Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Business and Finance Why America's national debt is handcuffing us
The President has met with the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government has expressed its anger over the meeting. In an ideal world, the United States could tell China's government to take its protests and shove them. Unfortunately, we can't do that. China is dumping American government debt -- to the tune of $35 billion of it between November and December 2009. Debtors simply aren't free to tell their creditors to shove it. And, sadly, our options for managing the debt are constrained, making it even more unlikely that we can act like we still have the freedom to do what we think is best in the world without having to acknowledge the demands of the countries that have funded our behavior.

Health Johns Hopkins team thinks blood tests can track cancer
They're making such rapid progress with genetic screening and testing that they think they'll soon be able to do follow-up with cancer patients using genetic tests to determine whether their tumors have been halted or are recurring. While the ultimate goal certainly will be to tell people whether they're genetically predispositioned to have certain cancers in the future, this intermediate step -- enhancing treatment for people who already have cancer -- is a great move forward.

Iowa Chris Rants drops from the Iowa gubernatorial race
Iowa's in serious need of some decent new leadership. The state's budget is a catastrophe, and though that doesn't make Iowa unique among the states, it's still a colossal problem.

Science and Technology Is space the place to be for the entrepreneurs of today?
The CEO of the X-Prize Foundation thinks that some asteroids could be worth $20 trillion in raw materials

Computers and the Internet Does anyone have a "reasonable expectation of obscurity" anymore?

News UK prime minister's staff calls anti-bullying helpline

Science and Technology Given a magic wand, Bill Gates would pick cheap energy
Clean, cheap energy would probably do the most good of any possible economic input to the enhancement of human well-being. We need vast amounts of energy to transport ourselves and our goods (transportation which carries ideas and technology and education, as well as more mundane stuff). We need vast amounts of energy to create fertilizer (through the Haber-Bosch process, for instance) and to effectively store food as an insurance policy against disaster. And, in an ideal world, we could use unlimited energy to get machines to do our mundane tasks for us at an affordable price -- freeing humans to do the thinking and creating and innovating that will make the human race better off. And, of course, those ideas could use the electricity to run the computers to run simulations and test new ideas before we apply them to the real world, too.

Computers and the Internet The Internet may hurt struggles for democracy as much as it helps
It's easy to see the ways in which it can help -- fostering communication and discussion and aiding the spread of ideas. But its negative effects, though perhaps counterintuitive, may be just as significant: Creating internal strife among reformers where none would have otherwise existed, fostering disinformation, and encouraging reactionaries to organize just as well as reformers. In the end, ideas are what matter most. The tools those ideas use to spread may be far less significant.

Aviation News Views of the great US Air Force boneyard
Where lots of old planes go to be mothballed.

News Argentina wants to pick another fight with the UK over the Falkland Islands

The United States of America The end of the "grasshopper generation"?
Having rested on the proverbial laurels of our past productivity, the United States has a growing problem of government promises that have been financed at the expense of our future prosperity. And those problems have been worsened by the practice of directing many capable minds into unproductive activity treating business like a casino. Fortunately, though, great ideas still matter and there's no practical reason why we can't apply a little bit of willpower to the act of getting things back on track.

Water News Tougher stormwater standards could arrive in two years

Health Another reason to live longer
A long-term survey suggests that lifetime self-assessments of happiness peak around age 74. What's most significant about that observation is that life expectancy at birth in the United States didn't even reach 60 until the Great Depression, or 70 until the Vietnam War era. We have a lot to learn about continuing to extend human life expectancy, but there's every reason in the world to think that longer, healthier lives will prove to be more fulfilling with time. We ought to consider death something other than an inevitability, and with continuing enhancements to personal medicine, bionic organs, and electronic enhancements to the human brain, we may find that death is not necessarily inevitable for us all. Trees can live for thousands of years; why couldn't we? And as we seek to "cure" the problem of death, we ought also to address aging as a chronic condition to be delayed and managed. Pain and debilitation shouldn't be inevitable in one's elder years. Perhaps we'll discover someday that happiness really peaks at 148.

