• Company sites: DJ Gongol & Associates and Heartland Generator
Podcast: Updated weekly in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Subscribe on Stitcher, Spreaker, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or iHeartRadio
Twitter: @briangongol

June 5, 2020

The United States of America "We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution"

Retired Defense Secretary James Mattis blasts the President's misbehavior in a letter shared via The Atlantic: "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society." And as he speaks out, John Kelly joins him. And high-ranking leaders in the Armed Forces are subtly echoing the same things. Fortunately, some vocal acknowledgment is being made that the military doesn't exist to serve an individual politician. ■ On a side note: It's fascinating to watch as The Atlantic has effectively moved in to fill the space previously occupied by the triumvirate of Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report. It would be good for there to be more such editorial institutions with such a presence again. The publishing world has suffered a great deal in its transition to the realities of digital economics, but institutions still need to occupy a space where they can serve as clearinghouses for ideas and debate. ■ One of the least-reasonable changes that has occurred of late has been the New York Times's retreat from publishing daily editorials. And now, smarting from the reaction to this week's awful op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, the Times is considering a reduction in the number of op-eds it publishes. No, no, no: That's not the point. The Times should publish many ideas. Even a few stupid ones. But...maybe not the violently reactionary ones, OK? ■ Smart, opinionated digital publications have emerged -- The Bulwark, The Dispatch, and others. This has happened while others have been closed (The Weekly Standard) or major changes in tone or style (The Examiner and the National Review, for instance). But we need a contest among publications that think of themselves as representing the consensus of American opinion. The Atlantic may, in fact, be somewhere away from that center, but its identity seems more to be built around being where public opinion will be in six to twelve months -- skating, like Gretzky, to where the puck will be. Canada, with just 37 million people, has Maclean's, with its "uniquely Canadian perspective". One would think that the United States, with 330 million, could sustain more than just one publication in The Atlantic's lane -- and that it should.

The United States of America Strong words from James Mattis may have put steel in some spines

God bless Mattisonian permission structures.

News 161 American kids were named the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars

The program is making some headlines because of two bad appointments to the selection commission, but please don't let the rotten news overshadow the honor of the students. They represent all walks of life and all 50 states (plus PR & DC) and they should be the ones making news and being recognized.

News People shouldn't die over minor infractions

A reminder from Federalist Paper No. 62: "It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood..."


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

June 4, 2020

News Watch "The Tank Man"

(Video) The Frontline episode on Tiananmen Square is worth a re-watching every June 4th. The dignity of the individual is the highest good, and there may be no better illustration in modern history. This year's socially-distanced vigil in Hong Kong must not be the last.

News "I might just ask that the military officers step aside while you're answering these kind of questions"

Australian military leaders knew how to step away from rank partisanship last year

Health Safe hugging in a pandemic

News you really can use

Weather and Disasters Something unholy in the skies over Kansas City

A back-building mesoscale convective system crashed into a forward-propagating one behind it. The radar picture is incredible.

News The US just finished paying Civil War pensions

A woman whose father was an 83-year-old veteran when she was born (in 1930) just passed away. Try thinking through the math on that one.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

June 3, 2020

News Hong Kong should have become a US state

Generally: Let refugees in. Specifically: Let lots of Hong Kong residents in before the window closes and China refuses to let them out. And broadly: Don't be surprised by a future populated by city-states. But to the question immediately at hand, the United States, the UK, Australia, and other countries of like philosophy ought to open the doors wide to the people of Hong Kong if they want out.

News "I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop"

Senator Ben Sasse is right to say it. Whether you're an originalist, a textualist, a living-documentarian, or the ghost of Antonin Scalia himself, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.

Threats and Hazards Who are the people with the weapons?

Scenes from DC include the grave observation that armed "law enforcement" members won't identify themselves. If anyone is purporting to represent Federal law enforcement without identification, then it's time for members of Congress to demand immediate answers. All Federal authority is ultimately accountable to the Article I branch.

Threats and Hazards Sen. Tom Cotton is at odds with the IRI

He serves as a member of the board at the International Republican Institute. But the Senator is clearly at odds with its honorable mission, particularly with his use of phrases like "no quarter". He should have the character to recalibrate his own words accordingly.

Weather and Disasters Massive cloud complex visible for hundreds of miles

Over Muscatine, visible from Dubuque, with a plume stretching all the way to Chicagoland

News Police shouldn't be all-purpose social workers

Conscientious citizens ought to pursue change on this matter within their own communities. Who would you call if you thought someone needed help not of the 911 variety? Asking police/fire/EMS to be jacks-of-all-trades isn't fair to them, nor to the people in need.



June 2, 2020

The United States of America Air Force leadership speaks out

Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright shares an impassioned plea: "What should you be doing? Like me, acknowledge your right to be upset about what’s happening to our nation. But you must then find a way to move beyond the rage and do what you think is right for the country, for your community, for your sons, daughters, friends and colleagues...for every Black man in this country who could end up like George Floyd." It's a statement worth reading. ■ The Constitution's call "To form a more perfect union" is a phrase built around a verb. It isn't a destination or an end-state. It's a process and a challenge. It's not just "all hands" for the military -- it's for all of us. But thank goodness for leaders like Chief Master Sergeant Wright.

Computers and the Internet Florida member of Congress has tweet hidden for violating anti-violence policy

It's a start. Rep. Matt Gaetz asked about "hunt[ing] down" members of Antifa, and it was a needless display of puffery that bordered on incitement to violence. Blood lust is no substitute for courageous resolve. We need more adults in national leadership who can look to a problem and answer it with a summons to duty and an acknowledgment of the inherent challenges of living in a liberal democracy without turning to cheap lines meant to shock.

Health Will your personality change over time?

It can happen, but the odds are against sweeping changes in anyone's big five characteristics

News Names on the street

The names of people who died in police custody are painted on the street in Minneapolis where George Floyd died. This image deserves a very large audience.

Threats and Hazards DEA vehicles block the road to the Cato Institute

Protests in Washington, DC, and the Federal response thereto create a set of circumstances straight out of a Correspondents' Dinner routine. And yet: There are military vehicles and armed Federal agents blocking the streets of the nation's capital.

Weather and Disasters An early-season tropical storm could make a giant mess in the Gulf of Mexico

Tropical Storm Cristobal is already causing deadly floods in Central America

Computers and the Internet Little-known fact: Herbert Hoover opposed regulating Twitter

"Every expansion of government in business means that government, in order to protect itself from the political consequences of its errors and wrongs, is driven irresistibly without peace to greater and greater control of the nation's press and platform."



June 1, 2020

Threats and Hazards A despicable photo stunt

Peaceably-assembled people were removed with tear gas so that the President could get a photo op. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went with him. There was another choice: He could have said no. It's been done before by leaders in similar circumstances who knew how to keep their military uniforms out of a political stunt.



May 29, 2020

News "Do you think the cop with his knee on George Floyd's neck thought of him as a neighbor?"

The perspective and attitude that Patrick Skinner brings to his work as a peace officer (and what he tells us about it) are consistently refreshing. There are too many people who look into the eyes of others and see things that don't belong there instead of the dignified humanity of others. No 7-year-old is deserving of hate. ■ Every individual is entitled to be treated with dignity. Every human life has equal value. These should not be contestable claims.

News How to be a better person

Easy steps for allies

Humor and Good News The bookiest bookshelf ever

Be right back -- gotta go order some new Billy bookcases from IKEA

News Soldiers at the altar, 1918

This colorization is done with great skill -- matched by an evident respect for the original.

Health Plastic shields for fine dining in semi-distant privacy

Some of us depend on nonverbal communication more than anything else, so those cones are going to need wider diameters



May 28, 2020

The United States of America There's no reason voting by mail can't be quite secure

When ostensibly smart people like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas go about spinning the subject as though voting by mail is somehow riddled with fraud, they do a giant disservice to their fellow Americans. Sen. Cotton isn't an idiot, but his arguments substitute narrow, short-term partisanship for the durable good of the republic. ■ The grounds for election security -- even via mail -- are already well-established. Mail tampering is already a Federal offense. Election fraud is already a Federal offense. Voter intimidation is already a Federal offense. ■ Whatever happened to "enforce the laws already on the books"? A good-faith argument over the security of voting by mail would need first to acknowledge that there are already extensive legal prohibitions on the kind of bad behavior that could contaminate a vote. But a good-faith argument would further have to acknowledge that democracy itself is an exercise in trusting one's fellow citizens. There will always be people of bad faith and bad intent. But if they are more than 1 in 100, that would be a stunning revelation. ■ We can and should make rules and establish deterrents to keep people from trying to interfere with a clean vote. But we also need to believe that democracy gains legitimacy as more people take part in it. The United States is a democratic republic, and though we have guaranteed our republican virtues through the Constitution since 1787, we became more democratic in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was ratified, and again in 1920, when the 19th Amendment became law. Those steps made the country more democratic, and thus made the law more legitimate as an expression of the consent of the governed. ■ A vote is not made more worthy because the voter had to experience hardship to cast it. A vote is legitimate because it is cast by an individual, dignified and possessed of natural rights by virtue of birth.

