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December 7, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "How to Win at the Sport of Business", by Mark Cuban

It's no Harvard Business School case study, but most readers will gain something from the text

December 6, 2017

Aviation News Cathay Pacific pilots think they saw North Korea's latest missile

This, naturally, could render the airspace in the region much too dangerous for passenger safety

News Attorney-client privilege is different from invoking the Fifth Amendment

The President's son won't talk freely to the House of Representatives because he claims a conversation with his father is protected by attorney-client privilege (because lawyers were in the room). That's not really how attorney-client privilege works, and it's not the same as invoking the Fifth Amendment...which is probably closer to the protection he's looking for.

Weather and Disasters Dramatic photos from the fires around Los Angeles

Massive fires in southern California -- including one that's almost as large as the Des Moines metro area

Science and Technology Lyft to pilot-test self-driving cars around Boston

PRO: Self-driving cars virtually eliminate human error, which causes 90% of accidents. ANTI: Americans in self-driving cars are likely to spend more time on the Internet, which causes 90% of stupid ideas.

Aviation News Electric-powered airplanes are happening

The Economist: "Dozens of firms are working on electrically powered planes of all shapes and sizes." Hybrid power systems will come first, but all-electric models aren't inconceivable. The advantages are substantial: Higher efficiency, fewer moving parts, reduced noise, and radically lessened air pollution.

Science and Technology Don't be surprised to see a lot more truck platoons in the future

Over-the-road trucking is almost certain to see closely-packed convoys in the future of two or more trucks that travel together (with the help of automation) in order to reduce wind drag. A 10% increase in fuel efficiency is a mighty reward.

News Isn't a "landscraper" just a long, low office building?

Google's new London offices will be more than 1,000 feet long, but only a few stories high. Why that qualifies it for a special name like "landscraper" is up to question.

December 5, 2017

The United States of America Of course a President may be guilty of obstructing justice

The preposterous argument advanced by President Trump's personal attorney, that a President "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under and has every right to express his view of any case", is preposterous in that it elevates the President to the status of a sovereign, rather than a co-equal citizen. The Queen of England, for instance, doesn't have a passport because all British passports are issued in the name of the Queen (as sovereign). The President of the United States carries a diplomatic passport, like thousands of other people, because the President is a co-equal citizen. He does not rise above the law just because he is charged with enforcing it; if anything, he is unusually subject to the law, since many laws are applicable to the actions of the officeholder which are not applicable to those of a citizen not in office. That anyone on the President's legal team would suggest that he is less subject to legal scrutiny as a consequence of his office is abhorrent.

Threats and Hazards The situation in Yemen, somehow, is actually getting worse

The former president has been killed after switching sides in the war, and famine there is getting worse. This is a problem that starts with human failure.

Business and Finance Ontario is experimenting with a basic income

There are strong arguments both for and against the universal basic income (UBI) in theory, which makes it a good subject for practical testing and further study. It might prove to be a great tool for eliminating red tape and freeing people to make choices to enhance their long-term welfare, or it could just be a socialist catastrophe. Experiments like this are going to tell us a lot that is worth knowing.

Business and Finance GE's chief executive asks existential questions

He's literally found himself asking, "Why do we exist?" GE is prominent in this regard, but not unusual: We've had a shortage of pro-institutional thinking as a country for a while now, which has contributed to institutional weakness in all kinds of areas -- from our hollowed-out political parties to the decline of important businesses to the weakness of cultural and educational institutions. A lot more pro-institutional thinking is needed.

News 2018 Winter Olympics won't feature a Russian team

A dramatic move to ban an entire country (and ordinarily a major contender) from the games over "systematic manipulation" of rules against performance enhancements. It's imporant that the Olympics be conducted according to rules -- but it's also not a great thing for the world overall that these particular games will be so prominently fractured. In too many ways, forces are trying to pull the world apart instead of taking advantage of ever-greater connectedness. Vladimir Putin is, regrettably, a champion of pulling apart -- as is Donald Trump.

News Tough questions for sensible Republicans

Tom Nichols asks, "[D]o we finally just abandon the party to loons, or do we stay to try to anchor the party if there's any chance of recovery?" One answer: A political party is a machine for doing things, composed of many factions. The "sane" faction (the conventional center-right) ought to adopt a name, an identity, and a statement of principles -- and fight back, hard.

News How China and India are competing in an arms race of infrastructure

If you can read the story and still conclude that the US needs to radically cut back on the State Department and other forms of global engagement, then you ought to read more history.

The United States of America Happy 84th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition

A reminder that government sometimes does stupid things, and that when it does, the best thing we can do is act swiftly to fix our mistakes.

December 4, 2017

The United States of America "No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor"

Mitt Romney, speaking out with clarity on the candidacy of Roy Moore and its corrosive effects on the Republican Party. No person so disgraceful in his personal conduct as Moore ought to be making grave decisions in the Senate.

The United States of America Will the vital center of conservatism hold?

The core of thoughtful American conservatism is a belief that we should be defined by what we think people (and a nation) should strive to be. That's different from defining ourselves by our grievances or by our wants. It's a belief structure under heavy assault, as populists define themselves by everything they resent (like immigration, trade, and change) and the left defines itself largely by what it wants government to give away.

News The age of hyperbole?

Words like "fundamentally", "extreme", and "most" are getting at least ten times the use they should.

Business and Finance CVS wants to buy Aetna

When the drugstore chain owns the insurance company, is that going to result in efficiencies from vertical integration -- or pricing abuse?

Business and Finance New life at old Sears warehouses

Relics of a previous retail transition (in the 1920s) are being put to new use in the 21st Century. As the article notes: "In the 1920s, Sears had its own formula for adapting to an urbanizing, upwardly mobile population. Robert Wood joined the company as chief executive in 1925, and immediately re-focused the mail-order behemoth on brick-and-mortar stores." Urbanization is nothing new, nor is retail turmoil.

News Iconic designer Ivan Chermayeff has died

One of the most influential graphic designers in modern American history

December 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Running like prey

The more our foreign policy is driven by reaction to smaller countries misbehaving, rather than by a strategic view of the world as we want it to be, the weaker the United States becomes. To think only (and obsessively) about every possible threat around you is the instinctive behavior of the weakest prey in the food chain. We ought to be much more evolved than this.

Threats and Hazards China's state-controlled media loves President Trump's antipathy towards CNN and others

Words matter. Ideas have consequences. And the world isn't about to spontaneously order itself around the classical values of human liberty without some help and leadership. The President ought to show that leadership instead of playing right into the hands of authoritarians.

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December 2, 2017

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 2, 2017

Purging bad behavior, retail apocalypse, and what's needed beyond tax reform

November 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards British prime minister rebukes American President for stupid tweeting

This is really an awful state of affairs -- wherein the head of the Article II branch of the United States government shows neither the self-awareness nor the impulse control to keep himself from stoking the fires of false and misleading representations of the world, to the extent that he causes real and meaningful international harm in the process.

News What cities offered Amazon to entice HQ2

Some of the offers have leaked out, and they're scarcely above the level of municipal prostitution. If one takes it as a given that HQ2 will be built somewhere in the United States, then massive subsidies on the part of some local and/or state government in order to "incentivize" its construction represent a net transfer from the public to a private company, at no net gain to the welfare of the country at large.

News A lonely voice among Democrats, arguing that anti-Trumpism isn't enough

With Democratic fundraising events being headlined by people who think their 2016 shortcoming was that "We just didn't work hard enough", the party needs badly to realize that it has to capture voters who are persuadable -- and they're likely to be found toward the center of the political spectrum (or map, as one might see it). "Working harder" isn't always the answer.

Science and Technology Holographic dead rock stars on tour

Elvis doesn't have to be alive to still be in the building. It's really very weird to think that a holographic singer is something people are willing to pay to see, but there's no accounting for tastes and preferences.

Broadcasting NBC renews "The Good Place" for a third season

Normally, a show renewal isn't noteworthy -- but "The Good Place" is unapologetically philosophical. It's good and entertaining television in its own right, but it makes no excuses for actually exploring big matters of morality. Quite unusual for major-network broadcast television.

News Many more changes coming to Wrigley Field

Renovations are ongoing and involve removing a whole lot of seats for a while

November 29, 2017

News Time should change the "Person of the Year" title

Time Magazine should long ago have clarified that the "Person of the Year" citation isn't an award to be won by changing the name to "Newsmaker of the Year". The fact they haven't made the change is a colossal unforced error that only plays right into the hands of President Trump, who is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he took a press event to honor the Navajo Code-Talkers and turned it into a reckless display of insensitivity. In fact, he remains the leading newsmaker of the year -- but also in fact, no responsible organization in the world would nominate him as the most laudable person or character-driven leader in the world today. Time Magazine, it's time to change the name of your award. Either name the newsmaker of the year, or name the person of the year. One gets credit for commanding attention. The other ought to command respect.

Iowa Meredith purchase of Time Inc. could boost Des Moines

Creative talent will stay at Time in New York, but the Meredith CEO says a lot of support staff will move to Iowa

News Roadblock to Brexit: The Irish/Northern Irish border

So, paradoxically, Britain's past as an expansionist/imperialist state is standing in the way of its ability today to secede from a different political project. It's an incredibly messy situation.

Business and Finance Most of Great Britain is less productive than most of old East Germany

And the old East Germany is much less productive than the old West Germany. Very important for the future of any country's economy.

News No whining

Kat Timpf: "It suggests that President Trump does not understand that his role is to be a servant for the people of the United States -- of all of the people, whether they (or their fathers) like him or not."

News Missive: Welcome to Bizarro-World

Some recent updates

November 28, 2017

Science and Technology Sweden's innovative way of improving road safety

Laudable: "[L]et's create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system." They've decided that it's better to look at the root causes of accidents than to hope they can fix human beings. This is the way a lot of professions ought to operate -- build better systems instead of forever hoping that human beings can be perfected.

Business and Finance On the value of economic historians

Every profession, trade, or craft needs to know from whence it came. Economics is perhaps in need of this more than most, since it's such a constructive field with such a (relatively) short history as a science.

News Parents all over the world spend more time with their kids now than in the past

Labor-saving devices in and around the home probably play at least a partial role. Will new ones on the horizon create even more family-based leisure time?

Iowa It's fun to have limited competition

Iowa doesn't have a whole lot of big highway contractors

News Why Chile is so long and narrow

History has left some weird results in its wake

November 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 400,000 tweets about Scottish independence came from fake accounts

No surprise: Russia looks to have been behind most of them. The age of memetic warfare is here, and to not recognize that is as stupid as to not recognize tanks rolling across a border.

News Secret Service recollections of the Kennedy assassination

An event that has long since entered the realm of myth is one that happened to real people -- some of whom are still alive. Interesting to read the recollections of one of the men closest to the event.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds killed at a house of worship

At least 235 people were murdered in Egypt as they gathered to pray.

Health If you're going to need CPR, need it in public (and be a man)

Study finds that people are more likely to get CPR in public than at home, and that men are much more likely to get CPR than women. That's really important information, and certainly gives the public-health sector something to do.

News What comes first?

Most obituaries identify a person's place within a family. Your co-workers and your government aren't your survivors. Life ought to be organized accordingly.

News "We do not seek to confront anyone."

Margaret Thatcher's words from 1979 bear remarkable timeliness today: "We do not seek to confront anyone. The world is too small and precarious a place for that. We and the Communist world share a common interest in the avoidance of war, and in the development of trade and commerce. We long for the freer movement of people and ideas."

November 23, 2017

News Rwanda offers to take in 30,000 refugees

Appalled by the news that slave auctions are taking place right now in Libya, a small country with a modern history of genocide is trying to atone for its past by stretching to protect human rights today.

Humor and Good News An antidote to the apocalyptic drumbeat

It's hard to get away from the world of bad news, but a story about a woman who volunteers to hold sick kids in the hospital is a decent antidote.

Threats and Hazards Just what is going on here?

Was the idea of running for President part of a big quid pro quo between Donald Trump and people he needed in Russia? An extraordinary claim, for sure -- demanding equally extraordinary evidence.

Science and Technology Does an author have to be a human?

Does artificial intelligence have a claim to copyright? Does the person who created the AI have the right to what it produces? Per the Constitution, intellectual property protections exist "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". If AI is strictly a tool, then the creator of the AI has no more right to its output than the maker of a pen has a right to what someone writes with it. This may seem like an issue for sci-fi, but computers can already generate original music at the click of a mouse and some news organizations already use AI to write news stories. The sooner we start to wrap our brains around the issue, the better. Computers are not only here to stay, they're going to end up doing a lot of things most of us never expected.

The United States of America Thanksgiving: A symbolically appropriate day to try something in honor of American Indians

Also, a really appropriate day to give to the American Indian College Fund

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November 22, 2017

Computers and the Internet The party of limited government needs to get behind technology in the public sector

(Video) A compelling argument advanced by Kristen Soltis Anderson in conversation with Bill Kristol

Computers and the Internet Uber was hacked last year for data on 57 million accounts

That they paid the attackers and didn't disclose the breach until just now is not a good sign for them

Science and Technology The world is radically more electrified than it was 25 years ago

It would be hard to overstate just how important electrification in the home really is for human development. Food refrigeration alone is revolutionary.

Business and Finance A big gap between economic performance in big cities and small towns

When you see big macroeconomic stats, remember that they aggregate the experiences of 325 million Americans. What's happening to us on the neighborhood level varies widely. This has deep meaning for a bevy of public policy issues, from education to infrastructure.

Socialism Doesn't Work Video of a defecctor escaping North Korea should give each of us a start

The desire for freedom clearly represents something deep within human beings

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

October 27, 2017

News First criminal charges from Mueller probe about to arrive

CNN reports that a grand jury has approved charges resulting from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and someone is likely to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

News Almost 2,900 records released on JFK assassination

The National Archives says this is pretty much it for the files that had been kept secret up until now

Business and Finance What if tight zoning regulations in some cities benefits others?

An interesting argument that tough zoning ordinances in some major cities actually has a very positive effect for other places that don't have similar rules -- which dampens the clustering effect that would normally be expected to benefit some of those large cities via a rich-get-richer feedback loop.

Business and Finance A hypothesis on American manufacturing

Why don't we have as heavily industrial an economy as, say, Germany? One argument is that the American economy is so dynamic that skilled people get drawn into post-industrial jobs at a much higher rate here than there, creating a high hurdle for industrial jobs to compete against.

News Massachusetts girl has best score in golf tournament, but doesn't get the trophy

Because she was playing on a boys' team. Seems like a peculiar way to structure things.

October 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Until further notice, he occupies the commanding heights of the GOP"

Rich Lowry sees the future of the Republican Party heavily ballasted towards a Trumpite populism.

Threats and Hazards "Democrats in Denial"

The party seems, at an organizational level, not to understand that the harder they chase delusional goals, the less prepared they will be to provide an effective opposition. As Damon Linker writes, "Democrats need political power, and they can only get it if they win more votes."

Computers and the Internet How Twitter intends to flag political advertising

Some transparency in this regard will probably be helpful, but what about the bots and the troll farms?

News If you get something for free, maybe you're the product

A report from the Financial Times documents China's "United Front Work Department", which the Communist Party there is using to project its soft power into geographies it doesn't fully control, areas of social life where dissent might pop up, and the politics of foreign countries.

News Urbanization is a global phenomenon

More than 60% of all startups in India are located in three metro areas. Urbanization has a wide range of substantial and durable effects, and we need to start thinking hard about a world where a majority of the entire global population lives in cities. We're already at 54% urban worldwide and rising fast.

October 25, 2017

The United States of America "Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us"

Senator Jeff Flake declares his political independence and his intention to leave after his term expires

The United States of America Pew names eight "typologies" of American voters

It's a little too binary and probably too clever by half. Yes, a lot of people share common beliefs, and they could probably be grouped into something like a dozen clusters. But the pure left-to-right spectrum doesn't really make sense anymore, if it ever did.

Computers and the Internet Fake Facebook accounts -- and why you get friend requests from them

Once a new account gets past Facebook's initial screening process, it becomes a valuable commodity

Business and Finance Is Amazon coming next for the banking sector?

Amazon has already smashed a lot of the retail sector, and if it's driven to keep growing, it could very well start extending its reach into peripheral industries (including banking).

Computers and the Internet Information warfare and free elections

CNN says Cambridge Analytica (which played a major role in the Trump campaign) sought out data potentially hacked from the Clinton computer systems via Wikileaks. The more data-driven campaign targeting and dirty cyber-tricks start to overlap, the greater the risk that people may be driven to really bad decisions at the ballot box. Influence campaigns are nothing new -- the Founders worried about foreign influences on campaigns -- but the removal of mediating institutions (like edited publications) from the chain going from source to destination probably serves to amplify the effects.

October 24, 2017

Computers and the Internet We're a long way from "I Like Ike"

Walter Shapiro: "Even without deliberate foreign interference, it is dangerous for politics to be conducted in an arena potentially free of all public scrutiny. In theory, it is now possible for political campaigns to tailor individualized messages to every voter in America." Technology itself is almost always value-neutral; whether it is good or bad depends upon the hands in which it is placed. And if we're not thinking about making better people, we shouldn't be surprised if the technology is used for bad purposes.


Jennifer Rubin writes: "[I]f we collectively decide we want more government (or the government we want costs more for the foreseeable future) we should pay for it, not fob it off on the next generation." Letting tax "cuts" become the cart that drives the horse has become a big mistake: The management of tax rates as an economic-growth management tool is really just a warmed-over version of Keynesianism. Instead, we should decide what we want from government, limit those wants, and pay for it.

Socialism Doesn't Work President Xi's ideology is now Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy

Reports the Economist: "The person has become the party in a way China has not seen since Mao."

News The military should have to answer questions when Americans die in service

"[O]ne fundamental part of honoring the sacrifice of servicemembers is understanding why they were put at risk, and demanding that those who did so hold themselves to account.

Business and Finance Chicagoland offers some $2 billion in incentives to get Amazon HQ2

A billion and a half in tax discounts, plus half a billion in transportation infrastructure spending, according to the Chicago Tribune.

October 12, 2017

Weather and Disasters Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, no power in most of Puerto Rico

Maybe 10% of the island has electricity. That's a humanitarian crisis, and it's happening to our fellow Americans.

Threats and Hazards Someone's pushing a 5-year sunset clause on NAFTA

That ridiculous idea, apparently being floated by American trade representatives, would undermine the very predictability that makes all the difference for businesses that make investments that employ the people that the isolationists like to pretend they're helping.

News Nixon became a drunk as Watergate unraveled his Presidency

A cautionary tale, perhaps, of what happens when the government is too dependent upon one person -- and that person isn't capable of doing the job

Computers and the Internet Facebook to reveal ad content and targeting regarding 2016 election

What did agents and tools of the Russian government try to do to influence the outcome of the election? This data might help tell -- too late.

Science and Technology Toyota is testing a fuel-cell semi tractor with zero emissions

For all we talk about developments like self-driving vehicles, dramatic changes are happening on the powertrain side of things, too

October 9, 2017

Weather and Disasters California wine country hit by explosive wildfires

Tens of thousands of acres have burned in a very short time

The United States of America What strange times

A well-known Republican explains why he's (temporarily) in alignment with his usual opponents from the Democratic Party: "The daily cascade of indignities, when considered in totality, diminish the presidency and the country so thoroughly that we should all worry he will leave them both beyond repair."

News The balance between good and evil probably hasn't changed from what it's always been

What's changed is that every act of good or evil has the potential to be amplified through modern tools, both technological and practical. And that's inevitable.

Computers and the Internet "Protecting the digital homeland"

Head of signals intelligence agency in Britain argues that cyberwarfare is as big a deal to them as spying

Computers and the Internet "160 terabits of data every second"

New undersea data cable between Virginia and Spain will move almost incomprehensible volumes of data for Facebook and Microsoft

Business and Finance IKEA plans an aggressive retail expansion

Showroom stores and sales through online outlets both come into the plan

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October 8, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."

The words of the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking about a head of state. His own. That's frightening. In particular: "He's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway." The really shocking thing about all of this is the degree to which the national conversation about the President seems to take place as if he's in the next room, and all of the competent adults need to have a whispered conversation out of earshot. It's no way to run a country.

Threats and Hazards Does the President really want to censor the press, or is he just hopelessly glib?

Either way, it's a problem that the person whose job is to lead the free world is so dismissive of the individual rights most central to our way of life that he thinks they can be either abrogated entirely or joked about recklessly. The only bright spot in this debacle is the thought that it might force sensible people to recommit themselves to the principles that matter.

Science and Technology Puerto Rico's governor opens door to Tesla to restore power

Elon Musk claims an island-wide power system "can be done for Puerto Rico" to recover from Hurricane Maria

News Chicago-area pop tax might be repealed

A penny an ounce on sweetened beverages adds up to $200 million a year in government revenues.

Computers and the Internet AOL Instant Messenger to close on December 15th

20 years -- a good enough run for a one-time cutting-edge technology?

October 7, 2017

News Don't surrender to despair after Las Vegas

Bad people are getting better at doing bad things. That doesn't mean there is truly more evil in the world.

News The danger in decoupling

Pulling away from the rest of the world -- or letting it pull itself apart -- only makes everything more dangerous

August 18, 2017

Science and Technology Who honestly thinks life was better 50 years ago?

Anybody who says things today are worse is welcome to turn in their smartphones, laptops, air bags, microwave ovens, and basically all chemotherapy drugs.

Business and Finance "Technical patterns" signaling a stock-market crash ahead?

Technical analysis is nothing more than astrology for stock-watchers.

News Short-term thinking puts long-term American interests at risk

Survey finds that a lot of military and foreign-service professionals in the Pacific think China's within 20 years of being the hegemon there

Threats and Hazards 13 killed in Barcelona terrorist attack

And Spanish police think they saved a lot more after a raid

Business and Finance Lots of management layoffs at Union Pacific

Putting a lot of white-collar talent on the market in Omaha

Health Cleaning up a broken CFL

It may be no real risk at all, but the recommended cleanup process rivals Chernobyl

August 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Why retain monuments to traitors?

The President tweets his opposition to removing Confederate statues from public display. This is a good time to re-familiarize with the drawbacks of the endowment effect. Just because we already have something doesn't mean it's valuable enough to keep. If we need monuments to keep public spaces beautiful, perhaps Rosa Parks statues would be a good substitute for those of Confederate generals.

Threats and Hazards War crimes are no solution

The President has tweeted out his endorsement of a fictitious counter-terrorism strategy. You will not find such nonsense recommended anywhere in the US military's wide range of professional reading lists.

Business and Finance A plan to revitalize the American economy

Some good ideas; others may need some work. All worth serious examination.

Threats and Hazards Don't impute motive where it does not exist

There's really no reason to think otherwise: The President is just winging it.

Aviation News What stops airlines from making seats smaller

At some point, it becomes impossible to effectively evacuate in time to stay in the good graces of the FAA

News It's getting difficult to recruit enough truck drivers

One major issue: Depending on how quickly autonomous vehicles reach the mainstream, this could be an occupational track heading into a narrow lane

Computers and the Internet A bad prescription for social media

Columnist Leonid Bershidsky correctly identifies that anonymous accounts on social media are responsible for a whole lot of bad behavior and cultural damage. But then he suggests that social-media sites "should be regulated in the same way as a TV station or a newspaper, which always knows the authors of the information it publishes." This argument is both radical and misled. The notion that government should step in to regulate social networks betrays a wildly misplaced confidence in the virtue of the regulators.

Health Scientists find a whole lot of genes that affect intelligence

The genes themselves aren't new, they're just newly-discovered. If we start to develop truly new genes...that would be a game-changer.

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August 16, 2017

News Former Presidents issue joint statement

The Presidents Bush make an easy call: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms." The statement should really be so obvious as to not even bear repeating, but the fact a sitting President struggles to make any such statement makes it necessary for his predecessors to say so. And in so doing, they exhibit an awareness of their joint legacy that escapes those who seem to think we should commemorate people on the wrong side of the Civil War. Isn't the idea that history may judge our behavior by a higher standard a fairly important tool to incentivize good behavior in the present? If your view of history is that it is static, then you're missing the point. It's not to be memorized. History must be grappled with. A compendium of names and dates is just a list. To really appreciate history is to struggle with questions of context, meaning, and choice. Sometimes, that may cause us some discomfort -- like when we have to acknowledge that the Founders were imperfect. But treating the Founding Fathers like humans rather than demigods is good for us. It says we have a duty to try to be even better than them. When we put the Founders on an untouchable pedestal, it says we are "less than" -- when in fact, we honor them most by trying to be greater. To understand their time (the Enlightenment) is to understand that they saw humanity as a work in progress, to be constantly improved upon.

Business and Finance Naming a company after yourself may correlate to higher returns

Whether it's causal or just coincidental is a different question -- but putting your name on the door might make a difference

News America's two major parties are in distress

They're factionalized to an extent we haven't seen in a long time

Threats and Hazards Kenyan police beat a baby to death over politics

The inhumanity of subjecting an innocent child to murder over adults and their politics should be incomprehensible to us all. It is most surely an abomination.

Science and Technology The merit in diversity for its own sake

Different people have different needs

News Advisory council shutdown

The President declares he's shutting down advisory councils -- after the businesspeople on the councils already quit en masse. The easier (and better) choice would have been to take responsibility for his own behavior.

News China's (expected) new vice-chair of the Central Military Commission

He appears to have been selected on merit, rather than connections. That's apparently a big change for China's military hierarchy.

August 10, 2017

The United States of America A President has no Constitutional claim to an agenda

If you expect your President to "drive the agenda", then you're doing the Constitution wrong. A timely reminder in light of the President's open heckling of the Senate Majority Leader. Let it not escape our memory that the President's authority even to veto legislation is embedded as a subordinate item within Article I, Section 7. The President is given no Constitutional authority to tell Congress when to do so much as open a window curtain, and that's how it's supposed to be.

Business and Finance Every wasted day without a responsible Federal budget is going to cost us real money

That old line about compounding interest being the most powerful force in the world? It wasn't just personal financial advice.

Threats and Hazards Venezuela has an "all-powerful" new assembly

Don't let anyone sugarcoat the fact that bad government ruins good lives. The people of Venezuela deserve better.

