Gongol.com Archives: December 2019
Two million people is the equivalent of the entire state of Nebraska. Imagine a government that puts a population large enough to fill entire American states into prison camps. We could rest far more assured if we heard senior American leaders, starting with the President, making a moral case for how to deal with China's government. Regrettably, what we hear instead is empty bluster about "winning" and "making deals"...which is to miss the point.
Fundraiser treats guests either to a gourmet meal or a sack lunch, depending on the luck of the draw. A fine way to bring attention to the issues of food insecurity and hunger.
The "elf on a shelf" can be cute, sure, but what about the message it sends to kids about always being watched?
10% of the people will love you no matter what you do, 10% of the people are going to hate your guts and may not even know why, and the other 80% are up to you and how you deal with them.
Calvin Coolidge: "What we need in appointive positions is men of knowledge and experience who have sufficient character to resist temptations."
Charts and statistics are wonderful, but sometimes a good picture tells far more of the story.
The key for a talk-radio host is to continuously cultivate a diverse set of hobby horses you can ride any time the need should arise. For example: The House of Representatives should be ten times larger. Everyone should know a form of self-defense. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Congress should ban interstate economic-development incentives. Every environmental cause should be reframed as a public-health issue if it wishes to be taken seriously.
A historic photo of power and telephone lines in 19th Century Manhattan really brings to life just how much people will tolerate when they're eager to benefit from new infrastructure investment
An Omaha neighborhood is having a dispute that may sound familiar to a whole lot of places -- a developer wants to put condominiums in a neighborhood that has a lot of single-family homes. Residents object that "It's still way oversized for the block". But doesn't it also add considerable value? And doesn't it add density, which is a favorable direction to go if people are truly worried about issues like "sprawl" and high housing costs? In general, we should applaud steps to move most things from lower levels of value to higher ones, real estate included. There are always exceptions, of course, but the general standard ought to default in favor of creating additional value.
This is just not at all what we want to see -- Boulder is in the upper reaches of the Platte River basin. What lands and melts there eventually makes its way downstream...to places along the Missouri River that have basically been flooded for 9 straight months.
It's armed with an 850-hp engine, which might be a bit excessive
From the New York Times: "Just over half of men in the New America survey -- and a slightly higher share of women -- said a reason men didn't take leave was that caregiving wasn't manly." It's way past time to have put this attitude out with the trash. If you're a man who takes on less than your half of the caregiving, then you're less than half of a man for it.
An excellent observation from Christian Vanderbrouk, regarding the all-too-frequent disdain for expertise as displayed by populists: "If there's a broad consensus about something, there's probably a good reason for it. Doesn't mean the consensus is automatically correct, but like enduring institutions, it deserves a provisional respect." So much of the argument expressed by the new anti-liberalist wing of American politics boils down to clamoring for chaos on Earth and a vengeful God above. Which is really no way to run a civilization.
The Speaker of the House says the President "abused his power for his own personal political benefit". This is a historic event, though not for good reasons.
Needless to say, Mr. McFeely's time trials came to a disappointing conclusion.
The next head of Nebraska's state university system starts with a base pay of $934,000 a year, plus a slew of perks, substantial bonus opportunities, free housing and country-club membership, and a big salary deferral that pays off if he stays in the job.
Some corrective framing to the original headline ("More than 600 Pakistani girls and women were sold as brides in China, but diplomatic ties threaten investigation") is in order. Make the headline about something esoteric like diplomacy and readers probably won't care. Make it about people and perhaps they will. What is taking place is an abomination, but it's an abomination because of the slavery -- not because of the diplomacy. And "sold as brides" is unfair: If a person was "sold", that person is a slave, not a "bride".
A Saudi national was the perpetrator
The odds against that kind of dual coincidental match are pretty high
Plenty of linguistic evolution is necessary and unavoidable, but only one word a year deserves to be endorsed. This year, it's "criming". Rudy Giuliani has left us no other choice.
