Gongol.com Archives: 2019 Third-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

July 2, 2019

Threats and Hazards Oversight report: Migrant detainees aren't being treated well

If the government is going to spend $10, then $1 in oversight costs may well be needed to ensure that the other $9 are spent well. Oversight matters.

Business and Finance Lee Iacocca passes away

It's well worth noting (as Karl Smith does) that Iacocca was a manager, not a capitalist. Managers are necessary in every economic system, and they are valuable -- but the differences separating managerial capitalism, proprietor capitalism, shareholder capitalism, and corporatist capitalism are all worth a lot more attention than they usually get.

Weather and Disasters The granularity of GOES satellite imagery is amazing

Individual storm anvils and overshooting tops can be seen

Humor and Good News Monetarist Buffalo wings

A delicious complement to "neo-classical Buffalo wings", whatever those might be

The United States of America 158 million adults worldwide would like to become Americans

Per a 2018 poll by Gallup. What would happen if the US said "We will welcome the accession of any city, province, or country on a 20-year path to statehood, provided you bring a balanced budget and a clear commitment to the rule of American law"?

News A day that lacks a lot of sense

Lots of people in high-level positions having rush meetings? That's cause for anxiety. And yet the government is trying to put together a military parade in Washington, DC. Putting on a big military parade (just for show) on Day #185 without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense is the national-security version of doing a bunch of bicep curls without ever taking a leg day.

Business and Finance What should it take to get a Ph.D.?

The artificial barriers to entry in graduate-level economics programs suggest to me that there are too many economists who don't actually value human-capital development as much as they might preach.

The United States of America It's hard to preserve what you don't sufficiently value

The casual freedoms Americans will largely take for granted over the Independence Day holiday are exactly the ones we ought to remind ourselves aren't universal

July 5, 2019

Broadcasting This news isn't "fake", it's "enhanced"

The ABC television affiliate in Chicago is going to start integrating more animation and visual effects into news stories in order to enhance the product. It's being done in tandem with a journalism school, but this for sure will require very careful scrutiny.

News "Bad ideas are spreading like the plague"

A thoughtful contribution from Stephanie Slade: "What unites the left's flirtation with socialism and the right's move toward nationalism is the willful discarding of long-understood, dearly learned truths about how to make the world a better place." The only comfort to be found in the resurgences of hard-left socialism and witless nationalism is that the classical liberal tradition has survived these clashes before, and ultimately triumphed. It's just that there's so much collateral damage in the meantime.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says it's clamping down on "sensational health claims"

At least, they're doing so in the news feed by busting down posts that appear to make exaggerated claims about health (using algorithmic management of phrases that are associated with those kinds of claims), and by doing the same for posts that appear to be selling something on the basis of exaggerated claims. Good, probably. But it did not escape one reporter's notice that nothing was said about groups, where really bad misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Science and Technology World's tallest modular building finished at 459'

There are actually two of them, side-by-side in Singapore. Most of the 40-story building, made of precast concrete, was fabricated in Malaysia.

News 67 years, and no more MAD Magazine

Weird Al Yankovic isn't the only one who's going to miss the publication. Satire is an important art form, and while MAD has always been a sort of gateway drug to higher forms of satire. "The Hollywood Reporter" says they have sources confirming that it will only feature new content in end-of-year specials, but in the words of a MAD cartoonist, "for all intents and purposes, MAD is folding."

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July 9, 2019

Computers and the Internet Disingenuous, or just plain stupid?

CNBC reports that "Chinese internet stocks may be a good buy for investors, according to global investment banks UBS and Credit Suisse." Which either reveals complete disregard for the investing public or stunning ignorance. But if you think that Internet companies are a gamble in the Western democracies (and they sure are), imagine the moral hazard involved in dealing with a country named year in and year out as "the world's worst abuser of internet freedom".

Humor and Good News Knowing how good you have it isn't so easy to do

Future generations will need to look back on the 90s and appreciate just how gifted so many of the "grunge" and "alternative" artists really were. Chris Cornell could just rip your heart out with his voice. And then there's Scott Weiland, who cut these lyrics to "Interstate Love Song" in one take. An unapologetically hard rock song woven with elegant harmonies, and quite possibly the perfect rock track.