Computers and the Internet Technologies are value-neutral. People aren't.

Jonathan V. Last, on whether Twitter ought to place some guardrails around the President's behavior: "The company can either be the arbiter of some basic shared liberal values. Or it can be a tool used by a political figure who is authoritarian-curious." ■ Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- you name the platform. All of them have rules against some forms of behavior. Yet, it will never be enough to be merely anti-bad, and it will never be adequate to think that perfecting technology will perfect humanity. Rules reflect choices -- and so does anarchy.

Humor and Good News Astronauts get radio chirps to help prevent crosstalk

We don't quite need to add those to videoconferencing, but maybe we could start using CB radio lingo to help prevent ambiguity. We could start with using "over" and "10-4".

Computers and the Internet Why did you unfollow?

Twitter could really use a follow-up feature so that you could, in fact, explain your unfollowing without drawing needless attention to it. Maybe there's a good reason for your departure, maybe not. But most of us don't unfollow with a flourish but, rather, silently in the night.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

May 27, 2020

Business and Finance Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin needs a better autograph

If your signature is going to be on the country's currency, it's better if that signature doesn't abritrarily intermix capitals with lower-case letters. That's not a style; it's a failure of basic penmanship. ■ To be fair, the "S" is probably the hardest letter to add in cursive, so he has an uphill battle to climb from the very first letter. But there are some pretty good ones to mimic in the Declaration of Independence. Roger Sherman probably had the cleanest "S" among the signatories, but there's a neat little flourish in Sam Huntington's that would be worth repeating in a modern autograph. ■ Signatures are a funny topic in an America that has a strange love/hate relationship with cursive writing. As a means of daily communications, cursive is far less important (most of the time) than typing. But there's an inherent value to an individual's handwriting (and, by extension, their signature) that ought to redeem itself in its own right. Not every idea is best expressed through touch-typing on a QWERTY keypad, and that means some kind of handwriting is necessary. And there are times, to be sure, when flowing cursive is preferable (aesthetically or otherwise) to block letters. A signature is one of thse cases -- even if awful signature pads erase all of the quality of effort. ■ Take pride in your signature, whether you're the Treasury Secretary or not. Find a special letter to make yours unique. In this time of "personal branding", there's no reason not to put a little effort into the "personal logo" you affix to any document of importance. (But that goes at twice over if the document in question is the currency.)

News CBS News to lay off somewhere around 50 staff members

We've seen a few steps toward this, but journalism urgently needs a concerted effort to spin up reporting outlets based on some form of co-op model, similar in spirit to credit unions. Not to replace what for-profit outlets do, but to fill the frightening gaps as they drop out. ■ The mutualism model isn't necessarily useful in every sector, but there are industries -- and journalism is increasingly one of them -- where the for-profit sector is abandoning ship due to structural problems that show no signs of changing. ■ Since advertising-supported journalism is being pinched more than ever, subscription-based reporting may well have to take its place. But that shift most likely also requires a change in management approach, as well.

Aviation News SpaceX astronauts take the "Dress for Success" ethic to a whole new level

The space suits aren't quite as shiny as the classic 1960s aesthetic, but they're pretty sleek in a modernist-and-yet-post-modernist way.

Humor and Good News What's in the pool water?

A children's swimsuit label comes with the warning "only non-chlorine bleach". Somebody may be missing the point.

Business and Finance This should really come as no surprise

People rethinking other travel plans are buying RVs. "Social distancing is a lot easier when you can bring along your own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom"



May 26, 2020

Threats and Hazards Man dies in Minneapolis police custody as bystanders are held back

Every encounter with the government should be predicated on a fundamental respect for the dignity of the individual. This much should be beyond debate. Yet it certainly doesn't appear to be on display in this awful incident.

Computers and the Internet When broadband becomes a public-health tool

Broadband access was important before, but the pandemic has made it practically essential as a tool for people to go about their business while keeping their distance from unnecessary crowds, working from home, or attending church and school activities delivered online in lieu of gatherings.

News Dissent among the trainers of the ranks

Civilians depend upon an officer corps that thinks independently, supports and defends the Constitution, and develops critical thinking about duty under the law. We should want our military leaders to be smart and honorable, not uncritical and servile.



May 24, 2020

Threats and Hazards Posted on Chinese social media: "2020-1997=50"

That may be one of the most pithy statements of protest ever made. And it is so deeply sad that this may be true.

News A billion cicadas per section

An NPR report says that parts of the United States are about to see the arrival of one and a half million cicadas per acre. There are 640 acres in a section, and 1.5 million times 640 equals 960 million total cicadas. (A section, by the way, is just one square mile.) That's a positively unfathomable number of insects.

Humor and Good News How do you summon the Laundry Fairy?

Do you have to put a Tide Pod underneath your pillow?



May 23, 2020

Weather and Disasters Smartphones make weather spotting better

With a good connection, spotters can share high-definition observations in real time. Add in just a little geolocation and you have a great way for professionals to verify what they're observing on radar.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

May 22, 2020

Business and Finance A problematic tension

Having (1) a giant industry devoted to getting Americans to think of housing as their "biggest household investment" is not easily reconciled with (2) a titanic problem with the widespread affordability of quality housing. It's one of the most important problems in economics. Housing is something like 15% of all household expenditure. Far more for certain households. And yet in many ways we treat it as immutable. Housing is a universal need, and in general, public policy ought to point in the direction of expanding access and reducing the costs of those universal needs.

Threats and Hazards Watch censorship happen

China's authoritarian government wants people within its borders to know nothing about its attack on freedom in Hong Kong. And what is grave trouble for Hong Kong is quite likely to be grave trouble for Taiwan, as well.

Weather and Disasters Is there such a thing as a "weak, brief tornado"?

Yes, and when the National Weather Service calls those out (at least in Tornado Alley), it helps to fill out the other end of the distribution curve from "PDS" events. It communicates to the fairly savvy local audience what degree of severity is involved, in effect buying credibility for future events that are more significant.

Weather and Disasters Excellent time-lapse view of a supercell up-close

(Video) A true supercell storm out on the Plains is one of the most gripping things you can see in life. The storm can be bigger than a mountain, but it's moving -- sometimes towards you. And on the Plains, you can see the whole thing so it consumes your entire field of vision.

Weather and Disasters Astonishing hail

8.5" in diameter

Agriculture A little harvest here...

...and a little planting right behind it.



May 21, 2020

Business and Finance Bipartisan group in Senate backs $4,000 credit for skills training

Training opportunities and affordability were very important issues before Covid-19. Now they're absolutely critical. As one aspect of tackling a very large problem, this policy approach seems like a healthy place to start. America needs a revitalization in how we think about education and training; for instance, it might be smart if many or most graduates transitioned from HS into a two-year technical program of some sort (like trades, bookkeeping, or computer programming), and if many then went on to additional years of school to complete a bachelor's degree program. Moreover, we need to adopt (culturally, if not statutorily) an expectation of permanent continuing education. It's possible to do this affordably and flexibly (see the work of Western Governors University, and it's the only responsible way to ensure that we are able to afford the social safety net that the public demands. Skills stagnation is a giant problem that lurks beneath the economic surface.

News Pulling weeds

It's satisfying to pull weeds when they're large, but it's smarter to pull them when they're small.

News Literally, a baby left on the front porch

Safe-haven laws are so important...but so is making sure that people know about them. This baby is physically OK, but there's clearly a lot of emotional pain here for the mother, and the child will have needs in the future as well.

