Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 17, 2018

Brian Gongol

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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

Iowa MBB lose to Indiana, 82-84

Iowa WBB host Wisconsin - Sunday - pregame at 1:45

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Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: Who cares about the Russian indictments?

Who cares about the indictments in United States vs. Internet Research Agency, et al.?

  1. Anyone who cares about keeping foreign special interests out of American politics:
    • Paragraph 1: "U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General."
    • Paragraph 2: "From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016."
  2. Anyone who wants scam artists kicked off of social media:
    • Paragraph 4: "Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences."
    • Paragraph 10.a.: "The ORGANIZATION employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support."
  3. Anyone who thinks identity theft should be punished:
    • Paragraph 4: "Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts."
    • Paragraph 89: "Beginning in at least 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons without their knowledge or consent."
    • Paragraph 90: "Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons to open accounts at PayPal"
  4. Anyone who thinks the right to peaceable assembly belongs to Americans, not to hostile foreign agents:
    • Paragraph 6: "Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States"
    • Paragraph 51: "Starting in approximately June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States."
  5. Anyone who wants to clean up dirty politics:
    • Paragraph 6: "Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ("Trump Campaign") and disparaging Hillary Clinton."
  6. Anyone who thinks liars and cheaters should be punished:
    • Paragraph 6: "Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign"
    • Paragraph 47: "Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas"
  7. Anyone who thinks America has a right to defend itself against attacks:
    • Paragraph 10.c.: "The ORGANIZATION sought, in part, to conduct what it called 'information warfare against the United States of America'"
    • Paragraph 28: "The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
  8. Anyone who thinks the American Way is worth defending:
    • Paragraph 10.e.: "By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION's strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of 'spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.'"
  9. Anyone who wants to get dirty money out of politics:
    • Paragraph 11.b.: [Monthly budget was] "over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars"
    • Paragraph 35: "Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month."
  10. Anyone who thinks it's creepy to be stalked on social media:
    • Paragraph 29: "Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues."
  11. Anyone who hates online fraud:
    • Paragraph 31: "Defendants and their co-conspirators posed as U.S. persons and contacted U.S. political and social activists."
    • Paragraph 45: "Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach"
  12. Anyone who hates social-media echo chambers:
    • Paragraph 36: "Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them."
  13. Anyone who thinks Americans should think for themselves and not be manipulated by our adversaries:
    • Paragraph 32: "Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into 'leader[s] of public opinion' in the United States."
    • Paragraph 44: "Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: '#Trump2016,' '#TrumpTrain,' '#MAGA,' '#IWontProtectHillary,' and '#Hillary4Prison.'"
  14. Anyone who thinks the fraudulent use of voter identification should be punished:
    • Paragraph 41: "In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred, without lawful authority, the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons' knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital payment service provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver's licenses; and posted on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims."
  15. Anyone who thought Americans should have heard more from Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio:
    • Paragraph 43: "By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump."
  16. Anyone who thinks voting is an important duty and a right that Americans have sacrificed a lot to protect:
    • Paragraph 46.c.: "By in or around early November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the ORGANIZATION-controlled 'United Muslims of America' social media accounts to post anti-vote messages"
  17. Anyone who thinks voter fraud should be taken seriously and that false claims keep it from being taken seriously:
    • Paragraph 47.c.: "Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of '#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.'"
    • Paragraph 93: "Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver's licenses."
  18. Anyone who thinks foreign governments shouldn't provoke protests in the United States:
    • Paragraph 54.b.: "Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally."
    • Paragraph 56: "After the rallies in Florida, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies supporting then-candidate Trump in New York and Pennsylvania."
  19. Anyone who thinks destroying computer data to avoid an investigation is itself a crime:
    • Paragraph 58: "Defendants and their co-conspirators deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities."
  20. Anyone who thinks there is too much division and too much anger in politics:
    • Paragraph 57: "After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
    • Paragraph 57: "Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another ORGANIZATION-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called 'Trump is NOT my President' held on or about November 12, 2016. Similarly, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally entitled 'Charlotte Against Trump' in Charlotte, North Carolina, held on or about November 19, 2016."

Segment 2: (8 min)

Mass violence is a public-health emergency

It's almost impossible to solve a problem without defining what the problem is. And if a problem like school shootings seems like one on which we have made no progress toward a solution, then it is well worth putting our attention to the matter of giving it a definition.

If school shootings (and other mass-casualty violence) don't qualify as a public-health issue, then what is?

Consider these six characteristics that should make these events clear cases of public-health concern:

Aspect #1: It has elements of contagion. Just like the spread of a virus, this kind of violence spreads, in part, through contact. That is, the more these events capture public attention, the more likely it is that new perpetrators get the idea to try the same thing. We have statistical evidence to tell us these are contagious events -- but we also have the anecdotal evidence staring all of us in the face: The more these awful things have happened, the more they happen again.

Aspect #2: Some of the root causes are biological phenomena. It's practically a reflex by now to say that these events are evidence of a mental-health problem. And, yes, almost by definition, they must be: Nobody would perpetrate a mass killing unless they were psychologically disturbed in some way. But the phrase has become a crutch for avoiding the problem, rather than a call to action. So let us address the biological aspect seriously. It is a mistake to act as if the brain itself is something other than an organ of the body, and one that can be diseased.

Aspect #3: Some of the root causes are social phenomena. Unlike diseases that are strictly inherited (like cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia), mass violence only takes place within a social context. It depends on human beings being social animals who interact with one another. And it is, in part, related to how Americans engage with one another; that much should be self-evident from the fact we have far more of these events (even proportional to our population) than in any comparable country. Thus we cannot prevent or treat it without a public approach.

