Podcasts of the Week Ending May 11


More or Less :: Avengers: Should We Reverse the Snap?

The economic impact of losing half the earth’s population, and possible negative impact of restoring 4 billion lost souls.

Memory Palace :: This Story Climbed Mount Washington

The history of Mt. Washington’s Cog Railway and early tourism potential.

Radiolab :: Dinopacolypse Redux

How did the dinosaurs die, and more to the point, how quickly did the dinosaurs die after the earth was hit by an asteroid?  Newly discovered evidence is updating the theory of what happened and when in surprising ways.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: Back Pass

Building on the US Women’s National Team’s success at drawing crowds to the 1999 Women’s World Cup, a new professional soccer league was born.  WUSA folded after three seasons, but this documentary shows that the league was far more sucessful than we’ve been lead to believe.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller


Author:Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
TitleThe Only Rule Is It Has to Work
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne  and John Pruden
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

A pair of stats geeks with a podcast are given the opportunity to run a baseball team to see if they can test the concepts of sabermetrics – the empirical analysis of baseball – in a real world setting.  The team they get to try this on is the 2015 Sonoma Stompers who play in the low-level independent league, the Pacific Association.  They face challenges of having a manager and players go along with their unorthodox suggestions for playing baseball, as well finding talented players to sign to the team, since the Pacific Association doesn’t attract the best talent.  To surprise of many, the Stompers do very well, dominating the league in the first half.  The authors are honest enough to admit that it wasn’t always their ideas that contributed to the overall success.  But success has its downside as it leads to many of the Stompers’ best players getting signed to contracts on teams in better leagues, leaving the Stompers weakened for the second half and postseason. Nevertheless, I did find myself drawn into their account and caring very deeply about how the Stompers would do that season.  The book is an interesting case study of putting sabermetrics into action and the real life challenges it may face, as well as just being an interesting baseball story.

Recommended booksThe Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan, Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week for Two Weeks Ending May 19


I’m not doing well at getting these podcast recommendations up every week, but here’s a good crop of podcast for your listening pleasure.

HUB History :: The Battle of Jamaica Plain

There was a gang shootout right here in my own neighborhood over a 100 years ago that had international implications and ended up involving Winston Churchill, and I’d never heard of it?!?

Hidden Brain :: Baby Talk: Decoding the Secret Language of Babies

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a nice chat with a baby.

Planet Money :: The Land of Duty Free

The mass quantities of liquor, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume sold in airports has always fascinated/perplexed me.  Here’s the story of how the duty free shop got started at Shannon Airport in Ireland.  It also confirms my suspicions that duty free shop purchases aren’t really bargains.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders

A live performance of LeVar Burton reading a hillarious/poignant story about a worldwide apocalypse, a genie in a bottle, theater criticism,  and the nature of wishes, complete with an interview with the author

BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cherokee Story Slam

The stories and life of the talented Robert Lewis.

More or Less: Behind the Stats :: Tulipmania mythology

The Dutch tulip bubble always makes a good story about economics and finance, but the truth of the story is not as dramatic as the myths, albeit more interesting in many ways.

 

Book Review: American Amnesia by Jacob S. Hacker


Author: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
TitleAmerican Amnesia 
Narrator: Holter Graham
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

Two political scientists discuss the history of the “mixed economy” in the United States, how it was dismantled, and why our current political and economic malaise is due to it’s absence.  The mixed economy was ascendant in the United States from roughly the 1910s to the 1970s and at it’s height received wide bipartisan support and was recognized as unchallengable norm by even the most right-wing Republicans.  Mixed economy is defined as one in which corporations have wide ranging freedom to control the means of production and accumulate capital but the government has strong powers of regulation while also providing extensive public services.

