Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 14, 2017

Brian Gongol

Podcast: Updated weekly in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Subscribe on Stitcher, Spreaker, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or iHeartRadio

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.

Segment 1A: Ice storm armageddon


Segment 1B: Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Why did Donald Trump pick a fight with Rep. John Lewis, a civil-rights legend, on the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?

Some people are going crazy in their attempts to prove that Donald Trump is mentally unfit for the job of President. I worry about this for a number of reasons:

  1. It's an unproductive line of argument. What do you expect to happen? Are John Roberts and Paul Ryan supposed to kidnap him and stick him in an MRI machine? If it turns out he's bonkers, is the Secret Service supposed to lock him out of the White House?
  2. It trivializes mental wellness. I hate the term "mental illness" because it is imprecise and heavily, heavily loaded. The fact is that we are all in some state of mental wellness -- it's a spectrum, and just as with other forms of physical health, most of us could probably be doing things to make ourselves better. There should be no more stigma attached to one's mental wellness than is attached to going to the dentist or the ophthalmologist. Using the term "mentally ill" as a political weapon is just bad practice.
  3. I like to apply Occam's Razor: If a simple explanation and a complicated explanation both take you to the same result, choose the simple one. Do I think Donald Trump is a narcissist and quite possibly afflicted with some sociopathy? Yes. But I'm not really trained to make a complex evaluation like that. On the other hand, it's evident that he's not very intelligent, not interested in learning, and deeply insecure about himself. I think those are quite enough to explain most of his behavior, and they are quite enough to give me grave concerns about his ability to execute the office in accordance with the oath he's about to take. Why complicate matters by trying to obsess over a more exotic answer? Isn't it enough to see that he is exactly who he says he is?
  4. It doesn't take a complex diagnosis to give one concern about "symptoms" like Trump's inability to comprehend or use metaphors. What's important is that you cannot name one big, complex problem you would entrust to a person who cannot process metaphorical or abstract language. Devoting effort to uncovering some hidden reason behind that shortcoming isn't likely to be productive.

Segment 2A: Contrary to popular opinion

With President Obama leaving office this week, there will undoubtedly be movements underway to name things after him. Airports have already been named after George H. W. Bush (Houston, in 1997) and Bill Clinton (Little Rock, in 2012). Presidents 43 and 44 will probably be honored in the same way. 45 will probably try to name one after himself.

Public property shouldn't be named for living people -- especially politicians. This applies in Little Rock and Houston, too. There should always be a cooling-off period between a person's time in the spotlight and the use of their name on anything owned by the public. Naming things after people creates incentives for the wrong behavior. If you're doing what's right for the long term, you'll sometimes rub people the wrong way in the short run. Anyone can say enough "right" things to get the kind of praise required to be popular in the short run. But ruin can be done if short-term popularity is the only incentive that counts.

We're still learning -- up to this very month -- about what a sleaze Richard Nixon was (it appears he let the Vietnam War drag on just so he could win an election). We should always give ourselves the benefit of distance and the lens of history before we go about naming things for people. Besides, what about naming things for real heroes instead of people who just managed to win elections?

Segment 2B: Curiosity, competence, and humility

My review of "Giants of Enterprise":

"Giants of Enterprise" is, fittingly, a giant book: Some 400-odd pages of primary text, plus almost another hundred pages of endnotes and bibliographical comments. In the author's choice to explore several of the most extraordinary of "self-made" capitalists from American history (Carnegie, Eastman, Ford, Watson, Revson, Walton, and Noyce), he offers a textbook-quality examination of each case study -- but that is the book's predominant shortcoming, too. It is so very long and exhaustive that the reader is challenged to find a true common thread among all seven subjects. They are each intriguing individually, and even a good student of business history is likely to learn something new. But the central thesis of the book -- that these "Giants of Enterprise" stand apart because they either invented breakthrough technologies or applied those technologies in novel ways -- isn't the strongest common thread to bind them all together.

Verdict: The conclusion is supported well and the stories are worth reading, but it would have been better as seven short books in a series rather than one exhausting tome.

Segment 2C: Stop the deliberate ignorance

High school and college students are embarking on a new semester. Just remember: If your main objective is to study as little as possible, you're doing it wrong.

Segment 2D: Pick your virtues

I pick: Wisdom, industry, and charity

Pick the ones you want, then hard-wire them into practice

Segment 3A: Ice storm armageddon


Segment 3B: Make money

Much is made of the incoming administration's plans to blow up trade deals and renegotiate everything.

Here's the problem: Bilateral trade deals -- one nation to another -- are easier to achieve, but they aren't as durable as big, multilateral agreements. Suppose every time two baseball teams played each other, they had to negotiate their own rules. Odds are, the terms of a Cubs-Cards game would be pretty close to those of an Astros-Giants game or the Royals and the White Sox. But there would invariably be differences, the differences would add up, and there could be a lot of weird manipulation taking place along the way. Also, any single agreement could easily break down since it's only one among many.

It's hard enough to have the American League (with its silly designated hitter rule) and the National League. I can't imagine 30 teams trying to reach bilateral baseball deals. Same goes for international trade -- bigger, harder-to-achieve multiparty agreements are ultimately big winners.

Bilateral deals are generally better than none, especially if they result in more trade taking place. But tearing up multilateral agreements out of spite and substituting lots of bilateral deals? That's just stupid.

Remember: "Tariffs" seem like things other people pay. YOU pay "import taxes".

Segment 3C: Quote of the Week

"[D]o not be tempted to identify virtue with collectivism." - Margaret Thatcher

Also very important to know the difference between being pro-markets and pro-business. I am pro-markets because I am pro-freedom. I also believe that what I prefer in theory is supported by the evidence: Countries with high standards of living are almost exclusively those with market-based economies.

Am I friendly to business? Yes, since it's a natural outgrowth of a market economy. But that doesn't mean business is good in its own right -- the firm is a tool, not a virtue. As with any tool, its goodness is subjective to the way it's being used.

Segment 3D: Mind your business

The President-elect's plan for his business interests while in office are inadequate and unsatisfactory. He had full knowledge of the expectations of the job when he announced his candidacy. Period. No excuses. If he wants to quit, he's welcome to do so. But upon swearing an oath of office, his allegiance is to his country before self. That is a matter well above party or partisanship.

Horizon watching

China has an aircraft carrier, and they're not afraid to use it to try to show Taiwan and their neighbors who's boss.

Tin Foil Hat Award

How would you react if your 70-year-old uncle, almost like clockwork, sent you a text every morning adding someone to a long enemies list?


Word has it that some American salmon could have tapeworms. In the words of a certain "South Park" episode..."Worth it? Totally."

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