Gongol.com Archives: September 2018

Brian Gongol


September 2018
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September 12, 2018

News Compulsory military service may create perverse incentives

A set of classmates in South Korea got themselves too fat to serve

Threats and Hazards Why Russia's policy of messing with its neighbors yields results

One of the most compelling articles on true political economy that's been on the scene in some time: "[F]ractured regions fuel instabilities and armed conflict by empowering authoritarian governments. This is likely to strengthen Russia’s increasingly institutionalized, and often divisive, presence in the contested areas".

Weather and Disasters The cruel negligence of leaving a child in the path of a hurricane

If you're an adult and make a willing and informed choice to expose yourself and only yourself to harm, so be it. But to put a kid in the path of a calamity BY CHOICE is reckless endangerment.

News A map that really tells you something

A new cartogram of the world depicts where the global population lives and puts those populations to scale, rather than the land masses they occupy. It's quite revelatory. Cartograms are powerful tools for fixing the often erroneous models we naturally carry in our heads.


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September 13, 2018

Threats and Hazards Your neighbor probably values democracy, but...

12% of Americans, though, would say that living under democratic rule is a "5" or less on a ten-point scale.

Threats and Hazards The buck stops with the President

President Trump took to Twitter with a cowardly, weak, and uncomprehending reaction to a calamity that occurred on his watch, claiming that revised estimates of the death toll from the 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico were not just exaggerated, but exaggerated specifically by his political opponents to score points. Neither caring about nor understanding the facts, he only wants "wins" with quick attribution -- which makes it a very real possibility that he might wake up one morning and threaten to default on the Federal debt. The threat alone would be devastating, but he's already shared his ludicrous opinion that the debt can be inflated away. "Print money to lower the national debt" is not the point of view of an economic genius. It is not even the point of view of a student who has paid attention through the first two weeks in an introductory macroeconomics course.

Health Bone marrow donation is easier than in the past

A drive in Central Iowa -- looking especially for people with varied ethnic backgrounds -- highlights that many donors can give without any surgery at all

Weather and Disasters What to expect from Hurricane Florence

Some places could end up with four times as much rain as what fell on Central Iowa back on June 30th and July 1st.

News Goldilocks and the three generals

A case for flag officers who are neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "And it is well to remember that caution and timidity are not synonymous, just as boldness and rashness are not!"

Broadcasting A phenomenal use of television

(Video) Illustrating the power of storm surge with immersive virtual reality is a great idea. Every medium has something special it can do that the others can't.

Computers and the Internet Stupid policies are yielding predictably bad outcomes

Prices for PCs spiked in August. In related news, the President's indefensible trade-war approach to doing business with China has resulted in new tariffs.

News To criminalize the victim? Abhorrent.

Local news reports on a few grams of marijuana found in the home of Botham Jean, a man killed in his own apartment by a reckless neighbor who happened to be an armed police officer. If the piece of trivia -- that he may have possessed a tiny quantity of marijuana -- causes you even a scintilla of doubt that this man should be alive and safe in his own home, then you ought to forfeit your citizenship immediately.


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September 14, 2018

News China's building a lot of ships, but the US Navy is still the biggest

Most of this analysis is good and reassuring, but there's one intangible factor that deserves careful scrutiny: Who is learning fastest? China's project to build aircraft carriers is less about the ships themselves and more about figuring out how to scale up really big tasks.

News Mayor Daley #3?

Bill Daley is running for his brother's (and father's) old job: Mayor of Chicago

Threats and Hazards Who spent my $3,000?

The Federal budget deficit is on track to exceed $3,000 per person this fiscal year. That's not total Federal spending, it's just the amount being over-spent. That's crazy, and if you think people are living in precarious fiscal circumstances today, the consequences of these deficits are going to be painful.

Computers and the Internet Twitter should add a "dunce cap" button

Some people will get followers, likes, and retweets, no matter how stupid their comments. The least the service could do is offer a counter-vote option for sane people to flag the idiots with a penalty.