Socialism Doesn't Work Remembering 1989

When Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the reins on Eastern Europe, a bunch of countries reacted and ultimately the Soviet Union fell. What would it take for a Gorbachev-like figure to emerge in China? We have to think of human nature for what it is -- people will do (sometimes extraordinary, sometimes very antisocial) things to protect themselves and their immediate families. We live inside of social systems with rules and expectations (just like China's rulers live within the rule systems of the Communist Party), but sometimes external conditions trigger changes. Gorbachev thought he could bring about a controlled transition away from the worst of Communist excesses; in the end, he couldn't. So what are the incentive structures and the elements of human nature that will determine what happens in China someday, when the irresistible force (of people's natural sense of liberty) finally starts to break the immovable object that is the Communist Party of China?

Humor and Good News Show, don't just tell

A single good illustration beats a hundred overwrought bullet points in a PowerPoint deck. Like a photo of a weight machine quite naturally illustrating a normal distribution.

Computers and the Internet Meeting app can hijack Mac webcams

Webcam covers for laptops cost about $3 apiece. Don't trust; take precautions.

Weather and Disasters Lightning can strike many miles away from a storm

(Video) You can see it happen

July 10, 2019

News Which Ross Perot are we supposed to remember?

It's possible to envy Ross Perot (1982), to loathe Ross Perot (1992), to have no informed opinion whatsoever on Ross Perot (2002), and to respect Ross Perot (2012). But it's often hard to say that, as our opinions on people become fixed in time like a mosquito trapped in amber. As hard as it may be, it's worth trying. Each of us lives a single existence, linear in time. But to the world, we are infinite slices of parallel beings. Only one Ross Perot has passed. But uncounted Ross Perots are being remembered.

Humor and Good News The brain zooms

The very first time you hear this phrase and connect it to caffeine, you'll probably get it

Threats and Hazards Chinese influence in South America: Yes, really

The head of US Southern Command "told the Senate Armed Services Committee's Emerging Threats subcommittee that China is only going to increase its efforts to live 'inside our own neighborhood seeking to displace the United States as the partner of choice'". Mind your community, or someone else might.

Weather and Disasters New Orleans area gets 7" of rain

Putting stress on a levee system already being challenged by an abnormally high Mississippi River. A tropical storm is coming.

Threats and Hazards A real-life totalitarian nightmare

(Video) Should you watch all 9 minutes of this report from The Economist on the appalling treatment of the people of Xinjiang? Yes. But if nothing else, jump to 5:48 and listen to how China spies on people inside their own homes.

The United States of America "The Conservative Sensibility"

An interview with George Will about his new book

Threats and Hazards Has your member of Congress read the Mueller Report?

Politico asked, and a bunch of legislators admitted they haven't read it. Some haven't even tried. It's hard to believe any of them should be paid for their work.

Humor and Good News Sharkysharky?

What on Earth caused Google's spellchecker to suggest that made-up word when "surveillance" was what was typed in?

Computers and the Internet Standards still matter

Ever since Google shut down Google Reader, all faith should be lost that the FAANG companies would ever go back to supporting broad-based, open standards (like RSS). In a parallel universe, open standards are allowing small businesses to do things like post a simple file somewhere on their website (not unlike robots.txt or favicon.ico) with key identifying information and basic details like hours of operation. Without consistent open standards supported by big players, instead, business operators have to spend all their godforsaken "Internet marketing" time running around updating things uniquely for every "walled garden" on the Internet, and consumers cannot consistently trust any of it.

The United States of America Parachute wedding dress loaned to Fort Bragg museum

A bride is lending her wedding dress, made of her husband's WWII parachute, to the 82nd Airborne Museum -- but reserves the right to let her great-granddaughters wear it if they want.

The American Way Private property is a bulwark for personal liberty

And that's the correct order for those priorities: Liberty for the individual first, secured by private property. As Margaret Thatcher said, "I passionately believe that private property should be spread as widely as possible, as a bulwark for the liberty and independence of the people, and to enhance a sense of responsibility to future generations."

