Gongol.com Archives: 2019 Second-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol





April 3, 2019

The United States of America What's another $2 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years?

That's the path laid out in the forecasts based on the House Budget Commitee's plan. Once again, the rules should be (1) Decide what you want from government; (2) Limit those wants, aggressively; and (3) Pay for it all. We seem to be stuck on step 1, with no intentions of ever reaching step 3.

Humor and Good News Paper towels could be making us terrible at math

4 is 8! 8 is 12! 2 is 5! 6 is 9!

The United States of America An alternative to DC statehood: Return most of the district to Maryland

Not an idea ready for prime time all on its own, but certainly a better choice than making DC (with the Capitol included) a brand-new state. The precedent? Parts of DC were returned to Virginia long ago. Let's not pretend like we're the only country with a special set of rules that apply to our capitol.

Health 5-month-old needs living liver donor to survive

"Possible candidates must have O blood type, weigh less than 150 pounds, younger than 40, in good health, and not recently pregnant. Doctors only need 25 percent of the liver and said it will grow back within six months."

Weather and Disasters When thunder roars, go indoors

Radar detects lightning striking 50 miles away from the center of a thunderstorm in Oklahoma




April 4, 2019

Threats and Hazards NATO needs a refreshed mission

Resisting tyranny everywhere? That could be it. Writes Hal Brands: "[T]hese efforts would have greater impact if the world's foremost democracy did not seem so ambivalent about leading the democratic world."

The United States of America Don't expect a revival of the draft to create better voters

Good citizen-voters should have informed opinions on defense and diplomacy as a matter of civic duty, period. It shouldn't hinge on whether you spent any time in uniform, either by choice or by draft.

Science and Technology Parking on a 30-degree incline

Certainly a way to pack more vehicles into the same space. But also a way to ruin a lot of transmissions.

Humor and Good News National Hug a Newsperson Day? Think again.

If you meet a cuddly newsperson, odds are good that you've actually found a PR person instead. Most journalists are hard-working, decent people -- but they're not usually a soft and fuzzy crew.

News Now we're back to debating the gold standard?

When Margaret Thatcher said, "Each generation has to fight for its own liberties, in whatever way is appropriate," she should have warned us that the fight would routinely involve the stupidest, stubbornest possible counterparties.

Iowa "Heartland Visas": Should Midwestern states get special access to additional skilled immigration?

A big-picture idea well worth considering here in Iowa. We're not losing net population on a state level, but increasing urbanization means we're depopulating rural areas, and it may be stoking a negative feedback loop. This might help.

Iowa 10% jump in real-estate assessments in Polk County

That's a very, very big increase for a biennial adjustment

News University of Nebraska officials meet with Sen. Ben Sasse

Officially, it was just a routine visit to Washington. But the university has an opening for president, and it would be professional malpractice if the regents didn't at least raise the prospect with him. And as someone with a well-publicized interest in the nature of how future generations are formed (beyond by the law, which is where he operates today), he'd be crazy not to at least consider it. If he's considered as a candidate, what he does will say a lot about whether his experience as a Federal elected official tells him that current politics are salvageable.

Humor and Good News Nurse adopts baby who went five months without a visitor

Affirm your sense of human decency with the help of this story. Every life has value. Every individual is worthy of dignity. And how we commit ourselves to those beliefs determines the course of civilization.

News Ten leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020

Jonathan Last ranks them: Sanders, Biden, O'Rourke, Harris, Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker, Gillibrand, and Yang. Nary a governor is found in Last's top ten, which (strictly from a functional standpoint) is unnerving, particularly if he's right. Governors and (very) big-city mayors should form America's #1 development league for Presidents.




April 5, 2019

The United States of America The President thinks about a post-office memoir

Instead of the score-settling "tell-all" memoirs of the present, Americans ought to spend a little more time with the thoughtful reflections of Presidents on whom history has had some time to decide.

Business and Finance More work to be done before there's a China-US trade deal

It could be negotiated by the ghost of Milton Friedman himself and it would still fall short, for one simple reason: Multilateral agreements are nearly always better than bilateral ones.

The United States of America Whay might a future American consensus look like?

If we could re-converge the American political consensus around anything, it might just be Ike.

Threats and Hazards The rule of law matters

Vladimir Putin may remain in office past 2024 if the power brokers around him think it's the only way they'll survive. When security (whether financial, physical, or otherwise) becomes dependent upon who is in charge rather than what rules apply, then the corrupt have every incentive to perpetuate corruption. The rule of law matters.

Weather and Disasters China's carbon-dioxide emissions are mind-blowing

An intriguing litmus test would be to ask people if "Country X" should be expected to reduce its emissions, even if doing so would be politically unpopular. Then let people take the Pepsi Challenge of Climate-Related Emissions.

Weather and Disasters Almost 600 Nebraska homes rendered uninhabitable by floods

Imagine your own home getting "red-tagged" as uninhabitable. Then multiply that by everyone on your entire Facebook friends list.

News Is the UK going to figure out Brexit?

It's hard for an outsider to see how the Brexit debacle has done anything but make independence look more attractive to the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Threats and Hazards It truly is idiotic to say that wind turbines cause cancer

Every unsubstantiated, wildly speculative claim that "X causes cancer" is a real insult to those of us who have had cancer, who conduct research on cancer, or who have lost loved ones to cancer. We're not your punchline and not your prop.

Threats and Hazards American universities wise up to the threat of China's stateside public-diplomacy campaign

It's unwise to be xenophobic. It's also unwise to turn a blind eye to projects that use "culture" as a thin veneer over an overtly hostile political endeavor.

News "Impact" is not a verb

Perhaps worse than anything, "impact" is utterly ambiguous as a (non-)verb. It suggests anything from crashing ("he was killed on impact") to leaving a hazy impression ("the lingering impact of her words...").

Computers and the Internet What dead celebrity should have had a Twitter account?

The correct answer is Benjamin Franklin, the original American master of pith. Of course, it's possible to offer an approximation of a Franklinesque account, by capturing Franklin's voluminous writings and programming them to run in a bot account. But obviously, there's something missing since it's not really him. In the future, though, personality engines will permit artificial intelligence to synthesize responses to new and novel questions with answers drawn from the past statements of great thinkers like Franklin.

Threats and Hazards Russia may send even more troops to Venezuela

Clearly not an act indicating support for the right to self-determination by the Venezuelan people







April 9, 2019

News Book review: "The New Urban Crisis"

Not the final word on the future of cities, but definitely a contribution that shouldn't be left out of the conversation


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April 11, 2019

News The US armed forces don't "get a little rough" like the President wants

One of the virtues of an all-volunteer force seems to be that you can select for adherence to a professional code of conduct. Officers and enlisted members alike are supposed to not only observe the Law of Armed Conflict, but they're also told to study professional reading lists. That's because we don't employ tribes of unfettered barbarians to do violence against others just for fun.

Humor and Good News "'Paw Patrol' is a threat to democracy"

Hilarious material: "Watching him try to one-up Goodway is like watching Mr. Bean from the villainís perspective, except Mr. Bean is somehow the smartest person in his universe."

Weather and Disasters Lightning strikes the runway at Offutt

Offutt's runway may not be cursed, but God sure seems to be exacting a vendetta against it. This follows a 2017 tornado and colossal flooding earlier this year.

News Brexit gets an October reschedule

Perhaps Britain will get its act together on leaving the EU before the extended October deadline. Or maybe not: "The timetable facing [Theresa] May is tight, however. By May 22nd she must say if the UK will hold European Parliament elections. If not, it is out by June 1st, with no deal."

Aviation News Rockets landing right-side up don't even look real

The SpaceX technology that permits their rockets to land themselves on a platform is really quite mind-boggling. It looks almost like reality, but it seems to violate all of the rules we know about nature and physics -- like a CGI character in the uncanny valley.

Business and Finance International trade has changed a lot in just 10 or 15 years

Cheap labor is disappearing as a competitive advantage (and as a driver of trade). Time to market has adjusted advantages considerably. China is consuming much more of what it produces than it used to. And services matter far more than they did in international trade not very many years ago. Among other things, this makes regional trade more important while making long-haul transoceanic trade less valuable.

Computers and the Internet Alexa recordings are being checked by humans

Amazon, of course, assures users that the identifying information is being scrubbed before humans review the recordings. And furthermore, on one hand, it's pretty obvious that they have to do away least some human checking, just for quality control. Yet on the other hand, this still has a creepy Mechanical-Turk-meets-George-Orwell quality to it.

Iowa You had me at couscous

A native of Morocco wants to open a restaurant...in Marshalltown, Iowa. Don't fall for the false arguments that immigration makes American culture weaker.

Iowa I-29 still isn't fully ready for traffic in southwestern Iowa

Flood damage is significant and widespread, and the requisite inspections haven't been completed yet

Socialism Doesn't Work "Redistribution for thee, but not for me!"

The money Sen. Bernie Sanders got as an advance on a book deal reveals a certain hypocrisy to the old Socialist's words




April 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards Did the President really offer to pardon officials for breaking the law?

CNN's report quotes "senior administration officials" as saying that "President Donald Trump told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law". If true, it's a remarkable violation of the notions of checks and balances. In Margaret Thatcher's words: "The rule of law is the basis of a civilized society. It must not be bent and twisted for political ends."

Business and Finance "No nation was ever ruined by trade"

Benjamin Franklin's words seem to need repetition more than ever these days

Threats and Hazards Congress hasn't passed a required budget

Oh, so you say you don't want to talk about the Federal budget? Apparently, neither does Congress: "The deadline for Congress to complete action on a budget is April 15, and Congress has only hit that mark four times" Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.

Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack won't seek re-election

He will leave the office after seven terms. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a member of the opposing party within the same delegation, shared words of goodwill, living up to the standard that people who disagree with us aren't our enemies.

News "Nominations of individuals to key administration posts"

The White House publicizes the nominations of a Deputy Secretary of the VA and an Undersecretary of Commerce. But we have been without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 100 days. That's a "key administration post", if ever there was one. One might think the UN Ambassador -- also a position that has remained unfilled since January 1st -- would also be considered a priority role for speedy replacement, whether or not it remains in the Cabinet.

Weather and Disasters Financial markets signal belief in anthropogenic climate change

Don't believe what people say; believe the revealed preferences of where they put their money. The framing of this issue has gone completely sideways: It has become less a debate and more a battleground between two warring cults. Meanwhile, there should be some easy consensus wins to be found around basic ideas of conservation and community- and state-level resilience. Too many people have invested too much identity in the topic for a wholesale conversion of a lot of hearts and minds. It's instead a case where change will come about through people making small commitments at the outset and reinforcing their commitment in escalating fashion over time.

