Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 14, 2018

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.

Breaking news to watch

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

Congratulations to the Iowa Barnstormers, who last week won their very first United Bowl as champions of the Indoor Football League.

Even if you don't follow the Barnstormers very closely, you're probably aware that it's a team with a long history here in Des Moines. And they've endured successfully, even through some dramatic ups and downs within their industry. At various times, the Barnstormers have been members of the original Arena Football League, the AF2, and now the IFL.

History says it's just plain hard to get a football league to work, unless you're under the NCAA or the NFL. The IFL itself is the product of a merger of two leagues just ten years ago. The AFL is down to just four teams. And it's not a stretch to argue that most teams, in most sports, most of the time, are only as good as the leagues they're in.

Sure, there are transcendent teams -- like the 1992 US Olympic Men's Basketball Team -- the Dream Team. But most of the time, no matter how good you are, you're not going to get Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen all on one incomparably dominant team. Most of the time, even when you're good, you need other teams to be good as well.

As a Chicago Cubs fan, I might just hate it when the Cardinals or the Brewers are good. But being in a good division -- one that really keeps a team on its toes -- is a great way to prepare for the post-season.

Take a great team out of a great league, and suddenly it's just a bunch of people at practice. Maybe a scrimmage, even, but never the real thing. And, aside from the rare exception, like the Harlem Globetrotters or the Notre Dame football team, it's really hard to be both good and independent. And even when a team is independent of a conference, it still has to submit to common rules of play if it wants to go anywhere.

Sports need competition -- organized, rules-based, league-coordinated competition -- to be interesting and to bring out the best in players. And sports, of course, are zero-sum games: One team wins, and another team loses. In the end, only one team wins a championship.

There are, right now, a lot of people who have adopted the idea that world trade is a zero-sum game, played only ever between two teams at a time. That is the mental framework behind the President's attitude toward trade agreements -- that we "win" or "lose", and that each agreement is a rivalry between us and one other party at a time. In this framework, we are the Harlem Globetrotters and every other country is the Washington Generals -- and the rules of the game are subject to change at any time.

But there are two huge problems with this mental framework: First is that trade is almost never one-on-one. The second is that it's almost never zero-sum.

News The world is better with friends

Let us toast to our friends: May they be strong and plentiful

Segment 2: (8 min)

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

Smart speakers

Iowa news: Parking in Des Moines

Des Moines is taking some heat from a story that says we have 83,141 households and 1.6 million parking spaces.

Segment 3: (14 min)

Live read: Semi-promotional

Broadcasting What it's like breaking news

It's hard to describe the excitement of covering true breaking news. It's an intellectual challenge, a social activity, and an adrenaline rush all at once -- a pop quiz, a senior recital, and being down one run in the bottom of the 9th, all wrapped into one.

Latest on Mueller indictments

Your role in cyberwar

Threats and Hazards "We've said all along we know Russia meddled in our elections"

The Speaker of the House acknowledges the gravity of the indictments issued against 12 members of the Russian military intelligence service thanks to the Special Counsel's investigation. It's a very serious set of counts, and there are probably more to come. People are understandably anxious for the full truth to come out. The indictments have been hailed as "a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement".

Computers and the Internet Is Facebook trying to watch you in retail stores?

Seems like the kind of issue on which we ought to have a vigorous national debate.

Tin Foil Hat Award

Agriculture The states under attack in this trade war

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "The bulk of punitive tariffs from around the globe falls heavily on Farm Belt and Rust Belt states", and that's no exaggeration. And for the Farm Belt, it happens at a time when total net farm income is at a 12-year low. It's a self-inflicted wound at a time of serious chronic pain.

Segment 4: (5 min)

Programming notes

Now that we've had our "Hamilton" mania here in Des Moines, tune in next Saturday when we'll talk with Jay Cost, author of "The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy"

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

The United States of America A nominee to the Supreme Court

On one hand, it is right to believe in the co-equality of the branches of government, so the SCOTUS pick ought to be a big deal. On the other hand, we place way too much emphasis on the chief executive and should rather see the Imperial Presidency dialed down than see the other two amplified. We should vigorously support a rebalancing of power among the three branches, in the spirit of Federalist Papers-era Madison. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country."

News Your opponents aren't going away

And they're probably not evil, either. As Margaret Thatcher put it: "I think some of the bitterness of political strife is reduced when we remind ourselves that many of the people who share our deepest convictions about life are on the other side in political controversy." When prominent voices say that "Even CONSIDERING this [Supreme Court] nomination will cement the first American dictatorship", it's a colossal problem: Vladimir Putin and bad actors like him want the maximum division among Americans against one another. The more people conflate "things I don't like" with "things that are undemocratic", the harder it's going to be to resist the actual threats to democratic processes. And those are real.

Inbox zero

From Pam:

Switching to hgtv during your slot from now on. Too much negativity n doom m gloom. Suggest u listen to others on who n get better facts.

Segment 5: (11 min)

Curiosity, competence, and humility

News Survival in a photograph

A 5-month-old baby was left buried face-down in the Montana woods for nine hours until he was rescued by a search team. He survived and has been released from the hospital. If there is but one thing civilization should stand for, it should be that innocent children ought never to be subjected to malicious cruelty or endangerment.

News Why did the Thai boys in a cave get so much attention?

Especially when there are so many other problems in the world -- including other children in grave distress? People seem to be more interested when a problem seems well-defined than when it is abstract -- or so large that it becomes abstract in our minds. Not every problem lends itself to that kind of granularity, but even when we're talking about big, abstract problems, we may need to think of ways to make the steps in the process seem more concrete (if we want public support, that is).

Threats and Hazards US government misses deadline to reunite children separated from their families

To what degree the family-separation madness is the result of incompetence and to what degree malice, it's becoming hard to give anyone administratively involved the benefit of doubt.

