Gongol.com Archives: August 2013
Brian Gongol

August 16, 2013

Threats and Hazards More chaos in Egypt
The world's 15th-largest country is in a state of emergency. That puts 85 million people under martial law. Oh, and 8% of world trade, including 3% of the world's oil supply, passes through Egypt's Suez Canal. That seems to demand something more than waffling by the State Department.

Business and Finance Process matters
A Facebook posting laments, "If the USA can't afford to provide basic medical care, feed the poor, protect the environment, maintain our infrastructure, or teach our children anymore, then what exactly is our bloated [sic] military budget defending?" Putting aside the implication that the military budget is "bloated" (which it may be or not), the sentiment in theory is fine -- but the implicit assumption behind the post (and its admonition to "Go left") ignores the process. We can wish for many good things to happen, but environmental protection and infrastructure investments don't just happen because someone in government authority wills them. They can only be funded by a healthy and free economy. The poor are fed by high-yielding crops (brought to you by research and development by seed and fertilizer companies). The public infrastructure must be maintained by a great deal of tax money, but it's generally built by private contractors -- and the investment in plant and equipment by private companies (like Toyota's $2 billion in plant expansions and MidAmerican Energy's $1.9 billion in wind-power generation and the plans by BNSF to spend $4.1 billion on railroads and equipment) can't be overlooked, either. And don't even bring up the environmental records of socialist economies: Market economics are the best thing to happen to environmental quality. The lazy and ill-informed assumption that what we need is a leftward tilt -- away from market forces and towards greater government control over the economy -- assumes too much about the desirable goals and thinks too little about the process of achieving them.

Science and Technology 3D scanners plus 3D printers equals a nightmare for intellectual property

Health New record-holder for the world's oldest person?
Maybe he's really 123 years old; maybe he's not. But it's still astonishing that there isn't a more deliberate push by us -- as a species -- to push the boundaries of what we think our lifespans should be. Two root causes are likely at play: First, people confuse growing old with a decline in their quality of life. That's absolutely unnecessary; George Burns and Norman Borlaug were happy, engaged, and active well into their 90s, so we need to separate the notion of "aging" from the notion of "feebleness". Second, we culturally resist acknowleding that death even exists, which in turn makes it hard to take seriously the idea of prolonging a viable, healthy life. Death really is Public Enemy #1, and we should treat it as such. Other living organisms routinely live into multiple hundreds of years, and we are rapidly developing the technology to replace our own failed organs with new ones from our own cells. That means we should, in theory, be approaching a stage in which we can do an end-run around nature and perpetuate ourselves well beyond what might have been our otherwise natural expiration dates. And if we truly think that age can beget wisdom, and that wisdom is a good thing to be used and applied, then we should quite reasonably think of prolonging healthy lives as a means of increasing the world's human potential (an economist would say "human capital") at an exponentially-increasing rate. Had people like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin lived to be 150 or 200 years old, wouldn't we all be better off? Capitalism in liberal democracies works because it nudges us all to work hard and (more importantly) helps reward and encourage the occasional genius who can truly leverage big improvements in the quality of life for us all. Anything we can do to perpetuate some of our real geniuses would be a good thing.

Business and Finance 0.9% productivity growth: That's not good enough
America's economy only got more productive at a sub-1% annualized rate over the last few months. That's just not good enough.

Aviation News Area 51 exists. So what?
That the government has acknowledged the existence of Area 51 as a test area for aircraft isn't quite the step towards more transparent government that we should all be demanding. Area 51 conspiracy theories are for the tin-foil-hat crowd. Meanwhile, we're really not doing enough about government surveillance.

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology
Program notes for the WHO Radio Wise Guys, airing Saturday at 1:00

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