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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



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.


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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



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..."


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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.


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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.



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.



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


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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.


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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.


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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.



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


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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 mid-section of the country

Watch the center of a low pressure system drop about 30 mb in 24 hours. It's like an atmospheric limbo contest, and the winner is a low-pressure center at 968 mb. And that low low brought about some really high winds -- like a 96-mph wind gust at the Colorado Springs airport. But there are some feel-good stories to emerge from this winter, including a full-sized, dimensionally accurate '67 Ford Mustang built of snow.

Weather and Disasters A flash-flood warning covering about 1/8th of a state

Nebraska is under a lot of weather right now. And that's after getting a massive round of fog.

News The real college scandal is in pricing qualified candidates out of the system

One might think there's room for something midway between the "all-inclusive resort" model and the airline-style, "pay for every incremental feature" model. And, for sure, it would be good for America to find it.

Iowa Iowa farmland values slip

A real-estate industry group says farmland values fell by an average of 2.7% last year -- saying "Negative factors include trade uncertainty, [and] decreasing levels of working capital". Words have consequences, and the consequences of the President's words on trade have highly tangible consequences.

Computers and the Internet Facebook outage drives many crazy

It may be just the Q1 GDP growth booster we needed.



March 11, 2019

Threats and Hazards Given a binary choice, we might not like how many countries line up behind China

Leaders outside the United States are getting a message of "You're either with us or you're with China". And in the words of Patrick Chovanec: "Unless we lay a solid foundation of shared interests, and are seen as a reliable and unselfish partner, I'm not sure we will always like the answer we will get." The examples set by Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall -- just for example -- would suggest that even when you're on the right side of history, allies are quicker to sign up for your team if you appear accommodating and non-coercive. China is in many ways behaving in an adversarial way, but that's why binding the world to rules and processes (instead of just "You're with us or you're against us") was the true gift of the leaders who won WWII and secured the peace.



March 9, 2019

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show - March 9, 2019

Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Broadcasting Television needs more Leslie Jones

The "Saturday Night Live" cast member needs more air time



March 8, 2019

News A protection racket?

The President has his people "drawing up demands that Germany, Japan and eventually any other country hosting U.S. troops pay the full price of American soldiers deployed on their soil -- plus 50 percent or more for the privilege of hosting them", per a truly insane report from Bloomberg. ■ Even just floating a trial balloon on an idea this stupid is enough to undermine decades of mutual trust and embolden rival powers. That is just Game Theory 101, but yet it's clearly too sophisticated for him to grasp. We are trapped in the President's broken framework for the world -- everything, to him, is literally a one-off transaction. He has shown not a shred of evidence that he thinks any two parties remember what happened in their last interaction. ■ Our military servicemembers are professionals in service of a just and free world, not mercenaries. Our allies are friends, not clients. How he frames this issue is just so very wrong. Anyone who doubts the multiplier effects of alliances among friends ought to read Dwight Eisenhower's memoir of WWII. He makes it plain that accommodating friends was a means of saving resources. If we can't carry over some lessons learned from WWII, we're in huge trouble.

News Just one day

Chicago sportswriter Julie DiCaro says for International Women's Day, "All I want is to have a single day where a man doesn't try to explain something blatantly obvious to me." That seems like it shouldn't be much to ask, and yet it is.



March 7, 2019

Threats and Hazards Why those artificial islands China is building are such a point of contention

Claiming territory in heavily-trafficked international waters makes for a big issue

Business and Finance Good intentions do not excuse bad economics

A writer argues in a Chicago Tribune op-ed that "Rent control can increase supply". This is utterly untrue: Effective price ceilings cause shortages, by their very definition. If the price ceiling isn't below the market rate, then it isn't "rent control". If the price ceiling is below the market rate, then by definition there will be a shortage of supply.

Business and Finance Trust matters if you're going to do business more than once

Sam Zell: "I like doing deals with the same people. You get to know each other and build a mutual sense of trust."



