Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

December 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards Why Secretary Mattis resigned

In the words of Bret Stephens: "Mattis also resigned because he has concluded that the problem with Trump isnít that he's an empty vessel. Itís that he's a malignant one." Mattis's resignation is a powerful sign and a significant gauntlet to be thrown down. It does nothing to counter the narrative that the President is thin-skinned and incapable of managing people well that he has decided to force Mattis out early.

Threats and Hazards The President is taking Turkish advice above his own Defense Secretary

It's truly incredible. The President already has a problem with keeping civil-military relations on the right track domestically. But now he's revealing a preference for foreign authoritarians over his own professional warriors. Maybe it's time to stock up on canned goods.

Threats and Hazards What is the Secretary of the Treasury doing with urgent Sunday phone calls?

The calls -- seeking to offer reassurance to major banks about the liquidity of the financial system -- wouldn't be necessary if not for a totally unnecessary Federal government shutdown and Presidential threats to try to fire the Fed chair. The administration has no one to blame but the guy who wasted his Sunday afternoon taunting Bob Corker.

News Nine last-minute gift ideas that could save Christmas

Especially for that person who has everything

Threats and Hazards Two years in, the President is growing more isolated by the day

Ever been around when a family has to take away a driver's license from a senior family member? Nobody wants to do it, and everyone sidesteps the issue, usually until something truly dangerous happens. It's like that, except this particular senior has the nuclear launch codes. Some are asking whether the Mattis resignation truly signals such a terrible warning, and whether he would leave the job if he thought it left the country in real peril. Think of Secretary Mattis like a fighter pilot in a plane that has been hit: If he thinks it's recoverable, he'll struggle to make it to a landing strip. But if so much additional fire comes in that the wings are lost, he has no choice but to punch out. The danger exists either way.

December 22, 2018

Threats and Hazards Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns: Sound the general alarm

President Trump was hired for his own job in part because many voters trusted him when he said he would hire "the best people". And by most accounts, that's what he got in James Mattis. But President Trump never warned us he'd be so terrible at keeping "the best people" around. This is a seriously troubling development.

Weather and Disasters Volcano causes tsunami in Indonesia

Dozens of people have been killed; possibly more

Business and Finance Manufacturing may come back to the States. Manufacturing jobs may not.

Automation is changing the economic prospects for domestic production, but automation won't create a lot of old-style factory jobs. Paradigm shifts are the hardest to sell. We have so many people emotionally invested in a smokestack-economy vision of manufacturing that even progress like this will instigate blowback.

News Small towns deserve better than cheap stereotypes

It's great to see people thoughtfully sticking up for their communities

The United States of America Radio Free GOP is back

The gods, having taken away the Weekly Standard, have seen fit to grant us a new episode of "Radio Free GOP". Mike Murphy, let your pirate radio flag fly: With the shutdown happening, the FCC isn't listening anyway.

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December 21, 2018

Threats and Hazards All the attention is on the wrong things

A scathing BBC report says that the British government isn't doing anything to counteract Chinese-government espionage being conducted as economic warfare. Border walls and Brexits won't do a shred of good to solve the problem of highly sophisticated, well-funded, state-backed industrial espionage campaigns. Ham-handed tariffs and trade wars among allies don't help, either. All the public attention is going to the wrong things right now, and we're going to regret the neglect.

News Who's next to run the Pentagon?

Who, exactly, is the person who (a) has the credibility to be an effective Secretary of Defense, and (b) looks at the job and confidently thinks "I can persuade and advise the President where Mattis couldn't". That person surely does not exist. The kind of hubris it would take, two years into this Administration, to think that the President could be educated on matters of military importance (much less be persuaded about them) is exactly the kind of hubris that gets fools killed and wiser people hauled off to prison. This is a grave moment. Little to nothing about our geopolitical situation has on balance become more stable or more secure for the United States in the last two years. On net, things are worse. And everyone knows why. It seems quite extraordinary that outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis openly, directly, and publicly rebuked the President in his resignation letter -- posted for all the world to see, directly on the website of the Defense Department. That's no small matter: It's a modern-day echo of Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door.