Aspect #4: It places members of the public at imminent risk of harm or death. Far more people are killed by violence than by most contagious diseases. We have gone to extreme measures to restrict and monitor air travel, for instance, in the face of contagious diseases like SARS and Ebola, entirely in the name of public health.

Aspect #5: Little or no meaningful protection can be obtained through individual action. Any ordinary member of the public is at some risk of exposure to an attack, and there is little or nothing that can be done to avoid it. There is no option to vaccinate or otherwise take preventive care of one's self without community action and the mobilization of mass-scale resources. If the individual cannot self-protect, then it becomes a matter for the community to undertake.

Aspect #6: The results are within the top five leading causes of death for a large segment of the population. While mass shootings in particular may not represent a leading cause of death, homicide in general is one of the top four causes of death among every age bracket between ages 1 and 34. Broadly taken, interpersonal violence is a deadly American epidemic. Undoubtedly, the lessons we learn from addressing the problem will be scalable; the things we can do to prevent violence from one individual to another will be things we can do to prevent violence from one person to many, and vice versa.

So: We can define the problem as a matter of public health, and we must address it as one as well.

Treating this as a matter for politics alone has been a dead end; it's time to face the violence epidemic for what it is, and put the appropriate expertise and adequate resources into fixing this just as we would any other solvable public-health crisis. These six aspects of the problem place it squarely in the realm of public health, and we ought to have the same level of commitment to addressing the problem as we would to any other crisis in public health.

The resources appropriate to a significant, deadly, and contagious epidemic ought to be appropriated to the issue of homicide in America. The resources ought to be allocated to research, prevention, and harm mitigation just as they would if we faced a pandemic flu or a mysterious airborne illness. And in the end, we need to act on what we learn about mass violence with the same gravity as we would place on any other epidemic. Moreover, we must stop saying that "now is not the time" to deal seriously with the problem. These are no longer isolated incidents; they are part of a continuous problem.

America has tackled deadly outbreaks of diseases like influenza and polio before; faced with the evidence, we ought to tackle this epidemic with commensurate seriousness. That requires a combination of resources, urgency, and dedicated expertise -- as well as a public commitment to acting on the best advice we can obtain from the best-informed experts we can enlist.

Segment 3: (14 min)

The week in technology: Don't fear the robodog

While kids are usually scared not so much of the things they can see but of the things they can't (like a monster under the bed), adults seem only to be adequately frightened of the things we can confirm with our own two eyes -- and much too willing to ignore the things of which we have no visual evidence.

Perhaps that is why people are having a hard time digesting the video posted this week showing two robot "dogs" from Boston Dynamics cooperating to open a door and pass through it.

The reactions on social media have been exactly what one might imagine, especially from a culture that has been indoctrinated by movies like "Terminator": People are quick to declare the video frightening and almost as quick to rate it some kind of existential threat to human life as we know it.

But just because the reaction is common doesn't mean it's right. Sure, there's something a little unsettling about something that resembles a dog in so many ways (except, critically, having a head) doing something sophisticated that audiences were once terrified to watch a velociraptor pull off in "Jurassic Park". It's a case where fears programmed into us by popular culture overlap with the existence of something that falls into the "uncanny valley".

The fear, though, is misplaced. Robots, when programmed by conscientious technicians and scientists, have the potential to do amazing things -- like acting as reliable, hypo-allergenic, ultra-capable companion animals for disabled humans. After the recent kerfuffle over someone's attempt to travel with an emotional-support peacock, we really ought to be more open to the idea of people getting their help from predictable, programmable machines. Could robotic dogs be used for violence? Sure -- much of the research funding for robotics in general has come from DARPA, so obviously there's a military use for the technology. But virtually all of the applications that make these things attractive for use by and with soldiers also makes them valuable for civilian use, from carrying heavy loads to navigating difficult terrain to, yes, opening doors.

But beyond the potential for robots to do a great deal of good for human beings who need the help, we're also misplacing our anxiety over things we can see instead of appropriating it to truly frightening things that we can't.

For instance: More than two billion people are now regular users of Facebook. That's bigger than the population of any single country on the planet -- in fact, it's roughly the population of the two largest countries combined.

But have you ever read the terms and conditions of your use of that site? For example, term 2.1 of your relationship with Facebook says, "[Y]ou grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook". Facebook undoubtedly would argue that those terms are necessary for them to be able to show your content on their applications everywhere. But a plain reading of that text also says "If you post a picture or a video here, we can do with it whatever we want, wherever we want, anytime, for free."

And it's not just your relationship with Facebook that's like this. Google's tools are constantly being refined by your very use of them -- from voice recognition to facial recognition. Snapchat can be set to track your location in real time. And if you don't think there are organizations everywhere trying to put artificial intelligence to work figuring out a deep profile of you and your behavior, your wants and needs, and even your insecurities, then you're simply putting your head in the sand.

The point here is that it's perfectly easy to find reasons to turn what will almost certainly be an innocuous and ultimately very helpful technology into something scary -- but, apparently, only if we can see it (like we can see the robot dogs). But we shouldn't paper over the truly frightening things that we choose blindly to accept just because we're too lazy, overwhelmed, or disinterested to read the terms and conditions. Sure, they're much harder to visualize -- but given the choice between privacy-encroaching terms and conditions that are almost impossible to avoid (at least, if you want to be an active participant in popular culture) and an assistive technology like a robotic dog that can open doors, I'll take the robo-pup any day.

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