Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 18, 2019 - Filling in for Jeff Angelo
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: The opening essay
Have a little empathy
- The US Postal Service says it's issuing commemorative stamps for the 50th anniversary of "Sesame Street"
- "Sesame Street" is one of those things that virtually everyone can agree upon
- Educational programming, yes, but also serves an important role giving us a certain set of common values in a country where we don't share a common religion or ethnic heritage
- Values like fair play, kindness, empathy, and tolerance
- It's not perfect, but they're incredibly good at what they do. Studying something for 50 years tends to do that.
- Certainly has powerful effects on my kids
- Now that we're at 50 years, it's a multi-generational thing. The show is 50. The oldest Gen X'ers are turning 54 this year. So it's the kind of thing many if not most post-Boomers have in common.
- Television and shared media in general can be powerful tools for good
- Terrorist attack in New Zealand proves they can also be used for horror
- Facebook: "In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload."
- That's a level of almost inconceivable depravity
- What goes wrong between the time most of us are gentle toddlers singing along with Big Bird or cheering for Bert and Ernie, and the time people become willing to upload video of a terrorist attack, as though it's some kind of video game? (To say nothing of what it takes to become a depraved killer.)
- To borrow the words of Ronald Reagan, we are in many ways the sum of our choices
- We pick whether to do good, to do bad, or to do nothing
- But somehow we're skidding right off the rails. The basic "Sesame Street" virtues -- fair play, kindness, empathy, and tolerance -- aren't on display, but if you want a front-row seat to a terrorist attack, it's sitting right there on Facebook until someone finally takes it down
- I'm not a Luddite, and I would be uncomfortable with a prior restraint on publication coming from the law (like the one New Zealand has used to arrest a man for distributing the shooting video
- But someone has to say "no". Someone (like leadership at Facebook) has to be willing to pay the price to say that "connecting the world" isn't worth showing a terrorist attack in real time, and to put measures into place to keep that from happening.
- And the rest of us have to find a way to ask ourselves whether we believe in those "Sesame Street" virtues enough to do more than just put some characters on a postage stamp. It's a welcome tip of the cap, but it's not enough. It's only empty nostalgia if all we're doing is pointing to our memory of the show's glorious past.
- The moral of the story: Values get lived if we really believe them. And if they're real principles, then sometimes they cost us more than lip service.
Gently-edited transcript, as delivered on air
The US Postal Service is issuing some commemorative stamps to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Sesame Street". "Sesame Street" is one of those things in America that -- like baseball and apple pie -- is the kind of thing that I think virtually everyone can agree upon. We don't agree about a whole lot else as Americans. We have a lot more about the fundamentals in common with one another than anything else, but when it comes to individual issues, it's hard to find cultural things that really do bind us together. But in the case of Sesame Street, you have a show that is educational programming but also serves an important role in giving us a certain set of common values -- useful in a country where we don't have a common religion and don't come from the same ethnic group.
We've just had St. Patrick's Day come and go and as a half-Irish-American, I celebrated enthusiastically: I made 71 pounds of corned beef for a party at our house. We had heads of cabbage everywhere and lots of people over -- and my house still smells like crazy. There's been all kinds of Irish-related festivities, but ultimately, that's a little cultural thing that we do: It's not really my identity. It's just a fun thing to do. It's a lot of fun, and I love to celebrate the different ethnic holidays throughout the year. I love that people can bring things together in our national melting pot and enjoy them. But the reality is that they don't give us then a common ethnic heritage. We learn certain things in common from these cultural exchanges that we have -- stuff like "Sesame Street" -- and it has an important role in this. "Sesame Street" ends up teaching people values like fair play and kindness and empathy and tolerance: Things that are "America" in a lot of ways.
