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December 7, 2019

Threats and Hazards How does a police chase end up with dead innocent bystanders?

There's really quite a lot that doesn't sit right about the incident in Miami that killed an innocent UPS driver and a motorist in a nearby car. ■ This kind of incident -- with all the questions it raises about the use of force -- is exactly why we need an NTSB-style Federal agency to investigate all police-involved shooting deaths. Every last one of them. It's imperative that we know fairly and impartially what happened in these circumstances, and that lessons be learned from them. ■ The public should demand answers to questions like: Why were occupied civilian vehicles used as shields? Why were so many rounds fired when innocent people were located in the line of fire, in the full 360° around the vehicle being chased? If the carjacked UPS truck was traveling in rush-hour traffic in Miami, how come measures weren't used to halt the traffic ahead of the vehicle, as police in the same area did in a similar situation in 2003? Why weren't spike strips or a PIT maneuver put to use? Why did police continue to draw fire towards civilian vehicles clearly trying to escape the situation? What are reasonable people supposed to do with gunfire being exchanged around them, especially if they can't "get down" or "take cover" -- or, God forbid, if they have a child in a booster seat or carseat in the back of an exposed vehicle? In the live video coverage from a TV news helicopter, at least 30 or 40 officers can be counted on-scene, and at least 20 or 30 police vehicles can be counted; exactly what kind of command-and-control authority was being exercised to prevent crossfire or to perhaps preemptively cut off escape routes for the carjackers? ■ These are questions that ought to be answered, and if it cannot be assured that they will be comprehensively and transparently investigated by the authorities in what ought to be an accountable process of oversight, then such an investigation ought at least to be conducted by a neutral and independent agency whose conclusions do not have to carry the weight of enforcement -- for the very same reasons that the NTSB is separate and independent from the DOT. The NTSB's mandate forms a useful template for what should be used in cases of police shootings: "The NTSB determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, the NTSB carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation disasters."

Computers and the Internet Distressing report from NATO-related team finds social-media manipulation is rampant

This report confirms with a fair amount of rigor what your gut has probably told you quite often: Social-media environments are bubbling over with fake accounts and manipulation, and the platforms are doing next to nothing to fix the problem, either proactively or reactively. For about $300, they bought thousands of followers and tens of thousands of engagements across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. And even when they reported fraudulent activity taking place, the platform companies did almost nothing to stop it or to correct the damage done. The scale of the fraud conducted by "Manipulation Service Providers" (MSPs) -- particularly originating in Russia -- is the kind of thing people ought to understand better. Social proof is important, and it has effects on people's commercial and political decisions. The scale by which that social proof can be fabricated or manipulated is vast within social media, and the costs are trivially low. That's a toxic brew.

Health Samoa's crash course in vaccination

With a population of about 200,000, they've vaccinated about 20,000 against measles in the last two days. The island has low vaccination rates, and they have an active measles outbreak that has killed more than 5 dozen people.

Socialism Doesn't Work Internet access as human right?

Sen. Bernie Sanders says that's how he would treat it if elected President. The problem with the mindset that claims certain positive rights around material things a person can have (health care, Internet access, housing, employment) is that those claims muddy the waters around the negative rights (things government or others cannot do to you) that are even more important, even if they are literally without substance. This is a real problem, because there is a hierarchy to these things: The right not to be thrown into prison for expressing one's peaceful religious faith is, in fact, more important than a "right" to have someone deliver a DSL line to your house. Reducing the world to a laundry list of material concerns means that you might sacrifice the very building blocks of personal liberty and individual dignity in exchange for your "rights" to have other people pay for your stuff. It is precisely because those negative rights encompass things that don't take a physical form, and that represent what others may not do to you rather than what they might withhold from you, that the negative rights have to come before the positive ones. And in fact, the positive "rights" ought instead to be framed as what they are: Scarcity problems that almost always have answers found in the material world. The difference between wanting to maximize the amount of health care available and saying that everyone has an enforceable right to health care is that one sees a material problem with material constraints, and the other describes the world as one might want it to be. And a positive material right quickly becomes an entitlement, and entitlements must be funded by either voluntary or (more likely) involuntary means. An oppressive government can withhold those positive goods and claim that scarcity made them do it. The same cannot be true for negative rights.

December 6, 2019

Threats and Hazards Shooting at NAS Pensacola

A Saudi national was the perpetrator

Health Couple matches romantically online, then matches kidneys

The odds against that kind of dual coincidental match are pretty high

News The neologism of 2019: "Criming"

Plenty of linguistic evolution is necessary and unavoidable, but only one word a year deserves to be endorsed. This year, it's "criming". Rudy Giuliani has left us no other choice.

Threats and Hazards Trainees at West Virginia correctional academy take picture giving Nazi salute

If a person doesn't have the good judgment to decline to participate in a photo like this, then it's hard to believe they would have reliable judgment about how and when to use deadly force.

News Uber reports data on safety

The company is doing right by reporting on passenger safety. But they have serious work to do: The company's chief legal officer said "99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever", which is true, but then the next step is to commit to deliberate, measurable improvement. To take 99.9% to 99.99%, then to 99.999%, then to 99.9999%, and then again to 99.99999%. While zero incidents is, of course, the ideal outcome, the action plan needs to take measurable steps towards achievable improvements.

Health Anti-vaccination isn't "more aware"

A clever retort to those who object to the use of the term "anti-vaxxer": "Do you think they'd prefer 'pro-polio' or 'infant mortality rate enthusiasts'?" People who are anti-vaccine are not more "aware"; they're just anti-vaccine. Be "aware" instead that widespread vaccination creates herd immunity that protects everyone -- but most critically protects those who *cannot* be vaccinated.

December 5, 2019

News "[T]oday I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment"

The Speaker of the House says the President "abused his power for his own personal political benefit". This is a historic event, though not for good reasons.

News Mail truck catches fire at I-80 truck stop

Needless to say, Mr. McFeely's time trials came to a disappointing conclusion.

News A compensation package to behold

The next head of Nebraska's state university system starts with a base pay of $934,000 a year, plus a slew of perks, substantial bonus opportunities, free housing and country-club membership, and a big salary deferral that pays off if he stays in the job.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds of girls and women sold into slavery in China

Some corrective framing to the original headline ("More than 600 Pakistani girls and women were sold as brides in China, but diplomatic ties threaten investigation") is in order. Make the headline about something esoteric like diplomacy and readers probably won't care. Make it about people and perhaps they will. What is taking place is an abomination, but it's an abomination because of the slavery -- not because of the diplomacy. And "sold as brides" is unfair: If a person was "sold", that person is a slave, not a "bride".

December 4, 2019

News The YIMBYs predate the NIMBYs

A historic photo of power and telephone lines in 19th Century Manhattan really brings to life just how much people will tolerate when they're eager to benefit from new infrastructure investment

Business and Finance Who gets to object when developers want to add density?

An Omaha neighborhood is having a dispute that may sound familiar to a whole lot of places -- a developer wants to put condominiums in a neighborhood that has a lot of single-family homes. Residents object that "It's still way oversized for the block". But doesn't it also add considerable value? And doesn't it add density, which is a favorable direction to go if people are truly worried about issues like "sprawl" and high housing costs? In general, we should applaud steps to move most things from lower levels of value to higher ones, real estate included. There are always exceptions, of course, but the general standard ought to default in favor of creating additional value.

Weather and Disasters Boulder, Colorado, is already well ahead of snowfall normals for the year

This is just not at all what we want to see -- Boulder is in the upper reaches of the Platte River basin. What lands and melts there eventually makes its way downstream...to places along the Missouri River that have basically been flooded for 9 straight months.

News World's fastest UPS truck goes up for sale

It's armed with an 850-hp engine, which might be a bit excessive

News Survey finds "soft barriers" to American men taking paternity time

From the New York Times: "Just over half of men in the New America survey -- and a slightly higher share of women -- said a reason men didn't take leave was that caregiving wasn't manly." It's way past time to have put this attitude out with the trash. If you're a man who takes on less than your half of the caregiving, then you're less than half of a man for it.

News Just because "experts" said it doesn't mean there's a conspiracy afoot

An excellent observation from Christian Vanderbrouk, regarding the all-too-frequent disdain for expertise as displayed by populists: "If there's a broad consensus about something, there's probably a good reason for it. Doesn't mean the consensus is automatically correct, but like enduring institutions, it deserves a provisional respect." So much of the argument expressed by the new anti-liberalist wing of American politics boils down to clamoring for chaos on Earth and a vengeful God above. Which is really no way to run a civilization.

December 3, 2019

News Down with the surveillance state!

The "elf on a shelf" can be cute, sure, but what about the message it sends to kids about always being watched?

News Clear up misunderstandings; share grievances kindly

10% of the people will love you no matter what you do, 10% of the people are going to hate your guts and may not even know why, and the other 80% are up to you and how you deal with them.

News Policies are great, but character in office matters

Calvin Coolidge: "What we need in appointive positions is men of knowledge and experience who have sufficient character to resist temptations."

Weather and Disasters Truly outstanding visualization of hurricane forecast tracks and how accurate they turned out to be

Charts and statistics are wonderful, but sometimes a good picture tells far more of the story.

Broadcasting Being a good talk-show host

The key for a talk-radio host is to continuously cultivate a diverse set of hobby horses you can ride any time the need should arise. For example: The House of Representatives should be ten times larger. Everyone should know a form of self-defense. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Congress should ban interstate economic-development incentives. Every environmental cause should be reframed as a public-health issue if it wishes to be taken seriously.

December 2, 2019

Threats and Hazards "As many as two million Muslims have been pulled from their homes and forced into detention centers" in China

Two million people is the equivalent of the entire state of Nebraska. Imagine a government that puts a population large enough to fill entire American states into prison camps. We could rest far more assured if we heard senior American leaders, starting with the President, making a moral case for how to deal with China's government. Regrettably, what we hear instead is empty bluster about "winning" and "making deals"...which is to miss the point.

Health Experiential learning in effect

Fundraiser treats guests either to a gourmet meal or a sack lunch, depending on the luck of the draw. A fine way to bring attention to the issues of food insecurity and hunger.

November 30, 2019

News Bystanders jumped in to stop London terrorist

The terrorist was killing people, and other people fought back -- with a narwhal tusk and a fire extinguisher and their fists. Said one: "I was brought up on rugby and the rule is 'one in, all in'. I did what any Londoner would do and tried to put a stop to it."

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November 29, 2019

Threats and Hazards Tone it down a notch

A teaser for an article on election interference efforts published on Axios was published as "Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity." It's possible to issue warnings about foreign influence work (which is real) and the fragility of our institutions (also real) without amplifying the narrative that we are "at each other's throats". Are we really? Or aren't there about the same number of quacks as ever?

November 28, 2019

Threats and Hazards What signal do we send?

In the signals we send to China over Hong Kong, bear in mind the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism. From the evidence, it would appear that the Communist leaders also believe this; else why do they attack and attempt to destroy the practice of these concepts?"

Business and Finance How to deconstruct a building

Better design practices when buildings go up could help make them easier to remove when it's time for them to come down. And so could a better supply chain for re-used materials taken out of buildings that are removed from occupancy. And perhaps every building ought to be built with a demolition bond.

Agriculture The giant mess that is 2019 harvest season

It's worst in North Dakota: "North Dakota was the furthest behind on gathering among major producers, with just 30% of corn harvested"

November 27, 2019

Broadcasting Even the rich and famous sometimes face hostile work environments

"Variety" reports that Gabrielle Union has been pushed out of "America's Got Talent" over some really stupid workplace conditions. Most notably: "Union was subjected to a very specific critique -- that her rotating hair styles were 'too black' for the audience of 'AGT,' a note she received over half a dozen times, according to four sources". Gabrielle Union has every right to make use of whatever hairstyle she feels suits the way her hair naturally grows out of her head. To pester her otherwise is like telling Howie Mandel to stop being bald.

Business and Finance Better off-ramps and better on-ramps (to education) go hand-in-hand

A vigorous discussion has been taking place on social media among people debating the merits of really hard preliminary courses in graduate studies of topics like economics. And a perfectly defensible position is that there ought to be more "terminal" master's degree programs in the field. The inversion of this is true as well: There should be good on-ramps to graduate study of econ, too. For a field that devotes entire classes to the study of labor and human capital, there's a strange resistance to nontraditional study.

Computers and the Internet A hard floppy?

Lots of people are now in adulthood who don't really remember the era of floppy disks

Iowa 100-year-old retires from her 70-year-old weekly newspaper column

It's hard to remember in an era saturated by 280 characters and TikTok, but we've always needed those consistent voices who show up and tell the story of their community with wit and empathy. We won't stop needing them, either. Not as long as we keep living around each other.

Computers and the Internet Twitter threatens to shut down inactive accounts

But what about accounts that belonged to people documenting events like the human-rights violations in Syria? This is a non-trivial question. If people used social media as a means of documenting crimes with the specific intent of making them visible for all the world to see, then extraordinary caution ought to be used before taking them down.

The United States of America A PSA for Federalism

Remember, if you hear a Presidential candidate advocating a policy you like, you don't have to wait to bring it to reality at a national level. Try pushing your state legislature to do it instead. Starting an idea at the local level is an honorable pillar of the American tradition. The entire population of the United States in 1790 was just shy of 4 million people, or about the size of a mid-sized state today.

News Explosion at a Texas chemical plant

Some rather dramatic video here.

November 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards Presidential pardons shouldn't create "moral blank check" for war crimes

There is a reason you will find no equivocation in the Honor Oath at the US Air Force Academy: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God)."

Threats and Hazards Turkey fryers or weapons of semi-mass destruction?

$70 for a tool to burn down your own home

Weather and Disasters "Fire in Paradise"

(Video) A sobering and important documentary. Do make the time to watch it.

Science and Technology Why aren't inverted chevrons used on more vehicles?

The pattern seems like it should be used on every tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, cop car, and rescue vehicle out there. Maybe even school buses. Data on the subject seems strangely sparse, but it seems hard to believe that visibility isn't enhanced.

Aviation News FAA to test shrinking distance between airline seats

Seat pitch is already close to zero-margin as it already is

News Compelling beyond words

(Video) A young woman documents her life in Aleppo, from student protester to mother under siege

Weather and Disasters Watch a "bomb cyclone" go off

Friends, that's ear-popping territory.

November 25, 2019

Business and Finance Let a creative market bloom

The market economy should blossom in many ways -- entrepreneurship, proprietor capitalism, publicly-traded firms, S-Corps, partnerships, ESOPs, and co-ops all among the many forms that firms should take. But one size simply does not fit all.

Business and Finance Schwab to acquire TD Ameritrade, and now Omaha wonders

This is why every conscientious municipality keeps a close eye on how well it's creating an environment that cultivates new business formation and growth. You never know when one of your major employers (even the homegrown ones) may go away.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's autocrats really thought Hong Kong was going to vote their way

In politics, as well as in markets, it's not so much the quality of the first round of information going out that matters. It's the feedback that really counts.

Science and Technology Tesla's truck has an odd look

One humorist on Twitter says it looks like "When you try to learn AutoCAD the night before your project is due." This thing is styled as if the designers were being held hostage inside a Dire Straits music video.

Aviation News Washington state tries taking lead on electric aircraft

The big selling point for electric aircraft really isn't environmental friendliness -- at least not to the end buyers. It's the potential to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Motors have fewer moving parts than engines.

Iowa Mall of the Bluffs kicking out its tenants

A question: How much could the owners have done better to have softened rents to keep occupancy high?

Agriculture Harvest 2019 is a wreck in North Dakota

Major crops like corn are incredibly far behind schedule

Computers and the Internet Social media doesn't have to be a terrible experience

Anyone who complains about how "awful" their experience is on Twitter, for example, could make their experience vastly better by using lists and scrolling through them on Tweetdeck instead. That's how you concentrate goodness.

Threats and Hazards Tucker Carlson can't even side with freedom

In saying he's siding with the Russians over their invasion of Ukraine, he ought to feel welcome to self-deport. The flippant nihilism of it all should disgust everyone who isn't already a stark raving loon. He really should wear a scarlet letter for this kind of stupidity, now and for the rest of his days.

November 4, 2019

Humor and Good News Minnesota man warned to stop making Iowa doughnut runs

The Clive Krispy Kreme store truly is a monstrous scene for a major criminal enterprise

Computers and the Internet Facebook's new brand: All-caps

Seems appropriate for a platform on which too many people take to shouting constantly

November 1, 2019

News Marine training at Parris Island to undergo gender integration

Marine Times: "For years, Marine leaders have insisted female Marines especially do better if they train in a separate unit. But the Marine Corps also has come under serious pressure as it is the only U.S. service branch without a coed boot camp."

Threats and Hazards Federal debt now $70,000 per person

A $23 trillion tab, and what do we have to show for it?

Threats and Hazards Anonymous tipster exposes outrageous day-care operation

Drugs and guns within reach of children at a place so badly supervised that the owners didn't even answer the door when state authorities showed up

Computers and the Internet Gresham's Law, but for the sharing economy

It doesn't take long for bad actors to ruin good new platforms online

Humor and Good News Rats can be trained to drive tiny cars

And when they learn how, the resulting video is glorious

October 31, 2019

Humor and Good News Baseball: Isn't it really just a version of Calvinball?

That's not completely fair; Calvinball's only rule is that rules can never be used twice. But it's the sheer unpredictability of what should be a straightforward game of catch that makes baseball so wonderful.

Humor and Good News What makes a driver a "motorist"

And can it be a "profession"?

October 30, 2019

Science and Technology An affordable change

A UN group says it would cost $300 billion to pause global warming for 20 years by implementing a soil-restoration program to capture carbon in biomass. If true, that would be $39.47 per person alive on the planet right now. If you could get assurance that the plan (a) would work as advertised, and (b) would be implemented by people who were accountable for getting results, it would be well worth the price.

Computers and the Internet Twitter announces end to political advertising

The small cadre of politicians who are known to tweet for themselves (e.g. Senators Cory Booker, Ben Sasse, and Chuck Grassley) are about to become gurus to their colleagues. The word "authenticity" is vastly overused, but first-person content becomes much more important if your reach is limited to those who find and follow you organically alone.

News Better than doing doughnuts in the parking lot

High-speed maneuvering trials aboard an aircraft carrier moving at 30 knots

October 27, 2019

News What's a church for?

A neat story about a church that found its center in community more than theology. (But maybe the community itself is the theology.)

Weather and Disasters Giant evacuation orders for northern California

Wildfires north of the Bay Area create a mandatory-evacuation zone that goes from the ocean to some 30 miles inland.

October 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards Human rights are universal, whether China's authoritarians belive it or not

A meeting with the EU surfaced an opinion that, as a matter of government policy, China does not believe in the universality of human rights. Nothing about this story is surprising, and yet everything about it is disturbing.

Computers and the Internet 10.5 petabytes

The Internet Archive just got a whole bunch of new storage space, as well as the pictures to prove it. This is storage on a scale that would have baffled the prehistoric residents of ancient Compuserve.

News Brace yourself

Stand by: We are merely a few dozen days away from the onset of a year's worth of insufferable puns about "vision" and "seeing clearly"

October 25, 2019

Business and Finance Crass political pressure on trade isn't good for anything

It would be very nice to return political risk to the margins of economic analysis, rather than having it shoved front and center at all times. But, alas, that's where we are.

News A million protesters in Chile

Think of what it takes to assemble a million people for any reason anywhere.

Broadcasting I'm feeling lucky

Why haven't Netflix and Hulu come up with "I'm Feeling Lucky" buttons of their own? Let users preselect 5 or 50 series, click a button, and watch some random episode. We don't always want to commit to rewatching every season of "The West Wing" or "30 Rock" from start to finish, but sometimes it's nice to just let serendipity pick an episode of a beloved program.

Business and Finance "Spreading fear" among investors

A renowned financial columnist says he's been pressured by financial advisors not to point out what could go wrong in the economy. A reasonable person wouldn't trust a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer who didn't address the worst-case scenario and help the patient or client to prepare for it. Why should anyone trust a financial advisor who fears an honest conversation about how things could go wrong?

The American Way Would high-status license plates get more people to drive electric cars?

People might be surprised at just how eager their fellow humans often are to pay for the privilege of adopting some form of status signal. Can pro-social decisions be turned into high-value products for people to buy?

News Don't hope for "the generals" to save us

It's imperative to model -- and recognize -- virtuous behavior in all sectors of leadership. Inside government, in the military, in the nonprofit sector, and (definitely) in business, too. We should resist the casual and cynical indictment of "all-leaders-except-for-those-in-uniform".

News All lives have equal value

Dozens of people died in the back of a truck in England. Indications are that they were migrants from southeast Asia. Their lives were worth no amount of dignity less than any of our own.

The United States of America Putting history to good use

Herbert Hoover earned the nickname "The Great Humanitarian". Instead of heaping scorn on a caricature of the man as President, we ought to give a little more attention to the great and honorable things he did that culminated in his becoming President in the first place. He is far more useful to us as a model for his pre-Presidential behavior than as a foil for the mistakes he made as President.

October 24, 2019

Humor and Good News What could we use to denote a cheerful period?

The period seems altogether too plain and droll for exclusive use in emails, but following every sentence with an exclamation mark seems all too much. There must be room for some kind of middle-ground punctuation -- a cheerful period, of sorts. We already have the interrobang to indicate a surprised question (‽), and the wildly underused irony mark (⸮). Another irregular punctuation mark is both possible and in order.

Weather and Disasters Southern California fires break out again

Winds are driving the spread

Threats and Hazards Nobody should toss around "civil war" lightly

An MLB umpire has earned scrutiny for tweeting his anger over the impeachment inquiry, mixed with an aspect of violence. The American Civil War killed more than 600,000 people. Nothing about that merits anything short of the utmost seriousness and solemnity.

News David Ross to skipper the Chicago Cubs

It's not great to have a sentimental attachment to management, but if he's willing to take a chance on the gig, then Eamus Catuli.

News Super 8 hotels to test bunk-bed arrangement

No tie-in with Tinder is reported; this is for friends traveling together

October 23, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work Authoritarianism is a waste

Workers at some Chinese state-owned enterprises are expected to spend a third of their working hours studying "Xi Jinping Thought". This is truly bizarre, profoundly dystopian, and phenomenally wasteful.

Science and Technology Honda to go all-electric in Europe by 2022

Once a technology really starts to get a foothold, the pace of change can accelerate a whole lot faster than you might expect.

