Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 4, 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

As I was leaving a store the other day, I went to hold the door for an incoming customer. But I totally biffed it. She was approaching from my right, and the door swung in her instead of holding it open for her, I inadvertently left her holding it open for me (after an awkward stutter step of me trying to get out of the way).

To anyone who, like me, was raised with a traditional sense of gentility, making someone else hold the door for you induces a pretty guilty feeling. How much did I feel guilty because it was an imposition (it wasn't that big a deal, after all), and how much was it because I violated the traditional gesture of holding open a door for a woman (even though I think most of us, being "Iowa nice", try to hold doors for others regardless of gender)?

So here's a question: Can we be Midwestern courteous (doing things that may appear to be anachronistic leftovers of old traditions) and truly egalitarian at the same time?

Lots of Iowans come from Nordic (and northern German) stock. Just last weekend, they celebrated Nordic Fest in Decorah. Elk Horn and Kimballton claim to be the "largest rural Danish settlements in the United States". You can find the Swedish-American Museum in Swedesburg, or travel to Norway without leaving the state.

The Nordic countries pride themselves on their egalitarian streak. It's a cultural tradition from Europe that survived the Atlantic crossing: Meaningful effects of that egalitarian culture still show up in economic results in the Upper Midwest. That's pretty wild, considering those immigrants mostly arrived a century or more ago.

Everyone's noticed the populist, anti-elitism streak in America. It would have been hard to miss. And I commented on the air back in June 2016 that nobody is ashamed of elite performance in most careers -- from farming to genomics to actuarial accounting -- and that "We should similarly want some people to be our political and public-policy elites."

Elite performance is needed more than ever, particularly as the world becomes more complex (which it inevitably and invariably will). That includes elite performance in areas where maybe sometimes we don't want to admit that it can occur (like politics).

But Iowa and the Midwest in general could stand to model the best of egalitarianism for the rest of the country. Some people are better at doing things than other people, and that elitism should be celebrated. But nobody should be treated like a better person at the expense of others, whether they expect that treatment because of what they do, or where they were born, or how they got to where they are.

Egalitarianism of that stretch, though, doesn't work if people are hostile to each other. Or distrustful. Or suspicious. I think we can do better. Iowans ought to dig deep into our historical cultural reservoir of respect for everyone's equality -- and demonstrate it proudly as a model for America in general, even as we celebrate the elite performance we need from all corners of society as we grapple with the challenges of the 21st Century.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Segment 3: (14 min)

Make money

Apple made it to a $1 trillion market capitalization this week. It's fairly remarkable where the company finds itself today, considering it was nearly dead when I was in high school and was only revived when Steve Jobs came back to the company after years in exile.

There are two important things to remember about a milestone like Apple's: The first is that price isn't value, and the second is that nothing promises perpetual success.

Apple does create things that people want...a lot. There's no denying the success of products like the MacBook or the iPhone. They aren't my cup of tea, personally, but that's the beauty of a free market: Your choice to purchase those things doesn't hurt me in any way.

But aside from the products that have already worked for Apple, what's the future? It's not just smartphones. Wearables? IoT (the "Internet of Things")? Household product integration? We're seeing lots of progress by other companies in these areas, and Apple didn't invent the Fitbit, faces tough competition in smartwatches and other wearables, and they're playing catch-up in the hot smart speaker market.

In other words, there's no rest for the weary.

It's worthy of note that Microsoft got huge by enabling commerce; their consumer products have often stalled, but Microsoft's massive presence inside of business is undeniable. Apple got huge by serving the consumer market -- often for amusement. Consumers may be willing to do a lot, but we are a notoriously fickle lot and we aren't always as loyal as sellers may hope.

Whether Apple can keep up with shifting demand and breakable loyalties will decide whether it grows to another trillion.

* * *

How do you value a company? Why I still don't invest in Apple.

Segment 4: (5 min)

Segment 5: (11 min)

Tin Foil Hat Award

The "hot take" of the week has been "What to make of democratic socialists -- are they real, and are they going to win?"

Blame New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez winning the Democratic primary, but also Bernie Sanders -- especially the $32.6 trillion estimate to provide ten years of "Medicare for all". That report came from the Mercatus Center, which lands even to my right on the free-market spectrum, which is saying a lot. But the number probably isn't wrong.

But for this "democratic socialists" nonsense: Blame also the sluggishness that anyone has had to explain a vision of market capitalism with a cruelty-free safety net

It's almost the start of a new school year, which means a lot of students are thinking about what to study

The democratic socialist crowd, along with a lot of other people who would never affiliate with them, would tend to say "Study what you love and the money will follow." The socialists would also pretend that they can make tuition free for all, and then they'd like to tax you for whatever money you make after. But even the well-meaning version of this advice is wrong.