The United States of America An unusually satisfying accidental Twitter roundtable

In which a set of people who generally really aren't all that far apart from one another go around and around on a pretty high-impact question: Are improvements to the American standard of living enough to make up for highly tangible intergenerational economic rivalries? One can do much worse than to get competing perspectives from Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson, Tom Nichols, and Michael Brendan Dougherty on a single topic.

Computers and the Internet When machines learn what the Federal Reserve Board is thinking

Highly interesting: A student uses machine learning to examine Federal Reserve statements, figuring out what connection the language in the statements might have reflected or predicted in actual policy. It's like Alexa "learning" your buying preferences...if you're the Fed.

News 11-year-old child ordered into deportation without her family

Words matter: Some would dismiss her case instantly as "illegal", but the sensible person reading her account would find good reason to see her as a refugee. From the Houston Chronicle: "Her home in a rural area of El Salvador's La Paz region became a death trap when a relative testified against a local gang member, Alvarado said. Uncles, nephews, classmates and others have been kidnapped or murdered in retaliation, she added."

News "Placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only..."

The President threatens it on Twitter, but nobody ever knows when to take him seriously on such matters. There may quite well be places that wouldn't object to an influx of immigrants, regardless of status: Perhaps we should allocate state-based visas that could be exchanged among states, cap-and-trade style. It ought to be recalled that anyone who seeks to profit politically by turning Americans against one another needs to answer to Publius: "Had the Greeks [...] been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union [...]" (Federalist Paper 18).

The United States of America A more equitable society is likely a more productive one

It definitely improves the odds of answering tough questions if we commit to using all of our brainpower -- instead of neglecting or ignoring their contributors because of indefensible prejudices.




April 13, 2019

Threats and Hazards Serial killer with a bag of fentanyl

A Minnesota man has been charged with selling drugs that killed 11 people. Had the victims been targeted, it would have been a serial killing spree.

News Refugees aren't helpless

Three-quarters of a million Rohingya refugees are sheltering in Bangladesh, and the monsoon season is coming. So some of them are getting trained to help prepare people and their temporary shelters for the weather conditions. The worst thing we can do is to assume that refugees anywhere (in Bangladesh or at the southern border to the United States) are helpless or out to take away from others. They are no less than people, and basic human dignity calls for treating them as capable and self-determining.

Threats and Hazards 5-year-old child attacked and thrown off balcony at Mall of America

The suspected perpetrator was arrested and charged with attempted homicide, but this is an extraordinarily disturbing story, and something still just doesn't seem complete about the narrative.

Humor and Good News "Paw Patrol is a threat to democracy"

"The Paw Patrol is privatized power and profit and socialized funding, unaccountable to public oversight, ungoverned by elected officials and acting only when it consents to let its interests coincide with panicked public needs. They must be brought to heel."

Iowa Maybe I-29 will reopen in June

For an Interstate highway to be closed for months really illustrates just how bad the flooding was in March. And it could get bad again before the road is repaired.

Health Fisher-Price recalls all "Rock 'n Play Sleepers"

With a warning that more than 30 infants have died in their use. That estimate grew in just a couple of days with a new review of the data.

News The First Amendment ends where the freeway ramp begins

A few dozen truckers conducted a "slow roll" protest on Chicago freeways to put attention on their quarrels with driver-safety rules. Regardless of the merits of their complaints, the First Amendment secures the right "peaceably to assemble", but that's a far cry from creating a rolling barricade that could cause others to crash behind you.













April 23, 2019

The United States of America A debate well worth taking in

Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry debate the virtues and vices of nationalism, particularly as it is distinguished from patriotism. The difference between nationalism and patriotism is that nationalism is usually a justification unto itself for doing things we want, while patriotism routinely acts as a sort of conscience for doing things we should. Something done in the name of nationalism may very well (and often does) come at the expense of others -- usually outsiders. Something done out of patriotism is more likely to involve self-sacrifice.

News You can barely conceive of apartments this cramped

Japan has complete apartments that cover just 100 square feet of space. Art is in the constraints, so there is something deeply impressive about fitting an entire apartment into a 10' x 10' space. But still...it's crazy. Americans have backyard tool sheds that are bigger.

Humor and Good News Wisconsin: The most on-brand state in the Upper Midwest

The governor is appearing at a news conference about beer

The United States of America Buttigieg campaign adopts a message-first strategy

A Presidential campaign built around an attitude (told through stories) is far more the norm than one built around policy. "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge". "I Like Ike". "A Time for Greatness". "It's Morning in America". In other words, Buttigieg has adopted a feature, not a bug.

Health 27 years in a coma...then awake

An incredible recovery for a woman from the UAE. One must imagine the conversations taking place: "Welcome back, ma'am. First, the good news: We didn't have any new world wars while you were out. But I'm going to have to explain this thing called 'the Internet' before we let you out of here..."

Computers and the Internet "Trump accused Twitter of [...] tampering with his nearly 60 million followers"

"They who have nothing to trouble them, will be troubled at nothing." - Benjamin Franklin




April 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet 80% of tweets come from 10% of users

According to Pew research into the American online public. Pareto would be so disappointed in us: Every business book in the world says it's the 80/20 Principle, not the 80/10.

Iowa Running (legally) blind

A great feature story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about a high-school track standout who can barely see at all. Parents everywhere should strive to raise our kids with the kind of resilience Erin Kerkhoff puts on display. A valuable role model.

News Three-year-old children are being found migrating without their parents

Would you let a 3-year-old so much as cross a busy street on their own? The answer is "Of course not!" And that ought to give all of us some measure of the desperation that some parents and children face. These harrowing journeys must somehow, some way, appear less risky than staying where they are. And that is truly heartbreaking, and ought to serve as a call to action to do something to ease their plight.

Threats and Hazards Things are looking bad in Afghanistan

The Defense Department's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says "If the economy collapses or if they are not paid, if we withdraw the funding, you have 500,000-some troops and police who are trained and have weapons...what are they going to do?" Afghanistan is a nation of 34 million people, just behind Canada in the population rankings and just a little ahead of Venezuela. It has more people than Texas. The reader ought to consider words like "collapse" with sufficient gravity.

Threats and Hazards The 2020 elections will be targeted by hackers -- so what comes next?

CNN phrases the headline "Hackers could target the 2020 presidential election. How will newsrooms respond?" But one would have to be absolutely as high as a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to think it's merely a hypothetical. It's not even a question. It's a certainty. Now, what matters is what newsrooms are going to do about it when they are fed stolen items.

Humor and Good News Salaries aren't the only thing that matters, the MLB edition

Ryne Sandberg cites the improved Cubs dugout facility as a tool for attracting talented players

Business and Finance A dark look at a major diamond retailer

Worth pondering: "Mandatory arbitration is a good idea only if people can be trusted to do the right thing when the consequences are minimal and don't include the threat of prison or public shame."

News Will Scotland hold another independence vote?

The Financial Times reports: Nicola Sturgeon "insisted the country must be ready to hold a second independence referendum by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead". Given the incompetence of the management of Brexit, a "yes" vote wouldn't be surprising at all.

News A new Godwin's Law

Is someone ready to name the phenomenon where someone is the first to compare themselves to the Messiah, as Rep. Steve King just did?

Computers and the Internet Recommendation algorithms: They're everywhere, and not always doing good

In theory, computers ought to be helping us to make better decisions, and for the moment, the best sandbox to practice that is in retail. But the problem is that sometimes they do what they're supposed to do (but the assumptions are wrong), and other times they do everything they shouldn't. On the most innocent extreme, one of those silly recommendation algorithms might suggest the song "Blurred Lines" to a listener twice in the span of 30 minutes. Such foibles look positively charming by comparison with the dark side of algorithmic dependency, when bad actors hijack the algorithm or when antisocial (or even sociopathic) feedback loops are created.




April 25, 2019

News Headlines that only repeat name-calling aren't useful

The President had some insults to lob at Joe Biden after Biden's campaign announcement this morning. Repeating those insults as headlines is not productive journalism. It's lazy amplification of the voices most willing to say the most outrageous things. Journalism isn't stenography.

Broadcasting Filming begins on the last Bond film starring Daniel Craig

It's the 25th of the genre, and planned for release in April 2020. Sean Connery will always be the iconic Bond, but Daniel Craig turned 007 into a human character with real depth. That utterly transformed the franchise for the better. It makes the movies more interesting and less kitschy.

News Wherefore art thou, copy editors?

Glaring errors now make it past the "draft" stage and straight into subscriber inboxes

Science and Technology Do tax credits for electric vehicles really save the planet?

The evidence suggests that the kinds of people who are going to buy electric vehicles would have bought high-efficiency vehicles anyway, so the marginal difference may be limited. And that probably makes sense: Efficiency-sensitive drivers probably form a class unto themselves anyway.

Humor and Good News A poor review for Joe Biden's campaign logo

Few things about 2019 are as amusing as the degree to which Jonathan Last takes his feelings about these candidate logos.

Weather and Disasters Super-tall thunderstorm complexes may be damaging the ozone layer

When a storm top overshoots, it may be funneling ozone-depleting conditions up into the stratosphere

Health Get your immunizations

The CDC says there have been more than 600 cases of measles in the United States since the start of the year. And it's the fault of people choosing not to vaccinate.




April 26, 2019

Business and Finance Bring back the classic United Airlines logo

A logo that is distinctive from (literally) a mile away, polished by a legend like Bass, and yet still elegantly simple enough that kids will try to draw it from memory? Only a madman would discard it. And yet they did, and now United is already respawning the replacement livery. If you're sitting on the rights to an unused corporate identity designed by Saul Bass, Paul Rand, or Chermayeff and Geismar, kindly do get in touch. They're like the paintings of the Dutch masters and could be redeployed if the present owners are too dumb to use them still.

Humor and Good News Why the "more cowbell" sketch is so funny

A legitimate breakdown of the laughs

News Boy thrown from Mall of America balcony is out of critical condition

A welcome update to a harrowing story. Architects need to rethink open atrium spaces where such falls are even possible. A world that grows ever more crowded -- and contains bad actors who are under the influence of psychoses, drugs, or pathological ideologies -- is a world that needs more built-in safeguards that prevent really bad things from happening.

Iowa A late-April snowstorm for northern Iowa?

Unusual, but far from unprecedented

News Promises undermine unity

We are awash in a sea of promises that aren't just empty -- they're beyond reasonable belief. And the compounding toxicity of those bad promises sweeps well beyond a problem of differences between left and right.

