Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
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 1: (11 min)
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
There's been a tremendous amount of argument this week over something that I would never have expected to be a controversial question when I ended my show last Saturday: What, exactly, is "the West"?
The question was raised because the President made comments alluding to defending "the West" during a speech in Poland on his way to the G20 summit. In particular, he said:
...the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.
We used to say that "a great deal of ink has been spilled" over a matter like this, but in the 21st Century, it's really just a matter of pixels. So we'll say that an inordinate number of pixels have been devoted to the debate about whether there was a hidden message in the President's comments -- one that was meant to be a wink and a nod to white supremacists.
I hope not, but I also don't know who wrote the speech. And there are elements within the White House that haven't done enough to renounce their ties, real or perceived, to that movement.
Part of the problem in interpreting the President's comments is that we really don't have a consensus on what "the West" really is. It's shorthand for something -- but what?
If we're only talking about countries with certain religions or ethnic groups, then that definition probably isn't broad enough. They may be "Eastern" in most every geographical, ethnic, or religious way, but Japan and South Korea are part of what most people would define as the Western world. They're liberal democracies with market economies and the rule of law, they participate in constructive international efforts like peacekeeping and trade agreements, and they generally contribute in a very positive way towards upholding the kind of world order which we value so much.
Noah Smith, a writer who has previously made time to join us as a guest on this show, comments that "the West" could pretty easily be defined by which countries meet the standard of being "free", according to observers like Freedom House.
I would submit a slightly different definition: The real definition ought to align mainly with openness versus closedness, where "open" applies to new ideas, technologies, and trading partners. That is to say, I think "the West" is a rough shorthand way to describe countries where openness prevails as often as possible.
And that brings us around to the question of the hour: Are we really doing our part to be an indispensable part of "the West" right now? How open are we, really? A lot of the fights we're duking out in the public arena are about closing ourselves off -- from immigrants, or from trade, or from international cooperation.
That seems like a really ill-advised path to tread down. Conflict between ideas and products and companies and workers and religious ideas, by and large, don't leave us weaker -- instead, they leave us stronger.
I'm not a weaker Catholic because I have friends who are Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and athiest; I think I'm better off for having open and frank interactions with them. It doesn't undermine my attachment to my church to realize that there are other practices out there.
I'm not a weaker Irish or German American because my friends (or their parents) are Japanese and Mexican and Malaysian and Korean and Ghanian and Indian and Filipino; I think I have a better appreciation for my own ethnicity and for the nature of my country because I share it with people who can help remind me that we have many great things that we too often take for granted.
And I'm not a weaker sales engineer because I work with products that are made here or made overseas or made 50/50 here and there, nor because I have competitors here; I think marketplace competition pushes me to do a better job, to innovate, and to learn more -- even if it would seem easier to have a monopoly on everything I do.
The point is: Give me openness. It's never going to be limitless -- open borders, unrestricted free trade, perfect competition. But to the greatest extent practicable, give me "open" instead of "closed". It may be more rough-and-tumble, but the results are usually stronger -- and well worth defending.
Segment 2: (8 min)
Ben Sasse speech yesterday in Nevada
Shared with endorsement. https://t.co/PR71CZODdX— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 8, 2017
- Sasse doesn't sound like other politicians
- That's to his credit
- Overheard: "People are earning college credit hours for sitting throught this speech"
- Isn't that what the Senate is supposed to be? The two people with the best judgment we can find in our entire state?
- If what he's talking about is different -- but if you're also convinced that it's important -- then shouldn't we demand more of it?
Our biggest problems (cyberwar, entitlement obligations, workforce adaptation...) are well beyond reach of today's narrow partisan mindsets. https://t.co/Y7WRBiwvXv— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) May 13, 2017
Segment 3: (14 min)
I was in an airport recently when I overheard someone talking about her career choices. She must have been in her early 20s, just starting out, and she was describing her career path as "safe and always needed".
I'm certainly not the only person who knows people who have chosen career paths because they appeared safe -- not necessarily because they were the best fit for the individual, but because the individual thought the career itself would be protected from disruption.
But it's a misleading approach.
People who assume their career tracks are "safe" may be underestimating how much that feature tends to attract investment -- always be on the lookout for technological disruption.
Just wait until professionals face major tech competition: AI displacing lawyers, robots displacing surgeons. Our economy face major changes ahead. Not just little ones, but big ones. Industries and professions that have always appeared "safe" may not be for much longer.
We're running out of time for the necessary national conversation about how we accommodate an economy featuring much more rapid change (more rapid, and with more of it). People aren't sticking around long enough to get gold watches at their employers anymore. They're barely staying around long enough to get a permanent nameplate on the door. And that affects how we approach all kinds of policies: Taxes, health insurance, retirement savings, education, and all kinds of others. People who make their living doing gigs and contract work aren't going to be well-suited by policies that assume a 40-year career path with a defined-benefit pension at the end.
The changes that are already rolling in our direction are going to incentivize bad behaviors by people of whom we have high expectations. Think of the doctor who over-medicated Michael Jackson or the accountants who turned a blind eye to the malfeasance at Enron or the lawyers who truly are the ambulance-chasers. They're not the only ones...they may just be in the vanguard.
Make money - part 2
Per the New York Times: "Electricity in Iceland costs about 30 percent less than what Alcoa might pay in the United States." Iceland got into the smelting business because it needed to find something to replace fisheries. That's the effect of specialization in action.
Clean up after yourself
And most of the nation's prefectures are also shrinking. The population is, on net, both shrinking and gravitating to Tokyo.
- Sound familiar?
