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February 9, 2019

Computers and the Internet Microsoft officially begs you to stop using Internet Explorer

From their "Windows IT Pro Blog", a request that IT people stop letting their users surf the Internet with MSIE, because it's not being kept up to date

News The stupidest of arguments

A man is suing his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. This peculiar philosophy -- "anti-natalism" -- seems to be one of the stupidest forms of nihilism.

News Millions of cars added to Takata airbag recall

Subaru, Volkswagen, and others are now involved

News Sen. Elizabeth Warren announces Presidential run

It's certainly not unexpected -- and she's made every sign she's going to push for the left-hand side of the economic spectrum. It was just this past August when she proposed her "Accountable Capitalism Act", which contained a handful of interesting ideas and a whole slew of terrible ones that ignore the fundamentals of how an economy works.

Business and Finance Is Amazon really reconsidering putting HQ2 in New York?

It could be true. It could also just be a negotiating tactic.

Threats and Hazards The White House is answerable to Congress, even when it tries not to answer

The Senate sent the Executive Branch a request for a report on the Saudi Arabian government's responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He was killed on October 2nd, and the Senate requested the report (with a 120-day deadline) on October 10th. It's now overdue. And it should be a reminder than the President is accountable to Congress, not the other way around. The Executive Branch doesn't get to say "No" just because it doesn't like what it's been told to do.

News National Pizza Day

There's a holiday for everything -- at least everything with a marketing person and a hashtag behind it

News A tabloid war with one of the wealthiest people in the world

Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame) has declared war on the National Enquirer

Socialism Doesn't Work Decide what you want, limit those wants, then pay for them in full

The proponents of "Modern Monetary Theory" make convoluted arguments that boil down to "deficits don't matter, because the government can just print more money". The fundamental problem with this is that the bill always comes due -- even if you try to bury it with inflation.

February 8, 2019

Humor and Good News "Ignatian yoga"

The name suggests that you get into a Sphinx pose, then a Jesuit walks across your back.

Computers and the Internet Google pulls the plug on Fiber in Louisville

One of their test markets will lose Google's super-high-speed Internet service in just over two months, on April 15th. Google says the entire Louisville network would have to be rebuilt to fix a persistent problem with the physical cables. It's not uncharacteristic of Google to simply pull the plug on a project, and the company's ever-growing legacy of leaving projects high and dry surely must give prospective paying customers (of things like its business services) some serious second thoughts about trusting the company with any mission-critical services. This falls hot on the heels of them killing Google Plus.

February 7, 2019

Business and Finance You can't fight global warming with inflationary hot air

The "Green New Deal" package being floated by left-wingers in Congress includes a massive amount of new government management of the economy, and the supposed promises are all supposed to be payable via a cockamamie scheme that falsely purports to pay for itself. "Green New Deal" promises have to be viewed in the same way as promised "multiplier effects" from publicly-funded sports facilities. It's easy to offer rosy payback forecasts -- but when public dollars are at stake, debts are real even when hopes aren't. Decide what you want, limit those wants as much as possible, then pay for it all.

News It's hard to debate without the right language

We need a shorthand way to discuss the differences we have with others, depending on the source of disagreement: Is it a difference of facts? A difference of goals? A difference of solutions? It would be really helpful at breaking us out of the "I'm right/You're stupid" binary to which so many people seem to be addicted.

Broadcasting The greatest Cold War movie is "Dr. Strangelove"

There were countless great Cold War movies -- "Hunt for Red October" was certainly one of them, as are "Fail Safe" and "Seven Days in May", among many others. But "Dr Strangelove" was not only brilliant in its own right, its exploration of game theory and deterrence remains 100% relevant even today. Peter Sellers is brilliant (playing three parts), and George C. Scott is positively inspired as General Buck Turgidson.

February 6, 2019

News Who wants to be governor of Virginia?

The political avalanche of the last few days exposes a cultural problem: We might not be structuring our political incentives and systems to send the most desirable people to office. As Bill Gates said in 2016 about running for President: "I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected." There should be little to no doubt that someone of Gates's ability would be up to the task -- especially if he were to spend time in elected-executive office at the state level (as a governor, preferably). But the way we treat politics may be a significant disincentive to getting the best people into office, and that has social costs. It's a problem not easily solved.

News Maybe we need a partisan press again

Newspapers used to be nakedly and unabashedly partisan, which is why Iowa has newspapers with names like "Marshalltown Times-Republican" and "Bloomfield Democrat". It's historically illiterate to suggest otherwise. What we see today are partisans who object to the framing of stories they do or don't like, and that is more a reflection of the "receiver" than the "sender" (in the widely-accepted model of communications). But it's also inescapable that editorial choices (forced by various forms of scarcity -- like the scarcity of room on the front page, or of letters in a headline, or of time to cover the news in a 30-minute broadcast) will reflect judgment calls, and those judgment calls are informed by the sender's understanding of the world. So when people who want the world framed in ways that are favorable to them encounter framing choices that they don't like, it could reflect bias (on the part of either the sender or the receiver), or it could simply reflect incongruity in how different people see the same world.

Broadcasting Channel-surfing mode

Netflix and Hulu are great, but they really need a channel-surfing mode. The joy of stumbling across "Ferris Bueller" or "The Big Lebowski" somewhere in the second act just can't be fully replicated on-demand. Serendipity still counts for something.

Weather and Disasters NASA offers a pretty unambiguous take on climate change

When they say "Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit", it's pretty hard to dispute that something is going on. But agreeing on the facts and agreeing on the diagnosis don't guarantee that we'll agree on the prescription.

Computers and the Internet Is email superior to an in-person meeting?

It is if the other person is going to blow off the meeting -- that's for sure. Email still seems in many ways like the "fast" way to do things -- especially if there's any follow-up required. Unless the other person is guaranteed to have the information you need right now, the beautiful asynchronicity of email seems much more time-efficient than other choices. But maybe that's a Generation X bias talking.

News Woman gives birth, unassisted, on a Chicago CTA bus

No medical professionals on board -- just mom and her husband

Threats and Hazards Stop "nutpicking"

The phrase, in the words of Sen. Ben Sasse, describes what happens when "people scour the news to find a random person saying or doing something really dumb, and then use that nutjob to disparage an entire group of people, as if the nut is representative." This behavior is a mainstay of lazy broadcast and online opinion-making, and it's rewarded when audiences fail to demand better. When people feed their brains nothing but their own confirmation bias, it's the mental equivalent of taking up a diet based on potato chips.

February 2, 2019

The United States of America Chicago has a team of Good Samaritans

After a propane tank exploded at a homeless encampment near downtown, first responders confiscated a whole bunch of the tanks (out of concern for safety), but that would have left dozens of people literally out in the cold. Their other option was to go to a shelter, but a group of South Side business owners stepped up and provided a few days of hotel lodging for about 100 people.

Health Overdosed ibuprofen recalled from Walmart, CVS, and Family Dollar stores

The company says the doses may be about 10% higher than listed.

Aviation News Gamble of the century for Boeing

Should they build a 797 that could cannibalize parts of their lucrative 737 and 787 ranges? If they don't, will Airbus eat their lunch?