March 6, 2019

Humor and Good News Every kid deserves a loving home

Indiana nurse adopts abandoned baby with serious health problems, and the adoption almost certainly saved his life: "[L]iterally no one had ever asked to foster a child [...] with such serious conditions as Marcus"

The United States of America Moderation doesn't mean an absence of principles

Public intellectual Brad Delong has recently offered an indigestion-inducing argument that the center-right should be abandoned by its correspondents on the center-left. Among the many problems with that analysis is the conflation of party registrations with identity. Twitter addicts notwithstanding, most Americans are largely disinterested in politics. It's the disinterest in politics that leads generally moderate people to register as independents or abstain from voting, giving much greater leverage to the radicals in the primaries and (consequently) in general elections. ■ Tall buildings in seismic zones need oscillation dampers to keep them from tipping over. Both the left and right need vibrant idea centers with a moderate inclination to keep them from tipping over -- especially in populist earthquakes. The ordinary, mostly-disengaged voter needs to hear sound ideas that generally comport with their basic worldview. Most people aren't really tuned-in most of the time! A moderate, non-radical revival on either side of center is a good thing. ■ As John Stuart Mill once wrote, "The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of 'the deep slumber of a decided opinion.'" The sane members of the center-right need to make the case for their principles as though nobody has ever heard them before. And to make them over and over and over again, without tiring. The colossal level of stupidity is on full display by members of Congress who think they're in the old game played in 3rd grade -- the one when kids discover a forbidden word and compete to see who can whisper it loudest before the substitute teacher flips out. It's not going to get better if those within a reasonable radius of the center decide to give up the fight and let others run wild. Civilization depends on a surprising amount of persuasion.

Computers and the Internet Facebook's leadership still doesn't get what they really are

Mark Zuckerberg is trying vastly too hard with his metaphors. Facebook isn't a town square, and it's not a living room. It's a busy and long-neglected subway stop full of buskers and confused old people, where nobody can hear the announcements but the walls are covered in posters.

Health Giant study from Denmark shows no sign of link between autism and MMR vaccine

The risks associated with vaccines are minimal. The risks associated without vaccines are huge. Snake oil salesmen have been around forever. We don't have to give them room in the public conversation.

Humor and Good News Taking out your frustrations on the wrong target

Members of the WHO-TV staff had a little fun with chief meteorologist Ed Wilson. But paybacks can be something.



March 5, 2019

Threats and Hazards Bombs in London

Deutsche Welle: "Three suspicious packages were found on Tuesday at Heathrow Airport, London City Airport and Waterloo railway station in the British capital."

Humor and Good News There's cheap, and then there's Midwestern Cheap

Regarding a promotion that pegs the price of a Runza sandwich to the temperature in winter: "[Y]ou would be shocked at what we sell if it is 20 cents or 5 cents. There's a huge difference in the quantity that we move."

The United States of America March Madness: When Madisonian Federalism gets its biggest stage?

James Madison: "Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States." ■ But do we see that outside of the NCAA tournament season? Despite the silly framing, it's a serious question.

Weather and Disasters Forecasting is really good -- now, to figure out public messaging

Marshall Shepherd: "A good forecast is not good if it is not received and acted upon. Even as meteorologists point out how good the forecast was, the sad reality is that people still died. We are in the business of saving lives and property; not self-affirmation." ■ Atmospheric science has made giant strides -- permitting forecasters to see severe storm outbreaks days in advance, and to issue high-quality warnings when the storms arrive. Now, it's time for social science to make similar strides. This is actually an area where economists can have a surprising impact: Behavioral econ is all about questions of risk and expectations. If people are irrational in their personal risk-reward calculations, then there's probably room for economists to hold hands with meteorologists and start figuring out ways to help people make smarter decisions.

Business and Finance "Modern monetary theory" is just another economic fraud

Larry Summers: "As with any tax, there is a limit to the amount of revenue that can be raised via such an inflation tax." ■ Inflation is a tax. It is always a tax. And modest, predictable inflation is a necessary tax. But as with medication, the dose matters.

Humor and Good News "The most old-man Millennial ever" finds his doppelganger

...in the 1800s


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March 4, 2019

Broadcasting Fact: James Burke is an under-appreciated genius of mass education

There's nothing a broadcaster can really admire more than someone who can script and deliver their own work with effortless grace. Louis Rukeyser used to do for finance what Burke did for science. To give credit where it is due, Scott Pelley and Margaret Brennan are both in this tradition, though they're straight-news types rather than commentators. And Robert Krulwich and Lillian Cunningham both do it for scripted audio reporting.

The United States of America Which type of liberalism shall we have?

Classical? Neo? Something else? Any at all? Whenever one's Hayekian or Chicago School impulses really take hold, it's worth remembering that certain redistributive policies that bother me in theory are the price we pay to secure self-government in a deliberative democratic republic. A social-cohesion tax, if you will.

