Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


July 22, 2018

Threats and Hazards Diplomacy shouldn't be conducted via late-night angry tweet

What's going on doesn't make sense



July 21, 2018

The United States of America Some favorite Presidents

The obvious choices: Lincoln and Washington. Other very good names: Eisenhower, Coolidge, and T Roosevelt. Those who should be lauded for the totality of their contribution to the public good (even if they weren't necessarily great Presidents): Hoover, Grant, Madison, Jefferson, and J Adams. All compare favorably with the one who merely thinks he's the "favorite President".

Computers and the Internet Garbage in, (inexplicable quasi-religious) garbage out

If you put a bunch of nonsense into Google Translate, it might just spit out something that looks like it came from the Book of Revelation

Health The first test-tube baby is 40

How's that for a cultural touchstone?

Health Antibiotic resistance is growing and research is in the decline

If antibiotics have moved into "public goods" territory, we might have to start subsidizing them in the public interest.

Iowa Ragbrai is about to begin

A warning to motorists in Iowa for the next week

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 21, 2018

Broadcast and streaming live from 2pm to 4pm Central



July 20, 2018

Business and Finance The President has learned nothing about economics

He tweets: "[Monetary] Tightening now hurts all that we have done. The U.S. should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates - Really?" His policies (like intervening in specific industries and with specific companies, pulling out of multilateral trade agreements, and imposing import taxes) are not working as imagined because they are bad policies, but instead of acknowledging that they are bad, he's doubling down and demanding more. And the further steps he might take -- like trying to pressure the Federal Reserve using the power of his office, or threatening to default on the Federal debt -- are things that would be unimaginable under any sensible President with a basic grasp of economics. But those basic assumptions are completely in error with President Trump. And he is at a most basic level incapable of admitting error, so he'll likely make many more bad decisions before he is through. He is obsessed with bilateral agreements and thinks that we somehow need to be in trade balance (or surplus) with each individual country around the world. That's nonsense, and his refusal to learn is an ongoing threat to the economy. In Federalist 53, they anticipated the damage that could be done by government powers that didn't understand what they tried to control: "How can foreign trade be properly regulated by uniform laws, without some acquaintance with the commerce, the ports, the usages, and the regulations of the different States?"

Threats and Hazards The most perverse outcome

Unpredictability, inconsistency, and reckless communication have conspired to potentially create a worst-case scenario of perverse incentives: Trade war leading to a kinetic arms race. Chinese leaders are wondering if the President would take them more seriously on trade issues if they had an arsenal of weapons more like the one possessed by Russia.

Weather and Disasters Cars are not safe places in a tornado

Photographic evidence, should anyone have needed it

Humor and Good News Lucky breaks

Dwight Eisenhower: "The doctrine of opportunism, so often applicable in tactics, is a dangerous one to pursue in strategy." In other words: Take advantage of every lucky break you get, but never count on getting them.

Iowa Staff gets Marshalltown newspaper published even after a tornado

Three cheers for dedicated local journalists, documenting the damage and the cleanup even when their own resources are depleted



July 19, 2018

Weather and Disasters Video shows large tornado going right through center of Marshalltown, Iowa

The local newspaper uses "devastated" to describe conditions in Marshalltown after the tornado. For it to have damaged downtown, the hospital, and the JBS plant means it must have been reasonably wide: perhaps 1/2 mile in diameter. And that looks about the size in the video taken from near the Hy-Vee, looking at the courthouse. Tornadoes also hit Bondurant and Pella. Pella's local newspaper indicates that the Vermeer plant was hit hard but that employees had taken shelter -- which was good, because cars were tossed around the parking lot.

Iowa Marshalltown newspaper decamps to nearby town to get the paper out

The news editor is from Marshalltown and just started the job ten days ago. Local news is indispensable to a community, and an event like the tornado in Marshalltown is why.

Weather and Disasters What the new satellites saw of the day's storms

New satellite capabilities might end up being very useful in augmenting severe weather forecasting and detection.

News "The press needs to be anti-partisan"

A perspective from Mike Masnick, editor of TechDirt. An interesting perspective, but it probably doesn't need to be quite so complicated. Good news reporting always comes back to good questions. So if news reporting is unsatisfactory, then the first place to look is the questions: Are good ones being asked? "News" is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo. Everything else is either "events" or "information". While there are plenty of events to document and informational items to share, those aren't really news. When news (properly defined) is being reported, it ought to illuminate something important that somehow changes whatever was "known" before. It's hard to do that if one starts with a conclusion or a mission in mind. Questions like "Don't you think..." or "Wouldn't you say..." aren't authentic news questions. Nor are questions that rely upon restating someone's untruths or disinformation. Nor are questions that permit the subject to spread a falsehood unchallenged. When the status quo includes disinformation, lies, or falsehoods, then we don't need reporters on a mission to be "anti-partisan", per se -- but we need them to ask questions that change what we know about that status quo.