- A warning to Iowa
- Costs rise badly when the population hollows out but the infrastructure remains in place
- Urbanization is a global inevitability
- We have to consider the cultural consequences of urbanization
- The fiscal consequences are imposing, too
- And it's happening in parallel with a graying demographic
Segment 4: (5 min)
By the numbers
We can manage a gap of one or maybe two percentage points between government revenues and government spending (as a share of GDP) -- if the economy grows faster than the gap. But not what's on tap: 23.6% in spending and 18.4% in revenues (ten years from now). Deficits aren't free.
Contrary to popular opinion
A good example of the maxim that the things that *seem* most threatening are often *not* our most significant problems. https://t.co/EcGxydJ6Lq— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 7, 2017
Have a little empathy
Both numbers are too high and represent problems on which we should place focus and debate. Requires thoughtful leadership beyond tribalism. https://t.co/zCRXbBByqM— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 6, 2017
Segment 5: (11 min)
Your role in cyberwar - part 1
Talked about this in conversation yesterday:
Technology is on the verge of being able to generate credible video and audio of anyone saying anything https://t.co/JlcKffqJdu— The Economist (@TheEconomist) July 8, 2017
Fact: Many people will not believe this news story, but will choose to believe some of the fake videos that the story predicts.
Your role in cyberwar - part 2
Both Presidents Obama and Trump deserve blame for failing to take seriously the threat of cyberwarfare (in all its forms, from attempts to steal voter lists to efforts to interfere with voting machines to influence campaigns and microtargeting). It's a high-leverage problem: Bad actors can get their hands on powerful cyberweapons with little investment and can do asymmetrical damage.
Honestly, I'd bet on a Cyberwar Corps as a new standalone branch of the military before one dedicated only to space.https://t.co/icJHFSiGRQ— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 8, 2017
Your role in cyberwar - part 3
To understand why the Putin regime would want to meddle with foreign elections, look at the state of the Russian economy. A bad economy raises the proportional returns to investment on creating chaos elsewhere. People perceive relative status -- so efforts to make everywhere else look "just as bad" may be a more effective strategy than fixing what's falling short domestically.
Segment 6: (8 min)
The week in technology - part 1
So we can't tell if more people are gaming, or gamers are gaming on more days, but conditional on playing a game time is little changed. 6/ pic.twitter.com/5vA0n7faoi— Gray Kimbrough (@graykimbrough) July 6, 2017
What's the opportunity cost of spending almost three hours a day playing video games? Are they displacing other leisure hours or productive hours?
"Reading became fashionable..." pic.twitter.com/1C6Xjzi5Ix— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 4, 2017
But note also "...having no publick amusements to divert their attention from study", that's pretty much the opposite of America today.— Brian Gonigal (@xFlaregun) July 4, 2017
The week in technology - part 2
Many serious policy issues are treated inconsistently because we haven't decided whether Internet access has the status of a public utility.
Segment 7: (14 min)
Mind your business - part 1
Public diplomacy works wonders when done effectively, and Russia's government has clearly been aggressive about using it
Public diplomacy has never been more important than it is right now. Facebook acknowledged in April that it was used as a tool of disinformation by foreign actors (read: Russia) to influence the US elections.
Mind your business - part 2
Ivanka Trump sat in for her father at the G-20
If she's going to conduct diplomacy on behalf of our country, then Senate confirmation really should be a part of the process.— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 8, 2017
Segment 8: (5 min)
21st Century conservatism
As put by one commenter: "Iceberg plays behind-the-scenes role in rebuilding Titanic". President Obama's campaign for the White House largely sought to transcend the Democratic Party -- and while in office, the President didn't merge his campaign with the party of which he was the titular head (he kept "OFA" running as a parallel operation to the DNC), nor did he appear to do things to groom a farm team of Democratic party leadership (most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two Obama Cabinet officials, no doubt due in part to Obama's penchant for micromanagement). In other words, much of the damage was done by the individual now being asked to help do the rebuilding.
Unsorted and leftovers:
Victims aged from 13 to 60
That's a massive order
Good news for shippers, but not so great for ambulance drivers
Cholera spreads where there is no clean water, and the war in Yemen is enough to disrupt what access many once had
The state almost certainly needs to raise taxes, but who wants the blame for doing that?
Laura Rosenberger: "Deterrence is based on credibility and capability. And credibility requires clear signaling of intentions."
In much of Europe, it's literally true
That's a significant non-zero number, and certainly doesn't count the number working on things like "signals intelligence" back home
Of 564 high-level appointive positions being tracked by the Washington Post, 68% have no nominee. That's after 168 days in office.
Quote of the Week #1
"Hurling insults ... is the final resort of the man who has already lost the argument" - Margaret Thatcher
Quote of the Week #2
"Weakness and divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad" - The Federalist Papers
In support of the Microsoft data center being built near the Maffitt Reservoir, the city is going to extend Veterans Parkway and build a bridge over I-35 -- serving traffic by 2018
Lifting the ban on the sale of fireworks may have seemed like striking a blow for freedom, but dozens of people were injured in the process
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Stop the deliberate ignorance
It is sound practice to measure and test in order to find out what works, but we also need to examine the deeper justifications as to *why*. https://t.co/FV3wZ5ADAd— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 6, 2017
Tin Foil Hat Award
Or at least that's what the evidence suggests. And an ICBM in the hands of an unaccountable, irrational authoritarian government is a gigantic problem.
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
We don't have the technology yet to solve this. Our best scientists are working on it. See also: How to indicate a turn from inside the car. https://t.co/wA988cnBKD— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 6, 2017
I imagine at least one of these involves Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Me." And I do not want to know if I'm wrong. https://t.co/MGRMxzJzjH— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 8, 2017
All the status anxiety of a bar at closing time, with none of the inebriation to excuse the awkwardness. https://t.co/szYEsENHHg— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) July 6, 2017
Observation: Grilled asparagus is the vegetable equivalent of curly fries.
These things do occasionally happen in the Midwest