Gongol.com Archives: 2019 Fourth-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

October 18, 2019

Threats and Hazards People who are homeless in Los Angeles have come under attack

The Los Angeles Times reports that "In at least eight different incidents, flammable liquids or makeshift explosives have been lobbed at homeless people or their tents". People don't do this to other people. People do this to others whom they see as less than human. That's why it matters to think of others as individuals. Each person is just that -- a person, not a thing, and not just an item in a group that we might choose to treat differently because we have opinions of the group. And this is also why it matters that we don't use dehumanizing language -- language like the President uses all too often. Little things matter.

Computers and the Internet Is WhatsApp about to trigger a revolution?

American audiences are largely unfamiliar with the tool, but it has considerable reach overseas

News The burn of the spotlight

A great reminder that even when the world is watching someone far more than is healthy (as the world does with Britain's royal family), they still need people who can quietly ask "How are you doing?". Probably a good practice for all of us to ask others that question more often -- and to listen for the answers.

News Understatement of the week

Washington Post: "The 41-page report, which followed a seven-month investigation, concluded that pushing a suspect off a roof went against departmental policies governing the use of force and was generally a bad idea." This story, like so many others, is one of people pursuing ends as though they justify any cost.

Threats and Hazards The Enlightenment needs defenders

It's almost impossible to believe, but there's actual pushback against it today. In 2019.

October 21, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Pulling out" of the Middle East is an incomplete plan

The most important question that we as a country have been terrible at asking: "And then what happens next?" Things don't always get better just because we leave -- and there may be problems with no intuitively satisfying answers on the short-term horizon. We need to be adults and see the world as it really is.

Business and Finance Retrogressive "leadership" training for women

A firm that subscribes as a matter of policy to the kind of pseudoscientific nonsense that says women and men neatly fit into "feminine" and "masculine" columns of behavior well and rightly deserves to be pushed out of business by competitors that value their employees as individuals, not as antiquated archetypes.

Computers and the Internet Of course Sen. Mitt Romney has a burner account

Look, if you're in office in 2019 and you're not running at least one burner account, are you really even on Twitter?

News Construction crane demolition in New Orleans

(Video) That they were even able to do this on such a compressed timeline is quite something

Computers and the Internet Extortion spam still has a way to go

We'll know that extortion spam has really come of age when it starts threatening "Send us $500 in bitcoin, or we'll tell all your friends that you click on the Outbrain links at the bottom of news stories."

Broadcasting That's how you return a kickoff

(Video) As broadcasting, this is just pure cotton candy

News How are monarchs still a thing?

Bizarre (and slightly creepy) intrigue in the Thai royal house

Agriculture The new "Cosmic Crisp" apple is coming

Any new variety of apple seems like a gain for society at large. Especially if it trains consumers to enjoy flavors other than Red Delicious, which is complete garbage. There are so many varieties that taste better.

News Canada votes

Note that their representation in the lower house of Parliament is about one member for every 100,000 people. If the United States observed the same ratio as Canada, we would have nearly 3,000 people in the House of Representatives. That might not be a bad thing.

October 22, 2019

The American Way Money comes after human well-being

Margaret Thatcher: "[T]he better moral philosophy of the free society underlies its economic performance". Is there a blimp with a giant messageboard that we could rent to hover indefinitely over Washington, DC, with these words?

News Newer cop cars may be easier to break

With the Crown Victoria gone, Iowa State Patrol cars sustain more damage than they used to: "'The thing with the Dodge Charger, it runs low in the front end,' Pierce said. 'If you sneeze on the front end of a Dodge Charger, you'll cause at least $1,500 of damage.'"

Computers and the Internet Sometimes a feature is really just a bug in disguise

Free listening devices -- er, "smart speakers" -- may not be the incentive people really wanted

Science and Technology You don't want this new cell-phone case

An experimental cover that feels like (and "feels", just like) skin. Ew. It's unclear why anyone would want to pinch their phone.

October 23, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work Authoritarianism is a waste

Workers at some Chinese state-owned enterprises are expected to spend a third of their working hours studying "Xi Jinping Thought". This is truly bizarre, profoundly dystopian, and phenomenally wasteful.

Science and Technology Honda to go all-electric in Europe by 2022

Once a technology really starts to get a foothold, the pace of change can accelerate a whole lot faster than you might expect.

News Give light and let the people find their own way

Three cheers for the editors of the Harvard Crimson, who have come out strongly against efforts by some of their peers to keep them from asking for comment from the subjects of news stories

Broadcasting Baseball and radio: Perfect complements

Baseball is a personal game (every at-bat starts as a contest between pitcher and batter), the action is linear and perfectly paced ("This ball's got a chaaaaaance...gone!"), and the season is built for companionship. This makes for the perfect subject for radio coverage. Unlike other media, radio is intensely personal, conversational, and intimate (in a non-romantic sense, of course). You can't reasonably ask people to watch 162+ games a year on their screens, but fans will always listen to the play-by-play. And you can't replace baseball on the radio as a companion for a long drive. The medium and the game are unique complements in those ways, with no good substitutes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but: The Internet is for "HEY, LOOK AT ME!", TV is for "Hey, you guys!", and radio is for "Hi. How are you?"

Humor and Good News The best athlete in the world?

When your first pitch comes with a standing backflip and a twist...

October 24, 2019

Humor and Good News What could we use to denote a cheerful period?

The period seems altogether too plain and droll for exclusive use in emails, but following every sentence with an exclamation mark seems all too much. There must be room for some kind of middle-ground punctuation -- a cheerful period, of sorts. We already have the interrobang to indicate a surprised question (‽), and the wildly underused irony mark (⸮). Another irregular punctuation mark is both possible and in order.

