Gongol.com Archives: February 2021

Brian Gongol

February 2021
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February 8, 2021

Business and Finance To go public or private with a business?

Abram Pritzker counseled his family: "Any public corporation that seeks vast expansion has a conflict with shareholders, who follow the daily market and are not thinking of future gains." This advice comes to mind a lot these days -- especially with the news full of day traders battling short sellers and celebrities embracing cryptocurrency schemes.

Business and Finance What's a "Federal budget"?

It's a hilarious book published annually by a niche printing house called the GPO. It's more sad-funny than ha-ha-funny, but it sure gets a lot of critical attention.

Weather and Disasters Freezing their pants off in Duluth

Temperatures dropping to -25°F make for instant-freezing weather, or if you prefer, an "Onward" sequel missing some of the charm of the original.

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February 10, 2021

Threats and Hazards New video of the January 6th US Capitol attack

(Video) Revealed at the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump: Security footage showing just how close Vice President Mike Pence came to imminent harm. It's really quite extraordinary to see a trial being conducted at what is literally a scene of the crime. Also noteworthy: Officer Eugene Goodman didn't just lead a mob away from the Senate doors, he also quite directly rescued Sen. Mitt Romney from possible harm.

Computers and the Internet The Seinfeld-Turing Test

Sometimes, you should tweet about nothing.

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February 11, 2021

Humor and Good News The birth of the Tactical Turtleneck Caucus?

Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Peter Meijer put Twitter to good use

Humor and Good News Tag Team makes a GEICO comeback

(Video) The Mom/Dad dancing in this commercial should run on a high-digit cable channel, 24 hours a day.

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February 12, 2021

Threats and Hazards Utterly damning video of a terrorist attack

(Video) What happened at the Capitol on January 6th was nothing short of a terrorist attack

News Schedule some dedicated thinking time

Sound advice based on the practice of the just-departed George Shultz: Get a quiet "Shultz Hour" in your schedule.

Weather and Disasters It's been an active winter

Central Iowa has spent roughly as much time under some kind of winter weather advisory as not since late January

Science and Technology Three cheers for automotive engineers

A dash-cam recording from the interior of an Iowa State Patrol vehicle that gets slammed not once, but three times, serves as a healthy reminder of just how impressive modern vehicles are as feats of safety engineering. A tanker-trailer literally rolls on top of the vehicle and it still appears survivable from the interior.

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February 13, 2021

Threats and Hazards Vice President Pence's national security advisor was at the White House on January 6th

Gen. Keith Kellogg "confirmed to CNN that he was in the Oval Office with Trump and the President's children as the riot was raging, during which Pence was forced to flee the Senate chamber." This is much too important to debate just in the press. Call witnesses, place them under oath, and get them to confirm or deny under penalty of imprisonment for lying to Congress.

Humor and Good News On the mitzvah

The world would be a better place if the concept of the mitzvah were so widely known that it required no auxiliary explanation.

Humor and Good News A Valentine for every organization

Anthony Perillo: "Roses are red, This bears repeating: Not all your issues Require a meeting."

Threats and Hazards Trouble in small-town Iowa

"The investigation uncovered wrongdoing committed by the defendants, including but not limited to misappropriation of city funds, the presentation of fraudulent public records, deploying a Taser against a civilian in exchange for cash..."

Broadcasting "Next on TCM"

Someone has programmed a bot to automatically tweet the summary of every movie to come on TCM, one hour in advance. The fact this is a fan page and not an official TCM house account is completely baffling. Every television and radio signal worth its salt ought to have a dedicated feed like this.

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February 14, 2021

Business and Finance Know your (economy's) worth

Warren Buffett once said, "There is next to nothing in business textbooks about valuing businesses. But making it look hard makes the high priests of finance get rich." That's what makes times like these a bit precarious -- the stock market is on fire, but it's very difficult to see whether it's been properly valued. The difference between value and price is what makes all the difference.

Humor and Good News Should houses come with "conversation pits"?

But where are the USB outlets so everyone can plug in their phones and ignore one another?

Weather and Disasters America takes a snow day

A new record for land area under winter storm warnings

Humor and Good News Everyone can use a good redemption story

How a woman turned herself around after being a teenage criminal who robbed her own family

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February 15, 2021

Health Chicago churches take up the wellness of their communities

Some really important lessons here in how churches can play a role in saving lives, not just addressing the disposition of souls

News Lessons are everywhere

That's the point of a truly liberal education: To see how everything fits together, often unexpectedly.

News Cousins of Rep. Adam Kinzinger declare him a "disappointment" and part of the "devil's army"

All because he criticized the former President they idolize. If your partisan allegiances cause you to disown your family members like this, then there's a good chance you've become a cultist.

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February 16, 2021

News A neighbor straight out of nightmares

A man took up squatting in a condominium with shared walls -- and then proceeded to do things like breaking through those walls with hammers. Stories like this one make it far more interesting to look at issues like zoning -- especially for novel approaches to higher-density single-family construction than what is presently allowed in most of the US. Zoning rules often make it hard to affordably own standalone urban property without shared walls, and that's a major failure.

