Gongol.com Archives: January 2020

Brian Gongol

January 2020
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January 1, 2020

News "Let every new year find you a better man." - Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin inadvertently proves the value in non-sexist language and its ability to clear up ambiguity. But more importantly, it's good advice.

News A resolution worth keeping

End civil asset forfeiture in 2020

Weather and Disasters Astonishing fire disaster in Australia

ABC News: "Roads remain cut off around the coastal town, in the far east of Victoria, where about 4,000 locals and holidaymakers have been stuck since the fire tore through on New Year's Eve." Australia's navy has sent a rescue ship.

News New Year's under the fireworks

If you zoom in really close on this picture of a Chicago L train going under the fireworks, you'll see that all of the passengers are staring at their phones.

Iowa Father pleads for peace after 14-year-old son is murdered

This is just gut-wrenching; his sense of loss must be unfathomable, yet he admirably chooses to use the unbearable grief as a platform to try to reach the broader community of metro Des Moines.

News Spending 20% of his days on the golf course

Calvin Coolidge once noted that "Everything that the President does potentially at least is of such great importance that he must be constantly on guard [...] Not only in all his official actions, but in all his social intercourse, and even in his recreation and repose, he is constantly watched". The President would be well-advised to heed that advice today.

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January 2, 2020

Weather and Disasters Tornado researchers captured "groundbreaking" data in 2019

Using brand-new, state-of-the-art tools like drones that flew into tornadic storms and specialized portable radar systems, they got right up on top of the action with several tornadoes this past season and will be

Iowa Police catch I-80 driver with 1,500 lbs. of marijuana in back of a rental truck

In case you wondered what they're going to be giggling about on every radio morning show tomorrow...

News Yes, it's 2020. No, you don't have to make puns about "vision".

It's like the original dot-com boom, when everyone just slapped the letter "e" on things to the point of inducing nausea.

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January 3, 2020

News What comes next for Iran?

Removing a dastardly figure from Iran's military chain of command may be in America's first-order interests. But what happens next? As Margaret Thatcher admonished: "How do you see the process from where you are now to where you want to be? Because, whatever you want to do, it's not only what you want to do, but how -- the practical way you see it coming about." What is the end goal? How is that to come about? Iran has 83 million people: The size of California, Texas, and New York combined. ■ It is never enough to say that the old policy wasn't working. There must always be an effort to answer the question: And then what happens next? ■ There are those who say things along the lines of "If you don't have a solution, you can't complain about the problem". That's untrue, and it's bad advice. Problems have to be named before they can be solved. But what is true is that things can almost always get worse, and they often get much worse much faster than we would care to believe. So whether staying the course or changing it, reasonable adults have to ask, "What happens next? How might things get worse? How will we know if we've gone wrong? Is this particular cure worse than the disease?" There may, in fact, be no easy or good answers to some problems. That doesn't change the need to carefully weigh what might go wrong.

Threats and Hazards Our political opponents in America aren't the enemy

They just aren't. But, regrettably, the President is feeding on the notion of rivals as malicious enemies. It's just not appropriate to compare Sen. Chuck Schumer to the Iranian government. It just isn't. As Dwight Eisenhower said about the Allied effort in WWII: "Nothing creates trouble between allies so often or so easily as unnecessary talk -- particularly when it belittles one of them. A family squabble is always exaggerated beyond its true importance."

Weather and Disasters Forecasters in the field

National Weather Service forecasters in Las Vegas were embedded with other organizations for New Year's Eve, since the city is a huge destination for NYE events. The weather itself was pleasant, but the forecasters spent their time modeling things like what might have happened if a road crash caused a chemical spill. What a smart use of highly-skilled people. Even when the weather is nice, there's something useful for meteorologists to do around big events.

News A century since Estonia's War of Independence

European history classes could stand to spend less time on obscure English kings and more time on the last two centuries in the Baltics.

Broadcasting More radio stations flipped to a religious format than any other in 2019

"Religious" might be the closest thing most markets have to the classic "full-service" format. And that's a point worth some pondering, particularly given the apparent strength of the religious format.

Iowa Iowans continue a love affair with Black Velvet

The Canadian whiskey is the state's biggest seller. There are parts of the state where the local water supply could probably be converted to a BV supply, and a majority of residents might actually approve.


January 4, 2020

Computers and the Internet "Don't be evil" needs an upgrade

Washington Post: "But for Google, the debate around China was also existential. The Chinese market represents not just Google's best chance at another billion users, but also the future of innovation, talent and artificial intelligence." ■ At some point, it must be acknowledged that the right thing to do may not achieve a majority vote. If we expect individuals to do the right thing even when it might cost them something (and we most certainly should expect that), then we have to hold people in large businesses to the same standard. This is different from a debate about a company's "corporate social responsibility"; it's instead a claim that people do not leave their ethical standards at the workplace door. Ethics held only some of the time, when satisfactory conditions prevail and the consequences are cheap, are no real ethics at all.

