Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - November 30, 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

Happy Small Business Saturday to one and all!

We are, of course, just past the midway point of what is a four-day weekend for many Americans, and with Black Friday over and Cyber Monday just around the corner, lots of people like to acknowledge the "mom and pop" shops all across America with a nod to patronizing those small businesses today.

As a small-business partner, I appreciate being seen today, even though it's not really our kind of small business that benefits much from holiday shopping.

But as is so often the case with made-up holidays or special proclamations or the like, I wonder how much of this is just lip service.

You know the kind of lip service I'm talking about -- like when people slather on the praise for "family farmers" or "first responders" and talk a great deal about how much those special vocations are appreciated, but then turn around and vote against their interests either with their ballots or their dollars.

Virtue signaling isn't just a problem among lefty hippie types.

The thing is, some businesses are small because their owners like them that way. I think of the guy behind the on-and-off "Hot Doug's" restaurant in Chicago. If you're an artisan or you do something so special that you can't franchise it or expand without losing the thing that makes you special, then you're going to stay small.

Some businesses are small because that's all the market will support (I happen to be in one of those). The modern economy is highly specialized, and specialization can push hard against growth. Even the "big" companies in my particular industry often end up breaking up or splitting apart because there's just too much centrifugal force trying to spin them apart.

Some businesses are small because it would take a lot of unreasonable risk to make them big.

Some businesses are small only because they haven't been discovered by enough customers to become big...yet.

And let's admit an unpleasant truth: Some businesses are small because they're not all that great.

But in the end, what does it matter to the public at large?

If you take a look at metro employment, we only have about 50 employers that aren't counted as "small businesses" by the usual government threshold of 500 employees.

And if you really want to get into the numbers, we have a small handful of really major employers -- according to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Wells Fargo is our 800-lb. gorilla with 13,500 employees, then it's UnityPoint at about 8,000, Principal and Hy-Vee with about 6,500 apiece, then MercyOne and Nationwide each at about 4,500. It drops off rapidly from there.

Every community comes to its own unique mix of businesses and industries because of its own local circumstances. It doesn't look like it's in the cards for Central Iowa to be the home base for a bunch of Fortune 500 companies. But even when you are, it's no guarantee that things will stay that way forever. Remember how Boeing used to have its headquarters in Seattle, then moved to Chicago back in 2001?

Or in the other direction from us on I-80, take a look at the panic setting in across Omaha over the announcement this week that TD Ameritrade is going to be bought by Schwab.

Omaha and Des Moines have a ton in common, whether we or they want to admit it or not. They're probably going to lose a bunch of attractive jobs at what is now TD Ameritrade headquarters when they become just another satellite of the home office. The same thing happened not all that long ago when they lost ConAgra's headquarters, too. Even when you're the "world headquarters" for a big company, that doesn't mean they're staying around.

I don't want to think about what might happen if we were to lose any of those big employers. But the recent breakup of the plan to merge UnityPoint with Sanford Health out of South Dakota should probably be a reminder for our people to "stress test" their plans for what might happen if we did. It might be hard to shut down an entire system of hospitals and clinics...but it wouldn't be impossible for a lot of other major employers to find excuses to "realign" their resources around some other site.

Which brings us back to Small Business Saturday. We shouldn't care about small businesses for the purpose of virtue-signaling or resolving our guilty consciences. What we should really care about is whether we've got the right set of conditions for new business formation and home-grown expansion.

Every conscientious municipality keeps a close eye on how well it's creating an environment that cultivates new business formation and growth. You never know when one of your major employers (even the homegrown ones) may go away. That doesn't mean you have full control over anything at all, nor should anyone in government expect to have that kind of power. But they can be charged with trying to anticipate, and then paying very close attention to, the consequences of what they do (or don't).

Every firm or organization matters to people -- employees, suppliers, vendors, contractors, customers, even competitors. And whether they're big or small, there's nothing really guaranteed to any of them in the long run. What can be done -- and what probably should be done -- is not to put all the eggs in any one basket, neither with a single dominant employer or industry, nor with even a particular type of business. What really makes sense is to see that a whole lot of seeds are planted in a whole lot of pots, and then to avoid anything that would interfere with them getting enough sunlight and enough rain.

