Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio

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

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

Watching the kids

My troubles:

Tools I used:

Things I'm not worried about:

I'd like to say that I would step in front of a speeding bus if that would save my kids, but I don't have to face choices like that.

There are parents around the world today who are making unimaginable decisions and sacrifices on the part of their kids.

We don't have to do everything, but we as Americans do have to choose to be a moral lighthouse in an often-dark world.

When we can do something to stop horrors, we ought not to be reluctant just because those horrors don't appear in our back yard.

Not everything that we can or should do needs to spring forth from and through government.

We need to re-think the important division between government funding and government delivery. It's a mistake we often make in domestic policies (think: public delivery of education versus public funding of education), but it's one we also make often in international affairs.

Sometimes, all the government can or should do is to act like a lens, providing focus on a common mission.

Iowans especially should never forget the role played by Herbert Hoover -- the "great humanitarian" of World War I.

Government can concentrate attention and urgency on a problem, even when it can't execute on the delivery of a reaction.

But we can't let ourselves off the hook. I have it so incomparably easy and there are so many people right now who do not. In the long run, I cannot be shaken from the belief that personal liberty, self-government, the rule of law, and market economics will tend to prevail. They accrue to the dignity of the individual, and I don't think the long march of history will permanently deviate from those. So we have to push, push, and push some more for the systemic answers to be put into place everywhere. But there are also going to be times when we can't wait for history to correct itself, and we're going to have to do something to pave the way for justice and right to prevail. It would be a conceit to imagine that I have perfect answers to what's happening in North Korea, or Yemen, or South Sudan, or Syria, or Venezuela -- or even in China or Russia. But turning away from the problems that do exist makes us (at the very least) irresponsible bystanders -- if not complicit.

Quote of the Week

"America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Segment 2: (8 min)

The week in technology

Note: Finished reading "The Associates" this week. All about the partnership that built the western half of the transcontinental railroad

Notable: The railroad was massively supported by the Federal government, ranging from direct support to land grants to many supporting roles. But it was delivered by the private sector -- and hugely enriched them.

We're not building new railroads in 2017, but we do have a similar infrastructure undertaking in our own time:

Computers and the Internet Microsoft to push for rural broadband access

They're proposing to conduct twelve experimental installations of broadband-over-TV-spectrum. Using the "white spaces" in the spectrum is supposed to be a cost-effective way of reaching people in places with population densities between 2 and 200 people per square mile. That basically describes all but about half a dozen counties in Iowa, though the state is not on Microsoft's list for the test runs. Nobody should choose not to recognize the economic, educational, and cultural impairment that is imposed today by a lack of access to high-speed Internet. We haven't chosen yet to give it the same kind of legal status as other near-universal utilities like electricity and water, but it's not far from being just as essential, at least in economic terms.

(Connect "The Associates" to Microsoft's project to deliver broadband over TV spectrum)

We're not always going to get it right, but that's because big projects like this are inherently new, with things we don't know because we haven't encountered them before

Someone's going to get rich in the process, and we have to be OK with that

Segment 3: (14 min)

Make money

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve president has some reasonable observations and concerns about the economy

Robert Kaplan: "[W]e are in the midst of a fragile equilibrium regarding global oil supply and demand"; "[W]e are moving very close to full employment in the U.S."; and "Our economists at the Dallas Fed believe that the skills gap in the US is substantial." And one other thing: "[T]here are likely limits to the ability of countries, including the US, to further increase debt to GDP in order to generate higher levels of economic growth...raising questions regarding fiscal sustainability which, if not addressed, could negatively impact longer-run economic growth."

News "Does starting a band called ThugHammer count as a plan?"

The Onion spoofs the new requirement imposed on students in the Chicago Public Schools -- requiring them to have some kind of documented plan in order to graduate from high school. The plan goes into effect for the Class of 2020, and while it is completely understandable why something beyond a high-school diploma really is the de facto standard for a comfortable socio-economic future, that's a far cry from making it into a de jure standard. The advocates for a "Grade 14" policy (like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan) appear to be well-intentioned and get the problem generally right -- as the economy has grown more sophisticated, so have the expectations for people to be prepared for work -- but the prescription runs the very real risk of being, well, too prescriptivist. Creating true "lifelong learners" is a much bigger challenge than simply moving the goalposts for what it means to "finish school".

