Gongol.com Archives: 2019 First-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

January 2, 2019

The United States of America Stop with the Senate-abolition nonsense

The Senate, with two seats per state, is a non-negotiable fundamental of the Federal model. We need capable state governments, a strong Senate, and a national government with a little bit of humility about it.

News In defense of pay-as-you-go

In a sane world, the rules would be:

1. Decide what you want from government.
2. Limit those wants as much as you can.
3. Pay for it all.

And while it is entirely valid to point out that empathy should play a role in determining what those "wants" should be, the decision has to originate out of principle. Resources are limited. More importantly, government power itself must be limited -- even if it does something that is cost-free. Thus we decide these things in imperfect but representative bodies. For instance: A lot of people think the Mueller investigation should be shut down because it costs money. Others say it should stay open because it has actually turned a profit. The principled answer is that a complete investigation is absolutely necessary, utterly regardless of cost, because government power is inherently dangerous, so it must be controlled by the rule of law. When we have credible suspicions about its use, the principle of limiting that power comes before considerations of cost. Thus, if we want limits on government (including investigations of bad behavior), then we need to be willing to pay for them before we start looking at the tab.

Threats and Hazards A story worth reading about Saudi dissidents

Freedom isn't protected everywhere

Threats and Hazards What happened to Sen. Rand Paul?

Reagan was in many ways a great President, but the hagiography has gotten out of control. Once you surrender critical thinking to one cult of personality, you pave the way for later cults of personality -- as Senator Paul is doing now with his inexplicable embrace of Trumpism.

Business and Finance High minimum wages don't necessarily have the intended consequences

Note to the $15-an-hour crowd: It's not that we disagree with your objectives. It's that the means you propose to use just aren't as effective as they need to be.

Business and Finance Motivational speeches

If you're surprised that Joe Biden commands $100,000 a speech, take a look at who else gets that princely sum

Business and Finance "A poor person never gave anyone a job" -- false.

Lots of jobs are created by people who bootstrap their own companies or otherwise start from scratch. Jobs are not gifts that are handed out charitably by the wealthy to the non-wealthy. The perverted defense that Jerry Falwell, Jr., gives to Donald Trump isn't even sound logic.

Business and Finance Trade deficit worsens as tariffs go up

Remember this next time someone offers a ham-fisted proposal as though it's a magic bullet that everyone before them was just too dumb to realize.

Broadcasting The game theory embedded in submarine-chase films

They invariably focus on extended engagements between two actors with limited information, making them excellent examples to use when teaching game theory.

Humor and Good News "In 2019, Canada is positioned to start down a path towards leading the world"

If they're bringing poutine and Labatt Blue, maybe we can do business. But seriously, there is actually room on the global stage for Canada to take a more prominent role -- particularly as a weathly, productive liberal democracy with an interest in at least some claim to moral authority.

News A vegan challenge from Beyonce and Jay-Z

Guess they won't be headliners at the Iowa State Fair this year.

January 3, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work China's "social credit" system will permit the government to grade everyone

They say it's because people need to trust one another. And it is absolutely true that a society needs mutual trust among its people in order to function. It is absolutely false to think that government can evaluate, measure, score, or impose that trust from above. If the trust doesn't emerge organically, it doesn't really exist.

News Game theory and the Oval Office

The President frames everything like a Manhattan real-estate transaction (two parties, one round). In reality, the world is vastly more complex than that -- most importantly, almost nothing is excluded to two parties, and almost every interaction is part of a long chain of events (and people have memories). Deep down, it's less an ideological problem and more a game-theory problem.

Computers and the Internet Barbarians at the tweet

When people turn to social media to shout their lack of interest in other people through a megaphone, it whacks civilization in the kneecaps.

News On the European Union, the United Kingdom isn't so unified

Scotland voted 62% to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to remain. Such a strange consequence of history that they're being dragged out of the EU effectively against their national wills.

Threats and Hazards Evidence mounts that China's campaign against the Uighurs is as bad as can be imagined

If a state puts all of the writers, artists, and intellectuals of a minority group in prison, you can be sure they are seeking to grind their culture right out of existence. This is a much, much bigger deal than whether the US sold China a few million more or fewer iPhones. How China's government not only aggregates but executes its power is massively important.

News How long is the perfect book?

Substantially shorter than the average non-fiction book of the present day, that's for sure. But it turns out that data about our reading (and reviewing) habits now collected via the Internet gives some useful feedback on the relationship between length and quality. Or, at least, it suggests that people tend to over-rate long books...probably to make ourselves feel better about finishing books with too many pages.

January 4, 2019

The United States of America A new Congress is convened

And Rep. Thomas Massie, a member of Congress from Kentucky, gets it completely right: "[W]e swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States, not to the government, not to the flag, not to any party, and not to the President." It's good that he gets that. And it would be terrific if that would rub off on some of his colleagues. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee has proposed a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. It's perfectly understandable that people might find incongruity in a process that doesn't award the Presidency to the winner of the popular vote. But that complaint is a superficial one: People who don't understand the Electoral College don't understand Federalism. Right at the center of the Constitution is the idea that the individual states have meaning and importance and stature. The Senate isn't supposed to be proportional to population because the national government isn't supposed to be the end-all, be-all of our public life. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 9, "The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power." The Electoral College is an extension of the disproportionality of the Senate. There's nothing wrong with considering means for diminishing the disproportionality (for instance, by expanding the House of Representatives, which is an idea with considerable merits of its own), but a form of disproportionality is inevitable. And at the extremes, the numbers are attention-getting: Wyoming has about 578,000 people and three Electoral College votes; California has 39,557,000 people and 55 votes. That's 192,579 Wyomingites versus 719,218 Californians per EC vote. But that matters a lot if one thinks that the President is the most important person in America, with the power and the responsibility to impose policies on the country at large. But that's not a Constitutional orientation. The Constitution puts the legislative branch in Article I and the executive branch in Article II, and not by accident. The Constitutional sensibility perceives that anything worthy of national rule-making should begin either with a majority of the population (in the House) or a majority of the states' interests (in the Senate). Things are supposed to start in Congress and be carried out by the White House -- unless they're stupid ideas, in which case the President is supposed to use the veto power to stop them. The sickness in the system isn't the disproportionality of the Electoral College or the supposedly "undemocratic" nature of the Senate. Those exist by design. No, the sickness in the system is the Imperial Presidency. There are occasional acknowledgments of this problem -- as when Republicans talk about rolling back administrative regulations that never went through Congressional approval, or when Democrats insist that the White House be subject to investigation and other forms of accountability. But in the broadest sense, the notions that we should overhaul the Senate or toss out the Electoral College are tacit displays of fealty to a national government that grows too large for the health of the governments closer to the people. The states aren't subsidiaries of the government in Washington, DC. They exist before and prior to the national government -- both in the literal sense (recall that we had thirteen states and the Articles of Confederation before we had the Constitution) and in the figurative one (the very name of the country is "United States of America", in which the noun is "states"). The nation obtains its legitimacy from the authority granted to it by the citizens and by the states. It takes both forms of authority to make the country. Chipping away at the foundations of that relationship makes the country more volatile and makes the states weaker. And weak states cannot forever prop up a functioning Federal government.