February 1, 2019

News The floodgates have opened on 2020

A squadron of candidates have suddenly announced real intentions of running for President -- Sen. Cory Booker (announced Feb. 1), Sen. Kamala Harris (Jan. 27), Pete Buttigieg (Jan. 23), and...maybe...Sen. Sherrod Brown. But Brown may need to work on his elevator pitch: The Des Moines Register captures him telling an Iowa audience "I don't know yet" when asked what makes him different as a candidate. You, too, may be a candidate for President and perhaps you just don't know it yet. Of note: Among the prominent names we've heard in (or near) the crowded Democratic field, only Hickenlooper and Bullock have experience as governors. Only Bloomberg and Castro have experience as big-city mayors. This could make a real difference in the end: Elected-executive experience matters, as routinely demonstrated by the shortcomings of POTUS 45 (and POTUS 44).

News There's no excuse for only using half our brains

Women and men (and boys and girls) need to spend time doing constructive, merit-based work together.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve sticks with stable interest rates

They're still targeting 2.25% to 2.5% for the federal funds rate, with perceptions that inflation is at 2%. By historical standards, that remains an insanely low real rate of inflation. The Fed says the flat interest rate choice is made "In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures" -- which is the kind of thing you usually hear with someone audibly clearing their throat. What could possibly go wrong right now...other than Brexit, another government shutdown, trade wars, or a bad POTUS tweet?

Humor and Good News What city would your hero build?

Benjamin Franklin's charter city: Libraries everywhere, walkable access to science museums, and cutting-edge fire protection. Also, probably a lot of pubs. Maybe that's something for us to think about today.

Iowa Winter calculus

Winter in Iowa is just one long calculus equation, in which you try to decide which coat to wear based on the number of minutes you'll spend outside, how many of those minutes will be in the sun, and how quickly you'll overheat once you get indoors.

January 31, 2019

Threats and Hazards 1,437 children

The number killed in Syria's civil war last year. Fewer than in 2017 (2,109) or in 2016 (2,372). Yet still 1,437 too many.

Computers and the Internet Facebook is a main cyberwarfare battleground

The company says it "removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts that were being used in a coordinated disinformation campaign "directed from Iran". And here's why Iran would do such a thing: Asymmetry of results. The Facebook report says they found "Less than $30,000 in spending for ads", but the pages reached more than 2 million users.

Aviation News The Airbus A380 may be among the walking dead

Emirates Airline may be reconsidering an order for the super-jumbo jets, which could mean the whole program is doomed

Business and Finance Principal Financial warns of likely layoffs ahead

The financial-services sector isn't hot right now, and that meant net income for 2018 was a lot lower than in 2017.

Computers and the Internet Apple and Facebook go to digital war

Apple is seeking to punish Facebook in a visible way for violating Apple's terms for applications. Facebook was using the "Facebook Research" app (according to impressive reporting by TechCrunch) to gather data on everything users did with their phones. It paid those users to give up their privacy -- apparently to the tune of $20 a month -- which is an interesting market price signal. (The number seems terribly low, given the amount of intrusion. But in reality, users routinely give up a lot of privacy for free without even acknowledging or realizing it.) But the PR nightmare here is that the users Facebook solicited were ages 13 to 35, and that means the headline becomes "Facebook paid teens $20 a month to give up their privacy". It's worth repeating: Facebook isn't your friend.

Iowa Cable median barriers prevent head-on crash

(Video) Iowa DOT footage shows a car skidding out on icy I-380, crashing into police cars in the median, and being stopped by a cable barrier in the median -- almost certainly preventing an even more serious head-on crash with oncoming traffic.

Iowa Des Moines needs a good winter festival

The metro needs some kind of mid-winter event so we can look forward to something fun when it's apocalyptically cold outside. Like, when it's gas-station-wiper-fluid-still-frozen degrees out. And you can't count the Iowa caucuses, because that's just a once-every-four-years open-mic night.

January 30, 2019

Threats and Hazards The President dismisses his entire intelligence community

If a foreign head of state insulted American intelligence agencies like this, we would them a likely adversary. The President's temperament and lack of even a shred of humility makes him profoundly ill-suited to his job. As Calvin Coolidge suggested, "Any man who has been placed in the White House cannot feel that it is the result of his own exertions or his own merit. Some power outside and beyond him becomes manifest through him."

Water News Still on the job in the cold

Low-temperature records are falling. Schools are closed. Even US Mail delivery has been suspended. But public utilities are still open. Never a day off.

Weather and Disasters Ice quakes go boom in the night

Subsurface moisture is freezing in the extraordinary cold, causing the ground to "boom". Though you could be forgiven for thinking a pterodactyl had crashed into your house.

The United States of America True conservatives aren't reactionary

A thoughtful column by Avi Woolf: "Conservatives are supposed to be the immovable rock in the storm, the adult in the room, the stubborn, obstinate but level-headed individuals who stand for the things that matter long after fads and fashions have passed..."

Humor and Good News Some kind of wacky recursive art thing has emerged on Reddit

Harmlessly silly fun like this ought to come with reasonably high confidence that artificial intelligence will never see the humor, which may be what keeps us human after all.

January 29, 2019

Computers and the Internet Why it's so hard for the Defense Department to get into cyber

It's hard not to become convinced that the Defense Department ought to stand up a full-fledged branch dedicated to cyber, complete with its own laws of combat, mission accountability, and a service academy.

Weather and Disasters Better on someone's shoulders than on your coat hanger

As Midwesterners rifle through their closets for winter gear, we ought to consider giving under-used garments to our local shelters, where they might do some good.

Computers and the Internet Free technology repair may be the next big library mission

Despair, if you must, about the condition of national politics. But know that the really interesting stuff is happening at the state and municipal levels, where people's problems are visible up-close.

Weather and Disasters -40° -- where metric meets standard

If this is what it takes to get America on the metric system, then it's a bridge too far. On the bright side, though, cold winters are a pretty significant deterrent to scorpions, deadly spiders, and rattlesnakes.

Health Twins born at 22 weeks and one day of gestation

That's an incredible 18 weeks early, and their survival is a testament to the absolutely superhuman work of the people working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Humor and Good News "The rise of the swear nerds"

How swearing in type might just help some people feel better about themselves

Weather and Disasters Super-cold temperatures could kill a lot of emerald ash borer larvae

At least some good might come of the cold snap

Threats and Hazards The worst is yet to come

In testimony to Congress, the Director of National Intelligence offers this decidedly uncheery report: "We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other's experiences and efforts in previous elections."

January 28, 2019

Business and Finance New CBO outlook has Federal debt on dreadful path

With no changes to current policies, we're looking at a debt as big as the entire GDP in a decade. And that's just debt held by the public. Add in the intragovernmental holdings in trust funds, and we're pretty well at the 100% ratio already. The mass delusion that we can ignore this problem without consequences is astonishing. This isn't an imaginary monster hiding under the bed. In accounting, debt is usually the one thing that is always very, very real.

News What we read when everyone is watching

It's interesting to watch answers to questions like "What are seven books you love?" from high-profile people who are supposed to be highly knowledgeable about current events, but scrupulously non-partisan -- like Jeff Glor, anchor of the CBS Evening News. His picks include a classic on Theodore Roosevelt and a David Halberstam work. But it's almost predictable that he chose a Lincoln-centric piece first. Picks like Glor's really tell us which are the safest parts of the American consensus. Lincoln? Extremely safe.

