Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Second-Quarter Archives
April 18, 2018
Barbara Bush passes away at age 92
A dignified person has passed from this world. Her public mission to promote literacy speaks to an aspiration for a better world through the empowerment of individuals.
"Russian cyberattack capability is a global problem"
American and British cybersecurity agencies warn in a joint statement: "Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing 'man-in-the-middle' attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations".
Younkers stores will be gone by August
The parent company of the Midwestern retailer has sold to a liquidator, so by August 31st, the stores will be no more. Another retailer dismantled by the new realities of consumer expectations.
FCC starts process to ban telecom purchases made with Federal funds from going to Chinese manufacturers
Huawei and ZTE would be the primary targets of the new action
China will lift restrictions on foreign ownership of car companies
By 2022, supposedly, foreign carmakers will no longer be capped at 50% ownership of Chinese ventures to build cars
April 19, 2018
Contemporaneous notes taken by James Comey during his interactions with the President paint a picture that ought to be exceptionally consistent with what any competent observer ought to have picked up by now: President Trump tends not to have coherent, well-thought-out concepts in mind and generally wings it, succumbing more often than not to his instincts and impulses.
Senator Chuck Grassley plays the long game on the rule of law
He makes a well-advised point: Processes should be protected when one's own party is in the majority specifically because that party will someday be in the minority
An interesting turn of phrase to describe how Vancouver has grown -- with residential skyscrapers clustered around stops on the city's light-rail system. An intriguing approach to land use that doesn't seem to be deliberately duplicated anywhere else in North America.
"[E]xcessive automation at Tesla was a mistake"
Tesla has run into production bottlenecks, and Elon Musk says that over-automation was a factor. What's interesting is that Honda reached the conclusion a long time ago that human workers were easier to redeploy to fix bottlenecks than were robots (see the book "Driving Honda" by Jeffrey Rothfeder).
Unexpected consequences of the Oklahoma City bombing
The terrorist attack had measurable social effects -- a higher birth rate and a lower divorce rate for people in the immediate area
If George Washington had left TripAdvisor reviews
Travel was a little different in the Revolutionary War era
April 25, 2018
Inflation is showing up in raw building materials
That's going to make new housing cost more
The Jeff Bezos management rule requires writing, revision, and reading -- and that's probably a very good thing for better thinking
An extremely good take on Kanye West and President Trump
Damon Young's title condenses it well: "Kanye's politics are what happens when you don't read books"
Google starts rolling out Gmail with AI tools
Users can opt-in for now, though it seems likely everyone will be seeing the updates as their standard Gmail experience within a couple of months. The Washington Post's tech columnist notes some positives about the features being added, but noted some skepticism about how well some of the artificial intelligence can actually work without total access to everything you do -- which is something most people probably aren't ready to hand over to Google yet.
April 26, 2018
The entertainment legend was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, dating to a 2004 incident
From CIA director to Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo is confirmed for the job of chief diplomat. He immediately left on a business trip to Europe. The role is challenging under a President who is openly hostile to most international cooperation, and it comes after a series of Secretaries of State who had strongly differing takes on what made them effective. Hillary Clinton, for instance, spent a huge amount of time on the road; Colin Powell wrote that he thought the Secretary of State ought to rely more on others to do the legwork. It's a storied role, to be sure: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all occupied it.
You can have any Ford sedan you want, as long as it's a Mustang or a Focus
The company is phasing out most sedans in favor of building SUVs instead
April 27, 2018
Gates Foundation funnels $12 million in seed money to search for universal flu vaccine
Coinciding with the centennial of the Spanish flu pandemic, Bill Gates wants to spark some initiative to fix the problem in a revolutionary way, noting that "Not much is being done about the pandemic risk". In a speech, Gates argues that pandemic response is basically nonexistent, and that "we need better tools, an early detection system, and a global response system."
Chinese leadership touts technological "self-reliance"
Autarky tries to make a comeback
Writers at the opinion site RedState find themselves pink-slipped over their lack of enthusiasm for the President
Good trees to plant for Arbor Day
The last Friday in April is a pretty good time to think about planting a tree.
Aaron Sorkin says he's been asked by NBC for a "West Wing" revival
It was a great series for much of its run, but can they really continue a story that took a sharp turn in the last season?
May 1, 2018
The physician whose name went on the medical "report" on candidate Trump says "He dictated that whole letter". To have reached this conclusion really didn't take a great deal of sophisticated textual analysis, but it's nice to have confirmation. The problem isn't just that the report itself was fabricated, it's that the patient insists so much on the fabrication. A person so compelled to lie and exaggerate about the smallest of things cannot be trusted in the big things. If someone lies when literally nothing is at stake, what could possibly be expected of their truthfulness when there are consequences to be paid for being honest?
"I'm not trying to act like I'm driving a garbage truck in Des Moines"
It's nauseating for these words to come from someone masquerading as a conservative leader. Real conservatives know that people should be judged by their character, not their occupation.
Police say don't try to chase the perpetrator in a hit-and-run accident. Just record everything you can.
Homeopathic "remedy" contains saliva from rabid dogs
Homeopathy is a great example of the kind of quackery that justifies some regulation of certain products in the interest of public health and safety. Because...rabid dog saliva, for the love of Salk.
May 2, 2018
After saying that the President had reimbursed his lawyer for a $130,000 hush-money payment, Rudy Giuliani will probably be forced soon to "clarify" that Michael Cohen was "reimbursed indirectly" via his retainer -- as though a lawyer in Cohen's role acts like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The fact we have a President so susceptible to blackmail is a national-security risk.
A beautiful day at the Gateway Arch
St. Louis's signature monument really does make the city stand out
May 3, 2018
The Boy Scouts of America announce their marketing plan to welcome girls to Cub Scouts (the full launch is later this year, but they report that 3,000 early adopters are already in). They're also changing the name of the program for older kids to "Scouting BSA" starting in February -- since the girls' track in the program is coming in 2019.