Do whatever has the biggest gap between what you are compensated to do it and what you give up to do it.

My cousin runs a landscaping firm. He's college-aged, but college isn't his thing. Instead of studying something he didn't like any paying a lot to do it, he's doing something he likes and can be proud of.

He gives up the college experience and some of the social status that goes with it. He gets compensated -- in cash and in independence -- something much greater than that.

Should he have paid a lot to study and become a doctor like his dad? He'd get paid well, of course, but plenty of doctors regret the decision to spend years studying medicine and the other trade-offs that go with entering medical practice. Even among specialties, you'll find wide variations in not just cash compensation, but also free time and family time, ongoing research, insurance costs, and job satisfaction.

None of this should denigrate higher education. It's still my quixotic notion that all adults should have to participate in ongoing education for at least their entire working lives. (It's like maintenance on a house; if you don't do it, things fall apart...eventually.) The modern economy demands it.

But when someone's making the choice, most of the time they're too young to really know. I cycled through five majors before I found what fit. Even then, I took terrible advice about how to apply it.

Don't do "what you love" without a real accounting: What do you really get from doing it, and what must you give up to get it?

Segment 6: (8 min)

By the numbers

Got a "professional driver" loyalty card, probably by accident

Not a professional driver, thought I am on the road a lot

One report claims a 300,000-driver shortage in the trucking industry

Listened in on trucker conversations on the CB, including two discussing what got them into the line of work. New guy wants to do his own thing and not be told what to do. Old guy had a brief stint running his own gig and got in huge trouble with the IRS, and now just wants stability.

Service sector vs. manufacturing sector -- trucking is a service, but it's indispensable to manufacturers and consumers alike

Autonomous trucks in the future?

Segment 7: (14 min)

21st Century conservatism

One of the main roles of a head of state is to provide some form of moral leadership to the community. It may not be a written role, but it is unavoidable that a large community will look for some form of leadership to speak to their aspirations and their beliefs.

Ronald Reagan framed his role in terms of an existential struggle against the Communist menace. George HW Bush saw a "thousand points of light". Bill Clinton used empathy as his vector for moral leadership, telling people "I feel your pain".

In more recent times, George W Bush had a tendency to wax philosophical around his Evangelical Christian beliefs, while Barack Obama could be moralizing -- in a detached and academic sort of way.

But in each of these cases, the role of the Presidency was seen in part as that of a head of state: A job that requires a dimension of moral leadership.

And then, last night, we got this:

I'm no fan of Don Lemon. He seems nice, but his interview style isn't my thing. So I don't watch his show. But for the President of the United States to spend his Friday night calling him "the dumbest man on television"?

Donald Trump clearly has no interest whatsoever in the moral leadership role of the Presidency. His wife is on a campaign to stop cyberbullying, and he's wasting his platform picking on TV anchors.

So the question is: Who is filling the void? More than a year-and-a-half into his presidency, who really acts as America's moral conscience on the public stage?

Religious leaders seem not to have stepped up, cultural leaders have not, political leaders have not, and thus we have a void. An unfilled demand for someone to talk in a dimension beyond "winning" and "losing". Just for example, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is lobbing pot-shots at the Attorney General, promoting movies by crooks, and retweeting the far-right.

I think most Americans are interested in words and guidance about building a better life. I don't think the rank capitulation of religious leadership to short-term political interests is how that gets served.

One would think that the demand hasn't really gone away, considering that it has been expected of every other president in the last 40 years, so whose job is it now? And why hasn't anyone seeing the deficit and acted to fill it?

Real conservatives know that politics are downstream of culture. Really, anybody should recognize that: If you have any form of democracy, then your democracy can really only be as good as the people.

It would be nice if we could see more emphasis placed on being good than on trying to "win". Good eventually does emerge with victory. But victory at any cost usually comes with a price much too high to tolerate.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

China has let it slip that a second-generation aircraft carrier is underway

Have fun

Clean up after yourself

Mind your business

Quote of the Week

Federalist 57: "The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust."

The week in technology

Your role in cyberwar

Iowa news

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Have a little empathy

Have a little empathy

An 8-year-old kid in Indiana ate meth off a kitchen plate, apparently thinking it was breakfast cereal. It killed him, and his father is accused of keeping anyone from calling 911 to help the child.

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Garage sales: Scourge of the universe


Kickers: Name a movie you don't want to re-watch for fear it won't hold up

Kickers: Movie plots in five words

One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

Programming notes

Live read: iHeartRadio app

iHeartRadio app

Live read: Contests

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

Smart speakers

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 2)

Smart speakers

Calendar events to highlight


Listen on-demand