Gongol.com Archives: December 2020

Brian Gongol


December 2020
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December 6, 2020

News Finding gratitude, even in 2020

Benjamin Franklin: "Who is rich? He that rejoices in his portion."


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December 7, 2020

News The trouble with anarcho-libertarianism

The fatal flaw in anarcho-libertarianism is that liberty is a component of the superior matter of human dignity. There are cases where government intervention, carefully limited by law, advances the dignity of the individual even though it comes at a cost to pure "liberty".

Health Bill Gates: "I expect that we'll have about six vaccines approved by the first quarter"

The approach of funding and pursuing multiple vaccines at once and pre-ordering giant volumes of doses looks like it may well pay off in a substantial way for humanity. Gates is a great advocate for taking off the blinders and firing in all directions when trying to take down a big problem. As he said once to Rolling Stone (about climate change, but certainly applicable to the Covid-19 situation): "[W]e have a real problem, and so we should pursue many solutions to the problem. Even the Manhattan Project pursued both the plutonium bomb and the uranium bomb -- and both worked!"

Broadcasting Layoffs hit ABC News

Widely-known staff members were let go, among many more who weren't household names. A byproduct of relentless waves of media layoffs is that all of the incentives force journalists and commentators into "personal brands", even when they would rather contribute to great teams. This isn't good for our institutions, and is emphatically not the fault of the journalists.

Aviation News Chuck Yeager passes away

The ground he broke was in the sky, but it was a tremendous lift nonetheless


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December 21, 2020

News Beautiful architecture is in the eye of the beholder

But that subjectivity hasn't stopped the President from issuing an executive order prescribing specific styles for use in Federal government buildings. That's a bad mandate, for a simple reason: Anything built with tax dollars ought to be suitable to the community around it and seek to enhance the value of the neighborhood surrounding it. That's it. Different styles will achieve that differently in Des Moines, Manhattan, West Palm Beach, and Ketchikan. Stifling architectural creativity in the name of "classical" style can lead to mediocrity where taxpayers deserve innovation. ■ Norway's national oil company built a marvelous headquarters facility with the specific purpose of creating something to enhance the area. Classical architecture it is not. But it is far better than classical. ■ The opera house and convention center in Reykjavik is breathtaking. Again, not classical in any sense -- but far better. Harpa is iconic, welcoming, and useful. A huge enhancement to the area. ■ The TWA terminal at JFK is so magnificent that it's now a hotel still bearing the iconography of a long-defunct airline. Classical architecture? Nope, not even close. But it's better than anything else around it! ■ One of the finest courthouses in all of Iowa is the one in Woodbury County, which is in the distinctive Prairie School style. It's one of the best-looking structures in Sioux City. But when built in 1918, it was far from "classical". ■ Styles evolve, and every style has to begin with its first building. Lessons should be learned and designs should be improved upon, not just for aesthetics, but for practical reasons, too -- as Louis Sullivan's principle says, form follows function. And improvements to function may change those forms in unexpected ways: Modern Nordic architecture, just for example, often includes thoughtful approaches to materials and configurations that are energy-efficient and suitable to harsh winters -- ideas from which Midwesterners and others in cold climates could learn. But those approaches would conflict with mandates for "classical" styles. And that's the problem: Public buildings in particular ought to serve the community, rather than appear to be the work of a distant occupying government. Bland mandates from DC just don't serve the community interest.

Science and Technology "Vegan leather" needs a better brand

It doesn't sound like nearly as much fun as Naugahyde.

Science and Technology South Korea's broadband speeds put American speeds to shame

South Korea's average 4G download speed (62.9 Mbps) is faster than America's average 5G (55.4), and more than twice our average 4G download (29.8 Mbps). And on 5G, South Korea clocks in at a scorching 351.2 Mbps.

Science and Technology Thinking of exposure to STEM as a matter of privilege

People who have the means should try to get STEM gifts for kids -- it sends a demand signal that can help lead to more (and more affordable) choices for others. The market already knows it can sell more Paw Patrol toys. It need to know there's demand for microscopes and robot kits.

Science and Technology Jupiter and Saturn cross paths in the sky

The AP says it's "the closest Jupiter-Saturn pairing since July 1623". A nice experience, if your view isn't obscured by clouds.

Business and Finance "Nearly 14 percent of office space in Midtown Manhattan is vacant, the highest rate since 2009"

The New York Times points a finger at the pandemic for putting big-city real estate in a bind. And of the 86% that isn't officially vacant, it appears that at last count, 90% of Manhattan office workers still weren't back to working from their offices. So should those vacant offices be allowed to convert into living space? In general, anything that produces more housing is probably worth contemplating: More than 18,000 children are reportedly living without homes in New York City.


