Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

The United States of America The macro-scale factors that could keep America on top in the 21st Century
A lot of people are making hay (politically and otherwise) claiming that we're living in the midst of a catastrophic decline in American influence and power, largely due to the rise of China as an economic force in the world. But there is substantial evidence that the factors that have driven a lot of manufacturing power to China may be ready to shift gears -- or even move into reverse. Wages are rising in China, which is eroding the top-line advantage that the country has had over American manufacturers for a long time. And with other factors -- like shipping costs, reliability problems, and piracy -- all making that "cheap" price look a lot more expensive, there may be plenty of room ahead for American manufacturing to compete on a global scale for quite some time to come. It's easy to forget, amid all the whining about the decline of manufacturing jobs in America, that the workforce here has been moving out of manufacturing since the WWII era -- yet we still make more stuff than any other country in the world.

Business and Finance Interview with one of the great logo designers of all time
Tom Geismar has been responsible for logos like Chase Bank and Mobil. He has some interesting things to say about how some of those great logos came together. Funny thing: It's probably a safe bet that people more closely identify themselves with the logos of their employers than with any other symbol, save perhaps for that of their national flag or that of their religion -- and even then, it's probably a debatable point. Most people spend 40 hours a week at work and an hour or two at their place of worship. This isn't a bad thing -- it's just a sign of how ingrained the entire mechanism of capitalism is within our daily lives.

Health One year ago today: Hundreds were dying in Haiti due to cholera
It's so easy to forget upon what fragile legs civilization stands. The huge earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 knocked out normal water supplies to many of the people around Port-au-Prince, and without reliable means of getting safe drinking water, thousands got cholera and hundreds died. Clean drinking water seems so basic and essential that Americans rarely think about it -- nobody gets cholera here. But if our water supplies weren't reliable and safe, we would be spending our time seeking that essential resource instead of, say, watching Netflix or building the next great computer company in someone's basement.

Health How to destroy civilization in one easy step
Medical professionals are noting a dramatic increase in the number of parents who are withholding vaccinations from their children. That's undoubtedly the result of a very loud and uneducated campaign by anti-vaccination activists. We should be clear on this point: If you really want civilization to collapse, go ahead and promote the anti-vaccination movement. Vaccines have been responsible for tremendous progress in the human condition, and letting people put their children at risk because of half-baked paranoiac theories they picked up from half-wits with no scientific knowledge is the surest way to ensure that innocent children will die for no good reason.

Business and Finance Gallup boss says all the world wants is a 30-hour work week and a stable job
The important question is whether that 30 hours is attractive in its own right for some kind of intrinsic reason, or because it would be 25% less work than most people do today

Agriculture 71% of Iowa's corn has been harvested, and 95% of Iowa's soybeans are in
That's much better than the state's five-year average

Iowa Kids should probably know how to read by the time they leave third grade
Really, they should probably know before they leave first grade -- so shouldn't they be held back in school until they can? (And, of course, given the attention and resources they need in order to help them learn how?)

Socialism Doesn't Work "Occupy Wherever We Want" movement learns it can't build a permanent structure on city property
The Occupists need to learn that public property belongs to the entire public, not just the portion of the public that claims to be speaking on behalf of 99% of the public (which they don't). There are plenty of other frustrating dispatches from the Occupists, as well: They're fighting among themselves over -- wait for it -- money, and there's a bit too much free love taking place out in the open, to which one non-Occupist has responded with a donation of prophylactics, saying, "Just make sure people aren't breeding."

The United States of America Gingrich: "We [Republicans] don't rely enough on actually knowing things"
He's right, to a degree -- there are a lot of right-of-center loudmouths who substitute talking points for actual thought. Conservatism, as an intellectual heir to classical liberalism, should take pride in thoughtful analysis and considered reflection, not just knee-jerk anti-intellectualism, which is all too often the case among populist "conservatives".

Science and Technology Get the creepiest Halloween mask ever
For the low, low price of $4,000 plus the price of a trip to Japan, a company will make an exact mold of your face to be worn as a mask

News Indian girls get rid of a name that literally means "unwanted"

The United States of America What American Catholics really believe

News Hamid Karzai says he'd be on Pakistan's side if it went to war with America

Business and Finance China's painfully high inflation rate
There's a lot of debate about whether it's being measured accurately. Regarless of what yardstick is being used, the rate of inflation is very high -- probably about 10% a year. That's enough to put the pinch of people's savings in a dramatic way.

Broadcasting Bad idea: Cutting the radio portion of the Voice of America
Someone's been fooled into believing that everything that's been done over the airwaves in the past can be done online today -- which utterly neglects the enormous power governments in repressive countries have to trace, track, and roadblock individuals' access to the Internet and the sites that the VOA and others use to spread their messages. This is the problem with people who are unfamiliar with technology becoming the ones who regulate its use.

News Vatican think-tank calls for world authority to police capitalism
Patently absurd

Business and Finance Online chat about Berkshire Hathaway
Someone commented that they thought the company might be broken up. There's absolutely zero chance of that happening. Berkshire is in a rare position of being able to self-finance virtually anything it wants, thanks to the dual structure. Self-financing means independence from the credit markets, which means being able to take advantage of great opportunities when companies are cheap and credit is tight (like in 2008). It would be a sign of the apocalypse if Berkshire were to split off the financial and operating companies into two. Berkshire is a unique conglomerate -- it's come together organically, as opposed to the way people tried to cram lots of pieces together to form conglomerates like ITT (which are now spinning themselves back into separate pieces). Berkshire's operations have come together based upon which companies were cheap -- not how they supposedly "synergized" with one another. When conglomerates like ITT break up, they're trying to "unlock shareholder value" -- whereas Buffett thinks the value in Berkshire comes not from synergy, but from having bought good companies at good prices.

