Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 11, 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

News A peek at Charlie Munger's bookshelf

A truly happy place would be one where the people entrusted to make decisions in Washington are as dedicated to reading as Charlie Munger. Or, really, where they're dedicated to any of Munger's other tools for reducing errors and misjudgments. He's a modern-day acolyte of Ben Franklin: Dedicated not so much to an ideology, philosophy, or theology, as to a relentless pursuit of better ways to do things, think about the world, and live life.

News Canada to exonerate Cree chief, 130 years after wrongful treason conviction

Many of us history grew up with the idea that history was fixed in place, like something carved in granite. What happened may be unchanging, but how it was documented, reported, and interpreted does change -- and often should.

The moral of the story:

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Iowa Casey's breakfast pizza isn't just pizza eaten at breakfast time

So learned Beto O'Rourke this week. We're all (mostly) joking about this, but confusing the two is roughly the Iowa equivalent of strolling onto the campus of Auburn and cheering "Roll Tide!"

Segment 3: (14 min)

Hot (social) topics

Threats and Hazards Woman tried drowning newborn in a fast-food toilet

And yet she will serve no prison time. There is not a word of this story that won't simultaneously baffle and dismay you. That an "ordinary" person would make such a choice -- or react in such a way, even to the shock of a surprise delivery -- is symptomatic of some kind of moral rot that she didn't just develop on her own.

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

Make money

Business and Finance What does the Uber IPO really say?

Economist Jodi Beggs suggests it's "basically a bet that they can figure out driverless cars before drivers figure out depreciation". She's probably right. And that's why you study economics. It won't magically teach you how to become rich. But it will definitely teach you how to frame human behavior in a useful way no other field of study will -- at least not within the framework of a comprehensive social science.

Business and Finance Toyota and Panasonic to merge housing companies

And if you previously had no idea that both companies were in the housing business, you're not the only one. Something to muse about: What other businesses in seemingly unrelated fields might make for good housing providers?

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

Science and Technology Ridiculous numbers of Americans would seek to prevent the automation of jobs

The Pew Research Center finds that 85% of American adults would favor policies to block automation from taking any jobs from humans unless those jobs were "dangerous or unhealthy". Perhaps a few of those adults ought to ask whether they've consulted Siri instead of dialing "Information" or calling a library research desk. We could "create" millions of jobs by taking automation out of the picture everywhere we have it -- but it's quite doubtful that the average person has considered what it might be like to sit in a chair at a sewage pump station and manually start and stop the pumps. A job like that was "automated" decades ago, and for very good reason. Technology can and should be used to enhance the usefulness of activities human beings do, but it's colossally silly to think that automation should only come to bear on "dangerous or unhealthy" tasks alone. Shall we do away with coin machines, too? Put another way: "Siri, what is 'entirely missing the point of technology'?"

Threats and Hazards Writer recounts a hazardous ordeal in a ride-share

An incident like this should be investigated swiftly, and the reporting customer ought to be told transparently what conclusions were reached and what resulted. If they can't do that, the ride-hailing service involved shouldn't be in business. Period.

Op/ed on breaking up Facebook

The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)

Stop the deliberate ignorance

News Kim Jong-Un wanted access to American basketball stars

As part of any deal to normalize diplomatic relations. Truly. The first instinct is to mock the demand for the stunning case of stupidity that it is. But it raises a few serious points: (1) America's cultural exports have enormous value. That value shouldn't be overlooked, nor should we take it for granted. (2) Even dictators have bizarre fixations and get starstruck. To the extent that reveals their human fallibility, it's worth further attention and study. (3) North Korea's failure to produce its own basketball stars is telling. If the dictator loves the game so much, why can't they produce their own stars? (The answer, of course, is found in the utter train wreck of a political and economic system they use.)

Threats and Hazards What's our real relationship with South Korea?

The President wildly mischaracterized the nature of the alliance in a campaign rally. The facts are different from what the President recites onstage, and the very nature of the relationship is more nuanced (and valuable) than he gives credit. Ultimately, his cellophane-thin understanding of and appreciation for the South Korean alliance is a de-facto statement of alignment with North Korea. In past times, that might have been understood as un-American, if not actually treasonous.

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Have fun

Humor and Good News Artist to watch: Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

Seeing him perform alongside Buddy Guy is like watching a religious investiture

Clean up after yourself

News Shutdown at Three Mile Island

The plant is to be closed and replaced with power generated by fossil fuels. It seems that the most logical things we can do are (a) migrate as much energy consumption from combustion to electricity as possible, and (b) migrate as much electricity generation from carbon to non-carbon as possible. If those assumptions are correct, then this decision is a terrible failure of (b). The plant's owner says it was losing money and couldn't keep the plant open without subsidies.

Mind your business

Computers and the Internet Would the Founders have behaved differently if they'd anticipated Twitter?

Benjamin Franklin, to be sure, would have been all over Twitter. The others? Perhaps not.

Iowa "Doomed to decline"?

What hope is there for sparsely-populated rural counties in Iowa and elsewhere? The thought of their inevitable decline is a bitter pill to swallow, but the data seems quite solid that something is systemically wrong and cannot be categorically reversed on a time horizon short of decades or even generations. Economist Dave Swenson probably isn't exaggerating when he writes: "Academics are good at isolating the causes and the consequences of rural decline, but we have yet to figure out what to do about it."