If a person doesn't have the good judgment to decline to participate in a photo like this, then it's hard to believe they would have reliable judgment about how and when to use deadly force.
The company is doing right by reporting on passenger safety. But they have serious work to do: The company's chief legal officer said "99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever", which is true, but then the next step is to commit to deliberate, measurable improvement. To take 99.9% to 99.99%, then to 99.999%, then to 99.9999%, and then again to 99.99999%. While zero incidents is, of course, the ideal outcome, the action plan needs to take measurable steps towards achievable improvements.
A clever retort to those who object to the use of the term "anti-vaxxer": "Do you think they'd prefer 'pro-polio' or 'infant mortality rate enthusiasts'?" People who are anti-vaccine are not more "aware"; they're just anti-vaccine. Be "aware" instead that widespread vaccination creates herd immunity that protects everyone -- but most critically protects those who *cannot* be vaccinated.
There's really quite a lot that doesn't sit right about the incident in Miami that killed an innocent UPS driver and a motorist in a nearby car. ■ This kind of incident -- with all the questions it raises about the use of force -- is exactly why we need an NTSB-style Federal agency to investigate all police-involved shooting deaths. Every last one of them. It's imperative that we know fairly and impartially what happened in these circumstances, and that lessons be learned from them. ■ The public should demand answers to questions like: Why were occupied civilian vehicles used as shields? Why were so many rounds fired when innocent people were located in the line of fire, in the full 360° around the vehicle being chased? If the carjacked UPS truck was traveling in rush-hour traffic in Miami, how come measures weren't used to halt the traffic ahead of the vehicle, as police in the same area did in a similar situation in 2003? Why weren't spike strips or a PIT maneuver put to use? Why did police continue to draw fire towards civilian vehicles clearly trying to escape the situation? What are reasonable people supposed to do with gunfire being exchanged around them, especially if they can't "get down" or "take cover" -- or, God forbid, if they have a child in a booster seat or carseat in the back of an exposed vehicle? In the live video coverage from a TV news helicopter, at least 30 or 40 officers can be counted on-scene, and at least 20 or 30 police vehicles can be counted; exactly what kind of command-and-control authority was being exercised to prevent crossfire or to perhaps preemptively cut off escape routes for the carjackers? ■ These are questions that ought to be answered, and if it cannot be assured that they will be comprehensively and transparently investigated by the authorities in what ought to be an accountable process of oversight, then such an investigation ought at least to be conducted by a neutral and independent agency whose conclusions do not have to carry the weight of enforcement -- for the very same reasons that the NTSB is separate and independent from the DOT. The NTSB's mandate forms a useful template for what should be used in cases of police shootings: "The NTSB determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, the NTSB carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation disasters."
This report confirms with a fair amount of rigor what your gut has probably told you quite often: Social-media environments are bubbling over with fake accounts and manipulation, and the platforms are doing next to nothing to fix the problem, either proactively or reactively. For about $300, they bought thousands of followers and tens of thousands of engagements across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. And even when they reported fraudulent activity taking place, the platform companies did almost nothing to stop it or to correct the damage done. The scale of the fraud conducted by "Manipulation Service Providers" (MSPs) -- particularly originating in Russia -- is the kind of thing people ought to understand better. Social proof is important, and it has effects on people's commercial and political decisions. The scale by which that social proof can be fabricated or manipulated is vast within social media, and the costs are trivially low. That's a toxic brew.