July 11, 2019

News Who is (or might be) America's Macron?

If the old two-party, two-ideology system has truly been replaced with a four-way split (among nationalists, socialists, the center-right, and the center-left), then who's going to make the case for a centrist bloc?

News Immigration raids to begin Sunday

So reports the New York Times.

Weather and Disasters Slow-moving flood works its way across central Nebraska

Portions of the Wood River basin got 9" of rain on Monday and Monday night. The water is moving in a slug that passes town-by-town through the river.

Humor and Good News America's greatest deficit

Sure, the Federal budget deficit is distressing. But is it anything compared to our deficit in power ballads? Related: The most useful YouTube comment ever.

News The most inexplicable traffic stop ever

A stolen vehicle, a rattlesnake, an open bottle of whiskey, a gun...and some uranium that nobody seems to be able to explain. Oklahoma, you've really set a new bar.

July 12, 2019

Iowa Air conditioning isn't going to be the end of us all

Home heating accounts for vastly more BTU consumption than air conditioning in America. But if you live in Iowa, you can assuage about 99.9% of any guilt you might feel about using electricity (including for air conditioning), because MidAmerican Energy is pushing hard into the production of electricity from renewable sources. Or at least 51.4% of that guilt, for now. So when we're running the A/C, we're really just taking hot blowing air from outside and converting it to cool blowing air inside.

Computers and the Internet Facebook Libra: Another cryptocurrency we probably don't need

Pretty clear that an organization with enough hubris to try to launch its own currency doesn't really have a lot of time for the public good.

News Nobody did the reading

Robert Mueller's testimony to Congress is going to be delayed because, in effect, Congress hasn't done its homework and isn't prepared yet. Per the Washington Post: "Mueller will testify for three hours -- an extra hour -- before the Judiciary panel and then give testimony to the Intelligence Committee for two hours."

Broadcasting It took 22 years for The Verve to get paid for "Bitter Sweet Symphony"

The Rolling Stones got all the credit until finally relinquishing the rights

News Amazon's DC-area HQ2 looks...ordinary

Ordinary in the contemporary "let's put a random adornment on the exterior that makes it look slightly ragged" sense. What's missing from modern architecture? Architectural setbacks. Like, honest-to-goodness Chrysler Building-style setbacks.

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July 16, 2019

Agriculture Japanese beetles attacking Iowa corn

Scarier than Godzilla, because it's real. We really don't need this kind of pest right now.

Aviation News 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch

Science. National interest. High technology. Daring. Quite a combination.

News WWII codebreaker Alan Turing to be featured on British currency

This practice of honoring eminent citizens on the currency is one we should happily endorse.

Threats and Hazards Don't mislabel a political conflict as a "clash of civilizations"

National Security Advisor John Bolton told a political group that the dynamic between the United States and China "has elements of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations", a line also employed by some representatives of the State Department. Why is it so hard for our diplomatic and national-security leaders to embrace the plain language of our own Declaration of Independence -- that people everywhere are endowed with rights and dignity, and that governments have a duty to preserve them? Governments are different from civilizations.

The United States of America Codebreaker first, Supreme Court justice later

John Paul Stevens was awarded the Bronze Star for codebreaking work

July 17, 2019

Computers and the Internet People have learned nothing about computer security

When a shadowy app offers to age-progress your picture, perhaps think twice about submitting to their terms and conditions. Sure, FaceApp is an intriguing exercise in artificial intelligence. But we should constantly consider who might be on the receiving end of our data (it's not just the Russians we should worry about!), and always consider the ulterior motives that someone may be using against us.

News "Meth gators" and the real problem of flushing pharmaceuticals down the drain

If it takes alarmist stories about "meth gators" to get people to start thinking more carefully about properly disposing of hazardous wastes, then let's get #MethGators trending. Think downstream, people.

Weather and Disasters A classic shelf cloud on the approach

It looked ominous and dumped a lot of rain in a hurry, but at least it wasn't a supercell

July 18, 2019

Health Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,600 people -- and it's reached cities

Urbanization has a thousand and one benefits, but it does put us at greater risk for outbreaks of contagious diseases. Public health needs to be a very high global priority.

