Monday, November 30, 2009

New podcasts in November 2009 - Anne is a Man

In spite of being struck by blog block, I have managed to review 16 new podcasts this month. I still owe you many more, among others a hand full of podcasts that teach Hebrew. That will come in December.

Apart from podcasts for learning German there was a relatively large amount of religion related podcasts. Secular as my own outlook on life is, also these podcasts usually take a cultural, modern or historic, angle.

Language Learning:
My Daily Phrase German (review, site, feed)
Course in German phrases and basic grammar.

Learn German (review, site, feed)
Course in German phrases and basic grammar.

German GrammarPod (review, site, feed)
A podcast that systematically goes through German grammar; a good supplement to your German learning.

Deutsch - warum nicht? (Deutsche Welle) (review, site, feed)
Innovative approach to learning German, with a lot of emphasis on getting the sound of the language.

Slow German (review, site, feed)
Annik reads a complete text in a slightly slower and meticulously pronounced German as to make it easier to follow for non-native speakers.

Religion podcasts:
Islamophonic (The Guardian) (review, site, feed)
Cultural podcast on Muslims in general and British Muslims in particular.

Sounds Jewish (The Guardian) (review, site, feed)
Cultural podcast on Jews in general and British Jews in particular.

New Testament History and Literature (Yale) (review, site, feed)
History course by Dale B. Martin at Yale introducing the New Testament and Early Christianity.

Tapestry (CBC) (review, site, feed)
Weekly conversations on spiritual issues with Mary Hines.

Other podcasts:
Human Happiness (Berkeley) (review, site, feed)
Psychology course by Dacher Keltner at Berkeley.

MMW 1 by Tara Carter (UCSD) (review, site, feed)
Inspired course at UCSD in human evolution, anthropology and prehistory.

Biography Podcast (review, site, feed)
Chris Gondek interviews biographers about their subject.

Invisible Hand (review, site, feed)
Chris Gondek interviews specialists about issues in economics.

Prospect Magazine Podcast (review, site, feed)
Monthly column by Nigel Warburton; a philosopher comments on the news.

Marathon Princen (review, site, feed)
Een ruim tweehonderd minuten durend onderhoud dat Ronald van den Boogaard had in 1995 met Poncke Princen in Jakarta.

Ronflonflon (VPRO) (review, site, feed)
Satirisch radioprogramma uit 1984-1989 terug op podcast.

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I love to get new podcast recommendations. You can let me know your preferences by commenting on the blog or sending mail to Anne is a Man at: Anne Frid de Vries (in one word) AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk

Connect with Anne is a Man on
The Podcast Parlor on Ning.
The Podcast Parlor on Facebook.

Three minutes Warburton - Prospect Magazine

Do you like Philosophy Bites? You should. And if you are into quick philosophical podcasts by Nigel Warburton, you should try the promotional podcast of Prospect Magazine.

Nigel Warburton brings the Prospect Magazine Podcast with an audio version of his monthly column (feed). In up to three minutes the philosopher reviews a popular aspect of the news. The death of Micheal Jackson brings him to Sartre, Gordon Brown and Barack Obama exchanging gifts trigger thoughts about giving. Even the BNP cause a thought in philosophy.

If you like Philosophy Bites, you will enjoy this podcast as well.

Ronflonflon avec Jacques Plafond - VPRO podcast

Dit is een scene uit mijn studententijd. Koken en afwassen in het krappe keukentje op een etage in Oud-West. Op de koelkast een versleten transistor vol vet- en verfspatten. Uit de ruisende speaker klinkt de stem van Cor Galis: "En dit is nog steeds de VPRO via Hilversum 3." Hilversum drie bestond nog en trouw luisterden we naar Wim T. Schippers' Ronflonflon met Jacques Plafond.

De VPRO archieven zijn al jaren te bereiken op het internet, maar er worden van sommige succesprogramma's ook podcasts gemaakt. Sucessievelijk worden de afleveringen in de feed gezet, zodat je weer ouderwets op gezette tijden kunt luisteren - zo ook met Ronflonflon (feed). Inmiddels staan de eerste vijf afleveringen uit 1984 in de feed, al zijn zo goed als alle afleveringen (ongeveer 200) via VPRO's weblog te beluisteren.

Destijds had ik het idee dat er maar wat in elkaar geflanst werd, maar als je het terugluistert ontdekt je veel meer. Er wordt in Ronflonflon op geraffineerde wijze gespot met alle radio-conventies. En daarbij is het inmiddels pure nostalgie geworden om dit programma weer te horen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blog Block

I have never had this before. Two and a half years of running this blog has never left me without the drive to write posts. I have had internet cuts and absence on account of vacations and the like, but now it is different.

You may have noticed - if you follow my blog daily. I haven't been updating the blog daily, as I used to. And it is simply this: a blog block; writer's block for the blog. I have been listening to a lot of podcasts though and there a many recommendations to make. But I cannot put myself to writing just now.

I am sure it will pass, but allow me to stay silent for some more days to get my voice back. And take this post as a sign of life. I am around, I am OK, I am listening to many podcasts. Reviews are to be expected sooner or later. In the mean time, thank you for your patience.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Divorcing the Union - BBC Analysis

BBC Analysis took on a juicy subject: could Britain leave the EU? The answer to the question is as plain as it is predictable. Leaving the EU is possible, but the price may be high. Some citizens will benefit, some will pay and the extent to this is difficult to fathom. The elaboration of this answer seem more a means to convey the sentiments around Britain and the EU.

Apart from a nice trivia tidbit that Greenland was the first to leave the EU, the real interesting bit is how these sentiments are being played out. Especially as it becomes clear that the price of leaving may actually be so high as that for all practical purposes the UK is stuck in the EU. The politician pleading for divorce lashes out to the leading politicians and media for being, if reluctantly, in favor of staying a member. I have more trust in the common sense of the people, he plays his demagoguery and this reminded me of how uninformed underbelly politics is usually presented: as the higher wisdom of the common but silent people.