January 27, 2019

News Holocaust Memorial Day

A reminder that genocides haven't been vanquished, and that indifference to the suffering of other people is never benign.

Computers and the Internet Dear Unicode: We need a NATO flag emoji

As symbolic displays go, this is one a person can definitely get behind.

News Peggy Noonan laments the decline of local newspapers

The loss of a permanent sense of local "place" is an important point, and it's a big part of Ben Sasse's valuable book "Them". For 85 years, we Americans have been teaching ourselves to think that everything important is done at the national level, and that's had unintended consequences -- not least of which is a hollowing-out of our interest and investment in how we manage ourselves close to home.

Broadcasting Children's television programs, ranked

(1) Sesame Street; (2) Super Why; (3) Curious George; (4) Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood; (5) Little Baby Bum. And basically everything else is just miserable garbage designed to sell junk or induce vomiting in adults.

Health Cold-weather safety tip: Check your CO monitors

Carbon-monoxide detection is a must wherever anything is combusted indoors (or near indoors) -- natural gas, LP, wood, gasoline, diesel, or otherwise

Iowa Winter brings a snow/freezing rain combo to Des Moines

It's like seven-layer salad, but for winter precipitation. Iowa's frequently-appalling weather is our secret weapon in keeping out the riffraff.

January 26, 2019

The United States of America Should the draft be modernized? Can it be?

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has released an interim report saying that they're examining a giant menu of options -- which could include requiring women to sign up for Selective Service, imposing a one-year public-service requirement on all Americans, and/or having government agencies share information with one another about prospects for "service opportunities". Even for an interim report, it seems exceptionally broad and vague.

News Roger Stone becomes sixth associate of Trump campaign to be indicted

Stone has a long history of association with the now-President.

News Federal shutdown ends (temporarily) after 35 days

The longest shutdown in history really just means that a bunch of Federal workers are going to be paid (late) for not working for a month. There are better ways to resolve political disagreements. The President continues to try to lay the groundwork to call a border wall a "national emergency", and that's not a healthy direction for things to go, either.

News Sen. Joni Ernst's personal story goes quite public

News related to her divorce filings put her into the spotlight as a victim of sexual assault. In an interview with Bloomberg News, she repeated a common refrain: "The problem is now I've been outed when I was not ready to talk about it. But now maybe it forces me to talk about it."

Health Can we stop antibiotic resistance?

The UK's National Health Service is going to try a model to pay drug manufacturers for the value of their medications to the system, rather than the quantity produced and sold. (Tn economic terms, that's an effort to bring the price in line with the true social utility.) They're also going to try to reduce the use of the drugs overall.

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January 25, 2019

News Roger Stone arrested on criminal charges

His purported "style" column is about to take a highly monochromatic turn. The charges: lying, obstruction, and witness tampering. The special counsel's office isn't messing around.

News Was the Coast Guard commandant right to criticize the government shutdown?

This raises important questions. The public -- through Congress, especially -- needs feedback on how decisions, policies, and funding affect the mission. We don't want undue military influence on politics, but we also can't afford military policy without honest feedback.

News Newseum sells its iconic building

The Newseum -- one of the best museum institutions in museum-saturated Washington, DC -- is selling its building on Pennsylvania Avenue to Johns Hopkins University and will move out at the end of 2019. They say they're going to look for "a new home in the Washington, DC area", but it's hard not to be concerned that any new location will diminish the status of the institution. Right now, a visitor to DC can't miss it.

Business and Finance When companies commute to their talent

Pella Corp. is opening an office in Des Moines to make it easier to recruit and retain workers who would rather live in the metro than in the company's namesake town.

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January 24, 2019

News Some branches of government are more equal than others

There is a reason why Congress can fire the President through the impeachment process, but the President can't dissolve Congress.

Science and Technology Automation isn't going away

And it's likely to have a bigger effect on certain geographic areas and demographic groups than on others. A new Brookings study says Midwestern states, rural communities, young people, and Hispanic and black workers all may experience disproportionate displacement. We shouldn't try to run away from technological change; after all, the automobile put a lot of stablehands and blacksmiths out of business. But it's wise to pay attention to the effects of change and to disaggregate data where it may tell the story behind the story.

News The oldest Millennials could actually be having grandchildren now

What's the best definition for separating a Millennial from a Gen-Xer? Perhaps the easiest cultural milepost on this is whether your age cohort had Facebook accounts during college. (It emerged in colleges in 2004 and 2005, before opening to the greater public in 2006. If yes, then Millennial. If no, then Gen X. And if you got it partway through, then choose your own adventure. Pew says they're defining "Millennial" as those born between 1981 and 1996 -- which means "Generation Z" is now entering the workforce in earnest.

Science and Technology Text-to-911 continues to expand

Now it's available in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as many of the nearby counties. A great option for people who need emergency help, but who can't use the normal 911 service -- if, for instance, they're hiding from an intruder or a domestic abuser.

Computers and the Internet How really to use Twitter

One's Twitter experience can easily turn into a dumpster fire if one only ever reads the main feed. But if you curate a few lists and put some thought into deliberately plumbing the thoughts on those lists, it can be a marvelous resource. Deliberate, intentional media consumption is a skill worth cultivating.

Health $8,000 transfusions of "young blood"

Being offered in Omaha and a few select other locations now. For the same efficacy, at the right time of night, you can find a guy in a trenchcoat hanging around the Leahy Mall who will spit into your eye for five bucks. Your results may vary.

Broadcasting The newsroom

For one day only, reports one Mark DiStefano, Sky News will put more than 30 cameras in its newsroom and stream the whole behind-the-scenes thing live. Without a 7-second delay, this could be the most NSFW program on television.

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January 23, 2019

News How about a little demand shock to education?

A potentially unpopular but highly necessary idea, in an age of accelerating economic churn: Make continuing education compulsory for adults. Require everyone to complete three credit hours per year from an accredited source. No restrictions on the delivery method or the subject. If you want to study household electricity, great. Medieval religious texts, fine. Monetarist economic theory, fantastic. As a consequence of imposing a big demand-side shock, you'd quite likely see big innovations in educational delivery, as well as a stimulus to career teaching jobs.

The United States of America Should the State of the Union speech be cancelled...forever?

A reasonable case for doing away with the annual spectacle altogether. Even better, perhaps we ought to really buttress the spirit of democracy and make the President face questions like the British do to their Prime Minister. Make Article II (literally) answer to Article I.

Computers and the Internet Better tweeting

Twitter ought to have two buttons to retweet: "Retweet with endorsement" and "Retweet because it's interesting".

January 22, 2019

News Is "authenticity" the real matter for politicians?

It's pretty easy to talk about "authenticity" as though it's the hot new thing, but in reality, it's been an issue for a century. Take, for instance, what Calvin Coolidge wrote: "In public life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial." With a roster of what feels like thousands now running for President, there will be a lot of effort put into "appearing really natural". But there are going to be a whole lot of ways for people to get tripped up on the way to doing that, and the embarrassments will hurt more than the efforts at authenticity may help. It's really hard to fake a tweet in one's own voice -- when Senator Ben Sasse tweets about things that really animate him, like America's relationship with the world or Nebraska college athletics, you know it's him being himself. And the same goes for when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses a phrase like "all your base". Like them or not, agree with them or not, they both use first-person language in a way that can't be faked.