The moral of the story:

Segment 8: (5 min)

Iowa news - tariffs for the loss

Agriculture Presidential tweets threatening trade-war escalation hurt farmers

Prices on commodity crops are already painfully low, and the threat of new trade restrictions and taxes makes the situation worse. These are thoroughly avoidable self-inflicted injuries. Trade wars aren't easy to win -- they are stupid exercises in damaging those portions of the economy most dependent upon exercising competitive advantage. And yet here we are, about to impose tariffs (that is, import taxes) on $200 billion in goods from China.

Agriculture Iowa is the biggest egg state in the US

Iowa's position as the dominant egg producer in the country is probably the least-known major factoid about our state -- to Iowans and non-Iowans alike.

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

News If I lost a billion dollars...

Doesn't quite have the same ring as the Barenaked Ladies tune

News US deploys B-52 bombers to CentCom region

Of important note: We have not had a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense for more than 125 days.

Weather and Disasters More Missouri River crests coming

Secondary crests are just insult heaped upon injury.

Weather and Disasters 10" rains hit Houston

These rainfall totals are stunning, and the impact is magnified dramatically when they fall on urban surfaces. Believe in climate change or not (or believe that it has anthropogenic origins or not), but it seems pretty clear that extreme weather events are happening in excess of the statistics of the past, and urbanization compounds the effects.

By the numbers

Quote of the Week

Your role in cyberwar

Iowa news - roads and bridges

Iowa Higher traffic loads follow I-235 expansion

It seems to be a classic case of induced demand

Iowa Iowa DOT reopens I-29 far ahead of schedule

Flooding wiped out dozens of miles of roadway. The workers involved deserve enormous credit for fixing a giant problem so swiftly.

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

21st Century conservatism

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Have a little empathy

News Why can't America help more refugees?

We can, but we're choosing not to do it. If you have strength but use it to oppress, you're practicing evil. If you have strength but refuse to use it out of fear, you're demonstrating cowardice. If you have the strength to help those in need and do so, you're showing mercy. Mercy is a privilege of the strong. Nothing would show greater strength than to help the oppressed.

News Some important words on the new British royal baby

Ebony Renee Baker writes: "I'm still worried about how this biracial babe will navigate their identity while under such intense public scrutiny, because even though this baby has not even been born yet, it's still facing one of the most frustrating burdens faced by mixed race people: fetishization."

Inbox zero

Tin Foil Hat Award

Threats and Hazards "Americans would be wrong to believe they are unaffected" by the censorship China imposes

For the time being, China's government doesn't want the rest of the world to talk about its extraordinary oppression of the Uighurs. But that's far from the only thing they wish to keep off the world's screens and out of the world's newspapers. And, critically, the censorship imposed directly has a spillover effect on companies that self-censor in the interest of pleasing China's bosses. What happens "over there" gets exported "over here" much more than we probably think. The oceans used to define our separation from the rest of the world -- but the operative part of that sentence is "used to". Not anymore.

Threats and Hazards What Chinese police are surveilling is astonishing

Human beings have an inherent right to be left alone. Some governments choose to infringe on that right. And they're not satisfied to keep to themselves: Note the data point that the People's Daily is broadly targeting American users of Twitter with ads. When a state propaganda arm pays money to reach out to you, that's not innocuous.

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


Humor and Good News The Lenten beer diet

Make it whiskey and we might have a deal.

Humor and Good News "Dude"? You meant "Dood", as in "Yankee Doodle".

The strange origins of the vernacular

Humor and Good News The passive voice is dumb

Sometimes the passive voice is necessary, but the whole "unto this woman was born a child" thing used to announce the birth of the new royal baby sure makes it sound like someone else did all the work.

Humor and Good News How specific must you be about where you live?

Only as specific as your audience can handle, really.

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 to the full episode from May 11, 2019 here

If Americans don't figure out that we need to learn more, better, and for longer than we used to, then we're sunk. It's not just an economic problem -- it threatens the very nature of society.

Listen to segment 1

What's the hardest Iowa food to explain to outsiders: Casey's breakfast pizza, ranch on everything, pork chops on a stick, or steak de Burgo?

Listen to segment 2

Continued conversation about Iowa's strangest foods, then a couple of stories about abandoned babies who survived extraordinary odds.

Listen to segment 3

Uber's IPO stalls

Listen to segment 4

Technology Three: Are people completely missing the point of technology? They must be, if 85% of us think robots and computers should be prohibited from automating most jobs. Also: A writer shares her frightening ordeal in a ride-share, and a co-founder of Facebook says to break it up.

Listen to segment 5

A man in a clown suit managed to spread panic across a Tennessee town. Turns out, he was celebrating his birthday.

Listen to segment 6

What is with Kim Jong-Un's thing for NBA players? It's weird.

Listen to segment 7

Tariffs aren't going to protect the American economy -- they're only going to "protect" the wrong people at the expense of American consumers -- and really good producers, like Iowa farmers.

Listen to segment 8