Threats and Hazards Ask the follow-up question

The President today offered an empty but loud defense of his pathetic response to the Charlottesville attack, saying not only that his own response was "perfect", but that "many generals" had told him that Robert E. Lee was their "favorite". It's overdue for journalists to ask follow-up questions to pierce the willing suspension of disbelief that is permitted by the President's reliance upon vague nonsense and empty superlatives. To wit: (1.) How many generals have told you Lee was their favorite? (2.) Name them. (3.) Name two specific strategies or tactics that made Lee "great".

Business and Finance The clock's really ticking on Social Security

The trust fund is going to be depleted by 2035 (along current projections). If that seems like a long time away, bear in mind that the high school graduating class of 2035 is now 2 years old. We're not really talking about the future here...we're talking about a time horizon now measurable by the lives of today's preschoolers. When facing any compounding problem, the time to take up serious action is as soon as possible. Reforms to Social Security could have both public and private benefits, but if no one in politics feels the pressure to do anything about it, then the status quo will prevail. The problem, as Milton and Rose Friedman put it, is that "Any assurance [of Social Security payments] derives solely from the willingness of future taxpayers to impose taxes on themselves to pay for benefits that present taxpayers are promising themselves." The system works only because everyone expects it to continue working. But the system itself contains structural flaws that aren't going to disappear on their own. And in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience."






April 29, 2019

News The problem with utopianism -- in all its forms

Always believe in the process of trying to make things better. Never believe that there is a perfect end state to be achieved.

Business and Finance What's "affordable" housing, anyway?

Data research finds that a person making $100,000 a year can't afford to live within an hour of San Francisco. And even an hour's drive doesn't afford many additional options. At this point, it's unclear why people aren't anchoring giant cruise ships off the coast, renting out the cabins, and offering shuttle service into the Bay Area.

News Know the real risks (of anything)

When majorities of people in rich and powerful countries don't even understand the basic difference between a nuclear power plant and a coal-fired plant, it's really hard to have legitimate debates about risks and consequences. Facts are stubborn things. But even though we're in the age of "Just Google It" (or maybe exactly because we are), the utterly wrong preconceived notions held by voters may in fact be even more stubborn.

News "What will I do with my borrowed time?"

The rabbi who survived the terrorist attack near San Diego poses a thought-provoking sentiment. People should not have to fear terrorism in their peaceful houses of worship. Not here, and not anywhere.

News What buildings do you love?

The question -- posed on social media -- goes to show just how much architecture has a meaningful human effect. Buildings like the Sears Tower and Chrysler Building communicate impressions on young and old alike, but there are a million other, smaller, less-renowned buildings that still have an effect on the people who see them and use them.

Aviation News The O'Hare Event Horizon

Every air traveler from Iowa is familiar with the O'Hare Event Horizon, even if they don't know it. It's the point at which any flight delays would have made it better to have just gotten a rental car and just driven home. O'Hare is notorious for cascading delays that end up wrecking travel and turning an 8:30 pm connection into a 1:30 am drag.

News New and unimproved signage

The message boards at Grand Central Station are changing away from the classic look (though not the mechanical frailty) of the Solari board (a/k/a "split-flap display"). The "old-time look" of the split-flap style proves that less is more; there's far more visual clutter to the new look, and it serves no self-evident purpose.

Weather and Disasters Sometimes a camera is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time

...to capture a car taking a corner much too fast for conditions




April 30, 2019

Threats and Hazards Venezuelan forces turn violence on demonstrators

Margaret Thatcher once said, "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." Maduro makes a choice. So do his backers. Violence denies the people of that choice.

Weather and Disasters Floodwaters spill into Davenport

After a whole lot of flooding in western Iowa, now the Mississippi is attacking eastern Iowa


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May 1, 2019

News Joe Biden: On the hunt since '78

No, really: His interest in the Oval Office has been public knowledge since Carter was President. That's no judgment on whether he's suited for the job, just an observation that he's visibly wanted it for a long, long time.

Threats and Hazards "Civilizational warfare" is just nonsense

The idea that an epic clash between the United States and China is somehow culturally inevitable forgets some really important evidence. To wit: Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Read "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley, and come to appreciate that there is a long and misguided history of treating the western Pacific as too remote and exotic for peaceful coexistence with "the West". Unfortunately, the narrative is oversimplified and altogether too satisfying for those who depend on having an "other" in order to have a self-identity. And when those types are in power, that puts our well-being in danger.




May 2, 2019

News "An alleged Russian spy whale is refusing to leave a Norwegian port city"

As Dan Drezner put it, "Season Three of 'Occupied' is getting pretty weird." If you haven't watched "Occupied", do see it immediately.

The United States of America Send in the governors!

Montana Governor Steve Bullock is planning to enter the 2020 Presidential race

The United States of America Humankind's greatest treasure

Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism." Of note: This vision of America as a place and an idea worth keeping because of what we believe -- not how strong we fantasize ourselves to be -- is well worth reviving. Better for us to be a redoubt of goodness in the world than to bluster thunderously about our greatness while neglecting our national soul.

Business and Finance What could Berkshire Hathaway buy?

With well over $100 billion in ready cash, the company could buy just about any other business most people could imagine. But, please, not at the expense of becoming undisciplined.

Business and Finance "If something is worth having, it's worth paying for"

We are in grave danger of using every possible (unjustified) justification for over-spending and under-taxing, right past the point where the Federal debt is utterly unsustainable.

Threats and Hazards "Trump followed with a tweet celebrating his current steel tariffs"

His simple-minded adherence to ham-fisted economic policies (like tariffs on basic materials) is insulting to the world and damaging to the economy. His abject refusal to listen to the counsel of the Senate on this issue is indicative of a mind so set in its ways that it has none of the flexibility required to handle serious challenges in real time.


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May 3, 2019

Science and Technology Are electric scooters worth the head injuries?

A study in Austin, Texas, found a rate of 20 individuals injured per 100,000 electric scooter trips taken, and that "Almost half of the injured riders in this study sustained an injury to the head." Almost nobody wears helmets on the scooters, which travel up to 15 mph. While "micro-mobility" might very well help to alleviate conventional road traffic, it's not cost-free if it results in a head injury for every 10,000 rides taken. Maybe that's an acceptable level of risk, but it's an unintended consequence that has to be considered. Always expect unintended consequences.

Humor and Good News What kind of nut turns a muscle car into a limousine?

Who on God's green Earth looks at a Dodge Challenger and thinks, "How can I make this thing slower and harder to maneuver?"

The United States of America Ceteris paribus, we ought to make Presidents out of governors

With the word spreading that the governor of Montana will be one of the next to put his hat in the ring for President, an observation: The Oval Office doesn't come with a simulator, so from a temperamental and practical standpoint, almost any governor enters the job with better on-the-job training than anyone else. There's no better apprenticeship for the Presidency than to be a governor, since it is after all the same role but at a smaller scale. Close seconds would be those who have served as Vice President (assuming they participated actively in the actual administration of the other Presidency) or as mayor of a very large city (since some of our largest cities are administratively larger than some of our smaller states).

Computers and the Internet Facebook tests a "secret crush" tool

There are ample reasons to wonder about the wisdom of this tool -- the prospects for bullying, the risk of inadvertent exposure, and so on -- but from a cultural standpoint, the biggest worry ought to be that people are too afraid of rejection. It's good to be comfortable with hearing the word "No". If everyone's so gun-shy about being rejected (romantically or otherwise), when will anyone but a handful of nuts ever embark on ventures that just might not work?

News Pay for your wants

There are millions of infrastructure projects quite legitimately worth doing. They are worth doing for their own sake, and worth spending prudently to have. But much of real infrastructure goes unseen and unheralded because it's not "roads and bridges". At the state and local level, bonding very reasonably amortizes costs over the long term -- but those bonds are specific. They aren't vague materializations of promises for "stimulus", which too often animate "infrastructure" talks at the national level.




May 4, 2019

Computers and the Internet Long overdue, Facebook and Instagram demote a few dopes

A few propagandists and conspiracy theorists who exploit loopholes in the social-media structures are being throttled on Facebook and Instagram. Infowars is getting booted rather broadly from both platforms, while Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, and others are being personally banned from the platforms. Social-media sites simply cannot be neutral conduits for content; they have to make choices about what content is appropriate for delivery. Broad deference to individual freedom ought to be the norm, but the services cannot long survive pretending like they aren't making choices about what suits the communitities they're trying to create. If they don't, they can't really take advantage of network effects, and without network effects, social networks fail.





May 6, 2019

Threats and Hazards What Chinese police are surveilling is astonishing

Human beings have an inherent right to be left alone. Some governments choose to infringe on that right. And they're not satisfied to keep to themselves: Note the data point that the People's Daily is broadly targeting American users of Twitter with ads. When a state propaganda arm pays money to reach out to you, that's not innocuous.

News Some important words on the new British royal baby

Ebony Renee Baker writes: "I'm still worried about how this biracial babe will navigate their identity while under such intense public scrutiny, because even though this baby has not even been born yet, it's still facing one of the most frustrating burdens faced by mixed race people: fetishization."

Humor and Good News The passive voice is dumb

Sometimes the passive voice is necessary, but the whole "unto this woman was born a child" thing used to announce the birth of the new royal baby sure makes it sound like someone else did all the work.

Humor and Good News Artist to watch: Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

Seeing him perform alongside Buddy Guy is like watching a religious investiture

Humor and Good News How specific must you be about where you live?

Only as specific as your audience can handle, really.




May 7, 2019

News US deploys B-52 bombers to CentCom region

Of important note: We have not had a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 125 days.

Weather and Disasters More Missouri River crests coming

Secondary crests are just insult heaped upon injury.

Agriculture Iowa is the biggest egg state in the US

Iowa's position as the dominant egg producer in the country is probably the least-known major factoid about our state -- to Iowans and non-Iowans alike.

News Canada to exonerate Cree chief, 130 years after wrongful treason conviction

Many of us history grew up with the idea that history was fixed in place, like something carved in granite. What happened may be unchanging, but how it was documented, reported, and interpreted does change -- and often should.

Humor and Good News The Lenten beer diet

Make it whiskey and we might have a deal.

Weather and Disasters 10" rains hit Houston

These rainfall totals are stunning, and the impact is magnified dramatically when they fall on urban surfaces. Believe in climate change or not (or believe that it has anthropogenic origins or not), but it seems pretty clear that extreme weather events are happening in excess of the statistics of the past, and urbanization compounds the effects.

Iowa Higher traffic loads follow I-235 expansion

It seems to be a classic case of induced demand




May 8, 2019

News A peek at Charlie Munger's bookshelf

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

Iowa Iowa DOT reopens I-29 far ahead of schedule

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

Business and Finance What does the Uber IPO really say?

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

Iowa "Doomed to decline"?

