Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 10, 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

ISF talking points

Segment 1: (11 min)

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

The moral of the story:

Segment 3: (14 min)

BUT FIRST: Jeffrey Epstein


One of the most useful concepts that I learned in school, specifically in economics, was "ceteris paribus". Now what that means is "all else being equal"; and in my mind, we need the phrase because all other things aren't equal. They just aren't ever.

All else being equal, I like it drizzly and 65 degrees, but I don't want it that way at the Fair.

All else being equal, I would rather eat candy than brussels sprouts, but not when I'm having a steak for dinner.

All else being equal, I want fewer cars parked around the fairgrounds so I don't have to walk as far, but not if it means nobody comes and they shut down the Fair.

So all else isn't equal. It's never always equal.

Ceteris paribus, all other things being equal, yeah, the world is better off without a person like Jeffrey Epstein in it. Certainly, if he is guilty of all the things of which he is accused -- and that list wasn't getting shorter, it was getting longer and longer and it suggested heinous crimes against children, some of the most reprehensible things that you could possibly imagine people doing at the expense of other human beings. Vulnerable human beings.

But here's the thing: The world is better off without a person like that, but not if it comes at the expense of justice. And it's not better off, necessarily, if it excuses a failure to keep him alive in prison.

I do not ever like to hear about a prisoner being killed, because I know that there are innocent people who are in prisons now. That doesn't mean I think they're all innocent, not by a long shot. But I know that in a just society, we say "Well, there's the chance that somebody could be wrongly accused and wrongfully convicted." We know it's happened. That's why I'm fundamentally uncomfortable with the death penalty, even if there are people who I think deserve it for sure. But I'm not comfortable with it, because if we make mistakes, we have to account for the fact that we make mistakes and it is probably better for ninety-nine guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be punished -- or certainly be put to death.

So I don't want to see anybody dying in prison. I don't think that's acceptable, and I don't think as a society we should be OK with that.

He should have been -- and I thought was -- on suicide watch, so that shouldn't have happened.

And it's not OK if this departure from this Earth for Jeffrey Epstein means that there are a million conspiracy theories that emerge out of it. I've already seen a million conspiracy theories already popping up on some social media. There are people who, of course, now want it to be a Clinton conspiracy -- which, by the way, if they were that good at conspiracies, how come she didn't win the Presidency? Come on, get your story straight.

And then there are people on the other side saying it's a Trump conspiracy. Oh, for crying out loud, people. Fundamentally, the question is: Are people safe, wherever they go? And the thing is, we shouldn't be OK with people dying in prison, no matter of what causes.

That's not OK, and certainly not if this denies his victims a chance to get some form of closure or resolution on their suffering. That isn't OK.

And it's not OK if this makes people callous about the idea of suicide. We can't let ourselves as Americans, as people, as civilized people in particular, get OK with being defined by the worst of those among us.

There are terrible people among us. There are awful people, doing terrible things. But by and large, I think most people are good. I remain resolute in my belief that ninety-nine out of a hundred people are fundamentally decent, good, and trying to do their best -- typically, doing the best they can for themselves and their families, and oftentimes for the people around them.

They are generally, I think most of us, good. One out of a hundred, maybe one out of two hundred, maybe even less than that, but let's just say for round numbers one out of a hundred, is a psychopath. One out of a hundred is a sociopath, one out of a hundred is out to hurt other people and has no remorse.

You know what? We should be able to lock them up. We should be sure that they are out of the way of the rest of society, not hurting other people. That's a healthy way for society to respond.

But it's unhealthy for us to assume that anything less than ninety-nine out of a hundred of us are just doing our best and are good people and deserve justice and deserve a system that works and deserve a system that says that if things go wrong against us, as much as we may want personal retribution, as much as you may want to personally choke the person who did something wrong to you, that you can trust that the justice system will find a way to punish them appropriately and deter other people from doing it.

And maybe, just maybe, sometimes we can actually reform the people who are in the system as well. And we should hope for that too.

If Jeffrey Epstein and his suicide takes away that option for those victims to get some kind of closure and some just resolution in what happened, that's not OK.

Ceteris paribus, all other things being equal, the world is better off with a guy like that not among us anymore. But not if it denies people the chance to see justice done and to get closure and to see resolution to their suffering.

We cannot let ourselves be defined by the worst among us. Nor is it healthy for anybody to start trafficking in the conspiracy theories, in the belief that "Whatever came to him was what he had coming to him". Well, maybe, but we didn't get to see the justice system work. And the process matters as much as the results.

You may even believe that he deserved the death penalty, but it still would have been better to see the process work, so that justice could be done transparently, openly, honestly -- where everybody could have seen it and where there was accountability, including accountability for people who aided and abetted him and who participated in the bad things that he did.