Threats and Hazards A lesser man

The President says he disavows the chants of "Send her back" at his campaign rally this week. What empty words. It isn't hard to say "No", and yet he didn't do that. Sen. John McCain knew how to say it when his supporters went too far. A lesser man finds it too difficult. Anyone engaged in an un-American chant like "Send her back" is sending a message that they want to belong to something, and that need isn't being fulfilled in healthy ways. That's the preexisting condition that weakens the body politic and makes it susceptible to infection.

Computers and the Internet A big to-do over a casino that doesn't exist

Sony is making a big deal out of a casino "opening" inside the game "Grand Theft Auto". There's recreation. There's escapism. And then there's...this.

Iowa Life inside the Iowa caucus bubble

Living in Iowa right now means not knowing whether the rest of the country is seeing the same non-stop barrage of campaign ads that you see

Humor and Good News Not the time nor the place

There may not be any public places where a person would want to hear "Sexual Healing", but the Post Office definitely isn't one of them.

July 19, 2019

News America has never existed outside the world

Sen. Josh Hawley is making a claim that America's "leadership elite" is composed of "cosmopolitans". While his definition of "elite" is utterly nonspecific (and strangely omits, apparently, people like United States Senators), he claims that the "cosmopolitan" identity means a "primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world, not to a 'specifically American identity'". ■ The Senator makes an overwhelming omission from his observation, though: America's identity started -- literally from its very first moment -- with having a place in the world at large. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence concludes with the words "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." ■ To have a "cosmopolitan" interest in the world takes nothing away from one's patriotism or sense of Americanism, any more than being an American takes away from one's identity as an Iowan, a Virginian, or a Californian. It means only that Americans know their place up and down the scale of identities -- as humans residing on Earth alongside billions of others, as residents of states, as members of our communities and neighborhoods. Or as people sharing a common language and legal tradition with Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Irish. Or as people who share religious faiths with others in ways that have no correspondence to political boundaries at all. ■ The notion that real "American" interests have nothing to do with our place in the world is short-sighted and insufferably ahistorical. ■ Consider Federalist Paper No. 63: "An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: The one is, that, independently 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; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed."

The United States of America Cattle-call Presidential debates don't do us any good

The upcoming CNN debates, with twenty candidates on two nights, is lined up for maximum television spectacle, but it's not going to tell the voting public anything of value. It's spectacle as a substitute for sorting mechanism. Presidential debates should be replaced with timed writing tests. Essay questions, composition books, and a #2 pencil. No advisors. No Internet. Just you and your ability to explain yourself.

Agriculture Agronomist thinks corn harvest will be shrunk by 10% or more

Scott Irwin thinks the harvest could take a hit of 20 bushels per acre due to weather conditions and their consequences. And he may well be right.

News Puerto Ricans are exercising the First Amendment

Large protests against their governmental administration -- peaceable assembly, petition of grievances, and big signs projected on the sides of buildings

Weather and Disasters The dangers of hot cars

The National Weather Service office in Omaha had some social-media fun testing whether they could bake biscuits inside a car sitting in the sun. The biscuits turned out unsatisfactory, but even in the shade, the car hit an internal temperature of 144°.

News Capturing the center isn't optional

Democratic governors are worried that a leftward shift in the party's politics could chase off the middle-of-the-road voters who may get turned off by left-wing rhetoric or who may choose not to show up at all. If the Democrats focus on appeasing the left rather than on winning the center, particularly in the Presidential race, they could lose in 2020 -- or they could limp across the finish line with a small victory...and instantly face four years of a non-stop, full-volume blast of "Trump 2024". Remember: Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as President, so it's happened before.

July 20, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 20, 2019

Airing live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Computers and the Internet Going incognito with incognito browsing

A pending update to the Chrome web browser will close a loophole that had permitted websites to check whether users were in "incognito" mode

July 25, 2019

Computers and the Internet Spot-checking student social media?

