Gongol.com Archives: December 2018
We need something that the "blue states" and "red states" agree to do together
Margaret Thatcher: "States, societies, and economies which allow the distinctive talents of individuals to flourish themselves also flourish. Those which dwarf, crush, distort, manipulate or ignore them cannot progress."
A photographer with a high risk tolerance and an exhibitionist streak documented himself and a female partner in flagrante delicto on the Great Pyramid of Giza. It's not a particularly bright idea, but the response of Egyptian authorities has included the suggestion that the photos were fabricated. And that's where the bigger story lies: It's awfully unlikely that these particular photos were forged. But it's already quite possible to produce convincing photographic fakes, and the rise of "deep fakes" means that even videos can be falsified, convincingly. And that should have all of us at attention. Digital forgery is already real; we just haven't come to grips with it yet. This particular story highlights the notion that officials may be starting to recognize that fake visual "evidence" may exist; but it's not going to be long before those fakes are so easy (and cheap) to produce that any one of us might find ourselves the subject of a fabrication that we cannot disprove. It's already difficult enough for people to erase truthful things they don't like from the Internet -- that desire alone has led to big debates over the "right to be forgotten". But when (not if) it becomes technically feasible and sufficiently inexpensive for someone to produce a convincing forgery of any one of us in a compromising situation, we're going to be in a world of trouble because seeing will no longer be believing. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. All one has to do is to consider how far some people are willing to go to damage their political opponents, harm their romantic rivals, or undermine their competitors. Merge those depravities with the public's voracious appetite for the sensational (or the pornographic), and it's inevitable that in the very near-term future, there really will be fake videos of people doing X-rated things in monumental places.
Wise words from Andy Smarick: "When we're uncertain and modest, we're likelier to be charitable and inquisitive and offer reforms that would incrementally build on yesterday's successes." We are best served by a combination of curiosity, competence, and humility in office.
Google discovered another bug that might have exposed the personal details of 52.5 million customers to developers. Per a company announcement, "[W]e have also decided to accelerate the sunsetting of consumer Google+ from August 2019 to April 2019." Google puts a lot of projects out to pasture.
In a "60 Minutes" interview, Elon Musk indicated that he could be interested in buying manufacturing facilities that GM is taking out of service and using them to build Tesla vehicles. That could be a stretch -- getting the factory floor right is such an imporant issue that Honda has built an entire production ethos out of it -- but Tesla is growing fast, and recycling an old facility might be a way to ramp up production in a hurry. Certainly it would represent a moment of creative destruction. (But, wow, does Elon Musk ever need a sidekick -- like a Charlie Munger to his Warren Buffett or a Paul Allen to his Bill Gates.)
WGN, currently owned by Tribune Media, is the only radio station in the organization. And Tribune Media is now on track to become part of Nexstar Media Group. So instead of dealing with the outlier (the rest of Tribune Media consists of 42 television stations and some networks), Nexstar may just spin off the legendary AM station. And rumor has it that Cumulus, which owns crosstown rival station WLS, may be interested in buying.
If you're boxing kids into artificially gender-specific toys, you're probably stifling their creative play.
Not everything is a matter worthy of a survey. That includes whether something is a good immunooncology biomarker.
Any time an investor hears a phrase like "asset-light, high-margin alternative partnerships and services", he or she should wonder...what's the limit to that asset-lightness? And if some assets are going to be required no matter what, then who's going to make the profits off them? People say a lot of silly things in business as a means of trying to obscure what they're really doing or attempting to cover for their own foibles. At some point or another, assets have to belong to somebody -- even if they're inconveniently low-margin.
This documentation of the facts is a legitimate public service, as is the investigation itself. The sentencing memos for Michael Cohen reveal that something awfully rotten has been swirling around the President and his team since long before the 2016 election, and it's well worth remembering the words of Calvin Coolidge: "It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation."
The markets themselves? No. They're just functions of nature -- like the tides. But: The relationship between market freedoms and the broader Enlightenment vision of humanity should be on a lot of minds these days. You cannot secure real liberty without capitalism, but capitalism is utterly precarious without a sense of honor and virtue. They are co-dependent features of a (classically) liberal worldview.
YouTube -- a far more prevalent medium than either of the "social media" services that get the bulk of the scrutiny -- is a tool too often used to warp the world views of people who think they're learning something. The Washington Post reports that "Google overall now has more than 10,000 people working on maintaining its community standards." But is that enough? Is any number enough? The dance they try to perform is on the line that separates a totally neutral platform for content delivery (which YouTube simply can't be) from a real community (which YouTube has never established sufficient rules in order to be). Even though they call some of their policies "community guidelines", it's not a community unless there is some kind of shared vision of what the end ought to be. And YouTube in its present form doesn't have that. It is a product of the Enlightenment imagination, but it doesn't seem bound to the necessary values that protect Enlightenment-style thinking from drowning in a sea of hate and propaganda.