Threats and Hazards President Trump cracks jokes to "thank" Putin for diplomatic expulsions

As stand-up comedy, this isn't clever. As fiscal statement, it's immaterial. As geopolitical strategy, it's nonsensical.

The United States of America Democratic centrists in the fight of a generation

For the good of the country, both parties need strong centrist wings. "Politics as it is, and not as ideologues wish it to be" is an apt description of the overarching problem for both major parties. American politics could use a lot less Santa Claus ("Here's what I'll give you in exchange for nothing!") and a lot more James Madison.

Iowa Iowa's drought is growing worse

Much of the state is now in a drought condition. That's bad news especially for a farm economy that's already weak.

News Cruise ship blackout

Passengers on an around-the-world cruise were told to help turn it into a ghost ship at night when traveling around the pirate-infested waters of the western Indian Ocean.

Iowa A dramatically renovated Lawther Hall

(Video) A classic building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa has been radically updated

August 9, 2017

News "Fire and fury" meaning nothing?

Some want to discount what the President meant when he threatened North Korea. Note what Calvin Cooldige said: "The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately."

Computers and the Internet Password absurdity

Complex requirements are counterproductive if they mean people just write down their passwords on sticky notes

Humor and Good News Editor chases a manuscript 30 years overdue

If you're this far behind on a writing project, it's probably time to find a good ghostwriter. Or even a bad one.

Threats and Hazards De-escalation isn't dishonorable

Anyone who's eager for war in Korea is thinking of it as an abstraction. The reality would be tens of thousands of individual tragedies -- all the tragedy of a single death, thousands and thousands and thousands of times over.

Business and Finance Honda goes against the grain and stays independent

Other automakers are rushing for tie-ups with one another, but Honda remains stubbornly independent. That's probably true to the company's intrinsic character, and thought it might be a more difficult way to climb, it's hardly the first obstacle in the engineering-heavy company's way.

Business and Finance Productivity is rising, but not by very much

If output per hours worked is only rising by a hair over 1% a year, it's going to be basically impossible for the economy to grow faster unless a whole lot of people start working or a whole lot more hours start getting worked

Computers and the Internet Iowa Homeland Security office issues notice about Kaspersky Labs

Kaspersky makes one of the most highly-regarded computer security suites on the market, but there are a whole lot of suspicions that have emerged lately that the outfit may have troubling ties to the Russian government.

News FBI raided Paul Manafort's house

The FBI search suggests that the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller is stopping for nothing and no one

August 8, 2017

Agriculture A recession only some people are feeling

It's hitting the Midwestern ag economy hard. Important: "A full repeat of the 1980s is unlikely[...] But it doesn’t remove the fact that the current downturn is severe[...]"

Threats and Hazards "Fire and fury like the world has never seen"

The President makes threats to North Korea. Strength is one thing, and bluster is another. Remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "[O]ur basic national objective in international affairs remains peace -- a world peace based on justice." Also Eisenhower: "We seek not violence, but peace. To this purpose we must now devote our energies, our determination, ourselves."

News Visitors from Chicago tour landmarks in Cedar Rapids

Gives one cause to wonder: Which of today's architects are leaving behind work that people will still tour with interest in 100 years?

Threats and Hazards It's hard to see the debt-to-GDP ratio not reaching 100% in the next ten years

Things look distressing if low interest rates remain. But if they revert at all towards historical norms, things could look downright awful.

News Grassley accelerates investigation of Trump campaign through Senate Judiciary Committee

Most of the interesting stuff thus far has been happening at the Senate Intelligence Committee. Judiciary has been largely sidelined for a while.

Health 2 million opioid addicts

If they gathered in a single place, they would outnumber the entire population of Nebraska

Threats and Hazards Lots of Russian flights in the Baltic with the transponders off

Radio Poland says "Most of the Russian aircraft did not respond to air traffic control."

Threats and Hazards North Korea might now have a miniaturized nuclear warhead

Tie that to one of the missiles they've been showing off, and there's a real problem

Threats and Hazards IED at Bloomington (Minnesota) house of worship

An offense to all reasonable, Constitution-adhering people

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August 7, 2017

News Movie review: "Dunkirk"

Occasionally confusing (by design), "Dunkirk" tells a necessary story of honor

News City thinks man stole 21.5 million gallons of water

Criminal mastermind risks actual prison time for a product that costs less than 1 cent per gallon

August 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards How deep is the rot?

Robert Mueller may be finding things that most Americans would be appalled to discover

News Addressing a thorny issue by considering the counter-factual

Should Southern cities preserve their Confederate monuments? One answer can be found in asking whether they would erect any new ones today.

News Donald Trump can't define himself without Hillary Clinton

He needs her (or someone like her) to survive. The Democratic Party needs to figure that out.

News California Gov. Jerry Brown becomes a voice of reason within the Democratic Party

Interesting, considering how mercurial a figure he was when he ran for President in 1992

Iowa United Technologies reportedly wants Rockwell Collins

Rockwell is a huge employer in Cedar Rapids (#1 in the private sector and #3 overall), where it's a homegrown institution

August 5, 2017

Humor and Good News A fine gesture

The Chicago Cubs gave Steve Bartman a World Series ring. Closure.

Business and Finance What keeps young people from working?

One important factor to measure and consider is the minimum wage. The higher the barriers to entry for the young to enter the labor force, the harder it is to get on the great American prosperity escalator. Ideally, we'd look at entry-level jobs as the equivalent of classrooms for the soft skills needed to "graduate" into more sophisticated jobs.

Threats and Hazards Russia has more tanks invading Ukraine than all of Europe has tanks at all

That's an epic imbalance. Russia has invaded Ukraine in a big way, and that's not a settled condition.

The United States of America Some people still look at public service with humility

A thoughtful brief essay on the dignity of serving in the Executive Branch.

Socialism Doesn't Work Don't get fooled again

"[L]eft-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence [...] This is a scandal." Venezuela is a grave example. In the words of the Associated Press reporter who has at last decided it's time to leave the country: "There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement..." Venezuela's catastrophe is man-made, and its only way out will be man-made, too. Unfortunately, they're in the violent score-settling phase of a civil collapse, where opposition leaders are hauled off in the dark of night by shadowy forces.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Iowa are 16" above normal precip for the year

Others are 8" below. And they're not really that far apart.

Business and Finance A novel and interesting angle on the universal basic income

Consider: A complex welfare system rewards those who have the skills required to navigate it successfully. Those are skills that could be put to better use in the working world. While that's not a definitive case for the UBI, it's well worth taking into account. In a similar vein, there are people who doubt the value of revenue-neutral tax reform. They shouldn't be such skeptics: It's the same logic that rewards using an EZ-Pass on a toll road or a touchless card on a subway: Same cost, but with lower "friction" loss. If you pay the same amount but with less transactional friction, you're still better off.

Aviation News NTSB report on narrowly-avoided disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada jet almost landed on a crowded taxiway. The pilots got confused, and the radar system that's supposed to prevent this kind of thing didn't because the plane was in a blind spot. It could have been a calamity of huge proportions, and the pilots involved weren't rookies -- 30,000 flight hours between them.

Health One in 50 US deaths are drug-related

It's a problem that has at least doubled in magnitude in the last 15 years. Any condition like this ought to be treated as an urgent public-health problem, which is how we should have been addressing drugs all along.

News European Council president: "There is a question mark over Poland's European future today"

Wouldn't pushing them away reward the people who want to take their country backwards and isolate the liberalizers?

News Too many generals in the civilian government?

It's possible that we can have several good individuals serving as former military leaders in civil office right now, and still be engaging in a hazardous concept.

News The White House isn't a "dump"

An expensive suit can look like a wreck if it doesn't fit the man. Maybe it's the same with a house that doesn't suit the occupant.

Business and Finance Money as aesthetic object

Retired pennies in the floor

Business and Finance Someone wants to experiment with the Dunkin' Donuts name

Taking the "Donuts" out of Dunkin' Donuts is like taking the "Burger" out of Burger King.

Business and Finance A slip in the trade deficit

Exports are up and imports are down. Among those who will seek undeserved credit for this, who will acknowledge the impact of a weak US dollar in making our exports cheaper and imports from other places more expensive? The dollar is much-weakened (down 8% in value since November), and whether that is a direct result of politics or not, it's entirely unfair for anyone to take credit for "doing" anything politically to level out the balance of trade. Note, too, that the weak dollar has an inflationary effect on the stock market, so when the President tries taking credit for the stock market, he's doing so absent the offsetting impact of what's happened to the dollar.

The United States of America 34 million immigrants are in the US legally

Including 19.8 million who are naturalized citizens, which is a population equal to the State of New York -- the 4th largest state. A true credit to our nation.

August 4, 2017

Business and Finance Industrial espionage only works in the beginning

Research based on what happened when East Germany stole West German ideas suggests that it works in the short run to steal ideas -- but in the long run the cost of stealing starves the flow of money to organic research and development.

Business and Finance Silicon Valley workers cost too much for Japanese automakers

Toyota and Honda are looking for Japanese talent to bridge the gap between the world of automaking and the world of high technology. There's too much competition for the hot employees in Silicon Valley. Take note: What made Toyota and Honda successful as they emerged from obscurity was operating under serious constraints in their early years. Adapting to adversity is in the corporate DNA of both companies, and it makes them tougher when they develop skills on the inside. Meantime, Toyota and Mazda are cross-investing and building a joint plant in the US.

News "Our commanders-in-chief, not our commanders in the field, are responsible for this failure"

Senator John McCain fires a shot across the bow at the Trump Administration over Afghanistan policy

Aviation News Boeing and SpaceX both plan manned spaceflight in 2018

NASA hasn't done manned spaceflight since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

News What's going to replace the old Des Moines YMCA?

The prime riverfront property has been empty for months now, and the Federal government is threatening to build a new Federal courthouse there. The city is not amused; for predictable reasons, the city government would rather see the property become a high-tax-revenue private space instead of an untaxable Federal property. Similarly, one can see why the why Federal employees might be interested in erecting a courthouse on what's one of the most attractive properties in the entire city. If you can't control much about how much people get paid (and Federal pay scales are what they are), then you can offer "compensation" in the form of a great view out the window in a beautiful new building.

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August 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Sen. Jeff Flake: Trump won on "oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions"

Not a small thing for a seated United States Senator to say about a President (nominally) of his own party

Threats and Hazards CNN reports Mueller investigation into Trump money ties

"Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections..."

News Don't start a trade war: It hurts here at home

Nebraska could get hit hard by tariffs imposed by Japan on beef they get from us

News Does international democracy promotion matter to our national interests?

First and foremost, America's allegiance ought to be to supporting self-determination around the world. But it's pretty hard to extract self-determination from democratic processes. This is a very important question, because the way we frame our values and priorities in diplomacy shapes how we act.

News Mark Zuckerberg hires a pollster

Naturally, this stokes the fires of speculation that he's thinking about running for office -- perhaps even President. Does one have to assume he wants to be the front man? Might he be investigating in the interest of finding a prospective winner to back?

August 2, 2017

The United States of America Let us ask less of the Executive Branch

George Will, a prominent conservative critic of President Trump, argues that some good may come of the damage Trump does to the country if it gets us to move away from our national infatuation with a strong Presidency. The commander-in-chief isn't (and shouldn't be) the legislator-in-chief.

News Is immigration justified only by the expected work value of the immigrants?

It's not particularly true to our national character to think of immigrants purely as factors of production -- nor is it particularly consistent with the long-term good of the country. Many of us here today are the descendants of low-skilled immigrants like fur trappers, subsistence farmers, and woodsmen. The administration's proposed rules for skills-based immigration are more of a ploy than a thoughtful approach to reforming the system.

News When the boss becomes an obstacle...

...work may simply flow around the blockade. That's what some people think is happening in the White House now, with the President acting as the obstacle.

News Norway's "nice" prison

If freedom is the ultimate value, shouldn't a lack of freedom be the real punishment for most criminals? Shouldn't we do whatever is best to actually reform (or "correct") inmates so they don't re-enter the system after release?

Business and Finance "Re-skilling": A phrase to get to know

It's an inevitable byproduct of economic and technological progress that most people aren't going to be able to stick with a static set of skills throughout their working lives. It's time to get our policy priorities straight so we can accommodate.

August 1, 2017

Computers and the Internet Russia bans the use of VPNs

Starting November 1st. That's the kind of intrusion on individual privacy rights that most people probably don't understand, but it's a huge encroachment.

News Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics

May they break the usual patterns and have a profitable, successful, and durably positive outcome -- but don't count on it. We'll hear a lot of claims that "This time will be different" -- but it rarely is.

The United States of America Virtues still matter

An excellent commentary from David French on remaining true to a virtuous system of values in politics in a time that doesn't seem to reward those much

Aviation News Aboard the last United Airlines 747 flight

Not a whole lot of aircraft have ever had a kind of mystic hold on people -- the 747 and the DC-3 are probably the two at the top of the list.

News Deliberate mixed-use developments "in-a-box"

"Urby" developments appear to deliver what some would denigrate as a sanitized version of urban living. Others would argue that it's a way to radically increase the value of an otherwise low-rent property. In truth, it's probably somewhere in between. There's not an especially great history of the long-term outcomes of heavily-planned development projects, especially not when tied to things that seem trendy (like millennial-themed urban living).

July 31, 2017

Business and Finance When the President damages the dollar

Political risk has a real cost, even if people don't realize it

News Remembering the I-35W disaster

The 10-year anniversary should serve as a reminder of just how badly we tend to neglect our infrastructure: How much did people all over the country care about dangerous neglect in the immediate aftermath, then cease to care later even though nothing really had been done?

Threats and Hazards Children traumatized by life under ISIS

They deserve a better world than what they've been given

Science and Technology How Alphabet wants to try storing energy

The Google parent company has obvious reasons to want to capture and store energy on the cheap

Science and Technology The Tesla Model 3 is almost here

And it goes farther on a single charge than people might have expected

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July 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards Former Secretary of Defense is on high alert for nuclear war

Bill Perry: "I believe that today the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War"

Threats and Hazards Official NYPD response to the President on police brutality

"...sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public"

Threats and Hazards Terrorist plot in Australia

A plan with an "improvised device" and no clear tie to an organized group

Science and Technology Nebraska small towns pitch eclipse as tourism opportunity

Some of the best eclipse-viewing will happen in some of the most sparsely-populated territory in the country

Broadcasting "Friend from College" could do better

The cast is fantastic. The soundtrack is spectacular. The script falls short.

July 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Now that the west is conscious, again, of Russian active measures, where else could Russia use its cyber capabilities, and to what end?"

We've already seen what the agents of cyberwarfare can do to a political system. What about their impact on economic ones?

Iowa Iowa State Patrol to go undercover to enforce laws against texting-while-driving

Discouraging the practice of distracted driving is a fine idea in theory -- but it's also worth asking just how comfortable we are with sting-type operations that are specifically intended to surprise ordinary people with police enforcement

Threats and Hazards Political peril on the road ahead

The administration's erratic behavior means there may be no road ahead. Al Hunt suggests that "...it's not crazy conjecture that a president who doesn't think the rules and laws apply to him would try to replace the attorney general with somebody not recused from the Russia probe."

Business and Finance OECD looks at state-owned enterprises and foreign investment

Key: "As bearers of state as well as commercial interests, SOEs may place their emphasis on strategic acquisitions, such as advanced technologies for example, on non-market terms." This means state-owned enterprises looking to invest in other countries might behave in ways that would wildly distort market outcomes. Suppose, for instance, that it's considered in the national interest to gain some form of security or military technology by any means necessary; in that case, a supplier company (like Lockheed Martin or Northrup Grumman, in theory -- or even Microsoft or Kaspersky) might find itself the subject of a takeover attempt that may not reflect market realities. This distortion may be one of the strongest cases for domestic political intervention in the case of foreign asset purchases.

Broadcasting New York Times expects apology from "Fox and Friends"

The newspaper submits a demand that the broadcaster retract and apologize for a segment that accused the paper of foiling a government plot to kill a terrorist. Given the program's strange and disproportionate power to influence the President of the United States, this is more than a mere dispute among rivals.

July 23, 2017

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Yellen: "Congress should be taking into account" the impact of debt

Higher interest rates are likely if not inevitable, and with productivity growing only very slowly, there's a serious collision course ahead between Federal borrowing and private-sector growth

Threats and Hazards The President does not have the support of former intelligence leadership

The big question is whether the views of emeritus spy chiefs reflects the attitudes of current spies. It seems like more than a case of sour grapes.

Iowa Major flooding in northeastern Iowa

Sumner and Fredericksburg both saw colossal rainfalls

Broadcasting Univision is looking for a sale

The company owns about 60 radio and 60 television stations, and they're trying to find a way to either go public through an IPO (which appears to be their distant second preference) or sell out to another media company. It's actually a bit surprising that anyone would want to give up control of such a premier property in a specialty media market (one which shows no signs of shrinking).

Business and Finance Wyndham buys AmericInn

A move of interest to the Midwestern hospitality market, involving about 200 hotels

July 21, 2017

News Minneapolis police chief resigns over civilian shooting death

Justine Damond and Jamar Clark were both unarmed civilians killed by Minneapolis police officers during the outgoing chief's tenure.

Threats and Hazards "Nothing compelled them to be Good Samaritans"

A group of teenagers apparently watched, mocked, and recorded as a man drowned in a Florida pond on July 9th. They might be free of legal culpability for choosing not to render aid, but they might face prosecution for failing to report a death.

Threats and Hazards The state of the First Amendment isn't uniformly good

The Newseum Institute finds that only 49% of people ages 18 to 29 believe in universal freedom of religion

Health 360,000 people with cholera in Yemen

That's just in the last three months. An appalling figure.

Computers and the Internet 21% of American adults are online but don't use social media

For as much as Facebook and Twitter and their cousins are discussed every single day in the news, one in five of us don't use them (but aren't holding out on the rest of the Internet). Another one in 10 doesn't use the Internet at all.

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July 15, 2017

News Social Security trust fund will go broke before today's newborn is out of high school

How can this be made more plain and clear? We've gone along with a giant national lie that the problem would resolve itself. It hasn't. It won't. When the trust fund is gone, payments will drop as Social Security becomes fully pay-as-you-go. Yes, 2034 seems a long way away, but if you can remember Y2K, then you should be able to project ahead to 2034 with equal ease.

July 14, 2017

News Representative from Connecticut wants mandatory on-camera White House press briefings

Representative Jim Himes wants the on-camera press briefings to become mandatory. In theory, sure -- the manner in which the present administration has run away from legitimate scrutiny from the press, including their ridiculous approach to on-camera/off-camera press briefings, is an abomination. But is this a legitimate use of Congressional authority? It's hard to say that it is. Just consider applying the same test to the third branch: Could Congress order the Supreme Court to allow cameras? One would think not. It's important not to over-reach in the course of trying to execute legitimate inter-governmental oversight. This has close parallels to the illegitimacy of the White House project to demand voter data from all 50 states: To the extent that existing standards are in place to permit retrieval and requests for voter documentation, it may be hard for states find the legal authority to reject the Federal request for that data. But it's still a substantial overstepping of norms for the Federal government to make such a request (especially when there is no evidence to indicate that the states have somehow become incapable of conducting legitimate, free, and fair elections on their own). Moreover, it is a clear violation of the intent of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which in no uncertain terms reserve all unenumerated rights to the people and all unenumerated powers to the states and the people. If the Federal government isn't acting to prevent a state from encroaching on the rights of citizens, then it really has no standing to tell anyone what to do with their elections.

Computers and the Internet If you contact government officials, watch out for your own privacy

The Federal commission that claims (dubiously) to be examining the integrity of elections took public comments -- then, apparently, revealed the personal contact information of at least some of the people who submitted public comments. If you're going to contact officials in a way that will go on the record, make sure you're using a PO Box, a public-facing email account, and a telephone number that masks your own (like, for instance, a Google Voice number). Put no faith in the people who take your comments to redact your private information for you.

Computers and the Internet Alexa device didn't call 911 for a domestic-violence victim

But that's how the sheriff's office wrote up the story. Though the device can't initiate a 911 call, there's a lot that can legitimately be done to make our smartphones and other gadgets into better tools for putting technology in service of human needs. It's not much to ask that artificial intelligence tools like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant should be programmed to take notice of situations, searches, and queries that might indicate that the user is at risk of an imminent health problem (mental or physical) or is in some form of danger.

News Florida school district prohibits routine homework for elementary-school kids

Instead of busy work, the superintendent wants parents to spend 20 minutes a day reading with their kids. This is an utterly laudable plan.

News Kid Rock claims he's a real Senate candidate

If the Senate is supposed to be composed of two people from each state, representing the best discernment and judgment that can be found in each of those states, then a recording artist like Kid Rock is a real test of those standards. Shouldn't the bar be higher for entry into either house of the national legislature than fame alone?

Science and Technology Omaha Public Power District to get 40% of electricity from wind by 2019

The better we can get at energy storage and recovery, the higher those figures could potentially go

July 13, 2017

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve president has some reasonable observations and concerns about the economy

Robert Kaplan: "[W]e are in the midst of a fragile equilibrium regarding global oil supply and demand"; "[W]e are moving very close to full employment in the U.S."; and "Our economists at the Dallas Fed believe that the skills gap in the US is substantial." And one other thing: "[T]here are likely limits to the ability of countries, including the US, to further increase debt to GDP in order to generate higher levels of economic growth...raising questions regarding fiscal sustainability which, if not addressed, could negatively impact longer-run economic growth."

Iowa Iowa's 28th baby surrendered under "safe haven"

It's hard to fathom what kind of emotions go into a decision like this, but we should be very glad we have a way to protect these little lives. Also interesting: Looking at how other countries handle this agonizing decision. Germany has a two-track approach, which includes not just a safe-haven option, but also the option for "confidential birth" to protect those mothers who may be at risk of domestic violence or other hazards.

News Vatican goes after "evangelical fundamentalism"

It's a pretty spicy editorial, with a reference to the effort to "submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism". It also argues that "[Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a 'party.'" Especially interesting: The piece condemns the use of "an ecumenism of conflict" -- alliances of political convenience between Catholics and non-Catholics who have short-term political objectives that would serve mainly to cement larger, long-term theological separation. Quite interesting.

News Florida state attorney pulled over for...what, exactly?

Dubious traffic stops should not put anyone at undue risk (or even inconvenience) due to the color of their skin

The United States of America Population shifts

Texas grew from a population of 23.9 million in 2007 to 27.8 million in 2016. That increase (just shy of 4 million) is greater than the entire population of Iowa (3.1 million). We should really see lots more maps that use tilegrams to illustrate elections, since geographic size is so disjointed from population.

July 12, 2017

Business and Finance How brain drain hits small countries

In this case, it's Finland. But similar circumstances apply not only to small nations, but to small states as well. As the global urbanization trend continues, so will the concentration of population in some of the world's largest urbanized areas -- and some of that will suck human capital out of lesser-urbanized places. Not everyone wants to live in London or Tokyo or New York City, but it will take a concerted effort by the Helsinkis (metro population: 1.3 million), Winnipegs (800,000), and Des Moineses (600,000) of the world to make sure they retain and develop their share of highly skilled civic, educational, and business leaders in the face of high returns to urban agglomeration economies.

Business and Finance Is a trade deficit a symptom of living beyond our means?

On the surface, yes. A net trade deficit with the rest of the world is often a symptom of a country that consumes more than it produces. But...there's also the question of capital flows. If a country has lots of valuable capital stock (factories, intellectual property, real estate, and so on), then it's possible to exchange things we have for things we want. It's not perfect -- it's like living off a trust fund -- but it's not necessarily living beyond our means. And, importantly, if we create new capital stock (for instance, by building expensive new real estate projects like the new second-tallest skyscraper in San Francisco), then it may be possible to buy things, send cash overseas, then get some of the cash reinvested back in the country. And depending on factors like property bubbles and the impact of agglomeration economies, it may be possible for foreign direct investment to come back to buy overpriced capital, reducing the relative cost of the net imports.

News "Does starting a band called ThugHammer count as a plan?"

The Onion spoofs the new requirement imposed on students in the Chicago Public Schools -- requiring them to have some kind of documented plan in order to graduate from high school. The plan goes into effect for the Class of 2020, and while it is completely understandable why something beyond a high-school diploma really is the de facto standard for a comfortable socio-economic future, that's a far cry from making it into a de jure standard. The advocates for a "Grade 14" policy (like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan) appear to be well-intentioned and get the problem generally right -- as the economy has grown more sophisticated, so have the expectations for people to be prepared for work -- but the prescription runs the very real risk of being, well, too prescriptivist. Creating true "lifelong learners" is a much bigger challenge than simply moving the goalposts for what it means to "finish school".

Computers and the Internet Microsoft to push for rural broadband access

They're proposing to conduct twelve experimental installations of broadband-over-TV-spectrum. Using the "white spaces" in the spectrum is supposed to be a cost-effective way of reaching people in places with population densities between 2 and 200 people per square mile. That basically describes all but about half a dozen counties in Iowa, though the state is not on Microsoft's list for the test runs. Nobody should choose not to recognize the economic, educational, and cultural impairment that is imposed today by a lack of access to high-speed Internet. We haven't chosen yet to give it the same kind of legal status as other near-universal utilities like electricity and water, but it's not far from being just as essential, at least in economic terms.

Threats and Hazards Why we should all worry more about North Korea

One scholar of arms control worries that we may already be down a path of no return towards open conflict with North Korea -- and no matter what we do to put up defenses here in the United States or abroad (as in South Korea), there may be targets that are vulnerable to attack in ways we cannot defend effectively -- and one of those is Seoul.

July 10, 2017

Threats and Hazards Love your country first

The President's affections for Vladimir Putin are unjustified

Computers and the Internet Sen. Lindsey Graham: Cybersecurity cooperation with Russia is incredibly dumb

We need to take cyberwarfare seriously. To do so with the "help" of one of our major cyber-adversaries would be preposterous.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders resumes campaigning for President

He's going to keynote a left-wing convention in Iowa on July 15th.

The United States of America Couple has been to every county in 49 states

Alaska, alas, is too much work

Business and Finance Dalian Wanda Group sells off controlling stake in hotels and tourism projects

It's a substantial retreat from the investments they had been making in Chinese real estate, supposedly to reduce debt and free up cash. That could also be an early warning signal of trouble ahead for Chinese financial markets.