So, do go forth and shop local and spend some money on "Small Business Saturday"; that's great. If you're doing it to soothe a little guilt over how much you're going to spend on Amazon this holiday season, that's between you and your credit card. But I only ask, as one of many in the small-business boat, that we think a little beyond just one retail shopping day, and not just to the decision to sprinkle a little bit of spending on a neighborhood establishment once a year.

The moral of the story: A vibrant economy comes from lots of decisions, public and private, made over and over again. One shopping day a year is a fine way to celebrate, but the decisions we make the other 364 days a year that decide what happens to our community.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Segment 3: (14 min)

Cities and the people

Tw/cities | CityLab | StrongTowns

Iowa Mall of the Bluffs kicking out its tenants

A question: How much could the owners have done better to have softened rents to keep occupancy high?

Don't forget, Des Moines residents: The mayoral runoff election is on Tuesday

21st Century conservatism

The United States of America A PSA for Federalism

Remember, if you hear a Presidential candidate advocating a policy you like, you don't have to wait to bring it to reality at a national level. Try pushing your state legislature to do it instead. Starting an idea at the local level is an honorable pillar of the American tradition. The entire population of the United States in 1790 was just shy of 4 million people, or about the size of a mid-sized state today.

My politics come with a pretty strong libertarian streak, but I'm not like a lot of capital-L Libertarian types. It's not a mission or a crusade, and it's not the core of my identity or even just my political identity. It comes from a deep and durable distrust of concentrated power. I like diffusion of power, local control, Federalism, and grassroots feedback not because I care all that much about making a point over them, but because they send signals and information to people who need them.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's autocrats really thought Hong Kong was going to vote their way

In politics, as well as in markets, it's not so much the quality of the first round of information going out that matters. It's the feedback that really counts.

I worry quite a lot that we're getting fixated on a short-term debate over our trade relationship with China, rather than looking beyond the dollars and towards the big stuff that history is going to remember us for doing (or not).

Threats and Hazards What signal do we send?

In the signals we send to China over Hong Kong, bear in mind the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism. From the evidence, it would appear that the Communist leaders also believe this; else why do they attack and attempt to destroy the practice of these concepts?"

Quote of the Week

"Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom." - John Stuart Mill

"States, societies and economies, which allow the distinctive talents of individuals to flourish, themselves also flourish. Those which dwarf, crush, distort, manipulate or ignore them cannot progress." - Margaret Thatcher, wiht a few words from the past about the future of a totalitarian China.

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

How are you feeling?

NIH | CDC | BBC | CNN | WebMD | Harvard

CDC guidance: How long can you keep leftovers in the fridge?

CDC tips for leftovers: "Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat, such as a roast turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they will cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving."

Website reminder

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

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

Science and Technology Tesla's truck has an odd look

One humorist on Twitter says it looks like "When you try to learn AutoCAD the night before your project is due." This thing is styled as if the designers were being held hostage inside a Dire Straits music video.

Iowa 100-year-old retires from her 70-year-old weekly newspaper column

It's hard to remember in an era saturated by 280 characters and TikTok, but we've always needed those consistent voices who show up and tell the story of their community with wit and empathy. We won't stop needing them, either. Not as long as we keep living around each other.

Computers and the Internet Twitter threatens to shut down inactive accounts

But what about accounts that belonged to people documenting events like the human-rights violations in Syria? This is a non-trivial question. If people used social media as a means of documenting crimes with the specific intent of making them visible for all the world to see, then extraordinary caution ought to be used before taking them down.

Have a little empathy

News Compelling beyond words

(Video) A young woman documents her life in Aleppo, from student protester to mother under siege

Segment 6: (8 min)

Stop the deliberate ignorance

[Anecdote about the Thanksgiving family joke about "Big Sexy Hair" products -- and how impossible it would be to tame my cowlick]

Broadcasting Even the rich and famous sometimes face hostile work environments

"Variety" reports that Gabrielle Union has been pushed out of "America's Got Talent" over some really stupid workplace conditions. Most notably: "Union was subjected to a very specific critique -- that her rotating hair styles were 'too black' for the audience of 'AGT,' a note she received over half a dozen times, according to four sources". Gabrielle Union has every right to make use of whatever hairstyle she feels suits the way her hair naturally grows out of her head. To pester her otherwise is like telling Howie Mandel to stop being bald.