More BBC Analysis:
Shia theology against Ahmedinejad,
The future of Pakistan.

Ina Muller van Ast - Het Marathon Interview

In de serie van VPRO's Het Marathoninterview is de podcast naar het archief vernieuwd en weer van voor af aan begonnen. Deze week kwam een interview uit 1989 erbij: Ronald van den Boogaard sprak met Ina Muller-van Ast. Toen dit interview in de oude feed opkwam heb ik het ook al gerecenseerd en dit is wat ik toen schreef:

Doorgaans moet ik niets hebben van interviews met politici. Ik heb daarover al twee keer geklaagd in verband met Niko Koffeman. Politici zijn zo druk met hun imago en zo akelig goed bewust van hoe ze overkomen, dat alles wat er in een interview gebeurd te gepolijst, te bestudeerd, te geregisseerd eruitkomt. En als het niet het zelfbewust ego is dat de boel in de hand houdt, dan is het wel de partijdiscipline of de hete adem van de opiniepeilers en de grootste gemene deler van de kiezers, ingebeeld of niet.

Het contrast met Ina Muller kon niet groter zijn. Ik herinner me geen andere politici van haar kaliber en ik maak me geen illusies dat in de moderne, meer dan ooit door media gelikte tijd nog een politica als zij kan opstaan. Luister naar het interview en je snapt wat ik bedoel. Ze zegt waar het op staat. Ze staat voor haar principes en is zelfs transparant, wanneer Ronald haar dwingt te laten zien waar ze in onderhandelingen wil toegeven.

Nog mooier wordt het wanneer de emoties gaan meespelen. Wanneer ze volschiet als ze over Joop den Uyl vertelt. Uit haar slof schiet over Lubbers en Ruding. Ja zelfs de kiezer wordt niet gespaard. Waar zal je dat ooit zien? Een politicus die de kiezer aanpakt? Eigen schuld, moet je maar nadenken bij het stemmen. Ik heb geen nostalgie naar die tijd, zeker niet als je haar over de zaken hoort praten die eind jaren tachtig speelden, maar het is wel jammer dat het het interview zo gedateerd maakt. En het type van Muller des te meer. Of sterker nog: niet van deze wereld, want ook toen week ze af.

Meer Het Marathon Interview:
Jan Wolkers,
Henk Hofland (o.a.),
Diepenhorst en andere politici,
W.F. de Gaay Fortman,
Freek de Jonge.

Meer Ronald van den Boogaard:
Marathon Interview met Poncke Princen,
Marathon Interview met Jan Wolkers,
Marathon Interview met Arie Kleywegt,
Marathon Interview met Ward Ruyslinck,
Marathon Interview met G.A. Wagner.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Terry Eagleton on the God Debate - Tapestry CBC

Thanks to a tip from a reader of this blog, I was directed to the CBC radio (Canada) program Tapestry. Tapestry is a program in which host Mary Hines speaks with guests about issues of spirituality (feed). After listening to one program, I'd say the program is comparable with Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith (APM).

The issue that I took on first was immediately worth a recommendation. Taking on celebrity atheists was an rich conversation with Terry Eagleton. The most important subject was Eagleton's criticism on the ideas of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and their categorical rejection of religion. His point is that they understand very little of religion and in their comparison between science and rationalism with religious foundations basically make a category mistake. They take religious suppositions as factual and theoretic in the way of science.

In many ways this is an easy point to make as it is self-evident. Besides, it seems to me Dawkins and Hitchens actually write in reaction to religious people who in fact make exactly the same category mistake. The real strength, I would say, is Eagleton's expose of what is the power of religion, what is the essence of its philosophical and social meaning. In that respect Eagleton exposes a couple of fundamental weak points in a strictly naturalist, materialist view of the universe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New weeds in Africa - EEH

The Exploring Environmental History Podcast featured yet another interview on the subject of biological invasion and transformations. I will quote the podcast description below.

The guest on this episode of the podcast is William Beinart, Rhodes Professor of race relations and director the African Studies Centre in Oxford. Professor Beinart critiques Alfred Crosby’s idea of ecological imperialism. He argues that from the vantage point of Africa, part of the old world, Crosby’s discussion of asymmetrical plant exchange is problematic. Many species from the America’s were highly successful in Africa. He suggests that demographically, economically, and socially, the benefits have outweighed the costs of such invasive plants as prickly pear from Mexico and black wattle from Australia. The ecological costs have been greater but they are difficult to value. The podcast concludes with some brief comments on the relevance of a more flexible and less purist approach to concepts of biodiversity, and how this might be adapted to cater for transferred plants.

The exploring environmental history podcast is a production by Jan Oosthoek from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.

More Exploring Environmental History:
Biological invasions and transformations,
Environmental history: an applied science,
Defining Environmental History with Marc Hall,
Defining Environmental History - Paul Warde,
Defining Environmental History - Donald Worster.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dirty Hands - Philosophy Bites

Philosophy Bites is a podcast that should be on everybody's playlist. You do not need to have a special love for philosophy, nor special knack for it. Anybody can handle fifteen minutes of a carefully tailored philosophy interview and everybody is expected to be stimulated by it. Witness to this may also be the download figures the podcast published: it has been downloaded 5 million times!

This sizable audience was reached while the (currently) penultimate issue came on-line: a discussion with Tony Coady about dirty hands in politics. This issue takes on the common sense idea that policy makers, out of necessity have to make dirty hands. The short answer by Tony Coady is, that indeed they occasionally have to, but that policy is always an ongoing process and therefore this is justified only when there is indeed strong necessity and whatever dirty measures are taken, they should be abandoned as soon as possible.