Weather and Disasters Southern California fires break out again

Winds are driving the spread

Threats and Hazards Nobody should toss around "civil war" lightly

An MLB umpire has earned scrutiny for tweeting his anger over the impeachment inquiry, mixed with an aspect of violence. The American Civil War killed more than 600,000 people. Nothing about that merits anything short of the utmost seriousness and solemnity.

News David Ross to skipper the Chicago Cubs

It's not great to have a sentimental attachment to management, but if he's willing to take a chance on the gig, then Eamus Catuli.

News Super 8 hotels to test bunk-bed arrangement

No tie-in with Tinder is reported; this is for friends traveling together

October 25, 2019

Business and Finance Crass political pressure on trade isn't good for anything

It would be very nice to return political risk to the margins of economic analysis, rather than having it shoved front and center at all times. But, alas, that's where we are.

News A million protesters in Chile

Think of what it takes to assemble a million people for any reason anywhere.

Broadcasting I'm feeling lucky

Why haven't Netflix and Hulu come up with "I'm Feeling Lucky" buttons of their own? Let users preselect 5 or 50 series, click a button, and watch some random episode. We don't always want to commit to rewatching every season of "The West Wing" or "30 Rock" from start to finish, but sometimes it's nice to just let serendipity pick an episode of a beloved program.

Business and Finance "Spreading fear" among investors

A renowned financial columnist says he's been pressured by financial advisors not to point out what could go wrong in the economy. A reasonable person wouldn't trust a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer who didn't address the worst-case scenario and help the patient or client to prepare for it. Why should anyone trust a financial advisor who fears an honest conversation about how things could go wrong?

The American Way Would high-status license plates get more people to drive electric cars?

People might be surprised at just how eager their fellow humans often are to pay for the privilege of adopting some form of status signal. Can pro-social decisions be turned into high-value products for people to buy?

News Don't hope for "the generals" to save us

It's imperative to model -- and recognize -- virtuous behavior in all sectors of leadership. Inside government, in the military, in the nonprofit sector, and (definitely) in business, too. We should resist the casual and cynical indictment of "all-leaders-except-for-those-in-uniform".

News All lives have equal value

Dozens of people died in the back of a truck in England. Indications are that they were migrants from southeast Asia. Their lives were worth no amount of dignity less than any of our own.

The United States of America Putting history to good use

Herbert Hoover earned the nickname "The Great Humanitarian". Instead of heaping scorn on a caricature of the man as President, we ought to give a little more attention to the great and honorable things he did that culminated in his becoming President in the first place. He is far more useful to us as a model for his pre-Presidential behavior than as a foil for the mistakes he made as President.

October 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards Human rights are universal, whether China's authoritarians belive it or not

A meeting with the EU surfaced an opinion that, as a matter of government policy, China does not believe in the universality of human rights. Nothing about this story is surprising, and yet everything about it is disturbing.

Computers and the Internet 10.5 petabytes

The Internet Archive just got a whole bunch of new storage space, as well as the pictures to prove it. This is storage on a scale that would have baffled the prehistoric residents of ancient Compuserve.

News Brace yourself

Stand by: We are merely a few dozen days away from the onset of a year's worth of insufferable puns about "vision" and "seeing clearly"

October 27, 2019

News What's a church for?

A neat story about a church that found its center in community more than theology. (But maybe the community itself is the theology.)

Weather and Disasters Giant evacuation orders for northern California

Wildfires north of the Bay Area create a mandatory-evacuation zone that goes from the ocean to some 30 miles inland.

October 30, 2019

Science and Technology An affordable change

A UN group says it would cost $300 billion to pause global warming for 20 years by implementing a soil-restoration program to capture carbon in biomass. If true, that would be $39.47 per person alive on the planet right now. If you could get assurance that the plan (a) would work as advertised, and (b) would be implemented by people who were accountable for getting results, it would be well worth the price.

Computers and the Internet Twitter announces end to political advertising

The small cadre of politicians who are known to tweet for themselves (e.g. Senators Cory Booker, Ben Sasse, and Chuck Grassley) are about to become gurus to their colleagues. The word "authenticity" is vastly overused, but first-person content becomes much more important if your reach is limited to those who find and follow you organically alone.

News Better than doing doughnuts in the parking lot

High-speed maneuvering trials aboard an aircraft carrier moving at 30 knots

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October 31, 2019

Humor and Good News Baseball: Isn't it really just a version of Calvinball?

That's not completely fair; Calvinball's only rule is that rules can never be used twice. But it's the sheer unpredictability of what should be a straightforward game of catch that makes baseball so wonderful.

Humor and Good News What makes a driver a "motorist"

And can it be a "profession"?

November 1, 2019

News Marine training at Parris Island to undergo gender integration

Marine Times: "For years, Marine leaders have insisted female Marines especially do better if they train in a separate unit. But the Marine Corps also has come under serious pressure as it is the only U.S. service branch without a coed boot camp."

Threats and Hazards Federal debt now $70,000 per person

A $23 trillion tab, and what do we have to show for it?

Threats and Hazards Anonymous tipster exposes outrageous day-care operation

Drugs and guns within reach of children at a place so badly supervised that the owners didn't even answer the door when state authorities showed up

Computers and the Internet Gresham's Law, but for the sharing economy

It doesn't take long for bad actors to ruin good new platforms online

Humor and Good News Rats can be trained to drive tiny cars

And when they learn how, the resulting video is glorious

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November 4, 2019

Humor and Good News Minnesota man warned to stop making Iowa doughnut runs

The Clive Krispy Kreme store truly is a monstrous scene for a major criminal enterprise

Computers and the Internet Facebook's new brand: All-caps

Seems appropriate for a platform on which too many people take to shouting constantly

November 25, 2019

Business and Finance Let a creative market bloom

The market economy should blossom in many ways -- entrepreneurship, proprietor capitalism, publicly-traded firms, S-Corps, partnerships, ESOPs, and co-ops all among the many forms that firms should take. But one size simply does not fit all.

