Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 3, 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.

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: Justice and Humanity: Or, Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

It's been announced that the 100th anniversary of the Woodbury County Courthouse will be celebrated with a series of events in May. If you're unfamiliar with the crown jewel of architecture in Sioux City, you really ought to make an effort to see it at least once -- or, at the very least, indulge in some photography of the place.

It's a truly magnificent work of Prairie School architecture -- earth-toned horizontal lines, proto-Art-Deco metal work, and stunning colored glass. And the art! Sculptures in relief and painted figures all over. It's the best kind of public space: The kind I call a cathedral to public service.

But the very best thing about this magnificent building isn't how beautiful it is. Its very best feature is a set of three words on the facade: "Justice and Humanity".

Indeed. There are hardly any three words that better define the work that ought to take place in a courthouse.

In fact, there are hardly any three words that ought better to define what takes place any time people deal with their law -- or each other. And that's a sentiment worth reviving right now.

I am worried about the meanness on display -- on Facebook walls, in online comment sections, on talk radio shows, and throughout cable "news". People who have every right to express an opinion are eager to show just how much they want other people to suffer.

It's what you see when someone buys a coffee mug with a label like "Liberal Tears", as though it's somehow virtuous to refresh yourself with the weeping of someone who just happens to disagree with you.

It's what you see when someone wears a shirt or slaps on a bumper sticker that says "F*** you for voting for him", as though a vote isn't often a complex and multidimensional thing.

It's what you see when anyone says they are gratified, somehow, by watching others suffer pain.

America, we're supposed to be better than this. A whole lot better than this.

There should be nothing gratifying about the suffering of our political opponents. We don't scalp the other side after battle -- not even in war, and certainly not in the political sphere. If our relatively recent forebears thought it wasn't just possible but necessary to rebuild Germany and Japan out of the ashes of World War II, then surely we have it within ourselves to think that justice AND humanity can coexist in our ordinary American lives.

There are lots of things about which to disagree. The world grows irreversibly more complex by the day, as technology, the economy, and even the ever-growing world population create more choices, more questions, and more potential conflicts than ever before. That's fine! Because along with the complexity come new freedoms, new opportunities, and new ways for us as people to improve ourselves and our own lives.

But we're not going to get any better if we take joy in celebrating others' failures. Of course we're going to have opponents and rivals. Of course we're going to have differences of opinion on strongly-felt issues. And sometimes, we may have very good reason to want someone on the "other side" of something to fail -- especially if what they're doing is likely to cause harm to others.

Wanting someone else's project to fail, though, is different from wanting them to suffer. "Justice and humanity", together, demand that the right things happen (that's justice) but demand also that we want them to happen the right way and for the right reasons (that's humanity).

There's no room for meanness in it, and that's not some kind of postmodernist hippie-think. It's just a reminder posted a century ago on a courthouse wall.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Stop the deliberate ignorance

News Chinese investment in Finnish infrastructure?

China Daily reports on a speculative project to build a giant tunnel under the Baltic, to link Helsinki with Tallinn, with the backing of "unnamed Chinese investors". And they're talking about building a railway between Helsinki and a northern Norwegian port city -- so China can have access through the (warming) Arctic Ocean to European markets, instead of traversing the Suez Canal. This is what happens when the United States dithers while China is flush with cash and ambition.

Segment 3: (14 min)

Mind your business - part 1

Threats and Hazards Absurdism masquerading as economic policy: Steel and aluminum tariffs

The President appears to have sprung the idea of massive tariffs as a surprise on just about everyone. They're a terrible idea.

If there's a stupider policy idea than imposing 25% tariffs on raw material imports to the United States, I really don't know what it is.

Threats and Hazards A global trade war isn't "easy" to win

"Trade war" isn't even good nomenclature. "War" conveys an impression of an event with a winner and a loser. But, on net, everyone loses in a trade war. It's more like mutually-assured destruction. The President may rant and rave in capital letters about his outdated notions of what makes an economy, but trade protectionism is the helicopter parenting of economics. Moreover, with the economic damage being intentionally done via stupid tariff policies and trade restrictions, worse things may happen even faster. Federal deficits are soon to eclipse the annual GDP, and a hobbled economy produces smaller tax revenues.

Quote of the Week

"Recognizing economic health as an indispensable basis of military strength and the free world's peace, we shall strive to foster everywhere, and to practice ourselves, policies that encourage productivity and profitable trade." - Dwight Eisenhower

Mind your business - part 2

The CRFB says the debt is going to outsize the economy within the next ten years.

With the economic damage being intentionally done via stupid tariff policies and trade restrictions, worse may happen even faster. A hobbled economy produces smaller tax revenues.

Threats and Hazards No impulse control

The President's plans for massive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports appear to have been a completely impulsive declaration made without any serious forethought or planning. There is much to be disturbed by the fact that he, after more than a year in office, still does not understand the fact he needs to show more discipline than the average adult. That's just basic comprehension of the role.