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

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

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

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

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

Business and Finance Toyota and Panasonic to merge housing companies

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

News Why can't America help more refugees?

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

News If I lost a billion dollars...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




May 9, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Americans would be wrong to believe they are unaffected" by the censorship China imposes

For the time being, China's government doesn't want the rest of the world to talk about its extraordinary oppression of the Uighurs. But that's far from the only thing they wish to keep off the world's screens and out of the world's newspapers. And, critically, the censorship imposed directly has a spillover effect on companies that self-censor in the interest of pleasing China's bosses. What happens "over there" gets exported "over here" much more than we probably think. The oceans used to define our separation from the rest of the world -- but the operative part of that sentence is "used to". Not anymore.

Agriculture Presidential tweets threatening trade-war escalation hurt farmers

Prices on commodity crops are already painfully low, and the threat of new trade restrictions and taxes makes the situation worse. These are thoroughly avoidable self-inflicted injuries. Trade wars aren't easy to win -- they are stupid exercises in damaging those portions of the economy most dependent upon exercising competitive advantage. And yet here we are, about to impose tariffs (that is, import taxes) on $200 billion in goods from China.

News Kim Jong-Un wanted access to American basketball stars

As part of any deal to normalize diplomatic relations. Truly. The first instinct is to mock the demand for the stunning case of stupidity that it is. But it raises a few serious points: (1) America's cultural exports have enormous value. That value shouldn't be overlooked, nor should we take it for granted. (2) Even dictators have bizarre fixations and get starstruck. To the extent that reveals their human fallibility, it's worth further attention and study. (3) North Korea's failure to produce its own basketball stars is telling. If the dictator loves the game so much, why can't they produce their own stars? (The answer, of course, is found in the utter train wreck of a political and economic system they use.)

Threats and Hazards Writer recounts a hazardous ordeal in a ride-share

An incident like this should be investigated swiftly, and the reporting customer ought to be told transparently what conclusions were reached and what resulted. If they can't do that, the ride-hailing service involved shouldn't be in business. Period.

News Shutdown at Three Mile Island

The plant is to be closed and replaced with power generated by fossil fuels. It seems that the most logical things we can do are (a) migrate as much energy consumption from combustion to electricity as possible, and (b) migrate as much electricity generation from carbon to non-carbon as possible. If those assumptions are correct, then this decision is a terrible failure of (b). The plant's owner says it was losing money and couldn't keep the plant open without subsidies.

Humor and Good News "Dude"? You meant "Dood", as in "Yankee Doodle".

The strange origins of the vernacular








May 14, 2019

Computers and the Internet Tech flashback: What you could buy in 1991

We've upgraded from 2400 baud to 5G wireless, only to spend the time saved making faces on Snapchat.

Threats and Hazards Trump lawyers claim Congress has no authority to investigate him

The entire legal team behind this argument ought to be put in stocks on the front lawn of Montpelier and flogged with a hardbound edition of the Federalist Papers. The Constitution explicitly grants Congress the authority to fire the President (Art. II, Sec. 4), the authority to require reports from the President (Art. II, Sec. 3), and (of course) the authority "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof" (Art. I, Sec. 8). There's no ambiguity here: Congress is the boss, and the President is the employee. Whatsoever they find necessary and proper to investigate regarding the conduct of the government and the execution of the law, they have the power to do. Period.

News Perpetrator in Mall of America attack gets 19-year prison sentence

The victim, a 5-year-old boy, is recovering from the attempted homicide. There's really no question the perpetrator should be kept away from the public. He's clearly a danger. But his public defender is probably right to be frustrated that there isn't a good place to send him.

The United States of America More providential moralism in our public buildings, please!

On the side of an Art Deco-inspired courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee: "The first duty of society is justice" (a line courtesy of abolitionist Wendell Phillips).

Health Not enough care

Per NBC News: "A study of more than 45,000 women found more than half only visit their OB/GYN. Less than 6% visited a primary care physician."

News We need better words than "liberal" and "conservative"

The best alternative to the shifting definitions of words like "liberal" and "conservative" would be to identify with individual leaders (Thatcherite, Churchillian, Reaganite...) -- but those leaders evolved personally over time, and so have the facts, so even those definitions would be ambiguous at best.

The United States of America Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enters the Presidential race

Send in the governors!

Computers and the Internet Big problems for Intel chips

A batch of new vulnerabilities have just been exposed. They are complicated and pervasive -- and somehow, these problems need to be explained to a public that only a decade ago still couldn't get the VCR to stop blinking "12:00".

The United States of America Good for Sen. Mitt Romney

It's not a revolution, but it is a vote against a judicial nominee who "had called [President] Obama an 'un-American imposter'" in public. Words have consequences.

Threats and Hazards Unions circulating the "Marxist" definition of business ought to reconsider

As with most forms of human organization, labor unions are neither inherently good nor inherently bad. The form doesn't determine their goodness, but rather the motivations and the things they actually do. Labor unions have done some great things (Solidarity, for instance, led a Communist-toppling revolution in Poland). But they've also conducted some terrible abuses, and the abuses have their roots in bad philosophy -- like Marxism.


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May 15, 2019

Humor and Good News Craig Ferguson, interviewed by Kathie Lee Gifford

One would never believe that it works, but it does. Ferguson may well be a quicker wit than anyone else alive today.

News What's Joe-mentum mean?

All other factors notwithstanding, Americans got 8 years of practice in picturing Joe Biden hanging around the Oval Office. America already took a test drive in the Joe-Mobile. All the other candidates, for better or worse, are still trying to get you to visit the dealership. Getting the "customer" to envision the end-state is really one of the most important tools in all of sales.

Aviation News You can have your quaint B&B

The TWA Hotel at JFK is now open, and the pictures are glorious. Eero Saarinen's magnificent building has a new life. The real question is, if so many people can agree that the design aesthetic of the building is such a treasure (and it is), then who's following the same path today, and why aren't there more of them?

Weather and Disasters Think what you want about climate change, but...

It's hard to argue with the actions of real people on the ground. Louisianans are quite literally moving to higher ground. It's a pure example of revealed preferences: With real consequences and real money on the line, watch what people do instead of what they say.

News Attention to the finer details

A dive into the nature of callout lines -- those little lines that let people add more information to maps when the space is already too densely filled

News Letters of complaint to John Glenn

Matthew 6 has a thing or two to say about the criticism that he spent too little time publicly thanking God for his safety.

Science and Technology What's infrastructure?

Much of what really constitutes "infrastructure" is concealed from view. You see roads and bridges, which is why politicians try to make hay from them. But the remainder of the spectrum is enormously important, and it's society's cost of doing business.

News NYC used to be Nieuw Amsterdam...

...but now it's Las Vegas that wants to be the new Amsterdam, letting visitors purchase and use marijuana.


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May 16, 2019

News Disagreeing for the right reasons

Sociologist Bradley Campbell notes: "A common error -- if it's error and not dishonesty -- is speaking as if people who oppose what you support oppose it for the same reasons you support it." People may share your desired outcomes, but for the "wrong" reasons. It's useful to examine their reasons to test your own reasoning -- but it's also important not to judge others solely by their allies in a specific cause.

Humor and Good News When file photos bite back

The obsession with putting images into social-media posts results in some odd choices

Threats and Hazards An illiteracy test

Someone actually advocates testing immigrants for their knowledge of "Big Brother" rather than, say, the Constitution.

Business and Finance Boeing wants a 100% tariff on Airbus planes

Imagine a world in which Boeing faces less competitive pressure to produce a safe, efficient aircraft. As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote, "The great danger to the consumer is monopoly -- whether private or governmental [...] Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world."




May 17, 2019

Threats and Hazards Why does the President hate Toyota?

The White House has issued a truly cockamamie executive order which claims that "domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports", and that the Secretary of Commerce "concluded that the present quantities and circumstances of automobile and certain automobile parts imports threaten to impair the national security". Toyota and Honda have both very prominently developed massive operations in the United States, as have other "foreign" automotive manufacturers. This idiotic government manhandling of the automotive industry is outrageous, and the crude deference to "domestic" versus "foreign" ownership is a relic of the 19th Century.

Business and Finance Economics in 30 minutes

Everyone in the world should have to take a 30-minute crash course in economics, consisting of 10 minutes on tradeoffs, 10 minutes on unintended consequences, and 10 minutes on sunk costs. And the world would be a better place for it.

Broadcasting Swiss movie theater installs beds

Ew. Just go home and watch Netflix.

Business and Finance An observation on Uber "telling its story" to the stock market

Anyone who buys a stock and then complains that the price hasn't immediately escalated is just looking for a bigger fool to sell it to. If you really believe that a stock's price is too low, then you shut up and buy more.

Health Iowa makes 44 states to sue over OxyContin

Five states filed suit, joining 39 others that had already done so. Paragraphs 4 and 6 of the introduction to the Iowa filing really hammer the crux of the problem: The state's attorney general alleges that the drug was marketed under false pretenses that set up patients for addiction, including misrepresentation of the duration of expected relief from pain. That's an enormously serious allegation.

Agriculture Japan drops restrictions on American beef

Iowa has huge advantages as an agricultural producer, and free trade lets us capitalize on them. This is great news. Naturally, there are consequences to competition, and some people will zero in on those. But there are consequences of technological change, too. And there are a bunch of other factors that create consequences, too.


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May 22, 2019

Business and Finance Buckle up for economic potholes ahead

Macroeconomic tea leaves are the hardest tea leaves to read -- but there's a lot of real money on the line for a lot of people in the housing and construction sector, so it's like a prediction market on steroids. So when it's observed that construction spending is slipping in ways similar to how it has fallen ahead of past recessions, then reasonable observers ought to take notice. In other words, this is a real window into "Watch what I do, not what I say."

Socialism Doesn't Work The dastardly work of authoritarians

A French journalist shares heretofore unseen images of China's crackdown in 1989. It's worth asking: What would happen if similar protests broke out today? Have the tools of government surveillance and repression outpaced the tools of mass organization and real-time reporting? The government is reviving the language of struggle, referring to a "new long march" in the trade war with the United States. That's not the language of glasnost or perestroika.

Computers and the Internet Resignation with clarity

One thing to be said about British politicians: They've learned to format their letters so you can read them as clear single images on Twitter and other social media. Can't say the same for many American politicians.

Weather and Disasters Tornado damage in Adair

An evident tornado track right across Interstate 80

Weather and Disasters Extremely powerful storms in southern Midwest

Lightning from the storms was plainly visible from hundreds of miles away. Debris from the tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, could be found still falling half an hour later.


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May 23, 2019

Threats and Hazards What to do about facial-recognition technology?