News Give light and let the people find their own way

Three cheers for the editors of the Harvard Crimson, who have come out strongly against efforts by some of their peers to keep them from asking for comment from the subjects of news stories

Broadcasting Baseball and radio: Perfect complements

Baseball is a personal game (every at-bat starts as a contest between pitcher and batter), the action is linear and perfectly paced ("This ball's got a chaaaaaance...gone!"), and the season is built for companionship. This makes for the perfect subject for radio coverage. Unlike other media, radio is intensely personal, conversational, and intimate (in a non-romantic sense, of course). You can't reasonably ask people to watch 162+ games a year on their screens, but fans will always listen to the play-by-play. And you can't replace baseball on the radio as a companion for a long drive. The medium and the game are unique complements in those ways, with no good substitutes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but: The Internet is for "HEY, LOOK AT ME!", TV is for "Hey, you guys!", and radio is for "Hi. How are you?"

Humor and Good News The best athlete in the world?

When your first pitch comes with a standing backflip and a twist...

October 22, 2019

The American Way Money comes after human well-being

Margaret Thatcher: "[T]he better moral philosophy of the free society underlies its economic performance". Is there a blimp with a giant messageboard that we could rent to hover indefinitely over Washington, DC, with these words?

News Newer cop cars may be easier to break

With the Crown Victoria gone, Iowa State Patrol cars sustain more damage than they used to: "'The thing with the Dodge Charger, it runs low in the front end,' Pierce said. 'If you sneeze on the front end of a Dodge Charger, you'll cause at least $1,500 of damage.'"

Computers and the Internet Sometimes a feature is really just a bug in disguise

Free listening devices -- er, "smart speakers" -- may not be the incentive people really wanted

Science and Technology You don't want this new cell-phone case

An experimental cover that feels like (and "feels", just like) skin. Ew. It's unclear why anyone would want to pinch their phone.

October 21, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Pulling out" of the Middle East is an incomplete plan

The most important question that we as a country have been terrible at asking: "And then what happens next?" Things don't always get better just because we leave -- and there may be problems with no intuitively satisfying answers on the short-term horizon. We need to be adults and see the world as it really is.

Business and Finance Retrogressive "leadership" training for women

A firm that subscribes as a matter of policy to the kind of pseudoscientific nonsense that says women and men neatly fit into "feminine" and "masculine" columns of behavior well and rightly deserves to be pushed out of business by competitors that value their employees as individuals, not as antiquated archetypes.

Computers and the Internet Of course Sen. Mitt Romney has a burner account

Look, if you're in office in 2019 and you're not running at least one burner account, are you really even on Twitter?

News Construction crane demolition in New Orleans

(Video) That they were even able to do this on such a compressed timeline is quite something

Computers and the Internet Extortion spam still has a way to go

We'll know that extortion spam has really come of age when it starts threatening "Send us $500 in bitcoin, or we'll tell all your friends that you click on the Outbrain links at the bottom of news stories."

Broadcasting That's how you return a kickoff

(Video) As broadcasting, this is just pure cotton candy

News How are monarchs still a thing?

Bizarre (and slightly creepy) intrigue in the Thai royal house

Agriculture The new "Cosmic Crisp" apple is coming

Any new variety of apple seems like a gain for society at large. Especially if it trains consumers to enjoy flavors other than Red Delicious, which is complete garbage. There are so many varieties that taste better.

News Canada votes

Note that their representation in the lower house of Parliament is about one member for every 100,000 people. If the United States observed the same ratio as Canada, we would have nearly 3,000 people in the House of Representatives. That might not be a bad thing.

October 18, 2019

Threats and Hazards People who are homeless in Los Angeles have come under attack

The Los Angeles Times reports that "In at least eight different incidents, flammable liquids or makeshift explosives have been lobbed at homeless people or their tents". People don't do this to other people. People do this to others whom they see as less than human. That's why it matters to think of others as individuals. Each person is just that -- a person, not a thing, and not just an item in a group that we might choose to treat differently because we have opinions of the group. And this is also why it matters that we don't use dehumanizing language -- language like the President uses all too often. Little things matter.

Computers and the Internet Is WhatsApp about to trigger a revolution?

American audiences are largely unfamiliar with the tool, but it has considerable reach overseas

News The burn of the spotlight

A great reminder that even when the world is watching someone far more than is healthy (as the world does with Britain's royal family), they still need people who can quietly ask "How are you doing?". Probably a good practice for all of us to ask others that question more often -- and to listen for the answers.

News Understatement of the week

Washington Post: "The 41-page report, which followed a seven-month investigation, concluded that pushing a suspect off a roof went against departmental policies governing the use of force and was generally a bad idea." This story, like so many others, is one of people pursuing ends as though they justify any cost.

Threats and Hazards The Enlightenment needs defenders

It's almost impossible to believe, but there's actual pushback against it today. In 2019.

September 19, 2019

News What can a President promise?

Federalist Paper No. 75 was apprehensive about putting powers of negotiation solely into the hands of an executive: "The qualities elsewhere detailed as indispensable in the management of foreign negotiations, point out the Executive as the most fit agent in those transactions; while the vast importance of the trust, and the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them." And further: "An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States." Perhaps we need the "Federalist 75 Act": A means by which any whistleblower within the executive branch (or within independent agencies of government) can bring a complaint or warning to the attention of two-thirds of the Senate. We need an Executive Branch to carry out diplomacy. But we cannot abide a neutered legislature that takes a back seat to that role. Foreign affairs must be conducted on a model of pilot-and-copilot in the cockpit with both sets of hands on the controls...not taxi driver in the front and passenger in the back.

Weather and Disasters Part of Houston get two feet of rain

One location may have reached an unbelievable 43". And all from a storm that blew up out of nowhere. It wasn't even a tropical storm until Tuesday at lunchtime. It's really just an amazing amount of rainfall in a very limited period of time.

September 18, 2019

News What's the ideal age for a US President?

The instinct to ask these questions is strong, but the answers should always be context-dependent. A 65-year-old who keeps learning is probably more mentally agile than a 35-year-old who has a fixed worldview. Consider the wide age ranges of achievements by some of history's "greats": Thomas Jefferson started building Monticello around age 25, Warren Buffett took over Berkshire Hathaway around 35, Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica around 45, and Winston Churchill became UK Prime Minister around age 65. Instead of measuring age, we ought to test candidates' mental agility, curiosity, openness to new ideas, and humility.

Humor and Good News Art that gives a flying flamingo

An interpretation of John Bercow worthy of mounting on a wall

Humor and Good News The doughnut-chicken sandwich is here

Yet another thing we didn't know that 2019 had in store

News Comedy: Let it be thought-provoking, not mindlessly provocative

Some of the best laughs come from an uncomfortable confrontation between something we find familiar and something incongruous or subversive that a comic manages to expose about that familiar thing.

Threats and Hazards "[G]auge the President's risk tolerance and operate just underneath that"

It's hard to dismiss this interpretation of the evidence on how adversaries around the world are operating. And that's worrisome.

Weather and Disasters The only test that matters on climate change

"What are the Dutch doing?"

Business and Finance How much could Warren Buffett charge for tuition?

Warren Buffett himself worked for Benjamin Graham and didn't even ask about salary before accepting the job, because he was so eager to learn from his mentor. Later on, Buffett went to work for himself. Which makes it interesting that one of Buffett's closest associates is leaving to start her own firm. Other people are willing to pay millions of dollars just to have lunch with Buffett. Yet here is someone who has worked closely with him as a paid employee who has decided to stake out on her own. How much could Buffett charge as "tuition" to get someone else to work for him? Undoubtedly it's worth an enormous amount.

September 11, 2019

Business and Finance A reconciliation with reality

California's House and Senate need to reconcile two versions of a bill that would permit college athletes to benefit from endorsement deals

News Tentative OxyContin settlement unveiled

A settlement of $10 to $12 billion between 22 states and the makers of OxyContin, all for the apparently willful and reckless way in which the pharmaceutical company marketed the drugs that initiated the modern opioid crisis.

Threats and Hazards How often are cyberattacks hitting the power grid?

Columnist Joe Weiss says, "My database has identified more than 300 actual control system cyber incidents in the North American electric system including 6 major outages affecting at least 90,000 customers. Moreover, since 2010, the electric industry has reported 29 cyber-attacks in the mandatory DOE OE-417 reporting forms."

Computers and the Internet Google versus the state attorneys general

50 state attorneys general are investigating Google's "overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers". It's an antitrust investigation, but the inquiry has demanded lots of records by October 9th. Only California and Alabama are out; the other 48 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico, are in.

Threats and Hazards Iran's 29-year-old "Blue Girl" dies

Sahar Khodayari costumed herself to blend in at a soccer match, where as a woman she was not allowed. She was caught and charged, and faced six months in prison. She self-immolated instead, and died of her injuries.

Science and Technology Hyundai prototypes a "last-mile" scooter

Instead of driving all the way to your destination, this option would let you drive, park someplace convenient, and then e-scoot at 12 mph to the final destination

News "Mismatches in the Marriage Market"

Cornell University researchers think they've uncovered a problem for eligible women in the dating pool: Their potential partners aren't especially "high-quality". The researchers looked at comparable women who were married, and then "synthesized" spouses for the unmarried women. The "synthesized" men were a whole lot higher-income, better-educated, and regularly-employed than the actual men found in the dating pool. Ouch.

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September 10, 2019

The United States of America Just because a message makes sense in many or even most cases doesn't mean it fits all

Above all, it's our job as good Americans to recognize that most of our fellow citizens are free to move about if they wish -- because that implies that most of us have, consciously or not, made a choice to live where we do.

Humor and Good News "I couldn't give a flying flamingo"

John Bercow goes out in style as the Speaker of the Commons. It still doesn't make sense how they squeeze 650 MPs into that room at Westminster, but the insults are par excellence.

The United States of America Copying a good idea from Parliament

Someone should ceremonially slam the door on the President when he or she shows up to deliver the State of the Union Address. The pathetic theater into which the SOTU has evolved makes it look like a regal declaration, when it should be an annual performance review with a highly critical audience.

September 9, 2019

News Sen. Kamala Harris talks sense on violence

She promises "independent investigations of police shootings" as a campaign plank. From a civil-libertarian point of view, an independent body for investigating shootings that involve law enforcement is a sound idea. Model it on the NTSB.

Science and Technology When the robots are helpful

You can vilify automation if you want, but there are places where the alternative means no service at all.

News What's happening with Brexit? Watch the Irish.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most important issue is how the Irish border is going to be handled. And that means the Irish media may be best-positioned to report on what's really happening in the UK.

Weather and Disasters Hurricane-force winds hit Canadian Maritimes

Ex-Hurricane Dorian left 80,000 customers without power in New Brunswick and more than 112,000 in the dark in Nova Scotia.

The United States of America A majority of Americans are members of religious communities

But that's actually an unusual circumstance across American history. Whether we're "more religious" or "less religious" depends on which cohort of predecessors you choose to count.

Weather and Disasters Typhoon pounds Korean Peninsula

Yonhap News Agency: "About 3,600 properties have been confirmed to be damaged due to the fifth-strongest winds ever recorded among the typhoons that have hit the peninsula."

Agriculture Chinese state media discourage pork consumption

Surely an unwelcome development in the eyes of Iowa Pork.

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August 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet YouTube claims it will put tigher controls on "family" videos

If it looks like it's supposed to be family-friendly, Google says, "We're removing misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and families, that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for young audiences." Meanwhile, Disney is slapping its name on a giant multimedia project to include "Disney Plus", an intended competitor to Hulu and Netflix.

August 23, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work The President, the Stalinist

The President tweeted "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China". The President has no such authority. His is the language of Stalinists. ■ A President who even thinks he has the power to order around private businesses like that -- in a time of peace, no less -- is guilty in his heart and his words of a disloyalty to the Oath of Office. And if he takes action on his words, then he is guilty of much worse. ■ As James Madison wrote in Federalist 48, "It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." ■ There are those who would contrast the President favorably with some of his Democratic rivals. And, to be sure, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "Accountable Capitalism Act" contained terrible proposals. Yet that doesn't change the fact that the President is completely out of his lane and doing real damage right now. ■ Announcing $30 billion in taxes is no small measure, and if Congress doesn't reassert its Article I powers post-haste, the consequences for the Constitutional order will be grave indeed. And that's a far worse thing than the economic damage that will ensue, as well.

Computers and the Internet What female coders must endure

There's really no inherent reason for coding to be a male-dominated occupation. Reasons why a gender imbalance might persist nonetheless include terrible conditions right from the start -- at the interview stage for interns.

The United States of America Restraint is the better part of governance

Federalist Paper No. 73, by Alexander Hamilton: "The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones."

The United States of America Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg escapes the worst of cancer

Treatment for a "tumor on her pancreas" is reported by the Supreme Court to have gone well. Cancer is an enemy we can unequivocally revile together. Don't hate people; hate cancer.

Aviation News Skywriting over Des Moines

Unusual, but a fun break from the ordinary -- in marketing support of the Central Iowa Airshow at the Ankeny Regional Airport

Business and Finance The hidden problem with the next recession

All too often, people say "This time, things will be different", but they're usually doing that with a bias toward optimism. Consider the pessimistic case about the next recession, which could happen at any time.

Iowa Multi-hour DSL crash keeps Iowans off Internet

A cut to a fiber-optic cable knocked out Internet access for lots of people for three or four hours

August 22, 2019

The United States of America Why did Pete Buttigieg finish so far ahead in the corn poll?

WHO-TV's "Cast Your Kernel" poll at the Iowa State Fair isn't scientific, but it does have some capacity to tell a story. And one story it told is that the mayor of South Bend got a lot more votes than would be proportional to his standing in current polls. His deportment is a major positive feature of his campaign: Smart but not aloof, young but not insecure. He probably pulled in a lot of kernels cast by crossover Republicans.

Threats and Hazards US Army recruiting commander disturbingly re-appropriates Auschwitz slogan

The rise of Google Knowledge has too many people thinking they know things well enough to use them, when in fact they've only acquired enough to regurgitate. And that's hazardous.

Humor and Good News Unintended consequences of precision farming

Eastern Iowa farmer uses computer plotting to plant corn hybrids such that subtle differences in the colors of the tassels and leaves spelled out a marriage proposal.

News On late converts to reform in the GOP

The only message that matters right now is the one shared as a welcome in some churches: "Whoever you are, and wherever you come from, we're glad you're here."

News The commonness of self-sacrifice

It happens often enough that someone dies (or comes close to it) while trying to save another that it establishes the confidence to say that most people are basically good and that a great many of us would risk our own welfare to preserve that of another, especially if it's a child:

August 21, 2019

The United States of America What if Greenland had wanted in?

Greenland isn't for sale, but what if the people there had legitimately wanted into the United States of their own communal will?

Science and Technology The Cold War bunker still open for tours

Underground nuclear bunkers were built on a premise: That ordinary people suddenly forced to live underground for months at a time wouldn't quickly go stark raving mad. That premise was probably faulty.

News Cameras (and police) catch tourists riding e-scooters on Milwaukee freeway

If it doesn't spontaneously occur to you that "Hey, this looks like an Interstate highway, so maybe I should stop my scooter", then maybe you shouldn't be allowed out in public without adult supervision.

Business and Finance What does the US economy make?

70% of the value added to GDP comes from services, not stuff. Retail trade creates 5.6% of GDP. For comparative reference: Arts, recreation, and entertainment account for 4.1%. And while some people say they would welcome a recession because it would mean less "stuff" being crassly consumed, to say something like that isn't making a reasoned argument; it's expressing a blind rage against the voluntary choices of millions of your fellow Americans because you don't like the choices they make.

August 20, 2019

Weather and Disasters A raw and powerful display

(Video) A display of literally continuous lightning went on for at least 20 minutes over Des Moines in the early morning hours, the opening act of a mesoscale convective system (MCS) that fired off exceptional lightning displays from Arkansas to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border

August 19, 2019

Iowa The best ride around the Iowa State Fair

Not really on the fairgrounds, but right around there

News "Corporations are [made up of] people"

Every so often, we get a reminder of how things would perhaps be different if people had understood that Mitt Romney was saying in his infamous misspeak that "Corporations are [made up of] people". Because they are. What was actually a sober and really important point got trashed as a late-night punchline. And today, at least some people believe that corporations can be made to bear the costs of climate change without inconveniencing the individual. It's lunacy.

August 18, 2019

News The problem with making the economy central to politics

The President is reported to see conspiracies behind some of the warning signs for the economy right now. ■ This really is the central problem with politicians looking to economic success as the solitary yardstick by which they are measured: Business cycles are real, and if the only thing you're trying to sell is GDP growth, then you're prone to doing harmful things. ■ The problems with politicians who obsess over economic measures are of (at least) two classes. The first is short-termism. The "quick fix" to many macroeconomic problems usually comes with a big hangover. The right answers usually require patience. ■ The second class of problems is even more dangerous: If you think the ends justify the means, then at what would you stop in a desperate effort to squeeze another percentage point out of GDP? ■ A strong economy is a very helpful way to secure the "blessings of liberty". It is absolutely not a substitute for those blessings. Margaret Thatcher put it very well: "Representative political institutions cannot alone guarantee our liberties. It is economic liberty that nourishes the enterprise of those whose hard work and imagination ultimately determine the conditions in which we live." ■ A strong economy helps enable a lot of other good things inside a healthy society. And, properly seen, the economic liberty of individuals can be a powerful tool for helping people to recognize their other inherent human liberties. ■ If realize that I own the fruits of my own labors, then I have an incentive and a framework to realize that I own my thoughts as well. And my words. And ultimately, my consent to be governed. Economic liberalization can whet the appetite for political liberalization. ■ But a maniacal obsession with something like GDP growth is no substitute for values like individual dignity, the guarantee of minority rights, and the restraint of powerful interests by the rule of law. And, especially as unrest in pursuit of liberty makes the situation in Hong Kong unstable for China's authoritarian government, the United States must remain steady. The people of Hong Kong had better not be asked to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for us getting a "better" trade deal with China. ■ Surely the Founders would look at the United States today and marvel at our economic success. But they were also the ones who wrote that "[P]ower is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." A politician who thinks the state of the economy is the only measure of political success is likely to do great damage to the long-term health of the economy -- and even greater damage to the civic health of the polis, the people.

News 1.7 million people rally for freedom in Hong Kong

With a giant display of peaceable assembly, Hong Kongers practice what America's Bill of Rights preaches

The United States of America There's nothing wrong with acknowledging America's imperfections

But upon acknowledgment, it should also be said, "And striving to fix those imperfections is the most American thing we can do."

August 16, 2019

News Fake Democrat pulls wool over eyes of purported right-wingers

An entirely fair criticism across the spectrum. An idea should stand on its merits, or not. But it's not responsible to project the idea on some mythologized "other" and then cynically use that "other" like some kind of ventriloquist's dummy.

News Japan converts convenience stores to funeral parlors

Recommended reading: "Despite being a niche business, the remodeling of convenience stores into funeral parlors may have a strong future, experts say, given the tough business conditions facing convenience store operators." The much deeper story here, though, is about social isolation.

Humor and Good News Make the designated hitter a 2020 debate topic

Pete Buttigieg comes out against it -- which might be a stealth appeal to conservative intellectuals, who seem to have a soft spot for National League baseball

Computers and the Internet Device lock-in, thanks to iMessages

How a whole generation of young people might get trapped into using a single brand of phone.

Threats and Hazards Businesses in Hong Kong start looking for lifeboats

This rolling-back of global integration isn't going to end well. It's going to be costly in a whole lot of direct ways -- and much costlier in hidden and implicit ones.

Humor and Good News When you can't get enough of a chicken sandwich

(Video) A creative Alabaman literally sings the praises of a chicken sandwich. Stick around for the sandwich-wrapper tambourine break...

August 15, 2019

News Freedom of travel for members of Congress

Diplomacy is inevitably an art full of compromises, but it ought to be at least mildly concerning that the American ambassador to Israel spoke up in favor of prohibiting members of Congress from visiting the country. Israel has a right to determine who visits their country, but that doesn't mean American diplomats need to speak about it in partisan fashion. In Federalist Paper No. 75, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "The essence of the legislative authority is to enact laws, or, in other words, to prescribe rules for the regulation of the society; while the execution of the laws, and the employment of the common strength, either for this purpose or for the common defense, seem to comprise all the functions of the executive magistrate. The power of making treaties is, plainly, neither the one nor the other." The Executive Branch must tread extremely lightly on Congressional freedom of travel because diplomacy is expressly a joint responsibility.

Iowa A beautiful new venue

The new amphitheater at Water Works Park in Des Moines is getting a good series of inaugural-season concerts

Iowa Des Moines should consider commuting by Sky Glider

A giant Sky Glider obviously isn't the ticket (certainly not without enclosed, climate-controlled cars), but we should probably start taking a look at some novel ideas before we find ourselves irreversibly gridlocked.

The United States of America It's unfortunate that John Hickenlooper dropped out

The Presidency shouldn't be about what the candidates want to do in their first 100 days. It should be about whether they're ready to be the chief executive...and that takes practice.

Business and Finance The inverted yield curve (for dummies)

Why financial types get the cold sweats when it's cheaper to borrow money for the long term than for the short term. One real worry to bear in mind right now is that the Federal Reserve has much less ammunition to deploy to smooth out an economic downturn than it did last time.

Computers and the Internet Always enable two-factor authentication where possible

It isn't as easy to do as good security practice would make it, but everyone should at least enable 2FA on Facebook, Google, Twitter, and any email services they use.

Business and Finance Jobs for all? Which jobs?

"Every community has a duty to prepare its young people to enter the 21st Century economy with skills that are appropriate to their talents, interests, and abilities" is a fully defensible position. But the misty nostalgia for a UAW job building '52 Oldsmobiles in Flint -- a sentiment shared and expressed by elements of both the left and right -- is toxic. Margaret Thatcher, speaking 40 years ago at a time of economic stagnation in Britain, warned that "We still live under the continuing and undoubted influence of the first industrial revolution. In negative terms, concern with tradition has led to great efforts to preserve, regardless of cost, some of the industries created in the past. That course reads the wrong lessons from history and if pursued would lead to an industrial museum." That was a non-trivial warning in 1979, and it rings true today as well. A dynamic economy is the only way to grow -- but dynamism does lead to some displacement along the way. Accommodating that displacement humanely is a necessary step, but there is no excuse for trying to stop progress out of hazy nostalgia.

August 14, 2019

Humor and Good News "Coming 2 America" is on the way

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and James Earl Jones will return

Humor and Good News "Dad jokes" serve a purpose

The thing about dad jokes is that you get hooked on delivering them when your little people are too young to judge you for them. But there is no known cure for the addiction.

Threats and Hazards "What are we going to do, invade Hong Kong?"

