Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 3, 2018
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.
BUT FIRST: The stock market isn't the economy
It's a pretty dramatic decline, and a reminder that the stock market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the stock market. A one-day decline of 2% isn't sustainable and rarely reflects more than the animal spirits taking over the market. But in fairness, the stock market has been overpriced for a while, according to any conventional and rational sense of valuation.
Mind your business
4th quarter economic productivity slipped by 0.1%
It's on an annualized rate, so the figure itself isn't big. But the stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. Stagnant or declining productivity is not a good bellwether for economic strength, no matter what the S&P 500 is doing. The economy and the stock market have been on totally different paths since 2008 -- the economy fell by something around 5%, and has subsequently grown by a total of maybe 20%. The stock market, by contrast, plunged by 50%, and has since doubled.
"Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful"
Warren Buffett's axiom applies today, when the World Economic Forum review of global risks rates virtually no concerns over economic conditions.
By the numbers
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts wildly optimistic economic growth rate
5.4% GDP growth would be fantastic, but there's no way to call it realistic. The fundamental underpinnings to support sustained growth at that rate aren't there.
Segment 2: (8 min)
By the numbers
The changing American household
A Pew research piece says that 31.9% of American adults live in households containing an adult who isn't the head of household, a spouse or partner, or an adult child of roughly ordinary college age. Of note: "Today, 14% of adults living in someone else's household are a parent of the household head, up from 7% in 1995."
Living snow fence is a great way to control snow. Plant trees one year, or put up snow fence every year. These arborvitae and shrubs were planted in 2012 and were stopping snow even before this year. Great wildlife habitat as well, especially if combined with some native grasses pic.twitter.com/VC45bqWXG6— Doug Adams (@farmerdoug93) January 29, 2018
An early-1900s farming textbook I have talks about the importance of planting evergreens on the north and west sides of a farmstead to provide protection from prevailing winter winds. This is a great modern extension of good old advice.
Anytime you're given the option to make a decision with lasting, durable benefits instead of taking the temporary way out, it's worth running the life-cycle cost analysis. Or, in other words, what's worth doing is worth doing well.
Segment 3: (14 min)
The week in technology
Movie columnist Richard Roeper, exposed in a recent news report as one of the celebrities who purchased fake Twitter followers, has reached an agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times (his employer) to delete his old Twitter account and start over. Roeper's statement includes the line "On a number of occasions, in an effort to build my brand, I bought Twitter followers." The rules of the game are pretty fuzzy right now: Media outlets want "brand-name" presenters, hosts, columnists, and even journalists -- but the whole idea of "building a personal brand" is largely in conflict with the idea of institutional standards in journalism. Buying fake Twitter followers is a pretty sketchy thing to do, but when the reward structure inside conventional media puts a premium on digital reach, individual journalists are probably going to try it. There aren't a whole lot of clean hands in the commodity-clicks universe.
Tin Foil Hat Award
China's "Belt and Road" includes a media component
The head of China's Xinhua news agency is shown meeting with the prime minister of Laos to discuss "media cooperation". As Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, "China exporting illiberalism and censorship in Asia. Expect much more 'media cooperation' under Belt and Road." If we're not a part of what's happening in the Asia-Pacific region, we shouldn't expect liberty and freedom to fill the void -- not with China's present leadership and the incentive structures they face. As Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore used to say, "To achieve the modernization of China, her Communist leaders are prepared to try all and every method, except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multi-party system."
Is "Redfish" a Russian-funded propaganda operation?
The Daily Beast says the "grassroots" media organization is an offshoot of RT. Programming ought to be accompanied by an NPR-style sponsorship liner: "Support for this program is provided by...parties who would rather remain nameless, but whose interests coincide with sowing the maximum possible division within Western societies."
Quote of the Week
"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Segment 4: (5 min)
If they're really greasing light poles in Philadelphia in anticipation of the Super Bowl, I hope they're using biodegradable materials -- might we suggest something corn- or soy-based?
Segment 5: (11 min)
Stop the deliberate ignorance
Social media ought to mark the end of the vox pop
The "vox pop" (from "vox populi" -- basically, the "man on the corner" interview) has always been a weak spot in journalism. Tying it to easily-manipulated social media buzz only makes that worse. But that's what's happening -- news sources make stories out of the quantity of public reaction to items in social media. But in a time when it's become clear just how enormous and widespread the problem of bot contamination is, news organizations ought to put a stake in the heart of the vox pop altogether.
Contrary to popular opinion
A $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan
Briefly hinted at the State of the Union, a giant proposal that ought to have some attention. $1.5 trillion is around $4,600 per American. We probably need to spend that much (or more) on a wide range of infrastructure projects, but the needs range widely and call for a lot of technocratic judgment. Saying you'll spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure is like saying you're going to lose 100 lbs. The admission means you probably need to do it, but it matters a great deal whether you're really changing your lifestyle or just banking it all on a two-week juice cleanse. Low interest rates today are a stupendous incentive to borrow for the long term on work that would have lasting value, but whenever "infrastructure" projects are done as a means of putting people to work, the work that is done may not be an efficient use of the capital.