News A thought-provoking interview on contemporary anti-semitism

Very well worthwhile listening, particularly because Anne McElvoy of The Economist is an extraordinary interviewer

Weather and Disasters Survey says...

An entirely unscientific poll finds that people would rather pay a little more in local taxes and not have to shovel snow instead of saving the tax money and shoveling for themselves.

January 21, 2019

News Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on education

He spoke often on the value of education. We usually don't talk about it explicitly (like we do about the freedoms of religion and speech), but it's hard to think of anyone who has ever been truly free without the freedom to obtain an education.

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January 18, 2019

News "I am now convinced that only a real crisis can cure this 21st-century fantasy of crisis."

Disaster without a plan isn't a good thing. Ever.

Business and Finance Is $15 an hour enough?

A New York Times columnist, noting the city's new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law, suggests that the self-sustaining wage in the city is more like $33 an hour. The essence of the problem is that even if true, that number can hardly be imposed by law without consequence. German has a lot of great words for complex matters. Can we find and co-opt into English their word for "I am sympathetic to what you want, but the way you want to get there is complete lunacy and will never achieve that goal"?

Business and Finance Starting with the man in the mirror

There really is nothing less threatening to anyone with a healthy self-image than Gillette's new commercial focusing on a theme of rejecting toxic behavior by males. It appears they're tacitly acknowledging that their longstanding "The Best a Man Can Get" campaigns may have sometimes lapsed into reinforcing stereotypes that needed to go. Nothing wrong with a little voluntary corporate responsibility. It's reminiscent of the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror": When a man shaves, he literally faces the man in the mirror, and it is to Gillette's credit that they're willing to make something of that moment in a way that isn't universally popular.

News Supreme Court justices in the off-season

Justice Clarence Thomas "will co-teach a two-week Supreme Court class with Creighton law professor Michael Fenner" in Omaha in the next several days. One might kid that the shutdown has gotten so bad, Supreme Court justices are having to pick up adjunct teaching jobs.

News "I've got to just do the right thing"

How House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to punish Rep. Steve King. Rep. King remains obstinately unrepentant, even though his antics -- part of a long pattern of behavior -- cost Iowa a literal seat at the table due to his removal from the Agriculture Committee (fortunately an absence rectified by the appointment of Rep. Cindy Axne to the committee).

News One-paragraph book review: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"

Discount the prescriptions, but consider the overall diagnosis

Iowa A truly mobile office

Putting luxury chairs, Wi-Fi, and a TV in a van as a high-end transportation service

News Prince Philip flipped his Land Rover

He's 97 years old. Every family seems, sooner or later, to be forced into a conversation about when it's finally time to take the keys away from a senior family member. And all too often, it doesn't happen until a serious crash.

January 17, 2019

Threats and Hazards President Trump denies use of military aircraft to Speaker Pelosi

Pelosi was scheduled to go to Afghanistan, but the President (almost certainly in retaliation for the dispute over whether he will be permitted to give the State of the Union address during the Federal government shutdown) has denied her the use of military aircraft to go there. This is a particularly sticky situation, because the Department of Defense is fully budgeted and isn't shut down. Moreover, there's a big Constitutional problem with the Article II branch of government denying access to government resources to the Article I branch...for basically any reason whatsoever. Congress is the wellspring of all further legitimacy in national government -- remember, they can fire the President but the President can't fire them. The tools of the government, then, ultimately "belong" to Congress first -- including the military. They not only have the power to set the budget (Article I, Section 7), but they also have sole power to declare war (Article I, Section 8). In other words, Congress isn't just equal, in many important regards, it is supreme. Whether you like the Speaker of the House or not, the interests of that entire branch of government are very much the interests of the American public. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "[The Founders] placed all their public officers under constitutional limitations. [...] They were very apprehensive that the executive might seek to exercise arbitrary powers."

Threats and Hazards Buzzfeed report: "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress"

If true (and it's an exclusive report for now), it's a spectacularly big story. The story says that "two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie". That would be to suborn perjury, which is a massively bad thing to do (and the kind of thing that brought down Richard Nixon).

The American Way Jack Bogle was the real capitalist revolutionary

Forget Che Guevara. Put the face of Jack Bogle on your t-shirt instead.

Business and Finance Omaha Public Schools face $771 million pension shortfall

And they're not even close to being alone on this. Probably no one truly understands the scope and scale of public-sector pension shortfalls in America today. They're all over the country, and they're huge. They are not just contractual obligations, either: They are tied to enormous political risk, too, since public-sector workers (and especially their unions) are extremely powerful in politics.

News Should cities clear snow-covered sidewalks instead of property owners?

If the sidewalk is considered a part of the broader transportation system, then perhaps it should become a municipal responsibility. Otherwise, the results may be simply too haphazard for the safety of anyone who needs to travel by foot.

Threats and Hazards Getting the right perspective on risk

We live in an age when stores offer "extended warranty protection" on a $14 computer mouse, but meanwhile, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is just seven years away from total depletion.

Health A few notes on vestigial structures

There are some weird things left over in the human body that we don't use anymore, and it's not just the appendix

January 16, 2019

News A little "light treason"?

Rudy Giuliani is taking to television to defend (?) the President, and nothing he says inspires serious confidence. People keep saying that reality is too much like "Veep", but it seems more like we're just watching a nefarious real-life version of "Arrested Development".

News Publius, 2019

Rap artist Cardi B has a very not-safe-for-work rant about the government shutdown, viewed millions of times in less than a single day. It's unlikely that the same number of people will read, say, the Federalist Papers this year -- so what does that say about our self-government? Should we expect more nose-in-the-books behavior, or are off-the-cuff celebrity video rants the new standard?

News Super data visualization

A German commuter knitted a scarf to illustrate how often her travels were delayed -- two rows of yarn per day. It's a tremendously clever idea.

News Judge them by their words

Here's a test: Judge politicians and candidates by how much their speeches differ from the typical laundry list of utterly unfulfillable promises made by kids campaigning for student council. A whole lot of them fail by that yardstick. Then don't hesitate to hold them accountable for the "good behavior" that James Madison wrote about.

Humor and Good News Someone found Joe Biden's dream board

A fake edition of the Washington Post is apparently floating around DC

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January 15, 2019

Threats and Hazards UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal

The whole Brexit affair seems like a perfect example of the problem of deciding "We hate this; let's get rid of it" without also deciding "When we get rid of this, what comes after it?" Sure, it's clear that among the English (not so much among the Scots or the Northern Irish), there was substantial public disappointment with the EU. But as it was put in Federalist 49, "The danger of disturbing the public tranquility by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society."

Threats and Hazards New York Times: "Trump discussed pulling U.S. from NATO, aides say"

Absent any other evidence of his behavior, this alone would represent a serious national security threat. As Margaret Thatcher said, "A nation can be free but it will not stay free for long if it has no friends and no alliances." But it's even more alarming considering the President's other displays of reckless talk and action, erratic decision-making, and suspiciously docile behavior in the presence of Vladimir Putin. Deterrence and alliances depend on psychology as much as on treaties.