With a population of about 200,000, they've vaccinated about 20,000 against measles in the last two days. The island has low vaccination rates, and they have an active measles outbreak that has killed more than 5 dozen people.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says that's how he would treat it if elected President. The problem with the mindset that claims certain positive rights around material things a person can have (health care, Internet access, housing, employment) is that those claims muddy the waters around the negative rights (things government or others cannot do to you) that are even more important, even if they are literally without substance. This is a real problem, because there is a hierarchy to these things: The right not to be thrown into prison for expressing one's peaceful religious faith is, in fact, more important than a "right" to have someone deliver a DSL line to your house. Reducing the world to a laundry list of material concerns means that you might sacrifice the very building blocks of personal liberty and individual dignity in exchange for your "rights" to have other people pay for your stuff. It is precisely because those negative rights encompass things that don't take a physical form, and that represent what others may not do to you rather than what they might withhold from you, that the negative rights have to come before the positive ones. And in fact, the positive "rights" ought instead to be framed as what they are: Scarcity problems that almost always have answers found in the material world. The difference between wanting to maximize the amount of health care available and saying that everyone has an enforceable right to health care is that one sees a material problem with material constraints, and the other describes the world as one might want it to be. And a positive material right quickly becomes an entitlement, and entitlements must be funded by either voluntary or (more likely) involuntary means. An oppressive government can withhold those positive goods and claim that scarcity made them do it. The same cannot be true for negative rights.
Exhibit #63,438,202 on the list of examples why technology is only as good or bad as the people using it. We humans can use computers to do terrible things like messing with other people's democracies...or we can use them to anticipate severe-weather outbreaks days in advance, save lives, and give people options to protect themselves. It's up to us which we choose.
Here's a hypothesis that probably can't be tested: Maybe the median American voter would be less approving of the Imperial Presidency if children's animated films weren't so relentlessly pro-monarchist. The trope of the wise king (or, now, the wise queen) gets such a workout in films aimed at children that it's sometimes hard to imagine where anyone ever finally gets a taste for small-r republicanism. And thank goodness we do, because the trope is such a bad lesson to teach young people. ■ Missing from the sequel to the original "Frozen" is a full-throated argument for accountability. The main characters set out to right a wrong, but they do so through a number of other uncomfortable tropes -- not least of which is a long diversion into noble savage/white savior territory. ■ The film itself calls "Fantasia" to mind on several occasions -- the animation is absorbing and quite satisfying. And the script does get credit for introducing a good lesson for children: When you don't have a full plan ahead of you, "do the next right thing". That's good advice. But there are bigger lessons to be shared with children, too -- and maybe "trust the wisdom of hereditary monarchs" shouldn't be on that list.
The "Cosmic Crisp" is slightly tart and very juicy -- a fine upgrade over most other varieties, and a hundred times better than Red Delicious
Tim Miller puts the state of politics quite well: "Actual emergencies require sacrifice. They require willingness to work with people that you have major differences with to achieve a solution. They require hard choices and reflection about what you are willing to part with to come out the other side. I believe Donald Trump is an actual emergency. I hope Democrats who agree will start acting like it." ■ Read Dwight Eisenhower's memoir of WWII ("Crusade in Europe"). It's a compelling argument for learning how to categorize threats, rank priorities, and engage allies. You don't have to be fighting WWII to learn Ike's lessons in keeping perspective.
First-generation students have a whole extra set of rules to learn and navigate that their peers who come from multi-generational college families simply don't. The key is in forming social bonds with peers who can help fill in the gaps, especially where formal programs inevitably fall short.
That basic principle -- exercised not as a legal or regulatory requirement, but instead as the kind of thing enforced by social pressure and accepted mores -- would be really valuable for knocking down some of the dreadful and exploitative practices found in industries like money management. Customers get talked into management fees that are patently obscene: 1% or 1.5% on assets sounds small...but it's really a 10% to 20% cut of your returns in most years -- or even more. And for what?
Reuters quotes a fire official: "People should be under no illusion, we won't contain the fires by the time the weather deteriorates later this week". One might wonder whether an increasing frequency of devastating wildfires will tend to accelerate the pace of urbanization. There are only so many firefighting resources to go around. If the choices look like (a) move or (b) risk being abandoned, won't that nudge people to move?