Spend no time defending the indefensible
Very well-put by David French: "We are not told to rationalize and justify sinful actions to preserve political influence or a popular audience."
Oops: "We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log."
A hotel opens in Chicago promising "elegance and refinement" in a "shared room" lodging model. Er...okay. But it's still a hostel.
Does anyone really know what's going on?
Noah Smith proposes as a basic model of the world that "Nobody knows what's going on, and everyone is trying as hard as they can." A better version of that might be modified to say that the people who are trying their hardest have the most humility about what they don't know. Overconfidence correlates with duty-shirking.
Netflix is fixing Season 4 of "Arrested Development"
Mitch Hurwitz is re-editing the season so that it's in the same chronological format as the rest of the series. Nice.
May 4, 2018
Rudy Giuliani has issued a statement apparently intending to clarify that the President's payments to keep Stormy Daniels from talking to the media were "nothing but a family thing", to borrow a phrase (not his words, but definitely his meaning). Besides the fact that the timing of the payment makes it self-evident that this quite certainly wasn't just a family thing, its existence alone highlights a very real security risk: The President's behavior (past and present) and his obsession with image make him dangerously susceptible to blackmail. That is a national-security risk. Think just of the revelation that he scripted his own fitness report: If someone lies when literally nothing is at stake, what could possibly be expected of their truthfulness when there are consequences to be paid for being honest? But when a person lies so casually about things that are so inconsequential (other than to his image), that is a person who is perhaps uniquely subject to manipulation.
More control won't preserve authoritarianism -- it will only make the collapse worse
In response to an opinion piece by a Chinese legal scholar proclaiming the pending victory of China's "planned market economy", James Palmer, an editor at Foreign Policy, notes that "Chinese leaders believe -- wrongly -- that they can also use mass surveillance and AI to replace the necessity for openness in governance and freedom of speech and allow total control from the top." If one were looking to start a list of things that will cause massive anxiety and social unrest for the world in the intermediate-range future, one might start with this.
A creative -- if likely impractical -- approach to providing shelter in-place to those who lose their homes to natural disasters: Inflatable buildings that could be air-dropped into place and raised with helium. Good ideas, though, often emerge out of the seemingly impractical ones. And this particular idea highlights one of the big problems that comes back over and over with natural disasters: People need someplace safe to live and rest when their homes are lost. It's worth rubbing together a few brain cells to see if we can come up with better ways to do that.
Ending a 42-year police career
Police officer signs off after 42 years, and his daughter (a dispatcher) is the one who gets to acknowledge the final call.
Vaporizing 1,800 jobs out of spite
Should the threatened trade war of tariffs exchanged between the United States and China become a reality, one study estimates that Iowa would lose more than 1,800 jobs to the resulting inefficiencies.
May 5, 2018
Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 5, 2018
Tune in from 2pm to 4pm Central Time
If California were a country...
...it would have the world's 5th-largest economy. Shall we now impose tariffs on exports from California to the rest of the country? Those seem to be in vogue.
Stop posting your old phone number on the Internet
A meme going around Facebook asks "Who can still remember their childhood telephone number?". Predictably, people are posting their old numbers in the comments. There's no such thing as a "security" question when people are this gullible. If only people realized that half of the dumb things they share in response to these social-media memes are extremely useful to the types of bad actors who would use their personal information against them. It's bad enough already that it takes virtually no effort at all to crack certain "security" questions like "What was your mother's maiden name?".
May 6, 2018
A country of nearly 330,000,000 people surely has the capacity to accommodate 57,000 people without excessive strain. There's no need to be cruel -- which is how the revocation of "temporary protected status" for those Honduran immigrants really appears. They came to the United States after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, and it shouldn't be seen as though the United States simply took on a deadweight of 57,000 people. By and large, people bring economic activity with them: If the border between Iowa and Minnesota were erased, the resulting "state" would have a much larger population, but the underlying economic activity would likely be more or less the same. The failure to understand this is deeply embedded in the conceit that immigrants "take" from the country to which they move. Kicking out the Hondurans really makes no sense at all. It's disruptive and hurtful.
When the tweet says something about Prince William, but the embedded ad appears to be a picture of an excited anthropomorphic pickle
When Putin's team doesn't want you to hold a rally
Doesn't really seem like there's a perfectly innocent explanation for this.
May 7, 2018
New York's checkered history of political scandal
And that is why "limited" government matters even more than "small" government. Limit what you expect from it. Limit the powers you grant to it. Limit the damage that bad people can do when they get the levers of power. The limits matter even more than the apparent size.
The NRA picks Oliver North as new leader
The last three years have been one giant, non-stop natural experiment in escalation of commitment. And that's not a good thing.
"Jail is not a place for mental health patients."
A tough look at the problem of increasing rates of violent crime in small-town Iowa. We have layers of problems at play here -- from mental-health issues to politicians' drug-war posturing to overcrowding to underfunding to a punishment-based approach that neglects rehabilitation. The system needs lots of reform.
Why police don't drive Crown Victorias anymore
Cop-rated SUVs are a whole lot better in a lot of ways.
May 8, 2018
Foster parents take in their 100th child
After 22 years, they're dialing back a little so they can visit their biological grandchildren
Reel-to-reel tape recorders are trying to make a comeback
Radio geeks all over the world, fingertips still scarred from years of using razor blades to splice RTR tapes, bodies permanently demagnetized by bulk erasers, join in this chorus: "No...no...NONONONONONO!"