I have a feeling the whole issue should actually be cut into two separate questions. The first is a factual one: do policy makers have to take harmful measures at times. Coady's answer implies that indeed, there can be a situation there is actually no other option, but to take a decision like for example going to war. The second part of the question is, whether such measure is justified and obviously, if there is indeed no other choice, then it is justified. And when, as Coady insists, the dirty hands measure is abandoned as soon as other alternatives become feasible, it surely stays justified. But can you speak then of dirty hands? Isn't Coady actually demanding politicians NOT make dirty hands? Surely you cannot call a generally dirty measure like going to war bad in a situation there is no good alternative.

The point Coady is trying to make though, is that it shouldn't be 'anything goes' for political leaders, nor can a superbly clean politics be required from the all the time.

More Philosophy Bites:
Understanding decisions,
Nietzsche repossessed,
What can you do with philosophy?,
Morality without God,
Pascal's Pensées.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ceasefire - UChannel

Who is not against war? Who won't have peace? When there is a speaker who pleads for a ceasefire in the most general sense, who pleads against war all over - who would not agree? What arguments are there that war should stop and that this will benefit people are actually unknown and would surprise us?

I set out to listen to a podcast issue at UChannel Podcast with exactly these questions. Professor Gordon Fellman spoke at the Brandeis University under the title Cease-Fire: The case for ending war. Fellman proposes three main, bad, reasons for war. One is that war serves the economy. Two is that war is an expression of a kind of cultural masculinity that needs to express itself in competitiveness and aggression in order to be satisfied. Three is that justified anger about serious issues is redirected towards enemies and war. Of course economy would be better off with peace, of course we could have self-esteem as nations without competition and aggression. And obviously internal politics should better be directed at the real issues in stead of redirecting towards external, imagined, adversaries.

How useful is it to propose these truisms? Apart from extreme war ideologists such as Adolf Hitler, no leader sent his nation off to war with the idea that war was actually laudable. War has been seen as the inevitable evil. To ascribe its rationalizations to economic conspiracy, false ideas about self-esteem and what are the true issues are a kind of unfalsifiable trick. It pushes people who feel threatened and think armament and if necessary war, are their only way to go as stupidly mistaken. It evades the question whether threats can indeed be serious, whether enemies can indeed be lethal and what needs to be the policy in such a situation. And then an argument for a case that could hardly be lost is wasted.

More UChannel Podcast:
Capitalism and Confusion - Amartya Sen,
Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and the Middle East,
Taming Religion - Ian Buruma trilogy,
Averting the disasters of climate change,
Interfaith and Compassion.

Poncke Princen - Het Marathon Interview

In 1994 verleende de toenmalige minister van buitenlandse zaken, Hans van Mierlo, een visum aan de deserteur Poncke Princen om zijn familie in Nederland te kunnen bezoeken. De officiele feed van Het Marathoninterview van de VPRO kwam deze week met de uitzending met Van Mierlo uit 1989, maar eigenlijk is het veel interessanter om naar het marathoninterview met Princen uit 1995 te luisteren.

We werden geattendeerd op het gesprek met Princen dankzij het blog van de interviewer Ronald van den Boogaard. Van den Boogaards stukje verwijst naar het interview met Princen op de website van Het Marathoninterview, maar het zal nog zeer lange tijd duren voordat het in de feed beschikbaar wordt. Daarom heb ik voor jullie een feed via Huffduffer gemaakt. Via deze feed naar het marathon interview met Poncke Princen kan je de drie geluidsbestanden (de eerste anderhalf uur, het tweede uur en het derde uur) in elke podcatcher ophalen.

Het meest fascinerend is het derde en laatste uur van het interview. Princen hield het gesprek in de tuin niet meer vol en de uitzending wordt vervolgd in de slaapkamer. Van den Boogaard en Princen vergelijken het met het liggen op de divan, maar mij leek het meer een sterfbed. En Princen spreekt de laatste woorden van een stervende man. Zijn woorden zijn mild, genuanceerd en ontdaan van elke wens om nog indruk te maken. Het meest verrassend is wel de waardering die Princen uitspreekt over dat Nederlandse volksdeel dat hem als landverrader ziet en hem met passie is gaan haten. Zij hebben hem gestimuleerd om ook na de Indonesische onafhankelijkheid te blijven strijden voor zijn idealen - ook als hem dat op een onvoordelige confrontatie met het regime van Suharto kwam te staan. Daar kan je wel drie keer naar luisteren.

Meer Het Marathon Interview:
Henk Hofland (o.a.),
Diepenhorst en andere politici,
W.F. de Gaay Fortman,
Freek de Jonge,
Het Marathon Interview - vernieuwde VPRO podcast.

Meer Ronald van den Boogaard:
Marathon Interview met Jan Wolkers,
Marathon Interview met Arie Kleywegt,
Marathon Interview met Ward Ruyslinck,
Marathon Interview met G.A. Wagner,
Marathon Interview met Ina Muller-Van Ast.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vietnam War perspectives - NBIH

Interview podcasts such as New Books in History are, in my opinion, a particularly effective genre. Podcast seems to fit interviews and the technicalities of recording phone calls, especially on internet channeled calls, are not particularly complicated. So it is uncomplicated and it gives a result that is accessible for the listener and this counts for the success of New Books in History among others. Yet, at times, NBIH has more than one interview guest and then it is more difficult to pull the whole thing off.

The interview with Mark Bradley and Marilyn Young that came out last week, is a case in point. The result is quite good; and by all means this interview is heartily recommended. The sounds levels on the two lines are evened out, which would not automatically be the case and this could result in one speaker to be less audible than the other. Apart from these technical points on the audio, there are the cues for the speakers. And here, Bradley and Young occasionally tread on each other and the result is a bit chaotic here and there.