Business and Finance Schwab to acquire TD Ameritrade, and now Omaha wonders

This is why every conscientious municipality keeps a close eye on how well it's creating an environment that cultivates new business formation and growth. You never know when one of your major employers (even the homegrown ones) may go away.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's autocrats really thought Hong Kong was going to vote their way

In politics, as well as in markets, it's not so much the quality of the first round of information going out that matters. It's the feedback that really counts.

Science and Technology Tesla's truck has an odd look

One humorist on Twitter says it looks like "When you try to learn AutoCAD the night before your project is due." This thing is styled as if the designers were being held hostage inside a Dire Straits music video.

Aviation News Washington state tries taking lead on electric aircraft

The big selling point for electric aircraft really isn't environmental friendliness -- at least not to the end buyers. It's the potential to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Motors have fewer moving parts than engines.

Iowa Mall of the Bluffs kicking out its tenants

A question: How much could the owners have done better to have softened rents to keep occupancy high?

Agriculture Harvest 2019 is a wreck in North Dakota

Major crops like corn are incredibly far behind schedule

Computers and the Internet Social media doesn't have to be a terrible experience

Anyone who complains about how "awful" their experience is on Twitter, for example, could make their experience vastly better by using lists and scrolling through them on Tweetdeck instead. That's how you concentrate goodness.

Threats and Hazards Tucker Carlson can't even side with freedom

In saying he's siding with the Russians over their invasion of Ukraine, he ought to feel welcome to self-deport. The flippant nihilism of it all should disgust everyone who isn't already a stark raving loon. He really should wear a scarlet letter for this kind of stupidity, now and for the rest of his days.

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November 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards Presidential pardons shouldn't create "moral blank check" for war crimes

There is a reason you will find no equivocation in the Honor Oath at the US Air Force Academy: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God)."

Threats and Hazards Turkey fryers or weapons of semi-mass destruction?

$70 for a tool to burn down your own home

Weather and Disasters "Fire in Paradise"

(Video) A sobering and important documentary. Do make the time to watch it.

Science and Technology Why aren't inverted chevrons used on more vehicles?

The pattern seems like it should be used on every tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, cop car, and rescue vehicle out there. Maybe even school buses. Data on the subject seems strangely sparse, but it seems hard to believe that visibility isn't enhanced.

Aviation News FAA to test shrinking distance between airline seats

Seat pitch is already close to zero-margin as it already is

News Compelling beyond words

(Video) A young woman documents her life in Aleppo, from student protester to mother under siege

Weather and Disasters Watch a "bomb cyclone" go off

Friends, that's ear-popping territory.

November 27, 2019

Broadcasting Even the rich and famous sometimes face hostile work environments

"Variety" reports that Gabrielle Union has been pushed out of "America's Got Talent" over some really stupid workplace conditions. Most notably: "Union was subjected to a very specific critique -- that her rotating hair styles were 'too black' for the audience of 'AGT,' a note she received over half a dozen times, according to four sources". Gabrielle Union has every right to make use of whatever hairstyle she feels suits the way her hair naturally grows out of her head. To pester her otherwise is like telling Howie Mandel to stop being bald.

Business and Finance Better off-ramps and better on-ramps (to education) go hand-in-hand

A vigorous discussion has been taking place on social media among people debating the merits of really hard preliminary courses in graduate studies of topics like economics. And a perfectly defensible position is that there ought to be more "terminal" master's degree programs in the field. The inversion of this is true as well: There should be good on-ramps to graduate study of econ, too. For a field that devotes entire classes to the study of labor and human capital, there's a strange resistance to nontraditional study.

Computers and the Internet A hard floppy?

Lots of people are now in adulthood who don't really remember the era of floppy disks

Iowa 100-year-old retires from her 70-year-old weekly newspaper column

It's hard to remember in an era saturated by 280 characters and TikTok, but we've always needed those consistent voices who show up and tell the story of their community with wit and empathy. We won't stop needing them, either. Not as long as we keep living around each other.

Computers and the Internet Twitter threatens to shut down inactive accounts

But what about accounts that belonged to people documenting events like the human-rights violations in Syria? This is a non-trivial question. If people used social media as a means of documenting crimes with the specific intent of making them visible for all the world to see, then extraordinary caution ought to be used before taking them down.

The United States of America A PSA for Federalism

Remember, if you hear a Presidential candidate advocating a policy you like, you don't have to wait to bring it to reality at a national level. Try pushing your state legislature to do it instead. Starting an idea at the local level is an honorable pillar of the American tradition. The entire population of the United States in 1790 was just shy of 4 million people, or about the size of a mid-sized state today.

News Explosion at a Texas chemical plant

Some rather dramatic video here.

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November 28, 2019

Threats and Hazards What signal do we send?

In the signals we send to China over Hong Kong, bear in mind the words of 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. From the evidence, it would appear that the Communist leaders also believe this; else why do they attack and attempt to destroy the practice of these concepts?"

Business and Finance How to deconstruct a building

Better design practices when buildings go up could help make them easier to remove when it's time for them to come down. And so could a better supply chain for re-used materials taken out of buildings that are removed from occupancy. And perhaps every building ought to be built with a demolition bond.

Agriculture The giant mess that is 2019 harvest season

It's worst in North Dakota: "North Dakota was the furthest behind on gathering among major producers, with just 30% of corn harvested"

November 29, 2019

Threats and Hazards Tone it down a notch

A teaser for an article on election interference efforts published on Axios was published as "Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity." It's possible to issue warnings about foreign influence work (which is real) and the fragility of our institutions (also real) without amplifying the narrative that we are "at each other's throats". Are we really? Or aren't there about the same number of quacks as ever?

