Gongol.com Archives: 2017 Fourth-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

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

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News Chicago-area pop tax might be repealed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

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

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.

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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.

November 22, 2017

Computers and the Internet The party of limited government needs to get behind technology in the public sector

(Video) A compelling argument advanced by Kristen Soltis Anderson in conversation with Bill Kristol

Computers and the Internet Uber was hacked last year for data on 57 million accounts

That they paid the attackers and didn't disclose the breach until just now is not a good sign for them

Science and Technology The world is radically more electrified than it was 25 years ago

It would be hard to overstate just how important electrification in the home really is for human development. Food refrigeration alone is revolutionary.

Business and Finance A big gap between economic performance in big cities and small towns

When you see big macroeconomic stats, remember that they aggregate the experiences of 325 million Americans. What's happening to us on the neighborhood level varies widely. This has deep meaning for a bevy of public policy issues, from education to infrastructure.

Socialism Doesn't Work Video of a defecctor escaping North Korea should give each of us a start

The desire for freedom clearly represents something deep within human beings

November 23, 2017

News Rwanda offers to take in 30,000 refugees

Appalled by the news that slave auctions are taking place right now in Libya, a small country with a modern history of genocide is trying to atone for its past by stretching to protect human rights today.

Humor and Good News An antidote to the apocalyptic drumbeat

It's hard to get away from the world of bad news, but a story about a woman who volunteers to hold sick kids in the hospital is a decent antidote.

Threats and Hazards Just what is going on here?

Was the idea of running for President part of a big quid pro quo between Donald Trump and people he needed in Russia? An extraordinary claim, for sure -- demanding equally extraordinary evidence.

Science and Technology Does an author have to be a human?

Does artificial intelligence have a claim to copyright? Does the person who created the AI have the right to what it produces? Per the Constitution, intellectual property protections exist "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". If AI is strictly a tool, then the creator of the AI has no more right to its output than the maker of a pen has a right to what someone writes with it. This may seem like an issue for sci-fi, but computers can already generate original music at the click of a mouse and some news organizations already use AI to write news stories. The sooner we start to wrap our brains around the issue, the better. Computers are not only here to stay, they're going to end up doing a lot of things most of us never expected.

The United States of America Thanksgiving: A symbolically appropriate day to try something in honor of American Indians

Also, a really appropriate day to give to the American Indian College Fund

November 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 400,000 tweets about Scottish independence came from fake accounts

No surprise: Russia looks to have been behind most of them. The age of memetic warfare is here, and to not recognize that is as stupid as to not recognize tanks rolling across a border.

News Secret Service recollections of the Kennedy assassination

An event that has long since entered the realm of myth is one that happened to real people -- some of whom are still alive. Interesting to read the recollections of one of the men closest to the event.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds killed at a house of worship

At least 235 people were murdered in Egypt as they gathered to pray.

Health If you're going to need CPR, need it in public (and be a man)

Study finds that people are more likely to get CPR in public than at home, and that men are much more likely to get CPR than women. That's really important information, and certainly gives the public-health sector something to do.

News What comes first?

Most obituaries identify a person's place within a family. Your co-workers and your government aren't your survivors. Life ought to be organized accordingly.

News "We do not seek to confront anyone."

Margaret Thatcher's words from 1979 bear remarkable timeliness today: "We do not seek to confront anyone. The world is too small and precarious a place for that. We and the Communist world share a common interest in the avoidance of war, and in the development of trade and commerce. We long for the freer movement of people and ideas."

November 28, 2017

Science and Technology Sweden's innovative way of improving road safety

Laudable: "[L]et's create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system." They've decided that it's better to look at the root causes of accidents than to hope they can fix human beings. This is the way a lot of professions ought to operate -- build better systems instead of forever hoping that human beings can be perfected.

Business and Finance On the value of economic historians

Every profession, trade, or craft needs to know from whence it came. Economics is perhaps in need of this more than most, since it's such a constructive field with such a (relatively) short history as a science.

News Parents all over the world spend more time with their kids now than in the past

Labor-saving devices in and around the home probably play at least a partial role. Will new ones on the horizon create even more family-based leisure time?

Iowa It's fun to have limited competition

Iowa doesn't have a whole lot of big highway contractors

News Why Chile is so long and narrow

History has left some weird results in its wake

November 29, 2017

News Time should change the "Person of the Year" title

Time Magazine should long ago have clarified that the "Person of the Year" citation isn't an award to be won by changing the name to "Newsmaker of the Year". The fact they haven't made the change is a colossal unforced error that only plays right into the hands of President Trump, who is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he took a press event to honor the Navajo Code-Talkers and turned it into a reckless display of insensitivity. In fact, he remains the leading newsmaker of the year -- but also in fact, no responsible organization in the world would nominate him as the most laudable person or character-driven leader in the world today. Time Magazine, it's time to change the name of your award. Either name the newsmaker of the year, or name the person of the year. One gets credit for commanding attention. The other ought to command respect.

