Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


June 2, 2018

News Missouri's governor resigns

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.

Weather and Disasters 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?

News 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"

Iowa 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.

Aviation News 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.


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June 1, 2018

Threats and Hazards 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."

News 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

Humor and Good News 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.)

News 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."

Business and Finance 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.

Weather and Disasters May was Iowa's hottest ever

Following one of the coldest Aprils, so the whiplash is palpable

Threats and Hazards 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.



May 31, 2018

News 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.

Business and Finance "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.

News "[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.

Iowa 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.

Computers and the Internet Alexa is listening

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.

Humor and Good News 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.

News Ideas matter, as much as ever

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.



May 30, 2018

Threats and Hazards 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

Threats and Hazards 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.

News 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.

Agriculture A 440-year-old white oak

Felled by a storm, the tree's cross section is going on display at the Wallace State Office Building

Business and Finance 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 29, 2018

Threats and Hazards "[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

Threats and Hazards "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

Computers and the Internet 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.

Aviation News 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

News EU considers banning single-use plastics

Plastic straws could be gone, and plastic bottles close behind them