Gongol.com Archives: 2020 Second-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol











































May 11, 2020

News Most people are good. Believe it.

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.

News Catchy book titles don't say anything

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.




May 12, 2020

Health A master class in plain language

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.

News Where goes the newspaper editorial?

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.

Humor and Good News A useful how-to video that needs no words at all

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.




May 13, 2020

Business and Finance What if it's a depression?

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?

Humor and Good News What were people thinking in the 1970s?

An ad for "Congoleum" flooring basically promises the look of Louis XIV with the bounce of an elementary-school gymnasium!

Business and Finance To return or not to return your PPP loan?

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.

Humor and Good News What a little soft lighting will do

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.

Computers and the Internet Put the agitprop on mute

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.




May 14, 2020

The United States of America The Founders wouldn't be throwing fits over a mandate to wear masks in a pandemic

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.

Humor and Good News Just look at this thing

Photos of a vivid emerald-green Lincoln from 1979 are bound to stir up some feelings. What those feelings might be? Who knows?

Weather and Disasters An unexpected weather coincidence

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.

Business and Finance Autarky is for losers

Scott Lincicome captures the absurdity of the President's diatribe against supply chains with the perfectly elegant "#Juche2020". Brilliant.

News A life of extraordinary interest

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.




May 15, 2020

Health Good initial results from a Covid-related vaccine

Preclinical trial (not yet in humans) shows effectiveness in keeping the viral load below detectable limits and preventing pneumonia

Weather and Disasters Ottumwa ties monthly record rainfall in one event

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.

Humor and Good News What makes "Interstate Love Song" great

A fascinating, fine-grained analysis of one of the best rock songs of all time

Humor and Good News The Viking Kittens

(Video) A classic among ridiculous low-fi web videos. Everyone should see it at least once.

Business and Finance McDonald's turns 80

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?

News Space Force flag is unveiled

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.

Humor and Good News It's official: "Mary Poppins" has redeeming educational value

Specifically, as a security lesson. Mr. Banks really screwed up when he tore up the children's nanny ad and let it fly.




May 16, 2020

Computers and the Internet Here comes asynchronous education (if we're smart enough to embrace it)

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.

Humor and Good News The most 1980s-themed gag ever

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.)




May 17, 2020

News Time for new ideas

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.




May 18, 2020

News Priest uses squirt gun to deliver holy water

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.)

News A rougher high-school experience than most

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.

Science and Technology How exactly did snakes become a thing?

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?

Weather and Disasters Chicago's basement floods

A flood overtook Lower Wacker Drive. As though anyone needs another reason for their nerves to be on edge on that road.

Health Wear masks. It's just not that hard.

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."

Aviation News Amelia Earhart: Call me by my name, please

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.

Broadcasting Strong writing beats hot graphics

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.


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May 19, 2020

Threats and Hazards Twitter needs to add a button to report agitprop

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.

Weather and Disasters Dam failures could flood Midland, Michigan with 9' of water

An incredible natural disaster striking Michigan in the middle of an incredible public-health emergency.

Humor and Good News Presented without comment from the Omaha police scanner

"Caller says there are too many people at Krispy Kreme...Police enroute to investigate."

Weather and Disasters Lakes Michigan and Huron are a whole lot higher than usual

Two to two-and-a-half feet higher than their past century averages. That's significant.

News Will the pandemic send larger numbers to smaller cities?

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.




May 20, 2020

News Parent sues university for going online-only during pandemic

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?

Broadcasting Video game seeks to "fill the void" with reality TV production halted

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.

Threats and Hazards The President threatens individual states

"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

Business and Finance With no sports, gamblers are literally betting on stock markets

Is this even speculation? Or is there yet another level below that on the scale of serious investing?




May 21, 2020

Business and Finance Bipartisan group in Senate backs $4,000 credit for skills training

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.

News Pulling weeds

It's satisfying to pull weeds when they're large, but it's smarter to pull them when they're small.

News Literally, a baby left on the front porch

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.

Threats and Hazards US to withdraw from Open Skies treaty

Taking verifiability out of the equation makes high-stakes arms races more dangerous




May 22, 2020

Business and Finance A problematic tension

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.

Threats and Hazards Watch censorship happen

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.

