Podcasts of the Week Ending April 3


Fresh Air :: The High Stakes Of Amazon’s ‘One-Click America’

The vote to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama and what that means for labor in America.

Planet Money ::  Socialism 101

A primer on a widely misunderstood economic theory.

Radio Boston ::  New Study Supports Suffolk DA Rollins’ Focus More On Serious, Violent Crimes

Rachael Rollins ran for and was elected as Suffolk County District Attorney promising not to prosecute many nonviolent offenses and focus on more serious crimes.  Newly released data is proving her approach to be correct.

Radiolab :: What Up, Holmes?

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes originated a metaphor for free speech as “the marketplace of ideas,” but is there a better way to conceptualize freedom of speech?

This Day in Esoteric Political History :: Three Mile Meltdown

A partial nuclear meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania was apparently not as bad as it is always made out to be.

Throughline :: Our Own People

The story of a social justice activist I’ve never heard of before, Yuri Kochiyama. A Japanese-American woman who fought for Asian American equality, Kochiyama allied herself with numerous liberation movements. She was friends was Malcolm X and held him as he died.

What Next :: Can a Highway Be Racist?

There’s a long history in the United States of working class BIPOC communities being leveled to build and enlarge highways.  The freeway revolt against this practice continues in Houston.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 11


Last week I had no podcasts to share.  This week I have a bumper crop!

Afropop Worldwide :: Remembering Tony Allen

Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen died this spring, shortly after releasing his final album Rejoice, with Hugh Masekela. Afropop Worldwide revisits Allen’s storied career.

BackStory :: The End of the Road: BackStory and the History of Finales in America

My favorite history podcast BackStory comes to an end with an episode about finales in American history, from President George Washington to Mary Tyler Moore.

Hidden Brain :: The Night That Lasted A Lifetime: How Psychology Was Misused In Teen’s Murder Case

The story of a Black Boston teenager, Fred Clay, who spent 38 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted based on evidence the police extracted using hypnosis.

The Last Archive :: For the Birds

Rachel Carson, the extinction of bird species, and climate change.

99% Invisible :: Freedom House Ambulance Service

The modern practice of paramedics serving communities with an emergency medical service began in the Black community in Pittsburgh just over 50 years ago.

60-Second Science :: Animals Appreciate Recent Traffic Lull

One side benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reduced use of automobiles.  Some cities (not Boston, of course) have even taken advantage of creating space for people to walk and bike by closing roads to cars.  But even in rural areas, animals are thriving because of fewer collisions with motor vehicles.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Take Me Who Out to the Ballgame?

If you’re American, you’ve inevitably sung along with the chorus “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball’s unofficial anthem.  But if you’ve never heard the chorus, you may not know that the song is about a woman who wants to watch baseball at a time when that was considered a men’s only activity.  The podcast explores the history of how the song went “viral” and features music by Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust.

Throughline :: The Long Hot Summer

Civil disturbances in Black communities in America in 1967 lead President Johnson to call the Kerner Commission. The commission’s report revealed evidence of police violence that was criticized and ignored at the time, but still reads as a diagnoses of our present-day crises.


Documentary Movie Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 13th, Titicut Follies, Tower, and Trekkies.

Title: The Thin Blue Line
Release Date: August 25, 1988
Director: Errol Morris
Production Company: American Playhouse | Channel 4 Television Corporation | Third Floor Productions
Summary/Review:

This is the third documentary movie directed by Errol Morris after Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981).  Like its predecessors, the movie is largely made up of interviews with various people edited together to tell a story.  The production values are much glossier and the soundtrack is scored by Phillip Glass.

A big change in this movie is the use of dramatic reenactments as the central crime in the movie is recreated several times from different perspectives. Typically, I cringe at dramatic reenactments and this movie has been credited (blamed for?) introducing them into hacky true crime tv shows from the 1990s to the present.  But under the direction of Morris, the reenactments appear more like art film shorts, and the way they show different people’s interpretation of the events has lead to the movie being compared to Rashomon.

The movie focuses on the murder of a Dallas police officer at a traffic stop in 1976, and the conviction of Randall Adams for the crime.  The movie’s thesis is that Adams is innocent of the murder, and examines the weak evidence against him while hypothesizing why the criminal justice system persisted in their case against him.  Interviewees include Adams, David Harris (the actual murderer), witnesses, judges, lawyers, and detectives.  Morris not only made an intriguing documentary, but the attention to the case lead to Texas overturning the conviction of Adams the following year.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3


On the Media :: Repairing Justice: The Prosecutor

Prosecutors wield enormous power in the criminal justice system, contributing to racial inequality.  Can progressive prosecutors help with criminal justice reform?

Throughline :: Milliken v. Bradley

The effort to end school segregation by way of busing lead to this Supreme Court case decision that still affects our schools and communities to this day.

Throughline :: Huey Long vs. The Media

Louisiana’s most famous politician was loved and hated in equal measure. A populist who favored social programs, he also ruled in a dictatorial manner and carried out a long war against the free press.  Long seems to be an odd combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and a fascinating figure in American history.