Locks— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) February 3, 2018
Water treatment plants
Why do "roads and bridges" get all the attention? #infrastructure
Meredith completes acquisition of Time
In an interesting historical footnote, Des Moines was once the home to Look Magazine, which was intended to be a rival to Life Magazine. Life is long-gone, but its name lingers as part of the "Time Life" direct-mail media company.
Segment 6: (8 min)
"Groundhog Day" was released 25 years ago -- February 12, 1993. It is a great film -- not "Casablanca" great, but great in the sense that it's fun to re-watch anytime, has great memorable lines ("Ned Ryerson!" and "Don't drive angry!" among them), and tells a classic morality tale of redemption.
Segment 7: (14 min)
Terms and conditions
Reading a set of terms and conditions. Thought the text looked ridiculously small on screen. Copied the PDF into a Word document. Word count: 4,027. Page count: 1.
Clean up after yourself
Facebook resists judging news sources
Mark Zuckerberg, on a quarterly call with stock analysts: "We don't want to assess by ourselves which sources are trustworthy. I think that's not a situation that or a position that we're comfortable with ourselves." It's rather like Zuckerberg has never met anyone outside his immediate psychographic profile. This "wisdom of crowds"/techno-utopian mindset has to go.
Have a little empathy
Omaha-area grocery store won't sell Tide Pods to under-21s
Isn't there some non-toxic, non-staining, extremely bitter flavor additive that could be added to the external gel of these laundry packs? Wouldn't that be the logical step for Tide and others to take? There were more than 10,000 incidents reported to poison-control centers last year involving children ages 5 and under. As a convenience, laundry packs have tremendous merit. But if there's a reasonable way the manufacturers could offset the hazard of ingestion (whether intentional or accidental), then it's worth asking what stands in the way. All of the buzz is about teenagers consuming them intentionally, but that's happened around 100 times this year -- whereas accidental ingestion by little people happens orders of magnitude more often.
I'm not from the camp that says business has to obsess over "corporate social responsibility", but I also bristle a little at the idea that there's a difference between business ethics and ethics generally. So while in theory I'm on board with Milton Friedman's axiom that a business has one responsibility, which is to make profits, I also think that we have individual responsibilities to do the right and ethical thing that are borne out when we act -- even in business.
Segment 8: (5 min)
Have a little empathy
Cleveland to retire Chief Wahoo from uniforms after this season
File under: It's about time. Everyone knows that tastes and mores change over time, and sometimes that requires adjusting our present-day reality to match the changes. Does it mean some cultural icons might get sacrificed along the way? Sure. But anyone who is more attached to the rendering of a mascot of a baseball team than to scrubbing pretty blatant racism from the present really ought to adjust their understanding of what's important. We should be happy to take a path toward getting better about how we treat one another.
21st Century conservatism
We should play no part in our own division
Sen. John McCain's statement is perfect: "The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests -- no party's, no president's, only Putin's. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him." Just because people don't understand the actions being taken against us doesn't mean they're not real. Just because we don't want to believe that we're susceptible to attack via means ranging from influence campaigns to cyberwarfare doesn't mean we're invincible. And just because it's easy to fall into a divisive and tribalistic culture of internal division doesn't mean we can sustain a republic that way. We need vigorous and intelligent debate, far-sighted approaches to big problems, and a sense that we can be of different opinions without being enemies of our fellow Americans. It's an offense against the republic that the President terrorizes law enforcement from his bully pulpit because of his own selfishness. And with members of Congress acting as accomplices through the release of a memo that the FBI asked them not to, we have a lot of people showing the moral backbone of jellyfish.
From the creators of the hit series "Hey, I'm Just Asking Questions" comes the new reality show "It Might Be True, But That Depends on Whether It Hurts Me or Not". From 23 Dimensional Chess Productions.
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
Love. It's the secret ingredient inside Grandma's chocolate-chip cookies. It is, according to the Beatles, all you need. It is, we are told, what makes a Subaru a Subaru.
But there is one thing which love is not, and never will be: Something you exchange with your government.
You can have a love of your country. You can have love of liberty. You can even love certain things about your government (like, say, the Thunderbirds of the US Air Force).
But you cannot love your government, and it cannot love you.
I didn't think this was a matter of debate or even the most remote consideration before I heard the 2018 State of the Union address. But there it was, when President Trump declared: "Americans love their country. And they deserve a Government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return."
Now, you might think I'm being picky when I object to this line. But I believe in a couple of principles on which I think one must consistently hold the line: One of those is the very well-established conservative belief that words and ideas matter. Another, as Calvin Coolidge wrote, is that the words of the President carry an enormous weight.