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross forecloses on the possibility of any American response to a Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong, and does so on globally-televised CNBC. You don't have to be some kind of unhinged warhawk to agree that a better answer would have been "No comment".

Business and Finance Differences you should know before leaving high school

Wealth vs. income. Deficits vs. debt. Progressive (taxation) vs. Progressive (policies). Positive vs. normative. Gross vs. net. Assets vs. equity. Nominal value vs. real value.

Iowa Who holds the door for whom?

At least some people object to the idea of holding doors open for others because they perceive it as a gesture suggesting that some people are weaker than others -- usually, that women shouldn't be pleased when doors are held open by men. Connotations may vary elsewhere in the world, but it is far more the rule than the exception for people to hold doors for one another in the Midwest -- totally regardless of gender. Quite nearly everyone does it for quite nearly everyone else, and it ends up as an exceptionally egalitarian gesture. It's possible that the universality of the move is common where, 6 months out of the year, it can be painfully cold and it's only common courtesy to make it easier for the next person to get to warmth. But it's rather like saying "Bless you" to a sneeze. Nothing else is implied, even if one could make a contorted argument that saying "Bless you" is somehow today a religious expression.

August 13, 2019

Agriculture Irrigation-vs.-non-irrigation gap grows

Irrigation is making an increasing difference in the amount of food farmers can grow.

News Should Britain extend citizenship to nationals living in Hong Kong?

The chair of the Parliamentary foreign-affairs committee suggests the move, which is a bold proposal well worth a careful look.

News Government needs governors who are skeptical of their own power

Margaret Thatcher: "I believe implicitly that you can never make people good by law, but only from something inside them."

News Journalism, not stenography

When reporters use Twitter as their substitute notepads, they may unintentionally amplify messages that they shouldn't. For example, some of the President's more outrageous quotes are reported in good faith, and probably with the intention of conveying a sense of "Can you believe he's saying this nonsense?". But the unintended consequence is that the insults, slurs, and unfounded claims end up getting more eyeballs.

Humor and Good News Why Chicago has a U-boat

Chicago has always possessed a self-determination about it that really has no peer. It is not infrequently manifested in schemes to do things that would otherwise seem quite mad. See: Reversing the Chicago River and raising the entire city.

News Protests in Hong Kong shut down the airport

What a display. It's hard not to be inspired by the people of Hong Kong right now.

News Sen. Bernie Sanders goes after the Washington Post

The Senator suggests that his criticisms of Amazon have led to bad coverage of him in the Washington Post. Wasn't it Harry Truman who said "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog"?

Weather and Disasters Have the tornadoes shifted north?

Curiously, with the normal peak of tornado season now in the rear-view mirror, it's notable that the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service has issued twice as many tornado warnings as the Des Moines office.

Broadcasting This is what a role model looks like

When racist viewers attack the people who make the local news

The United States of America The net economic benefits of immigration

On the most basic level, it's wise to subscribe to a fundamental preference for maximum freedom of movement for people, money, goods, and ideas. Unrestricted movement? Probably impossible. But seek to maximize their free movement within the prevailing constraints. ■ People don't lose their skill sets when they move. And as Ryan Avent has argued, moving to a place with abundant social capital (like the United States) often makes the very same person radically more productive, overnight. Immigrants and refugees included. ■ Anyone with historical literacy should recognize that the Homestead and Land-Grant Acts were major government efforts to increase the economic potential of unskilled populations (including immigrants and freed slaves) -- almost 160 years ago. Many of us today are descendants. ■ So we ought to be much more concerned with projects to maximize people's access to self-improvement, no matter where they came from, than we should ever be interested in closing the door on immigrants. Our economy has never been a zero-sum game; it's a lot more loaves-and-fishes. ■ In the end, the moral case for immigration -- for America as a destination for free people and as a shining city on a hill -- is by far the most important and persuasive case. Even if it cost us extra to welcome immigrants, on net, it would probably be a price worth paying.

August 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards What words are left to describe the explosive deficit?

An $867 billion deficit in ten months? Say it isn't so! Axios reports: "Spending has continued to outpace revenue, with a 3% rise of revenue overshadowed by an 8% jump in spending." Intergenerational larceny was wrong before, and it's wrong now. The ten-month deficit is a giant $2,627 per person.

Computers and the Internet About the latest Twitter redesign...

White space is great, but not when it's evenly distributed all over the page. Then it just makes for low-density clutter.

August 10, 2019

News Walmart pulls plug on violent video game displays

"Walmart said that the company has provided guidance for its store managers to remove the displays because some shoppers could mistake the sounds created by the games for actual gunshots."

Computers and the Internet Facebook to start co-branding Instagram and WhatsApp

The two apps will start carrying a "from Facebook" title

Business and Finance FedEx and Amazon part company

FedEx won't deliver for Amazon anymore. Amazon has been expanding its own delivery network rather noticeably, and FedEx says Amazon is only 1.3% of total revenues.

Iowa Five more towns join Polk County local-option sales tax

Bondurant, Clive, Grimes, Johnston, and Urbandale approved the tax increase

Iowa Yankees and White Sox to play at Field of Dreams

Coming to northeast Iowa in August 2020

Computers and the Internet Demand paper ballots

The top cyber official at the Department of Homeland Security says: "Gotta get auditability, I'll say it, gotta have a paper ballot backup."

Business and Finance Perkins Restaurants file for bankruptcy

The company, with around 350 locations, is likely to be sold for a total of $40 million in cash after its Chapter 11 filing. The origins of the troubles are with slow sales in the market overall. Perkins is a triumph of capitalism: Hundreds of restaurants all over America where, at almost any hour of day or night, just about anyone can afford a consistent, made-to-order, sit-down meal that would put their great-grandfather's Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

Business and Finance Good time to be a Chase cardholder in Canada

The company is winding down operations in Canada, and instead of trying to finish collecting on some outstanding debts, it's just cancelling collection on those accounts and heading for the exits

August 9, 2019

Business and Finance Why does infrastructure cost so much?

A draft of a research paper on Interstate highway construction hints that infrastructure costs a whole lot more to build than it did just a generation ago (even adjusted for inflation). This is most interesting. The usual caveat that "roads and bridges" are only a fraction of "infrastructure" overall applies, but you have to work with the data sets that are available, and this analysis says something quite interesting about costs.

Threats and Hazards Yet another shooting on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive

The expressway that never should have become an expressway has had way too many violent incidents in recent memory

Threats and Hazards "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good"

Benjamin Franklin's words couldn't possibly apply better than to the President's open contemplation of a commutation of Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence. Remember: The former governor of Illinois was trying to use his office for personal benefit.

Computers and the Internet Policing social media with the FCC and the FTC

CNN reports: "The draft [Presidential executive] order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms." Never assume powers when you're in office that you wouldn't willingly hand over to your opponents when it's their turn.

Threats and Hazards Tone comes from the top

And indifference is a tone. Which is why the massive shortage of leadership at the top of American intelligence organizations is a real problem: "The majority of the nation's 17 intel agencies will have leaders who are new, acting, or outright vacant".

News Lucky Charms marshmallows...in bulk

So...it's just a bag of marshmallows. Are they crunchy and stale? Because Kraft already makes colorful soft ones. (It's a promotional stunt by General Mills.)

August 8, 2019

The United States of America What Puerto Rico is getting right

The commonwealth's politics look messy -- but at the broadest view, democratic processes are working, and that should make all Americans proud.

Threats and Hazards The "Un-Great Man" theory of trade

There are those who subscribe to the "Great Man" theory of history: That history is largely shaped by individuals of tremendous consequence. There are problems with that theory, of course. But it may be far more true that a twist on that logic is in fact quite true for the history of trade, and that we are living it now: Trade takes broad commitments to systems and rules, but it turns out those commitments can be undermined in devastating fashion by the right person with the right amount of influence -- like a President of the United States with an impulsive streak and a lot of unchecked trade power. His capacity to undermine trust in the system at large -- and, especially, trust in the nation that for so long has been the anchor party in the world's trading mechanisms -- is enough to undermine and damage systems that had been massive engines of well-being for much of the global population. It's not forgivable.

Threats and Hazards Russia tests American and Canadian patience

Attracting the attention of NORAD and various Air Force assets: Russian bombers flying close to, but not quite within, American and Canadian territorial airspace

Business and Finance Publius would have liked the Value-Added Tax

Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 12 lauded the use of consumption taxes. In his time, the import tariff was about the only way to get that done (because there weren't the tools necessary to put tax collection everywhere). Now that it's possible to collect taxes almost seamlessly, one would think he would be even more in favor of consumption taxation.

Health A fine story of human goodness

How an organ transplant 35 years ago saved a life and started a chain reaction of further giving

Aviation News "The Right Stuff"

One of the best movie lines ever: "But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American ... And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen." And if the closing theme to that movie doesn't put tears in your eyes, you might be a robot.

Humor and Good News How to fold a fitted sheet

Don't. Just compress it a bit and stash it in a drawer or a closet someplace. You have better things to do with your time.

Humor and Good News The near-outgroup vs. the far-outgroup

People who are close to what you believe, but just not quite, are often far more annoying than those who disagree with you entirely

August 7, 2019

The United States of America Don't think of me

Sen. Michael Bennet makes a campaign pitch: "If you elect me President, I promise you won't have to think about me for two weeks at a time." It's a fine sentiment, and it echoes a line from Calvin Coolidge: "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country." You could argue that a Presidency-centric public consciousness is what the American people want. But isn't it worth applauding any pushback against the contemporary corruption of the idea? Wouldn't it be worthwhile to resist and seek to roll back the unsustainable idea of the Imperial Presidency? Most Americans just passively sleepwalk into accepting it.

Iowa Iowa Cubs to play as "Iowa Caucuses" for one night

They'll adopt the alternate moniker for the game on August 30th

August 6, 2019

Business and Finance GateHouse to take over Gannett

There was a time, not really that long ago, when it looked like Gannett was going to consume the entire newspaper universe.

News "I'm sorry."

What the President ought to say in the wake of violence attributed to his inspiration, but won't. You can't fix a fault unless you're willing to name it.

News Urbanization: It cannot be resisted

NPR tells a story of dramatic change in Mongolia, begotten of both economic and environmental factors. But it's not an issue just of Mongolia, or of anywhere else: Urbanization might be the one global trend that's completely irreversible, regardless of a country's political environment.

News Why uniformity took over apartment construction

Why do so many -- if not most -- new apartment complexes look basically alike, all over the United States? It's because wood-frame construction is cheaper than the alternatives, and building codes have converged on a widely-accepted notion of what constitutes a safe, fire-resistant framework for multi-unit dwellings. Add onto that the growing uniformity of ownership types (apartments are more likely to be owned by real-estate trusts or pension funds than ever before), and the commoditization of investment has begotten commoditization of place.

August 3, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 3, 2019

Broadcasting live on WHO Radio

July 31, 2019

News A little modesty is in order

If the case for your Presidential candidacy starts with "President Trump is dangerous and has too much power" and ends with "Vote for me so I can make dramatic policy changes", then James Madison would like a word with you. It remains true that Presidential debates should be replaced with timed writing tests. Essay questions, composition books, and a #2 pencil. No advisors. No Internet. Just you and your ability to explain yourself.

Weather and Disasters Four separate typhoons could develop in the western Pacific -- at once

One model shows it happening by August 3rd. Who needs science fiction when reality could be way more tumultuous than any movie script?

The United States of America At the 100th Meridian

There is a Canadian folk-rock song about the 100th Meridian, "where the Great Plains begin". But it's a conveniently accurate description -- even if there's reason to believe that the Great Plains are migrating eastward. It's funny how opinions differ so much on what constitutes the Midwest.

Threats and Hazards "Chinese forces massing on border" of Hong Kong

Nobody seems to be confirming the rumors officially, but that's of little comfort

July 30, 2019

Computers and the Internet The strangest "other than" in history?

Capital One reports on a cybersecurity breach with a most unusual declaration: "No bank account numbers or Social Security numbers were compromised, other than: About 140,000 Social Security numbers of our credit card customers [and] About 80,000 linked bank account numbers of our secured credit card customers". How is that possibly an "other than"? 140,000 people is the population of a modestly-sized city -- slightly bigger than Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The press release further says "Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada." It is, in fact, about as bad as bank leaders have long feared that a cyber-breach could be. These things aren't trivial or secondary in importance: This is a bank heist attempted via laptop computer.

Threats and Hazards A pox upon everyone who feeds the trolls

At the apex of technological advancement and the peak (so far) of civilization, we have elected leaders adopting veils of deliberate ignorance so they can feed the trolls of partisan fiendishness. And Madison wept. Rivalries, arguments, and even insults have been around from the beginning of America's status as an independent country -- but we do presently live at a point where blithe ignorance itself has neither any excuse nor any place. We know more than our forebearers ever could, and we can answer virtually any question quicker and more accurately than they ever imagined possible. We can continue to tease and even mock, but we shouldn't do so as willing dolts.

Business and Finance Other measures matter, but GDP shouldn't be manipulated

There are those who would see GDP measurements modified to account for other characteristics they value -- like environmental sustainability. And there may very well be good reasons to account for things that are valuable but which are not captured in GDP. Knowing the speed of a car doesn't tell you if it's driving safely. But knowing its speed -- and if it's changing -- is fundamental to knowing what's happening to the car. Just because a measurement doesn't tell you everything doesn't mean you break the measuring stick. It is quite enough to know that GDP is not everything that matters, but that it is materially important nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards How about your $1,346?

The US Treasury plans to borrow $443 billion in the third quarter of this year, with Federal spending on the rise and the need for cash continuing to grow. To be clear: This means the Federal government adds $1,346 to the national credit card in the name of every child, woman, and man living here right now.

Broadcasting Import this from France

(Video) How come French TV is capable of putting giant timers up on the screen during their presidential debates and American TV isn't?

July 27, 2019

The United States of America We need more patience for first-order problems

The rush to judge Robert Mueller's testimony to Congress in a manner like it was performance art is a mistake. It may provide a "hook" to make the audience believe they're receiving news, but it's badly calibrated to the information needs of a free society. The easiest shortcut to finding a new hook isn't to cover "the thing", but to cover "something about the thing". But when everyone does that, it's like watching ESPN and thinking you're learning about health and fitness. You're watching the shadows instead of the action.

July 26, 2019

Threats and Hazards "They are doing it as we sit here"

A warning from Robert Mueller: Attempts to sabotage democratic processes are underway right now. This isn't over. It's never going to be over. And the longer it takes us to realize that, the worse the consequences. Politics have been turned into warfare by other means. Let us all hope -- earnestly -- that we will as a country take the ongoing threat seriously. It's not just Russia. It's not just to help or hurt one party or the other. And it's definitely not over.

Computers and the Internet The device writers need

In this commentary, Chris Taylor lays out a basically perfect roadmap for developing a simple computing device that makes all the sense in the world. That was three and a half years ago, and nobody's done it yet. Fix this, Silicon Valley.

Threats and Hazards North Korean economy shrinks -- a lot

Reuters reports on an official South Korean assessment: "North Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 4.1 per cent last year in real terms, the worst since 1997". Poor countries do not grow more stable as their economies contract.

News Hong Kong protests overtake the airport

The durability of the protests in Hong Kong is really quite amazing.

News Can news be reported without some form of bias?

Nope. Every decision to cover or not to cover a story -- or an angle to a story -- is a matter of editorial judgment. It also matters whether a story is covered well or badly, by pros or by rookies, in long-form or in briefs, as "straight news" or "analysis" or "magazine-style". The best approach is to think of news like GPS: You don't want one source, you want several -- and then you triangulate among them what is most true.

July 25, 2019

Computers and the Internet Spot-checking student social media?

A prominent Australian journalist suggests "I think all high schools should have the right to do spot checks of students' (children's) social media accounts to ensure they comply with the school ethos. It would surely temper some of the crude behaviour & language on there." We're all entitled to idle thoughts that maybe haven't been fully developed for prime time, but this one is especially bad. This idea would take "in loco parentis" to an extreme that would displace the parents even in their own homes. And even though some would be quick to blame the left for such overreach, there is a loud and intemperate wing of the right that would also have the state decide personal moral judgments for us, openly and unapologetically. It is one of the most distressing developments of our age.

Threats and Hazards What good is the law if it's abused by its executors?

Quinta Jurecic writes: "[D]irecting the attorney general to turn the full power of the state against your innocent political opponent (a thing that is in the Mueller report) does not strike me as beside the point" [of the hearings]. "The rule of law" is meaningful only when it restrains those with power from abusing it. It's not hard to enforce rules against the weak and vulnerable.

News A sense of responsibility

Margaret Thatcher once said, "Ultimately, it is the willingness of its citizens to acknowledge a sense of responsibility towards their fellow men that distinguishes a free society from one dominated by licence and anarchy." Maybe it was a conscious choice, maybe it was a mere coincidence. But the use of "citizens" (a narrow definition) having responsibility toward "fellow men" (a universal one) might well have a lesson in it.

News Pabst to sell "caffeinated malt beverage"

An iced coffee with a close relationship to beer? Nothing about that is a good decision.

News Robert Mueller and "Pickle Rick"

Stephen Stromberg compares the special counsel to a cartoon mad scientist whose exploits are ignored by an audience that doesn't get what it's seeing: "On Wednesday, Mueller's answers could be summed up: 'I made a report. What more do you want tacked on to this?'"

Computers and the Internet Google Street View is on the prowl

Seen in the wild roaming the Des Moines metropolitan area

July 20, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 20, 2019

Airing live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Computers and the Internet Going incognito with incognito browsing

A pending update to the Chrome web browser will close a loophole that had permitted websites to check whether users were in "incognito" mode

July 19, 2019

News America has never existed outside the world

Sen. Josh Hawley is making a claim that America's "leadership elite" is composed of "cosmopolitans". While his definition of "elite" is utterly nonspecific (and strangely omits, apparently, people like United States Senators), he claims that the "cosmopolitan" identity means a "primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world, not to a 'specifically American identity'". ■ The Senator makes an overwhelming omission from his observation, though: America's identity started -- literally from its very first moment -- with having a place in the world at large. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence concludes with the words "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." ■ To have a "cosmopolitan" interest in the world takes nothing away from one's patriotism or sense of Americanism, any more than being an American takes away from one's identity as an Iowan, a Virginian, or a Californian. It means only that Americans know their place up and down the scale of identities -- as humans residing on Earth alongside billions of others, as residents of states, as members of our communities and neighborhoods. Or as people sharing a common language and legal tradition with Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Irish. Or as people who share religious faiths with others in ways that have no correspondence to political boundaries at all. ■ The notion that real "American" interests have nothing to do with our place in the world is short-sighted and insufferably ahistorical. ■ Consider Federalist Paper No. 63: "An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: The one is, that, independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed."

The United States of America Cattle-call Presidential debates don't do us any good

The upcoming CNN debates, with twenty candidates on two nights, is lined up for maximum television spectacle, but it's not going to tell the voting public anything of value. It's spectacle as a substitute for sorting mechanism. Presidential debates should be replaced with timed writing tests. Essay questions, composition books, and a #2 pencil. No advisors. No Internet. Just you and your ability to explain yourself.

Agriculture Agronomist thinks corn harvest will be shrunk by 10% or more

Scott Irwin thinks the harvest could take a hit of 20 bushels per acre due to weather conditions and their consequences. And he may well be right.

News Puerto Ricans are exercising the First Amendment

Large protests against their governmental administration -- peaceable assembly, petition of grievances, and big signs projected on the sides of buildings

Weather and Disasters The dangers of hot cars

The National Weather Service office in Omaha had some social-media fun testing whether they could bake biscuits inside a car sitting in the sun. The biscuits turned out unsatisfactory, but even in the shade, the car hit an internal temperature of 144°.

News Capturing the center isn't optional

Democratic governors are worried that a leftward shift in the party's politics could chase off the middle-of-the-road voters who may get turned off by left-wing rhetoric or who may choose not to show up at all. If the Democrats focus on appeasing the left rather than on winning the center, particularly in the Presidential race, they could lose in 2020 -- or they could limp across the finish line with a small victory...and instantly face four years of a non-stop, full-volume blast of "Trump 2024". Remember: Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as President, so it's happened before.

July 18, 2019

Health Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,600 people -- and it's reached cities

Urbanization has a thousand and one benefits, but it does put us at greater risk for outbreaks of contagious diseases. Public health needs to be a very high global priority.

Threats and Hazards A lesser man

The President says he disavows the chants of "Send her back" at his campaign rally this week. What empty words. It isn't hard to say "No", and yet he didn't do that. Sen. John McCain knew how to say it when his supporters went too far. A lesser man finds it too difficult. Anyone engaged in an un-American chant like "Send her back" is sending a message that they want to belong to something, and that need isn't being fulfilled in healthy ways. That's the preexisting condition that weakens the body politic and makes it susceptible to infection.

Computers and the Internet A big to-do over a casino that doesn't exist

Sony is making a big deal out of a casino "opening" inside the game "Grand Theft Auto". There's recreation. There's escapism. And then there's...this.

Iowa Life inside the Iowa caucus bubble

Living in Iowa right now means not knowing whether the rest of the country is seeing the same non-stop barrage of campaign ads that you see

Humor and Good News Not the time nor the place

There may not be any public places where a person would want to hear "Sexual Healing", but the Post Office definitely isn't one of them.

July 17, 2019

Computers and the Internet People have learned nothing about computer security

When a shadowy app offers to age-progress your picture, perhaps think twice about submitting to their terms and conditions. Sure, FaceApp is an intriguing exercise in artificial intelligence. But we should constantly consider who might be on the receiving end of our data (it's not just the Russians we should worry about!), and always consider the ulterior motives that someone may be using against us.

News "Meth gators" and the real problem of flushing pharmaceuticals down the drain

If it takes alarmist stories about "meth gators" to get people to start thinking more carefully about properly disposing of hazardous wastes, then let's get #MethGators trending. Think downstream, people.

Weather and Disasters A classic shelf cloud on the approach

It looked ominous and dumped a lot of rain in a hurry, but at least it wasn't a supercell

July 16, 2019

Agriculture Japanese beetles attacking Iowa corn

Scarier than Godzilla, because it's real. We really don't need this kind of pest right now.

Aviation News 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch

Science. National interest. High technology. Daring. Quite a combination.

News WWII codebreaker Alan Turing to be featured on British currency

This practice of honoring eminent citizens on the currency is one we should happily endorse.