The show's not perfect, but they are incredibly good at what it is that they do. You study doing something for 50 years -- and they have been putting a lot of very serious research into it this whole time -- it's been like a big ongoing, rolling scientific study. You're going to get pretty good at what you do if you spend that much time studying and looking at feedback and researching ways that you can do better. So even if it's not perfect, it's really very good, and it certainly has powerful effects. I can tell you from my own kids' experience, for certain. My four-year-old loves the show. My two-year-old loves it even more. I have watched her watch other programs and there is nothing I have ever seen her engage with with the enthusiasm that she has for "Sesame Street". It draws her in and it gets her going. It really does work. It's an incredibly powerful tool.
And now that we're at 50 years of this show, it's a multi-generational thing. I grew up with it, and now, my kids are. I'm not the only one: The show is 50 years old, and the oldest Gen-Xers are turning 54 this year. So as a result, it's the kind of thing many, if not most, of the post-Baby-Boomer generations might actually have in common.
Now, the thing is, "Sesame Street" tells us that television and shared media in general can be really powerful tools for good. But the terrorist attack that we've just seen in New Zealand proves the opposite case as well. They can be very powerful tools for horror.
Facebook has been telling us in the last couple of days that in the first 24 hours after it happened, they removed 1.5 million videos of the attack that took place in New Zealand. They removed 1.5 million of these videos globally. They say over 1.2 million were blocked at the time of upload, which means that 300,000 times, somebody uploaded the video successfully. They then had to take it down. One of the attackers literally took a video camera with him and streamed the attack live. That's a really shocking thing for people to have done.
But like we were just talking about with Van and Bonnie a few minutes ago, terrorism is all about using fear and terror in order to frighten people to do something. It takes a pretty incredible and pretty inconceivable level of depravity to do something like this -- to record a video like this, or to share a video like this. And not only to be the perpetrator doing it (which still is just so far beyond belief, I can't fully understand it), but what about these people who have then gone on to upload it for themselves who weren't even involved in the attack? There's actually been somebody arrested for uploading the video. There's a law against sharing offensive content like that in New Zealand, and they've used that law to place someone under arrest.
What goes wrong between the time most of us are these gentle toddlers singing along with Big Bird or cheering for Bert and Ernie, and the time people become willing to upload videos of a terrorist attack as though they're sharing screenshot of a video game -- to say nothing of what it takes to become one of the depraved killers.
There are people who make the choice to share this kind of video, and something has gone wrong with them. To borrow the words of Ronald Reagan, which you have heard from time to time here on WHO Radio, we are in many ways the sum of our choices, of the things we choose to do in life, and we pick whether to do good things or to do bad things or to do nothing at all.
It worries me that we're skidding off the rails; that, somehow, those basic "Sesame Street" virtues -- fair play, kindness, empathy -- they're not on display. But if you want a front row seat to a terrorist attack, it's sitting right there on Facebook until somebody finally takes it down.
Now, I'm no Luddite. I don't want to get rid of technology. I have a lot of belief in the power of technology to do really good things. Among other things, Facebook tools permitted me to check in with a cousin of mine who lives 10 miles away from where that attack took place. I was able to use the same tool that the terrorists used to terrorize us, but I was able to use that same tool to check in and make sure she was okay.
The tools can be used for really good things or really bad things. And I would be uncomfortable with prior restraint on publication or the sharing of a video, if it were coming from a law like that one in New Zealand that the government there has used to arrest the man for distributing.
But along the way, somebody like the leadership at Facebook has to be willing to pay the price for "connecting the world". Willing to say that "connecting the world" itself isn't worth showing a terrorist attack in real time, and to put measures into place to keep that stuff from happening.
I'm not responsible for coming up with Facebook policies and I'm not responsible for coming up with Facebook's technology. I'm not a hacker. I'm not a programmer. I'm not a computer ethicist either. But, you know, all of us should be willing to say, "Hang on a second: If your tool is being used by terrorists, enthusiastically, in order to terrorize, then you've got a job to figure out what it is that stops that from happening. You've got to find a way that that video doesn't get uploaded 1.5 million times. Oh, yeah, congratulations for stopping at 1.2 million of those times. But what about the 300,000 times you let this slip through? 300,000 times this slipped through Facebook's cracks."