How many generations does it take for a surname to die out? Given our patrilineal approach to surnames, it depends on how many male offspring each generation produces on average. If you're not averaging 1.05, your name is in trouble.
Per the Pew Research Center: "Among the Republican House incumbents who lost their re-election campaigns, 23 of 30 were more moderate than the median Republican in the chamber". That isn't a commendation for extremism: It's a really bad sign for the functional health of one of the two major parties in America.
A thought-provoking take on municipal leadership from Alain Bertaud: "This focus on 'a vision' emphasizes top-down control, when the job of a mayor should really revolve around indicators that emerge from the bottom up."
There's lots of evidence that mental activity in one's early and young-adult years has a positive effect on the survival of one's faculties into old age. But crossword puzzles and Sudoku aren't the silver bullet.
The story (with body-cam video) will absolutely set your hair standing on end.
Predictive algorithms everywhere are good at picking up the clues at things like who might be pregnant. But what about making those systems humane enough to realize when something has gone wrong?
Your share: $66,400. Per person. In measurable, real debt alone. That doesn't even begin to count future liabilities. A family of four could buy a nice house for the amount of debt the Federal government already owes in their name.
Most civil engineering is done with the help of generous "safety factors" -- protective margins of error in our calculations, designed to make sure we're not running too close to danger. Most people don't realize how hard we're leaning on the safety factors that previous generations engineered into our infrastructure. Just take a look at the condition of old bridges everywhere.
In an interview with Reuters, the President says he still stands beside Mohammed bin Salman, despite the evidence that he was directly responsible for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Values-free transactionalism is no way to run a foreign policy. We're not selling a used car on Craigslist. If our values don't matter for something, then we're just selling our alliance to the highest bidder.
Reuters reports that the President is "standing by Saudi Arabia's crown prince", even though the evidence is overwhelming that he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed in Turkey. Values-free transactionalism is no way to run a foreign policy: We're not selling a used car on Craigslist. If our values don't matter for something, then we're just selling our alliance to the highest bidder.
Conor Sen opines: "This is the last presidential election where the early media attention is going to be focused on statewide officeholders." For the good of Federalism, we had better hope this is not the case. The strength of the United States is directly tied to the strength of the individual states. That's why Federalism works, why the Senate should stay exactly the way it is, and why the Electoral College isn't the abomination that the "national popular vote" movement wants to pretend it to be. If everything becomes a national issue, then there won't be enough room for the states to experiment and differentiate. That's hazardous to the long-term nature of self-government. We need elected officials to prove themselves on the state level before going for national leadership.
High-speed tailgating is a really stupid risk to take
What you own is often much less important than who you owe.
The "Elf on a Shelf" thing is really just a bit out of hand in some quarters
A person would need to be as dumb as a bag of hammers to need advice from the FBI...not to lie to the FBI. The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination fundamentally requires that you don't lie in your interactions with the justice system. Tell the truth, or say nothing. If you emerged from high school not understanding that, then you should probably give your diploma back.
Some songs are great covers. The new cover/overaggressive sample of "Africa" (originally by Toto) is an ear-splitting train wreck.
(Video) And yet, that's what's happening and causing people to flee from Honduras
Worthy of urgent concern: "China now can not only build dossiers on U.S. citizens of interest, but can also spoof their identities in cyberspace."
They were really looking for sunken nuclear submarines. The quest for Titanic was just a convenient cover story. Now we deserve to know the declassified truth behind Geraldo Rivera's televised trip through Al Capone's broom closet and David Copperfield's performance at the Statue of Liberty.
Every drummer should look like they have a screw loose, you're probably getting ripped off. If you're at a concert and the drummer isn't bouncing her head around like a weeble-wobble in an active seismic zone or making faces like he's trapped in a tank full of nitrous oxide, ask for your money back.
Senator Orrin Hatch admits that his recent brush-off of Presidential misbehavior was "irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law", according to the Salt Lake Tribune. It's good to see that his conscience won after all.
Ordinarily at this point in a Presidency, someone might be thinking tentatively about where to put the Presidential library...not facing allegations of "a shocking pattern of illegality".
They're interesting to see...but why?
