing more to make airport power systems more robust), and of thinking through the human elements required to make other things go (you can't have an airport without food -- but it's also hard to create a lot of social status for people working at an airport Chili's Too). Some deep thinking needs to happen about these issues, since the macro-scale forces that amplify them into major issues aren't going away.
American distillers are now making aquavit. What they really ought to do is figure out how to mimic a particularly tasty (but extremely expensive) Icelandic liqueur called "Bjork".
Seems like a stretch
Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.
Pretty astonishingly far, according to Crain's: "The proposal ... says the company could operate for 30 years without paying real estate and personal property taxes". Just remember: Sears once was what Amazon is now. The Detroit offer (like others) is reminiscent of the apocryphal exchange between Winston Churchill and a lady: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?" His response: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we're only haggling about the price."
One of the key factors that appears to be holding forth (anecdotally) is the very low rate of transfer of the *skills* to use technology from the highly skilled to the less-skilled. Technological tools have gotten radically better, but only the highest-skilled workers know how to use them effectively. And they don't have the time (or incentives!) to teach lower-skilled workers. Thus certain super-productive workers are getting MUCH more productive, but a whole lot of others are stuck at the same skill/productivity level as they were 20 years ago.
A must-read, and a must-re-read.
A brief book from a half-century ago whose spirit remains applicable to a major public policy challenge today
It's nice to see institutional accounts having fun with each other, as the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star trade barbs on Twitter
Rare is the career where a person can do the same job for half a century. Rarer still is the one where a person can be exceptional at it the whole time.
Some evidence has surfaced to suggest that's the number Chinese officials thought were dispatched. If accurate, this is one of the most damning things reported about a government since WWII. And if anyone thinks that the present government would be above a similar atrocity today, they have greater confidence than they should.
Chief among them ought to be some kind of authenticity index. It's well and good that public figures can have verified accounts confirming that they are who they say they are, but the service ought to make it instantaneously visible whether an account is probably an authentic one or whether it's more likely to be a troll or a bot. Measures of authenticity that could easily be formulated into an algorithm for this purpose: (1) The ratio of the account's original tweets to its replies (bots and trolls disproportionately reply to others, mainly for the purpose of harassing them). (2) The originality of the account's tweets (if twenty accounts post identical text at the same time, they're not likely to be authentic accounts). (3) Likes and replies from valid accounts (much like the Google Page Rank method of rewarding sites that have high-quality inbound links).
A question that shapes the comedic talents of fathers everywhere in the Anglosphere. Without puns, dad jokes would be impossible.
The company appears to anticipate that a non-executive chair will be appointed by the board in January. It wouldn't hurt if more American companies selected non-executive chairs -- the whole idea that one person ought to be president, CEO, and chair of the board is pretty contrary to the idea of at least some oversight by the owners.
It is a fundamentally conservative principle to be skeptical of power and those who have it, and to almost reflexively resist any vigorous attempts to use it.
Hospital employee works overtime all year so she can buy presents for sick children
The United States radically down-scaled its public diplomacy efforts in the 1990s, and President Obama dismissed too readily the warning signs that Russia was adopting a whole slew of tactics to try to influence the West (especially the United States). Many tools having been used already, President Trump refuses to believe that it's a problem (almost certainly because he thinks any acknowledgment of the efforts would undermine the credibility of his election). It's madness, incompetence, and short-sightedness all around. Disinformation is alive and well, and without a strategic approach to countering the bad and promoting the good, we're going to face lots more trouble in the future.
It's good information, but incomplete. Users ought to know how often they were exposed to "Internet Research Agency" propaganda content via their friends. That's the whole point of viral content -- that you don't have to find it; it comes to you.
Almost 26 million Americans were affected by major hurricanes. Puerto Rico's power is still only 65% restored. Things are at least as bad in the Virgin Islands. A quarter of a million Puerto Ricans may have already moved to Florida. It's most likely time for the United States to invest in a true national emergency-response agency with the resources (in equipment, funding, and most importantly, manpower) to act decisively when natural disasters overwhelm local governments' capacities to respond. We evidently don't have that yet.
A few ladies from Omaha who, when they find bargains on necessities (like clothing and blankets), stock up so they can give them away.
It's inevitable that high-profile politicians bouncing around Iowa will be asked if they're running for President. A bit of advice: If you're here and someone asks if you're running, you're always free to deflect with one of the following: (1.) "I couldn't live another day without trying Tasty Tacos." (2.) "I thought the Butter Cow was on display all year." (3.) "I wanted to see the Bridges of Madison County."
The Washington Post reports: "British and NATO leaders have warned of Russian naval activity at levels unseen since the Cold War."
The details don't matter -- what does matter is that he's intentional about what he does with his time, sticks to pretty ordinary human routines (like doing the dishes and eating cheeseburgers), and manages his informational diet by reading books and well-edited news sources.
