Gongol.com Archives: May 2009
Brian Gongol

May 12, 2009

Health Dear Lancet: Meet your gift horse. Stop looking in its mouth.
The British medical journal The Lancet is out with an editorial criticizing the governance and priorities of the Gates Foundation, which is pouring billions of dollars into public-health initiatives. What the editorial overlooks is the fact that the work of the foundation is being driven by the priorities of Bill Gates, and that trying to impose a new way of doing things would be utterly counterproductive. The editorial asserts, for instance, that "important health programmes are being distorted by large grants from the Gates Foundation", noting by example that the foundation is putting lots of funding into malaria. To The Lancet, this "creates perverse incentives" for policymakers. And so it might -- but that conclusion assumes that the Gates Foundation is working from the same scorecard that The Lancet is using. And it is not. Bill Gates has analyzed a global problem (malaria), concluded that the problem of malaria can and should be solved swiftly, and committed to eradicating the disease as quickly as possible. The approach makes sense if one understands how Gates's mind works: He sees a big problem with a relatively comprehensible solution, so he's committed to eliminating that one problem as swiftly as he can, just like a general commanding troops in the field might decide to occupy a particular hill as swiftly as possible before moving to the next. While The Lancet and others might take the perspective that the foundation should distribute more money in different ways to help with a wider range of problems, that's simply not the way that a foundation run by Bill Gates is going to operate. Witness how he describes his malaria fight to the TED Conference: He's not driven by aggregate measures of public health; he's trying to destroy a particular problem within public health. To second-guess his approach is to try to remove the personal drive that makes the effort possible in the first place. Related: Financial analysts who thought Gates should've taken on debt while he was running Microsoft similarly don't understand how you simply can't tell a guy like Gates to do big things differently just because they make sense to you. The process and the systems that created his company are a result of the way he thinks; asking him to change those mental systems simply isn't going to work, any more than would asking Bill Clinton to keep running his Global Initiative while speaking only in Esperanto.

Business and Finance Buffett worries about long-term inflation
At the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, he said "I think the worst situation we could face is that we ran into so much inflation that people got very unhappy with anything they had to buy in their daily lives". Is the situation likely to get that bad? Probably not. But it could, and if the growth in government spending isn't brought under control immediately, if not sooner, then the chances of an inflation disaster grow with each passing minute.

Science and Technology Will Americans buy a 723-square-foot home?
The average American home is 2349 square feet. But a smaller house, built to be more efficient from the start, may be an attractive option.

Weather and Disasters The President: Young. Weather radar: Even younger.
The President of the United States is young by historic standards: Only 47 years old as of today. But the use of weather radar is a few years younger. And yet, in just a couple of days, a massive project involving ten mobile radar systems will be used to find out how tornadoes form. Radar is already extremely effective at identifying the beginnings of tornadoes. With additional data and research, it could become a much better predictive tool. And yet this life-saving technology upon which we all depend, and which is so easily taken for granted, is in fact quite young. It's a scary thought.

Water News Iowa's $455 million attempt to clean the water

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