Gongol.com Archives: August 2019

Brian Gongol

August 2019
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August 3, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 3, 2019

Broadcasting live on WHO Radio

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August 6, 2019

Business and Finance GateHouse to take over Gannett

There was a time, not really that long ago, when it looked like Gannett was going to consume the entire newspaper universe.

News "I'm sorry."

What the President ought to say in the wake of violence attributed to his inspiration, but won't. You can't fix a fault unless you're willing to name it.

News Urbanization: It cannot be resisted

NPR tells a story of dramatic change in Mongolia, begotten of both economic and environmental factors. But it's not an issue just of Mongolia, or of anywhere else: Urbanization might be the one global trend that's completely irreversible, regardless of a country's political environment.

News Why uniformity took over apartment construction

Why do so many -- if not most -- new apartment complexes look basically alike, all over the United States? It's because wood-frame construction is cheaper than the alternatives, and building codes have converged on a widely-accepted notion of what constitutes a safe, fire-resistant framework for multi-unit dwellings. Add onto that the growing uniformity of ownership types (apartments are more likely to be owned by real-estate trusts or pension funds than ever before), and the commoditization of investment has begotten commoditization of place.

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August 7, 2019

The United States of America Don't think of me

Sen. Michael Bennet makes a campaign pitch: "If you elect me President, I promise you won't have to think about me for two weeks at a time." It's a fine sentiment, and it echoes a line from Calvin Coolidge: "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country." You could argue that a Presidency-centric public consciousness is what the American people want. But isn't it worth applauding any pushback against the contemporary corruption of the idea? Wouldn't it be worthwhile to resist and seek to roll back the unsustainable idea of the Imperial Presidency? Most Americans just passively sleepwalk into accepting it.

Iowa Iowa Cubs to play as "Iowa Caucuses" for one night

They'll adopt the alternate moniker for the game on August 30th

@briangongol on Twitter

August 8, 2019

The United States of America What Puerto Rico is getting right

The commonwealth's politics look messy -- but at the broadest view, democratic processes are working, and that should make all Americans proud.

Threats and Hazards The "Un-Great Man" theory of trade

There are those who subscribe to the "Great Man" theory of history: That history is largely shaped by individuals of tremendous consequence. There are problems with that theory, of course. But it may be far more true that a twist on that logic is in fact quite true for the history of trade, and that we are living it now: Trade takes broad commitments to systems and rules, but it turns out those commitments can be undermined in devastating fashion by the right person with the right amount of influence -- like a President of the United States with an impulsive streak and a lot of unchecked trade power. His capacity to undermine trust in the system at large -- and, especially, trust in the nation that for so long has been the anchor party in the world's trading mechanisms -- is enough to undermine and damage systems that had been massive engines of well-being for much of the global population. It's not forgivable.

Threats and Hazards Russia tests American and Canadian patience

Attracting the attention of NORAD and various Air Force assets: Russian bombers flying close to, but not quite within, American and Canadian territorial airspace

Business and Finance Publius would have liked the Value-Added Tax

Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 12 lauded the use of consumption taxes. In his time, the import tariff was about the only way to get that done (because there weren't the tools necessary to put tax collection everywhere). Now that it's possible to collect taxes almost seamlessly, one would think he would be even more in favor of consumption taxation.

Health A fine story of human goodness

How an organ transplant 35 years ago saved a life and started a chain reaction of further giving

Aviation News "The Right Stuff"

One of the best movie lines ever: "But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American ... And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen." And if the closing theme to that movie doesn't put tears in your eyes, you might be a robot.

Humor and Good News How to fold a fitted sheet

Don't. Just compress it a bit and stash it in a drawer or a closet someplace. You have better things to do with your time.

Humor and Good News The near-outgroup vs. the far-outgroup

People who are close to what you believe, but just not quite, are often far more annoying than those who disagree with you entirely

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August 9, 2019

Business and Finance Why does infrastructure cost so much?

A draft of a research paper on Interstate highway construction hints that infrastructure costs a whole lot more to build than it did just a generation ago (even adjusted for inflation). This is most interesting. The usual caveat that "roads and bridges" are only a fraction of "infrastructure" overall applies, but you have to work with the data sets that are available, and this analysis says something quite interesting about costs.

Threats and Hazards Yet another shooting on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive

The expressway that never should have become an expressway has had way too many violent incidents in recent memory

Threats and Hazards "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good"

Benjamin Franklin's words couldn't possibly apply better than to the President's open contemplation of a commutation of Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence. Remember: The former governor of Illinois was trying to use his office for personal benefit.