This denies us some of that opportunity to get true, just closure, and I'm just not OK with that.

BUT FIRST: Telephone trees

Up until what seems like only yesterday -- but, at most, was just twenty years ago -- people still routinely depended upon phone trees to share information. If you were in charge of a group -- an intramural club, a prayer chain, or sometimes even a workplace -- you would set up a phone tree so that you could share information in a hurry.

The idea, for those who have never been a party to one, was that the person at the top of the tree would call a limited number of people -- maybe three or four -- each of whom then had their own list of people to call. If you designed it right, the phone tree would branch quickly, so that each individual only had to call a small number of other people. Because, if you didn't reach the next person on your list, you'd need to call the people whom they were obligated to call. And it all depended upon actually speaking to the person on the list -- you could leave a message on an answering machine (or voice mail, if they had it), but the message didn't count for "relaying" the message on down the tree. For that, you could only "pass the baton" if you actually spoke to a real human being.

Keeping up phone trees took a lot of work -- every time someone moved in or out of a group, you'd need to give it an update. And in the time before cell phones were utterly ubiquitous, some people had landlines and some people had both, and if you reached a live person at a landline, but not the person who was actually on the list, you had to determine whether the message was going to be relayed swiftly enough for the handoff to actually count.

Of course, there was also the inevitable shortcoming of the "telephone game". A message transmitted orally, person-to-person, invariably comes with an element of error. So if you were at the top of the phone tree, you were pretty well assured of getting the right message, but you might also be on the hook to call a lot of people if your handoffs didn't go well. If you were at the bottom, you wouldn't have to call anybody, but there was a good chance you were getting some errors along with the message.

Once email and text messages became ubiquitous, a lot of these problems went away. Phone trees aren't necessary if the person who used to sit at the top of the tree can just send a group text to everyone on the list at once. And if you can assume that everyone checks their email (or you can mandate that checking your e-mail is a necessary component of membership in a group), then even larger messages can be distributed instantly and without any "signal loss" as they're handed off from person to person.

We've always been interested in whether messages can go viral. It's just that we never called it that when we only thought of them as phone trees. Organizations that used to depend on sending out bulky paper newsletters send out "e-editions" or invite people to join their Facebook groups instead, distributing the same messages as before, but often faster and at little or no cost (compared with what could be the daunting expenses of paper, printing, and postage).

But the same technologies that enable much better message transmission among church members organizing a funeral lunch also permit people with radical, violent, and other anti-social ideas to communicate amongst themselves as well.

And while there have been some steps taken to de-radicalize some of our large-group social media tools like Facebook Groups and YouTube, the costs that used to be borne by the groups distributing their messages via paper newsletters are now mirrored (in a warped way) by the carriers of the new-media messages, who have to expend resources on policing the messages that go out on their platforms.

Even if we were to achieve some kind of total success in eradicating the worst of anti-social communication off of social-media platforms, the old phone tree has a bunch of modern analogues -- ranging from text messages to Snapchat and WhatsApp to many others. And they are faster and easier to distribute (and replicate error-free) than a phone message ever was.

All of which should tell us that, even though there are certain technical improvements that can be imposed to take some of the worst elements of hate and violence and malice out of social media, we're still going to find ourselves dealing with the spread of anti-social ideas through populations, and no matter how many public or group platforms we chase them off of, there will still be lots of ways for them to go from peer to peer much faster than any old bowling-league telephone tree used to.

So there's a lot of work to be done. Deradicalization and preventive intervention to keep people from turning bad are both going to be needed in big and sustained ways, for as long into the future as anyone can foresee. The scale of what's inevitably ahead shouldn't intimidate us, but we shouldn't kid ourselves, either: There's a lot of work to be done that we never would have conceived just a few years ago. And that work is some of the price we're going to have to pay for not tying up all of the good we used to have to do through tools like slow-moving phone trees. It's often said that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and that turns out to be true in more than one way for a society. For the same tools that grease the machinery of good can also expedite the spread of bad. And unless someone finds a way to create perfect people, the work of pushing back against the bad is never going to be over.

The moral of the story: Technology doesn't make us good or bad. It just tends to enhance or speed up what we were already doing. It seems to be speeding up the transmission of radicalization from person to person, and we're going to need to put social capital and taxpayer resources into fighting back.

Segment 4: (5 min)

Website reminder -- Wall-to-wall coverage of the Iowa State Fair, including the Biggest Boar and the Presidential candidates out in force

Hot (social) topics

If you have a pit bull and it's your official service animal, the US Department of Transportation says you can board a plane with the pup. The DOT issued a statement stating that airlines can't ban specific breeds of dogs from being brought aboard as service animals. The ruling stems from an issue Delta Airlines raised when it prohibited pit-bull service animals last year.

