Gongol.com Archives: August 2018

Brian Gongol


August 2018
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August 7, 2018

Computers and the Internet Social media services need to treat bad behavior consistently

As Benjamin Franklin put it, "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good." It's hard not to imagine that there's an appeal for a big tech-platform firm to get regulated as a public utility -- common carrier rules could apply, and someone else (the government) would be responsible for the hard choices. But, of course, the sweet smothering embrace of quasi-monopoly status tends to make the monopolist fat, sloppy, and lazy...and thus highly susceptible to massive disruption later on. There is a left-wing push for government regulation that fails to recognize the unintended consequences. And the trouble flows in other directions, too: With Google rumored to be seeking a way to provide a censored search engine in China, one must pause to reflect on whether classical-liberal values are strong enough to emerge spontaneously, anywhere, when given enough time (which they would) -- but what service does it do those values (or the people who hold them) to participate in their repression?

Business and Finance Elon Musk openly muses that he wants to take Tesla private

As Charles Koch has put it: "I'd counsel any entrepreneur to do everything possible to keep her company private, no matter how big it grows."

News Florida may be exporting "voracious, omnivorous predatory lizards" to neighboring states

And yet still people have the temerity to ask why we put up with Iowa winters. The frost line is our Maginot Line, people!


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August 9, 2018

News If you don't love America regardless of skin color, you don't love America

Laura Ingraham's idiotic protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, America is about a belief system -- particularly one about the way things are to be done and how people are to be treated. If she thinks that is threatened by the origins of new entrants to the country, she doesn't understand the nature of the country itself.

News A wimp and a liar?

A President who cannot defend his actions isn't a strong person

News An unlikely butterfly garden

Unlikely because of its location: Inside the Omaha Correctional Center. But it's part of a 12-week course offered to some of the inmates. The sooner we train ourselves to ask whether people have productive alternatives to idle time and bad behavior, the sooner we'll make progress against crime. It's best to keep people out of the correctional system to begin with, but when they land there, rehabilitation should be a priority for as many eligible people as possible.

News Ireland's housing shortage in the spotlight

Stories emerge of homeless families taking shelter at police stations


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August 10, 2018

News Administration claims it wants a "space force" by 2020

Yet introducing an entirely new branch of the armed forces is not the responsibility of the Executive Branch. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution unequivocally gives that authority to the Congress alone. Also, there's the weighty matter of long-standing international agreements prohibiting the militarization of space. And also the question of whether an entire military branch is necessary for such things. These things are matters for serious study and deliberation, not promotional campaign emails selling merchandise.

Computers and the Internet NATO needs cyber-cooperation, says former Estonian president

He's in a position to have an informed opinion on the matter: Estonia is a past satellite state subjected to Russian aggression and occupation, a forward-leaning and tech-friendly society, and an eager member of the NATO alliance (since 2004).

Business and Finance Retaliatory tariffs slash US auto exports to China

What good is sacrificing the automotive industry for the sake of trying to profit a raw-materials sector (in steel and aluminum) that can't possibly keep up with real demand? The US should pursue cooperative, multilateral approaches to constraining China's bad behavior (like intellectual property theft) -- but that requires a constructive and rules-based approach. Tariffs aren't it.

News Dirtbags gather in DC

On the anniversary of the awful events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, some of the same bad actors are planning to gather in Washington, DC, for another white-supremacist rally. And there will most certainly be counter-protests.

Computers and the Internet West Virginia tests Internet voting

The company providing the technology is adamant that it can secure the votes via blockchain. But it's the human element that should make people apprehensive about any experiment like this. Some Iowa voters got bad information from text messages intended as reminders on primary-election day in June. There is something authoritative and certain about physically appearing at a polling place on election day (or in returning a properly completed absentee ballot) that is simply not replicable in a world of apps and websites. The risk to Internet voting is far less a matter of communications security than one of social engineering.

Threats and Hazards Super-creep breaks into home demanding to see new baby

It happened in British Columbia, where the adult victim found herself fighting off a neighbor with a pair of gloves and a butcher knife


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August 11, 2018

Threats and Hazards A dire and sad warning to China's exiles

A Western journalist with a long history of reporting on China warns Uighurs outside the country: "Don't go back under any circumstances. The very act of having been abroad is enough to condemn you. They will threaten your family and friends, but your going back will not save them." Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that a UN panel member reported on credible evidence that at least a million Uighurs are being held in political indoctrination camps in western China.