Computers and the Internet Point: "Twitter is no damn good for anyone"

Counterpoint: Twitter is like any agora. The freedom to interact and exchange acts as an invitation for people of bad faith to act badly. But when decent people gather in the right places (like #econtwitter, for instance), it really can facilitate some great results.

Broadcasting Steven Spielberg wants Netflix movies out of Oscar contention

He wants them to compete for Emmy awards instead. There's not a single thing that's principled about pushing them out -- it's just a way to protect one's industry. Guilds are gonna guild, it would seem.

Threats and Hazards Fort Dodge police officer gets sick from likely drug exposure

From the Fort Dodge Messenger: "While at the scene of the traffic stop, the officer handled an unknown substance [...] the officer began feeling dizzy, and asked the dispatcher to send medical help. At the Law Enforcement Center, another officer found him lethargic and unresponsive in his patrol vehicle."



March 1, 2019

Business and Finance Promises, promises

The initial estimate of America's 2018 GDP growth is in, and it's 2.9%. That's not a bad figure. But it's also not the 4% that the President promised over and over in his campaign. It was a false promise, and that's why it deserves scorn and why he deserves criticism for making it. 4% annual growth could only be sustained by substantial improvements in labor productivity, and that's pretty hard to see happening without other structural changes taking place. ■ President Trump isn't the first to make this false promise, either: President Obama relied on unrealistic growth projections of 4%, too. ■ Wishing doesn't make these things so. And temporary sugar highs (like a big tax cut) can bring about a short-term spike in GDP growth, but sugar highs are no way to run an economy. ■ Voters need to have more modest expectations: Presidents don't have magic wands to make the economy start or stop. And politicians need to be vastly more modest about the promises they make, for the very same reasons. And that, in the end, is why anyone who makes these false promises ought to be scorned publicly.

The United States of America Send in the governors

Colorado's former governor (John Hickenlooper) and Washington's current governor (Jay Inslee) are entering the race for President. To this, the American public ought to say: Send in the governors! No, really: Send us lots and lots of governors. Bush (43), Clinton, Reagan, Carter...all governors. It's solid training ground for future Presidents. ■ Being a major-city mayor is also probably decent practice for the Presidential role. But, generally, a governor's desk is the closest thing we have to an Oval Office simulator. ■ Senators want to talk about policy. But keep in mind that most United States Senators oversee offices of a few dozen staff members. Governors are the chief executives of their entire states -- and even a modestly-sized state like Iowa has around 50,000 employees -- and the governor not only oversees those employees, but also has to navigate the expectations of a state legislature and the oversight imposed by a state judicial branch. The orders of magnitude are different, but the roles of governor and President really aren't that different. And there's little room for amateur hour at the top.

News Official stats: Trust, but verify?

The deference paid to "official" sources is a main reason people misperceive a "liberal bias" in the news media. It's not so much that many reporters are letting their politics bleed through -- it's that we've been conditioned to trust sources that by nature have a pro-government bias.

News 6 months after a tragic fire, Chicago still doesn't have answers

Why were ten little people killed in a house fire? They still don't have answers.

Health Why are so many public places so loud?

It's such a widespread problem that those rare restaurants and pubs where people can easily converse are notable. The Bravo restaurant chain seems like one of those places where sound was consciously managed by design. The traditional Irish pub concept seems like a place where evolutionary adaptations have dampened sound. With the Baby Boomers moving into an age when hearing problems become more prevalent, it will be interesting to see whether more places consciously design around managing ambient noise.

Iowa Expansion planned for Central Iowa Shelter and Services

They ran beyond capacity during cold-weather incidents this winter, and obtaining some flexible space for use in high-demand situations would be a worthy thing for them to do. On one hand, it's too bad the demand is such that they need to expand. But on the other, it's good to see a community-level response.

News Who are the "neoliberals"?

A loose affiliation of people who want to stake out a new political identity around "a new, revitalized liberalism" (of the broad sense, not the left-right one).

Business and Finance Implied value of the Chicago Cubs: $2.15 billion

The Ricketts family is buying the last 5% of the team from the Tribune interests, and at $107.5 million for 5%, then that would imply $2.15 billion for the whole enterprise. A real punch in the gut for people who owned Tribune shares back in 2007, when the company was taken private.

