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On the shifting role of racism in American slavery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2016

In a recent episode of his EconTalk podcast, host Russ Roberts talks with Michael Munger about a paper Munger co-authored about how white Southern attitudes toward slavery shifted from around 1815 to 1835. The episode is interesting throughout,1 but I want to highlight this attitude shift Munger writes about in the paper, something I was previously unaware of.

Sifting through documents from the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Munger and his co-author Jeffrey Grynaviski found that Southern whites believed, in the first decade or two of the 19th century, that owning slaves was evil but necessary. There was this system in place and it was bad but we’re gonna go with it because, whaddya gonna do? But in a period of about 20 years, due to a variety of factors, mostly economic, the justification for slavery shifted primarily to a racist one: that black people were inferior and needed to be cared for by whites. Southern whites came to believe, like really believe, that they were doing their slaves a favor by enslaving them and that the slaves were better off than they would be in Africa.

The way we defined it in this paper was that racism became a substitute justification for slavery. And the reason was, the original justification for slavery, which was the Roman one of wasn’t good enough. And so Southerners cast about and found basically an alternative, which was the Greek justification for slavery. And let me just say very briefly what those two are. The one justification for slavery, and it was pretty common in Rome, was that if you lost a battle and were captured, then you might either be killed or kept as a slave. And there is a mutually beneficial exchange, if you will, in the sense that you’ve already lost. So, me saying, ‘I tell you what: I won’t kill you if you will agree to act as my slave for the rest of your life. And I may free you; I may not; but that’s up to me.’ And you say, ‘Killed/be a slave: I’m going to go with the slave thing.’ But, it meant that some slaves were very excellent. And in Roman society some slaves occupied very high positions, positions of respect. It’s just that they made this promise. It was an economic institution. And that was the way that slavery had existed in Africa: if you lost a battle, then you would be captured by the other side. It was almost like indentured servitude: you could work it off.

Well, that didn’t work in the American South because they wanted to maintain slaves, to be able to identify slaves and to have a justification that would allow them to enslave the children — which the old Roman justification would never have allowed. You are not going to be a slave if you are born to a slave, because you didn’t lose in battle: you would have been free.

So, the Southerners needed a different way, so they were looking for the Aristotelian notion of slavery, which is that slaves are people who are either morally inferior or lack the judgment to make independent choices. They are like children or like horses. That means that you actually have a positive-good justification for enslaving them: if I have a thoroughbred horse or a fancy dog, it would be cruel of me to set it loose to let it run around, because it’s not capable of taking care of itself. I have obligations to take care of it. My ownership actually gives me obligations. And what’s interesting and what this paper is about is how Southerners worked that out between about 1815 and 1835, and started to understand the implications for how they had to change the economic institutions of slavery to match this new ideology that they were creating.

Yet another example of how powerful economic self-interest is in shifting moral beliefs.

  1. Although it was uncomfortable at times listening to two privileged pro-market white guys talking about slavery, particularly in the moments where they discuss matters from the slaves’ perspectives. But in fairness, they do a good job in admitting their privilege and the awareness that their economic beliefs may not square with things like human rights and justice forms the basis of a fascinating conversation.

We Work Remotely

Danny Meyer tells the Shake Shack origin story

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2016

On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.

Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that’s still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.

Grimes breaks down her music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2016

On a recent episode of Song Exploder (the podcast where musicians dissect their songs), host Hrishikesh Hirway talks to Grimes about how she made Kill V. Maim for her latest album, Art Angels, which is one of my favorite albums from the past year.

Warm Regards, a new podcast about climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2016

Eric Holthaus, the internet’s favorite meteorologist, is hosting a new podcast on climate change called Warm Regards (on iTunes). A recent episode is embedded above and here’s a bit more about the show, including some info about his co-hosts:

Joining me with co-hosts Andy Revkin, a veteran environment writer for the New York Times who has covered climate change for 30 years, and Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine who is an actual, real-life climate scientist and flawlessly navigates climate Twitter.