Segment 4: (5 min)

The week in technology

Computers and the Internet Alexa device didn't call 911 for a domestic-violence victim

But that's how the sheriff's office wrote up the story. Though the device can't initiate a 911 call, there's a lot that can legitimately be done to make our smartphones and other gadgets into better tools for putting technology in service of human needs. It's not much to ask that artificial intelligence tools like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant should be programmed to take notice of situations, searches, and queries that might indicate that the user is at risk of an imminent health problem (mental or physical) or is in some form of danger.

Segment 5: (11 min)

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders resumes campaigning for President

He's going to keynote a left-wing convention in Iowa on July 15th.

Iowa news

The United States of America Population shifts

Texas grew from a population of 23.9 million in 2007 to 27.8 million in 2016. That increase (just shy of 4 million) is greater than the entire population of Iowa (3.1 million). We should really see lots more maps that use tilegrams to illustrate elections, since geographic size is so disjointed from population.

Business and Finance How brain drain hits small countries

In this case, it's Finland. But similar circumstances apply not only to small nations, but to small states as well. As the global urbanization trend continues, so will the concentration of population in some of the world's largest urbanized areas -- and some of that will suck human capital out of lesser-urbanized places. Not everyone wants to live in London or Tokyo or New York City, but it will take a concerted effort by the Helsinkis (metro population: 1.3 million), Winnipegs (800,000), and Des Moineses (600,000) of the world to make sure they retain and develop their share of highly skilled civic, educational, and business leaders in the face of high returns to urban agglomeration economies.

Stop the deliberate ignorance

News Social Security trust fund will go broke before today's newborn is out of high school

How can this be made more plain and clear? We've gone along with a giant national lie that the problem would resolve itself. It hasn't. It won't. When the trust fund is gone, payments will drop as Social Security becomes fully pay-as-you-go. Yes, 2034 seems a long way away, but if you can remember Y2K, then you should be able to project ahead to 2034 with equal ease.

Segment 6: (8 min)

Mind your business

Business and Finance Is a trade deficit a symptom of living beyond our means?

On the surface, yes. A net trade deficit with the rest of the world is often a symptom of a country that consumes more than it produces. But...there's also the question of capital flows. If a country has lots of valuable capital stock (factories, intellectual property, real estate, and so on), then it's possible to exchange things we have for things we want. It's not perfect -- it's like living off a trust fund -- but it's not necessarily living beyond our means. And, importantly, if we create new capital stock (for instance, by building expensive new real estate projects like the new second-tallest skyscraper in San Francisco), then it may be possible to buy things, send cash overseas, then get some of the cash reinvested back in the country. And depending on factors like property bubbles and the impact of agglomeration economies, it may be possible for foreign direct investment to come back to buy overpriced capital, reducing the relative cost of the net imports.

Mind your business

Yay Capitalism Prize

Most interesting: Labor unions funding purchase of established Chicago newspaper.

It's really just proof of the inexorable forces of market capitalism: Labor unions have to become capitalists in order to deliver what their members want.

Segment 7: (14 min)

Tin Foil Hat Award

Computers and the Internet If you contact government officials, watch out for your own privacy

The Federal commission that claims (dubiously) to be examining the integrity of elections took public comments -- then, apparently, revealed the personal contact information of at least some of the people who submitted public comments. If you're going to contact officials in a way that will go on the record, make sure you're using a PO Box, a public-facing email account, and a telephone number that masks your own (like, for instance, a Google Voice number). Put no faith in the people who take your comments to redact your private information for you.

Tin Foil Hat Award

Radio host Dennis Prager posted a tweet this week, saying: "The news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does." This kind of statement isn't just false and historically illiterate -- it's a disservice to good people who live in places with very bad governments. And there are many of them -- literally, billions of our fellow human beings are living under rotten, corrupt, oppressive, and otherwise reprehensible governments -- or in places where there is little or no government at all, and where what prevails is little more than mob violence. To characterize the "news media" as a threat to Western civilization is nothing more than a mindless platitude. There is no monolithic "news media", what news outlets are out there are generally held accountable for their work (both good and bad), and to characterize newspapers, radio stations, television stations, and other mass media as a "danger to Western civilization" is just plainly stupid. It's even more arrogant and anti-factual to say that any "threat" they might pose is greater than that of a government that is openly hostile to personal liberty and the rule of law. Prager has insulted all of us with this statement -- because he is fundamentally rejecting the First Amendment, and showing preference for an authoritarian government instead. What an insult. And it's beyond hypocritical for him to make his living off the First Amendment by trying to undercut it.