After all, the issue is very good, thanks to the content. Bradley and Young edited a multi-perspective book on the Vietnam Wars and they manage to concisely offer, in the podcast, a glimpse of how many angles there are and what important insights there are to be had from the book. One perspective that is not in there, is the one that Bradley and Young call revisionist and that is the idea that the Vietnam War was actually won by the US, or if not, could have been won.

More NBIH:
1989 - Padraic Kenney,
The Ossie twilight,
The first day of LBJ,
Ayn Rand,
Atlantic History.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Testament history and literature - Yale

The DIY Scholar and others have already recommended Yale's new open course Introduction to New Testament History and Literature with Professor Dale B. Martin. And I am here to recommend it also. (feed)

However, a discussion rose in the Podcast Parlor, because in this lecture Dale Martin made an attempt to frame the origins of Christianity in the Judaism of the Second Temple Period and carelessly characterized Judaism as "an ideology of empire and world domination embedded in [the] scripture, and yet [the] social and political situation was just the opposite." This had some eyebrows raised yet Martin never made any renewed reference in the lectures afterwards to this crude line of thinking.

In stead he is fresh, provocative, clear and at times entertaining. He also stimulated me to refresh two other podcast series on the same subject: Thomas Sheehan's The Historical Jesus (feed) and Philip Harland's Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (feed). These two make for a wonderful addition and parallel coverage of the same subjects, each in their own way. It needs to be noted though that Sheehan's podcast is rather old and is not up to today's audio standards and also offers the chapters in the wrong order. It is still a great series, just check with the syllabus (which is part of the feed) in order to identify the right order.

Islamophonic - podcast at The Guardian

In an attempt to give Muslims a voice at the newspaper The Guardian has a podcast named Islamophonic in which host Riazat Butt explores Islam subjects in England and abroad. Abroad meant among others she went to Germany to get a taste of how Muslims are treated there, but it also meant joining up with the podcast Sounds Jewish (also by The Guardian) and discuss how the Gaza war affected English Muslims, Jews and their relationship. (Islamophonic feed, Sounds Jewish feed)

The Gaza issue was fascinating to listen to, especially to observe how everybody evaded the hot potato, that is, refrained from the faintest of inflammatory speech, to the extent there was even no hint of criticism. The Germany issue disappointed me as it just spoke of Turks, assuming all German Muslims to be Turks and all Turks in Germany to be Muslims. My warmest recommendation of a recent issue would be the one about Ramadan and Black Muslims.

The Ramadan subject delved into the practical question of how to cope with the daily fasting over the stretch of a whole month. A dietitian was invited to give good tips. The subject of Blacks took on the, I would expect to be controversial, issue of racism in the world of Islam. Whether overtly or not, the podcast claims there is a tangible hierarchy in which Arabs stand at the top, Asian Muslims (Pakistani, Malaysians etc.) follow. White Europeans seem to have an unclear, but surely favorable position, yet Blacks/Africans suffer being at the bottom. This affects the treatment in Mosques and on matters of intermarriage as is reported with examples.

More Islam:
Shia theology and Ahmedinijad,
Getting past current stereotypes on Islam,
The Sunni Shia split in podcasts,
Medieval Islamic Medicine,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Veertien Achttien: Freud en nieuwe feed

Dit weekend konden we genieten van Veertien Achttiens korte biografie van Sigmund Freud. Wat de speciale relevantie van Freud voor de geschiedschrijving van de Eerste Wereldoorlog is, moet een vraag zijn waarmee de luisteraar de podcast in kan gaan en achteraf nauwgezet de antwoorden overwegen.

Freuds heydays waren al zo min of meer voorbij - hij is toch meer een relevante figuur om te bespreken als het om de negentiende eeuw gaat. En als het al moeilijk is om het einde van die eeuw te duiden; er is toch ruime consensus dat in de Grote Oorlog de twintigste eeuw onmiskenbaar aangevangen is (liever niet spreken van goed en wel). Freud was ook geen deelnemer, maar eerder een toeschouwer en een vader van soldaten (zoals eerder Rudyard Kipling) en als toeschouwer is Freud altijd lucide.

Een drietal observaties worden door Tom Tacken in de biografie van Freud aangestipt. Ten eerste de ontdekking van Thanatos - de doodsdrift. Ten tweede de naijver van de vader voor de vitaliteit van zijn zonen. En ten derde, zij het kort, maar zeer belangrijk, de partijdigheid van de intellectuele elite. Het globalisme en wereldburgerschap dat dezen in de negentiende eeuw hadden verworven, werd gretig afgeworpen in de oorlog. Freud deed het ook even, maar schrikt al snel wakker uit de geestverduistering van het patriottisme. En wat volgt is zijn eigen Thanatos, maar dan is het al de Tweede Wereldoorlog, wanneer hij zelf verzoekt om te sterven.

Intussen is de podcast het echec van zijn vorige provider teboven gekomen en is er een nieuwe officiele feed: Veertien Achttien op Mevio.

Meer Veertien Achttien:
Edith Cavell,
Rudyard Kipling, (speciaal aanbevolen)
Ferdinand I van Bulgarije,
Veertien Achttien in transit,
Pegoud, Grimm - Veertien Achttien.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Understanding decisions - Philosophy Bites

Philosophy Bites invited Richard Bradley to speak of decision making. Understanding the way decisions are made is part of decision theory which was founded by the philosopher Frank Ramsey.

As usual Philosophy Bites manages in summarizing a large subject in under fifteen minutes. Decisions are displayed as being a function of people's desires and beliefs. The decision is then a gamble which contains an attempt to weigh the belief about risks involved counter the desired goals of the decision. The interviewer undertakes an couple of attempts to rule out desires and risks from certain decisions by certain people. Bradley parries by framing differences of culture or of rationality into the elements of desires and beliefs.