Certainly a damning assertion, if true
Whenever someone suggests that the Federal government ought to do/regulate/pay for something, it's interesting to ask whether we should do that same thing at the level of a Federal Reserve Bank district. All too often, saying the Federal government ought to do something is a lazy way of saying "I want it but I don't want to pay for it." We ought to subject more ideas to multi-state tests that don't rise to the level of national programs. Might take some innovative coordination along state governments, but adults can handle it. The sooner we euthanize this idea that all good things must flow downhill from D.C. to the rest of us, the better.
There ought to be a fundamental right to press coverage of trials, but the the way TV coverage fueled the OJ Simpson debacle can't be erased from memory.
The direct costs are high. The sunk costs are enormous. On one hand, America has a phenomenal system of graduate-level education. But on the other, it's basically closed to anyone who isn't ready to front the enormous up-front risk (in time, money, and foregone opportunities) to attend years of graduate school. That's messed up. In 2018, there's no excuse for still treating graduate-level education (aside from niche programs like "executive MBAs") like something that belongs to a priesthood, chained heavily to a system of perpetuating the priesthood. There are countless people in the private sector (and public and nonprofit sectors, too) who shouldn't drop everything to take a graduate program that will take years to complete with an uncertain outcome. But they should be on long-term tracks to gain lifelong education. There's a mountain of foregone social utility because people who are busy doing things out in the general economy aren't spending a little time in the classroom every week (including virtual classrooms), learning the latest research-based knowledge in their fields. There's also a mountain of foregone social utility because higher education often isn't getting the active feedback of millions of people who see the massive amount of technological and methodological progress being made *outside* the confines of academic research. If only we could revive the mentality that brought us the land-grant colleges and ag extension programs, but apply that thinking to the manufacturing and service economies. So much good would come from thinking more broadly about graduate-level education as a lifetime thing.
A glitter bomb. A glorious, highly-engineered glitter bomb. It's brilliant.
The man tried to cash a check for about a thousand bucks and ended up in the back of a squad car because the tellers didn't believe him. It seems quite certain the police were called because he was black. Come on, people. That's outrageous.
Brink Lindsey aptly puts it like this: "We think the technocratic style of reg is highly vulnerable to insider capture as well as to unforeseen consequences due to interaction with other elements of the regulatory thicket. We prefer a few big, dumb, rule-like interventions over countless little nudges." Remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: "The State's concern in economic affairs must be primarily to service the nation. Its task should be to ensure that as few obstacles as possible are placed in the way of our own pursuit of enterprise, not to try and organize how we should do that."
For all the sense this makes on paper, the network effects are too large to overcome. If Google couldn't do it with Google+, nobody is going to push aside Facebook on its own turf. Its only credible challenges come from paradigmatic shifts like Instagram.
There's perhaps nothing more naive than believing that if the United States just keeps to itself, then everyone else will do the same and we'll all be happy. Constructive engagement with the world, according to rules and multilateral alliances, is the way to keep the future from looking like an authoritarian anti-liberal dystopia.
Quite possibly no one in business history has ever needed a sidekick quite like Elon Musk needs one right now. Charlie Munger to his Warren Buffett. Paul Allen to his Bill Gates. Takeo Fujisawa to his Soichiro Honda. Musk has a million ideas and a bias in favor of action that is truly remarkable, but he needs a counterweight.
An ad for "transparent crystalline trousers" begs the question: Did Congress pass the Freedom of Too Much Information Act?
Thanks to non-Newtonian materials, hard hats might fit like stocking caps. Fittingly, the Australian company trying to launch the product is called "Anti-Ordinary".
Apparently it caused some confusion on social media the other day when people tried to figure out the geographic roots of the "Frasier Crane" enunciation
A healthy system of government depends not on the individuals in it, but rather on the commitment to rules shared by authorities and civilians alike. But when the "prince" (or in our case, the President) puts his faith only in himself, then it is hard to put our trust in anything other than the individuals who make decisions around him. And we are now scheduled to lose one of the most important of those individuals in a matter of weeks. Mattis isn't quitting because he wants to work on his golf game. He's resigning because the President thinks he knows better than everyone else, even including "the generals". It's time for weapons-grade worry.
Contrary to public pronouncements and the advice of senior military leadership, the President is ordering an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Syria. It's thought there are about 2,000 of them there -- and they may be the only factor keeping hostile adversaries (Russia, Iran, and ISIS included) at bay.
It should be obvious that the "Belt and Road" program isn't just about economics -- it's about geopolitics, too. And though it's a strategy fraught with peril (in other words, don't be surprised when it backfires in spectacular ways), in the short to intermediate term, it's disrupting the balance of power in important places.
