Gongol.com Archives: September 2008
Brian Gongol

September 13, 2008

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - September 13, 2008
Sidejacking...65-mpg cars...technology and employment

News Ireland's most libertarian party has an existential crisis
The Progressive Democrats are largely pro-business and anti-tax. Unfortunately, though, they've had trouble getting elected and now one of their few members of the Irish parliament is looking at leaving the party, which in turn leaves the organization with an active debate about whether to even stay together. It holds an interesting lesson for America. Even though we're a two-party system, we're just like any parliamentary system: That is, our governing majorities are formed by the voluntary association of different groups under a single electoral coalition. It's just that parliamentary democracies form their coalitions after the election, and in the United States, we form our coalitions before the votes are cast. Thus, the Democratic Party is a coalition among labor unions, social progressives, and others, while the Republican Party is a coalition among fiscal conservatives and pro-business interests, defense hawks, and social conservatives, among others. But those groups only get any part of what they want when the commit to their coalitions in advance of the election -- that's why third parties continue to fail, and why those who think they're better off bolting from their existing coalitions and flying solo (for instance, the Greens who run apart from the Democratic coalition and the Christian fundamentalists who want to depart the Republican coalition) obviously don't understand the fundamental forces in play.

Broadcasting The absurdity of reporting from the middle of a hurricane
Cable television news seems bent on sending reporters to the middle of situations that sane people should leave. And while watching Geraldo Rivera get hit by a wave may be viscerally satisfying, there's really no reason for it all. Sooner or later, some reporter is going to be killed by flying debris (like the glass that shattered all over Houston), and for no good reason at all. There are easily a dozen things that would be more useful to the viewing public than live shots of reporters in the middle of a storm: UAV video coverage from within the storm, maps of sensor networks indicating what's under water and what's not, estimates of where evacuees have gone, maps of known damage and current conditions, analysis of the preparations made, documentation of what worked and what didn't prior to the event, things that unaffected people could do to help, lessons learned for preparations elsewhere, instructions for those who haven't prepared yet, models of possible storm tracks, shots from unmanned cameras in the storm's path, and just plain dead air. There's just no reason for reasonable people to put themselves in harm's way like they do as these storms arrive. There are essential things that people need to know in these kinds of emergencies.

Business and Finance A frightening crystal ball on fuel
Italian airline Alitalia may have to cancel flights because it can't get enough fuel for its planes. A lack of fuel is enough to keep an airline from flying -- and it would be enough to cripple an entire national economy. With Europe deeply dependent upon Russia for oil and natural gas, Europe's diplomatic options are constrained in situations like the current dispute in Georgia. Like the Chinese ownership of huge amounts of American debt, it's a condition of mutually-assured destruction: Russia needs the export dollars, and Europe needs the fuel. America needs the loans, China needs a place to invest. But in neither case is the exchange the result of free trade within the private sector, and that's what makes those situations precarious. The exchanges are subject to politics. Thanks to natural disaster, we're going to find out what happens when a major urban area goes without electricity for a month. It's a dry run, perhaps, for what could happen if a Western country were to be cut off from oil for a similar period of time. What we can learn from the Alitalia-out-of-gas story and the Beaumont-out-of-electricity situation is that extraordinary disasters may not look likely on the average, but when they happen (and sometimes they will), the regret over earlier failures to take necessary precautions will run deep.

Threats and Hazards Terrorist attacks kill 20 people in New Delhi
If it had happened in Dallas or Seattle, it would be huge news in the US. But it happened in the world's largest democracy, and yet we will certainly hear almost nothing about it. Something's amiss.

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