Editorial writer Josh Greenman of the New York Daily News argues that "the idea that we should ban police from taking surveillance camera or cell-phone camera images and running them through a database of mugshots, when they already use fingerprints and DNA, and when they already rely on (chronically unreliable) eyewitness reports to zero in on suspects, is just silly." Perhaps an all-out ban is "silly", but the issue demands a very serious debate about limits and oversight. In fact, it deserves the most extraordinary scrutiny we can impose. And that's because Americans have a fundamental right to be left alone if we're behaving "peaceably", to borrow a valuable word from the First Amendment. That's not a right that government grants to us -- it's an inherent right, forming essentially the foundation for every other civic right we ordinarily take for granted. So anything -- anything at all! -- that would begin to encroach upon that fundamental freedom requires the toughest sort of review we are capable of applying.

Business and Finance "Veep" needs a spinoff

Specifically, one that pits Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) opposite Minna "Finnish Wolf" Hakkinen (Sally Phillips). They form a delightful character rivalry whose narrative arc, incidentally, would absolutely crush the Bechdel Test.

News The suburban faux-stone facade

Sure, it looks fine for now. It permits builders to meet zoning requirements or whatever standards are put into place by corporate planners at national retail and restaurant chains. But someday, it's going to look as dated as the circa 1965-1985 giant panel glass windows (a la Kmart storefront) with the shiny 1" metal frame around the perimeter.

Humor and Good News Better than the stereotypes

Two 10-year-old girls from Nebraska raised $10,000 for charity, had their heads shaved as the challenge, and donated the hair to an organization that makes wigs for pediatric cancer patients. Engage in whatever generational stereotyping you want, but these Gen Z kids deserve a round of applause wherever they go. Their parents should be proud.

Threats and Hazards "I'm an extremely stable genius."

Show us, don't tell us.

Humor and Good News Let the taco trucks flourish!

It's a well-known, documented scientific fact that tacos are the happiest food.




May 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet Bring back Google Reader

The sunsetting of Google Reader was done so badly that the transition was rough for power users. Feedly, too, but Twitter feeds are widely used in place of conventional RSS.

News Family unveils truly arresting sculptural tribute to daughter

God willing, maybe the message will save some lives.

Humor and Good News "Interstate Love Song" as piano solo

It's a real testament to the quality of the song that a rendition like this -- so completely different in execution -- can sound completely faithful to the original and totally at home in another genre altogether. Not every song can do that.

Threats and Hazards Facebook won't take down manipulated videos of Speaker Pelosi

Then update your rules, Facebook. If you haven't gotten the message yet, this is EXACTLY the kind of manipulative activity that requires a serious response -- not because it's a Democrat or a Republican being targeted, but because it is PATENTLY MISREPRESENTATIVE of reality. Wonder how fast that policy will change when manipulated videos of Mark Zuckerberg start popping up like weeds.

Science and Technology Who should clean up carbon emissions?

Noting that China is already the world's largest emitter, but that it was historically produced mostly by the United States and a couple of other allied countries, it's a question the world is going to hear. A problem like this doesn't lend itself to rivalrous obligations to pay. If you created a mess in the past, whether you knew it was a mess or not, it's your duty to clean it up. If you're creating a mess now, especially knowing that it's a mess, it's also your duty to clean up. Ideally, borrowing an idea from futurist Ian Pearson, demand will rapidly push technological frontiers forward in the markets that can afford to pay for newer and better things, resulting in diffusion of those technologies to places with fewer resources.






May 27, 2019

The United States of America Respecting the troops on Memorial Day

"[T]he American soldier, in spite of wisecracking, sometimes cynical speech, is an intelligent human being who demands and deserves basic understanding of the reasons why his country took up arms and of the conflicting consequences of victory or defeat." - Dwight Eisenhower

News Can the Pentagon do better to stop suicide?

Carl Forsling: "Perhaps the answer is to normalize it, or more precisely, to normalize mental health care. If someone breaks his ankle, we don't freak out. We give him a cast and put him to work doing whatever he can do."

News When Congress calls, White House staffers are obligated to answer

Howsoever you treat Congress, so you treat the American people. Members of Congress may be grandstanding, self-serving, and pandering -- but in the end, they are those things because that is what American voters want. Refusing to answer them is refusing to answer all of us.

News IP theft by China isn't just for industrial production

Paradoxically, American conference organizers often require presenters to (a) release rights for their slides to be disseminated online, and (b) be circumspect about any commercial trademarks or self-identifying info...which is a recipe for inviting this type of theft.

News Circulation at college libraries is plunging

Library dean Dan Cohen: "There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library [at Yale] over the past decade [...] At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017". It's not necessarily a calamity: Library use has changed for many reasons, and digital books play a role. Cohen also notes that adaptations could actually serve a larger public interest if a rise in off-site storage, digitization, and sharing networks "closes the gap between elite institutions such as Yale and the much larger number of colleges with more modest collections."




May 28, 2019

News Problems aren't new

"Mankind has never been in this position before. Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, it has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination." Words from Winston Churchill well over half a century ago, and yet someone could speak them today with equal validity.

Business and Finance Trucking industry puts on the hazard lights

Slides from a Bank of America presentation signal that capacity is growing and the outlook for demand is softening...a lot. There's good reason to wonder what that may portend for the economy.

Computers and the Internet SimCity: Still quite popular after all these years

Survey randomly finds that half of registered voters under age 30 have played the game. The original had a number of preset scenarios where you had to take over a city with a defined crisis and work your way out of it. It was basically Giuliani Mode, back when that would have been an honorable thing.

Weather and Disasters Omaha gets late-May hail so deep it called for shovels

2019 is delivering decidedly one of the most wickedly persistent severe-weather seasons in memory around the Midwest.

Business and Finance Judging development not just by income

Noah Smith argues that a country's degree of resource dependency ought to be considered alongside its per-capita income. This is a valid dimension that should be added to any meaningful analysis of development. Moreover, measuring resource abundance is also essential to understanding where generous social-democratic states stand a chance at success (e.g. Norway) and where they do not. Converting resource abundance into a durable social-safety net is attractive -- but very hard. All too often, resource abundance turns into the resource curse.

The United States of America We can (and must) be decent, even in our disagreement

This is an argument well-put by David French. Society isn't a fight, and social problems aren't best resolved by cage match. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "I believe implicitly that you can never make people good by law, but only from something inside them." Those who think that all bad things must be resolved by law, and that by extension, obtaining political power is the only good that matters, ought to reconcile themselves with the facts that (a) humans are inherently flawed and limited, (b) all good is not perfectly knowable, and (c) life is not static -- not for individuals and not for society. There is no end-state of perfection to be attained. There is struggle and there is conflict, and those are the things that ultimately produce growth. And much better to resolve those struggles and conflicts in the hearts of people rather than by waging politics by means that seem a lot like war.

News Crowded Mount Everest becomes a death trap

It's just so...unnecessary. The mountain has been climbed. Many, many times. It's not much of a badge of honor anymore.

Humor and Good News Art is in the limitations

Do with your limitations what you can (not only when making art).

Broadcasting Interview with a dying sister

A testament to the power of storytelling, of family, of music, of memory, and of radio.

News Why Ronald Reagan mystified Edmund Morris

The thing about "Dutch" (Morris's fiction-heavy biography of Reagan), especially when contrasted with Morris's books on Roosevelt, is that somehow the fictionalized second person seemed dishonest -- whereas the omniscient third-person narrator gives us plausible deniability to believe everything he wrote about TR.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather inbound for the Upper Midwest

There's a whole lot to dislike about this situation, not the least of which is that the area of highest risk overlaps a great deal with the areas of least radar coverage.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says another 51 accounts and 31 pages have been booted

Something's rotten, but it isn't in Denmark: Facebook says these efforts are "coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran".

Iowa Iowa's crop progress is abysmal

Iowa's corn is 76% planted. The 5-year average for this point in the season? 96%. Soybeans are at 32% planted. 5-year average: 77%. And it's raining again.

Threats and Hazards Rep. Duncan Hunter wants a one-month legal amnesty for returning servicememberes

This is a shockingly bad idea. As a society, we shouldn't just treat the time after a deployment like some giant mulligan. We owe it to our professionals in uniform to commit the appropriate resources to proper mobilization and demobilization. If we can't do that, we have no business sending troops into combat in the first place. That's the basic principle of cleaning up after yourself.

Computers and the Internet HP adds a wood finish to some laptops

Too late to bring back Ricardo Montalban and his "fine Corinthian leather", perhaps, but quite nearly as fancy as an old Chrysler.




May 29, 2019

News Rep. Justin Amash can't do it all by himself

The Michigan Republican has broken out as someone who is thinking clearly about what the Mueller Report told the world. He's read the full report -- available to us all -- and he's angry: "The ball is in our court, Congress."

Health Immigrant doctors are critical to rural health care

America is a giant, unstoppable magnet for talent from all over the world. We're incredibly stupid not to take advantage of that at every possible opportunity.

The United States of America James Madision, the internationalist

"[I]ndependently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy..."

News Populism doesn't have a plan

Noah Rothman has little love for the way a populist wave has crashed into power. And it's not to be trusted -- in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "The essence of a free society is that there are whole areas of life where the State has no business at all, no right to intervene." (It doesn't matter if your "team" happens to have political control of the state at the moment or not.)

Weather and Disasters EF-4 hits Lawrence, Kansas

A mile wide, with a path nearly 32 miles long. That's a very significant tornado. 18 injured, but nobody killed.




May 30, 2019

News Obscurity is earned

In the long run, most Presidents earn nothing more than a single line in the history books (some even less than that -- see Millard Fillmore). History isn't written about fractional differences in GDP growth. It's written about the broader impressions of the times, and the unique crises that occur along the way. Thus, the more the President complains about his interminable list of persecutors (real or imagined), the more he makes his complaints his one line. The utter forgettability of some Presidencies reflects choices those Presidents made, either in choosing to do wrong or in failing to do good (to borrow the words of the Catholic prayer). Obscurity is earned.

News "No political 'emergency' justifies abandoning classical liberalism"

David French's take on the rise of Christian statism is worth considering seriously. The problem with Christian statism is the same as with all statism, summed up quite tidily by Margaret Thatcher: "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." The shocking enthusiasm with which some people are willing to surrender process in pursuit of a temporal goal is distressing. But what it highlights is the prevalence of a static mindset -- one that thinks of victories as permanent and failures as fatal. It may be quite natural for people to fall into that kind of convention, but it's unhealthy: Most good things aren't a destination so much as a journey or a path. Freedom isn't a level you unlock like a video game; it's an active thing that requires grappling, struggling, and reflecting upon at every turn. The same would go for most good things -- progress, education, parenting, whatever. Thus it is more important to get the process right than to win specific achievements and think of them as forever locked in place.

