Friday, January 29, 2010

This Week had 357 Minutes

Nigel has kindly invited me, Karl Mamer (your friendly neighborhood Conspiracy Skeptic), to keep contributing to his blog as I see fit.

My Friday winter routine is thus:

Come home from work.
Go eat pizza.
Hit a Starbucks and drink coffee.
Go home.
Go for a swim in my condo's pool room and hot tub for a bit.
Go back to my condo and watch Caprica.

I figure over coffee and before the hot tub I can write up a weekly review of the high points of the podcasts that got me through the week.


First up is EconTalk, which I reviewed in a general way last week. I'll be speaking about specific shows so let me get specific. This week Russ interviewed Nobel prize winning economist Michael Spence. Spence talked about how and why nations grow economically. The show was a bit dry. However, if you could get through some of the high level sober economic talk, there were some compelling bits. For example, after the Second World War it seemed to many that Africa would be a continent of high growth and prosperity. Asia, on the other hand, was expected to remain poor.

While that might seem pretty naive with the benefit of hindsight, it seemed quite a reasonable prediction. Africa is vastly rich in mineral wealth, oil, diamonds, and agricultural products that command high prices in North America. The continent is a stones throw away from Europe. It's capped on the south by European run South Africa. Many African nations were becoming independent with the benefit of having in place European institutions like courts, police, schools, and parliamentary forms of government.

Asia, by contrast, was resource poor. It largely lacked the benefit of Western influence in terms of governments and the rule of law and business know-how. About the only thing it had were billions of people there weren't getting enough to eat. So what happened? Well, that's where the dry talk kind of lost me. I gather the Asians figured they didn't have lots of resources to line their pockets so they had to do something with the people they had. They imported the raw materials they lacked and used their people and brain power to turn them into stuff the raw material producers wanted to buy, like ships, cars, and TVs. Not Russ's best episode and I guess a good one for the real academics out there but lots of things to think about. They did turn to Haiti and didn't seem optimistic. Russ, I think, records a lot of his interviews ahead of time so it's the odd show that really covers something topical. That's actually not a bad thing as it gives the shows a certain timeless quality.

This American Life

Next up was this week's This American Life. It's theme was "Long Shots". It started with an utterly chilling opening piece about how every British nuclear submarine has a hand written letter from the British Prime Minister. The letter contains clear instructions for the sub commander what to do if basically the UK is nuked out of existence. It's hypothesized the letter is an order for the sub commander to spare the hun no mercy and nuke until he glows. It also opens up the possibility the letter could say "all our children are dead, there's no sense in killing the hun's innocent children." Which is a bad thing in a situation where MAD has kept the peace for over half a century. I'm 43 and I'm pretty sure I work with people who are productive adults and have not lived with the fear of nuclear midnight like my generation grew up with... the nearly constant background thought that we could all be dead tomorrow with only about 20 minutes of warning the missiles are on their way. We got a cool movie out of it, at least.

Another awesome bit was a story about people who bid on storage units that the renters have stopped paying rent on. The storage company, I gather, is contractually allowed to sell your stuff. What it does is cracks open the door and bidders are allowed to peek from the door. Based on the boxes and bags they see they bid. There could be sacks of gold coins in there or sacks of 8-track tapes. It's amazing actually people pay upwards of $500 for the contents, roughly sight unseen. The winning bidder then has to haul it all away. Most flip the good stuff on ebay, ostensibly for a profit. The crap they have to haul to the dump.

There was also a real nail biting bit about a model prisoner, a murderer, who is applying for parole. He appears to be a classic example of rehabilitation. However, few governors want to appear soft on crime these days and they tend to turn down parole board rulings, sometimes only hours before the prisoner is about to walk free. I won't spoil the outcome.

The show wrapped up with some essay that bored me, I have no memory of, and won't waste time reviewing here.

Gobbet O' Pus

I listened to a trio of Dr. Mark Crislip's Gobbet O' Pus podcasts. Skeptics probably know him as the host of the award winning QuackCast. Crislip is an ID doctor (ID in real science means "infectious disease" not intelligent design) and he churns out two podcasts about infectious disease for doctors and medical students. I'm no doctor but his ID podcasts are still pretty enjoyable. Crislip makes a lot of jokes about Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Who (link opens with the CSI theme). Between the science stuff I don't understand he does address things like HIV and H1N1 and some of that I can understand. Gobbet O' Pus episodes are about 5 or so minutes. Twice a month he supplements it with a longer podcast called PusCast where he reviews the ID literature for the month. Again, lots of HGTTG and Who jokes.