Health Back-to-back triple-organ transplants

Two 29-year-olds have undergone triple transplants at the University of Chicago Medical Center: Heart, liver, and kidney. May we see (soon) the day when bioengineering permits us to generate our own organs in the lab, so we don't have to leave people waiting for donor organs.

Health Iowa records first flu-related fatality of 2019

"[A] middle aged (41-60 years of age) Eastern Iowa man, who had underlying conditions or contributing factors" -- which is a reminder why it's useful for healthy people to get flu vaccinations, especially if you come into contact with the very old, very young, or very sick.

Science and Technology Nothing grows faster than bamboo

Which seems to account for its reputation as an eco-friendly building material. Use the thing that grows fast and captures carbon quickly.

Humor and Good News Interior-decorating goals

John Dickerson shares photos of a gorgeous personal library setup

Humor and Good News Mazel tov!

One of the best phrases that has crossed over from Judaism into secular popular culture. Now, if only "mitzvah" (in the sense of doing a good deed, not the coming-of-age ritual) would make the same leap. It's a great word.

Threats and Hazards The President dismisses Syria as "sand and death"

But that definition is superficial and unfair. We don't have to know all the answers to all of the world's problems. But we have to at least try to frame the problems like decent human beings.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve independence: Planting the flag

At the American Economic Association conference, Jerome Powell said he wouldn't resign if the President asked. An insufficient number of people understand just how important central-bank independence is. If you want to trace most inflationary disasters back to their source, you'll find they start when politicians take direct control of the money supply.

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January 5, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 5, 2019

Live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time

News For-profit college to forgo half a billion dollars in student debt

Virtually all of the nation's attorneys general have reached an agreement with Career Education Corp. to settle a dispute over practices that may have pressured or misled students into enrolling in programs both online and at physical campuses using what the AG offices deemed "unfair and deceptive practices". The company will write off about half a billion dollars in student debts as a result.

January 6, 2019

News One-paragraph book review: "The World Until Yesterday", by Jared Diamond

The very good points of the book (which are summarized surprisingly concisely and well in the 14-page epilogue) drown in a sea of minutiae about the !Kung people and birdwatching in New Guinea.

January 7, 2019

The United States of America A word or two on restraint

It's really not hard: Never claim powers for yourself that you wouldn't happily place in the hands of your opponents. Anyone who can't abide by that kind of regulation shouldn't come within fifteen city blocks of a position of political power in America.

January 8, 2019

Threats and Hazards "I can do it if I want"

The overarching problem is that the President frames everything like a Manhattan real-estate transaction (two parties interacting in a deal lasting just one round, perhaps never to speak with one another again). In reality, the world is vastly more complex than that -- most importantly, almost nothing is excluded to two parties, and almost every interaction is part of a long chain of events (and people have memories). Deep down, it's less an ideological problem and more a game-theory problem.

Weather and Disasters 54-mph wind gusts in Iowa

When standing still takes the same effort as standing on top of a car going down a two-lane highway.

Humor and Good News Life hack for finding better friends

Anyone new in your orbit must have the immediate and adoring approval of at least one dog or one child under the age of 4. Both are better judges of character than most adults.

January 9, 2019

The United States of America Realistic foreign policy demands a foundation in some kind of principle

Sen. Ben Sasse: "Our single greatest asset for realist foreign policy is the idealistic underpinnings and core of the fact that we are a nation that believes in universal human dignity."

News The Chrysler Building is up for sale

It's the best-looking building in Manhattan. Period. That doesn't make it a good or bad investment, per se, but it's a fact: The Chrysler Building radiates Art Deco from every square inch, and there's just nothing better in a tall building than that.

News Enforcing the laws already on the books

When people use the phrase "enforce the laws that are already on the books", they probably aren't thinking of some of the awful laws that are...already on the books. An example: The portion of Nebraska's state constitution that continues to permit slavery. That needs to be removed from the books, and it's a good example why we should pay better attention to the value of sunset provisions.

Business and Finance Liquor industry group surprised that legal marijuana hasn't hurt sales

Seems more like a beer-and-pretzels relationship than a guns-and-butter one. It's unclear why anyone really thought booze and weed were going to be competitors.

January 10, 2019

News On walls and wheels

The President seems fixated on the idea that (border) walls and wheels are of similar vintage, which somehow imbues them in his mind with a sort of co-validity. Of course, defensive walls weren't used around every ancient city. Maybe that's because they were peaceful. Maybe it's because walls failed the cost/benefit test. A wall is a pretty expensive investment for something that can't be moved, can't adapt to changing threats, and can't do much to protect you once it's been breached. We shouldn't assume that the people who lived many generations before us didn't know how to do things (like cost/benefit analysis) just because they didn't always have our modern words to describe them.

Threats and Hazards The "Belt and Road" battle ahead

David Rennie: "It's a contest of models, and the liberal, democratic world is too tired and inward-looking to compete". An utterly depressing conclusion -- but not without merit. We're making choices right now (deliberately or by inaction) that are going to have consequences for the shape of our world in the next quarter- to half-century.

News Attentive Milwaukee bus driver rescues lost toddler from imminent danger

Most people are basically decent

January 11, 2019

The United States of America Nobody is born civilized

In light of the latest insulting, degrading, and plainly stupid remarks on race and civilization from Rep. Steve King, a reminder from nearly two years ago (in response to previous stupidity from the Congressman): Civilization isn't genetic; it's earned and kept through hard work. If you think civilization is all in the genes, you'll neglect the important work of its maintenance. America works because we work at it. Rep. King wants to pretend like his comments are just a "mistake", but not a "mistake" when you keep doing something over and over: It's a bad decision. The good to come out of "Western Civilization" is mainly a result of its commitment to getting better -- to self-examination and improvement. Rep. King is long overdue to make himself a better person.

Business and Finance Individual income taxes pay for about half of the Federal government

Add in the taxes taken out for entitlement spending, and it's more than three quarters

News Michael Bloomberg doesn't do fair fights

He says he would fund his own campaign if he were to run for President in 2020. And that's consistent with a line from his autobiography: "[T]he likelihood that we will prevail five times in a row in a fair fight is only about 3 percent. We don't want fair fights. We want to go into contests with an advantage."

Humor and Good News A Peeps factory tour

Sounds a bit like finding the Golden Ticket to see Willy Wonka

January 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards FBI opened counterintelligence investigation into President Trump

Once in a while, a truly stunning story breaks. This one requires multiple readings. And not because it sounds like overreach -- but because the threat sounds so plausible. And the President's incapacity to plainly deny the risk is astonishing.