November 30, 2019

News Bystanders jumped in to stop London terrorist

The terrorist was killing people, and other people fought back -- with a narwhal tusk and a fire extinguisher and their fists. Said one: "I was brought up on rugby and the rule is 'one in, all in'. I did what any Londoner would do and tried to put a stop to it."

December 2, 2019

Threats and Hazards "As many as two million Muslims have been pulled from their homes and forced into detention centers" in China

Two million people is the equivalent of the entire state of Nebraska. Imagine a government that puts a population large enough to fill entire American states into prison camps. We could rest far more assured if we heard senior American leaders, starting with the President, making a moral case for how to deal with China's government. Regrettably, what we hear instead is empty bluster about "winning" and "making deals"...which is to miss the point.

Health Experiential learning in effect

Fundraiser treats guests either to a gourmet meal or a sack lunch, depending on the luck of the draw. A fine way to bring attention to the issues of food insecurity and hunger.

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December 3, 2019

News Down with the surveillance state!

The "elf on a shelf" can be cute, sure, but what about the message it sends to kids about always being watched?

News Clear up misunderstandings; share grievances kindly

10% of the people will love you no matter what you do, 10% of the people are going to hate your guts and may not even know why, and the other 80% are up to you and how you deal with them.

News Policies are great, but character in office matters

Calvin Coolidge: "What we need in appointive positions is men of knowledge and experience who have sufficient character to resist temptations."

Weather and Disasters Truly outstanding visualization of hurricane forecast tracks and how accurate they turned out to be

Charts and statistics are wonderful, but sometimes a good picture tells far more of the story.

Broadcasting Being a good talk-show host

The key for a talk-radio host is to continuously cultivate a diverse set of hobby horses you can ride any time the need should arise. For example: The House of Representatives should be ten times larger. Everyone should know a form of self-defense. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Congress should ban interstate economic-development incentives. Every environmental cause should be reframed as a public-health issue if it wishes to be taken seriously.

December 4, 2019

News The YIMBYs predate the NIMBYs

A historic photo of power and telephone lines in 19th Century Manhattan really brings to life just how much people will tolerate when they're eager to benefit from new infrastructure investment

Business and Finance Who gets to object when developers want to add density?

An Omaha neighborhood is having a dispute that may sound familiar to a whole lot of places -- a developer wants to put condominiums in a neighborhood that has a lot of single-family homes. Residents object that "It's still way oversized for the block". But doesn't it also add considerable value? And doesn't it add density, which is a favorable direction to go if people are truly worried about issues like "sprawl" and high housing costs? In general, we should applaud steps to move most things from lower levels of value to higher ones, real estate included. There are always exceptions, of course, but the general standard ought to default in favor of creating additional value.

Weather and Disasters Boulder, Colorado, is already well ahead of snowfall normals for the year

This is just not at all what we want to see -- Boulder is in the upper reaches of the Platte River basin. What lands and melts there eventually makes its way downstream...to places along the Missouri River that have basically been flooded for 9 straight months.

News World's fastest UPS truck goes up for sale

It's armed with an 850-hp engine, which might be a bit excessive

News Survey finds "soft barriers" to American men taking paternity time

From the New York Times: "Just over half of men in the New America survey -- and a slightly higher share of women -- said a reason men didn't take leave was that caregiving wasn't manly." It's way past time to have put this attitude out with the trash. If you're a man who takes on less than your half of the caregiving, then you're less than half of a man for it.

News Just because "experts" said it doesn't mean there's a conspiracy afoot

An excellent observation from Christian Vanderbrouk, regarding the all-too-frequent disdain for expertise as displayed by populists: "If there's a broad consensus about something, there's probably a good reason for it. Doesn't mean the consensus is automatically correct, but like enduring institutions, it deserves a provisional respect." So much of the argument expressed by the new anti-liberalist wing of American politics boils down to clamoring for chaos on Earth and a vengeful God above. Which is really no way to run a civilization.

December 5, 2019

News "[T]oday I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment"

The Speaker of the House says the President "abused his power for his own personal political benefit". This is a historic event, though not for good reasons.

News Mail truck catches fire at I-80 truck stop

Needless to say, Mr. McFeely's time trials came to a disappointing conclusion.

News A compensation package to behold

The next head of Nebraska's state university system starts with a base pay of $934,000 a year, plus a slew of perks, substantial bonus opportunities, free housing and country-club membership, and a big salary deferral that pays off if he stays in the job.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds of girls and women sold into slavery in China

Some corrective framing to the original headline ("More than 600 Pakistani girls and women were sold as brides in China, but diplomatic ties threaten investigation") is in order. Make the headline about something esoteric like diplomacy and readers probably won't care. Make it about people and perhaps they will. What is taking place is an abomination, but it's an abomination because of the slavery -- not because of the diplomacy. And "sold as brides" is unfair: If a person was "sold", that person is a slave, not a "bride".

December 6, 2019

Threats and Hazards Shooting at NAS Pensacola

A Saudi national was the perpetrator

Health Couple matches romantically online, then matches kidneys

The odds against that kind of dual coincidental match are pretty high

News The neologism of 2019: "Criming"

Plenty of linguistic evolution is necessary and unavoidable, but only one word a year deserves to be endorsed. This year, it's "criming". Rudy Giuliani has left us no other choice.

Threats and Hazards Trainees at West Virginia correctional academy take picture giving Nazi salute

If a person doesn't have the good judgment to decline to participate in a photo like this, then it's hard to believe they would have reliable judgment about how and when to use deadly force.

