Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Socialism Doesn't Work President Obama claims credit for saving Detroit jobs
But the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler cost a fortune -- and racked up a costly bill we're going to have to pay, with interest, sometime in the future. The government simply didn't "create" 55,000 jobs. The government borrowed the cost of 55,000 jobs from China and other creditor nations, who in turn will be charging interest to generations of Americans to come. So it wasn't a job-creation measure, it was a job-shifting measure from future workers to today's workers. Not unrelatedly, Ford is about to sell Volvo to a Chinese automaker for $1.8 billion, in yet another asset transfer from the Western countries to China and other nations, the type of which will look ever more familiar all the time as they increase in frequency. But things are going to keep on looking more uncertain all the time, since Chinese ratings agencies are judging America a worse credit risk than China.

Health A friendship a day keeps the doctor away?
A study of 148 existing studies suggests that "social ties" -- friendships, that would be -- are as important to an individual's health as working out and eating right

Humor and Good News Pabst sells a version of PBR for $44 a bottle in China
Now that's marketing

Science and Technology Being a vegetarian might not be as Earth-friendly as it may superficially seem
Edamame might be "green", but Mother Jones magazine claims that producing tofurkey might put just as much stress on the environment as the equivalent turkey

Aviation News What have we learned from a 25-year-old plane crash?
A deadly crash at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1985 led to a number of safety improvements that help contribute to our much-improved quality of living today -- even though the improvements are almost completely hidden from the passengers' view. Things like radar to detect wind shear and new fire-control equipment (like a nozzle that can pierce a plane's fuselage) have been added to airplanes and airports to make passenger flight much safer, even if we as passengers don't see them and probably don't even recognize that they exist. The many accumulated little improvements in things like travel safety don't show up on conventional measures of well-being -- they don't appear on measures of GDP, and we don't feel happier because they exist since we're probably oblivious to many of them anyway -- but they add up regardless. The human condition is improving little by little, all the time. As long as we keep on getting smarter, life will keep on getting better. That "getting smarter" happens in a very literal sense when pilots can be trained in exactly the conditions of specific air emergencies, while they remain in the safety of a simulator. (And we can review their behavior in great detail as well.

Business and Finance When it comes to Chinese-made equipment, let the buyer beware
Chinese manufacturers are known to cut corners in dangerous fashion -- producing weightlifting equipment that could have killed people and defective automotive tires. Chinese-made goods carry at least two major types of risk: The first is that they're often made cheaply because they violate intellectual-property laws and expose their users to unintended liabilities from a legal standpoint. Even when the comparative advantage isn't cheating, it may be from an unsustainable pricing advantage from the Chinese government's heavy subsidization of energy prices. Once the subsidy goes away, so too may the pricing advantage. But the second risk is hidden, though it carries grave consequences: Since much of China's manufacturing today is based upon the copying of other products (hence the intellectual-property violation concerns), it's done with only a partial knowledge of the "how" of a product, and none of the "why". If two schoolchildren turn in the same essay, and one did nothing but copy the other, they may appear to be the same at first glance. But the child who did the copying wouldn't know anything about the process of originating the paper -- doing the research, assembling the data, writing, proofreading, and so on. The copycat only knows what the final product might look like. Lacking the process knowledge, he or she is almost certain to make fundamental errors about why things were done in a particular way. The more sophisticated the eventual product, the more serious the lack of knowledge about why it is built in the way it is.

Aviation News Hybrids: They're not just for cars anymore
Boeing and NASA seem to think an airplane could fly up to 900 miles, almost exclusively on battery power

Humor and Good News What if "bull riding" meant something different?

Weather and Disasters 1,500 killed and 2.5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan
Too many people would react much differently if "Pakistan" were replaced with "California". But all lives ought to be valued, and a catastrophe of this magnitude should not go unremarked. We received remarkable volumes of rain in Iowa this summer, but although we suffered some flooding, we escaped without a terrible death toll. The lessons learned in one part of the world ought to be applied everywhere, as much as practicable. Related: Part of the reason Iowa didn't experience a repeat of the 1993 floods (despite getting a record amount of total precipitation) was that higher average temperatures caused an estimated 20% extra evaporation. Interesting.