Segment 4: (5 min)

By the numbers

They'll have to loop "Rhapsody in Blue", like, 27 times to make it to the far concourse.

This is infrastructure spending that you can see! It's not "roads and bridges", but it's hugely important.

The public/private element to it is really interesting. Not everyone's on board.

Just goes to show how hard it is to do really smart infrastructure investment. And when it comes to things people don't actively see or think they experience, it's even harder.

Segment 5: (11 min)

The week in technology

Computers and the Internet Facebook wants your kids

Facebook says it had to "nudge" kids in the 8-to-13 age range to use its Facebook Messenger Kids tool. One wonders: What's so good (for the kids) about trying so hard to get them to use their electronics? It's obvious what's in it for Facebook.

Computers and the Internet Facebook axes the "Explore Feed"

They had tried to separate institutional and personal news from one another, but users didn't like it or use it. So now everything is back together, but with the supposed emphasis on "family and friends"-type content.

Make money

Business and Finance "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

In a computer simulation that closely resembles the distribution of wealth in the real world, "[T]he wealthiest individuals are not the most talented (although they must have a certain level of talent). They are the luckiest." If this is an accurate representation of how talent is rewarded in the real world, then it has really substantial implications for how we choose to remunerate talent (and otherwise compensate it without money, but with things like social esteem). It echoes a comment from Bill Gates: "I am always fascinated by the question of whether the most talented people end up in critical positions -- in politics, business, academia, or the military. It's amazing the way some people develop during their lives." Most likely, there is a great deal of the ultimate outcomes in wealth that is shaped by choices that people make early in their lives -- when pure talent and intelligence don't necessarily determine the quality of decision-making, since they're not informed by wisdom and experience. Getting set in the right direction early on -- often by luck of finding something like an industry on the rise -- might explain much of the outcome. And in that case, it certainly speaks volumes to the impact of family members and other trusted elders who may guide their younger counterparts to the right places at the right times, before they can make informed decisions for themselves.

Segment 6: (8 min)

Contrary to popular opinion

From the list of things I didn't know: Sweden has a problem with gangs using hand grenades.

Part of the problem is in how the law there treats those weapons.

But a chief in the police intelligence unit there also says, "It's important to say that weapons themselves aren't really the problem -- the problem is people are choosing to use weapons."

Ultimately, that's true -- just like it is here in the US. But take a look at their all-of-the-above, full-spectrum approach to the problem: Sweden is looking at doing things to ensure young people have better things to do than fight and join gangs.

They ought to change the laws that create an artificial "incentive" to use grenades instead of guns. But they're also very smart to take the full-spectrum approach to curbing violence.

Are we smart enough to do the same?

Segment 7: (14 min)

Your role in cyberwar

Threats and Hazards The cyberwarfare threat is real. Our response isn't.

Asks Senator Ben Sasse: "Why should the American people have any confidence in their government right now in the area of cyberwar?" A good and urgent question, indeed.

Threats and Hazards Run, do not walk, away from state-secession plans

There are vital interests of highly adversarial people that are served when Americans turn on one another

Stop the corruption

Threats and Hazards For whom are they working?

The FBI is investigating what went on behind the scenes of a licensing deal that slapped the Trump name on a building in Vancouver just after the President took office. It was a deal that apparently centered on Ivanka Trump's work -- and it is well past time that Americans know whether she's working for the family business or for the government. There's no room for one of the President's closest advisers to have one foot in the Oval Office and another in financial interests that are influenced by that work. There must be an arm's-length separation of the two -- without that separation, there must be an assumption of bad faith on the part of the people who choose not to separate the interests. If Ivanka Trump is not exclusively working for the people of the United States, then she has no business in the ambiguous roles she occupies.

Threats and Hazards The potential for abuse

According to NBC News: "Some top Qatari government officials believe the White House's position on the blockade may have been a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about the failed deal" to bail out one of his family's investment properties. If personal financial interests are influencing Federal government policy at the very top, that's an inexcusable threat to the idea of good government.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Tin Foil Hat Award

The President of the United States makes a choice, every day, to be like this. To behave this way. To make these his priorities. To pick these fights. This is a choice. And it's a profoundly inexcusable choice: Not only is it a litany of missed opportunities to do something good (when's the last time he tweeted an inspirational quote or a book review?), it's absolutely sucking all of the oxygen out of the room for smart debate on real issues.

The President is our servant. He is a Federal employee. He does not get a free pass to waste his time (and our money) and to drift the country away from good things.

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

Have fun

Clean up after yourself

Iowa news

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

21st Century conservatism

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Have a little empathy

Inbox zero

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week



Business and Finance Kearney Archway turns a profit -- at long last

The $60 million monument across Interstate 80 in Kearney, Nebraska, has gone a long, long time without turning a profit. It's actually quite a nice museum and well worth a visit for anyone in the area or passing through, but it's also a cautionary tale in the hazards of feasibility studies. It's easy to cook the numbers when they're purely speculative to come up with something that balances the books.

One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

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