It's on Facebook to fix it. The leadership at Facebook -- Mark Zuckerberg, I'm looking at you -- has to be willing to pay the price to say that connecting the world isn't worth showing that attack in real time. They've got to say that maybe we're going to lose some visitors, we're going to lose some users, we're going to lose some minutes spent on our website if we stop these bad things from happening. But, you know what? That's the price we pay for living in civilization. For keeping up a society that is free. A society that is good enough to create tools like Facebook.
I think have to find a way to ask ourselves whether we actually believe in those "Sesame Street" virtues enough, just enough, to make sure that that's more than just putting some characters on some postage stamps and calling it good enough.
It's got to be more than just lip service. Putting them on a stamp is a welcome tip of the cap. That's great, and kudos to the Postal Service for doing that. But it's not enough. It's only empty nostalgia if we just think that those things are items we put on a postage stamp, say "Congratulations on 50 years, and now we're done with you." That's just empty nostalgia if all we're doing is pointing to a memory of a glorious past of the show.
I think it's worth more than that. I think among the things that make us American, truly valuing those values, those things that matter to us, those issues like fair play and kindness and empathy and tolerance? That's more American than anything else. And we probably should remember that and put it at the top line. Because values get lived only if we really believe them. And if they're real principles, if it's real to somebody like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, or anyone else, if it's real to you -- then, sometimes, it will cost you more than just lip service.
Segment 2: (8 min)
Mind your business
- FROM WHORADIO.COM: "Court rules Constitution protects right to flip off police officers"
- Constitutionally, it's a correct decision. The driver in question had completed a traffic stop and was resuming on her way when she gave the one-finger salute
- It's distasteful, to be sure -- but then again, so is a lot of behavior. At least it was a silent protest.
- Smart people, of course, choose a sensible time and place for their protests.
- I personally go to great lengths to avoid getting pulled over. [Tell the tale of arriving in Huntsville, Alabama, and getting assigned a rental car at midnight with no plates.]
- The moral of the story: There really is a bigger issue here: Police authority is limited by the law, and that's the way it ought to be. Any time someone is granted extraordinary power (like the right to detain a fellow citizen, or to use a firearm against another human being), then that power must come under extraordinary oversight.
- What I really want: The ability to send a message to other drivers based on their license plates alone. A whole lot of people need to know that they're lousy drivers, and that other people are watching.
Segment 3: (14 min)
- Flooding status update
- NWS river map
- NWS state overview
- Iowa DOT incidents map (with closures)
- Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management
- Most of Iowa has text-to-911 -- worth knowing if you're in a situation where for some reason, you encounter danger but cannot call
- Big picture:
- Offutt's runway is underwater. The runway was already scheduled for replacement, but not until December.
- Some talk of WWTPs being overtopped and raw sewage spilling into the river. Dilution is the solution to pollution. But this is why you stay out of floodwaters if you can.
- This event went extreme in a hurry. It's why I don't think you have to be a believer in climate change to accept that we don't know everything that can happen with the weather, and that we have to put preparedness first. We've neglected investments for a long time, and if events like this are going to happen (in 2019, and 2011, and 2008, and 1993...) then we take a really stupid risk if we don't plan on something worse happening in the future.
- You don't have to believe in climate change to believe that Mother Nature has an attitude problem, and dealing with the attitude problem uses the very same tools.
The moral of the story:
Segment 4: (5 min)
- We have the official schedule for the NCAA men's basketball tournament games in Des Moines
- Official NCAA bracket and schedule
Free open practice on Wednesday:
10:00 AM - Doors Open— Catch Des Moines (@catchdesmoines) March 18, 2019
11:00 - 11:40 - @GopherMBB
11:45 - 12:25 - @bradleyumbb
12:30 - 1:10 - @LouisvilleMBB
1:15 - 1:55 - @MSU_Basketball
3:25 - 4:05 - @NevadaHoops
4:10 - 4:50 - @umichbball
4:55 - 5:35 - @GatorsMBK
5:40 - 6:20 - @MontanaGrizBB
Questions (if guest is available):
- How many people are expected in Des Moines?
