Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio

Brian Gongol

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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 America has never existed outside the world

Sen. Josh Hawley is making a claim that America's "leadership elite" is composed of "cosmopolitans". While his definition of "elite" is utterly nonspecific (and strangely omits, apparently, people like United States Senators), he claims that the "cosmopolitan" identity means a "primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world, not to a 'specifically American identity'". ■ The Senator makes an overwhelming omission from his observation, though: America's identity started -- literally from its very first moment -- with having a place in the world at large. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence concludes with the words "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." ■ To have a "cosmopolitan" interest in the world takes nothing away from one's patriotism or sense of Americanism, any more than being an American takes away from one's identity as an Iowan, a Virginian, or a Californian. It means only that Americans know their place up and down the scale of identities -- as humans residing on Earth alongside billions of others, as residents of states, as members of our communities and neighborhoods. Or as people sharing a common language and legal tradition with Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Irish. Or as people who share religious faiths with others in ways that have no correspondence to political boundaries at all. ■ The notion that real "American" interests have nothing to do with our place in the world is short-sighted and insufferably ahistorical. ■ Consider Federalist Paper No. 63: "An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: The one is, that, independently 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; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed."


I enjoy the show "30 Rock". It is one that I'm watching on-demand because I like to spend some of my time when I'm cleaning the dishes or folding laundry -- doing things around the house -- sometimes I like to have some noise going on in the background, something to watch, something to be amused by; I'm an extrovert by nature. So that gives me an opportunity to tune in, and in season 4 of "30 Rock" there is an appearance made by Queen Latifah. She plays a member of Congress who has a habit of getting herself started on a rant and never actually sticking the landing on anything. In fact, one of the punch lines to one of these appearances that she makes is that she gets all worked up about something and then declares in the middle of it as she said the full-throated rant "And I don't know where I'm going with this, but I'm going to say it emphatically, and I'm going to I'm going to make you believe that you're supposed to cheer at the end of this." It's something to that effect, at least; I'm trying to do it best justice here. But the whole point is that she gets herself so worked up in the moment and in the style of delivering this emphatic claim that it doesn't really matter to her so much what exactly she's saying.

Now, that's a fictitious character, Queen Latifah pretending to be a member of Congress -- though, anymore, we shouldn't discount the possibility of a bunch of folks who are otherwise celebrities making their way into Congress. But then we also have to look at the folks who are already there, like Senator Josh Hawley. He is from Missouri and he made a speech the other day when he was appearing at that National Conservatism Conference, and he made a speech that was pretty emphatic. He made this speech about what he believes to be one of the grave threats to the way that America runs today, and it was a keynote that was given at this National Conservatism Conference, and this speech went on for the better part of 20 minutes or so, and as he's presenting this, he makes this case (among other things) that there's a big problem with what he calls "cosmopolitans".

And here's what I think is kind of interesting: He makes this claim during this speech that America's -- as he calls them -- "leadership elite" is composed of these "cosmopolitans", whoever they might be. And I would first of all note that his definition of who the "elite" are is pretty nonspecific. And actually, it strangely seems to omit people like him who happened to be United States Senators. I think that qualifies you as a member of the "elite". I don't think you can get away with complaining about the "elite" if you are in fact a United States Senator. You get to be one of only a hundred, I think that's a pretty elite position. I don't think that's one where you're somebody different from everybody else at that point. You are the elite, by definition, if that's the job that you do.

But regardless, putting that aside, stepping aside from that for just a moment, what I'm concerned by is the following: He gives this presentation and he gives a speech and he claims that this "cosmopolitan" identity, as he identifies it, means, and I'm going to quote here, "a primary allegiance to the community of human beings in the entire world, not to a specifically American identity." Now the thing about this is the Senator makes a pretty overwhelming omission from his observation when he makes this claim.

Our identity as Americans, literally from the very first moment that we were a country, the very first moment, has always started and begun with having a place in the world at large. The very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence concludes with the words, and I quote, "A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." This is the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence! Right out of the gate, America was defined in part by our place in the world. That wasn't about running away from the world, and it wasn't about being something that was going to be set aside from it, but rather something that would be a shining light within it.

I think that is the whole escapade -- that the Founding Fathers put us through as a country was to say "We believe in certain important things like natural rights that we don't think are just ours. We think they belong to everyone, but we're going to stake a claim on them."