Tiny Desk Concert :: Lizzo

An electrifying performance at a tiny-ass desk by the great Lizzo.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 808

The story of the drum machine that changed popular music.

 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: When They See Us (2019)


Title: When They See Us
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Company: Harpo Films | Tribeca Productions | ARRAY | Participant Media
Summary/Review:

This Netflix miniseries dramatizes the stories of five teenage boys from Harlem who were accused and convicted of brutally raping a woman jogging through Central Park, but would be exonerated for the crime over a decade later.  The film covers the same as the Ken Burns’ documentary Central Park Five but with a greater emphasis on the emotional impact on the boys and their families.  When they see is directed by Ava DuVernay, who is also responsible for the biopic Selma, the documentary 13th, and fantasy/adventure A Wrinkle in Time (which is quite a varied portfolio).  While the four parts tell a complete story, each part also works as a stand-alone film.

The first part focuses on the night of the incident.  The media portrayed them as part of a “wolf pack” of “superpredators” who went out “wilding,” commiting crimes for fun. The truth is that the 5 boys and others were caught up in spontaneous gathering of about 30 teenagers who mostly didn’t know one another and went to Central Park to horse around.  And yes, some of them did participate in assault, robbery, and vandalism, but by and large that was a small portion of the larger group.  Oddly, one of the most beautiful scenes in this movie is an overhead shot of the boys running into the park.  The five – Raymond, Kevin, Korey, Yusef, and Antron – were among those rounded up by the police. When the unconcious jogger is found, the police held them overnight without food or sleep, interogate them without parents present, and coerce them to confess to a crime they knew nothing about. The NYC District Attorney Sex Crimes Unit leader Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) works up a narrative from the skimpy evidence to place the boys at the scene of the crime.

The second part focuses on the trial.  The film only dramatizes one of the two trials.  We see the boys support one another as they resolutely refuse a plea bargain or anything but their full innocence.  There’s support among the families too, but also a lot of tension as what course of action to take and distrust of the other families’ children. Archival footage of Donald Trump condeming the Five is shown with a mother commenting that his fifteen minutes are almost up, perhaps too big of a wink for this movie.  Their lawyers are not up to snuff to take on the city’s prosecuter Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga) despite the only evidence being coerced confessions that contradict one another. The five are all found guilty.

Part three focuses on the four younger members of the group – Antron, Raymond, Yusef, and Kevin – each of whom serve around 6-7 years in juvenile detention.  The film shows their transition from boys to adults through phone calls and visits with their families.  Then each is released and tries to return to their lives.  There are tensions with family members as they adjust to changes that happened during their imprisonment.  Worse, the law regarding what convicted felons and sex offenders can do leaves them very little opportunity to find work and housing, and require frequent check-ins.  One of them turns to crime to make ends meet and ends up back in prison.

The younger four are played by different actors as a child and as an adult – Kevin Richardson (Asante Black and Justin Cunningham), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris and Jovan Adepo), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse and Chris Chalk), and Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez and Freddy Miyares).  They all put in an excellent performance portraying their characters, but the major star of the miniseries is Jharrel Jerome who plays Korey Wise both as a teenager and an adult.  Wise was 16 at the time of the case and thus tried as an adult.  He was sent to prisons where the other prisoners and guards targeted him for severe abuse.  Wise requested transfers to other prisons farther from NYC and spent lots of time in solitary for his own safety.  In one prison, there’s even a white guard who is sympathetic to wise and treats him humanely.  Many of the most intense scenes of the film focus on Wise enduring long periods of time in solitude and having memories and daydreams. Flashbacks show his close relationship with his transgender older sister until their mother throws her out of the house.  One of the most beautiful sequences shows Wise imaging that instead of going to Central Park with the other boys that he took his girlfriend to Coney Island.

In 2001, Wise meets another prisoner named Matias Reyes (one he’d actually had a fight with in prison several years earlier).  Reyes admits that he had raped the Centeral Park jogger on his own.  His description of the attack and DNA evidence verifies his claim, and this leads to vacating the convictions of Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Wise.

This movie is beautifully directed  and yet a brutal depection of a grave injustice. It is an important film to watch to get an understanding of the discriminatory nature of the criminal justice system against black and brown people.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending May 4th


30 for 30 Podcasts :: Ahead Of Their Time: Long Ball Soccer

This story tells of how Charles Reep used statistical analysis to create a new style of playing soccer, and doomed English football to mediocrity for a generation, because the math was off.

WBUR News :: Do Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?

Laws in the 80s and 90s that took away discretionary power from judges inadvertently gave those powers to prosecutors instead, and now America’s criminal justice system is not operating in the fair and just manner it should.  Author Emily Bazelon and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins talk about the problems of overly powerful prosecutors and possible reforms.

BackStory :: Red in the Stars and Stripes

Comrades, socialism has a long and illustrious history in the United States.  Did you know that Milwaukee had a socialist mayor all through the 1950s?  I’m pretty sure it didn’t get mention on Happy Days.