Weather and Disasters Is there such a thing as a "weak, brief tornado"?

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.

Weather and Disasters Excellent time-lapse view of a supercell up-close

(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.

Weather and Disasters Astonishing hail

8.5" in diameter

Agriculture A little harvest here...

...and a little planting right behind it.


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May 23, 2020

Weather and Disasters Smartphones make weather spotting better

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.




May 24, 2020

Threats and Hazards Posted on Chinese social media: "2020-1997=50"

That may be one of the most pithy statements of protest ever made. And it is so deeply sad that this may be true.

News A billion cicadas per section

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.

Humor and Good News How do you summon the Laundry Fairy?

Do you have to put a Tide Pod underneath your pillow?





May 26, 2020

Threats and Hazards Man dies in Minneapolis police custody as bystanders are held back

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.

Computers and the Internet When broadband becomes a public-health tool

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.

News Dissent among the trainers of the ranks

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.




May 27, 2020

Business and Finance Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin needs a better autograph

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.)

News CBS News to lay off somewhere around 50 staff members

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.

Aviation News SpaceX astronauts take the "Dress for Success" ethic to a whole new level

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.

Humor and Good News What's in the pool water?

A children's swimsuit label comes with the warning "only non-chlorine bleach". Somebody may be missing the point.

Business and Finance This should really come as no surprise

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"


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May 28, 2020

The United States of America There's no reason voting by mail can't be quite secure

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.

Computers and the Internet Technologies are value-neutral. People aren't.

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.

Humor and Good News Astronauts get radio chirps to help prevent crosstalk

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".

Computers and the Internet Why did you unfollow?

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.




May 29, 2020

News "Do you think the cop with his knee on George Floyd's neck thought of him as a neighbor?"

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.

News How to be a better person

Easy steps for allies

Humor and Good News The bookiest bookshelf ever

Be right back -- gotta go order some new Billy bookcases from IKEA

News Soldiers at the altar, 1918

This colorization is done with great skill -- matched by an evident respect for the original.

Health Plastic shields for fine dining in semi-distant privacy

Some of us depend on nonverbal communication more than anything else, so those cones are going to need wider diameters


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June 1, 2020

Threats and Hazards A despicable photo stunt

Peaceably-assembled people were removed with tear gas so that the President could get a photo op. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went with him. There was another choice: He could have said no. It's been done before by leaders in similar circumstances who knew how to keep their military uniforms out of a political stunt.




June 2, 2020

The United States of America Air Force leadership speaks out

Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright shares an impassioned plea: "What should you be doing? Like me, acknowledge your right to be upset about what's happening to our nation. But you must then find a way to move beyond the rage and do what you think is right for the country, for your community, for your sons, daughters, friends and colleagues...for every Black man in this country who could end up like George Floyd." It's a statement worth reading. ■ The Constitution's call "To form a more perfect union" is a phrase built around a verb. It isn't a destination or an end-state. It's a process and a challenge. It's not just "all hands" for the military -- it's for all of us. But thank goodness for leaders like Chief Master Sergeant Wright.

Computers and the Internet Florida member of Congress has tweet hidden for violating anti-violence policy

It's a start. Rep. Matt Gaetz asked about "hunt[ing] down" members of Antifa, and it was a needless display of puffery that bordered on incitement to violence. Blood lust is no substitute for courageous resolve. We need more adults in national leadership who can look to a problem and answer it with a summons to duty and an acknowledgment of the inherent challenges of living in a liberal democracy without turning to cheap lines meant to shock.

Health Will your personality change over time?

It can happen, but the odds are against sweeping changes in anyone's big five characteristics

News Names on the street

The names of people who died in police custody are painted on the street in Minneapolis where George Floyd died. This image deserves a very large audience.

Threats and Hazards DEA vehicles block the road to the Cato Institute

Protests in Washington, DC, and the Federal response thereto create a set of circumstances straight out of a Correspondents' Dinner routine. And yet: There are military vehicles and armed Federal agents blocking the streets of the nation's capital.

Weather and Disasters An early-season tropical storm could make a giant mess in the Gulf of Mexico

Tropical Storm Cristobal is already causing deadly floods in Central America

Computers and the Internet Little-known fact: Herbert Hoover opposed regulating Twitter

"Every expansion of government in business means that government, in order to protect itself from the political consequences of its errors and wrongs, is driven irresistibly without peace to greater and greater control of the nation's press and platform."