Business and Finance "Don't sign a petition. Buy a subscription."

Maine newspaper converts comments from author Stephen King into a subscription drive

Computers and the Internet Kindle app on Android phones now scrolls books like web pages

On the hierarchy of media, paper books or e-ink (like the Kindle) are still better than reading from a smartphone screen. But this is a big new advantage in favor of the phone. And whatever makes it easier to read more books is surely a good thing, no?

The United States of America "Western civilization's greatness lies [...] in the universality of its message."

A well-worded commentary from John Podhoretz. Civilization isn't something you're born with; it's something you learn. Anyone who thinks it's an entitlement of birth or genes doesn't understand civilization at all.

January 13, 2019

News Mind your business, America

Kori Schake: "The good news is that America’s problems are largely within its ability to fix; the bad news is there is little sign Americans are interested in fixing them."

Humor and Good News A perfect 10

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi puts on a spectacular display of athleticism

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January 14, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work Looking out over the (Berlin) Wall

The Communist world built walls to keep people in against their will

The United States of America Congress, supreme

Deep Constitutional nerdery meets one of the most vexing problems of the present political day in a piece from Jay Cost, who rightly notes that the Article I branch of the government comes first for a reason -- since it's the wellspring of government by the consent of the governed

Iowa What to eat in Des Moines? Anything, really.

A profile in "Food and Wine" illustrates a pleasurable fact of life in Des Moines: If you can't find more restaurants to love here than any reasonable person could patronize, you're just not paying attention.

January 15, 2019

Threats and Hazards UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal

The whole Brexit affair seems like a perfect example of the problem of deciding "We hate this; let's get rid of it" without also deciding "When we get rid of this, what comes after it?" Sure, it's clear that among the English (not so much among the Scots or the Northern Irish), there was substantial public disappointment with the EU. But as it was put in Federalist 49, "The danger of disturbing the public tranquility by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society."

Threats and Hazards New York Times: "Trump discussed pulling U.S. from NATO, aides say"

Absent any other evidence of his behavior, this alone would represent a serious national security threat. As Margaret Thatcher said, "A nation can be free but it will not stay free for long if it has no friends and no alliances." But it's even more alarming considering the President's other displays of reckless talk and action, erratic decision-making, and suspiciously docile behavior in the presence of Vladimir Putin. Deterrence and alliances depend on psychology as much as on treaties.

The United States of America The President deserves a primary challenger

A look at five people who could contest the Republican Presidential nomination for 2020: Senator Mitt Romney, Secretary Jim Mattis, Governor John Kasich, Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Senator Jeff Flake. He also deserves a challenge from people like Senator Bob Corker or Senator Ben Sasse. The nomination should not be handed again to President Trump. It should be vigorously contested by someone with character and a sense of honor. Stephen F. Hayes offers a robust argument on behalf of a primary challenge, on the grounds that without it, "the 2020 presidential election will almost certainly pass without voters hearing a coherent case for limited government."

News Run for the mountains

Someone shared a mockup of an "Amy Klobuchar for President 2020" logo, and social media ran away with it. But the materials include some allusions to mountains, which Klobuchar's home state of Minnesota doesn't have. In fact, if you'd gotten in your car in Minneapolis and started driving west, in seven hours you STILL wouldn't even have made it to Wall Drug, much less to a mountain.

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January 16, 2019

News A little "light treason"?

Rudy Giuliani is taking to television to defend (?) the President, and nothing he says inspires serious confidence. People keep saying that reality is too much like "Veep", but it seems more like we're just watching a nefarious real-life version of "Arrested Development".

News Publius, 2019

Rap artist Cardi B has a very not-safe-for-work rant about the government shutdown, viewed millions of times in less than a single day. It's unlikely that the same number of people will read, say, the Federalist Papers this year -- so what does that say about our self-government? Should we expect more nose-in-the-books behavior, or are off-the-cuff celebrity video rants the new standard?

News Super data visualization

A German commuter knitted a scarf to illustrate how often her travels were delayed -- two rows of yarn per day. It's a tremendously clever idea.

News Judge them by their words

Here's a test: Judge politicians and candidates by how much their speeches differ from the typical laundry list of utterly unfulfillable promises made by kids campaigning for student council. A whole lot of them fail by that yardstick. Then don't hesitate to hold them accountable for the "good behavior" that James Madison wrote about.

Humor and Good News Someone found Joe Biden's dream board

A fake edition of the Washington Post is apparently floating around DC

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January 17, 2019

Threats and Hazards President Trump denies use of military aircraft to Speaker Pelosi

Pelosi was scheduled to go to Afghanistan, but the President (almost certainly in retaliation for the dispute over whether he will be permitted to give the State of the Union address during the Federal government shutdown) has denied her the use of military aircraft to go there. This is a particularly sticky situation, because the Department of Defense is fully budgeted and isn't shut down. Moreover, there's a big Constitutional problem with the Article II branch of government denying access to government resources to the Article I branch...for basically any reason whatsoever. Congress is the wellspring of all further legitimacy in national government -- remember, they can fire the President but the President can't fire them. The tools of the government, then, ultimately "belong" to Congress first -- including the military. They not only have the power to set the budget (Article I, Section 7), but they also have sole power to declare war (Article I, Section 8). In other words, Congress isn't just equal, in many important regards, it is supreme. Whether you like the Speaker of the House or not, the interests of that entire branch of government are very much the interests of the American public. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "[The Founders] placed all their public officers under constitutional limitations. [...] They were very apprehensive that the executive might seek to exercise arbitrary powers."

Threats and Hazards Buzzfeed report: "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress"

If true (and it's an exclusive report for now), it's a spectacularly big story. The story says that "two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie". That would be to suborn perjury, which is a massively bad thing to do (and the kind of thing that brought down Richard Nixon).

The American Way Jack Bogle was the real capitalist revolutionary

Forget Che Guevara. Put the face of Jack Bogle on your t-shirt instead.

Business and Finance Omaha Public Schools face $771 million pension shortfall

And they're not even close to being alone on this. Probably no one truly understands the scope and scale of public-sector pension shortfalls in America today. They're all over the country, and they're huge. They are not just contractual obligations, either: They are tied to enormous political risk, too, since public-sector workers (and especially their unions) are extremely powerful in politics.

News Should cities clear snow-covered sidewalks instead of property owners?

If the sidewalk is considered a part of the broader transportation system, then perhaps it should become a municipal responsibility. Otherwise, the results may be simply too haphazard for the safety of anyone who needs to travel by foot.

Threats and Hazards Getting the right perspective on risk

We live in an age when stores offer "extended warranty protection" on a $14 computer mouse, but meanwhile, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is just seven years away from total depletion.

Health A few notes on vestigial structures

There are some weird things left over in the human body that we don't use anymore, and it's not just the appendix

January 18, 2019

News "I am now convinced that only a real crisis can cure this 21st-century fantasy of crisis."