Health When the fastest overnight carrier isn't Fed Ex

A story (from May) about a rush delivery of a specialty medication from Omaha to Denver -- mostly via state patrol cars

News Michael Bloomberg in 2020?

The Times of London is reporting that it's a real plan


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September 18, 2018

Science and Technology Disruptions ahoy

There are plenty of people who find their occupations disrupted by new technologies, but you have to feel pretty bad for the aerial photographer who spent $250,000 on a Cessna and 35mm film cameras only to be nudged out by any ol' kid with a $250 drone.

Humor and Good News "In Bloom" with extra energy

And wind instruments


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September 19, 2018

Iowa Iowa dropped straight-ticket voting last year

Only eight states still offer it.

Threats and Hazards They're just kids. Where they were born isn't their choice.

Per the Voice of America: "Save the Children said a million more children in Yemen now risked falling into famine, taking the total number to 5.2 million." That is, for perspective, about the same as the combined populations of Iowa and Nebraska. Innocent children who have no choice in the matter.

Threats and Hazards "They don't know whose boat that is...Maybe it becomes theirs"

When below-average intelligence and a total absence of empathy collide.

Socialism Doesn't Work Shining a light on the corruption of the Belt and Road

China's 120,000-person China Communications Construction Co. is taking some heat as people start to pay attention to the corruption that's inevitable from combining practically unlimited (debt) funding with an urgent need to "do something".

Science and Technology The greenhouse as an actual home for living

A cool concept in theory that most people would never tolerate in actual practice.


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September 20, 2018

Broadcasting Local tragedies shouldn't become national clickbait

The practice of sharing awful crime stories from the national wire as though they're local stories is an abhorrent one. At the very least, audiences deserve a simple dateline identification within any summary or social-media post. There are terrible things happening all the time -- like a 16-month-old toddler being shot in Chicago's South Loop -- but people deserve to know whether their local news outlets are truly relaying local stories.

Threats and Hazards What's chasing people out of Latin America?

Per the Wall Street Journal: "The strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year." It's hard to imagine that this is ordinary life for so many people -- but one has to hope that if more Americans could understand what these people are trying to flee, then maybe we could think of our own border situation in humanitarian terms.

News "Would the quality of, say, Harvard's education go down if it became a for-profit?"

A rather good question. We haven't gotten very good yet at brokering an answer to the problem of bringing adult education into the 21st Century. In the United States, higher education is dominated by public-sector and non-profit institutions. There are for-profit schools, of course, but they tend to occupy certain niches and have really never become dominant in the industry in the way that one would normally expect from the example of other industries. A major experiment related to this question is underway as Purdue University absorbs and re-brands the for-profit Kaplan University system. Ultimately, as a matter of economic necessity, America needs to take some strong medicine and begin delivering a lot more high-quality continuing education to adults. This will probably be driven at the state scale, but it needs to happen nationwide. Whether the incumbents are going to be capable of the necessary adaptation (scaling up, improving quality, and mastering distribution) is a great question.

News The Lake Wobegon Effect

With Paul Krugman protesting that he doesn't "spend a lot of time with wealthy and/or powerful people", one has to wonder: Everyone thinks they're above-average in (a) driving, (b) looks, and (c) intelligence, so why are people so quick to insist that they're in the 3rd or 4th quintile for income?

Business and Finance One solution to the San Francisco housing crunch

Why isn't anyone converting old cruise ships into apartment-style housing and anchoring just a bit offshore from San Francisco? Does the Coast Guard or some Federal regulation prohibit this? It has been noted by some that houseboats are competitive with the city's wildly unaffordable residential housing market.

Business and Finance Wells Fargo to reduce workforce by up to 10%

It's one of the most substantial employers in Central Iowa. Whether the cuts will be felt mostly in the retail banking outlets around the country or more heavily in the back office will determine just how significant the news is to Iowa.

The United States of America Firefighters joined by Marines in race into burning building

A senior residence in DC caught fire, and Marines who happened to be stationed nearby came (literally) running to the rescue to evacuate the residents

Weather and Disasters A textbook outflow boundary

When a cool breeze shows up on radar

News Should the 31-year-old recording artist have a 14-year-old texting buddy?

