Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 19, 2019
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
- President Trump to deliver live address about southern border wall at 2:00 pm
- Special counsel's office disputes Buzzfeed report
- The White House says President Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a second summit near the end of February.
- Any progress on the government shutdown?
Segment 1: (11 min)
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
Driving to the station this afternoon, I had to pause to let some kids get out of the street. They were using cardboard boxes and trash can lids to sled in the snow.
Smart? Not really. Great parenting? Probably not. But it was also my duty -- as a decent human being -- to give them a little leeway and help them to be safe.
* * *
In the last three days, I have seen announcements of pending births from a family member on my side, a family member on my wife's side, and a colleague from work. And as you might expect, the reactions to those announcements have been effusive in their praise and enthusiasm.
Anyone who has had a child of their own, or even been close to someone who has, can appreciate the extraordinary bond between a child and those who take care of the child. With an infant, we see -- more than anywhere else in life -- the beautiful vulnerability of human existence.
That parent-child relationship can't be duplicated anywhere else, and certainly not by institutions. But it does illustrate an important feature of how we should look at the world.
That beautiful vulnerability isn't something that we try to preserve indefinitely. Parents want their kids to grow up with some steel in the spine, some mettle, some resilience in the face of adversity. We don't want our kids to be vulnerable and fragile forever.
But by the same token, we are more forgiving of that inherent fragility and vulnerability in our own offspring then we are in most other people. We want them to grow up strong, but most of us understand that sometimes they are weak for reasons well beyond their control.
We give special consideration to our own children, but that shouldn't keep us from recognizing the fact that being human sometimes means being vulnerable. And I think it would be valuable to all of us to be open to the ways we can use the institutions, the resources, and simply the imagination among us to be able to address that inherent vulnerability of life to try to at least understand when others may have circumstances that don't permit them to bounce back.
* * *
Sometimes we're fragile because we're too young. Sometimes we're vulnerable because we're old. Sometimes we're in need because we're sick, injured, or affected by unexpected trouble.
We don't get a lot of exposure to the kinds of things other people face around the world. We're still just 4% of the world's population, and many of our fellow Earthlings face risks we don't even consider here. Crime, violence, war, government oppression.
Remember: The United States had more than 400,000 Axis POWs on our own soil during WWII.
So if we're aware of the vulnerable at our door -- literally, in some cases -- let's not confuse them with the bad people we might be trying to keep out.
The moral of the story:
Segment 2: (8 min)
The Metropolitan / Somewhat Unnecessary Debate of the Day
Should cities clear snow-covered sidewalks instead of property owners?
If the sidewalk is considered a part of the broader transportation system, then perhaps it should become a municipal responsibility. Otherwise, the results may be simply too haphazard for the safety of anyone who needs to travel by foot.
The moral of the story:
Segment 3: (14 min)
A New York Times columnist, noting the city's new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law, suggests that the self-sustaining wage in the city is more like $33 an hour. The essence of the problem is that even if true, that number can hardly be imposed by law without consequence. German has a lot of great words for complex matters. Can we find and co-opt into English their word for "I am sympathetic to what you want, but the way you want to get there is complete lunacy and will never achieve that goal"?
Last night's inaugural ball for @KimReynoldsIA gave me an excuse to break out the fanciest cufflinks in all the land: pic.twitter.com/eG1sOmGM9j— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) January 19, 2019
Clean up after yourself (part 1)
One-paragraph book review: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"
Discount the prescriptions, but consider the overall diagnosis
Mind your business
Starting with the man in the mirror
There really is nothing less threatening to anyone with a healthy self-image than Gillette's new commercial focusing on a theme of rejecting toxic behavior by males. It appears they're tacitly acknowledging that their longstanding "The Best a Man Can Get" campaigns may have sometimes lapsed into reinforcing stereotypes that needed to go. Nothing wrong with a little voluntary corporate responsibility. It's reminiscent of the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror": When a man shaves, he literally faces the man in the mirror, and it is to Gillette's credit that they're willing to make something of that moment in a way that isn't universally popular.