News Uber reports data on safety

The company is doing right by reporting on passenger safety. But they have serious work to do: The company's chief legal officer said "99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever", which is true, but then the next step is to commit to deliberate, measurable improvement. To take 99.9% to 99.99%, then to 99.999%, then to 99.9999%, and then again to 99.99999%. While zero incidents is, of course, the ideal outcome, the action plan needs to take measurable steps towards achievable improvements.

Health Anti-vaccination isn't "more aware"

A clever retort to those who object to the use of the term "anti-vaxxer": "Do you think they'd prefer 'pro-polio' or 'infant mortality rate enthusiasts'?" People who are anti-vaccine are not more "aware"; they're just anti-vaccine. Be "aware" instead that widespread vaccination creates herd immunity that protects everyone -- but most critically protects those who *cannot* be vaccinated.

December 7, 2019

Threats and Hazards How does a police chase end up with dead innocent bystanders?

There's really quite a lot that doesn't sit right about the incident in Miami that killed an innocent UPS driver and a motorist in a nearby car. ■ This kind of incident -- with all the questions it raises about the use of force -- is exactly why we need an NTSB-style Federal agency to investigate all police-involved shooting deaths. Every last one of them. It's imperative that we know fairly and impartially what happened in these circumstances, and that lessons be learned from them. ■ The public should demand answers to questions like: Why were occupied civilian vehicles used as shields? Why were so many rounds fired when innocent people were located in the line of fire, in the full 360° around the vehicle being chased? If the carjacked UPS truck was traveling in rush-hour traffic in Miami, how come measures weren't used to halt the traffic ahead of the vehicle, as police in the same area did in a similar situation in 2003? Why weren't spike strips or a PIT maneuver put to use? Why did police continue to draw fire towards civilian vehicles clearly trying to escape the situation? What are reasonable people supposed to do with gunfire being exchanged around them, especially if they can't "get down" or "take cover" -- or, God forbid, if they have a child in a booster seat or carseat in the back of an exposed vehicle? In the live video coverage from a TV news helicopter, at least 30 or 40 officers can be counted on-scene, and at least 20 or 30 police vehicles can be counted; exactly what kind of command-and-control authority was being exercised to prevent crossfire or to perhaps preemptively cut off escape routes for the carjackers? ■ These are questions that ought to be answered, and if it cannot be assured that they will be comprehensively and transparently investigated by the authorities in what ought to be an accountable process of oversight, then such an investigation ought at least to be conducted by a neutral and independent agency whose conclusions do not have to carry the weight of enforcement -- for the very same reasons that the NTSB is separate and independent from the DOT. The NTSB's mandate forms a useful template for what should be used in cases of police shootings: "The NTSB determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, the NTSB carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation disasters."

Computers and the Internet Distressing report from NATO-related team finds social-media manipulation is rampant

This report confirms with a fair amount of rigor what your gut has probably told you quite often: Social-media environments are bubbling over with fake accounts and manipulation, and the platforms are doing next to nothing to fix the problem, either proactively or reactively. For about $300, they bought thousands of followers and tens of thousands of engagements across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. And even when they reported fraudulent activity taking place, the platform companies did almost nothing to stop it or to correct the damage done. The scale of the fraud conducted by "Manipulation Service Providers" (MSPs) -- particularly originating in Russia -- is the kind of thing people ought to understand better. Social proof is important, and it has effects on people's commercial and political decisions. The scale by which that social proof can be fabricated or manipulated is vast within social media, and the costs are trivially low. That's a toxic brew.

Health Samoa's crash course in vaccination

With a population of about 200,000, they've vaccinated about 20,000 against measles in the last two days. The island has low vaccination rates, and they have an active measles outbreak that has killed more than 5 dozen people.

Socialism Doesn't Work Internet access as human right?

Sen. Bernie Sanders says that's how he would treat it if elected President. The problem with the mindset that claims certain positive rights around material things a person can have (health care, Internet access, housing, employment) is that those claims muddy the waters around the negative rights (things government or others cannot do to you) that are even more important, even if they are literally without substance. This is a real problem, because there is a hierarchy to these things: The right not to be thrown into prison for expressing one's peaceful religious faith is, in fact, more important than a "right" to have someone deliver a DSL line to your house. Reducing the world to a laundry list of material concerns means that you might sacrifice the very building blocks of personal liberty and individual dignity in exchange for your "rights" to have other people pay for your stuff. It is precisely because those negative rights encompass things that don't take a physical form, and that represent what others may not do to you rather than what they might withhold from you, that the negative rights have to come before the positive ones. And in fact, the positive "rights" ought instead to be framed as what they are: Scarcity problems that almost always have answers found in the material world. The difference between wanting to maximize the amount of health care available and saying that everyone has an enforceable right to health care is that one sees a material problem with material constraints, and the other describes the world as one might want it to be. And a positive material right quickly becomes an entitlement, and entitlements must be funded by either voluntary or (more likely) involuntary means. An oppressive government can withhold those positive goods and claim that scarcity made them do it. The same cannot be true for negative rights.

December 15, 2019

Computers and the Internet Tomorrow's severe weather, today

Exhibit #63,438,202 on the list of examples why technology is only as good or bad as the people using it. We humans can use computers to do terrible things like messing with other people's democracies...or we can use them to anticipate severe-weather outbreaks days in advance, save lives, and give people options to protect themselves. It's up to us which we choose.