Computers and the Internet Policing social media with the FCC and the FTC

CNN reports: "The draft [Presidential executive] order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms." Never assume powers when you're in office that you wouldn't willingly hand over to your opponents when it's their turn.

Threats and Hazards Tone comes from the top

And indifference is a tone. Which is why the massive shortage of leadership at the top of American intelligence organizations is a real problem: "The majority of the nation's 17 intel agencies will have leaders who are new, acting, or outright vacant".

News Lucky Charms marshmallows...in bulk

So...it's just a bag of marshmallows. Are they crunchy and stale? Because Kraft already makes colorful soft ones. (It's a promotional stunt by General Mills.)


August 10, 2019

News Walmart pulls plug on violent video game displays

"Walmart said that the company has provided guidance for its store managers to remove the displays because some shoppers could mistake the sounds created by the games for actual gunshots."

Computers and the Internet Facebook to start co-branding Instagram and WhatsApp

The two apps will start carrying a "from Facebook" title

Business and Finance FedEx and Amazon part company

FedEx won't deliver for Amazon anymore. Amazon has been expanding its own delivery network rather noticeably, and FedEx says Amazon is only 1.3% of total revenues.

Iowa Five more towns join Polk County local-option sales tax

Bondurant, Clive, Grimes, Johnston, and Urbandale approved the tax increase

Iowa Yankees and White Sox to play at Field of Dreams

Coming to northeast Iowa in August 2020

Computers and the Internet Demand paper ballots

The top cyber official at the Department of Homeland Security says: "Gotta get auditability, I'll say it, gotta have a paper ballot backup."

Business and Finance Perkins Restaurants file for bankruptcy

The company, with around 350 locations, is likely to be sold for a total of $40 million in cash after its Chapter 11 filing. The origins of the troubles are with slow sales in the market overall. Perkins is a triumph of capitalism: Hundreds of restaurants all over America where, at almost any hour of day or night, just about anyone can afford a consistent, made-to-order, sit-down meal that would put their great-grandfather's Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

Business and Finance Good time to be a Chase cardholder in Canada

The company is winding down operations in Canada, and instead of trying to finish collecting on some outstanding debts, it's just cancelling collection on those accounts and heading for the exits

@briangongol on Twitter

August 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards What words are left to describe the explosive deficit?

An $867 billion deficit in ten months? Say it isn't so! Axios reports: "Spending has continued to outpace revenue, with a 3% rise of revenue overshadowed by an 8% jump in spending." Intergenerational larceny was wrong before, and it's wrong now. The ten-month deficit is a giant $2,627 per person.

Computers and the Internet About the latest Twitter redesign...

White space is great, but not when it's evenly distributed all over the page. Then it just makes for low-density clutter.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 13, 2019

Agriculture Irrigation-vs.-non-irrigation gap grows

Irrigation is making an increasing difference in the amount of food farmers can grow.

News Should Britain extend citizenship to nationals living in Hong Kong?

The chair of the Parliamentary foreign-affairs committee suggests the move, which is a bold proposal well worth a careful look.

News Government needs governors who are skeptical of their own power

Margaret Thatcher: "I believe implicitly that you can never make people good by law, but only from something inside them."

News Journalism, not stenography

When reporters use Twitter as their substitute notepads, they may unintentionally amplify messages that they shouldn't. For example, some of the President's more outrageous quotes are reported in good faith, and probably with the intention of conveying a sense of "Can you believe he's saying this nonsense?". But the unintended consequence is that the insults, slurs, and unfounded claims end up getting more eyeballs.

Humor and Good News Why Chicago has a U-boat

Chicago has always possessed a self-determination about it that really has no peer. It is not infrequently manifested in schemes to do things that would otherwise seem quite mad. See: Reversing the Chicago River and raising the entire city.

News Protests in Hong Kong shut down the airport

What a display. It's hard not to be inspired by the people of Hong Kong right now.

News Sen. Bernie Sanders goes after the Washington Post

The Senator suggests that his criticisms of Amazon have led to bad coverage of him in the Washington Post. Wasn't it Harry Truman who said "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog"?

Weather and Disasters Have the tornadoes shifted north?

Curiously, with the normal peak of tornado season now in the rear-view mirror, it's notable that the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service has issued twice as many tornado warnings as the Des Moines office.