I wonder what is the role of decision theory in philosophy. I can see what it means in psychology and it is explained how it can be applied for public policy making. I can even imagine how this plays some role in public decision making, by politicians, administrators and even judges. All of this seems (applied) social science, so where is it philosophical? Or are the boundaries vague enough to have it fit both ways?

More Philosophy Bites:
Nietzsche repossessed,
What can you do with philosophy?,
Morality without God,
Pascal's Pensées,
Fourth Revolution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The good life we have lost

When we try to think of a way our forefathers, the hunter gatherers lived, we look to anthropology. What anthropology has described about the lives of current hunter gatherer peoples, it is assumed, gives an indication as how our ancestors went through life. In the early human history course MMW1 at UCSD, by Tara Carter, the hunter gatherers that are taken as an example are the Bambuti, or Mbuti, or as the not so political correct term is, pygmies of the Congo.

We sort of naturally expect, or at least I do, that any earlier moment in our history, people lived a much tougher life. Without necessarily being Hegelian we are, or at least I am, almost automatically drawn into thinking of our history as progression. And so, especially when thinking of prehistoric man, the pictures in the mind are that of hardship. Primitive man must have lived a life, as Hobbes put in, that was nasty, brutish and short. Solitary and poor, Hobbes also says, although that tends to be less cited. Even if solitary doesn't seem applicable, poor certainly does.

Listen then to Carter's 11th lecture in the series and pay attention to the answer when she asks how nasty the lives of the foragers, in this case the Bambuti, are. They never go hungry. Their diet is extremely varied. They are generally healthy. They have relatively few children and they work 20 hours a week. They travel light in tightly knit bands. Does that sound poor, nasty and solitary? Is that brutish or short? That sounds like the good life. The Congo rain forest may not be Manhattan, but who in Manhattan is healthy, works 20 hours a week and is not lonely? Rousseau may have been on to something.

More MMW1:
Human Evolution and Prehistory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shut out

Here is a quick post to let you know I have been without internet connection for most of the day. I managed to put in about 6 hours of podcast listening, but not a second of writing. That will follow after Saturday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

1989 - Padraic Kenney on NBIH

Like everybody else, New Books in History is also full of reminiscence of the fall of the Wall twenty years ago. Last week the DDR was subject, this week 1989 in a more broad aspect, but with emphasis on Poland in Marshal Poe's interview with Padraic Kenney.

Just like last week's guest Stevan Allen was in East-Germany, Padraic Kenney was in Poland when the Iron Curtain came tumbling down like a rusty wreckage. Of course the actual opening of the Berlin Wall was the apotheosis and the most tangible symptom of the communist demise, yet it was, according to Kenney, a mere incident in the chain of events. And in this chain, Germany was much less the place to witness the downfall of the Soviet System than Poland was, or Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

The most important element in the picture Kenney paints is the way in which the communists, before they effectively had lost their power, had lost their grip. Kenney describes it thus: people were no longer afraid of the authorities. Of course, people could still be arrested, but they began to feel nothing was really being done. They found they would be released anyway and it would be just having gone through the motions. And so the whole terror effect of the regime went absent. This was what made clear that barriers would open up rather sooner than later and that the communists would get out of power as well.

More NBIH:
The Ossie twilight,
The first day of LBJ,
Ayn Rand,
Atlantic History,
Political rationalizations in Nazi-Germany.

KRO's Voor 1 Nacht

KRO's voor 1 nacht, het interviewprogramma met Marc Stakenburg wordt gedragen door de gasten. Stakenburg beheerst de tachniek van het interviewen wel, maar Voor 1 Nacht als programma is kennelijk bedoeld om het gezellig te houden. De toon van de ondervraging neigt naar vrijblijvend. De gast krijgt de kans zichzelf te etalerenen de programmamakers proberen dat portret niet veel verder te sturen dan naar wat de meest gemiddelde luisteraar ongeveer had te weten willen komen.

Kortom, ik ga er nooit eens voor zitten om heel schokkende feiten te weten te komen, of om een spannend gesprek aan te horen. Dan selecteer ik de gasten van wie ik wat meer had willen weten en zo luisterde ik de afgelopen weken naar interviews met Frank Snoeks, Ilja Pfeiffer en Cox Habbema. En in die volgorde zou ik ze willen aanbevelen - van minst naar meest interessant.

Met Frank Snoeks is het gesprek het meest gezapig. Stakenburgs voor de hand liggende vragen krijgen obligate en politiek correcte antwoorden. Bij Pfeiffer spettert het al wat meer. Heeft de dichter iets laatdunkends over Amsterdam ten faveure van Leiden gesuggereerd? Stakenburg werpt zich dan even op als liefhebber van de hoofdstad, maar laat het duel al snel varen. Dan drijft het programma alleen nog op de onverwachte stipulaties van Pfeiffer. Alleen bij Habbema gebeurt nog iets meer. Ze laat haar irritatie over de open deur vragen van Marc Stakenburg en doet haar uiterste best om iets meer te zeggen dan het obligate. Bij haar zit je aan de uitzending gekluisterd en wil je alles over haar ervaringen in de DDR horen, omdat het nergens voor de hand ligt wat ze gaat zeggen.

Meer KRO's voor 1 nacht:
Ab Osterhaus,
Freek de Jonge,
Bennie Jolink,
Henk Spaan,
Maarten Ducrot.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Religion as culture - Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia starts her lecture identifying as an atheist intending to defend religion. The lecture appeared on Canadian TV (TVO) and was podcast in the series Big Ideas. Paglia's central point is that understanding of religion is essential to fully understanding human civilization, or as she says is more succinctly: religion must be studied as culture.