President Trump is willing to shut down the government to get funding for his mythical border wall
Even among American communities that have other socioeconomic characteristics in common, sometimes we shop differently because of things that also seem to instigate us to vote differently, too.
When we say that radio is the most personal and intimate mass medium, that's not an exaggeration or a boast. It's just the truth.
Along with six other things that deserve to make a comeback
A scathing BBC report says that the British government isn't doing anything to counteract Chinese-government espionage being conducted as economic warfare. Border walls and Brexits won't do a shred of good to solve the problem of highly sophisticated, well-funded, state-backed industrial espionage campaigns. Ham-handed tariffs and trade wars among allies don't help, either. All the public attention is going to the wrong things right now, and we're going to regret the neglect.
Who, exactly, is the person who (a) has the credibility to be an effective Secretary of Defense, and (b) looks at the job and confidently thinks "I can persuade and advise the President where Mattis couldn't". That person surely does not exist. The kind of hubris it would take, two years into this Administration, to think that the President could be educated on matters of military importance (much less be persuaded about them) is exactly the kind of hubris that gets fools killed and wiser people hauled off to prison. This is a grave moment. Little to nothing about our geopolitical situation has on balance become more stable or more secure for the United States in the last two years. On net, things are worse. And everyone knows why. It seems quite extraordinary that outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis openly, directly, and publicly rebuked the President in his resignation letter -- posted for all the world to see, directly on the website of the Defense Department. That's no small matter: It's a modern-day echo of Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door.
A reminder: The stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. But the terrible performance in the stock market of late is pretty directly traceable to real-world events in economics: The Federal government shutdown, accelerating deficit spending, odious misbehavior and unpredictability in the Oval Office, and trade hostilities among them. Ordinarily, it's out of place to give a President too much credit or too much blame for the state of either the economy or the markets. But not only has President Trump made a spectacular fool of himself by desperately seeking praise and attention for the state of the stock market just four months ago, he has also introduced many of the most notable risks to the economy itself. A President who tries to take credit for the good (when he isn't really responsible for it) most certainly deserves blame when he is clearly responsible for doing harm. He is reported now to be interested in firing the chair of the Federal Reserve. That's a Rubicon he'd best not cross.
With the FCC shut down, are radio hosts obligated to talk like pirates?
President Trump was hired for his own job in part because many voters trusted him when he said he would hire "the best people". And by most accounts, that's what he got in James Mattis. But President Trump never warned us he'd be so terrible at keeping "the best people" around. This is a seriously troubling development.
Dozens of people have been killed; possibly more
Automation is changing the economic prospects for domestic production, but automation won't create a lot of old-style factory jobs. Paradigm shifts are the hardest to sell. We have so many people emotionally invested in a smokestack-economy vision of manufacturing that even progress like this will instigate blowback.
It's great to see people thoughtfully sticking up for their communities
The gods, having taken away the Weekly Standard, have seen fit to grant us a new episode of "Radio Free GOP". Mike Murphy, let your pirate radio flag fly: With the shutdown happening, the FCC isn't listening anyway.
In the words of Bret Stephens: "Mattis also resigned because he has concluded that the problem with Trump isnít that he's an empty vessel. Itís that he's a malignant one." Mattis's resignation is a powerful sign and a significant gauntlet to be thrown down. It does nothing to counter the narrative that the President is thin-skinned and incapable of managing people well that he has decided to force Mattis out early.
It's truly incredible. The President already has a problem with keeping civil-military relations on the right track domestically. But now he's revealing a preference for foreign authoritarians over his own professional warriors. Maybe it's time to stock up on canned goods.
The calls -- seeking to offer reassurance to major banks about the liquidity of the financial system -- wouldn't be necessary if not for a totally unnecessary Federal government shutdown and Presidential threats to try to fire the Fed chair. The administration has no one to blame but the guy who wasted his Sunday afternoon taunting Bob Corker.
Especially for that person who has everything
Ever been around when a family has to take away a driver's license from a senior family member? Nobody wants to do it, and everyone sidesteps the issue, usually until something truly dangerous happens. It's like that, except this particular senior has the nuclear launch codes. Some are asking whether the Mattis resignation truly signals such a terrible warning, and whether he would leave the job if he thought it left the country in real peril. Think of Secretary Mattis like a fighter pilot in a plane that has been hit: If he thinks it's recoverable, he'll struggle to make it to a landing strip. But if so much additional fire comes in that the wings are lost, he has no choice but to punch out. The danger exists either way.
A worthwhile perspective from America Magazine: "That is what being a stranger means: Not being known is part of it, but not knowing is the rest."