- What's the local impact (economics, visibility, etc.)?
- Anything locals should anticipate (traffic, detours, crowds, etc.)?
Segment 5: (11 min)
Clean up after yourself
- "Why rich parents are more likely to be unethical"
- Sense of entitlement is a terrible thing
- So is fear of status loss
- Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations
- Really interesting overlap with Friday's "20/20" on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos
- Holmes an example of someone who was related to certain glories and who is portrayed as having a drive to restore the family's "greatness"
- Did your family tree contain some past glory that you'd like to restore?
- Have you seen shirtsleeves-to-shirtsleeves in three generations?
- There's no doubt we celebrate "family traditions" in business -- Century Farms, "family business"
- The whole college-admissions scandal does tap into an unhealthy relationship we have with success
- You can give your family an inheritance, but we hardly ever talk about an ethical inheritance. Definitely not something they were worried about in the families that wanted to cheat their kids' way into brand-name schools.
- But also, if you just want to give your kids shortcuts to "success", it's basically a ticking time bomb
- I'd rather learn how to make something of myself than get a cash reward
Segment 6: (8 min)
The revealed preferences of our party guests were...surprising. pic.twitter.com/Tm7S6Bw9PM— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) March 18, 2019
Also: Raisin cookies are garbage.
The moral of the story:
Segment 7: (14 min)
21st Century conservatism
I would join the "Not Cool, Dude. Not Cool." Party in a heartbeat.— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) March 16, 2019
Truly a message that resonates in our times. https://t.co/xhGkPacqyW
"Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law." - John Stuart Mill
- Bring back shame
- You can't legislate morality into a person's soul
- Some things can be restrained by law -- and many of them should. Murder, reckless driving, contaminating food or medicine.
- Lots of people are so busy picking teams that they're failing to judge behavior
- It's hard to pick on your own "team" -- much harder than calling out the other side
- But at its heart, that's what's wrong with "whataboutism"
- It just doesn't matter to the measure of present-day behavior if your rivals/opponents did something wrong in the past
- That's why it's so depressing to watch norms begin to crumble
- When George HW Bush died, a lot of people saw that letter he left for Bill Clinton. It was humble, it was decent, and it was good way above and beyond politics. It transcended anything about ideology or party.
- We could use a lot more of that today
- President Trump's tweeting yesterday deserves shame
- He attacked John McCain (posthumously)
- He went after a local union leader, personally
- He went after Fox News anchors by name
- It doesn't rise to the level of something that needs to be bounded by law, but it definitely needs to be shamed
- The moral of the story: We have to agree that some things are rules we agree upon that are transcendental of politics
- A President going on the attack against private citizens is one of them
Segment 8: (5 min)
The moral of the story:
♫ Listen to the full episode from March 18, 2019 here
① Segment 1: Values have to cost something more than just lip service.
② Segment 2: Catch Des Moines president Greg Edwards gives a preview of the NCAA tournament round in Des Moines later this week -- what's the economic impact?
③ Segment 3: You have a Constitutional right to flip off a police officer, says one court. But smart people, of course, choose a sensible time and place for their protests. Then, a flooding update from John Benson with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
④ Segment 4: Iowa Barnstormers have a tricky drive to Grand Island ahead this weekend; my ride back to Iowa from the same area last week was hair-raising.
⑤ Segment 5: Are rich parents more likely to be unethical than the rest of us?
⑥ Segment 6: Callers comment on unethical parenting.
⑦ Segment 7: Let's say that 70% of a kid's life is baked into the cake when they're born. You're still responsible for giving them an ethical inheritance. Then, Iowa DOT director Mark Lowe has an update on travel and transportation during the floods.
⑧ Segment 8: Parting thoughts.