Science and Technology The content isn't too smart; the communicator just isn't very good

"Many learned people seem to feel that the quality of readableness in a book is one which warrants suspicion. Indeed, not a few learned people seem to feel that the fact that a book is interesting is proof that it is shallow." - Theodore Roosevelt

Business and Finance Berkshire Hathaway buys a big stake in Verizon

Berkshire effectively purchased an $8 billion utility company and is trusting someone else to manage it.

Weather and Disasters Temperatures drop below zero all the way south into Texas

Basically the entire middle of the country is 30 to 40 degrees below freezing


February 17, 2021

Weather and Disasters Temperature plunge breaks Houston's water system

The city can't keep up adequate pressure (apparently because the system uses no elevated storage tanks), so everyone's under a boil order. This is a giant water-infrastructure catastrophe in one of America's largest cities. ■ Water service is one of those things people routinely take for granted, but you miss it terribly when it's gone. It can be extremely reliable virtually all of the time for a price -- but there's an additional cost that must be paid if you want to be sure that it is completely reliable all of the time. And the costs involved may come from unexpected places: It's also well worth noting that the essentiality of a particular worker often has nothing to do with their pay grade. The critical path to getting things done often travels through someone who doesn't have much status but holds a particular technical skill. Communities have to invest in both people and equipment if they want total, unreserved, no-exceptions reliability.

News In 2021, a Cheney is far more popular with Democrats than Republicans

Our politics have gone full-tilt monster raving loony

News Popeye's enters the fish-sandwich game

Competition will improve the fast-food fish sandwich. Consumers benefit from variety. But why, pray tell, do we Americans fail to execute on basic fish takeout, mastered long ago by the Irish and English?

Humor and Good News When siblings harmonize

(Video) The moment when talented siblings harmonize is the absolute peak moment for frisson -- the sensation of chills going down your spine. You cannot duplicate the same effect with unrelated singers -- there's just something beyond duplication produced by vocal cords that come from tightly-knit bloodlines. You can hear it when the Wilson sisters nail the harmony in "Alone", or when Klara and Johanna Soderberg do the same in "My Silver Lining".


February 18, 2021

Threats and Hazards "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren"

Dwight Eisenhower's words echo today. He was speaking of overspending, of course, but there's something similar (and complementary) to be said about paying for the necessary maintenance of our material assets. Sporadic flurries of spending on roads and bridges do not make for real infrastructure "investment".

Computers and the Internet Why are news sites so user-unfriendly?

They still haven't figured out a way to let people pay for a reciprocal pass, so that if you're a subscriber to one or two local newspapers, you don't hit a paywall at every other one. Practically every local zoo and aquarium has figured this out. It's really not that hard.

Weather and Disasters Most people are trying to do the right thing

Alert snowplow driver rescues little boy wandering away from home in dangerous cold

News Want to see the word "meanwhile" used like a sword?

In a tweet about Sen. Ted Cruz's mid-disaster trip to Mexico, the Houston-area Fox affiliate said "Sen. Ted Cruz flew to Cancun with his family amid a crisis in Texas, FOX News confirmed. Meanwhile, half a million Texans remain without power and at least 20 people have died."

Weather and Disasters Icebreaking on the Chicago River

This looks like way more fun than almost any other job in public works.

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February 19, 2021

Computers and the Internet The biggest American university you may not have heard of

Western Governors University awarded 47,000 degrees in 2020. WGU is absolutely the model for higher education for life-cycle learning: Classes are delivered asynchronously online, so the only thing that really matters is the motivation of the learner. The entire university is built around a model of student success -- from top to bottom, everything is conducted with a focus on getting students through bachelor's and master's degrees with the least friction (and lowest out-of-pocket cost) possible.

Threats and Hazards A warning on weaponry

Ryan Evans: "[L]ong ago guns took on the status of religious iconography on parts of the right. The logical outcome of this is still unfolding." A gun, properly used, is a tool. So it's useful to ask how she would look displaying other tools in the same way as one member of Congress just did in a videoconferenced hearing -- carelessly and conspicuously. What would we think of someone displaying knives like this? Or animal traps? Or hammers? It wouldn't look good.

Humor and Good News The strength of kindness

Mercy is a privilege of the strong -- it shows real strength to be merciful. Those who can't find it in themselves to show mercy are, more often than not, overcompensating for weakness. Kindness reveals self-control. It also reveals the ability to empathize with others. These two things, together, show that a person's character is three-dimensional -- it reaches both inward and outward.

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February 20, 2021

Weather and Disasters Magnificent winter weather photography

Crisp blues and whites and lots of sharp edges in these pictures from Lake Superior

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February 21, 2021

Science and Technology Does the trolley problem really apply to self-driving cars?