Aviation News NASA hitches its wagon to commercial spaceflight providers

SpaceX is testing a crew-ready rocket and capsule that should permit American astronauts to get into space without depending on the Russian space program



February 28, 2019

News China's hearts-and-minds campaign for high-potential ethnic minorities

The Economist reports on a program that has taken hundreds of thousands of students from places like Tibet and Xinjiang and shipped them off to boarding schools in places where the Han ethnic group is in the majority: "The programme's apparent aim is to win the support of elites in restive frontier areas and give the brightest ethnic-minority children more exposure to Han culture." There are inescapable parallels with the Canadian residential school system, which sought to force assimilation upon First Nations children, and the sins of which are a source of real lasting harm in Canada today.

Weather and Disasters Australia's awful summer was predicted

The country has experienced an extremely hot summer, and one of its premier scientific organizations points out that they think the conditions are consistent with predictions they made about climate change some 30 years ago.

Threats and Hazards A $22 trillion national debt is everyone's problem

Bills come due in the real world. We're not at risk of turning insolvent, but we are decidedly at risk of creating systemic instability that will become costly.

Weather and Disasters Pacific Gas and Electric "probably" responsible for Camp Fire

The fire caused enormous damage and killed dozens of people. The company appears to suspect that it will be found responsible, due to evidence that points at a transmission line failure. They can say they're looking at other high-risk facilities, but what, systemically, keeps this from happening again?

Weather and Disasters The ice dams are growing out of control

And Iowa could be in for some substantial flooding when all the ice and snow finally melt

Health Record-setting preemie goes home

Delivered at 24 weeks of gestation, he weighed 9.45 ounces. Zero pounds, 9.45 ounces. Truly remarkable progress by medical science in evidence here.



February 27, 2019

News Who's our person in Pakistan?

With tensions high between Pakistan and India, who's there on America's behalf? India is the world's second-largest country by population. Pakistan is the sixth-largest.

News "Modesty compels me to refrain from disclosing my performance in school"

Not likely the words or justification used by the President to, as Michael Cohen testified, "to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores."

Threats and Hazards Visit North Korea's bomb museum from the comfort of home

The Nuclear Threat Initiative has posted a 3D virtual model of a North Korean weapons-production facility, filled with models of the country's various weapons of the bomb and missile variety. It's a little glib to say "And be sure to visit the gift shop!", but the model is really well-done and is certainly the closest thing any ordinary person will ever encounter to a real weapons lab.



February 26, 2019

Computers and the Internet Yet another round of alarm: Now, it's the "Momo Challenge"

Maybe this particular phenomenon is a real threat, maybe it isn't. But it highlights the problem that YouTube, the way it operates now, cannot possibly take the amount of responsibility that it ought to take for the content posted on it. Here is a modest proposal for moderating YouTube content: Require any new video to receive 3 to 5 "endorsements" from verified, individual users before it goes public. If you endorse something that violates guidelines, you lose the right to endorse or post for yourself. Nobody, at present, has any incentive to moderate the "community". This would put skin in the game. Given the psychological toll it appears to put on content moderators to troll the Internet all day policing for the bad, it's well past time for services like YouTube to think about imposing accountable systemic restraint. The government shouldn't impose prior restraint on speech, but content vectors like YouTube and Facebook quite likely should do so.

News Amb. Madeline Albright offers belated apology to Sen. Mitt Romney

He was mocked in 2012 for seeing much of what troubles us in 2019. Kudos to Ambassador Albright for doing the right and civil thing.

Threats and Hazards Why Republicans should reject baseless claims of "emergency" power

If you're only skeptical of government power when other people have it, then you're not really skeptical of government power: You just want it for yourself. This would be a very good time for Republicans in Congress to show that they're for limited government ALL the time.

Iowa Traffic and weather together

Daryl Herzmann put together an animation of the radar signature and the Iowa DOT road conditions report from the latest storm. And it tells a story quite elegantly. We can always count on Herzmann to produce the Iowa weather visualization we didn't know we needed.

Weather and Disasters The "Accumulated Winter-Season Severity Index" says it's been a rotten one in Iowa

As with driving a car, it's not just the speed but the acceleration that counts. Not only are we teetering on the brink of "extreme", basically ALL of the terrible weather has happened since mid-January. It was super-mild up until then, so winter has been both painful and abrupt. In fairness, though, maybe better to have loved and lost a milder winter, than never to have loved at all.

Threats and Hazards Conflict between Pakistan and India could turn out very badly

Two nuclear powers with a longstanding grudge: The kind of thing that ought to make bigger headlines than a dictator showing off his entourage. But it's the President who's meeting with Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam, so that's where everyone seems focused.

