Okay, it’s been several weeks since the last Podcast of the Week, and I’ve decided this will be the last installment of this feature. In the future I may do a monthly roundup or an irregular schedule of posts.
To start of this final post, here are three new podcasts feeds I’m subscribing to:
- Maeve in America – Irish comedian Maeve Higgins interviews a different immigrant to America in each episode
- Hub History – a new podcast on one of my favorite topics, Boston history, which has already covered topics ranging from Cotton Mather’s smallpox innoculation and the Great Molasses Flood
- Stranglers – a 12-part documentary focusing a particularly notorious time in Boston history, the strangler murders of 1962-64
And here are some good episodes from the past motnth or so:
- Planet Money – Bad Form, Wells Fargo – Career destroying practices for employees involved in the Wells Fargo scandal
- 99 Percent Invisible – The Shift – the history of baseball’s revolutionary defensive strategy
- Politically Re-Active – W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu with guest Roxane Gay on Anger After the Election
- Sounds in My Head – Special Post-Election Episode with a playlist of very sad songs
Sidedoor – Tech Yourself
I added another podcast subscription to my stable for this new production from The Smithsonian Institution. The debut episode explores various aspects of the human relationship with technology.
Politically Re-Active – Dr. Jill Stein on Investing Your Vote
W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu interview Green Party Presidential candidate, Jill Stein.
The Specialist – Blood Girls
Did you know that there’s a job for someone to make fake wounds on volunteers participating in first responder training? Learn all about them in this podcast.
BackStory – American Horror Story
Just in time for Halloween, a cultural
history of horror in
the United States
An eerie story of a woman’s experience waking up in a hospital with a head injury and no memory of how she got there. It’s well-told with details revealed in the order she learned them.
Neil Degrasse Tyson interviews the ever charming and poetic French performance artists about his high-wire walks.
An exploration into the first type of residential architecture designed with the idea of immediately selling it to someone else and thus creating a style that no one likes.
Mike Pesca interviews the Green Party candidate for President. While Pesca is critical of Stein, nevertheless it’s good to hear her get a chance to speak and bring up some issues not being addressed by the major party candidates.
Despite being a hot button issue, voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States today and especially difficult to carry out on a large scale to effect national elections.
An interview with Eric Liu who wants to bring back civic pride and celebration to elections.
A short history of how the District of Columbia has been denied Congressional representation and how non-voting Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying to change that.
To the Best of Our Knowledge – Time Travel
I’ve always been obsessed by time travel. Here are some stories of other obsessives and the possibilities of making time travel a reality.
An insiders’ view of the latest scam in the banking and finance industry
This short episode takes on topical issues, but is most fascinating when discussing the Dutch culture of teaching children about sexuality and the history of segregating spaces by gender.
The Replacements were a great band of the 1980s who were “five years too early, and ten years too late.” This is their story from their biographer. I need to listen to more of The Replacements. Perhaps a Musical Discovery?
A Far Cry performs at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum with pieces featuring a performance on the toy piano and an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” for clarinet.
Political narratives champion the “good” immigrant but still punish many people who make positive contributions to the country.
Fascinating story of a futuristic room designed to be the place where the economy of Chile would be controlled under the Salvador Allende government. It would be destroyed by the Pinochet dicatorship with only one photograph surviving.
Fascinating interview with a hip-hop activist, community organizer, and former Green Party VP candidate touching on a lot of important issues the major parties are ignoring in this election.
This is another Podcasts of Two Weeks since I failed to get up a post last week, but these podcasts are all still timely enough to be worth listening to:
- The story of Washington Phillip’s mysterious gospel and blues music
The Gist – “How Do We Fix Down-Ballot Elections?”
- Reid Wilson and Mike Pesca discuss the importance of congressional, state, and local elections and how they can be overlooked due to the hype of the Presidential election, an issue I’ve focused on here before.
- My grandparents lived their final years in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, a city that was already suffering economically and growing derelict when I visited in the 1980s. This podcast shows that Mahanoy City has taken an even more turn to the worst.
- Mass incarceration has caused the United States to lead the world in the number of citizens in prisons. Here are some stories of people behind bars and some alternatives to locking people up.