99% Invisible :: Uptown Squirrel

Squirrels are so commonplace among urban fauna that most people give them very little thought.  But in the 19th century, squirrels were considered exotic and weren’t found in urban parks at all.  This episode explores how that changed and why it’s important to investigate scientifically the squirrel populations in places like New York’s Central Park today.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Central Park Five (2012) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “C” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “C” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Cane Toads: An Unnatural HistoryThe Case of the Grinning Cat,  Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Ceasefire Massacre, The Clash: Westway to the World,  and Constantine’s Sword.

Title: The Central Park Five
Release Date: November 23, 2012
Director: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Production Company: Florentine Films
Summary/Review:

I’ve never lived in New York City, but in my comfortable suburb in Connecticut, New York was the center of our news world.  In 1989, the rape and brutal beating of a young woman jogging in Central Park was the topic of discussion.  For many people, the crime was indicative of just how low New York had sunk into unrestrained criminality, and particularly the danger of Central Park (although statistically, the crime wave of the 70s & 80s was on the wane, and Central Park was one of the safest places in the city). The attack on the Central Park jogger and others that night was pinned on a large group of black and Latin teens.  Five of them were sent to prison after they confessed, and for most people, it seemed justice had been served.

This documentary tells the story of the five individuals – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise – who were all around 14-16 years old at the time (the same age I was a the time) and would be arrested and convicted for the crimes.  They tell a story of going out in the park one night amid a wave of other young men, many they didn’t know.  Some of them were violent, throwing rocks at cars and people, and beating up a homeless man. The Central Park jogger was attacked in another part of the park at the same time, and these five teenagers were among those rounded up by the police.

They knew nothing about the rape and beating of the jogger but were held without sleep or food for 24 hours as the police told each individual was being implicated by the others, and the boys felt that they’d be able to go home if they told the police what they wanted to hear.  This ended with videotaped “confessions” that were contradictory and had no details of the actual crime scene. These confessions would be the only evidence used in convicting them.  This is despite the fact that they had alibis of being elsewhere at the time of the attack on the jogger and DNA evidence did not match any of the accused.

The documentary shows that how the Central Park Five became the scapegoats of an angry public outraged by violent crime in New York.  The racial divide of black and brown kids and a white victim played out in a story like the lynchings in the Jim Crow South.  The media reported that the teens claimed that they were “wilding” and bragged of their exploits in their jail cells, which appears to be furthest from the truth. One thing this movie didn’t cover is where the term “wilding” originated from if didn’t come from the teenages themselves.

The Central Park Five would have their convictions vacated after the actual rapist came forward with a confession in 2002.  The movie focuses on how the five had their lives drastically changed by the accusations, trial, and loss of 7 to 13 years of their lives in prison.  They talk movingly of how it still affects them today even as they take positive actions to move on with their lives.  In addition to extensive interviews with the Central Park Five, the filmmakers also interviewed family members, news media figures, and former New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.  Unfortunately, the New York Police Department refused to participate in any interviews although their point of view is included through extensive archival footage.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Last year for the Blogging A to Z Challenge, I watched Koch, about New York City mayor Ed Koch, whose law and order style of governing contributed to the racial divide that played such a big part of the Central Park Five’s case.  Ric Burns (Ken’s brother) made New York: A Documentary which covers a much broader history of the City.  A couple of books that capture the mood of New York City in the 1980s are New York Calling and Greed & Glory.

Source: Amazon Prime Video

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 2nd


It’s all Boston politics this week!

Radio Boston :: In Boston, Is This A New Era For Criminal Justice?

For the first time in Boston’s history, all of the top law enforcement officials are people of color.  Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins discuss how they will address criminal justice in Boston.

We Need Some Milk :: Bak 2 School w/ Kristin Johnson

An interview with one of Boston’s top parent activists for public education.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 5th


The Anthropocene Reviewed :: Teddy Bears and Penalty Shootouts

John Green reviews the history of the teddy bear and offers a solid defense of penalty shootouts in soccer games through the story of AFC Wimbledon.

Code Switch :: America’s Other Anthems

Songs that are unofficial anthems including “This Little Light of Mine,” “Whittier Avenue” by Chicano rock band Thee Midniters, and two songs called  “Fight the Power” by The Isley Brothers and Public Enemy.

Fresh Air :: ‘Punishment Without Crime’ Highlights The Injustice Of America’s Misdemeanor System

How the American criminal justice systems tangles up the poor in Kafkaesque web of debts and punishment.

This American Life :: The Room of Requirement

Stories about libraries and librarians.  I’m particularly touched by the woman is reunited with the children’s librarian who helped her when she was a homeless child.  I’m also a fan of Richard Brautigan and W.P. Kinsella, so I liked that story of the Brautigan Library.


 

Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 1


The New Yorker Radio Hour (via Re:Sound) :: John Thompson vs. American Justice

This podcast about the corruption and racism built into America’s criminal justice system was released in March, but brought to my attention by winning the bronze medal in the 2018 Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.  John Thompson was tried and found guilty for two crimes he didn’t commit and spent 20 years trying to prove his innocence.  By the end of this story you’ll be cursing as much as Thompson.