Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 29, 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.

Programming notes

6:35pm: Barnstormers pregame
7:05pm: Barnstormers vs. Colorado Crush

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This week

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Segment 1: Clean up after yourself

Federal budget mess -- the tax-cut plan that isn't a plan

Business and Finance A tax-reform plan? Kind of.

We have, quite literally, only bullet points to describe what the administration says it wants to pursue for tax reform. But the headline above those bullet points is "The biggest individual and business tax cut in American history". Nobody with the slightest bit of sense can argue that the tax code isn't in need of simplifying reform. What we have now simply doesn't make any kind of comprehensive sense. But to promise a tax cut of historic proportions when the Federal debt stands just a hair shy of $20 trillion -- or, if you do the math, more than $61,000 per person -- is to put an irresponsible degree of faith in the power of a tax cut to stimulate economic growth. Rapid economic growth makes up for a whole lot of fiscal sins...but the amount of growth required in an economy that annually produces in the neighborhood of $18 to $19 trillion is far more than even the most enthusiastic Keynesian would probably permit. It's the expansive view of government that is the root of the problem -- the belief that government can and should do quite a lot. But once we have committed to having government do something, it is generationally irresponsible not to pay for it as we go. We can pass along debts on things that have inter-generational benefits (like the Interstate highway system, or winning WWII) -- and do it with a clear conscience. But our present problem is, quite simply, that we want too much and are willing to pay too little for it. That's a titanic failure of both math and morals. Lower tax rates might easily feel good, but their real impact really just won't be enough to pay for itself, likely not even by a long shot.

News Illinois stumbles towards junk-bond status

Imagine a state that reaches a point where it can no longer pay its bills, nor get anyone to lend it money at less than outrageous rates. Would the Federal government have to step in with a bailout?

Segment 2: 21st Century conservatism

Maybe it's all the talk of Arkansas resuming executions. Maybe it's just what I've been seeing with the ten million police-procedurals on television. Maybe it's the disturbingly high rate of homicides in Des Moines so far this year. But I've been pondering the connection between crime and freedom a bit lately.

"Orange is the New Black", "Prison Break", "The Green Mile", "Shawshank Redemption"

The word "corrections" should only apply if we're trying to release better people than the ones who entered prison.

It says something unflattering about our culture that so many prison-themed TV shows and movies (a) exist and (b) center on violence within.

The real deterrent effect of prison is ought to be the loss of freedom itself, not anything unpleasant that happens to you while inside.

Perhaps our cheapened view of freedom is why we fail to have a serious response to what's happening in Syria, So. Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen...

I don't miss the Cold War, but I sometimes regret that we don't have a crystallized sense of "free" vs "unfree". Evil Empire made that easy.

I think there's a connection between taking our freedoms too lightly -- not just for granted, but not caring enough about them, period, and how we as a country can be so seemingly disengaged with the troubles in the rest of the world...especially when we know that there will be consequences if we ignore those problems for too long.

Computers and the Internet Ten years after cyberwar on Estonia, the former president thinks Europe still doesn't take the problem seriously

Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves: "One of the problems is that many political leaders don't really quite get it. They don't understand the technology and then they will repeat things that they've heard..." That doesn't mean we have to fill the US Congress and the parliaments of Europe with computer programmers, but it wouldn't hurt if they had at least a modicum of digital and technological literacy before occupying those roles. Learning about cyberwarfare is today as important a job for a national-level politician as learning about bombs. You don't have to know how to use them, but you'd better have a general understanding of how they work. With mounting evidence that nefarious forces have been conducting cyberwarfare against the centrist candidate for French president, it should be clear to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to the matter that cyberwarfare is a pressing issue now and will continue to be.

Threats and Hazards Russia's been hacking the Danish defense ministry

For the last two years, say the Danes. That's a whole lot of cyberwarfare against a NATO member state.

Computers and the Internet Apple will overhaul its retail stores

Anyone who didn't like the Apple Store before will likely find it positively nauseating after the changes, which appear to be intended to make the stores more of a "destination" than a place to shop. Ugh.

Segment 3: Make money

Stop playing fast and loose with NAFTA

Simon Lester interview

News Stop jerking NAFTA around

The President has wobbled back and forth between threatening to withdraw from NAFTA to, now, saying he's been convinced by phone calls from Canada and Mexico to leave the agreement in place. It's absurd and self-defeating. Anyone who thinks free trade is unilaterally bad for America hasn't seen the hoops that Canadians will jump through to buy US-made products, just for example. Restricting trade hurts many and helps a few, but the many often don't realize it. The harm done is real nonetheless.

Segment 4: The week in technology

Health Two teams qualify for big money in Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize

The "Tricorder" medical device of "Star Trek" fame is now, at least tentatively, a real thing in our own world. Two teams have been awarded substantial prizes in an X-Prize to come up with a device that measures for 10 conditions (anemia, atrial fibrillation (AFib), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, leukocytosis, pneumonia, otitis media, sleep apnea, urinary tract infection, or the absence of all nine problems), a few additional elective conditions, and vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature). A truly fantastic development in technology. Inducement/innovation prizes really work. Now the task is to get the devices to FDA approval so we can start to use them.

Segment 7: Contrary to popular opinion -- Chinese aircraft carriers and Swedish meatballs

The word came out this week that China has launched its first "homemade" aircraft carrier. It's still some time from entering real service, but we must take it seriously.