Threats and Hazards Don't mislabel a political conflict as a "clash of civilizations"

National Security Advisor John Bolton told a political group that the dynamic between the United States and China "has elements of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations", a line also employed by some representatives of the State Department. Why is it so hard for our diplomatic and national-security leaders to embrace the plain language of our own Declaration of Independence -- that people everywhere are endowed with rights and dignity, and that governments have a duty to preserve them? Governments are different from civilizations.

The United States of America Codebreaker first, Supreme Court justice later

John Paul Stevens was awarded the Bronze Star for codebreaking work

July 12, 2019

Iowa Air conditioning isn't going to be the end of us all

Home heating accounts for vastly more BTU consumption than air conditioning in America. But if you live in Iowa, you can assuage about 99.9% of any guilt you might feel about using electricity (including for air conditioning), because MidAmerican Energy is pushing hard into the production of electricity from renewable sources. Or at least 51.4% of that guilt, for now. So when we're running the A/C, we're really just taking hot blowing air from outside and converting it to cool blowing air inside.

Computers and the Internet Facebook Libra: Another cryptocurrency we probably don't need

Pretty clear that an organization with enough hubris to try to launch its own currency doesn't really have a lot of time for the public good.

News Nobody did the reading

Robert Mueller's testimony to Congress is going to be delayed because, in effect, Congress hasn't done its homework and isn't prepared yet. Per the Washington Post: "Mueller will testify for three hours -- an extra hour -- before the Judiciary panel and then give testimony to the Intelligence Committee for two hours."

Broadcasting It took 22 years for The Verve to get paid for "Bitter Sweet Symphony"

The Rolling Stones got all the credit until finally relinquishing the rights

News Amazon's DC-area HQ2 looks...ordinary

Ordinary in the contemporary "let's put a random adornment on the exterior that makes it look slightly ragged" sense. What's missing from modern architecture? Architectural setbacks. Like, honest-to-goodness Chrysler Building-style setbacks.

July 11, 2019

News Who is (or might be) America's Macron?

If the old two-party, two-ideology system has truly been replaced with a four-way split (among nationalists, socialists, the center-right, and the center-left), then who's going to make the case for a centrist bloc?

News Immigration raids to begin Sunday

So reports the New York Times.

Weather and Disasters Slow-moving flood works its way across central Nebraska

Portions of the Wood River basin got 9" of rain on Monday and Monday night. The water is moving in a slug that passes town-by-town through the river.

Humor and Good News America's greatest deficit

Sure, the Federal budget deficit is distressing. But is it anything compared to our deficit in power ballads? Related: The most useful YouTube comment ever.

News The most inexplicable traffic stop ever

A stolen vehicle, a rattlesnake, an open bottle of whiskey, a gun...and some uranium that nobody seems to be able to explain. Oklahoma, you've really set a new bar.

July 10, 2019

News Which Ross Perot are we supposed to remember?

It's possible to envy Ross Perot (1982), to loathe Ross Perot (1992), to have no informed opinion whatsoever on Ross Perot (2002), and to respect Ross Perot (2012). But it's often hard to say that, as our opinions on people become fixed in time like a mosquito trapped in amber. As hard as it may be, it's worth trying. Each of us lives a single existence, linear in time. But to the world, we are infinite slices of parallel beings. Only one Ross Perot has passed. But uncounted Ross Perots are being remembered.

Humor and Good News The brain zooms

The very first time you hear this phrase and connect it to caffeine, you'll probably get it

Threats and Hazards Chinese influence in South America: Yes, really

The head of US Southern Command "told the Senate Armed Services Committee's Emerging Threats subcommittee that China is only going to increase its efforts to live 'inside our own neighborhood seeking to displace the United States as the partner of choice'". Mind your community, or someone else might.

Weather and Disasters New Orleans area gets 7" of rain

Putting stress on a levee system already being challenged by an abnormally high Mississippi River. A tropical storm is coming.

Threats and Hazards A real-life totalitarian nightmare

(Video) Should you watch all 9 minutes of this report from The Economist on the appalling treatment of the people of Xinjiang? Yes. But if nothing else, jump to 5:48 and listen to how China spies on people inside their own homes.

The United States of America "The Conservative Sensibility"

An interview with George Will about his new book

Threats and Hazards Has your member of Congress read the Mueller Report?

Politico asked, and a bunch of legislators admitted they haven't read it. Some haven't even tried. It's hard to believe any of them should be paid for their work.

Humor and Good News Sharkysharky?

What on Earth caused Google's spellchecker to suggest that made-up word when "surveillance" was what was typed in?

Computers and the Internet Standards still matter

Ever since Google shut down Google Reader, all faith should be lost that the FAANG companies would ever go back to supporting broad-based, open standards (like RSS). In a parallel universe, open standards are allowing small businesses to do things like post a simple file somewhere on their website (not unlike robots.txt or favicon.ico) with key identifying information and basic details like hours of operation. Without consistent open standards supported by big players, instead, business operators have to spend all their godforsaken "Internet marketing" time running around updating things uniquely for every "walled garden" on the Internet, and consumers cannot consistently trust any of it.

The United States of America Parachute wedding dress loaned to Fort Bragg museum

A bride is lending her wedding dress, made of her husband's WWII parachute, to the 82nd Airborne Museum -- but reserves the right to let her great-granddaughters wear it if they want.

The American Way Private property is a bulwark for personal liberty

And that's the correct order for those priorities: Liberty for the individual first, secured by private property. As Margaret Thatcher said, "I passionately believe that private property should be spread as widely as possible, as a bulwark for the liberty and independence of the people, and to enhance a sense of responsibility to future generations."

July 9, 2019

Computers and the Internet Disingenuous, or just plain stupid?

CNBC reports that "Chinese internet stocks may be a good buy for investors, according to global investment banks UBS and Credit Suisse." Which either reveals complete disregard for the investing public or stunning ignorance. But if you think that Internet companies are a gamble in the Western democracies (and they sure are), imagine the moral hazard involved in dealing with a country named year in and year out as "the world's worst abuser of internet freedom".

Humor and Good News Knowing how good you have it isn't so easy to do

Future generations will need to look back on the 90s and appreciate just how gifted so many of the "grunge" and "alternative" artists really were. Chris Cornell could just rip your heart out with his voice. And then there's Scott Weiland, who cut these lyrics to "Interstate Love Song" in one take. An unapologetically hard rock song woven with elegant harmonies, and quite possibly the perfect rock track.

Socialism Doesn't Work Remembering 1989

When Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the reins on Eastern Europe, a bunch of countries reacted and ultimately the Soviet Union fell. What would it take for a Gorbachev-like figure to emerge in China? We have to think of human nature for what it is -- people will do (sometimes extraordinary, sometimes very antisocial) things to protect themselves and their immediate families. We live inside of social systems with rules and expectations (just like China's rulers live within the rule systems of the Communist Party), but sometimes external conditions trigger changes. Gorbachev thought he could bring about a controlled transition away from the worst of Communist excesses; in the end, he couldn't. So what are the incentive structures and the elements of human nature that will determine what happens in China someday, when the irresistible force (of people's natural sense of liberty) finally starts to break the immovable object that is the Communist Party of China?

Humor and Good News Show, don't just tell

A single good illustration beats a hundred overwrought bullet points in a PowerPoint deck. Like a photo of a weight machine quite naturally illustrating a normal distribution.

Computers and the Internet Meeting app can hijack Mac webcams

Webcam covers for laptops cost about $3 apiece. Don't trust; take precautions.

Weather and Disasters Lightning can strike many miles away from a storm

(Video) You can see it happen

July 5, 2019

Broadcasting This news isn't "fake", it's "enhanced"

The ABC television affiliate in Chicago is going to start integrating more animation and visual effects into news stories in order to enhance the product. It's being done in tandem with a journalism school, but this for sure will require very careful scrutiny.

News "Bad ideas are spreading like the plague"

A thoughtful contribution from Stephanie Slade: "What unites the left's flirtation with socialism and the right's move toward nationalism is the willful discarding of long-understood, dearly learned truths about how to make the world a better place." The only comfort to be found in the resurgences of hard-left socialism and witless nationalism is that the classical liberal tradition has survived these clashes before, and ultimately triumphed. It's just that there's so much collateral damage in the meantime.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says it's clamping down on "sensational health claims"

At least, they're doing so in the news feed by busting down posts that appear to make exaggerated claims about health (using algorithmic management of phrases that are associated with those kinds of claims), and by doing the same for posts that appear to be selling something on the basis of exaggerated claims. Good, probably. But it did not escape one reporter's notice that nothing was said about groups, where really bad misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Science and Technology World's tallest modular building finished at 459'

There are actually two of them, side-by-side in Singapore. Most of the 40-story building, made of precast concrete, was fabricated in Malaysia.

News 67 years, and no more MAD Magazine

Weird Al Yankovic isn't the only one who's going to miss the publication. Satire is an important art form, and while MAD has always been a sort of gateway drug to higher forms of satire. "The Hollywood Reporter" says they have sources confirming that it will only feature new content in end-of-year specials, but in the words of a MAD cartoonist, "for all intents and purposes, MAD is folding."

July 2, 2019

Threats and Hazards Oversight report: Migrant detainees aren't being treated well

If the government is going to spend $10, then $1 in oversight costs may well be needed to ensure that the other $9 are spent well. Oversight matters.

Business and Finance Lee Iacocca passes away

It's well worth noting (as Karl Smith does) that Iacocca was a manager, not a capitalist. Managers are necessary in every economic system, and they are valuable -- but the differences separating managerial capitalism, proprietor capitalism, shareholder capitalism, and corporatist capitalism are all worth a lot more attention than they usually get.

Weather and Disasters The granularity of GOES satellite imagery is amazing

Individual storm anvils and overshooting tops can be seen

Humor and Good News Monetarist Buffalo wings

A delicious complement to "neo-classical Buffalo wings", whatever those might be

The United States of America 158 million adults worldwide would like to become Americans

Per a 2018 poll by Gallup. What would happen if the US said "We will welcome the accession of any city, province, or country on a 20-year path to statehood, provided you bring a balanced budget and a clear commitment to the rule of American law"?

News A day that lacks a lot of sense

Lots of people in high-level positions having rush meetings? That's cause for anxiety. And yet the government is trying to put together a military parade in Washington, DC. Putting on a big military parade (just for show) on Day #185 without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense is the national-security version of doing a bunch of bicep curls without ever taking a leg day.

Business and Finance What should it take to get a Ph.D.?

The artificial barriers to entry in graduate-level economics programs suggest to me that there are too many economists who don't actually value human-capital development as much as they might preach.

The United States of America It's hard to preserve what you don't sufficiently value

The casual freedoms Americans will largely take for granted over the Independence Day holiday are exactly the ones we ought to remind ourselves aren't universal

June 26, 2019

News Smoke-filled rooms, now on Twitter

The election will be decided on the secret Slack channel reserved exclusively for Iowans. We're all on there every Tuesday and Thursday night.

News Have a policy, not a sound bite

Kevin Baron: "Americans want less war. And soft-power funding helped win the Cold War. But it remains woefully short, and forever will until a president puts forth a bold funding boost with a genuine plan to recruit, staff, organize around new bold policies to use that money wisely"

Aviation News Electric airplanes really are coming

Yes, please. Now on display at the Paris Air Show.

News A one-word answer to our biggest threat?

Chuck Todd's question at the Democratic Presidential debate was a profoundly unserious way to address an existential matter. Most of the problems alone take more than one word to describe, much less what it takes to tell why, or how they should be addressed, or what trade-offs are involved.

Humor and Good News I can see your Fahrvergnugen

Surely there's a German word for "distracting other drivers through naked scooter riding".

Aviation News Boeing uses employee parking lots for overflow 737 space

Wait...what kinds of vehicles do they expect their employees to be driving that the pavement would already be thick enough for this? Boeing says the zero-fuel weight of the smallest 737 Max is 128,600 lbs.

Health A no-brainer: Protect brains

Extended netting at baseball games shouldn't be a tough choice. Do it in all the ballparks.

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June 25, 2019

Threats and Hazards Canada's battle with election-related disinformation and foreign interference

(Video) It's not just America. It's not just on Facebook. It's not just the Russians. For our purposes in America today, it's important to keep the Federal nature of our system intact -- since it turns out that a Federal system designed for thirteen states in a pre-telecommunications era is actually a fairly robust way to operate in an era when we're more dependent than ever on communications but don't really grasp how to deal with the resulting vulnerabilities. We want our mistakes confined to individual states (see: Florida 2000), not replicated by mandate everywhere.

News Georgia sheriff's office seeks mother of abandoned baby

The child was discovered, newborn, tied inside a plastic bag. Communities need safe-haven laws -- and they need to publicize them vigorously.

News Australian town shuts down banana festival parade

The cause? Covering the anti-terrorism expenses was going to be too much for Murwillumbah's budget to bear. George Bluth could not be reached for comment.

Humor and Good News National security dad jokes

David Larter: "With a Russian ship docked only 100 miles from Key West, does that make it a...near pier competitor?"

Business and Finance Treasonmobiles, and why Americans love to drive them

The President has a naive and utterly inadequate view of world trade -- and it manifests itself in stupid policies like his intended "national security" tariffs applied to "foreign" cars (including those made with "foreign" parts). And where are these "treasonmobiles" built? Places like Alabama, Ohio, and Texas -- all home to automotive plants owned by Toyota or Honda that actually build cars with relatively high "American-made" components. Spend any time reading Jeffrey Rothfeder's book "Driving Honda" or Matthew May's "The Elegant Solution", and you'll realize that Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus are exceptional case studies in American manufacturing success. Great vehicles made very well by American labor. They should be celebrated widely -- and certainly not punished.

Threats and Hazards How do you spell "emoluments"?

"There are men who could neither be distressed nor won into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of few soils; and in the main it will be found that a power over a man's support is a power over his will." - Federalist Paper No. 73

The United States of America The case for a ceremonial head of state

It's stronger than one might think

Computers and the Internet Cowardice in the face of...Instagram?

How a United States Senator lends his name to feigned outrage over account suggestions from Instagram is beyond sane explanation. Conservatives, in particular, ought to think of themselves as strong enough to scroll past a non-conforming opinion or two without losing their minds. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, "The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them."

Health Licking one's wounds

A question for the evolutionary biologists out there: When did the instinct to lick a wound start to pay off in the evolutionary tree? Is that only a mammalian thing? Are we the only ones with clotting agents in our saliva?

News Time to speak up

This is an appropriate time for leaders of conscience -- both within faith communities and outside of them -- to speak up for humanity and humane treatment, especially for vulnerable children in the custody of our government. Those who have nothing but venom to spew ought to reconsider whether they want to be remembered well after they depart this life. Leaders like Russell Moore deserve credit for being among the former; Jerry Falwell, Jr. deserves scorn for being among the latter.

News Student-loan forgiveness for all?

Education has a cost-inflation problem, as well as a delivery problem. We need to have a long talk about where the "added value" is showing up in education, generally.

June 21, 2019

News On reports of "swing votes" among Administration staff

"While it is wise for the President to get all the competent advice possible, final judgments are necessarily his own. No one can share with him the responsibility for them. No one can make his decisions for him." - Calvin Coolidge

News The sacred making roommates with the secular

Most interesting: As religious orders look toward the future, one source of energy and encounter with the world may include welcoming the non-religious as temporary guests.

Weather and Disasters Storm complex explodes over southern Nebraska and northern Kansas

The satellite loop reveals an atmospheric eruption rivalling any volcano. The spectacular release of energy delivered 89-mph straight-line winds to a small town 10 miles south of the state line.

June 20, 2019

Threats and Hazards Illinois deploys state troopers to undercover semis

The good achieved by busting distracted drivers is at least partially offset by the bad in making the roads just a little bit more of an unaccountable, undercover, full-time surveillance state.

News Could Tampa Bay share its baseball team with Montreal?

Montreal and Tampa Bay are already the "Twin Cities" in the minds of most people, so this is hardly a stretch, right?

News The gender-reveal pseudo-industry is running out of ideas

First came the idiotic escalation of the "prom-posal". Then it turned to the nonsense of extravagant "gender-reveal parties". What happens when people start making public affairs of their colonoscopies? That may be the only greenfield left. Jokes notwithstanding, there are those who turn even the earliest stages of romance into a big display. We expect adolescence to be a time of learning and practice for all kinds of important things (e.g. internships, drivers' ed, student government), and we should. It ought to be that way for relationships, too -- a time for low-risk practice and failure.

Iowa Former AIB campus slated for housing redevelopment

Great news that something better will come of the site. But the failure to really get something off the ground (as was originally intended) with a serious, on-the-ground presence in Des Moines with one of the big three state universities is a giant missed opportunity. From a strategic perspective, the state of Iowa could use the economic boost from research universities, which need campuses.

Weather and Disasters Where Americans welcome refugees

The biggest mistake is to think of refugees as people without skills or agency. Just because you've been displaced from what was once your home doesn't mean you gave up your right to self-determination or somehow forgot your craft, trade, or profession.

Weather and Disasters South Dakota tornado takes a backwards spin

Tornado watchers should be anti-clockwise.

News A bold statement

Professor Qu Weiguo of Shanghai: "Freedom is not a handout, we need to earn it with our efforts." In his speech to a graduating class, he also, boldly, told them: "Today's civilization is a product of communication and fusion", and advocated against thinking in a "Western-vs-Eastern" binary. Heroic words.

Threats and Hazards Philadelphia police restrict six dozen officers over social-media posts

Some of the comments shared or endorsed by the individual officers were grossly bigoted. Does social media cause people to do and say things that aren't truly in their hearts and minds? Or do the tools just offer transparency into what's already there? Either way, this affair ought to make any reasonable person sick to their stomach.

June 15, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show - June 15, 2019

Live on WHO Radio and streamed on the iHeartRadio app from 2pm until 4pm

News Hong Kong's protests succeeded -- for now

The government will suspend debate on a bill that would have opened the door to extradition to mainland China for people who are supposed to be under the umbrella of Hong Kong's freedoms

Health A legitimate, free personality test

FiveThirtyEight offers a 30-question test of the "big five" traits. It's good to know yourself.

June 14, 2019

Agriculture "The worst hunger crises are driven by things human beings do to each other"

Food is perhaps the cruelest conventional weapon of war, since it disproportionately punishes the sick, the young, and the old for fighting in which they're almost certainly not the belligerents.

Threats and Hazards Leaders need to find some imagination

America has a long and checkered history with those seeking asylum or refuge from violence and war. But our shining moment came in the shadow of WWI, when Herbert Hoover coordinated the effort to avert famine in Europe. Who is our Herbert Hoover in these circumstances today, as family separation remains a consequence of government policy under the Trump Administration and as the world's refugee/displaced population is larger than ever?

Health Blame carbon dioxide

Why do meetings make people sleepy? The buildup of carbon dioxide in meeting rooms and seminar halls may actually provide a useful physiological explanation that doesn't seem to have really occurred to most of us before.

Threats and Hazards China-watchers debate the number of Uighurs being held in China

Reliable sources differ -- but their estimates range from 1 million to 3 million. And any one of those would be a giant number: A population of one million would be more than all but the top ten largest cities in the United States. It isn't just a number; it's at least a million lives, plus those left behind who are affected by their detention. And if an understanding of human nature is any guide, then we may very well see far worse before China's government gets better. The more threatened an authoritarian regime feels, the more driven they are likely to become in using fear and repression to intimidate their opposition. Everyone saw what happened to Gorbachev when glasnost and perestroika moved people's souls before the structure of government was prepared to adapt.

Iowa Civic Center turns 40

Funds for the Des Moines venue were raised privately, at a time when such things were done

Humor and Good News The greatest natural acronym of all time?

It's "Dilligaf", which looks like a completely innocuous word all by itself. But it's definitely not.

June 13, 2019

Threats and Hazards Inexcusable, and deserving of wrathful judgment

The President, on camera with ABC News in the Oval Office, declares that he wouldn't alert the FBI if approached again by a foreign government demonstrating intent to influence an election. This was not unforeseen: Federalist 75 includes the comment, "An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents." They weren't fortune-tellers; they just knew enough to recognize the frailties of human nature.

The United States of America Live and let live: America's founding goal

James Madison: "Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice..."

Broadcasting Mike Murphy and David Axelrod launch a podcast

A common occupation binds them, and their loyalties divide them. It's recommended listening, since the hosts are interesting in their own right, but have sufficient heft to attract heavy-hitter guests.

Science and Technology What would it take to really revolutionize non-automotive transportation?

A thought experiment: What would it take to truly revolutionize pedestrian and cyclist transportation, especially in suburban areas? Shelters over sidewalks to make them useful 365 days a year? Electric bicycles? Moving walkways? Bridges or elevated lanes to bypass roads? Ski lifts mounted down the middle of highways? What novel applications of existing technologies would make moving at a human-powered pace competitive with getting stuck in traffic? The car isn't going to disappear, but even if we convert the entire automotive fleet to electric power and eliminate most air pollution, there would still be consequences from choosing autombiles as our primary tool for getting from Point A to Point B.

Business and Finance You are not a "guru" or a "ninja"

A piece you ought to read about a real pet peeve: Fluffing corporate language like job listings to create a false sense of importance -- and obscuring everything that really matters along the way. A very important criticism of fluffy job listings: They suggest that only fervent applicants with nothing to sacrifice are welcome, and that people with personal commitments (like parents) ought not apply.

June 12, 2019

News Take note of what's happening in Hong Kong

"Huge" isn't enough to describe the scale of the protests -- perhaps half a million people -- and they are self-organizing, too.

Threats and Hazards Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price

The President wants to believe that Americans pay "very little" for his tariffs on Chinese goods. But when high taxes are imposed on anything, consumers end up sharing in that cost, period. You can quibble about their share of that cost vis-a-vis the relative slopes of the supply and demand curves, but they absolutely do pay.

News Just half a century past Loving v. Virginia

The Supreme Court case that squashed bans on interracial marriage isn't that far in the rear-view mirror. If you're looking at a Baby Boomer, you're looking at someone who is older than this Supreme Court case. Sometimes it's hard to put into perspective just how long the law has permitted injustices to go on.

Business and Finance A bank is no place for a sloppy, made-up name

SunTrust, merging with BB&T, will call itself "Truist". Not "Truest", "Trust", or "Tryst".

Business and Finance Cause for alarm

There are those who would say it's alarmist to take too seriously the rise in US Treasury securities outstanding. Those people would be wrong.