Segment 5: (11 min)

Make money

Economist | Fast Co | WSJ | CB

Business and Finance GateHouse to take over Gannett

There was a time, not really that long ago, when it looked like Gannett was going to consume the entire newspaper universe.

Business and Finance Perkins Restaurants file for bankruptcy

The company, with around 350 locations, is likely to be sold for a total of $40 million in cash after its Chapter 11 filing. The origins of the troubles are with slow sales in the market overall. Perkins is a triumph of capitalism: Hundreds of restaurants all over America where, at almost any hour of day or night, just about anyone can afford a consistent, made-to-order, sit-down meal that would put their great-grandfather's Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

Have fun

News Lucky Charms bulk's just a bag of marshmallows. Are they crunchy and stale? Because Kraft already makes colorful soft ones. (It's a promotional stunt by General Mills.)

Clean up after yourself

Threats and Hazards The "Un-Great Man" theory of trade

There are those who subscribe to the "Great Man" theory of history: That history is largely shaped by individuals of tremendous consequence. There are problems with that theory, of course. But it may be far more true that a twist on that logic is in fact quite true for the history of trade, and that we are living it now: Trade takes broad commitments to systems and rules, but it turns out those commitments can be undermined in devastating fashion by the right person with the right amount of influence -- like a President of the United States with an impulsive streak and a lot of unchecked trade power. His capacity to undermine trust in the system at large -- and, especially, trust in the nation that for so long has been the anchor party in the world's trading mechanisms -- is enough to undermine and damage systems that had been massive engines of well-being for much of the global population. It's not forgivable.

Business and Finance Publius would have liked the Value-Added Tax

Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 12 lauded the use of consumption taxes. In his time, the import tariff was about the only way to get that done (because there weren't the tools necessary to put tax collection everywhere). Now that it's possible to collect taxes almost seamlessly, one would think he would be even more in favor of consumption taxation.

Mind your business

Threats and Hazards Russia tests American and Canadian patience

Attracting the attention of NORAD and various Air Force assets: Russian bombers flying close to, but not quite within, American and Canadian territorial airspace

Segment 6: (8 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

Wired | Slashdot | CNet | ZD | Engad | Digg | TechRepublic | ArsTech | Tw/sci list | Tw/designandtech list

Computers and the Internet Policing social media with the FCC and the FTC

CNN reports: "The draft [Presidential executive] order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms." Never assume powers when you're in office that you wouldn't willingly hand over to your opponents when it's their turn.

Business and Finance FedEx and Amazon part company

FedEx won't deliver for Amazon anymore. Amazon has been expanding its own delivery network rather noticeably, and FedEx says Amazon is only 1.3% of total revenues.

Computers and the Internet Facebook to start co-branding Instagram and WhatsApp

The two apps will start carrying a "from Facebook" title

News Walmart pulls plug on violent video game displays

"Walmart said that the company has provided guidance for its store managers to remove the displays because some shoppers could mistake the sounds created by the games for actual gunshots."

Your role in cyberwar


Computers and the Internet Demand paper ballots

The top cyber official at the Department of Homeland Security says: "Gotta get auditability, I'll say it, gotta have a paper ballot backup."

Segment 8: (5 min)

Quote of the Week

Threats and Hazards "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good"

Benjamin Franklin's words couldn't possibly apply better than to the President's open contemplation of a commutation of Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence. Remember: The former governor of Illinois was trying to use his office for personal benefit.

Stop the deliberate ignorance

News "I'm sorry."

What the President ought to say in the wake of violence attributed to his inspiration, but won't. You can't fix a fault unless you're willing to name it.

Threats and Hazards Tone comes from the top

And indifference is a tone. Which is why the massive shortage of leadership at the top of American intelligence organizations is a real problem: "The majority of the nation's 17 intel agencies will have leaders who are new, acting, or outright vacant".

The moral of the story: "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good"

Unsorted and leftovers:

By the numbers

Business and Finance Why does infrastructure cost so much?

A draft of a research paper on Interstate highway construction hints that infrastructure costs a whole lot more to build than it did just a generation ago (even adjusted for inflation). This is most interesting. The usual caveat that "roads and bridges" are only a fraction of "infrastructure" overall applies, but you have to work with the data sets that are available, and this analysis says something quite interesting about costs. Consider, just for our own purposes as Iowans, the cost of building those new flyover interchanges at Highway 30 in Ames and at I-380 just outside Iowa City.