A prominent Australian journalist suggests "I think all high schools should have the right to do spot checks of students' (children's) social media accounts to ensure they comply with the school ethos. It would surely temper some of the crude behaviour & language on there." We're all entitled to idle thoughts that maybe haven't been fully developed for prime time, but this one is especially bad. This idea would take "in loco parentis" to an extreme that would displace the parents even in their own homes. And even though some would be quick to blame the left for such overreach, there is a loud and intemperate wing of the right that would also have the state decide personal moral judgments for us, openly and unapologetically. It is one of the most distressing developments of our age.

Threats and Hazards What good is the law if it's abused by its executors?

Quinta Jurecic writes: "[D]irecting the attorney general to turn the full power of the state against your innocent political opponent (a thing that is in the Mueller report) does not strike me as beside the point" [of the hearings]. "The rule of law" is meaningful only when it restrains those with power from abusing it. It's not hard to enforce rules against the weak and vulnerable.

News A sense of responsibility

Margaret Thatcher once said, "Ultimately, it is the willingness of its citizens to acknowledge a sense of responsibility towards their fellow men that distinguishes a free society from one dominated by licence and anarchy." Maybe it was a conscious choice, maybe it was a mere coincidence. But the use of "citizens" (a narrow definition) having responsibility toward "fellow men" (a universal one) might well have a lesson in it.

News Pabst to sell "caffeinated malt beverage"

An iced coffee with a close relationship to beer? Nothing about that is a good decision.

News Robert Mueller and "Pickle Rick"

Stephen Stromberg compares the special counsel to a cartoon mad scientist whose exploits are ignored by an audience that doesn't get what it's seeing: "On Wednesday, Mueller's answers could be summed up: 'I made a report. What more do you want tacked on to this?'"

Computers and the Internet Google Street View is on the prowl

Seen in the wild roaming the Des Moines metropolitan area

July 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards "They are doing it as we sit here"

A warning from Robert Mueller: Attempts to sabotage democratic processes are underway right now. This isn't over. It's never going to be over. And the longer it takes us to realize that, the worse the consequences. Politics have been turned into warfare by other means. Let us all hope -- earnestly -- that we will as a country take the ongoing threat seriously. It's not just Russia. It's not just to help or hurt one party or the other. And it's definitely not over.

Computers and the Internet The device writers need

In this commentary, Chris Taylor lays out a basically perfect roadmap for developing a simple computing device that makes all the sense in the world. That was three and a half years ago, and nobody's done it yet. Fix this, Silicon Valley.

Threats and Hazards North Korean economy shrinks -- a lot

Reuters reports on an official South Korean assessment: "North Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 4.1 per cent last year in real terms, the worst since 1997". Poor countries do not grow more stable as their economies contract.

News Hong Kong protests overtake the airport

The durability of the protests in Hong Kong is really quite amazing.

News Can news be reported without some form of bias?

Nope. Every decision to cover or not to cover a story -- or an angle to a story -- is a matter of editorial judgment. It also matters whether a story is covered well or badly, by pros or by rookies, in long-form or in briefs, as "straight news" or "analysis" or "magazine-style". The best approach is to think of news like GPS: You don't want one source, you want several -- and then you triangulate among them what is most true.

July 27, 2019

The United States of America We need more patience for first-order problems

The rush to judge Robert Mueller's testimony to Congress in a manner like it was performance art is a mistake. It may provide a "hook" to make the audience believe they're receiving news, but it's badly calibrated to the information needs of a free society. The easiest shortcut to finding a new hook isn't to cover "the thing", but to cover "something about the thing". But when everyone does that, it's like watching ESPN and thinking you're learning about health and fitness. You're watching the shadows instead of the action.

July 30, 2019

Computers and the Internet The strangest "other than" in history?

Capital One reports on a cybersecurity breach with a most unusual declaration: "No bank account numbers or Social Security numbers were compromised, other than: About 140,000 Social Security numbers of our credit card customers [and] About 80,000 linked bank account numbers of our secured credit card customers". How is that possibly an "other than"? 140,000 people is the population of a modestly-sized city -- slightly bigger than Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The press release further says "Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada." It is, in fact, about as bad as bank leaders have long feared that a cyber-breach could be. These things aren't trivial or secondary in importance: This is a bank heist attempted via laptop computer.

