Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 1, 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

I was up late last night re-watching "The Tank Man", a powerful Frontline episode that asks: "Who was that lone individual who stood in front of the column of tanks in Tiananmen Square?" The episode never resolves the answer, but this 30th anniversary of the uprising is really the right time for you to set aside 90 minutes to watch the show.

In 1989, when the protests that led to the massacre occurred, China's population was 1.119 billion. Today, it's 1.384 billion. That's an increase of 265 million people -- larger than the entire population of any other country in the world, except for India or the United States.

So, since the crackdown that shattered the pro-democracy movement in China 30 years ago, it's as if a whole new country, the 4th-largest in the world, has been formed and placed under the power of an authoritarian regime.

The last 30 years, of course, have represented a massive success in terms of moving hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. That has been the successful part of China's change.

But it's still a place where the individual isn't free. Where the people do not choose their own government. Where the military responds not to civil authority but to the control of a political party: "[W]e can ensure the gun is always in the hands of those who are loyal to the party".

There are people who look at the Chinese system with admiration or even envy. And there are certain things that China gets right, at least culturally -- the patient, long-term view, for instance, which we are told looks at things from a perspective of centuries.

But for whatever good we can find in the culture, the socioeconomic system is built on false promises. The culture may favor a long-term view, but the Communist system only favors short-term self-preservation for those in power. As bad as Tienanmen Square was, what they're doing to the Uighurs is orders of magnitude bigger -- between one and two million people are being held in camps.

We coexist on a planet with the people of China. And if we are true to our own Declaration of Independence, we should see those people as being just as worthy of individual dignity as we are. Some of our people are quick to see them as either economic rivals or prospective consumers, but our concerns for their human rights ought to come before our economic self-interest.

A political system that is so rotten is bound to fail, sooner or later. But it's going to continue doing incomprehensible damage in the meantime, particularly if the authoritarians again feel their power slipping. That's why it's time for us to improve America's strategy for encountering China. Our government is using blunt economic instruments to address a precision failure: Namely, using tariffs to fight what really ought to be a battle over IP theft.

Yet do we care at all about the world the people of China are living in? It's not a problem that stays "over there" -- authoritarianism doesn't stay "over there". It comes to us, here in America, in forms ranging from Confucius Institutes, surveillance and intimidation of Chinese college students studying here, and the database hack of our own government's OPM, to the surveillance technology built into some of their products sold here. It bears repeating: Authoritarianism doesn't stay "over there".

China's economy continues to grow, but that's no substitute for fair recognition of their individual rights and freedoms. To borrow a metaphor (I wish I could acknowledge the original source): It's like they're loading coal on the fire that drives the engine of the train, at the same time someone is straining with all their might to pull the brakes. Something's going to give. Conducting our relations with them in a way that puts dignity and human rights first is the most important thing we can do.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Segment 3: (14 min)

Make money

Business and Finance When is it time to worry about the economy?

Conor Sen says, "[H]aving lived through 2008, whenever the data is a little soft my inclination is to say 'ehh, this is nothing like 2008.' I'm always surprised by the alarmism of others." The counterpoint? In 2008, things got much worse much faster than most people imagined possible. That said, nobody knows the timing or the triggers for recession. We can only see whether evidence is mounting or dissipating.

Business and Finance Trucking industry puts on the hazard lights

Slides from a Bank of America presentation signal that capacity is growing and the outlook for demand is softening...a lot. There's good reason to wonder what that may portend for the economy.

Guest: Karl Smith

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

Computers and the Internet Apple is killing off iTunes

Rumor has it a simplified program is coming to replace it. And good riddance, too: Never has another app caused the ordinary user as much frustration with its incessant forced updates, crude attempts to piggyback other unwanted applications with it, and infuriating auto-loading by default in Windows.

Computers and the Internet SimCity: Still quite popular after all these years

Survey randomly finds that half of registered voters under age 30 have played the game. The original had a number of preset scenarios where you had to take over a city with a defined crisis and work your way out of it. It was basically Giuliani Mode, back when that would have been an honorable thing. Just imagine, though: Now there are computer games that have lasted long enough to transcend generations of childhood.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather inbound for the Upper Midwest

There's a whole lot to dislike about this situation, not the least of which is that the area of highest risk overlaps a great deal with the areas of least radar coverage.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says another 51 accounts and 31 pages have been booted

Something's rotten, but it isn't in Denmark: Facebook says these efforts are "coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran".

Computers and the Internet HP adds a wood finish to some laptops

Too late to bring back Ricardo Montalban and his "fine Corinthian leather", perhaps, but quite nearly as fancy as an old Chrysler.

