Gongol.com Archives: March 2019

Brian Gongol


March 2019
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March 1, 2019

Business and Finance Promises, promises

The initial estimate of America's 2018 GDP growth is in, and it's 2.9%. That's not a bad figure. But it's also not the 4% that the President promised over and over in his campaign. It was a false promise, and that's why it deserves scorn and why he deserves criticism for making it. 4% annual growth could only be sustained by substantial improvements in labor productivity, and that's pretty hard to see happening without other structural changes taking place. ■ President Trump isn't the first to make this false promise, either: President Obama relied on unrealistic growth projections of 4%, too. ■ Wishing doesn't make these things so. And temporary sugar highs (like a big tax cut) can bring about a short-term spike in GDP growth, but sugar highs are no way to run an economy. ■ Voters need to have more modest expectations: Presidents don't have magic wands to make the economy start or stop. And politicians need to be vastly more modest about the promises they make, for the very same reasons. And that, in the end, is why anyone who makes these false promises ought to be scorned publicly.

The United States of America Send in the governors

Colorado's former governor (John Hickenlooper) and Washington's current governor (Jay Inslee) are entering the race for President. To this, the American public ought to say: Send in the governors! No, really: Send us lots and lots of governors. Bush (43), Clinton, Reagan, Carter...all governors. It's solid training ground for future Presidents. ■ Being a major-city mayor is also probably decent practice for the Presidential role. But, generally, a governor's desk is the closest thing we have to an Oval Office simulator. ■ Senators want to talk about policy. But keep in mind that most United States Senators oversee offices of a few dozen staff members. Governors are the chief executives of their entire states -- and even a modestly-sized state like Iowa has around 50,000 employees -- and the governor not only oversees those employees, but also has to navigate the expectations of a state legislature and the oversight imposed by a state judicial branch. The orders of magnitude are different, but the roles of governor and President really aren't that different. And there's little room for amateur hour at the top.

News Official stats: Trust, but verify?

The deference paid to "official" sources is a main reason people misperceive a "liberal bias" in the news media. It's not so much that many reporters are letting their politics bleed through -- it's that we've been conditioned to trust sources that by nature have a pro-government bias.

News 6 months after a tragic fire, Chicago still doesn't have answers

Why were ten little people killed in a house fire? They still don't have answers.

Health Why are so many public places so loud?

It's such a widespread problem that those rare restaurants and pubs where people can easily converse are notable. The Bravo restaurant chain seems like one of those places where sound was consciously managed by design. The traditional Irish pub concept seems like a place where evolutionary adaptations have dampened sound. With the Baby Boomers moving into an age when hearing problems become more prevalent, it will be interesting to see whether more places consciously design around managing ambient noise.

Iowa Expansion planned for Central Iowa Shelter and Services

They ran beyond capacity during cold-weather incidents this winter, and obtaining some flexible space for use in high-demand situations would be a worthy thing for them to do. On one hand, it's too bad the demand is such that they need to expand. But on the other, it's good to see a community-level response.

News Who are the "neoliberals"?

A loose affiliation of people who want to stake out a new political identity around "a new, revitalized liberalism" (of the broad sense, not the left-right one).

Business and Finance Implied value of the Chicago Cubs: $2.15 billion

The Ricketts family is buying the last 5% of the team from the Tribune interests, and at $107.5 million for 5%, then that would imply $2.15 billion for the whole enterprise. A real punch in the gut for people who owned Tribune shares back in 2007, when the company was taken private.

Aviation News NASA hitches its wagon to commercial spaceflight providers

SpaceX is testing a crew-ready rocket and capsule that should permit American astronauts to get into space without depending on the Russian space program


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March 4, 2019

Broadcasting Fact: James Burke is an under-appreciated genius of mass education

There's nothing a broadcaster can really admire more than someone who can script and deliver their own work with effortless grace. Louis Rukeyser used to do for finance what Burke did for science. To give credit where it is due, Scott Pelley and Margaret Brennan are both in this tradition, though they're straight-news types rather than commentators. And Robert Krulwich and Lillian Cunningham both do it for scripted audio reporting.