Disaster without a plan isn't a good thing. Ever.

Business and Finance Is $15 an hour enough?

A New York Times columnist, noting the city's new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law, suggests that the self-sustaining wage in the city is more like $33 an hour. The essence of the problem is that even if true, that number can hardly be imposed by law without consequence. German has a lot of great words for complex matters. Can we find and co-opt into English their word for "I am sympathetic to what you want, but the way you want to get there is complete lunacy and will never achieve that goal"?

Business and Finance Starting with the man in the mirror

There really is nothing less threatening to anyone with a healthy self-image than Gillette's new commercial focusing on a theme of rejecting toxic behavior by males. It appears they're tacitly acknowledging that their longstanding "The Best a Man Can Get" campaigns may have sometimes lapsed into reinforcing stereotypes that needed to go. Nothing wrong with a little voluntary corporate responsibility. It's reminiscent of the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror": When a man shaves, he literally faces the man in the mirror, and it is to Gillette's credit that they're willing to make something of that moment in a way that isn't universally popular.

News Supreme Court justices in the off-season

Justice Clarence Thomas "will co-teach a two-week Supreme Court class with Creighton law professor Michael Fenner" in Omaha in the next several days. One might kid that the shutdown has gotten so bad, Supreme Court justices are having to pick up adjunct teaching jobs.

News "I've got to just do the right thing"

How House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to punish Rep. Steve King. Rep. King remains obstinately unrepentant, even though his antics -- part of a long pattern of behavior -- cost Iowa a literal seat at the table due to his removal from the Agriculture Committee (fortunately an absence rectified by the appointment of Rep. Cindy Axne to the committee).

News One-paragraph book review: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"

Discount the prescriptions, but consider the overall diagnosis

Iowa A truly mobile office

Putting luxury chairs, Wi-Fi, and a TV in a van as a high-end transportation service

News Prince Philip flipped his Land Rover

He's 97 years old. Every family seems, sooner or later, to be forced into a conversation about when it's finally time to take the keys away from a senior family member. And all too often, it doesn't happen until a serious crash.

January 21, 2019

News Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on education

He spoke often on the value of education. We usually don't talk about it explicitly (like we do about the freedoms of religion and speech), but it's hard to think of anyone who has ever been truly free without the freedom to obtain an education.

January 22, 2019

News Is "authenticity" the real matter for politicians?

It's pretty easy to talk about "authenticity" as though it's the hot new thing, but in reality, it's been an issue for a century. Take, for instance, what Calvin Coolidge wrote: "In public life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial." With a roster of what feels like thousands now running for President, there will be a lot of effort put into "appearing really natural". But there are going to be a whole lot of ways for people to get tripped up on the way to doing that, and the embarrassments will hurt more than the efforts at authenticity may help. It's really hard to fake a tweet in one's own voice -- when Senator Ben Sasse tweets about things that really animate him, like America's relationship with the world or Nebraska college athletics, you know it's him being himself. And the same goes for when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses a phrase like "all your base". Like them or not, agree with them or not, they both use first-person language in a way that can't be faked.

News A thought-provoking interview on contemporary anti-semitism

Very well worthwhile listening, particularly because Anne McElvoy of The Economist is an extraordinary interviewer

Weather and Disasters Survey says...

An entirely unscientific poll finds that people would rather pay a little more in local taxes and not have to shovel snow instead of saving the tax money and shoveling for themselves.

January 23, 2019

News How about a little demand shock to education?

A potentially unpopular but highly necessary idea, in an age of accelerating economic churn: Make continuing education compulsory for adults. Require everyone to complete three credit hours per year from an accredited source. No restrictions on the delivery method or the subject. If you want to study household electricity, great. Medieval religious texts, fine. Monetarist economic theory, fantastic. As a consequence of imposing a big demand-side shock, you'd quite likely see big innovations in educational delivery, as well as a stimulus to career teaching jobs.

The United States of America Should the State of the Union speech be cancelled...forever?

A reasonable case for doing away with the annual spectacle altogether. Even better, perhaps we ought to really buttress the spirit of democracy and make the President face questions like the British do to their Prime Minister. Make Article II (literally) answer to Article I.

Computers and the Internet Better tweeting

Twitter ought to have two buttons to retweet: "Retweet with endorsement" and "Retweet because it's interesting".

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January 24, 2019

News Some branches of government are more equal than others

There is a reason why Congress can fire the President through the impeachment process, but the President can't dissolve Congress.

Science and Technology Automation isn't going away

And it's likely to have a bigger effect on certain geographic areas and demographic groups than on others. A new Brookings study says Midwestern states, rural communities, young people, and Hispanic and black workers all may experience disproportionate displacement. We shouldn't try to run away from technological change; after all, the automobile put a lot of stablehands and blacksmiths out of business. But it's wise to pay attention to the effects of change and to disaggregate data where it may tell the story behind the story.

News The oldest Millennials could actually be having grandchildren now

What's the best definition for separating a Millennial from a Gen-Xer? Perhaps the easiest cultural milepost on this is whether your age cohort had Facebook accounts during college. (It emerged in colleges in 2004 and 2005, before opening to the greater public in 2006. If yes, then Millennial. If no, then Gen X. And if you got it partway through, then choose your own adventure. Pew says they're defining "Millennial" as those born between 1981 and 1996 -- which means "Generation Z" is now entering the workforce in earnest.

Science and Technology Text-to-911 continues to expand

Now it's available in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as many of the nearby counties. A great option for people who need emergency help, but who can't use the normal 911 service -- if, for instance, they're hiding from an intruder or a domestic abuser.

Computers and the Internet How really to use Twitter

One's Twitter experience can easily turn into a dumpster fire if one only ever reads the main feed. But if you curate a few lists and put some thought into deliberately plumbing the thoughts on those lists, it can be a marvelous resource. Deliberate, intentional media consumption is a skill worth cultivating.

Health $8,000 transfusions of "young blood"

Being offered in Omaha and a few select other locations now. For the same efficacy, at the right time of night, you can find a guy in a trenchcoat hanging around the Leahy Mall who will spit into your eye for five bucks. Your results may vary.

Broadcasting The newsroom

For one day only, reports one Mark DiStefano, Sky News will put more than 30 cameras in its newsroom and stream the whole behind-the-scenes thing live. Without a 7-second delay, this could be the most NSFW program on television.

January 25, 2019

News Roger Stone arrested on criminal charges

His purported "style" column is about to take a highly monochromatic turn. The charges: lying, obstruction, and witness tampering. The special counsel's office isn't messing around.

News Was the Coast Guard commandant right to criticize the government shutdown?

This raises important questions. The public -- through Congress, especially -- needs feedback on how decisions, policies, and funding affect the mission. We don't want undue military influence on politics, but we also can't afford military policy without honest feedback.