Two observations on the BEA's latest data release: 1. It's pretty unusual for any county to be able to log 71.2% annual GDP growth, as Harlan County, Nebraska, did last year. That's...quite something. 2. The number of counties in the zero-to-negative-growth range is distressing.
How, exactly, was the head of Chicago's city law department claiming a homestead tax credit on two residences at once?
Netflix needs a "folding laundry/drying dishes/assembling toys" mode, where it randomly picks episodes from a preselected list of your favorite series and plays them haphazardly, like a low-wattage UHF station.
Irish Times: "Inspector of Prisons 'refused entry' by drunk prison officer". Now that's really something.
Twitter needs a button to indicate a post made in good faith vs. "bad faith". It ought to be possible to use the crowd knowledge of people whose motivations one already respects to sort out arguments that are not worth seeing because they are made in bad faith. To work, the system would have to let users preselect the people whose judgment they trust. And that's what probably makes it most unworkable, at least for now.
Whatever gets us fastest to a state where human error can no longer kill 30,000 Americans a year, please. Since safer alternatives to highway driving (like passenger rail) are still non-viable, we should take what we can get.
You may think this is overstatement. But there's actually a fair case to make that RSS had critical mass that could have been maintained if Google Reader hadn't been slaughtered. And the twist from user control of RSS feeds to algorithmic control of "news feeds" was a bad one.
Someone needs to take another look at the Joe Biden campaign bus
Netflix needs a "folding laundry/drying dishes/assembling toys" mode, where it randomly picks episodes from a preselected list of your favorite series and plays them haphazardly, like a low-wattage UHF station.
Worthwhile reading. N. Gregory Mankiw is credible and his analysis is fair. MMT doesn't seem to lend any credence to real constraints in the economy. Playing games with the money supply doesn't erase those constraints.
There's a strange breed of political commentators who have lately been promoting a weird view of Catholicism -- trying to design it to be some kind of powerful anti-(classical-)liberal force in the world. Just curious: Have any of these people ever even met a Jesuit? Whether it's called integralism or Catholic dominionism, it's strange and runs directly counter to much of the teaching of the order that produced the current Pope -- who, it seems safe to wager, would probably confess to greater struggles with his own faith than a lot of people who want to blend their orthodoxy with their political science.
A story told both in a family obituary and a follow-up newspaper piece with care and empathy
"At approximately 7:20 p.m. CT, another trooper observed a Ford Explorer following too closely on Interstate 80 at mile marker 273 near Kearney." At last! Someone finally got busted for riding another driver's tail.
Considering the charges, what are the odds anyone will be willing to post bail for this miscreant?
The impeachment of President Trump has passed the United States House of Representatives. There is a distinct cost to not taking action on the President's misdeeds. The compressed, streamlined case is clear: "(1) abuse of power by soliciting the interference of Ukraine in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and (2) obstruction of Congress by directing defiance of certain subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives." ■ On Article I, the vote was 230 to 197, with one abstention. On Article II, it was 229 to 198, with one abstention. The polarized response to Article I is one thing, but the institutional resistance to standing up for Congress's prerogatives as the first branch of the Federal government is quite another. ■ As former Republican (and now independent) Rep. Justin Amash puts it, "Conservatives will someday face the horrible truth that the Republican Party fought so hard to justify and excuse an amoral and self-serving president", and the sad truth is that there will have been so much complicity in neutering their own branch of government. Like Congress or hate it, the House of Representatives is supposed to be the closest thing we get to direct democracy on the national scale. When a President defies Congress by defying lawful subpoenas and ordering subordinates not to testify, they're expressly insulting and undercutting the Congress, and by extension, the American people. Members of Congress may or may not ask the right questions, but their right to do the asking ought to be universally affirmed, regardless of partisan stripe. ■ Some people have looked the other way from the President's behavior because they feel compelled to partisan solidarity and think the impeachment process can be cast in terms that make it a tribal battle. What if, wholly apart from the impeachment process, we just automatically held a recall election for the President two years into each term?