Broadcasting This is what a role model looks like

When racist viewers attack the people who make the local news

The United States of America The net economic benefits of immigration

On the most basic level, it's wise to subscribe to a fundamental preference for maximum freedom of movement for people, money, goods, and ideas. Unrestricted movement? Probably impossible. But seek to maximize their free movement within the prevailing constraints. ■ People don't lose their skill sets when they move. And as Ryan Avent has argued, moving to a place with abundant social capital (like the United States) often makes the very same person radically more productive, overnight. Immigrants and refugees included. ■ Anyone with historical literacy should recognize that the Homestead and Land-Grant Acts were major government efforts to increase the economic potential of unskilled populations (including immigrants and freed slaves) -- almost 160 years ago. Many of us today are descendants. ■ So we ought to be much more concerned with projects to maximize people's access to self-improvement, no matter where they came from, than we should ever be interested in closing the door on immigrants. Our economy has never been a zero-sum game; it's a lot more loaves-and-fishes. ■ In the end, the moral case for immigration -- for America as a destination for free people and as a shining city on a hill -- is by far the most important and persuasive case. Even if it cost us extra to welcome immigrants, on net, it would probably be a price worth paying.

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August 14, 2019

Humor and Good News "Coming 2 America" is on the way

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and James Earl Jones will return

Humor and Good News "Dad jokes" serve a purpose

The thing about dad jokes is that you get hooked on delivering them when your little people are too young to judge you for them. But there is no known cure for the addiction.

Threats and Hazards "What are we going to do, invade Hong Kong?"

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross forecloses on the possibility of any American response to a Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong, and does so on globally-televised CNBC. You don't have to be some kind of unhinged warhawk to agree that a better answer would have been "No comment".

Business and Finance Differences you should know before leaving high school

Wealth vs. income. Deficits vs. debt. Progressive (taxation) vs. Progressive (policies). Positive vs. normative. Gross vs. net. Assets vs. equity. Nominal value vs. real value.

Iowa Who holds the door for whom?

At least some people object to the idea of holding doors open for others because they perceive it as a gesture suggesting that some people are weaker than others -- usually, that women shouldn't be pleased when doors are held open by men. Connotations may vary elsewhere in the world, but it is far more the rule than the exception for people to hold doors for one another in the Midwest -- totally regardless of gender. Quite nearly everyone does it for quite nearly everyone else, and it ends up as an exceptionally egalitarian gesture. It's possible that the universality of the move is common where, 6 months out of the year, it can be painfully cold and it's only common courtesy to make it easier for the next person to get to warmth. But it's rather like saying "Bless you" to a sneeze. Nothing else is implied, even if one could make a contorted argument that saying "Bless you" is somehow today a religious expression.


August 15, 2019

News Freedom of travel for members of Congress

Diplomacy is inevitably an art full of compromises, but it ought to be at least mildly concerning that the American ambassador to Israel spoke up in favor of prohibiting members of Congress from visiting the country. Israel has a right to determine who visits their country, but that doesn't mean American diplomats need to speak about it in partisan fashion. In Federalist Paper No. 75, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "The essence of the legislative authority is to enact laws, or, in other words, to prescribe rules for the regulation of the society; while the execution of the laws, and the employment of the common strength, either for this purpose or for the common defense, seem to comprise all the functions of the executive magistrate. The power of making treaties is, plainly, neither the one nor the other." The Executive Branch must tread extremely lightly on Congressional freedom of travel because diplomacy is expressly a joint responsibility.

Iowa A beautiful new venue

The new amphitheater at Water Works Park in Des Moines is getting a good series of inaugural-season concerts

Iowa Des Moines should consider commuting by Sky Glider

A giant Sky Glider obviously isn't the ticket (certainly not without enclosed, climate-controlled cars), but we should probably start taking a look at some novel ideas before we find ourselves irreversibly gridlocked.

The United States of America It's unfortunate that John Hickenlooper dropped out

The Presidency shouldn't be about what the candidates want to do in their first 100 days. It should be about whether they're ready to be the chief executive...and that takes practice.

Business and Finance The inverted yield curve (for dummies)

Why financial types get the cold sweats when it's cheaper to borrow money for the long term than for the short term. One real worry to bear in mind right now is that the Federal Reserve has much less ammunition to deploy to smooth out an economic downturn than it did last time.

Computers and the Internet Always enable two-factor authentication where possible

It isn't as easy to do as good security practice would make it, but everyone should at least enable 2FA on Facebook, Google, Twitter, and any email services they use.

Business and Finance Jobs for all? Which jobs?

"Every community has a duty to prepare its young people to enter the 21st Century economy with skills that are appropriate to their talents, interests, and abilities" is a fully defensible position. But the misty nostalgia for a UAW job building '52 Oldsmobiles in Flint -- a sentiment shared and expressed by elements of both the left and right -- is toxic. Margaret Thatcher, speaking 40 years ago at a time of economic stagnation in Britain, warned that "We still live under the continuing and undoubted influence of the first industrial revolution. In negative terms, concern with tradition has led to great efforts to preserve, regardless of cost, some of the industries created in the past. That course reads the wrong lessons from history and if pursued would lead to an industrial museum." That was a non-trivial warning in 1979, and it rings true today as well. A dynamic economy is the only way to grow -- but dynamism does lead to some displacement along the way. Accommodating that displacement humanely is a necessary step, but there is no excuse for trying to stop progress out of hazy nostalgia.