The United States of America Which type of liberalism shall we have?

Classical? Neo? Something else? Any at all? Whenever one's Hayekian or Chicago School impulses really take hold, it's worth remembering that certain redistributive policies that bother me in theory are the price we pay to secure self-government in a deliberative democratic republic. A social-cohesion tax, if you will.

Computers and the Internet Point: "Twitter is no damn good for anyone"

Counterpoint: Twitter is like any agora. The freedom to interact and exchange acts as an invitation for people of bad faith to act badly. But when decent people gather in the right places (like #econtwitter, for instance), it really can facilitate some great results.

Broadcasting Steven Spielberg wants Netflix movies out of Oscar contention

He wants them to compete for Emmy awards instead. There's not a single thing that's principled about pushing them out -- it's just a way to protect one's industry. Guilds are gonna guild, it would seem.

Threats and Hazards Fort Dodge police officer gets sick from likely drug exposure

From the Fort Dodge Messenger: "While at the scene of the traffic stop, the officer handled an unknown substance [...] the officer began feeling dizzy, and asked the dispatcher to send medical help. At the Law Enforcement Center, another officer found him lethargic and unresponsive in his patrol vehicle."


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March 5, 2019

Threats and Hazards Bombs in London

Deutsche Welle: "Three suspicious packages were found on Tuesday at Heathrow Airport, London City Airport and Waterloo railway station in the British capital."

Humor and Good News There's cheap, and then there's Midwestern Cheap

Regarding a promotion that pegs the price of a Runza sandwich to the temperature in winter: "[Y]ou would be shocked at what we sell if it is 20 cents or 5 cents. There's a huge difference in the quantity that we move."

The United States of America March Madness: When Madisonian Federalism gets its biggest stage?

James Madison: "Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States." ■ But do we see that outside of the NCAA tournament season? Despite the silly framing, it's a serious question.

Weather and Disasters Forecasting is really good -- now, to figure out public messaging

Marshall Shepherd: "A good forecast is not good if it is not received and acted upon. Even as meteorologists point out how good the forecast was, the sad reality is that people still died. We are in the business of saving lives and property; not self-affirmation." ■ Atmospheric science has made giant strides -- permitting forecasters to see severe storm outbreaks days in advance, and to issue high-quality warnings when the storms arrive. Now, it's time for social science to make similar strides. This is actually an area where economists can have a surprising impact: Behavioral econ is all about questions of risk and expectations. If people are irrational in their personal risk-reward calculations, then there's probably room for economists to hold hands with meteorologists and start figuring out ways to help people make smarter decisions.

Business and Finance "Modern monetary theory" is just another economic fraud

Larry Summers: "As with any tax, there is a limit to the amount of revenue that can be raised via such an inflation tax." ■ Inflation is a tax. It is always a tax. And modest, predictable inflation is a necessary tax. But as with medication, the dose matters.

Humor and Good News "The most old-man Millennial ever" finds his doppelganger

...in the 1800s


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March 6, 2019

Humor and Good News Every kid deserves a loving home

Indiana nurse adopts abandoned baby with serious health problems, and the adoption almost certainly saved his life: "[L]iterally no one had ever asked to foster a child [...] with such serious conditions as Marcus"

The United States of America Moderation doesn't mean an absence of principles

Public intellectual Brad Delong has recently offered an indigestion-inducing argument that the center-right should be abandoned by its correspondents on the center-left. Among the many problems with that analysis is the conflation of party registrations with identity. Twitter addicts notwithstanding, most Americans are largely disinterested in politics. It's the disinterest in politics that leads generally moderate people to register as independents or abstain from voting, giving much greater leverage to the radicals in the primaries and (consequently) in general elections. ■ Tall buildings in seismic zones need oscillation dampers to keep them from tipping over. Both the left and right need vibrant idea centers with a moderate inclination to keep them from tipping over -- especially in populist earthquakes. The ordinary, mostly-disengaged voter needs to hear sound ideas that generally comport with their basic worldview. Most people aren't really tuned-in most of the time! A moderate, non-radical revival on either side of center is a good thing. ■ As John Stuart Mill once wrote, "The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of 'the deep slumber of a decided opinion.'" The sane members of the center-right need to make the case for their principles as though nobody has ever heard them before. And to make them over and over and over again, without tiring. The colossal level of stupidity is on full display by members of Congress who think they're in the old game played in 3rd grade -- the one when kids discover a forbidden word and compete to see who can whisper it loudest before the substitute teacher flips out. It's not going to get better if those within a reasonable radius of the center decide to give up the fight and let others run wild. Civilization depends on a surprising amount of persuasion.

