Gongol.com Archives: May 2020
This bizarre historical moment we're experiencing together looks entirely different depending on your lens. A handful of antisocial bozos are rooting for chaos -- like Alex Jones, who says he'll cannibalize his neighbors if it looks like he won't be able to get meat at the store. But the pandemic era looks much more hopeful if you assume that most people are good by nature and are trying to do their best, which they are. We're a cooperative species by nature, and we ought to act like it.
It seems unavoidable that any nonfiction book that makes it to the popular press requires a catchy title (to sell) plus a subtitle (to explain). Strange how that's become the paradigm we've adopted.
Dr. Anthony Fauci's videoconferenced testimony to Congress is an excellent example of a technical expert using plain language to explain a sophisticated topic -- even using a sports metaphor along the way. This is how economists, engineers, scientists, doctors, and others in complex professions need to talk to elected officials. Be understood! The more complex our world becomes, the more we need technical experts who have the ability and the drive to make their messages clear and unambiguous to audiences who make decisions on behalf of us all.
The Nieman Lab notes that "the [Providence] Journal abandoning editorials is a scale of retreat that may be unique in the United States: a state's dominant paper, in its capital city, volunteering to abandon one of its most significant roles -- with no rival paper in a position to take its place." The executive editor tried to spin the decision as something rooted in high-minded principle -- gobbledygook about how editorials "inadvertently undermined readers' perception of a newspaper's core mission: to report the news fairly." The plain evidence is that it's simply a reflection of Gannett's budget cuts that have stripped the institution of the labor required to write those editorials. And that's tragic. A newspaper editorial isn't sacrosanct in and of itself, but the idea that a group of people from differing viewpoints ought to be able to come together to form a consensus opinion on matters of importance to the community shouldn't be controversial, nor subject to the axe. It's so important that institutional opinions be formed, held, and communicated that in places where "corporate" won't pay for editorial boards, then community members ought to step in to fill the void. An opinion landscape filled only with individual voices is much too likely to reward the loudest and the most outrageous, since that's the only way to make a big name for oneself. The institutional voice, by contrast, is measured by consistency and thoughtfulness over time. The departure of those institutional opinions from daily life is a serious loss for our civic well-being.
When you're on a telephone call, there's always something missing. Nonverbal communication makes up so much of our "language" that it can be used entirely on its own to explain things -- like how to make a mask out of a sock.
The US labor force distribution in 1930 was approximately 23% in agriculture, 31% in manufacturing, and 46% in services. Today we're overwhelmingly employed in services. Does that make it easier to pick up and restart from a depression or not?
An ad for "Congoleum" flooring basically promises the look of Louis XIV with the bounce of an elementary-school gymnasium!
The ever-shifting rules make it look like a game of Calvinball, as John Lettieri puts it. Complexity is a subsidy to those with the capacity to navigate it. For everyone else, it's just deadweight loss. ■ There may be fine reasons for the government to provide support so that the economy can survive an extraordinary period in lockdown. But the simpler the approach, the better. That's why things should have started with $2,000 monthly checks to everyone with a pulse and a Social Security number -- not as a trial run for a universal basic income, but as a low-friction way to ensure that people could make the necessary choice to stay home and (especially) to quarantine themselves if they showed symptoms of Covid-19. ■ Should there be support as well directly offered to businesses? Quite possibly, especially if your theory of the firm assumes that the existence and structure of a business itself has a purpose that cannot be quickly replaced by something else. A lot of people play buzzword bingo around the word "disruption" and its many offshoots, but the fact is that a complex economy contains many tightly-integrated elements, and the consequences of letting businesses fail through no fault of their own could have dreadful consequences not just for the business owners, but also for employees, suppliers, customers, and even competitors. The market tends to be very good at creative destruction when a new and better idea comes along, but the pandemic-triggered shutdown had nothing to do with a better idea. It was merely a catastrophe that struck most market participants (people and firms alike) quite out of the blue. But had we not done it, the consequences could have been even more unspeakable than they already have been. ■ In the midst of a panic, it serves no productive use to make it hard for people (or firms) to navigate whether they qualify for assistance or not. Simplicity is the only just way.
It's pretty amazing that more members of the Instagram Generation haven't figured out what black-and-white photos can do with the help of nothing more than a little soft lighting.
Social media has too many participants who are sources of agitprop. They need to be preemptively muted by the rest of us so that they don't extract a mental tax they didn't earn.
