Saturday, February 27, 2010

This Week Had 549 Minutes


If that title sounds familiar it's because it is. Via iTunes Podcasts, PBS releases select audio only editions of its Frontline investigative journalism show that typically follows Nova. I love Frontline but I never seem to catch it anymore. My cable has PBS on some improbable channel like 64 (I think you need to click past the Federal Parliament channel, the Ontario Legislature channel, and Sikh Today to get to PBS). Also I'm pretty sure it runs against The Office. So. Forget about it. I downloaded an episode called Flying Cheap. It's about a Continental Airlines commuter airline crash a few years ago. Pilot error was to blame in a huge way. Tired pilots, earning poverty level wages, pilots poorly trained on the equipment they flew. They didn't even know enough to put a plane into a dive in the event of a stall warning. Turns out these commuter routes are subcontracted to small local carriers and the reimbursement structure promotes cost cutting. You've probably flown these a few times, especially if you're flying from a smaller airport to a hub. Those little prop driven Buddy Holly jobbers. Whenever I've flown one my greatest fear has been the plane will lack a coffee maker. Little did I know there are bigger problems. All 'n' all the show holds up quite well despite the lack of visuals.


If that title sounds familiar then you're wrong. It's not about the board game that has taught generations of kids:

a) the Kamchatka Peninsula exits

b) why comic book super villains always promise Australia to their mistress. It's a lousy continent in which to launch a land war on Asia.

No, Risk is in the same vein as The Moth and This American Life. Real people telling real stories. The tone of the show is a bit, I dunno, barbershop. That's the only way I can describe it, but once you get past the jangly opening, Risk has a slew of interesting story tellers. While The Moth tops in at 12 minutes a show, Risk presents about an hour of great stories.

The Good Grief ep has a great story about a tall white kid who actually went up against a young, pre-NBA Kobe Bryant in a local pickup league and it was his job to trash talk the future mega NBA star. The best thing he can come up with is to taunt Kobe with his excellent SAT scores. To which Kobe responds “I've been drafted by the NBA and I'll be a millionaire next year.”

The Geologic Podcast

A couple weeks back we had an absolutely brilliant “fan” show. This is where listeners of the show do basically a parody of George's show. This week George is back with a 50 minute interview with a guy who won TAM's essay contest. He's a cancer survivor and has some amusing stories to tell about avoiding appealing to a deity for reasons why he got cancer, why he beat cancer, and why the three year old a floor below didn't. Shit happens.

Planet Money

Planet Money ran a bit of a repeat of a segment from This American Life. One of the hosts investigates what kind of human-like rights corporations have and why they have them. They also had mid week show about the Greek debt crisis. They poked a lot of fun at the Greeks but drew many parallels about the Greek debt crisis and America's own looming debt crisis.

Holocaust Denial on Trail

Another new one. I found this one via Orac's blog. Produced by Emory University (famous for those raspy boards your mom uses to file her nails), it's a show examining this most bizarre form of denial: the holocaust never happened. Holocaust deniers are scum, surely, but sometimes you have to laugh at their argument cascade: it never happened, but if it did, then it wasn't so bad, and even if it was bad, Jews and America were as much to blame. So there. I downloaded a show with an interview with Michael Shermer. Shermer applied his “why do people believe strange things” to holocaust denial. Basically, people tend to first believe things for emotional reasons, then they find intellectual arguments to support them. The reason why so many smart people believe such weird things is they're quite good at cooking up science-y arguments to support their emotional beliefs.

The Reality Check Episode 77

The show opened with a parody of 867-5309 (“Jenny Jenny I got your number”). Jenny in this case referred to anti-vax loon Jenny McCarthy. The show focused on the idea chocolate can prevent strokes. It's a classic tale of the media picking up on a wash of fact and then pronouncing X the new “super food”. The study looked at a few studies that suggest people who eat chocolate have lower strokes. However the study cautioned nothing was done to control for the fact people who eat more chocolate have more money and have better healthcare and lifestyles. The show also looked into the mythological Pacific coast Indian creatures that have been used as the basis of Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascots. The most noticeable of these is a bigfoot mascot. Many bigfoot proponents like to claim since Indians have been talking about bigfoots for hundreds of years, this is good evidence they're real. This is a bit of cherry picking as pacific coast Indians also tell legends about half fish half bear creatures but no one claims this is evidence these creatures should also exist. Finally they expose several myths about why Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC. There are many urban legends like KFC created a six legged chicken and it's no longer legally allowed to call it a chicken.