Business and Finance MMT: Not much "theory" there

Until someone has written down a definitive statement of principles, it's a fool's game to identify yourself with a "movement". See also: Party, Tea. A "movement" that lacked written principles or accountable leaders that turned into a boondoggle for a few political opportunists (who named themselves the leaders) and a resulting mess of confusion.

Humor and Good News Hear, hear, Jon Lester

The Cubs pitcher says he doesn't like a 20-second pitch clock, and he's against adding the designated hitter to the National League. He's right: The DH is still an abomination and pitch clocks are dumb.



February 25, 2019

The United States of America Atomic centrism

A name for those who believe in the primacy of a central set of rules, norms, and principles around which people of different ideologies and policy preferences can orbit (like electrons bound to a nucleus).

Threats and Hazards Shocking, but not surprising

The immediate past Federal Reserve chair doesn't think the President understands the Fed's impact on the economy

Weather and Disasters Clear a path to your fire hydrant

A wintertime responsibility to one's neighborhood that many people probably don't realize is on their shoulders.

News Cell service has gone 4G. Should war?

Definitely worth reading: "Social media marketing professionals, consumer psychologists, economists and bankers, may all need to become fourth-generation warriors in the fourth generation of warfare."

Iowa Boondocks truck stop will re-open with an Indian restaurant

An unexpected dining option along a thinly-populated stretch of I-35

News Your policies don't matter

The policy proposals of the (seemingly) 15,000 people running for President right now don't amount to a hill of beans. What ultimately matters is whether we elect a President with sound judgment, curiosity, humility, and an even temper. Someone who can handle the unexpected. That's being put on full display this week, as the unexpected pops up everywhere.

Weather and Disasters Re-opening I-35 took interstate cooperation

Iowa and Minnesota had to work out the schedule to re-open so that neither state got hit with a slug of traffic before they were ready

Threats and Hazards "I would maybe think twice [about] what I would tell her"

A daughter of Vladimir Putin's spokesperson works in the European Union parliament. Can we talk about opsec for a minute?

Humor and Good News Public transit textile patterns: Who's picking these things?

A really deep dive into something that's not particularly important. But interesting anyway.


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February 22, 2019

Business and Finance Even well-intended economic-development incentives can go bad

Memphis, Tennessee, offered a whole lot of incentives to Electrolux to get the company to build a plant there. But when tariffs and the Sears bankruptcy shook the appliance market, Electrolux concluded the plant was no longer viable. What are the state, county, and city -- which together contributed well over $100 million in cash to the project -- supposed to do to make themselves whole? Economic-development incentives are inevitably a gamble on private outcomes, using public dollars. You may have very high confidence in your bet, but it's still a gamble.

Computers and the Internet Twitter: The powerful tool that newcomers have no idea how to use

The number of obstacles they continue to throw in the way of the novice user -- after more than a decade in operation, and with every news outlet on the globe marketing their service -- is utterly baffling. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims notes that his tech-savvy sibling can't figure out how to reply. Many others are undoubtedly repelled by the site's insistence on making people register to get more than a superficial look at what's happening inside the Twittersphere. It's really quite crazy for the service to have lasted this long with such important flaws.

News The author of his own obituary

A New York man wrote his own self-effacing obituary as a plea to others to stop smoking: "At 66 years old, I lived a decent life, but there are so many events and milestones I will not be able to share with my loved ones. The moral of this story - don't be an idiot. If you're a smoker - quit"

Weather and Disasters The weather forecast is a roadkill buffet

In one 24-hour stretch, Des Moines is forecast to get (in order) sleet, freezing rain, rain, thunderstorms, more rain, then snow.

Science and Technology On the radio: Farewell to the little rover that could

In tribute to Opportunity

News What should someone study in school?

In college, pursue two different majors -- preferably in fields that don't generally overlap. Ideally, one "hard" and one "soft", like a physical science and a liberal art, or a business program and a social science. Well-roundedness is a virtue.



February 21, 2019

News "These were deliberate choices."