Also, Holthaus recently started a project on Patreon to support his independent journalism on climate change. I’m in for $3/mo…chip in if you enjoy Eric’s work and Twitter contributions and wish to see more.1

  1. I wish all of Holthaus’ Patreon stuff was public, not just for the people supporting him. I want to fund his current public work and help him create more work that will, hopefully, be disseminated far and wide. The folks that need intelligent writing and podcasting about climate change aren’t the people who are going to back him. I know it’s difficult to make that pitch to people (i.e. you get what everyone else does whether they pay or not), but I think most people are paying to support Holthaus and his work, not to get members-only stuff.

The secret to success: take risks, work hard, and get lucky

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

Tech investor Fred Wilson recently gave the commencement address for the very first graduating class at the Academy For Software Engineering. In it, he shared the secret to his success:

So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.

I essentially1 agree with Wilson here. Earlier today I was listening to the latest episode of the Recode Media podcast where Peter Kafka’s guest was Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Gruber recounted how he got started blogging about Apple and eventually turned it into a very successful business. I’ve heard the story before and it conforms nicely to Wilson’s path to success.

1. Take risks. Gruber bet heavily on three things for Daring Fireball: Apple, blogs, and (later) podcasts. None looked that impressive from a business standpoint when his bets were made. In 2002 when he started writing DF, Apple was still an underdog computer company whose partisans had mostly stuck with the company through its lean years of offering products that weren’t competing well and which didn’t exemplify the ideals of the Apple of yore. The iPod had just come out a year earlier and the life- industry- company-changing iPhone was years in the future. But Gruber never viewed Apple as an underdog…to him it was a legendary company in the world poised for future greatness. Professional blogs were just starting to be a thing back then as well, and it was far from certain that you might be able to earn even a partial living from them, especially on your own. And when he started his Talk Show podcast in 2007, podcasting was still largely a hobbyist endeavor. Sure, you could make some money doing it, but 9 years on, there’s big money to be had for the most popular shows. Three risky bets that paid off.

2. Work hard. Tens of thousands of posts and hundreds of hours of podcasts over the past 13+ years, yeah, I think that covers it. Gruber has put in the necessary ass-in-chair time.

3. Get lucky. There’s a lot of luck sprinkled around the success of DF, but perhaps the biggest break Gruber got was Apple’s decision to open up the iOS App Store to outside developers. Suddenly, you had all of these developers, startups, established software companies, and venture capitalists pouring money into the development and promotion of iOS apps. So these companies had money and needed somewhere to advertise their apps, a place where they could be sure all of the most influential and rabid Apple aficionados would see their message. Daring Fireball was the obvious place and the site’s RSS sponsorships were the perfect format.

  1. Although I would assign a much larger role to luck than he might. Being born white and male in the US in the late 20th century is a massive advantage that is often brushed under the carpet in such discussions. “Take risks” can be literally dangerous in an institutionally racist/sexist/classist system.

The What Hurts podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2015

My pal-in-syndication Dave Pell of Nextdraft has a podcast with Phil Bronstein called What Hurts. Pell writes in today’s newsletter:

On my podcast with Phil Bronstein, we focused on the adrenaline culture — people and journalists so anxious to publish the answer, they have no time for facts or context. The podcast is getting pretty good: Listen on our site, or subscribe to the podcast in your favorite app: What Hurts: The Need for Speed.

The 50 best non-fiction podcasts

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2015

Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder polled 1600 people to find a list of the 50 best non-fiction podcasts. The list skews nerdy, science, and tech. The top 5 is unsurprising:

1. This American Life
2. Radiolab
3. Serial
4. 99% Invisible
5. WTF with Marc Maron

Mystery Show podcast by Starlee Kine

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

My commute these days doesn’t lend itself to listening to headphones and I can’t listen to anything with words while I work, so I don’t listen to many podcasts. But I’ve been driving more than usual this summer, so I’ve had a chance to dip into some shows, old favorites and newcomers alike.