It's doubtful most of us could name Abraham Lincoln's first Vice President in a thousand guesses. (It was Hannibal Hamlin.) He was called up for militia duty while Vice President -- and showed up. Then, four years after getting bounced from the ticket in favor of Andrew Johnson as VP, Hamlin was back in the United States Senate.
Straight from the CDC: "Antibiotic-resistant (AMR) bacteria and fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to a November 13 CDC report." 35,000 deaths is a huge number -- comparable to the number of deaths caused annually by automobile crashes (around 40,000). That's a number large enough that it should be treated like a serious public-health problem, worthy of lots of popular attention. It doesn't seem like it's getting that attention at all.
Much like expressions of gratitude tend to make us feel good (and even more grateful), so do expressions of pride in our spouses.
You don't need to know this story about a little kid from New Jersey who called for help when her mom collapsed, but you'll be glad you read it anyway.
An event like the impeachment of President Trump is the best evidence that newspapers -- even in the digitized 21st Century -- serve an essential archival role for the communities they serve. Nobody prints a screenshot of a homepage, but people still save front pages, even if they're saving them as .jpg files.
From the official Blair House website: "Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., recalls the morning his mother found the prime minister wandering towards the family's private quarters at 3 a.m., trademark cigar in hand, to rouse the sleeping president for more conversation. He met Eleanor first, however, who firmly persuaded him to wait until breakfast." And it was soon after that Churchill and others were to be put up at Blair House instead of the Presidential residence.
Recode notes that "213 public companies have mentioned Amazon in the 'risk factors' section of their annual 10K financial filings". Data journalism sometimes gets (and occasionally deserves) a bad rap for substituting spreadsheets for source development. But sometimes it's really quite effective, and this is one of those cases. Forms filed with the SEC aren't the kinds of documents that it's wise to take lightly or treat unscrupulously. If companies are documenting Amazon as a known "risk factor", that's quite telling.
Home security and porch pirates, making trade deals near and far, and a skeptic's look at "Modern Monetary Theory"
Per the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "Authorities said the 18-foot, 100-pound vehicle was valued at $300,000. The damage to the lawn and ornaments was estimated at $100. The UAV was a total loss." Not the usual kind of thing that comes crashing out of the sky in that part of Iowa.
Cheesy humor is the bread and butter of Midwestern identity.
It didn't come up at the Democratic Presidential debate. At all. Federal debt is easily going to be $70,000 or $75,000 per person by the time someone is sworn in 13 months from now. Maybe more. It's basically intergenerational larceny. And the short-sightedness of it all is appalling; if only we could have a 20-year time horizon on public choices, in place of nonsensical ideologies that substitute for meaning in too many lives. It's been almost 20 years since 9/11 and we're still approaching almost every related issue on a month-to-month basis. It's madness. The appropriate discount rate on serious problems should be close to 0% over the first 20 years.
Ominous: "It is only the second time such a warning, the highest level of bushfire danger, has been issued for the Greater Sydney area since the rating system was introduced in 2009."
On "bad people" vs. "bad choices", creating more value than we consume, and Amazon.com as a threat to other businesses
A review of Krugman's latest book by Sebastian Mallaby in The Atlantic is quite good, and gets to the heart of what's so frustrating about Krugman; he's often so intent on drawing battle lines around a narrative of good-vs.-evil that he gets in the way of the reader who might want to dabble with his ideas before joining the cause.
When the President of the United States sees fit to accuse deceased political rivals of being in Hell, he's choosing to occupy the lowest rung on the ladder of leadership. There's a certain social crime, though, in anyone reporting the President's "riffs", ramblings, or other imprecise language as though it isn't obvious what he's trying to say. Words indeed matter, and it's interpretive malpractice for any journalist, editor, pundit, or bystander to give the President the benefit of doubt over his choice of language. Ambiguity accrues to the benefit of the person who introduces it.