So the reason I object to the turn of phrase that suggests that the government can "love" us -- or that it is the same thing for Americans to love their country as it is to love their government.
Just because something looks like a thing or reminds us of a thing doesn't make it that thing. For instance, Facebook may be where many of us go to "see" our friends -- but Facebook isn't our friend. It isn't anyone's friend. It is a very large company with a perfectly legal agenda, but that doesn't mean we should give it any greater leeway than we might give to any other company -- from Amazon.com to Boeing to Caterpillar.
But Facebook often manages to work its way into a special place in our heads because we so often see it when we're seeing pictures of people we like (and even love). That doesn't mean we should like Facebook, especially. In fact, it means we ought to be more cautious with Facebook than we might normally be -- because it has the advantage of taking that shortcut in our brains to the happy place where thoughts of our friends reside.
The fact that the relationship we have with Facebook inherently tends to makes us gullible is exactly why we should be deliberately more cautious with it, rather than less.
What goes for Facebook goes double for the government. The government gets to use the trappings of the country -- the flag, the anthem, and all of the pomp and circumstance that go with it. But just because we love those symbols of the things we should really love -- like our rights and our liberties -- does not mean the government itself deserves a free pass to put a claim on our love, too.
In fact, the government is the entity that has the most capacity to do great damage to those things we, as Americans, love most. That's why, if you immerse yourself in the words of the Founders -- especially James Madison -- you'll find that the operative feeling that overshadows the relationship between people and government is one of jealousy, not love.
Checks and balances operating between the three branches of government -- and between the Federal government and the governments of the states, counties, and cities -- are built not on affection but on jealousy. And, just like a net under a high-wire acrobat, the system only works under tension. If each part isn't pulling in its own direction, then the whole thing could fail.
Jealousy may not be a virtue, but it's a reliable instinct of human nature -- that's why the Founders were smart to rely on it rather than on love to keep the idea of a democratic republic alive in our form of government. So when the President says, "Americans love their country. And they deserve a Government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return," he mixes up the emotions as well as the objects of affection.
Americans love our country, but we should be eternally suspicious of our government, jealous of our rights and liberties, and quick to turn on anyone who would use the symbols that represent values we love to try to roll back those values themselves. The government shouldn't love us; it can't, and it shouldn't. It should only seek to serve us -- and our values. That's all it's capable of doing, anyway.
Have a little empathy
Sen. Jeff Flake has twice been a first-responder in the span of one year
At the Congressional baseball game, and again at the train crash en route to the Republican retreat. It is tragic that one person should have encountered circumstances like that twice in such a short time, but good for him for being prepared to do good things.
Iowa drops from 2nd to 3rd in nation's wind-energy capacity
Iowa added lots in 2017, but Oklahoma added more. Now it's Texas in first, Oklahoma in second, and Iowa in third. Texas is way out in front.
Russia names fighter plane regiment "Tallinn"
That's some very serious trolling, naming a military group after a national capital of a former satellite state
Was the CIA director's meeting with Russian intelligence bosses "routine"?
That's what Mike Pompeo says. Any contact of that type taking place right now has to be executed with the highest sensitivity to even the appearance of impropriety.
What are we building?
Republicans on FCC slam trial balloon over nationalized 5G service
Axios reports that there have been internal debates within the Trump administration about the idea of nationalizing the 5G wireless infrastructure. It appears to be part of an internal discussion among national-security team members, who frame the need to get away from dependence on increasingly dominant Chinese suppliers of 5G technology as a matter of national security.
Clean up after yourself
Federal Reserve hits Wells Fargo hard
Bank must replace four directors and hold its assets at the same level as punishment for the unauthorized-accounts scandal
Single-family home in northeastern Iowa contained more than 725 animals
There's no way to make that make sense
I'm sure I've seen stranger things than a Mitsubishi Eclipse with Gothic decal letters on the driver's side door reading "I'm a Country Boy", but nothing's coming to mind this morning. I was so perplexed that I failed to take a picture.
Someone claims to be offering "Human Uber"
A tool to provide virtual presence. The low-wage, low-skill, technology-enabled job of the future is...Larry Middleman from "Arrested Development"?
United Airlines prohibits "emotional support peacock" from flight
Buried lead in this story: Someone has tried to bring an emotional-support spider on board an airplane somewhere.
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Calendar events to highlight
4pm-5pm: Iowa MBB pregame
5pm-7:30pm: Iowa @ Penn State
Hawkeye men are 12-12 overall, 3-8 in conference. Penn State is 15-9 overall, 5-6 in conference.
1:45pm: Iowa WBB pregame
2pm-4:30pm: Iowa WBB vs. Minnesota
Iowa women are 17-6 overall, 5-5 in conference.
- Podcast of this episode (forthcoming)
- Official station page for this episode (forthcoming)