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January 5, 2020

News Boring competence: That's where it's at!

Calvin Coolidge: "It is not sufficient to entrust details to someone else. They must be entrusted to someone who is competent."

News What's wrong with slideshows in place of papers

We still expect the Supreme Court to issue written opinions, not PowerPoint decks. And for good reason. Slides alone are never an adequate substitute for a live presentation. But a well-written, carefully-edited piece of writing can beat any other format.


January 6, 2020

News "Why do we need rules telling us how to fight a war?"

The Law of Armed Conflict isn't an obstacle to keep the United States from winning wars. It's a set of rules for "minimizing the damage we cause during a war, avoiding unnecessary suffering, protecting human rights, and easing the transition from war back to peace." ■ What is proportionality? "[W]e use no greater force than need[ed] to obtain our military objective. A military target or a place occupied by a combatant force can be attacked. However, the attack or shelling by any means whatsoever of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings is prohibited." And it makes sense -- at least to anyone who sees war as a fearsome thing to be used only as a last resort.

Humor and Good News What do you call a collection of economists?

A handful, obviously. And they always come in pairs.

Threats and Hazards Man arrested for putting gun to 9-year-old son's head over drinking a pop

How do people turn to monstrous behavior like this?

News Like a missile installation on the White House lawn

Urban legend during the Cold War said there were mines in the White House lawn. This is a bit more intense than that: "South Korea has moved a Patriot missile unit from a southeastern region to central Seoul [...] to a former military installation at Mount Bukak behind the presidential office compound earlier this month, according to the sources."

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January 8, 2020

Aviation News Drone mystery grips Nebraskans

Someone had better come forward quickly to explain what's going on. People can shrug off a night or two of this, but pretty soon the authorities will have to consider the possibility of malevolent intent in the absence of clear information. And the authorities are asking for public help in the identification process.

Iowa After blowback, Ragbrai to become more financially transparent

A notable passage from the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "Despite years of promoting that all profits after expenses went to Iowa charities, RAGBRAI was generating millions of dollars a year while Iowa communities that helped make the event happen absorbed much of the risk and received little support."

Iowa Resistance to a new shelter for women who are homeless in Des Moines

Housing supply and affordability is clearly a concern all across the country, but still a concern affected more than anything else by local conditions. Not an issue that lends itself to top-down mandates from DC.

Computers and the Internet Twitter plans to offer four-tiered control over replies

Not that the replies alone are what repel some people from the platform, but they definitely have an effect

Humor and Good News Someone buy the Chicago Tribune editors a round of drinks

Headline announcing that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will spend more time in North America and back out of royal duties: "Northwestern graduate moving closer to home after spending time abroad"

Aviation News Canada suffered a tremendous loss

Flags ordered to half-mast over the deaths of dozens of Canadians in Tehran plane crash

@briangongol on Twitter

January 9, 2020

News Good life advice

Patrick Chovanec: "By the age of 50, one thing you learn is that you can only be one person, and live one life. It's a tougher lesson than one might think." One of the most important life lessons is that "integrity" and "integral" share the same root. It's what's wrong with discussing ideas like "business ethics" as though they are distinct from other ethics: Either all of life is lived with integrity, or there is no integrity at all.

Weather and Disasters Forecasts show troubling weather ahead

Computer models of weather events are pretty amazing. We shouldn't take for granted that we now get the kind of advance notice that tells the public about a major severe-weather outbreak more than 24 hours in advance, with the affected areas pinpointed probably within 50 or 100 miles.

News Many things really are getting better

Metrics on issues like crime really are showing improvement decade-by-decade. And Ice-T ended up on "Law & Order"...as a cop.

News Why quit the Royal Family?

They have a kid now. And that madhouse of a monarchy is no place to raise a child. Imagine being born into a combination family business, reality TV show, and Internet comment section. You'd probably want out, too.

News How's your 409K?

The President asked Twitter "How are your 409k's doing?" The Formula 409 bottle may say "Economy Size" on the label, but that's now what it means

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January 10, 2020

News Should single-family housing be a zone?

A bill introduced in the Nebraska legislature would prohibit zoning ordinances in cities of 5,000 people or larger from restricting any residential zone to single-family houses. Most interesting. A well-varied housing stock seems to be one of the essential answers to making sure housing is generally affordable. It's probably good for the character of most communities, too.

Computers and the Internet Twitter's advice: "Don't drink and Tweet"

As though sobriety were a hallmark of Twitter content

Humor and Good News Finnish herders put reflective paint on reindeer antlers

Makes them easier for motorists to see at night. Now come to Iowa and paint the deer. Please?

Health Nature, you really hosed us

Evolution really dropped the ball when it gave us back hair that keeps growing instead of teeth that could regenerate.

Business and Finance When the popular press screams "No stopping the stock market now"...

...you should probably assume it's a bubble about to burst. When the echo chamber gets going on a narrative that "You won't believe how much the stock market is ready to explode", it's probably on the verge of a correction.