Business and Finance Norway's legendary sovereign-wealth fund divests from most coal mining

A socialized market economy can work...if you have strong social cohesion, ample rewards for private-sector investment, a big natural-resource endowment (like Norway's oil), and prudent managers of the profits from that resource endowment. It also doesn't hurt to have some form of work requirement and supplemental form of gainful employment -- lest you encounter the often grave risk of creating a large class of young men with nothing productive to do. These conditions are not met in all of the places where "democratic socialism" gains traction, and that's a real problem -- because in those places where the preconditions are not met, the system is extremely unlikely to succeed. And that's not a statement of criticism about the people who are lured by the appeal of what such a system promises; it's simply a recognition of certain immutable facts of human nature.

Business and Finance Vertical integration is wild

First it was Amazon Prime-branded trucks rolling up and down I-35 and I-80. Now, it's delivery in Amazon-branded vans in top-100 markets, like Omaha.

Iowa Iowa needs a new state flag. Here's an idea.

Stealing a few ideas from the "Good Flag, Bad Flag" pamphlet by the American Vexillological Association, a symbolic substitute for our present-day overcomplicated mess.

News A delusion: "Some people said it was the best speech ever made by a president in Europe"

A Presidential claim on par with "My girlfriend is hot and she lives in Canada". There is an unfathomable degree of ahistorical hubris involved in his thinking that an unremarkable speech is somehow comparable with "Tear down this wall" or "Ich bin ein Berliner".

News The triumph of spontaneous order

Hong Kongers leave water for one another during mass protests. Most people are good by nature, and are trying their best for themselves and their families. Sometimes we just need to be nudged or led in the right direction.

Weather and Disasters Changes in routine shouldn't put babies at risk

Summer changes in patterns can put children at risk of being left behind in hot cars. Don't let it happen.

Business and Finance May the Warren and Charlie Show reign for a thousand years

Warren Buffett says he wants to keep up the extravaganza that surrounds the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha

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June 11, 2019

Computers and the Internet Instagram will keep "deepfake" videos of Mark Zuckerberg

Consistent? Maybe. Wise? Probably not.

Business and Finance Three of the biggest time-wasters in America today

Conference calls, bad PowerPoint decks, and meetings where nobody distributes agendas or reports in advance.

Weather and Disasters Lake Erie is 2.5' above normal

And that could have caused some light earthquakes

Threats and Hazards More than five months without a SecDef

The vacancy at Secretary of Defense has now gone on longer than the Battle of Anzio. It is inexcusable.

News Massive protests emerge in Hong Kong

In case you had any doubts about the universality of certain "unalienable rights", let this be Exhibit A

June 10, 2019

Business and Finance What makes your mistakes different, sir?

Peter Navarro has no serious answer why today's tariffs on items like steel are supposed to be any more effective than past failures. Recall Federalist Paper No. 35: "Exorbitant duties on imported articles [...] tend to render other classes of the community tributary, in an improper degree, to the manufacturing classes, to whom they give a premature monopoly of the markets..."

Humor and Good News La Sagrada Familia Basilica gets a building permit -- after 137 years of construction

The construction work significantly predates the constitution of Spain itself, so they really ought to have been grandfathered in.

Threats and Hazards Qatari workers held in conditions that shock the conscience

A German sports-news outlet covers their treatment as part of work related to the 2022 World Cup. And it will be enormously interesting to see whether FIFA takes the appropriate steps here to show that (a) they take the reporting seriously and (b) they are a credible institution with real regard for what takes place, in essence, in their name. Guest workers or native-born, they are people. Human beings, endowed with a right to dignity by their very existence.

Health Seat belts save lives

Headline: "Four crashes in Iowa Sunday kill five people". Key sentence: "The Iowa State Patrol says the lone survivor in these four crashes, was wearing a seat belt, but those who died were not."

News Tribune Tower -- now for "luxury living"

Chicago Tribune employees -- the former occupants -- have a hard time believing it's quite so luxurious. Of course, in the words of Le Corbusier, "A house is a machine for living in."

Humor and Good News An unlikely story

A "how we met" story so unlikely that it would be more satisfying as fiction than as fact, since it would be deserving of tremendous applause as a creative story.

Agriculture Iowa's farm situation looks troublesome

For crops like corn and soybeans to reach full potential takes time, and the planting season has been wrecked by wet weather. We run a very serious risk of crops failing to reach full maturity by the time the frost arrives. There's going to be a lot of nervous staring at the skies come October, when planting delays will start to show up as harvest delays; the earliest 1" snowfall recorded in Des Moines was Oct. 10 (in 2009). Is it the fault of climate change? Maybe, or maybe not. But (a) we've seen ample evidence of meteorological extremes, and (b) anthropogenic causes are plausible, so (c) a pragmatic combination of conservation/mitigation techniques and meaningful investments in resilience are probably prudent. For certain, the most imprudent course of action is to do nothing environmentally-focused, but to wreck the world trading order out of spite.

News Guardrails in a time of tribalism

Jacob Levy wisely observes: "You'd think that might mean that a moment of close partisan balance and considerable uncertainty about effective coalitional power in the medium term would favor some kinds of moderation of institutional vision: planning for a world in which you don't know whether you're 51 or 49. Instead, I see a polity full of people planning for their next supermajority." It may well be that we are watching people play out a prisoner's dilemma in which all faith in the other party has broken down (on both sides). Same effect: Behaving like there's no tomorrow. Jonah Goldberg has advanced a plausible theory that the major parties are very weak, which perversely has made partisanship more extreme at the margins as interest groups try to run the table whenever they get close to power.

Threats and Hazards Weaponizing funding for veterans is political malpractice

It is insulting and fundamentally un-American to make funding for veterans' programs the subject of an unrelated issue -- as Rep. Steve King is trying to do by making a play to de-fund "sanctuary cities". After careful study and debate, we should spend what ought to be spent on veterans, period. And do it without tying that funding to other issues. The seriousness with which America has addressed its debts (literal and otherwise) to veterans is a subject as old as the Republic itself. It's hard enough to do right, even without the distraction of tying that issue to other ones.

June 9, 2019

Business and Finance Why are there so many utterly uncommunicative company names?

Maybe a silly lamentation, but really: Why so many three-letter abbreviations that mean nothing? Pilita Clark proposes a simple test: Is it easier to find out what your company does from your homepage or from Wikipedia?

News 500,000 people marching in Hong Kong

It's what organizers hope to achieve. If half a million people assemble in Hong Kong, that surely would be worthy of news coverage.

News Cowardice and the press

The President turns to his favorite medium to pick another of his endless fights with the news media. He ought to heed the words of Calvin Coolidge: "Perhaps one of the reasons I have been a target for so little abuse is because I have tried to refrain from abusing other people. The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately." Self-awareness plus historical literacy make for a powerful combination.

Threats and Hazards What happens when China finally awakens?

Discontent may be widespread, but a true awakening against the authoritarian regime also requires political organization -- and that's tough to achieve. Consider the absolutely epic amount of work required to conduct the recent elections in India. Organization on that kind of scale -- civic or political -- isn't something that spins up overnight.

Weather and Disasters California may have power outages to stem wildfire threat

It's beginning to sound a lot like California needs an all-out, aggressive migration to microgrids. Or, at least parts of California.

June 8, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 8, 2019

Live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm

Iowa Iowa City elementary school fined by OSHA

It's a fine over failure to train staff about attacks from students, which seems troubling

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June 7, 2019

Business and Finance Why haven't newspapers fixed the subscription model?

Venture capitalist Paul Graham speculates that newspapers can't remain "neutral" and survive. But that's a strange conclusion to draw when there's a simpler hypothesis: Newspapers need to offer low-friction, low-volume, low-cost subscription plans for readers outside their primary markets. Many readers have interest in secondary newspapers outside their natural subscription bases: Someone in Des Moines may have a lesser, but non-trivial, interest in the newspapers of Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City, and even Denver. It's unlikely any meaningful number of people were subscribing to that many print editions of out-of-state papers a generation ago, so it's equally unlikely that people would want to pay full price for all-access digital subscriptions to that many today. But there really must be a way to offer people in the "long tail" a way to pay modestly for their news without forcing them into a binary, all-or-nothing subscription choice. Where is the option for newspaper readers that acts like an EZPass? A person might live in Iowa, but travel the toll roads in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio from time to time -- all with the help of frictionless access to those roads from an I-Pass. They pay a fair share, but they pay a lot less than the residents of those states. In other words, how come newspapers haven't figured out an online subscription model that works as easily as the reciprocity passes people get when they become members of a zoo or an aquarium? It's not rocket science. The binary choice of full-price-or-nothing stands in the way of letting people who value journalism do something to pay for it.

Threats and Hazards Why so many shootings on Lake Shore Drive?

One of Chicago's busiest thoroughfares is also the site of far too many murders. But why?

Science and Technology The dwarf planet

The only thing to be said for demoting Pluto is that it's really hard to come up with a mnemonic device that adds the other four -- FOUR! -- dwarf planets (each smaller than the Moon). And if you drop Pluto, it can become "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nutella", because Nutella is everything.

The American Way Perkins: The pinnacle of capitalism?

354 restaurants all over America where, at almost any hour of day or night (often 24 hours a day), just about anyone can afford a consistent, made-to-order, sit-down meal that would put your great-grandfather's Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

Computers and the Internet Scammer offers baby for adoption via spam

What's the game here? Perhaps hoping someone falls for the heartstring-tugging and then gets drawn into sending money to facilitate the "adoption"?

News Governing competence: How do we demand more?

In the words of Bill Gates, "[G]overnment is a pretty blunt instrument and without the constant attention of highly qualified people with the right metrics, it will fall into not doing things very well."

Threats and Hazards President, abroad, calls Speaker of the House a "disgrace"

It used to be said that politics stops at the water's edge. But apparently nobody said anything about a Festivus-style airing of grievances.

Computers and the Internet Wherefore art the note-taking application of our dreams?

Comp sci people have developed artificial intelligence that can falsify video and write music, but there's still no such thing as a great calendar app or a full-featured note tool.

Health 25 cups a day, and your heart stays OK?

Study claims that as much as 25 cups of coffee per day won't stiffen the heart muscle fibers. Fine for your heart, maybe, but let's talk about what you'd need to spend on toothpaste and breath mints.

News Why it's "renowned" and not "reknew"

Renown has nothing to do with "knowing"

June 6, 2019

The United States of America The American Declaration of Independence speaks to China, too

We coexist on a planet with the people of China. And if we are true to our own Declaration of Independence, we should see those people as being just as worthy of individual dignity as we are.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to President: "Tariffs not the answer"

Congress needs to assert itself and the responsibilities explicitly described in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The President isn't the tariff-maker, unless they abdicate the duty. And if they can't take those powers back when they are written right into the Constitution, then we ought to toss out any member of Congress who doesn't have the guts to do it.

Computers and the Internet Thoughtfully colorized photos from D-Day

Far more effective than the old Walter Cronkite series "You Are There", these photos really do erase the mental distance from the event usually afforded to us by black-and-white pictures.

Computers and the Internet Editing speech in videos as easily as typing

That's the promise made on the back of research at Stanford and some affiliated institutions. Considering the number of people who were taken in by the low-tech "slurred words" video, this sophisticated manipulation is going to wreak havoc on all kinds of evidence we have grown to trust.

News Giant billion-dollar meth bust in Australia

AUS$1.2 billion in drugs seized -- "hidden in stereo speakers from Bangkok" -- which comes out to $840 million in US dollars at current exchange rates.

The United States of America Breaking the cycle of resentment

Most Americans -- regardless of age, creed, origin, or geography -- are decent, honest, and hard-working. And we're mostly free to pick up and move, if we want. Starting from a sense of respect for those assumptions would sure do a lot to break the political cycle of resentment. Enhancing people's ability to move freely is one of the best welfare-type investments that we can make. And if people choose not to do so, the rest of us have a civic responsibility to respect that decision -- while expecting people to be accountable for what happens in those communities where they do choose to live.

Threats and Hazards Growing our way out of debt may not be an option

This might be aptly termed a fragile situation: "[W]ith low interest rates but relatively high debt, the budget is increasingly sensitive to interest rate risk -- just a 1 percentage point increase in projected interest rates would cost $1.9 trillion"

News Pedantry is the last refuge of the scoundrel

Company requests correction over news story that said their medication cost $40,000. It's really $38,892. Gizmodo doesn't really regret the error.

June 5, 2019

The United States of America He fought right out of a body bag

Forget superhero comics. The true story of Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez is amazing.

Threats and Hazards The USS John McCain incident is a shame on all of us

Jonah Goldberg, on what it says about the President and his audience: "[Apologists argued that] the chaos and crudeness were worth getting good judges, tax cuts, and less regulation. That doublespeak and lying used to vex me. But the newfound sincerity troubles me even more."

News Save your fury over metric

Tucker Carlson ranted against the metric system over a chyron reading "Is the metric system completely made up?". Of course it is -- and so is counting by tens.

Business and Finance McDonalds sells old corporate campus to founder of Paul Mitchell

The campus of Hamburger University is under new management.

News High heels aren't the root problem

19,000 people in Japan have signed a petition against dress codes that require women to wear high heels. The root problem isn't the footwear, but rather the cultural norms that permit such requirements to go into place. Sometimes it's the most idiosyncratic things that reveal deeper systemic troubles.

June 4, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Bloody shirts are banners for students' movement"

A dispatch from Tiananmen Square in 1989, as it was reported in real time. And today? "I think there will be more [protests] in the future. There will be more in the future, and more conflict."

News Why have American values been taken out of American foreign policy?

Kori Schake: "...people have inherent rights and loan them in limited ways to governments for agreed purposes. We fail often to uphold this principle, but it is a genuine departure for an American administration not to even acknowledge it." Read the Declaration of Independence: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." True in 1776. True in 1989. True in 2019. Consent is a prerequisite of legitimacy. And a government that will not tell the truth has no rightful claim to power.

Socialism Doesn't Work A theme for June 4th

A song lamenting what happened in 1989, and a reminder that a world of government exclusively by the consent of the governed, protective of the liberty and dignity of the individual, is the rightful human condition. These words are not ambiguous: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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." The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is a very good day to reflect on these words.

Weather and Disasters "Climate change poses new threat to Panama Canal"

They're actually having to consider creating a whole additional lake just to accommodate volatile weather patterns that threaten the operation of the canal. Watch for revealed preferences: Where people spend their money, not just what they say. Spending the money to build a lake seems like enough commitment for one to believe they think something new and significant is happening.

Weather and Disasters It just doesn't end

Possibly a crest on the Missouri River? Still no relief from flooding -- just maybe a little less of it.

News President Jimmy Carter named a tenured professor at Emory

He's 94, and has been lecturing there since 1982. At last, he will be free to speak his mind with the security of tenure.

Humor and Good News Strike at the world's biggest Nutella factory

Forget Brexit. This strike is the real crisis gripping the European economy:

June 3, 2019

News A toast by Queen Elizabeth

One doesn't have to be a monarchist to appreciate that, since they've chosen to retain a monarch, Britain truly has been fortunate to have Elizabeth in that role. Her role may be officially nonpolitical, but she ascended to the throne when Winston Churchill himself was prime minister. There's no way she can be indifferent about the transatlantic alliance. And that comes through quite clearly in her toast to the relationship between the US and the UK on the occasion of the President's state visit. Perhaps someone stashed a copy of Kori Schake's excellent book "Safe Passage" on board Air Force One for the President to read en route to the UK. It's a great examination of the "special friendship" toasted by the Queen -- how it came into being, and why it benefits the parties involved. If not, someone please get him a copy for the ride home.

Agriculture Iowa crop planting is incredibly far behind schedule

Corn is only 80% planted, when by this point in the average year it is 99% planted and 91% emerged. Soybeans are just 41% planted, when they're normally 89% planted and 63% emerged. The ground is just plain saturated, and more rain doesn't help.

News Architectural works of Le Corbusier

It's easy to see the concrete and glass and steel in these, but equally interesting is the interaction between the modernist architecture and the natural world around. There's more to it than the contemporary stunt of showing a couple of trees on the 45th floor of a high-rise.

News Illinois doubles gas tax

Some of the funding, it is said, will go towards building a rail line from Chicago to the Quad Cities. Per WHBF-TV: "Instead of paying 19 cents per gallon, drivers in Illinois will have to pay 38 cents starting July 1. It will cost drivers about $100 extra a year, and generate about $1.2 billion for the state." That will certainly be of note to the many Iowa communities along the Illinois border

News Slavery, in the words of ex-slaves

The Montgomery Advertiser, in a bold and intelligent protest of Alabama's "Jefferson Davis Day", shares the words of nine former slaves. Words like, "Course they cry; you think they not cry when they was sold like cattle? I could tell you about it all day, but even then you couldn't guess the awfulness of it." Everyone of good conscience ought to read what they said.

News "Chernobyl" miniseries as reminder it's a good thing the West won

We become the stories we tell ourselves. "Chernobyl" presented the Soviet system as a grim antihero, and as Tom Nichols confirms, it's important that we remember why.

Agriculture Senators from farm states threaten to take back tariff authority

Congress has handed over a lot of responsibility for tariffs to the executive branch over the decades -- because it was thought that the executive would be more consistently pro-trade than the legislative. Now that the conventional wisdom has been turned on its head, it's well past time to reclaim that authority. It's not a new argument, either -- see Federalist Paper No. 35: "Exorbitant duties on imported articles [...] tend to render other classes of the community tributary, in an improper degree, to the manufacturing classes, to whom they give a premature monopoly of the markets..."

May 31, 2019

Socialism Doesn't Work "The Tank Man"

If you've never seen Frontline's episode "The Tank Man", this 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square is really the right time for you to set aside 90 minutes to do it.

Business and Finance When is it time to worry about the economy?

Conor Sen says, "[H]aving lived through 2008, whenever the data is a little soft my inclination is to say 'ehh, this is nothing like 2008.' I'm always surprised by the alarmism of others." The counterpoint? In 2008, things got much worse much faster than most people imagined possible. That said, nobody knows the timing or the triggers for recession. We can only see whether evidence is mounting or dissipating.

Health A story that's good for the soul

An adult bone-marrow donor meets the toddler whose life he saved. Sign up with Be the Match if you're eligible.

Weather and Disasters A volatile atmosphere, you say?

Evidence on this dramatic tornado season so far

News How lawyers can avoid lawsuits

If you can't be trusted to behave like an adult in the presence of members of the opposite sex, you probably can't be trusted with most other duties, either. This is shared in a context for and about lawyers, but it sure seems applicable more generally.

Computers and the Internet Apple is killing off iTunes

Rumor has it a simplified program is coming to replace it. And good riddance, too: Never has another app caused the ordinary user as much frustration with its incessant forced updates, crude attempts to piggyback other unwanted applications with it, and infuriating auto-loading by default in Windows.

Broadcasting HBO cancels Wyatt Cenac's show

It's a disappointing choice: "Problem Areas" has taken an original and thoughtful approach to advocacy journalism. Cenac is smart and funny -- a genuine talent -- and he doesn't have to reach all of the right conclusions to be very good at highlighting problems worthy of attention.

May 30, 2019

News Obscurity is earned

In the long run, most Presidents earn nothing more than a single line in the history books (some even less than that -- see Millard Fillmore). History isn't written about fractional differences in GDP growth. It's written about the broader impressions of the times, and the unique crises that occur along the way. Thus, the more the President complains about his interminable list of persecutors (real or imagined), the more he makes his complaints his one line. The utter forgettability of some Presidencies reflects choices those Presidents made, either in choosing to do wrong or in failing to do good (to borrow the words of the Catholic prayer). Obscurity is earned.

News "No political 'emergency' justifies abandoning classical liberalism"

David French's take on the rise of Christian statism is worth considering seriously. The problem with Christian statism is the same as with all statism, summed up quite tidily by Margaret Thatcher: "Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose." The shocking enthusiasm with which some people are willing to surrender process in pursuit of a temporal goal is distressing. But what it highlights is the prevalence of a static mindset -- one that thinks of victories as permanent and failures as fatal. It may be quite natural for people to fall into that kind of convention, but it's unhealthy: Most good things aren't a destination so much as a journey or a path. Freedom isn't a level you unlock like a video game; it's an active thing that requires grappling, struggling, and reflecting upon at every turn. The same would go for most good things -- progress, education, parenting, whatever. Thus it is more important to get the process right than to win specific achievements and think of them as forever locked in place.

Iowa What to do with urban runoff?

In the midst of an unusually wet spring, the City of West Des Moines asks what residents think ought to be done about managing stormwater.

Humor and Good News There's no way not to be impressed by Simone Biles

The gymnast has developed some techniques that are completely astonishing

News Japan and China, forever in competition

China's using the Belt and Road program to take some pressure off its oversupplies of construction labor and funding. Japan, meanwhile, is giving cash to many places that might have wanted Belt-and-Road projects.

Socialism Doesn't Work New tariffs? The taxation addiction is out of control.

The President screams that he will impose new import taxes on Mexican goods. It's a bad use of a blunt policy to go after goals not well-related to the policy tool. It all feels both misguided and terribly artificial.

May 29, 2019

News Rep. Justin Amash can't do it all by himself

The Michigan Republican has broken out as someone who is thinking clearly about what the Mueller Report told the world. He's read the full report -- available to us all -- and he's angry: "The ball is in our court, Congress."

Health Immigrant doctors are critical to rural health care

America is a giant, unstoppable magnet for talent from all over the world. We're incredibly stupid not to take advantage of that at every possible opportunity.

The United States of America James Madision, the internationalist

"[I]ndependently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy..."

News Populism doesn't have a plan

Noah Rothman has little love for the way a populist wave has crashed into power. And it's not to be trusted -- in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "The essence of a free society is that there are whole areas of life where the State has no business at all, no right to intervene." (It doesn't matter if your "team" happens to have political control of the state at the moment or not.)

Weather and Disasters EF-4 hits Lawrence, Kansas

A mile wide, with a path nearly 32 miles long. That's a very significant tornado. 18 injured, but nobody killed.

May 28, 2019

News Problems aren't new

"Mankind has never been in this position before. Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, it has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination." Words from Winston Churchill well over half a century ago, and yet someone could speak them today with equal validity.

Business and Finance Trucking industry puts on the hazard lights

Slides from a Bank of America presentation signal that capacity is growing and the outlook for demand is softening...a lot. There's good reason to wonder what that may portend for the economy.

Computers and the Internet SimCity: Still quite popular after all these years

Survey randomly finds that half of registered voters under age 30 have played the game. The original had a number of preset scenarios where you had to take over a city with a defined crisis and work your way out of it. It was basically Giuliani Mode, back when that would have been an honorable thing.

Weather and Disasters Omaha gets late-May hail so deep it called for shovels

2019 is delivering decidedly one of the most wickedly persistent severe-weather seasons in memory around the Midwest.