The United States of America The President deserves a primary challenger

A look at five people who could contest the Republican Presidential nomination for 2020: Senator Mitt Romney, Secretary Jim Mattis, Governor John Kasich, Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Senator Jeff Flake. He also deserves a challenge from people like Senator Bob Corker or Senator Ben Sasse. The nomination should not be handed again to President Trump. It should be vigorously contested by someone with character and a sense of honor. Stephen F. Hayes offers a robust argument on behalf of a primary challenge, on the grounds that without it, "the 2020 presidential election will almost certainly pass without voters hearing a coherent case for limited government."

News Run for the mountains

Someone shared a mockup of an "Amy Klobuchar for President 2020" logo, and social media ran away with it. But the materials include some allusions to mountains, which Klobuchar's home state of Minnesota doesn't have. In fact, if you'd gotten in your car in Minneapolis and started driving west, in seven hours you STILL wouldn't even have made it to Wall Drug, much less to a mountain.

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January 14, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work Looking out over the (Berlin) Wall

The Communist world built walls to keep people in against their will

The United States of America Congress, supreme

Deep Constitutional nerdery meets one of the most vexing problems of the present political day in a piece from Jay Cost, who rightly notes that the Article I branch of the government comes first for a reason -- since it's the wellspring of government by the consent of the governed

Iowa What to eat in Des Moines? Anything, really.

A profile in "Food and Wine" illustrates a pleasurable fact of life in Des Moines: If you can't find more restaurants to love here than any reasonable person could patronize, you're just not paying attention.

January 13, 2019

News Mind your business, America

Kori Schake: "The good news is that Americaís problems are largely within its ability to fix; the bad news is there is little sign Americans are interested in fixing them."

Humor and Good News A perfect 10

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi puts on a spectacular display of athleticism

January 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards FBI opened counterintelligence investigation into President Trump

Once in a while, a truly stunning story breaks. This one requires multiple readings. And not because it sounds like overreach -- but because the threat sounds so plausible. And the President's incapacity to plainly deny the risk is astonishing.

Business and Finance "Don't sign a petition. Buy a subscription."

Maine newspaper converts comments from author Stephen King into a subscription drive

Computers and the Internet Kindle app on Android phones now scrolls books like web pages

On the hierarchy of media, paper books or e-ink (like the Kindle) are still better than reading from a smartphone screen. But this is a big new advantage in favor of the phone. And whatever makes it easier to read more books is surely a good thing, no?

The United States of America "Western civilization's greatness lies [...] in the universality of its message."

A well-worded commentary from John Podhoretz. Civilization isn't something you're born with; it's something you learn. Anyone who thinks it's an entitlement of birth or genes doesn't understand civilization at all.

January 11, 2019

The United States of America Nobody is born civilized

In light of the latest insulting, degrading, and plainly stupid remarks on race and civilization from Rep. Steve King, a reminder from nearly two years ago (in response to previous stupidity from the Congressman): Civilization isn't genetic; it's earned and kept through hard work. If you think civilization is all in the genes, you'll neglect the important work of its maintenance. America works because we work at it. Rep. King wants to pretend like his comments are just a "mistake", but not a "mistake" when you keep doing something over and over: It's a bad decision. The good to come out of "Western Civilization" is mainly a result of its commitment to getting better -- to self-examination and improvement. Rep. King is long overdue to make himself a better person.

Business and Finance Individual income taxes pay for about half of the Federal government

Add in the taxes taken out for entitlement spending, and it's more than three quarters

News Michael Bloomberg doesn't do fair fights

He says he would fund his own campaign if he were to run for President in 2020. And that's consistent with a line from his autobiography: "[T]he likelihood that we will prevail five times in a row in a fair fight is only about 3 percent. We don't want fair fights. We want to go into contests with an advantage."

Humor and Good News A Peeps factory tour

Sounds a bit like finding the Golden Ticket to see Willy Wonka

January 10, 2019

News On walls and wheels

The President seems fixated on the idea that (border) walls and wheels are of similar vintage, which somehow imbues them in his mind with a sort of co-validity. Of course, defensive walls weren't used around every ancient city. Maybe that's because they were peaceful. Maybe it's because walls failed the cost/benefit test. A wall is a pretty expensive investment for something that can't be moved, can't adapt to changing threats, and can't do much to protect you once it's been breached. We shouldn't assume that the people who lived many generations before us didn't know how to do things (like cost/benefit analysis) just because they didn't always have our modern words to describe them.

Threats and Hazards The "Belt and Road" battle ahead

David Rennie: "It's a contest of models, and the liberal, democratic world is too tired and inward-looking to compete". An utterly depressing conclusion -- but not without merit. We're making choices right now (deliberately or by inaction) that are going to have consequences for the shape of our world in the next quarter- to half-century.

News Attentive Milwaukee bus driver rescues lost toddler from imminent danger

Most people are basically decent

January 9, 2019

The United States of America Realistic foreign policy demands a foundation in some kind of principle

Sen. Ben Sasse: "Our single greatest asset for realist foreign policy is the idealistic underpinnings and core of the fact that we are a nation that believes in universal human dignity."

News The Chrysler Building is up for sale

It's the best-looking building in Manhattan. Period. That doesn't make it a good or bad investment, per se, but it's a fact: The Chrysler Building radiates Art Deco from every square inch, and there's just nothing better in a tall building than that.

News Enforcing the laws already on the books

When people use the phrase "enforce the laws that are already on the books", they probably aren't thinking of some of the awful laws that are...already on the books. An example: The portion of Nebraska's state constitution that continues to permit slavery. That needs to be removed from the books, and it's a good example why we should pay better attention to the value of sunset provisions.

Business and Finance Liquor industry group surprised that legal marijuana hasn't hurt sales

Seems more like a beer-and-pretzels relationship than a guns-and-butter one. It's unclear why anyone really thought booze and weed were going to be competitors.

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January 8, 2019

Threats and Hazards "I can do it if I want"

The overarching problem is that the President frames everything like a Manhattan real-estate transaction (two parties interacting in a deal lasting just one round, perhaps never to speak with one another again). In reality, the world is vastly more complex than that -- most importantly, almost nothing is excluded to two parties, and almost every interaction is part of a long chain of events (and people have memories). Deep down, it's less an ideological problem and more a game-theory problem.

Weather and Disasters 54-mph wind gusts in Iowa

When standing still takes the same effort as standing on top of a car going down a two-lane highway.

Humor and Good News Life hack for finding better friends

Anyone new in your orbit must have the immediate and adoring approval of at least one dog or one child under the age of 4. Both are better judges of character than most adults.

January 7, 2019

The United States of America A word or two on restraint

It's really not hard: Never claim powers for yourself that you wouldn't happily place in the hands of your opponents. Anyone who can't abide by that kind of regulation shouldn't come within fifteen city blocks of a position of political power in America.

January 6, 2019

News One-paragraph book review: "The World Until Yesterday", by Jared Diamond

The very good points of the book (which are summarized surprisingly concisely and well in the 14-page epilogue) drown in a sea of minutiae about the !Kung people and birdwatching in New Guinea.

January 5, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 5, 2019

Live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time

News For-profit college to forgo half a billion dollars in student debt

Virtually all of the nation's attorneys general have reached an agreement with Career Education Corp. to settle a dispute over practices that may have pressured or misled students into enrolling in programs both online and at physical campuses using what the AG offices deemed "unfair and deceptive practices". The company will write off about half a billion dollars in student debts as a result.