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June 3, 2020

News Hong Kong should have become a US state

Generally: Let refugees in. Specifically: Let lots of Hong Kong residents in before the window closes and China refuses to let them out. And broadly: Don't be surprised by a future populated by city-states. But to the question immediately at hand, the United States, the UK, Australia, and other countries of like philosophy ought to open the doors wide to the people of Hong Kong if they want out.

News "I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop"

Senator Ben Sasse is right to say it. Whether you're an originalist, a textualist, a living-documentarian, or the ghost of Antonin Scalia himself, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.

Threats and Hazards Who are the people with the weapons?

Scenes from DC include the grave observation that armed "law enforcement" members won't identify themselves. If anyone is purporting to represent Federal law enforcement without identification, then it's time for members of Congress to demand immediate answers. All Federal authority is ultimately accountable to the Article I branch.

Threats and Hazards Sen. Tom Cotton is at odds with the IRI

He serves as a member of the board at the International Republican Institute. But the Senator is clearly at odds with its honorable mission, particularly with his use of phrases like "no quarter". He should have the character to recalibrate his own words accordingly.

Weather and Disasters Massive cloud complex visible for hundreds of miles

Over Muscatine, visible from Dubuque, with a plume stretching all the way to Chicagoland

News Police shouldn't be all-purpose social workers

Conscientious citizens ought to pursue change on this matter within their own communities. Who would you call if you thought someone needed help not of the 911 variety? Asking police/fire/EMS to be jacks-of-all-trades isn't fair to them, nor to the people in need.




June 4, 2020

News Watch "The Tank Man"

(Video) The Frontline episode on Tiananmen Square is worth a re-watching every June 4th. The dignity of the individual is the highest good, and there may be no better illustration in modern history. This year's socially-distanced vigil in Hong Kong must not be the last.

News "I might just ask that the military officers step aside while you're answering these kind of questions"

Australian military leaders knew how to step away from rank partisanship last year

Health Safe hugging in a pandemic

News you really can use

Weather and Disasters Something unholy in the skies over Kansas City

A back-building mesoscale convective system crashed into a forward-propagating one behind it. The radar picture is incredible.

News The US just finished paying Civil War pensions

A woman whose father was an 83-year-old veteran when she was born (in 1930) just passed away. Try thinking through the math on that one.




June 5, 2020

The United States of America "We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution"

Retired Defense Secretary James Mattis blasts the President's misbehavior in a letter shared via The Atlantic: "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society." And as he speaks out, John Kelly joins him. And high-ranking leaders in the Armed Forces are subtly echoing the same things. Fortunately, some vocal acknowledgment is being made that the military doesn't exist to serve an individual politician. ■ On a side note: It's fascinating to watch as The Atlantic has effectively moved in to fill the space previously occupied by the triumvirate of Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report. It would be good for there to be more such editorial institutions with such a presence again. The publishing world has suffered a great deal in its transition to the realities of digital economics, but institutions still need to occupy a space where they can serve as clearinghouses for ideas and debate. ■ One of the least-reasonable changes that has occurred of late has been the New York Times's retreat from publishing daily editorials. And now, smarting from the reaction to this week's awful op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, the Times is considering a reduction in the number of op-eds it publishes. No, no, no: That's not the point. The Times should publish many ideas. Even a few stupid ones. But...maybe not the violently reactionary ones, OK? ■ Smart, opinionated digital publications have emerged -- The Bulwark, The Dispatch, and others. This has happened while others have been closed (The Weekly Standard) or major changes in tone or style (The Examiner and the National Review, for instance). But we need a contest among publications that think of themselves as representing the consensus of American opinion. The Atlantic may, in fact, be somewhere away from that center, but its identity seems more to be built around being where public opinion will be in six to twelve months -- skating, like Gretzky, to where the puck will be. Canada, with just 37 million people, has Maclean's, with its "uniquely Canadian perspective". One would think that the United States, with 330 million, could sustain more than just one publication in The Atlantic's lane -- and that it should.