The news is too much like a series of "Arrested Development" quotes
Too much of what's happening around the President involves incompetent offspring, lunatic attorneys, and suspicious foreign dealings
May 9, 2018
Tell us more about those payments, Mr. Cohen
The President's personal attorney got some interesting project work from a variety of sources upon Trump's accession to the Presidency -- including payments from a high-profile Russian money man
Keep a close eye on the "Belt and Road"
China's massive global infrastructure initiative isn't an unalloyed good, even for the countries getting the investments
Chicago architects convert a 55,000-square-foot ex-Kmart store into an attractive college-prep school for $10 million
Soldier grows her own replacement ear
Built from rib cartilage, doctors carved out the replacement ear and implanted it inside her arm so it could grow. The doctors called the surgery (to transplant it onto her head) a success -- the ear will work, and it will even have nerve function.
Artificial intelligence gets attention from Congress
Sen. Joni Ernst has proposed a bill to create a "National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence", to serve in an advisory role to the President and Congress on competitiveness, risks, and developments in artificial intelligence, both domestically and internationally
Professional reading lists -- and their limits
An intriguing dive into the nature of professional reading lists -- commonly issued by military leaders, though not found quite nearly often enough elsewhere. Aside from raw personal experience, nothing shapes a person more than the books they read. We'd be better off as a society if there were more open discussion (and debate) about which books ought to be read. Sen. Ben Sasse has made the case for families to create their own reading lists, and that's a worthy suggestion as well.
"Chinese buyers are canceling orders for US soybeans"
It doesn't take actual tariffs to create trade disruptions. The threat alone has been enough to create real-world consequences.
"The genius-bias is a strong one."
An interesting challenge to the way people (specifically men, in this article) credited with works of genius sometimes end up getting a free pass to behave awfully. We should probably grapple with that problem.
Someone needs to atone for the eggplant emoji
Considering the near-simultaneous explosion in misspelled apps (Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit), the mainstreaming of emojis, and the rise of text-speak, future historians are going to wonder how an entire civilization became voluntarily illiterate all at once. The flexibility of English is one of the main reasons it's become the world's lingua franca, and its adaptability probably encourages creative thinking among fluent English speakers. But text-speak is still crap.
Severe weather patterns far quieter than normal
The National Weather Service office in Des Moines notes that on a year-to-date basis, we're at about half the number of severe storm (severe thunderstorm or tornado) watches issued nationwide, as compared to most years. Maybe even less than half.
May 10, 2018
Don Blankenship lost, but it's still worthwhile to read the compelling argument from Jay Cost that the nature of the primary electorate too often risks giving unelectable nincompoops the nominations to run in general elections. A primary-election/general-election system is a fully honorable and decent way to run a democracy -- IF people vote in the primaries. The problem for the US today is that people (backwardly) think being an independent voter requires sitting out the primaries. No matter how much people resent joining parties, the only way to get good general elections is to have broad-based primary elections. The only way to get good general elections is to have broad participation in primary elections. When sane people step out of the process at the top of the funnel, they end up disgusted with what comes out at the bottom. We really need for sensible centrist voters to get just as mad about stopping the wingnuts as the wingnuts get mad about advancing their pet issues. Every interested independent should pick a party and vote in a primary. You can re-register as "independent" the next day.
Generally good rules for running good meetings
Two additional items absent from an otherwise good list: (1) Include written reports with the agenda wherever they can substitute for an oral report; use the meeting to ask questions and debate rather than absorb info. (2) Not only should someone be in charge of running every meeting, someone else should be the designated Devil's Advocate, tasked with poking at least one hole in every major idea or proposal. Meetings generally succumb to passive groupthink without someone specifically charged with advancing a contrarian view.
May 16, 2018
Don't use personality-testing apps
The data from one such personality quiz (tied to Facebook) got released onto the Internet, exposing quite a lot about 3 million users. There's nothing wrong with a quest to better know the self -- but there's a lot to worry about when the shortcuts to the answers are being peddled online with the help of quizzes that are without accountability for the data.
Finland's test of the Universal Basic Income won't be extended
The measurable results of the experiment won't be shared for a while, but it's being suggested that the UBI under examination wasn't big enough to achieve really ground-breaking results -- they were still too small to sustain even the most modest lifestyle. There are good reasons to experiment with (and study) the UBI, as well as good reasons to avoid it.
Aon Center plans a gondola thrill ride that would tip over the side of the building
If built, that would make the third major observation deck with some kind of gimmick in Chicago
Salt Lake Tribune eliminates one-third of newsroom jobs
The awful economics of metro-scale newspapers are having a serious effect
There won't be a Chicago Spire, but two smaller (but big) towers instead
Laudably, they're being designed with setbacks
May 17, 2018
Obama Presidential Center gets first of many needed Chicago city approvals
The city's planning commission approved the center, so next it goes to the zoning commission. It's a half-billion-dollar plan, so there's understandable interest.
Google sister company Jigsaw says it can protect political campaigns against cyberattack
Wired reports that Jigsaw "will start offering free protection from distributed denial of service attacks to US political campaigns".
How to tell if it's "Laurel" or "Yanny"
An ambiguous synthesized pronunciation of the word "laurel" sounds like "yanny", depending on the characteristics of the speakers through which it plays. Finding out where the sound crosses over from one to the other is a passing exercise in mass culture, the likes of which are rare now that people watch fewer things in common than in the past.
Mortgage interest rates are rising (they're still low by historic standards, but they're at a 7-year high), so it's a big market for sellers of residential real estate
Apparent "swatting" incident in West Des Moines
Someone called 911 from a Jiffy Lube in Austin, Texas, to plant a fake report that sent a swarm of police to a house in West Des Moines in pursuit of a murder that hadn't happened
May 18, 2018
China disclaims plans to cut trade surplus with US
US authorities claimed that China had agreed to cut its trade surplus to the United States by $200 billion. Chinese outlets with quasi-official government status have declared to the contrary. A $200 billion cut would be large and dramatic -- not to mention difficult for both economies to accommodate. It's hard to imagine China voluntarily reducing its economic output by $145 per person without some kind of massive compensation in return. And it's almost certain that such cuts would have a huge impact on both the US consumer and producer markets.