Aviation News Airplane joyride ends in crash

A 29-year-old airline employee apparently took a small commuter airplane from Sea-Tac and crashed it with no one else aboard.

The United States of America Why national leaders should start as local leaders first

A compelling argument from a think-tank consultant who has found his thoughts on national policy strongly influenced by his work on a state committee. People forget that Federalism made sense in the 1790s, when the entire country was less than 4 million people. It makes even more sense today, when 4 million is the population of just a mid-size state. This country isn't uniform, and we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking it is. We're better off with lots of experiments and adaptations suited to local conditions, with a national government mainly suited to defense and protecting individual rights.

Iowa Iowa City Public Library shares "books we hated"

This is a great idea. Some books are better and some are worse than others, and it's healthy to acknowledge that. As Sen. Ben Sasse so well put it: "We must be able to grapple with ideas we don't like, and internalize the distinction between a bad book and a wrong book." There's nothing wrong if a librarian admits to hating "The Great Gatsby" or "Ulysses" or "The Fountainhead". Isn't it healthy for libraries to encourage debate about both writing and ideas? Doesn't that start with honesty? For instance, James Joyce's "Ulysses" is a huge struggle to read. But talking about it (and whether the reader liked it) opens the door to telling someone why they really must read Joyce's spectacular "Dubliners", and maybe sample some of "Finnegans Wake".

News Home delivery of gasoline

For those times when stopping to refuel is asking too much from life

Broadcasting Lightning strike takes KGAN off the air

The lightning blew up a transmission line to the tower, which happens to be one of five transmission towers in Iowa that reach to 2,000 feet -- placing them tied at #8 for the tallest structures in the world.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 11, 2018

Live from the Iowa State Fair from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central Time. Streamed live at WHORadio.com on the iHeartRadio app.


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August 13, 2018

Socialism Doesn't Work America needs two sane parties, and this isn't the way to get there

Gallup reports that 47% of Democrats now view capitalism positively, versus 57% who view socialism positively. That's a recipe for disaster -- a ten-point drop in capitalism's "favorables" in just two years. "Small business" has incredible favorables among the population at large (92%), but that too often translates only into lip service instead of truly responsive policy-making.

Threats and Hazards Is China's place in the Pacific truly ascendant?

And is China's rise irreversible? In a very interesting piece, Hal Brands argues: "[I]t would also be dangerous for U.S. and allied leaders to accept the thesis that China is destined to dominate the region and simply give up on countering Beijing’s ambitions."

News Fugitive strips while on the lam -- in an Iowa cornfield

Running through corn fields in Iowa in August without clothing: Not recommended.

Broadcasting Tom Skilling: 40 years in the same job

If you're going to do television weather in one of the nation's largest markets, Chicago has to be the most interesting pick


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August 14, 2018

The United States of America Virginia had 747,610 people in 1790 Census

Today, the average Congressional district contains almost exactly the same number of people. Considering that Virginia at that time was home to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe -- the Virginia dynasty -- then perhaps we should consider just how much talent ought to be found in the average CD today.

Business and Finance A thought experiment

What if, instead of a $1 trillion deficit, we were running a $1 trillion Federal budget surplus? What if it were designated specifically to be a "rainy day" fund, for use in smoothing out a downturn? In a truly rational world, the Federal government would run a balanced budget, but would "save" 1% or 2% of GDP in a rainy-day fund. That fund would then be used to buy additional goods and services of various types during a recession. The net result of a Federal "rainy day" fund might then be to allow the government to make certain discretionary purchases at discounted prices during an economic downturn, while providing a defined and predictable quantity of economic stimulus -- fully paid, and about as intergenerationally fair as can be (as opposed, say, to making children born in 2030 pay the interest on debt taken out to provide "stimulus" to the economy in 2008).