Threats and Hazards US to withdraw from Open Skies treaty

Taking verifiability out of the equation makes high-stakes arms races more dangerous



May 20, 2020

News Parent sues university for going online-only during pandemic

This actually gets to the heart of an existential question: What does college tuition really buy? Study time? Social exposure? Status? Access to a curriculum? Professorial time? A signal to employers (a diploma)? And is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? A lot of institutions of higher learning have a whole lot to grapple with. These are questions that aren't going to simply evaporate, and the longer it takes for the virus to be contained (either by treatment or by a vaccine), the greater the penalty for failing to take a hard look at the answers. ■ The pandemic forced the whole of higher education to make a radical shift in delivery, and it's been quite obvious that the change was one that had been institutionally resisted at a titanic scale -- far more so than many other industries have been able to resist the changes brought about by Internet access. ■ Here's the big question: How much of the massive growth in the cost of higher education been tied to quality improvements in the core product? And, just as there are ways of letting consumers engage in price discrimination on, say, an airline flight (first class vs. coach, early-purchase vs. last-minute fares, upgrades for baggage, and so on), will we see the college universe start to break up their prices in similar ways -- with a "core" price for tuition that includes online delivery only, with "upgrade" prices for on-campus experiences?

Broadcasting Video game seeks to "fill the void" with reality TV production halted

If a "reality dating show game" is leaving a void in your life, perhaps a book would be a better way to fill it. Or a hobby. Or, really, anything but a video game based on the TV show.

Threats and Hazards The President threatens individual states

"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." - James Madison

Business and Finance With no sports, gamblers are literally betting on stock markets

Is this even speculation? Or is there yet another level below that on the scale of serious investing?



May 19, 2020

Threats and Hazards Twitter needs to add a button to report agitprop

Really, so does every social-media outlet. Agitprop is propaganda in popular culture and media, and a certain class of people revel in creating it today. There are likely more than a few being compensated to produce it and to inject it into the streams of media in which so many of us spend so much of our time today. But it's noxious. There have always been those who have tried to persuade, but there has to be a cultural expectation that those who do so will participate in arguments using good faith and common facts. That's just not how a disturbing number of people behave now, and many of them are empowered by social-media services that actively benefit from division and fighting because it makes their platforms more "sticky". ■ Civilization depends on a constructive common effort to find the truth. That's it. There is no end state, no final destination, no fixed conclusion. Living peacefully with other human beings is a process, and one that has to be regenerated over and over again. Those who reject the rules that make the process possible are traitors to the common good. ■ "Traitor" is a loaded word, of course, but consider the preamble to the Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." ■ The "general welfare" is protected by the Constitution, which isn't itself a destination but, rather, a set of rules. The nation is not perfect, but it seeks to become "more perfect". We consent to the pursuit of "tranquility", "liberty", and "justice". These are ideals we seek, but we need to know that the best we can do is approach them asymptotically -- we can come ever and ever closer, but we shouldn't ever succumb to the myth that we have "arrived". We have to keep trying, always. ■ Agitprop falls under the class of behaviors that John Stuart Mill described like this: "If any one does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation." The law generally will not have a legitimate case to dispose of it -- thus it is up to communities to provide the "general disapprobation". Heaven help us if we are not up to that task.

Weather and Disasters Dam failures could flood Midland, Michigan with 9' of water

An incredible natural disaster striking Michigan in the middle of an incredible public-health emergency.

Humor and Good News Presented without comment from the Omaha police scanner

"Caller says there are too many people at Krispy Kreme...Police enroute to investigate."

Weather and Disasters Lakes Michigan and Huron are a whole lot higher than usual

Two to two-and-a-half feet higher than their past century averages. That's significant.

News Will the pandemic send larger numbers to smaller cities?

There are about 160 metro areas in the United States with 50,000 to 200,000 people. These areas already have city-scale infrastructure and amenities, but they're a long way from "big". The pandemic has abruptly sent huge numbers of people working from home. If that shift becomes permanent, the small cities ought to be primed for growth.



May 18, 2020

News Priest uses squirt gun to deliver holy water

Unconventional...but honestly, not any less reverent than the way some priests whip around an aspergillum. (You can sometimes see a slight smirk on the faces of the ones who really get a kick out of the action.)

News A rougher high-school experience than most

This young man's high-school experience included a Category 4 hurricane, a school shooting (in which he was shot in the head), and now a pandemic.

Science and Technology How exactly did snakes become a thing?

The longer you think about it, the less sense locomotion-without-legs even makes. Snakes evolved from ancestors that had four limbs. Somewhere along the line, evolution somehow favored getting rid of limbs. How did this happen?

Weather and Disasters Chicago's basement floods

A flood overtook Lower Wacker Drive. As though anyone needs another reason for their nerves to be on edge on that road.

Health Wear masks. It's just not that hard.

Jonathan V. Last puts it well: "[Whether] masks slow spread by 80% or 20%, we should be eager to bank that decline, because it's basically a freebie. In the grand scheme of economic expense and behavior modification, wearing a mask costs us next to nothing." In the words of research from Arizona State: "[W]hen the relative benefit is small, the absolute benefit in terms of lives is still highly nontrivial."

Aviation News Amelia Earhart: Call me by my name, please

It boggles the mind that in 1932, she had to implore the publisher of the New York Times to stop calling her "Mrs. Putnam" instead of "Amelia Earhart". It's ironic she had to implore the Times to recognize her achievement under her own name, considering that Arthur Sulzberger became publisher of the NYT after his father-in-law died. Without "Mrs. Sulzberger" (nee Ochs), Mr. Sulzberger never would have gotten his own job.

Broadcasting Strong writing beats hot graphics

The team at "Last Week Tonight" is proving that strong writing can carry a show right through the limitations of pandemic production without missing a beat. John Oliver is hitting his stride right now with pacing and the show might well be better without a studio audience.



May 17, 2020

News Time for new ideas

If we don't see some bold new ideas for educational delivery by this fall, we ought to be deeply disappointed. The massive disruption wrought on the educational system by this pandemic had better urge us on to some vibrant local experimentation.



May 16, 2020

Computers and the Internet Here comes asynchronous education (if we're smart enough to embrace it)

The under-appreciated thing about online education (when it's done well): Students can make asynchronous choices to make their low-value time more valuable. Up until now, unless an educational system was deliberately designed (like Western Governors University) to be entirely self-paced, it has largely fallen into the model of "Students show up at the appointed time and watch a lesson remotely". Higher education still largely expects students to take part in cohorts and to follow a prescribed pace for going through a program. ■ That has to change. It has to change right away. The Covid-19 pandemic totally upended the 2019-2020 school year and the disarray is evident everywhere. The American collegiate system wasn't ready for the diaspora and wasn't prepared to move education online. And yet Harvard Medical School has announced that "our fall 2020 courses will commence remotely for our entering classes of medical, dental and graduate students". Any stigma that once might have applied to online education ought to be well and permanently destroyed now. ■ The next seismic shift will need to be the adjustment to asynchronicity. Are there cases in which having a cohort is useful for debate and discussion? Sure. But there are a great many things that students can learn objectively at their own pace without an arbitrary "shot clock" working against them. ■ And if anything has become more evident than ever, it ought to be the need for true lifelong learning. If the economy can be brought to a halt so abrupt that the unemployment rate can jump by ten percentage points in a single month, then we need to be able to re-skill, up-skill, and re-deploy people's labor without arbitrary roadblocks. ■ One of the great human works is to take something of low value and to move it to a higher state of value. Free time is one of those things. The faster we see a broad commitment to facilitating individual choices to turn low-value time into higher-value time through on-demand access to learning programs, the better off society will be.

Humor and Good News The most 1980s-themed gag ever

Leslie Nielsen "erasing" the birthmark from Mikhail Gorbachev's head at the start of "The Naked Gun" really can't be topped for pure 80s zeitgeist. (Though the rest of the film is chock-full of 80s sight gags worth revisiting, too.)



May 15, 2020

Health Good initial results from a Covid-related vaccine

Preclinical trial (not yet in humans) shows effectiveness in keeping the viral load below detectable limits and preventing pneumonia

Weather and Disasters Ottumwa ties monthly record rainfall in one event

That's a significant event. There are at least a few such examples that have occurred across Iowa and the Midwest over the last few years that really ought to have us reconsidering what the worst-case scenarios for rainfall might be.

Humor and Good News What makes "Interstate Love Song" great

A fascinating, fine-grained analysis of one of the best rock songs of all time

Humor and Good News The Viking Kittens

(Video) A classic among ridiculous low-fi web videos. Everyone should see it at least once.

Business and Finance McDonald's turns 80

And thus was born one of America's greatest real-estate empires. You didn't think they were really in it for the hamburgers, did you?

News Space Force flag is unveiled

It's lunacy that we have a Space Force but not a Cyber Force. Space fits neatly within an existing branch. Cyber is its own domain, and requires its own rules of engagement, service academy, and systemic accountability for results.