January 4, 2019

The United States of America A new Congress is convened

And Rep. Thomas Massie, a member of Congress from Kentucky, gets it completely right: "[W]e swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States, not to the government, not to the flag, not to any party, and not to the President." It's good that he gets that. And it would be terrific if that would rub off on some of his colleagues. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee has proposed a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. It's perfectly understandable that people might find incongruity in a process that doesn't award the Presidency to the winner of the popular vote. But that complaint is a superficial one: People who don't understand the Electoral College don't understand Federalism. Right at the center of the Constitution is the idea that the individual states have meaning and importance and stature. The Senate isn't supposed to be proportional to population because the national government isn't supposed to be the end-all, be-all of our public life. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 9, "The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power." The Electoral College is an extension of the disproportionality of the Senate. There's nothing wrong with considering means for diminishing the disproportionality (for instance, by expanding the House of Representatives, which is an idea with considerable merits of its own), but a form of disproportionality is inevitable. And at the extremes, the numbers are attention-getting: Wyoming has about 578,000 people and three Electoral College votes; California has 39,557,000 people and 55 votes. That's 192,579 Wyomingites versus 719,218 Californians per EC vote. But that matters a lot if one thinks that the President is the most important person in America, with the power and the responsibility to impose policies on the country at large. But that's not a Constitutional orientation. The Constitution puts the legislative branch in Article I and the executive branch in Article II, and not by accident. The Constitutional sensibility perceives that anything worthy of national rule-making should begin either with a majority of the population (in the House) or a majority of the states' interests (in the Senate). Things are supposed to start in Congress and be carried out by the White House -- unless they're stupid ideas, in which case the President is supposed to use the veto power to stop them. The sickness in the system isn't the disproportionality of the Electoral College or the supposedly "undemocratic" nature of the Senate. Those exist by design. No, the sickness in the system is the Imperial Presidency. There are occasional acknowledgments of this problem -- as when Republicans talk about rolling back administrative regulations that never went through Congressional approval, or when Democrats insist that the White House be subject to investigation and other forms of accountability. But in the broadest sense, the notions that we should overhaul the Senate or toss out the Electoral College are tacit displays of fealty to a national government that grows too large for the health of the governments closer to the people. The states aren't subsidiaries of the government in Washington, DC. They exist before and prior to the national government -- both in the literal sense (recall that we had thirteen states and the Articles of Confederation before we had the Constitution) and in the figurative one (the very name of the country is "United States of America", in which the noun is "states"). The nation obtains its legitimacy from the authority granted to it by the citizens and by the states. It takes both forms of authority to make the country. Chipping away at the foundations of that relationship makes the country more volatile and makes the states weaker. And weak states cannot forever prop up a functioning Federal government.

Health Back-to-back triple-organ transplants

Two 29-year-olds have undergone triple transplants at the University of Chicago Medical Center: Heart, liver, and kidney. May we see (soon) the day when bioengineering permits us to generate our own organs in the lab, so we don't have to leave people waiting for donor organs.

Health Iowa records first flu-related fatality of 2019

"[A] middle aged (41-60 years of age) Eastern Iowa man, who had underlying conditions or contributing factors" -- which is a reminder why it's useful for healthy people to get flu vaccinations, especially if you come into contact with the very old, very young, or very sick.

Science and Technology Nothing grows faster than bamboo

Which seems to account for its reputation as an eco-friendly building material. Use the thing that grows fast and captures carbon quickly.

Humor and Good News Interior-decorating goals

John Dickerson shares photos of a gorgeous personal library setup

Humor and Good News Mazel tov!

One of the best phrases that has crossed over from Judaism into secular popular culture. Now, if only "mitzvah" (in the sense of doing a good deed, not the coming-of-age ritual) would make the same leap. It's a great word.

Threats and Hazards The President dismisses Syria as "sand and death"

But that definition is superficial and unfair. We don't have to know all the answers to all of the world's problems. But we have to at least try to frame the problems like decent human beings.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve independence: Planting the flag

At the American Economic Association conference, Jerome Powell said he wouldn't resign if the President asked. An insufficient number of people understand just how important central-bank independence is. If you want to trace most inflationary disasters back to their source, you'll find they start when politicians take direct control of the money supply.

January 3, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work China's "social credit" system will permit the government to grade everyone

They say it's because people need to trust one another. And it is absolutely true that a society needs mutual trust among its people in order to function. It is absolutely false to think that government can evaluate, measure, score, or impose that trust from above. If the trust doesn't emerge organically, it doesn't really exist.

News Game theory and the Oval Office

The President frames everything like a Manhattan real-estate transaction (two parties, one round). In reality, the world is vastly more complex than that -- most importantly, almost nothing is excluded to two parties, and almost every interaction is part of a long chain of events (and people have memories). Deep down, it's less an ideological problem and more a game-theory problem.

Computers and the Internet Barbarians at the tweet

When people turn to social media to shout their lack of interest in other people through a megaphone, it whacks civilization in the kneecaps.

News On the European Union, the United Kingdom isn't so unified

Scotland voted 62% to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to remain. Such a strange consequence of history that they're being dragged out of the EU effectively against their national wills.

Threats and Hazards Evidence mounts that China's campaign against the Uighurs is as bad as can be imagined

If a state puts all of the writers, artists, and intellectuals of a minority group in prison, you can be sure they are seeking to grind their culture right out of existence. This is a much, much bigger deal than whether the US sold China a few million more or fewer iPhones. How China's government not only aggregates but executes its power is massively important.

News How long is the perfect book?

Substantially shorter than the average non-fiction book of the present day, that's for sure. But it turns out that data about our reading (and reviewing) habits now collected via the Internet gives some useful feedback on the relationship between length and quality. Or, at least, it suggests that people tend to over-rate long books...probably to make ourselves feel better about finishing books with too many pages.

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January 2, 2019

The United States of America Stop with the Senate-abolition nonsense

The Senate, with two seats per state, is a non-negotiable fundamental of the Federal model. We need capable state governments, a strong Senate, and a national government with a little bit of humility about it.

News In defense of pay-as-you-go

In a sane world, the rules would be:

1. Decide what you want from government.
2. Limit those wants as much as you can.
3. Pay for it all.

And while it is entirely valid to point out that empathy should play a role in determining what those "wants" should be, the decision has to originate out of principle. Resources are limited. More importantly, government power itself must be limited -- even if it does something that is cost-free. Thus we decide these things in imperfect but representative bodies. For instance: A lot of people think the Mueller investigation should be shut down because it costs money. Others say it should stay open because it has actually turned a profit. The principled answer is that a complete investigation is absolutely necessary, utterly regardless of cost, because government power is inherently dangerous, so it must be controlled by the rule of law. When we have credible suspicions about its use, the principle of limiting that power comes before considerations of cost. Thus, if we want limits on government (including investigations of bad behavior), then we need to be willing to pay for them before we start looking at the tab.

Threats and Hazards A story worth reading about Saudi dissidents

Freedom isn't protected everywhere

Threats and Hazards What happened to Sen. Rand Paul?

Reagan was in many ways a great President, but the hagiography has gotten out of control. Once you surrender critical thinking to one cult of personality, you pave the way for later cults of personality -- as Senator Paul is doing now with his inexplicable embrace of Trumpism.

