Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 30, 2015
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
We need an NTSB for police-involved shootings
- The system we have for following up on police-involved shootings is not leaving anyone satisfied. The grand jury system generally seems to involve serious conflicts of interest between prosecutors and police, so it should not be surprising that they rarely result in criminal prosecution -- even when something clearly has gone wrong.
- Whether police-involved shootings are on the increase or not, they're certainly in the news:
- The Washington Post says almost 1,000 people were shot and killed by police this year
- Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed in Cleveland (no criminal charges; police officer fired within two seconds of arriving)
- Jeremy Mardis, the 6-year-old boy killed in Louisiana in the back of his father's car
- Ryan Bollinger, killed in Des Moines this year (no indictment)
- Autumn Steele, killed in Burlington this year when a police officer shot at an approaching dog (no criminal charges)
- Bettie Jones, a bystander killed in Chicago this past weekend when a police officer was firing at another person (who was also killed)
- If I thought that my risk of becoming a victim were enhanced because my last name starts with "G" or because I went to UNI or because I drive a Toyota, then I would want that investigated. But that's not what enhances my risk, and everybody knows it. It's not a benign thing: The Washington Post counts that 40% of the unarmed men shot by police this year were black.
- That undermines faith in the system. That's a risk to "domestic tranquility". When I hear from friends who are from good homes, are well-educated, law-abiding, tax-paying, and gainfully employed in respectable work, and they say that they fear for their children, then something has gone wrong in a bad way.
- We need an equivalent of the NTSB to investigate deaths in police custody. An independent, geographically-removed agency with investigative powers. Civilian oversight means we deserve (and should demand) to know what happened, why, and what should be done to keep it from happening again.
- Car accidents are mainly preventable. We don't prevent them because we're stubborn. We are being similarly stubborn about this issue.
- The failure to properly determine the causes of these shootings and implement corrective actions to prevent them in the future is a public safety hazard. Whether or not you believe that police officers should be prosecuted in these cases, you should certainly believe in the importance of finding the causes and fixing the underlying problems.
- Failure to fix this problem is going to undermine police officers generally, and most of them deserve far better than that. When those incidents occur where the police appear to have been acting strictly in self-defense, then an independent investigation by an agency specifically tasked with finding the truth should only confirm the justification. But something is certainly wrong when it takes 13 months to reach charges in a case where the individual killed was suspected of burglary and posed no obvious imminent threat.
- Non-lethal force and tools for de-escalation are in great need.
- Even if most of the fatal shootings involve self-defense or the defense of a third party, there's a need for investigation to determine whether lethal force was necessary. Just as the NTSB sometimes find that a plane crash was unavoidable, it will sometimes be found that a fatal police shooting was unavoidable. But these things are not without costs, even when the person killed was clearly guilty and in the process of endangering others.
You're Not Yelping
- "South Park" had an episode this past season called "You're Not Yelping"
- It rings true
- Do online ratings and review sites turn some customers into brats?
- Took a call this week from an impossibly rude and condescending individual from the Texas oil fields. He had an impossible question, useless information, and a bad attitude -- but he was aggravated to no end that I couldn't give him an answer.
- In most cases, I would tell a person like that to beat it. But since he called from Texas, I knew he had found us on the Internet, so instead of telling him where to stuff his question, I bit my tongue.
- People like him get away with snotty, entitled behavior because people like me are afraid of getting negative reviews that could affect our performance online. That's a very negative feedback loop to establish for people who are already jerks.
- I don't mind feedback loops; in fact, I prefer them. Went to Iceland, where tipping is not a part of the culture. While the service was always polite, it was nowhere near as attentive as it is in the United States. There was no incentive for the servers to go out of their way to help, and since nobody was rewarded personally, customers simply get attention from whichever staffer happens to walk past. I much prefer the American way, where I can reward great service and punish the bad.
- But one of the crimes of online feedback loops is that it's rarely two-way: The store/restaurant/hotel/service provider is guilty until they find the bad review and offer up a defense. The problem, though, is that it can look like sour grapes if the response includes a criticism of the customer.
- I use and like review sites, but I find that you have to throw out the extremes on either end -- good or bad -- and look for reviews closer to the middle, where someone offers a detailed set of comments without the invective or flattery. Culturally, we're all going to have to get used to doing that not just with review sites, but with what we see of people online generally. We're rapidly approaching an event horizon where everyone's going to have really good and really bad stuff about them online. We'll all have to get used to ignoring the extremes of both if we really want to get to know about someone.
Three cheers for Paul Ryan
The Speaker of the House gave a speech recently in which he shared his vision for a "Confident America".
- Annotated speech
- He's already getting a rough time from people who say he's not conserative enough.
- His vision matches what I've previously called "open-minded conservatism": Let's preserve the best of what we have, but always be looking for ways to do things better
- Speaker Ryan is exactly where the GOP of the future needs to be. The fundamentals of America remain as sound as ever; we just need a reboot for a lot of the programs and ideas that have gotten stale
- Perhaps most importantly, he gets that blowing up the system isn't a solution, no matter how angry we are with Washington. The answer is to bring forward our best ideas, test them in the states (the laboratories of democracy), and implement them as close as possible to the people who will be affected.
- Takeaway lines:
- "We want to know we stand for freedom and show it -- not with bluster or bravado, but with calm, steady action."
