Gongol.com Archives: May 2019

Brian Gongol

May 8, 2019

News A peek at Charlie Munger's bookshelf

A truly happy place would be one where the people entrusted to make decisions in Washington are as dedicated to reading as Charlie Munger. Or, really, where they're dedicated to any of Munger's other tools for reducing errors and misjudgments. He's a modern-day acolyte of Ben Franklin: Dedicated not so much to an ideology, philosophy, or theology, as to a relentless pursuit of better ways to do things, think about the world, and live life.

Iowa Iowa DOT reopens I-29 far ahead of schedule

Flooding wiped out dozens of miles of roadway. The workers involved deserve enormous credit for fixing a giant problem so swiftly.

Business and Finance What does the Uber IPO really say?

Economist Jodi Beggs suggests it's "basically a bet that they can figure out driverless cars before drivers figure out depreciation". She's probably right. And that's why you study economics. It won't magically teach you how to become rich. But it will definitely teach you how to frame human behavior in a useful way no other field of study will -- at least not within the framework of a comprehensive social science.

Iowa "Doomed to decline"?

What hope is there for sparsely-populated rural counties in Iowa and elsewhere? The thought of their inevitable decline is a bitter pill to swallow, but the data seems quite solid that something is systemically wrong and cannot be categorically reversed on a time horizon short of decades or even generations. Economist Dave Swenson probably isn't exaggerating when he writes: "Academics are good at isolating the causes and the consequences of rural decline, but we have yet to figure out what to do about it."

Computers and the Internet Would the Founders have behaved differently if they'd anticipated Twitter?

Benjamin Franklin, to be sure, would have been all over Twitter. The others? Perhaps not.

Threats and Hazards Woman tried drowning newborn in a fast-food toilet

And yet she will serve no prison time. There is not a word of this story that won't simultaneously baffle and dismay you. That an "ordinary" person would make such a choice -- or react in such a way, even to the shock of a surprise delivery -- is symptomatic of some kind of moral rot that she didn't just develop on her own.

Business and Finance Toyota and Panasonic to merge housing companies

And if you previously had no idea that both companies were in the housing business, you're not the only one. Something to muse about: What other businesses in seemingly unrelated fields might make for good housing providers?

News Why can't America help more refugees?

We can, but we're choosing not to do it. If you have strength but use it to oppress, you're practicing evil. If you have strength but refuse to use it out of fear, you're demonstrating cowardice. If you have the strength to help those in need and do so, you're showing mercy. Mercy is a privilege of the strong. Nothing would show greater strength than to help the oppressed.

News If I lost a billion dollars...

Doesn't quite have the same ring as the Barenaked Ladies tune

Iowa Casey's breakfast pizza isn't just pizza eaten at breakfast time

So learned Beto O'Rourke this week. We're all (mostly) joking about this, but confusing the two is roughly the Iowa equivalent of strolling onto the campus of Auburn and cheering "Roll Tide!"

Science and Technology Ridiculous numbers of Americans would seek to prevent the automation of jobs

The Pew Research Center finds that 85% of American adults would favor policies to block automation from taking any jobs from humans unless those jobs were "dangerous or unhealthy". Perhaps a few of those adults ought to ask whether they've consulted Siri instead of dialing "Information" or calling a library research desk. We could "create" millions of jobs by taking automation out of the picture everywhere we have it -- but it's quite doubtful that the average person has considered what it might be like to sit in a chair at a sewage pump station and manually start and stop the pumps. A job like that was "automated" decades ago, and for very good reason. Technology can and should be used to enhance the usefulness of activities human beings do, but it's colossally silly to think that automation should only come to bear on "dangerous or unhealthy" tasks alone. Shall we do away with coin machines, too? Put another way: "Siri, what is 'entirely missing the point of technology'?"

Threats and Hazards What's our real relationship with South Korea?

The President wildly mischaracterized the nature of the alliance in a campaign rally. The facts are different from what the President recites onstage, and the very nature of the relationship is more nuanced (and valuable) than he gives credit. Ultimately, his cellophane-thin understanding of and appreciation for the South Korean alliance is a de-facto statement of alignment with North Korea. In past times, that might have been understood as un-American, if not actually treasonous.

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