July 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards Two Presidents, zero serious strategy for cybersecurity

Both Presidents Obama and Trump deserve blame for failing to take seriously the threat of cyberwarfare (in all its forms, from attempts to steal voter lists to efforts to interfere with voting machines to influence campaigns and microtargeting). It's a high-leverage problem: Bad actors can get their hands on powerful cyberweapons with little investment and can do asymmetrical damage.

Threats and Hazards CNN says Russia has 150 spies in the United States

That's a significant non-zero number, and certainly doesn't count the number working on things like "signals intelligence" back home

News "[T]he White House hasn't submitted nominations"

Of 564 high-level appointive positions being tracked by the Washington Post, 68% have no nominee. That's after 168 days in office.

Threats and Hazards Russia's government is overcompensating for a bad economy

To understand why the Putin regime would want to meddle with foreign elections, look at the state of the Russian economy. A bad economy raises the proportional returns to investment on creating chaos elsewhere. People perceive relative status -- so efforts to make everywhere else look "just as bad" may be a more effective strategy than fixing what's falling short domestically.

Health Iowa City/Cedar Rapids hospitals agree: Fireworks injured a lot more Iowans this year

Lifting the ban on the sale of fireworks may have seemed like striking a blow for freedom, but dozens of people were injured in the process

July 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards Mind the gap

We can manage a gap of one or maybe two percentage points between government revenues and government spending (as a share of GDP) -- if the economy grows faster than the gap. But not what's on tap: 23.6% in spending and 18.4% in revenues (ten years from now). Deficits aren't free.

News Nebraska election officials put up resistance to Federal snooping

The states are in charge of elections for good reason -- unless they show a specific inability to conduct them freely and fairly, it should remain that way

Computers and the Internet Why is rural broadband access a fight?

Many serious policy issues are treated inconsistently because we haven't decided whether Internet access has the status of a public utility.

Business and Finance Why do American companies make aluminum in Iceland?

Per the New York Times: "Electricity in Iceland costs about 30 percent less than what Alcoa might pay in the United States." Iceland got into the smelting business because it needed to find something to replace fisheries. That's the effect of specialization in action.

Humor and Good News A police chase -- of a suspect on a tractor

These things do occasionally happen in the Midwest

July 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards North Korea launches an ICBM

Or at least that's what the evidence suggests. And an ICBM in the hands of an unaccountable, irrational authoritarian government is a gigantic problem.

News 8th straight year of population decline in Japan

And most of the nation's prefectures are also shrinking. The population is, on net, both shrinking and gravitating to Tokyo.

Threats and Hazards "101 people shot between late Friday afternoon and early Wednesday" in Chicago

Victims aged from 13 to 60

Aviation News Airbus claims 140 airplanes sold to China

That's a massive order

News Freight trains are growing longer

Good news for shippers, but not so great for ambulance drivers

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July 4, 2017

The United States of America The Declaration of Independence

"To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

Broadcasting Russian propaganda broadcasts arrive on the DC radio dial

Public diplomacy has never been more important than it is right now. Facebook acknowledged in April that it was used as a tool of disinformation by foreign actors (read: Russia) to influence the US elections.

Threats and Hazards Cholera outbreak in Yemen affects a population the size of the City of Des Moines

Cholera spreads where there is no clean water, and the war in Yemen is enough to disrupt what access many once had

News Illinois flirts with junk-bond status

The state almost certainly needs to raise taxes, but who wants the blame for doing that?

July 3, 2017

News "Russia's stealth public relations war"

Public diplomacy works wonders when done effectively, and Russia's government has clearly been aggressive about using it

News "Rebuilding" the Democratic Party with Obama's help?

As put by one commenter: "Iceberg plays behind-the-scenes role in rebuilding Titanic". President Obama's campaign for the White House largely sought to transcend the Democratic Party -- and while in office, the President didn't merge his campaign with the party of which he was the titular head (he kept "OFA" running as a parallel operation to the DNC), nor did he appear to do things to groom a farm team of Democratic party leadership (most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two Obama Cabinet officials, no doubt due in part to Obama's penchant for micromanagement). In other words, much of the damage was done by the individual now being asked to help do the rebuilding.

Iowa West Des Moines moves south of Highway 5 in 2018

In support of the Microsoft data center being built near the Maffitt Reservoir, the city is going to extend Veterans Parkway and build a bridge over I-35 -- serving traffic by 2018

News Why a statesman's words matter

Laura Rosenberger: "Deterrence is based on credibility and capability. And credibility requires clear signaling of intentions."

News What does it mean to say that "all roads lead to Rome"?

In much of Europe, it's literally true

June 29, 2017

Threats and Hazards Federal government requests voter rolls from states

Proceed with caution: States are in charge of their own elections for good reason, except in those cases where they've proven themselves incapable of handling the job responsibly. The default answer to a request like this should roughly be: "Show me a court order."

News Debt is heading in the wrong direction

The CBO's latest estimates show the Federal debt on the rise to about 90% of GDP over the next ten years. As a country, we are on track to borrow an additional $3,000 per person per year over the next ten years, because we fail to arrange our spending priorities and raise the appropriate revenues to pay for the ones that matter. And with an economy that doesn't know how to grow faster than 2% a year, we'd better take seriously the need to restrain our spending habits.

News Estonia takes over presidency of the EU Council

And at a very timely moment for the EU to place a focus on the Baltic states -- as well as cybersecurity, which is a priority for those countries as well

The United States of America Anniversary of the creation of the Interstate highway system

Though government should always be limited, it probably has harmed our national character that we haven't had a big, constructive nationwide goal since the 1960s. Americans haven't really forged anything together (in the sense of a binding national identity) since the Interstate system and the Apollo missions.

News MLB umpire saves suicidal woman in Pittsburgh before game

A timely reminder that most people are trying to do the right thing most of the time. We should amplify that fact.

Business and Finance Big banks plan big dividends and share buybacks

Noted in the Marketwatch report on the "stress test" results: "[T]hey'll be paying out close to 100% of projected net income over the coming four quarters, compared to 65% last year."

Health Don't make unnecessary decisions

Decision fatigue is one of the most useful concepts from behavioral economics that just hasn't quite made the leap into mainstream culture.

June 28, 2017

News Sweden saves in advance to prepare for demographic waves

Social-market/"soft" socialist economies can survive in the long term under a very limited set of conditions: A small, culturally homogenous society with some sort of government-owned (or heavily-taxed) resource wealth with judicious and far-sighted government management, along with a strong entrepreneurial class, pragmatic programs for ensuring useful (and near-universal) employment. That's an extremely tough set of conditions to satisfy, and the Nordic countries are a rare set of examples where these conditions have been more or less satisfied.

Computers and the Internet Using social media analysis to predict riots much faster than calls to the police

A development that requires urgent review and consideration by the civilian authorities who should always oversee the use of police power. There's a whole lot of good that could be done with these tools -- but also an enormous amount of harm.

Business and Finance Rent-seeking is on the rise

What happens when people who are just out to capture royalties and other "rents" displace people who create productive new enterprises? Nothing good, it would seem.

Threats and Hazards TSA might use sheet explosives as reason to scan your reading materials

Is it explicitly the objective of the government to get a look at what you're reading? No. But even if it isn't the intent, it could very well end up being the effect.

News Three Chicago police officers indicted on felony charges of conspiracy

A special prosecutor thinks they engaged in a felonious cover-up of the shooting of Laquan McDonald

Weather and Disasters A long evening of storms in Iowa

Feeling at the end of a tornado watch: "Oh, so I don't have to worry about a black cloud of death dropping randomly out of the sky anymore?"

Science and Technology "Smart" nightlights are here

Connecting to WiFi lets them tap into information that can be signaled in color: Like weather alerts...or incoming emails

June 27, 2017

Threats and Hazards Chicago Public Schools to pay $70,000 a day in loan interest

That's just a short-term loan while the district apparently hopes to get a bailout from the state government. Illinois and Chicago (in particular) are at the forefront of one of the biggest unrecognized risks to the US economy: State and local governments with obligations that will be impossible (or extraordinarily difficult) to meet without dramatic changes to spending, taxes, and future promises.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Yellen says bank capital positions have improved

Whether that means the Fed will be enthusiastic about lesser capital requirements is a matter to be watched carefully. She suggested low concern that another banking crisis would re-occur anytime soon.

Health CBO forecasts large numbers of people to lose insurance under proposed health care reforms

The ACA set the ball rolling in an unsustainable direction, and things could in fact get worse

Iowa Major construction ahead for I-80/I-380 interchange

The Iowa DOT plans a dramatic reconstruction of what is presently a wildly over-congested interchange

June 26, 2017

The United States of America Define the role the right way

The President's sworn duty is not "to keep the homeland safe", but to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

Threats and Hazards On the President and the Constitution

Jack Balkin, a Yale Professor of Constitutional Law, with a warning: "[M]any people have wondered whether we are currently in some sort of constitutional crisis. We are not. Rather, we are in a period of constitutional rot."

Threats and Hazards Bystander shot in downtown Omaha

It's the scenario people have nightmares about: Walking down the street and getting shot because completely unrelated people near you got into a fight

Business and Finance Break up GE?

The company's been spinning off a lot of divisions already. It's a far cry from the times when it was a true and vast conglomerate. Conglomerates (in the pure sense) have fewer inherent advantages over other business types in times like these, when capital is really cheap. But if interest rates were higher (or if the government were to impose tax policies that punished dividends), then it would be rational to expect more of the classic conglomerate form to return.

Aviation News Flying in a classic Ford Tri-Motor to get perspective on today

Air travel is unpleasant in all sorts of ways today, but it's still a million times better than when it was "glamorous"

Business and Finance Ritz-Carlton getting into cruise market with 300-passenger ships

With most other cruise lines doing what they can to stack thousands of passengers on top of one another, this whole niche approach is either a smart innovation or a symptom of complete saturation in the market. Possibly both.

June 25, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia attempted cyberwarfare on election systems in 21 states

That's per a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security

News Think you're smart? Try the Debt Fixer.

See what it actually takes to fix America's chronically imbalanced budget. One approach: Make significant reforms to entitlements -- both taxes and benefits, send responsibilities back to the states, and impose some mild tax increases. Unpalatable? Then find and suggest another way.

News An American reporter in Venezuela

A fascinating Q&A with Hannah Dreier, who tells important stories about a nation in the midst of economic collapse

Business and Finance When a "foreign" car isn't

Honda touts the fact its Accord engines are made in the USA

Threats and Hazards Off-duty St. Louis police officer shot by another police officer

The off-duty officer was trying to assist people in need

News Inconsistent open-mindedness

Women were tossed out of a protest march in Chicago because their Jewish rainbow flags "made people feel unsafe"

Business and Finance The "Museum of Failure"

We really ought to celebrate the things that didn't work, or came far ahead of their times, since they often provide the stepping stones to much better things down the road

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

June 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards Protesters start using airports for political rallies

Politics notwithstanding, airports are really bad sites for mass protest. Large gatherings of riled-up people create an implicit security hazard, and could easily offer cover for malfeasance by terrorists. No matter how "spontaneous" the organizers want to pretend to be, if they use the same site (like an airport) more than once, then an opportunistic attacker need only scope out the security response the first time before coming back the second time with intent.

News Buildings that integrate plants into their design

Literally "green" architecture: An article to think about the next time you see a drawing of a skyscraper with some random trees depicted somewhere around the 75th floor.

Threats and Hazards President acknowledges Russian attempts to interfere with election

That's a dramatic change in position, but efforts to influence the outcomes of our elections aren't new, aren't over, and aren't to be viewed through narrow partisan lenses. Sen. John McCain issued a lengthy opinion piece arguing that efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election were just "one phase of Vladimir Putin's long-term campaign to weaken the United States, to destabilize Europe, to break the NATO alliance, to undermine confidence in Western values, and to erode any and all resistance to his dark and dangerous view of the world." As Michael Bloomberg wrote: "Not admitting your problems means you can't fix them." We have a problem, and it's not one that fits a predefined partisan divide. It's a problem for all Americans, together.

News "Another political party will not matter if Americans remain ignorant rage addicts"

Sage words from Tom Nichols. Better politics start with the character of the voters ourselves, so if we're not pleased with the results we're getting, then we need to start addressing the systems we have in place that create the voters and outcomes we get. It may not be reassuring to acknowledge, but self-government doesn't work without decent people choosing how to self-govern.

News White House responds to House intelligence committee by copying a Presidential tweet

By this standard, all Presidential tweets should now begin with the conventional "My fellow Americans" and conclude with "May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America."

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June 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards An outstanding timeline of Russian efforts to influence American elections

The Washington Post has delivered a blockbuster report on what happened and when, and how the United States (under two different Presidential administrations now) has sought to respond...or not.

Threats and Hazards Documenting the Philando Castile case

Reasonable people should expect better answers about why a gun was fired seven times into a car with this child in the back seat, leaving an innocent man dead and the child (and her mother) traumatized.

Aviation News Boeing sees no future for the 747

Not as a passenger plane, except for its service as a VIP carrier like Air Force One

News How En Marche reached out to French voters living in the UK

The startup political party went to some unusual measures to win

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June 22, 2017

Threats and Hazards The cost of bluffing

The President of the United States (whomever that may be) needs to be a person with credibility. When a President is caught bluffing (as when President Obama backtracked repeatedly on his "red lines" over incidents in Syria and Ukraine, or when President Trump admits he doesn't have tapes of his meetings with James Comey), that undermines the security of the nation. The words of our chief executive need to mean something so that we don't always have to back them with force.

Threats and Hazards Experts review the Philando Castile shooting

Every police-involved shooting death really should be submitted to independent review, just like we do for plane crashes and train incidents via the NTSB. The reviewing body doesn't even have to be empowered to punish anyone -- but we do need to get a close look at exactly why individuals die during encounters with officers of the peace. If doctors and surgeons have to submit to morbidity and mortality reviews as a means of learning how to do a better and safer job in the future, shouldn't police departments submit their own incidents for the same kind of clear-headed review? Again, it doesn't even have to be punitive to be useful.

Science and Technology What are the odds your job will be automated?

A really fascinating tool for seeing which jobs are at highest risk. Automation is vastly more destructive to jobs than trade, but trade gets all the bad press. (But automation and trade also help to create new and better jobs -- in accounting terms, they destroy in gross but create on net.)

News No need for a trade war

The White House needs to back off its threats of trade wars. That behavior is very bad for the economy.

Computers and the Internet Another way cybercriminals can get you

A take on the "man in the middle" attack that could crack even conscientious computer users

The United States of America One-paragraph book review: "The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge"

An overlooked gem in American political biography

June 21, 2017

Threats and Hazards There was a child in the back seat

When Philando Castile was shot by a police officer -- seven times -- there was a young child in the back seat. And after that trauma, the child could only think of her mother's safety.

Threats and Hazards South Korea wants the US to cool down the conflict with North Korea

One might imagine that Seoul has more skin in the game than people spouting off in Washington, DC -- and that brinksmanship with a tinpot dictator isn't a strategy with a good outcome in game theory

Science and Technology Colorado voter wants to ban pre-teens from getting smartphones

Should preteens be discouraged from living entirely through smartphones? Yes. Should they be banned from getting them? No. That's the attitude of a nanny state. What about the kid from a household with limited means (or disengaged parents) who uses a smartphone to take lessons from the Khan Academy? The problem is that in some ways, smartphones are as useful and good as public libraries. In others, they're all of the worst things about TV. But smartphone use is the kind of thing that should be decided by conscientious parents, not an overbearing government.

Business and Finance Ford is going to build the Focus in China

Ford thinks it'll save $1 billion by making the switch away from US-based production

News "Bannon's War"

An excellent episode of "Frontline"

June 18, 2017

Agriculture Tough times in an economic sector lead to consolidation

And with times being tough in farming right now, expect to see more consolidation in agriculture

Threats and Hazards Chair of national Libertarian Party says "smash the state"

That's anarchism, not libertarianism. If your first belief is in the preservation of natural liberties, then some form of government is necessary. Coercion will exist with or without government power, so the only way to preserve liberties is to make sure that some form of coercive power is held by a government subject to rules, so that it can in turn prevent private individuals from coercing or oppressing others. You can't "smash the state" like an anarchist and effectively preserve liberty.

News Concerted effort to raise college education rates among American Indians works

It's no small matter to raise the percentage of degree-earners among an entire population -- particularly one with extremely high poverty rates

Business and Finance Gordman's is being liquidated in a hurry

Just one example of trials (among many) in retail

Science and Technology How automatic emergency braking could be an anti-terrorism tool

It already makes sense to implement "guardian angel" technologies on behalf of ordinary drivers and passengers on the roads -- but it also could serve to prevent the use of heavy vehicles as weapons against crowds of pedestrians

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June 15, 2017

Business and Finance Rumors of looser capital-reserve requirements

Anything that would reduce the amount of reserve capital required to be held at banks should require some pretty extraordinary justification

News "Presidencies don't come with training wheels"

Excuses are no substitute for knowing what you're doing when you're in the most powerful office in the Federal government

Business and Finance Absorbing Yahoo is going to cost Verizon half a billion dollars

That's a whole lot of spending just to get a new asset to fit under the corporate umbrella

Business and Finance Nestle might sell off its US candy business

Butterfinger, Crunch bars, and Sweet Tarts could all go on the auction block

News Wind turbine collapses in Nebraska

Now, to find out why

June 14, 2017

News US Senate approves new sanctions on Russia

And appears to seek new ways to constrain the President along the way

News Apocalyptic fire at a UK housing tower

Shocking images of a tall building completely engulfed in flames

News "The average rent in Oakland now is $2,400 a month"

The shortage of housing in the San Francisco Bay area is apparently at titanic proportions. KGO quotes a housing official as saying there have been 500,000 new jobs created and only 50,000 new housing units built in the last half-decade. The resulting shortage appears to be creating strain all over the place, including among senior citizens who now can't afford housing. The fact that sufficient new housing hasn't been produced when demand should be somewhere on the scale of ten times new supply suggests that some kind of regulatory or resource constraint is creating a massive chokepoint. And, when in doubt, assume that developers will find a way to overcome the resource constraint (like available land) with money (like building taller towers), so there's a pretty good chance you're looking at a regulatory choke.

Computers and the Internet Lawsuit result could categorize LinkedIn as a "work environment"

Such a definition might subject it to a giant wave of new internal and external restrictions and policies

Computers and the Internet "Tweet logorrhea does not reflect a well-thought-out strategy"

The President loves using Twitter...but it's massively against his best interests, at least from a legal standpoint

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June 12, 2017

News France's startup political party is crushing legislative elections

En Marche is perhaps the most interesting and most disruptive startup of modern times

News Tennessee enacts free community college for almost all adults without degrees

An educated (and credentialed) workforce is one way to induce demand

Science and Technology Autonomous cargo ships are coming

A substantially larger prospect than self-driving cars -- and yet, in technological terms, not that far away

News The militant left is breaking the Democratic Party

We need (at least) two intellectually honest and principled political parties for our electoral system to work. If the GOP succumbs to a transient populism on one side while the Democrats succumb to a transient populism on the other, then as a nation we're in trouble.

Business and Finance A wish is not a plan

Would 3% annual economic growth be wonderful? Absolutely. Is hoping for that number enough? Not even close. The CFRB notes the kinds of hurdles we'd have to overcome in order to consistently get to 3% annual growth in the United States. This matters because outrageously high growth projections are required for the current White House budget concept to come anywhere close to working.

June 11, 2017

Computers and the Internet Amazon.com will offer small discount on Prime to people on public benefits

It's self-serving behavior, but it's also potentially a way to do some good for people who are economically on the margins. Anything that reduces the "cost of being poor" (as we've come to understand it) deserves attention and consideration as a public good.

Business and Finance Tesla's market capitalization now exceeds BMW's

That's a long way to go in a short period of time

Iowa UNI enters 3+3 law program agreement with Drake

The university also has a similar deal with the University of Iowa's law school

News A major-party meltdown

Sen. Bernie Sanders is out on the campaign trail again, pushing a hard-leftist agenda. It's full of energy and hype, but short on productive policy. The harder he and his acolytes push on the Democratic Party, the more they risk fracturing it entirely.

Business and Finance French president wants to loosen up labor markets

If Emmanuel Macron is successful, he will have done a great service to his country. The more flexibility to be found in labor markets, in general, the better.

June 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards No, we're not going to "defeat terrorism"

Terrorism is a tactic -- and it's been employed by a wide range of groups over time to achieve political ends all over the spectrum. To talk about defeating a tactic is to promise something that can never be accomplished -- so it only sets up the public for failure, cynicism, and a sense of defeat. Specificity of objectives is important.

Threats and Hazards Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results that come from it

And in the case of the President's management style, the process is perfectly designed to create chaotic results among people who vie for limited attention from a person who desires esteem above all things. That's a recipe for people to push boundaries, bend rules, and cross ethical boundaries.

Business and Finance Productivity figures are nothing to stoke excitement

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that labor in the non-farm business sector in the US is only 1.2% more productive than it was a year ago. Without a lot more labor-hours worked, it's really going to be hard for the economy to expand in any durable way. Weak productivity growth at a time of low participation rates in the labor force (low in no small part due to retirements among Baby Boomers) is really the deepest-seated problem in the US economy.

News Young people need productive things to do

Iceland dealt with a substance-abuse problem among young people by finding them better things to do. It's a universal truth: If there aren't productive alternatives, young people with nothing better to do will fill the voids...and it should never come as a surprise if the voids are filled by things like drugs and alcohol, if those are the things that someone else has an incentive to push. The alternatives don't necessarily have to involve government, but they do usually require some kind of concentrated effort by people who are willing to commit some resources to filling the voids.

News All sides in American politics need to back off the hero-worship

The DCCC is still trying to rally public support around messianic images of President Obama. That's not a path forward.

June 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards Yemen borders on total civil collapse

And the world has done little or nothing to actually help. Do we not think the consequences will affect us somehow? Don't they always?

Threats and Hazards What is "patriotic" about attacking another country's free and fair elections?

When Vladimir Putin says that "patriotic" hackers "may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia", he's not really denying that his government could, would, or did try to interfere with the outcome of the US Presidential election. There's nothing "patriotic" about trying to undermine another country's self-determination. What an awful characterization.

News Religion and the Oval Office

It's perfectly fine to have a President who practices no particular faith (as long as he or she has given the matter some thought). It's fine for a President to come from an unusual or small faith tradition (again, as long as some thought has gone into the choice). It's fine for the President to come from a mainstream faith tradition (ditto on the "thinking about it" part). But for a President to not know the very basics of how Christianity is categorized among Protestants, Catholics, and other groups -- or within Protestantism, between evangelicals and mainline denominations -- betrays a deep lack of understanding of something that forms a deep sense of personal identity for millions of Americans. That's pretty astonishing.

May 29, 2017

News How the declining cost of transportation could promote exurban growth

While some of the projections are likely to be true, the narrative of this article from Bain and Company assumes that on balance the growth of automation will be bad for cities and good for less-densely-populated areas. That runs contrary to other projections, which suggest that as low-skill, widely-found jobs are disrupted by automation (especially in areas like retail service), cities will be the only places where enough concentrated specialists will be found to make economies sustainable.

May 26, 2017

Computers and the Internet Defendant loses Israeli case because she texted with too many emojis

By peppering her text messages to a prospective landlord with a bunch of happy emojis, a judge concluded that she intended to show positive intent to rent, and now she has to pay a few thousand dollars in damages. There's a reason the written word beat out the pictogram millennia ago.

News A winning strategy

It may seem quaint, but just being against something (like an unlikeable President) still isn't enough to motivate winning coalitions of voters -- at least not reliably.

Business and Finance Among all the other reasons to worry, now China's taken on too much debt

And a heavy debt burden threatens the prospects for growth, which in turn could destabilize the country if it doesn't liberalize its politics. It's a whole basket full of alarms.

Threats and Hazards Murders in Portland apparently tied to racist attack

Just awful

Threats and Hazards New York Times conducts spectacular forensic reporting on the Turkish protest violence

The report makes it clear: Officials of the Turkish government brought violence to Washington, DC

Threats and Hazards Not only is Russia hacking, it's faking some of the outputs

What better way to take advantage of the "leaks" resulting from their hacks than to deliberately falsify or modify some of the leaked materials in order to do even more damage?

Business and Finance President Trump accuses Germany of being "bad, very bad" for exporting goods

Trade is less about "We sell, you buy" and more about how complex things come together. The President's abject failure to understand how this works is his own deliberate fault, and it is inexcusable. A world that trades voluntarily is a world that delivers material well-being to its people and peace among its nations.

May 25, 2017

News Sweden, now worried about a reanimation of Russian aggression, is putting more resources into national defense

Shameful if nations have to make a rational calculation to spend much more money and time on defense because we abandoned the liberal order. It's an inefficient use of resources to spend them on warcraft if we could have peace through strength (and mutual defense) instead.

Threats and Hazards What's so hard about reaffirming the core of NATO?

The President declined to reaffirm that US policy backs the Article 5 commitment to mutual defense in his hectoring and uninspired speech at NATO headquarters. (He also shoved another NATO leader like a toddler.)

News Rep. Nancy Pelosi promises a $15 minimum wage

It's a ridiculous stunt in her bid to become Speaker of the House again. It's not really a feasible solution to poverty...and worse (from an electoral standpoint), it's not going to attract middle-class voters who aren't now voting Democratic.

Iowa Ankeny, Johnston, and Waukee all remain fast-growing

Ankeny even makes it into the very top tier for fastest-growing cities in the country

Computers and the Internet Uber Freight arrives on the scene

What the company did to remodel the taxi business, now it wants to do to over-the-road trucking. In the short run, it could be good news for independent drivers who are looking for a better way to fill their time carrying loads. In the long run, don't forget that Uber wants to go way beyond paying human drivers; they already own a project devoted to putting self-driving freight trucks on the road. In a sense, drivers who work for Uber Freight will be training their own replacements.

Aviation News Even more new screening at airports

The TSA is going to increase the amount of screening applied to electronics with "new procedures" at ten airports this summer. The official announcement makes it sound like they're just going to require people to take things like cables and devices out of bags and put them in to separate bins for screening. But at this stage, who knows?