Computers and the Internet Facebook's leadership still doesn't get what they really are

Mark Zuckerberg is trying vastly too hard with his metaphors. Facebook isn't a town square, and it's not a living room. It's a busy and long-neglected subway stop full of buskers and confused old people, where nobody can hear the announcements but the walls are covered in posters.

Health Giant study from Denmark shows no sign of link between autism and MMR vaccine

The risks associated with vaccines are minimal. The risks associated without vaccines are huge. Snake oil salesmen have been around forever. We don't have to give them room in the public conversation.

Humor and Good News Taking out your frustrations on the wrong target

Members of the WHO-TV staff had a little fun with chief meteorologist Ed Wilson. But paybacks can be something.


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March 7, 2019

Threats and Hazards Why those artificial islands China is building are such a point of contention

Claiming territory in heavily-trafficked international waters makes for a big issue

Business and Finance Good intentions do not excuse bad economics

A writer argues in a Chicago Tribune op-ed that "Rent control can increase supply". This is utterly untrue: Effective price ceilings cause shortages, by their very definition. If the price ceiling isn't below the market rate, then it isn't "rent control". If the price ceiling is below the market rate, then by definition there will be a shortage of supply.

Business and Finance Trust matters if you're going to do business more than once

Sam Zell: "I like doing deals with the same people. You get to know each other and build a mutual sense of trust."


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March 8, 2019

News A protection racket?

The President has his people "drawing up demands that Germany, Japan and eventually any other country hosting U.S. troops pay the full price of American soldiers deployed on their soil -- plus 50 percent or more for the privilege of hosting them", per a truly insane report from Bloomberg. ■ Even just floating a trial balloon on an idea this stupid is enough to undermine decades of mutual trust and embolden rival powers. That is just Game Theory 101, but yet it's clearly too sophisticated for him to grasp. We are trapped in the President's broken framework for the world -- everything, to him, is literally a one-off transaction. He has shown not a shred of evidence that he thinks any two parties remember what happened in their last interaction. ■ Our military servicemembers are professionals in service of a just and free world, not mercenaries. Our allies are friends, not clients. How he frames this issue is just so very wrong. Anyone who doubts the multiplier effects of alliances among friends ought to read Dwight Eisenhower's memoir of WWII. He makes it plain that accommodating friends was a means of saving resources. If we can't carry over some lessons learned from WWII, we're in huge trouble.

News Just one day

Chicago sportswriter Julie DiCaro says for International Women's Day, "All I want is to have a single day where a man doesn't try to explain something blatantly obvious to me." That seems like it shouldn't be much to ask, and yet it is.


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March 9, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show - March 9, 2019

Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Broadcasting Television needs more Leslie Jones

The "Saturday Night Live" cast member needs more air time


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March 11, 2019

Threats and Hazards Given a binary choice, we might not like how many countries line up behind China

Leaders outside the United States are getting a message of "You're either with us or you're with China". And in the words of Patrick Chovanec: "Unless we lay a solid foundation of shared interests, and are seen as a reliable and unselfish partner, I'm not sure we will always like the answer we will get." The examples set by Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall -- just for example -- would suggest that even when you're on the right side of history, allies are quicker to sign up for your team if you appear accommodating and non-coercive. China is in many ways behaving in an adversarial way, but that's why binding the world to rules and processes (instead of just "You're with us or you're against us") was the true gift of the leaders who won WWII and secured the peace.