Humor and Good News It's official: "Mary Poppins" has redeeming educational value

Specifically, as a security lesson. Mr. Banks really screwed up when he tore up the children's nanny ad and let it fly.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

May 14, 2020

The United States of America The Founders wouldn't be throwing fits over a mandate to wear masks in a pandemic

Benjamin Franklin, in particular, would have been a firm advocate of reasonable public-health measures. In his autobiography, we find this heartbreaking passage: "In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation." Those are not the words of a man who would fight a basic precaution against contagious disease by making it a matter of false pride. ■ In a similar vein, James Madison wrote, "[T]he public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object." Those aren't the words of a thinker who places his right to be a public nuisance above the well-being of his fellow citizens. ■ It's a common mistake to deify the Founding Fathers when we should instead see them as real human beings -- people who made decisions that resulted in some great historic outcomes. Deification turns them into untouchable idols, which they themselves would have resisted. It is clear from the words and the systemic architecture they left behind that the Founders expected every generation of Americans to strive for greatness, and to leave the country even better for successive generations. ■ It is likewise a common mistake to think that we can solve every problem by appealing to the Founders (or by rejecting them). Human nature contains a whole lot of characteristics that are unchanging over time. Read a few passages from Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" and you'll discover more than a few behavioral recommendations that make just as much sense in 2020 as they did in 1732. They weren't caricatures, they were real people. And several (Madison, Franklin, and Jefferson in particular) gave considerable thought to questions that are utterly familiar to our lives today. Might one or two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have been irascible characters, real porcupines of men? Probably. But most of them would most likely have looked at the evidence at hand in the case of an event like a pandemic and sought responses that would have preserved "the general welfare". Wearing a mask so as not to asymptomatically transmit a contagious disease to others would have been a very simple request, indeed.

Humor and Good News Just look at this thing

Photos of a vivid emerald-green Lincoln from 1979 are bound to stir up some feelings. What those feelings might be? Who knows?

Weather and Disasters An unexpected weather coincidence

The Storm Prediction Center's latest forecast map includes a large area under "slight" risk for severe weather, bounded within a larger ring categorized as "marginal" risk. Yet, somehow, The "slight" and "marginal" risk areas contain almost exactly the same populations: Just over 28 million people each. Nothing more than a chance coincidence, but a swift glance at the map surely wouldn't have told the viewer that the two areas contained almost precisely the same number of souls.

Business and Finance Autarky is for losers

Scott Lincicome captures the absurdity of the President's diatribe against supply chains with the perfectly elegant "#Juche2020". Brilliant.

News A life of extraordinary interest

One of the victims of Covid-19 had quite the biography: "Zelik (Jack) fought as a member of a resistance group, the Russian partisans, and helped hide other Jews from capture." Then he became an Omaha furniture salesman. Quite remarkable.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

May 13, 2020

Business and Finance What if it's a depression?

The US labor force distribution in 1930 was approximately 23% in agriculture, 31% in manufacturing, and 46% in services. Today we're overwhelmingly employed in services. Does that make it easier to pick up and restart from a depression or not?

Humor and Good News What were people thinking in the 1970s?

An ad for "Congoleum" flooring basically promises the look of Louis XIV with the bounce of an elementary-school gymnasium!

Business and Finance To return or not to return your PPP loan?

The ever-shifting rules make it look like a game of Calvinball, as John Lettieri puts it. Complexity is a subsidy to those with the capacity to navigate it. For everyone else, it's just deadweight loss. ■ There may be fine reasons for the government to provide support so that the economy can survive an extraordinary period in lockdown. But the simpler the approach, the better. That's why things should have started with $2,000 monthly checks to everyone with a pulse and a Social Security number -- not as a trial run for a universal basic income, but as a low-friction way to ensure that people could make the necessary choice to stay home and (especially) to quarantine themselves if they showed symptoms of Covid-19. ■ Should there be support as well directly offered to businesses? Quite possibly, especially if your theory of the firm assumes that the existence and structure of a business itself has a purpose that cannot be quickly replaced by something else. A lot of people play buzzword bingo around the word "disruption" and its many offshoots, but the fact is that a complex economy contains many tightly-integrated elements, and the consequences of letting businesses fail through no fault of their own could have dreadful consequences not just for the business owners, but also for employees, suppliers, customers, and even competitors. The market tends to be very good at creative destruction when a new and better idea comes along, but the pandemic-triggered shutdown had nothing to do with a better idea. It was merely a catastrophe that struck most market participants (people and firms alike) quite out of the blue. But had we not done it, the consequences could have been even more unspeakable than they already have been. ■ In the midst of a panic, it serves no productive use to make it hard for people (or firms) to navigate whether they qualify for assistance or not. Simplicity is the only just way.

Humor and Good News What a little soft lighting will do

It's pretty amazing that more members of the Instagram Generation haven't figured out what black-and-white photos can do with the help of nothing more than a little soft lighting.

Computers and the Internet Put the agitprop on mute

Social media has too many participants who are sources of agitprop. They need to be preemptively muted by the rest of us so that they don't extract a mental tax they didn't earn.



May 12, 2020

Health A master class in plain language

Dr. Anthony Fauci's videoconferenced testimony to Congress is an excellent example of a technical expert using plain language to explain a sophisticated topic -- even using a sports metaphor along the way. This is how economists, engineers, scientists, doctors, and others in complex professions need to talk to elected officials. Be understood! The more complex our world becomes, the more we need technical experts who have the ability and the drive to make their messages clear and unambiguous to audiences who make decisions on behalf of us all.

News Where goes the newspaper editorial?

The Nieman Lab notes that "the [Providence] Journal abandoning editorials is a scale of retreat that may be unique in the United States: a state's dominant paper, in its capital city, volunteering to abandon one of its most significant roles -- with no rival paper in a position to take its place." The executive editor tried to spin the decision as something rooted in high-minded principle -- gobbledygook about how editorials "inadvertently undermined readers' perception of a newspaper's core mission: to report the news fairly." The plain evidence is that it's simply a reflection of Gannett's budget cuts that have stripped the institution of the labor required to write those editorials. And that's tragic. A newspaper editorial isn't sacrosanct in and of itself, but the idea that a group of people from differing viewpoints ought to be able to come together to form a consensus opinion on matters of importance to the community shouldn't be controversial, nor subject to the axe. It's so important that institutional opinions be formed, held, and communicated that in places where "corporate" won't pay for editorial boards, then community members ought to step in to fill the void. An opinion landscape filled only with individual voices is much too likely to reward the loudest and the most outrageous, since that's the only way to make a big name for oneself. The institutional voice, by contrast, is measured by consistency and thoughtfulness over time. The departure of those institutional opinions from daily life is a serious loss for our civic well-being.

Humor and Good News A useful how-to video that needs no words at all

When you're on a telephone call, there's always something missing. Nonverbal communication makes up so much of our "language" that it can be used entirely on its own to explain things -- like how to make a mask out of a sock.



May 11, 2020

News Most people are good. Believe it.

This bizarre historical moment we're experiencing together looks entirely different depending on your lens. A handful of antisocial bozos are rooting for chaos -- like Alex Jones, who says he'll cannibalize his neighbors if it looks like he won't be able to get meat at the store. But the pandemic era looks much more hopeful if you assume that most people are good by nature and are trying to do their best, which they are. We're a cooperative species by nature, and we ought to act like it.

News Catchy book titles don't say anything

It seems unavoidable that any nonfiction book that makes it to the popular press requires a catchy title (to sell) plus a subtitle (to explain). Strange how that's become the paradigm we've adopted.



February 29, 2020

Health The astonishing economic consequences of coronavirus

The Financial Times reports: "Based on migration data, ANZ said the Chinese economy was operating at 20 per cent capacity". That's a truly unbelievable figure. Manufacturing has collapsed, and everyone knows that's the lifeblood of China's economy.

Humor and Good News What's the best way to get fast-food fish?

Filet-O-Fish? LJS? Culver's? Arby's? It's the existential question posed every Lent.

Humor and Good News Dead Irish writers

If tasked to assign a belated playwright to the writers' room of a television show, never hesitate to send in James Joyce. He'd be amazing as a contributor to "Curb Your Enthusiasm".

Health Surgeon General: Fight coronavirus by getting the flu shot

Worried about coronavirus? Then get the flu shot. Keeps your immune system strong enough to fight back if you need, and reduces the burden that might otherwise fall on the health system around you. The authorities don't want you hoarding masks, they want you washing your hands. The need for health-care workers to get priority on good-quality masks is obvious, but you know who else is going to need masks if this disease breaks through? Wastewater collection and treatment operators. Don't take infrastructure for granted.

