Gongol.com Archives: January 2018

Brian Gongol


January 2018
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31






January 4, 2018

Threats and Hazards Casual threats of nuclear war

If the President takes nuclear war so lightly as it appears, he has never read any history of war, never pondered the weight of his office, and never cared about any human life besides his own. Certain members of Congress are talking about restraining the power of the President to initiate a nuclear first strike. Policy thinker Megan Reiss quite wisely suggests sending every President-elect to Hiroshima and to a concentration camp, "to contemplate the impact of acting and not acting, and the weight of choosing." Even a war fought with conventional weapons guarantees the loss of thousands of innocent lives. A person who cannot take that seriously is not to be trusted with any weapons at all, no matter what their form.

News Instead of posing with the handbook of "Antifa", how about a Constitutional selfie?

If a member of Congress wants to strike fear into the heart of an abusive President, there's no need to take a selfie with "The Antifa Handbook". Just pose with one of the classics: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Federalist Papers. All three provide the necessary foundation for striking proper fear into the heart of anyone who would misuse the power of the Presidency.

Threats and Hazards The distressing softness of the President's self-confidence

The very thought that the President would threaten a private citizen by sending a "cease and desist" notice -- even to someone as unsavory as Steve Bannon -- is reprehensible. If there is one thing Americans are free to do, it is to criticize officials in high office. That the President has people around him (and likely including himself) who think that their ability to make commercial gains off the family name is of greater importance than the public's right to criticize is a symptom of an irredemable pathology.

Threats and Hazards Death isn't for clickbait

An adult man beclowning himself on film next to another man's corpse is appalling. To use the death of another human being as clickbait is surely an indicator that someone harbors sociopathic tendencies, and both this Logan Paul and anyone who shared his video ought to be not only ashamed but scrutinized for their apparent sociopathy.

Broadcasting When Must-See TV got philosophical

A frame from an early episode of "Night Court" captures a sitcom confronting one of the great philosophical issues of all time: The individual struggling against himself

Business and Finance Pondering geographic mobility

If urbanization is inexorable (and it's definitely nothing new), then it's worth asking whether government policies should seek to encourage particular kinds of mobility, so that it's easier to move labor around to where it's needed or to get it out of places where it's under-productive. A matter surely worthy of serious debate.

Science and Technology 52% of new cars sold in Norway last year were electrics or hybrids

Despite being a huge oil country, Norway is turning its back on fossil fuels. Electric-only cars are up to 21%.

News Small savings groups help people get on their own feet

A charity that converts donations into tools to help people help themselves is a great thing

News Let's move New Year's Day to April Fool's Day

Wins for those who intend to break their resolutions, and for those who intend to keep them


@briangongolbot on Twitter


January 5, 2018

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 personal challenge: Fix "important issues" about Facebook