News "Frozen 2" could have been much more

Here's a hypothesis that probably can't be tested: Maybe the median American voter would be less approving of the Imperial Presidency if children's animated films weren't so relentlessly pro-monarchist. The trope of the wise king (or, now, the wise queen) gets such a workout in films aimed at children that it's sometimes hard to imagine where anyone ever finally gets a taste for small-r republicanism. And thank goodness we do, because the trope is such a bad lesson to teach young people. ■ Missing from the sequel to the original "Frozen" is a full-throated argument for accountability. The main characters set out to right a wrong, but they do so through a number of other uncomfortable tropes -- not least of which is a long diversion into noble savage/white savior territory. ■ The film itself calls "Fantasia" to mind on several occasions -- the animation is absorbing and quite satisfying. And the script does get credit for introducing a good lesson for children: When you don't have a full plan ahead of you, "do the next right thing". That's good advice. But there are bigger lessons to be shared with children, too -- and maybe "trust the wisdom of hereditary monarchs" shouldn't be on that list.

Agriculture The first new apple variety in a long time is a good one

The "Cosmic Crisp" is slightly tart and very juicy -- a fine upgrade over most other varieties, and a hundred times better than Red Delicious

December 16, 2019

Threats and Hazards Either it's an existential threat or it's not

Tim Miller puts the state of politics quite well: "Actual emergencies require sacrifice. They require willingness to work with people that you have major differences with to achieve a solution. They require hard choices and reflection about what you are willing to part with to come out the other side. I believe Donald Trump is an actual emergency. I hope Democrats who agree will start acting like it." ■ Read Dwight Eisenhower's memoir of WWII ("Crusade in Europe"). It's a compelling argument for learning how to categorize threats, rank priorities, and engage allies. You don't have to be fighting WWII to learn Ike's lessons in keeping perspective.

News At semester's end, think of the first-generation college student

First-generation students have a whole extra set of rules to learn and navigate that their peers who come from multi-generational college families simply don't. The key is in forming social bonds with peers who can help fill in the gaps, especially where formal programs inevitably fall short.

Business and Finance Create more value than you consume

That basic principle -- exercised not as a legal or regulatory requirement, but instead as the kind of thing enforced by social pressure and accepted mores -- would be really valuable for knocking down some of the dreadful and exploitative practices found in industries like money management. Customers get talked into management fees that are patently obscene: 1% or 1.5% on assets sounds small...but it's really a 10% to 20% cut of your returns in most years -- or even more. And for what?

Weather and Disasters Australia ablaze

Reuters quotes a fire official: "People should be under no illusion, we won't contain the fires by the time the weather deteriorates later this week". One might wonder whether an increasing frequency of devastating wildfires will tend to accelerate the pace of urbanization. There are only so many firefighting resources to go around. If the choices look like (a) move or (b) risk being abandoned, won't that nudge people to move?

Business and Finance Midwest's fastest-growing county had 71.2% GDP growth in 2018

Two observations on the BEA's latest data release: 1. It's pretty unusual for any county to be able to log 71.2% annual GDP growth, as Harlan County, Nebraska, did last year. That's...quite something. 2. The number of counties in the zero-to-negative-growth range is distressing.

News Careless? Dishonest? Something else?

How, exactly, was the head of Chicago's city law department claiming a homestead tax credit on two residences at once?

Broadcasting We need a "half-watching" mode inside Netflix

Netflix needs a "folding laundry/drying dishes/assembling toys" mode, where it randomly picks episodes from a preselected list of your favorite series and plays them haphazardly, like a low-wattage UHF station.

News There are headlines, and then there are real headlines

Irish Times: "Inspector of Prisons 'refused entry' by drunk prison officer". Now that's really something.

December 17, 2019

Computers and the Internet Arguments in good faith

Twitter needs a button to indicate a post made in good faith vs. "bad faith". It ought to be possible to use the crowd knowledge of people whose motivations one already respects to sort out arguments that are not worth seeing because they are made in bad faith. To work, the system would have to let users preselect the people whose judgment they trust. And that's what probably makes it most unworkable, at least for now.

Science and Technology Toyota will prioritize self-driving tech on commercial vehicles

Whatever gets us fastest to a state where human error can no longer kill 30,000 Americans a year, please. Since safer alternatives to highway driving (like passenger rail) are still non-viable, we should take what we can get.

Computers and the Internet Did the end of Google Reader undermine democracy?

You may think this is overstatement. But there's actually a fair case to make that RSS had critical mass that could have been maintained if Google Reader hadn't been slaughtered. And the twist from user control of RSS feeds to algorithmic control of "news feeds" was a bad one.

News Send the spray paint

Someone needs to take another look at the Joe Biden campaign bus

Broadcasting Streaming better

Netflix needs a "folding laundry/drying dishes/assembling toys" mode, where it randomly picks episodes from a preselected list of your favorite series and plays them haphazardly, like a low-wattage UHF station.

Business and Finance "A skeptic's guide to Modern Monetary Theory"

Worthwhile reading. N. Gregory Mankiw is credible and his analysis is fair. MMT doesn't seem to lend any credence to real constraints in the economy. Playing games with the money supply doesn't erase those constraints.

Threats and Hazards Where did these people come from?

There's a strange breed of political commentators who have lately been promoting a weird view of Catholicism -- trying to design it to be some kind of powerful anti-(classical-)liberal force in the world. Just curious: Have any of these people ever even met a Jesuit? Whether it's called integralism or Catholic dominionism, it's strange and runs directly counter to much of the teaching of the order that produced the current Pope -- who, it seems safe to wager, would probably confess to greater struggles with his own faith than a lot of people who want to blend their orthodoxy with their political science.

News An obit that tells a story history books cannot

A story told both in a family obituary and a follow-up newspaper piece with care and empathy

News Two traffic stops on I-80 yield 211 lbs. of marijuana

"At approximately 7:20 p.m. CT, another trooper observed a Ford Explorer following too closely on Interstate 80 at mile marker 273 near Kearney." At last! Someone finally got busted for riding another driver's tail.