Stories of the friendship between Drake and young actress Millie Bobby Brown carry a clear undertone of disapproval. And yet: Everyone should have inter-generational friendships as a normal and healthy part of human existence. The main thing about that is, simply, don't be creepy about it. If the two of them don't cross any reasonable lines that draw normal boundaries for age and intent, then it's really not fair to cast aspersions on the existence of the friendship itself.


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September 21, 2018

Aviation News A final reunion of B-47 pilots

One of the mainstays of the Strategic Air Command was an airframe that was notoriously dangerous to its crews. Those veterans have assembled for a final reunion in Omaha.

News Teachers, check your test questions once in a while

Teachers in the social sciences especially might take heed to occasionally check their tests for wildly outdated ideas that represent expired versions of the received wisdom. For instance: A test question on a Canadian exam that sought a multiple-choice answer to naming a positive effect of Canada's "aggressive assimilation" of First Nations children in boarding schools.

News "A man in south Florida..."

Either Florida is a magnet for weirdos or local news outlets there have an uncanny knack for picking up and reporting on the most bizarre behavior imaginable. No other cause seems to adequately explain why we see so many stories like the one about a man who does all of his outdoor work in the nude.

News Texas faces some novel questions

Can a place be a "brothel" if its services are rendered by robots? Does such a place substitute for activity that may have taken place in the shadows before, or does it stimulate interest in taboos? What kinds of regulations should apply: Is it more like an arcade than a house of ill repute?

News Words matter

The use of the rotten phrase "fake news" to describe coverage one doesn't like (rather than actual fake coverage) has a corrosive effect on the culture, even if it's being used tongue-in-cheek. Soon enough, what was once hyperbole becomes ordinary.





September 25, 2018

Aviation News NTSB puts blame on pilots for near-disaster in San Francisco last year

It could have been a giant disaster and was only averted by a last-minute decision to abort the landing -- which would have occurred on a crowded taxiway instead of an active runway. The NTSB model isn't used nearly enough for investigating other causes of preventable harm. It's absolutely worth investigating thoroughly after an incident what happened and why. The NTSB model is quite specific, per its own website: "The National Transportation Safety Board was established in 1967 to conduct independent investigations of all civil aviation accidents in the United States and major accidents in the other modes of transportation. It is not part of the Department of Transportation, nor organizationally affiliated with any of DOT's modal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. The Safety Board has no regulatory or enforcement powers. To ensure that Safety Board investigations focus only on improving transportation safety, the Board's analysis of factual information and its determination of probable cause cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law." We really ought to apply the same scrutiny to all kinds of incidents, with the same objective of finding the root causes of what hurts or kills us.

News Puerto Rico shouldn't be held hostage to one man's attitude

The AP caught the President declaring his opposition to statehood for Puerto Rico "with people like that" in charge. "Like that" refers to the mayor of San Juan, who has been vocally critical of him and of the response to Hurricane Maria. The question of statehood has to be taken far more seriously than this. The citizens of that island, Americans all, deserve an honest hearing untethered to petty jealousy.

News BBC Africa delivers powerful report using "open-source intelligence"

Matching features from an online video to real-world information available from sources like Google Maps, the BBC was able to establish the identities of a group of murderers in Cameroon who were filmed in the act of killing women and children. It is a powerful act of reporting about a devastating case of human depravity.

News On what you say in your high school yearbook

Aren't most high-school seniors who leave behind yearbook quotes at least halfway cognizant that they're depositing a sort of time capsule that will be opened someday?

Humor and Good News Not every innovation is an improvement

The Independent is trying to make the peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwich "a thing". It is not, nor should it be.


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September 26, 2018

The United States of America Are we learning anything?

Charlie Munger once advised that "Your competitors will keep learning, so you have to go to bed smarter than you woke up." Seeing America (and the ideas upon which it is founded) in the context of global competition -- for the obvious things, like military power and economic strength, but more importantly for the ultimate objective, which is the predominance of the idea of ordered liberty in the world -- a question is in order: Is America going to bed tonight smarter than it woke up?