News Problems aren't new

"Mankind has never been in this position before. Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, it has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination." Words from Winston Churchill well over half a century ago, and yet someone could speak them today with equal validity.

The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)

Hot (social) topics

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 8: (5 min)

21st Century conservatism

The United States of America We can (and must) be decent, even in our disagreement

This is an argument well-put by David French. Society isn't a fight, and social problems aren't best resolved by cage match. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "I believe implicitly that you can never make people good by law, but only from something inside them." Those who think that all bad things must be resolved by law, and that by extension, obtaining political power is the only good that matters, ought to reconcile themselves with the facts that (a) humans are inherently flawed and limited, (b) all good is not perfectly knowable, and (c) life is not static -- not for individuals and not for society. There is no end-state of perfection to be attained. There is struggle and there is conflict, and those are the things that ultimately produce growth. And much better to resolve those struggles and conflicts in the hearts of people rather than by waging politics by means that seem a lot like war.

News "No political 'emergency' justifies abandoning classical liberalism"

David French's take on the rise of Christian statism is worth considering seriously. The problem with Christian statism is the same as with all statism, summed up quite tidily by Margaret Thatcher: "Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose." The shocking enthusiasm with which some people are willing to surrender process in pursuit of a temporal goal is distressing. But what it highlights is the prevalence of a static mindset -- one that thinks of victories as permanent and failures as fatal. It may be quite natural for people to fall into that kind of convention, but it's unhealthy: Most good things aren't a destination so much as a journey or a path. Freedom isn't a level you unlock like a video game; it's an active thing that requires grappling, struggling, and reflecting upon at every turn. The same would go for most good things -- progress, education, parenting, whatever. Thus it is more important to get the process right than to win specific achievements and think of them as forever locked in place.

News Populism doesn't have a plan

Noah Rothman has little love for the way a populist wave has crashed into power. And it's not to be trusted -- in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "The essence of a free society is that there are whole areas of life where the State has no business at all, no right to intervene." (It doesn't matter if your "team" happens to have political control of the state at the moment or not.)

I only wish we had an unambiguous set of definitions to go by. "Liberal conservatism" is exactly right from a denotative standpoint, but no reasonable Twittersphere discussion could survive the connotations.

I've tried for years to come up with a suitable shorthand label (to use for myself on the radio), and the closest I've come is "Open-Minded Conservative". And even that is woefully inadequate.

I wrangle with this a lot. I have a hard time telling whether I'm:
(a) a libertarian who reluctantly acknowledges the necessity of a conservative civic framework; or,
(b) a conservative who distrusts power so much that I default to libertarianism unless persuaded otherwise.

Perhaps that's a fair name, acknowledging the "conservative" sense of caution while embracing the pluralist notion that we're all different and entitled to be that way. It's a lot like tracing one's genealogy -- you come "from" a whole lot of places, but you only end up with one surname that doesn't do justice to the rest of the lineage.

Ultimately, the schism we never really talk about is between those who believe in fixed end-states of society and those who realize that society is permanently dynamic. Both the right-wing reactionary and the left-wing revolutionary fall for the myth of the static end-state.

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

Broadcasting HBO cancels Wyatt Cenac's show

It's a disappointing choice: "Problem Areas" has taken an original and thoughtful approach to advocacy journalism. Cenac is smart and funny -- a genuine talent -- and he doesn't have to reach all of the right conclusions to be very good at highlighting problems worthy of attention.

News Japan and China, forever in competition

China's using the Belt and Road program to take some pressure off its oversupplies of construction labor and funding. Japan, meanwhile, is giving cash to many places that might have wanted Belt-and-Road projects.

Weather and Disasters EF-4 hits Lawrence, Kansas

A mile wide, with a path nearly 32 miles long. That's a very significant tornado. 18 injured, but nobody killed.

Weather and Disasters Omaha gets late-May hail so deep it called for shovels

2019 is delivering decidedly one of the most wickedly persistent severe-weather seasons in memory around the Midwest.

News Crowded Mount Everest becomes a death trap

It's just so...unnecessary. The mountain has been climbed. Many, many times. It's not much of a badge of honor anymore.

Humor and Good News Art is in the limitations

Do with your limitations what you can (not only when making art).

News Why Ronald Reagan mystified Edmund Morris

The thing about "Dutch" (Morris's fiction-heavy biography of Reagan), especially when contrasted with Morris's books on Roosevelt, is that somehow the fictionalized second person seemed dishonest -- whereas the omniscient third-person narrator gives us plausible deniability to believe everything he wrote about TR.