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March 13, 2019

Weather and Disasters What makes a massive pressure drop a "bomb cyclone"?

They don't usually happen over land like this

Weather and Disasters One giant cyclone over the mid-section of the country

Watch the center of a low pressure system drop about 30 mb in 24 hours. It's like an atmospheric limbo contest, and the winner is a low-pressure center at 968 mb. And that low low brought about some really high winds -- like a 96-mph wind gust at the Colorado Springs airport. But there are some feel-good stories to emerge from this winter, including a full-sized, dimensionally accurate '67 Ford Mustang built of snow.

Weather and Disasters A flash-flood warning covering about 1/8th of a state

Nebraska is under a lot of weather right now. And that's after getting a massive round of fog.

News The real college scandal is in pricing qualified candidates out of the system

One might think there's room for something midway between the "all-inclusive resort" model and the airline-style, "pay for every incremental feature" model. And, for sure, it would be good for America to find it.

Iowa Iowa farmland values slip

A real-estate industry group says farmland values fell by an average of 2.7% last year -- saying "Negative factors include trade uncertainty, [and] decreasing levels of working capital". Words have consequences, and the consequences of the President's words on trade have highly tangible consequences.

Computers and the Internet Facebook outage drives many crazy

It may be just the Q1 GDP growth booster we needed.


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March 14, 2019

Threats and Hazards We are citizens, not subjects

There's a difference. And it's up to Congress to stand on behalf of the citizens when a challenge emerges -- like the President's "emergency" declaration. Congress has to stand up for its own prerogatives, regardless of who serves as President. Even those who agree with what the President wants to do -- like Sen. Jerry Moran -- are right to challenge the means to the end.

Weather and Disasters Rescues on the (suddenly) rushing rivers of Nebraska

In what is surely one of the most bizarre endings to a rescue tale ever told, a family refused to board a helicopter to escape their floodbound house -- after previous would-be rescuers ended up capsized in the river just trying to reach them. There almost has to be something else to this. The floods are a consequence of a sudden thaw and a massive blizzard that closed most of I-80 across the state.

Computers and the Internet How places that don't really exist find their way onto Google Maps

Legacy databases of things like place names sometimes make their way into digital tools without anyone really double-checking them

Aviation News What's wrong with the Boeing 737 Max?

A question worth considering and resolving, right now


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March 15, 2019

Computers and the Internet The Internet is now old enough for one-time teen hackers to be Presidential candidates

Beto O'Rourke earns an unusual spot in electoral history

Threats and Hazards Connections alone aren't by definition good

There's an embedded logical flaw when Mark Zuckerberg concludes with a phrase like "bring the world closer together." The problem is that the connection *itself* isn't necessarily a good thing, as made plain in the last couple of years. The kinds of people who do the connecting also matter a great deal -- witness the apparent contribution of Internet message boards to the radicalization of the terrorists who just shot up parts of Christchurch, New Zealand. It's not just a Facebook problem, either -- the entire culture of Reddit, for example, serves to undergird the conditions that connect people to others, often in really unsavory ways.

Aviation News Why the Boeing 737 Max's problems may have been 50 years in the making

Legacy design idiosyncracies may have led to the two recent crashes

Humor and Good News A most rewarding way to spend three minutes

The intersection of architecture with culture: Why Tel Aviv has so many Miesian buildings, and why their popularity has been revived

Threats and Hazards 49 people murdered in New Zealand terrorist attack

It's terrorism, period.

News American voters are often quite disengaged

We in Iowa have the best political junkies in the nation, but we also have a whole lot of people just living their lives who have an allergy to strong ideology. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself: A low degree of intensity is a symptom of a system that is generally palatable to people. It's when your average person is joining mass protests in the streets that something is clearly badly, badly wrong.

Iowa Missouri River floodwaters cover I-29 in Iowa

The riverside is flat and low, but it still takes a great deal of water to overtop the banks

Humor and Good News There's only one right way to cook corned beef

And that's long and slow. Like, 24 hours long. Anything less than that is the cause of the rubbery texture people wrongly associate with the Irish-American delicacy.