Broadcasting Netflix now shares daily ratings

But where, oh where, did the five-star scale go? The company nixed it a long time ago, citing the behavior of most users, but for those who saw value in rating a "3" differently from a "5", the loss still seems pointless.



February 28, 2020

Threats and Hazards "[I]f the Chinese economy doesn't get back to normal pretty soon, these financial fires aren't going to be campfires but infernos"

Christopher Balding is a China-watcher to watch, and his assessment of the situation is grim. It's not that the powers that rule China deserve to do so, it's that there's so little clarity about how they might peacefully be replaced.

News Rough neighborhood

From Dayton, Ohio: "While executing another search warrant at his home in October 2015, agents discovered an AN/AAR-47 Missile Warning System"

News Night-owl Catholics follow Lenten rules from midnight to midnight

So says the result of a completely unscientific poll

Broadcasting "Occupied" remains must-watch television

This is without a doubt one of the most riveting and suspenseful television programs ever made. And the aesthetics are phenomenal. Through three seasons, the writers have told a tale, much too close to reality, of what would happen if Russia invaded Norway -- but did it in such a way that a wounded European Union failed to come to the rescue.

Business and Finance Keeping your head when others lose theirs

The stock market is in panic mode over the likely economic consequences of coronavirus, but there's no obligation on the part of any investor to go along with the madness. If your time horizon is any greater than about 5 years, then it should be self-evident that any kind of correction big enough to really shock the stock market is really just an opportunity to buy shares at a discount.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 22, 2020

Threats and Hazards Nominating Bernie Sanders means re-electing Donald Trump

Contempt for the mainstream is an animal cry, not a path to winning a decisive victory in November. And at this point, Trump has hijacked too much of the "mainstream", and Sanders is still trying to sell a "revolution". It's a colossal mistake.

Business and Finance Charlie Munger: "I think there are lots of troubles coming"

If you won't listen to Charlie Munger, then you need to show your work and give overwhelming evidence that you're right. He's seen too much and thought too hard about it to make big mistakes. Emphatically one of the wisest people in America today, most especially on financial matters.

Broadcasting Credit where due: "Ford vs. Ferrari" is quite good

For a movie about auto racing, "Ford vs. Ferrari" deserves a mountain of credit for the careful understatement of its writing. Just an excellent job of using the right words and no more of them than necessary. Great work by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller.



February 21, 2020

Threats and Hazards Grieving mother: "I think I brainwashed myself with the internet"

Internet-driven self-radicalization isn't just a problem in our politics -- it's a problem in our health and our culture and probably every other facet of life, too. This story of a woman losing her baby is wrenching -- but it's only one of altogether too many stories of this kind of radicalization.

Water News Forget the environment

Clean water supplies are routinely regulated by "environmental" agencies and treated like matters of protecting Mother Nature. That's a colossal misjudgment. Water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure is an urgent matter of public health, and nothing less.

Humor and Good News Five half-court shots in a row

(Video) Doesn't matter whether or not basketball is your sport...this is really impressive

Threats and Hazards Now the left-populists are attacking the free press, too

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to spin reporting on foreign influence campaigns (including efforts to support him) as though the Washington Post is somehow out to get him. Don't take potshots at the messenger, Sen. Sanders. We already get far too much of that.

Broadcasting Worth watching: "Tom Papa: You're Doing Great!"

Laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Highly recommended.

News California's governor has strange ideas about housing

Gavin Newsom tweets, "Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics." This sentiment would make a lot more sense if prescriptions could be filled by municipal zoning authorities. Is housing a universal need? Absolutely. Is it a human right? Not in the proper sense of the phrase: A human right is something that a person possesses by nature of birth, of which others can deprive her or him by force -- like the right to speak freely, or the right to practice a religious faith. In a well-governed society, others may not prohibit you from exercising your human rights. Universal needs -- like health care or housing -- are different: Everyone needs them, but someone has to produce them. Houses and prescription drugs do not automatically exist merely because you exist -- which is what separates them from the intrinsic human rights. Mis-labeling a "universal need" as a "human right" leads directly to the kind of wild claim that Governor Newsom makes in supposing that housing can simply be "prescribed" out of thin air. If a shortage of housing exists, it is because of some kind of a market failure -- and identifying the cause of that failure is essential. Why does San Francisco have a housing shortage? In large part because of local zoning challenges. That's a solvable problem -- but it's not solvable by conjuring up out of thin air a "prescription" for an apartment.

News On the new Acting Director of National Intelligence

A distressing story about an important figure, from a highly credible source. Lane Greene, a writer for The Economist, says Richard Grenell "once accused me of inventing my father's (fatal) cancer so I could sneak a colleague (whom he disliked) into an interview with John Bolton". Wow.

Health Influenza has killed more than 100 American kids this season

Don't just let the number roll past you. This is an immeasurable tragedy, and it's happened 105 times over. Maybe we can't stop every one of those tragedies, but the public at large plays a role. You play a role. Get the flu shot. A crucial point from the CNN story: "Schaffner also said everyone should get vaccinated, especially since the flu can strike a perfectly healthy individual and cause severe illness. At least half of the children who die from the flu were otherwise healthy, he said."

Computers and the Internet If you're going to share a link...

...strip out the tracking portion of the URL when you can



February 16, 2020

Threats and Hazards China's President Xi knew that coronavirus was a problem long before making it public

The cover-up is often what gets politicians -- not necessarily the crime. In this case, the Chinese authorities deserve whatever punishment comes their way. Governments officials who lie don't deserve the responsibilities of power.

Humor and Good News You can't recycle much bigger than recycling a whole house

Isn't that really what house-moving is all about?

Health Flu season is back, and it's bad

If you are capable, get the flu shot. Your immunity helps protect others. It's not like the old days; there are plenty of doses to go around. Get the flu shot.

Humor and Good News Major League Baseball gets a female hitting coach

You don't have to be a fan of the Yankees, baseball, or even sports to appreciate Dirk Chatelain's profile of Rachel Balkovec, the new full-time hitting coach for minor-league players in the Yankees' system. It's just a great story of grit -- something we need to teach our girls and boys alike.



February 15, 2020

News The Sandhill crane migration begins

It really is one of the craziest natural phenomena you'll ever see. It's a little shy of the Northern Lights from a high latitude, but the sheer quantity and density of these birds is really a sight to behold.

Computers and the Internet News from an unknown number

Just you wait: Between the plague of crooked robocalls and the unbearable persistence of email scammers, soon we're going to have to revive telegrams as a means of delivering important news. If it's really good news, a singing telegram.

The United States of America Don't get mad that primary voting is different from state to state

It's due to Federalism -- and don't scoff at it. Do you really want a Presidential appointee ordering all 50 states how to conduct their own elections?



February 14, 2020

Threats and Hazards Is China's behavior really a priority or not?

American national-security leaders in the region say the right things, but what does the proposed Federal budget say? James Madison wrote, "[A] right implies a remedy; and where else could the remedy be deposited, than where it is deposited by the Constitution?" In parallel fashion: A priority implies a commitment of resources, and where else are those found but in the budget?

News The peculiar side effects of zoning

A set of photos from Los Angeles shows just how differently land gets used from one lot to the next under the zoning ordinances set by government. One might conclude that the radical difference between a tower of more than 20 stories and a single-family residence immediately next door reflects some kind of artificial restriction (zoning) rather than a difference in the natural market value of the land.

Humor and Good News A Valentine's Day thought

Austin restaurant sign: "A taco is a beef love letter in a corn envelope that you mail to your stomach"

News Mayo accidentally told 360 prospects they had been admitted to med school -- but they weren't

Whoever you are and whatever you did, you probably didn't screw up quite this badly this week, so you've got that going for you. Which is nice.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 13, 2020

Weather and Disasters Giant news from Australia

The fire service in New South Wales says "for the first time this season all bush and grass fires in NSW are now contained."

Business and Finance McClatchy files for bankruptcy

The company will "operate as usual throughout this process", says the board chair. What even is "normal" for the metropolitan daily newspaper market anymore? Isn't "operating as normal" itself a tremendous risk factor?

News John Kelly doesn't approve

The former Presidential Chief of Staff second-guesses a long list of President Trump's behaviors -- with good reason

Iowa School district had massive warning about bus driver who crashed

If you've ever wondered whether you should say something -- whether you should speak up about something that looked unsafe or someone who seemed unable to discharge a job -- read this.



