Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


December 15, 2018

Humor and Good News Important life advice: Never trust a drummer who isn't slightly insane

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.



December 14, 2018

News Things have to be pretty bad before a person would chance a dangerous journey with a 2-year-old

(Video) And yet, that's what's happening and causing people to flee from Honduras

Threats and Hazards The real threat from Chinese hackers

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."

News Ballard's search for Titanic was a cover story

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.



December 13, 2018

News To tell the truth

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.

News What Pitbull has done to "Africa" is unforgivable

Some songs are great covers. The new cover/overaggressive sample of "Africa" (originally by Toto) is an ear-splitting train wreck.



December 12, 2018

Threats and Hazards Standing by the wrong team

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.

Threats and Hazards A prediction we should hope is wrong

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.

Iowa Iowa State Patrol targets tailgaters on I-35

High-speed tailgating is a really stupid risk to take

News What will a deep dive into Trump Organization finances reveal?

What you own is often much less important than who you owe.

Humor and Good News Santa-style arms races

The "Elf on a Shelf" thing is really just a bit out of hand in some quarters


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

December 11, 2018

Computers and the Internet Online trouble doesn't end with Facebook and Twitter

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.

Science and Technology Simulating surname extinction

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.

Threats and Hazards Only the moderate Congressional Republicans lost in November

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.

News "Who is going to pay?"

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."

Health Sudoku won't save your brain

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.

Humor and Good News Police officer scales building like Spider-Man to save family from burning condo

The story (with body-cam video) will absolutely set your hair standing on end.

Computers and the Internet Technology depends on people who think about how it is used

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?

Threats and Hazards The national debt is still a problem. A big one.

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.

Science and Technology It's called "safety factor"

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.

Threats and Hazards It matters whether your allies are monsters

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.



December 10, 2018

Computers and the Internet Careful where you put that pyramid

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.

The United States of America A tribute to Bush (41) and modesty

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.

Computers and the Internet Speeding up the euthanization of Google+

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.

Business and Finance Old GM plants could become new Tesla factories

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.)

Broadcasting Another new owner for WGN-AM in Chicago?

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.

News What's the point of assigning gender colors to toys?

If you're boxing kids into artificially gender-specific toys, you're probably stifling their creative play.

Health Know your expertise

Not everything is a matter worthy of a survey. That includes whether something is a good immunooncology biomarker.

Business and Finance What is a company without any assets?

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.

News The criminal charges resulting from the Mueller special counsel investigation

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."

Business and Finance Do markets have morals?

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.