Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

The United States of America The Speaker's angle on the debt-ceiling deal
The President says it delivers "the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President" -- by which he undoubtedly means the lowest level of discretionary spending relative to GDP. Because it's obvious that Social Security, Medicare, and debt payments are certainly larger than they were. What could be quite interesting about the outcome of the deal is how the committee of Senators and Representatives is formed to propose a deficit deal by November. The people serving on the committee will all be active politicians, most of whom will probably be looking for re-election.

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Threats and Hazards So many lives are at stake in Africa's famine

The United States of America House approves debt-ceiling deal
It's an imperfect deal, but it had to be done. What's disappointing is that some partisans, who are entirely right that the government needs to bring spending under control, used entirely the wrong tactic for getting their point across. Running down the clock to the last minutes before a potential government default in order to protest excessive government debt is like taking the family for a death-defying drive at 100 miles an hour on the freeway just to scare them into wearing their seat belts. Brinksmanship isn't persuasion, it's a scare tactic. Now that the deal looks like it'll go through (pending approval in the Senate), the really critical matter will be determining who sits on the 12-person committee of Congress to come up with some kind of plan for resolving the long-term deficit problem.

News Sometimes the drug charge is a better option
Some doofus racked up dozens of traffic violations running from the police in Cedar Rapids, apparently in an effort to avoid getting busted for possession of a small amount of pot. Idiot.

Humor and Good News How community institutions get started
The receptionist in the lobby of a Pittsburgh office tower listens to baseball games on the radio and uses home runs as a cue to flicker a light atop the building. It's really quite delightful -- a totally organic, authentic community expression. Very fun.

Threats and Hazards Somalia's famine is a dreadful story
People are braving awful violence just to try to get food

News Hugo Chavez wants OPEC to let Venezuela pump more oil
It's hilarious to watch a socialist have to deal with the consequences of economics in the real world. Chavez has been running Venezuela's economy into the ground, but it's being buoyed by oil prices. But he also participates in OPEC, which seeks to raise world oil prices by constricting supply. But since he's trying to stay in power, he needs an economic boost that socialism can't provide, so he wants permission to pump more oil. Countries endowed with an abundance of natural resources run a very serious risk of mistaking their resource abundance for a signal that their economic policies are working. Natural resources, especially in the hand of an authoritarian government, can become a serious curse -- enriching the powerful elite who proceed to impoverish the rest of the country because they remain hungry for power and control.

Iowa Kids' lemonade stands were shut down during RAGBRAI
If the stories being told are true, then police were taking a sledgehammer approach to applying the permitting ordinance around the event

Agriculture Terrible story about a detasseling tragedy
Two young girls were electrocuted while detasseling corn -- highlighting the risk involved in that dangerous line of work. In an ideal world, all dangerous work would be done by machines (like detasseling equipment), rather than by people.

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #4
A bunch of thugs beat up a pair of drinkers in a Quad Cities bar the other day, using what look like pipes and wrenches. Who knows whether there was a deeper story involved, but it certainly looks unprovoked in the raw surveillance footage. One never knows what's going to set off a thug in a public place, so it's best to know how to respond...ideally in a way that will cause the attacker some serious and lasting regret.

Humor and Good News A history of root beer

Water News $4 million in damage caused by flash flooding in Dubuque

Business and Finance Robots are replacing people building the iPhone
The manufacturer making the units has faced a lot of bad press and scrutiny for the apparently pretty bad conditions it keeps for its employees, some of whom have committed suicide. Now they're setting a plan to replace some of those workers with robots. This should set off some warning lights: If Chinese labor is now getting too expensive (or troublesome) to work with, and robots are more economical, then several consequences are likely to ensue: First, the increase in demand for robots will probably expand the market for them, bringing economies of scale and making robotics more affordable for manufacturers around the world. Bad news if you're a factory-line laborer without other skills. Second, it signals that the search for low-cost labor will drive work out of China -- likely to other portions of southeast Asia, and eventually to Africa. Could be good news for the people living in those countries, if it brings in foreign investment and stable jobs. Third, it could be the beginning of the end for the Communist Party in China, which depends upon rising wages for as many people as possible to keep it in power. If companies start using their revenues to buy new machines rather than to employ new workers, it's going to put the brakes on China's rapid urbanization and leave a lot of people wondering where the higher wages went. China already faces regional strife as some of the far-flung provinces are getting harder for the central government to manage. If the manufacturing boom stops feeding workers and only serves to enrich the people with capital (dare we call them the "capitalists"?), that unrest could rapidly become widespread.

The United States of America States are going to face a lot of budget trouble without Federal support
A Minnesota state representative says "There's a new sheriff in town, and its name is Reality". He's absolutely right. The transition will undoubtedly be very uncomfortable for many states -- just like living without the stimulus money they had two years ago made for budget pain this year.

Computers and the Internet The latest share in Twitter sold at a rate that would make the entire company worth $8 billion
That's an astronomical market cap -- more than the sale price of Chrysler in 2007. Which makes it evident that people are buying into the firm either without thinking, or in the wild hopes that the market valuation will keep climbing just long enough for them to ride the increase and then sell out before the bubble bursts. But it's decidedly not a sensible valuation.

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #5
An Australian girl spent 10 hours thinking she had a "necklace bomb" around her neck after an intruder broke into her house

Iowa The modern radio business doesn't make room for the legends it used to
Full-service radio is virtually gone

Iowa The 2011 Iowa State Fair: Now with a lot more police!
Last year's mob scenes were shameful

The United States of America The insider language of some branches of Christianity

The American Way US household net worth: $58.1 trillion
That's a ton of money -- far more than our Federal debt, among other major figures

Computers and the Internet Everyone will have a smartphone soon
Saturation rates in the UK are already at 50% for young users

The United States of America Former Governor Huntsman says it would be "impossible" for Representative Bachmann to get the Presidential nomination
Her absolutist stance on the Federal debt ceiling is inexcusable

Business and Finance GM's profits are up -- but that's no consolation to the people they screwed in bankruptcy
That's one of the semi-hidden consequences of bankruptcy: The surviving company gets to behave as though nothing really happened, and the creditors end up being punished.

The American Way Freelance work via the Internet is on the rise
Great news for places like Iowa, where people could work remotely for distant businesses while still enjoying a very high quality of life

The United States of America There goes America's "AAA" credit rating
Standard and Poor's has downgraded US Federal debt to "AA+", which is still very strong -- but no longer perfect

Iowa Another big Iowa wind farm is coming
The state now produces the equivalent of 20% of the electricity we consume from wind power

Computers and the Internet Google offers to host websites to give them faster page speeds
This will undoubtedly lead to antitrust concerns

Iowa Iowa regents consider 72 candidates for next ISU president
It's a big job and a highly valuable one, but a reasonable person might wonder whether it's also overpaid

Aviation News Why is there a football stadium 250 feet away from the main runway at the Akron airport?
Seems like potentially-catastrophic bad planning