Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


March 17, 2018

Threats and Hazards "50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach"

The Guardian reveals a stunning whistleblower claim that Cambridge Analytica used data on 50 million Facebook users -- data that was obtained in contravention of Facebook policies, using "personality test" apps that collected data not only on the user, but on the user's friends as well. And then Facebook was slow to fix the problem: They claim to have acted in 2015, but didn't go on to suspend the parties involved until this week. The New York Times reports that "Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove." This is a huge warning on lots of levels: To resist the urge to share too much online; to hold Facebook and other social media tools at arm's length (they're not your friends); to resist the urge to fall for the lure of "personality tests" tied to tools like Facebook; to know that third parties might collect information on you even if you didn't engage with them; to suspect anyone who claims to be collecting information online for "academic research"; and for a hundred other reasons. Data is being weaponized, and regardless of this particular case, that is only bound to accelerate.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Des Moines metro got 8" of snow overnight

Other places, not 20 miles away, got less than half an inch

Threats and Hazards Former acting FBI director is fired just before retirement

And then the President turned to Twitter to openly taunt him. It doesn't seem wise for a President under investigation to mock people like Andrew McCabe and James Comey, but perhaps his lawyers have a creative defense strategy up their sleeves.

Humor and Good News A new album is out from Stone Temple Pilots

And Generation X rejoiced



March 16, 2018

The United States of America Why you should read "Safe Passage"

The shape of our world today is no accident. Its shape tomorrow ought not to be an accident, either.

News Embedded diamonds instead of engagement rings?

Just because a reporter can find a half-dozen people who do something doesn't make that thing a trend. And while picking on Millennials for sport is a joy of being in Generation X, this really isn't a generational thing. It's just some isolated instances of people being dumb.

Business and Finance A US Senator who gets the big picture

Sen. Ben Sasse demonstrates again (this time in an address to the Heritage Foundation) that the economy isn't served by going back to the 1950s

Threats and Hazards So much stupidity concentrated into one interview

Everyone trying to remain in the public eye has a choice: Whether to be thought-provoking...or mindlessly provocative. The nonsense captured in the Spectator interview with Steve Bannon is definitively of the latter type.

News Justice Department fires former acting FBI director just before he retires with pension

Whether or not there was true merit to the dismissal of Andrew McCabe, openly taunting some of the nation's highest-ranking law-enforcement officers after you fire them probably isn't the most effective way to demonstrate innocence.


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March 15, 2018

Threats and Hazards Sounding the alarm

There is a tension in having the President act both as head of government and head of state. Senator Jeff Flake is right to sound the alarm that the part about being head of state isn't being taken seriously. Preserving the dignity of the office as a tool of moral suasion is one of the reasons why so many people were interested in punishing President Bill Clinton for his bad behavior in office -- it wasn't a matter of policy, it was a matter of behavior. President Barack Obama conducted himself generally quite well as a head of state, but made a lot of errors as head of government. Today, it's entirely incomplete for people to approve of President Donald Trump's policies in government when his words and behavior as head of state are reprehensible. It's time for a pro-civic wing of the Republican Party to speak up and demand accountability for the duties of a head of state.

Business and Finance The US only has a trade deficit with Canada if you exclude services

And excluding services is a ridiculous way to count economic output. Can we all just take a minute to reflect on the anachronism of thinking that goods are somehow better outputs than services? Any parent who has ever encouraged their kid to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer has revealed a preference for providing services. Goods and services need one another -- you can't build a bridge without designing it, too. Someone makes a pair of shoes, and someone else sells them. Boeing can build an airplane, but Delta has to fly it.

Business and Finance Where do traded dollars go when we are a net importer?

A hypothesis: Agglomerative network effects could neutralize the ordinarily negative effects of trade deficits. Suppose we run a trade deficit with country "B", buying things that help increase our growth rate. Country "B" returns some of the resulting cash surplus here, buying property or firms (maybe at inflated prices) that only exist because of the high growth rate in the first place. In a framework where certain imports of goods or services end up contributing to the creation of capital (of which some is sold to the exporting parties), the trade deficit might be more of a catalyst than a cost. In the short run, we show a current-accounts deficit; in the long term, the resulting capital creation (and thus future productive potential) is much greater than the proportion of the capital stock that is sold off to repatriate the dollars exchanged in trade early on. This would depend, though, on the US market having certain characteristics making it a uniquely high-return locaion for investment.

Threats and Hazards Russian cyberattacks compromise power and water plants in the US and Europe

A Symantec executive says "They have the ability to shut the power off. All that's missing is some political motivation". One particular piece of the New York Times report puts the problem in stark terms: "[A]t least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg 'troll farm' known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations." That doesn't preclude the possibility of yet other operations, as well. That's what makes the use of cyberwarfare so unnerving: It involves asymmetries between the inputs required and the outputs it can create. Thus it is highly attractive to those parties that calculate a low cost (in terms of retaliation) for high potential gain. This might be a good time for private and public parties in places like the United States to consider having a backup plan, like secondary operating systems.

News Queen Elizabeth "consents" to her grandson's marriage

Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952. Imagine if we were talking today about Harry Truman (POTUS in 1952) "giving consent" to permit his grandson to marry an actress from the UK. The institution itself is such a peculiar artifact of past civilizational habits that it's interesting to superimpose their order on our facts and see how it would look. All monarchies (even parliamentary ones) are a bit silly -- but if their political gravity didn't matter, they would be republics by now. There's an implicit public consent to the status quo which itself is a form of political power.

News Putting "savings" into Daylight Saving Time

Give us back the hour -- with interest!