Threats and Hazards China may be holding a million people or more in concentration camps

The Uighur people are the targets

Weather and Disasters A full accounting of the July 19th tornado outbreak

High-quality satellite imagery reveals that even more had touched down than radar or spotters had seen

Business and Finance Consumers: Prepare for price inflation

You have the President's trade wars to blame

Weather and Disasters Electrician sees the piece of wood he signed 41 years ago

Notable because he signed and dated the piece -- which was mounted inside the steeple above the Marshall County courthouse that was later knocked down by a tornado -- precisely 41 years to the day before it came down

News "Lincoln officer injured while trying to subdue a naked man"

Someone buy this arresting officer a beer: "[T]he 18-year-old had stripped in the lot, slapped the security guard and urinated on a security vehicle [...] The man then charged toward the officer, police said, and a Taser had no effect on the man"

The United States of America Saluting the Navajo code-talkers

What they did, in service to a country that didn't always pay them adequate respect, is quite the story.

Humor and Good News Lolo Jones puts on her pants two legs at a time

(Video) The most impressive way to put on a pair of pants is also the most labor-intensive.


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August 15, 2018

Threats and Hazards Giant CIA screwup in China

Foreign Policy: "[T]he real number of CIA assets and those in their orbit executed by China during the two-year period was around 30". And it's because the Chinese government cracked the CIA's system for communicating with its sources in China. It's hard to make Internet-based communications tools that can go unidentified behind China's "Great Firewall".

News What really matters in life

A really useful visualization of the remainder of a person's life. In the words of Ben Sasse: "Life needs to be lived and prioritized with the understanding that it is limited. An awareness of one's mortality makes life richer because the important can be emphasized and the trivial marginalized."

Threats and Hazards Attacking an election doesn't require changing votes

Noting the problems that resulted from bad data on the voter rolls in a couple of states, a Pew analysis notes that "To sow confusion in the fall, Russia could hack voter registration systems, altering names, addresses or party affiliations". And that's enough to undermine faith in democratic processes and institutions.

News The paper cranes of Hiroshima

The child who inspired the movement died 60 years ago

Humor and Good News 10-year-old helps deliver surprise baby cousin

She has better presence of mind than many adults

Health Measles outbreak in more than 20 states

Per a news report: "The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated." Voluntarily going unvaccinated recklessly endangers others, especially kids and those with compromised immune systems. Herd immunity matters. It especially matters to those for whom vaccination may not be an option (like the very young, or those undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia), and to leave them defenseless (by choosing to exempt one's self from getting a vaccination without medical need) is a moral failure.

Humor and Good News To be a "pracademic"

A portmanteau to describe "academics who are engaged with practical policy issues"


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August 16, 2018

Computers and the Internet Sen. Ben Sasse pushes cyber into the NDAA

Per War on the Rocks: "The relevant section in the NDAA calls for a 13-member bipartisan commission that includes members of Congress, senior executive branch officials, and private citizens...to evaluate 'deterrence, norms-based regimes, and cyber persistence'". We must treat cyberwarfare like the substantial battleground of not just the future, but the present.

Business and Finance The President doesn't know the history of tariffs

To claim that the country was "built on tariffs" is to misunderstand the very nature of taxation. There is nothing "great" about import taxation: It had certain administrative advantages to the young republic because the government found it easier to collect taxes at ports than to staff a bureaucracy for inland revenue. Federalist Paper No. 35 specifically counters the President's ignorant assertion that high tariffs are a "great" thing for America. Protective tariffs have been widely used over time, by a wide variety of countries, but the "protection" they offer is illusory and fleeting at best. Just ask South Korea, which is today paying a heavy price for the consequences of government favoritism paid to particular businesses and industries in the name of economic development.

Threats and Hazards "Stand your ground" turns to manslaughter

Americans need to know the overwhelming importance of restraining ourselves to what is a proportional response

Iowa Iowa City mayor issues letter opposing I-380 widening

The Interstate self-evidently needs to be six lanes between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. This opposition is based upon pie-in-the-sky opposition to personal vehicles generally, not a reasonable grasp of the situation.

Humor and Good News Penn Jillette has thoughts

A really engaging interview with someone who self-evidently puts a lot of thought into the matter of thinking

The United States of America Forecasting the election

FiveThirtyEight is out with some odds on who will win where. But whatever you think of the forecast, three cheers for their use of data visualization. Tilegrams are absolutely the right way to represent House districts when you're trying to illustrate control of Congress.

Business and Finance Retaliatory tariffs imposed by China are hurting US automakers

The reality of trade wars: The "wins" are imaginary, and the losses are quite real.