The words of the judge hitting Roger Stone with a gag order are really the words of 2019 in a nutshell. Lots of good people feel demoralized by the seemingly non-stop parade of stupid events in the news. And almost every one of those news stories comes back to someone making deliberate choices. People need to keep the faith (even though it's hard) that consequences will eventually catch up to people deliberately making bad choices. But this is also why it's up to all of us to beat back the clowns (of all stripes) who say that the ends justify the means. The right process matters rather equally with the right result. Anyone who doesn't uphold that belief contributes to ruining the world as we know it. It's not worth getting to the destination you want if the driver chooses to go 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction on the highway in order to get you there. A little bit of humility would suggest that none of us are going to get everything we want out of political processes in a democratic system. Thus, the destination will almost always be a little different than what we wanted. Better to get there the right way, at least.

Humor and Good News Engineering Week starts at home

And it ends there, too

Science and Technology On the radio: Rise of the (snow) machines

We have automatic dishwashers and clothes washers, furnaces controlled automatically by thermostats, and automatic sprinkler systems. So why are people still so opposed to using robots to do manual chores?

Weather and Disasters

A school roof collapsed in Waterloo

Iowa Cedar Rapids will take another stab at a city flag

Their current municipal flag is...not good. Someone at the city ought to spend a little time browsing Japanese prefectural flags for inspiration.



February 9, 2019

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

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

News The stupidest of arguments

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

News Millions of cars added to Takata airbag recall

Subaru, Volkswagen, and others are now involved

News Sen. Elizabeth Warren announces Presidential run

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

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

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

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

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

News National Pizza Day

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

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

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

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

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



February 8, 2019

Humor and Good News "Ignatian yoga"

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

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

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



February 7, 2019

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

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

News It's hard to debate without the right language

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

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

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


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February 6, 2019

News Who wants to be governor of Virginia?

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

News Maybe we need a partisan press again

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

Broadcasting Channel-surfing mode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Stop "nutpicking"

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


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February 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

Aviation News Gamble of the century for Boeing

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


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February 1, 2019

News The floodgates have opened on 2020

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

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

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

Business and Finance Federal Reserve sticks with stable interest rates

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

Humor and Good News What city would your hero build?

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

Iowa Winter calculus

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


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January 31, 2019

Threats and Hazards 1,437 children

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

Computers and the Internet Facebook is a main cyberwarfare battleground

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

Aviation News The Airbus A380 may be among the walking dead

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

Business and Finance Principal Financial warns of likely layoffs ahead

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

Computers and the Internet Apple and Facebook go to digital war

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

Iowa Cable median barriers prevent head-on crash

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

Iowa Des Moines needs a good winter festival

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



January 30, 2019

Threats and Hazards The President dismisses his entire intelligence community

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

Water News Still on the job in the cold

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

Weather and Disasters Ice quakes go boom in the night

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

The United States of America True conservatives aren't reactionary

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

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

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


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January 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Twins born at 22 weeks and one day of gestation

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

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

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

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

At least some good might come of the cold snap

Threats and Hazards The worst is yet to come

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



January 28, 2019

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

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

News What we read when everyone is watching

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



January 27, 2019

News Holocaust Memorial Day

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

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

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

News Peggy Noonan laments the decline of local newspapers

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

Broadcasting Children's television programs, ranked

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

Health Cold-weather safety tip: Check your CO monitors

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

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

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



January 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

News Federal shutdown ends (temporarily) after 35 days

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

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

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

Health Can we stop antibiotic resistance?

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


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January 25, 2019

News Roger Stone arrested on criminal charges

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

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

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

News Newseum sells its iconic building

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

Business and Finance When companies commute to their talent

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



January 24, 2019

News Some branches of government are more equal than others

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

Science and Technology Automation isn't going away

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

News The oldest Millennials could actually be having grandchildren now

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

Science and Technology Text-to-911 continues to expand

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

Computers and the Internet How really to use Twitter

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

Health $8,000 transfusions of "young blood"

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

Broadcasting The newsroom

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



January 23, 2019

News How about a little demand shock to education?

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

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

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

Computers and the Internet Better tweeting

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


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January 22, 2019

News Is "authenticity" the real matter for politicians?

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

News A thought-provoking interview on contemporary anti-semitism

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

Weather and Disasters Survey says...

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



January 21, 2019

News Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on education

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



January 18, 2019

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

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

Business and Finance Is $15 an hour enough?

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

Business and Finance Starting with the man in the mirror

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

News Supreme Court justices in the off-season

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

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

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

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

Discount the prescriptions, but consider the overall diagnosis

Iowa A truly mobile office

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

News Prince Philip flipped his Land Rover

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



January 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

The American Way Jack Bogle was the real capitalist revolutionary

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Getting the right perspective on risk

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

Health A few notes on vestigial structures

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


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January 16, 2019

News A little "light treason"?