May 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards Keeping the US and China from conflict

A magnificent insight from Graham Allison: "We really need to rethink our vital interests and the way we cling to the Pax Americana established after World War II. That status quo can no longer be sustained when the economic reality has tilted so dramatically in China’s favour. America’s real strategy, truth be told, is hope. At the same time, Chinese authoritarianism is no longer sustainable."

News Presidents don't "save" jobs

The Carrier plant in Indiana -- for which the President took such gleeful credit for "saving" hundreds of jobs through negotiation -- is laying off most of those "saved" employees before Christmas. The President shouldn't have interfered in the first place, shouldn't have taken credit for the jobs, and now deserves as much blame as the undeserved credit he took.

Threats and Hazards Former Sen. Alan Simpson isn't persuaded by the White House budget

(Video) He is gravely concerned that we're right about at the tipping point where a reversion to historical interest rates are going to destroy anything left in the budget. He notes that leaving entitlements untouched in the budget leaves no room for any of the discretionary spending that people expect to get from their government.

Threats and Hazards The "strong leader" myth has got to go

A big range of countries have become disturbingly more open to strong-man politics in the last couple of decades. That's a problem, because the appeal of the "strong leader" is an artifact in our brains leftover from the past, when power did more to define groups of people than principles. That doesn't fit with a modern world that broadly depends on peace and trade rather than bloody fights.

Threats and Hazards Assaulting a reporter is attacking the Constitution

A candidate for the US House of Representatives just physically attacked a newspaper reporter for asking questions. When you go after a reporter, you (symbolically) go after the First Amendment. And there is no room for that in our Constitutional order. The news media ought to resist the temptation to overstate what happened...but the candidate ought to be instantly disqualified in the minds of the voters.

May 23, 2017

Business and Finance Who gains the most from NAFTA?

Note the substantial benefits that accrue to states with substantial ag sectors. There's no good to be gained from producing surplus crops, meat, and other products if there's no place to use or sell the excess output. Anyone who bears even a rudimentary understanding of specialization and comparative advantage ought to grasp that without liberalized trade policies, the states with surplus to sell will find themselves losing out.

Threats and Hazards "A significant person of interest"

If officials within the White House are under criminal investigation, then the investigation must be permitted to proceed without obstruction or interference, and the public ought to be on very serious alert.

News On romanticizing Manchester: "Please stop celebrating my hometown"

Commentator James Palmer (the Asia editor at Foreign Policy), who grew up in the city says the terrorist attack shouldn't elevate the city into a symbol: "Of course Mancunians opened their homes and brought out free sandwiches and hurried into emergency rooms to save lives, and God bless every one of them. But they did that because they're people, not because they were Mancunians."

Threats and Hazards There are no words for what happened in Manchester, and there shouldn't be

If we had words for a time like this -- if we had rituals for reacting -- then we would be acknowledging this kind of attack as something normal. We should resist that normalization.

Health 20% of kids killed in car crashes were improperly/not restrained

There's no reason for preventable child deaths

News When Chinese students speak freely in America, someone may still be listening back at home

A Chinese student speaking at her commencement from the University of Maryland found herself on the receiving end of heavy criticism from home for revealing that her experience in America overturned the notion in her mind "that only authorities owned the narrative". This is exactly why a strong American effort on behalf of public diplomacy everywhere is a worthwhile investment. People shouldn't have to come here to get the message.

Computers and the Internet How essential is broadband Internet service?

From an economic perspective, it's almost as essential as other basic utilities like power, water, and sewer service. If that's the case, then there may be a case to be made on behalf of ensuring universal access -- and that, in turn, may influence whether people consider it worth subsidizing for those who live in places where it's not economical to deliver under conventional assumptions.

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May 22, 2017

Threats and Hazards An atrocity in Manchester, England

At least 19 people were killed in a bombing at a pop concert

Threats and Hazards DNI and NSA director both pressured by the President to deflect on FBI investigation

"Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate". Those with loyalties to the institutions of good self-government are the true heroes of this era.

News Former FBI director chooses to testify to Senate Intelligence Committee

Interesting question: Why not the Judiciary Committee?

News The benefits of agglomeration economies

Writes Noah Smith: "[W]e need to increase the chances of whole new fields of technology being created", and one way to raise the odds of that happening is to encourage lots of migration by smart people to places that want them

Science and Technology Pittsburgh and Uber on the outs over driverless cars

The technology holds enormous promise -- but the developers need to follow the rules while they're still testing things

Weather and Disasters What to know and where to see Total Solar Eclipse 2017

The Upper Midwest is going to have a decent view -- especially Nebraska

May 21, 2017

Business and Finance Indefinite ignorance of our budget problem won't make it go away

Budget watchdog group Fix the Debt: "The President is right to focus on job creation and tax reform. But he should not rely on unrealistic and rosy economic growth projections to pay for his proposals or fix our debt. It is not a good idea to spend as if you won the lottery in hopes that you actually do."

Threats and Hazards It's not the crime, it's the cover-up

McClatchy cites members of Congress: "Investigators into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections are now authorized to probe whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up."

Threats and Hazards Say no to propaganda

Too many Americans who knew that a free press was a key to winning the Cold War are now quick to share propaganda on their Facebook pages. We need to get smarter, not more entrenched in preconceived notions. Perhaps social media apps shouldn't open until you've been forced to read two pages in a book.

News RTNDA statement about attacks on journalists

"Above all, reporters are representatives of the public." Yes.

Weather and Disasters Montgomery (Ala.) just got more than 8" of rain in 24 hours

There really just aren't civil-works infrastructures designed to handle that kind of water

News Why Europe needs to understand China's "Belt-and-Road" concept in a hurry

China is undertaking a big concept: Essentially, that its interests are best served by heavy investment in the infrastructure that will permit it access to markets abroad so it can export more. But the concept isn't just about what China wants to build, but what the nations on the receiving end of the investment decide to do.

Science and Technology Could self-driving electric cars kill the automakers?

One team of futurists estimates that households will save thousands of dollars a year if they start using self-driving cars that are part of fleet services. What's perhaps more interesting is to consider what happens if people continue to own vehicles but (a) simply have a lot more time at their disposal because we waste so much human energy behind the wheel, and (b) save a ton of money because electric cars turn out to be much more reliable than combustion-engine vehicles. Some of the projections in the forecast are far-fetched (recovering "vast tracts of land" seems unlikely), but others could unsettle some of the biggest industries in the economy, including the oil companies.

Agriculture Norway needs to fix the Doomsday seed vault

Water got in the front entrance, where it wasn't supposed to

May 18, 2017

News One-paragraph review: "The New Democrats and the Return to Power"

Worthwhile reading for students of both American political history and political strategy

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May 16, 2017

News Norway overcomes the trouble of low oil prices

Oil and gas are obviously hugely influential to the Norwegian economy, but they're fortunate to have diversified away from a purely extraction-based economy.

Threats and Hazards A future fighting Russia's "little green men"

We're a long, long way away from the days of trench warfare

News China's public diplomacy is on the rise and needs a rival

China is using "Confucius Institutes" to launch public diplomacy all over the world tied to their "Belt and Road" project -- an official says, "Confucius Institutes have been launched in 51 of the 65 countries linked to the initiative's two main routes". It's entirely their right to do so, but it should also be a substantial warning to the United States that now is not the time to back down from the world stage, but rather time to step up our own public-diplomacy efforts.

Business and Finance Increasing automation is going to hurt smaller communities hardest

The general thesis: Big cities have specialists, and their jobs are hard to automate. Small cities have lots of generalists, and their jobs are much easier to automate. This thesis is worth much more examination.

News Slavery in the modern day

The Atlantic Monthly cover story "My Family's Slave" is positively riveting

May 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards President threatens former FBI director

Empty threats of intimidation are conduct unbecoming a Constitutional officer of the United States. A reasonable argument could be made that the President is trying to intimidate people currently in the White House, more than the ex-director of the FBI.

Broadcasting Why carry live White House briefings anymore?

The apparently deliberate misinformation campaign conducted by the present administration suggests that it may be journalistic malpractice to give their press briefings a raw feed to the public. One simple technique could be implemented if broadcasting networks decide to start fact-checking the administration: If the speaker is lying, fabricating, or misleading, switch the video to black and white. That would offer a simple but unavoidable visual cue that could have a real impact.

Threats and Hazards Attorney General wants to look tough

Federal prosecutors are told to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense". The problem with this approach is that discretion in the direction of mercy is a cornerstone of justice in a society like ours. That's why the President retains the Constitutional authority to pardon.

News All lives matter: Refugee stillbirth

A 22-year-old Syrian woman passing through Switzerland as a refugee had a stillborn child, and her treatment by authorities may be to blame. The Swiss authorities have opened a case against one of the border guards involved, as they rightly should. Anyone who vocally countered protests in the United States with the phrase "all lives matter" should examine whether they believe the lives of the refugee and her baby mattered...enough.

Computers and the Internet A global ransomware crisis

Literally tens of thousands of computers have been infected and some people are paying the $300 ransom. It appears to have crippled the British National Health Service. It's so bad that Microsoft has issued patches for Windows XP and Windows 8, both of which are "no longer supported". That's a big concession and an indication of just how significant the attack really is. As is so often the case, the best preventive measure is to make sure that your operating systems are fully up to date. Reputable sources say the NSA used the same vulnerability in the past to spy on computers.

Computers and the Internet Let's put drones in the sky during tornadoes

Much better to fill the air with drones (potentially providing useful live video) than to fill the roads with storm-chasers

Computers and the Internet Facebook imposes "sound on automatically"

As people scroll past videos in their "news" feeds, videos will play their audio automatically (until the user deliberately switches the setting). Auto-playing audio was a stupid feature of the Internet 20 years ago. It's mind-bogglingly stupid to impose it in 2017.

May 11, 2017

The United States of America Public officials must be loyal to the Constitution

The New York Times reports that the President asked now-fired FBI director James Comey for a statement of loyalty, and further reports that Comey declined. If so, it is to his credit. This would be a sensible time to point out that we should reconsider our national Pledge of Allegiance. We swear that allegiance "to the flag [...] and to the Republic for which it stands". It would be more patriotic if we swore that allegiance not to the flag, but to the Constitution. It is to the law -- and the Republic which it establishes, not just "for which it stands" -- that we owe our loyalty above all. Most certainly, above loyalty to any person.

Threats and Hazards A ham-handed firing of the FBI director reveals incompetence alongside a craving for power

Megan McArdle writes: "There are a lot of sources of political power in the American system, and those civic institutions will fiercely resist any attempt to remake them into hand-crafted tools of Dear Leader's whims." The President's desire to preserve himself (and promote himself) appears unbounded by any self-control, and the unrelenting urge to appear decisive actively undermines any case he might make on behalf of the legitimacy of his decision. He manages, somehow, to be defiant, defensive, and desperate for approval -- all at the same time.

Health Aetna says it's quitting the ACA exchanges

There's just not going to be any individual insurance left. Iowa has already reached the zero hour, and soon so will plenty of other states. We may find ourselves forced without consent into a single-payer system.

Business and Finance Trade needs its defenders to speak up

Protectionism is the helicopter parenting of economics -- if we plunder the consumer in order to "protect" industries that cannot (or will not) compete, then we're only conducting a transfer of wealth from people who earned it to those who have politicians on their side. Trade agreements are not zero-sum. It is possible to benefit by exporting more -- and by importing more. Importing cheaply that which we can only produce at great expense (or not at all) isn't a loss. Nor is importing something of lower value and converting it (by assembly, refinement, or other upgrade) into something more valuable.

News LDS Church withdraws support for certain Boy Scout programs

The Boy Scouts play an important role in the civic well-being of the country. This is an unfortunate withdrawal: Like America, the Boy Scouts are stronger because they consist of many who can differ about they ways they will live their private lives, yet still share an essential belief in some common principles of civic life and engagement. The less we retreat into our own silos of self-similarity and the more time we spend achieving common good alongside people who are different from us, the better.

Threats and Hazards Propaganda on the American front page

Because American photographers weren't allowed inside, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Boston Globe all ran photos from Russian sources of an Oval Office meeting between the President and the Russian foreign minister.

May 10, 2017

News The public deserves answers about the Comey firing

If institutions matter, then processes must be held as important as outcomes. The rule of law depends on it.

Threats and Hazards Political blackmail

The former acting attorney general just told the Senate that she tried to warn the White House that they were opening the door to grave trouble by letting Michael Flynn become the national security advisor. The trouble was that he could be subject to blackmail -- a serious problem for the NSA.

Business and Finance Australia's treasurer wants banks to pay a new tax but not pass it along to customers

He says, "Don't do it -- they already don't like you very much," reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Nobody should rise to a position of real power without understanding that tax incidence has nothing to do with who likes whom. It's simple: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Taxes are always -- always -- shared between buyers and sellers in some proportion, depending largely upon who "wants" the transaction more.

News "Lateral entry" into the Marine Corps

They're looking seriously at letting people enter the Marines without going through conventional boot camp training, as long as they bring necessary technology-related skills. It really may be time to open up a distinct branch of the military devoted to cyberwarfare.

Broadcasting Tribune Media sells out to Sinclair

The purchase price is $3.9 billion plus outstanding debt. Sinclair has quietly covered a huge portion of the country with its owned-and-operated broadcast outlets. A prominent Chicago media columnist reports the story with a dark headline, seeing it as an ominous political move. It might better be portrayed as another step in the demise of proprietor capitalism -- a process which has its own drawbacks.

News When you can't even turn a profit on a casino...

The "Trump Taj Mahal" has been liquidated at pennies on the dollar from its original cost

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

May 2, 2017

Business and Finance Upskilling and the social-safety net

Germany is grappling with the question of just how much the government can do to insist that unemployed workers get new training -- how to do it, how much to pay, and whether it should affect their unemployment benefits. The time to make strong structural reforms is when unemployment is low (like it is now), and when pilot programs and other testing can be done with less impact and disruption to the public at large. But it's also worth noting that if there is an accelerated pace of technological change affecting workers, then maybe it's worth taking a bigger look at what should be done throughout the economy to help make the changes less dramatic. The Nordic Council's idea to make life-long education a compulsory requirement might just be the answer, despite how radically that may change how we think about education. It's hard to get people to take voluntary action to keep developing their skills -- Singapore, just for example, has miniscule participation in programs for continuing education (both at the individual level and at the company level). So it might just be necessary to make it a universal requirement in order to get the social commitment necessary to make it work. Work is a social thing, not just an economic one, so it makes sense to consider the social aspects of ongoing labor-force development as part of the big picture, both socially and economically.

Computers and the Internet UK regulators lean on the big websites to counteract hate speech

The problem with leaning on your user base to produce the content you need to make money? It's costly and difficult to weed out the bad content, of which there is a lot. And the producers of bad content have far more vested interest in producing it, getting it seen, and skirting the rules than the producers of good content have vested interest in tolerating it.

Threats and Hazards Russian propaganda seeks to influence the German elections

There are lots of people with Russian ties (including language) living in Germany, and they're getting messages that seek to undermine the incumbent government of Angela Merkel. Watch this closely! For Americans, it may be easier to see this interference from the outside than on the inside...but it's clear that Russia has turned to asymmetric psychological-warfare efforts to interfere with outcomes in democratic countries.

Weather and Disasters Seeing storms like never before

The new GOES-16 weather satellite provides a much more real-time view of North America than meteorologists had before. And with that comes much smoother animation of storm activity. When viewed correctly, it becomes a whole lot more clear that the fluid atmosphere above us behaves like a liquid in slow motion. The frequent updates might also help observers to pinpoint sooner when clouds start to break through temperature caps.

Business and Finance On the virtue of having multiple parallel careers

The column is a little on the flaky side for something from Harvard Business Review, but the main point is valuable: Pursuing more than one career interest gives a person more options and allows them to think deeply about how they can apply interdisciplinary thinking to problems.

News Northwestern's J-school decides special accreditation isn't worthwhile

The official reason for letting the accreditation lapse: It "doesn't lead us to a goal of significant improvement". Good for them, if that's the full story. Ultimately, those certifications, accreditations, trade groups, and regulations that fail to actually cultivate improvement are only relics.

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #22

A fistfight broke out on a passenger airplane. You never know when you could be trapped in a small space with a crazy person (and no weapons).

May 1, 2017

The United States of America Calling all budget hawks

A government that responds to today's greedy voters by shoving its hands in the pockets of tomorrow's taxpayers is, truly, unlimited. And that's an affront to those who believe in limited government.

Threats and Hazards Apparent torture at the Milwaukee County Jail

Seven jail officials could face charges over the death of an inmate who was deprived of water. We explicitly prohibit cruel and unusual punishment for a reason. Deprivation of liberty should be punishment enough. It is un-American to take pride in the abuse of the imprisoned. Heed the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations."

Threats and Hazards Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence

The President walks away from an interview with John Dickerson of CBS when Dickerson asks what proof he has of illegal wiretapping supposedly conducted by President Obama

Computers and the Internet Purdue just grew by 32,000 students

The public university is taking over a big chunk of the Kaplan University system, instantly expanding Purdue's reach as an online-education presence in about the biggest way possible. Purdue's president, Mitch Daniels, said he didn't think Purdue could make a big enough entry into online education on its own without making the jump to an acquisition of this scale.

News A little debate is good for the soul

Responding to outcry over a recent item published in the New York Times, Senator Ben Sasse notes, "We are in danger of becoming a nation that flees all discussion with people and ideas we don't already agree with. That won't work out well." He's right. No great idea has ever been diminished by a challenge from a lesser idea. Either it is sustained intact, or it is refined by the conflict.

Business and Finance A $1.1 trillion spending plan

And, like that, Congress appears to have reached a deal to fund the Federal government through September 30th. A vote is supposed to come later in the week.

Computers and the Internet Bloomberg and Twitter enter a joint venture

Bloomberg will provide 24-hour-a-day news content, and Twitter will provide the distribution platform. With a move like this, one ought to put the odds that Bloomberg will ultimately buy Twitter outright at something around 50-50.

News Andrew Jackson wasn't a laudable President

And we would describe him in colorful words today if he were from somewhere else. That's what makes the President's bizarre and vocal defense of Jackson strange. Even a sympathetic look at Jackson reveals huge flaws in his character.

Business and Finance A universal child allowance

Would we have a better safety net for the young if, instead of specific programs, we instead simply had a national program for cash payments to parents to ensure the well-being of their children? An interesting question. To be sure, the value of targeting individual programs has an offsetting cost in terms of requiring poor parents to jump through lots of bureaucratic hoops.

News "Then why do you support him?"

When an open supporter of the President says he finds it hard to defend the officeholder, Katy Tur has a good question

April 30, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "From Silk to Silicon"

A valuable lesson in the inevitability of globalization, delivered through strong storytelling

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 27, 2017

Business and Finance White House says it will propose biggest tax cut ever

Everyone like the idea of a tax cut, but it's not always the right prescription. If indefinite tax cuts led to infinite growth, then we should cut the rates to zero. But they don't, and so we shouldn't. The fact is that if we're going to spend 20% or 21% of GDP on the Federal government, then we need to collect taxes within a percentage point (or two, at most) of that amount in order to have a sustainable budget. But we don't: The Federal government only takes in about 17.5% of GDP as revenues (usually taxes). Economic growth can make up a small gap, but not a big one. Borrowing against the future only creates conflict between generations and raises the ultimate cost of our borrowing.

News Separation of powers is good for its own sake

The House Oversight Committee requested information from the White House about Michael Flynn. The White House is stonewalling the request. So now, regardless of partisan alignments, the House has a reason to stand up for itself and insist on its own authority to conduct an investigation -- for the good of the institution. That's a good thing.

News Spinning around and around on NAFTA

First, the President said we were cutting out of NAFTA. Then he got a couple of angry phone calls and decided to reverse course. Free trade is a much bigger and more important principle than that, and it deserves far more serious consideration than he has given the matter.

Broadcasting Unbundling is killing ESPN

The network announced a whole bunch of layoffs, and the ultimate cause is that people have more choice than ever about getting programming without the channel bundles. So a whole lot of people who used to pay for ESPN (as part of cable or satellite TV bills) but rarely or never watched it...still don't watch it, but now they don't pay for it, either.

Aviation News $10,000 for a bump

United revises its rules to offer a whole lot more than before in order to bump passengers voluntarily. The market will take care of the rest.

April 26, 2017

News Stop jerking NAFTA around

The President has wobbled back and forth between threatening to withdraw from NAFTA to, now, saying he's been convinced by phone calls from Canada and Mexico to leave the agreement in place. It's absurd and self-defeating. Anyone who thinks free trade is unilaterally bad for America hasn't seen the hoops that Canadians will jump through to buy US-made products, just for example. Restricting trade hurts many and helps a few, but the many often don't realize it. The harm done is real nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards Falling behind in information warfare

In addition to the substantial cybercriminal/cyberwarfare behavior that had some impact on the 2016 election, there's also an ongoing battle in the court of public diplomacy -- one from which the United States has been ill-advisedly retreating. With propaganda tools like RT on the rise, the United States needs to turn around and stop depleting and neglecting the tools of public diplomacy that helped shape the outcome of the Cold War. For altogether too long, we've been cutting back on conventional (even analog) means of communicating with the world to promote a message of transparency, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Excuses have been made about the economy of using online means to achieve the same ends, but the reality is that they are not true substitutes. They should be seen as complementary tools -- just like a terrestrial radio station, its online stream, and its website are each complementary of one another, to be supplemented by things like social media, podcasts, and "street presence". That's the model we need to resurrect in public diplomacy, and we need to be willing to invest in it.

Health Two teams qualify for big money in Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize

The "Tricorder" medical device of "Star Trek" fame is now, at least tentatively, a real thing in our own world. Two teams have been awarded substantial prizes in an X-Prize to come up with a device that measures for 10 conditions (anemia, atrial fibrillation (AFib), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, leukocytosis, pneumonia, otitis media, sleep apnea, urinary tract infection, or the absence of all nine problems), a few additional elective conditions, and vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature). A truly fantastic development in technology. Inducement/innovation prizes really work. Now the task is to get the devices to FDA approval so we can start to use them.

Business and Finance A tax-reform plan? Kind of.

We have, quite literally, only bullet points to describe what the administration says it wants to pursue for tax reform. But the headline above those bullet points is "The biggest individual and business tax cut in American history". Nobody with the slightest bit of sense can argue that the tax code isn't in need of simplifying reform. What we have now simply doesn't make any kind of comprehensive sense. But to promise a tax cut of historic proportions when the Federal debt stands just a hair shy of $20 trillion -- or, if you do the math, more than $61,000 per person -- is to put an irresponsible degree of faith in the power of a tax cut to stimulate economic growth. Rapid economic growth makes up for a whole lot of fiscal sins...but the amount of growth required in an economy that annually produces in the neighborhood of $18 to $19 trillion is far more than even the most enthusiastic Keynesian would probably permit. It's the expansive view of government that is the root of the problem -- the belief that government can and should do quite a lot. But once we have committed to having government do something, it is generationally irresponsible not to pay for it as we go. We can pass along debts on things that have inter-generational benefits (like the Interstate highway system, or winning WWII) -- and do it with a clear conscience. But our present problem is, quite simply, that we want too much and are willing to pay too little for it. That's a titanic failure of both math and morals. Lower tax rates might easily feel good, but their real impact really just won't be enough to pay for itself, likely not even by a long shot.

Computers and the Internet Ten years after cyberwar on Estonia, the former president thinks Europe still doesn't take the problem seriously

Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves: "One of the problems is that many political leaders don't really quite get it. They don't understand the technology and then they will repeat things that they've heard..." That doesn't mean we have to fill the US Congress and the parliaments of Europe with computer programmers, but it wouldn't hurt if they had at least a modicum of digital and technological literacy before occupying those roles. Learning about cyberwarfare is today as important a job for a national-level politician as learning about bombs. You don't have to know how to use them, but you'd better have a general understanding of how they work. With mounting evidence that nefarious forces have been conducting cyberwarfare against the centrist candidate for French president, it should be clear to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to the matter that cyberwarfare is a pressing issue now and will continue to be.

April 25, 2017

Business and Finance Stock options will enrich Marissa Mayer by almost $200 million when Verizon buys Yahoo

Assuming that everything proceeds as expected with the acquisition, the Yahoo CEO is lined up to make a huge amount of money off her vested stock options. And that's compensation for a performance that it's quite hard to dignify as "successful". Yahoo is, by any reasonable account, a diminished presence on the Internet from what it was when she started her tenure. Would it have done worse in other hands? Maybe or maybe not. But the fact that equity compensation in the form of stock options makes it possible for someone to make so much money -- a fairly incomprehensible amount, really -- without delivering a dramatic success ought to cause shareholders to really question whether they're being fleeced by management and the boards who set management compensation. It's hard not to think the answer is too often "yes". Or, in the words of New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, "Another CEO is rewarded with generational wealth for accomplishing absolutely nothing." Calling it "absolutely nothing" may be a bit harsh, but it's certainly not a rousing success story. The people who own businesses -- shareholders -- need to speak up for themselves and demand better.

News Illinois stumbles towards junk-bond status

Imagine a state that reaches a point where it can no longer pay its bills, nor get anyone to lend it money at less than outrageous rates. Would the Federal government have to step in with a bailout?

Threats and Hazards Russia's been hacking the Danish defense ministry

For the last two years, say the Danes. That's a whole lot of cyberwarfare against a NATO member state.

Business and Finance Health insurance is killing family budgets for farmers and ranchers

Farmers and ranchers are highly likely to buy their health insurance in the individual marketplace, which has turned into a pretty catastrophically high-cost area for a lot of buyers.

Business and Finance IKEA wants to capitalize on its food division

They're seriously talking about opening up IKEA restaurants detached from the furniture stores, employing (of course) the lessons they've learned from operating the in-house food service as a tool to get shoppers to stick around for longer. As crazy as standalone Swedish fast-food outlets may sound, it's a bad idea to bet against IKEA -- they've demonstrated a strong capacity to figure out how to create greater demand than they can supply.

News We should use the right words when discussing prisons

The word "corrections" should only apply if we're trying to release better people than the ones who entered prison. How hard are we really trying to do that?