The moral of the story: I'm trying to practice taking a second look at things with which I disagree -- and asking if maybe there's some merit to them if I back off the idea by 50%. People overstate their cases all the time, but that shouldn't keep a thoughtful person from considering a worthwhile nugget of an idea just because it's couched inside a bigger argument that goes too far.
Segment 4: (5 min)
What to eat in Des Moines? Anything, really.
A profile in "Food and Wine" illustrates a pleasurable fact of life in Des Moines: If you can't find more restaurants to love here than any reasonable person could patronize, you're just not paying attention.
The moral of the story: Notice that a lot of the best things about Iowa (Raygun t-shirts, Tasty Tacos, Ragbrai/Baconfest/Iowa State Fair) weren't imposed on us by outsiders. They're homegrown.
Segment 5: (11 min)
Yay Capitalism Prize
Jack Bogle was the real capitalist revolutionary
Forget Che Guevara. Put the face of Jack Bogle on your t-shirt instead.
Clean up after yourself (part 2)
Omaha Public Schools face $771 million pension shortfall
And they're not even close to being alone on this. Probably no one truly understands the scope and scale of public-sector pension shortfalls in America today. They're all over the country, and they're huge. They are not just contractual obligations, either: They are tied to enormous political risk, too, since public-sector workers (and especially their unions) are extremely powerful in politics.
By the numbers
We've been hearing about IPERS funding shortfalls for almost 20 years. The latest annual report says it is 82.4% funded, and is "on track to be fully funded in 26 years".
Getting the right perspective on risk
We live in an age when stores offer "extended warranty protection" on a $14 computer mouse, but meanwhile, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is just seven years away from total depletion.
The moral of the story: There are a lot of things people want to add to the "three R's" in school, but I'm thinking we ought to add something on risk and money.
Segment 6: (8 min)
The moral of the story:
Segment 7: (14 min)
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
President Trump denies use of military aircraft to Speaker Pelosi
Pelosi was scheduled to go to Afghanistan, but the President (almost certainly in retaliation for the dispute over whether he will be permitted to give the State of the Union address during the Federal government shutdown) has denied her the use of military aircraft to go there. This is a particularly sticky situation, because the Department of Defense is fully budgeted and isn't shut down. Moreover, there's a big Constitutional problem with the Article II branch of government denying access to government resources to the Article I branch...for basically any reason whatsoever. Congress is the wellspring of all further legitimacy in national government -- remember, they can fire the President but the President can't fire them. The tools of the government, then, ultimately "belong" to Congress first -- including the military. They not only have the power to set the budget (Article I, Section 7), but they also have sole power to declare war (Article I, Section 8). In other words, Congress isn't just equal, in many important regards, it is supreme. Whether you like the Speaker of the House or not, the interests of that entire branch of government are very much the interests of the American public. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "[The Founders] placed all their public officers under constitutional limitations. [...] They were very apprehensive that the executive might seek to exercise arbitrary powers."
21st Century conservatism
Deep Constitutional nerdery meets one of the most vexing problems of the present political day in a piece from Jay Cost, who rightly notes that the Article I branch of the government comes first for a reason -- since it's the wellspring of government by the consent of the governed
The moral of the story: Don't assume powers or adopt habits when you're in control that you wouldn't willingly hand to your opponents when they're in control.
Segment 8: (5 min)
The moral of the story:
Unsorted and leftovers:
"I am now convinced that only a real crisis can cure this 21st-century fantasy of crisis."
Disaster without a plan isn't a good thing. Ever.
Supreme Court justices in the off-season
Justice Clarence Thomas "will co-teach a two-week Supreme Court class with Creighton law professor Michael Fenner" in Omaha in the next several days. One might kid that the shutdown has gotten so bad, Supreme Court justices are having to pick up adjunct teaching jobs.
"I've got to just do the right thing"
How House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to punish Rep. Steve King. Rep. King remains obstinately unrepentant, even though his antics -- part of a long pattern of behavior -- cost Iowa a literal seat at the table due to his removal from the Agriculture Committee (fortunately an absence rectified by the appointment of Rep. Cindy Axne to the committee).