I’ve only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine’s new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine’s ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.

The second mystery concerns a not-so-popular book seen clutched in Britney Spears’ hand in a paparazzi photo. [Mild spoilers follow…listen to the show if you wish to remain unsullied.] Where did she get it? Did she read it? And if so, did she like it?

The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting — What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? — but the best part of the whole thing was Kine’s conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, “you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness”, which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.

Putting a price on the priceless

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2015

In their latest full episode, Radiolab examines the concept of worth, particularly when dealing with things that are more or less priceless (like human life and nature).

This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.

I have always really liked Radiolab, but it seems like the show has shifted into a different gear with this episode. The subject seemed a bit meatier than their usual stuff, the reporting was close to the story, and the presentation was more straightforward, with fewer of the audio experiments that some found grating. I spent some time driving last weekend and I listened to this episode of Radiolab, an episode of 99% Invisible, and an episode of This American Life, and it occurred to me that as 99% Invisible has been pushing quite effectively into Radiolab’s territory, Radiolab is having to up their game in response, more toward the This American Life end of the spectrum. Well, whatever it is, it’s great seeing these three radio shows (and dozens of others) push each other to excellence.

Serial

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2014

I look forward to every Thursday in a way that I don’t remember awaiting the release of an episode of anything recently. There’s something very intimate about someone telling you a story that close to your ears.

That’s Jason Reitman echoing the thoughts of the many listeners who have turned Serial — a new podcast from the producers of This American Life — into the fastest growing podcast ever. Twenty years ago, we were all hooked on TV and radio. Twenty years of technology advances later, we’re all hooked on TV and radio. Content is king.

For those who are already knee deep in the Serial serial, Vox has a complete guide to every person in the podcast.

Gastropod

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2014

Gastropod is a new podcast about about food “through the lens of science and history” from radio journalist Cynthia Graber and Edible Geography’s Nicola Twilley. Episode 1, embedded below, is about the history of cutlery.

Chances are, you’ve spent more time thinking about the specs on your smartphone than about the gadgets that you use to put food in your mouth.

But the shape and material properties of forks, spoons, and knives turn out to matter-a lot. Changes in the design of cutlery have not only affected how and what we eat, but also what our food tastes like. There’s even evidence that the adoption of the table knife transformed the shape of European faces.

Song Exploder

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2014

On each episode of the Song Exploder podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians about how their songs were made…”where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.” I listened to this episode about the House of Cards theme song via this 99% Invisible episode and the inaugural episode features Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service talking about The District Sleeps Alone Tonight:

I’m, like, Unprofessional basically

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2013

I write like I talk. Or at least I thought I did. But after listening to the first 10 minutes of this episode of Unprofessional I did with Lex Friedman and Dave Wiskus, that is untrue. Because I, you know, actually talk, like, like this, basically. You know. Yeah. Gonna have to, um, work on that if, basically, you know, I’m gonna keep doing, like, podcasts. Basically. But Lex and Dave sound so silky smooth so you should give it a listen in spite of, you know, me.

The Internet’s Jason Kottke joins Lex and Dave to talk digital friendships, the future of keeping in touch, and what life would be like without connectivity.

Why isn’t the sky blue?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2012

This segment of the most recent episode of Radiolab about color is super interesting. It seems that people haven’t always seen colors in the same way we do today.

What is the color of honey, and “faces pale with fear”? If you’re Homer—one of the most influential poets in human history—that color is green. And the sea is “wine-dark,” just like oxen…though sheep are violet. Which all sounds…well, really off. Producer Tim Howard introduces us to linguist Guy Deutscher, and the story of William Gladstone (a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s, and a huge Homer-ophile). Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.

It’s worth listening to the whole thing…the bit at the end with the linguist’s daughter and the color of the sky is especially cool.

Where inspiration comes from

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2012

From the 99% Invisible podcast, the story of how Charles Dickens’ pet bird (eventually) inspired Geico’s caveman commercials. I loved this.