Humor and Good News Why Kris Bryant won't flip the bat after a big home run

He won't do it because he thinks it's rude to the pitcher. Imagine...we're talking about the Chicago Cubs as heavy hitters, after a century of loveable loserdom

Computers and the Internet Apple will overhaul its retail stores

Anyone who didn't like the Apple Store before will likely find it positively nauseating after the changes, which appear to be intended to make the stores more of a "destination" than a place to shop. Ugh.

April 21, 2017

Business and Finance Tax reform proposal by next week?

The White House claims it will put forward a proposal for tax reform by next week. Any proposal needs to reflect two important conservative principles: First, government shouldn't take any more than necessary. Second, one generation shouldn't take from another.

Threats and Hazards Russia went after Trump advisors to try to influence the 2016 campaign

Nefarious. Just nefarious.

News President Obama returns to the stage

Next week, he will speak on a major stage for the first time since the end of his presidency. The lingering trouble for the Democratic Party is that his electoral success was more personality-driven than policy-driven, and his "movement" in the meantime severely undermined the kinds of policy objectives that helped the Democrats put Bill Clinton in office. To get back into they White House, they'll need more Clinton-esque policymaking and less nostalgia for Obama. He managed a unique presence in electoral history, but it was not good in the long term for his own party.

News The trials of a captive audience member

Vice President Pence forced everyone aboard Air Force Two to watch "Hoosiers" because he's from Indiana and they were stuck on a flight to Australia

Broadcasting A push to eliminate the "main studio" rule in broadcasting

Does it matter anymore if a station has a main studio in its city of license?

April 20, 2017

News Does China's economic growth make some Westerners soft on authoritarianism?

It's possible -- it was easy to oppose Communism when its public face was the grim, depressing, and economically-backwards Soviet Union. But China has the ability to put a lot of shine and sparkle on display (like the cities built practically overnight from scratch), and that may cause some people to think that an authoritarian government might not be all that bad, especially if it's able to "deliver the goods" that make the difference between poverty and at least some form of wealth. But we proceed down a dangerous path when we let this kind of thinking run about unchecked. ■ First, it's hazardous to assume that the economic success of a nation like China is more than skin-deep. Other countries have achieved substantial transformations in their economic status, too -- Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are all relevant examples from the same region of the world. But they each had important fundamentals undergirding their economic growth, and they each have paid a toll in the modern day for shortcuts that were taken in the past. South Korea's government intervened heavily in order to promote development in heavy industry -- and today, they continue to pay back a sort of civic debt in the form of political scandals tied to the favoritism that went unchecked a long time ago. Japan's economy had one of the world's great booms, but their strong resistance to immigration seems to have created avoidable obstacles to future growth. Singapore, being much smaller than the other two examples, is perhaps a less informative case study, but it is not without its own internal critics of the strength of the state. Ultimately, China will pay a major penalty for its growth if it doesn't start to rectify some of the weaknesses in its own structural approach. ■ Second, economic growth in a country that starts out very poor will happen at a much faster pace than in a country that starts out in the world's middle class or better, just like a startup company can show much faster growth rates than a mature one. Moving from poverty into the middle class will tend to look like a much faster and bigger achievement than moving from prosperity to greater prosperity, simply because it starts from a lower base. That doesn't mean they've discovered some special form of mastery. ■ Third, if looking to other countries causes Americans to think that the answer to prosperity is found somewhere in stronger centralization of power by a political elite rather than from the diffusion of power and control, then they're taking away exactly the wrong message. Sometimes, government has managed to concentrate a whole lot of attention and brainpower on select goals and achieved great success -- the Manhattan Project, for instance, or putting men on the Moon. But most of the transformative improvements in American life have come about from the accumulated small improvements made in many places by many self-interested individuals, families, and firms, which taken together have produced great rewards. Individual ambition among lots of people who are free to exercise their own motivation is a whole lot more effective at making great things happen in the long run than putting some purportedly great planner in charge. As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote, "The depression convinced the public that capitalism was defective; the war, that centralized government was efficient. Both conclusions were false." ■ Fourth, the economy isn't the only thing that matters. So does liberty. So does character. So does honor. So does dignity. So does the rule of law. These things all require hard work -- and though they may be harder to quantify than per-capita GDP growth, they should never be sacrificed in the name of simply making more money. Prosperity is good, necessary, and desirable -- but wealth shouldn't also cost our souls. Economic prosperity is more important as a tool for defending our freedoms and liberties than as an end unto itself. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."

The United States of America Giving extraordinary power to the former Presidents

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has proposed that a council of former Presidents and Vice Presidents be given the authority to conduct a 25th Amendment review of their successors, just in case an out-of-control President seeks to remove his or her own Cabinet in a bid to prevent removal.

News When celebrity overwhelms character

David French's analysis of the "toxic conservative-celebrity culture" in the National Review is quite good. Particularly this: "[B]ad character sends a country to hell just as surely as bad policy does, and any movement that asks its members to defend vice in the name of advancing allegedly greater virtue is ultimately shooting itself in the foot." There are great thinkers and a great intellectual tradition on the center-right of American politics. But just as surely as those ideas should be heard, the clowns who masquerade as "conservatives" in the name of self-absorbed publicity-seeking ought to be booted from the stage wherever possible. There's a lot of work to be done in defense of the classical values that support Western Civilization -- the policies that protect classical liberalism are rarely spontaneous or regenerative without heavy commitment from enlightened leaders. The distractions of noxious celebrity-seekers suck the air out of the room.

Business and Finance At home and not working

The Census Bureau says that a solid third of American adults ages 18 to 34 live at home with their parents. That's a big number, though there are plenty of reasons why that might be. And a quarter of those people living at home don't work or go to school. The total number is 2.2 million people. People who fail to get on the economic escalator early on are going to find themselves falling farther and farther behind in later life if they don't reverse course. A lot of things -- like marriage -- are happening much later for this generation of young adults than for their predecessors. But if you combine social delay with economic idleness, then there's a real problem to behold.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuelan government steals an auto plant from GM

GM says it's only been making parts at the plant since 2015, but they're going to shut down operations in the country rather than surrender. The Venezuelan economic disaster is entirely man-made and entirely correctible...but it would require that the socialists acknowledge that they're at fault, which isn't something they do.

News Take off your hat when you're in the Oval Office

That's not political correctness, it's dignity. Someone should tell Ted Nugent.

April 19, 2017

Threats and Hazards No child -- anywhere -- should have to live like this

A photo shows a small Sudanese refugee child -- perhaps two years old -- sleeping on a hard, dirty floor in threadbare clothing. No child should have to live like that. If we don't have sympathy for the refugee (and do something to help!), then we have no business calling ourselves civilized.

Threats and Hazards The risks to the classical-liberal order

The notion of limited government and individual liberty isn't assured or permanently guaranteed anywhere. It takes effort and commitment. Much of human history rewarded the concentration of power, while the broadest benefits come from diffusion of it. It's much easier for people to slip into a sort of hypnosis that "strong" leaders can fix everything than to undertake the hard and sustained work of self-government.

News Executive order requests report on H-1B program

In general, anything that permits the United States to act as a willing and open recruiter of talent from the global marketplace ought to have a positive impact on our economic standing. We should be "greedy", as the President likes to say, for as much talent as the rest of the world can send us.

Business and Finance Caterpillar headquarters to move from Peoria to suburban Chicago

The company says access to O'Hare makes a big difference since the company exports so much of its output. But it's also worth asking whether this is a case of the company chasing an agglomeration economy -- trying to move to where they think a willing population of management talent might already be (Chicago) rather than trying to dig in deeper and protect itself by entrenching further into Peoria, where its own employees are (perhaps) likely to have to be more committed to the company. By moving to suburban Chicago, it could just as easily lose valuable managers as gain them.

Business and Finance Federal government didn't act on 700 whistleblower warnings about Wells Fargo

If government is going to spend $10 doing something, it's worth spending $1 to see whether it's using the other $9 well. In this case, we have a report documenting insufficient internal oversight over their activities -- which happen to be external oversight.

Threats and Hazards How Russian efforts sought to influence the US election

They were (and likely are) actively trying to undermine faith in the electoral system

News An undignified and unproductive change of style

Prominent Democrats think they can swear their way to success. They've even used the party's official Twitter account to do it. They're dead wrong: Their problem isn't that they aren't using enough foul language, and if they think that's what's keeping them from winning, they're going to keep on losing.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela inches toward collapse

And socialist mismanagement of government and national resources is entirely to blame

April 18, 2017

News British Prime Minister Theresa May calls snap election

Likely a gambit to consolidate popularity gains by her party versus a chronically weak Labour Party

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges shortcomings in "Facebook Live" content reviews

Brought to the forefront by the broadcast of a murder this past week, though that's certainly not the only disturbing incident. It was evident the moment that Facebook Live came out that bad purposes, bad actors, and bad audiences could drive out the good.

News NY Times gives devastating review of Clinton campaign autopsy book

Have no doubt that the campaign made major strategic and tactical mistakes. But if the Democratic Party concludes that it would have won the White House if only it hadn't been hobbled by the Clinton errors, then they're going to make terrible mistakes leading up to 2020.

Threats and Hazards This should reassure no one

Turkey's president says the new powers granted to him via a referendum don't make him a dictator. If the question even has to be asked, the answer probably isn't a good one.

Socialism Doesn't Work Of course Sen. Bernie Sanders wants a radical transformation of the Democratic Party

That's because he's not actually a Democrat, and his campaign for their nomination was intended as a hostile takeover. Sanders has a view of government that is incompatible with the notion of limited government.

Threats and Hazards "Strong leadership" is overrated in national politics

It's probably too easy for us to project tribal instincts onto nation-state frameworks, making "strong leadership" look better than it is. It takes conscious choice to recognize and adequately support restraint, openness, and flexibility among high-ranking leaders.

News The President should do most of his business from the White House

Senator Joni Ernst -- critical of the President's over-use of his own privately-owned facilities for both business and (abundant) vacation time -- is right to expect that the people's business predominantly be done from the people's house.

News The first Federal Form 1040

Rather simpler than the form most Americans complete today. Donald Rumsfeld has a terrific letter to the IRS that he sends each year to acknowledge that "I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and tax payment estimates are accurate...despite my best efforts, despite having a college degree, and despite having the assistance of an experienced tax accounting firm, I do not have confidence that I know what is being requested."

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April 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Abominable cruelty: 68 children killed in bombing of Syrian refugee convoy

What kind of monsters would do such a thing? And can people begin to see just why so many refugees would be on the run? They're not the perpetrators -- they're the primary victims of the awful war.

News So many things getting better

And yet, still so far to go. The astonishing declines in characteristics like extreme poverty, illiteracy, and child mortality over the last two centuries truly reveal a world getting vastly better over generations. But it's up to each generation to keep pushing forward and avoiding the awful prospect of civilizational decline.

Business and Finance Perspective: US government spending as a share of a $100 budget

In the words of the Wall Street Journal editor Dennis Berman: "America has become a giant insurance scheme with an army".

Threats and Hazards No good options with North Korea

There's very little that can be done to punish the country economically that hasn't already been done, and the legitimacy of the government there basically depends upon fomenting a state of crisis and its related high-stress mentality. So escalating conflict with them only serves to reinforce the one thing that appears to be holding the power structure in place. Consequently, it's not especially productive to show up and try to do our own chest-thumping: That's what the totalitarian regime is hoping for.

Aviation News Meet the Jetsons

Dubai expects to be the first place in the world with drone taxis -- later this year. Really: They're getting autonomous drones that can carry passengers, called the "EHang 184".

Aviation News Boeing layoffs cut 300 engineers

As well as 1,500 mechanics. But the notion of layoffs affecting hundreds of aerospace engineers ought to attract special attention, as those would normally seem to be relatively bulletproof jobs in a high-income, high-status occupation.

Threats and Hazards Right-wing extremists claim responsibility for bombing a German bus

The investigation is incomplete, but claims of responsibility shouldn't be ignored

April 15, 2017

Threats and Hazards A valid concern about Asia

We have no confirmed ambassadors to Japan, South Korea, or China right now -- and those are important roles at a time when North Korea is setting up real trouble.

Business and Finance What bothers Americans about their taxes

It's not so much about paying too much (only 27% say it bothers them "a lot"), but whether they perceive that others are paying enough -- a Pew survey says 62% say it bothers them "a lot" that "some corporations don't pay their fair share", and 60% say the same about "some wealthy people". Worth noting: The households in the top 20% of the income bracket paid 69% of the income taxes in 2013. So, from a broad-brushstroke level, that looks pretty progressive.

April 14, 2017

Threats and Hazards How North Korean trouble could bind China and the United States closer together

The US has an interest thanks to the presence of our allies South Korea and Japan -- and because of the threat that North Korea is developing weapons that could reach the United States, from Alaska down the Pacific Coast. China naturally doesn't want an unstable nuclear-armed dictatorship getting frantic on its eastern border. And thus, the two countries have a mutual interest in asserting the necessary dominance to end the trouble.

Threats and Hazards Russian psychological warfare continues

Analysts think the "#SyriaHoax" hashtag was a pure Russian fabrication. Let's also acknowledge that Russia tried to influence US elections back in the 1980s; it's not like these operations are anything truly new. On Russian cyber and psychological warfare against the US and trusted institutions, take note of this observation: "It has not plateaued. It is continuing to increase." Also important to remember (about Russia, Syria, North Korea, and so on): The regime isn't the people.

Science and Technology NASA says there are "ocean worlds" right inside the Solar System

There are others far away, too, but the idea that we might actually be in the same region as us is pretty intriguing. Saturn has a moon that looks especially intriguing.

News Tuition-free college in New York

Not unlimited, not unrestricted, but a rather significant free-tuition program

Computers and the Internet Apple gets permission to test self-driving car tech in California

They're modifying Lexus SUVs

News The first book you read...

The first book you read on a subject may be totally wrong. You won't know until you read several more.

News Minnesota econ professor busted for 13 years skipping taxes

Someone may soon get a workshop in the hard-time value of money

Threats and Hazards Remember, it's been three years since the Chibok girls were taken

Gut-wrenching for their families

Business and Finance Economic errors in the public mind

A generation of Americans now believes the risk-free rate is zero. Makes the math easier, but it lacks a certain historical validity.

News Art is in the constraints

When NYC killed its old setback regulations, skyscraper design took a giant aesthetic leap backwards.

April 13, 2017

News Prominent Democrats turn to public swearing

There are four problems with this: ■ If you're modifying your speech in an artificial way so that you "look" authentic, it's inauthentic (and people will see through it). ■ The smart way to demonstrate authenticity is by actually engaging with people -- look to Senators Cory Booker or Ben Sasse for online examples. ■ The Democratic Party should be trying to reach undecided voters and independents. Their base is sufficiently riled-up. The voters in the middle aren't looking for politicians to potty-mouth their way to success. ■ The DNC needs to work on its substance, not its style. The Democrats won the White House when the DLC pushed ideas to the forefront. The DLC was a direct reaction to the rise of identity-based politics in the party, and it promoted an agenda of ideas instead.

Computers and the Internet AI for your doodles

"AutoDraw" takes your lousy sketch and turns it into something more recognizable

Threats and Hazards "Watch out. There's something not right here."

The Guardian reports that British intelligence agencies reported on "contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents", according to a source.

Aviation News Airline passenger suffered concussion and two lost teeth in aggressive removal from flight

So says his lawyer, who also says he'll probably sue. Airlines ought to be smarter about offering people incentives to be bumped from flights. Passengers in middle seats, for instance, may need to be reminded that they have more to gain than others by taking a chance on a new flight.

News Conventional wisdom may be a bit wrong on low-value college degrees

There really aren't a lot of basket-weaving majors, to be fair.

Business and Finance Farm states should be deeply pro-trade states

A reminder we need while trade is getting bashed in the media

Business and Finance Planners are never as wise as they think

Take a messy, dynamic, hard-to-predict economy over a "planned" one any day.

Threats and Hazards Opportunism tends to fill a void faster than justice

Who's in control across Syria and Iraq

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia "spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community"

That's the interpretation of the National Security Council. Note the following: The price of oil is low (or, at least, it's well below the old bubble that subsidized oil-producing economies). The Russian population is stagnant or even shrinking. The Russian government depends a great deal on oil revenues to deliver goods and services -- for which demand would be expected to rise by a lot in a country with an aging population. And the cohort in power doesn't want to give up what they've taken. So it should come as no surprise that a form of asymmetric warfare -- the disinformation campaign -- will continue to be one of the go-to tools of that governing cohort, as long as disinformation continues to serve their interests. In China, a growing economy has served to suppress political dissent. Russia, which doesn't have a growing economy, may find its leaders turning more towards extraordinary tools to demonstrate (and maintain) power, in the absence of economic strength.

News NATO never was "obsolete"

The President takes credit for changing the focus of the organization, which in his own interpretation took an obsolete organization and rendered it no longer obsolete. That interpretation is silly. Still more, the damage that was done by campaigning on the organization's supposed lack of utility is already fixed in the public's perception -- that is to say, anyone who didn't have an opinion regarding NATO before, and who took the President's campaign statements at face value, is unlikely to change their minds today just because of a reversal in his own formal statement of policy. Institutional support doesn't bounce back so easily.

News Secretary of State visits Russian president in "surprise" meeting

And, in a gesture of disrespect to the press and the public, he ditched his press pool to do it

The United States of America Boston Globe gets one of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women"

However inarticulate Romney's statement may have been, his actions were commendable. As a country, let's not do that again -- if a good person with good intentions and strong qualifications again comes along and runs for President, can we please judge them on their merits rather than fixating on nonsense like the occasional clunky turn of phrase? America needs more politicians like Mitt Romney, not fewer.

The United States of America The Presidential elections of 2008, 2012, and 2016 in precinct-level detail

A really impressive display of research cartography

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April 11, 2017

News Lack of clarity on foreign policy

The United States is the sole superpower in world affairs. It's incumbent upon us to behave rationally, predictably, and transparently. When we don't, there's really not a lot of order left.

Weather and Disasters Necessary controlled burns in Kansas lead to thick smoke in Nebraska

There's no way around conducting the managed burns -- but they might want to coordinate better in the future

Computers and the Internet Microsoft pulls the plug on Vista

No more support

Threats and Hazards Secretary of State Tillerson questions why Americans should care about Ukraine

When is a threat to self-determination somewhere a threat to it everywhere?

News New York to offer (limited) free college tuition

Ultimately, an offer like this is a business decision on the part of the state

April 10, 2017

News Protests are breaking through in Venezuela

The government there has done a shocking amount to destroy both the economy and democracy

Business and Finance A time traveler from 1985 is in charge

If you really think Japan is still our biggest trade competitor, then you might just be stuck in the Reagan era

Aviation News Dragging an airline passenger off a flight? Not a wise decision.

United overbooked a flight and forced a passenger off after he'd already boarded. The reputational damage to the airline from the resulting videos could be substantial.

Iowa Accreditation committee wants University of Iowa to push its business school harder

That includes more emphasis on differentiating it from the other two business schools at the Regents universities

Humor and Good News Ford prepares a prototype crib

It mimics the sensory experience of taking a ride in the car, which for some infants is a cathartic experience

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 9, 2017

Aviation News 50 years ago today: The first Boeing 737 test flight

Likely one of the five most important passenger aircraft in commercial aviation history. It remains a workhorse -- the best-selling commercial airplane of all time -- and its capacity helped to define what routes would be economically viable and which wouldn't. If the 737 can't handle a route, it's probably destined to become a regional-jet route, with all of the consequences that entails.

Threats and Hazards Accounting for the costs of war

People often give credit to wartime production efforts for stimulating economies (like, say, that of the United States during WWII). But that accounting is utterly incomplete if we don't also subtract the costs -- like the destruction of more than a quarter of France's national wealth and half of its annual economic output during the same war. War should never be credited for economic stimulus if we don't equally consider its vast costs.

April 1, 2017

News Child-care workers in DC now need college degrees

That's per a mandate from the municipal government. Like many such regulations, it sounds noble on the surface -- like it will result in children getting better care. But it's important to see that this could equally be viewed as a barrier to entry that will keep competitors from entering the market to supply child care, and according to the Washington Post's story on the subject, the market is already extremely tight. Beware what's happening in the market for labor overall: When new barriers to entry are put up, they're rarely taken down. It's common (but foolish) practice to make it harder for people to compete on the merits of their work rather than on the licenses, degrees, and certifications they can earn -- because once people earn those things, they have an incentive to use them to keep other people out. ■ Beware a growing problem on the other end of the labor market -- where society long ago exchanged high living standards for the assurance that "professionals" would put their clients' interests ahead of their own. That is, after all, the central concept which defines professionalism: An adherence to a code of conduct that puts the client's interests first in exchange for a certain amount of financial security and social status. ■ Unfortunately, Americans have gotten sloppy with the word "professional" -- to the point where it carries no real meaning in ordinary use. People in all lines of work call themselves "professionals" as a means of claiming status without actually adhering to any ground rules or behavioral principles. ■ This cheapening of the word "professional" has, in turn, given cover to people who are employed in actual professions, but who put crass commercial interests of their own ahead of the clients' best interests. The doctor who "treated" Michael Jackson to death, the personal-injury and DUI lawyers with crass billboards and television ads, and the variety of health and wellness "practitioners" who endorse dubious (if not outright harmful) supplements and diet plans are no more "professionals" than any entry-level sales clerk at a sporting-goods store. (Don't even get started on the use of contradictions in terms like "sales professional".) ■ Some commercialism is probably inevitable as professional service providers (doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, architects, engineers, and others) merge operations with one another in order to administrative overhead costs. It's quite natural for some degree of consolidation to take place just through ordinary attrition and simple bookkeeping. But that consolidation can also be accelerated by the impact of government over-regulation: The greater the red tape, the more costly it becomes for a professional service provider to remain independent. More red tape should be expected to invariably lead to more consolidation. And thus we don't have solo practitioners making house calls -- we have doctors who work in groups that are attached to hospitals, which in turn have merged into large chains. The greater the rate of corporatization in a profession, the greater the pressure for other operators to start applying a more flexible yardstick to their own standards of professional behavior. The choices aren't always "consolidate, sell out, or die" -- but they can certainly start to look that way. ■ Can or should these trends be reversed? It's hard to say. They can certainly be accelerated by ham-fisted government intervention; the best way for the government to "do no harm" is to resist the urge to regulate everything under the sun. Professional organizations have a role to play as well, by self-policing their members and bringing the hammer down on those who make a mockery of their ethical codes. And consumers -- the clients of professional service providers -- have a duty to be informed and to insist on knowing when they're in a professional-client relationship and when it's "just business". There's nothing wrong with purely commercial transactions -- they happen all the time, and are the basis of most parts of the economy -- but if clients are letting down their guard because they expect professional treatment in a classical sense, and are getting unvarnished commercial treatment instead, then a clarification of roles is in order.

Business and Finance "American economic sclerosis"

The lure of government "protection" is strong, but in the long run it tends to cost a lot in visible and hidden tolls on an economy.

Humor and Good News Bryzzo Souvenirs is expanding

(Video) The Chicago Cubs are entitled to have a little extra fun this year. They earned it in 2016.

News Three people arrested for starting fire that caused I-85 to collapse in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says some of what burned was a pile of old HDPE (drainage pipe, perhaps?) that was being stored below the roadway and had been there for a decade. This would seem to point to a case of the broken-window effect: If you leave construction materials sitting outside for a decade, there's a good chance someone will get the impression that nobody's watching and nobody cares. And that's when bad things happen.

News Some Executive Branch financial disclosures are out

Two things to bear in mind: ■ Rule #1: It's not your assets that count, but your NET assets. Always subtract for debt. (The "sprawling real estate holdings" attributed to the Kushner family are a good case study in this: If you own a $250,000 house but you owe $225,000 on your mortgage, then you only really own $25,000 of house-related equity. Debt has a reasonable place in business -- especially real estate -- but it's not the same as owning something in cash equity. ■ Rule #2: When it comes to public officials, what you own is often much less important than who you owe.

Humor and Good News Why does this fortune cookie advocate insider trading?

"A confidential tip will clue you in to a great financial deal"?

News We need to talk about a few things, America

When an ordinary Walgreens in an affluent area has a shelf dedicated to paternity tests, breathalyzers, and at-home drug tests for cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and other drugs, then maybe those things are a bit too commonplace.

Threats and Hazards Russia turns to diplomatic nihilism

The Russian Embassy to the UK tweeted "Can a democracy be undermined from outside unless elite's resistance to change and broken social contract and trust have already done the job?" That is some sick nihilism.

News Real independence

Real independence requires study, self-discipline, and sacrifice for the future. It's true for individuals, for companies, and for countries. ■ Also: Part of maturity is in knowing that "trying to do what's right" is a process and "thinking I'm always right" is a character flaw.

News Painting the DC Metro stations

Once you start painting materials like concrete or brick, you have to keep going back for touch-up work. Bad idea.

Threats and Hazards Back to worrying about the EMP

Former CIA director James Woolsey suggests we're ignoring the EMP risk at our own peril

March 31, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He's already rich"

In an interview with The Atlantic, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is chair of the House Oversight Committee, dismissed a question about whether the President might seek to take advantage of his position for monetary gain. His response is wrong -- or, at best, supremely naive -- for at least four reasons. ■ First, it assumes that the President actually is rich. We don't know that. We still haven't seen any meaningful tax returns. We don't know what he owes, or to whom, nor have we seen anything that constitutes an independent accounting of his net worth. ■ Second, it assumes the President is not trying to get richer. We don't know that. The only evidence we have right now says that he never really divested, and his son confirmed just the other day that he's still giving his father reports on the family business. ■ Third, it assumes the President's greed is limited. We don't know that. In fact, he openly campaigned on the notion that his greed was a virtue, not a vice. ■ Fourth, and most importantly, it defaults to the idea that Congress shouldn't assume an adversarial role with the other two branches of government. That's a faulty conclusion. The three branches of government should be jealous of their own powers and eager to keep the others in check -- and that should be the case, even if all three branches were occupied unanimously by people who shared the same ideology. It's a matter of process, not outcomes, that there should always be tension among the branches of government as they struggle with one another to maintain an appropriate separation of powers. If "oversight" is the very name of your Congressional committee, then nobody should get the benefit of the doubt -- whether they're "rich" or not.