That's a massive claim to make, by the way. It's a very bold thing to be able to say, but that's what they did right from the very beginning. They were talking about America's place in the world. And that's why I have a concern here with the way that Senator Hawley has gone about saying something to the opposite, saying something different. Now, he makes reference in his speech to a couple of folks who he specifically believes are representative of this belief that there is no belonging or sense of identity or sense of patriotism responsibility to your country that you must be a citizen of the world. And that is the only thing that matters and he pulls out the names of a couple of professors that, frankly, I've never heard of, and I'm guessing most Americans haven't either but he then uses them to represent this supposed elite, the supposed separate "cosmopolitan" identity that believes that Americans shouldn't be loyal to America. And I think that's just plain wrong, because the whole point of being an American is to say that we have something that is valuable here, but to know that we have a place in the world as well.

To have this "cosmopolitan" interest, as he calls it, in the world doesn't take anything away from being patriotic, doesn't take anything away from having your sense of being an American, any more than being an American takes away from your identity as an Iowan or a Virginian or a Californian or a Missourian or whatever else. It only means that Americans know that our place in the world is something that takes place up and down the scale of identities. We're all human beings residing on Earth, alongside billions of others. We would be reminded of that in a really big hurry, by the way, if there were an asteroid or something headed this way that was going to destroy all life on Earth, and what we had to do was figure out with every resource we as humans had was to blow that thing up before it killed us like the dinosaurs. We would remember really fast that we're human beings sharing the planet with a couple of billion other people and that would become far more important to us than our identity specifically as Americans. But, by the same token, as residents of states, we have something important to say about our identities.

I think the Founders made it pretty clear not only in the way that they structured the government via the Constitution, but also about how they explain the importance of identity within, say, the Federalist Papers, that it was incredibly important for them to expect Americans to have a strong identity with our own states first, and with our country as a nation, the United States, not maybe second but certainly not rivaling or not pushing aside that identity as a member of a state.

When you are born, you don't get a birth certificate from the United States; you get a birth certificate that identifies the state where you're born. And when you look on your passport, it says which state you were born in. We get very specific about this, because as the United States, we're still 50 states; there's still an identity here that belongs to your local community, and then you still remain a member of your local community in your local neighborhood as well. I don't stop being an Iowan just because I take pride in being American, but I don't stop being an Iowan just because I'm a resident of West Des Moines, either. Those are parallel identities. Oftentimes they overlap, but they don't have to conflict with one another.

As Americans, we share things like a common language and a common legal tradition with Australians and Brits and New Zealanders and Canadians and Irish. We also, as many Americans, tend to share things like religious faiths with other people all over the world in ways that don't correspond to political boundaries at all.

I thought we established that pretty clearly when people figured out that yes, John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President, would still be President of the United States first -- even though his identity very clearly to a lot of people included the fact that he was a Roman Catholic, which to some people has always seemed threatening. Fortunately, I think for the most part people have started to figure out that it's OK for you to be both a Catholic and a good American. I hope by 2019 we ha figured this out, right? But you know what? That doesn't mean that your church doesn't stop having a claim on your identity and the Catholic Church refers to itself as a universal church. Well, you know what? It doesn't mean that it has a conflict with those political boundaries because they're different things. They expect different things of us.

So I think it's pretty silly to say that you can't have identities that scale the full spectrum of human existence, from the family level to the community level to the state to the nation to the world. And it's OK to be "cosmopolitan" in the way that Senator Hawley's talking about here, and still be very proud to be an American. The notion that real American interests have nothing to do with our place in the world, I think, is short-sighted -- and I think it's really ahistorical.

When I earned my Eagle Scout Award in 1993 (didn't pin it on till '94, but when I earned it in 1993), one of the merit badges that I had to get along the way was Citizenship in the Nation. I also had to get Citizenship in the World. And you know, the notorious left-wingers that the Boy Scouts of America have always been, you know, it was identifying and recognizing the fact that you had a place in your state, you had a place in your country, you had your place in the world as well. We also had to get Citizenship in the Community, because you have multiple parallel identities and that's OK. That's a healthy thing.

Consider Federalist Paper Number 63. Now, I point to the Federalist Papers because there's no better textbook to tell us what the Founders believed than the textbook, essentially, the series of essays, that helped get the Constitution across the finish line. In Federalist Paper Number 63, it was said very specifically "An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons. The one is that, independently 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. The second is that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed."