The United States of America Strong words from James Mattis may have put steel in some spines

God bless Mattisonian permission structures.

News 161 American kids were named the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars

The program is making some headlines because of two bad appointments to the selection commission, but please don't let the rotten news overshadow the honor of the students. They represent all walks of life and all 50 states (plus PR & DC) and they should be the ones making news and being recognized.

News People shouldn't die over minor infractions

A reminder from Federalist Paper No. 62: "It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood..."




June 6, 2020

Weather and Disasters Iowa is literally on track for a post-tropical depression

Cristobal is forecasted to track up the Mississippi River -- which cannot bode well for the flooding prospects in New Orleans once it has departed

News The title of "peace officer" ought to be taken both literally and seriously

The utterly despicable way in which a man was thrown to the ground in Buffalo, New York, is the kind of thing good police ought to denounce far and wide

News Real headline: "Cate Blanchett suffers minor head injury in 'chainsaw accident'"

Aren't famous actors well-advised to stay away from outdoor power tools?




June 7, 2020

News Newspapers: Pick a (nerd) lane

The Washington Post's "Capital Weather Gang" ought to be a model for every newspaper. It's a deep dive into a very specific topic, and that relentless nerdiness makes it worth following (even if you don't live under DC weather). Every newspaper, big and small, ought to pick one nerd lane and make it a signature feature. Cover a unique topic with a team approach and excessive zeal, and let it become a thing for which the paper can become known outside of the conventional coverage of the local news. Plenty of places have much more interesting weather than Washington, DC -- Chicago, for instance, just among the major cities. But in Chicago, there's WGN television's Dr. Tom Skilling, and then there's everybody else -- it's not really a team thing in the sense of a group literally called the Capital Weather "Gang". ■ It's merely a guess, but a good quarter of the population could probably be categorized as "nerds": People who take an unusual amount of recreational interest in a subject, developing expertise that is either outside their occupation or in excess of what they are paid to know and care about. And a lot of people, though not really nerds themselves, are nerd-adjacent: They like hearing, reading, or watching other people get nerdy about a subject. The enthusiasm is the secret sauce. It's a matter of caring about something entirely out of personal passion, then letting that passion spill over into evangelization of one sort or another. ■ Nerd content may not look like much, but as a tool for institutionally defining a media outlet, it would seem to be an obvious source of potential. As the editorial and content-creation staffs of newspapers and other media outlets shrink, it's becoming ever harder to be the "everything store" for news. But it may be possible to survive in the long term by competently delivering the expected "everything", while specifically becoming the destination for some unique lane of nerd content. People want it -- so it seems wise to satisfy that demand.




June 8, 2020

Broadcasting Podcast: "News for Nerds"

Where did James Mattis have his letter published this week, and what does it have to do with the Capital Weather Gang?

Threats and Hazards Anti-bias trainer gets assaulted while trying to keep the peace

Derrick Sanderlin has worked for years trying to help the San Jose (Calif.) police to reduce implicit bias, but he ended up getting hit with rubber bullets fired by police after he tried to de-escalate a situation

Humor and Good News Canada: The best friends ever

Even if a country got to choose its neighbors, it couldn't choose better than Canada.

News "Black in the Ivory"

Reading the stories collected on Twitter under the #blackintheivory hashtag is really a great deal more educational than any dry research paper about a regression analysis on the same subject. Highly recommended browsing. (It's also a helpful source of Twitter accounts worth following.)

The United States of America Why Army bases shouldn't be named for Confederates

It's time to catch up with reality. Also: Now would be a good time to consider removing Woodrow Wilson's name from things, too.

Weather and Disasters Iowa makes the forecast track for a tropical depression

That's a new one. The swing from 90 degrees and sunny to a flash flood watch is going to hurt.










June 15, 2020

Health "When I wear a mask, I protect you. And when you wear a mask, you protect me."

Don't wait for the vaccine; we can break this thing now. It can be done.

Computers and the Internet If schools remain closed or semi-closed, broadband Internet will be essential

Imagine taking a time machine back to 1995 and explaining that in 25 years, broadband Internet access will become a major factor in public health. Because it is now.