Putting luxury chairs, Wi-Fi, and a TV in a van as a high-end transportation service
Prince Philip flipped his Land Rover
He's 97 years old. Every family seems, sooner or later, to be forced into a conversation about when it's finally time to take the keys away from a senior family member. And all too often, it doesn't happen until a serious crash.
Buzzfeed report: "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress"
If true (and it's an exclusive report for now), it's a spectacularly big story. The story says that "two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie". That would be to suborn perjury, which is a massively bad thing to do (and the kind of thing that brought down Richard Nixon).
A few notes on vestigial structures
There are some weird things left over in the human body that we don't use anymore, and it's not just the appendix
Rudy Giuliani is taking to television to defend (?) the President, and nothing he says inspires serious confidence. People keep saying that reality is too much like "Veep", but it seems more like we're just watching a nefarious real-life version of "Arrested Development".
Rap artist Cardi B has a very not-safe-for-work rant about the government shutdown, viewed millions of times in less than a single day. It's unlikely that the same number of people will read, say, the Federalist Papers this year -- so what does that say about our self-government? Should we expect more nose-in-the-books behavior, or are off-the-cuff celebrity video rants the new standard?
A German commuter knitted a scarf to illustrate how often her travels were delayed -- two rows of yarn per day. It's a tremendously clever idea.
Here's a test: Judge politicians and candidates by how much their speeches differ from the typical laundry list of utterly unfulfillable promises made by kids campaigning for student council. A whole lot of them fail by that yardstick. Then don't hesitate to hold them accountable for the "good behavior" that James Madison wrote about.
Someone found Joe Biden's dream board
A fake edition of the Washington Post is apparently floating around DC
UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal
The whole Brexit affair seems like a perfect example of the problem of deciding "We hate this; let's get rid of it" without also deciding "When we get rid of this, what comes after it?" Sure, it's clear that among the English (not so much among the Scots or the Northern Irish), there was substantial public disappointment with the EU. But as it was put in Federalist 49, "The danger of disturbing the public tranquility by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society."
The President deserves a primary challenger
A look at five people who could contest the Republican Presidential nomination for 2020: Senator Mitt Romney, Secretary Jim Mattis, Governor John Kasich, Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Senator Jeff Flake. He also deserves a challenge from people like Senator Bob Corker or Senator Ben Sasse. The nomination should not be handed again to President Trump. It should be vigorously contested by someone with character and a sense of honor. Stephen F. Hayes offers a robust argument on behalf of a primary challenge, on the grounds that without it, "the 2020 presidential election will almost certainly pass without voters hearing a coherent case for limited government."
Someone shared a mockup of an "Amy Klobuchar for President 2020" logo, and social media ran away with it. But the materials include some allusions to mountains, which Klobuchar's home state of Minnesota doesn't have. In fact, if you'd gotten in your car in Minneapolis and started driving west, in seven hours you STILL wouldn't even have made it to Wall Drug, much less to a mountain.
Looking out over the (Berlin) Wall
The Communist world built walls to keep people in against their will
Quote of the Week
The week in technology
Your role in cyberwar
Contrary to popular opinion
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Have a little empathy
Stop the deliberate ignorance
Tin Foil Hat Award
New York Times: "Trump discussed pulling U.S. from NATO, aides say"
Absent any other evidence of his behavior, this alone would represent a serious national security threat. As Margaret Thatcher said, "A nation can be free but it will not stay free for long if it has no friends and no alliances." But it's even more alarming considering the President's other displays of reckless talk and action, erratic decision-making, and suspiciously docile behavior in the presence of Vladimir Putin. Deterrence and alliances depend on psychology as much as on treaties.
Capitalist solution of the week
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day
One year ago
Five years ago
Ten years ago
11am-3pm: Iowa MBB vs. Illinois
4pm-5pm: Retirement Ready from Peterson Financial (this pre-empts Hannity)
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