He's not ruling it out, and reasonable people shouldn't either
Personal DNA kits deliver a surprise
The library says it will shift to a "selective" model on January 1, noting that the volume of activity on the site is huge, they will have archived the entire first twelve years of public content for future research, and -- perhaps most tellingly -- "The Library only receives text. It does not receive images, videos or linked content. Tweets now are often more visual than textual, limiting the value of text-only collecting."
In a small town in Georgia
A gag article in El Nuevo Dia suggests that the United States is trying to return Puerto Rico to Spain. It's only a gag.
Believe in principles, fight for systems, and treat politicians like employees. They should be hired for good reasons, held accountable for their work, and let go if they don't earn their pay.
A warning from Jonathan Sullivan about soft power and hegemony: "Western academic institutions are prone to Chinese attempts to generate influence because they strike at our weakest point: finances." Other countries are going to use what tools they can to try to influence world affairs in their own favor; that means all nations ought to be wary of the ways in which they might be manipulated. This unquestionably includes the use of cyberwarfare, influence campaigns, and even hacking to try to affect the outcomes of elections. But it's also incomplete. Free nations must anticipate attempts at influence by a wide variety of means, by many countries, and by non-state actors, too. Too many Americans have become habituated to close their ears at the word "Russian", and miss the bigger picture. We have huge leverage in the world, so we're an irresistible target for influence campaigns, of many types and from many sources. Naivete is neither a viable strategy nor a productive tactic.
The White House's hostility to trade is dangerous to the US farm economy. American farmers have some huge competitive advantages on the world market, but if we don't have free access to global trading opportunities, that cuts into the ability of the ag sector to turn a profit on its surplus outputs. People don't always understand that it's often at marginal places on the supply and demand curves where big things happen -- and it's really hard to tell farmers to cut back on the supply, since the individual incentives are always to produce as much as possible of a commodity. Thus, marginal differences in demand can make a huge difference. And with the ag sector in really weak condition in the Upper Midwest, for instance, any further threats to those marginal markets are potentially very harmful. Is Cargill acting out of self-interest? Yes. That doesn't mean they're wrong. (It should also be noted that the national economic statistics often mask what's happening in local economies -- like the pressure being felt in rural areas due to low commodity prices.)
They're different and not necessarily compatible with one another, but they're also pretty decent ideas
The show's director thought the spoof of the 80s aerobics competition was his favorite "of the season, and possibly ever". And for good reason: It's executed so brilliantly that it's a real television masterpiece. The plot is super-dark, but yet the whole thing is completely hilarious.
A Marine from Clive, Iowa, got arrested on a completely faulty charge. That sloppy work could get in the way of her future career.
Rep. Andy Biggs wants to undermine the unfettered process of fair justice because he thinks it might turn out badly for someone he likes. That isn't how the law works. A rigorous investigation is the right way to reveal bad behavior in high office, and real leaders should welcome the opportunity to expel crooked people from the President's orbit.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain promotes a stupefyingly inexcusable interpretation of the facts that would have one howling with derisive laughter -- if it weren't for the dominating fact that millions of human beings have died from their abject stupidity. Do not fall for the idiotic platitude that "perfect socialism hasn't failed because it's never been tried": The fact is that in a world where scarcity inexorably exists, there will always be some form of pricing that determines who gets what. That will either come in the form of rationing and shortages, or it will come in the form of explicit market pricing. The natural world is constrained, which is why plant and animal populations rise and fall. They don't have pricing, so they resolve the allocation of limited resources through the cruel, cold reality of what we tend to call the law of the jungle. If there aren't enough rabbits to eat, the foxes die out. If there aren't many foxes, the rabbits proliferate. That the exchange is made in blood and death doesn't change the fact that the resources themselves are limited. As humans, we have the intelligence to use pricing to make those allocations. It's vastly more humane than pretending like those limitations don't exist...even if "true" socialists are too obtuse to understand that.
If we withdraw from a world leadership role, we shouldn't expect peace and order to fill the void. It's perfectly fine to be reluctant about hegemony, but it's not OK to abdicate it. The United States ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts in troubled parts of the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools.
Let's skip the candles on the cake, though.
The US ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts around the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools. Assigning tasks to the wrong agency or department avoids accountability, since they can't be blamed for the outcome of a task for which they are not properly equipped. We need just such a department of government -- fully accountable for outcomes.
A suggestion: Let "atomic centrist" become the name for those people who share a core belief in pluralism, individual liberties, and the rule of law (this core of central ideas being like the nucleus of an atom) -- even if they might have far-flung ideas on individual issues (like electrons). The far-flung ideas on individual policies may make us different from one another and may at times be far apart from one another, so long as we share in common the preeminence of those central values.
Words matter, as do ideas. Anne Applebaum makes a good case for working out the words to accurately describe the big ideas moving politics today, since lots of old labels seem no longer to apply.
A warning: "Prepayments on 2018 state and local taxes before January 1st may be deductible, but only if the municipalities have actually assessed the taxes..."
Human beings can't control circumstances like the bad weather conditions that swept into Iowa today. The sooner we can take advantage of technological tools for enhancing our safety on the roadways, the better.
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