Triplets: Identical twins, plus a fraternal
As adults, the three all work in the same hospital -- the one where they were born. Quite a story.
An uncompromising view: "Those who break the law will face on-the-spot fines of up to €750". The bill appears to have passed in France's lower legislative chamber and is headed to the upper chamber for approval.
Former Secretary of State has harsh words for his former boss
Rex Tillerson, to the graduating class at VMI: "It is only by a fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic free society [...] If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as a people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on the pathway to relinquishing our freedom."
Job losses to steel tariffs could get very real
"We could lose 50 to 60 jobs easily", says the chair of a Nebraska company that depends on steel to make parts. Even domestic steel has risen in price under the threat of tariffs (for what else should anyone have expected?), and that's a "tremendous burden" to the company. Hardly an isolated situation.
Chicago's distinctive Wrigley Building sells for $255 million
A massive eight times its sale price in 2011. But, sure, everything's perfectly normal in the real-estate market.
Ten people murdered in Texas high-school shooting
Another instance of violence in the ongoing public-health emergency of violence in American schools. This would be a very good time to examine the "No Notoriety" movement -- which asks the media to refrain from publicizing the name, likeness, or ideas of any mass murderer unless necessary to aid in an apprehension. Mass killings have an element of social contagion, so there is a role for media outlets to play in stopping the spread.
Bill Gates tried talking the President out of an anti-vaccine commission
The damage that could be done by a Federal government quest to discredit vaccines is almost unfathomable
May 19, 2018
Seattle's going to charge a few big companies $275 per employee as a special head tax
The money will be used for low-income housing and homelessness-related programs. Unsurprisingly, Amazon and Starbucks aren't pleased. The tax is to be collected annually from 2019 until 2023.
President Trump wants the US Postal Service to punish Amazon
This cannot be viewed apart from an apparent vendetta against Jeff Bezos, who started Amazon and who (separately) owns the Washington Post (which isn't gentle to the President, nor should it be). The President does not deserve credit for reportedly donating his government salary if he is simultaneously using the government to advance his own personal business agenda or to punish others for behavior he doesn't like. It's not consistent.
Air conditioning or allergy medication?
The people speak (in a totally unscientific survey): They want A/C
Royal wedding illustrates some of the crazier aspects of British immigration law
The extraordinary case of an American becoming a member of the House of Windsor shows just how many hoops a person in Britain must jump through in order to marry a foreigner for love
Why don't we have a technological solution to children being left in hot cars?
There has to be a technological solution to this. Maybe a motion sensor tied to a thermometer and a small cell that dials 911? It can't be too hard or too expensive for Silicon Valley to figure out. We need this to prevent tragedies. While it is evident that technological answers to the problem could end up having unintended consequences (like making some parents less careful), that line of reason mainly reinforces the case for making sure that technologists have a firm grasp on the humanity of the issues on which they work -- from the social implications to the human factors involved.
A truck traveling down the highway with a ladder barely clinging to the bed
Chuck Yeager salutes "The Right Stuff" author Tom Wolfe
One of the few movies that can turn any red-blooded American misty-eyed.
Federalist 39: Read it. Learn it. Love it.
The one-paragraph answer to every cheap shot taken at the Electoral College or the nature of the Senate: We have a Federal government, not a national one.
Can we compel ourselves to promote the classical-liberal order without the threat of war?
Conservatives need to reject blind traditionalism, and the left has to resist the urge to recycle demonstrably failed experiments. The vigorous generation of new ideas (not just new policies) is good for everyone.
When Chicago restaurants serve non-Chicago-style pizza
Deep dish needs sauce
As the old IBM posters said: "THINK!"
Logically, shouldn't the exit door from the fire stairs on the ground floor have a panic bar that opens outward? In a fire, nobody's coming in and climbing up (other than firefighters).
The US has ambassadors in a third of the world and special forces in three-fourths
As Dwight Eisenhower said: "Our concern over these affairs illustrates forcibly the old truism that political considerations can never be wholly separated from military ones and that war is a mere continuation of political policy in the field of force."
Even New Orleans isn't 170' below sea level
It's low-lying, but not that low-lying
A cryptocurrency "mining" computer that doubles as a space heater
When the byproduct of something is so much entropy that it could heat a room, then that thing needs to justify itself in a much bigger way than cryptocurrency ever has. Cryptocurrency is a mania, not a paradigm shift.
"Four bearded tenors trying to harmonize while one of them tickles a banjo ironically" is NOT a subgenre of alternative rock. Stop playing that crap on alternative rock stations.
"The turducken of New Urbanism"
A proposal is out to convert a big abandoned office complex in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, into a "metroburb" -- a micro-suburb within a sprawling building
The Republican Party can't afford to chain itself to an ethnic identity
Conservatism's roots in individual dignity should be conservatism's main appeal to people of all backgrounds: A belief in pluralism and the security of individual liberty, as goods in themselves -- regardless of race or faith or color or origin.
May 20, 2018
One-paragraph book review: "Social Engineering: The art of human hacking"
A long slog through an important subject, but unfriendly to the non-specialist reader
May 21, 2018
One-paragraph book review: "Crusade in Europe"
Strongly recommended for anyone interested in history, war strategy, or leadership
May 23, 2018
NFL will require players to stand for the National Anthem or teams will face fines
But let's ask some serious questions: Will the NFL do anything to actively address the problems that players sought to highlight with their gestures during the anthem? Will the league do anything to counter the false narrative that players were protesting the flag or the anthem, rather than conducting a protest during the anthem but not directed at it? Will the league require players, coaches, and referees to salute the flag with hands over their hearts, as proscribed by Flag Code? Will the NFL cease the use of giant, field-covering flags as prop, which is behavior expressly in violation of Flag Code, which prohibits the flag from touching the ground or from being "carried flat or horizontally"? Will the NFL put its money where its mouth is and put a halt to all sales of food and beverages during the playing of the anthem (the 49ers are hinting they'll suspend sales in just such a manner)?