The United States of America Who speaks for Americans?

To the outsider, Maclean's has long seemed like a sort of de facto voice of what Canada as a whole is thinking. That's probably an exaggeration of its role, but it's a little weird that we don't have similar editorial voices in the US -- especially regional ones. Why isn't there a strong "Centralist" magazine? Why are even the super-regional newspapers still massively provincial?


January 28, 2020

News Nobody belongs on a pedestal

A parallel argument: We should admire the Founders without deifying them. We all need to be fully accountable for high-minded traits like duty and civic responsibility. Self-government depends upon it.

Business and Finance New extended-stay hotel brands coming to market

Interesting factoid: "The demand for hotel stays of seven-plus nights is nearly 20 percent of all room nights sold"

News The strangest police-chase story of the day

A Nebraska state snowplow driver ended up with his truck in the Platte River after a chase conducted by US Marshals

@briangongol on Twitter

January 29, 2020

News What should worry the Democratic Party today

Democrats should worry about just how much their condition today looks like the Republicans' circumstances in 2016.

Health China's government has earned no trust

Without a reservoir of trust that could make them credible, it's going to be much harder to fight the menace of coronavirus. Ideally, government is both democratically accountable and legitimate in the eyes of the people. Legitimacy is earned by getting the job done. When a crisis occurs and a government is found to be neither...buckle up.

Broadcasting What if AM radio goes all-digital?

One opponent observes: "Analog AM receivers are among the most simple of devices to build. In a major disaster a person with the knowledge of how to do so, can build a receiver literally out of debris, and remain in contact with the outside world."

Humor and Good News How to salvage a bread heel

Kids (and let's admit it: most adults) don't usually like the end slices of a loaf of bread. But if you invert them and use the internal faces as the outside faces of a sandwich, you can heal the heel.

Humor and Good News Olive oil: It's just a type of fruit juice

Bet you hadn't thought of it that way before

Humor and Good News Some things are just too aesthetically pleasing not to share

Like Art Deco lighting


January 30, 2020

News Light rail, streetcars, subways, and more

Wacky idea: Urban rail systems should primarily be designed around sets of interlocking circles, like Olympic rings. Linear transportation systems tend to encourage higher density close to the central city alone, with lower densities farther afield. If raising density overall is considered to be a "good" for metropolitan design, then interlocking circular paths would seem to be a better way of discouraging light density at the "end of the line". If you don't want sprawl, then you should program anti-sprawl into the design.

Health Coronavirus "will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America", says Sec. Wilbur Ross

This is the equivalent of saying "The hurricane is going to give a real boost to construction spending". It's not helpful to sound like you're trying to put a positive spin on something that remains a disaster.

Weather and Disasters "Dramatic footage as Australian firefighters escape seconds before wildfire engulfs area"

(Video) Somehow, the sensational headline isn't even quite sensational enough to capture what happens in the video. The first-hand look at a firestorm is utterly heart-stopping.

Broadcasting BBC Radio 4 claims an 11% audience share in the UK

Interesting: It's virtually all programming based on people talking ("speech programming"), but it's nothing much like "talk radio" in the same sense as we have in America. And yet it's #2 in the UK's ratings.

Humor and Good News Someone find the lead aprons

The pink (magenta?) color emanating from a T-Mobile store at night makes it look like the store is doused in radiation...and all passersby, too.

Aviation News Fly-by-wire meets takeoff-by-AI

Airbus says they tested an autonomous jet takeoff in December. Human pilots sat in the seats, but the computers did all the work.


January 31, 2020

Iowa How big are the Iowa Caucuses?

So big that even C-SPAN is advertising on a downtown billboard visible from I-235

Health The world's snake-oil supplies remain inexhaustible

The British edition of "Vogue" contains some astonishingly loony suggestions for feeling better about the coronavirus outbreak. Nobody's expecting them to be The Lancet or the Journal of the American Medical Association, but in the process of trying to be topical, there's no reason for them to be dangerously flaky.

Weather and Disasters In from the cold, in a manner of speaking

Last year's temperatures were 55°F lower in Des Moines than they are today. The swing is just crazy.

Threats and Hazards What was Sen. Lamar Alexander saying?

In announcing his decision to vote against hearing witnesses at the President's impeachment trial, Sen. Alexander argued that "the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate." Who said anything about banning him from the ballot? Is there any Constitutional clause, law, or interpretation that says a President couldn't be removed from office on February 1st, then elected to the office again on November 3rd? Wouldn't that be a valid way to let the voters decide? Doesn't framing the wrong consequence as a reason for making the decision itself cast doubt on the decision?

Iowa For whom should a moderate crossover voter support in the Democratic caucuses?

The three palatable options most likely to meet the "viability" threshold are Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. But which one, and why?

Iowa Still no Popeye's chicken sandwich in Des Moines

One of the national reporters in Iowa for the caucuses really ought to look into this scandal

News Which is the more important gathering?

New Year's Eve or the Super Bowl?

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