Iowa What to do with urban runoff?

In the midst of an unusually wet spring, the City of West Des Moines asks what residents think ought to be done about managing stormwater.

Humor and Good News There's no way not to be impressed by Simone Biles

The gymnast has developed some techniques that are completely astonishing

News Japan and China, forever in competition

China's using the Belt and Road program to take some pressure off its oversupplies of construction labor and funding. Japan, meanwhile, is giving cash to many places that might have wanted Belt-and-Road projects.

Socialism Doesn't Work New tariffs? The taxation addiction is out of control.

The President screams that he will impose new import taxes on Mexican goods. It's a bad use of a blunt policy to go after goals not well-related to the policy tool. It all feels both misguided and terribly artificial.




May 31, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work "The Tank Man"

If you've never seen Frontline's episode "The Tank Man", this 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square is really the right time for you to set aside 90 minutes to do it.

Business and Finance When is it time to worry about the economy?

Conor Sen says, "[H]aving lived through 2008, whenever the data is a little soft my inclination is to say 'ehh, this is nothing like 2008.' I'm always surprised by the alarmism of others." The counterpoint? In 2008, things got much worse much faster than most people imagined possible. That said, nobody knows the timing or the triggers for recession. We can only see whether evidence is mounting or dissipating.

Health A story that's good for the soul

An adult bone-marrow donor meets the toddler whose life he saved. Sign up with Be the Match if you're eligible.

Weather and Disasters A volatile atmosphere, you say?

Evidence on this dramatic tornado season so far

News How lawyers can avoid lawsuits

If you can't be trusted to behave like an adult in the presence of members of the opposite sex, you probably can't be trusted with most other duties, either. This is shared in a context for and about lawyers, but it sure seems applicable more generally.

Computers and the Internet Apple is killing off iTunes

Rumor has it a simplified program is coming to replace it. And good riddance, too: Never has another app caused the ordinary user as much frustration with its incessant forced updates, crude attempts to piggyback other unwanted applications with it, and infuriating auto-loading by default in Windows.

Broadcasting HBO cancels Wyatt Cenac's show

It's a disappointing choice: "Problem Areas" has taken an original and thoughtful approach to advocacy journalism. Cenac is smart and funny -- a genuine talent -- and he doesn't have to reach all of the right conclusions to be very good at highlighting problems worthy of attention.






June 3, 2019

News A toast by Queen Elizabeth

One doesn't have to be a monarchist to appreciate that, since they've chosen to retain a monarch, Britain truly has been fortunate to have Elizabeth in that role. Her role may be officially nonpolitical, but she ascended to the throne when Winston Churchill himself was prime minister. There's no way she can be indifferent about the transatlantic alliance. And that comes through quite clearly in her toast to the relationship between the US and the UK on the occasion of the President's state visit. Perhaps someone stashed a copy of Kori Schake's excellent book "Safe Passage" on board Air Force One for the President to read en route to the UK. It's a great examination of the "special friendship" toasted by the Queen -- how it came into being, and why it benefits the parties involved. If not, someone please get him a copy for the ride home.

Agriculture Iowa crop planting is incredibly far behind schedule

Corn is only 80% planted, when by this point in the average year it is 99% planted and 91% emerged. Soybeans are just 41% planted, when they're normally 89% planted and 63% emerged. The ground is just plain saturated, and more rain doesn't help.

News Architectural works of Le Corbusier

It's easy to see the concrete and glass and steel in these, but equally interesting is the interaction between the modernist architecture and the natural world around. There's more to it than the contemporary stunt of showing a couple of trees on the 45th floor of a high-rise.

News Illinois doubles gas tax

Some of the funding, it is said, will go towards building a rail line from Chicago to the Quad Cities. Per WHBF-TV: "Instead of paying 19 cents per gallon, drivers in Illinois will have to pay 38 cents starting July 1. It will cost drivers about $100 extra a year, and generate about $1.2 billion for the state." That will certainly be of note to the many Iowa communities along the Illinois border

News Slavery, in the words of ex-slaves

The Montgomery Advertiser, in a bold and intelligent protest of Alabama's "Jefferson Davis Day", shares the words of nine former slaves. Words like, "Course they cry; you think they not cry when they was sold like cattle? I could tell you about it all day, but even then you couldn't guess the awfulness of it." Everyone of good conscience ought to read what they said.

News "Chernobyl" miniseries as reminder it's a good thing the West won

We become the stories we tell ourselves. "Chernobyl" presented the Soviet system as a grim antihero, and as Tom Nichols confirms, it's important that we remember why.

Agriculture Senators from farm states threaten to take back tariff authority

Congress has handed over a lot of responsibility for tariffs to the executive branch over the decades -- because it was thought that the executive would be more consistently pro-trade than the legislative. Now that the conventional wisdom has been turned on its head, it's well past time to reclaim that authority. It's not a new argument, either -- see Federalist Paper No. 35: "Exorbitant duties on imported articles [...] tend to render other classes of the community tributary, in an improper degree, to the manufacturing classes, to whom they give a premature monopoly of the markets..."




June 4, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Bloody shirts are banners for students' movement"

A dispatch from Tiananmen Square in 1989, as it was reported in real time. And today? "I think there will be more [protests] in the future. There will be more in the future, and more conflict."

News Why have American values been taken out of American foreign policy?

Kori Schake: "...people have inherent rights and loan them in limited ways to governments for agreed purposes. We fail often to uphold this principle, but it is a genuine departure for an American administration not to even acknowledge it." Read the Declaration of Independence: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." True in 1776. True in 1989. True in 2019. Consent is a prerequisite of legitimacy. And a government that will not tell the truth has no rightful claim to power.

Socialism Doesn't Work A theme for June 4th

A song lamenting what happened in 1989, and a reminder that a world of government exclusively by the consent of the governed, protective of the liberty and dignity of the individual, is the rightful human condition. These words are not ambiguous: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is a very good day to reflect on these words.

Weather and Disasters "Climate change poses new threat to Panama Canal"

They're actually having to consider creating a whole additional lake just to accommodate volatile weather patterns that threaten the operation of the canal. Watch for revealed preferences: Where people spend their money, not just what they say. Spending the money to build a lake seems like enough commitment for one to believe they think something new and significant is happening.

Weather and Disasters It just doesn't end

Possibly a crest on the Missouri River? Still no relief from flooding -- just maybe a little less of it.

News President Jimmy Carter named a tenured professor at Emory

He's 94, and has been lecturing there since 1982. At last, he will be free to speak his mind with the security of tenure.

Humor and Good News Strike at the world's biggest Nutella factory

Forget Brexit. This strike is the real crisis gripping the European economy:




June 5, 2019

The United States of America He fought right out of a body bag

Forget superhero comics. The true story of Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez is amazing.

Threats and Hazards The USS John McCain incident is a shame on all of us

Jonah Goldberg, on what it says about the President and his audience: "[Apologists argued that] the chaos and crudeness were worth getting good judges, tax cuts, and less regulation. That doublespeak and lying used to vex me. But the newfound sincerity troubles me even more."

News Save your fury over metric

Tucker Carlson ranted against the metric system over a chyron reading "Is the metric system completely made up?". Of course it is -- and so is counting by tens.

Business and Finance McDonalds sells old corporate campus to founder of Paul Mitchell

The campus of Hamburger University is under new management.

News High heels aren't the root problem

19,000 people in Japan have signed a petition against dress codes that require women to wear high heels. The root problem isn't the footwear, but rather the cultural norms that permit such requirements to go into place. Sometimes it's the most idiosyncratic things that reveal deeper systemic troubles.




June 6, 2019

The United States of America The American Declaration of Independence speaks to China, too

We coexist on a planet with the people of China. And if we are true to our own Declaration of Independence, we should see those people as being just as worthy of individual dignity as we are.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to President: "Tariffs not the answer"

Congress needs to assert itself and the responsibilities explicitly described in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The President isn't the tariff-maker, unless they abdicate the duty. And if they can't take those powers back when they are written right into the Constitution, then we ought to toss out any member of Congress who doesn't have the guts to do it.

Computers and the Internet Thoughtfully colorized photos from D-Day

Far more effective than the old Walter Cronkite series "You Are There", these photos really do erase the mental distance from the event usually afforded to us by black-and-white pictures.

Computers and the Internet Editing speech in videos as easily as typing

That's the promise made on the back of research at Stanford and some affiliated institutions. Considering the number of people who were taken in by the low-tech "slurred words" video, this sophisticated manipulation is going to wreak havoc on all kinds of evidence we have grown to trust.

News Giant billion-dollar meth bust in Australia

AUS$1.2 billion in drugs seized -- "hidden in stereo speakers from Bangkok" -- which comes out to $840 million in US dollars at current exchange rates.

The United States of America Breaking the cycle of resentment

Most Americans -- regardless of age, creed, origin, or geography -- are decent, honest, and hard-working. And we're mostly free to pick up and move, if we want. Starting from a sense of respect for those assumptions would sure do a lot to break the political cycle of resentment. Enhancing people's ability to move freely is one of the best welfare-type investments that we can make. And if people choose not to do so, the rest of us have a civic responsibility to respect that decision -- while expecting people to be accountable for what happens in those communities where they do choose to live.

Threats and Hazards Growing our way out of debt may not be an option

This might be aptly termed a fragile situation: "[W]ith low interest rates but relatively high debt, the budget is increasingly sensitive to interest rate risk -- just a 1 percentage point increase in projected interest rates would cost $1.9 trillion"

News Pedantry is the last refuge of the scoundrel

Company requests correction over news story that said their medication cost $40,000. It's really $38,892. Gizmodo doesn't really regret the error.




June 7, 2019

Business and Finance Why haven't newspapers fixed the subscription model?

Venture capitalist Paul Graham speculates that newspapers can't remain "neutral" and survive. But that's a strange conclusion to draw when there's a simpler hypothesis: Newspapers need to offer low-friction, low-volume, low-cost subscription plans for readers outside their primary markets. Many readers have interest in secondary newspapers outside their natural subscription bases: Someone in Des Moines may have a lesser, but non-trivial, interest in the newspapers of Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City, and even Denver. It's unlikely any meaningful number of people were subscribing to that many print editions of out-of-state papers a generation ago, so it's equally unlikely that people would want to pay full price for all-access digital subscriptions to that many today. But there really must be a way to offer people in the "long tail" a way to pay modestly for their news without forcing them into a binary, all-or-nothing subscription choice. Where is the option for newspaper readers that acts like an EZPass? A person might live in Iowa, but travel the toll roads in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio from time to time -- all with the help of frictionless access to those roads from an I-Pass. They pay a fair share, but they pay a lot less than the residents of those states. In other words, how come newspapers haven't figured out an online subscription model that works as easily as the reciprocity passes people get when they become members of a zoo or an aquarium? It's not rocket science. The binary choice of full-price-or-nothing stands in the way of letting people who value journalism do something to pay for it.