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December 22, 2020

News What's the strangest thing missing from 2020?

One thing it's strange (but real) to miss: Truck stops. The late-night stop at a Love's, a Flying J, or a TA to refuel and grab some snacks for a long road trip is one of the quintessential American experiences. They aren't architectural marvels, and most of them are destined to be torn down and rebuilt every so often. But especially along the Interstate Highway System, they are unique in their role as modern-day agoras -- marketplaces, centers of commerce, and meeting spots -- where people are found both working and seeking rest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even the busiest airports have off-peak hours -- O'Hare barely sustains a couple of 24-hour McDonald's locations, and almost all of the concessions close before midnight. But a truck stop is not only free of TSA checkpoints, it's almost always a spot one is guaranteed to find a full meal at any hour of the day or night. ■ Like a lot of things about America, a 24-hour truck stop is a tacit celebration of getting things done. Lots of truck drivers are on the road at night, and while their sleep considerations may deserve some serious safety consideration, they keep the truck stops lively even in the deepest hours of night. ■ For most of us, the travel and gathering restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have put the brakes on road trips for fun and even most business. That's kept many of us from having the truck-stop experience for almost a year now. When the vaccines have started to have a real effect on the population, one of the signs we're getting back to normal might very well come in the form of a fairly clean restroom, an oversized fountain drink, and a bag of cherry sours.

Health Dear Santa

Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is to have Dr. Anthony Fauci's sense of mission when I'm 79 years old. Fauci received his first Covid-19 vaccine shot today, on-camera.

Broadcasting Ode to the great '90s television opening sequence

A loving look at what happens when creators get obsessive about the work they do, through the lens of one particular television show's opening sequence. Tom Scott gives terrific voice to the phenomenon of the great 1990s-era opening sequence -- from a time when television was still the definitive mass medium and when computers were getting to be just good enough to do things we couldn't do in the analog world, but before those machines made it into the hands of ordinary people. There's no going back, of course, because today's fully-CG sequences can be made technically perfect. But, for a brief moment, we had artists who sewed glorious, high-craft seams between analog and digital. And their work really did reach, in some fine cases, into the realm of art. ("Beyond 2000" was one of those shows.) Of course, this was also about the time when local television newscasts opened with a bunch of people looking at pieces of paper.

News Be wise

Charlie Munger: "It's dishonorable to stay stupider than you have to be. That's my ethos. You have to be generous, too."


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December 23, 2020

Threats and Hazards Angry President focuses hate on Vice President

A report from Axios says that "Trump is lashing out, and everyone is in the blast zone" -- particularly the Vice President, who has a Constitutional duty to perform in the coming days as the results of the Electoral College are handed over to Congress. This is happening at a time when the President is actively saying on his Twitter feed that he won't "accept" Joe Biden as President. ■ Vice President Pence cannot be fired by an unhinged President. He could walk up to a bank of microphones at any time and speak without losing his job. He can and should say honest and important things about the election, the pandemic, and the President's behavior. His conscience should compel him. ■ The President's choice to pardon people who willingly and knowingly undermined their country is, in the words of Sen. Ben Sasse, "rotten to the core". Vice President Pence can say so without fear of (prematurely) losing his job. And he should. As Ben Franklin wrote, "Beware, beware! He'll cheat without scruple, who can without fear." ■ The President's choice to veto the defense spending bill is nuts, daft, and bonkers. The President swears an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States", not to "preserve, protect and defend the names of Confederate generals" -- and yet the renaming of military bases bearing the names of some of those Confederate generals is the second itemized reason for the veto. Vice President Pence can call that un-American (as it is) without being fired. And he should. ■ The President's relentless attacks on the 2020 election are obscene and have damage far beyond a single election. Vice President Pence can call that behavior irresponsible and wrong, and insist that the peaceful transfer of power is beyond dispute. And he should.

Weather and Disasters Dropping the gates on the Interstates

Nebraska closed some of the entrance ramps to I-80 to keep people from driving into a blizzard. The automated gates they use can look terribly foreign to people from outside the Midwest. And yet everyone around here has a story about driving through a snowstorm when we absolutely should not have tried -- like driving when the double-wide plows were on the highways.

Broadcasting Podcast: On truck stops and Dr. Fauci

A 3-minute commentary


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