Business and Finance US stock markets drop to 17-month lows

A reminder: The stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. But the terrible performance in the stock market of late is pretty directly traceable to real-world events in economics: The Federal government shutdown, accelerating deficit spending, odious misbehavior and unpredictability in the Oval Office, and trade hostilities among them. Ordinarily, it's out of place to give a President too much credit or too much blame for the state of either the economy or the markets. But not only has President Trump made a spectacular fool of himself by desperately seeking praise and attention for the state of the stock market just four months ago, he has also introduced many of the most notable risks to the economy itself. A President who tries to take credit for the good (when he isn't really responsible for it) most certainly deserves blame when he is clearly responsible for doing harm. He is reported now to be interested in firing the chair of the Federal Reserve. That's a Rubicon he'd best not cross.

Broadcasting FCC among Federal agencies hit by the shutdown

With the FCC shut down, are radio hosts obligated to talk like pirates?

December 20, 2018

Threats and Hazards Sound the general alarm: James Mattis has submitted his resignation

A healthy system of government depends not on the individuals in it, but rather on the commitment to rules shared by authorities and civilians alike. But when the "prince" (or in our case, the President) puts his faith only in himself, then it is hard to put our trust in anything other than the individuals who make decisions around him. And we are now scheduled to lose one of the most important of those individuals in a matter of weeks. Mattis isn't quitting because he wants to work on his golf game. He's resigning because the President thinks he knows better than everyone else, even including "the generals". It's time for weapons-grade worry.

Threats and Hazards An immediate withdrawal from Syria

Contrary to public pronouncements and the advice of senior military leadership, the President is ordering an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Syria. It's thought there are about 2,000 of them there -- and they may be the only factor keeping hostile adversaries (Russia, Iran, and ISIS included) at bay.

News China's "Belt and Road" has military overtones in Pakistan

It should be obvious that the "Belt and Road" program isn't just about economics -- it's about geopolitics, too. And though it's a strategy fraught with peril (in other words, don't be surprised when it backfires in spectacular ways), in the short to intermediate term, it's disrupting the balance of power in important places.

Threats and Hazards A shutdown looms again

President Trump is willing to shut down the government to get funding for his mythical border wall

The United States of America Shopping patterns are closely related to local political culture

Even among American communities that have other socioeconomic characteristics in common, sometimes we shop differently because of things that also seem to instigate us to vote differently, too.

Broadcasting UK radio host keeps suicidal caller on the air until help arrives

When we say that radio is the most personal and intimate mass medium, that's not an exaggeration or a boast. It's just the truth.

Humor and Good News The promised land comes with Cheez Curls

Along with six other things that deserve to make a comeback

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December 19, 2018

Computers and the Internet Is the time right for a Facebook rival?

For all the sense this makes on paper, the network effects are too large to overcome. If Google couldn't do it with Google+, nobody is going to push aside Facebook on its own turf. Its only credible challenges come from paradigmatic shifts like Instagram.

Threats and Hazards China has eyes on Greenland as a military outpost

There's perhaps nothing more naive than believing that if the United States just keeps to itself, then everyone else will do the same and we'll all be happy. Constructive engagement with the world, according to rules and multilateral alliances, is the way to keep the future from looking like an authoritarian anti-liberal dystopia.

Business and Finance Elon Musk's "boring" tunnel project may just carry cars

Quite possibly no one in business history has ever needed a sidekick quite like Elon Musk needs one right now. Charlie Munger to his Warren Buffett. Paul Allen to his Bill Gates. Takeo Fujisawa to his Soichiro Honda. Musk has a million ideas and a bias in favor of action that is truly remarkable, but he needs a counterweight.

Humor and Good News Targeted ads that burn the eyes

An ad for "transparent crystalline trousers" begs the question: Did Congress pass the Freedom of Too Much Information Act?