Iowa Iowans used absentee voting en masse this primary

79.4% voted by absentee ballot. In the middle of a pandemic, you know what that equates to? A lot of Iowans taking a pragmatic step to not only protect their own health, but to protect the well-being of poll workers. More absentee voting means less exposure at the polls. Nice work, team.

The United States of America Don't ask us to imagine a world without immigrants

A country should never be ashamed to import all the willing talent it can find.

Science and Technology Dreaming of high-speed rail

High-speed rail in places like Italy really is fantastic stuff -- it's just great. But Italy has 9.5 times the population density of a place like Iowa. There's little way to make the economics work at the same scale here as there without the help of some stunning breakthroughs.




June 16, 2020

Threats and Hazards China and India come to blows

Literally, in a brawl in the mountains. Several died. Not good news when a conflict between the two most populous nations in the world gains itself a hashtag like "#IndiaChinaFaceoff.

Health Airlines might start banning passengers who won't wear masks

As they should. It is, quite literally, almost the very least you can be asked to do in service of the general welfare during a time of pandemic.

News Police officer comes to rescue of man who drove two daughters off cliff

"'That's probably the most heroic thing I've seen in my 32 years', said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit". Nothing beats knowing how to do important things and being willing to do them when they're needed.

Business and Finance A silly question: "Has Buffett missed the rally?"

One sure way to know that stock-market-watchers have gone a little daft is that they're rolling out the weather-worn debate over whether Warren Buffett still knows what he's doing. When someone is dedicated to doing things the right way and circumstances fail to reward it (even for a long time), that's no reason for them to abandon the right way. Carry on, Warren Buffett. Carry on. Right will ultimately be rewarded.

Business and Finance What happens if housing affordability becomes a real public priority?

The matter of ensuring an abundant supply of dignified housing at affordable prices is by far one of the most important policy issues out there. While net government spending on it isn't clearly the best measuring stick, the issue deserves a whole lot of thought. Public policy most certainly can make the problem better -- or worse.

News Missing the point entirely

A newspaper, after encountering blowback for publishing an editorial cartoon, declares: "We will continue to take responsibility for publishing an offensive cartoon, but after the uproar we caused last week, we have made a decision to suspend the use of editorial cartoons on our Opinion page for the time being." That's missing the point. Don't throw the valuable genre out with the bathwater, folks.

The United States of America Self-evident truths require some unchanging parts of human nature

Human nature is a powerful thing. Accepting just how powerful it is makes it possible to think clearly (and modestly) about how to use rules, training, and education to overcome its shortcomings.

Health Severe measures in Beijing to curb Covid-19 resurgence

It's too easy to read that there's an outbreak in Beijing and scale it to the size of an American city, like Baltimore or Denver. Beijing has as many people as the entire state of Florida.

Humor and Good News 2020 class motto: "We really outdid ourselves with senior skip day"

This year requires a mandatory sense of humor

Computers and the Internet Should the anonymous be taken seriously in online arguments?

Real debate should take place under your real name, unless there's a meaningful hazard in so doing. That said: Everyone who has a real-name account ought to have a burner, too, where you can let off some steam. And never the twain shall meet.

Broadcasting 28 jobs cut at Minnesota Public Radio

Now is the worst possible time for media economics in modern history, and the layoffs are overwhelming in number. Outlets like MPR aren't huge, and to cut 28 employees marks a real loss for the institution. Though, of course, the now-jobless are the ones who are really hurt.





June 18, 2020

Health Extremely significant if true

Reuters reports: "The risk for severe COVID-19 was 45% higher for people with type A blood than those with other blood types. It appeared to be 35% lower for people with type O." Always take reporting on studies with a grain of salt. Reporters usually try their best, but it's extremely hard to communicate things like confidence intervals or significance tests in a news story written for the general public. Conclusions easily get exaggerated. But if both true and accurate, this is an item of the utmost newsworthiness.

Threats and Hazards Someone's cyber-attacking Australia

It doesn't take much imagination to fill in the "someone" with "China". We need a Cyber Force far more than we need a Space Force.

News Don't demand perfect heroes

Anything involving humans is going to be imperfect. It's the striving towards becoming better that counts. Stories of redemption are more important than idyllic reports of perfection.