During the long progressive period when the US was under a mixed economy, government was generally looked upon in a positive light.  The “American amnesia” is the state we are in today where most Americans are anti-government and have completely forgotten our ancestors’ admiration for government.  This is due to a five decade campaign spearheaded by individuals such as the Koch Brothers and corporate interests like the Business Round Table and the Chamber of Commerce whose Randian ideology of free market libertarianism required debasing and then dismantling the government and the mixed economy.  These views soon were adopted as the Republican Party platform and by the 1990s, even Democrats echoed anti-government sentiments.

This book is important work of political science, economics, and history that shows where Americans once were in a time of more generally widespread prosperity, how we lost that, and what we can do to regain it.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 11


Mortified :: Kids Who Teach

Stories of kids becoming teachers, including a stunning musical defense of feminism.

Have You Heard? :: What We Talk About When We Talk About the Corporate Education Agenda

An explanation of why major corporations have become big players in education policy and what it means for the rest of us.

Planet Money :: Your Cell Phone’s A Snitch

What personal information is gathered by your cell phones, how it’s being used by law enforcement and others, and what rights do we have under the Constitution to privacy.

99% Invisible :: Dollhouses of St. Louis

The sad story of  St. Louis’ historic black neighborhood, The Ville, where old houses are being robbed of their bricks for resale to salvage operations.

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 14


Late, but still worth listening to.  There’s a lot of terrific material this week, although to be fair several of my recommendations are repackaging previously released content, so think of this as a greatest hits package of greatest hits!

Best of the Left – The inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men

Several stories debunk the myths of poverty and ask why economists don’t ask the right questions about poverty.

Have You Heard – ‘I Quit’ – Teachers Are Leaving and They Want to Tell You Why

The stress and inequity of teaching in defunded and underesourced public schools is causing teachers to quit teaching, but some of them are prominently telling the world why they’re leaving in hopes of bringing positive change for future teachers, students, and schools.

StoryCorpsBetween June and September

Stories of Coney Island from people who kept the fun in the sun destination alive during its lowest points in the early 1990s.

Politically Re-Active – Street Heat w/ Congresswoman Barbara Lee & Linda Sarsour

Interviews with two amazing progressive leaders, both women of color, and their work fighting for social, racial, and economic justice.  I seriously had no idea that Linda Sarsour was so very Brooklyn.

BackStorySkin Deep: Whiteness in America

Slavery and segregation not only meant discriminating against black people, but also defining what it means to be white.  Three stories detail how the idea of whiteness played out in different periods of American history.

Re:SoundThe Smash the Binary Show

Three stories of the experiences of transgender persons, as well as an exploration of the “feminine” qualities of straight cis men.  I was particularly touched by the story of “The Accidental Gay Parents.”

 

 

 

Book Review: 1493 : Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann


Author: Charles C. Mann
Title1493 : Uncovering the new world Columbus created
Narrator: Robertson Dean
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2011)
Previously Read by Same Author1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Summary/Review:

A sequel of sorts to 1491, this book investigates the wide-ranging impact of contact between Eurasia & Africa and the Americas and exchange of people, animals, plants, and micorganisms that followed in the wake of Christopher Columbus’ voyages.  This is called the Columbian Exchange and is the root of today’s globalism.  Mann investigates a wide variety of topics, places, and times right up to the present day that resulted from this exchange.  It’s a fascinating overview of social and economical forces at work through history.
Recommended books:

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook , and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes by Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein


Author:Stephen Holmes and  Cass R. Sunstein
TitleThe Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes
Publication Info: W. W. Norton & Company (2000), Paperback, 256 pages
Summary/Review:

This is a book that I thought was a response to the widespread idea in the contemporary United States that taxation is a bad thing that restricts liberty.  While it is in some ways that book, it comes at from a different angle presenting the legal and philosophical case that rights actually have a fiscal cost, and therefore taxes are necessary to protect them.  The book is a bit challenging as it has some legalese, but overall the authors do a good job of defining the issues and presenting their case for taxation.
Favorite Passages:

“American liberalism, like its counterparts elsewhere in the world is based on the reasonable premise that public investment is richly repaid, not least of all because reliably enforced property rights help increase social wealth and therefore, among other benefits, swell the tax base upon which government can draw to protect other kinds of rights.  But the strategic wisdom of an initial investment does not undo the fact that it is an investment.”