US trade negotiators want to cut visas for Canadians and Mexicans, too
Unless those workers have some kind of bizarrely low marginal propensity to consume, then letting them into the country to work has, broadly, an economy-expanding effect. The United States is the world's most powerful magnet for talent, and the more of it we attract, the stronger a country we are.
A man reports that Pope Francis expressed compassion for him when he revealed that he was gay, saying "God made you like this and loves you like this and it doesn't matter to me. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are." That might be the kind of statement that aggravates the doctrinal purists, but regardless of its conformance with dogma, the Pope's reported statement sounds everything like one of pastoral care and concern. The Pope is, after all, a priest. And one would hope that any priest faced with another human being's anguish would choose to demonstrate concern, respect, and love rather than beating that person about the head with a strict interpretation of doctrine.
Chicago City Council approves half-billion-dollar Obama Presidential Center
Only one alderman voted "no" -- because he objected to the $175 million the city is supposed to spend on infrastructure directly related to the center (with no plans for where the money will be found). And that's not a bad objection to muster. The tradition of building Presidential libraries is a neat one -- if they're sustainable projects with true educational and historic merit, and not just giant monuments to ego.
A look at Russia's crooked Facebook ads
Perhaps the biggest problem with the ads is their propensity to normalize really stupid, unthoughtful attitudes as a substitute for real thought
May 24, 2018
"Because it's about the flag, the censorship is even worse"
A thoughtful -- and conservative -- rebuttal to the NFL's plans to crack down on expression during the National Anthem
The President has abruptly cancelled his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong-Un
Census Bureau names the fastest-growing cities in America
Ankeny, Iowa, is #4. The growth rate has been pretty remarkable.
(Video) Making it out of concrete is pretty cool, and permits a one-day production cycle. But it's worth asking whether the constraint on building high-quality homes in poor places is a shortage of labor, the cost of materials, or something else. Is a 3D printer really removing an important constraint?
"You can go elsewhere for a job, but you cannot go elsewhere for a soul."
Senator Jeff Flake offers a pointed set of remarks at the Harvard Law School commencement ceremony
May 25, 2018
Federal government workers have lost track of 1,500 migrant children
They were separated from their parents by our draconian policy on border-crossing, and now it's unclear where 1,500 of them have gone. That's truly appalling. If this isn't a firing offense for people up and down the chain of command, what is? These are children we're talking about. Like the video of children being gassed in Syria, or like pictures of children being starved in Yemen, this story is a massive transgression that feels even worse to any reasonable person with little people at home whom they would defend with their very lives. A century ago, Herbert Hoover was known as the Great Humanitarian. Put aside anything you think about his Presidency -- as a private citizen, he had done more to rescue refugees and save young lives from starvation than anyone alive today. Where is our Hoover in 2018? Who is empowered to step up to solve these problems? Who is being invited to do so? Does anyone know where even to start?
China plays hardball with Taiwan
The Communist government on the mainland is engaged in a pressure and isolation campaign to put the screws to the Republic of China. And it's happening at a time of edgier relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China.
"As unlikely as this string of events is..."
How an Amazon Echo recorded a household conversation and sent the clip to a family acquaintance
A complaint from Britain that describes a problem often encountered in the US, too: Not enough nerds in the rooms where big decisions are made. Not everyone needs to be a technician...but at least a couple should be in the room, most of the time.
Nebraska drug bust uncovers enough fentanyl to kill 26 million people
In a time of big numbers, this one is huge
A dynamic display in the clouds
Storms bubbling up in Iowa
10 years after the Parkersburg EF-5 tornado
When the EF-5 is classed as total devastation, it's not an exaggeration
Overcrowded city life is overrated
There are certain opportunities available only in certain very large cities. But there are also hidden costs that go along with megalopolitan living that people too often overlook when evaluating whether to live there. For example: Getting out of New York City by road on a holiday weekend is a complete nightmare. Same for most other really large cities. The time spent in traffic in the biggest cities -- as compared with somewhat smaller cities that offer, say, 75% of the same amenities -- is an enormous toll to place on one's existence without some kind of compensation.
Defense Secretary Mattis addresses Air Force Academy graduates
"It is now your responsibility to ensure our adversaries know they should always prefer to talk to our Department of State, rather than face the US Air Force."
May 27, 2018
FBI asks if you'd kindly reboot your routers
Their request: "Foreign cyber actors have compromised hundreds of thousands of home and office routers and other networked devices worldwide. The actors used VPNFilter malware to target small office and home office routers."
May 29, 2018
"[B]aseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests"
The President's comfort level with conspiracy theories is not only much too high, it's a hazard to the public
"What will historians 50 years from now know that Trump and Kim do not now know about their own nuclear standoff?"
High stakes, limited information, and volatile personalities -- a combination that certainly amplifies the risk of something going wrong
Today's tech giants aren't forever
At least not if they face level playing fields of competition. But the story could turn out differently if companies like Google and Facebook are able to manipulate the rules in such a way that they become, either explicitly or implicitly, like public utilities.