Humor and Good News Welcome to the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein

The United States of America The unemployment problem is a lack-of-skills problem
The current relatively-high unemployment rate in the United States is very, very closely tied to a shortage of skilled workers. People have been laid-off in declining industries, but they haven't found ways to re-tool themselves to go to work in ascending industries, like health care and skilled trades. Anyone who paints the manufacturing sector, for instance, as "dead" is completely wrong: America's still producing more goods than any other country in the world. But the jobs aren't just the monkey-see-monkey-do jobs that too many people picture when they reflect on the manufacturing jobs of the past. More than ever, manufacturing jobs require specialty skills and technological expertise. Machines do the grunt work; people do the smart things.

The United States of America People respond to incentives, and the government is creating all the wrong incentives
The President is touting a plan to help people who are "underwater" in their home mortgages get Federal aid to refinance their homes at lower rates. But what about the homeowners who were responsible all along? What about those who looked at overheated real-estate markets and decided not to live there? These programs -- from Cash for Clunkers to this mortgage bailout -- are rewarding people for taking excessive risks or doing other stupid things, and implicitly punishing the responsible. Why should people who bought homes within their means in places that didn't have overheated real-estate markets pay Federal taxes so that the irresponsible could get bailed out for living in places where it should have been patently obvious to anyone that house prices were inexcusably high?

Computers and the Internet FCC plans to redirect funds from landline phone subsidies to broadband subsidies
The Universal Service Fund is worth $15 billion a year to landline phone services in sparsely-populated areas. They object to a plan to redirect that money into promoting broadband Internet access in underserved areas instead.

Aviation News Delta pays down job-related loans to Minneapolis
And now local officials worry that's because the company is planning to cut back on the number of people it employs there

Business and Finance Amazon's sales keep rising, but so do their reinvestments in research and development
Here's the problem with being a publicly-traded company: Amazon.com had a huge increase in sales for the third quarter, but because it's investing heavily in things like the forthcoming Kindle Fire, shareholders panicked and dumped the stock upon the news. That's the wrong lesson to teach American businesses. On a related note, a British columnist thinks he knows what makes German businesses more resilient than many British and American ones.

Business and Finance Former Goldman Sachs director could be charged with criminal behavior for passing along company secrets

Humor and Good News "Catch-22" author actually enjoyed going to war
Joseph Heller apparently actually enjoyed his time at war, contrary to the experience of his protagonist, Yossarian. Anyone who hasn't read "Catch-22" needs to make a priority of it -- the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and truly brilliant.

Humor and Good News What the most innovative culture in history does with its free time
(Video) It sure beats clubbing our neighbors over the head and stealing their stuff

Computers and the Internet BlackBerry could face class-action lawsuit over outages

News The Chicago Cubs offer a lesson in getting rich slowly
After getting tired of more than a century without a World Series win, the Cubs have hired Theo Epstein as the president of baseball operations. He, in turn, has brought in Jed Hoyer to operate as general manager. Hoyer worked with Epstein before, and he said something instructive: "There's no magic formula that I learned in Boston, no 'special sauce.' It comes down to the building blocks of baseball, which are scouting and development." In other words, Hoyer's saying that it's going to take some time and a lot of hard work at the fundamentals. This contrasts markedly with the rather large number of Americans who are obsessed with getting rich quickly -- rather than doing the hard work of getting the fundamentals right, year in and year out. Fundamentals -- whether it's in baseball or investing or anywhere else -- are boring. But they're the only way to really get it right. It's interesting, too, that the baseball news is happening at the same time as billions of dollars are rushing into the stock market, just because things are starting to look a little brighter. The real winners in the stock market are those who bought a while back, when things looked most gloomy.

News Sooner or later, the Occupy Wherever-We-Want movement has to tell the rest of us what they believe
Supposedly, there are sub-groups now agitating for a national "general assembly" to put together a statement of purpose. But just like the Tea Party movement, the Occupists are bonded more by generalized anger and frustration than a coherent worldview.

News We're about to have 7 billion neighbors
The world's population is expected to reach 7 billion within days. That's many times more people than occupied the planet at, say the time of the American Revolution.

Business and Finance Letting the mortgage market hit bottom: We have to do it sooner or later

Threats and Hazards Chinese hackers took control of US satellites in 2007 and 2008
While we're busy worrying about the latest situation with the cast of "Jersey Shore", they're getting smarter and bolder

Business and Finance The savings rate is starting to slip
Down to 3.6% last month. It really should be well over 5% -- ideally, somewhere close to 10%

Science and Technology Can a "psychic" prove her supposed powers on Halloween?
If there were any scientific evidence in favor of "psychic" powers, then perhaps. But it's all just falsehood, which in turn steals from the gullible.

Broadcasting What makes "Modern Family" such a good show

News Modernization, of a sort
The British throne will soon equally belong to either a son or a daughter of the right people, not just the son. But real modernization would eliminate a monarchy altogether. Republics for all!

Health Aspirin could have anti-cancer properties for people with Lynch Syndrome