Threats and Hazards Sen. Marco Rubio confirms that Russian hackers went after him

Back in the Presidential campaign, and, he says, just this week. It came out during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. Testimony from one analyst identified an amplification system for Russian propaganda promoting Donald Trump and attacking his opponents. This is well beyond mischief. It's psyops -- warfare against the mind, saving the hassle of firing a gun. And what do we have to show for it? While it can't be proven conclusively what happened in an alternate reality where none of this took place, it's clear that the man elected President is failing in dramatic fashion to set a course for his administration, get a legislative agenda underway, or establish his own credibility. The Washington Post notes that hundreds of high-level Executive Branch jobs aren't just unfilled -- they're without nominees. The Post's appointee tracking database is a true public service.

Computers and the Internet Twitter nixes the egg and raises the character ceiling

The default profile picture -- currently an egg -- is being jettisoned in favor of an icon that looks like a person. Twitter seems to have put a great deal of excess thought into this. Perhaps more interesting is that they're raising the ceiling on characters allowed in tweets, putting "@username" references and media links outside the 140-character limit count.

Business and Finance How talent is organized has a huge effect on a firm

If star employees are organized so that they can work together, they can get a whole lot more done than if they are spread out all over the company. The more a firm chooses to concentrate the efforts of its top employees on core missions of the company -- and the better it does at stripping out red tape so that people don't waste their time on unproductive activity -- the better the company can perform. At least, that's what consultant research says.

Business and Finance Caterpillar will shut down factory in Aurora, Illinois

And 800 jobs will depart with it. That's not a small number for a city like Aurora (population 200,000). The closure will take until the end of 2018 to complete. Municipal leaders: Put not your faith in any one company, and never count on manufacturing jobs to stay in one place -- even if there's a huge plant that cost lots of money to build.

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March 30, 2017

News "It's just not going to be a 21st-Century Western country."

A dire way to forecast the future of the United States if we don't start acting seriously on our physical infrastructure (and it's a problem that goes way beyond just "roads and bridges").

Business and Finance A big bet on nuclear power goes very, very bad

Toshiba is losing billions of dollars because of trouble with its US nuclear-power unit, Westinghouse, which just declared bankruptcy.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela's supreme court undertakes a coup

They've assumed legislative powers under the claim that the legislature (run by the opposition, not the authoritarian socialists in charge of the executive branch) swore in members who weren't eligible.

Business and Finance Get ready for a loopy future in oil prices

Investment is moving heavily towards oil production that comes from sources that are quick to be tapped -- which could mean under-investment in sources that are more reliable. One of the little-told stories of the US economy today is how much we've been subsidized (implicitly) by cheap energy. It was a surprise -- a bonanza -- and you should never count on a bonanza to go on forever.

The United States of America Government should be a last resort for cushioning the economy

Not a first choice. Robert Samuelson's column probably gives too much credit to the White House for having a coherent vision of government, but he's definitely right when he says, "There's a bipartisan unwillingness to answer this question: What is government for?" -- and even more so when he notes, "We need limited government not in the sense of smaller government [...] but in the sense of government that is focused and reflects agreed-upon boundaries."

March 29, 2017

Threats and Hazards Americans "are being asked to choose between two unpalatable versions of events"

A BBC analyst observes that either there was epic misbehavior on the part of the Obama administration in applying surveillance against Donald Trump and his allies, or there were Americans who collaborated with and enabled a dirty influence campaign by a foreign government with the objective of getting Trump elected.

News The UK files for divorce

It's going to take a while, but they're officially leaving the European Union. It's really happening.

The United States of America "Russia is not unaware of our own distrust of each other...[or] our own increasing self-doubt"

US Senator Ben Sasse's comments on how an adversarial government in Russia is exploiting the soft underbelly of American political life.

Health If we want new antibiotics, we need to grow new bacteria

And it turns out that only a very small range of bacteria like to live in a conventional lab environment. So developments in the last few years that have enhanced the ability of scientists to cultivate bacteria in an organized way outside regular Petri dishes could be one of the best things to happen to medicine in the era of growing antibiotic resistance.

Humor and Good News "My fully optimized life allows me ample time to optimize yours"

A really funny swing at the people who make a pop-psychology fortune selling their purported insights into living perfected lives

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March 28, 2017

News "Indyref2": Scotland goes for a divorce, again

"Indyref2" seems like a pretty casual way to describe splitting the United Kingdom, but what's interesting is that the mother country really doesn't want to let the fight happen until after "Brexit" is over and the UK is out of the EU. So: Scotland's leaders have voted for a new independence referendum in 2018 or 2019, and the ministers in London say not until 2020 at the earliest, by which point the European Union divorce ought to be complete -- which would obviously complicate matters for an independent Scotland seeking to get back in.

Broadcasting On Scott Pelley's style of news delivery

He's calling things as they are during the CBS Evening News, and his forthright approach is what we've long needed in broadcasting. It's not editorializing -- but it's not gentle, either.

Threats and Hazards "[H]e's gone off on a lark [...] an Inspector Clouseau investigation"

Senator Lindsey Graham, in his inimitable style, on the things the House Intelligence Committee chair claims to know but won't tell anybody -- including the members of his own committee

Business and Finance Which countries do the most research and development?

Relative to the size of their economies overall, only a few countries in the OECD spend more than the United States -- notably, three of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden), two of our close East Asian allies (Japan and South Korea), and Israel. Switzerland and Austria beat us, too.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather season has arrived

A look at the climatology of past severe weather isn't a perfect guide to any individual year, but it's a very good place to start

Business and Finance Supply and demand: The tiny-apartments edition

A British developer wants to build really tiny apartments in the London region

March 27, 2017

Threats and Hazards "The protection of America lies in the Baltic states"

The Lithuanian president makes a case for US self-interest in acting to defend her country

Threats and Hazards UK investigators think the recent London attacker acted alone

It's reassuring to hear there's no great conspiracy, but it's an unpleasant reminder that even individuals can do great harm

News Double-stacked freight trains started in the 1980s

They're still not found everywhere in the US, but they have a pretty dramatic impact on transportation efficiency. Good thing so much has been invested in the infrastructure modifications that made them possible.

Computers and the Internet Treasury Secretary is wildly naive about the rise of artificial intelligence

In an interview, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the impact of artificial intelligence on the labor market is "not even on our radar screen" -- not even on a scale of decades. He's wrong. And being wrong about something like that makes it very difficult to make informed policy decisions and recommendations. Artificial intelligence is having an impact on the labor market already. It'll destroy some jobs, create others, and enhance still more.

News That's a lot of golf

The President has spent a lot of time on golf courses since his election, which wouldn't necessarily be notable if it weren't for the fact that he made such a big deal out of his predecessor's doing the same -- and that so many appointments have yet to be made. Also, it's costing the Secret Service a small fortune in golf-cart rentals.

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March 24, 2017

News It's called "rent-seeking", and it's not good for consumers

In seeking to prevent "transportation network companies" (Uber and Lyft, mainly) from competing with conventional taxi services, a union leader in Nevada wants state legislators to try imposing restrictions -- like requiring a 10-minute delay between ride request and pickup and placing a ban on surge pricing. It's completely understandable if taxi drivers feel threatened by competition. It's also perfectly reasonable to consider mild regulations in the direct and immediate interest of public health and safety. But artificial restraints on competition like service delays and price ceilings are pure rent-seeking behavior -- that is, the use of political influence to seek income ("rents") that wouldn't be provided in a competitive market.

Humor and Good News Theo Epstein declines Fortune acknowledgement as "world's greatest leader"

It's probably a bit much to name a baseball guy as the world's greatest leader -- but there's no question that management books ought to be written about Epstein and his approach. There's simply no way that his successes at the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were simply freak events. And it's Fortune's assertion that Epstein has applied lessons about personal character that he learned (from their absence) in Boston to building a World Series championship team in Chicago.

News AP decides "they" is sometimes OK as a singular pronoun

If the subject isn't interested in being identified as "he" or "she", the AP says it's OK to go with "they"

News Putin's vulnerability hinges on the price of oil

Per a column from the Atlantic Council: "This sector provides 52 percent of Russia's federal budget and 70 percent of its exports. These prices make or break Russia..."

News Honors bestowed on British politician who tried to save stabbed police officer

There's goodness, after all, inside most people -- including politicians

Broadcasting Radio Australia powers down its shortwave service

The long, slow decline of shortwave radio is a sad thing. Yes, Internet streams sound better. But shortwave has universal reach, and the Internet doesn't. Radio remains eminently portable in a way that data streams are not, and that's never been more significant than at a time when authoritarian governments have the power to blockade Internet access for the people living under their oppression. Those people deserve the freedom of thought that shortwave radio has historically excelled at providing.

Threats and Hazards A small example of the cruel oppression characteristic of ISIS/ISIL

In the Cold War, we opposed Soviet imperialism because it violated the right to self-determination. When ISIS/ISIL enters a place and lays down oppressive rule, then it similarly violates the right to self-determination.

March 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards "I'm a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right."

The President rejects study and knowledge because he wants to go with his gut. The problem is this: People who really care about their jobs develop intuition through practice, reflection, study, and self-criticism. Intuition is a different thing from instinct. Animals have instincts. Intuition is the culmination of habit, study, experience, and reflection. The person who relies on instinct alone -- instead of deliberately cultivating intuition -- puts everyone else around him/her in danger. Never trust the instincts of someone who doesn't study new information or reflect on when those instincts went wrong.

News Sen. John McCain says we need a special committee to investigate

Speaking of the investigation into a relationship between the Trump campaign and an adversarial foreign government (Russia's): "[N]o longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone". That is a non-trivial assertion from a person with the kind of moral authority as the Senator from Arizona. And, given the apologies and backtracking underway as the House Intelligence Committee chair acknowledges that he had his priorities completely wrong, Senator McCain is probably objectively correct.

Threats and Hazards CNN says FBI is reviewing evidence of a Trump campaign tie-up with the Russian government

Were they coordinating the release of material that reflected badly on Hillary Clinton? That seems to be the crux of the matter.

Business and Finance A flat statewide minimum wage makes sense

But so does raising the wage marginally, or at least pacing it to inflation. Ultimately, we need to take steps -- either as states or as a nation -- to do a better job of developing people's skills and human capital so that the minimum wage is irrelevant. That is to say, we're much better off as a society if we're churning out people who are worth much more than the minimum wage in the marketplace, so that the minimum wage becomes a non-binding price floor. But until we reach that point, there's not particularly much to lose by pacing the minimum wage along with the rate of inflation, and it's a signal that we are at least conscious of the impact that inflation has on people all across the income spectrum. From a purely political perspective, it's hard to see the harm in a modest increase in the statewide minimum wage to go along with HF 295, which passed the Iowa House and is presently before the Iowa Senate. Even a trivial-looking increase would at least have the benefit of signaling concern for those who earn the minimum wage (which hasn't risen in the state for almost a decade). The local increases in Johnson, Polk, Linn, and other counties are symptom enough of public pressure for some kind of increase.

The United States of America If you have to start life poor...

...then you'd better hope you're born in the Upper Midwest. An economic study points to the region as unusually good at launching poor kids into higher income brackets later in life.

Iowa A report from the "Midwest foreign correspondent"

(Video) A funny sketch on how the Heartland is perceived by others

News Go home, architecture. You're drunk.

Architecture studio proposes a U-shaped building in New York City

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March 22, 2017

Business and Finance Sears notes major uncertainty about future in financial reports

The company isn't quite so sure it'll even be around for much longer. What's really interesting about the Sears saga is that the company came into its own as a major disruptor in its own right. Sears wasn't the first to offer the delivery of direct-to-home merchandise via catalog sales, but it was the first to really escalate it to an art form. (Montgomery Ward predated Sears, and it's been gone since 2000.) It's curious to see the modern incarnation of Sears put under such (potentially deadly) pressure as a retailer today by what are effectively the same forces that launched it in the first place: Direct-to-home sales by nimbler merchants. Ultimately, it's hard to overcome perceptions of a death spiral once that becomes the dominant narrative about a consumer business.

Threats and Hazards Apparent terrorist attack on London

The subject targeted the Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament

News The flaw in restrictive immigration policies

The Daily Iowan (the student newspaper at the University of Iowa) interviewed Representative Steve King about immigration after his recent odious statements on Twitter. Rep. King's vision of immigration in this interview leans heavily on blocking immigrants if they can't show economic merit. It's vital to bear in mind the fact that first-generation immigrants to the United States have often been very low on the economic ladder -- think, for instance, of poor Irish farmers escaping the potato famine. When a nation welcomes low-socioeconomic-status immigrants, what it's really doing is priming the economy for progress a generation down the road. It's the children of immigrants who are often the real driving force for growth. They're close enough to their parents' experience to have an appreciation for what the country offers them, and they have the motivation to prove themselves in a big way. High-status immigrants will always be sought and welcomed by countries that aren't completely stupid about their borders -- after all, what country wouldn't want to be a premier destination for rocket scientists and brain surgeons? It's the country that sees the value of the second generation -- even the children of unskilled laborers -- that really benefits in the long run.

Broadcasting Netflix to replace star ratings with thumbs-up/thumbs-down

Netflix seems to think the change will help offset the "grade inflation" that applies to programming like documentaries, which people tend to rate more aspirationally than reflectively. But what about those users who are disciplined about their ratings and want to be clear that while some programs are fine, others are wonderful -- and still others, quite terrible? More valuable than going to a binary system (which supposedly makes people more likely to leave ratings) would be a system that permits people to rate television programs by season or episode. Some start strong and then end with a whimper (The West Wing). Others stumble out of the gate but find a real voice later on (Parks and Recreation). Some granularity in ratings might be a good thing.

Threats and Hazards House Intelligence Committee chair goes to the press and the White House with allegations

A troubling demonstration of fealty to the Executive Branch

March 21, 2017

Threats and Hazards A North Korean missile test goes wrong

We shouldn't be enthused about missile tests, period. But we really ought to worry about tests in which things don't go as planned -- or perhaps more specifically, those that don't go where planned. On a related note, we should also pay attention to the fact that Sweden is back to practicing defense drills that it hasn't used in two decades. An unstable world without the assurances of the liberal postwar order is a much more dangerous one, and those dangers are expensive.

Threats and Hazards Iowa must do better by our kids

The inhumane conditions documented in a police report tell of adult behavior towards children -- including one who died -- that cannot be explained by anyone with a normal sense of decency. Whatever we're doing wrong as a state that kept the children from being able to escape such wretched treatment must be fixed. Urgently.

Business and Finance The twelve ways a company can innovate

Firms can get ahead by more than just making flashy new products. Sometimes, big advantages come about because they simply find new ways to do old things or better ways to source their raw materials.

Business and Finance Soon to come: Companies will have to admit to a lot more debt

Accounting rules coming into force in 2019 will make companies report their operating leases as part of their balance sheets. That's going to reveal that a lot of companies have debt (in the form of those leases) that they haven't admitted to before. It's likely to have at least some impact on the "asset-light" business model. Bloomberg data suggests it's going to have a $3 trillion impact on accounting reports.

Computers and the Internet An argument for a national cyberwarfare academy

The case for a national cybersecurity academy, much like the military service academies, to develop people who can defend the nation in the cyber arena but with a grounding in the kinds of principles and broad knowledge they'll need in order to do the job ethically.

The United States of America What the judiciary is all about

Senator Ben Sasse: "We want the rule of law -- not of judges' passions, not of judges' policy preferences [...] When a Supreme Court justice puts on his or her black robe, we don't want them confusing their job for those of the other branches. We want them policing the structure of our government to make sure each branch does its job, and only its job."

March 20, 2017

Business and Finance Manufacturing output is high -- it's manufacturing employment that's declined

If you don't get the diagnosis right, you risk issuing a deadly prescription. The problem isn't us getting screwed at the trade-negotiation table. It's that technology (mostly) and trade (to a lesser extent) render lots of jobs obsolete or redundant. We can lie to ourselves and pretend like we can stop the shift by barricading ourselves off against trade, but that's just dumb policy that assumes the wrong diagnosis and guarantees the application of really awful prescriptions that will make the situation worse. Ham-handed trade policies that focus on "protecting" primary industries (that is, ones that are very close to the step when raw materials are turned into something basic) can punish American companies that have moved up the value chain. Trade principle #1: If you want to protect anything, focus on intellectual property. Punish theft of trademarks, patents, and trade dress. Trade principle #2: Follow quality-based purchasing guidelines. Americans build great products - use rules-based standards for quality. Trade principle #3: Help workers displaced by trade and/or technology to move up the value chain with flexible, adaptive training programs.

Business and Finance The skyscraper curse

At the time when a Korean conglomerate is opening its 123-story Lotte World Tower, the company is finding itself in the midst of troubles of geopolitical economy and domestic law enforcement. The Korean economic miracle is a fascinating subject for study, but it's hard to shake the notion that the country is paying today for some of the economic vulnerabilities it accepted as part of the structure of its semi-managed economy. The government's strong hand in seeking to guide development (through favoritism and certain protectionist policies) created a class of businesses that are unusually susceptible to trouble when exposed to the wrong uncertainties.

Business and Finance Don't look for manufacturing jobs to "come back"

The jobs that have disappeared from the US market aren't likely to "come back" for any reason, especially not since many of them have departed not due to trade but to increased productivity (especially thanks to automation). What we should be seeking to do is create new jobs that are enhanced by automation and trade -- in other words, to adopt an expansive vision of the economy and employment, rather than an isolationist one.

News "Our mandate is clear, it is to get on with it"

UK will start the formal process of leaving the EU on March 29th. The full divorce is expected to take two years.

News Co-locating libraries with public housing

Chicago is going to build three such facilities. It's a novel idea, and we should hope that the execution lives up to the lofty ambition. An idea like this seems so good and logical that one could be forgiven for looking for the "catch".

Computers and the Internet Solid-state drive so fast it can be storage or RAM

To anyone who grew up with floppy disks (or even cassette drives), this kind of progress is remarkable

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March 17, 2017

Humor and Good News Seven rules for St. Patrick's Day

It's quite possibly the best holiday of the year

March 15, 2017

News A bilingual Mexican school system in 20 years

It's an ambitious goal, to be sure. And there will undoubtedly be institutional resistance. But Singapore found a way to become an English-fluent country, so it's not without precedent. And over the long term, it's hard to imagine a lot of investments that would have a higher social return than getting Mexico deeply integrated with the English-speaking world. Good luck to the policy-makers.

News Another independence vote for Scotland?

If the UK is going to leave the EU, then Scotland may have a new excuse to leave the UK. And could you blame them for wanting better access to the bigger market rather than the smaller one? The remaining UK would have every incentive to treat Scotland well and seek favorable terms for trade and other policies if Scotland gained independence but joined the rest of Europe. Not too difficult to game out how this would play if all of the parties involved pursued their own self-interest.

Computers and the Internet US Department of Justice charges Russian FSB officers with hacking Yahoo

There's no getting around the message here: "The FSB officer defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the U.S. and elsewhere."

Computers and the Internet Marissa Mayer will likely get millions of dollars for leaving Yahoo

A golden parachute indeed

News Our actions reflect our priorities

(Video - in Spanish) Amnesty International says the United States is keeping young children in ICE detention centers for stretches exceeding a year. We really have to ask ourselves: Does that sound like it reflects American values and virtues?

Business and Finance Low interest rates are no longer an extraordinary condition

Per the remarks of Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen: "The longer-run neutral level of the federal funds rate is still likely to remain below levels that prevailed in previous decades." That's a huge statement that probably goes over the heads of most casual observers. But the thought that the "ordinary" level of interest rates that prevailed for the last half-century or so could be gone -- well, that's quite the change of mindset.

News On peaceful coexistence

Dwight Eisenhower said, "No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations." It's interesting to examine principles expressed during the Cold War to see whether they hold up today. This one does. If we want a peaceful existence, then we need a peaceful co-existence. It's perfectly fine for us to be different nations from one another, but we need to be cooperatively different.

Broadcasting On the hazards of cable news programming

Watching cable news no more turns you into an engaged citizen then watching ESPN turns you into an Olympic athlete. Exposure to content isn't the same as practice. Good civics requires effort.

The United States of America Everyone wants limited government when the other side is in power

A keen observation from Senator Ben Sasse: "Community is about persuaded values. Politics is about compulsory values."

March 14, 2017

Threats and Hazards If the US takes a swipe at the UN, what happens next?

If the United States withdraws dramatically from a world leadership role, we shouldn't expect peace and order to fill the void. Brutal cuts to our participation in (and funding for) international organizations seem shortsighted.

Threats and Hazards Influence-peddling through the back door?

If Chinese companies (which may or may not be acting at the behest of the state) are offering to take part in sweetheart deals with family members of powerful White House officials (like the President's son-in-law and key advisor), then by whom and how is that to be policed?

Business and Finance Businesses will be key guardians of tolerant social norms in the years ahead

Even if the temper of government sways in illiberal directions, the influence of the private sector should serve as an important guardian of tolerance. A good example: The investment-management company BlackRock is going to pressure investees to take action on issues like boardroom diversity. They have the votes, so they'll have the influence.

Threats and Hazards Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence

If the President truly has reason to believe that he was wiretapped, he has to supply some sort of evidence. Otherwise, baseless accusations undermine the basic assumptions of truthfulness required to make an advanced society function.

News Decorating, dictator-style

How come people with authoritarian instincts seem to share really bad taste in decorating?

Iowa Gates on the Interstate

A common scene in the rural Midwest: Permanent gates that swing closed to block entrance ramps to the Interstate highways. Because nothing short of a locked, permanent gate will stop some Midwesterners from proving what (over-)confident winter drivers they are.

March 9, 2017

The United States of America A reality check

Thanks to a growing population and the normal distribution of intelligence, America has more geniuses today than we did in the Manhattan Project. While genius alone doesn't solve our problems, we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that modern problems are beyond our ability to create solutions. We should ask ourselves what modifications to public policy could attract the contributions of people who aren't engaged now. We also ought to examine what should be done about the state of our civic life to draw out the same kinds of people.

Science and Technology Storing solar energy

Tesla is storing solar energy captured in Hawaii and storing it to sell overnight at cheaper rates than conventional electrical generation can provide.

News The bounds of executive orders

The current President isn't the first to use them with abandon. He will still face constraints, as rightly he should. While they have a place in our form of government, it should be as a late or last resort -- not a first course of action.

Threats and Hazards Federal investigators are looking at Wikileaks

As they should

Computers and the Internet 10 things people have made with the Raspberry Pi

When a computer costs $35, it should come as no surprise that people use it for experimentation with great enthusiasm. A great example of the fact we simply cannot predict the outcomes when new technologies are introduced, especially at low prices.

News Gee, why would Sweden have reintroduced mandatory conscription?

An important leading indicator of where things are headed in the geopolitical sphere is (and will continue to be) the behavior of the Baltic and Nordic countries. And when it's clear that Sweden isn't confident in peace and security ahead, that ought to capture the attention of those who prefer a stable and peaceful world order. If they're nervous, the rest of us should be as well.

News On the goodness of sunset provisions

Laws should be made to expire like bad produce

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March 8, 2017

News China is displeased with US anti-missile defense systems going into South Korea

Time for some high-level game theory. What discourages stupid behavior by North Korea without upsetting the stability of a region that contains an ambitious regional power?

The United States of America 400,000 POWs

A word to those who are gripped by fear over the prospect of immigrants and refugees entering the country from troubled places: The United States kept more than 400,000 Axis POWs on American soil during WWII. 400,000 -- including legitimate, true-believer Nazis. This was during a time of war, and we're talking about enemy combatants -- not refugees from the fighting. If we were capable of maintaining the peace and security of the country with 400,000 enemy combatants on our soil at a time when nobody conceived of even the possibility of tools like biometric screening, then perhaps we should assume that we might today have the capacity to open our nation's doors more generously to those who are authentic victims of war, violence, and oppression. Fear of what might happen to us should be tempered by the knowledge that we've handled far greater risks with far lesser resources in the past.

News We don't need to be cruel to obtain security

(Video -- in Spanish) Try to imagine what fortitude it takes for a mother to bring her children from Guatemala or El Salvador all the way to the US border. Then try to imagine what kind of a gut-wrenching decision they must face when told either to separate from their children (and trust, somehow, that the system will take care of them) or to return to their homelands. America, we've got to be better than this.

Business and Finance Tracking investments of time with the scrutiny of investments of cash

(Audio) A really interesting interview with Michael Mankins, a management consultant who argues that firms squander mountains of employee time with a recklessness that they would never waste cash -- even though employee time is easily quantified in dollars and cents. Very interesting.

Business and Finance Hard times for retailers

Rumor has it that Gordmans is on the brink of bankruptcy. American Apparel and Sports Authority have already gone down that road. It's just tough to be in a retail environment when you're competing with online alternatives that can beat your prices, offer wider variety, and spread out their inventory risk over the entire country.

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March 7, 2017

Business and Finance $150 million in new plant spending

Honda is spending about $50 million in Ohio and $100 million in Georgia on new equipment and assembly lines, so the company can produce next-generation transmissions for cars. But take note that with all of this spending, they aren't talking about hiring new workers. That's the crux of the story for American manufacturing today: Making more, better, and higher-value stuff than ever before, but doing it without adding new workers. On balance, that's a net gain to society -- but it doesn't satisfy people with a fetish for classic "smokestack" factory jobs. Advanced manufacturing is all about sophistication, training, and quality -- not lapsing into a 1950s-era caricature of an assembly line.

News Is China planning to start military patrols of the Atlantic?

It's probably too much for the country to spend right now for too little obvious return on investment. But don't bet against an Atlantic strategy for China in the long run -- especially if they have reason to believe that their shipping lanes might be challenged.

Business and Finance Don't mis-count GDP

The current obsession with reducing imports -- especially in pursuit of raising the country's GDP -- is a path down the wrong track. Imports are subtracted from GDP, yes, but only after being counted under consumption. So their net impact on the country's accounts is zero. And if we start clobbering imports for their own sake rather than realizing that they fit within a bigger economic picture, then we're going to get ourselves in trouble.

Broadcasting When cable news drives the day's agenda at the White House

Literally. The President spent hours tweeting about (and with/at) "Fox and Friends".

Weather and Disasters A summary of the March 6th tornadoes in Central Iowa

Very unusual to have damaging tornadoes this early in the year. Tornado warnings usually don't arrive in force until April.