I come from an industry in which Chinese-made knockoffs are widely derided -- they are objects of scorn, and rightfully so, often being made of inferior materials in factories with imprecise and outdated equipment, built to reverse-engineered specifications that almost always miss critical features of the original design. (One such design on one knockoff product I've seen completely misidentifies the purpose of an essential safety feature -- and is so badly off the mark that it's an imminent threat to the life and limb of anyone who operates the copycat equipment.)

But I take this aircraft carrier with a completely different degree of seriousness. This is a big development. Like, on a scale with China developing its own stock market. Or launching its first astronaut into space.

That's not because I think this first aircraft carrier is going to be any good. To the contrary; I'll wager right now that there is a very good chance it will be riddled with more bugs than the initial release of Windows Vista. China has been experimenting with the construction of its own passenger jets, too, and has encountered major delays and huge problems with airworthiness certifications. It was reported by Forbes just the other day that the "C919" -- a full-sized Chinese passenger jet -- has gotten approval from domestic authorities to fly -- but don't expect to see it on any international routes anytime soon. What passes for a safety approval when the same government is building and approving the same aircraft isn't going to fly, so to speak, when it has to be scrutinized by outside authorities. It's no surprise that building a sizeable passenger jet is a massively complex undertaking -- Mitsubishi, for instance, started with a blank sheet of paper in 2008, and now has a regional jet undergoing FAA certifications. It's not ready yet -- probably another two years remain -- and that's with Mitsubishi's massive experience as a heavy manufacturer standing behind it.

It doesn't matter. The aircraft carrier could sink tomorrow in the middle of the South China Sea, and it wouldn't matter at all in the big picture.

The big picture, you see, is that China is taking on a project of extraordinary complexity. There's basically no more complex piece of moving equipment in the world than an aircraft carrier. And with that complexity come lots and lots of opportunities to make mistakes. But with those mistakes come opportunities to learn. And China is clearly trying to learn.

Throw a bunch of really sharp people together, give them an existential motivation to act, and define a clear goal, and you could very well find yourself on the lookout for developments that will be revolutionary in character. That's what happened when Kennedy motivated the mission to put a man on the Moon.

China's government has every reason to see the successful projection of military power into the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) via aircraft carrier as a matter of existential urgency, right on a par with our own fear of losing the Space Race to the Soviet Union. And so it's not whether aircraft carrier #1 is any good -- that doesn't really matter.

What matters is what they'll have learned from building #1 that they manage to put to work in building #2, #3, and #4. And then #5 and #6. That's a very, very big deal. Because in the process of building a few aircraft carriers, China will learn how to build better carriers each time. And by their third or fourth, they'll probably have a pretty good idea of how to build a reputable ship.

But more importantly, a project of this scope gives China basically incomparable experience with undertaking projects of massive complexity. They've already undertaken huge engineering projects (like building the massive Three Gorges Dam, for example). But this is a military project of a gigantic magnitude, requiring levels of skill and coordination that are really difficult to develop in any other way than practice.

This isn't a matter of building a copycat toaster or microwave. It's not even about stealing chemical formulas and airplane designs through corporate espionage and cyberwarfare. This is about developing the capacity to undertake a really huge project -- one that only a handful of countries have ever tried -- and see it through to the finish...then turning around and doing it again.

The Pacific Ocean is big. Really big. And maybe it's even big enough for more than one power player: China, Russia, and of course, us. But it's also about to get a whole lot more crowded. And once China has the fleet strength to put three or four aircraft carriers into motion -- even if they never engage any other countries, and even if they stick to the established laws of the high seas -- it still puts a dramatic message on display in giant letters to everyone in the region and, really, throughout the world, that 1.3 billion people are now prepared to project their collective strength all over the globe. Considering how hard China has been working to develop client states all over the globe -- especially in Africa and South America -- they're going to have more and more excuses to start showing up in previously unexpected places.

And, even more significantly, it says that they're learning how to do sophisticated things. Things that signify strength. Things that force the development of lots of new capabilities. Things that ultimately make a developing country a whole lot less dependent on technology from the outside, and a whole lot more capable of starting from scratch on the inside.

Even if China produces a whole lot of junk at the consumer and commercial levels...even if they're still struggling to build a regional jet that works...even if this first aircraft carrier capsizes on its maiden voyage...we need to take this seriously. It's a cliche, perhaps, but a valid one: You don't go to school to learn, so much as you go to learn how to learn. And building an aircraft carrier is a master class in learning how to learn.

What are we learning? What are we doing to meet the goals that will really stretch us as a country? How hard are we trying to learn how to learn?

Just remember:

Business and Finance IKEA wants to capitalize on its food division

They're seriously talking about opening up IKEA restaurants detached from the furniture stores, employing (of course) the lessons they've learned from operating the in-house food service as a tool to get shoppers to stick around for longer. As crazy as standalone Swedish fast-food outlets may sound, it's a bad idea to bet against IKEA -- they've demonstrated a strong capacity to figure out how to create greater demand than they can supply.

Mind your business

Quote of the Week

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Have a little empathy

Business and Finance Health insurance is killing family budgets for farmers and ranchers

Farmers and ranchers are highly likely to buy their health insurance in the individual marketplace, which has turned into a pretty catastrophically high-cost area for a lot of buyers.

Someone knows something

Des Moines has had too many murders of innocent people.

Someone knows who killed Barbara Perry in the parking lot of the Family Dollar store (September 2016):

Someone knows who killed Yore Jieng on Keo Way (October 2016):

Someone knows who killed Stephen Kim on University Avenue (April 2017):

Inbox zero

But first...

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Tin Foil Hat Award

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


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