News Newseum sells its iconic building

The Newseum -- one of the best museum institutions in museum-saturated Washington, DC -- is selling its building on Pennsylvania Avenue to Johns Hopkins University and will move out at the end of 2019. They say they're going to look for "a new home in the Washington, DC area", but it's hard not to be concerned that any new location will diminish the status of the institution. Right now, a visitor to DC can't miss it.

Business and Finance When companies commute to their talent

Pella Corp. is opening an office in Des Moines to make it easier to recruit and retain workers who would rather live in the metro than in the company's namesake town.

January 26, 2019

The United States of America Should the draft be modernized? Can it be?

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has released an interim report saying that they're examining a giant menu of options -- which could include requiring women to sign up for Selective Service, imposing a one-year public-service requirement on all Americans, and/or having government agencies share information with one another about prospects for "service opportunities". Even for an interim report, it seems exceptionally broad and vague.

News Roger Stone becomes sixth associate of Trump campaign to be indicted

Stone has a long history of association with the now-President.

News Federal shutdown ends (temporarily) after 35 days

The longest shutdown in history really just means that a bunch of Federal workers are going to be paid (late) for not working for a month. There are better ways to resolve political disagreements. The President continues to try to lay the groundwork to call a border wall a "national emergency", and that's not a healthy direction for things to go, either.

News Sen. Joni Ernst's personal story goes quite public

News related to her divorce filings put her into the spotlight as a victim of sexual assault. In an interview with Bloomberg News, she repeated a common refrain: "The problem is now I've been outed when I was not ready to talk about it. But now maybe it forces me to talk about it."

Health Can we stop antibiotic resistance?

The UK's National Health Service is going to try a model to pay drug manufacturers for the value of their medications to the system, rather than the quantity produced and sold. (Tn economic terms, that's an effort to bring the price in line with the true social utility.) They're also going to try to reduce the use of the drugs overall.

January 27, 2019

News Holocaust Memorial Day

A reminder that genocides haven't been vanquished, and that indifference to the suffering of other people is never benign.

Computers and the Internet Dear Unicode: We need a NATO flag emoji

As symbolic displays go, this is one a person can definitely get behind.

News Peggy Noonan laments the decline of local newspapers

The loss of a permanent sense of local "place" is an important point, and it's a big part of Ben Sasse's valuable book "Them". For 85 years, we Americans have been teaching ourselves to think that everything important is done at the national level, and that's had unintended consequences -- not least of which is a hollowing-out of our interest and investment in how we manage ourselves close to home.

Broadcasting Children's television programs, ranked

(1) Sesame Street; (2) Super Why; (3) Curious George; (4) Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood; (5) Little Baby Bum. And basically everything else is just miserable garbage designed to sell junk or induce vomiting in adults.

Health Cold-weather safety tip: Check your CO monitors

Carbon-monoxide detection is a must wherever anything is combusted indoors (or near indoors) -- natural gas, LP, wood, gasoline, diesel, or otherwise

Iowa Winter brings a snow/freezing rain combo to Des Moines

It's like seven-layer salad, but for winter precipitation. Iowa's frequently-appalling weather is our secret weapon in keeping out the riffraff.

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January 28, 2019

Business and Finance New CBO outlook has Federal debt on dreadful path

With no changes to current policies, we're looking at a debt as big as the entire GDP in a decade. And that's just debt held by the public. Add in the intragovernmental holdings in trust funds, and we're pretty well at the 100% ratio already. The mass delusion that we can ignore this problem without consequences is astonishing. This isn't an imaginary monster hiding under the bed. In accounting, debt is usually the one thing that is always very, very real.

News What we read when everyone is watching

It's interesting to watch answers to questions like "What are seven books you love?" from high-profile people who are supposed to be highly knowledgeable about current events, but scrupulously non-partisan -- like Jeff Glor, anchor of the CBS Evening News. His picks include a classic on Theodore Roosevelt and a David Halberstam work. But it's almost predictable that he chose a Lincoln-centric piece first. Picks like Glor's really tell us which are the safest parts of the American consensus. Lincoln? Extremely safe.

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January 29, 2019

Computers and the Internet Why it's so hard for the Defense Department to get into cyber

It's hard not to become convinced that the Defense Department ought to stand up a full-fledged branch dedicated to cyber, complete with its own laws of combat, mission accountability, and a service academy.

Weather and Disasters Better on someone's shoulders than on your coat hanger

As Midwesterners rifle through their closets for winter gear, we ought to consider giving under-used garments to our local shelters, where they might do some good.

Computers and the Internet Free technology repair may be the next big library mission

Despair, if you must, about the condition of national politics. But know that the really interesting stuff is happening at the state and municipal levels, where people's problems are visible up-close.

Weather and Disasters -40° -- where metric meets standard

If this is what it takes to get America on the metric system, then it's a bridge too far. On the bright side, though, cold winters are a pretty significant deterrent to scorpions, deadly spiders, and rattlesnakes.

Health Twins born at 22 weeks and one day of gestation

That's an incredible 18 weeks early, and their survival is a testament to the absolutely superhuman work of the people working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Humor and Good News "The rise of the swear nerds"

How swearing in type might just help some people feel better about themselves

Weather and Disasters Super-cold temperatures could kill a lot of emerald ash borer larvae

At least some good might come of the cold snap

Threats and Hazards The worst is yet to come

In testimony to Congress, the Director of National Intelligence offers this decidedly uncheery report: "We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other's experiences and efforts in previous elections."

January 30, 2019

Threats and Hazards The President dismisses his entire intelligence community

If a foreign head of state insulted American intelligence agencies like this, we would them a likely adversary. The President's temperament and lack of even a shred of humility makes him profoundly ill-suited to his job. As Calvin Coolidge suggested, "Any man who has been placed in the White House cannot feel that it is the result of his own exertions or his own merit. Some power outside and beyond him becomes manifest through him."

Water News Still on the job in the cold

Low-temperature records are falling. Schools are closed. Even US Mail delivery has been suspended. But public utilities are still open. Never a day off.

Weather and Disasters Ice quakes go boom in the night

Subsurface moisture is freezing in the extraordinary cold, causing the ground to "boom". Though you could be forgiven for thinking a pterodactyl had crashed into your house.

The United States of America True conservatives aren't reactionary

A thoughtful column by Avi Woolf: "Conservatives are supposed to be the immovable rock in the storm, the adult in the room, the stubborn, obstinate but level-headed individuals who stand for the things that matter long after fads and fashions have passed..."

Humor and Good News Some kind of wacky recursive art thing has emerged on Reddit

Harmlessly silly fun like this ought to come with reasonably high confidence that artificial intelligence will never see the humor, which may be what keeps us human after all.

January 31, 2019

Threats and Hazards 1,437 children

The number killed in Syria's civil war last year. Fewer than in 2017 (2,109) or in 2016 (2,372). Yet still 1,437 too many.