Smartphone-driven miniature missiles
Lockheed Martin is developing a miniature missile, "roughly the size of a collapsed umbrella", intended to intercept drones and other small devices capable of putting a kinetic payload in the sky below the threshold of normal radar detection
EU considers banning single-use plastics
Plastic straws could be gone, and plastic bottles close behind them
May 30, 2018
There's nothing sane about steel and aluminum tariffs against our allies
To wreck the trade system like this is reckless, self-defeating, and not at all consistent with the supposed national-security purposes of the tariffs
Surveillance by China's domestic police is much worse than you think
A nation can get rich, but material wealth isn't worth much if it impoverishes the soul. The Communists there might be running a great power, but it isn't a good one.
New York Times shows sensible restraint
"[W]e intentionally didn't name any of the perpetrators" of school shootings. Good for them. It's clearly a problem with socially contagious effects, and doing anything to grant notoriety to the perpetrators contributes, even if unintentionally, to the problem.
Felled by a storm, the tree's cross section is going on display at the Wallace State Office Building
Former JC Penney CEO thinks 75% of shopping malls are doomed
He thinks the ones that will survive are the ones with Apple stores and Tesla branches
May 31, 2018
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is very, very displeased
He promises immediate and equivalent retaliation against President Trump's arbitrary tariffs. Sticking it to our allies is a stupid and short-sighted policy. As Senator Ben Sasse has noted, "Blanket protectionism is a big part of why we had a Great Depression." If you don't want to understand the problem with tariffs from an economic standpoint, then try at least to understand it from a historical one. Or even look at it from the perspective of the US aluminum industry, which itself opposes the tariffs.
"This short-term 'economic sugar high' cannot continue indefinitely"
That the US economy is performing well according to the current metrics is a fine thing that makes people feel good. But the growth rate has some artificial boosters behind it, and the fundamentals (which include a speedily deteriorating Federal budget picture and a lot of political risk) don't inspire confidence for the current rates to continue for long. And when that rate slips toward the historical/fundamental norms (or even turns south and dips into recession), the insulin crash following the sugar high is going to hurt.
"[N]o one really keeps track of the children placed in custody"
America is simultaneously doing two things that need urgent review and attention from officials with a moral compass: First, in the words of a writer at the Niskanen Center, "What changed was the enactment of the 'zero tolerance' policy that requires all parents who cross illegally be put in criminal proceedings, rather than the more expedient civil removal proceedings [...] even if they claim legal asylum." Second, we're seeing a failure in the quality and oversight of the system that is supposed to take responsibility for the welfare of the immigrant children who are in the government's care. Surely we can do better than this on both fronts.
Mercy plans a mental-health hospital in Clive
A community shouldn't be caught short-handed when it comes to dealing with traumas affecting the brain any more than it should be under-prepared for illnesses affecting other organs of the body. An expanded supply of patient beds (100 for inpatient care) would be a great development for the metro area.
An editor at MIT Technology Review takes the unusual (but entirely valid) step of listening back to what Alexa has recorded in her house. And it's a lot, including plenty of things she didn't command it to do.
Woman runs half-marathon in a suit
To win a Guinness world record. So now it's yoga pants at the store and suits on the track.
Imagine a 20th Century minus the two world wars. You can't, really, unless you can also imagine a 20th Century without the ideologies that triggered those wars. That is your simple proof that ideas matter. Fight the bad ideas with good ones, before it comes to arms.
June 1, 2018
The North Korea deal is an experiment in real time
Kori Schake: "[O]ur foreign policy successes have resulted not from outsized bets, but from cautiously capitalizing on opportunities [...] And that approach is antithetical to President Trump, especially since he doesn't appear to be winning."
Book review: "Suicide of the West" by Jonah Goldberg
We have the Enlightenment to thank for much (or even most) of what's good in our world today; Goldberg's book is a rousing reminder of that good
The great anti-tariff shirt is still for sale
What we really need is for Snoop Dogg to narrate this shirt. Seems to have worked for hockey, wildlife videos, and Martha Stewart.
The Trump Doctrine: No deal without a relationship
If everything comes down to a "relationship" between two leaders, there's never any room left for multilateral agreements. Fundamentally, multi-party agreements require submission to common rules, which is what makes them robust and effective. Rules work better than "relationships" for promoting a world order we desire. (And, it should be noted, the President is terrible at assessing who is a "friend" and who isn't. He is buttering up Kim Jong-Un while sticking a finger in Justin Trudeau's eye.)
Why does the President get to lie so much?
Tim Miller: "Trump has abused the media into grading him on the steepest of curves and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has proven time and again he deserves nothing but the most extreme scrutiny."
Loose lips sink economic ships
The President turned to Twitter to prematurely tease the release of economic data on unemployment figures. He was, of course, already in possession of the data, so he was treating it as a moment to promote himself -- but now he's created an expectation that when the figures are good, he'll say something about them. That's why this kind of data is treated with great secrecy. As economist Justin Wolfers asks, "Who wants to buy U.S. stocks, if you think there's a chance that you might be buying from someone who's selling based on Trump having said something to them on the phone last night?" Moreover, when the President is reckless with carefully-regulated information in public, it must be assumed (until evidence is delivered to the contrary) that he is even more reckless with it in private. The burden of proof is now squarely on the President and everyone in his orbit to prove that they are not engaging in self-enrichment by sharing privileged information -- or by attempting to manipulate financial markets to their own gain. There is no longer any room for the benefit of doubt.
Following one of the coldest Aprils, so the whiplash is palpable
Walking down the street with $100 bills hanging out of your pockets
The Department of Homeland Security has evidence of high-tech cellphone surveillance taking place around the White House. Not unrelated: The President still chooses not to follow adequate procedures to use a secure phone.
June 2, 2018
From a practical standpoint, this case is a great argument for the maximum diffusion of power via a federal system -- limiting the impact of officials who are corrupt or lacking in judgment. It also illustrates exactly why we should look first at governors (past and present) when searching for Presidential candidates. A governor's office is the next-best thing to an Oval Office simulator. It tests who shines or fails under scrutiny.