Threats and Hazards The President was told about Russian attacks on the election process in January 2017

Would his responses -- which have been a cavalcade of denials and deflections -- be different if the person issuing the orders had been Xi Jinping? Or Hassan Rouhani?

Science and Technology Congress needs more nerds

A strong case for re-funding the Office of Technology Assessment. Oftentimes the best money government can spend is on appropriate oversight and qualified professional advice. We also need more elected officials who themselves come from technical backgrounds -- engineers, programmers, scientists, and so on.

Humor and Good News Product placement

Maybe it's out of necessity (hard surfaces, power outlets, and available water), but it still seems wrong for hotels to place coffee makers inside their toilet rooms.


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July 18, 2018

Computers and the Internet EU official announces non-trivial penalty against Google

It's an antitrust-type action. But will it actually achieve the intended effects?

Humor and Good News Richard Marx: "I misspoke"

When pop-culture icons of the past redeem themselves with sly critiques of the present. What the President tried to erase by claiming he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would" is not undone by the record of what else he said.

Threats and Hazards Vladimir Putin wants to "interview" a former US ambassador to Russia, and the White House hasn't unequivocally said "no"

This ought to represent an inviolable red line to anyone in Congress. Or the Cabinet. There is no acceptable answer to this request -- which also included Putin critic Bill Browder -- other than "absolutely not" (unless one chooses a more colorful and forceful way to say it).

News Court tosses California trifurcation vote from the November ballot

Good -- this is not the time for arbitrary and highly divisive internal questions. Whatever the merits of smaller administrative units may or may not be, this is not the time nor the civic environment to argue them.

Science and Technology A pledge against building killer AI is only noble on the surface

Strategic theorist Kori Schake asks, "[I]s anybody exploring the asymmetric vulnerabilities this will create if our adversaries don't likewise constrain themselves?" Nobody wants to build killer robots...but if you have an adversary who might, then you probably shouldn't take all your options off the table. At the very least, we need to actively grapple with the technology, the rules, and the ethics.

Threats and Hazards How can the President misunderstand so much about NATO?

In suggesting that Montenegro is composed of "very aggressive people" who might trigger "World War III", he lays plain that he doesn't get the point of a common security commitment. In the Civil War era, people formed Union Leagues to promote the cause -- is it time for us to start organizing local NATO Leagues?

Weather and Disasters Getting a little close to severe weather

Very strong thunderstorms -- including a large rotating band in contact with the ground -- up close and personal, around Kearney, Nebraska.

Computers and the Internet When Twitter will be better

Looking forward to the day when Twitter has an advanced search that permits a search for "rabbi with a Confucian streak and a sarcastic sense of humor". (In part because that day ought to come after they've found a way to nuke the trolls and mal-bots.)

Aviation News The only true chemtrails are the ones that come out of a crop duster

And, boy, are those crop dusters a lot of fun to watch


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July 17, 2018

Threats and Hazards He said "would"

It was insulting when Bill Clinton tried to split hairs over the definition of the word "is". It is insulting now that Donald Trump thinks he can revise history to change "would" to "wouldn't". The President was humiliated in front of a global audience, particularly by his public dismissal of US intelligence services and the US Department of Justice in favor of his naive embrace of the empty words of a known adversary. That is behavior beneath contempt.

News Russian state malfeasance undermines the future of a normal Russia-US relationship

Russia's tactical success at assaulting US elections may end up as a strategic catastrophe -- because what near-term future President has any incentive to treat the Russian government with goodwill?

Threats and Hazards Tariff madness is already backfiring

The persistent costs of tariff madness are going to hang around a whole lot longer than the sugar-rush stimulus of the tax cut.



July 16, 2018

Threats and Hazards Stand for something, lest you fall for anything

The President, insistent on his own instincts, chooses the denials of Vladimir Putin over the evidence (and the advice of everyone who matters) that Russia actively attacked American electoral processes. His press conference beside Putin was profoundly embarrassing: An apology tour, a plea of submission, and a declaration of surrender all rolled into one 60-second clip. It is almost certainly the most cowardly declaration ever issued by someone who has taken the Constitutional oath of office. Today illustrates why we need to work -- fast -- to develop the kind of vocabulary and mental framework for understanding cyberwar that we already have for kinetic war. We have been attacked and remain under attack, and that's not a "both sides are to blame" thing. If the President can't or won't grapple with the complexity and gravity of cyberattack, he should make way for someone who will.

Threats and Hazards No interrogation needed

The United States doesn't need to question the Russians who, as a state activity, conducted a cyber-campaign against the United States in 2016. The indictments make it quite clear that we have them on the evidence. And to imagine that there is some kind of parity with those who have challenged Putin's autocratic ways and sought refuge here is to be as gullible as a child. When the President whines about the state of US-Russia relations, it's an abomination. If he were merely ignorant of history, that would be shameful. But he chooses to be ignorant of the present, which is inexcusable.

Humor and Good News Cutting down an evergreen tree

It can give a person Cub Scout flashbacks


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