- "Technology is making life more decentralized. The old, top-down formulas just won't do...Government is always a step behind. So oddly enough, it is the progressives who are stuck in the past."
- "Then there are the millions of people stuck in neutral: 6 million people who have no choice but to work part time, 45 million people living in poverty. Conservatives need to have an answer to this -- because we do not write people off in this country."
- "If you add up all the countries that do not have a trade agreement with us, we have a big manufacturing trade deficit. But if you add up all the countries that do have a trade agreement with us, we have a surplus."
Some thoughts about Cheryl Pannier
Cheryl Pannier hired me for my first "adult" job. Fresh out of high school, I had talked my way into tagging around the WHO Radio newsroom as an intern, and after two weeks of my haunting the place, Cheryl asked if I would be interested in working as a board operator. The idea of running the controls for the most powerful and legendary radio station in Iowa was overwhelmingly enticing; I accepted on the spot.
That was in the early summer of 1997. During the succeeding eighteen and a half years, I saw Cheryl in every possible workplace mode: Harried supervisor trying to fill a last-minute gap in the work schedule, seasoned professional guiding the station through some significant news or weather event, caring and thoughtful co-worker looking out for someone's well-being when they needed it. Most often, she was a source of humor and good cheer.
Any workplace runs the risk of turning dry and dull; Cheryl was like a ball of entropy, bringing a little bit of zany fun to the place. I remember most the ongoing series of gags she would play at the expense of Bob Quinn in the days when he ran the newsroom. Perhaps it was watching my two immediate supervisors duke it out via tongue-in-cheek memos and manipulated pictures photocopied and stuffed into mailboxes that left me with a firm appreciation for just a touch of anarchy in the workplace.
Through it all, Cheryl persevered. She should have had a bigger budget so she could hire a few extra people without having to worry about parsing out time off during the holidays. She should have had more storms and breaking news to cover so she could groom more young broadcasters to shine when they were needed most. She should have had more time on the air to have a little more fun and to bring a few more listeners along for the ride. But I never saw her take it personally, and I always saw her laughing. It was her ability to roll with the circumstances that came her way -- particularly when at their most ridiculous -- that brought out the best of her humor, like her truly masterful recordings of contest rules peppered with non sequiturs.
The last time I crossed paths with Cheryl was just a couple of weeks ago. She was covering an overnight board shift so the full-time operator could have a day off around Thanksgiving. I only saw her through the glass for a moment as she set up the programming for the next hour before she ran off to some other corner of the building. I finished some routine tasks of my own before packing up to head home for the night. Since I hadn't seen her in a while, I wanted to catch up; I could always count on Cheryl for a good anecdote about something absurd that had happened since we had last talked. I went looking around, first on the third floor and then on the second, where her office light was on and the door open to an empty room. No matter, I thought; she was probably busy editing some production work for the air in a studio I had overlooked and I'd catch up with her sometime over the holidays. A storm had put many of our studio "On Air" lights on the fritz, so I probably missed her that one last time by walking right past for want of a working light bulb.
And that, perhaps, is how I'll choose to remember her: Working in the middle of the night to lay down some recording while the meters kept on moving in the control room without her. I'll choose to tell myself that she was recording something fittingly hilarious and ridiculous and clever. And I will remind myself that radio (or "RAY D O", as Cheryl's license plate would have it) is the theater of the mind, where actors like Cheryl should always be the stars.
What I learned from Cheryl
- Give a young person a chance. Cheryl gave more young people a chance to shine than probably anyone else in Des Moines radio. Some of them flopped. Many of them grew into the big shoes they were offered to fill.
- Take in a stray. Cheryl's enthusiasm for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa was widely known. But she wasn't just a friend to stray animals -- she was a friend even to what you might call "stray" people. She had a big heart that welcomed everyone, including the misfits and goofballs of the world. Just like animals looking for adoption, those people can use our friendship, too.
- The more ordinary the task, the greater the invitation to the absurd. Cheryl's zany recordings of contest rules and the sight gags that littered her office (like the "May contain peanuts" sign on the side of her big jar of peanuts) demonstrated a joy for life that everyone should try to appreciate and express.
Other news items
Bill Cosby charged with assault
The case is from 2004
Twitter imposes new rules to cut off hate speech, intimidation, and harassment
There's simply no perfect solution for companies like Twitter. The new language codifies a philosophy that intimidation is as rivalrous to free speech as explicit censorship. And yet there's the ironic condition that letting hateful people use platforms like Twitter for speech makes them easier to find, call out, and counteract. Sometimes, it's even useful to let terrorists tweet (it can help identify where to drop bombs, just for example). The problem is that services like Twitter and Facebook land on a nebulous boundary between "open" and "closed" societies and ways of thinking. The evildoers who wants closedness also want to take advantage of the tools of openness.
Facebook's "Free Basics" app: Game-changing public utility or violation of net neutrality?
Or maybe both?
- Podcast of this episode - hour 1 (How many people are actually shot and killed by police each year?)
- Podcast of this episode - hour 2 (Twitter puts the kibosh on hate speech; Facebook's "Free Basics" package)
- Podcast of this episode - hour 3 (El Nino; Paul Ryan is on the right track; what I learned from Cheryl Pannier)
- Official station page for this episode (forthcoming)