Business and Finance Judging development not just by income

Noah Smith argues that a country's degree of resource dependency ought to be considered alongside its per-capita income. This is a valid dimension that should be added to any meaningful analysis of development. Moreover, measuring resource abundance is also essential to understanding where generous social-democratic states stand a chance at success (e.g. Norway) and where they do not. Converting resource abundance into a durable social-safety net is attractive -- but very hard. All too often, resource abundance turns into the resource curse.

The United States of America We can (and must) be decent, even in our disagreement

This is an argument well-put by David French. Society isn't a fight, and social problems aren't best resolved by cage match. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "I believe implicitly that you can never make people good by law, but only from something inside them." Those who think that all bad things must be resolved by law, and that by extension, obtaining political power is the only good that matters, ought to reconcile themselves with the facts that (a) humans are inherently flawed and limited, (b) all good is not perfectly knowable, and (c) life is not static -- not for individuals and not for society. There is no end-state of perfection to be attained. There is struggle and there is conflict, and those are the things that ultimately produce growth. And much better to resolve those struggles and conflicts in the hearts of people rather than by waging politics by means that seem a lot like war.

News Crowded Mount Everest becomes a death trap

It's just so...unnecessary. The mountain has been climbed. Many, many times. It's not much of a badge of honor anymore.

Humor and Good News Art is in the limitations

Do with your limitations what you can (not only when making art).

Broadcasting Interview with a dying sister

A testament to the power of storytelling, of family, of music, of memory, and of radio.

News Why Ronald Reagan mystified Edmund Morris

The thing about "Dutch" (Morris's fiction-heavy biography of Reagan), especially when contrasted with Morris's books on Roosevelt, is that somehow the fictionalized second person seemed dishonest -- whereas the omniscient third-person narrator gives us plausible deniability to believe everything he wrote about TR.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather inbound for the Upper Midwest

There's a whole lot to dislike about this situation, not the least of which is that the area of highest risk overlaps a great deal with the areas of least radar coverage.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says another 51 accounts and 31 pages have been booted

Something's rotten, but it isn't in Denmark: Facebook says these efforts are "coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran".

Iowa Iowa's crop progress is abysmal

Iowa's corn is 76% planted. The 5-year average for this point in the season? 96%. Soybeans are at 32% planted. 5-year average: 77%. And it's raining again.

Threats and Hazards Rep. Duncan Hunter wants a one-month legal amnesty for returning servicememberes

This is a shockingly bad idea. As a society, we shouldn't just treat the time after a deployment like some giant mulligan. We owe it to our professionals in uniform to commit the appropriate resources to proper mobilization and demobilization. If we can't do that, we have no business sending troops into combat in the first place. That's the basic principle of cleaning up after yourself.

Computers and the Internet HP adds a wood finish to some laptops

Too late to bring back Ricardo Montalban and his "fine Corinthian leather", perhaps, but quite nearly as fancy as an old Chrysler.

May 27, 2019

The United States of America Respecting the troops on Memorial Day

"[T]he American soldier, in spite of wisecracking, sometimes cynical speech, is an intelligent human being who demands and deserves basic understanding of the reasons why his country took up arms and of the conflicting consequences of victory or defeat." - Dwight Eisenhower

News Can the Pentagon do better to stop suicide?

Carl Forsling: "Perhaps the answer is to normalize it, or more precisely, to normalize mental health care. If someone breaks his ankle, we don't freak out. We give him a cast and put him to work doing whatever he can do."

News When Congress calls, White House staffers are obligated to answer

Howsoever you treat Congress, so you treat the American people. Members of Congress may be grandstanding, self-serving, and pandering -- but in the end, they are those things because that is what American voters want. Refusing to answer them is refusing to answer all of us.

News IP theft by China isn't just for industrial production

Paradoxically, American conference organizers often require presenters to (a) release rights for their slides to be disseminated online, and (b) be circumspect about any commercial trademarks or self-identifying info...which is a recipe for inviting this type of theft.

News Circulation at college libraries is plunging

Library dean Dan Cohen: "There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library [at Yale] over the past decade [...] At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017". It's not necessarily a calamity: Library use has changed for many reasons, and digital books play a role. Cohen also notes that adaptations could actually serve a larger public interest if a rise in off-site storage, digitization, and sharing networks "closes the gap between elite institutions such as Yale and the much larger number of colleges with more modest collections."

May 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet Bring back Google Reader

The sunsetting of Google Reader was done so badly that the transition was rough for power users. Feedly, too, but Twitter feeds are widely used in place of conventional RSS.

News Family unveils truly arresting sculptural tribute to daughter

God willing, maybe the message will save some lives.

Humor and Good News "Interstate Love Song" as piano solo

It's a real testament to the quality of the song that a rendition like this -- so completely different in execution -- can sound completely faithful to the original and totally at home in another genre altogether. Not every song can do that.

Threats and Hazards Facebook won't take down manipulated videos of Speaker Pelosi

Then update your rules, Facebook. If you haven't gotten the message yet, this is EXACTLY the kind of manipulative activity that requires a serious response -- not because it's a Democrat or a Republican being targeted, but because it is PATENTLY MISREPRESENTATIVE of reality. Wonder how fast that policy will change when manipulated videos of Mark Zuckerberg start popping up like weeds.

Science and Technology Who should clean up carbon emissions?

Noting that China is already the world's largest emitter, but that it was historically produced mostly by the United States and a couple of other allied countries, it's a question the world is going to hear. A problem like this doesn't lend itself to rivalrous obligations to pay. If you created a mess in the past, whether you knew it was a mess or not, it's your duty to clean it up. If you're creating a mess now, especially knowing that it's a mess, it's also your duty to clean up. Ideally, borrowing an idea from futurist Ian Pearson, demand will rapidly push technological frontiers forward in the markets that can afford to pay for newer and better things, resulting in diffusion of those technologies to places with fewer resources.

May 23, 2019

Threats and Hazards What to do about facial-recognition technology?

Editorial writer Josh Greenman of the New York Daily News argues that "the idea that we should ban police from taking surveillance camera or cell-phone camera images and running them through a database of mugshots, when they already use fingerprints and DNA, and when they already rely on (chronically unreliable) eyewitness reports to zero in on suspects, is just silly." Perhaps an all-out ban is "silly", but the issue demands a very serious debate about limits and oversight. In fact, it deserves the most extraordinary scrutiny we can impose. And that's because Americans have a fundamental right to be left alone if we're behaving "peaceably", to borrow a valuable word from the First Amendment. That's not a right that government grants to us -- it's an inherent right, forming essentially the foundation for every other civic right we ordinarily take for granted. So anything -- anything at all! -- that would begin to encroach upon that fundamental freedom requires the toughest sort of review we are capable of applying.

Business and Finance "Veep" needs a spinoff

Specifically, one that pits Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) opposite Minna "Finnish Wolf" Hakkinen (Sally Phillips). They form a delightful character rivalry whose narrative arc, incidentally, would absolutely crush the Bechdel Test.

News The suburban faux-stone facade

Sure, it looks fine for now. It permits builders to meet zoning requirements or whatever standards are put into place by corporate planners at national retail and restaurant chains. But someday, it's going to look as dated as the circa 1965-1985 giant panel glass windows (a la Kmart storefront) with the shiny 1" metal frame around the perimeter.

Humor and Good News Better than the stereotypes

Two 10-year-old girls from Nebraska raised $10,000 for charity, had their heads shaved as the challenge, and donated the hair to an organization that makes wigs for pediatric cancer patients. Engage in whatever generational stereotyping you want, but these Gen Z kids deserve a round of applause wherever they go. Their parents should be proud.

Threats and Hazards "I'm an extremely stable genius."

Show us, don't tell us.

Humor and Good News Let the taco trucks flourish!

It's a well-known, documented scientific fact that tacos are the happiest food.

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May 22, 2019

Business and Finance Buckle up for economic potholes ahead

Macroeconomic tea leaves are the hardest tea leaves to read -- but there's a lot of real money on the line for a lot of people in the housing and construction sector, so it's like a prediction market on steroids. So when it's observed that construction spending is slipping in ways similar to how it has fallen ahead of past recessions, then reasonable observers ought to take notice. In other words, this is a real window into "Watch what I do, not what I say."

Socialism Doesn't Work The dastardly work of authoritarians

A French journalist shares heretofore unseen images of China's crackdown in 1989. It's worth asking: What would happen if similar protests broke out today? Have the tools of government surveillance and repression outpaced the tools of mass organization and real-time reporting? The government is reviving the language of struggle, referring to a "new long march" in the trade war with the United States. That's not the language of glasnost or perestroika.

Computers and the Internet Resignation with clarity

One thing to be said about British politicians: They've learned to format their letters so you can read them as clear single images on Twitter and other social media. Can't say the same for many American politicians.

Weather and Disasters Tornado damage in Adair

An evident tornado track right across Interstate 80

Weather and Disasters Extremely powerful storms in southern Midwest

Lightning from the storms was plainly visible from hundreds of miles away. Debris from the tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, could be found still falling half an hour later.

May 17, 2019

Threats and Hazards Why does the President hate Toyota?

The White House has issued a truly cockamamie executive order which claims that "domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports", and that the Secretary of Commerce "concluded that the present quantities and circumstances of automobile and certain automobile parts imports threaten to impair the national security". Toyota and Honda have both very prominently developed massive operations in the United States, as have other "foreign" automotive manufacturers. This idiotic government manhandling of the automotive industry is outrageous, and the crude deference to "domestic" versus "foreign" ownership is a relic of the 19th Century.

Business and Finance Economics in 30 minutes

Everyone in the world should have to take a 30-minute crash course in economics, consisting of 10 minutes on tradeoffs, 10 minutes on unintended consequences, and 10 minutes on sunk costs. And the world would be a better place for it.

Broadcasting Swiss movie theater installs beds

Ew. Just go home and watch Netflix.

Business and Finance An observation on Uber "telling its story" to the stock market

Anyone who buys a stock and then complains that the price hasn't immediately escalated is just looking for a bigger fool to sell it to. If you really believe that a stock's price is too low, then you shut up and buy more.

Health Iowa makes 44 states to sue over OxyContin

Five states filed suit, joining 39 others that had already done so. Paragraphs 4 and 6 of the introduction to the Iowa filing really hammer the crux of the problem: The state's attorney general alleges that the drug was marketed under false pretenses that set up patients for addiction, including misrepresentation of the duration of expected relief from pain. That's an enormously serious allegation.

Agriculture Japan drops restrictions on American beef

Iowa has huge advantages as an agricultural producer, and free trade lets us capitalize on them. This is great news. Naturally, there are consequences to competition, and some people will zero in on those. But there are consequences of technological change, too. And there are a bunch of other factors that create consequences, too.

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May 16, 2019

News Disagreeing for the right reasons

Sociologist Bradley Campbell notes: "A common error -- if it's error and not dishonesty -- is speaking as if people who oppose what you support oppose it for the same reasons you support it." People may share your desired outcomes, but for the "wrong" reasons. It's useful to examine their reasons to test your own reasoning -- but it's also important not to judge others solely by their allies in a specific cause.

Humor and Good News When file photos bite back

The obsession with putting images into social-media posts results in some odd choices

Threats and Hazards An illiteracy test

Someone actually advocates testing immigrants for their knowledge of "Big Brother" rather than, say, the Constitution.

Business and Finance Boeing wants a 100% tariff on Airbus planes

Imagine a world in which Boeing faces less competitive pressure to produce a safe, efficient aircraft. As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote, "The great danger to the consumer is monopoly -- whether private or governmental [...] Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world."

May 15, 2019

Humor and Good News Craig Ferguson, interviewed by Kathie Lee Gifford

One would never believe that it works, but it does. Ferguson may well be a quicker wit than anyone else alive today.

News What's Joe-mentum mean?

All other factors notwithstanding, Americans got 8 years of practice in picturing Joe Biden hanging around the Oval Office. America already took a test drive in the Joe-Mobile. All the other candidates, for better or worse, are still trying to get you to visit the dealership. Getting the "customer" to envision the end-state is really one of the most important tools in all of sales.

Aviation News You can have your quaint B&B

The TWA Hotel at JFK is now open, and the pictures are glorious. Eero Saarinen's magnificent building has a new life. The real question is, if so many people can agree that the design aesthetic of the building is such a treasure (and it is), then who's following the same path today, and why aren't there more of them?

Weather and Disasters Think what you want about climate change, but...

It's hard to argue with the actions of real people on the ground. Louisianans are quite literally moving to higher ground. It's a pure example of revealed preferences: With real consequences and real money on the line, watch what people do instead of what they say.

News Attention to the finer details

A dive into the nature of callout lines -- those little lines that let people add more information to maps when the space is already too densely filled

News Letters of complaint to John Glenn

Matthew 6 has a thing or two to say about the criticism that he spent too little time publicly thanking God for his safety.

Science and Technology What's infrastructure?

Much of what really constitutes "infrastructure" is concealed from view. You see roads and bridges, which is why politicians try to make hay from them. But the remainder of the spectrum is enormously important, and it's society's cost of doing business.

News NYC used to be Nieuw Amsterdam...

...but now it's Las Vegas that wants to be the new Amsterdam, letting visitors purchase and use marijuana.

May 14, 2019

Computers and the Internet Tech flashback: What you could buy in 1991

We've upgraded from 2400 baud to 5G wireless, only to spend the time saved making faces on Snapchat.

Threats and Hazards Trump lawyers claim Congress has no authority to investigate him

The entire legal team behind this argument ought to be put in stocks on the front lawn of Montpelier and flogged with a hardbound edition of the Federalist Papers. The Constitution explicitly grants Congress the authority to fire the President (Art. II, Sec. 4), the authority to require reports from the President (Art. II, Sec. 3), and (of course) the authority "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof" (Art. I, Sec. 8). There's no ambiguity here: Congress is the boss, and the President is the employee. Whatsoever they find necessary and proper to investigate regarding the conduct of the government and the execution of the law, they have the power to do. Period.

News Perpetrator in Mall of America attack gets 19-year prison sentence

The victim, a 5-year-old boy, is recovering from the attempted homicide. There's really no question the perpetrator should be kept away from the public. He's clearly a danger. But his public defender is probably right to be frustrated that there isn't a good place to send him.

The United States of America More providential moralism in our public buildings, please!

On the side of an Art Deco-inspired courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee: "The first duty of society is justice" (a line courtesy of abolitionist Wendell Phillips).

Health Not enough care

Per NBC News: "A study of more than 45,000 women found more than half only visit their OB/GYN. Less than 6% visited a primary care physician."

News We need better words than "liberal" and "conservative"

The best alternative to the shifting definitions of words like "liberal" and "conservative" would be to identify with individual leaders (Thatcherite, Churchillian, Reaganite...) -- but those leaders evolved personally over time, and so have the facts, so even those definitions would be ambiguous at best.

The United States of America Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enters the Presidential race

Send in the governors!

Computers and the Internet Big problems for Intel chips

A batch of new vulnerabilities have just been exposed. They are complicated and pervasive -- and somehow, these problems need to be explained to a public that only a decade ago still couldn't get the VCR to stop blinking "12:00".

The United States of America Good for Sen. Mitt Romney

It's not a revolution, but it is a vote against a judicial nominee who "had called [President] Obama an 'un-American imposter'" in public. Words have consequences.

Threats and Hazards Unions circulating the "Marxist" definition of business ought to reconsider

As with most forms of human organization, labor unions are neither inherently good nor inherently bad. The form doesn't determine their goodness, but rather the motivations and the things they actually do. Labor unions have done some great things (Solidarity, for instance, led a Communist-toppling revolution in Poland). But they've also conducted some terrible abuses, and the abuses have their roots in bad philosophy -- like Marxism.

May 9, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Americans would be wrong to believe they are unaffected" by the censorship China imposes

For the time being, China's government doesn't want the rest of the world to talk about its extraordinary oppression of the Uighurs. But that's far from the only thing they wish to keep off the world's screens and out of the world's newspapers. And, critically, the censorship imposed directly has a spillover effect on companies that self-censor in the interest of pleasing China's bosses. What happens "over there" gets exported "over here" much more than we probably think. The oceans used to define our separation from the rest of the world -- but the operative part of that sentence is "used to". Not anymore.

Agriculture Presidential tweets threatening trade-war escalation hurt farmers

Prices on commodity crops are already painfully low, and the threat of new trade restrictions and taxes makes the situation worse. These are thoroughly avoidable self-inflicted injuries. Trade wars aren't easy to win -- they are stupid exercises in damaging those portions of the economy most dependent upon exercising competitive advantage. And yet here we are, about to impose tariffs (that is, import taxes) on $200 billion in goods from China.

News Kim Jong-Un wanted access to American basketball stars

As part of any deal to normalize diplomatic relations. Truly. The first instinct is to mock the demand for the stunning case of stupidity that it is. But it raises a few serious points: (1) America's cultural exports have enormous value. That value shouldn't be overlooked, nor should we take it for granted. (2) Even dictators have bizarre fixations and get starstruck. To the extent that reveals their human fallibility, it's worth further attention and study. (3) North Korea's failure to produce its own basketball stars is telling. If the dictator loves the game so much, why can't they produce their own stars? (The answer, of course, is found in the utter train wreck of a political and economic system they use.)

Threats and Hazards Writer recounts a hazardous ordeal in a ride-share

An incident like this should be investigated swiftly, and the reporting customer ought to be told transparently what conclusions were reached and what resulted. If they can't do that, the ride-hailing service involved shouldn't be in business. Period.

News Shutdown at Three Mile Island

The plant is to be closed and replaced with power generated by fossil fuels. It seems that the most logical things we can do are (a) migrate as much energy consumption from combustion to electricity as possible, and (b) migrate as much electricity generation from carbon to non-carbon as possible. If those assumptions are correct, then this decision is a terrible failure of (b). The plant's owner says it was losing money and couldn't keep the plant open without subsidies.

Humor and Good News "Dude"? You meant "Dood", as in "Yankee Doodle".

The strange origins of the vernacular

May 8, 2019

News A peek at Charlie Munger's bookshelf

A truly happy place would be one where the people entrusted to make decisions in Washington are as dedicated to reading as Charlie Munger. Or, really, where they're dedicated to any of Munger's other tools for reducing errors and misjudgments. He's a modern-day acolyte of Ben Franklin: Dedicated not so much to an ideology, philosophy, or theology, as to a relentless pursuit of better ways to do things, think about the world, and live life.

Iowa Iowa DOT reopens I-29 far ahead of schedule

Flooding wiped out dozens of miles of roadway. The workers involved deserve enormous credit for fixing a giant problem so swiftly.

Business and Finance What does the Uber IPO really say?

Economist Jodi Beggs suggests it's "basically a bet that they can figure out driverless cars before drivers figure out depreciation". She's probably right. And that's why you study economics. It won't magically teach you how to become rich. But it will definitely teach you how to frame human behavior in a useful way no other field of study will -- at least not within the framework of a comprehensive social science.

Iowa "Doomed to decline"?

What hope is there for sparsely-populated rural counties in Iowa and elsewhere? The thought of their inevitable decline is a bitter pill to swallow, but the data seems quite solid that something is systemically wrong and cannot be categorically reversed on a time horizon short of decades or even generations. Economist Dave Swenson probably isn't exaggerating when he writes: "Academics are good at isolating the causes and the consequences of rural decline, but we have yet to figure out what to do about it."

Computers and the Internet Would the Founders have behaved differently if they'd anticipated Twitter?

Benjamin Franklin, to be sure, would have been all over Twitter. The others? Perhaps not.

Threats and Hazards Woman tried drowning newborn in a fast-food toilet

And yet she will serve no prison time. There is not a word of this story that won't simultaneously baffle and dismay you. That an "ordinary" person would make such a choice -- or react in such a way, even to the shock of a surprise delivery -- is symptomatic of some kind of moral rot that she didn't just develop on her own.

Business and Finance Toyota and Panasonic to merge housing companies

And if you previously had no idea that both companies were in the housing business, you're not the only one. Something to muse about: What other businesses in seemingly unrelated fields might make for good housing providers?

News Why can't America help more refugees?

We can, but we're choosing not to do it. If you have strength but use it to oppress, you're practicing evil. If you have strength but refuse to use it out of fear, you're demonstrating cowardice. If you have the strength to help those in need and do so, you're showing mercy. Mercy is a privilege of the strong. Nothing would show greater strength than to help the oppressed.

News If I lost a billion dollars...

Doesn't quite have the same ring as the Barenaked Ladies tune

Iowa Casey's breakfast pizza isn't just pizza eaten at breakfast time

So learned Beto O'Rourke this week. We're all (mostly) joking about this, but confusing the two is roughly the Iowa equivalent of strolling onto the campus of Auburn and cheering "Roll Tide!"

Science and Technology Ridiculous numbers of Americans would seek to prevent the automation of jobs

The Pew Research Center finds that 85% of American adults would favor policies to block automation from taking any jobs from humans unless those jobs were "dangerous or unhealthy". Perhaps a few of those adults ought to ask whether they've consulted Siri instead of dialing "Information" or calling a library research desk. We could "create" millions of jobs by taking automation out of the picture everywhere we have it -- but it's quite doubtful that the average person has considered what it might be like to sit in a chair at a sewage pump station and manually start and stop the pumps. A job like that was "automated" decades ago, and for very good reason. Technology can and should be used to enhance the usefulness of activities human beings do, but it's colossally silly to think that automation should only come to bear on "dangerous or unhealthy" tasks alone. Shall we do away with coin machines, too? Put another way: "Siri, what is 'entirely missing the point of technology'?"

Threats and Hazards What's our real relationship with South Korea?

The President wildly mischaracterized the nature of the alliance in a campaign rally. The facts are different from what the President recites onstage, and the very nature of the relationship is more nuanced (and valuable) than he gives credit. Ultimately, his cellophane-thin understanding of and appreciation for the South Korean alliance is a de-facto statement of alignment with North Korea. In past times, that might have been understood as un-American, if not actually treasonous.

May 7, 2019

News US deploys B-52 bombers to CentCom region

Of important note: We have not had a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 125 days.

Weather and Disasters More Missouri River crests coming

Secondary crests are just insult heaped upon injury.

Agriculture Iowa is the biggest egg state in the US

Iowa's position as the dominant egg producer in the country is probably the least-known major factoid about our state -- to Iowans and non-Iowans alike.

News Canada to exonerate Cree chief, 130 years after wrongful treason conviction

Many of us history grew up with the idea that history was fixed in place, like something carved in granite. What happened may be unchanging, but how it was documented, reported, and interpreted does change -- and often should.

Humor and Good News The Lenten beer diet

Make it whiskey and we might have a deal.