Threats and Hazards The academic priesthood model is a problem

The paradigm within academia that equates certain bona fides (like publications) with worthiness is a gigantic problem. That, in turn, sets up expectations of deference that perpetuate the status quo (including the power structures that make up who is "in charge") that have nothing to do with the positive diffusion of knowledge. ■ Federalist Paper No. 36: "There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general."




June 19, 2020

The United States of America "Why Juneteenth matters"

Well-said by Jamelle Bouie: "Emancipation wasn't a gift bestowed on the slaves; it was something they took for themselves, the culmination of their long struggle for freedom." ■ The people who were held in slavery were just as human -- smart, humane, self-aware, capable -- as ourselves. We have to read history with that in mind, because history has rarely been written to give them that credit.

Business and Finance Bonos basura

You have to admit that the Spanish term for "junk bonds" is a lot more phonetically pleasing than the English one

Computers and the Internet Twitter adds audio tweets

But it's nothing new; Audioboo[m] offered the same service a decade ago. Don't expect this to take off, though. Audio is a magnificent art form, but it just doesn't fit with endless scrolling. Audio requires you to stop and comprehend (if it is to be of any informative value), and without so much as a visual cue (like you might get with video), there's no way to skip ahead or jump around. And people are not patient, on balance.




June 20, 2020

The United States of America The words of the Presidents

The Miller Center at the University of Virginia hosts a tremendous collection of past Presidential speeches and writings. Well worth reviewing, especially for words from broad-minded leaders like Eisenhower, who never had to worry about crowd sizes.





June 22, 2020

Threats and Hazards "A 3-year-old boy was shot and killed in Chicago over the weekend"

Those words alone ought to haunt any civilized person. Violence like this is contagious. It has a community impact. And it ought to be preventable with reasonable interventions. Why don't we treat it as a grave public-health problem? There is no single "cure" for violence, but there are lots of different interventions that can help. Homicide is a top-5 cause of death for every age from 1 to 44, but so is suicide between ages 10 and 54. The problem calls for many answers.

Threats and Hazards We are not angry enough on behalf of our fellow humans

The President of the United States has confessed to turning a blind eye towards China's use of concentration camps against religious minorities, and he says he did it because he was "in the middle of a negotiation" over trade. However angry this might make you, get even angrier. ■ As Calvin Coolidge said, "If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final." Do we believe these things are universally true, or do we not?

Broadcasting Nancy McNally for President

They ought to re-make "The West Wing", but with Anna Deavere Smith in the lead role as POTUS. It's the show America needs to see right now.

News A cruel paradox of editing

It's a cruel paradox that the American Psychological Association established a citation format that gives people existential headaches.




June 23, 2020

The United States of America Why do we even have a government?

James Madison: "[W]e can rejoice in the proofs given that our political institutions, founded in human rights and framed for their preservation, are equal to the severest trials of war as well as adapted to the ordinary periods of repose." ■ Madison framed the Constitution. He was President during the War of 1812, which could have broken the young country, but didn't. We should take him at his word that the very purpose of our government was and is the preservation of human rights.

Health A sobering and distressing dispatch from Houston

A Texas doctor reports that "in Houston we, the pediatricians at Texas Children's Hospital, will now start seeing adult patients." All because Covid-19 has filled the ICU capacity at adult hospitals.

Humor and Good News Art in many layers

The artist once formerly known as Prince fighting the former prince while the Queen scraps with Queen.

News How the pandemic is changing cities

This article opens with notes on changes to mass transit. One might wonder if small cars (serving, say, 2 to 8 people) could/will be introduced to run on existing rail systems. Still high density, but with greater isolation. The need to efficiently move people at high volumes while minimizing space and energy use remains, but we might need to rethink how we achieve it. Odds seem good that we'll find a way to get Covid-19 under control sometime in the not-so-distant future -- but what if we can't? Or what if something else comes after it? Oughtn't we be prepared for the contingencies?

Humor and Good News "Barcelona opera house reopens with performance to 2,292 plants"

Potted plants don't need cough drops to keep quiet for a recording. Plants 1 - People 0.

Threats and Hazards Even accidental voter suppression is still voter suppression

You can run a polling place with the efficiency of a Swiss train station, but Kentucky's experiment in "only having one polling location in both Louisville and Lexington, the state's two largest cities" didn't enable voters the maximum reach of the franchise, and in fact demonstrably stood in the way of it. Especially during a pandemic, that's un-American.