Think about that for a minute. In the Federalist Papers, the authors of the Constitution defending the Constitutional notion of government -- which, by the way, was a stronger government than we had had in place under the Articles of Confederation, a stronger national identity than that, they were still saying that it was important to know about the position of the world as well, and to know our place within it. There's nothing wrong with being proud of being an American, and we should be proud to be Americans, but there's also nothing wrong with saying that being a good American also requires being a good citizen of the world. And I have a really hard time with people artificially working us up -- sort of like Queen Latifah's character in "30 Rock" -- saying that there has to be this division between the two because there doesn't. There never has been. Not in, literally, the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Not even in the Federalist Papers, defending the stronger Constitutional government that we established after the first one that was too weak failed.

They said in both cases "Our position in the world matters". And it does, and it still does, and it always will. Being good Americans doesn't mean being bad citizens of the world, or vice versa. They all fit together and they always have.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

The moral of the story:

Segment 3: (14 min)


Humor and Good News Not the time nor the place

There may not be any public places where a person would want to hear "Sexual Healing", but the Post Office definitely isn't one of them.

Make money

Agriculture Agronomist thinks corn harvest will be shrunk by 10% or more

Scott Irwin thinks the harvest could take a hit of 20 bushels per acre due to weather conditions and their consequences. And he may well be right.

Agriculture Japanese beetles attacking Iowa corn

Scarier than Godzilla, because it's real. We really don't need this kind of pest right now.

Have fun

Computers and the Internet A big to-do over a casino that doesn't exist

Sony is making a big deal out of a casino "opening" inside the game "Grand Theft Auto". There's recreation. There's escapism. And then there's...this.

Clean up after yourself

News "Meth gators" and the real problem of flushing pharmaceuticals down the drain

If it takes alarmist stories about "meth gators" to get people to start thinking more carefully about properly disposing of hazardous wastes, then let's get #MethGators trending. Think downstream, people.

Mind your business

News WWII codebreaker Alan Turing to be featured on British currency

This practice of honoring eminent citizens on the currency is one we should happily endorse.

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

Iowa news

Weather and Disasters The dangers of hot cars

The National Weather Service office in Omaha had some social-media fun testing whether they could bake biscuits inside a car sitting in the sun. The biscuits turned out unsatisfactory, but even in the shade, the car hit an internal temperature of 144°.

Website reminder


The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)


Hot (social) topics

Is Bernie Sanders Refusing To Pay Campaign Workers $15/hour? Sen. Bernie Sanders has been calling for a $15 minimum wage for years. But according to a Washington Post report, some workers say they're being paid less than that to work on Sanders' campaign. According to the Post, unionized field staffers say the long hours they put in drops their hourly rate to about $13 per hour, and are "battling with management" for a pay increase. A union letter sent to Sanders' campaign manager Faiz Shakir claims workers are "barely managing to survive financially". Shakir says the Sanders' campaign "offers wages and benefits competitive with other campaigns". Does it make Sanders a hypocrite to not pay his staffers a $15/hr wage? Should the rules be different for salaried workers? Do you support a $15 minimum wage?

Anonymous Donor Gives $25 Million to Children’s Hospital A new neurological outpatient center is coming to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles all thanks to an anonymous donor. The $25 million donation will increase the hospital’s capacity to perform life-saving interventional radiology. The hospital says that a portion of the funds will also be used to create a new multi-disciplinary Neurological Institute Outpatient Center, making it one of only “a handful” of such centers in the U.S.

Ohio Raises Smoking Age to 21 Ohio has become the latest state to raise its smoking age to 21. In a day that saw Governor Mike DeWine approve and veto 25 proposed laws, he was quick to sign off on legislation that raises the state's age for tobacco purchases to 21. However, he vetoed a grandfather clause that would have made smokers who are already 18 exempt from the new law. It goes into effect October 1st. The approval comes just two days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put his signature on a similar bill. Ohio is now the 17th state to raise its smoking age to 21.

The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)


Technology Three | The week in technology

Aviation News 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch

Science. National interest. High technology. Daring. Quite a combination.


Your role in cyberwar

Computers and the Internet People have learned nothing about computer security

When a shadowy app offers to age-progress your picture, perhaps think twice about submitting to their terms and conditions. Sure, FaceApp is an intriguing exercise in artificial intelligence. But we should constantly consider who might be on the receiving end of our data (it's not just the Russians we should worry about!), and always consider the ulterior motives that someone may be using against us.

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Iowa news

Iowa Life inside the Iowa caucus bubble

Living in Iowa right now means not knowing whether the rest of the country is seeing the same non-stop barrage of campaign ads that you see

What's the big idea?