Hearing the lecture on podcast will be unproblematic (as I did). If you feel like it you can see the video and take along the Hollywood examples Paglia brought, but apart from a Cecil B. DeMille section, she just tells it without showing. What the Hollywood materials do there in the second part of the lecture, is serve as an example for the first part of the lecture as the last, most modern expressions in culture of religion. Apparently she would argue that we all go and see these great movies and that more of these should be made.

The real important part of the lecture is the first part though. This is where Camille Paglia makes clear how essential religion is to our culture and argues that religion needs to be known, needs to be studied and taught, lest we become alienated from our traditions. The implicit point being that you do not need to believe in God, in the stories and revere the symbolisms in order to need to know and esteem them. More strongly this means that in her definition religion is just the form in which our cultural baggage has come to us and we can freely take it, study it, learn it, know it and use it and be modern people at the same time. Modern people that are rationalist, informed by science and agnostic or possibly atheist and that reject the actual beliefs completely, yes even reject the morals. Still, even then, the religions of our ancestors are our cultural inheritance. Throw the stories and the symbols away and we turn into ignorants.

More Big Ideas:
Christopher Hitchens on the Ten Commandments,
The empire,
Lawrence Freedman - Big Ideas,
New Learning - Don Tapscott on Big Ideas,
On Crime.


The incomparably elegant German vodcast Ersatz TV had a spring and summer season in which is appeared every two weeks. Then, after a long summer break it was back, yet, it has not arrived at the frequency where it used to be. The second issue after the break came out only now which is four weeks after the previous one.

Nevertheless, the new show is as good as ever. As usual a couple of subjects are covered, in this case swarm robotics, light art and the confusing sizes of mass produced men's suits.

More Ersatz TV:
Electronics, then and now,
The last before Summer break,
Ersatz TV from the Underground,
The way of the plants,
The experts love Ersatz TV.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Global capitalism - the Gray view

The triumphalism has thoroughly passed. In the past twenty years there has been some period when stark, global capitalism was cherished with unconditional belief. But the trust has cracked, especially since economic crisis set in. Since then, the likes of Keynes are back in vogue. And also, one who never shared the excitement, London School of Economics professor John Gray.

It is always a pleasure to hear Gray on podcast (though you have to get used to his careful, toned down and understated speaking style) and on Global Capitalism he was invited to speak at the LSE podcast just recently. Gray reports of many 'unfruitful' discussions he has had with Francis Fukuyama who resembled part of the capitalist triumphalism with his famous book The End of History (1992). Gray's point was and is in this podcast: history never ends. This means that there will always be crises. No system, no ideology, no empire ever vanquishes for ever. Gray was proven right when he argued that old dormant conflicts would awaken again after the old conflict of the Cold War had gone.

So, with this prophetic power appearing in hindsight, he is challenged to look ahead. And even though he quotes Woody Allen that predictions are generally hard to make, especially when they are about the future, he gives it a try. Climate Change figures dominantly in his predictions as well as a continuation of the current economic crisis. Not only does he forecast, he also explains how he arrives at his ideas about where we are going - and that is what makes this lecture tantalizing.

More LSE:
Israeli at the London School of Economics,
Michael Sandel,
Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung,
Natural Resource Management,
The Iran power struggle.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Changing medical profession - NYRB

The podcast of the New York Review of Books (feed) is actually a promotional podcast for the paper. In the case of the issue where Jerome Groopman was interview about the changing medical profession (mp3) it actually worked. I went to read Groopman's article Diagnosis: What Doctors Are Missing.

In the podcast Groopman gets under twenty minutes to make some of his points, but apart from the bottom-line you will not be able to take away too much of them. It really helped to go and read the article and get more reference.

It is not all bad with the medical profession. Groopman begins to point out that crazy hours and the absence of team work and support are things of the past. Yet he points at a couple of new problems that have arisen. Obviously the economizing aspects that reduce the time doctors are with their patients can be bad and we need not too many examples to understand what he means. However, when he wants to argue that the trend to rely on evidence-based medicine has bad side-effects, at least I was surprised. Surely Groopman doesn't want to open the doors for untested alternative medicine, so what IS his point? In a nut-shell, medicine is not as general and empiric as evidence-based wants to have it and it cannot be totally formalized. Doctor's need the room to make decision about treatment based on the individual case without fear of roaming into malpractice.

More NYRB podcast:
David Cole,
Amateur Science - Freeman Dyson,
Roger Cohen in Tehran,
Ronald Dworkin.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Battle of Ramillies - Historyzine

First of all Historyzine is a history podcast that retells the War of Spanish Succession, a European war that took place 1701-1714. Host Jim Mowatt offers couple of additional rubrics that give a wonderful added value to the show and surely adds to the magazine feel of Historyzine. Over the last weeks, he has also produced episodes more frequently and that is what a magazine inevitably also needs.

The additional value for the latest show (#16) are for one a podcast review of Lars Brownworth's Norman Centuries; a review I can agree with (see my own about Norman Centuries). Another is once more a tidbit of language history. Mowatt reveals what he has found out about the origins of the expression nose to the grindstone. But of course, as usual, the main part of the show is the next story about the War of Spanish Succession.

A great improvement is that Mowatt starts his tale with a recap of what had happened so far an what this war was all about. It may have been a war about the throne of Spain, but most of the fighting went on in Belgium and Germany. There is some tale of what happens in Spain, but also in this show the main action is in Belgium: the battle around the village of Ramillies. In spite of advantages for the French and Bavarian forces, the Anglo-Dutch alliance raked in victory. Once again this is thanks to the great tactics of Mowatt's hero throughout the podcast: the Duke of Marlborough.