Computers and the Internet Facebook is a main cyberwarfare battleground

The company says it "removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts that were being used in a coordinated disinformation campaign "directed from Iran". And here's why Iran would do such a thing: Asymmetry of results. The Facebook report says they found "Less than $30,000 in spending for ads", but the pages reached more than 2 million users.

Aviation News The Airbus A380 may be among the walking dead

Emirates Airline may be reconsidering an order for the super-jumbo jets, which could mean the whole program is doomed

Business and Finance Principal Financial warns of likely layoffs ahead

The financial-services sector isn't hot right now, and that meant net income for 2018 was a lot lower than in 2017.

Computers and the Internet Apple and Facebook go to digital war

Apple is seeking to punish Facebook in a visible way for violating Apple's terms for applications. Facebook was using the "Facebook Research" app (according to impressive reporting by TechCrunch) to gather data on everything users did with their phones. It paid those users to give up their privacy -- apparently to the tune of $20 a month -- which is an interesting market price signal. (The number seems terribly low, given the amount of intrusion. But in reality, users routinely give up a lot of privacy for free without even acknowledging or realizing it.) But the PR nightmare here is that the users Facebook solicited were ages 13 to 35, and that means the headline becomes "Facebook paid teens $20 a month to give up their privacy". It's worth repeating: Facebook isn't your friend.

Iowa Cable median barriers prevent head-on crash

(Video) Iowa DOT footage shows a car skidding out on icy I-380, crashing into police cars in the median, and being stopped by a cable barrier in the median -- almost certainly preventing an even more serious head-on crash with oncoming traffic.

Iowa Des Moines needs a good winter festival

The metro needs some kind of mid-winter event so we can look forward to something fun when it's apocalyptically cold outside. Like, when it's gas-station-wiper-fluid-still-frozen degrees out. And you can't count the Iowa caucuses, because that's just a once-every-four-years open-mic night.

February 1, 2019

News The floodgates have opened on 2020

A squadron of candidates have suddenly announced real intentions of running for President -- Sen. Cory Booker (announced Feb. 1), Sen. Kamala Harris (Jan. 27), Pete Buttigieg (Jan. 23), and...maybe...Sen. Sherrod Brown. But Brown may need to work on his elevator pitch: The Des Moines Register captures him telling an Iowa audience "I don't know yet" when asked what makes him different as a candidate. You, too, may be a candidate for President and perhaps you just don't know it yet. Of note: Among the prominent names we've heard in (or near) the crowded Democratic field, only Hickenlooper and Bullock have experience as governors. Only Bloomberg and Castro have experience as big-city mayors. This could make a real difference in the end: Elected-executive experience matters, as routinely demonstrated by the shortcomings of POTUS 45 (and POTUS 44).

News There's no excuse for only using half our brains

Women and men (and boys and girls) need to spend time doing constructive, merit-based work together.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve sticks with stable interest rates

They're still targeting 2.25% to 2.5% for the federal funds rate, with perceptions that inflation is at 2%. By historical standards, that remains an insanely low real rate of inflation. The Fed says the flat interest rate choice is made "In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures" -- which is the kind of thing you usually hear with someone audibly clearing their throat. What could possibly go wrong right now...other than Brexit, another government shutdown, trade wars, or a bad POTUS tweet?

Humor and Good News What city would your hero build?

Benjamin Franklin's charter city: Libraries everywhere, walkable access to science museums, and cutting-edge fire protection. Also, probably a lot of pubs. Maybe that's something for us to think about today.

Iowa Winter calculus

Winter in Iowa is just one long calculus equation, in which you try to decide which coat to wear based on the number of minutes you'll spend outside, how many of those minutes will be in the sun, and how quickly you'll overheat once you get indoors.

February 2, 2019

The United States of America Chicago has a team of Good Samaritans

After a propane tank exploded at a homeless encampment near downtown, first responders confiscated a whole bunch of the tanks (out of concern for safety), but that would have left dozens of people literally out in the cold. Their other option was to go to a shelter, but a group of South Side business owners stepped up and provided a few days of hotel lodging for about 100 people.

Health Overdosed ibuprofen recalled from Walmart, CVS, and Family Dollar stores

The company says the doses may be about 10% higher than listed.

Aviation News Gamble of the century for Boeing

Should they build a 797 that could cannibalize parts of their lucrative 737 and 787 ranges? If they don't, will Airbus eat their lunch?

February 6, 2019

News Who wants to be governor of Virginia?

The political avalanche of the last few days exposes a cultural problem: We might not be structuring our political incentives and systems to send the most desirable people to office. As Bill Gates said in 2016 about running for President: "I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected." There should be little to no doubt that someone of Gates's ability would be up to the task -- especially if he were to spend time in elected-executive office at the state level (as a governor, preferably). But the way we treat politics may be a significant disincentive to getting the best people into office, and that has social costs. It's a problem not easily solved.

News Maybe we need a partisan press again

Newspapers used to be nakedly and unabashedly partisan, which is why Iowa has newspapers with names like "Marshalltown Times-Republican" and "Bloomfield Democrat". It's historically illiterate to suggest otherwise. What we see today are partisans who object to the framing of stories they do or don't like, and that is more a reflection of the "receiver" than the "sender" (in the widely-accepted model of communications). But it's also inescapable that editorial choices (forced by various forms of scarcity -- like the scarcity of room on the front page, or of letters in a headline, or of time to cover the news in a 30-minute broadcast) will reflect judgment calls, and those judgment calls are informed by the sender's understanding of the world. So when people who want the world framed in ways that are favorable to them encounter framing choices that they don't like, it could reflect bias (on the part of either the sender or the receiver), or it could simply reflect incongruity in how different people see the same world.

Broadcasting Channel-surfing mode

Netflix and Hulu are great, but they really need a channel-surfing mode. The joy of stumbling across "Ferris Bueller" or "The Big Lebowski" somewhere in the second act just can't be fully replicated on-demand. Serendipity still counts for something.

Weather and Disasters NASA offers a pretty unambiguous take on climate change

When they say "Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit", it's pretty hard to dispute that something is going on. But agreeing on the facts and agreeing on the diagnosis don't guarantee that we'll agree on the prescription.

Computers and the Internet Is email superior to an in-person meeting?

It is if the other person is going to blow off the meeting -- that's for sure. Email still seems in many ways like the "fast" way to do things -- especially if there's any follow-up required. Unless the other person is guaranteed to have the information you need right now, the beautiful asynchronicity of email seems much more time-efficient than other choices. But maybe that's a Generation X bias talking.

News Woman gives birth, unassisted, on a Chicago CTA bus

No medical professionals on board -- just mom and her husband

Threats and Hazards Stop "nutpicking"

The phrase, in the words of Sen. Ben Sasse, describes what happens when "people scour the news to find a random person saying or doing something really dumb, and then use that nutjob to disparage an entire group of people, as if the nut is representative." This behavior is a mainstay of lazy broadcast and online opinion-making, and it's rewarded when audiences fail to demand better. When people feed their brains nothing but their own confirmation bias, it's the mental equivalent of taking up a diet based on potato chips.