The moral of the story: I don't really care about TV competition shows. But I do care whether we have the mutual respect and decency to realize that not everyone has the same circumstances.

Segment 7: (14 min)

Have fun

Threats and Hazards Tone it down a notch

A teaser for an article on election interference efforts published on Axios was published as "Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity." It's possible to issue warnings about foreign influence work (which is real) and the fragility of our institutions (also real) without amplifying the narrative that we are "at each other's throats". Are we really? Or aren't there about the same number of quacks as ever?

Computers and the Internet Social media doesn't have to be a terrible experience

Anyone who complains about how "awful" their experience is on Twitter, for example, could make their experience vastly better by using lists and scrolling through them on Tweetdeck instead. That's how you concentrate goodness.

Clean up after yourself

Business and Finance How to deconstruct a building

Better design practices when buildings go up could help make them easier to remove when it's time for them to come down. And so could a better supply chain for re-used materials taken out of buildings that are removed from occupancy. And perhaps every building ought to be built with a demolition bond.

Science and Technology Why aren't inverted chevrons used on more vehicles?

The pattern seems like it should be used on every tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, cop car, and rescue vehicle out there. Maybe even school buses. Data on the subject seems strangely sparse, but it seems hard to believe that visibility isn't enhanced.

Mind your business

Threats and Hazards Presidential pardons shouldn't create "moral blank check" for war crimes

There is a reason you will find no equivocation in the Honor Oath at the US Air Force Academy: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God)."

Segment 8: (5 min)

Make money

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

BBC | VOA | Times | CNN | CSM

Agriculture The giant mess that is 2019 harvest season

It's worst in North Dakota: "North Dakota was the furthest behind on gathering among major producers, with just 30% of corn harvested"

Business and Finance Better off-ramps and better on-ramps (to education) go hand-in-hand

A vigorous discussion has been taking place on social media among people debating the merits of really hard preliminary courses in graduate studies of topics like economics. And a perfectly defensible position is that there ought to be more "terminal" master's degree programs in the field. The inversion of this is true as well: There should be good on-ramps to graduate study of econ, too. For a field that devotes entire classes to the study of labor and human capital, there's a strange resistance to nontraditional study.

News Explosion at a Texas chemical plant

Some rather dramatic video here.

Threats and Hazards Turkey fryers or weapons of semi-mass destruction?

$70 for a tool to burn down your own home

Weather and Disasters "Fire in Paradise"

(Video) A sobering and important documentary. Do make the time to watch it.

Aviation News FAA to test shrinking distance between airline seats

Seat pitch is already close to zero-margin as it already is

Weather and Disasters Watch a "bomb cyclone" go off

Friends, that's ear-popping territory.

Aviation News Washington state tries taking lead on electric aircraft

The big selling point for electric aircraft really isn't environmental friendliness -- at least not to the end buyers. It's the potential to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Motors have fewer moving parts than engines.

Agriculture Harvest 2019 is a wreck in North Dakota

Major crops like corn are incredibly far behind schedule

Threats and Hazards Tucker Carlson can't even side with freedom

In saying he's siding with the Russians over their invasion of Ukraine, he ought to feel welcome to self-deport. The flippant nihilism of it all should disgust everyone who isn't already a stark raving loon. He really should wear a scarlet letter for this kind of stupidity, now and for the rest of his days.

Hot (social) topics

Google Trends | Yahoo | Y-today | Yahoo Buzz | MSN | MSN UK | Alexa | Delicio | Lycos | Technorati | AOL | Google | Dogpile | Ask (wkly) | CBS | Bloglines | NYTLede | Twitter

By the numbers

Make money

Economist | Fast Co | WSJ | CB

Your role in cyberwar


Iowa news

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

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

What's the big idea?

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Inbox zero

Tin Foil Hat Award

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


This day in history

HistCh | Infoplease | LoC | HistNet | NYT | Yahoo

One year ago

Five years ago

Ten years ago

Programming notes

Live read: iHeartRadio app

iHeartRadio app

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Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

Smart speakers

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 2)

Smart speakers

Calendar events to highlight

Brought to you by Iowa Select Farms
Friday, Dec. 6th , 4:59am to 8am
Van and Bonnie will be LIVE!
at the Iowa State Fairgrounds



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