More Historyzine:
Winter diplomacy,
The lines of Brabant,
Historyzine at its best,
The battle of Blenheim,
Reliving the War of Spanish Succession.

Jennifer Burns on Ayn Rand - two more podcasts

Podcaster Chris Gondek did one interview with Professor Jennifer Burns about Ayn Rand whose biography she has written under the title Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. This one interview he edited to fit each on of two of his podcasts, The Biography Podcast (feed) and The Invisible Hand (feed).

I would have loved to hear the unedited interview, or at least the extended version that contained all the material for both podcasts. As it went now, I heard one and was excited about Gondek's announcement by the end that there was yet another interview on the other. Then I listened to the other and heard so much twice that I can't tell in hindsight what is fundamentally different between the two. So, listen to either one and choose depending upon the touch you'd like to get.

The Biography Podcast is, obviously, about biographies and has Burns talk about Rand's life, career and development. The Invisible Hand is a podcast about 'business, economics and strategy' and therefore puts the emphasis on Rand's political thought. Both versions start however with a questions about Rand's childhood and both interviews close with the question of what Rand would have thought was her legacy today. Although these are two professional, polished and to the point productions, my personal preference goes to the more raw and less balanced interview Burns gave at New Books In History.

More Jennifer Burns:
Jennifer Burns about Ayn Rand - NBIH,
History 7b - history podcast review,
American Civil Rights Movement,
Whittaker Chambers,
Scopes Trial.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Human Evolution and Prehistory

A significant majority of this blog is dedicated to history. A history student once told me history was a literary science, but the podcasts begin to teach me differently. Obviously, textual sources are extremely important for history, but more and more I see that it is interdisciplinary and it borrows from any other science it needs. Not only is this sociology and economics, but also natural sciences - as shown in the case of environmental history (podcast review). Most inevitable this is for prehistory.

Anything we know about humanity and the world before man produced texts we can read, must come from archeology, paleontology and more. If one follows courses about the earliest human history such as MMW 1 at UCSD (which offers this semester no less than 3 different ones), the road leads through all fields that touch on the emergence of man and culture. This is not only archeology and paleontology, this is also geology, biology, medicine and notably anthropology. Berkeley had a course in biological anthropology (review) that taught the human evolution as part of a biology course.

As said, at UCSD the course is part of history. It comes as the entry point in the Making of the Modern World cycle and among the three courses that are offered, I have chosen to follow the one by Tara Carter (feed). My choice was informed by the reviews delivered by the DIY Scholar: Two Great New Anthropology Classes and Why we stopped Foraging And Started Farming. She can be trusted as she claims that Carter's course is the best and she praises Carter for being contagiously excited about her subject. By  now I can fully agree.

And so, on offer are two long university courses and you may have wanted to get some smaller bits. For that purpose I want to turn you to the podcast by the Scientific American Science Talk (feed). Recently Science Talk had two consecutive issues offering three short interviews with researchers. A double feature about Lucy and about the Neanderthals, which is about the early human development. After that appeared a talk about later human evolution, which teaches what is more extensively explained in the university courses, that evolution keeps on going.

Although some would expect evolution to stop as soon as the species covers all the planet and has been adapted to all environments. This is not the case and an example that is used to show this is Sickle Cell disease. This is a blood disease that would have evolved away had it not been advantageous in areas with Malaria. Another podcast that discussed this in a short episode was Moments in Medicine (review).

Social Engineering for hackers

When I studied Sociology and Law, the term social engineering was used to designate all such activity, mostly instigated by the state, that attempts to steer society to develop in particularly desired direction. Social engineering was a macro-subject and entailed among others the study of Karl Popper's plea for piecemeal engineering. Anything on a micro-level I would have called applied social psychology.

The latest edition of the excellent Hebrew podcast Making History with Ran Levi (עושים היסטוריה! עם רן לוי), however speaks of social engineering (הנדסה חברתית) in this applied micro-context. The object of the show (מה מסתתר בתוך הטלפון של פריס הילטון) is to show how hackers succeed in what they do, more thanks to the application of social psychology than their wizardry in computer programming or other outstanding technical ability. Several examples are delivered to show how this has played out and they all show the same pattern. Technical and procedural shields against security breaches are in place and functioning well, yet the hacker acquires a crucial entry into the system by manipulating the weakest link in the chain: people.

One of the most eloquent examples is that of a failed hacking attempt. The user was aware that he was subject of a hacking attempt and fenced it effectively off. Yet, the hacker made a follow-up attempt by impersonating a security officer and approached that same user to report on the attempted security breach. "Oh and by the way, what was the info the hacker was after," he asked, upon which he immediately received the answer.

Apart from being informative and entertaining as this podcast always is, in this particular subject it is also very useful. The episode provides for one of the best training sessions everyone could get in order to be better prepared for hacking attacks.

More Making History with Ran Levi:
Ran Levi, then, now and about the Long Now,
Of nightmares and sleepwalking,
Mass Extinctions,
Making History with Ran Levi - עושים היסטוריה! עם רן לוי,
From Pavlov to Milgram.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Industrial Revolutions - Modern History lectures

About ten days ago I wrote a post about the various university lecture series you can follow about Modern Western History. Even though each of these have their own perspectives, themes and pet-subjects, there are a number of items that can simply not be passed over. One of those and one fo the first you are to encounter is that of the Industrial Revolution.

The latest of these courses is Professor John Merriman's European Civilization, 1648-1945. In this series lecture 8 is dedicated to this subject and it is aptly called: Industrial Revolutions. Observe the plural; an elementary point Merriman makes is that there are several industrial revolutions. A revolution for each population center, a revolution for each industry and consecutive revolutions. This means not only one wave of industrialization after another, but also, a kick off by an agricultural revolution.