If you liked it too, you might consider backing their Kickstarter campaign raising funds to produce their third season.

Back on Bullseye

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2012

Jesse Thorn had me on Bullseye again to talk links. We discussed Benton’s ham (see if you can make it past the “we’re about to go ham” crack at the beginning) and Senna, one of my favorite films from the past six months.

On Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2012

I was pleased to make an appearance on the most recent episode of Jesse Thorn’s pop culture radio show, Bullseye. I shared a couple of my favorite links from the past month, both of which worked pretty well for the radio. The whole show is available here or you can just listen to my segment:

Real designers sell their work

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2011

Well worth a listen: Dan Benjamin interviews Mike Monteiro on The Pipeline podcast about his design work and Twitter infamy. The last 10 minutes or so, where Mike calls out designers who don’t talk to clients, is gold. One of the reasons I got out of design is that I was never very good at that part of the job and as Mike says, you have to be able to not only accept but embrace selling your designs to truly succeed.

Parasites are fascinating

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2009

The newest episode of Radiolab is about parasites. It features what is one of my favorite links from the past few years: the story of Jasper Lawrence’s quest to infect himself with hookworm in order to cure his asthma (also available here).

Based upon what I read, and what I learned about the hookworms I decided that I was going to try and infest myself with hookworms in an attempt to cure my asthma. I was not willing to wait ten or more years for the drug companies to bring a drug to market. It was obvious to me that hookworms, for a healthy adult with a good diet, are quite benign. This account details my experiences, how I went about it, and the things I have done since infestation to calibrate my level of infestation so that in the end I was able to cure my asthma and hay fever with hookworms. These same techniques are of course applicable to any hookworm infestation, whether you want to control asthma, hay fever, colitis, Crohn’s disease or IBD.

Lawrence even sells hookworms to others so that they won’t have to travel to a third world country to contract them.

A Life Well Wasted podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2009

A Life Well Wasted is a well-produced podcast about “video games and the people who love them”, sort of a gaming version of Radiolab or This American Life. Each episode is accompanied by a limited edition poster designed by the awesome Olly Moss.

Update: The Bygone Bureau has an interview with A Life Well Wasted’s creator, Robert Ashley.

Quick hitter from Radiolab as a preview

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2008

Quick hitter from Radiolab as a preview of the new season: composer David Lang talks about a piece of music he made for a morgue. Appropriate listening for the crappy rainy day here in NYC. Hopefully the weather will be better for Radiolab’s live premiere of their fourth season on Feb 21 at the Angelika.

Speaking of podcasts, The New Yorker has

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2008

Speaking of podcasts, The New Yorker has a couple of interesting ones on iTunes: readings from the Fiction section and from the weekly Comment essay in Talk of the Town.

Radiolab has been getting some love from

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2008

Radiolab has been getting some love from quite a few of the sites I read (Snarkmarket originally turned me on to the show), so I thought I’d offer mine as well. I don’t listen to the radio or to podcasts, but lately I’ve made an exception for Radiolab. It’s about science, the editing is wonderful and unique, Jad Abumrad is one of the best radio voices I’ve ever heard, and to top it off, their shows are really fascinating.

Their show on Memory and Forgetting from last June is particularly good. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, the Adding Memory (especially Joe Andoe’s story) and Clive segments are almost must-listens.

You can listen to Radiolab on their site, on a variety of US radio stations, as a podcast, or though iTunes.

Update: Radiolab did a session at the Apple Store in Soho about their editing process and thought process. (thx, dan)

Listeningtowords looks like the beginning of a

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2007

Listeningtowords looks like the beginning of a nice resource for sharing/discussing freely available audio files of lectures. Lots of stuff here I’ve never seen before.

Some podcasts are available from Core’s Design 2.0

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2006

Some podcasts are available from Core’s Design 2.0 conference held in NYC back in February. The next conference is in SF in June.

The Edge has a transcript and an

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2006

The Edge has a transcript and an mp3 recording of an event called The Selfish Gene: Thirty Years On. The speakers include Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.