Weather and Disasters 10" rains hit Houston

These rainfall totals are stunning, and the impact is magnified dramatically when they fall on urban surfaces. Believe in climate change or not (or believe that it has anthropogenic origins or not), but it seems pretty clear that extreme weather events are happening in excess of the statistics of the past, and urbanization compounds the effects.

Iowa Higher traffic loads follow I-235 expansion

It seems to be a classic case of induced demand

May 6, 2019

Threats and Hazards What Chinese police are surveilling is astonishing

Human beings have an inherent right to be left alone. Some governments choose to infringe on that right. And they're not satisfied to keep to themselves: Note the data point that the People's Daily is broadly targeting American users of Twitter with ads. When a state propaganda arm pays money to reach out to you, that's not innocuous.

News Some important words on the new British royal baby

Ebony Renee Baker writes: "I'm still worried about how this biracial babe will navigate their identity while under such intense public scrutiny, because even though this baby has not even been born yet, it's still facing one of the most frustrating burdens faced by mixed race people: fetishization."

Humor and Good News The passive voice is dumb

Sometimes the passive voice is necessary, but the whole "unto this woman was born a child" thing used to announce the birth of the new royal baby sure makes it sound like someone else did all the work.

Humor and Good News Artist to watch: Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

Seeing him perform alongside Buddy Guy is like watching a religious investiture

Humor and Good News How specific must you be about where you live?

Only as specific as your audience can handle, really.

May 4, 2019

Computers and the Internet Long overdue, Facebook and Instagram demote a few dopes

A few propagandists and conspiracy theorists who exploit loopholes in the social-media structures are being throttled on Facebook and Instagram. Infowars is getting booted rather broadly from both platforms, while Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, and others are being personally banned from the platforms. Social-media sites simply cannot be neutral conduits for content; they have to make choices about what content is appropriate for delivery. Broad deference to individual freedom ought to be the norm, but the services cannot long survive pretending like they aren't making choices about what suits the communitities they're trying to create. If they don't, they can't really take advantage of network effects, and without network effects, social networks fail.

May 3, 2019

Science and Technology Are electric scooters worth the head injuries?

A study in Austin, Texas, found a rate of 20 individuals injured per 100,000 electric scooter trips taken, and that "Almost half of the injured riders in this study sustained an injury to the head." Almost nobody wears helmets on the scooters, which travel up to 15 mph. While "micro-mobility" might very well help to alleviate conventional road traffic, it's not cost-free if it results in a head injury for every 10,000 rides taken. Maybe that's an acceptable level of risk, but it's an unintended consequence that has to be considered. Always expect unintended consequences.

Humor and Good News What kind of nut turns a muscle car into a limousine?

Who on God's green Earth looks at a Dodge Challenger and thinks, "How can I make this thing slower and harder to maneuver?"

The United States of America Ceteris paribus, we ought to make Presidents out of governors

With the word spreading that the governor of Montana will be one of the next to put his hat in the ring for President, an observation: The Oval Office doesn't come with a simulator, so from a temperamental and practical standpoint, almost any governor enters the job with better on-the-job training than anyone else. There's no better apprenticeship for the Presidency than to be a governor, since it is after all the same role but at a smaller scale. Close seconds would be those who have served as Vice President (assuming they participated actively in the actual administration of the other Presidency) or as mayor of a very large city (since some of our largest cities are administratively larger than some of our smaller states).

Computers and the Internet Facebook tests a "secret crush" tool

There are ample reasons to wonder about the wisdom of this tool -- the prospects for bullying, the risk of inadvertent exposure, and so on -- but from a cultural standpoint, the biggest worry ought to be that people are too afraid of rejection. It's good to be comfortable with hearing the word "No". If everyone's so gun-shy about being rejected (romantically or otherwise), when will anyone but a handful of nuts ever embark on ventures that just might not work?

News Pay for your wants

There are millions of infrastructure projects quite legitimately worth doing. They are worth doing for their own sake, and worth spending prudently to have. But much of real infrastructure goes unseen and unheralded because it's not "roads and bridges". At the state and local level, bonding very reasonably amortizes costs over the long term -- but those bonds are specific. They aren't vague materializations of promises for "stimulus", which too often animate "infrastructure" talks at the national level.

May 2, 2019

News "An alleged Russian spy whale is refusing to leave a Norwegian port city"

As Dan Drezner put it, "Season Three of 'Occupied' is getting pretty weird." If you haven't watched "Occupied", do see it immediately.

The United States of America Send in the governors!

Montana Governor Steve Bullock is planning to enter the 2020 Presidential race

The United States of America Humankind's greatest treasure

Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism." Of note: This vision of America as a place and an idea worth keeping because of what we believe -- not how strong we fantasize ourselves to be -- is well worth reviving. Better for us to be a redoubt of goodness in the world than to bluster thunderously about our greatness while neglecting our national soul.

Business and Finance What could Berkshire Hathaway buy?

With well over $100 billion in ready cash, the company could buy just about any other business most people could imagine. But, please, not at the expense of becoming undisciplined.

Business and Finance "If something is worth having, it's worth paying for"

We are in grave danger of using every possible (unjustified) justification for over-spending and under-taxing, right past the point where the Federal debt is utterly unsustainable.

Threats and Hazards "Trump followed with a tweet celebrating his current steel tariffs"

His simple-minded adherence to ham-fisted economic policies (like tariffs on basic materials) is insulting to the world and damaging to the economy. His abject refusal to listen to the counsel of the Senate on this issue is indicative of a mind so set in its ways that it has none of the flexibility required to handle serious challenges in real time.

May 1, 2019

News Joe Biden: On the hunt since '78

No, really: His interest in the Oval Office has been public knowledge since Carter was President. That's no judgment on whether he's suited for the job, just an observation that he's visibly wanted it for a long, long time.

Threats and Hazards "Civilizational warfare" is just nonsense

The idea that an epic clash between the United States and China is somehow culturally inevitable forgets some really important evidence. To wit: Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Read "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley, and come to appreciate that there is a long and misguided history of treating the western Pacific as too remote and exotic for peaceful coexistence with "the West". Unfortunately, the narrative is oversimplified and altogether too satisfying for those who depend on having an "other" in order to have a self-identity. And when those types are in power, that puts our well-being in danger.

April 30, 2019

Threats and Hazards Venezuelan forces turn violence on demonstrators

Margaret Thatcher once said, "Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose." Maduro makes a choice. So do his backers. Violence denies the people of that choice.

Weather and Disasters Floodwaters spill into Davenport

After a whole lot of flooding in western Iowa, now the Mississippi is attacking eastern Iowa

April 29, 2019

News The problem with utopianism -- in all its forms

Always believe in the process of trying to make things better. Never believe that there is a perfect end state to be achieved.

Business and Finance What's "affordable" housing, anyway?

Data research finds that a person making $100,000 a year can't afford to live within an hour of San Francisco. And even an hour's drive doesn't afford many additional options. At this point, it's unclear why people aren't anchoring giant cruise ships off the coast, renting out the cabins, and offering shuttle service into the Bay Area.

News Know the real risks (of anything)

When majorities of people in rich and powerful countries don't even understand the basic difference between a nuclear power plant and a coal-fired plant, it's really hard to have legitimate debates about risks and consequences. Facts are stubborn things. But even though we're in the age of "Just Google It" (or maybe exactly because we are), the utterly wrong preconceived notions held by voters may in fact be even more stubborn.

News "What will I do with my borrowed time?"

The rabbi who survived the terrorist attack near San Diego poses a thought-provoking sentiment. People should not have to fear terrorism in their peaceful houses of worship. Not here, and not anywhere.

News What buildings do you love?

The question -- posed on social media -- goes to show just how much architecture has a meaningful human effect. Buildings like the Sears Tower and Chrysler Building communicate impressions on young and old alike, but there are a million other, smaller, less-renowned buildings that still have an effect on the people who see them and use them.

Aviation News The O'Hare Event Horizon

Every air traveler from Iowa is familiar with the O'Hare Event Horizon, even if they don't know it. It's the point at which any flight delays would have made it better to have just gotten a rental car and just driven home. O'Hare is notorious for cascading delays that end up wrecking travel and turning an 8:30 pm connection into a 1:30 am drag.

News New and unimproved signage

The message boards at Grand Central Station are changing away from the classic look (though not the mechanical frailty) of the Solari board (a/k/a "split-flap display"). The "old-time look" of the split-flap style proves that less is more; there's far more visual clutter to the new look, and it serves no self-evident purpose.

Weather and Disasters Sometimes a camera is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time

...to capture a car taking a corner much too fast for conditions

April 26, 2019

Business and Finance Bring back the classic United Airlines logo

A logo that is distinctive from (literally) a mile away, polished by a legend like Bass, and yet still elegantly simple enough that kids will try to draw it from memory? Only a madman would discard it. And yet they did, and now United is already respawning the replacement livery. If you're sitting on the rights to an unused corporate identity designed by Saul Bass, Paul Rand, or Chermayeff and Geismar, kindly do get in touch. They're like the paintings of the Dutch masters and could be redeployed if the present owners are too dumb to use them still.

Humor and Good News Why the "more cowbell" sketch is so funny

A legitimate breakdown of the laughs

News Boy thrown from Mall of America balcony is out of critical condition

A welcome update to a harrowing story. Architects need to rethink open atrium spaces where such falls are even possible. A world that grows ever more crowded -- and contains bad actors who are under the influence of psychoses, drugs, or pathological ideologies -- is a world that needs more built-in safeguards that prevent really bad things from happening.

Iowa A late-April snowstorm for northern Iowa?

Unusual, but far from unprecedented

News Promises undermine unity

We are awash in a sea of promises that aren't just empty -- they're beyond reasonable belief. And the compounding toxicity of those bad promises sweeps well beyond a problem of differences between left and right.

Threats and Hazards Ask the follow-up question

The President today offered an empty but loud defense of his pathetic response to the Charlottesville attack, saying not only that his own response was "perfect", but that "many generals" had told him that Robert E. Lee was their "favorite". It's overdue for journalists to ask follow-up questions to pierce the willing suspension of disbelief that is permitted by the President's reliance upon vague nonsense and empty superlatives. To wit: (1.) How many generals have told you Lee was their favorite? (2.) Name them. (3.) Name two specific strategies or tactics that made Lee "great".

Business and Finance The clock's really ticking on Social Security

The trust fund is going to be depleted by 2035 (along current projections). If that seems like a long time away, bear in mind that the high school graduating class of 2035 is now 2 years old. We're not really talking about the future here...we're talking about a time horizon now measurable by the lives of today's preschoolers. When facing any compounding problem, the time to take up serious action is as soon as possible. Reforms to Social Security could have both public and private benefits, but if no one in politics feels the pressure to do anything about it, then the status quo will prevail. The problem, as Milton and Rose Friedman put it, is that "Any assurance [of Social Security payments] derives solely from the willingness of future taxpayers to impose taxes on themselves to pay for benefits that present taxpayers are promising themselves." The system works only because everyone expects it to continue working. But the system itself contains structural flaws that aren't going to disappear on their own. And in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience."

April 25, 2019

News Headlines that only repeat name-calling aren't useful

The President had some insults to lob at Joe Biden after Biden's campaign announcement this morning. Repeating those insults as headlines is not productive journalism. It's lazy amplification of the voices most willing to say the most outrageous things. Journalism isn't stenography.

Broadcasting Filming begins on the last Bond film starring Daniel Craig

It's the 25th of the genre, and planned for release in April 2020. Sean Connery will always be the iconic Bond, but Daniel Craig turned 007 into a human character with real depth. That utterly transformed the franchise for the better. It makes the movies more interesting and less kitschy.

News Wherefore art thou, copy editors?

Glaring errors now make it past the "draft" stage and straight into subscriber inboxes

Science and Technology Do tax credits for electric vehicles really save the planet?

The evidence suggests that the kinds of people who are going to buy electric vehicles would have bought high-efficiency vehicles anyway, so the marginal difference may be limited. And that probably makes sense: Efficiency-sensitive drivers probably form a class unto themselves anyway.

Humor and Good News A poor review for Joe Biden's campaign logo

Few things about 2019 are as amusing as the degree to which Jonathan Last takes his feelings about these candidate logos.

Weather and Disasters Super-tall thunderstorm complexes may be damaging the ozone layer

When a storm top overshoots, it may be funneling ozone-depleting conditions up into the stratosphere

Health Get your immunizations

The CDC says there have been more than 600 cases of measles in the United States since the start of the year. And it's the fault of people choosing not to vaccinate.

April 24, 2019

Computers and the Internet 80% of tweets come from 10% of users

According to Pew research into the American online public. Pareto would be so disappointed in us: Every business book in the world says it's the 80/20 Principle, not the 80/10.

Iowa Running (legally) blind

A great feature story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about a high-school track standout who can barely see at all. Parents everywhere should strive to raise our kids with the kind of resilience Erin Kerkhoff puts on display. A valuable role model.

News Three-year-old children are being found migrating without their parents

Would you let a 3-year-old so much as cross a busy street on their own? The answer is "Of course not!" And that ought to give all of us some measure of the desperation that some parents and children face. These harrowing journeys must somehow, some way, appear less risky than staying where they are. And that is truly heartbreaking, and ought to serve as a call to action to do something to ease their plight.

Threats and Hazards Things are looking bad in Afghanistan

The Defense Department's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says "If the economy collapses or if they are not paid, if we withdraw the funding, you have 500,000-some troops and police who are trained and have weapons...what are they going to do?" Afghanistan is a nation of 34 million people, just behind Canada in the population rankings and just a little ahead of Venezuela. It has more people than Texas. The reader ought to consider words like "collapse" with sufficient gravity.

Threats and Hazards The 2020 elections will be targeted by hackers -- so what comes next?

CNN phrases the headline "Hackers could target the 2020 presidential election. How will newsrooms respond?" But one would have to be absolutely as high as a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to think it's merely a hypothetical. It's not even a question. It's a certainty. Now, what matters is what newsrooms are going to do about it when they are fed stolen items.

Humor and Good News Salaries aren't the only thing that matters, the MLB edition

Ryne Sandberg cites the improved Cubs dugout facility as a tool for attracting talented players

Business and Finance A dark look at a major diamond retailer

Worth pondering: "Mandatory arbitration is a good idea only if people can be trusted to do the right thing when the consequences are minimal and don't include the threat of prison or public shame."

News Will Scotland hold another independence vote?

The Financial Times reports: Nicola Sturgeon "insisted the country must be ready to hold a second independence referendum by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead". Given the incompetence of the management of Brexit, a "yes" vote wouldn't be surprising at all.

News A new Godwin's Law

Is someone ready to name the phenomenon where someone is the first to compare themselves to the Messiah, as Rep. Steve King just did?

Computers and the Internet Recommendation algorithms: They're everywhere, and not always doing good

In theory, computers ought to be helping us to make better decisions, and for the moment, the best sandbox to practice that is in retail. But the problem is that sometimes they do what they're supposed to do (but the assumptions are wrong), and other times they do everything they shouldn't. On the most innocent extreme, one of those silly recommendation algorithms might suggest the song "Blurred Lines" to a listener twice in the span of 30 minutes. Such foibles look positively charming by comparison with the dark side of algorithmic dependency, when bad actors hijack the algorithm or when antisocial (or even sociopathic) feedback loops are created.

April 23, 2019

The United States of America A debate well worth taking in

Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry debate the virtues and vices of nationalism, particularly as it is distinguished from patriotism. The difference between nationalism and patriotism is that nationalism is usually a justification unto itself for doing things we want, while patriotism routinely acts as a sort of conscience for doing things we should. Something done in the name of nationalism may very well (and often does) come at the expense of others -- usually outsiders. Something done out of patriotism is more likely to involve self-sacrifice.

News You can barely conceive of apartments this cramped

Japan has complete apartments that cover just 100 square feet of space. Art is in the constraints, so there is something deeply impressive about fitting an entire apartment into a 10' x 10' space. But still...it's crazy. Americans have backyard tool sheds that are bigger.

Humor and Good News Wisconsin: The most on-brand state in the Upper Midwest

The governor is appearing at a news conference about beer

The United States of America Buttigieg campaign adopts a message-first strategy

A Presidential campaign built around an attitude (told through stories) is far more the norm than one built around policy. "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge". "I Like Ike". "A Time for Greatness". "It's Morning in America". In other words, Buttigieg has adopted a feature, not a bug.

Health 27 years in a coma...then awake

An incredible recovery for a woman from the UAE. One must imagine the conversations taking place: "Welcome back, ma'am. First, the good news: We didn't have any new world wars while you were out. But I'm going to have to explain this thing called 'the Internet' before we let you out of here..."

Computers and the Internet "Trump accused Twitter of [...] tampering with his nearly 60 million followers"

"They who have nothing to trouble them, will be troubled at nothing." - Benjamin Franklin

April 13, 2019

Threats and Hazards Serial killer with a bag of fentanyl

A Minnesota man has been charged with selling drugs that killed 11 people. Had the victims been targeted, it would have been a serial killing spree.

News Refugees aren't helpless

Three-quarters of a million Rohingya refugees are sheltering in Bangladesh, and the monsoon season is coming. So some of them are getting trained to help prepare people and their temporary shelters for the weather conditions. The worst thing we can do is to assume that refugees anywhere (in Bangladesh or at the southern border to the United States) are helpless or out to take away from others. They are no less than people, and basic human dignity calls for treating them as capable and self-determining.

Threats and Hazards 5-year-old child attacked and thrown off balcony at Mall of America

The suspected perpetrator was arrested and charged with attempted homicide, but this is an extraordinarily disturbing story, and something still just doesn't seem complete about the narrative.

Humor and Good News "Paw Patrol is a threat to democracy"

"The Paw Patrol is privatized power and profit and socialized funding, unaccountable to public oversight, ungoverned by elected officials and acting only when it consents to let its interests coincide with panicked public needs. They must be brought to heel."

Iowa Maybe I-29 will reopen in June

For an Interstate highway to be closed for months really illustrates just how bad the flooding was in March. And it could get bad again before the road is repaired.

Health Fisher-Price recalls all "Rock 'n Play Sleepers"

With a warning that more than 30 infants have died in their use. That estimate grew in just a couple of days with a new review of the data.

News The First Amendment ends where the freeway ramp begins

A few dozen truckers conducted a "slow roll" protest on Chicago freeways to put attention on their quarrels with driver-safety rules. Regardless of the merits of their complaints, the First Amendment secures the right "peaceably to assemble", but that's a far cry from creating a rolling barricade that could cause others to crash behind you.

April 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards Did the President really offer to pardon officials for breaking the law?

CNN's report quotes "senior administration officials" as saying that "President Donald Trump told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law". If true, it's a remarkable violation of the notions of checks and balances. In Margaret Thatcher's words: "The rule of law is the basis of a civilized society. It must not be bent and twisted for political ends."

Business and Finance "No nation was ever ruined by trade"

Benjamin Franklin's words seem to need repetition more than ever these days

Threats and Hazards Congress hasn't passed a required budget

Oh, so you say you don't want to talk about the Federal budget? Apparently, neither does Congress: "The deadline for Congress to complete action on a budget is April 15, and Congress has only hit that mark four times" Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.

Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack won't seek re-election

He will leave the office after seven terms. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a member of the opposing party within the same delegation, shared words of goodwill, living up to the standard that people who disagree with us aren't our enemies.

News "Nominations of individuals to key administration posts"

The White House publicizes the nominations of a Deputy Secretary of the VA and an Undersecretary of Commerce. But we have been without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 100 days. That's a "key administration post", if ever there was one. One might think the UN Ambassador -- also a position that has remained unfilled since January 1st -- would also be considered a priority role for speedy replacement, whether or not it remains in the Cabinet.

Weather and Disasters Financial markets signal belief in anthropogenic climate change

Don't believe what people say; believe the revealed preferences of where they put their money. The framing of this issue has gone completely sideways: It has become less a debate and more a battleground between two warring cults. Meanwhile, there should be some easy consensus wins to be found around basic ideas of conservation and community- and state-level resilience. Too many people have invested too much identity in the topic for a wholesale conversion of a lot of hearts and minds. It's instead a case where change will come about through people making small commitments at the outset and reinforcing their commitment in escalating fashion over time.

The United States of America An unusually satisfying accidental Twitter roundtable

In which a set of people who generally really aren't all that far apart from one another go around and around on a pretty high-impact question: Are improvements to the American standard of living enough to make up for highly tangible intergenerational economic rivalries? One can do much worse than to get competing perspectives from Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson, Tom Nichols, and Michael Brendan Dougherty on a single topic.

Computers and the Internet When machines learn what the Federal Reserve Board is thinking

Highly interesting: A student uses machine learning to examine Federal Reserve statements, figuring out what connection the language in the statements might have reflected or predicted in actual policy. It's like Alexa "learning" your buying preferences...if you're the Fed.

News 11-year-old child ordered into deportation without her family

Words matter: Some would dismiss her case instantly as "illegal", but the sensible person reading her account would find good reason to see her as a refugee. From the Houston Chronicle: "Her home in a rural area of El Salvador's La Paz region became a death trap when a relative testified against a local gang member, Alvarado said. Uncles, nephews, classmates and others have been kidnapped or murdered in retaliation, she added."

News "Placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only..."

The President threatens it on Twitter, but nobody ever knows when to take him seriously on such matters. There may quite well be places that wouldn't object to an influx of immigrants, regardless of status: Perhaps we should allocate state-based visas that could be exchanged among states, cap-and-trade style. It ought to be recalled that anyone who seeks to profit politically by turning Americans against one another needs to answer to Publius: "Had the Greeks [...] been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union [...]" (Federalist Paper 18).

The United States of America A more equitable society is likely a more productive one

It definitely improves the odds of answering tough questions if we commit to using all of our brainpower -- instead of neglecting or ignoring their contributors because of indefensible prejudices.

April 11, 2019

News The US armed forces don't "get a little rough" like the President wants

One of the virtues of an all-volunteer force seems to be that you can select for adherence to a professional code of conduct. Officers and enlisted members alike are supposed to not only observe the Law of Armed Conflict, but they're also told to study professional reading lists. That's because we don't employ tribes of unfettered barbarians to do violence against others just for fun.

Humor and Good News "'Paw Patrol' is a threat to democracy"

Hilarious material: "Watching him try to one-up Goodway is like watching Mr. Bean from the villainís perspective, except Mr. Bean is somehow the smartest person in his universe."

Weather and Disasters Lightning strikes the runway at Offutt

Offutt's runway may not be cursed, but God sure seems to be exacting a vendetta against it. This follows a 2017 tornado and colossal flooding earlier this year.