Benjamin Franklin, in particular, would have been a firm advocate of reasonable public-health measures. In his autobiography, we find this heartbreaking passage: "In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation." Those are not the words of a man who would fight a basic precaution against contagious disease by making it a matter of false pride. ■ In a similar vein, James Madison wrote, "[T]he public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object." Those aren't the words of a thinker who places his right to be a public nuisance above the well-being of his fellow citizens. ■ It's a common mistake to deify the Founding Fathers when we should instead see them as real human beings -- people who made decisions that resulted in some great historic outcomes. Deification turns them into untouchable idols, which they themselves would have resisted. It is clear from the words and the systemic architecture they left behind that the Founders expected every generation of Americans to strive for greatness, and to leave the country even better for successive generations. ■ It is likewise a common mistake to think that we can solve every problem by appealing to the Founders (or by rejecting them). Human nature contains a whole lot of characteristics that are unchanging over time. Read a few passages from Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" and you'll discover more than a few behavioral recommendations that make just as much sense in 2020 as they did in 1732. They weren't caricatures, they were real people. And several (Madison, Franklin, and Jefferson in particular) gave considerable thought to questions that are utterly familiar to our lives today. Might one or two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have been irascible characters, real porcupines of men? Probably. But most of them would most likely have looked at the evidence at hand in the case of an event like a pandemic and sought responses that would have preserved "the general welfare". Wearing a mask so as not to asymptomatically transmit a contagious disease to others would have been a very simple request, indeed.
Photos of a vivid emerald-green Lincoln from 1979 are bound to stir up some feelings. What those feelings might be? Who knows?
The Storm Prediction Center's latest forecast map includes a large area under "slight" risk for severe weather, bounded within a larger ring categorized as "marginal" risk. Yet, somehow, The "slight" and "marginal" risk areas contain almost exactly the same populations: Just over 28 million people each. Nothing more than a chance coincidence, but a swift glance at the map surely wouldn't have told the viewer that the two areas contained almost precisely the same number of souls.
One of the victims of Covid-19 had quite the biography: "Zelik (Jack) fought as a member of a resistance group, the Russian partisans, and helped hide other Jews from capture." Then he became an Omaha furniture salesman. Quite remarkable.
Preclinical trial (not yet in humans) shows effectiveness in keeping the viral load below detectable limits and preventing pneumonia
That's a significant event. There are at least a few such examples that have occurred across Iowa and the Midwest over the last few years that really ought to have us reconsidering what the worst-case scenarios for rainfall might be.
A fascinating, fine-grained analysis of one of the best rock songs of all time
(Video) A classic among ridiculous low-fi web videos. Everyone should see it at least once.
And thus was born one of America's greatest real-estate empires. You didn't think they were really in it for the hamburgers, did you?
It's lunacy that we have a Space Force but not a Cyber Force. Space fits neatly within an existing branch. Cyber is its own domain, and requires its own rules of engagement, service academy, and systemic accountability for results.
Specifically, as a security lesson. Mr. Banks really screwed up when he tore up the children's nanny ad and let it fly.
The under-appreciated thing about online education (when it's done well): Students can make asynchronous choices to make their low-value time more valuable. Up until now, unless an educational system was deliberately designed (like Western Governors University) to be entirely self-paced, it has largely fallen into the model of "Students show up at the appointed time and watch a lesson remotely". Higher education still largely expects students to take part in cohorts and to follow a prescribed pace for going through a program. ■ That has to change. It has to change right away. The Covid-19 pandemic totally upended the 2019-2020 school year and the disarray is evident everywhere. The American collegiate system wasn't ready for the diaspora and wasn't prepared to move education online. And yet Harvard Medical School has announced that "our fall 2020 courses will commence remotely for our entering classes of medical, dental and graduate students". Any stigma that once might have applied to online education ought to be well and permanently destroyed now. ■ The next seismic shift will need to be the adjustment to asynchronicity. Are there cases in which having a cohort is useful for debate and discussion? Sure. But there are a great many things that students can learn objectively at their own pace without an arbitrary "shot clock" working against them. ■ And if anything has become more evident than ever, it ought to be the need for true lifelong learning. If the economy can be brought to a halt so abrupt that the unemployment rate can jump by ten percentage points in a single month, then we need to be able to re-skill, up-skill, and re-deploy people's labor without arbitrary roadblocks. ■ One of the great human works is to take something of low value and to move it to a higher state of value. Free time is one of those things. The faster we see a broad commitment to facilitating individual choices to turn low-value time into higher-value time through on-demand access to learning programs, the better off society will be.
