Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 13, 2019

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

Tech story 1:

TopicPulse: Social Security scam

But now the FTC says there's a really sick scam going around, claiming to be the Social Security Administration

Tech story 2:

Computers and the Internet When machines learn what the Federal Reserve Board is thinking

Highly interesting: A student uses machine learning to examine Federal Reserve statements, figuring out what connection the language in the statements might have reflected or predicted in actual policy. It's like Alexa "learning" your buying preferences...if you're the Fed.

Tech story 3:

Computers and the Internet Alexa recordings are being checked by humans

Amazon, of course, assures users that the identifying information is being scrubbed before humans review the recordings. And furthermore, on one hand, it's pretty obvious that they have to do away least some human checking, just for quality control. Yet on the other hand, this still has a creepy Mechanical-Turk-meets-George-Orwell quality to it.

The moral of the story: Technology can't become a blank check or an open-ended permission slip for people to do bad things better. Good people have to learn about tech so we're not out-gunned, and tech people have to spend some effort making sure they're good people.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Segment 3: (14 min)

Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack won't seek re-election

He will leave the office after seven terms. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a member of the opposing party within the same delegation, shared words of goodwill, living up to the standard that people who disagree with us aren't our enemies.

IA-02 district map

Guest: James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Guest: Erin Murphy of Lee Enterprises (including the Quad-City Times)

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

Health Fisher-Price recalls all "Rock 'n Play Sleepers"

With a warning that more than 30 infants have died in their use. That estimate grew in just a couple of days with a new review of the data.

Threats and Hazards 5-year-old child attacked and thrown off balcony at Mall of America

The suspected perpetrator was arrested and charged with attempted homicide, but this is an extraordinarily disturbing story, and something still just doesn't seem complete about the narrative.

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Hot (social) topics

TopicPulse: "Texas Schools Bring Back Cursive Writing"

Preview: Justin Brady talks with a neuroscience professor (Dr. WR Klemm from Texas A&M University) who says "Writing by hand could make you smarter"

Hot (social) topics

TopicPulse: "Over 60 Top Corporations Paid Zero Federal Taxes Under New Tax Law"

The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Make money

Business and Finance International trade has changed a lot in just 10 or 15 years

Cheap labor is disappearing as a competitive advantage (and as a driver of trade). Time to market has adjusted advantages considerably. China is consuming much more of what it produces than it used to. And services matter far more than they did in international trade not very many years ago. Among other things, this makes regional trade more important while making long-haul transoceanic trade less valuable.

Have fun

Iowa You had me at couscous

A native of Morocco wants to open a Marshalltown, Iowa. Don't fall for the false arguments that immigration makes American culture weaker.

Clean up after yourself

Weather and Disasters Financial markets signal belief in anthropogenic climate change

Don't believe what people say; believe the revealed preferences of where they put their money. The framing of this issue has gone completely sideways: It has become less a debate and more a battleground between two warring cults. Meanwhile, there should be some easy consensus wins to be found around basic ideas of conservation and community- and state-level resilience. Too many people have invested too much identity in the topic for a wholesale conversion of a lot of hearts and minds. It's instead a case where change will come about through people making small commitments at the outset and reinforcing their commitment in escalating fashion over time.

Mind your business

Threats and Hazards Congress hasn't passed a required budget

Oh, so you say you don't want to talk about the Federal budget? Apparently, neither does Congress: "The deadline for Congress to complete action on a budget is April 15, and Congress has only hit that mark four times" Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.

News "Nominations of individuals to key administration posts"

The White House publicizes the nominations of a Deputy Secretary of the VA and an Undersecretary of Commerce. But we have been without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 100 days. That's a "key administration post", if ever there was one. One might think the UN Ambassador -- also a position that has remained unfilled since January 1st -- would also be considered a priority role for speedy replacement, whether or not it remains in the Cabinet.

The moral of the story:

Segment 8: (5 min)

Have a little empathy

News Refugees aren't helpless

Three-quarters of a million Rohingya refugees are sheltering in Bangladesh, and the monsoon season is coming. So some of them are getting trained to help prepare people and their temporary shelters for the weather conditions. The worst thing we can do is to assume that refugees anywhere (in Bangladesh or at the southern border to the United States) are helpless or out to take away from others. They are no less than people, and basic human dignity calls for treating them as capable and self-determining.

News "Placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only..."

The President threatens it on Twitter, but nobody ever knows when to take him seriously on such matters. There may quite well be places that wouldn't object to an influx of immigrants, regardless of status: Perhaps we should allocate state-based visas that could be exchanged among states, cap-and-trade style. It ought to be recalled that anyone who seeks to profit politically by turning Americans against one another needs to answer to Publius: "Had the Greeks [...] been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union [...]" (Federalist Paper 18).

Threats and Hazards Did the President really offer to pardon officials for breaking the law?

CNN's report quotes "senior administration officials" as saying that "President Donald Trump told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law". If true, it's a remarkable violation of the notions of checks and balances. In Margaret Thatcher's words: "The rule of law is the basis of a civilized society. It must not be bent and twisted for political ends."

News 11-year-old child ordered into deportation without her family

Words matter: Some would dismiss her case instantly as "illegal", but the sensible person reading her account would find good reason to see her as a refugee. From the Houston Chronicle: "Her home in a rural area of El Salvador's La Paz region became a death trap when a relative testified against a local gang member, Alvarado said. Uncles, nephews, classmates and others have been kidnapped or murdered in retaliation, she added."