Threats and Hazards Why so many shootings on Lake Shore Drive?

One of Chicago's busiest thoroughfares is also the site of far too many murders. But why?

Science and Technology The dwarf planet

The only thing to be said for demoting Pluto is that it's really hard to come up with a mnemonic device that adds the other four -- FOUR! -- dwarf planets (each smaller than the Moon). And if you drop Pluto, it can become "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nutella", because Nutella is everything.

The American Way Perkins: The pinnacle of capitalism?

354 restaurants all over America where, at almost any hour of day or night (often 24 hours a day), just about anyone can afford a consistent, made-to-order, sit-down meal that would put your great-grandfather's Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

Computers and the Internet Scammer offers baby for adoption via spam

What's the game here? Perhaps hoping someone falls for the heartstring-tugging and then gets drawn into sending money to facilitate the "adoption"?

News Governing competence: How do we demand more?

In the words of Bill Gates, "[G]overnment is a pretty blunt instrument and without the constant attention of highly qualified people with the right metrics, it will fall into not doing things very well."

Threats and Hazards President, abroad, calls Speaker of the House a "disgrace"

It used to be said that politics stops at the water's edge. But apparently nobody said anything about a Festivus-style airing of grievances.

Computers and the Internet Wherefore art the note-taking application of our dreams?

Comp sci people have developed artificial intelligence that can falsify video and write music, but there's still no such thing as a great calendar app or a full-featured note tool.

Health 25 cups a day, and your heart stays OK?

Study claims that as much as 25 cups of coffee per day won't stiffen the heart muscle fibers. Fine for your heart, maybe, but let's talk about what you'd need to spend on toothpaste and breath mints.

News Why it's "renowned" and not "reknew"

Renown has nothing to do with "knowing"


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June 8, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 8, 2019

Live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm

Iowa Iowa City elementary school fined by OSHA

It's a fine over failure to train staff about attacks from students, which seems troubling




June 9, 2019

Business and Finance Why are there so many utterly uncommunicative company names?

Maybe a silly lamentation, but really: Why so many three-letter abbreviations that mean nothing? Pilita Clark proposes a simple test: Is it easier to find out what your company does from your homepage or from Wikipedia?

News 500,000 people marching in Hong Kong

It's what organizers hope to achieve. If half a million people assemble in Hong Kong, that surely would be worthy of news coverage.

News Cowardice and the press

The President turns to his favorite medium to pick another of his endless fights with the news media. He ought to heed the words of Calvin Coolidge: "Perhaps one of the reasons I have been a target for so little abuse is because I have tried to refrain from abusing other people. The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately." Self-awareness plus historical literacy make for a powerful combination.

Threats and Hazards What happens when China finally awakens?

Discontent may be widespread, but a true awakening against the authoritarian regime also requires political organization -- and that's tough to achieve. Consider the absolutely epic amount of work required to conduct the recent elections in India. Organization on that kind of scale -- civic or political -- isn't something that spins up overnight.

Weather and Disasters California may have power outages to stem wildfire threat

It's beginning to sound a lot like California needs an all-out, aggressive migration to microgrids. Or, at least parts of California.




June 10, 2019

Business and Finance What makes your mistakes different, sir?

Peter Navarro has no serious answer why today's tariffs on items like steel are supposed to be any more effective than past failures. Recall Federalist Paper No. 35: "Exorbitant duties on imported articles [...] tend to render other classes of the community tributary, in an improper degree, to the manufacturing classes, to whom they give a premature monopoly of the markets..."

Humor and Good News La Sagrada Familia Basilica gets a building permit -- after 137 years of construction

The construction work significantly predates the constitution of Spain itself, so they really ought to have been grandfathered in.

Threats and Hazards Qatari workers held in conditions that shock the conscience

A German sports-news outlet covers their treatment as part of work related to the 2022 World Cup. And it will be enormously interesting to see whether FIFA takes the appropriate steps here to show that (a) they take the reporting seriously and (b) they are a credible institution with real regard for what takes place, in essence, in their name. Guest workers or native-born, they are people. Human beings, endowed with a right to dignity by their very existence.

Health Seat belts save lives

Headline: "Four crashes in Iowa Sunday kill five people". Key sentence: "The Iowa State Patrol says the lone survivor in these four crashes, was wearing a seat belt, but those who died were not."

News Tribune Tower -- now for "luxury living"

Chicago Tribune employees -- the former occupants -- have a hard time believing it's quite so luxurious. Of course, in the words of Le Corbusier, "A house is a machine for living in."

Humor and Good News An unlikely story

A "how we met" story so unlikely that it would be more satisfying as fiction than as fact, since it would be deserving of tremendous applause as a creative story.

Agriculture Iowa's farm situation looks troublesome

For crops like corn and soybeans to reach full potential takes time, and the planting season has been wrecked by wet weather. We run a very serious risk of crops failing to reach full maturity by the time the frost arrives. There's going to be a lot of nervous staring at the skies come October, when planting delays will start to show up as harvest delays; the earliest 1" snowfall recorded in Des Moines was Oct. 10 (in 2009). Is it the fault of climate change? Maybe, or maybe not. But (a) we've seen ample evidence of meteorological extremes, and (b) anthropogenic causes are plausible, so (c) a pragmatic combination of conservation/mitigation techniques and meaningful investments in resilience are probably prudent. For certain, the most imprudent course of action is to do nothing environmentally-focused, but to wreck the world trading order out of spite.

News Guardrails in a time of tribalism

Jacob Levy wisely observes: "You'd think that might mean that a moment of close partisan balance and considerable uncertainty about effective coalitional power in the medium term would favor some kinds of moderation of institutional vision: planning for a world in which you don't know whether you're 51 or 49. Instead, I see a polity full of people planning for their next supermajority." It may well be that we are watching people play out a prisoner's dilemma in which all faith in the other party has broken down (on both sides). Same effect: Behaving like there's no tomorrow. Jonah Goldberg has advanced a plausible theory that the major parties are very weak, which perversely has made partisanship more extreme at the margins as interest groups try to run the table whenever they get close to power.

Threats and Hazards Weaponizing funding for veterans is political malpractice

It is insulting and fundamentally un-American to make funding for veterans' programs the subject of an unrelated issue -- as Rep. Steve King is trying to do by making a play to de-fund "sanctuary cities". After careful study and debate, we should spend what ought to be spent on veterans, period. And do it without tying that funding to other issues. The seriousness with which America has addressed its debts (literal and otherwise) to veterans is a subject as old as the Republic itself. It's hard enough to do right, even without the distraction of tying that issue to other ones.




June 11, 2019

Computers and the Internet Instagram will keep "deepfake" videos of Mark Zuckerberg

Consistent? Maybe. Wise? Probably not.

Business and Finance Three of the biggest time-wasters in America today

Conference calls, bad PowerPoint decks, and meetings where nobody distributes agendas or reports in advance.

Weather and Disasters Lake Erie is 2.5' above normal

And that could have caused some light earthquakes

Threats and Hazards More than five months without a SecDef

The vacancy at Secretary of Defense has now gone on longer than the Battle of Anzio. It is inexcusable.

News Massive protests emerge in Hong Kong

In case you had any doubts about the universality of certain "unalienable rights", let this be Exhibit A


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June 12, 2019

News Take note of what's happening in Hong Kong

"Huge" isn't enough to describe the scale of the protests -- perhaps half a million people -- and they are self-organizing, too.

Threats and Hazards Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price

The President wants to believe that Americans pay "very little" for his tariffs on Chinese goods. But when high taxes are imposed on anything, consumers end up sharing in that cost, period. You can quibble about their share of that cost vis-a-vis the relative slopes of the supply and demand curves, but they absolutely do pay.

News Just half a century past Loving v. Virginia

The Supreme Court case that squashed bans on interracial marriage isn't that far in the rear-view mirror. If you're looking at a Baby Boomer, you're looking at someone who is older than this Supreme Court case. Sometimes it's hard to put into perspective just how long the law has permitted injustices to go on.

Business and Finance A bank is no place for a sloppy, made-up name

SunTrust, merging with BB&T, will call itself "Truist". Not "Truest", "Trust", or "Tryst".

Business and Finance Cause for alarm

There are those who would say it's alarmist to take too seriously the rise in US Treasury securities outstanding. Those people would be wrong.

Business and Finance Norway's legendary sovereign-wealth fund divests from most coal mining

A socialized market economy can work...if you have strong social cohesion, ample rewards for private-sector investment, a big natural-resource endowment (like Norway's oil), and prudent managers of the profits from that resource endowment. It also doesn't hurt to have some form of work requirement and supplemental form of gainful employment -- lest you encounter the often grave risk of creating a large class of young men with nothing productive to do. These conditions are not met in all of the places where "democratic socialism" gains traction, and that's a real problem -- because in those places where the preconditions are not met, the system is extremely unlikely to succeed. And that's not a statement of criticism about the people who are lured by the appeal of what such a system promises; it's simply a recognition of certain immutable facts of human nature.

Business and Finance Vertical integration is wild

First it was Amazon Prime-branded trucks rolling up and down I-35 and I-80. Now, it's delivery in Amazon-branded vans in top-100 markets, like Omaha.

Iowa Iowa needs a new state flag. Here's an idea.

Stealing a few ideas from the "Good Flag, Bad Flag" pamphlet by the American Vexillological Association, a symbolic substitute for our present-day overcomplicated mess.

News A delusion: "Some people said it was the best speech ever made by a president in Europe"

A Presidential claim on par with "My girlfriend is hot and she lives in Canada". There is an unfathomable degree of ahistorical hubris involved in his thinking that an unremarkable speech is somehow comparable with "Tear down this wall" or "Ich bin ein Berliner".

News The triumph of spontaneous order

Hong Kongers leave water for one another during mass protests. Most people are good by nature, and are trying their best for themselves and their families. Sometimes we just need to be nudged or led in the right direction.

Weather and Disasters Changes in routine shouldn't put babies at risk

Summer changes in patterns can put children at risk of being left behind in hot cars. Don't let it happen.

Business and Finance May the Warren and Charlie Show reign for a thousand years

Warren Buffett says he wants to keep up the extravaganza that surrounds the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha




June 13, 2019

Threats and Hazards Inexcusable, and deserving of wrathful judgment

The President, on camera with ABC News in the Oval Office, declares that he wouldn't alert the FBI if approached again by a foreign government demonstrating intent to influence an election. This was not unforeseen: Federalist 75 includes the comment, "An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents." They weren't fortune-tellers; they just knew enough to recognize the frailties of human nature.