21st Century conservatism

News Representative from Connecticut wants mandatory on-camera White House press briefings

Representative Jim Himes wants the on-camera press briefings to become mandatory. In theory, sure -- the manner in which the present administration has run away from legitimate scrutiny from the press, including their ridiculous approach to on-camera/off-camera press briefings, is an abomination. But is this a legitimate use of Congressional authority? It's hard to say that it is. Just consider applying the same test to the third branch: Could Congress order the Supreme Court to allow cameras? One would think not. It's important not to over-reach in the course of trying to execute legitimate inter-governmental oversight. This has close parallels to the illegitimacy of the White House project to demand voter data from all 50 states: To the extent that existing standards are in place to permit retrieval and requests for voter documentation, it may be hard for states find the legal authority to reject the Federal request for that data. But it's still a substantial overstepping of norms for the Federal government to make such a request (especially when there is no evidence to indicate that the states have somehow become incapable of conducting legitimate, free, and fair elections on their own). Moreover, it is a clear violation of the intent of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which in no uncertain terms reserve all unenumerated rights to the people and all unenumerated powers to the states and the people. If the Federal government isn't acting to prevent a state from encroaching on the rights of citizens, then it really has no standing to tell anyone what to do with their elections.

21st Century conservatism

There's no hard-and-fast rule on what constitutes a "young man", but once you turn 36, you've been an adult for as long as you were a child.

This gets to a deeper problem, not exclusive to the administration, but heavily exploited by it: We've become too quick to substitute personal value judgments for the rule of law.

Bear in mind, please, that the rule of law means we judge *actions* based on *evidence*. Deviating from that means undermining the system.

If you can't reconcile with the fact that people you like can do bad things (and vice versa), please do whatever you can to avoid jury duty.

The Presidency is not some mere status symbol to be won with acts of dishonor. To love one's own country is to know better than to do what the President's son has already admitted to doing.

Curiosity, competence, and humility

News Florida school district prohibits routine homework for elementary-school kids

Instead of busy work, the superintendent wants parents to spend 20 minutes a day reading with their kids. This is an utterly laudable plan.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Have a little empathy

Iowa Iowa's 28th baby surrendered under "safe haven"

It's hard to fathom what kind of emotions go into a decision like this, but we should be very glad we have a way to protect these little lives. Also interesting: Looking at how other countries handle this agonizing decision. Germany has a two-track approach, which includes not just a safe-haven option, but also the option for "confidential birth" to protect those mothers who may be at risk of domestic violence or other hazards.

By the numbers

Science and Technology Omaha Public Power District to get 40% of electricity from wind by 2019

The better we can get at energy storage and recovery, the higher those figures could potentially go

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

News Kid Rock claims he's a real Senate candidate

If the Senate is supposed to be composed of two people from each state, representing the best discernment and judgment that can be found in each of those states, then a recording artist like Kid Rock is a real test of those standards. Shouldn't the bar be higher for entry into either house of the national legislature than fame alone?

News Vatican goes after "evangelical fundamentalism"

It's a pretty spicy editorial, with a reference to the effort to "submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism". It also argues that "[Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a 'party.'" Especially interesting: The piece condemns the use of "an ecumenism of conflict" -- alliances of political convenience between Catholics and non-Catholics who have short-term political objectives that would serve mainly to cement larger, long-term theological separation. Quite interesting.

News Florida state attorney pulled over for...what, exactly?

Dubious traffic stops should not put anyone at undue risk (or even inconvenience) due to the color of their skin

Threats and Hazards Why we should all worry more about North Korea

One scholar of arms control worries that we may already be down a path of no return towards open conflict with North Korea -- and no matter what we do to put up defenses here in the United States or abroad (as in South Korea), there may be targets that are vulnerable to attack in ways we cannot defend effectively -- and one of those is Seoul.

Have fun

Clean up after yourself

Your role in cyberwar

Contrary to popular opinion

Inbox zero

Capitalist solution of the week


The French military band that greeted Presidents Trump and Macron this week broke into a medley of songs by the band Daft Punk. As a fan of the band, I'm not sure which part I enjoyed more: Macron's obvious delight at "Get Lucky", or the audience clapping joyfully through "Digital Love".



Considering the paper products/candles/lighters/cleaning products of dubious origin, there may be no place more combustible than a $1 store.

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