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

News Publius, 2019

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

News Super data visualization

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

News Judge them by their words

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

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

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



January 15, 2019

Threats and Hazards UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal

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

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

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

The United States of America The President deserves a primary challenger

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

News Run for the mountains

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


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January 14, 2019

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

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

The United States of America Congress, supreme

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

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

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



January 13, 2019

News Mind your business, America

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

Humor and Good News A perfect 10

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi puts on a spectacular display of athleticism



January 12, 2019

Threats and Hazards FBI opened counterintelligence investigation into President Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



January 11, 2019

The United States of America Nobody is born civilized

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

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

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

News Michael Bloomberg doesn't do fair fights

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

Humor and Good News A Peeps factory tour

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



January 10, 2019

News On walls and wheels

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

Threats and Hazards The "Belt and Road" battle ahead

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

News Attentive Milwaukee bus driver rescues lost toddler from imminent danger

Most people are basically decent



January 9, 2019

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

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

News The Chrysler Building is up for sale

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

News Enforcing the laws already on the books

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

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

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



January 8, 2019

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

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

Weather and Disasters 54-mph wind gusts in Iowa

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

Humor and Good News Life hack for finding better friends

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



January 7, 2019

The United States of America A word or two on restraint

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



January 6, 2019

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

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



January 5, 2019

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

Live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time

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

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


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January 4, 2019

The United States of America A new Congress is convened

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

Health Back-to-back triple-organ transplants

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

Health Iowa records first flu-related fatality of 2019

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

Science and Technology Nothing grows faster than bamboo

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

Humor and Good News Interior-decorating goals

John Dickerson shares photos of a gorgeous personal library setup

Humor and Good News Mazel tov!

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

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

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

Business and Finance Federal Reserve independence: Planting the flag

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



January 3, 2019

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

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

News Game theory and the Oval Office

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

Computers and the Internet Barbarians at the tweet

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

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

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

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

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

News How long is the perfect book?

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



January 2, 2019

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

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

News In defense of pay-as-you-go

In a sane world, the rules would be:

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

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

Threats and Hazards A story worth reading about Saudi dissidents

Freedom isn't protected everywhere

Threats and Hazards What happened to Sen. Rand Paul?

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

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

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

Business and Finance Motivational speeches

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

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

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

Business and Finance Trade deficit worsens as tariffs go up

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

Broadcasting The game theory embedded in submarine-chase films

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

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

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

News A vegan challenge from Beyonce and Jay-Z

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



December 29, 2018

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

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

Iowa Another swing at the local option sales tax?

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

Health Hospital price transparency comes January 1st

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



December 28, 2018

Iowa What is it with Black Velvet drinkers in Iowa?

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



December 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards 20 million people are starving right now

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

Health Iowa has a new state epidemiologist

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards Character as destiny

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

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

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

Aviation News Aircraft window shades up or down?

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

Humor and Good News Architectural eye candy

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



December 26, 2018

Health May we continue expanding our sensibilities about mental wellness

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

News Read to small children!

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

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

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

Agriculture China didn't import American soybeans last month

File under: Trade wars are stupid



December 25, 2018

Iowa Six things to love about Des Moines for the holidays

The lights on Terrace Hill are a good place to start

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

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

News The Secretary of Defense sends a message to the troops

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

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

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



December 24, 2018

News From "Christmas Catholics" to regular churchgoers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News UNHCR seeks donations for refugees

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



December 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards Why Secretary Mattis resigned

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

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

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

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

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

News Nine last-minute gift ideas that could save Christmas

Especially for that person who has everything

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

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


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December 22, 2018

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

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

Weather and Disasters Volcano causes tsunami in Indonesia

Dozens of people have been killed; possibly more

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

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

News Small towns deserve better than cheap stereotypes

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

The United States of America Radio Free GOP is back

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


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December 21, 2018

Threats and Hazards All the attention is on the wrong things

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

News Who's next to run the Pentagon?

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

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

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

Broadcasting FCC among Federal agencies hit by the shutdown

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



December 20, 2018

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

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

Threats and Hazards An immediate withdrawal from Syria

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards A shutdown looms again

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

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

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

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

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

Humor and Good News The promised land comes with Cheez Curls

Along with six other things that deserve to make a comeback



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