It's a grand ambition to want to figure out how the platform is being used for bad purposes and causing harm either through malice or neglect. But -- while trying not to read too much into his declaration -- it's a curiously undirected project, in the sense that Zuckerberg really says only that "I'm looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics." ■ Experts can and should be consulted on issues like these. But the phrase "bringing groups of experts together" is really pretty empty. Lots of experts come together for lots of reasons in lots of places, and in many cases the only result is an empty box of doughnuts and a memo that nobody ever reads. There's no doubt that Zuckerberg himself is an intelligent person, but he's also fortunate to have lucked into being in the right place at the right time with a tool. That's all that Facebook is: A technological tool. And tools are almost always value-neutral; like Teddy Roosevelt once said, "A vote is like a rifle: Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user." A vote, too, is simply a tool. The question is really one of character. ■ And that is the part of the story with the greatest promise -- but also the greatest risk that Zuckerberg's endeavor will end up accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, given the extraordinary control he maintains over Facebook -- the tool and the company -- it is an extension of himself to a degree that has few rivals in history, save a few rare examples like that of William Paley and CBS. So Zuckerberg's plan really doesn't reach far enough: He mostly seems interested in preventing harm, which is necessary...but not sufficient. ■ Being against something bad is not enough; much harm has been done by missions against other bad things. Anti-Communism is an epic example: It was right to be against Communism, but the incompleteness of that mission allowed ills like McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to fill the void. Anti-fascism may have brought together the USSR, the UK, and the United States as allies in World War II, but Soviet anti-fascism was hollow in the sense that it sought to fill the void with its own totalitarianism. ■ Zuckerberg is, in many ways, a techno-utopian: His professed belief is in the goodness of the tools themselves. And that means that an effort to purge the bad from Facebook will be incomplete -- just like anti-Communism or anti-fascism. And it's quite unlikely that any meeting of "groups of experts" will provide the right thing to fill the void. Ultimately, it hinges on Zuckerberg's conscience to decide that Facebook is actually for something -- not the ultimate triumph of technology over bad things, because that has never been and never will be the case. Great technology in bad hands is an awful thing. ■ For himself and for the tool that is such a pure extension of himself, Zuckerberg needs to find a normative philosophy in 2018: Something to strive to be. It will never be enough to be anti-bad, and it will never be adequate to think that perfecting technology will perfect humanity. In choosing something for it to strive to be, Zuckerberg would ultimately narrow the appeal of his tool -- since some people would decide that they object to the goal or conscientiously object. But he would do well to consider the way in which Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, became the benefactor of the Nobel Peace Prize. Like Facebook, dynamite is a tool, used for purposes both good and evil. Nobel's legacy wasn't to convene experts to tell him how dynamite could be perfected. The tool itself wasn't the ultimate end: It was only a tool. But the goodness of humanity itself and the positive goal of peace? That was Nobel's choice. Whatever comes of Facebook in the years ahead, Mark Zuckerberg has to make a choice, too -- and it isn't about perfecting the "anti-bad" of his platform.

Business and Finance How much of GDP goes to Federal-debt holders living overseas?

A non-zero number, but less than 1%. Important, though: If/when interest rates rise, that figure could be at risk if we haven't also brought the Federal budget under control.

Computers and the Internet Double-spacing after a period

It's habitual for a lot of people over the age of 35, and sacrilege to many under that age. In fairness to members of Generation X (who are often caught in the middle -- applying the double-space out of habit, but knowing that people want it gone), the double-space emerged out of necessity in the typewriter age, and stuck around when computer printers still mainly generated output in fixed-width fonts. Moreover, there was something viscerally gratifying about the heavy mechanical "click" of the early PC keyboards, so the double-space lingered, if nothing else, because it was also an excuse to get extra mileage out of clicking the heavy keys.

Business and Finance Know what's unusual about the times in which you live

For anyone who wants to go beyond basic passive investing (which itself isn't a bad policy for most people), there are two essential things to do: Have a cogent investing philosophy, and know what's unusual about the times in which you're living. The era of the conglomerates, just for instance, rose and fell on tax policies and interest rates that were unique to their time. Warren Buffett's early defining move was to pull out of the stock market altogether when it was still boiling hot, since he understood that the times were about to change. And who wouldn't like to take a time machine back to early 2009 with a bag full of cash and a stock-trading account? ■ What's unusual about our times today? Extremely low interest rates (by historical standards), equity valuations that are untethered from conventional estimates of value, a monumental shift in the workforce, and -- not least of all -- a deeply arbitrary and capricious Federal executive branch. Where the Obama administration tended to be hostile toward capital in general, the Trump administration reflects the President's capricious attitudes and eagerness to capture whatever he thinks can be categorized as a personal "win". He (and, by extension, his administration) is quick to interfere with deals not on the basis of law, but on the basis of what appears to count for a short-term political victory. As Tara Lachapelle notes in a Bloomberg Businessweek column, this means that epic mega-mergers like Disney/Fox and CVS/Aetna could all be in danger of rude surprises.

Threats and Hazards "What Wolff is describing is an open secret"

Newly-published book or not, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the President lacks curiosity and knowledge about the world, making him a singularly dangerous Commander-in-Chief.


@briangongol on Twitter





January 9, 2018

Threats and Hazards Deportation looms for more than 320,000 people

The US government has provided "Temporary Protected Status" to people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan as a form of what is basically refugee relief. It's hard to imagine how returning more than a quarter of a million Salvadorans to a deeply troubled homeland. The State Department tells Americans to "reconsider travel" there -- the last level of advisory before "Do Not Travel". Putting substantial strain on Central American countries that can't handle the pressure certainly isn't a way to introduce stability there, which likely only makes conditions worse for Mexico.