February 7, 2019

Business and Finance You can't fight global warming with inflationary hot air

The "Green New Deal" package being floated by left-wingers in Congress includes a massive amount of new government management of the economy, and the supposed promises are all supposed to be payable via a cockamamie scheme that falsely purports to pay for itself. "Green New Deal" promises have to be viewed in the same way as promised "multiplier effects" from publicly-funded sports facilities. It's easy to offer rosy payback forecasts -- but when public dollars are at stake, debts are real even when hopes aren't. Decide what you want, limit those wants as much as possible, then pay for it all.

News It's hard to debate without the right language

We need a shorthand way to discuss the differences we have with others, depending on the source of disagreement: Is it a difference of facts? A difference of goals? A difference of solutions? It would be really helpful at breaking us out of the "I'm right/You're stupid" binary to which so many people seem to be addicted.

Broadcasting The greatest Cold War movie is "Dr. Strangelove"

There were countless great Cold War movies -- "Hunt for Red October" was certainly one of them, as are "Fail Safe" and "Seven Days in May", among many others. But "Dr Strangelove" was not only brilliant in its own right, its exploration of game theory and deterrence remains 100% relevant even today. Peter Sellers is brilliant (playing three parts), and George C. Scott is positively inspired as General Buck Turgidson.

February 8, 2019

Humor and Good News "Ignatian yoga"

The name suggests that you get into a Sphinx pose, then a Jesuit walks across your back.

Computers and the Internet Google pulls the plug on Fiber in Louisville

One of their test markets will lose Google's super-high-speed Internet service in just over two months, on April 15th. Google says the entire Louisville network would have to be rebuilt to fix a persistent problem with the physical cables. It's not uncharacteristic of Google to simply pull the plug on a project, and the company's ever-growing legacy of leaving projects high and dry surely must give prospective paying customers (of things like its business services) some serious second thoughts about trusting the company with any mission-critical services. This falls hot on the heels of them killing Google Plus.

February 9, 2019

Computers and the Internet Microsoft officially begs you to stop using Internet Explorer

From their "Windows IT Pro Blog", a request that IT people stop letting their users surf the Internet with MSIE, because it's not being kept up to date

News The stupidest of arguments

A man is suing his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. This peculiar philosophy -- "anti-natalism" -- seems to be one of the stupidest forms of nihilism.

News Millions of cars added to Takata airbag recall

Subaru, Volkswagen, and others are now involved

News Sen. Elizabeth Warren announces Presidential run

It's certainly not unexpected -- and she's made every sign she's going to push for the left-hand side of the economic spectrum. It was just this past August when she proposed her "Accountable Capitalism Act", which contained a handful of interesting ideas and a whole slew of terrible ones that ignore the fundamentals of how an economy works.

Business and Finance Is Amazon really reconsidering putting HQ2 in New York?

It could be true. It could also just be a negotiating tactic.

Threats and Hazards The White House is answerable to Congress, even when it tries not to answer

The Senate sent the Executive Branch a request for a report on the Saudi Arabian government's responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He was killed on October 2nd, and the Senate requested the report (with a 120-day deadline) on October 10th. It's now overdue. And it should be a reminder than the President is accountable to Congress, not the other way around. The Executive Branch doesn't get to say "No" just because it doesn't like what it's been told to do.

News National Pizza Day

There's a holiday for everything -- at least everything with a marketing person and a hashtag behind it

News A tabloid war with one of the wealthiest people in the world

Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame) has declared war on the National Enquirer

Socialism Doesn't Work Decide what you want, limit those wants, then pay for them in full

The proponents of "Modern Monetary Theory" make convoluted arguments that boil down to "deficits don't matter, because the government can just print more money". The fundamental problem with this is that the bill always comes due -- even if you try to bury it with inflation.

February 21, 2019

News "These were deliberate choices."

The words of the judge hitting Roger Stone with a gag order are really the words of 2019 in a nutshell. Lots of good people feel demoralized by the seemingly non-stop parade of stupid events in the news. And almost every one of those news stories comes back to someone making deliberate choices. People need to keep the faith (even though it's hard) that consequences will eventually catch up to people deliberately making bad choices. But this is also why it's up to all of us to beat back the clowns (of all stripes) who say that the ends justify the means. The right process matters rather equally with the right result. Anyone who doesn't uphold that belief contributes to ruining the world as we know it. It's not worth getting to the destination you want if the driver chooses to go 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction on the highway in order to get you there. A little bit of humility would suggest that none of us are going to get everything we want out of political processes in a democratic system. Thus, the destination will almost always be a little different than what we wanted. Better to get there the right way, at least.

Humor and Good News Engineering Week starts at home

And it ends there, too

Science and Technology On the radio: Rise of the (snow) machines

We have automatic dishwashers and clothes washers, furnaces controlled automatically by thermostats, and automatic sprinkler systems. So why are people still so opposed to using robots to do manual chores?

Weather and Disasters

A school roof collapsed in Waterloo

Iowa Cedar Rapids will take another stab at a city flag

Their current municipal flag is...not good. Someone at the city ought to spend a little time browsing Japanese prefectural flags for inspiration.

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February 22, 2019

Business and Finance Even well-intended economic-development incentives can go bad

Memphis, Tennessee, offered a whole lot of incentives to Electrolux to get the company to build a plant there. But when tariffs and the Sears bankruptcy shook the appliance market, Electrolux concluded the plant was no longer viable. What are the state, county, and city -- which together contributed well over $100 million in cash to the project -- supposed to do to make themselves whole? Economic-development incentives are inevitably a gamble on private outcomes, using public dollars. You may have very high confidence in your bet, but it's still a gamble.

Computers and the Internet Twitter: The powerful tool that newcomers have no idea how to use

The number of obstacles they continue to throw in the way of the novice user -- after more than a decade in operation, and with every news outlet on the globe marketing their service -- is utterly baffling. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims notes that his tech-savvy sibling can't figure out how to reply. Many others are undoubtedly repelled by the site's insistence on making people register to get more than a superficial look at what's happening inside the Twittersphere. It's really quite crazy for the service to have lasted this long with such important flaws.

News The author of his own obituary

A New York man wrote his own self-effacing obituary as a plea to others to stop smoking: "At 66 years old, I lived a decent life, but there are so many events and milestones I will not be able to share with my loved ones. The moral of this story - don't be an idiot. If you're a smoker - quit"

Weather and Disasters The weather forecast is a roadkill buffet

In one 24-hour stretch, Des Moines is forecast to get (in order) sleet, freezing rain, rain, thunderstorms, more rain, then snow.

Science and Technology On the radio: Farewell to the little rover that could

In tribute to Opportunity

News What should someone study in school?