February 12, 2020

News Sen. Michael Bennet quits Presidential race

Sen. Bennet deserves credit for bringing a touch of Coolidgean humility to the 2020 race, while he was in it

Iowa Could Sinn Fein really have a place in the middle of Irish government?

In case you thought the horse-trading, coalition-building, and general electoral madness of things in the United States was wild, the coalition-building games being played in Ireland right now are something to behold

News Is Sen. Bernie Sanders the Trump of Democratic Party politics?

Worth reading from Reason: "The old model of two-party politics, with its indifference to individual political idiosyncrasies, left out many people and worldviews...Yet it's far from clear that the emerging model, with its bias toward fringe populism, is an improvement; indeed, it may be worse."

Science and Technology 3% of American adults think science has a "mostly negative" effect on society

And yet those 3% who say it's "mostly negative" still get to fly on airplanes, view weather forecasts, get prescription drugs, and type on the Internet, just like the rest of us. Freeloading jerks.

Business and Finance Sizeable inflation in China in January

There's no predicting the timing or triggers behind a recession. This kind of out-of-the-blue circumstance is a great example why. While it doesn't mean China is inevitably going to have a recession, it is a valid reminder that tough times can come out of nowhere.

The United States of America How to increase electoral diversity in a winner-take-all system

We really ought to consider adopting fusion voting in more places than we already do. There's no reason to use the law to preserve a two-party duospony on "purchasing" viable candidates.

Iowa We live in strange times

An Iowa House bill "prohibits an employer from requiring that an employee have a microchip or other device implanted or inserted in the employee's body." It probably deserves a real shot at becoming law.

Threats and Hazards What are the odds coronavirus topples China's Xi?

The odds are definitely non-zero. Some signs have appeared already that the economic impact is more than just a blip, and that's the aspect that seems most likely to trigger a big turn of events. Promises are being made and strange experiments are being tried to stop the disease from spreading. But who trusts the government there? Who could?


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 11, 2020

News Federal buildings don't need to be "classical" in style

Reportedly making the rounds in the White House is a draft executive order to mandate "classical" architecture as the default style for new Federal buildings. Prescribing the style puts the cart before the horse. The real question that should come first is: "Does the presence of this building add value to the community where it will go?" That's a holistic question, and architectural style is only part of the answer. Government buildings can be modern and beautiful or classical and ugly or all over the map. The important question isn't which style is used, but whether the design fits the community and adds value to it. Some do. Some don't.

News Someone inside the MLB hates baseball

A proposal for the postseason would change the first round to best-of-three, give byes to the top seeds in each league, and let some of the teams pick their opponents. This proposal is idiotic. The wild card play-in ought to go to a best-of-three series (because any single game in baseball could be the result of chance) -- and leave the rest of the postseason alone. It's as if MLB hates baseball.

Iowa Expectations of the Iowa Caucuses shouldn't be precise

The Iowa caucuses are, by nature, a little fuzzy around the edges. It's inherently an imprecise venture, not the College of Cardinals meeting to elect the Pope.

The United States of America If her momentum continues, is it a "Klobucharge"?

A strong performance in the New Hampshire primary has people looking for a name for what's up with Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobusurge and Amymentum have both been suggested, but clearly the one requiring the least contortion is best. Klobucharge it is.



February 10, 2020

Broadcasting Podcast: Who's afraid of a little Korean cinema?

The people who are chicken about facing competition from "foreign" films are really no different from the people who want to "build a wall". Money, ideas, goods, and people ought to move with the maximum practicable freedom.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 7, 2020

Computers and the Internet Governors tackle broadband shortages in rural areas

More often than not, it seems like state and local governments work on the truly interesting stuff.

News Setbacks make tall buildings more beautiful

Taller buildings might well help raise population densities in large cities -- which in turn may have a long list of economic and possibly environmental benefits. But it would be nice if we could have them take humane forms along the way.

Threats and Hazards Red Cross donations aren't making their way to fight coronavirus in China

It would be nice to believe that great revolutions for freedom are begun because people recognize their inherent dignity and their inalienable rights. But if it's ordinary bureaucratic incompetence that topples authoritarians, as it might well be in China, then we would probably take that, too.

News Life is about more than just a series of transactions

Nothing seems to mystify the unprincipled person quite so much as watching someone do the right thing because and only because it's the right thing to do.



February 6, 2020

The United States of America 90% of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives

So says the Gallup Poll, and it's grand news. It's a record high. The business titan David Sokol used the phrase "Pleased but not satisfied" (it's even the title of his book. Maybe the average American is "Satisfied but not (always) pleased".

Iowa After blasting Iowa, DNC chair backtracks on "Rachel Maddow Show"

And yet Tom Perez's original tweet slamming the caucuses -- making no distinction whatsoever about "individual precincts" and generally throwing Iowa under the bus -- remains up and unmodified. You don't fix this by clarifying yourself just to Rachel Maddow. Correct your own record.

Weather and Disasters Why is Cedar Rapids only as warm as Des Moines during May and June?

Cedar Rapids is ever-so-slightly north of Des Moines, so it's no surprise that the daily highs in Des Moines would typically be higher than those in Cedar Rapids. But something happens in the April-to-June period that eats up Des Moines's southern advantage. Maybe it's Crunchberry Day more often during that time of year. Or maybe it's just a difference in land cover.

Agriculture Cook beans, earn street cred

The USDA is looking for "citizen scientists" to help them figure out how to cook beans

Iowa Why would you leave a caucus before your vote is counted?

Iowa's Democratic caucus rules are a little arcane, but the idea of realignment actually gives some useful power to those who backed candidates who fell short. Once you're in the room, the marginal cost of sticking around to go with your second choice is a few minutes. At that point, it's crazy to just walk out -- at just the point when your vote has increased marginal value to whomever can win you over.

Socialism Doesn't Work A many-layered snapshot of dystopia

A propaganda banner strung out for all to see, someplace in China where the people are in lockdown over the coronavirus outbreak. The banner, says an interpreter, suggests that making babies is a perfectly good thing to do since China's one family, one child rule is no longer in effect.



February 5, 2020

The United States of America United States En Marche?

Could the United States sustain an American version of En Marche? Are the two major parties at just such a crisis point that a permanent centrist third party could take root?

Broadcasting Fox News Channel is using 8-year-old B-roll of the Iowa Caucuses

A warning: Don't wear ironic hats or trendy haircuts when the news cameras are going to be around

Humor and Good News A semi-pro tip

If you're going to tear a sheet of paper, go the long way down the page. That's usually the direction of the grain.

Humor and Good News Teen cancer survivor is now 20-year-old nursing student and hospital fundraiser

Three cheers for Iowa's Hannah Bormann

The United States of America There's no weakness in Sen. Mitt Romney's vote

There are memes circulating trying to denigrate Romney's masculinity, as though that somehow might diminish the strength of his choice. Anyone who uses motherhood as a metaphor for weakness is an idiot. Full stop.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 4, 2020

Iowa People are confusing a predictable app failure with a conspiracy

The delay in getting results from the Iowa Caucuses is the fault of a technology disruption, pure and simple. Matt Tait puts it extremely well: "It is not sufficient to *be* secure, it must be *seen* to be secure, and robust against even false conspiracies". Digital security may seem like an esoteric matter of bits and bytes, but it's ultimately a matter of institutional trust and human expectation-setting. Those are very real flesh-and-blood things. In the meantime, though, a message from Iowa to the nation: Anything else you'd like us to beta-test for you? Quite seriously, that's part of the problem: Test users find bugs much faster than developers can anticipate them.

News We overreact to little things and underreact to big things

Perspective is hard to learn

Iowa Iowa isn't a small state: It's almost dead-center in the rankings

Iowa is the #31 state by population. "Small"? By comparison with California or Texas or New York, sure, but we're actually nearly the median overall. There aren't even ten states with 10 million people.

The American Way A philosophy in a sentence

Make money, have fun, clean up after yourself, and mind your business.

News A timely book recommendation

"Why Flip a Coin?" is a great exploration of the science of decision-making -- which includes a very useful section on why there is absolutely no method of counting a vote that will satisfy everybody's sense of "fairness". It is literally impossible.

Science and Technology Predicting vertebrate lifespans from DNA

Bowhead whales are thought to have natural lifespans of nearly 270 years. What kind of thoughts go through the mind of a bowhead whale around, say, age 230? One has to imagine they're at least somewhat sentient, right?