March 6, 2017

Business and Finance Automation may very well be coming sooner than you think

There is great incentive for firms to put automation to work whenever it becomes economically feasible, and a world of low interest rates, tight competition, and low returns on other investments -- coupled with the very fast pace of technological development that should by now be obvious to anyone with a pulse and an Internet connection -- make it all the more likely that automation will displace more workers at a faster rate in the years ahead than what we've already experienced. That creates a pressing need for thoughtful public policies to accommodate the substantial social costs that will likely be incurred as an inevitable byproduct of the pursuit of private gain. ■ There's no way to tell employers they should keep people on the payroll if they'll lose money (or even get pushed out of business) if they don't automate. But it would be willfully negligent for us to imagine that there is no meaningful social consequence to the mass displacement of workers in an economy far more complex than the ones in which prior mass displacements occurred. ■ The displacements are inevitable -- and they could come in big numbers very soon. (They might not, but we shouldn't design our public policies around rosy, over-optimistic scenarios.) So whether we need to start thinking seriously about substantial career-retraining programs for displaced workers, or implementing extraordinary accommodations like the universal basic income, or even going so far as to impose compulsory continuing education on all adults, there is no time to waste in treating the possibilities with the seriousness they deserve.

Weather and Disasters A remarkable severe weather complex

750 miles of continuous severe thunderstorm warnings. Double-digit tornado warnings in Iowa, approaching annual totals for some recent years. And it's all happening at the beginning of March, which is much too early by normal standards. It did smell like tornadoes at lunchtime.

The United States of America If the President really thinks he was wiretapped...

Senator Ben Sasse says it well: If the President is going to make giant accusations, then it's incumbent upon the rest of us to insist on a full and fair investigation. We can't afford to let the public trust be indefinitely and indiscriminately undermined: Public trust is like a savings account, where deposits can only be made slowly and in small amounts. The withdrawals tend to be big and fast.

News When even $1 million hardly cracks the problem

The Chicago Public Schools are in need of $215 million to balance a budget that is in dire distress due in part to a colossal problem with underfunded pensions. With recording artist Chance the Rapper delivering a $1 million ceremonial check to the school system, people might obviously and naturally applaud the gesture. But when a number as big as $1 million doesn't even cover a single percentage point of the problem, then there's a serious problem afoot. ■ CPS isn't the first public-sector institution to run into a catastrophic pension problem -- but it's part of the vanguard. There are lots and lots of other government and public-sector agencies that are, altogether, trillions of dollars in the red. This isn't the kind of problem that can be wished away -- in many cases, taxpayers are on the hook without any regard to the condition of the economy or their government budgets for other things.

Threats and Hazards "[B]ecoming detached from religious and civic institutions"

People's propensity to want to turn to politics and "burn it down" (in the style of wrecking-ball candidate and President Donald Trump) looks like it has a close relationship to the disengagement those people have from the conventional organizing institutions of public life. People need to see that problems can be solved, differences overcome, and measurable progress achieved -- but also that it involves sacrifice, trade-offs, and commitment. That starts with engagement at the local level. People who pull away from that kind of engagement don't get the kind of psychological reinforcement they need in order to see that we are in control of our own destiny.

Iowa How a slow ag economy drags on everything else

That's how it is in the Upper Midwest, where there's no getting around the fact that farm incomes have a huge effect on the remainder of each state. The current pain in the ag economy is (and will continue to) ripple through to other sectors.

Business and Finance The world's middle class is growing quickly

Brookings says 3.2 billion people are "middle class" in the world today, and there will be a billion more in that category in just five years. A world with a vast middle class is more complicated than the one many of us were taught about. But it's a very good complication. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."

Science and Technology Five Nebraska counties now have 911 service for text messages

Imagine the benefits to an individual in the back seat of a car being driven by a drunk -- or a person being abused by a domestic partner. Technology is only as good as the people using it, but this is a very good way to use technology to help people.

March 5, 2017

News Sound, sober analysis of the unsupported accusations of bad wiretapping

The Economist is a voice of reason, as usual

News "There's a lack of management, and a lack of strategy."

Still in the chaos phase at the White House, it would appear

Threats and Hazards Even to shrink the Federal government, you must staff the Federal government

Reports the editorial board of the New York Times: "President Trump has appointed fewer than three dozen of the top 1,000 officials he needs to run the federal government." That's a serious problem. Even if it is accepted as an end goal to reduce the size and scope of government, it is malpractice to leave vast numbers of positions unfilled. Any orderly winding-down of government activity would still require that skilled hands be at the controls so that essential functions could be cherry-picked from among the non-essential, and to ensure that responsibilities be handed off where appropriate. Even the Civil Aeronautics Board (one of the few Federal agencies ever to be abolished) had to be wound down statutorily, not just left unstaffed.

Business and Finance Reasons to expect more rate hikes rather than fewer in 2017

The Federal Reserve could be more aggressive than previously expected. One reason that nobody seems to admit out loud (even if it's clearly on everyone's minds): The impact of what could be inflationary (and yet economically contractionary) fiscal policies initiated by the White House.

News Maps that offer unconventional perspectives

How we represent our world in pictures does have an effect on how we perceive it

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "The Samsung Way"

A necessary profile of a company that has evolved dramatically in modern times

March 4, 2017

Business and Finance How quickly will the economy grow?

The 4% figure hailed by the White House is utterly desirable -- but almost certainly unachievable. A plan to get 4% real GDP growth requires more than "And then I click my heels three times..."

Threats and Hazards Someone call an adult

(Video) Former Senator Alan Simpson is angry with the way American voters and elected officials are avoiding the mounting fiscal crisis. People like fiscal discipline and free trade in much the same way they like vegetables: They're often less fun than the alternatives, but without them, we could die.

Iowa Every program has a constituency

A subcommittee of the Iowa House recommended approval of a plan that would repeal the state's 5-cent deposit on can and bottle return. Eliminating the return, though, could disrupt community events and programs that count on people donating their cans and bottles. Once a government program develops a constituency, it almost never goes away -- no matter how benign or mundane the program. The people who depend on the program have very strong incentives to keep it around, while everybody else has only weak incentives to eliminate it.

News Sweden revives the draft

Russian aggression against Ukraine and its drills in the Baltic region have the Swedes understandably nervous. The implicit costs of mandatory conscription are huge and should not be overlooked: A less-secure, less-stable world is not cost-free when compared to the incumbent liberal Western order. And with America unnervingly likely to pull back from soft power, it's time to pay attention.

The United States of America A moment of decency and sincerity

(Video) Senator Lindsey Graham has real words of honor for Senator John McCain

News From the Microsoft Library

A place like the White House boiler room or the broom closet at the Vatican: You ought to assume it exists, but why would you ever think about it?

Business and Finance Beware the hot stock market

"American pension funds are optimistic. Businesses are cautious. Shares are trading on very high valuations." It's that last part that gives extra reason for heartburn. High valuations propped up by lousy alternatives (who wants a fixed-income instrument right now?) and real apprehension about inflation are not good things.

Threats and Hazards Famine in South Sudan

It's vital to understand that most famine in the world today is man-made. That fact also means that we can fix it, but have to muster the will to do so. The situation in South Sudan is one shocking example: 100,000 people are already victims, and 5.5 million people are at risk. It's all due to violent conflict.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 4, 2017

On bacon and cybersecurity, among other topics

March 3, 2017

Socialism Doesn't Work Mark your food waste

That's the message the church is trying to promote in Venezuela -- so that people who throw out food scraps can indicate where that food waste can be found by those who are scavenging for something to eat. There is no acceptable reason why a country like Venezuela should have starvation happening today -- but authoritarian government and economic isolationism have come together there in such a way that even in the midst of vast potential oil wealth, the population is going hungry. Politicians can't make an economy grow -- but they clearly have the power to destroy its potential.

Computers and the Internet NBC dumps half a billion dollars into Snapchat

The triumph of hope over sound reasoning. Snapchat's parent company came out with an IPO that priced the company at $35 billion. The business lost half a billion dollars last year and almost $400 million the year before. There's no sound way to place a value on a company like that. In fact, under most circumstances, a company losing that much money that fast wouldn't even really be regarded as a going concern. So for people to believe that it is worth $35 billion -- and for NBC to take out a half-billion-dollar share of that -- requires an active and willing suspension of disbelief in basic accounting.

News Who are we trying to be?

The Department of Homeland Security, says Reuters, is considering a new policy whereby children caught crossing the US border illegally could be separated from their mothers and detained under "protective custody" of the government. With policies like this, who are we trying to be as a country?

News "Republicans once emphasized the limits of government's power to solve problems"

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman knows that the President's address to Congress wasn't Republican in nature

Science and Technology "Mass timber" construction comes to the United States

Processed wood considered as high-strength building material for tall towers

March 2, 2017

News We must get the Russia probe right

The Attorney General has recused himself from "any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States". It's a necessary step -- the perceived misconduct is severe, and Jeff Sessions seems to be too close to the matter to be able to give it fair and impartial oversight.

Threats and Hazards No, parents don't have unlimited rights over their children

The appalling, utterly inhumane abuse of a Chicago 8-year-old -- at the hands of her father and grandmother -- is all the proof society should require to know that parents do not have absolute authority over their children. At some point, the state is obligated to step in to protect the welfare of the defenseless. And if we as voters, citizens, and taxpayers fail to adequately fund -- and demand accountability from -- the systems required to protect those kids, then we become unwitting accomplices in their harm.

Computers and the Internet Emma Watson won't take selfies with fans -- for geolocation reasons

The actress actually has a sensible policy for her personal security. She'll talk with fans, but won't take pictures with them, knowing that some will share those pictures immediately with geolocation tagging -- giving away her location. It's actually just an extension of the kind of behavior we all should practice -- wait until you're home to post pictures of yourself when you're out. Don't give away your locations, travel patterns, or routines if you don't have to.

News "[G]irls in their natural state -- strong and confident"

It's taken too long, but the more we recognize culturally that females shouldn't be bounded by oppressive taboos any more than should males, the better off we'll be. As Warren Buffett has said, "Look what's happened since 1776, most of the time, using half our talent." There's no reason to hold back anyone's full potential.

News One-paragraph book review: "Novice to Expert"

A disappointing attempt at a book-length treatment of material that would have been entirely serviceable as a short article or workbook

March 1, 2017

Threats and Hazards Ideology is on life support

Columnist "Lexington" in The Economist points to the lack of substance in the President's address to Congress: "Republican members of Congress are also realising that identity beats conservative principles in this new politics of the right." This is all a terrible reflection of the last decade or so: President Obama undermined the Democratic Party by trying to be a superstar floating above it all. President Trump undermines the Republican Party by existing in a space of empty populism outside the range of commitment to principle. ■ Ideology gets a bad reputation, but there's a difference between blind partisanship and committed ideological consistency. Blind partisanship has very little social payoff; if it's "my party, right or wrong", then nothing good will come of it. But the person who can extract conclusions from a defined system of beliefs that draw from an informed understanding of history and philosophy is a person who can behave with some predictability and who can fall back on the strength of convictions even when challenged by new and novel opposition. ■ Grounding oneself in a principled ideological framework doesn't mean one has to be rigid or act with blinders on. It's less about acting like an unmovable brick wall, and more like behaving like a moored buoy -- free to move with the currents of news and events just like the waves of the ocean, but tethered to a fixed location.

Computers and the Internet Wendy's stores will get self-service ordering kiosks

A thousand stores will get the kiosks -- because customers like them and they pay for themselves in two years. Those who want to fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage should take note. Time and energy would be better spent campaigning on behalf of systems for better job training and human-capital development than fighting for regulations that will only hasten the arrival of the technology that will displace lesser-skilled workers.

News Murder in Olathe

A man is charged with murder in what looks like a clear-cut case of race hatred. A much better man -- one who tried to intervene in defense of the two Indian men who were killed -- is in the hospital with injuries.

Computers and the Internet Twitter takes steps to respond to problems of abuse

Accounts that look abusive will be isolated via artificial intelligence. Individuals can mute tweets that include words they don't want to see. Account types can be filtered out as well. The changes should be helpful in general, but the bad behavior on the platform is so widespread it may be hard to shut it down entirely.

Business and Finance GE boss thinks the US may be drawing back from the world

Jeff Immelt, in his letter to shareholders, calls it "an era when trust in big institutions is so low that the most valued 'strategy' is simply change in any form."

February 28, 2017

News Dramatic cuts to soft power will undercut the country

(Video) Senator Lindsey Graham rebukes the President's proposal to slash funding for the State Department. Security today is the result of long, patient investment in trust-based relationships, not cavalier transactional deal-making. Things like diplomacy (including public diplomacy, like investments in international broadcasting) don't pay off overnight. That makes them susceptible to short-sighted cuts, unless thoughtful leaders like Senator Graham prevail.

Business and Finance Be realistic about economic-growth projections

It is a hallucination to believe that 4% real GDP growth can be achieved without long-term, sustainable, and patient investment in our physical and human capital. We need to invest in our physical infrastructure -- but not with short-term stimulus programs that just dump some asphalt on existing roadways. We need to invest in our human capital, too -- but not by artificially inflating (and then crashing) a dubious universe of for-profit schools. The United States could probably sustain 4% growth rates in the long term, but that would require increasing our productivity by much more than 4% (unless we somehow expect a dramatic boom in workforce participation). Plans to get to 4% growth absolutely must include plans to raise productivity.

Health The new bird flu

A strain that hasn't gotten a lot of attention before (H7N9) appears to be resurgent in Asia

News Are Republicans short on wonks?

Has a long period in the opposition hollowed-out the ranks of people who can make real proposals happen? It's an interesting question. And it's especially important when it's clear there isn't a lot of policy leadership emanating from the Executive Branch.

Business and Finance Target considers a more downmarket approach

Retailing is such a fickle business

February 27, 2017

Iowa Should colleges strive for ideological balance?

A state senator in Iowa proposes Senate File 288: To "require partisan balance of the faculty employed at each fo the institutions of higher learning governed by the board." It is a fine concept for universities to promote exposure to a wide range of perspectives -- that's the point of obtaining a "liberal" education (where "liberal" means "open", not left-wing). But as Margaret Thatcher said, "One of the problems, I think, of modern politics, and modern journalists, is that people are always polarizing questions. You know, saying either/or. And in fact life isn't lived in either/or terms, but mostly somewhere in between." Legislating partisanship not only misses the possibility that "balance" may not reflect even the community standards of the state (which, at any given time, might be more of one party than another), but it also misses the exceptionally important notion that "balance" isn't binary -- Iowa, just for instance, has 715,000 independent voters and 12,000 third-party voters, compared with 627,000 Democrats and 665,000 Republicans. Thus, authentic "balance" should require more independents than either of the major parties. Moreover, any consideration of "balance" ought to reflect the multipolar nature of politics -- there are all flavors of Democrats and all flavors of Republicans, and all flavors of "other" as well. What of the person who agrees with 55% of a party platform? Does he or she count as a real partisan? The proposal for party balance at the state universities is silly and should be dismissed out-of-hand as ridiculous, unenforceable, and unproductive.

Business and Finance The deeper meaning of the Billy bookcase

What you can pick up about economics and consumer surplus from looking at a piece of IKEA furniture

News A Frank Lloyd Wright home on sale for $1.4 million

It's surprising that even with the enduring appeal of Wright's Prairie Style that there aren't more homes being designed and built today in the same fashion. Aren't there architects and builders today who want to make a similar name for themselves? Many people obviously don't mind spending obscene amounts of money on hideous McMansions, so why not spend the money instead on something that will still look good 50 years from now?

Aviation News SpaceX to fly two space tourists around the moon in 2018

They say the best way to spend your money is on experiences, not stuff. One could imagine that people with a lot of money might very rationally want to blow through their wealth on experiences like this.

Threats and Hazards No, you don't have to show your papers

Over-zealous hunting by government agents for immigration-rule violators leads to perfectly legal American citizens being asked to "show papers". It may sound like a trivial encroachment, but it ought to be resisted -- freedom of movement is a fundamental American right, and the pursuit of lawbreakers is no excuse for trampling on the rights of the law-abiding.

News White House staff subjected to phone checks

Politics aside, has anyone ever done their best in any workplace where paranoia, anger, and distrust prevail?

Threats and Hazards Disgraceful: Bomb threats against Jewish community centers

Threats like this have no place in civilization

Iowa Iowa county looks at repairing 123-year-old stone bridge

It could be argued that the bridge was built too well in the first place -- anyone who paid for its construction is long dead, and it most likely could be replaced by something using better materials and methods (that's the nature of technology, of course). It could also be argued that we are really too accustomed to coasting on the investments our predecessors made in building an adequate system of public works for us to enjoy today, and have done far too little to invest in their ongoing maintenance and upkeep. And there's a third argument to be made: That some old structures are worth keeping around because of their historical merit.

February 26, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World"

A valuable third-party perspective on the pivotal geopolitical relationship between China and the United States

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February 25, 2017

Threats and Hazards Terrorism by Americans is still terrorism

A terrorist attack by a white man in Kansas against two Indian men is as deplorable as any other terrorist attack, and it should be denounced with the same kind of volume as any other.

February 24, 2017

Business and Finance What do we want? Sustained 3% annual real GDP growth!

When do we want it? As soon as we get the productivity growth rates that would consistently make that kind of increase in real output possible! (It's not very catchy, but it's true.)

The United States of America The left discovers Federalism

Better late than never

Business and Finance The Smoot-Hawley tariffs didn't cause the Great Depression...

...but they did make it a whole lot worse. We should never retreat into mindless protectionism again.

News How generals are defending civilian government

With career military men in charge of the Defense Department, Homeland Security, and (naturally) the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we would normally be in a condition that ought to give people alarm: Civilian control of the government and oversight of the military ought to be a priority. But with a wildly inexperienced White House in charge, the sober words of experience and temperance are coming from the men who have spent a lifetime sworn to defend the Constitution. The President seems sufficiently impressed by their credentials to offer them deference he doesn't seem to show anyone else.

News American conference attendees duped into waving Russian flags

If you're sufficiently enthusiastic about politics that you'll show up at a "Conservative Political Action Conference", it ought to be pretty embarrassing that you could be taken by a practical joke that involved you waving a Russian flag. Basic familiarity with the symbols of one of our most important geopolitical adversaries ought to be required of anyone willing to so vigorously espouse a political opinion.

February 23, 2017

News China will stop buying North Korea's coal

An effort to pressure the country into submission over nuclear weapons. May it work, for the good of us all.

Business and Finance A well-reported story on Warren Buffett's acquisition strategy

Rare is the financial reporter who actually understands the Buffett process. It's worth reading.

Iowa Truck platoons could hit Highway 20 in Iowa this year

Cooperative cruise control (involving trucks communicating with one another) could be a reality in Iowa by the end of the year

Business and Finance Hyped-up immigration crackdowns could hurt the US housing market

It's not just a matter of whether law enforcement only actually prosecutes people here without proper documentation -- if they create a sufficient amount of insecurity and uncertainty among people who immigrated here legally that they are starved of the confidence they need to make long-term decisions (like buying homes), then the waves of homeowners looking to exit the market (like, say, Baby Boomers hoping to down-size) may find themselves losing a very ready set of buyers. At the margins (where prices are decided), immigrants have a huge impact on the housing market.

News France's runoff system for electing a president shows how the system determines the outcomes

America's first-past-the-post system works rather differently, with dramatically different outcomes

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February 21, 2017

The United States of America Senator John McCain stands up for NATO

At the Munich Security Conference: "Our predecessors did not believe in the end of history -- or that it bends, inevitably, toward justice. That is up to us. That requires our persistent, painstaking effort. [...] [W]e stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair...and that even though we will inevitably take losses and suffer setbacks, through it all, so long as people of goodwill and courage refuse to lose faith in the West, it will endure." ■ The line of argument advanced by the President, which suggests that the United States has been ripped off by ne'er-do-well allies, is self-defeating. The point of a security alliance isn't to fight over who pays what share of the bills, but rather to ensure that no individual country is forced to fight its battles alone. The United States most likely plays a role in NATO that is disproportionate to its population; we probably pay more, and we probably do more of the heavy lifting. So what? If the ultimate objective is a secure world in which our interests are protected, then we would be exerting money and effort to advance our security interests globally, with or without allies. The outcome we want is not dependent upon the number of other participants. ■ So, if a peaceful world is going to be subject to the free-rider problem no matter what (and it is -- it's not as though our concept of security is defined by NATO borders), then anything that gets other parties to substantially participate in that common security arrangement is better than no such participation at all.

Threats and Hazards "Putin and his thugs are fundamentally at odds with America's interests"

Midwestern US Senators show broad agreement: No matter your political stripes, the notion of a foreign government interfering with our free and fair elections is noxious. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse concludes (correctly): "This should not be viewed through partisan labels. Congress should investigate Russia's influence campaign in the US."

Broadcasting 75 years of the Voice of America

One of the most sensible and cost-efficient means of conducting public diplomacy has been the operation of an international broadcasting service. (The BBC, to many people around the world, IS Britain.) The United States's effort in this area, the VOA, has been subject to far more than its deserving share of cuts in the last decade or two, and it's high time we recognize just how valuable it is.

The United States of America The self-funded candidate

Which is more peculiar: The candidate for office who has to spend considerable time and effort trying to raise funds, or the candidate who is wealthy enough to self-fund a major campaign (as one of the Pritzker clan intends to do if he runs for Illinois governor)? We should ask ourselves whether there is anything about the structure of our electoral system that makes these outcomes more likely than they ought to be.

News Looking for a lively Lincoln library

Nebraska's capital city is looking for ideas to build a new central library -- and it's a worthwhile question. Ideally, as a society, we would place such a high cultural value on learning (and not just classroom learning for those in the conventional school ages, but well beyond) that libraries would naturally be seen as the most viable and logical centers of most communities. That often isn't the case -- perhaps it's only true in the most extraordinary of situations. But taking serious steps to make the public library a real center of the community -- not just the building and where it's located, but the institution and what it does to the local civic fabric -- is a pivotal step for municipal leaders to take.

February 20, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "The Death of Expertise"

A well-delivered call for all of us to do some urgent introspection

News Who's the real failure here?

(Video) CBS News anchor Scott Pelley offers a concise summary of the President's problems: "The media didn't block his travel ban, didn't fire the national security advisor, didn't cause the labor secretary nominee to withdraw, didn't attack the judiciary. It seems like the common denominator of Mr. Trump's woes is the Constitution." His comments (on the February 17th edition of the program, at about the 10:00 mark) manage to make a very strong point simply by illustrating the facts. Opponents of the President ought to take note: His missteps can be refuted through a plain recitation of the facts. No embellishment is necessary; in fact, the less the facts are hyped, the better.

Threats and Hazards FBI has three investigations underway of election interference by Russia

Brazen attempts to skew the outcome of an election by targeted attacks on computer systems and other illegal means of underhanded behavior should be repelled when possible and prosecuted when not. The American public, meanwhile, ought to think hard about becoming more resistant to manipulation -- since there's no reason to believe that Russia will back down from doing the same things again, nor any reason to believe that others will refrain from trying the same thing. Once a vulnerability has been exploited, one should expect continued attacks until it is patched.

News Even unified party government doesn't work very fast

Republicans control both houses of Congress, and a nominal Republican is in the White House. And yet, not much is getting done. That's a good thing -- government should be deliberate, not so nimble that big things can turn on a dime.

News What happened in Sweden last night

The President of the United States inserted comments into a speech making reference to things happening in Sweden. He suggested that they were awful, terrible events. Swedish media conclusively report no such things taking place.

Business and Finance Kraft Heinz decides no further pursuit of Unilever takeover

It would have been a gigantic merger -- estimated at more than $140 billion

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February 18, 2017

News Know your moral bearings

If your only standard for behavior is "The worst thing my opponent got away with", then you don't really have a functioning moral compass. Regrettably, a whole lot of people are trying to adjust to the 2017 political reality by using this line of excuse. It's repugnant and it's tiresome.

Humor and Good News Art is in the constraints

Building a cake with inedible fondant is like making a gingerbread house from cardboard.

Socialism Doesn't Work Three weekends in a row at his private resort

If Americans were bothered by President Obama's trips to Hawaii or his time spent campaigning for Hillary Clinton, then the same people should show concern over the fact the President of the United States has now spent three weekends in a row burning taxpayer dollars to shuttle him back and forth to Florida. That's not to mention the fact that we're now a month into the new administration and still short of massive numbers of key appointees. If it was wasteful spending under Obama, it's still wasteful spending under Trump.

February 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia uses disinformation campaign to undermine German soldiers

The German soldiers are in the Baltic states as part of their NATO defense commitment. The disinformation campaign is a clever (though sinister) way for Russia to undermine the defense of those small countries by driving a wedge between the NATO alliance and the locals. Again, Russia is turning to asymmetric techniques of conflict -- they've gotten very good at it.

Business and Finance A great reminder for most investors

Take interest in your own investments, or take out index funds. (But take interest -- it's much better. Learning how capitalism works from the inside is simply a cost of living in an advanced market economy like ours -- just like we all have to learn a few things about computers and modern medicine, too.)

Computers and the Internet Facebook is trying to be too many things at once

Mission creep is probably inevitable for an outfit like Facebook, but it always seems to end in failure

Threats and Hazards 75% of high-level Defense Department appointed positions are still empty

The President needs to spend less time tweeting hate mail, gallavanting off to Florida, and planning campaign rallies -- and more time finding qualified people to run the Executive Branch. What he's doing isn't in the job description, and what he isn't doing...is. He's had a month in office, and that followed more than two months of transition.

Threats and Hazards Norwegians increasingly fear Russia

As they reasonably might. There's some evidence Swedes and Finns may be growing more nervous, too.

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February 16, 2017

News "Today we learned the length of the president's fuse: 28 days"

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley captures the essence of the President's press conference today with erudition and economy of words

Threats and Hazards What causes conflict?

Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, "Almost all armed conflict in the history of the world came about because opposing sides believed different things to be true." While the conditions he describes may be true, the difference in the way people see things isn't really the underlying cause of most conflict. Instead, we should always be alert to the circumstances where armed conflict can be seen as a more efficient way of capturing resources than honest alternatives like trade or development. Genghis Khan didn't grow a colossal empire on belief, he built it to take resources from others. The Mongol Empire is just one among many examples. The predictive power that comes from understanding armed conflict as a means of capturing resources is that we can start to assemble an understanding of the world that promotes trade and human development and the dignity and rights of the individual. Very little in the world could be more dangerous than a poor country with giant ambitions and low regard (among the ruling class) for the value of common people's lives.