The Reality Check

The Reality Check (Canada's SGU) was customarily good, covering things like woosters who abuse quantum mechanics. The hosts seemed as confused by QM as me and the woosters. It wasn't the best treatment of the topic. They also tackled homeopathy (a popular topic these days) and did a great job explaining the bunk there. The cast reviewed the new Darwin movie, Creation, and provided a great tip: the movie jumps around a lot in time and if you're confused just look at Darwin's hairline for a clue as to what period in time the scene is set. Their myth of the week is the notion if you drink liquor before beer, you'll feel less drunk. They offered several interesting hypotheses why some people think this is true (if you drink the hard stuff first, you feel yourself getting drunk quicker and you stop).

The SeoulPodcast

I also listened to my friend Joe and Jennifer's podcast The SeoulPodcast. The SeoulPodcast is made for people like me. No no, not guys with yellow fever. People with lots of time on their hands. Most eps of SeoulPodcast are about 2-3 hours in length. Snarf. And Nigel accuses me of ignoring my sound editor's edit button. The SeoulPodcast, as the name implies, covers life and living tips for expats in Seoul, South Korea. If you live in Seoul, you spend a lot of time on the subway so it's nice to have lots of long podcasts to listen to. The iPhone has recently come to Korea. Koreans have very highly protected markets and made it nigh impossible for Apple to sell the iPhone in Korea. But I guess it became apparent to the uber-fashionable Koreans that they stood to be seen as the least hip people on the planet if they kept cock blocking the iPhone. Anyway, the iPhone is now available and a good part of the show was co-host Stafford going around using his own iPhone as a sound recorder and interviewing Koreans with iPhones about their favorite app.

Are We Alone

Another great podcast I hacked through this week was the SETI Institute's Are We Alone podcast. Many people don't like this podcast as they find the host Seth Shostak (not to be confused with sleestak) a little too corny. I kind of enjoy his humor as it's the kind of humor my own scientist dad excels at. The show largely covers a lot of astronomy and science topics and about once a month they have a skeptical show. This week's episode was about denialism: why do people deny science that's backed up by huge amount of scientific evidence (e.g., evolution)? Why do people fear vaccines (which have small risks) but don't fear crossing bridges (which also have a small risk of collapse)? Lots of interesting psychological talk flies around on this show but it's backed by a lot of interesting research. Anyway, if you listen to one Are We Alone ep this month, this is the baby.

Planet Money

Planet Money, NPR's version of EconTalk, got out two episodes this week (they do three a week but release the third late Friday). PlanetMoney is a big fan of Russ Roberts and they had him on to talk about a rap video he helped produce that illustrates the debate between free market economists and Keynesian economists who believe in considerably more government intervention into the economy. EconTalk also examined the notion that if we made drugs legal they would come down drastically in price. An economist thought they wouldn't come down that much. Drug dealers have to spend a lot on planes and fast boats but then they don't have to spend a lot on health care for their workers. They can employ cheap child labor. They don't have to spend a lot of money on crazy things like fire escapes for their meth labs. Code compliance builds a lot into the price of products we buy. Think about a box of cereal. There's maybe 50 cents of wheat and cardboard in that sucker. But the grocery store charges $6 a box. That's a 12 fold increase!


Oh yeah, I almost forgot. At the start of the week I listened to a new ep of Dr. Crislip's Quackcast. My own Conspiracy Skeptic podcast has followed QuackCast's release schedule. That is to say, seldom. Dr. C for a long while had been cranking out one every other month. Or every third month. Lately he's started to take his Science Based Medicine blog posts and turn them into podcasts. He adds enough new material and humorous asides that even if you read his post you won't be bored. This ep he covers acupuncture. He reviews the paucity of research some health journalists like to claim exists to support acupuncture. He examines an interesting claim that acupuncture was practiced by the ancients. See ancient acupuncture needles were found in Mongolia. This is one of those claims web site after web site simply repeats without giving the primary source of this claim. Dr. C tried to find the primary source. He discovered that, yeah, ancient people used needles but they used them for tattooing and scarification. It's only hand waving by quacks that turns them into ancient medical devices.

-- Karl

(If you're wondering about the title, it's the total amount of time needed to listen to all the podcasts reviewed in this post.)

1 comment:

  1. Karl,

    A long time ago, I talked to a cousin of an old flame who spent his career in the USN on Boomers, ballistic missile boat. Basically, there is really nothing stopping any Captain of a Boomer, to go all Gene Hackman and drop 72 nukes on a country if they could fake up a reason to the crew such as "Seattle, Baltimore, Bangor, Detroit, and Erie have all been blown off the face of the Earth, let's get'm. I did not sleep well for almost half a week, so freaked out I was.

    If my wife has her way, the Koreans will probably get an iPad before me. Real question: Were iPods kept out of the country or was iTunes blocked or both? Just curious.

    Final comment - I like the idea of a very special CS that is a record smashing four or five hours long. The CS that starts with lunch and ends with dinner.


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