Brian Gongol Show | Cheerfully Intense | March 22, 2020

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.

Segment 1: The opening essay

I picked an inopportune time to call a podcast "Cheerfully Intense". Doesn't seem on the surface like there's a whole lot to be cheerful about.

And yet: Despite the dreadful emergence of a global pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives and that will go on to claim many more, there are in fact aspects of what's happening that ought to give us some hope for the human condition.

Some people are hoarding toilet paper and buying guns, but judging from what I see among my friends, people are broadly understanding this as a problem to be fought with resolve and mutual aid, not a war to be fought against one another

And it's not merely what a person can see anecdotally. There are projects emerging -- entirely spun up from the grassroots and volunteer sectors -- to answer the big questions with a full-throttle, all-hands-on-deck kind of attitude. I urge you to check out the Open PPE Project on Twitter and the team at They're channeling energy and expertise so that people don't have to just sit around and dread some inevitable collapse. This is work at the finest level of freedom.

Most people aren't going to be able to contribute things like engineering skills to designing masks to meet the N95 standard. But that shouldn't keep us from doing things. Don't get me wrong; the most important things to do right now are to stay home and respect social distance whenever you must go out. But there are plenty of small things you can do -- and should -- because it's important for us to have a sense of control over the future.

For example: You can and should join one of the volunteer-computing projects trying to speed up the development of a vaccine or therapeutic drugs to fight the novel coronavirus. You don't have to know a single thing about science, nor have any computing skill beyond the ability to download and install a program. (You can do that.) I have committed six computers (at last count) to the Rosetta@Home project, and if I can find another old laptop or two in the basement, I'll dust them off and pitch them at the job as well. Rosetta@Home works entirely in the background (aside from a dashboard you can pop up on your screen if you want to see what's happening, and a screensaver that you can activate if that engages your imagination), but it's feeding massive amounts of computing power to the University of Washington and helping them accelerate the research that we're depending upon. They've had two of their top ten computing days in the last week.

There are other things you can do, as well. I've suggested reaching out to your neighbors to let them know how to reach you in an emergency and planting a little Victory Garden. More ideas to come.

Others are coordinating campaigns to sew face masks for health-care professionals, not because cloth masks will protect them from the virus, but because they can protect N95 masks and make them safe for use as the medical workers treat multiple patients. That's committed thinking.

A friend noted in a Facebook post the other day that this experience is breaking down a lot of walls between the personal and the professional. People are working from home and that means we're getting extraordinary views inside one another's home lives, warts and all. But in a way, that's actually a great thing for integrity. I mean that in a most literal sense, not like a corporate mission statement. No, literally, it means that many of us are seeing colleagues and work peers in an integrated sense -- as whole people, with rich personal and inner lives outside of work. That is integrity in the fullest sense of the word. And we ought to embrace that redefinition of how we see one another and how we represent ourselves. When we emerge on the other side of this temporary nightmare, that understanding of integrity deserves to remain because it really is the whole person that matters -- and how we exhibit and act on our ethics and morals should be as completely well-rounded as the rest of our lives.

It's too much to ask us to be cheerful about the state of things right now, but with some intensity we'll navigate our way through what's ahead. Free people are going to hold the torch that lights the path. And ultimately we'll find our way to cheer once again.

Segment 2: This surprised me

Facebook has a lot of masks

Segment 3: Looking ahead to the coming week

Congress has exactly two jobs that have to come before anything else this week:

  1. Sending a check for $2,000 to every person in this country with a Social Security Number
  2. Implementing a continuity-of-government plan so that they can continue to operate even if a quorum can't be met with a physical meeting inside the Senate chambers

The first part of that job is simple: We're headed straight for an economic brick wall, the likes of which nobody can fully grasp right now. You can't tell people to stay home for two, four, eight, or more weeks and think the economy just picks up where it left off as though we just took a vacation. But the only way to ensure that people stay home -- especially if they're actively sick -- is to make sure they have the cash on hand to meet the basic needs of existence.

Extreme borrowing is justified in extreme circumstances, and putting the equivalent of a full stop on the economy so that we can keep a global pandemic from killing millions of people qualifies, without exception, as an extreme circumstance. This isn't a matter of adopting a universal basic income because we feel like that's the right long-term policy. It's responding to a radical amputation at an accident scene with a tourniquet so the patient can survive long enough to make it to the hospital.

If the United States government can't borrow a trillion or two trillion dollars at effectively zero-percent interest right now and advance that cash to the public, we're in grave danger. But that's what a few months of support are going to cost, and if there's one stroke of luck in our favor, it's that "indistinguishable from zero" is the effective interest rate.

To split hairs over who gets what at this time is to slow the release of cash that people need in their hands immediately. $2,000 won't make any difference to Bill Gates. It could make all the difference to a restaurant worker who's been laid off and has been living paycheck-to-paycheck while trying to feed a child at home. If there is some inefficiency in sending money to some wealthy households that don't need it, so be it -- there are costs, too, in legislating, differentiating, and ultimately litigating among the recipients. In the words of James Mattis: "Speed equals success."

The second part is becoming more dreadfully clear by the second: Senator Mitt Romney is in self-quarantine right now because Senator Rand Paul sat next to him and has tested positive for coronavirus. This could lead to utter madness.

James Madison would be utterly ashamed if the Senate were to waste another hour before instituting sensible and modest contingency plans to ensure continuity of quorum voting by Senators whose presence might risk the health of the rest. As Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers: "The necessity of a Senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions."

In other words, it's exactly in case of emergency that the Senate is most needed. And this, my God, this, is a national emergency.


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