The United States of America A more equitable society is likely a more productive one

It definitely improves the odds of answering tough questions if we commit to using all of our brainpower -- instead of neglecting or ignoring their contributors because of indefensible prejudices.

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

Iowa Maybe I-29 will reopen in June

For an Interstate highway to be closed for months really illustrates just how bad the flooding was in March. And it could get bad again before the road is repaired.

News The First Amendment ends where the freeway ramp begins

A few dozen truckers conducted a "slow roll" protest on Chicago freeways to put attention on their quarrels with driver-safety rules. Regardless of the merits of their complaints, the First Amendment secures the right "peaceably to assemble", but that's a far cry from creating a rolling barricade that could cause others to crash behind you.

The United States of America An unusually satisfying accidental Twitter roundtable

In which a set of people who generally really aren't all that far apart from one another go around and around on a pretty high-impact question: Are improvements to the American standard of living enough to make up for highly tangible intergenerational economic rivalries? One can do much worse than to get competing perspectives from Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson, Tom Nichols, and Michael Brendan Dougherty on a single topic.

Weather and Disasters Lightning strikes the runway at Offutt

Offutt's runway may not be cursed, but God sure seems to be exacting a vendetta against it. This follows a 2017 tornado and colossal flooding earlier this year.

News Brexit gets an October reschedule

Perhaps Britain will get its act together on leaving the EU before the extended October deadline. Or maybe not: "The timetable facing [Theresa] May is tight, however. By May 22nd she must say if the UK will hold European Parliament elections. If not, it is out by June 1st, with no deal."

Iowa I-29 still isn't fully ready for traffic in southwestern Iowa

Flood damage is significant and widespread, and the requisite inspections haven't been completed yet

By the numbers

Quote of the Week

Technology Three | The week in technology

Your role in cyberwar

Iowa news

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

21st Century conservatism

News Book review: "The New Urban Crisis"

Not the final word on the future of cities, but definitely a contribution that shouldn't be left out of the conversation

Curiosity, competence, and humility

News The US armed forces don't "get a little rough" like the President wants

One of the virtues of an all-volunteer force seems to be that you can select for adherence to a professional code of conduct. Officers and enlisted members alike are supposed to not only observe the Law of Armed Conflict, but they're also told to study professional reading lists. That's because we don't employ tribes of unfettered barbarians to do violence against others just for fun.

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Tin Foil Hat Award

Socialism Doesn't Work "Redistribution for thee, but not for me!"

The money Sen. Bernie Sanders got as an advance on a book deal reveals a certain hypocrisy to the old Socialist's words

Yay Capitalism Prize

Business and Finance "No nation was ever ruined by trade"

Benjamin Franklin's words seem to need repetition more than ever these days

Capitalist solution of the week


Humor and Good News "Paw Patrol is a threat to democracy"

"The Paw Patrol is privatized power and profit and socialized funding, unaccountable to public oversight, ungoverned by elected officials and acting only when it consents to let its interests coincide with panicked public needs. They must be brought to heel."

Aviation News Rockets landing right-side up don't even look real

The SpaceX technology that permits their rockets to land themselves on a platform is really quite mind-boggling. It looks almost like reality, but it seems to violate all of the rules we know about nature and physics -- like a CGI character in the uncanny valley.

One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

Programming notes

1:35pm: Barnstormers Pregame
2:05pm-5pm: IA Barnstormers @ Bismarck Bucks

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Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

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Calendar events to highlight


Tonight the Iowa Wild takes on the Rockford IceHogs at Wells Fargo Arena at 6:00 p.m. with a playoff berth on the line. Below are all the scenarios in how Iowa can clinch its first playoff berth in franchise history.

Iowa clinches a playoff berth on Saturday with:
(a) a win vs. Rockford AND a Manitoba loss (reg/OT/SO) at Chicago, OR
(b) a win vs. Rockford AND a Milwaukee loss (reg/OT/SO) or regulation win vs. Grand Rapids, OR
(c) an OTL/SOL vs. Rockford AND a Manitoba regulation loss at Chicago, OR
(d) an OTL/SOL vs. Rockford AND a Milwaukee regulation loss vs. Grand Rapids

"It's not a stretch to say tonight is the biggest game in Iowa Wild history."


Listen to the full episode from April 13, 2019 here

Technology developers need to be good people, and good people need to know about technology. And we all need to know that it's OK to admit that you're wrong or that you don't know -- there's something wrong with the arrogance of thinking we always have to say something, and that we're always irreversibly right when we say it.

Listen to segment 1

The Great Bacon Debate: How do you insist on cooking it?

Listen to segment 2

Erin Murphy of Lee Enterprises (including the Quad-City Times) and James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette analyze Rep. Dave Loebsack's announcement that he won't seek another term in Congress.

Listen to segment 3

Fisher-Price is recalling ALL of its Rock 'n Play Sleepers. This is huge news for parents of newborns to hear.

Listen to segment 4

⑤ and ⑥ Cursive strikes back! Schools that stopped teaching it have revived the lesson plans.

Listen to segments 5 and 6

Trade isn't what it used to be, even just a handful of years ago.

Listen to segment 7

Refugees -- whether they're in Europe, in Bangladesh, or here in the US -- aren't helpless. And the better we realize that, the more good we can do for them, and for ourselves.

Listen to segment 8