Science and Technology Soft hard hats

Thanks to non-Newtonian materials, hard hats might fit like stocking caps. Fittingly, the Australian company trying to launch the product is called "Anti-Ordinary".

Broadcasting The Mid-Atlantic accent isn't heard much anymore

Apparently it caused some confusion on social media the other day when people tried to figure out the geographic roots of the "Frasier Crane" enunciation

December 18, 2018

News Regrets over a lack of regret

Senator Orrin Hatch admits that his recent brush-off of Presidential misbehavior was "irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law", according to the Salt Lake Tribune. It's good to see that his conscience won after all.

News New York state attorney general forces closure of Trump Foundation

Ordinarily at this point in a Presidency, someone might be thinking tentatively about where to put the Presidential library...not facing allegations of "a shocking pattern of illegality".

News Vatterott College to close

The for-profit college chain is closing. Remember that the same thing happened to ITT Tech in 2016. And that Purdue Global used to be Kaplan.

News Special-edition Lincoln Continentals to get suicide doors again

They're interesting to see...but why?

Health Reuters report: There was asbestos in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder

Certainly a damning assertion, if true

The United States of America Slightly bigger laboratories of democracy

Whenever someone suggests that the Federal government ought to do/regulate/pay for something, it's interesting to ask whether we should do that same thing at the level of a Federal Reserve Bank district. All too often, saying the Federal government ought to do something is a lazy way of saying "I want it but I don't want to pay for it." We ought to subject more ideas to multi-state tests that don't rise to the level of national programs. Might take some innovative coordination along state governments, but adults can handle it. The sooner we euthanize this idea that all good things must flow downhill from D.C. to the rest of us, the better.

Broadcasting Should cameras have been in the Michael Flynn courtroom?

There ought to be a fundamental right to press coverage of trials, but the the way TV coverage fueled the OJ Simpson debacle can't be erased from memory.

News We're doing graduate-level education wrong

The direct costs are high. The sunk costs are enormous. On one hand, America has a phenomenal system of graduate-level education. But on the other, it's basically closed to anyone who isn't ready to front the enormous up-front risk (in time, money, and foregone opportunities) to attend years of graduate school. That's messed up. In 2018, there's no excuse for still treating graduate-level education (aside from niche programs like "executive MBAs") like something that belongs to a priesthood, chained heavily to a system of perpetuating the priesthood. There are countless people in the private sector (and public and nonprofit sectors, too) who shouldn't drop everything to take a graduate program that will take years to complete with an uncertain outcome. But they should be on long-term tracks to gain lifelong education. There's a mountain of foregone social utility because people who are busy doing things out in the general economy aren't spending a little time in the classroom every week (including virtual classrooms), learning the latest research-based knowledge in their fields. There's also a mountain of foregone social utility because higher education often isn't getting the active feedback of millions of people who see the massive amount of technological and methodological progress being made *outside* the confines of academic research. If only we could revive the mentality that brought us the land-grant colleges and ag extension programs, but apply that thinking to the manufacturing and service economies. So much good would come from thinking more broadly about graduate-level education as a lifetime thing.

Humor and Good News Package thieves discover bomb(*)

A glitter bomb. A glorious, highly-engineered glitter bomb. It's brilliant.

Threats and Hazards Ohio man gets squad-car police treatment for trying to cash a check

The man tried to cash a check for about a thousand bucks and ended up in the back of a squad car because the tellers didn't believe him. It seems quite certain the police were called because he was black. Come on, people. That's outrageous.

News A healthy skepticism of technocrats

Brink Lindsey aptly puts it like this: "We think the technocratic style of reg is highly vulnerable to insider capture as well as to unforeseen consequences due to interaction with other elements of the regulatory thicket. We prefer a few big, dumb, rule-like interventions over countless little nudges." Remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: "The State's concern in economic affairs must be primarily to service the nation. Its task should be to ensure that as few obstacles as possible are placed in the way of our own pursuit of enterprise, not to try and organize how we should do that."