Weather and Disasters More than a dozen people killed by California mudslides

With vegetation wiped out by wildfires, there's not a lot left to keep heavy rain from turning the ground into mud

Science and Technology How Americans really sleep

Fitbit data tells us a whole lot more than we've ever really known about how people actually sleep

Business and Finance Omaha developer wants to go back to the future

Or something like that, with old-style buildings in new construction. They would include buildings intended for mixed residential and commercial use -- but one big question looms: If developers are really going to push for new-build live/work spaces, what's going to sustain the relationship? Most business sectors are going to face consolidation and change, so merging living and working spaces with the old model of the "apartment over the shop" is really harder to justify than ever.

Business and Finance Alabama will get huge new Toyota/Mazda plant

Not a huge surprise, given Toyota's previous pattern of site selection

The United States of America Should we have a completely ceremonial head of state?

When times are good, perhaps we'd pick a happy figure -- an Oprah Winfrey or a Johnny Carson or a John Elway. And when people are angry, like many are now, we could handle putting a hothead in the spot to express the popular discontent.

Humor and Good News "Journalism"

Matt Novak: "It was admittedly an odd choice for The Post to just be 110 minutes of Tom Hanks staring at the camera and whispering 'journalism' while getting more and more drunk but honestly it works". Any reasonable person would totally watch this.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter


January 10, 2018

Threats and Hazards Politics corrupt religion

Self-appointed moral authority Jerry Falwell, Jr. says that the President's behavior "is no longer relevant". This is perhaps the best contemporary illustration why politics and religion should be kept apart: Not because religion would overwhelm politics, but because politics can corrupt religion.

Business and Finance The gig economy isn't bias-free

Women get treated differently not just in conventional workplaces, but in the gig economy, too -- even when they're the employers.

News While the United States dithers

The European Union is getting the signals: If the United States is going to hollow out its international presence under the Trump Administration, they're going to have to address a rearranged global power structure. French President Emmanuel Macron is in China, saying "I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win." Europe naturally needs to maintain its own relations with China, but in the long term, we may be witnessing the slow erosion of American hegemony in the world.

News Five things to consider before putting Oprah in the Oval Office

Someone can be inspiring, decent, interesting, and popular. That doesn't mean we ought to hire them to be President. There really are different skills required to be President than what can gain a person commercial success.

Broadcasting Milt Rosenberg, a true radio icon, has died

Milt Rosenberg's show was consistently both intelligent and entertaining. He proved that truly smart talk could be must-listen radio.

Humor and Good News "Efforting a fix"

Why is this particular corruption of the English language so satisfying? Is it because it conveys urgency through its rule-breaking?

Business and Finance Honda's US footprint in a generation

Realizing that the company has only been in the United States for a generation, it's pretty remarkable just how far it reaches

News A beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright home sells in Chicagoland

What's truly impressive is just how good the home still looks at more than a century old. The Prairie Style is profoundly enduring.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter






January 15, 2018

Computers and the Internet Does Instagram withhold "likes" to play on the insecurities of users?

Really quite sick, if true. Ordinary people are at risk of doing evil things when they only look at what technology can do, rather than pausing to reflect on what it should do.

Weather and Disasters Cold weather sometimes rewards you with sundogs

A spectacular display in Iowa

Broadcasting On the passing of Dolores O'Riordan

A true genre, as I think of it, needs a foundational set of performers who set the definitions -- but it also needs artists who push out the boundaries, testing how far the genre can bend before it breaks.

Iowa Midway between the caucuses

An event Iowans mark by lighting corn-scented candles and preparing the guest room for politicians starting their "listening tours".


@briangongolbot on Twitter






January 20, 2018

Socialism Doesn't Work Toll roads in North Korea

With nothing better to offer on the world market, North Korea is turning to what is literally one of the oldest stunts in economics to raise hard currency: Toll roads.

News A Presidency misexecuted

Tom Nichols assesses the first year of the Trump Administration, and finds that a lot of collateral damage is being left behind for POTUS 46 to clean up

Humor and Good News Early contender for 2018's "Person of the Year"

An Omaha nurse donates 8 gallons of her own breast milk to a new mother undergoing chemotherapy whose baby has a milk allergy


Recent radio podcasts