MIT Technology Review promoted a story with the clickbaity comment "Who should a self-driving car kill?". It's certainly fair to have a broad debate about how to empower computers to address complex decisions, and it's important to realize that there are cultural assumptions about those decisions that may lead to different answers depending upon who's doing the programming. But it's also important to avoid getting too wrapped up in the most granular of decisions when it comes to matters like the safety of autonomous vehicles. There are usually better answers available than strict binary choices -- like jumping a curb sometimes.

News "Obsessive views and brittle temperaments"

"Obsessive views and brittle temperaments", as Kieran Healy describes it, is an elegant filter. It captures a lot of people who quite often have interesting things to say, but to whom the conscientious reader does not owe undivided attention nor unswerving loyalty. The obsessiveness and brittleness aren't exclusive provinces of the left nor of the right -- we see plenty of them from people of all stripes.

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February 22, 2021

Business and Finance The reckless vicissitudes of Bitcoin prices

Market-watchers chalk it up to bad press from one negative Elon Musk tweet. The following question is a simple one. In fact, it's the essential one behind all investing: What is the intrinsic value of Bitcoin? Unless you can confidently answer that question, its market price has no real meaning at all. You must have a sense for what something is actually worth before you can decide what price you're willing to pay for it.


February 23, 2021

Science and Technology The technological evolution of work

One stable fact about change: The jobs themselves will change, but the problem sets we uncover are extremely good at filling the voids and putting people to work doing new things.

News Daft Punk disbands

(Video) The Los Angeles Times does a pretty good job of covering the essential Daft Punk tracks you ought to know, but it skips their underappreciated seminal track: "Digital Love", which triggers the mental picture of an 80s sitcom.

Broadcasting A worthy debate: Who's the central cast on TV?

Noah Smith argues that "media in the 80s and 90s tended to focus a whole lot on working-class people", while RJ Lehmann counters with a long list of shows about rich people. Many of the best-remembered sitcoms of the 1980s were explicitly about what we'd now call creative-class households -- "The Cosby Show", "Too Close for Comfort", "Growing Pains", "Family Ties", and even "Benson". That's what made "Roseanne" and "Married With Children" so unusual: They explicitly rejected the kinds of bourgeoise norms so often seen elsewhere, even when a show wasn't notionally about the professional class. The 1970s may have been more fertile ground for that "working-class" aesthetic. One can even find evidence of a sort of transitional phase in the very late 1970s, when shows like "CHiPs" and "Emergency!" centered on high-status working-class occupations.

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February 24, 2021

Health Another Covid-19 vaccine is coming

And the best news is that the new Johson & Johnson vaccine can be delivered in just one dose. In terms of deployment, adding one new single-dose vaccine is like getting two new dual-dose vaccines. This is great news.

Threats and Hazards China's governing regime is a threat

Aspiring global superpower uses state-controlled media to make big, whiny deal out of trivial editorial mistake. World reminded that same regime often imprisons and threatens journalists, commentators, and dissidents. Not even for being wrong, just for nonconformity.

News Kids, in a nutshell

Parenting often consists of cultivating a sense of contrarianism that you want your kid to apply to everyone -- except you, the parent.


February 25, 2021

Threats and Hazards Terrorism on January 6th; continued terrorist threats today

The acting chief of the US Capitol Police testifies that "members of the militia groups that were present on January 6th have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible". Prosecute everyone who espouses this desire. They are terrorists.

Computers and the Internet Twitter tentatively plans "Super Followers" option

The deal would permit users to charge for premium access to tweets. Putting aside that "Super Followers" should be "Super Readers" instead, this is an idea that probably isn't going much of anywhere. However, it could be a great way to uncover the spot prices for really hot takes.


February 27, 2021

The United States of America Warren Buffett retains faith in the state of the country

From the newly-released letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders: "[W]e retain our constitutional aspiration of becoming 'a more perfect union.' Progress on that front has been slow, uneven and often discouraging. We have, however, moved forward and will continue to do so."

Humor and Good News The world gets better when caregiving isn't a gender-specific duty

Melinda Gates: "When men develop their nurturing side, it doubles the number of capable caregivers. It helps men build strong bonds with their children that bring joy and last a lifetime. And it helps both men and women develop a wider range of their abilities."

Humor and Good News Should pizza be adorned with Froot Loops?

Fong's Pizza of Des Moines has stepped right into the line of fire by putting Froot Loops on a novelty pizza. Get mad about it if you want to, but just know this: There is but one style of pizza, and its name is deep-dish. Nothing else violates the law of "pizza" because everything else is just toppings on a cracker. In the name of Lou Malnati, amen.

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February 28, 2021

The United States of America Should immigrants be pointed towards shrinking counties?

An intriguing proposal: Considering that we have a great number of counties across the United States that are experiencing population decline (especially among the working-age populations), should the national immigration strategy include an aspect of targeted population growth? That is, should we open up a pathway for people to get special visas, so long as they move to the counties where population decline is becoming a problem? There's a whole lot about the idea that makes sense, especially if it's voluntary for both visa-holders and the communities who would benefit.

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