Our meta-problem is that we continue to treat the college degree as a destination. It may be a well-worn commencement-speaker cliche to say "This is just a beginning", but the 21st Century really does demand that we think about everyone having a path through a non-stop, life-long education. And "everyone" means everyone, without exception.
Ask girls about themselves instead of passing judgment (no matter how seemingly innocuous) on their looks.
A counterterrorism-expert-turned-local-cop says he thinks most people are decent. What a great sentiment, and true. Most people -- really, most people, and that means everywhere -- are trying their best to be good. All fall short, some more often than others. But the real monsters are few.
There are a lot of them in the world right now -- too many. And it's turning cold in much of the Northern Hemisphere.
The lights on Terrace Hill are a good place to start
Launched in Mexico, it made its way to a rancher in Arizona -- who tracked down the youthful sender and delivered her wishes
His holiday greeting includes one line worthy of extra attention: "Storm clouds loom, yet because of you your fellow citizens live safe at home." One wonders which particular storm clouds loom largest in his mind.
It seems a million people or more have been detained without trial over their ethnic and religious identity. That's appalling -- especially if one legitimately believes that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our country will be much better off when we bring the same prevention-oriented, everyone-does-it attitude to mental wellness that we give to dental care. Nobody gets judged for having a filling. Just as there is a compelling public-health case for dental care (including the use of fluoride in public water systems), there is also a compelling public-health case for widespread access to preventative mental wellness care.
They'll learn far more words from children's books than they will from television
It's a useful tool, but the fickleness with which it is managed makes it fundamentally unreliable
File under: Trade wars are stupid
"The [New York] Times was provided with more than 1,400 pages from the rulebooks by an employee who said he feared that the company was exercising too much power"
In a fundraising email, his people volley a tirade against Third Way Democrats. But the simple fact is that Sanders is toxic and would be a two-time disaster for the Democrats.
There's no love lost between them and the Turkish government just over the border
A number of people roughly equal to the combined populations of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. That they live in faraway Yemen shouldn't discount anyone's sense of the tragedy. And it is particularly galling because the starvation is truly economic in nature, rather than something more unavoidable.
We're social animals, so it's impossible to have health care without spending time, attention, and money on public health
And when something like this happens somewhere else, it ought to be a good reminder for the rest of us to check our own preparations for power outages (that might last a good long time...). A cell phone flashlight isn't good enough. And travel with extra batteries, because there isn't always an outlet to save you.
The most important thing Jonah Goldberg gets right in this piece is that "What [the President's] defenders overlook is that his insults are not simply an act". His shortage (nay, absence?) of personal character is a choice. And it is a choice, too, when others defend it.
While there's definitely something to be said for truth in advertising, is anyone left more confused (rather than less) by the notion of "almond milk" or "soy milk"? Those names generally serve to make things more clear to the consumer, rather than less.
Cabin crews sometimes ask passengers to put the window shades down shortly after landing in order to keep the cabin cool -- which is a pretty radical departure from the old days, when that was a signal of a hijacking. Here's another reason why it's a bad idea: Eyes take time to adjust to outdoor brightness, and if something goes wrong (even on the ground), then passengers need to be oriented to the hazards around them in an instant.
A $17 million home with just four bedrooms. But it's gorgeous.
The whiskey is the #1 liquor brand sold in Iowa -- by a big margin over #2 (Fireball) and by a giant margin over #3 (Captain Morgan). It is nearly eight times as popular as a fine Irish whiskey like Jameson.
The last show of 2018 airs at 2:00 Central Time on WHO Radio
On January 2nd, the West Des Moines City Council will consider a resolution to send the local-option sales and services tax proposal to Polk County. So will Des Moines. The vote would tentatively be scheduled for March 5th. Both councils are considering proposals to put 50% of the revenues into property-tax relief.
They'll have to post list prices online. It's not a perfect fix, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
The Trump Administration's decision to keep the US out of the TPP means Australian farmers are going to have a strategic advantage in selling wheat and beef to markets like Japan, where the US is going to face tariffs that the Aussies won't. Multilateral trade deals are the best trade deals.
He's already the chair of the board, but it looks like an affiliate of his hedge fund has offered $4.4 billion for the company, which is pretty much its only alternative to a complete shutdown and liquidation. Regardless, the company is closing another 80 Sears and Kmart stores, in addition to the many it's already closed. One problem for the company is that it hasn't turned a profit since 2010.
In a settlement with all 50 states (and DC), the company will pay out $575 million to the states (Iowa will get about $6.2 million, to be allocated to the Consumer Education and Litigation Fund). Another $1.6 billion is going to restitution and Federal penalties in other resolutions.