In college, pursue two different majors -- preferably in fields that don't generally overlap. Ideally, one "hard" and one "soft", like a physical science and a liberal art, or a business program and a social science. Well-roundedness is a virtue.

February 25, 2019

The United States of America Atomic centrism

A name for those who believe in the primacy of a central set of rules, norms, and principles around which people of different ideologies and policy preferences can orbit (like electrons bound to a nucleus).

Threats and Hazards Shocking, but not surprising

The immediate past Federal Reserve chair doesn't think the President understands the Fed's impact on the economy

Weather and Disasters Clear a path to your fire hydrant

A wintertime responsibility to one's neighborhood that many people probably don't realize is on their shoulders.

News Cell service has gone 4G. Should war?

Definitely worth reading: "Social media marketing professionals, consumer psychologists, economists and bankers, may all need to become fourth-generation warriors in the fourth generation of warfare."

Iowa Boondocks truck stop will re-open with an Indian restaurant

An unexpected dining option along a thinly-populated stretch of I-35

News Your policies don't matter

The policy proposals of the (seemingly) 15,000 people running for President right now don't amount to a hill of beans. What ultimately matters is whether we elect a President with sound judgment, curiosity, humility, and an even temper. Someone who can handle the unexpected. That's being put on full display this week, as the unexpected pops up everywhere.

Weather and Disasters Re-opening I-35 took interstate cooperation

Iowa and Minnesota had to work out the schedule to re-open so that neither state got hit with a slug of traffic before they were ready

Threats and Hazards "I would maybe think twice [about] what I would tell her"

A daughter of Vladimir Putin's spokesperson works in the European Union parliament. Can we talk about opsec for a minute?

Humor and Good News Public transit textile patterns: Who's picking these things?

A really deep dive into something that's not particularly important. But interesting anyway.

February 26, 2019

Computers and the Internet Yet another round of alarm: Now, it's the "Momo Challenge"

Maybe this particular phenomenon is a real threat, maybe it isn't. But it highlights the problem that YouTube, the way it operates now, cannot possibly take the amount of responsibility that it ought to take for the content posted on it. Here is a modest proposal for moderating YouTube content: Require any new video to receive 3 to 5 "endorsements" from verified, individual users before it goes public. If you endorse something that violates guidelines, you lose the right to endorse or post for yourself. Nobody, at present, has any incentive to moderate the "community". This would put skin in the game. Given the psychological toll it appears to put on content moderators to troll the Internet all day policing for the bad, it's well past time for services like YouTube to think about imposing accountable systemic restraint. The government shouldn't impose prior restraint on speech, but content vectors like YouTube and Facebook quite likely should do so.

News Amb. Madeline Albright offers belated apology to Sen. Mitt Romney

He was mocked in 2012 for seeing much of what troubles us in 2019. Kudos to Ambassador Albright for doing the right and civil thing.

Threats and Hazards Why Republicans should reject baseless claims of "emergency" power

If you're only skeptical of government power when other people have it, then you're not really skeptical of government power: You just want it for yourself. This would be a very good time for Republicans in Congress to show that they're for limited government ALL the time.

Iowa Traffic and weather together

Daryl Herzmann put together an animation of the radar signature and the Iowa DOT road conditions report from the latest storm. And it tells a story quite elegantly. We can always count on Herzmann to produce the Iowa weather visualization we didn't know we needed.

Weather and Disasters The "Accumulated Winter-Season Severity Index" says it's been a rotten one in Iowa

As with driving a car, it's not just the speed but the acceleration that counts. Not only are we teetering on the brink of "extreme", basically ALL of the terrible weather has happened since mid-January. It was super-mild up until then, so winter has been both painful and abrupt. In fairness, though, maybe better to have loved and lost a milder winter, than never to have loved at all.

Threats and Hazards Conflict between Pakistan and India could turn out very badly

Two nuclear powers with a longstanding grudge: The kind of thing that ought to make bigger headlines than a dictator showing off his entourage. But it's the President who's meeting with Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam, so that's where everyone seems focused.

Business and Finance MMT: Not much "theory" there

Until someone has written down a definitive statement of principles, it's a fool's game to identify yourself with a "movement". See also: Party, Tea. A "movement" that lacked written principles or accountable leaders that turned into a boondoggle for a few political opportunists (who named themselves the leaders) and a resulting mess of confusion.

Humor and Good News Hear, hear, Jon Lester

The Cubs pitcher says he doesn't like a 20-second pitch clock, and he's against adding the designated hitter to the National League. He's right: The DH is still an abomination and pitch clocks are dumb.

February 27, 2019

News Who's our person in Pakistan?

With tensions high between Pakistan and India, who's there on America's behalf? India is the world's second-largest country by population. Pakistan is the sixth-largest.

News "Modesty compels me to refrain from disclosing my performance in school"

Not likely the words or justification used by the President to, as Michael Cohen testified, "to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores."

Threats and Hazards Visit North Korea's bomb museum from the comfort of home

The Nuclear Threat Initiative has posted a 3D virtual model of a North Korean weapons-production facility, filled with models of the country's various weapons of the bomb and missile variety. It's a little glib to say "And be sure to visit the gift shop!", but the model is really well-done and is certainly the closest thing any ordinary person will ever encounter to a real weapons lab.

February 28, 2019

News China's hearts-and-minds campaign for high-potential ethnic minorities

The Economist reports on a program that has taken hundreds of thousands of students from places like Tibet and Xinjiang and shipped them off to boarding schools in places where the Han ethnic group is in the majority: "The programme's apparent aim is to win the support of elites in restive frontier areas and give the brightest ethnic-minority children more exposure to Han culture." There are inescapable parallels with the Canadian residential school system, which sought to force assimilation upon First Nations children, and the sins of which are a source of real lasting harm in Canada today.

Weather and Disasters Australia's awful summer was predicted

The country has experienced an extremely hot summer, and one of its premier scientific organizations points out that they think the conditions are consistent with predictions they made about climate change some 30 years ago.

Threats and Hazards A $22 trillion national debt is everyone's problem

Bills come due in the real world. We're not at risk of turning insolvent, but we are decidedly at risk of creating systemic instability that will become costly.

Weather and Disasters Pacific Gas and Electric "probably" responsible for Camp Fire

The fire caused enormous damage and killed dozens of people. The company appears to suspect that it will be found responsible, due to evidence that points at a transmission line failure. They can say they're looking at other high-risk facilities, but what, systemically, keeps this from happening again?

Weather and Disasters The ice dams are growing out of control

And Iowa could be in for some substantial flooding when all the ice and snow finally melt

Health Record-setting preemie goes home

Delivered at 24 weeks of gestation, he weighed 9.45 ounces. Zero pounds, 9.45 ounces. Truly remarkable progress by medical science in evidence here.

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."

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

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."

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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...

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.

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.

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"

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).