Business and Finance The chaebol under new pressure

From a 2001 paper: "While South Koreans are probably better off than they would have been without the chaebol system, they were living atop an economic fault line that was destined to shift. South Korea should provide yet another warning sign to those who fail to believe that managed economies are bound to experience failure."

Computers and the Internet Problems with White House information security go right to the top

Is the President really still using an unsecured Android phone? A device that hasn't been properly secured could easily be hijacked and turned into a bug by skilled adversaries, among many other bad things that could happen.

News Would getting rid of singlets make wrestling more attractive to prospective athletes?

Maybe compression shorts and separate shirts will make the sport more appealing

February 15, 2017

Business and Finance Why aren't there more good popularizers for economics?

What's with the shortage of public intellectuals, anyway? The shortage of good "explainers" on behalf of economics is a real loss to society. So much about conflict (of all types) traces back to resources and their creation, destruction, and distribution -- and that's economics. One causal factor, perhaps, is that the answers to economic questions tend toward ambiguities, gray areas, and conditionals. That makes it very hard for anyone credible to gain traction in the public eye.

Business and Finance Beware the perils of "factory fetishism"

Romanticizing a particular sector of the economy without thinking through the consequences of development is a path to waste, inefficiency, and trouble.

Threats and Hazards A Russian spy ship is hanging out just off the coast of Connecticut

30 miles out from a submarine base

News Singapore marks 75 years since the Japanese occupation

The story of Singapore is a complicated one, to be sure, but it is a definitive case study in the power of market economics, trade, and endogenous initiative ("bootstrapping", in a sense) to take a place with no substantial advantage in natural resource wealth and convert it into a tremendously wealthy place.

Humor and Good News A feel-good adoption story

What can and should happen when a person's birth family isn't ready or willing to give a child the care each one deserves.

February 14, 2017

The United States of America We need a "CONstitutional CONdition" index, similar to DEFCON

For bad behavior, ranging from bush-league to truly unconstitutional

Humor and Good News Why do coffee-flavored jelly beans exist?

Whoever invented the coffee-flavored jelly bean was a world-class sociopath.

February 13, 2017

The United States of America On welcoming refugees

It takes a dim view of human nature to ignore the fact that most people try to be good, regardless of birthplace.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 10, 2017

Business and Finance We always expect the nerds to save us

We have to give them the opportunity to do so. The job may be tougher than ever under the current administration: President Trump has decided that the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (whomever that will be; the role hasn't been appointed yet) will not serve in his Cabinet. It's likely because he can't find an economist willing to play yes-man to his economic savagery. Have no doubt: Someone will need to be called in to clean up the economic mess created by this President (should he get any meaningful amount of the economic policy he campaigned upon). The only ones capable of fixing it will be the "nerd" class of sober, pragmatic, level-headed economists. We're in trouble if they're being shown the door already.

News Canadian town (across the border from Minnesota) experiences an influx of refugees

They're crossing from the United States, presumably because they are fearful of what a feckless US government policy on undocumented immigrants will do to them.

Iowa New president at the University of Northern Iowa

Iowa's comprehensive public university needs respect and a high profile

News "Progressive" Democrats want to shove out the centrists

The idea that centrists are rivals to be shunned from the Democratic Party (rather than coalition partners to be embraced) represents the triumph of ideological puritanism over math. The Democrats need a broader tent, not a more leftist one.

The United States of America Americans should resist the consolidation of power

(Video) US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is a thoughtful voice on Constitutional separation of power, transcendent of politics. He is a generationally significant voice for the Article I branch of government.

Business and Finance Sunk costs: An economic concept that's good for your mental health

Whatever has been done...is over. Don't make decisions based on the rear-view mirror.

Threats and Hazards The national debt is no less a crisis than it was 12 months ago

At just a hair below $20 trillion, the debt comes out to $61,282 in real, incurred money owed per person for every one of us in the United States. And that doesn't count the massive future liabilities imposed by expenses like our entitlement programs -- which will cost even more.

The United States of America Decency transcends politics

American decency isn't about the boxes we check on Election Day, but about the things we do in ordinary civic life. So when you think of what makes America "great", think about the plow drivers who clear the way for a heart-transplant patient to make it to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm, or of the foster father who takes in terminally-ill children so they can feel familial love in their short time on Earth.

Business and Finance Don't misunderstand tariffs

If the government were to put a 20% tax on restaurant bills, consumers would eat out less, restauranteurs would find their revenues decreased, and everybody would be worse off. There is no reason to think that a 20% tariff would work in any other way. Remember: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs aren't a tax on "other people" or "other countries". A portion of their incidence falls on the consumer -- and quite often, a very large portion indeed. (And don't forget: The Midwest depends on trade.)

News Read "It Can't Happen Here"

A book that ought to be taught in schools, right alongside "1984" and "Brave New World". Written by Sinclair Lewis, it is both a powerful narrative and a novel full of gems, like "...a country that tolerates evil means -- eil manners, standards of ethics -- for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end."

February 9, 2017

News SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch "demoralized" by President's attacks on the judiciary

Before we have left and right, we have three branches of government -- each of which should jealously guard its own role in checking the other two. It's troubling to have a Supreme Court nominee already have to face heat because of ridiculous and troubling things the President has said.

News China appears to be executing diplomacy better than the new US administration

It is perfectly fine for us to find ourselves in a world where the United States and China aren't enemies or rivals or opponents, but instead find ourselves "cooperatively different" (to coin a phrase). But even if that is to be our future, then the United States will need to be playing its diplomatic "A" game so as to ensure we cooperate on the right things in the right ways and avoid unnecessary escalation of conflict in others. No sensible person should expect China to adopt a liberal-Western system of government anytime soon (or perhaps for decades or even centuries to come), but we're all stuck on the same planet together. Negotiations over our differences, though, should be conducted at a level far better than what we've executed thus far.

Computers and the Internet Iowa Senate bill would make texting while driving a primary offense

The problem with a bill like this is that texting itself isn't unique in its capacity to create distraction. There are people who are equally distracted by eating a sandwich, arguing with children in the back seat, or checking out their appearance in the mirror. Why should texting be singled-out when the danger it creates isn't unique?

Computers and the Internet No more telecommuting at IBM marketing

The company is eliminating the telecommute and putting all of its marketing staff in six offices

The United States of America Former Senator Alan Simpson finds himself displaced

He used to hold the record for tallest member of the United States Senate. The new Senator from Alabama, Luther Strange, has knocked him from the top spot.

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February 8, 2017

Computers and the Internet Don't wake up angry

A message to the President: Waking up and blasting off an angry tweet every morning is a bad way to set the agenda

Threats and Hazards A government going off the rails

"[President Trump's] attempts to run a renegade White House are not working out well". Does he have the opportunity to do better? Of course. Does he have the wherewithal? That's the big question, and it's hard to see any signs the answer will be "yes".

Computers and the Internet Restaurant owner escapes jail time for tweeting pictures of a sting operation

An Omaha restauranteur shared photos of minors who tried to buy alcohol at his establishment as part of a sting operation. A jury decided that didn't constitute obstruction of justice.

News A Kennedy runs for governor -- of Illinois

Yes, one of those Kennedys: Chris, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and one of the (seemingly few) family members who hasn't ever run for office. He's in part been responsible for managing the extended family's gigantic fortune.

Humor and Good News "Secret Service Adds Emotional Protection Division"

Barbed satire from The Onion

February 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards We are better than this. Let's act like it.

Max Boot, a conservative, criticizing the Republican Party: "By not doing more to distance itself from this morally obtuse president, the Republican Party is becoming, de facto, the party of moral relativism."

Weather and Disasters 3-day weather forecasts in 2017 are as good as 1-day forecasts in the 1980s

Improved granularity of forecasting is making things much more accurate.

Threats and Hazards Russia is literally trying to freeze out Ukraine

Without energy for heat, people literally suffer in the cold. It's not warfare, but it's the asymmetric application of pressure.

Broadcasting In selling CBS Radio, the parent also sells the heritage call letters

Even though CBS Radio stations won't have anything to do with CBS anymore, the KCBS and WCBS call letters will go with the sale, at least for 20 years. How the heritage networks have treated their radio assets is really extraordinary: NBC Radio was killed off, then brought back from the dead. ABC Radio was owned by Cumulus for several years until the deal folded in 2014, and then it was brought back from the dead at the start of 2015 not in its classic format but predominantly as a promotional arm of the parent. It's all quite odd.

The United States of America Watch the flows of immigration over the years

Watch where the people come from over the years

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February 6, 2017

Business and Finance Want to become richer? Add more value.

That's the lesson from Germany's economy: Train workers, focus on areas of comparative advantage, and engage more with the world market (not less). This is emphatically not the course being charted by the Trump administration -- but it would be the right one to follow.

News The missing-syllabus problem

Author Tom Nichols: "Most people do not have the skills or background to know if what they're reading is any good." This could be called the "missing-syllabus" problem: While the Internet (especially) causes us to think we have the world's information at our fingertips, it doesn't come with a syllabus. Without knowing where to start or how to truly teach ourselves, it's quite easy for us to think we're auto-didacts when we're really just filling our brains with intellectual hash. It's an especially complex problem in the Teach-Yourself Economy, since more people need to learn more than they used to, and our formal educational and training systems are slow to adapt to the demand.

Business and Finance A visual guide to the largest employers by state

Walmart, universities, health systems, and the Federal government. That's about it. Enlightening.

News How long should injured pro athletes be eligible for workers' comp?

A fight comes to life in Illinois

Threats and Hazards "The President has no constitutional authority over border control"

Even enthusiasts for expansive executive powers are starting to regret putting too much power in the hands of the Article II branch of government

February 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards The President's instability creates real political risk to the economy

Says columnist Matt Levine: "Everything Trump literally said is coming literally true; everything the serious people heard remains an unserious hope. Businesses may eventually get the tax and regulatory reform they wanted, but it's not a priority."

Business and Finance Coming to the defense of the free market

Charles Koch plans to spend a lot of money defending the free market against Trumpism.

Iowa University of Iowa has lost money for two consecutive years on athletics

Athletic programs are a fine adjunct to the college experience, but they are neither essential nor guaranteed to be profitable. Schools should be prudent about them: They're fine to have, but they should never drive the agenda of the university or become centers of consolidated power -- nor should they be above careful scrutiny.

Threats and Hazards The President still doesn't have a blind trust

In fact, he's still the sole beneficiary of the trust set up for his assets. And there's nothing blind about them. We should have higher standards for him, and for his successors -- and it may be time to codify those standards, rather than relying upon convention.

News Ambitious immigrants bring fresh blood to a culture and an economy

Think of it like a compressed spring: If you've been held back by circumstances in the past, and then by good fortune find yourself freed from those oppressive circumstances, it's not hard to imagine wanting to strive just a little more than those who never felt those constraints in the first place.

February 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards Unintended consequences of "America first"

Other countries, if unable to count on America's support, are going to put themselves first

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Norwegian authorities are most worried about Russia

The nation's top police officer says: "Russian intelligence services are targeting Norwegian individuals." It's unsettling when put in parallel with "Occupied", the phenomenal television drama about a soft Russian invasion of Norway.

Threats and Hazards Executive unilateralism could shut down tourism

Badly-written, hastily-drafted executive orders end up having unintended consequences.

Science and Technology Real progress compounds dramatically over time

You wouldn't believe how cheap light is today compared to when your ancestors walked the earth. Everything that durably improves the quality of life over time comes back to productivity -- we humans learning how to produce more with less waste.

News Calm down, America

Tom Nichols: "Unmodulated shock and outrage, however, not only burn precious credibility among the president's opponents, but eventually will exhaust the public and increase the already staggering amount of cynicism paralyzing our national political life."

News There's no such thing as a Presidential advisor in 2017

"For most of Trump's career he has only trusted a small group of longtime loyalists at the Trump Organization, and even then he has often tightened the circle further to family members." It's important to get the right perspective on things: The President isn't a skilled manager; he's a self-promoter. And it goes further: Where a lot of people see authoritarian instincts, others see deep-seated insecurities and thin knowledge. They may share some superficial symptoms in common, but it's hard to respond correctly without getting the diagnosis right. On a related note, it's a good thing we have Senator John McCain, who is a key player in the Republican resistance.

February 2, 2017

The United States of America Burping would be safe under Associate Justice Gorsuch

The Supreme Court nominee dissented in a case where he thought a school police officer went too far in busting a kid who burped to disrupt class. But here's the key takeaway: "...for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people's representatives. Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels." Yes.

Business and Finance If people don't see their living standards rising...

...then they'll usually look for someone to be worse-off than themselves. And when that fails, we get an election like 2016.

Iowa Free rides home over Super Bowl weekend

Budweiser and AAA will cover the cost of a tow and transportation home for people in Iowa through Monday morning. An interesting way to combat drunk driving over Super Bowl weekend.

News UK parliament approves authority for Prime Minister to negotiate Brexit

The European Union as a political entity has a whole lot of problems -- but this feels like a bad time for such an important participant to get headed urgently towards the exit

News The Dissent Channel

Not a TV network; it's the way diplomats send urgent messages back up the chain of command within the US foreign service to warn that they think a policy is off-track. Probably a model that private businesses should adopt, too.

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February 1, 2017

Business and Finance Firm creation is at a long-time low

If new firms aren't being created, power is likely being concentrated in the old ones

News Everything you need to know about Donald Trump you get from his extemporaneous speaking

His Black History Month comments are a perfect example of his incapacity to consider anything abstract

Computers and the Internet New FCC boss wants to address the "digital divide"

It's a big deal -- being without reliable high-speed Internet access is in many ways like being without access to paved highways

Health How "Count the Kicks" came into being

And how it caught on

The United States of America A look into the soul of today's diplomacy

Some thoughtful reflection on the situation at the State Department

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January 31, 2017

Business and Finance Warning: The President wants an inflationary currency

President Trump to the press corps today: "Other countries take advantage of us with their money and their money supply and devaluation. Our country has been run so badly, we know nothing about devaluation." This ought to put anyone who believes in a growing real economy and a sound dollar on full alert. The President doesn't set the money supply -- but he does nominate the Chair of the Federal Reserve, and although Janet Yellen has a term on the Board of Governors that lasts through 2024, her current term as Fed Chair expires in 2018. There are plenty of institutional safeguards in place to protect the Fed from political pressure, but there's also a lot of damage a President can do via appointments, from the bully pulpit, and via regulatory and tax tools. The mere fact that a sitting President of the United States would bark openly about "devaluation" of a currency as if it's a tool that we have under-utilized is a dangerous thing. Fiat currency depends upon the faith of the people who use it. The bigger problem may be that President Trump doesn't understand the actual state of the economy, and he's aggressively promoting the use of tools that are inappropriate to its current condition.

News There is only one Syrian orphan living with a US family

It's good and bad news: The good part is that observers seem to think the children who get separated from their families in the troubles plaguing Syria are able to be reunited quickly with extended family as necessary. But the bad news, more glaringly, is that there are lots of entire families who still need help -- and who won't get it from the United States, if the Trump Administration has its way.

Broadcasting One terrific television ad

(Video) Danish television system produces a 3-minute video that probably speaks more to the value of common humanity than we readily acknowledge

News Boy Scouts of America opens door to transgender Scouts

The BSA is a fine institution with a great deal of good it can do for young people. Getting rid of arbitrary obstacles to participation is a laudable step for the organization to take.

Business and Finance Someone just bought 19% of a Russian oil company

But who?

January 30, 2017

Business and Finance Why you should worry about inflation

When former Fed chair Ben Bernanke writes that, "to increase output without unduly increasing inflation the focus should be on improving productivity and aggregate supply", he's saying something totally different from what's coming out of the White House. In fact, it's almost 180 degrees the opposite. So if you don't expect them to satisfy the second part of the statement (focusing on productivity), then you'd better prepare for an inflationary situation.

Threats and Hazards Astute analysis of the new order of the world

A sobering thought: "Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him."

The United States of America Anyone who tells you the parties are OK is ignoring the data

The Republican and Democratic parties are separately, and together, in basically their worst condition ever. More Millennials and Gen Xers identify as independents than as either Republicans or Democrats. Our one-person, one-vote/first-past-the-post voting system makes a two-party duopoly basically inevitable, but the current arrangement isn't stable.

News On the sad, sad extinction of the Blue Dog

Democrats with conservative fiscal views and moderate social ones are a rare breed now -- when they're needed more than ever

Broadcasting An all-women's spin on "Ocean's Eleven" is coming

Anything with Sandra Bullock and Mindy Kaling has to be worth the price of a ticket

January 29, 2017

The United States of America A first-person refugee story

What it's like to come to the United States because you're unsafe in the land of your birth. We should be proud to be a refuge to the world's oppressed. That's the behavior of humane, civilized people.

News Compounding unpopularity

Gallup says that 50% of the country already disapproves of Donald Trump as President. He started at an even split (or a remarkably low net approval of zero), and is now almost incomprehensibly far behind his predecessors of recent memory. He is starting with the same approval rate as Richard Nixon in May 1973 -- which, for historical reference, was the the opening of the televised Senate Watergate hearings. Imagine.

News A long, long reading list on public infrastructure

It's not just about "roads and bridges". Infrastructure is much broader than that, and it's not a single thing at which we should blindly throw a lot of money and expect great returns.

Iowa Trends in Des Moines-area home values

Prices in some neighborhoods are declining -- and they're already the lower-valued neighborhoods. That keeps residents from building equity to get into higher-value neighborhoods, if they want. It should be considered a serious local socioeconomic problem, and one that local leaders have an interest in examining thoughtfully. Are there public goods that can be used to make those neighborhoods more valuable?

News France bans unlimited free refills of pop

Yeah, yeah: It's in the name of public health. But it still sounds a little nanny-state-ish.

January 28, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "Good Profit", by Charles Koch

A bit dry, but definitely worthwhile reading for the conscientious student of business management

January 27, 2017

The United States of America If the left wing cultivates its own "Herbal Tea Party", they need to hold back

The Economist carries a column with a strong insight about the need for opponents of the Trump Administration to make sure that they don't attack the voters themselves who put him in office. There's going to be a lot of need for reconciliation and unusual alliances in the time to come. There are already a lot of strong voices on the center-right who are as opposed to the direction and misbehavior of this administration as anyone on the left -- because offenses against truth and basic civility have no party. But it does nothing good to scold people who are late converts.

Business and Finance The future of unionized manufacturing jobs isn't rosy

Manufacturing productivity is rising. Non-union manufacturing employment is steady. But unionized manufacturing jobs are on a downward trajectory that hasn't reversed course in more than a generation. It's not because of labor laws. Meanwhile, the President can convene all the "manufacturing jobs councils" he wants, but if government policy is to be used to favor one kind of employment over others, that will require sound reasoning and justification. The bar should be set extremely high for favoritism to be justified.

Computers and the Internet "Fake news" could be a whole lot worse by the next Presidential election cycle

Technology already exists that permits real-time manipulation of audio and video. Technology itself is neutral; whether it is used for good or bad purposes is in the hands of the users. But this technology could easily be used for a great deal of evil. Audiences shouldn't fall for it.

Health Get trained in CPR

A bystander at a gym saved the life of a man in cardiac arrest when the staff fell short. Everyone should get trained in CPR because none of us knows in advance how well we'll respond in an emergency. Some people freeze; that's inescapable. So the more people who are trained, the better the chances of survival for anyone who falls in need.

Aviation News One-paragraph book review: "The Wright Brothers"

A vibrant portrait of one of the great technological successes that is far more engrossing in detail than in its usual abbreviated portrayal in the history books.

The United States of America Don't deify the Founding Fathers

David McCullough in 2001: "If they were marble gods, what they did wouldn't be so admirable. The more we see the founders as humans the more we can understand them."

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January 26, 2017

News Mexican president cancels planned US visit

This is not the way to start relations between two countries sharing a large border, many common interests, and a great deal of economic interconnectivity. The United States has a giant vested interest in a politically stable, economically prosperous Mexico -- even if the President of the United States is willfully blind to that fact.

The United States of America Sen. Lindsey Graham is a hero

He's taking on the worst behavior of the Trump Administration in a clever and public way, and that's a good thing. The Trumpian notion of imposing high tariffs on imported goods is ridiculous and punitive -- not a smart way to fund anything (including a wall on the border with Mexico). Tariffs are funny things -- they look like a way to target "foreigners", but the fact is that their incidence depends on the relative slopes of the supply and demand curves. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs offer concentrated benefits to the workers they "protect", with costs shared among all consumers. That kind of recipe is really good for turning badly-formed political wants into reality.

News To understand Russia's behavior, look at the price of oil

The Russian government depends heavily upon income from the oil business. With that income in retreat, it should come as no surprise that the government there is looking to asymmetric power plays (like trying to interfere with Western elections) and headline-grabbing displays of power. Economic strength speaks for itself; weakness begets the kind of behavior we see in wounded animals.

Business and Finance Uber for advertising

Marketing company sets up deal to put temporary advertising wraps on personal vehicles. Why not? Commercialism is the American way.

Business and Finance Cash flows in China tilt the world's property markets

As the Chinese government has sought to keep its subjects from taking their money overseas, it's going to starve some of the world's hot property markets of interested buyers (and their money)

January 25, 2017

Business and Finance Dropping out of the TPP only shrinks the stature of the United States

Big multilateral trade deals are never perfect, but they're generally preferable. Think of the United States as a giant trading bloc among 50 independent countries: We have just one trade agreement that serves us all, rather than the 1,225 bilateral agreements that would be required if each state went its own way with each of the other 49 states. Remember: One person's "tariff" is another person's use of import taxation to force the entire public to play favorites and subsidize a small share of the population.

News A wall, no matter how concrete, is nothing more than an empty symbol

Can physical barriers obstruct the passage of people and goods? Obviously, yes. But anywhere you look in the world, where there are two neighboring countries with different standards of living, there is always and everywhere pressure on that border by migrants seeking a better life. Indonesians die trying to get into Malaysia. The border between Belarus and Poland is stretched thin. And, yes, many Latin Americans try to enter the United States in search of work. Putting up walls isn't a durable answer. The real systemic solutions come from enhancing the economies of the poorer countries in these relationships, and from normalizing relationships so that migration issues can be handled in a sober way. An expensive, 2,000-mile long wall between the United States and Mexico has all the characteristics of a gigantic boondoggle that will waste taxpayer resources and disappoint its proponents.

Threats and Hazards What evidence of massive fraud at the polls does the President possess?

None has been revealed. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence -- but they do not require extraordinary refutation. If someone claims that the sky has turned teal with purple polka dots, the burden of proof is not on the rest of us to prove that it has not. Unfortunately, there have always been people who are submissive to the claims of those in positions of authority, no matter what the evidence. That is why the President's claims should be clearly denounced as deviant.

Iowa Separation of powers: It matters, no matter the party

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa tweets a series of messages to the President, advising that he intends to stand his ground regarding expectations of transparency and reporting as the Senate reviews nominees to serve in the new administration. Grassley has credibility as an advocate for good-government transparency, so this message ought to stick.

Broadcasting A modest proposal for television news

If the President or the press secretary is demonstrably lying or propagating false information, just switch the feed to black and white instead of color. This is a massively image-sensitive administration; diminishing that image when it is being tarnished by lies is a signal that would serve the public.

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January 24, 2017

The United States of America A world order must be led by somebody

If the world retreats from what we know as the "liberal order" (not left-wing, but liberty-driven), then something else will come next. Vacating the liberal order would only clear the way for lesser substitutes to emerge: If you clear a field and let nature take its course, weeds will take over, not roses. If the US quits the trade and defense deals that define the world order today, don't expect roses to take our place.

Threats and Hazards 50 states, 50 election systems -- zero cause for undermining democracy

Statement from the National Association of Secretaries of State: "We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the Administration's concerns." The President ought to be ashamed of himself for making unsubstantiated allegations in an effort to undermine faith in the electoral process. He is behaving like a deviant. It is disgraceful.

The United States of America Nikki Haley confirmed as UN ambassador

She departs service as governor of South Carolina, and she enters a role once held by George H. W. Bush. Haley started as a fiery outsider but has shown herself to be a sober leader in office; if she executes this office well, it may augur well for higher ambitions in her future.

Threats and Hazards Chicago has major troubles. Big government isn't the solution.

The President's vague and unsubstantiated threat to "send in the Feds" is no solution. He absolutely must not try to declare martial law, nor should he flood the city with agents of the FBI or ATF. Chicago doesn't have a problem of toughness; its problems are much more systematic than that.

Humor and Good News For those times when you're escorting a really classy load

Not every pilot car is a Cadillac

January 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards America in retreat

The new President is ordering a withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It wasn't perfect, but our departure is a sign of a nation that thinks itself small. Big, decent trade agreements make the world safer and more prosperous.

Threats and Hazards An excellent analysis of the world right now

Anne Applebaum: "European security may now depend on Germany, France, Britain and one or two others, and it's better to start planning now for the possibility of European-only cyber-defense, counter-terrorism, and conventional defense too."

Computers and the Internet Facebook quizzes aren't innocent fun

Marketers are building detailed psychographic profiles of us all

Broadcasting Why are American TV programs set in such drab workplaces?

Sample a few television programs from places like Britain or Australia, and it's hard not to notice that their workplace-themed shows are often set in places with lots and lots of windows. Not so for many American programs. What's the reason for that?

News It's amazing the discount rate some people apply to the future value of their own reputations

In a time when practically everything is recordable and storable online, it's not advisable to make up excuses to defend the indefensible

January 22, 2017

News Germany's welcome of refugees may pay off substantially in the long run

Long-term, Germany is heading towards a worker shortage. Its humanitarian project to welcome refugees (many of them young) could end up paying off quite handsomely. A chance to do well by doing good, as some like to say.

Business and Finance "Working-class colleges"

Upward-mobility machines they can certainly be, even if they don't come with illustrious pedigrees

Aviation News Stumbles in the race to blanket the world with Internet-delivery drones

Turns out they don't always fly as well as hoped