Iowa Meredith purchase of Time Inc. could boost Des Moines

Creative talent will stay at Time in New York, but the Meredith CEO says a lot of support staff will move to Iowa

News Roadblock to Brexit: The Irish/Northern Irish border

So, paradoxically, Britain's past as an expansionist/imperialist state is standing in the way of its ability today to secede from a different political project. It's an incredibly messy situation.

Business and Finance Most of Great Britain is less productive than most of old East Germany

And the old East Germany is much less productive than the old West Germany. Very important for the future of any country's economy.

News No whining

Kat Timpf: "It suggests that President Trump does not understand that his role is to be a servant for the people of the United States -- of all of the people, whether they (or their fathers) like him or not."

News Missive: Welcome to Bizarro-World

Some recent updates

November 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards British prime minister rebukes American President for stupid tweeting

This is really an awful state of affairs -- wherein the head of the Article II branch of the United States government shows neither the self-awareness nor the impulse control to keep himself from stoking the fires of false and misleading representations of the world, to the extent that he causes real and meaningful international harm in the process.

News What cities offered Amazon to entice HQ2

Some of the offers have leaked out, and they're scarcely above the level of municipal prostitution. If one takes it as a given that HQ2 will be built somewhere in the United States, then massive subsidies on the part of some local and/or state government in order to "incentivize" its construction represent a net transfer from the public to a private company, at no net gain to the welfare of the country at large.

News A lonely voice among Democrats, arguing that anti-Trumpism isn't enough

With Democratic fundraising events being headlined by people who think their 2016 shortcoming was that "We just didn't work hard enough", the party needs badly to realize that it has to capture voters who are persuadable -- and they're likely to be found toward the center of the political spectrum (or map, as one might see it). "Working harder" isn't always the answer.

Science and Technology Holographic dead rock stars on tour

Elvis doesn't have to be alive to still be in the building. It's really very weird to think that a holographic singer is something people are willing to pay to see, but there's no accounting for tastes and preferences.

Broadcasting NBC renews "The Good Place" for a third season

Normally, a show renewal isn't noteworthy -- but "The Good Place" is unapologetically philosophical. It's good and entertaining television in its own right, but it makes no excuses for actually exploring big matters of morality. Quite unusual for major-network broadcast television.

News Many more changes coming to Wrigley Field

Renovations are ongoing and involve removing a whole lot of seats for a while

December 2, 2017

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 2, 2017

Purging bad behavior, retail apocalypse, and what's needed beyond tax reform

December 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Running like prey

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.

Threats and Hazards China's state-controlled media loves President Trump's antipathy towards CNN and others

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.

December 4, 2017

The United States of America "No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor"

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 United States of America Will the vital center of conservatism hold?

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.

News The age of hyperbole?

Words like "fundamentally", "extreme", and "most" are getting at least ten times the use they should.

Business and Finance CVS wants to buy Aetna

When the drugstore chain owns the insurance company, is that going to result in efficiencies from vertical integration -- or pricing abuse?

Business and Finance New life at old Sears warehouses

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.

News Iconic designer Ivan Chermayeff has died

One of the most influential graphic designers in modern American history

December 5, 2017

The United States of America Of course a President may be guilty of obstructing justice

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.

Threats and Hazards The situation in Yemen, somehow, is actually getting worse

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.

Business and Finance Ontario is experimenting with a basic income

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.

Business and Finance GE's chief executive asks existential questions

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.

News 2018 Winter Olympics won't feature a Russian team

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.

News Tough questions for sensible Republicans

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.

News How China and India are competing in an arms race of infrastructure

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.

The United States of America Happy 84th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition

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.

December 6, 2017

Aviation News Cathay Pacific pilots think they saw North Korea's latest missile

This, naturally, could render the airspace in the region much too dangerous for passenger safety

News Attorney-client privilege is different from invoking the Fifth Amendment

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.

Weather and Disasters Dramatic photos from the fires around Los Angeles

Massive fires in southern California -- including one that's almost as large as the Des Moines metro area

Science and Technology Lyft to pilot-test self-driving cars around Boston

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.

Aviation News Electric-powered airplanes are happening

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.

Science and Technology Don't be surprised to see a lot more truck platoons in the future

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.

News Isn't a "landscraper" just a long, low office building?

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.

December 7, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "How to Win at the Sport of Business", by Mark Cuban

It's no Harvard Business School case study, but most readers will gain something from the text

December 11, 2017

Computers and the Internet Facebook-related navel-gazing was big 12 months ago

And what real progress has been made since? Can one name anything concrete?

News Iraq says it's expelled ISIS

CNN: "The campaign to eradicate the Islamic State took more than three years and about 25,000 coalition airstrikes."

Business and Finance Taxed more than has been earned

The Senate tax bill might actually contain elements that could result in marginal rates higher than 100% for certain earners

Threats and Hazards Know your adversary

What does Vladimir Putin have in mind when he targets Western elections and instigates cyber-warfare?