“Many political conservatives, but not they alone, urge government to ‘get out of the marketplace.’ For their part, some liberals counter that government quite legitimately interferes, or ‘steps into,’ the market wherever disadvantaged Americans are at risk.  But this familiar debate is built on sand.  No sharp line can be drawn between markets and government: the two entities have no existence detached from one another.  Markets do no create prosperity beyond the ‘protective perimeter’ of the law, they function well only with reliable legislative and judicial assistance.”

“Individual freedom, however defined, cannot mean freedom from all forms of dependency.  No human actor can single-handedly create all the preconditions for his own action.  A free citizen is especially dependent… Liberty, rightly conceived, does not require a lack of dependence on government; on the contrary, affirmative government provides the preconditions for liberty.  The Bill of Rights is a do-it-yourself kit that citizens can obtain only at tax-payer-funded outlets.”

“The most common and persuasive criticism of the regulatory-welfare state concerns incentives to antisocial behavior and other undesirable side effects. But ‘dependency’ in and of itself should not be considered one of them.  There are different kinds of dependency, and not all of them are bad.  Although police and fire protection definitely make citizens dependent on ‘public assistance,’ such paternalistic support also increase the willingness of private individuals to embellish and add to their holdings.  Publicly funded education, when operating well, has the same effect.  It, too, is a form of state help designed to foster self-help.  The question is not how to eliminate state intervention, but how to design welfare programs to enhance autonomy and initiative.”

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein


Author: Naomi Klein
TitleThe Shock Doctrine
NarratorJennifer Wiltsie
Publication Info:  Macmillan Audio (2007)
Summary/Review:

This book exposes the ideology of neoliberalism, the idea that government should be limited to the bare bones and that corporations should be completely unregulated, a school of thought promoted by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.  The book begins with the story of CIA mind-washing experiments which attempted to erase the very self-identity of the subjects.  The shock doctrine applies these same actions (mostly metaphorically, but sometimes literally with interrogation and torture techniques) to entire communities and economies.  This begins with the overthrow of democratically-elected government in Chile and the installation of the dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was advised by Friedman’s own trained “Chicago Boys.”  The same policies pop up again in response to disasters – war, economic collapse, and natural disasters – where neoliberal policies are ready to go at the time when democratic processes are least likely to be followed. Klein examines how both Iraq and New Orleans were deliberately cleared of their past and memory to be remade in a neoliberal model, with much exploitation and corporate profits in the process.  This is a chilling and illuminating book.

Favorite Passages:

Communism may have collapsed without the firing of a single shot, but Chicago-style capitalism, it turned out, required a great deal of gunfire to defend itself.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado


Author: Linda Tirado
Title: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America
Narrator: Linda Tirado
Publication Info: New York : Penguin Audio, p2014.
Summary/Review:

Tirado writes and narrates this extended essay on the poor in United States, unflinchingly and wryly explaining why the poor do the things the do and how both right-wing and left-wing  stereotypes of the poor are off the mark.  It’s an intelligent and honest account based on lived experience, not shying away from anything (especially an insightful chapter on sex among the poor).  This book is build off an essay widely circulated on the web which captures the gist of the matter, but the whole book should be required reading.
Favorite Passages:

“If the average rich person had to walk around for a day wearing a polyester work uniform, they’d need Xanax.”

“You can’t tell us that our brains and labor and emotions are worth next to nothing and then expect us to get all full of intrinsic worth when it comes to our genitals. Either we’re cheap or we’re not.”

“I once talked to a neighbor about the fact that people who lived on our block were statistically likely to die earlier than the people who lived five blocks over in the wealthy neighborhood. He told me that it was just life, it was the way it was.  He’d stopped questioning it.  So if you already figure you’re going to die early what’s the motivation for giving up something that helps get you through the here and now?”

Recommended booksNickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Rating: ****