The ubiquity of cameras in the present age really does open the door to things we never would have seen before
Truck crash in Quad Cities dumps hog entrails all over Interstate 74
Just a sign of the times at Sacramento International Airport
James Hatch: "To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect." He echoes Benjamin Franklin ("Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn") and Charlie Munger ("If we hadn't been so good at removing our ignorance step by step, we would be a fraction of ourselves today...We're very good at ignorance-removal, and fortunately for us, we have a lot more ignorance to remove."). It's really quite wise to know we don't know everything.
It's not a message in a bottle, but perhaps the next-closest thing: A note found in a Christmas card, apparently inserted by prisoners being forced to work in a Chinese factory. Material prosperity is only good if it helps to preserve and expand the security of basic human rights and freedoms -- not if it's traded as a substitute for them, which is the model being employed by China. Gilded authoritarianism is authoritarianism nonetheless.
Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are all in a region where the threat of a giant earthquake ought to have people at sustained attention
"Would Alexa blackmail me if I ran for office?"
TikTok, for instance, is a tool that may be very useful for recruiters trying to reach a young audience. But it's also probably a huge security threat, given its murky origins in China -- a known cyber-adversary of our own military. What's nutty is that the US will soon have a "Space Force" as a dedicated military branch, but not a "Cyber Force". Cyberspace is the site of ongoing, never-ending hostilities. Space is an obvious extension of an Air Force mission far more than cyber is an extension of any existing branch. Cyber Force should have come before a Space Force. New battleground, new rules; not to mention a vast need for new training, new strategies and tactics, new recruitment, even a new military academy.
The titanic steps forward in the quality of weather-satellite imagery really pop when you see just how vivid the pictures of major storms (like hurricanes) have become
Refugees aren't helpless. They're just people -- with skills and talents, just like everyone else -- who have been forced out of their homes. If only we could correct the narrative here in the United States and resume seeing them for who they are.
O'Hare, Richmond, Austin, DIA, and LAX may all have been sites where infected travelers passed through
Credibility is difficult to measure, unbelievably fragile, and almost unfathomably valuable.
And the rest of us should be sensitive to that reality, and listen to others
A whole new generation of young people have never experienced the joy of the pedantic arguments over whether a year ending in "0" is the first or the last of a decade. Gather 'round, children, and let us tell you about the holdouts who refused to celebrate New Year's Eve Y2K like it was 1999.
Yahoo News says a Pentagon-issued memo says the consumer DNA kits "could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk". They're not wrong about that.
But why stop at "female"? She's so good that the authorities in gymnastics aren't even sure how to score her. Oughtn't that make her a shoo-in for best athlete of the year, period?
Nate Silver: "What's really going on is that there's been an extremely stable primary among the 60% of Democrats who did not graduate from 4-year colleges and mostly love Biden/Bernie, and then a relatively volatile one among the 40% who did graduate college, and the media only covers the 40%." But also note that part of the volatility probably comes from people who are watching tone more than policy, which means that changes can be amplified day-to-day or week-to-week much more than by the rollout of some new policy book. It's easy to disrupt the perceptions of a candidate's tone rather quickly, for better or worse.
A nonpartisan civil service definitely beats having James Garfield shot to death in a train station.
Who needs long-haul routes when airplanes are much faster? But America really could use swift point-to-point rail service, between cities of certain population levels and economical distances.
Is it "non-traditional" for a woman to propose to a man? Maybe. But: If the time and the relationship are both right, then both partners ought to be thinking the same thing anyway. Good for these two.
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Cyber Command chief Gen. Paul Nakasone: "We can't let up. This is something we cannot be episodic about. The defense of our nation, the defense of our elections, is something that will be every single day for as long as I can see into the future."
The Wall Street Journal says that Huawei is the beneficiary of $75 billion in government support from China. There's a pretty good chance that's true, despite Huawei's protestations to the contrary.