Have a little empathy

Iowa A tremendous tribute

An exceptional tribute to the departed Governor Robert Ray. Doing the right thing -- like taking in refugees -- may or may not have political payoffs in the short run. But in the long term, character truly does count.

Iowa A wonderful tribute to Gov. Robert Ray

A great story, told well, about refugees as a success story in Iowa -- thanks to his leadership as governor

Segment 6: (8 min)

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 2)

Smart speakers

Yay Capitalism Prize

Weather and Disasters Building "tiny homes" for Hawaii volcano evacuees

Good to see novel solutions being applied to important problems. Finding ways to house people displaced by natural disasters is a persistent problem.

News Elon Musk delivers a prototype miniature submarine to Thailand

He can come across in all kinds of bad ways, but Musk has a bias towards action that really is an outlier worthy of some attention (and probably some study).

Being resilient

Business and Finance Forget chasing Amazon's HQ2: Cities should focus on their startups

"[E]conomic big bangs can happen anywhere, not just on the coasts." An argument against trying to lure existing hot businesses from elsewhere and for investing in organic, endogenous growth.

Iowa Tomorrow: 25 years since the Floods of 1993 hit Des Moines

An event of staggering proportions. We're a much more resilient community in many ways today, but we can't ever let down our guard. There's always more we can do to prepare.

Segment 7: (14 min)

By the numbers

Business and Finance Interest payments on the Federal debt: 1.6% of GDP today -- 7% later

2030 used to seem like a long time away. But if you have a kid born this year, he or she will barely be in middle school by that time. That isn't the long's now the medium-to-short run.

Make money

Science and Technology Replacing plastic bags with banana-based packaging

A fantastic example why the old moniker of "developing" countries is really misleading. The global middle class is growing fast -- and innovating -- and that's a very good development. More people capable of living lives with a little bit of room for comfort means not only a direct improvement to the human condition (which we should cheer!), but also spillover effects for the rest of the world. The United States was massively innovative at a time when it was still in many ways a "developing" country. Innovations have a way of finding their way to the rest of the world speedily, so the more people who have the capacity to experiment and try out new ideas, the better for everyone.

Have fun

Humor and Good News Markets in everything, including naps

Mattress company Casper is offering a "napping store" in Lower Manhattan, where 45-minute nap sessions come with a bed and a pair of pajamas. Open most days from 11am to 8pm. Of course, a proper nap lasts 12 minutes and no longer, so the 45-minute session is probably too long.

The week in technology

Science and Technology We welcome our robot (mower) overlords

But what if the first people to get them are also the ones who had the best suburban diagonals? We'll miss it when it's gone.

Iowa Better streetlights

The move towards LED streetlights (as opposed to yellow sodium lights) is a welcome upgrade

Science and Technology An ambitious bucket list

Futurist Ian Pearson wants to do some things you probably haven't thought about yet

Segment 8: (5 min)

Live read: iHeartRadio app

iHeartRadio app


News Move to Australia, then move out of it

A new story about the "micronation" boom in Australia teases the claims some people make to having their own states-within-a-state. It's silly, and it's definitely not the wave of the future -- but we should take seriously the more realistic prospects for city-states to re-emerge in the 21st Century.

News Trump-Putin summit to be held at Finnish presidential palace

How many Americans know that Finland only won its independence from Russia a hair over 100 years ago, in December 1917?

The United States of America "Americans and their Congress still believe in the transatlantic alliance"

Necessary words from Sen. John McCain, as the President engages in a pattern of behavior that (at best) confuses and frustrates our NATO allies. If this profoundly transactionalist behavior confuses you, that's good: It's bizarre to think relationships are like an Etch-A-Sketch that gets erased every day. As Sam Zell has said, "You succeed or you fail based on who your partners are." That's advice applicable not only in real estate, where Zell made his fortune, but in the world at large.

Programming notes

Now that we've had our "Hamilton" mania here in Des Moines, tune in next Saturday when we'll talk with Jay Cost, author of "The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy"

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

Clean up after yourself

Business and Finance Is a corporate recession just around the corner?

The more fiddling around with accounting statements, the more people should worry that something is rotten in Denmark.

Mind your business

Business and Finance Striking oil workers in Norway could push prices higher

Low oil prices have been a de facto economic subsidy for so long, a whole lot of people have probably forgotten that things could be any other way.

Quote of the Week

Contrary to popular opinion

21st Century conservatism

News Brexit brings about UK cabinet resignations

Interesting to think what would happen if the US had a similar system, whereby a Cabinet resignation could trigger the downfall of a government. A less far-out version of this would occur if we had a national Presidential recall mechanism, in the style of states like California or Wisconsin. (In fact, more than half of the states have some kind of recall.)

More than ever, it's evident that we need a caretaker President -- like Coolidge after Harding. Someone without a sweeping agenda or an ideological mania. Just a commitment to a national cooling-off period under a classic, reformist model of good government. Someone with a real commitment to retrenching the powers of the Presidency back to a truly limited basis.

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Threats and Hazards Read the briefing book

The President refuses to read the briefing book prepared for him, so "ahead of important meetings, aides have made something of a deal with the president: If we put it in a red folder, please read it." If a 2nd-year TSA screener or CIA field agent refused to read assigned briefing materials, he or she would deserve prompt termination.

Capitalist solution of the week

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day


Deep thought: Scissors are just knives subjected to checks and balances.


News What happened to the windows?

Could someone please explain what happened from the mid-20th Century onward that made people board up windows everywhere in otherwise perfectly functional buildings? What did people find so objectionable about natural light? There's certainly a profound counterexample in certain modernist buildings with walls of glass, but there's a reason people find houses and buildings like that to be truly stunning.

One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

Calendar events to highlight


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