Threats and Hazards A pox upon everyone who feeds the trolls

At the apex of technological advancement and the peak (so far) of civilization, we have elected leaders adopting veils of deliberate ignorance so they can feed the trolls of partisan fiendishness. And Madison wept. Rivalries, arguments, and even insults have been around from the beginning of America's status as an independent country -- but we do presently live at a point where blithe ignorance itself has neither any excuse nor any place. We know more than our forebearers ever could, and we can answer virtually any question quicker and more accurately than they ever imagined possible. We can continue to tease and even mock, but we shouldn't do so as willing dolts.

Business and Finance Other measures matter, but GDP shouldn't be manipulated

There are those who would see GDP measurements modified to account for other characteristics they value -- like environmental sustainability. And there may very well be good reasons to account for things that are valuable but which are not captured in GDP. Knowing the speed of a car doesn't tell you if it's driving safely. But knowing its speed -- and if it's changing -- is fundamental to knowing what's happening to the car. Just because a measurement doesn't tell you everything doesn't mean you break the measuring stick. It is quite enough to know that GDP is not everything that matters, but that it is materially important nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards How about your $1,346?

The US Treasury plans to borrow $443 billion in the third quarter of this year, with Federal spending on the rise and the need for cash continuing to grow. To be clear: This means the Federal government adds $1,346 to the national credit card in the name of every child, woman, and man living here right now.

Broadcasting Import this from France

(Video) How come French TV is capable of putting giant timers up on the screen during their presidential debates and American TV isn't?

July 31, 2019

News A little modesty is in order

If the case for your Presidential candidacy starts with "President Trump is dangerous and has too much power" and ends with "Vote for me so I can make dramatic policy changes", then James Madison would like a word with you. It remains true that Presidential debates should be replaced with timed writing tests. Essay questions, composition books, and a #2 pencil. No advisors. No Internet. Just you and your ability to explain yourself.

Weather and Disasters Four separate typhoons could develop in the western Pacific -- at once

One model shows it happening by August 3rd. Who needs science fiction when reality could be way more tumultuous than any movie script?

The United States of America At the 100th Meridian

There is a Canadian folk-rock song about the 100th Meridian, "where the Great Plains begin". But it's a conveniently accurate description -- even if there's reason to believe that the Great Plains are migrating eastward. It's funny how opinions differ so much on what constitutes the Midwest.

Threats and Hazards "Chinese forces massing on border" of Hong Kong

Nobody seems to be confirming the rumors officially, but that's of little comfort

August 3, 2019

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

Broadcasting live on WHO Radio

August 6, 2019

Business and Finance GateHouse to take over Gannett

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

News "I'm sorry."

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

News Urbanization: It cannot be resisted

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

News Why uniformity took over apartment construction

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

August 7, 2019

The United States of America Don't think of me

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

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

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

August 8, 2019

The United States of America What Puerto Rico is getting right

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Russia tests American and Canadian patience

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

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

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

Health A fine story of human goodness

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

Aviation News "The Right Stuff"

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

Humor and Good News How to fold a fitted sheet

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

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

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

August 9, 2019

Business and Finance Why does infrastructure cost so much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Tone comes from the top

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

News Lucky Charms marshmallows...in bulk

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

August 10, 2019

News Walmart pulls plug on violent video game displays

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

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

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

Business and Finance FedEx and Amazon part company

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

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

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

Iowa Yankees and White Sox to play at Field of Dreams

Coming to northeast Iowa in August 2020

Computers and the Internet Demand paper ballots

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

Business and Finance Perkins Restaurants file for bankruptcy

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

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

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

August 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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August 13, 2019

Agriculture Irrigation-vs.-non-irrigation gap grows

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

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

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

News Government needs governors who are skeptical of their own power

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

News Journalism, not stenography

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

Humor and Good News Why Chicago has a U-boat

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

News Protests in Hong Kong shut down the airport

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

News Sen. Bernie Sanders goes after the Washington Post

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

Weather and Disasters Have the tornadoes shifted north?