Leslie Nielsen "erasing" the birthmark from Mikhail Gorbachev's head at the start of "The Naked Gun" really can't be topped for pure 80s zeitgeist. (Though the rest of the film is chock-full of 80s sight gags worth revisiting, too.)
If we don't see some bold new ideas for educational delivery by this fall, we ought to be deeply disappointed. The massive disruption wrought on the educational system by this pandemic had better urge us on to some vibrant local experimentation.
Unconventional...but honestly, not any less reverent than the way some priests whip around an aspergillum. (You can sometimes see a slight smirk on the faces of the ones who really get a kick out of the action.)
This young man's high-school experience included a Category 4 hurricane, a school shooting (in which he was shot in the head), and now a pandemic.
The longer you think about it, the less sense locomotion-without-legs even makes. Snakes evolved from ancestors that had four limbs. Somewhere along the line, evolution somehow favored getting rid of limbs. How did this happen?
A flood overtook Lower Wacker Drive. As though anyone needs another reason for their nerves to be on edge on that road.
Jonathan V. Last puts it well: "[Whether] masks slow spread by 80% or 20%, we should be eager to bank that decline, because it's basically a freebie. In the grand scheme of economic expense and behavior modification, wearing a mask costs us next to nothing." In the words of research from Arizona State: "[W]hen the relative benefit is small, the absolute benefit in terms of lives is still highly nontrivial."
It boggles the mind that in 1932, she had to implore the publisher of the New York Times to stop calling her "Mrs. Putnam" instead of "Amelia Earhart". It's ironic she had to implore the Times to recognize her achievement under her own name, considering that Arthur Sulzberger became publisher of the NYT after his father-in-law died. Without "Mrs. Sulzberger" (nee Ochs), Mr. Sulzberger never would have gotten his own job.
The team at "Last Week Tonight" is proving that strong writing can carry a show right through the limitations of pandemic production without missing a beat. John Oliver is hitting his stride right now with pacing and the show might well be better without a studio audience.
Really, so does every social-media outlet. Agitprop is propaganda in popular culture and media, and a certain class of people revel in creating it today. There are likely more than a few being compensated to produce it and to inject it into the streams of media in which so many of us spend so much of our time today. But it's noxious. There have always been those who have tried to persuade, but there has to be a cultural expectation that those who do so will participate in arguments using good faith and common facts. That's just not how a disturbing number of people behave now, and many of them are empowered by social-media services that actively benefit from division and fighting because it makes their platforms more "sticky". ■ Civilization depends on a constructive common effort to find the truth. That's it. There is no end state, no final destination, no fixed conclusion. Living peacefully with other human beings is a process, and one that has to be regenerated over and over again. Those who reject the rules that make the process possible are traitors to the common good. ■ "Traitor" is a loaded word, of course, but consider the preamble to the Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." ■ The "general welfare" is protected by the Constitution, which isn't itself a destination but, rather, a set of rules. The nation is not perfect, but it seeks to become "more perfect". We consent to the pursuit of "tranquility", "liberty", and "justice". These are ideals we seek, but we need to know that the best we can do is approach them asymptotically -- we can come ever and ever closer, but we shouldn't ever succumb to the myth that we have "arrived". We have to keep trying, always. ■ Agitprop falls under the class of behaviors that John Stuart Mill described like this: "If any one does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation." The law generally will not have a legitimate case to dispose of it -- thus it is up to communities to provide the "general disapprobation". Heaven help us if we are not up to that task.
An incredible natural disaster striking Michigan in the middle of an incredible public-health emergency.
"Caller says there are too many people at Krispy Kreme...Police enroute to investigate."
Two to two-and-a-half feet higher than their past century averages. That's significant.
There are about 160 metro areas in the United States with 50,000 to 200,000 people. These areas already have city-scale infrastructure and amenities, but they're a long way from "big". The pandemic has abruptly sent huge numbers of people working from home. If that shift becomes permanent, the small cities ought to be primed for growth.
This actually gets to the heart of an existential question: What does college tuition really buy? Study time? Social exposure? Status? Access to a curriculum? Professorial time? A signal to employers (a diploma)? And is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? A lot of institutions of higher learning have a whole lot to grapple with. These are questions that aren't going to simply evaporate, and the longer it takes for the virus to be contained (either by treatment or by a vaccine), the greater the penalty for failing to take a hard look at the answers. ■ The pandemic forced the whole of higher education to make a radical shift in delivery, and it's been quite obvious that the change was one that had been institutionally resisted at a titanic scale -- far more so than many other industries have been able to resist the changes brought about by Internet access. ■ Here's the big question: How much of the massive growth in the cost of higher education been tied to quality improvements in the core product? And, just as there are ways of letting consumers engage in price discrimination on, say, an airline flight (first class vs. coach, early-purchase vs. last-minute fares, upgrades for baggage, and so on), will we see the college universe start to break up their prices in similar ways -- with a "core" price for tuition that includes online delivery only, with "upgrade" prices for on-campus experiences?