Business and Finance High minimum wages don't necessarily have the intended consequences

Note to the $15-an-hour crowd: It's not that we disagree with your objectives. It's that the means you propose to use just aren't as effective as they need to be.

Business and Finance Motivational speeches

If you're surprised that Joe Biden commands $100,000 a speech, take a look at who else gets that princely sum

Business and Finance "A poor person never gave anyone a job" -- false.

Lots of jobs are created by people who bootstrap their own companies or otherwise start from scratch. Jobs are not gifts that are handed out charitably by the wealthy to the non-wealthy. The perverted defense that Jerry Falwell, Jr., gives to Donald Trump isn't even sound logic.

Business and Finance Trade deficit worsens as tariffs go up

Remember this next time someone offers a ham-fisted proposal as though it's a magic bullet that everyone before them was just too dumb to realize.

Broadcasting The game theory embedded in submarine-chase films

They invariably focus on extended engagements between two actors with limited information, making them excellent examples to use when teaching game theory.

Humor and Good News "In 2019, Canada is positioned to start down a path towards leading the world"

If they're bringing poutine and Labatt Blue, maybe we can do business. But seriously, there is actually room on the global stage for Canada to take a more prominent role -- particularly as a weathly, productive liberal democracy with an interest in at least some claim to moral authority.

News A vegan challenge from Beyonce and Jay-Z

Guess they won't be headliners at the Iowa State Fair this year.

December 29, 2018

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 29, 2018

The last show of 2018 airs at 2:00 Central Time on WHO Radio

Iowa Another swing at the local option sales tax?

On January 2nd, the West Des Moines City Council will consider a resolution to send the local-option sales and services tax proposal to Polk County. So will Des Moines. The vote would tentatively be scheduled for March 5th. Both councils are considering proposals to put 50% of the revenues into property-tax relief.

Health Hospital price transparency comes January 1st

They'll have to post list prices online. It's not a perfect fix, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Agriculture It's not just soybean farmers who are suffering from trade nonsense

The Trump Administration's decision to keep the US out of the TPP means Australian farmers are going to have a strategic advantage in selling wheat and beef to markets like Japan, where the US is going to face tariffs that the Aussies won't. Multilateral trade deals are the best trade deals.

Business and Finance Eddie Lampert submits last-minute bid for Sears

He's already the chair of the board, but it looks like an affiliate of his hedge fund has offered $4.4 billion for the company, which is pretty much its only alternative to a complete shutdown and liquidation. Regardless, the company is closing another 80 Sears and Kmart stores, in addition to the many it's already closed. One problem for the company is that it hasn't turned a profit since 2010.

Wells Fargo to pay more than half a billion dollars to settle fake accounts

In a settlement with all 50 states (and DC), the company will pay out $575 million to the states (Iowa will get about $6.2 million, to be allocated to the Consumer Education and Litigation Fund). Another $1.6 billion is going to restitution and Federal penalties in other resolutions.

December 28, 2018

Iowa What is it with Black Velvet drinkers in Iowa?

The whiskey is the #1 liquor brand sold in Iowa -- by a big margin over #2 (Fireball) and by a giant margin over #3 (Captain Morgan). It is nearly eight times as popular as a fine Irish whiskey like Jameson.

December 27, 2018

Computers and the Internet How Facebook moderates more content than you think

"The [New York] Times was provided with more than 1,400 pages from the rulebooks by an employee who said he feared that the company was exercising too much power"

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders remains a one-way ticket to disaster

In a fundraising email, his people volley a tirade against Third Way Democrats. But the simple fact is that Sanders is toxic and would be a two-time disaster for the Democrats.

Threats and Hazards Sudden US withdrawal from Syria has Kurds looking for new allies in a hurry

There's no love lost between them and the Turkish government just over the border

Threats and Hazards 20 million people are starving right now

A number of people roughly equal to the combined populations of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. That they live in faraway Yemen shouldn't discount anyone's sense of the tragedy. And it is particularly galling because the starvation is truly economic in nature, rather than something more unavoidable.

Health Iowa has a new state epidemiologist

We're social animals, so it's impossible to have health care without spending time, attention, and money on public health

News Power plant explosion in New York City causes unnaturally blue sky at night

And when something like this happens somewhere else, it ought to be a good reminder for the rest of us to check our own preparations for power outages (that might last a good long time...). A cell phone flashlight isn't good enough. And travel with extra batteries, because there isn't always an outlet to save you.

Threats and Hazards Character as destiny

The most important thing Jonah Goldberg gets right in this piece is that "What [the President's] defenders overlook is that his insults are not simply an act". His shortage (nay, absence?) of personal character is a choice. And it is a choice, too, when others defend it.

Business and Finance If "milk" must apply only to stuff from dairy cows, what about baby oil?

While there's definitely something to be said for truth in advertising, is anyone left more confused (rather than less) by the notion of "almond milk" or "soy milk"? Those names generally serve to make things more clear to the consumer, rather than less.

Aviation News Aircraft window shades up or down?

Cabin crews sometimes ask passengers to put the window shades down shortly after landing in order to keep the cabin cool -- which is a pretty radical departure from the old days, when that was a signal of a hijacking. Here's another reason why it's a bad idea: Eyes take time to adjust to outdoor brightness, and if something goes wrong (even on the ground), then passengers need to be oriented to the hazards around them in an instant.

Humor and Good News Architectural eye candy

A $17 million home with just four bedrooms. But it's gorgeous.

December 26, 2018

Health May we continue expanding our sensibilities about mental wellness

Our country will be much better off when we bring the same prevention-oriented, everyone-does-it attitude to mental wellness that we give to dental care. Nobody gets judged for having a filling. Just as there is a compelling public-health case for dental care (including the use of fluoride in public water systems), there is also a compelling public-health case for widespread access to preventative mental wellness care.

News Read to small children!

They'll learn far more words from children's books than they will from television

Computers and the Internet If you count on Facebook as your lone marketing strategy...don't

It's a useful tool, but the fickleness with which it is managed makes it fundamentally unreliable

Agriculture China didn't import American soybeans last month

File under: Trade wars are stupid

December 25, 2018

Iowa Six things to love about Des Moines for the holidays

The lights on Terrace Hill are a good place to start

Humor and Good News A Christmas list attached to a red balloon

Launched in Mexico, it made its way to a rancher in Arizona -- who tracked down the youthful sender and delivered her wishes

News The Secretary of Defense sends a message to the troops

His holiday greeting includes one line worthy of extra attention: "Storm clouds loom, yet because of you your fellow citizens live safe at home." One wonders which particular storm clouds loom largest in his mind.

Socialism Doesn't Work The world needs to speak up for the Uighurs in China

It seems a million people or more have been detained without trial over their ethnic and religious identity. That's appalling -- especially if one legitimately believes that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

December 24, 2018

News From "Christmas Catholics" to regular churchgoers

A worthwhile perspective from America Magazine: "That is what being a stranger means: Not being known is part of it, but not knowing is the rest."

News What's an "affordable" college education, really?

Our meta-problem is that we continue to treat the college degree as a destination. It may be a well-worn commencement-speaker cliche to say "This is just a beginning", but the 21st Century really does demand that we think about everyone having a path through a non-stop, life-long education. And "everyone" means everyone, without exception.