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

Broadcasting This is what a role model looks like

When racist viewers attack the people who make the local news

The United States of America The net economic benefits of immigration

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

August 14, 2019

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

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

Humor and Good News "Dad jokes" serve a purpose

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

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

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

Business and Finance Differences you should know before leaving high school

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

Iowa Who holds the door for whom?

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

August 15, 2019

News Freedom of travel for members of Congress

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

Iowa A beautiful new venue

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

Iowa Des Moines should consider commuting by Sky Glider

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

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

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

Business and Finance The inverted yield curve (for dummies)

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

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

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

Business and Finance Jobs for all? Which jobs?

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

August 16, 2019

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

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

News Japan converts convenience stores to funeral parlors

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Businesses in Hong Kong start looking for lifeboats

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

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

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

August 18, 2019

News The problem with making the economy central to politics

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

News 1.7 million people rally for freedom in Hong Kong

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

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

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

August 19, 2019

Iowa The best ride around the Iowa State Fair

Not really on the fairgrounds, but right around there

News "Corporations are [made up of] people"

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

August 20, 2019

Weather and Disasters A raw and powerful display

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

August 21, 2019

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

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

Science and Technology The Cold War bunker still open for tours

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

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

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

Business and Finance What does the US economy make?

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

August 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

Humor and Good News Unintended consequences of precision farming

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

News On late converts to reform in the GOP

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

News The commonness of self-sacrifice

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

August 23, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work The President, the Stalinist

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

Computers and the Internet What female coders must endure

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

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

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

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

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

Aviation News Skywriting over Des Moines

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

Business and Finance The hidden problem with the next recession

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

Iowa Multi-hour DSL crash keeps Iowans off Internet

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

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August 24, 2019

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

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

September 9, 2019

News Sen. Kamala Harris talks sense on violence

She promises "independent investigations of police shootings" as a campaign plank. From a civil-libertarian point of view, an independent body for investigating shootings that involve law enforcement is a sound idea. Model it on the NTSB.

Science and Technology When the robots are helpful

You can vilify automation if you want, but there are places where the alternative means no service at all.

News What's happening with Brexit? Watch the Irish.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most important issue is how the Irish border is going to be handled. And that means the Irish media may be best-positioned to report on what's really happening in the UK.

Weather and Disasters Hurricane-force winds hit Canadian Maritimes

Ex-Hurricane Dorian left 80,000 customers without power in New Brunswick and more than 112,000 in the dark in Nova Scotia.

The United States of America A majority of Americans are members of religious communities

But that's actually an unusual circumstance across American history. Whether we're "more religious" or "less religious" depends on which cohort of predecessors you choose to count.

Weather and Disasters Typhoon pounds Korean Peninsula

Yonhap News Agency: "About 3,600 properties have been confirmed to be damaged due to the fifth-strongest winds ever recorded among the typhoons that have hit the peninsula."

Agriculture Chinese state media discourage pork consumption

Surely an unwelcome development in the eyes of Iowa Pork.

September 10, 2019

The United States of America Just because a message makes sense in many or even most cases doesn't mean it fits all

Above all, it's our job as good Americans to recognize that most of our fellow citizens are free to move about if they wish -- because that implies that most of us have, consciously or not, made a choice to live where we do.

Humor and Good News "I couldn't give a flying flamingo"

John Bercow goes out in style as the Speaker of the Commons. It still doesn't make sense how they squeeze 650 MPs into that room at Westminster, but the insults are par excellence.

The United States of America Copying a good idea from Parliament

Someone should ceremonially slam the door on the President when he or she shows up to deliver the State of the Union Address. The pathetic theater into which the SOTU has evolved makes it look like a regal declaration, when it should be an annual performance review with a highly critical audience.

September 11, 2019

Business and Finance A reconciliation with reality

California's House and Senate need to reconcile two versions of a bill that would permit college athletes to benefit from endorsement deals

News Tentative OxyContin settlement unveiled

A settlement of $10 to $12 billion between 22 states and the makers of OxyContin, all for the apparently willful and reckless way in which the pharmaceutical company marketed the drugs that initiated the modern opioid crisis.

Threats and Hazards How often are cyberattacks hitting the power grid?