December 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards The rise of the know-nothing populists in Europe

Anti-immigrant, anti-modernist parties have gained worrisome degrees of strength in parts of Europe

Weather and Disasters Why the California wildfires are so bad

Enormous fires, scaling larger than entire major American cities

News Doug Jones wins race for Alabama seat in the US Senate

The Democrat is a rare winner for his party in that state, but his opponent took a loathsome route

Threats and Hazards Why the Mueller investigation could stir up some ugly reactions

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

Agriculture The Baltic Dry Index is going up

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

December 18, 2017

Business and Finance "If you dislike the bill, you should dislike it for the right reasons"

The major tax bill going through Congress is imperfect, but its imperfections are correctable through the political process

Aviation News Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson power outage lasted almost 11 hours

The redundant power system was damaged, too

Science and Technology Toyota bets hard on electric vehicles

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"

News Chicago cop shoots 18-year-old in attempted carjacking

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.

The United States of America Honest criticism is necessary

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

December 20, 2017

Threats and Hazards Government debt per person, per country

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.

Business and Finance Women in manufacturing add value

Honda finds that using the brains of women and men alike turns out better products

Business and Finance Tax bill passes Congress

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

Computers and the Internet Final examinations via Twitter

Economics prof tests college students via social media

Threats and Hazards Top Presidential advisor still can't pass a security clearance

Newsweek: "Kushner's permanent security clearance was stalled because he initially omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times."

December 21, 2017

Aviation News Boeing might take over Embraer

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.

News On USA Today's strong editorial condemning unfit Presidential behavior

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.

News Children should be in school, not laboring

(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 What's a college town without rental properties?

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.

Aviation News The skies may be friendly, but the airport concessions aren't

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.

Humor and Good News Americans start making our own Scandinavian liquors when the home sources run out

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".

News Couple tells Nebraska sheriff their 60 pounds of pot were for Christmas presents

Seems like a stretch

Threats and Hazards Few countries have more government debt per person than the United States

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.

Business and Finance How far would Detroit go to get Amazon's HQ2?

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."

Business and Finance Without productivity growth, wages aren't going anywhere soon

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.

News One-paragraph book review: "On Liberty"

A must-read, and a must-re-read.

News One-paragraph book review: "A Nation of Immigrants"

A brief book from a half-century ago whose spirit remains applicable to a major public policy challenge today

Humor and Good News Love a good rivalry

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

December 22, 2017

Broadcasting After 50 years, Charles Osgood is signing off from CBS Radio

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.

Socialism Doesn't Work Were 10,000 people killed at Tiananmen Square in 1989?

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.

Computers and the Internet Twitter asks users to suggest improvements

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).

Humor and Good News Why is English such a fertile language for pun-making?

A question that shapes the comedic talents of fathers everywhere in the Anglosphere. Without puns, dad jokes would be impossible.

Computers and the Internet Eric Schmidt is leaving "executive chair" role at Alphabet/Google

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.

December 23, 2017

The United States of America Victory with honor

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.

Humor and Good News If anyone is still taking nominations for "Person of the Year", please put this woman on your shortlist

Hospital employee works overtime all year so she can buy presents for sick children

December 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "They thought it was all over and that we'd won the propaganda war"

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.

Threats and Hazards Facebook's tool to test whether you follow Russian propaganda content

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.

Threats and Hazards Disasters in 2017 stretch FEMA to its limits

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.

Humor and Good News 2018 goal: Be more like these people

A few ladies from Omaha who, when they find bargains on necessities (like clothing and blankets), stock up so they can give them away.

Iowa Things to say if you're a national politician showing your face in Iowa

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."

Threats and Hazards Russian warships cruising close to the British shore

The Washington Post reports: "British and NATO leaders have warned of Russian naval activity at levels unseen since the Cold War."

December 27, 2017

News The daily routines of Bill Gates

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.

News Flake 2020?

He's not ruling it out, and reasonable people shouldn't either

Health Best friends find out they're actually brothers

Personal DNA kits deliver a surprise

Computers and the Internet Library of Congress will stop archiving all public tweets

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."

News City council refuses mayor the keys to his office

In a small town in Georgia

Humor and Good News Pulling the leg, diplomatically

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.

News Stop looking for politicians to be saviors

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.

Threats and Hazards China's state-coordinated efforts to influence universities worldwide

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.

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December 28, 2017

Agriculture Cargill pipes up for free trade

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.)

News Nine ways to make a better to-do list

They're different and not necessarily compatible with one another, but they're also pretty decent ideas

Broadcasting The best "Key and Peele" sketch might have been one of the darkest

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.

News A faulty arrest could obstruct a Marine's career

A Marine from Clive, Iowa, got arrested on a completely faulty charge. That sloppy work could get in the way of her future career.

Threats and Hazards A shameful op-ed from a sitting member of Congress

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.

Socialism Doesn't Work Profoundly stupid ideas still exist

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.

News We may feel exhausted with Iraq and Syria, but someone has to rebuild

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.

Iowa Iowa celebrates 171 years of statehood

Let's skip the candles on the cake, though.

December 29, 2017

The United States of America Who rebuilds the world?

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.

The United States of America The atomic centrist

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.

News Resolution for 2018: Avoid using empty euphemisms

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.

News Taxes on taxes

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..."

Weather and Disasters Multiple-truck collision on I-80 kills a driver

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.

December 30, 2017

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 30, 2017

Airing live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time

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