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August 16, 2019

News Fake Democrat pulls wool over eyes of purported right-wingers

An entirely fair criticism across the spectrum. An idea should stand on its merits, or not. But it's not responsible to project the idea on some mythologized "other" and then cynically use that "other" like some kind of ventriloquist's dummy.

News Japan converts convenience stores to funeral parlors

Recommended reading: "Despite being a niche business, the remodeling of convenience stores into funeral parlors may have a strong future, experts say, given the tough business conditions facing convenience store operators." The much deeper story here, though, is about social isolation.

Humor and Good News Make the designated hitter a 2020 debate topic

Pete Buttigieg comes out against it -- which might be a stealth appeal to conservative intellectuals, who seem to have a soft spot for National League baseball

Computers and the Internet Device lock-in, thanks to iMessages

How a whole generation of young people might get trapped into using a single brand of phone.

Threats and Hazards Businesses in Hong Kong start looking for lifeboats

This rolling-back of global integration isn't going to end well. It's going to be costly in a whole lot of direct ways -- and much costlier in hidden and implicit ones.

Humor and Good News When you can't get enough of a chicken sandwich

(Video) A creative Alabaman literally sings the praises of a chicken sandwich. Stick around for the sandwich-wrapper tambourine break...


August 18, 2019

News The problem with making the economy central to politics

The President is reported to see conspiracies behind some of the warning signs for the economy right now. ■ This really is the central problem with politicians looking to economic success as the solitary yardstick by which they are measured: Business cycles are real, and if the only thing you're trying to sell is GDP growth, then you're prone to doing harmful things. ■ The problems with politicians who obsess over economic measures are of (at least) two classes. The first is short-termism. The "quick fix" to many macroeconomic problems usually comes with a big hangover. The right answers usually require patience. ■ The second class of problems is even more dangerous: If you think the ends justify the means, then at what would you stop in a desperate effort to squeeze another percentage point out of GDP? ■ A strong economy is a very helpful way to secure the "blessings of liberty". It is absolutely not a substitute for those blessings. Margaret Thatcher put it very well: "Representative political institutions cannot alone guarantee our liberties. It is economic liberty that nourishes the enterprise of those whose hard work and imagination ultimately determine the conditions in which we live." ■ A strong economy helps enable a lot of other good things inside a healthy society. And, properly seen, the economic liberty of individuals can be a powerful tool for helping people to recognize their other inherent human liberties. ■ If realize that I own the fruits of my own labors, then I have an incentive and a framework to realize that I own my thoughts as well. And my words. And ultimately, my consent to be governed. Economic liberalization can whet the appetite for political liberalization. ■ But a maniacal obsession with something like GDP growth is no substitute for values like individual dignity, the guarantee of minority rights, and the restraint of powerful interests by the rule of law. And, especially as unrest in pursuit of liberty makes the situation in Hong Kong unstable for China's authoritarian government, the United States must remain steady. The people of Hong Kong had better not be asked to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for us getting a "better" trade deal with China. ■ Surely the Founders would look at the United States today and marvel at our economic success. But they were also the ones who wrote that "[P]ower is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." A politician who thinks the state of the economy is the only measure of political success is likely to do great damage to the long-term health of the economy -- and even greater damage to the civic health of the polis, the people.

News 1.7 million people rally for freedom in Hong Kong

With a giant display of peaceable assembly, Hong Kongers practice what America's Bill of Rights preaches

The United States of America There's nothing wrong with acknowledging America's imperfections

But upon acknowledgment, it should also be said, "And striving to fix those imperfections is the most American thing we can do."


August 19, 2019

Iowa The best ride around the Iowa State Fair

Not really on the fairgrounds, but right around there

News "Corporations are [made up of] people"

Every so often, we get a reminder of how things would perhaps be different if people had understood that Mitt Romney was saying in his infamous misspeak that "Corporations are [made up of] people". Because they are. What was actually a sober and really important point got trashed as a late-night punchline. And today, at least some people believe that corporations can be made to bear the costs of climate change without inconveniencing the individual. It's lunacy.

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August 20, 2019

Weather and Disasters A raw and powerful display

(Video) A display of literally continuous lightning went on for at least 20 minutes over Des Moines in the early morning hours, the opening act of a mesoscale convective system (MCS) that fired off exceptional lightning displays from Arkansas to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border

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August 21, 2019

The United States of America What if Greenland had wanted in?

