The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Brian Gongol

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The oldest person in the world just died at age 115. Norman Borlaug, agricultural scientist and humanitarian, has also passed away, at age 95. Borlaug was still working and advocating agricultural development until his death, and the world is better-off for his efforts. The sad part is that we still haven't figured out how to continue extending human lifespans enough that geniuses like Borlaug could routinely be producing great ideas into ages like 115 and older. What if he'd had another 20 years to work and create great ideas? Borlaug was clearly alarmed about the threat that wheat rust poses to the world's food supplies, and he defended bio-technological approaches to expanding food production to meet the needs of the poor.

Are there reasons to be cautious about the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) for food? Sure; the law of unintended consequences is universal, and we should be cautious about anything that could massively change something as fundamental as the world's food supply. But it's profoundly unfortunate that politicians and activists have demonized GMOs in such a way that African countries are reluctant to allow the use of GMOs, since that would threaten their ability to export agricultural products to places like Europe. This keeps poor countries poor, out of fear rather than rationality.

Why hasn't the IT team working for Congress figured out that Congressional websites should be permanently archived? Here's what we mean: Chuck Hagel was a US Senator from Nebraska who stepped aside this last year. But if you go to, where his site used to be located, nothing's there. That's ridiculous. Instead of vaporizing House and Senate websites after each term, every Senator and Representative should have a site that stays in place forever, archived by Congressional session. In other words, since Sen. Hagel served in the 110th Congress, his site should have been at Sure, could point there for convenience, but we should always know where to find old Congressional sites. This will probably emerge as a more visible issue as people ponder what to do with Ted Kennedy's site, now that he's gone. The same, by the way, should go for the White House. The George W. Bush White House website should still be located at, and everything about the Barack Obama White House website should be at History should know exactly where to find the old, even as it is replaced by the new. But as it stands, we have to hope that the NARA is able to copy everything from old sites in time to archive them for reference in the future. The oldest surviving websites date only from the 1990s, and few remain unaltered. This causes a loss of institutional memory, which hurts us as a culture. We need to know our historical roots and we need to be able to check the archives.

Lots of knowledge is being lost as people -- especially Baby Boomers -- retire from jobs they've held for a long time, and as the transfer of that knowledge to their replacements remains imperfect. There are only a few Jay Leno types who are willing to keep working beyond their intended retirement dates.

Great teachers can make a huge difference. We need to learn more from great teachers about how to make education better for all? In his talk to the TED conference this past year, Bill Gates suggested that we should be considering telecasting the lectures of great teachers to many classrooms at once, and then using the local teachers to enhance that teaching in ways that serve the students in each individual classroom. Would it work? Maybe. But there should be no doubt that we're still looking for better ways to multiply the power of great thinkers and smart professionals in ways that allow them to (in essence) be in many places at once. Whether that's using video-enabled robots to let specialist doctors see patients in distant hospital beds or something else altogether, it's clear that we need to figure out more about how to get intelligence and skill to the places we need it, especially since we still don't have Star Trek-style teleporters that reduce travel costs and times to zero. We're still living in a real world where Australia (which, by the way, has government-administered health care) has a serious shortage of doctors, leading to dangerous levels of over-work and resulting fatigue.

Americans paid down personal debt in July at a record pace, but the government still owes eye-popping amounts on our behalf: $11.8 trillion -- it's ridiculous. So even though we're down to an average of about $3,000 per person in credit-card debt, our Federal government has borrowed more than $38,000 per person in our names.

Scary thought: 8 years after 9/11, we still don't really do enough to screen people working at airports. Not the people traveling through, but the people working there.

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