The United States of America Live and let live: America's founding goal

James Madison: "Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice..."

Broadcasting Mike Murphy and David Axelrod launch a podcast

A common occupation binds them, and their loyalties divide them. It's recommended listening, since the hosts are interesting in their own right, but have sufficient heft to attract heavy-hitter guests.

Science and Technology What would it take to really revolutionize non-automotive transportation?

A thought experiment: What would it take to truly revolutionize pedestrian and cyclist transportation, especially in suburban areas? Shelters over sidewalks to make them useful 365 days a year? Electric bicycles? Moving walkways? Bridges or elevated lanes to bypass roads? Ski lifts mounted down the middle of highways? What novel applications of existing technologies would make moving at a human-powered pace competitive with getting stuck in traffic? The car isn't going to disappear, but even if we convert the entire automotive fleet to electric power and eliminate most air pollution, there would still be consequences from choosing autombiles as our primary tool for getting from Point A to Point B.

Business and Finance You are not a "guru" or a "ninja"

A piece you ought to read about a real pet peeve: Fluffing corporate language like job listings to create a false sense of importance -- and obscuring everything that really matters along the way. A very important criticism of fluffy job listings: They suggest that only fervent applicants with nothing to sacrifice are welcome, and that people with personal commitments (like parents) ought not apply.




June 14, 2019

Agriculture "The worst hunger crises are driven by things human beings do to each other"

Food is perhaps the cruelest conventional weapon of war, since it disproportionately punishes the sick, the young, and the old for fighting in which they're almost certainly not the belligerents.

Threats and Hazards Leaders need to find some imagination

America has a long and checkered history with those seeking asylum or refuge from violence and war. But our shining moment came in the shadow of WWI, when Herbert Hoover coordinated the effort to avert famine in Europe. Who is our Herbert Hoover in these circumstances today, as family separation remains a consequence of government policy under the Trump Administration and as the world's refugee/displaced population is larger than ever?

Health Blame carbon dioxide

Why do meetings make people sleepy? The buildup of carbon dioxide in meeting rooms and seminar halls may actually provide a useful physiological explanation that doesn't seem to have really occurred to most of us before.

Threats and Hazards China-watchers debate the number of Uighurs being held in China

Reliable sources differ -- but their estimates range from 1 million to 3 million. And any one of those would be a giant number: A population of one million would be more than all but the top ten largest cities in the United States. It isn't just a number; it's at least a million lives, plus those left behind who are affected by their detention. And if an understanding of human nature is any guide, then we may very well see far worse before China's government gets better. The more threatened an authoritarian regime feels, the more driven they are likely to become in using fear and repression to intimidate their opposition. Everyone saw what happened to Gorbachev when glasnost and perestroika moved people's souls before the structure of government was prepared to adapt.

Iowa Civic Center turns 40

Funds for the Des Moines venue were raised privately, at a time when such things were done

Humor and Good News The greatest natural acronym of all time?

It's "Dilligaf", which looks like a completely innocuous word all by itself. But it's definitely not.




June 15, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show - June 15, 2019

Live on WHO Radio and streamed on the iHeartRadio app from 2pm until 4pm

News Hong Kong's protests succeeded -- for now

The government will suspend debate on a bill that would have opened the door to extradition to mainland China for people who are supposed to be under the umbrella of Hong Kong's freedoms

Health A legitimate, free personality test

FiveThirtyEight offers a 30-question test of the "big five" traits. It's good to know yourself.


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June 20, 2019

Threats and Hazards Illinois deploys state troopers to undercover semis

The good achieved by busting distracted drivers is at least partially offset by the bad in making the roads just a little bit more of an unaccountable, undercover, full-time surveillance state.

News Could Tampa Bay share its baseball team with Montreal?

Montreal and Tampa Bay are already the "Twin Cities" in the minds of most people, so this is hardly a stretch, right?

News The gender-reveal pseudo-industry is running out of ideas

First came the idiotic escalation of the "prom-posal". Then it turned to the nonsense of extravagant "gender-reveal parties". What happens when people start making public affairs of their colonoscopies? That may be the only greenfield left. Jokes notwithstanding, there are those who turn even the earliest stages of romance into a big display. We expect adolescence to be a time of learning and practice for all kinds of important things (e.g. internships, drivers' ed, student government), and we should. It ought to be that way for relationships, too -- a time for low-risk practice and failure.

Iowa Former AIB campus slated for housing redevelopment

Great news that something better will come of the site. But the failure to really get something off the ground (as was originally intended) with a serious, on-the-ground presence in Des Moines with one of the big three state universities is a giant missed opportunity. From a strategic perspective, the state of Iowa could use the economic boost from research universities, which need campuses.

Weather and Disasters Where Americans welcome refugees

The biggest mistake is to think of refugees as people without skills or agency. Just because you've been displaced from what was once your home doesn't mean you gave up your right to self-determination or somehow forgot your craft, trade, or profession.

Weather and Disasters South Dakota tornado takes a backwards spin

Tornado watchers should be anti-clockwise.

News A bold statement

Professor Qu Weiguo of Shanghai: "Freedom is not a handout, we need to earn it with our efforts." In his speech to a graduating class, he also, boldly, told them: "Today's civilization is a product of communication and fusion", and advocated against thinking in a "Western-vs-Eastern" binary. Heroic words.

Threats and Hazards Philadelphia police restrict six dozen officers over social-media posts

Some of the comments shared or endorsed by the individual officers were grossly bigoted. Does social media cause people to do and say things that aren't truly in their hearts and minds? Or do the tools just offer transparency into what's already there? Either way, this affair ought to make any reasonable person sick to their stomach.




June 21, 2019

News On reports of "swing votes" among Administration staff

"While it is wise for the President to get all the competent advice possible, final judgments are necessarily his own. No one can share with him the responsibility for them. No one can make his decisions for him." - Calvin Coolidge

News The sacred making roommates with the secular

Most interesting: As religious orders look toward the future, one source of energy and encounter with the world may include welcoming the non-religious as temporary guests.

Weather and Disasters Storm complex explodes over southern Nebraska and northern Kansas

The satellite loop reveals an atmospheric eruption rivalling any volcano. The spectacular release of energy delivered 89-mph straight-line winds to a small town 10 miles south of the state line.







June 25, 2019

Threats and Hazards Canada's battle with election-related disinformation and foreign interference

(Video) It's not just America. It's not just on Facebook. It's not just the Russians. For our purposes in America today, it's important to keep the Federal nature of our system intact -- since it turns out that a Federal system designed for thirteen states in a pre-telecommunications era is actually a fairly robust way to operate in an era when we're more dependent than ever on communications but don't really grasp how to deal with the resulting vulnerabilities. We want our mistakes confined to individual states (see: Florida 2000), not replicated by mandate everywhere.

News Georgia sheriff's office seeks mother of abandoned baby

The child was discovered, newborn, tied inside a plastic bag. Communities need safe-haven laws -- and they need to publicize them vigorously.

News Australian town shuts down banana festival parade

The cause? Covering the anti-terrorism expenses was going to be too much for Murwillumbah's budget to bear. George Bluth could not be reached for comment.

Humor and Good News National security dad jokes

David Larter: "With a Russian ship docked only 100 miles from Key West, does that make it a...near pier competitor?"

Business and Finance Treasonmobiles, and why Americans love to drive them

The President has a naive and utterly inadequate view of world trade -- and it manifests itself in stupid policies like his intended "national security" tariffs applied to "foreign" cars (including those made with "foreign" parts). And where are these "treasonmobiles" built? Places like Alabama, Ohio, and Texas -- all home to automotive plants owned by Toyota or Honda that actually build cars with relatively high "American-made" components. Spend any time reading Jeffrey Rothfeder's book "Driving Honda" or Matthew May's "The Elegant Solution", and you'll realize that Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus are exceptional case studies in American manufacturing success. Great vehicles made very well by American labor. They should be celebrated widely -- and certainly not punished.

Threats and Hazards How do you spell "emoluments"?

"There are men who could neither be distressed nor won into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of few soils; and in the main it will be found that a power over a man's support is a power over his will." - Federalist Paper No. 73

The United States of America The case for a ceremonial head of state

It's stronger than one might think

Computers and the Internet Cowardice in the face of...Instagram?

How a United States Senator lends his name to feigned outrage over account suggestions from Instagram is beyond sane explanation. Conservatives, in particular, ought to think of themselves as strong enough to scroll past a non-conforming opinion or two without losing their minds. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, "The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them."

Health Licking one's wounds

A question for the evolutionary biologists out there: When did the instinct to lick a wound start to pay off in the evolutionary tree? Is that only a mammalian thing? Are we the only ones with clotting agents in our saliva?

News Time to speak up

This is an appropriate time for leaders of conscience -- both within faith communities and outside of them -- to speak up for humanity and humane treatment, especially for vulnerable children in the custody of our government. Those who have nothing but venom to spew ought to reconsider whether they want to be remembered well after they depart this life. Leaders like Russell Moore deserve credit for being among the former; Jerry Falwell, Jr. deserves scorn for being among the latter.

News Student-loan forgiveness for all?

Education has a cost-inflation problem, as well as a delivery problem. We need to have a long talk about where the "added value" is showing up in education, generally.




June 26, 2019

News Smoke-filled rooms, now on Twitter

The election will be decided on the secret Slack channel reserved exclusively for Iowans. We're all on there every Tuesday and Thursday night.

News Have a policy, not a sound bite

Kevin Baron: "Americans want less war. And soft-power funding helped win the Cold War. But it remains woefully short, and forever will until a president puts forth a bold funding boost with a genuine plan to recruit, staff, organize around new bold policies to use that money wisely"

Aviation News Electric airplanes really are coming

Yes, please. Now on display at the Paris Air Show.

News A one-word answer to our biggest threat?

Chuck Todd's question at the Democratic Presidential debate was a profoundly unserious way to address an existential matter. Most of the problems alone take more than one word to describe, much less what it takes to tell why, or how they should be addressed, or what trade-offs are involved.

Humor and Good News I can see your Fahrvergnugen

Surely there's a German word for "distracting other drivers through naked scooter riding".

Aviation News Boeing uses employee parking lots for overflow 737 space

Wait...what kinds of vehicles do they expect their employees to be driving that the pavement would already be thick enough for this? Boeing says the zero-fuel weight of the smallest 737 Max is 128,600 lbs.

Health A no-brainer: Protect brains

Extended netting at baseball games shouldn't be a tough choice. Do it in all the ballparks.