If a "reality dating show game" is leaving a void in your life, perhaps a book would be a better way to fill it. Or a hobby. Or, really, anything but a video game based on the TV show.
"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." - James Madison
Is this even speculation? Or is there yet another level below that on the scale of serious investing?
Training opportunities and affordability were very important issues before Covid-19. Now they're absolutely critical. As one aspect of tackling a very large problem, this policy approach seems like a healthy place to start. America needs a revitalization in how we think about education and training; for instance, it might be smart if many or most graduates transitioned from HS into a two-year technical program of some sort (like trades, bookkeeping, or computer programming), and if many then went on to additional years of school to complete a bachelor's degree program. Moreover, we need to adopt (culturally, if not statutorily) an expectation of permanent continuing education. It's possible to do this affordably and flexibly (see the work of Western Governors University, and it's the only responsible way to ensure that we are able to afford the social safety net that the public demands. Skills stagnation is a giant problem that lurks beneath the economic surface.
It's satisfying to pull weeds when they're large, but it's smarter to pull them when they're small.
Safe-haven laws are so important...but so is making sure that people know about them. This baby is physically OK, but there's clearly a lot of emotional pain here for the mother, and the child will have needs in the future as well.
Taking verifiability out of the equation makes high-stakes arms races more dangerous
Having (1) a giant industry devoted to getting Americans to think of housing as their "biggest household investment" is not easily reconciled with (2) a titanic problem with the widespread affordability of quality housing. It's one of the most important problems in economics. Housing is something like 15% of all household expenditure. Far more for certain households. And yet in many ways we treat it as immutable. Housing is a universal need, and in general, public policy ought to point in the direction of expanding access and reducing the costs of those universal needs.
China's authoritarian government wants people within its borders to know nothing about its attack on freedom in Hong Kong. And what is grave trouble for Hong Kong is quite likely to be grave trouble for Taiwan, as well.
Yes, and when the National Weather Service calls those out (at least in Tornado Alley), it helps to fill out the other end of the distribution curve from "PDS" events. It communicates to the fairly savvy local audience what degree of severity is involved, in effect buying credibility for future events that are more significant.
(Video) A true supercell storm out on the Plains is one of the most gripping things you can see in life. The storm can be bigger than a mountain, but it's moving -- sometimes towards you. And on the Plains, you can see the whole thing so it consumes your entire field of vision.
8.5" in diameter
...and a little planting right behind it.
With a good connection, spotters can share high-definition observations in real time. Add in just a little geolocation and you have a great way for professionals to verify what they're observing on radar.
That may be one of the most pithy statements of protest ever made. And it is so deeply sad that this may be true.
An NPR report says that parts of the United States are about to see the arrival of one and a half million cicadas per acre. There are 640 acres in a section, and 1.5 million times 640 equals 960 million total cicadas. (A section, by the way, is just one square mile.) That's a positively unfathomable number of insects.
Do you have to put a Tide Pod underneath your pillow?
Every encounter with the government should be predicated on a fundamental respect for the dignity of the individual. This much should be beyond debate. Yet it certainly doesn't appear to be on display in this awful incident.
Broadband access was important before, but the pandemic has made it practically essential as a tool for people to go about their business while keeping their distance from unnecessary crowds, working from home, or attending church and school activities delivered online in lieu of gatherings.
Civilians depend upon an officer corps that thinks independently, supports and defends the Constitution, and develops critical thinking about duty under the law. We should want our military leaders to be smart and honorable, not uncritical and servile.