News Skimmers, fake IDs, and drugs

Considering the charges, what are the odds anyone will be willing to post bail for this miscreant?

December 18, 2019

News Presidential impeachment

The impeachment of President Trump has passed the United States House of Representatives. There is a distinct cost to not taking action on the President's misdeeds. The compressed, streamlined case is clear: "(1) abuse of power by soliciting the interference of Ukraine in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and (2) obstruction of Congress by directing defiance of certain subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives." ■ On Article I, the vote was 230 to 197, with one abstention. On Article II, it was 229 to 198, with one abstention. The polarized response to Article I is one thing, but the institutional resistance to standing up for Congress's prerogatives as the first branch of the Federal government is quite another. ■ As former Republican (and now independent) Rep. Justin Amash puts it, "Conservatives will someday face the horrible truth that the Republican Party fought so hard to justify and excuse an amoral and self-serving president", and the sad truth is that there will have been so much complicity in neutering their own branch of government. Like Congress or hate it, the House of Representatives is supposed to be the closest thing we get to direct democracy on the national scale. When a President defies Congress by defying lawful subpoenas and ordering subordinates not to testify, they're expressly insulting and undercutting the Congress, and by extension, the American people. Members of Congress may or may not ask the right questions, but their right to do the asking ought to be universally affirmed, regardless of partisan stripe. ■ Some people have looked the other way from the President's behavior because they feel compelled to partisan solidarity and think the impeachment process can be cast in terms that make it a tribal battle. What if, wholly apart from the impeachment process, we just automatically held a recall election for the President two years into each term?

The United States of America Lincoln's Veep

It's doubtful most of us could name Abraham Lincoln's first Vice President in a thousand guesses. (It was Hannibal Hamlin.) He was called up for militia duty while Vice President -- and showed up. Then, four years after getting bounced from the ticket in favor of Andrew Johnson as VP, Hamlin was back in the United States Senate.

Health Antibiotic resistance ought to have us panicking

Straight from the CDC: "Antibiotic-resistant (AMR) bacteria and fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to a November 13 CDC report." 35,000 deaths is a huge number -- comparable to the number of deaths caused annually by automobile crashes (around 40,000). That's a number large enough that it should be treated like a serious public-health problem, worthy of lots of popular attention. It doesn't seem like it's getting that attention at all.

Humor and Good News Worthwhile marital advice: Champion your spouse's efforts

Much like expressions of gratitude tend to make us feel good (and even more grateful), so do expressions of pride in our spouses.

Humor and Good News 4-year-olds can summon help from 911

You don't need to know this story about a little kid from New Jersey who called for help when her mom collapsed, but you'll be glad you read it anyway.

Computers and the Internet Reporting the four impeachments

An event like the impeachment of President Trump is the best evidence that newspapers -- even in the digitized 21st Century -- serve an essential archival role for the communities they serve. Nobody prints a screenshot of a homepage, but people still save front pages, even if they're saving them as .jpg files.

The United States of America The government owns Blair House because Winston Churchill had bonkers sleeping habits

From the official Blair House website: "Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., recalls the morning his mother found the prime minister wandering towards the family's private quarters at 3 a.m., trademark cigar in hand, to rouse the sleeping president for more conversation. He met Eleanor first, however, who firmly persuaded him to wait until breakfast." And it was soon after that Churchill and others were to be put up at Blair House instead of the Presidential residence.

Business and Finance Amazon as a reportable threat

Recode notes that "213 public companies have mentioned Amazon in the 'risk factors' section of their annual 10K financial filings". Data journalism sometimes gets (and occasionally deserves) a bad rap for substituting spreadsheets for source development. But sometimes it's really quite effective, and this is one of those cases. Forms filed with the SEC aren't the kinds of documents that it's wise to take lightly or treat unscrupulously. If companies are documenting Amazon as a known "risk factor", that's quite telling.

December 20, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol filling in for Jeff Angelo on WHO Radio - December 20, 2019

Home security and porch pirates, making trade deals near and far, and a skeptic's look at "Modern Monetary Theory"

Aviation News Drone crashes into an Iowa City-area lawn

Per the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "Authorities said the 18-foot, 100-pound vehicle was valued at $300,000. The damage to the lawn and ornaments was estimated at $100. The UAV was a total loss." Not the usual kind of thing that comes crashing out of the sky in that part of Iowa.

The United States of America Pundit ponders whether Sen. Amy Klobuchar's sense of humor sells

Cheesy humor is the bread and butter of Midwestern identity.

Threats and Hazards Nothing to say about the Federal debt?

It didn't come up at the Democratic Presidential debate. At all. Federal debt is easily going to be $70,000 or $75,000 per person by the time someone is sworn in 13 months from now. Maybe more. It's basically intergenerational larceny. And the short-sightedness of it all is appalling; if only we could have a 20-year time horizon on public choices, in place of nonsensical ideologies that substitute for meaning in too many lives. It's been almost 20 years since 9/11 and we're still approaching almost every related issue on a month-to-month basis. It's madness. The appropriate discount rate on serious problems should be close to 0% over the first 20 years.

Weather and Disasters Australia's fire crisis

Ominous: "It is only the second time such a warning, the highest level of bushfire danger, has been issued for the Greater Sydney area since the rating system was introduced in 2009."

December 21, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 21, 2019

On "bad people" vs. "bad choices", creating more value than we consume, and Amazon.com as a threat to other businesses

News The rage of Paul Krugman

A review of Krugman's latest book by Sebastian Mallaby in The Atlantic is quite good, and gets to the heart of what's so frustrating about Krugman; he's often so intent on drawing battle lines around a narrative of good-vs.-evil that he gets in the way of the reader who might want to dabble with his ideas before joining the cause.