Broadcasting The hate mail is fine

Send it if you must. But at least try to be original or funny or thought-provoking. Dull hate mail is just odious. Everyone in the public eye has to assume that 10% of the people are going to hate your guts, no matter what you do...but when that hate isn't made somehow entertaining, it's just tedious.


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August 17, 2018

Computers and the Internet Google employees leak internal discussion of China search project

A New York Times reporter reveals that an "all-hands" meeting included high-level acknowledgements of a project to deliver search results in China -- where there would be no way to avoid government censorship.

Business and Finance Should Tesla go private?

Notwithstanding the likely huge legal obstacles that could scuttle whatever Elon Musk has in mind, if he is to heed the advice of many enormously wealthy people, he might just do whatever he can to take the company out of public markets. But which partners will he have to take on to make that happen?

Business and Finance What would make Warren Buffett buy an airline?

Not unrelated to the question of Tesla going private is the example of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire may be a public company, but Buffett's management style is that of a private owner (with a very long time horizon). His voting control over the company makes it possible, and his temperament makes it the law of the land. Thus, while he's been burned by airlines before, there's no certainty that he wouldn't reverse himself and capture the whole of an airline (like, possibly, Southwest) if he determines that the fundamental economics of the business have changed from his prior experiences.

Science and Technology How Chicago gets its water

"Water cribs" in Lake Michigan provide one important source of supply

News Amsterdam is using surplus of open water to make room for artificial islands

And those islands are being used to create affordable housing. How interesting. One thing is for certain: Due to the constraints imposed on them by nature, the Dutch seem willing to think well outside the conventional box when it comes to things like engineering and urban policy. Worth watching what they experiment with doing.

The United States of America Scathing and succinct

Retired Admiral William McRaven launches a terse and powerful broadside against the President's behavior: "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation." Security clearances shouldn't become the objects of political tug-of-war -- they should be utilized only for the security of the country. It is the President's choice to make them into something they should not be that has invited the backlash. The McRaven opinion piece is important because it tells people like him that they are not alone, and as Susan Hennessey writes, "courage is contagious". We humans are social animals, and we respond to the cues of others we see as members of our own packs. It's up to those who are less impressionable -- less susceptible to being cowed or bullied or misdirected -- to put on clear demonstrations (of courage, character, stamina, guts, honesty) for those who are more impressionable.

News When far-right nuts mistake themselves for architecture critics

There's probably no reasoning with rabid traditionalists who oppose anything new or urban, but there's nothing anti-conservative about architectural design. Architecture is an honorable expression of human knowledge and an act of value creation. Those are values that are widely celebrated within the tradition of classical liberalism (the main root of modern conservative thought). Reactionary traditionalists aren't really conservatives, so they probably don't get the point.

Weather and Disasters More wildfire smoke is heading Iowa's way

The haze in the skies is coming from Canada

News When prominent people utterly -- and maybe willfully -- misinterpret history

Contrary to what Jerry Falwell, Jr. claims to believe, there is no inherent good to a President who chooses to be vulgar in every sense of the word. That interpretation is an utter perversion of the entire point of representative democracy. The Founders were obsessed with the nature and character of the people who would be chosen to lead the country. To think they weren't is pure ignorance -- and to be so open about being so wrong is utter hubris.

News On the problem of calling modern soldiers "warriors"

It turns out, there's a much deeper set of historical roots involved than might immediately meet the eye. An article that is worthwhile not only for what it says sociologically and about our political/military relationship -- but also because it's a pretty terrific speedy survey of war history. Talking appropriately about the military -- with neither disrespect nor undue deference -- is critical to protecting self-government against the low-probability, high-impact chance that we might take the wrong path. Maintaining the proper lanes is really important.


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August 18, 2018

News Consider the challenges some kids face just in attending school

Students in Comoros, for instance, almost certainly don't have potable water, electricity, or adequate toilets where they attend classes.

News Where's the syllabus?

Teachers and professors all over confess to finishing their class syllabi at the last minute. In the modern world -- quickly shaping up as the teach-yourself economy -- it's hard to think of anything more important to a student than a thorough and well-structured syllabus that seeks to comprehensively document what a person should read to understand a subject.

Agriculture Where the corn grows

Iowa alone produces 17.9% of the nation's corn. That's more than any other state, though Illinois and Nebraska both make it into double digits.


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