Sunday, June 21, 2009

Morality in Politics - BBC Reith Lectures

On the BBC Reith Lectures 2009, Michael Sandel tries to make a case for allowing morality to be relevant in the political discourse. I find that refreshing. Morality seems to be generally regarded as something to avoid in debate. I think this is the ultimate result of moral relativism: morality is too subjective to be open for discussion. The greatest loss there seems twofold, not only have important, moral, issues - as Sandel also argues - been taken out of the public debate and left undecided, I fear it has also made the whole discussion more difficult than ever. We have lost touch with ways to debate morality, lost the terms, the ways and the language.

And so, it is truly exciting to enter the second in the series of Reith Lectures and find Sandel attempting to show the relevance of morality in politics. Regretfully, this lecture was tad less powerful. The multitude of examples was difficult to cope with. The cognitive leaps, the conceptual construct were harder to grasp.

Nevertheless, the series is of eminent quality and importance. It is a pleasure to listen in and a great good the lectures are available on podcast.

More Michael Sandel:
Reith Lecture one,
Michael Sandel on Philosophy Bites.

The Ferris Wheel and other historic experiences

While we are on the subject of history podcasts that excel in narration, we should not only note the lengthy Hardcore History, but also the remarkably concise Memory Palace (feed)

In The Memory Palace Nate DiMeo delivers five minute histories bringing the data to life, just as Carlin so aptly does. His latest tale was of the Ferris Wheel in Chicago. How the organizers of the world fair in Chicago needed a special attraction that could in some way rival the Eiffel Tower. But Paris was unparallelled, how can Chicago possibly compete? DiMeo portrays the confusion and panic and the solution: The Ferris Wheel. He tells the tale as if we are ON the wheel. And you almost cry when it must come to an end.

This was episode 13 and is entirely representative of this beautiful podcast. Just as with Dan Carlin: you do not have to be in love with history to appreciate this. And if Dan Carlin is prose. Nate DiMeo is poetry.

More The Memory Palace:
The hollow earth,
The Memory Palace - history narration.

Ghosts of the Ostfront - Dan Carlin's Hardcore History

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History has proceeded to the second chapter about the Eastern Front in World War II. Hardcore History is a unique history podcast in that it tells the tales of history in a very dramatic fashion and manages like no other to bring history to life. For this podcast, history is not just the world of data and their chronology, it is the story of people, real people whether it be days long gone or recent history such as in the latest episodes.

My criticism on the first chapter was that maybe here and there the podcast went over the top, that the drama got a little bit melodramatic here and there. This has been made up for in the second chapter. The drama is still the same: autocratic leaders take fatefully unwise decisions and poor souls on the ground pay the price. But this time you are there in the freezing mud with them without exaggeration. The facts are exceptional enough in themselves.

Dan Carlin's podcast has a huge following and it is my experience that dedicated listeners love their favorite podcast to be as long as possible. And Hardcore History is very long. For those who are new and decide to take up this remarkable experience this may be something you want to be prepared for: Dan Carlin takes his time to paint the picture. It is a total immersion podcast.

More Hardcore History:
Dan Carlin about the East Front,
Gwynne Dyer Interview,
Interview with Victor Davis Hanson,
Punic Nightmares III.

Psyconoclasm - Psychology podcast review

A new podcast on science and psychology is Psyconoclasm by David Bradley. In the first episode it kicked off extremely well with an interview with Keith Stanovich on scientific and unscientific approaches in psychology. (feed)

Stanovich calls this subject 'the problem with Freud'. He explains Freud worked with case studies and works hard to show case studies are not enough to draw generalized conclusions from. Yet, it is Freud who people think of, when they think of psychology. Thus they have no idea of what other fields t here are and miss out on proper methodology.

The whole of the interview is dedicated to discussing that second aspect: proper methodologies for psychology as a science. (transcript) An important example to figures in his argument is the case of 'Clever Hans'. This was a German horse that was supposed to have mathematical talent. Stanovich takes the case to show how such a claim (this horse can do arithmetic) can be properly researched. This is not simply by observation, quite to the contrary. He makes a case for the rigors of controlled testing and defends the use of labs in the face of criticism that this can never be applicable to real life situations.