Threats and Hazards Words matter

When the President of the United States sees fit to accuse deceased political rivals of being in Hell, he's choosing to occupy the lowest rung on the ladder of leadership. There's a certain social crime, though, in anyone reporting the President's "riffs", ramblings, or other imprecise language as though it isn't obvious what he's trying to say. Words indeed matter, and it's interpretive malpractice for any journalist, editor, pundit, or bystander to give the President the benefit of doubt over his choice of language. Ambiguity accrues to the benefit of the person who introduces it.

News An extraordinary camera angle on the cruise-ship collision

The ubiquity of cameras in the present age really does open the door to things we never would have seen before

News Eww, eww, eww all the way home

Truck crash in Quad Cities dumps hog entrails all over Interstate 74

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December 22, 2019

Aviation News Internet outage causes flight cancellations

Just a sign of the times at Sacramento International Airport

December 23, 2019

News A non-traditional student finds his classmates aren't all that (snow-)flaky

James Hatch: "To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect." He echoes Benjamin Franklin ("Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn") and Charlie Munger ("If we hadn't been so good at removing our ignorance step by step, we would be a fraction of ourselves today...We're very good at ignorance-removal, and fortunately for us, we have a lot more ignorance to remove."). It's really quite wise to know we don't know everything.

Threats and Hazards A message from prisoners in China

It's not a message in a bottle, but perhaps the next-closest thing: A note found in a Christmas card, apparently inserted by prisoners being forced to work in a Chinese factory. Material prosperity is only good if it helps to preserve and expand the security of basic human rights and freedoms -- not if it's traded as a substitute for them, which is the model being employed by China. Gilded authoritarianism is authoritarianism nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards Moderate earthquakes off the Pacific Northwest coast

Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are all in a region where the threat of a giant earthquake ought to have people at sustained attention

Humor and Good News The ultimate Turing test

"Would Alexa blackmail me if I ran for office?"

Threats and Hazards US armed forces try to figure out social media in a new battleground

TikTok, for instance, is a tool that may be very useful for recruiters trying to reach a young audience. But it's also probably a huge security threat, given its murky origins in China -- a known cyber-adversary of our own military. What's nutty is that the US will soon have a "Space Force" as a dedicated military branch, but not a "Cyber Force". Cyberspace is the site of ongoing, never-ending hostilities. Space is an obvious extension of an Air Force mission far more than cyber is an extension of any existing branch. Cyber Force should have come before a Space Force. New battleground, new rules; not to mention a vast need for new training, new strategies and tactics, new recruitment, even a new military academy.

Weather and Disasters Fascinating satellite imagery from 2019

The titanic steps forward in the quality of weather-satellite imagery really pop when you see just how vivid the pictures of major storms (like hurricanes) have become

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December 24, 2019

News Refugee doctor proves a necessary point

Refugees aren't helpless. They're just people -- with skills and talents, just like everyone else -- who have been forced out of their homes. If only we could correct the narrative here in the United States and resume seeing them for who they are.

Health Five airports may have been sites of measles transmissions in December

O'Hare, Richmond, Austin, DIA, and LAX may all have been sites where infected travelers passed through

Threats and Hazards CIA undermined a vaccination campaign to hunt for Bin Laden

Credibility is difficult to measure, unbelievably fragile, and almost unfathomably valuable.

News Not everyone finds joy in the holidays

And the rest of us should be sensitive to that reality, and listen to others

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December 25, 2019

News Is it the coming of a new decade already?

A whole new generation of young people have never experienced the joy of the pedantic arguments over whether a year ending in "0" is the first or the last of a decade. Gather 'round, children, and let us tell you about the holdouts who refused to celebrate New Year's Eve Y2K like it was 1999.

December 26, 2019

Science and Technology Defense Department to servicemembers: Skip the DNA tests, please

Yahoo News says a Pentagon-issued memo says the consumer DNA kits "could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk". They're not wrong about that.

News Simone Biles named AP Female Athlete of the Year

But why stop at "female"? She's so good that the authorities in gymnastics aren't even sure how to score her. Oughtn't that make her a shoo-in for best athlete of the year, period?

News Two parallel Democratic primaries

Nate Silver: "What's really going on is that there's been an extremely stable primary among the 60% of Democrats who did not graduate from 4-year colleges and mostly love Biden/Bernie, and then a relatively volatile one among the 40% who did graduate college, and the media only covers the 40%." But also note that part of the volatility probably comes from people who are watching tone more than policy, which means that changes can be amplified day-to-day or week-to-week much more than by the rollout of some new policy book. It's easy to disrupt the perceptions of a candidate's tone rather quickly, for better or worse.

The United States of America "Deep state" or just the non-partisan civil service?

A nonpartisan civil service definitely beats having James Garfield shot to death in a train station.

Business and Finance Amtrak leadership wants to change the railroad

Who needs long-haul routes when airplanes are much faster? But America really could use swift point-to-point rail service, between cities of certain population levels and economical distances.

Humor and Good News Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn announces engagement she initiated

Is it "non-traditional" for a woman to propose to a man? Maybe. But: If the time and the relationship are both right, then both partners ought to be thinking the same thing anyway. Good for these two.

December 27, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol filling in for Jeff Angelo on WHO Radio - December 27, 2019

Stream the show live from 9:00 am to 11:00 am Central Time on WHORadio.com

News US Cyber Command cocks the pistol but pauses before pulling the trigger

Cyber Command chief Gen. Paul Nakasone: "We can't let up. This is something we cannot be episodic about. The defense of our nation, the defense of our elections, is something that will be every single day for as long as I can see into the future."

Business and Finance A hand up, not a hand out

The Wall Street Journal says that Huawei is the beneficiary of $75 billion in government support from China. There's a pretty good chance that's true, despite Huawei's protestations to the contrary.

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