Russ “Soul Brother Number One” Roberts had on Garett Jones. Jones Twitters little economic puzzles that seem counter intuitive. Like “if a company lobbies for a tax break, it's best not to give them the tax break” or “why are political ear marks actually a good thing?” To the first, I guess most companies just treat tax as a cost of doing business and they engineer around it. To give them a tax break might just make them lazy. You want to give people tax breaks to make them do things they wouldn't otherwise do. To the second, ear marks don't actually amount to much in the US budget. Maybe $10 billion in a $1.3 trillion budget. A rounding error as the economics jokes goes. What they do is buy a politicians loyalty to the party and in the short run they're cheaper. You could buy loyalty by giving a senator $1 million for a new water treatment plant or you could promise to increase medicare funding in his state to the tune of $5 billion. It's Machiavellian surely but it works.

Math Mutations

Math Mutations is a cute little podcast about math topics that host Erik Seligman tries to break down for the lay person. He seems to be on no regular schedule and might do 3 a month or 2 a month or 1 a month. His latest episode he tries to explain why my right and left might be different from your right and left depending on how you stand relative to me but up and down are always the same for both of us.

This American Life

TAL has a series of stories on people trying to please their parents. There was one rather sad/spooky one about a woman who lost her Mormon mother. Before her mother died, she wrote her, Hari Seldon style, a series of letters to be opened several times throughout her life. The mother's vision of her daughter's future and the daughter's actual existence begin to diverge quite radically and this causes the daughter no end of grief and sadness. The ep winds up with a disturbing story about a scientist husband/wife team who adopt a baby chimpa and try to raise her like they'd raise a daughter. They teach her sign language, how to make tea, eat with a fork, and masturbate to Playgirl. That's one swinging mom and pop. Eventually the chimp hits adulthood, reverts to her wild phase, and they have to basically dump her back in Africa.

The Seoul Podcast

This week's ep is about what we'd call Chinese New Year. In Korea it's called Sollal. Like most eps, it starts with a fake ad. This one is particularly hilarious. Adopting the Monster Truck show commercial format, it's for a tractor pull like show called Mega Monster Bus Madness and a pre-game “bbq twinkie cookoff”. Ah you really have to live in Korea to get the jokes. But put succinctly, half of Korea gets on buses, planes, and trains and goes north and the other half get on planes, trains, and buses and they head south. It's 3 days of commuting nightmare and best spent by expats in a bar, far away from anything with wheels. No guest this week and the tall and beautiful Hwarangi (which apparently doesn't mean female tiger) did not return. Probably the best part of this show was its abrupt ending. Cohost Joe's internet connection died, leaving Stafford to find a graceful exit from a show about 60 minutes too short. Stafford employs a lot of classic “we're experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by” sound clips from TV and then gives up the ghost and goes straight to a Joe-less goodbye.

- Karl

1 comment:

  1. No event in human history has been studied as thoroughly and carefully than the Holocaust. Thousands of thesis and dissertations papers have poured over mountains of data, from physical evidence and anecdotal testimony to captured German war documents. Virtually everyone with a PhD in History will stake their career on the fact that millions of Jews were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany. One can no more "revise" this fact than one can revise the existence of gravity. Wannsee Conference records prove that Nazis planned the extermination of Jews as, "The Final Solution." German concentration camp records prove that it was carried out.

    Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions.

    Holocaust deniers ply their mendacious poison everywhere, especially with young people on the Internet. Deniers seek to distort the truth in a way that promotes antagonism against the object of their hatred, or to deny the culpability of their ancestors and heroes.

    Museums and mandatory public education are tools to dispel bigotry, especially racial and ethnic hatred. Books, plays, films and presentations can reinforce the veracity of past and present genocides. They help to tell the true story of the perpetrators of genocide; and they reveal the abject terror, humiliation and degradation resulting from prejudice. It is therefore essential that we disclose the factual brutality and horror of genocide, combating the deniers’ virulent, inaccurate historical revision. We must protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.

    A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We must insist that religious, racial, ethnic, gender and orientation persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's only hope. Only through such efforts can we reveal the true horror of genocide and promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.

    Charles Weinblatt
    Author, "Jacob's Courage"


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