Business and Finance Judging development not just by income

Noah Smith argues that a country's degree of resource dependency ought to be considered alongside its per-capita income. This is a valid dimension that should be added to any meaningful analysis of development. Moreover, measuring resource abundance is also essential to understanding where generous social-democratic states stand a chance at success (e.g. Norway) and where they do not. Converting resource abundance into a durable social-safety net is attractive -- but very hard. All too often, resource abundance turns into the resource curse.

News IP theft by China isn't just for industrial production

Paradoxically, American conference organizers often require presenters to (a) release rights for their slides to be disseminated online, and (b) be circumspect about any commercial trademarks or self-identifying info...which is a recipe for inviting this type of theft.

By the numbers

News Circulation at college libraries is plunging

Library dean Dan Cohen: "There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library [at Yale] over the past decade [...] At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017". It's not necessarily a calamity: Library use has changed for many reasons, and digital books play a role. Cohen also notes that adaptations could actually serve a larger public interest if a rise in off-site storage, digitization, and sharing networks "closes the gap between elite institutions such as Yale and the much larger number of colleges with more modest collections."

Have fun

Humor and Good News There's no way not to be impressed by Simone Biles

The gymnast has developed some techniques that are completely astonishing

Clean up after yourself

Threats and Hazards Rep. Duncan Hunter wants a one-month legal amnesty for returning servicememberes

This is a shockingly bad idea. As a society, we shouldn't just treat the time after a deployment like some giant mulligan. We owe it to our professionals in uniform to commit the appropriate resources to proper mobilization and demobilization. If we can't do that, we have no business sending troops into combat in the first place. That's the basic principle of cleaning up after yourself.

The United States of America Respecting the troops on Memorial Day

"[T]he American soldier, in spite of wisecracking, sometimes cynical speech, is an intelligent human being who demands and deserves basic understanding of the reasons why his country took up arms and of the conflicting consequences of victory or defeat." - Dwight Eisenhower

News Can the Pentagon do better to stop suicide?

Carl Forsling: "Perhaps the answer is to normalize it, or more precisely, to normalize mental health care. If someone breaks his ankle, we don't freak out. We give him a cast and put him to work doing whatever he can do."

Mind your business

Health Immigrant doctors are critical to rural health care

America is a giant, unstoppable magnet for talent from all over the world. We're incredibly stupid not to take advantage of that at every possible opportunity.

Quote of the Week

The United States of America James Madision, the internationalist

"[I]ndependently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy..."

"We are more likely to prosper on the basis of rewards for men and women who build up success, than on the basis of politically directed industry and commerce." - Margaret Thatcher

Your role in cyberwar

Iowa news

Weather and Disasters A volatile atmosphere, you say?

Evidence on this dramatic tornado season so far

Iowa What to do with urban runoff?

In the midst of an unusually wet spring, the City of West Des Moines asks what residents think ought to be done about managing stormwater.

Iowa Iowa's crop progress is abysmal

Iowa's corn is 76% planted. The 5-year average for this point in the season? 96%. Soybeans are at 32% planted. 5-year average: 77%. And it's raining again.

Contrary to popular opinion

News How lawyers can avoid lawsuits

If you can't be trusted to behave like an adult in the presence of members of the opposite sex, you probably can't be trusted with most other duties, either. This is shared in a context for and about lawyers, but it sure seems applicable more generally.

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Curiosity, competence, and humility

News Obscurity is earned

In the long run, most Presidents earn nothing more than a single line in the history books (some even less than that -- see Millard Fillmore). History isn't written about fractional differences in GDP growth. It's written about the broader impressions of the times, and the unique crises that occur along the way. Thus, the more the President complains about his interminable list of persecutors (real or imagined), the more he makes his complaints his one line. The utter forgettability of some Presidencies reflects choices those Presidents made, either in choosing to do wrong or in failing to do good (to borrow the words of the Catholic prayer). Obscurity is earned.

News Rep. Justin Amash can't do it all by himself

The Michigan Republican has broken out as someone who is thinking clearly about what the Mueller Report told the world. He's read the full report -- available to us all -- and he's angry: "The ball is in our court, Congress."

Have a little empathy

Health A story that's good for the soul

An adult bone-marrow donor meets the toddler whose life he saved. Sign up with Be the Match if you're eligible.

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

News When Congress calls, White House staffers are obligated to answer

Howsoever you treat Congress, so you treat the American people. Members of Congress may be grandstanding, self-serving, and pandering -- but in the end, they are those things because that is what American voters want. Refusing to answer them is refusing to answer all of us.

Tin Foil Hat Award

Socialism Doesn't Work New tariffs? The taxation addiction is out of control.

The President screams that he will impose new import taxes on Mexican goods. It's a bad use of a blunt policy to go after goals not well-related to the policy tool. It all feels both misguided and terribly artificial.

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


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Programming notes

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