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March 16, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Do not share the video or you are part of this"

A former FBI agent strongly discourages anyone engaging with or amplifying the videos that appear to have been taken by the terrorists in Christchurch. It would be more reassuring if the social media services (like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube) would behave more transparently in reporting basic facts, like when they took down pages related to the suspects. And there appears to be a manifesto that may be deliberately misleading or vague. Cyberspace is a very real battleground.


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March 19, 2019

Weather and Disasters Staggering views of the flooding along the Missouri River

Instead of staying in its usual narrowly-defined riverbed, the Missouri stretches for miles in width.

Threats and Hazards Loyalty tests to a deeply disloyal man

The President demands public demonstrations of loyalty that careen into the absurd -- like engaging into a public fight with Kellyanne Conway's husband. That anyone believes he would show them reciprocal loyalty is completely astonishing. They make a choice nobody can reasonably excuse. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose."

News Post-Soviet leaders, charted

You'd be amazed at just how long some of the ex-Soviet states have remained under the rule of strongmen. It's too bad: As Calvin Coolidge said, "The chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the Presidential office after a moderate length of time."

The United States of America "Love Your Enemies"

An interview with Arthur C. Brooks about his new book

News Pedantic complaint of the day

When people use the word "strategic" when what they're doing is barely tactical, at best, it's an annoyance. Language like "strategic" exists for a reason, to describe a particular purpose. Abusing the language, even out of carelessness, does a disservice to our ability to understand each other.

Agriculture Legislation to crack down on labeling veggie burgers is dumb protectionism

The normal consumers of these products are sensitive to their origins -- it's the whole point of making them in the first place. And you know what? The "Impossible Burger" is pretty good. Liking it doesn't make a normal person suddenly not want a New York strip. They can be complements, not rivals. It's risible to use the blunt hammer of the law to relabel something like a Morningstar Farms "Chik'n Nugget", when a chicken nugget is plainly the item to which it is most similar.


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March 20, 2019

News "You won't hear me speak his name"

New Zealand's prime minister sets a proper standard for dealing with the terrorist attack on her country's soil

The United States of America Let reason be the guide

James Madison: "But it is the reason, alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government."

Humor and Good News Recycling old hotel soaps in the name of global hygiene

Marketwatch headlined the story "Why Hilton wants to get its hands on your used soap" (Spoiler alert: It's not because your natural musk is an aphrodisiac that they want to capture).

The United States of America Rename the Russell office building

Name it after John McCain. It's what the Senate should do to rebuke the President -- and correct the error of naming the building after the wrong person in the first place.

Broadcasting Some government spending cuts cost more than they save

The Trump Administration wants to cut funding for RFE/RL, the international broadcasting service that we use to reach out to the countries in Russia's near orbit. As a general rule of thumb, cutting any of America's public-diplomacy efforts -- including, right at the top of the list, the Voice of America, RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, or anything else under the umbrella of the US Agency for Global Media -- is bonkers. They cost about $2.50 per year per American citizen.

Humor and Good News Just ask, "How do I pronounce your name?"

Lots of people have names whose pronunciation is non-intuitive. Nothing is more pleasant to a listener than the sound of their own name -- but there aren't a whole lot of things more grating than someone making a train wreck out of it.

Business and Finance How to ruin a perfectly good organization

Sabotage has never been so simple

The United States of America A National Popular Vote is still a terrible alternative to what we have

Ships have bulkheads and big buildings have firewalls so that a disaster in one part can be isolated before it spreads and damages everything else. The Electoral College is a systemic firewall against a contaminated election. Don't throw it away. If you want to talk about changes to make Washington better, debate ideas like enlarging the House of Representatives or encouraging states to shift to at-large representation. But don't junk the Electoral College in a fit of pique.

Humor and Good News You didn't know you knew these rules

There's an order to adjectives in English, and every native speaker knows them without knowing

Broadcasting And that's the way it is?