USGS: Please don't roast marshmallows over Hawaiian lava flows
One must hope Americans aren't really that dumb, but someone asked. Who among us hasn't stood over a lava flow, like a metaphorical Colossus bestride Madame Pele, demanding that the Goddess of Fire suit our mortal demands for a S'more?
Mitt Romney wrote in his wife for President in 2016
"I wrote in the name of a person who I admire deeply, who I think would be an excellent president"
MidAmerican Energy plans 100% renewable generation by 2020
The company will retain conventional generation capacity, but the company generates so much electricity from wind turbines that they'll be able to generate the equivalent of annual demand from renewable sources. Iowa: Where the corn, the tractors, and now the electricity, are all green.
Singapore Airlines launches world's longest flight in October
An Airbus A350-900 will go from Singapore to Newark, taking 19 hours to get there. Singapore, it should be noted, is a city-state of 5.5 million people, about half the geographic size of Polk County, Iowa, and with no special natural resources to its name. Point being: A free market under the rule of law can create quite a lot, even starting with very little.
June 11, 2018
A modest proposal: Every state names one of its own to be President, and we drawn the winner at random. New York serves a penalty suspension of four score and seven years for what it served up in 2016.
Chinese factory workers are drifting into the service sector
Oft-overlooked fact: Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and IT managers are all in the service sector. Whether a person's work produces a thing that fits in a box is a really arbitrary way to judge its value.
Are we victims of the G7? No way.
We're not the first generation to face economic challenges -- but we're among the first to have the choice to face them in cooperation with allies who share our values. That's a strategic advantage, not a weakness.
Insulting allies, sucking up to adversaries
Is this really why we pay taxes?
June 12, 2018
A paper was signed in Singapore -- but what?
Americans will, sooner or later, be privy to what was signed. But you can be sure the North Korean people will be fed a line of propaganda about "forcing the imperialists to acknowledge the indomitable might of the Juche Ideal" or somesuch. That's a win for Kim Jong Un -- at US expense.
Would you take a longer life (with high quality) if it required working longer?
There's no telling what's in store, but odds are good that the year 2100 will be amazing. Do people hate work? Over-discount extra quality years of life? Not really care that much about living? Attitudes on this will have a big impact on important policies -- like how we fund retirement programs and health care.
Women discover -- at age 72 -- that they were switched at birth
One of their mothers is still alive
A missed opportunity, perhaps, to demonstrate the Coriolis effect
Don't accept USBs from strangers
USB giveaways at the summit: Mating American weakness for free stuff to a super-convenient vector for putting really bad things on computers.
June 13, 2018
When asked by the Voice of America what message he would send to the North Korean people, President Trump responded with praise for Kim Jong Un and a self-adoring diversion about what great chemistry he felt with the dictator. His answer is a disgrace. He should have heeded the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism."
The Federal Reserve's crystal ball: The economy will cool down, but we're pretty hazy on when
Big picture: No one is really quite sure why the economy is in the condition it's in. That makes it pretty hard -- even for the Federal Reserve -- to say how long it'll stay that way, especially with big structural risks lying in the weeds. What happens if oil prices keep rising? What happens if we get into a circular firing squad of tariffs? What happens if POTUS hints at defaulting on Federal debt? What happens if China moves against Taiwan? And what happens if our titanic Federal debt (and underfunded obligations) isn't reined in?
A ballot proposal (called "CA-3") would divide California into three states. Until American politics cool off a bit, efforts like this should be treated as if they were foreign influence campaigns designed to stir up division and create strife...because there is a very real, non-zero chance that's what's going on. Anyone with a marginal familiarity with history ought to recognize the maxim "divide et impera" -- divide and rule.
A vignette about separating children from their parents
We face a public-policy choice right now about the treatment of foreign children. That bears serious scrutiny. We need to remember the regret we as a country should feel over our similar policy choices circa 1938. The violence in places like El Salvador may not be state-run, but it is on a huge scale, and the kids who flee from it are true refugees. They deserve humane treatment as such. During WWI, Herbert Hoover led a US program to deliver food aid to people in occupied Belgium so they could avoid a famine. We helped because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the legal circumstances surrounding the German occupation. Americans don't have to wait for perfect law and order before choosing to do what is right, just, and compassionate. If the extraordinarily daunting nature of the journey is not itself enough of a deterrent to keep people from trying, then what good comes of us applying cruelty on top of it? In a quest to be a "great" country, we shouldn't torch the values and practices that make us good.
This "enemy of the people" nonsense must stop
The President's antipathy towards the free press looks especially nefarious in contrast to his fawning over North Korea's dictator
June 15, 2018
"The Trump Doctrine is winning and the world is losing"
Stellar opinion writing by Kori Schake. The world order isn't an all-you-can-eat buffet where our allies stuff themselves and the US foots the bill. It's like a buying club where, by pooling our resources, we all ultimately pay less. A Costco for Peace, if you will.
During WWII, when the United States had less than half the population we do today, we managed to humanely accommodate 400,000 POWs from the Axis countries -- on American soil. With leadership and imagination, we can find humane ways to accommodate refugees today.
How much erosion from the latest rains?
It turns out, quite a bit. Soil, once lost, is really hard to replace. Really, really hard.
After the "MPR raccoon" story, an unfortunate counter: Police in Bismarck are investigating a report of a hamster being thrown from a building. It may sound trivial, but anyone who demonstrates unrepentant cruelty to animals might very well have the same depth of cruelty with other humans.
That's one place to put a lawn chair
The Platte River in Nebraska is so wide and shallow that people wander out to the middle of it and plant their chairs on sandbars
June 16, 2018
Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 16, 2018
Broadcasting live at 2:00 pm
Are we in a "prewar" moment, a "postwar" decline, or something else?