News Brexit gets an October reschedule

Perhaps Britain will get its act together on leaving the EU before the extended October deadline. Or maybe not: "The timetable facing [Theresa] May is tight, however. By May 22nd she must say if the UK will hold European Parliament elections. If not, it is out by June 1st, with no deal."

Aviation News Rockets landing right-side up don't even look real

The SpaceX technology that permits their rockets to land themselves on a platform is really quite mind-boggling. It looks almost like reality, but it seems to violate all of the rules we know about nature and physics -- like a CGI character in the uncanny valley.

Business and Finance International trade has changed a lot in just 10 or 15 years

Cheap labor is disappearing as a competitive advantage (and as a driver of trade). Time to market has adjusted advantages considerably. China is consuming much more of what it produces than it used to. And services matter far more than they did in international trade not very many years ago. Among other things, this makes regional trade more important while making long-haul transoceanic trade less valuable.

Computers and the Internet Alexa recordings are being checked by humans

Amazon, of course, assures users that the identifying information is being scrubbed before humans review the recordings. And furthermore, on one hand, it's pretty obvious that they have to do away least some human checking, just for quality control. Yet on the other hand, this still has a creepy Mechanical-Turk-meets-George-Orwell quality to it.

Iowa You had me at couscous

A native of Morocco wants to open a restaurant...in Marshalltown, Iowa. Don't fall for the false arguments that immigration makes American culture weaker.

Iowa I-29 still isn't fully ready for traffic in southwestern Iowa

Flood damage is significant and widespread, and the requisite inspections haven't been completed yet

Socialism Doesn't Work "Redistribution for thee, but not for me!"

The money Sen. Bernie Sanders got as an advance on a book deal reveals a certain hypocrisy to the old Socialist's words

April 9, 2019

News Book review: "The New Urban Crisis"

Not the final word on the future of cities, but definitely a contribution that shouldn't be left out of the conversation

April 5, 2019

The United States of America The President thinks about a post-office memoir

Instead of the score-settling "tell-all" memoirs of the present, Americans ought to spend a little more time with the thoughtful reflections of Presidents on whom history has had some time to decide.

Business and Finance More work to be done before there's a China-US trade deal

It could be negotiated by the ghost of Milton Friedman himself and it would still fall short, for one simple reason: Multilateral agreements are nearly always better than bilateral ones.

The United States of America Whay might a future American consensus look like?

If we could re-converge the American political consensus around anything, it might just be Ike.

Threats and Hazards The rule of law matters

Vladimir Putin may remain in office past 2024 if the power brokers around him think it's the only way they'll survive. When security (whether financial, physical, or otherwise) becomes dependent upon who is in charge rather than what rules apply, then the corrupt have every incentive to perpetuate corruption. The rule of law matters.

Weather and Disasters China's carbon-dioxide emissions are mind-blowing

An intriguing litmus test would be to ask people if "Country X" should be expected to reduce its emissions, even if doing so would be politically unpopular. Then let people take the Pepsi Challenge of Climate-Related Emissions.

Weather and Disasters Almost 600 Nebraska homes rendered uninhabitable by floods

Imagine your own home getting "red-tagged" as uninhabitable. Then multiply that by everyone on your entire Facebook friends list.

News Is the UK going to figure out Brexit?

It's hard for an outsider to see how the Brexit debacle has done anything but make independence look more attractive to the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Threats and Hazards It truly is idiotic to say that wind turbines cause cancer

Every unsubstantiated, wildly speculative claim that "X causes cancer" is a real insult to those of us who have had cancer, who conduct research on cancer, or who have lost loved ones to cancer. We're not your punchline and not your prop.

Threats and Hazards American universities wise up to the threat of China's stateside public-diplomacy campaign

It's unwise to be xenophobic. It's also unwise to turn a blind eye to projects that use "culture" as a thin veneer over an overtly hostile political endeavor.

News "Impact" is not a verb

Perhaps worse than anything, "impact" is utterly ambiguous as a (non-)verb. It suggests anything from crashing ("he was killed on impact") to leaving a hazy impression ("the lingering impact of her words...").

Computers and the Internet What dead celebrity should have had a Twitter account?

The correct answer is Benjamin Franklin, the original American master of pith. Of course, it's possible to offer an approximation of a Franklinesque account, by capturing Franklin's voluminous writings and programming them to run in a bot account. But obviously, there's something missing since it's not really him. In the future, though, personality engines will permit artificial intelligence to synthesize responses to new and novel questions with answers drawn from the past statements of great thinkers like Franklin.

Threats and Hazards Russia may send even more troops to Venezuela

Clearly not an act indicating support for the right to self-determination by the Venezuelan people

April 4, 2019

Threats and Hazards NATO needs a refreshed mission

Resisting tyranny everywhere? That could be it. Writes Hal Brands: "[T]hese efforts would have greater impact if the world's foremost democracy did not seem so ambivalent about leading the democratic world."

The United States of America Don't expect a revival of the draft to create better voters

Good citizen-voters should have informed opinions on defense and diplomacy as a matter of civic duty, period. It shouldn't hinge on whether you spent any time in uniform, either by choice or by draft.

Science and Technology Parking on a 30-degree incline

Certainly a way to pack more vehicles into the same space. But also a way to ruin a lot of transmissions.

Humor and Good News National Hug a Newsperson Day? Think again.

If you meet a cuddly newsperson, odds are good that you've actually found a PR person instead. Most journalists are hard-working, decent people -- but they're not usually a soft and fuzzy crew.

News Now we're back to debating the gold standard?

When Margaret Thatcher said, "Each generation has to fight for its own liberties, in whatever way is appropriate," she should have warned us that the fight would routinely involve the stupidest, stubbornest possible counterparties.

Iowa "Heartland Visas": Should Midwestern states get special access to additional skilled immigration?

A big-picture idea well worth considering here in Iowa. We're not losing net population on a state level, but increasing urbanization means we're depopulating rural areas, and it may be stoking a negative feedback loop. This might help.

Iowa 10% jump in real-estate assessments in Polk County

That's a very, very big increase for a biennial adjustment

News University of Nebraska officials meet with Sen. Ben Sasse

Officially, it was just a routine visit to Washington. But the university has an opening for president, and it would be professional malpractice if the regents didn't at least raise the prospect with him. And as someone with a well-publicized interest in the nature of how future generations are formed (beyond by the law, which is where he operates today), he'd be crazy not to at least consider it. If he's considered as a candidate, what he does will say a lot about whether his experience as a Federal elected official tells him that current politics are salvageable.

Humor and Good News Nurse adopts baby who went five months without a visitor

Affirm your sense of human decency with the help of this story. Every life has value. Every individual is worthy of dignity. And how we commit ourselves to those beliefs determines the course of civilization.

News Ten leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020

Jonathan Last ranks them: Sanders, Biden, O'Rourke, Harris, Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker, Gillibrand, and Yang. Nary a governor is found in Last's top ten, which (strictly from a functional standpoint) is unnerving, particularly if he's right. Governors and (very) big-city mayors should form America's #1 development league for Presidents.

April 3, 2019

The United States of America What's another $2 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years?

That's the path laid out in the forecasts based on the House Budget Commitee's plan. Once again, the rules should be (1) Decide what you want from government; (2) Limit those wants, aggressively; and (3) Pay for it all. We seem to be stuck on step 1, with no intentions of ever reaching step 3.

Humor and Good News Paper towels could be making us terrible at math

4 is 8! 8 is 12! 2 is 5! 6 is 9!

The United States of America An alternative to DC statehood: Return most of the district to Maryland

Not an idea ready for prime time all on its own, but certainly a better choice than making DC (with the Capitol included) a brand-new state. The precedent? Parts of DC were returned to Virginia long ago. Let's not pretend like we're the only country with a special set of rules that apply to our capitol.

Health 5-month-old needs living liver donor to survive

"Possible candidates must have O blood type, weigh less than 150 pounds, younger than 40, in good health, and not recently pregnant. Doctors only need 25 percent of the liver and said it will grow back within six months."

Weather and Disasters When thunder roars, go indoors

Radar detects lightning striking 50 miles away from the center of a thunderstorm in Oklahoma

March 29, 2019

Computers and the Internet You didn't mean to keep that, did you?

Facebook's archives are turning unreliable, according to a Business Insider report. If you want to save content you've ever posted online, don't trust third parties.

Threats and Hazards Someone tell the President: "Easy money" is the same as a "weak dollar"

His Twitter attack on the Federal Reserve for its policy of rate increases illustrates that he is guided by instincts alone on critical matters like economics -- where instincts are not enough. If someone were to tell him his policy is a "weak dollar" policy, he would undoubtedly do an about-face.

Broadcasting Love is...

...setting up a streaming media profile completely from scratch that you can share as a couple when you're both in the same room, so as not to destroy the algorithms behind either partner's individual profile. It's basically the new "We're moving in together". (This advice could save a marriage).

March 28, 2019

Business and Finance Keep it simple

In the words of Sam Zell: "A scenario that takes four steps instead of one means there are three additional opportunities to fail."

News Servicemembers shouldn't be political props

The chief of Australia's Defense Force made a point of having his people step out of sight when a government event turned political. Three cheers for that.

News Baseball is a companionship sport

Phooey to all this nonsense about there being a problem with the pace of baseball. At its heart, baseball is totally different from football, soccer, basketball, and hockey. That baseball is paced around giving each side a turn is a feature, not a bug. It is a companionship game -- something worth indulging (especially by radio) 162 days a year. It doesn't, and shouldn't, demand a person's full and unrelenting attention for every moment of every game.

The United States of America Without protections for minority interests, government is just anarchy dressed up in fancy clothes

Words from James Madison: "In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger"

March 27, 2019

News The inconvenient truth of high-speed rail in America

Our population density is a fraction of what is found in places with good passenger rail service. Many of us have sympathetic feelings in favor of a modernized, high-speed rail system. But we're just spread much too thin in America to make the same economics work. Compare the density of places with impressive high-speed rail service -- like Italy (206 people per square kilometer, or about 533 people per square mile), Germany (237 people/sq km), or Japan (348 people/sq km) -- with that of the United States: 36 people/sq km. There are parts of the country where we are more densely packed, for sure, but broadly the United States is much, much more spread-out than the rest of the countries we often consider as technological and economic peers. For the economics to work out comparably with those peers, we would have to be able to build and maintain the infrastructure for 1/5th the cost of theirs.

Threats and Hazards Russian police raid opposition-party headquarters

Per the Khodorkovsky Center: "They'd received an anonymous call about the 'distribution of extremist literature'. This is spookily reminiscent of the KGB raids on Samizdat houses."

Computers and the Internet What's with all the robocalls?

An industry insider says a combination of technological tricks and poor regulatory oversight has led to an insufferable deluge of calls to many American numbers

Water News A million wells are threatened

Per CNN: "The National Ground Water Association estimates that people living in more than 300 counties across 10 states have their groundwater threatened from bacterial and industrial contamination carried by flood waters." It's impossible to participate normally in modern American life if you don't have clean running water.

March 22, 2019

News "Four principles for reading the Mueller report"

Now that it's been turned over to the Attorney General, some preparation is in order before we get to read it. In other words, here's what to know before you know what we'll all know soon enough.

Threats and Hazards Why bad people use weaselly language to evade the rules

Ambiguity usually accrues to the benefit of the party that introduces it. If someone's introducing coded language, they're doing it to put good people on the defensive. The rest of us need to build our intellectual immunity against the terrorists and the supremacists who use coded language to get around terms of use on public websites and propagate hate.

Socialism Doesn't Work Auto tariffs aren't about security

Tariffs (import taxes) on cars have nothing to do with national security and are strictly intended as a stick in the eye to Europe. American consumer freedom be damned. So says the President. He is beholden to an incoherent, incomplete, and counterproductive thread of a national industrial policy that has more in common with the autarkic approach of the Soviet Union than with any prosperous modern economy.

Weather and Disasters The Missouri River is usually 1000' wide between Iowa and Nebraska

Or often narrower. But the photos of current flood conditions show water as far as the eye can see. Normally, it's narrow enough to fit easily within a normal photo, with trees lining the riverbanks. Not so right now.

Computers and the Internet Change your passwords. Again. Facebook's at fault this time.

The company confirms a report that "some user passwords were being stored in a readable format within our internal data storage systems." But what do they mean by "some"? In the next paragraph, they admit: "We estimate that we will notify hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users." So, once again, change your passwords. Change any passwords that are the same as your Facebook password. And activate two-step authentication. The insecurity dates back to 2012, so it's quite a revelation.

News A "university-centric development policy"

From Noah Smith: "By increasing research funding for second-tier universities in depressed areas, and by making it easier for high-paying foreign students to attend rural schools, the government can create a scattering of small thriving places throughout declining regions [...] The destiny of the U.S. heartland may be to go from farming and manufacturing towns of 5,000 people to college towns of 50,000." It's a bold proposal, and it's hard to know how replicable it could be at any sort of scale (considering, for instance, the plight of small-town colleges like Iowa Wesleyan). But it is already plain to see that heavily-rural states like Iowa are rapidly urbanizing (or, perhaps, de-ruralizing) regardless of any efforts to the contrary, and there is also tremendous evidence that research-oriented universities have a very favorable impact on their local economies. In the end, how many universities could be plausibly spun-up? One per state? Ten? Fifty? It's worth considering bold possibilities.

News The "former" Hancock building

Its dynamism has always been one of the best things about Chicago, but the name changes on its landmark buildings are bonkers. Sears Tower is now Willis Tower. John Hancock Center is now 875 North Michigan (after the insurance company behind the original name asked that it be removed). The Amoco Building is now the Aon Center. The name changes all have good reasons behind them, but it still seems like they happen unusually often to Chicago landmarks.

March 21, 2019

News A warning to voters who want to turn away from the world

Dr. Kori Schake: "When we step back, our allies step back even further, and the countries that step forward are our adversaries." This isn't a call to be pushy and mindlessly interventionist, but rather a reminder that allies need to know that we'll be there when they call for us.

News Minnesota parents told not to let kids walk to school because of bear sightings

And don't let them eat your homework, either.

Threats and Hazards Any politician afraid to speak up for John McCain should be ashamed

Dear United States Senators: If you can't speak up to defend the name of John McCain now (in the face of a deluge of malign comments from the President), please don't expect the rest of us to put a whole lot of effort into naming a bridge after you when you're gone. In the words of John Weaver, "Had you @realDonaldTrump called the FBI upon first contact, instead of embracing Putin, you might be in a different situation." Sen. Lindsey Graham, long a friend of McCain's, seems able only to offer a peep of objection to the attacks, and that's truly pathetic. If the best you can say after a bully besmirches the good name of your honorable deceased friend is "The best thing for all of us is just to move forward," then you have chosen the side of the bully. There is no satisfying rational explanation for why anyone would sacrifice even an iota of credibility on behalf of the President when he shows daily that he lives exclusively in a transactional, day-by-day mode of operation, and will jettison any "friend" in a heartbeat should it prove even momentarily expedient.

News Burdens are meant to be carried together

We should be all for an expansive definition of identity when it comes to sharing burdens and facing difficult problems. Bigger coalitions can fix bigger problems.

Humor and Good News Anything with a tempo slower than 120 bpm is a sad song

A clever rendition of music-sharing, as though aliens were discovering it for the first time

Broadcasting Lazy broadcasting creates nasty hate

John Oliver: "I'm not saying those television personalities are all terrible people. They just want to fill time more than they want to say things that are true."

Humor and Good News Spoiler alert: The denouement of 2019

It will happen when Eddie Vedder appears at an O'Rourke rally to sing "Beto Man" and POTUS responds with a tweetstorm asking why the FCC won't take away Pearl Jam's license.

The United States of America A 2019 Republican Serenity Prayer

Grant us the serenity...

March 20, 2019

News "You won't hear me speak his name"

New Zealand's prime minister sets a proper standard for dealing with the terrorist attack on her country's soil

The United States of America Let reason be the guide

James Madison: "But it is the reason, alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government."

Humor and Good News Recycling old hotel soaps in the name of global hygiene

Marketwatch headlined the story "Why Hilton wants to get its hands on your used soap" (Spoiler alert: It's not because your natural musk is an aphrodisiac that they want to capture).

The United States of America Rename the Russell office building

Name it after John McCain. It's what the Senate should do to rebuke the President -- and correct the error of naming the building after the wrong person in the first place.

Broadcasting Some government spending cuts cost more than they save

The Trump Administration wants to cut funding for RFE/RL, the international broadcasting service that we use to reach out to the countries in Russia's near orbit. As a general rule of thumb, cutting any of America's public-diplomacy efforts -- including, right at the top of the list, the Voice of America, RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, or anything else under the umbrella of the US Agency for Global Media -- is bonkers. They cost about $2.50 per year per American citizen.

Humor and Good News Just ask, "How do I pronounce your name?"

Lots of people have names whose pronunciation is non-intuitive. Nothing is more pleasant to a listener than the sound of their own name -- but there aren't a whole lot of things more grating than someone making a train wreck out of it.

Business and Finance How to ruin a perfectly good organization

Sabotage has never been so simple

The United States of America A National Popular Vote is still a terrible alternative to what we have

Ships have bulkheads and big buildings have firewalls so that a disaster in one part can be isolated before it spreads and damages everything else. The Electoral College is a systemic firewall against a contaminated election. Don't throw it away. If you want to talk about changes to make Washington better, debate ideas like enlarging the House of Representatives or encouraging states to shift to at-large representation. But don't junk the Electoral College in a fit of pique.

Humor and Good News You didn't know you knew these rules

There's an order to adjectives in English, and every native speaker knows them without knowing

Broadcasting And that's the way it is?

Dave Price asks, "When did NBC Nightly News change format so that much of top stories now labeled 'breaking news?'" We are, no doubt, about 10 million miles away from the editorial voice that had the confidence (hubris?) to say "And that's the way it is" and then shut up for the next 23.5 hours.

March 19, 2019

Weather and Disasters Staggering views of the flooding along the Missouri River

Instead of staying in its usual narrowly-defined riverbed, the Missouri stretches for miles in width.

Threats and Hazards Loyalty tests to a deeply disloyal man

The President demands public demonstrations of loyalty that careen into the absurd -- like engaging into a public fight with Kellyanne Conway's husband. That anyone believes he would show them reciprocal loyalty is completely astonishing. They make a choice nobody can reasonably excuse. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose."

News Post-Soviet leaders, charted

You'd be amazed at just how long some of the ex-Soviet states have remained under the rule of strongmen. It's too bad: As Calvin Coolidge said, "The chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the Presidential office after a moderate length of time."

The United States of America "Love Your Enemies"

An interview with Arthur C. Brooks about his new book

News Pedantic complaint of the day

When people use the word "strategic" when what they're doing is barely tactical, at best, it's an annoyance. Language like "strategic" exists for a reason, to describe a particular purpose. Abusing the language, even out of carelessness, does a disservice to our ability to understand each other.

Agriculture Legislation to crack down on labeling veggie burgers is dumb protectionism

The normal consumers of these products are sensitive to their origins -- it's the whole point of making them in the first place. And you know what? The "Impossible Burger" is pretty good. Liking it doesn't make a normal person suddenly not want a New York strip. They can be complements, not rivals. It's risible to use the blunt hammer of the law to relabel something like a Morningstar Farms "Chik'n Nugget", when a chicken nugget is plainly the item to which it is most similar.

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March 16, 2019

Threats and Hazards "Do not share the video or you are part of this"

A former FBI agent strongly discourages anyone engaging with or amplifying the videos that appear to have been taken by the terrorists in Christchurch. It would be more reassuring if the social media services (like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube) would behave more transparently in reporting basic facts, like when they took down pages related to the suspects. And there appears to be a manifesto that may be deliberately misleading or vague. Cyberspace is a very real battleground.

March 15, 2019

Computers and the Internet The Internet is now old enough for one-time teen hackers to be Presidential candidates

Beto O'Rourke earns an unusual spot in electoral history

Threats and Hazards Connections alone aren't by definition good

There's an embedded logical flaw when Mark Zuckerberg concludes with a phrase like "bring the world closer together." The problem is that the connection *itself* isn't necessarily a good thing, as made plain in the last couple of years. The kinds of people who do the connecting also matter a great deal -- witness the apparent contribution of Internet message boards to the radicalization of the terrorists who just shot up parts of Christchurch, New Zealand. It's not just a Facebook problem, either -- the entire culture of Reddit, for example, serves to undergird the conditions that connect people to others, often in really unsavory ways.

Aviation News Why the Boeing 737 Max's problems may have been 50 years in the making

Legacy design idiosyncracies may have led to the two recent crashes

Humor and Good News A most rewarding way to spend three minutes

The intersection of architecture with culture: Why Tel Aviv has so many Miesian buildings, and why their popularity has been revived

Threats and Hazards 49 people murdered in New Zealand terrorist attack

It's terrorism, period.

News American voters are often quite disengaged

We in Iowa have the best political junkies in the nation, but we also have a whole lot of people just living their lives who have an allergy to strong ideology. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself: A low degree of intensity is a symptom of a system that is generally palatable to people. It's when your average person is joining mass protests in the streets that something is clearly badly, badly wrong.

Iowa Missouri River floodwaters cover I-29 in Iowa

The riverside is flat and low, but it still takes a great deal of water to overtop the banks

Humor and Good News There's only one right way to cook corned beef

And that's long and slow. Like, 24 hours long. Anything less than that is the cause of the rubbery texture people wrongly associate with the Irish-American delicacy.

March 14, 2019

Threats and Hazards We are citizens, not subjects

There's a difference. And it's up to Congress to stand on behalf of the citizens when a challenge emerges -- like the President's "emergency" declaration. Congress has to stand up for its own prerogatives, regardless of who serves as President. Even those who agree with what the President wants to do -- like Sen. Jerry Moran -- are right to challenge the means to the end.

Weather and Disasters Rescues on the (suddenly) rushing rivers of Nebraska

In what is surely one of the most bizarre endings to a rescue tale ever told, a family refused to board a helicopter to escape their floodbound house -- after previous would-be rescuers ended up capsized in the river just trying to reach them. There almost has to be something else to this. The floods are a consequence of a sudden thaw and a massive blizzard that closed most of I-80 across the state.

Computers and the Internet How places that don't really exist find their way onto Google Maps

Legacy databases of things like place names sometimes make their way into digital tools without anyone really double-checking them

Aviation News What's wrong with the Boeing 737 Max?

A question worth considering and resolving, right now

March 13, 2019

Weather and Disasters What makes a massive pressure drop a "bomb cyclone"?

They don't usually happen over land like this

Weather and Disasters One giant cyclone over the