Dave Price asks, "When did NBC Nightly News change format so that much of top stories now labeled 'breaking news?'" We are, no doubt, about 10 million miles away from the editorial voice that had the confidence (hubris?) to say "And that's the way it is" and then shut up for the next 23.5 hours.


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March 21, 2019

News A warning to voters who want to turn away from the world

Dr. Kori Schake: "When we step back, our allies step back even further, and the countries that step forward are our adversaries." This isn't a call to be pushy and mindlessly interventionist, but rather a reminder that allies need to know that we'll be there when they call for us.

News Minnesota parents told not to let kids walk to school because of bear sightings

And don't let them eat your homework, either.

Threats and Hazards Any politician afraid to speak up for John McCain should be ashamed

Dear United States Senators: If you can't speak up to defend the name of John McCain now (in the face of a deluge of malign comments from the President), please don't expect the rest of us to put a whole lot of effort into naming a bridge after you when you're gone. In the words of John Weaver, "Had you @realDonaldTrump called the FBI upon first contact, instead of embracing Putin, you might be in a different situation." Sen. Lindsey Graham, long a friend of McCain's, seems able only to offer a peep of objection to the attacks, and that's truly pathetic. If the best you can say after a bully besmirches the good name of your honorable deceased friend is "The best thing for all of us is just to move forward," then you have chosen the side of the bully. There is no satisfying rational explanation for why anyone would sacrifice even an iota of credibility on behalf of the President when he shows daily that he lives exclusively in a transactional, day-by-day mode of operation, and will jettison any "friend" in a heartbeat should it prove even momentarily expedient.

News Burdens are meant to be carried together

We should be all for an expansive definition of identity when it comes to sharing burdens and facing difficult problems. Bigger coalitions can fix bigger problems.

Humor and Good News Anything with a tempo slower than 120 bpm is a sad song

A clever rendition of music-sharing, as though aliens were discovering it for the first time

Broadcasting Lazy broadcasting creates nasty hate

John Oliver: "I'm not saying those television personalities are all terrible people. They just want to fill time more than they want to say things that are true."

Humor and Good News Spoiler alert: The denouement of 2019

It will happen when Eddie Vedder appears at an O'Rourke rally to sing "Beto Man" and POTUS responds with a tweetstorm asking why the FCC won't take away Pearl Jam's license.

The United States of America A 2019 Republican Serenity Prayer

Grant us the serenity...


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March 22, 2019

News "Four principles for reading the Mueller report"

Now that it's been turned over to the Attorney General, some preparation is in order before we get to read it. In other words, here's what to know before you know what we'll all know soon enough.

Threats and Hazards Why bad people use weaselly language to evade the rules

Ambiguity usually accrues to the benefit of the party that introduces it. If someone's introducing coded language, they're doing it to put good people on the defensive. The rest of us need to build our intellectual immunity against the terrorists and the supremacists who use coded language to get around terms of use on public websites and propagate hate.

Socialism Doesn't Work Auto tariffs aren't about security

Tariffs (import taxes) on cars have nothing to do with national security and are strictly intended as a stick in the eye to Europe. American consumer freedom be damned. So says the President. He is beholden to an incoherent, incomplete, and counterproductive thread of a national industrial policy that has more in common with the autarkic approach of the Soviet Union than with any prosperous modern economy.

Weather and Disasters The Missouri River is usually 1000' wide between Iowa and Nebraska

Or often narrower. But the photos of current flood conditions show water as far as the eye can see. Normally, it's narrow enough to fit easily within a normal photo, with trees lining the riverbanks. Not so right now.

Computers and the Internet Change your passwords. Again. Facebook's at fault this time.

The company confirms a report that "some user passwords were being stored in a readable format within our internal data storage systems." But what do they mean by "some"? In the next paragraph, they admit: "We estimate that we will notify hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users." So, once again, change your passwords. Change any passwords that are the same as your Facebook password. And activate two-step authentication. The insecurity dates back to 2012, so it's quite a revelation.