February 3, 2020

The United States of America If they can fire you, then you're not their boss

At the State of the Union Address, the spotlight may be on the President, but it's Congress that's supposed to be in the first chair.

Broadcasting Podcast: "Caucus Eve in Iowa"

It's Caucus Eve in Iowa, and we've already celebrated with our traditional dinner of pork chops and corn syrup. This is going to be a big week for news. But is it going to be a good one for the Constitution?

News Illinois sells $40 million in first month of legalized marijuana

In a state of about 13 million people, that's a little over $3 per capita. So, definitely not teetotalers -- but not quite Cheech and Chong, either. In-staters bought 78% of the weed -- out-of-staters purchased the other 22%.

Health Macau's casinos to close for half a month

You don't shut down a critical industry for weeks at a time unless the situation is dire. Yet that's what China is doing in response to the spread of coronoavirus. Revealed preferences writ not just large, but huge.

Iowa Who's eligible to vote in the Iowa caucuses?

Iowa's caucuses are closed, but voters can change registration on-site -- which explains the big drop in independent voters around big Presidential contests. From 2000 to the present, independents have been the biggest voter bloc, with the Republican and Democratic parties each having taken turns in second place. One interesting data point: There were slightly fewer active voters in Iowa registered as of Feb. 2nd than as of Jan. 2nd.

The United States of America Teach your children well

George Will: "A rights-centered society, must, however, take seriously the fact that duties are not natural. They must be taught. Self-interest is common and steady; virtue is rare and unpredictable."



February 1, 2020

Computers and the Internet Pew study says Facebook users don't know much about how the news feed is created

The problem is less about understanding how the news feed is created and more about understanding that it shouldn't be trusted as a news source

Health China's problem with trust and doctors is making coronavirus worse

An estimate published by The Lancet suggests that tens of thousands of people have been infected in Wuhan, China. A trade is not a profession unless its practitioners sacrifice some of their self-interest in exchange for the trust placed in them to do what's right for the client. If you don't have that trust, you're just plying a trade like anybody else and deserve no special social status.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

January 31, 2020

Iowa How big are the Iowa Caucuses?

So big that even C-SPAN is advertising on a downtown billboard visible from I-235

Health The world's snake-oil supplies remain inexhaustible

The British edition of "Vogue" contains some astonishingly loony suggestions for feeling better about the coronavirus outbreak. Nobody's expecting them to be The Lancet or the Journal of the American Medical Association, but in the process of trying to be topical, there's no reason for them to be dangerously flaky.

Weather and Disasters In from the cold, in a manner of speaking

Last year's temperatures were 55°F lower in Des Moines than they are today. The swing is just crazy.

Threats and Hazards What was Sen. Lamar Alexander saying?

In announcing his decision to vote against hearing witnesses at the President's impeachment trial, Sen. Alexander argued that "the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate." Who said anything about banning him from the ballot? Is there any Constitutional clause, law, or interpretation that says a President couldn't be removed from office on February 1st, then elected to the office again on November 3rd? Wouldn't that be a valid way to let the voters decide? Doesn't framing the wrong consequence as a reason for making the decision itself cast doubt on the decision?

Iowa For whom should a moderate crossover voter support in the Democratic caucuses?

The three palatable options most likely to meet the "viability" threshold are Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. But which one, and why?

Iowa Still no Popeye's chicken sandwich in Des Moines

One of the national reporters in Iowa for the caucuses really ought to look into this scandal

News Which is the more important gathering?

New Year's Eve or the Super Bowl?



January 30, 2020

News Light rail, streetcars, subways, and more

Wacky idea: Urban rail systems should primarily be designed around sets of interlocking circles, like Olympic rings. Linear transportation systems tend to encourage higher density close to the central city alone, with lower densities farther afield. If raising density overall is considered to be a "good" for metropolitan design, then interlocking circular paths would seem to be a better way of discouraging light density at the "end of the line". If you don't want sprawl, then you should program anti-sprawl into the design.

Health Coronavirus "will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America", says Sec. Wilbur Ross

This is the equivalent of saying "The hurricane is going to give a real boost to construction spending". It's not helpful to sound like you're trying to put a positive spin on something that remains a disaster.

Weather and Disasters "Dramatic footage as Australian firefighters escape seconds before wildfire engulfs area"

(Video) Somehow, the sensational headline isn't even quite sensational enough to capture what happens in the video. The first-hand look at a firestorm is utterly heart-stopping.

Broadcasting BBC Radio 4 claims an 11% audience share in the UK

Interesting: It's virtually all programming based on people talking ("speech programming"), but it's nothing much like "talk radio" in the same sense as we have in America. And yet it's #2 in the UK's ratings.

Humor and Good News Someone find the lead aprons

The pink (magenta?) color emanating from a T-Mobile store at night makes it look like the store is doused in radiation...and all passersby, too.

Aviation News Fly-by-wire meets takeoff-by-AI

Airbus says they tested an autonomous jet takeoff in December. Human pilots sat in the seats, but the computers did all the work.



January 29, 2020

News What should worry the Democratic Party today

Democrats should worry about just how much their condition today looks like the Republicans' circumstances in 2016.

Health China's government has earned no trust

Without a reservoir of trust that could make them credible, it's going to be much harder to fight the menace of coronavirus. Ideally, government is both democratically accountable and legitimate in the eyes of the people. Legitimacy is earned by getting the job done. When a crisis occurs and a government is found to be neither...buckle up.

Broadcasting What if AM radio goes all-digital?

One opponent observes: "Analog AM receivers are among the most simple of devices to build. In a major disaster a person with the knowledge of how to do so, can build a receiver literally out of debris, and remain in contact with the outside world."

Humor and Good News How to salvage a bread heel

Kids (and let's admit it: most adults) don't usually like the end slices of a loaf of bread. But if you invert them and use the internal faces as the outside faces of a sandwich, you can heal the heel.

Humor and Good News Olive oil: It's just a type of fruit juice

Bet you hadn't thought of it that way before

Humor and Good News Some things are just too aesthetically pleasing not to share

Like Art Deco lighting



January 28, 2020

News Nobody belongs on a pedestal

A parallel argument: We should admire the Founders without deifying them. We all need to be fully accountable for high-minded traits like duty and civic responsibility. Self-government depends upon it.

Business and Finance New extended-stay hotel brands coming to market

Interesting factoid: "The demand for hotel stays of seven-plus nights is nearly 20 percent of all room nights sold"

News The strangest police-chase story of the day

A Nebraska state snowplow driver ended up with his truck in the Platte River after a chase conducted by US Marshals



January 10, 2020

News Should single-family housing be a zone?

A bill introduced in the Nebraska legislature would prohibit zoning ordinances in cities of 5,000 people or larger from restricting any residential zone to single-family houses. Most interesting. A well-varied housing stock seems to be one of the essential answers to making sure housing is generally affordable. It's probably good for the character of most communities, too.

Computers and the Internet Twitter's advice: "Don't drink and Tweet"

As though sobriety were a hallmark of Twitter content

Humor and Good News Finnish herders put reflective paint on reindeer antlers

Makes them easier for motorists to see at night. Now come to Iowa and paint the deer. Please?

Health Nature, you really hosed us

Evolution really dropped the ball when it gave us back hair that keeps growing instead of teeth that could regenerate.

Business and Finance When the popular press screams "No stopping the stock market now"...

...you should probably assume it's a bubble about to burst. When the echo chamber gets going on a narrative that "You won't believe how much the stock market is ready to explode", it's probably on the verge of a correction.

The United States of America Who speaks for Americans?

To the outsider, Maclean's has long seemed like a sort of de facto voice of what Canada as a whole is thinking. That's probably an exaggeration of its role, but it's a little weird that we don't have similar editorial voices in the US -- especially regional ones. Why isn't there a strong "Centralist" magazine? Why are even the super-regional newspapers still massively provincial?



January 9, 2020

News Good life advice

Patrick Chovanec: "By the age of 50, one thing you learn is that you can only be one person, and live one life. It's a tougher lesson than one might think." One of the most important life lessons is that "integrity" and "integral" share the same root. It's what's wrong with discussing ideas like "business ethics" as though they are distinct from other ethics: Either all of life is lived with integrity, or there is no integrity at all.

Weather and Disasters Forecasts show troubling weather ahead

Computer models of weather events are pretty amazing. We shouldn't take for granted that we now get the kind of advance notice that tells the public about a major severe-weather outbreak more than 24 hours in advance, with the affected areas pinpointed probably within 50 or 100 miles.