Greenland isn't for sale, but what if the people there had legitimately wanted into the United States of their own communal will?

Science and Technology The Cold War bunker still open for tours

Underground nuclear bunkers were built on a premise: That ordinary people suddenly forced to live underground for months at a time wouldn't quickly go stark raving mad. That premise was probably faulty.

News Cameras (and police) catch tourists riding e-scooters on Milwaukee freeway

If it doesn't spontaneously occur to you that "Hey, this looks like an Interstate highway, so maybe I should stop my scooter", then maybe you shouldn't be allowed out in public without adult supervision.

Business and Finance What does the US economy make?

70% of the value added to GDP comes from services, not stuff. Retail trade creates 5.6% of GDP. For comparative reference: Arts, recreation, and entertainment account for 4.1%. And while some people say they would welcome a recession because it would mean less "stuff" being crassly consumed, to say something like that isn't making a reasoned argument; it's expressing a blind rage against the voluntary choices of millions of your fellow Americans because you don't like the choices they make.

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August 22, 2019

The United States of America Why did Pete Buttigieg finish so far ahead in the corn poll?

WHO-TV's "Cast Your Kernel" poll at the Iowa State Fair isn't scientific, but it does have some capacity to tell a story. And one story it told is that the mayor of South Bend got a lot more votes than would be proportional to his standing in current polls. His deportment is a major positive feature of his campaign: Smart but not aloof, young but not insecure. He probably pulled in a lot of kernels cast by crossover Republicans.

Threats and Hazards US Army recruiting commander disturbingly re-appropriates Auschwitz slogan

The rise of Google Knowledge has too many people thinking they know things well enough to use them, when in fact they've only acquired enough to regurgitate. And that's hazardous.

Humor and Good News Unintended consequences of precision farming

Eastern Iowa farmer uses computer plotting to plant corn hybrids such that subtle differences in the colors of the tassels and leaves spelled out a marriage proposal.

News On late converts to reform in the GOP

The only message that matters right now is the one shared as a welcome in some churches: "Whoever you are, and wherever you come from, we're glad you're here."

News The commonness of self-sacrifice

It happens often enough that someone dies (or comes close to it) while trying to save another that it establishes the confidence to say that most people are basically good and that a great many of us would risk our own welfare to preserve that of another, especially if it's a child:

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August 23, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work The President, the Stalinist

The President tweeted "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China". The President has no such authority. His is the language of Stalinists. ■ A President who even thinks he has the power to order around private businesses like that -- in a time of peace, no less -- is guilty in his heart and his words of a disloyalty to the Oath of Office. And if he takes action on his words, then he is guilty of much worse. ■ As James Madison wrote in Federalist 48, "It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." ■ There are those who would contrast the President favorably with some of his Democratic rivals. And, to be sure, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "Accountable Capitalism Act" contained terrible proposals. Yet that doesn't change the fact that the President is completely out of his lane and doing real damage right now. ■ Announcing $30 billion in taxes is no small measure, and if Congress doesn't reassert its Article I powers post-haste, the consequences for the Constitutional order will be grave indeed. And that's a far worse thing than the economic damage that will ensue, as well.

Computers and the Internet What female coders must endure

There's really no inherent reason for coding to be a male-dominated occupation. Reasons why a gender imbalance might persist nonetheless include terrible conditions right from the start -- at the interview stage for interns.

The United States of America Restraint is the better part of governance

Federalist Paper No. 73, by Alexander Hamilton: "The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones."

The United States of America Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg escapes the worst of cancer

Treatment for a "tumor on her pancreas" is reported by the Supreme Court to have gone well. Cancer is an enemy we can unequivocally revile together. Don't hate people; hate cancer.

Aviation News Skywriting over Des Moines

Unusual, but a fun break from the ordinary -- in marketing support of the Central Iowa Airshow at the Ankeny Regional Airport

Business and Finance The hidden problem with the next recession

All too often, people say "This time, things will be different", but they're usually doing that with a bias toward optimism. Consider the pessimistic case about the next recession, which could happen at any time.

Iowa Multi-hour DSL crash keeps Iowans off Internet

A cut to a fiber-optic cable knocked out Internet access for lots of people for three or four hours

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August 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet YouTube claims it will put tigher controls on "family" videos

If it looks like it's supposed to be family-friendly, Google says, "We're removing misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and families, that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for young audiences." Meanwhile, Disney is slapping its name on a giant multimedia project to include "Disney Plus", an intended competitor to Hulu and Netflix.

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