News A "university-centric development policy"

From Noah Smith: "By increasing research funding for second-tier universities in depressed areas, and by making it easier for high-paying foreign students to attend rural schools, the government can create a scattering of small thriving places throughout declining regions [...] The destiny of the U.S. heartland may be to go from farming and manufacturing towns of 5,000 people to college towns of 50,000." It's a bold proposal, and it's hard to know how replicable it could be at any sort of scale (considering, for instance, the plight of small-town colleges like Iowa Wesleyan). But it is already plain to see that heavily-rural states like Iowa are rapidly urbanizing (or, perhaps, de-ruralizing) regardless of any efforts to the contrary, and there is also tremendous evidence that research-oriented universities have a very favorable impact on their local economies. In the end, how many universities could be plausibly spun-up? One per state? Ten? Fifty? It's worth considering bold possibilities.

News The "former" Hancock building

Its dynamism has always been one of the best things about Chicago, but the name changes on its landmark buildings are bonkers. Sears Tower is now Willis Tower. John Hancock Center is now 875 North Michigan (after the insurance company behind the original name asked that it be removed). The Amoco Building is now the Aon Center. The name changes all have good reasons behind them, but it still seems like they happen unusually often to Chicago landmarks.


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March 27, 2019

News The inconvenient truth of high-speed rail in America

Our population density is a fraction of what is found in places with good passenger rail service. Many of us have sympathetic feelings in favor of a modernized, high-speed rail system. But we're just spread much too thin in America to make the same economics work. Compare the density of places with impressive high-speed rail service -- like Italy (206 people per square kilometer, or about 533 people per square mile), Germany (237 people/sq km), or Japan (348 people/sq km) -- with that of the United States: 36 people/sq km. There are parts of the country where we are more densely packed, for sure, but broadly the United States is much, much more spread-out than the rest of the countries we often consider as technological and economic peers. For the economics to work out comparably with those peers, we would have to be able to build and maintain the infrastructure for 1/5th the cost of theirs.

Threats and Hazards Russian police raid opposition-party headquarters

Per the Khodorkovsky Center: "They'd received an anonymous call about the 'distribution of extremist literature'. This is spookily reminiscent of the KGB raids on Samizdat houses."

Computers and the Internet What's with all the robocalls?

An industry insider says a combination of technological tricks and poor regulatory oversight has led to an insufferable deluge of calls to many American numbers

Water News A million wells are threatened

Per CNN: "The National Ground Water Association estimates that people living in more than 300 counties across 10 states have their groundwater threatened from bacterial and industrial contamination carried by flood waters." It's impossible to participate normally in modern American life if you don't have clean running water.


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March 28, 2019

Business and Finance Keep it simple

In the words of Sam Zell: "A scenario that takes four steps instead of one means there are three additional opportunities to fail."

News Servicemembers shouldn't be political props

The chief of Australia's Defense Force made a point of having his people step out of sight when a government event turned political. Three cheers for that.

News Baseball is a companionship sport

Phooey to all this nonsense about there being a problem with the pace of baseball. At its heart, baseball is totally different from football, soccer, basketball, and hockey. That baseball is paced around giving each side a turn is a feature, not a bug. It is a companionship game -- something worth indulging (especially by radio) 162 days a year. It doesn't, and shouldn't, demand a person's full and unrelenting attention for every moment of every game.

The United States of America Without protections for minority interests, government is just anarchy dressed up in fancy clothes

Words from James Madison: "In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger"


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March 29, 2019

Computers and the Internet You didn't mean to keep that, did you?

Facebook's archives are turning unreliable, according to a Business Insider report. If you want to save content you've ever posted online, don't trust third parties.

Threats and Hazards Someone tell the President: "Easy money" is the same as a "weak dollar"

His Twitter attack on the Federal Reserve for its policy of rate increases illustrates that he is guided by instincts alone on critical matters like economics -- where instincts are not enough. If someone were to tell him his policy is a "weak dollar" policy, he would undoubtedly do an about-face.

Broadcasting Love is...

...setting up a streaming media profile completely from scratch that you can share as a couple when you're both in the same room, so as not to destroy the algorithms behind either partner's individual profile. It's basically the new "We're moving in together". (This advice could save a marriage).


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