This week

BBC | VOA | Times | CNN | CSM

Threats and Hazards Yet another shooting on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive

The expressway that never should have become an expressway has had way too many violent incidents in recent memory

Humor and Good News The near-outgroup vs. the far-outgroup

People who are close to what you believe, but just not quite, are often far more annoying than those who disagree with you entirely

Iowa news

DSM | RadI | CID | DVN | ALO | SUX | DBQ | BUR | FOD | MCW | IC | DI | ISU | UNI

Iowa Iowa Cubs to play as "Iowa Caucuses" for one night

They'll adopt the alternate moniker for the game on August 30th

Iowa Five more towns join Polk County local-option sales tax

Bondurant, Clive, Grimes, Johnston, and Urbandale approved the tax increase

Iowa Yankees and White Sox to play at Field of Dreams

Coming to northeast Iowa in August 2020

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

What's the big idea?

21st Century conservatism

The United States of America Don't think of me

Sen. Michael Bennet makes a campaign pitch: "If you elect me President, I promise you won't have to think about me for two weeks at a time." It's a fine sentiment, and it echoes a line from Calvin Coolidge: "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country." You could argue that a Presidency-centric public consciousness is what the American people want. But isn't it worth applauding any pushback against the contemporary corruption of the idea? Wouldn't it be worthwhile to resist and seek to roll back the unsustainable idea of the Imperial Presidency? Most Americans just passively sleepwalk into accepting it.

Cities and the people

Tw/cities | CityLab | StrongTowns

News Urbanization: It cannot be resisted

NPR tells a story of dramatic change in Mongolia, begotten of both economic and environmental factors. But it's not an issue just of Mongolia, or of anywhere else: Urbanization might be the one global trend that's completely irreversible, regardless of a country's political environment.

News Why uniformity took over apartment construction

Why do so many -- if not most -- new apartment complexes look basically alike, all over the United States? It's because wood-frame construction is cheaper than the alternatives, and building codes have converged on a widely-accepted notion of what constitutes a safe, fire-resistant framework for multi-unit dwellings. Add onto that the growing uniformity of ownership types (apartments are more likely to be owned by real-estate trusts or pension funds than ever before), and the commoditization of investment has begotten commoditization of place.

Curiosity, competence, and humility

The United States of America What Puerto Rico is getting right

The commonwealth's politics look messy -- but at the broadest view, democratic processes are working, and that should make all Americans proud.

Have a little empathy

Health A fine story of human goodness

How an organ transplant 35 years ago saved a life and started a chain reaction of further giving

How are you feeling?

NIH | CDC | BBC | CNN | WebMD | Harvard

Inbox zero

Tin Foil Hat Award

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


Humor and Good News How to fold a fitted sheet

Don't. Just compress it a bit and stash it in a drawer or a closet someplace. You have better things to do with your time.

Aviation News "The Right Stuff"

One of the best movie lines ever: "But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American ... And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen." And if the closing theme to that movie doesn't put tears in your eyes, you might be a robot.

Business and Finance Good time to be a Chase cardholder in Canada

The company is winding down operations in Canada, and instead of trying to finish collecting on some outstanding debts, it's just cancelling collection on those accounts and heading for the exits

This day in history

HistCh | Infoplease | LoC | HistNet | NYT | Yahoo

POTUS questions

What's the most challenging organization you've ever run, and what did you learn from running it?

What's a virtue you see in others that you wish you could demonstrate better yourself?

Who is the one most important individual who convinced you this was your shot to run?

If you could put into place one mechanism -- not a policy, but a mechanism -- that would make this a much better place in 20 or 30 years, what would it be?

What have you read to prepare yourself for the job?

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 August 10, 2019 here

Brian Gongol and Emery Songer debate the merits of making the Iowa State Fair Queen competition a little Believe it or not, we actually manage to work in some notes on the Federalist Papers and the merits of separating the roles of head of state from the head of government. Because why not have a little side dish of nerdery along with your funnel cake?

Listen to segment 1

The Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day for August 10, 2019: How would you rank funnel cakes? High joy of the fair, or fried garbage?

Listen to segment 2

③ and ④ Nobody should end up dead while in custody -- even when it's a person accused of awful, revolting crimes. Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide deprives his victims of true justice, and justice is a process, not just an end. Jeffrey Epstein's victims deserved better.

Listen to segment 3

What's going on with the nation's biggest newspaper chains? What about one of our iconic restaurant chains? And how about Russia's challenges to our airspace in the north -- hasn't the President been telling us what a great relationship he has with Putin?

Listen to segment 5

Presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet echoes the words of President Calvin Coolidge from nearly a century ago: And they're both right. We shouldn't have to think about the President very often at all.

Listen to segment 6

The Technology Three for August 10, 2019: FedEx vs. Amazon | Video games at Walmart | Policing social media

Listen to segment 7

Iowa Cubs become the Iowa Caucuses for a night, and I'm completely on board. And speaking of the caucuses, we're going to need to step up our game against foreign attacks on our elections. That starts with paper ballot trails.

Listen to segment 8