If your signature is going to be on the country's currency, it's better if that signature doesn't abritrarily intermix capitals with lower-case letters. That's not a style; it's a failure of basic penmanship. ■ To be fair, the "S" is probably the hardest letter to add in cursive, so he has an uphill battle to climb from the very first letter. But there are some pretty good ones to mimic in the Declaration of Independence. Roger Sherman probably had the cleanest "S" among the signatories, but there's a neat little flourish in Sam Huntington's that would be worth repeating in a modern autograph. ■ Signatures are a funny topic in an America that has a strange love/hate relationship with cursive writing. As a means of daily communications, cursive is far less important (most of the time) than typing. But there's an inherent value to an individual's handwriting (and, by extension, their signature) that ought to redeem itself in its own right. Not every idea is best expressed through touch-typing on a QWERTY keypad, and that means some kind of handwriting is necessary. And there are times, to be sure, when flowing cursive is preferable (aesthetically or otherwise) to block letters. A signature is one of thse cases -- even if awful signature pads erase all of the quality of effort. ■ Take pride in your signature, whether you're the Treasury Secretary or not. Find a special letter to make yours unique. In this time of "personal branding", there's no reason not to put a little effort into the "personal logo" you affix to any document of importance. (But that goes at twice over if the document in question is the currency.)
We've seen a few steps toward this, but journalism urgently needs a concerted effort to spin up reporting outlets based on some form of co-op model, similar in spirit to credit unions. Not to replace what for-profit outlets do, but to fill the frightening gaps as they drop out. ■ The mutualism model isn't necessarily useful in every sector, but there are industries -- and journalism is increasingly one of them -- where the for-profit sector is abandoning ship due to structural problems that show no signs of changing. ■ Since advertising-supported journalism is being pinched more than ever, subscription-based reporting may well have to take its place. But that shift most likely also requires a change in management approach, as well.
The space suits aren't quite as shiny as the classic 1960s aesthetic, but they're pretty sleek in a modernist-and-yet-post-modernist way.
A children's swimsuit label comes with the warning "only non-chlorine bleach". Somebody may be missing the point.
People rethinking other travel plans are buying RVs. "Social distancing is a lot easier when you can bring along your own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom"
When ostensibly smart people like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas go about spinning the subject as though voting by mail is somehow riddled with fraud, they do a giant disservice to their fellow Americans. Sen. Cotton isn't an idiot, but his arguments substitute narrow, short-term partisanship for the durable good of the republic. ■ The grounds for election security -- even via mail -- are already well-established. Mail tampering is already a Federal offense. Election fraud is already a Federal offense. Voter intimidation is already a Federal offense. ■ Whatever happened to "enforce the laws already on the books"? A good-faith argument over the security of voting by mail would need first to acknowledge that there are already extensive legal prohibitions on the kind of bad behavior that could contaminate a vote. But a good-faith argument would further have to acknowledge that democracy itself is an exercise in trusting one's fellow citizens. There will always be people of bad faith and bad intent. But if they are more than 1 in 100, that would be a stunning revelation. ■ We can and should make rules and establish deterrents to keep people from trying to interfere with a clean vote. But we also need to believe that democracy gains legitimacy as more people take part in it. The United States is a democratic republic, and though we have guaranteed our republican virtues through the Constitution since 1787, we became more democratic in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was ratified, and again in 1920, when the 19th Amendment became law. Those steps made the country more democratic, and thus made the law more legitimate as an expression of the consent of the governed. ■ A vote is not made more worthy because the voter had to experience hardship to cast it. A vote is legitimate because it is cast by an individual, dignified and possessed of natural rights by virtue of birth.
Jonathan V. Last, on whether Twitter ought to place some guardrails around the President's behavior: "The company can either be the arbiter of some basic shared liberal values. Or it can be a tool used by a political figure who is authoritarian-curious." ■ Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- you name the platform. All of them have rules against some forms of behavior. Yet, it will never be enough to be merely anti-bad, and it will never be adequate to think that perfecting technology will perfect humanity. Rules reflect choices -- and so does anarchy.
We don't quite need to add those to videoconferencing, but maybe we could start using CB radio lingo to help prevent ambiguity. We could start with using "over" and "10-4".
Twitter could really use a follow-up feature so that you could, in fact, explain your unfollowing without drawing needless attention to it. Maybe there's a good reason for your departure, maybe not. But most of us don't unfollow with a flourish but, rather, silently in the night.
The perspective and attitude that Patrick Skinner brings to his work as a peace officer (and what he tells us about it) are consistently refreshing. There are too many people who look into the eyes of others and see things that don't belong there instead of the dignified humanity of others. No 7-year-old is deserving of hate. ■ Every individual is entitled to be treated with dignity. Every human life has equal value. These should not be contestable claims.
Easy steps for allies
Be right back -- gotta go order some new Billy bookcases from IKEA
This colorization is done with great skill -- matched by an evident respect for the original.
Some of us depend on nonverbal communication more than anything else, so those cones are going to need wider diameters