News Many things really are getting better

Metrics on issues like crime really are showing improvement decade-by-decade. And Ice-T ended up on "Law & Order"...as a cop.

News Why quit the Royal Family?

They have a kid now. And that madhouse of a monarchy is no place to raise a child. Imagine being born into a combination family business, reality TV show, and Internet comment section. You'd probably want out, too.

News How's your 409K?

The President asked Twitter "How are your 409k's doing?" The Formula 409 bottle may say "Economy Size" on the label, but that's now what it means



January 8, 2020

Aviation News Drone mystery grips Nebraskans

Someone had better come forward quickly to explain what's going on. People can shrug off a night or two of this, but pretty soon the authorities will have to consider the possibility of malevolent intent in the absence of clear information. And the authorities are asking for public help in the identification process.

Iowa After blowback, Ragbrai to become more financially transparent

A notable passage from the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "Despite years of promoting that all profits after expenses went to Iowa charities, RAGBRAI was generating millions of dollars a year while Iowa communities that helped make the event happen absorbed much of the risk and received little support."

Iowa Resistance to a new shelter for women who are homeless in Des Moines

Housing supply and affordability is clearly a concern all across the country, but still a concern affected more than anything else by local conditions. Not an issue that lends itself to top-down mandates from DC.

Computers and the Internet Twitter plans to offer four-tiered control over replies

Not that the replies alone are what repel some people from the platform, but they definitely have an effect

Humor and Good News Someone buy the Chicago Tribune editors a round of drinks

Headline announcing that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will spend more time in North America and back out of royal duties: "Northwestern graduate moving closer to home after spending time abroad"

Aviation News Canada suffered a tremendous loss

Flags ordered to half-mast over the deaths of dozens of Canadians in Tehran plane crash



January 6, 2020

News "Why do we need rules telling us how to fight a war?"

The Law of Armed Conflict isn't an obstacle to keep the United States from winning wars. It's a set of rules for "minimizing the damage we cause during a war, avoiding unnecessary suffering, protecting human rights, and easing the transition from war back to peace." ■ What is proportionality? "[W]e use no greater force than need[ed] to obtain our military objective. A military target or a place occupied by a combatant force can be attacked. However, the attack or shelling by any means whatsoever of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings is prohibited." And it makes sense -- at least to anyone who sees war as a fearsome thing to be used only as a last resort.

Humor and Good News What do you call a collection of economists?

A handful, obviously. And they always come in pairs.

Threats and Hazards Man arrested for putting gun to 9-year-old son's head over drinking a pop

How do people turn to monstrous behavior like this?

News Like a missile installation on the White House lawn

Urban legend during the Cold War said there were mines in the White House lawn. This is a bit more intense than that: "South Korea has moved a Patriot missile unit from a southeastern region to central Seoul [...] to a former military installation at Mount Bukak behind the presidential office compound earlier this month, according to the sources."



January 5, 2020

News Boring competence: That's where it's at!

Calvin Coolidge: "It is not sufficient to entrust details to someone else. They must be entrusted to someone who is competent."

News What's wrong with slideshows in place of papers

We still expect the Supreme Court to issue written opinions, not PowerPoint decks. And for good reason. Slides alone are never an adequate substitute for a live presentation. But a well-written, carefully-edited piece of writing can beat any other format.



January 4, 2020

Computers and the Internet "Don't be evil" needs an upgrade

Washington Post: "But for Google, the debate around China was also existential. The Chinese market represents not just Google's best chance at another billion users, but also the future of innovation, talent and artificial intelligence." ■ At some point, it must be acknowledged that the right thing to do may not achieve a majority vote. If we expect individuals to do the right thing even when it might cost them something (and we most certainly should expect that), then we have to hold people in large businesses to the same standard. This is different from a debate about a company's "corporate social responsibility"; it's instead a claim that people do not leave their ethical standards at the workplace door. Ethics held only some of the time, when satisfactory conditions prevail and the consequences are cheap, are no real ethics at all.



January 3, 2020

News What comes next for Iran?

Removing a dastardly figure from Iran's military chain of command may be in America's first-order interests. But what happens next? As Margaret Thatcher admonished: "How do you see the process from where you are now to where you want to be? Because, whatever you want to do, it's not only what you want to do, but how -- the practical way you see it coming about." What is the end goal? How is that to come about? Iran has 83 million people: The size of California, Texas, and New York combined. ■ It is never enough to say that the old policy wasn't working. There must always be an effort to answer the question: And then what happens next? ■ There are those who say things along the lines of "If you don't have a solution, you can't complain about the problem". That's untrue, and it's bad advice. Problems have to be named before they can be solved. But what is true is that things can almost always get worse, and they often get much worse much faster than we would care to believe. So whether staying the course or changing it, reasonable adults have to ask, "What happens next? How might things get worse? How will we know if we've gone wrong? Is this particular cure worse than the disease?" There may, in fact, be no easy or good answers to some problems. That doesn't change the need to carefully weigh what might go wrong.

Threats and Hazards Our political opponents in America aren't the enemy

They just aren't. But, regrettably, the President is feeding on the notion of rivals as malicious enemies. It's just not appropriate to compare Sen. Chuck Schumer to the Iranian government. It just isn't. As Dwight Eisenhower said about the Allied effort in WWII: "Nothing creates trouble between allies so often or so easily as unnecessary talk -- particularly when it belittles one of them. A family squabble is always exaggerated beyond its true importance."

Weather and Disasters Forecasters in the field

National Weather Service forecasters in Las Vegas were embedded with other organizations for New Year's Eve, since the city is a huge destination for NYE events. The weather itself was pleasant, but the forecasters spent their time modeling things like what might have happened if a road crash caused a chemical spill. What a smart use of highly-skilled people. Even when the weather is nice, there's something useful for meteorologists to do around big events.

News A century since Estonia's War of Independence

European history classes could stand to spend less time on obscure English kings and more time on the last two centuries in the Baltics.

Broadcasting More radio stations flipped to a religious format than any other in 2019

"Religious" might be the closest thing most markets have to the classic "full-service" format. And that's a point worth some pondering, particularly given the apparent strength of the religious format.

Iowa Iowans continue a love affair with Black Velvet

The Canadian whiskey is the state's biggest seller. There are parts of the state where the local water supply could probably be converted to a BV supply, and a majority of residents might actually approve.



January 2, 2020

Weather and Disasters Tornado researchers captured "groundbreaking" data in 2019

Using brand-new, state-of-the-art tools like drones that flew into tornadic storms and specialized portable radar systems, they got right up on top of the action with several tornadoes this past season and will be

Iowa Police catch I-80 driver with 1,500 lbs. of marijuana in back of a rental truck

In case you wondered what they're going to be giggling about on every radio morning show tomorrow...

News Yes, it's 2020. No, you don't have to make puns about "vision".

It's like the original dot-com boom, when everyone just slapped the letter "e" on things to the point of inducing nausea.


Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

January 1, 2020

News "Let every new year find you a better man." - Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin inadvertently proves the value in non-sexist language and its ability to clear up ambiguity. But more importantly, it's good advice.

News A resolution worth keeping

End civil asset forfeiture in 2020

Weather and Disasters Astonishing fire disaster in Australia

ABC News: "Roads remain cut off around the coastal town, in the far east of Victoria, where about 4,000 locals and holidaymakers have been stuck since the fire tore through on New Year's Eve." Australia's navy has sent a rescue ship.

News New Year's under the fireworks

If you zoom in really close on this picture of a Chicago L train going under the fireworks, you'll see that all of the passengers are staring at their phones.

Iowa Father pleads for peace after 14-year-old son is murdered

This is just gut-wrenching; his sense of loss must be unfathomable, yet he admirably chooses to use the unbearable grief as a platform to try to reach the broader community of metro Des Moines.

News Spending 20% of his days on the golf course

Calvin Coolidge once noted that "Everything that the President does potentially at least is of such great importance that he must be constantly on guard [...] Not only in all his official actions, but in all his social intercourse, and even in his recreation and repose, he is constantly watched". The President would be well-advised to heed that advice today.



Recent history...


Fourth quarter 2019
Third quarter 2019
Second quarter 2019
First quarter 2019

Fourth quarter 2018
Third quarter 2018
Second quarter 2018
First quarter 2018

Fourth quarter 2017
Third quarter 2017
Second quarter 2017
First quarter 2017

More...

Archives (2001 to present)

Comments or questions? Contact Brian Gongol