- The title says it all in this analysis of how immigration restrictions have hurts agriculture in the United States by depriving farms of seasonal migrant workers while at the same time making it more likely undocumented people will stay in the country permanently rather than returning home.
Have You Heard? – Peanut Butter and Persistence
- The latest episode of this public education podcast focuses on a San Francisco school carrying out the types of reforms necessary in education but rarely endorsed by the so-called reformers.
Too tired to write up descriptions but here are the best podcasts I listened to last week.
I neglected to submit a POTW post last week, so here are two weeks worth of podcasts worth listening to!
99% Invisible – On Average
I’m once again recommending 99PI, because while it’s a cliche to say that no one is average, the science bears it out. Not only that but it’s actually dangerous to assume that an average can define a human characteristic. And who knew that the military was behind the sizing of everything?
I always thought the frantic cross-country travel by Presidential candidates to appear in as many states as possible was a waste of time in the era of mass media, and science bears it out.
The story of the ethics of triage revisits Hurricane Katrina and the difficult choices faced in a hospital of who to save and who to let die. It’s the most heart-wrenching podcast I’ve ever listened to.
This podcast dramatizes an incident I’d not been aware of, a nationally televised Draft Lottery on December 1, 1969. Still not clear on how this was different from conscription that occured before that date.
The science, the ethics, and the culinary arts of disgust. Also, a great piece about bat conservation.
All about defining Americans by our work ethic, or lack thereof. The concept that colonial Americans defined liberty by being able to have other people do their work is a fascinating one.
Fresh Air – “Creamed, Canned and Frozen”
The interview with Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe, authors of A Square Meal, discusses culinary history of the Great Depression when food choices were informed by the science of nutrition and new food production technologies, but not by taste or cooking traditions. A fascinating topic.
Science Talk – “Grand Canyon Rapids Ride for Evolution Education”
Robin Lloyd and Steve Mirsky discuss their boat trip on the Colorado rapids through the Grand Canyon, and now I want to pack up and go to Arizona right now!
99% Invisible – “Photo Credit”
So, 99% Invisible is basically a POTW recommendation every week. This episode is about the photographer Lucia Moholy who documented the architecture and designs of the Bauhaus movement basically keeping the style alive when World War II and the Eastern Bloc prevented access to the original works, but she received little credit for her art and contributions.
Code Switch – “Struggling School, Or Sanctuary?”
School closings disproportionately affect black children. This podcast documents the final year at a middle and high school in Wilkinsburg, PA.
Since I have some very basic instruction in being a mobility guide for a visually-impaired friend, I was interested in this story about a person who helps visually-impaired people to live independently by learning to use a cane.
There’s a fungus among us and it supports the Wood Wide Web. Some startling discoveries of the interconnectedness of species believed to be non-sapient in a forest.
Another new podcast, this one focused on urbanism. Appropriately the first episode discusses the legacy of Jane Jacobs.
Completely fascinated by the story of Rwanda where gender equality in the public sphere has been forced into being by a political strongmen as a result of the loss of men in the 1990s genocide. Also the sad truth that women’s subservience to men is still the expectation in the private sphere.
A snapshot of the lives of refugees in Greece – from the frightening to the frustrating to the completely boring.
Some historical perspective on one of the United States’ most contentious political debates.
A short list for the last week of July:
Planet Money – “When Women Stopped Coding”
An illuminating but sad history of when computer science moved from being woman-dominated to a “men’s only club.”
Politically Re-Active – “Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman Gives Us the Election Unfiltered”
A podcast I just started listening to that is hosted by W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu features an interview with the noted alternative media host who manages to keep a straight face amidst their goofiness.
The Gist – “Celebrating the Nerd Mentatality”
This podcast is worth listening primarily for Mike Pesca ordering a salad as if he were delivering a convention speech, but the stuff on nerds is good too.
Whenever Cleveland is mentioned, one hears about the Cuyahoga River catching fire, but until listening to this podcast I was unaware that there were multiple fires over decades and the considerable damage that they caused.
The much-maligned shark gets a fair shake. And I still love Jaws even if it’s wrong.
Insight into what may make a person commit horrible atrocities, and what we can do to counter that.