Humor and Good News The English language needs a punctuation mark to denote a cheerful period

For those times when an exclamation mark is too much, but when a simple period is too dry. If we can come up with the interrobang, then we can invent the cheeriod.




June 24, 2020

Broadcasting Only about 10% of American radio listening happens via streams

Broadcasting observers wonder why. There are a few hypotheses to consider: (1.) Too many rival apps with no clear leader. (2.) Too many false starts from ca. 1998 until ca. 2015, during which people never got the chance to become accustomed to a habit of listening. (3.) Garbage preroll ads, awful filler material, and bad synchronization, all of which lead to an inconsistent and sub-par listening experience. (4.) Low broadband speeds (no, really; the United States lags in broadband speeds compared to many other countries, and the problem is worst in remote areas where streaming would do the most good for listeners who don't have as many over-the-air listening options). (5.) An ever-dwindling supply of compelling local content. ■ That last one is a doozy. It's a pipe dream to imagine that anyone would invest the kind of money in content it would take to produce an American analog to BBC's outstanding Radio 4, but there has been a semi-conscious choice by American radio management to chase the lowest common denominator instead of investing in great speech-based content first. Radio 4 gets more than 10% of all listening in the UK, and there's nothing at all like it in the US market. ■ But the technical side of things can't be overlooked, either: The platform-dependency model is just nutty. There's a perfectly rational explanation for how and why it emerged, but making the user go download separate apps for Radio.com, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and so on is daft. It's like needing separate apps to place calls through to your friends depending on whether they subscribe to Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile.

News "[T]here was no evidence from any study that Native American mascots foster positive or beneficial psychosocial effects for Native Americans"

Review of studies on team mascots and psychological perceptions finds, unsurprisingly, that no matter how many times people try to say that using American Indians is somehow an honor, it just plain isn't understood that way. Any team that does it ought to reconsider, particularly the one in the NFL that substitutes a racial epithet for an actual mascot. This really shouldn't be a tough call. Washington's football team needs a new name.




June 25, 2020

Threats and Hazards What is the value of a life?

Elijah McClain committed no crime, but three people with the authority of the law made choices to treat him like an object. Such disregard for the essential dignity of a human life harms us all.

The United States of America Civilian oversight required

Any shortage of virtue, competence, or imagination in our government is a choice. America was a country of 4 million people when the Constitution was enacted. We have 330 million today, plus far more experience and education -- not to mention universal civil rights. Any virtue or genius that you detect in the Founders, you ought to see hundreds of times over in America today. In 1790, the total population of Virginia alone was about 750,000 people -- or about the size of one Congressional district today. That small population included Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. By any objective measure, we should easily have 400 George Washingtons, 400 James Madisons, and 400 Thomas Jeffersons living among us today. Probably many more, considering that the only free white men had a say in matters at their time. It's on us.

Iowa DMACC and UNI to partner on four-year degree program in Des Moines

UNI has a special mission as the state's comprehensive university, and this is a great alignment with that charter. More of this, please!




June 26, 2020

Threats and Hazards Election interference didn't stop in 2016

Russia, China, and undoubtedly others haven't been made to stop their efforts to influence and interfere with the US electoral process. ■ To quote Federalist Paper No. 41: "Security against foreign danger is one of the primitive objects of civil society. It is an avowed and essential object of the American Union."

News What implicit assumptions are you carrying in your head?

The implicit-association tests offered through Harvard are a worthwhile exercise. Most people of goodwill want to think of ourselves as unbiased, but there's nothing like getting an objective measurement of what's inside our heads. You don't have to tell anyone your results, but it's worthwhile knowing if you're truly approaching people with the open mind you know you should be.

Health Babies need to sleep -- alone -- on their backs

Polk County health officials note with alarm the local deaths of seven babies in the last three months

Health Every CPU helps

The Rosetta@Home project needs more computers to help run computations like the ones that have resulted in experimental drugs now being tested for effectiveness against coronavirus. ■ Ideally, we'll get a vaccine sooner than expected, it will be overwhelmingly effective, 7.6 billion doses will be produced overnight, and everyone will gladly get vaccinated. But those are a lot of preconditions that all have to come together just right to get us out of trouble. So, just in case that doesn't come true, let's find effective therapies ASAP. Everyone's computer can help. So can everyone's mask.




