Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 28, 2016
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
The flood of money available to real-estate speculation has incentivized the construction of some super-tall towers in New York City. People around the world are looking for investments and finding little that seems attractive, so it's spurred a bubble in skyscrapers. And, regrettably from a visual-aesthetic standpoint, the availability of materials that permit very tall, very narrow buildings is making that the design of choice for some of these new projects. These big, inelegant towers aren't remotely as appealing to the eye as the classic tapered skyscrapers designed to suit setback requirements.
They're going to borrow $12 billion to buy back stock at interest rates starting at 1.3% for one year and rising to 4.65% for 30 years. It's a little nuts to try to forecast Apple's market position 30 years from now -- remember that 31 years ago, Steve Jobs was fired, and he was reinstated at the company just 19 years ago. But in the short term, borrowing money at 1.3% in order to consolidate the ownership position of existing stockholders is pretty sound policy.
Boris Johnson is a politician with real star power, so this could make things complicated since his own party's leadership is campaigning to stay in. Johnson is a role model for politicians in at least one way: He writes a weekly column for a major newspaper, which is where he announced his opposition to remaining. Imagine how much better-off we all would be if our elected officials were all expected to be thoughtful and regular writers. The act of writing forces a person to clarify their own thinking -- and seeing who can write and elucidate their thoughts clearly, as opposed to who cannot, would be a valuable tool for voters.
The other day, I posted a comment on Twitter:
If you think people are cynical now, imagine how fed up they'd be if Trump got elected. Virtually zero of his promises are deliverable.
A friend of mine replied:
if there is a will there is a way, we wouldn't be anywhere if we followed all those that say it can't be done! Raise the bar...
Now, he's totally right about that in theory. Many great things have looked impossible but were overcome by optimism and the force of great thinking.
But where I differ with my friend is that I think that kind of optimism about what can be done is only really applicable to constructive pursuits.
Donald Trump isn't proposing "to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon". Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is promising the Moon and the stars, but not telling anyone how he would get there.
Process matters. I don't believe in magic, and I don't believe you should, either. So we are obligated to ask: "What's the plan?" Margaret Thatcher met with the leaders of the Solidarity movement while they were still under Communist rule. She told them, "How do you see the process from where you are now to where you want to be? Because whatever you want to do, it's not only what you want to do, but how -- the practical way you see it coming about." If that was a line of argument worth taking to people with lofty intentions and a whole lot of moral cause behind them, then it's undoubtedly worth taking to everyone else.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this is that some of the promises being made -- by Trump and Sanders, especially -- are guaranteed to make things worse, not better, for their enthusiasts.
Tin Foil Hat Award
It's time to stop celebrating ignorance. As Ben Franklin said, "Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn."
Relitigating the Civil War may be one of the stupidest pursuits out there. Trump's only philosophical loyalty is to expediency, and that appears to be attracting some pretty shameful political bedfellows. It's also creating friction with our friendly neighbor, Mexico, where a former president has flatly rejected the idea that a Trump administration could somehow force Mexico to build and pay for a border wall.
You can't build a coalition around an extremist-leaning populist movement that lacks a philosophical core
Yay Capitalism Prize
Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are hoping the second-generation spacecraft will get them on track again to offer private space flight
Also interesting this week
Innovation prizes are a great way to induce progress using market-friendly thinking, and using them to find ways to make capitalism itself work better is like a double helping of good thinking.
Technology has a role to play, but anyone who thinks there's some kind of magic that can be performed just by flipping some kind of switch is bound to be disappointed. Technology can make the job of fighting terrorism both easier and harder at the same time.
Especially by the people who are inclined to agree with them. It's probably a greater service to the world to keep your own team honest than to bark across the aisle (though that has its own merits, too). Fortunately, some people are calling out some of the more egregious examples in the 2016 Presidential campaign right now.
American companies are thought to have lost $2 billion in the last year from fraud involving spoofed messages that appeared to come from the CEO
Facebook can only really grow if the billions of people who don't have reliable Internet access become Internet users and join the site, so the company has a vested interest in expanding Internet access all over the world. In order to do that efficiently, they need to know where the people are. Thus the company is working on taking artificial intelligence and applying it to known data about the world (like satellite imagery) to come up with much more granular detail about where people can be found. They're having the Earth Institute at Columbia University review the data for quality, and Facebook then says it will make the data available on an open-source basis later this year. Facebook estimates that about 3 billion people worldwide have Internet access, and 4 billion don't. The population maps are mainly useful to Facebook when seeking to decide where to use wireless hotspots, where to use cellular-type service, and where they might have to turn to satellites or UAVs to deliver connectivity. It's estimated right now that 95% of the world's population is within reach of mobile phone service, but if those estimates are based on faulty data, then it may impede the necessary infrastructure investments to expand access. That's where better population-density mapping has a role to play. Of course, the research is being done with Facebook's private benefit in mind, but the spillover benefits from better mapping have the potential to do a lot of social good, like aiding in disaster planning and recovery.
Mercedes is replacing robots in some of its plants with human workers, because it's easier to give a person detailed instructions than it is to reprogram the robots. Mercedes is trying to deliver more customized vehicles right off the assembly line, and people are their most efficient choice for now. This is actually a lesson learned long ago by Honda, which emphasizes the value of using people to do work because people can improve and innovate while automation cannot. There's a role for both, of course. We're better off when machines augment or supplement human work, labor, and thinking.
It's a lonely place for the women
He seems surprisingly uninspired by the idea of big inducement/innovation prizes to advance the subject, but perhaps they're just icing on the cake to a much larger market anyway
What medical science can do to save tiny lives is awesome
Wyoming, West Virginia, Alaska, and North Dakota are in recession, according to Moody's Analytics
We don't need a strongman who bullies his rivals
The exceptional capitalist says the socialist candidate is right about one thing: It's bad for society to have a lot of people who are kept downtrodden. Koch, of course, differs strongly with Sanders about exactly how to fix that problem -- but that's why it's long past time to find advocates to speak up more openly about the many capitalist solutions that are available to us. Denying that problems exist isn't the way forward: Acknowledging that they do exist, and finding solutions that fit within a thoughtful and sustainable framework is.
Broadly speaking, the idea of police-worn body cameras is attractive. Eyewitness testimony is utterly unreliable, even when it comes from trained witnesses like the police -- so the more actual documentary evidence we have from crime scenes and contested events, the better for justice. But it's not an idea without consequences and drawbacks: Someone has to be responsible for acting as custodian of the video evidence, and that's an area where some police departments have played games when seeking to protect their own when their own have done wrong. Moreover, there are complicated matters of access to the documentary evidence (and whether it becomes public record) as well as questions of civilian privacy (especially for children caught up in events, situations of domestic violence and abuse, and access to police informants) that require thoughtful policies and oversight.
Capitalist solution of the week
Quote of the Week
- Podcast of this episode - segment 1 (The government doesn't need to regulate the size of airline seats)
- Podcast of this episode - segment 2 (Promises mean nothing without a plan)
- Podcast of this episode - segment 3 (Low interest rates are creating ugly architecture)
- Podcast of this episode - segment 4 (Apple is borrowing cheap to buy back stock)
- Official station page for this episode (forthcoming)