Not a typical Planet Money episode as it focuses on people tortured and forced to confess by the Chicago police, and the thorny issue of deciding on how much to pay in reparations.
Interviews with people affected by violence, both people harmed by police and officers harmed by suspects. Particularly interesting is the black man who served as a police officer and participated in protests to reform the police, sometimes on both sides on the same day.
I’m going to do something a little bit different this week and list some of my favorite podcast episodes from the past week with a blurb on each.
BackStory – “The Pursuit: A History of Happiness”
This is a good episode overall, but the segment on the Okeh Laughing Records and the psychology behind their popularity was particularly engaging.
Decode DC – “Learning to Love The F Word: Federalism”
The changing nature of state rights can be used to actually oppose discriminatory laws instead of uphold them.
The Gist – “Reduce, Reuse, and Re-Evaluate”
Mike Pesca discusses with Maria Konnikova is recycling is really benefiting the planet. The answer is complicated and shrouded in myth and morality.
Invisibilia – “Frame of Reference”
I was particularly fascinated with the second segment where children of immigrants internalize their parents’ disregard the daily indignities of children and teenagers in the United States because they pale in comparison to the problems of their home country.
All right, your turn. Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you like this format for Podcast of the Week? What podcasts did you listen to this week?
The Story Collider is a storytelling podcast for scientists to tell their stories – a great idea both for getting scientists to communicate and for the general public to learn about science. In this episode, Rochelle Williams tells the story of her experience studying engineering as a young, black woman.
I love history because it so often provides perspective on current events that you don’t get from politicians, journalists, and your friends with short memories. The American History Guys at BackStory fill in the history of the use and abuse of recreational drugs, and when and why these drugs became illegal in the episode “All Hopped Up.”
Things I learned include:
- Mexico’s historic squeamishness about drugs
- America criminalizing narcotics because of their colonial empire in the Philippines
- The cultural history of the “mother’s little helper” drug problem for suburban white women in the 1960s and 1970s
- Sherlock Holmes cocaine use and how the cultural response to it changed over the decades
The Podcast of the Week from
ProPublica strikes close to home as we’re dealing with serious underfunding of urban school districts in Massachusetts while other communities have invested in creating some of the top public schools in the nation. Sadly this is a problem throughout all of the United States.
For more on the issue follow the NPR School Money series
Two podcasts this week with a shared theme: the people who work to sell you food (that’s largely bad for you).
The first is Planet Money (Episode 700: Peanuts and Cracker Jack) which spent a night at Fenway Park to learn of the economy of concessions vendors at a Red Sox game. There’s a draft for products and sections of the ballpark and then it’s up to each individual to use their skills to sell as much as they can. The mystical Jose wears #1 on his back for his marketing skill. Surprisingly, vendors don’t seem to make much money for their efforts (although I supposed no one would have a job that’s only about 4 hours 81 times per year as their sole source of income).
More sinister is this week’s Decode DC episode (Episode 139: Big Sugar’s Secret Playbook) where tobacco industry marketing and legal tactics are used to get you eating (and paying for) more sugar in your diet.
If you ask a lot of people what Radiolab is about (including many commenters on the Radiolab website) they’ll say “science.” But I think what the show is really about is curiosity. Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and the rest of Radiolab staff have an amazing ability to ask questions no one else would, and that mixed with amazing sound design makes for a show unlike anything on the radio or in a podcast.
The most recent episode “On the Edge” is ostensibly about sports. It’s the story of Surya Bonaly, a French figure skater who was among the top skaters in Europe in the 1990s. The show elucidates the debate between artistry and technical brilliance, let’s us listen to the sound of a skate blade on the ice, reveals the moment to moment calculations within a skater’s brain, and discusses uncomfortable issues of a black skater in a predominantly white sport.
First, the To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast “Mosquitoes Must Die” makes me think of Caephus from Jesus Christ Superstar. “Must die, must die, mosquitoes must die!”
Second, to hear this series of experts seriously consider completely eradicating an entire species is astonishing. There’s just so much hubris to consider that it would not have negative effects on ecosystems. And I don’t even like mosquitoes.
Still, food for thought.