Columnist Joe Weiss says, "My database has identified more than 300 actual control system cyber incidents in the North American electric system including 6 major outages affecting at least 90,000 customers. Moreover, since 2010, the electric industry has reported 29 cyber-attacks in the mandatory DOE OE-417 reporting forms."

Computers and the Internet Google versus the state attorneys general

50 state attorneys general are investigating Google's "overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers". It's an antitrust investigation, but the inquiry has demanded lots of records by October 9th. Only California and Alabama are out; the other 48 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico, are in.

Threats and Hazards Iran's 29-year-old "Blue Girl" dies

Sahar Khodayari costumed herself to blend in at a soccer match, where as a woman she was not allowed. She was caught and charged, and faced six months in prison. She self-immolated instead, and died of her injuries.

Science and Technology Hyundai prototypes a "last-mile" scooter

Instead of driving all the way to your destination, this option would let you drive, park someplace convenient, and then e-scoot at 12 mph to the final destination

News "Mismatches in the Marriage Market"

Cornell University researchers think they've uncovered a problem for eligible women in the dating pool: Their potential partners aren't especially "high-quality". The researchers looked at comparable women who were married, and then "synthesized" spouses for the unmarried women. The "synthesized" men were a whole lot higher-income, better-educated, and regularly-employed than the actual men found in the dating pool. Ouch.

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September 18, 2019

News What's the ideal age for a US President?

The instinct to ask these questions is strong, but the answers should always be context-dependent. A 65-year-old who keeps learning is probably more mentally agile than a 35-year-old who has a fixed worldview. Consider the wide age ranges of achievements by some of history's "greats": Thomas Jefferson started building Monticello around age 25, Warren Buffett took over Berkshire Hathaway around 35, Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica around 45, and Winston Churchill became UK Prime Minister around age 65. Instead of measuring age, we ought to test candidates' mental agility, curiosity, openness to new ideas, and humility.

Humor and Good News Art that gives a flying flamingo

An interpretation of John Bercow worthy of mounting on a wall

Humor and Good News The doughnut-chicken sandwich is here

Yet another thing we didn't know that 2019 had in store

News Comedy: Let it be thought-provoking, not mindlessly provocative

Some of the best laughs come from an uncomfortable confrontation between something we find familiar and something incongruous or subversive that a comic manages to expose about that familiar thing.

Threats and Hazards "[G]auge the President's risk tolerance and operate just underneath that"

It's hard to dismiss this interpretation of the evidence on how adversaries around the world are operating. And that's worrisome.

Weather and Disasters The only test that matters on climate change

"What are the Dutch doing?"

Business and Finance How much could Warren Buffett charge for tuition?

Warren Buffett himself worked for Benjamin Graham and didn't even ask about salary before accepting the job, because he was so eager to learn from his mentor. Later on, Buffett went to work for himself. Which makes it interesting that one of Buffett's closest associates is leaving to start her own firm. Other people are willing to pay millions of dollars just to have lunch with Buffett. Yet here is someone who has worked closely with him as a paid employee who has decided to stake out on her own. How much could Buffett charge as "tuition" to get someone else to work for him? Undoubtedly it's worth an enormous amount.

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September 19, 2019

News What can a President promise?

Federalist Paper No. 75 was apprehensive about putting powers of negotiation solely into the hands of an executive: "The qualities elsewhere detailed as indispensable in the management of foreign negotiations, point out the Executive as the most fit agent in those transactions; while the vast importance of the trust, and the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them." And further: "An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States." Perhaps we need the "Federalist 75 Act": A means by which any whistleblower within the executive branch (or within independent agencies of government) can bring a complaint or warning to the attention of two-thirds of the Senate. We need an Executive Branch to carry out diplomacy. But we cannot abide a neutered legislature that takes a back seat to that role. Foreign affairs must be conducted on a model of pilot-and-copilot in the cockpit with both sets of hands on the controls...not taxi driver in the front and passenger in the back.

Weather and Disasters Part of Houston get two feet of rain

One location may have reached an unbelievable 43". And all from a storm that blew up out of nowhere. It wasn't even a tropical storm until Tuesday at lunchtime. It's really just an amazing amount of rainfall in a very limited period of time.

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