Computers and the Internet Twitter and Facebook are not the right places to end a relationship
An e-mail may be sterile and a text message remote, but breaking off a relationship in public via a social-networking website isn't just tacky -- it's deeply inconsiderate. Moreover, it makes a personal matter a subject of public record...and public records on the Internet never really die.

Iowa Iowa union boss calls member a "scab"
And accidentally sent an e-mail using that language to the subject of the epithet. Bullying isn't just for playgrounds. Labor unions can serve a useful purpose, but when they become tools for individuals' political gain and social status rather than the protection of their member workers against abuse, they wear thin their welcome.

Humor and Good News Hamlet would've been much better with a "Will and Grace" component

Water News A sad but unavoidable consequence of protecting the water

Socialism Doesn't Work The White House may very well be patently delusional about General Motors
In response to accusations in a new book by Mitt Romney, a White House spokesperson says that as a result of government intervention at GM and Chrysler over the last year, "today these companies are emerging stronger than ever". That may very well be the most ludicrous statement on business ever. GM was a thousand times stronger in the 1950s than it is today. To claim otherwise betrays a complete lack of understanding of business and economics.

Science and Technology Would rooftop farms be more efficient than "green roofs"?
Good question. A bit of rooftop gardening doesn't sound like a bad idea for urban-dwellers, though one might suspect that there could be long-term risks associated with eating food grown in an environment dense in air pollution. Rooftop gardens might very well have similar benefits in terms of stormwater mitigation and solar absorption as "green roofs", and urban gardening has long been conducted in densely-populated areas like Tokyo and London, so it's not really a huge innovation. Overall, though, unless and until we get some kind of profound breakthrough in producing clean, cheap energy, urban areas simply won't have any useful economic advantage in raising food on a large scale. Small experiments, perhaps, but not likely anything grand. Unless, of course, the vertical farm project turns out to be something vastly more likely than it appears at the present.

Computers and the Internet Italian court convicts three Google executives
They were busted for privacy rules in a case that one consultant said looked like "prosecuting the post office for [delivering] hate mail"

Humor and Good News The naughtier edition of "Back to the Future"
(Video) Vulgar but funny

Water News Is a new arena a better use of tax dollars than protecting water quality?

Broadcasting Podcast: Thinking like the customer

Broadcasting Podcast: Digital footprints

News India and Pakistan return to speaking terms
The two countries have to get along in order for the world to have a sustainable sense of security. India is the world's second-largest country (by population); Pakistan is 6th. (Yes, it's really larger than Russia, Japan, and Mexico.) Both countries have nuclear weapons. And they share a very long border. We ignore their relations at our own peril.

Health and Medicine Model suggests HIV/AIDS could be halted within 40 years
Better containment of the disease through testing and retroviral drugs could render the scourge virtually non-infectious, which could in turn turn it inert. A hugely expensive proposition, to be sure, but highly promising -- especially considering the cost of treating a still-spreading disease would undoubtedly be much larger.

Aviation News An intriguing proposal: "Allow anybody who wants to qualify to be a reserve air marshal"

Science and Technology First monogamous amphibians found

Computers and the Internet A cheap couple of steps to speed up a slow computer

Water News Are companies really doing enough to report on the operational risks posed by their water supplies?

Humor and Good News Why the West had to win the Cold War
So that today, anyone around the world can use an American website (eBay) to buy a Chinese-made oil painting of a British prime minister (the great Margaret Thatcher)

News Killer whale lives up to name, takes third human life
If this were a dog, it would have been euthanized after the first. We have such a peculiar set of standards for right and wrong when it comes to wild animals kept in captivity. For the record, though, a bonsai tree has never killed anyone.

News A surprising number of people are hit and killed by New York subway trains every month
Eight people have been hit in the last two weeks -- about twice the usual rate, but even that rate is pretty stunning. Apparently, there's a person hit by one of those trains every three or four days on average. A significant number are suicide attempts, but many are accidents. For perspective, though, 256 people were killed in NYC vehicular traffic last year.

Humor and Good News Read this book: "F Minus: This Can't Be Legal"

Broadcasting Radio on demand: Debt to China puts us in diplomatic handcuffs

Broadcasting Radio on demand: Is the iPad anything to get really excited about?

Weather and Disasters Huge earthquake strikes Chile