Threats and Hazards Value of an expired US passport on eBay: $15.50
The appearance of expired passports on eBay raises some interesting quetsions, like why anyone would allow an expired document of that much importance to slip away. Identity theft is easy enough without letting your official identification get scanned and sold on eBay.

Humor and Good News The Oregon Trailer
(Video) A movie-style trailer for the classic Oregon Trail video game

Science and Technology If the traffic is too busy, build another layer
People in crowded parts of America and Japan (and probably many other places) are familiar with the use of multi-decker expressways to alleviate traffic congestion without having to encroach upon entirely new rights-of-way for roads. But in China, it's being suggested that buses built tall enough could create their own second layers of traffic right over the top of other vehicles. God help them, of course, the first time a vehicle underneath has a catastrophic tire blowout or somehow else wrecks the bus-on-stilts above, but it's fun to look at even if it seems pretty badly unpractical.

Humor and Good News The primate rescue crew
A photo that appears to be a monkey carrying a puppy is circulating with the caption that the monkey is actually rescuing the puppy from a pipeline explosion in China. True or not, it's nice to find that people still think other animals are capable of making judgments about "good" and "evil". It supports the argument that we as humans are good by our nature, and that we're not alone in that regard. If a monkey is capable of doing good without having been told to do so, and we're better judges of moral behavior than monkeys, then that would seem to cement the case. And even if it doesn't portray a heroic rescue, it's a pretty funny picture. Related: On the subject of choice, an intriguing TED Talk suggests that we do not understand very well how we make choices.

Water News From extraordinary drought straight into record levels of rain

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Iowa More Iowans have chosen "independent" than any party
And it's by a big margin: About 752,000 independents, versus 700,000 Democrats and 645,000 Republicans. The odd thing here is that so many people still choose to be unaffiliated, thinking that it registers a protest against the two major parties. But in a first-past-the-post voting system such as ours, a two-party system is the only one that remains mathematically stable (met any Whigs lately?). There aren't even 2,000 "other" party members. But those non-aligned voters give up the right to influence the parties from the inside, and pass up the right to participate in both primaries and the hugely influential Iowa caucuses. It's really quite irrational to be an independent in Iowa. Pick the party that bothers you the least, then get inside and start pushing them where you want them to go.

Health Researcher de Grey thinks there's a 30% to 40% chance someone alive today will live to age 1,000
It's odd that we take death as a certainty, like people once took the concept of a flat Earth -- some organisms live for thousands of years already, and none of them have the human capacities for science

Iowa Iowa may have a low state debt, but we're still not spending wisely
A Moody's report says Iowa has the second-lowest per-capita state debt burden in the nation. But the problem is that we've been achieving that lack of debt by taking unsustainably from trust funds and other accounting shenanigans that can't go on forever

Iowa Several ways in which Iowa's recent weather has been remarkable
The third-wettest June/July period, the fifth-wettest year to date, and the second-most days in June and July with measurable rainfall. Plus, the third-warmest average overnight lows for June and July. So, we haven't all gone crazy -- it's just really warm and humid and rainy all the time. Like it was this morning.

Computers and the Internet Ten ridiculous accessories for the iPhone

Business and Finance Canadian firm keeps pushing offer to take over Casey's
Americans and other heavily-indebted Westerners had better come to terms quickly with whether they're comfortable with companies being sold into foreign hands. China's sovereign-wealth fund is taking about buying a huge chunk of real estate from Harvard University's endowment, and Britain's Liverpool soccer team. They're planning to buy billions of dollars in additional assets. And many Westerners have to sell, because we simply have too much debt and can't make the payments -- on the household, corporate, and government levels alike. In the case of the Casey's offer, neither debt nor non-Western ownership is involved -- yet it's still upsetting shareholders and management who don't like the idea of "outsider" ownership. Imagine how much fiercer the resistance would be if the buyers were from China. People get uptight when their institutions change or falter -- there's a lot of disappointment in Des Moines today over the closing of a 58-year-old pizza restaurant which patrons loved for niche offerings like orange onion rings. But when we cruise along without long-term business plans and just hope that everything will turn out like a Hollywood script in the end, who are we really kidding? Debt greatly enhances risk and raises the probability of failure.