June 27, 2020

Health Be direct

(Video) Dr. Anthony Fauci really gets the importance of clear, direct language when communicating scientific information to the public. It's a credit to his professionalism.


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June 28, 2020

Broadcasting Podcast: Do I look like a manager to you?

What implicit assumptions are you carrying in your head? How do the faulty ones keep people from being treated with dignity?




June 29, 2020

News Why should we still care about NATO?

Even if you think all mutual-aid circumstances are in the past (and they aren't), think of NATO like an alumni association. We may have "graduated" from the Cold War, but it sure doesn't hurt if we wear our team colors, tailgate together, and renew offers to help each other out. Alliances require continuing commitment and renewal, but if they're truly mutualistic, then they don't cost any more than going alone.

Health A pandemic-capable flu may be emerging in China

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it's that any problem we think is 6 months away we should treat like it's 6 weeks away. If the worst case were to come true, then what should we be doing about it?

Threats and Hazards The freedom of Hong Kong may be over

A journalist asks, "Do you remember that feeling of lightness when crossing from the Mainland into Hong Kong"? "Remember", as in: In the past and no longer.

Business and Finance Don't be coy about hiring salaries

It seems not only like a pointless power play for an employer to hide the pay range for a position, but it's well worth noting that the practice has consequences for equity, too. Prospective employees deserve to know up-front whether they will be compensated adequately and fairly, not just according to their self-perceived ability to demand more.

The United States of America The plans of 1956 still shape our world in 2020

We rarely appreciate just how much the original map of the Eisenhower Interstate System shapes how we think about distance. As the crow flies, it's about the same distance from Des Moines to either St. Louis or St. Paul. But since the Twin Cities are just up I-35, they seem close -- while St. Louis is like another country.




June 30, 2020

Threats and Hazards China sweeps in to rule Hong Kong by intimidation

Per the New York Times: "Ambiguously worded offenses of separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment." A prominent activist called it "End of Hong Kong, Beginning of Reign of Terror". ■ The urgency with which the mainland Chinese Communist Party imposed the new rules reveals that the reputation they have for "long-term thinking" is entirely untrue. Enlightened leaders with a true long-term vision would have reconciled the differences between the two systems by liberalizing the mainland instead of constraining Hong Kong. The move is impulsive and abusive. ■ This terrible moment is why good countries need to have liberal asylum policies. Imagine being a visible pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong right now: You could face closed-door trials, life imprisonment, or expulsion. The people of Hong Kong plainly deserve better than this. Their autonomy is gone, as is really any sense of self-government. ■ China's central government is repulsed by the idea of individual dignity. In the short term, their new rules may keep the powerful in power. But in the long term, they have chosen a self-destructive path that will collapse under its own immorality. Every person is created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights. The world knows this to be true. Where that self-evident truth is denied, it is only a matter of time -- sometimes, quite a lot of it, but never forever -- before people assert the fundamental truth of their own dignity.

Health Wear a mask, but...

...don't feel like you need to screen-print it with a picture of your face. Nobody needs that.

Health Woman delivers own baby en route to Omaha hospital

From the Omaha World-Herald: "Danessia said she could feel the baby's head. Staying calm, she leaned the seat back, kicked up her legs on the dashboard and delivered the baby." If she can keep this kind of a cool head, put this woman in charge of anything. (After a well-deserved maternity leave.)

Computers and the Internet Would social media be better if users were charged by the hour?

On one hand, yes (if it meant people were disincentivized from endless scrolling). On the other hand, the only things worth seeing on Facebook are the ones that take time to write. It might work if you could disable the copy-paste function and eliminate the sharing of all memes.

Science and Technology Domestication is weird

A fox grows fond of the humans living nearby during Covid-19

News Fireworks? Only if the neighborhood agrees.

If you can keep the fire and fury inside the walls of your own home, then go nuts. If you can't, then maybe the neighbors should have some say in the matter. (Note: You can't keep the fire and fury within the walls of your home without a lot of asbestos.)


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