Humor and Good News There are better things to say than "You're so cute!"

Ask girls about themselves instead of passing judgment (no matter how seemingly innocuous) on their looks.

Humor and Good News "I see how few monsters there are among us"

A counterterrorism-expert-turned-local-cop says he thinks most people are decent. What a great sentiment, and true. Most people -- really, most people, and that means everywhere -- are trying their best to be good. All fall short, some more often than others. But the real monsters are few.

News UNHCR seeks donations for refugees

There are a lot of them in the world right now -- too many. And it's turning cold in much of the Northern Hemisphere.

December 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards Why Secretary Mattis resigned

In the words of Bret Stephens: "Mattis also resigned because he has concluded that the problem with Trump isnít that he's an empty vessel. Itís that he's a malignant one." Mattis's resignation is a powerful sign and a significant gauntlet to be thrown down. It does nothing to counter the narrative that the President is thin-skinned and incapable of managing people well that he has decided to force Mattis out early.

Threats and Hazards The President is taking Turkish advice above his own Defense Secretary

It's truly incredible. The President already has a problem with keeping civil-military relations on the right track domestically. But now he's revealing a preference for foreign authoritarians over his own professional warriors. Maybe it's time to stock up on canned goods.

Threats and Hazards What is the Secretary of the Treasury doing with urgent Sunday phone calls?

The calls -- seeking to offer reassurance to major banks about the liquidity of the financial system -- wouldn't be necessary if not for a totally unnecessary Federal government shutdown and Presidential threats to try to fire the Fed chair. The administration has no one to blame but the guy who wasted his Sunday afternoon taunting Bob Corker.

News Nine last-minute gift ideas that could save Christmas

Especially for that person who has everything

Threats and Hazards Two years in, the President is growing more isolated by the day

Ever been around when a family has to take away a driver's license from a senior family member? Nobody wants to do it, and everyone sidesteps the issue, usually until something truly dangerous happens. It's like that, except this particular senior has the nuclear launch codes. Some are asking whether the Mattis resignation truly signals such a terrible warning, and whether he would leave the job if he thought it left the country in real peril. Think of Secretary Mattis like a fighter pilot in a plane that has been hit: If he thinks it's recoverable, he'll struggle to make it to a landing strip. But if so much additional fire comes in that the wings are lost, he has no choice but to punch out. The danger exists either way.

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December 22, 2018

Threats and Hazards Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns: Sound the general alarm

President Trump was hired for his own job in part because many voters trusted him when he said he would hire "the best people". And by most accounts, that's what he got in James Mattis. But President Trump never warned us he'd be so terrible at keeping "the best people" around. This is a seriously troubling development.

Weather and Disasters Volcano causes tsunami in Indonesia

Dozens of people have been killed; possibly more

Business and Finance Manufacturing may come back to the States. Manufacturing jobs may not.

Automation is changing the economic prospects for domestic production, but automation won't create a lot of old-style factory jobs. Paradigm shifts are the hardest to sell. We have so many people emotionally invested in a smokestack-economy vision of manufacturing that even progress like this will instigate blowback.

News Small towns deserve better than cheap stereotypes

It's great to see people thoughtfully sticking up for their communities

The United States of America Radio Free GOP is back

The gods, having taken away the Weekly Standard, have seen fit to grant us a new episode of "Radio Free GOP". Mike Murphy, let your pirate radio flag fly: With the shutdown happening, the FCC isn't listening anyway.

December 21, 2018

Threats and Hazards All the attention is on the wrong things

A scathing BBC report says that the British government isn't doing anything to counteract Chinese-government espionage being conducted as economic warfare. Border walls and Brexits won't do a shred of good to solve the problem of highly sophisticated, well-funded, state-backed industrial espionage campaigns. Ham-handed tariffs and trade wars among allies don't help, either. All the public attention is going to the wrong things right now, and we're going to regret the neglect.

News Who's next to run the Pentagon?

Who, exactly, is the person who (a) has the credibility to be an effective Secretary of Defense, and (b) looks at the job and confidently thinks "I can persuade and advise the President where Mattis couldn't". That person surely does not exist. The kind of hubris it would take, two years into this Administration, to think that the President could be educated on matters of military importance (much less be persuaded about them) is exactly the kind of hubris that gets fools killed and wiser people hauled off to prison. This is a grave moment. Little to nothing about our geopolitical situation has on balance become more stable or more secure for the United States in the last two years. On net, things are worse. And everyone knows why. It seems quite extraordinary that outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis openly, directly, and publicly rebuked the President in his resignation letter -- posted for all the world to see, directly on the website of the Defense Department. That's no small matter: It's a modern-day echo of Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door.

Business and Finance US stock markets drop to 17-month lows

A reminder: The stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. But the terrible performance in the stock market of late is pretty directly traceable to real-world events in economics: The Federal government shutdown, accelerating deficit spending, odious misbehavior and unpredictability in the Oval Office, and trade hostilities among them. Ordinarily, it's out of place to give a President too much credit or too much blame for the state of either the economy or the markets. But not only has President Trump made a spectacular fool of himself by desperately seeking praise and attention for the state of the stock market just four months ago, he has also introduced many of the most notable risks to the economy itself. A President who tries to take credit for the good (when he isn't really responsible for it) most certainly deserves blame when he is clearly responsible for doing harm. He is reported now to be interested in firing the chair of the Federal Reserve. That's a Rubicon he'd best not cross.

Broadcasting FCC among Federal agencies hit by the shutdown

With the FCC shut down, are radio hosts obligated to talk like pirates?

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December 20, 2018

Threats and Hazards Sound the general alarm: James Mattis has submitted his resignation

A healthy system of government depends not on the individuals in it, but rather on the commitment to rules shared by authorities and civilians alike. But when the "prince" (or in our case, the President) puts his faith only in himself, then it is hard to put our trust in anything other than the individuals who make decisions around him. And we are now scheduled to lose one of the most important of those individuals in a matter of weeks. Mattis isn't quitting because he wants to work on his golf game. He's resigning because the President thinks he knows better than everyone else, even including "the generals". It's time for weapons-grade worry.

Threats and Hazards An immediate withdrawal from Syria

Contrary to public pronouncements and the advice of senior military leadership, the President is ordering an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Syria. It's thought there are about 2,000 of them there -- and they may be the only factor keeping hostile adversaries (Russia, Iran, and ISIS included) at bay.

News China's "Belt and Road" has military overtones in Pakistan

It should be obvious that the "Belt and Road" program isn't just about economics -- it's about geopolitics, too. And though it's a strategy fraught with peril (in other words, don't be surprised when it backfires in spectacular ways), in the short to intermediate term, it's disrupting the balance of power in important places.

Threats and Hazards A shutdown looms again

President Trump is willing to shut down the government to get funding for his mythical border wall

The United States of America Shopping patterns are closely related to local political culture

Even among American communities that have other socioeconomic characteristics in common, sometimes we shop differently because of things that also seem to instigate us to vote differently, too.

Broadcasting UK radio host keeps suicidal caller on the air until help arrives

When we say that radio is the most personal and intimate mass medium, that's not an exaggeration or a boast. It's just the truth.

Humor and Good News The promised land comes with Cheez Curls

Along with six other things that deserve to make a comeback

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