Health If an overdose of Hot Cheetos sends you to the hospital, you're little more than a walking brain stem

We have a leading contender for "Stupidest Person of 2018", and it's a musician who not only went to the ER after overdosing on snack foods, he went on to tell the world about it on social media. This medical oddity deserves further study, because surely anyone this stupid lacks a functioning cerebral cortex.

Health CDC says flu killed 80,000 Americans last winter

That's an extremely high number -- the worst in 40 years, and likely twice as many as the number of Americans killed in car crashes (40,100 in 2017). Infectious diseases are still very much a threat to us all, and fighting them requires a spectrum of public-health responses that face a lot more resistance than they should. Social media in particular encourages people to share really stupid opinions -- particularly on the anti-vaccination front -- and those bad opinions, paradoxically, spread virally. Real leadership would ask the public-health sector "What resources do you need to drive this number of preventable deaths as close to zero as possible?", and would then seek to marshal public opinion behind making that happen.

Humor and Good News A question for the Show-Me State

Why does Missouri have a river named the "One Hundred and Two"?


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September 27, 2018

News When a Supreme Court nomination process borders on farce

People have mounting reason for grievance on both sides of the conventional political aisle. This is, unfortunately, what happens when the undercurrent of anti-federalism becomes so pervasive that altogether too many people think that everything must be decided at the national level. If it can't be decided via legislation, they demand it be decided by executive order. And if it can't be decided by executive order, they demand it be taken to a Supreme Court case. Nationalizing every debate polarizes everyone...nationally. It's not good for the civic health of the country.

News Ireland is out to elect a president

Americans ought to be open to the idea of an elected, and mostly ceremonial, head of state, who is allowed to take all the "Executive Time" they might want. Then give us a capable and accountable Chief Executive to run the Presidency.

News Norway and Finland coordinate closer military cooperation

It's pretty easy to forget that Norway has a land border with Russia, which means that both countries have land borders with the same two countries (which surely is an unusual circumstance). Their invigorated spirit of military cooperation most certainly isn't because of plucky lil' Sweden.

Iowa When trans fats are outlawed, only outlaws will have trans fats

A potato-chip maker from Burlington, Iowa, has been struggling mightily to reformulate their recipe after the FDA effectively banned the cooking oils they had long used, because the oils contained trans fats. Good intentions abound, but government regulations can be a pretty blunt instrument.

Iowa Iowa could have frost before October

After an abysmally short spring, now we're headed straight for the cold season without a reasonable stretch of fall. A September 29th frost in Des Moines is supposed to be a 10% probability, according to the historical statistics.

Humor and Good News Pumpkin-spicing everything is a crime

Nobody needs Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes

Humor and Good News Baseball fandom as litmus test

An appreciation for baseball/softball is a pretty reliable precondition of good character, right? At least necessary, if not sufficient.


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September 28, 2018

Threats and Hazards Real lives of real value face real crisis

The World Food Program reports that 47,000 people in South Sudan are suffering from a catastrophic famine, with another 1.7 million in a state of "food emergency", plus another 4.3 million in a "food crisis". This is a devastating chart documenting an awful catastrophe that is destroying real lives, all of which are just as worthy of value and care as any of ours.

Business and Finance A nation of (economic) illiterates

A Pew study finds that self-identified Republicans and Democrats have -- in very large numbers -- changed their opinions on the security of the American economy since 2015, and whether it is in better shape than it was before 2008. This reflects a problem of knee-jerk partisanship, to be sure. But it also reflects the fact that Americans broadly know little to nothing about the real underpinnings of the economy -- taking cues from the condition of the stock market, or from the words babbled from a White House podium. That's not healthy when a Democrat is in charge, and it's not healthy when a Republican is in charge. And in no case should people substitute their understanding of the economy for a blind faith in any leader to "manage" or "grow" said economy. Politicians can make things marginally worse or marginally better through their policies, but most of the job consists in avoiding doing harm. Presidents don't create jobs.


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