Nobody is offering a grand vision of aspiration at the national level. In its absence, we get petty animosity and small ideas amplified to 11. We can and should be better, but we need narratives selling why and how.
June 19, 2018
Who's the disingenuous party here?
China's ambassador to Australia accuses the Aussies of having a "cold war mentality". Nevermind that Australia has more than adequate reason for concern over Chinese influence campaigns (attempting to manipulate elections and even local-level governments) and abundant cause for concern over China's aggressive posture in the South China Sea. Look for this rhetorical tactic to show up again and again: A sort of geostrategic gaslighting.
Separating children from their parents at the border isn't an immigration policy -- it's an act of cruelty
What is being done in our name as a country merits protests to Congress. As John Stuart Mill wrote: "A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy [barbarism] must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it."
We don't have a lot of options in case the economy turns south
The demand for happy talk is endless, but economics requires grappling with cold, hard reality. We not only have a shortage of tools for stimulating an economy gone bad, we also have politicians bent on doing things that will actively make the economy worse. And with politicians engaging in a "lurch toward protectionism", the anxiety created by today's dumb behavior in a fair economy will linger even after we muster the will to turn back away from protectionism and re-embrace free trade. Much of the damage is done just by the threat. In the words of Milton and Rose Friedman, "Competition in masochism and sadism is hardly a prescription for sensible international economic policy!" Tit-for-tat tariffs are madness.
Walgreen's replaces General Electric on the DJIA
Really taking the "industrial" out of the "Dow Jones Industrial Average", aren't we? Creative destruction is a cruel thing.
June 20, 2018
Handing over the keys to the GOP
Absent a change like fusion voting or ranked-preference ballots, a two-party system is basically inevitable under America's first-past-the-post electoral system. So while it may be a respectable choice for people to resign from their parties in protest, whoever remains tends to get control of the infrastructure that's generally necessary to win elections. It's time for people who have historically been aligned with the Republican Party to think hard (and speak up) about what the party should stand for. The utter vacuity of the man in the Oval Office and the shapelessness of whatever Trumpism is conspire to make it insufficient to be just "Never Trump" or "Anti-Trump". Necessary, maybe. But insufficient. He is a void, so what follows must not also be a void.
Atul Gawande picked to head up Berkshire Hathaway/Amazon/JP Morgan health company
His book "The Checklist Manifesto" is one of the best books on cognition. He's tackling a giant project here, but possesses a well-qualified mindset for the job.
Being serious about immigration doesn't require being cruel or indifferent
A lucid, temperate, and humane opinion on immigration from Jonah Goldberg that ought to occupy the mainstream of public opinion: "[S]o long as there are very poor countries, very poor people will understandably want to move here."
An 8-month-old baby taken from his parents
An utterly breathtaking account of what kind of stress the family-separation approach places on children. An 8-month-old infant is utterly helpless -- and anyone who would bend over backwards to defend a bad policy instead of defending the child is a scoundrel. As the Bloomberg editorial board opined, "The cause of better policy, and the reputation of the United States, aren't served by willful cruelty directed at innocent children. This deplorable strategy should end immediately. Trump started it, and Trump can stop it."
Business can be a guardian of a free and open society
United Airlines says it won't fly separated children for the government
Worthy causes on this day: Catholic Relief Services and the UN High Commission for Refugees
"We're Generation X, and we've had it up to here with your attitude."
Emmanuel Macron castigates a punk kid who got a little too familiar
June 21, 2018
The shame of a family-separation policy lingers well after its suspension
The Economist: "The history of America's moral corrections suggests that what they lack in spontaneity they make up for with momentum."
SCOTUS opens door for states to collect Internet sales taxes
Scientists at UCSD are making Neanderthal mini-brains (organiods) out of stem cells and recovered Neanderthal DNA. The list of questions it raises is long. The research is aimed at studying the features of our brains that make us social animals, but these are proto-brains, after all. It's argued that the organoid brains can't think and have no sensory inputs, but studies (including some driven by biotechnologies like CRISPR) are pushing on the boundaries of what needs strict ethical scrutiny.
"Two of the top three export destinations for U.S. pork have added a tariff in retaliation of United States tariffs"
Trade warring is very real
"He resumed the plough with industry"
Having won the war with violence, the newly independent Americans secured the peace with their productivity
June 22, 2018
Train derailment in northwest Iowa spills crude oil into flooded river
EU imposes counter-tariffs on American goods
Steel, clothing, makeup, bourbon, and more. What genius put it in the President's head that import taxes are a good idea at just the moment when the Baby Boomers (the largest generation) are moving en masse into their fixed-income retirement years? The President wants to slap 20% tariffs on European cars now, apparently ignorant of the fact that BMW and Mercedes build cars in the United States.
George Will memorializes Charles Krauthammer
Colorized photo of a young Auschwitz prisoner
Stripping these photos of their colorlessness takes away the psychological distance that can allow us to let down our guard against present-day evil. Colorizing history isn't always a good idea, but sometimes it has merit.
Brett Favre wants no more youth tackle football
Huge ranges in college attainment levels just miles apart
Iowa has some counties where about 60% of adults have at least an associate's degree. Not far away -- and sometimes immediately adjacent -- are counties where the rates are in the 20% range. The gap is most substantial for the most rural counties, and that could make it hard to hit a statewide goal of getting 70% of adults through some kind of post-secondary training or education by 2025. A four-year degree isn't for everyone, but the vast majority of people will need some kind of post-secondary education if they want a reasonable level of material economic comfort.
Charles Krauthammer passes away
He wasn't always right (who is?), but when he was right, he was quite usually spot-on.
June 23, 2018
Radio show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 23, 2018
Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 to 4:00 Central