The United States of America Cattle-call Presidential debates don't do us any good

The upcoming CNN debates, with twenty candidates on two nights, is lined up for maximum television spectacle, but it's not going to tell the voting public anything of value. It's spectacle as a substitute for sorting mechanism. Presidential debates should be replaced with timed writing tests. Essay questions, composition books, and a #2 pencil. No advisors. No Internet. Just you and your ability to explain yourself.

News Capturing the center isn't optional

Democratic governors are worried that a leftward shift in the party's politics could chase off the middle-of-the-road voters who may get turned off by left-wing rhetoric or who may choose not to show up at all. If the Democrats focus on appeasing the left rather than on winning the center, particularly in the Presidential race, they could lose in 2020 -- or they could limp across the finish line with a small victory...and instantly face four years of a non-stop, full-volume blast of "Trump 2024". Remember: Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as President, so it's happened before.

Quotes of the Week

"[C]are and industry seem absolutely necessary to our well being; they should therefore have every Encouragement we can invent, and not one Motive to diligence be subtracted" - Benjamin Franklin

"Representative political institutions cannot alone guarantee our liberties. It is economic liberty that nourishes the enterprise of those whose hard work and imagination ultimately determine the conditions in which we live." - Margaret Thatcher

The moral of the story:

Segment 8: (5 min)

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Threats and Hazards Don't mislabel a political conflict as a "clash of civilizations"

National Security Advisor John Bolton told a political group that the dynamic between the United States and China "has elements of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations", a line also employed by some representatives of the State Department. Why is it so hard for our diplomatic and national-security leaders to embrace the plain language of our own Declaration of Independence -- that people everywhere are endowed with rights and dignity, and that governments have a duty to preserve them? Governments are different from civilizations.

Threats and Hazards A lesser man

The President says he disavows the chants of "Send her back" at his campaign rally this week. What empty words. It isn't hard to say "No", and yet he didn't do that. Sen. John McCain knew how to say it when his supporters went too far. A lesser man finds it too difficult. Anyone engaged in an un-American chant like "Send her back" is sending a message that they want to belong to something, and that need isn't being fulfilled in healthy ways. That's the preexisting condition that weakens the body politic and makes it susceptible to infection.

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

By the numbers

Iowa news

Weather and Disasters A classic shelf cloud on the approach

It looked ominous and dumped a lot of rain in a hurry, but at least it wasn't a supercell

Contrary to popular opinion

21st Century conservatism

News Puerto Ricans are exercising the First Amendment

Large protests against their governmental administration -- peaceable assembly, petition of grievances, and big signs projected on the sides of buildings

Cities and the people

Health Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,600 people -- and it's reached cities

Urbanization has a thousand and one benefits, but it does put us at greater risk for outbreaks of contagious diseases. Public health needs to be a very high global priority.

Curiosity, competence, and humility

The United States of America Codebreaker first, Supreme Court justice later

John Paul Stevens was awarded the Bronze Star for codebreaking work

Have a little empathy

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Tin Foil Hat Award

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week







One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

Programming notes

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Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

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Live read: Smart speakers (hour 2)

Smart speakers

Calendar events to highlight



Listen to the full episode from July 20, 2019 here

Cosmopolitan citizenship: When Sen. Josh Hawley takes aim at "cosmopolitans" and says that Americans have to look inward and isolate ourselves from the world around us, he makes a claim about America that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the other Founding Fathers wouldn't recognize. Being an American has always been tied to our place in the world -- right from our very first documents.

Listen to segment 1

On a hot summer day, where do you set your thermostat?

Listen to segment 2

Our weekly recap of making money, having fun, cleaning up after yourself, and minding your business includes "meth gators", a phantom casino, and the trouble with corn

Listen to segment 3

Temperatures can reach well over 140° in the back seat of a shaded car

Listen to segment 4

The heavy hand of the market reaches down to smack the Bernie Sanders campaign into reality

Listen to segment 5

⑥ ⑦ FaceApp, the Moon landing, and Presidential debates: The Technology Three claps back at FaceApp, we cheer the anniversary of the Moon landing, and we offer an alternative to overcrowded Presidential debate stages. The debates don't have to be the televised train wrecks that they are.

Listen to segments 6 and 7

Why couldn't the President bring himself to "Just say no"? That's what he could have done -- and should have done -- when a crowd started chanting "Send her back". But he didn't, and that's his fault.

Listen to segment 8