Computers and the Internet (Google) Wave goodbye
Google is giving the axe to its Wave experiment, concluding that people just haven't adopted it like they hoped, making it more of an albatross than an asset. Once again, the fickleness of the Internet consumer is such that it just seems impossible to believe that any "Internet services" business should expect sustained success for any meaningful length of time. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and all of the others really should look at non-Internet lines of business where smart people and massive computing power could still turn a profit.

The United States of America Birthright citizenship is no "mistake"
Despite what some Senate leaders are trying to say to the contrary, the notion of birthright citizenship in the United States is no mistake -- it's the Fourteenth Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The United States of America More evidence supporting the need for a larger Congress
Almost 310 million people live in the United States. 62 million live in the UK. But the British Parliament has 650 seats in its lower house, while the US has just 435. We should have far more people in Congress -- not because we need more politicians, per se, but because a larger House would mean smaller districts, and it's easier for challengers to unseat incumbents in smaller districts. Smaller districts means more direct contact with one's elected officials and smaller campaign budgets. A larger House would mean that redistricting wouldn't take Iowa's House delegation from 5 to 4 in 2012, but from something like 50 to 45. A larger Congress would be better for America.

Computers and the Internet The Big Bang at the International Video Game Hall of Fame
Putting Ottumwa, Iowa, on the video gamer's map

Weather and Disasters NOAA says there's still lots of time left for the Atlantic tropical-weather season to get ugly
Despite what's seemed to the novice observer as a relatively quiet hurricane season, they say "There remains a high likelihood that the season could be very active, with the potential of being one of the more active on record."

Water News The trouble with sandbags: Sometimes they become health hazards

Computers and the Internet Incredible fires sweep Russia
One report says a third of all the agricultural land in the entire country has burned. That seems almost impossible to believe, given Russia's enormous size, but the fires are undoubtedly a massive disaster. Moscow is being choked by awful smog resulting from the fires -- the pictures are incredible, but block cookies before looking at the pictures -- Russian sites are notorious for having inadequate security policies to protect the visitor.

Computers and the Internet Is it the end of network neutrality?
Contradicting a New York Times report, Google says it's not trying to work out a special deal with Verizon to make sure some of its content gets special priority for fast delivery on the Internet. Interestingly, though, Google hasn't said anything on its official blog yet about the Times story.

News Why do Chicago police officers wear dangerous bulletproof vests?
It's evident that their vests are too hot and heavy for summer wear

News Going up, or just calling the fire department?
A terrible layout for an elevator button panel

Computers and the Internet iPod Nanos are catching fire in Japan
Some are overheating and others are actually catching fire. The numbers are in the dozens, but that's dozens more than a safe product.

Water News FEMA disaster-prevention money being released for Iowa

Computers and the Internet Advice for personal-data security
Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - August 7, 2010

Computers and the Internet Pharmacy students earn online Pharm.Ds
A news article on the program at Creighton University says "Many of the students are in their 30s and are experienced, disciplined and know what they want." That's exactly why universities should be working overtime right now to extend access to as many programs as possible through the Internet. Huge numbers of Americans have no bachelor's degree, and earning that degree often makes an enormous difference to one's earnings potential. If states are really serious about "economic development", they ought to focus on developing the skills and education of their labor forces, not just subsidizing big private-sector projects at taxpayer expense. If a pharmacist can be trained online, then virtually everyone else can, too.

Iowa Newton celebrates the "National Humidity Festival"
It's a lighthearted attempt to put a happy spin on the sweltering humidty common in Iowa in the summertime, where the corn sucks huge amounts of moisture from the ground and transpires it right into the air.