Berkeley's History 5 by Professor Margaret Anderson also mentions the agricultural revolution and dedicates special attention to it. Without this phenomenon food supplies could not have grown to the level that allowed for larger urban centers and the freeing up of a sizable proportion of the population for industry rather than agriculture.

A cultural implication of the industrial revolution has been mentioned also by others (History 5 by Carla Hesse and UCLA's history 1c by Lynn Hunt), but most elegantly displayed by Merriman as yet another industrial revolution: factory work. As opposed to traditional work of farmers and artisans which is independent and flexible, the large scale enterprises after industrialization had to operate like clockwork. Industrialization revolutionizes therefore time and the worker's disposition of his own time.

Israeli at the London School of Economics

I do not usually write about podcasts I found a waste of time listening to. The Israeli deputy minister of foreign Affairs Dani Ayalon was invited to the London School of Economics to present Israel's view on the Israeli-Arab conflict and most of this resulted in a tedious repetition of the atmosphere and rhetoric that inevitably hangs around this issue. Not only did Ayalon's speech hold much that had not been said many times before, also the restless audience did not bring much news to make life really difficult for this spokesperson.

It seems, the more the atmosphere is heated, the fewer discourse there is. Especially on this podcast, one is presented with a lot of shouting - it takes the event about 15 minutes to actually manage to begin. The prickly retorts Ayalon has for the disruptive elements in the audience boil down to: when your argument is weak, you voice will go up. However, also his own talk was, in my ears, not particularly strong. I would rather have real powerful speakers really engage with each other in argument, not in a shouting match.

The reason I write is in the end that as a sample from the LSE lecture series, this was a very exceptional case. Contrary to the usual quiet academic hearings, this one was full of action and from that point of view, it was fascinating to witness how the action developed. Fascinating not only how Ayalon, but also how the mediator, the majority of the audience and the protesters dealt with the raucous affair.

More LSE
Michael Sandel,
Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung,
Natural Resource Management,
The Iran power struggle,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dacher Keltner on happiness and health

In modern psychology more than in traditional psychology there is attention for happiness. This new psychology is called positive psychology and it holds as tenant that what allows people to function well in their lives are their strong qualities and that what helps people who need psychological help more than anything is emphasis on their strong points. It makes for a psychology that is less busy with neuroses and deficiencies, but rather with emotional strengths, social intelligence, compassion, well-being and therefore, eventually happiness.

Consequently, on psychology podcasts, both lecture series (see more below) and specialized interview podcasts such as Shrink Rap Radio there is a lot of attention for the proponents, subjects and findings in positive psychology. In that respect an especially noteworthy issue was the interview with Berkeley professor Dacher Keltner (Shink Rap Radio #217). Keltner is a specialist in happiness and shared a great wealth of insight with the listeners. One of those are his arguments that positive emotions such as compassion are actually a product of evolution and hence, paraphrasing Darwin, evolution is not survival of the fittest, but rather of the kindest. He even argues Darwin himself believed this. (Shrink Rap radio feed)

Shrink Rap Radio's interview with Keltner is a fine way to get 45 minutes of his thought, but if you want more, you are advised to continue through to UC Berkeley and pick up his lecture course on happiness and health: Letters and Science C160V, 001, Psychology C162, 001 - Human Happiness (feed) Here you can find out much more about positive emotions, about the parts of the brain responsible for this, about touch, compassion, forgiveness and much much more.

My colleague podcast reviewer DIY Scholar has written two very relevant reviews of Keltner's course to which I happily refer you: Human Happiness and Are we a touch Starved Culture?

More Shrink Rap Radio:
Resurrection after rape,
Life Changing Lessons,
Shrink Rap Radio - 200 great podcasts,
Technology and The Evolving Brain,
Nova Spivack.

Learn German through podcast

One of the most helpful tools in language learning is to hear the target language being used. Hence, podcasting is a medium especially fit for teaching a language and the supply of free language learning podcasts is amazingly large. You can pick almost any (living) language and find at least a handful of podcasts offering you to teach it to you. Last time I wrote about one podcast teaching Dutch, today I want to relate my adventure into German teaching podcasts. And I can promise a post about Hebrew learning podcasts very soon.

As was to be expected, the amount of German learning podcasts is staggering. I have made a quick survey of five of them, each with different starting assumptions, levels and method. I am not going to recommend any one in particular. I think language learning eventually is both very personal and also in need of a multi-method approach. In general I'd say one should not rely on podcasts alone and neither on one podcast alone. Try them all and soon you will find what combination works for you.

My Daily Phrase German (feed)
This is a podcast by Radio Lingua Network which seems to have podfaded and been followed up by One Minute German and A flavour of German. This course starts with the basics and concentrates on phrases. A general remark about phrase podcasts should be: phrases alone will not help you very much. Without grammar and vocabulary, you will not know what you are actually saying and you will hardly succeed in understanding, let alone, dealing with replies. Nevertheless, phrases are part of language learning, they are a good addition and a nice starting point.

Learn German (Germanpod101) (feed)
Also a podcast with basics. Apart from phrases there is also basic grammar. These first two podcasts I mentioned are a nice place to start.

German GrammarPod (feed)
German grammar is not particularly easy, not even if you come from familiar languages such as English and Dutch. In spite of it being a rather intimidating subject, I advise anyone who wants to learn German to pay ample attention to grammar. The German Grammarpod systematically goes through German grammar and you will find it a good supplement to your German learning. For more advanced learners, this podcast is also a good refreshment and testing tool.

Deutsch - warum nicht? (Deutsche Welle) (feed)
This course in German leans heavily on letting you get the flavor of German. I totally agree that you will have to listen to naturally used language in order to effectively picking it up, but it cannot replace systematic learning. Try Deutsche Welle and see if it matches you. If you have a starting basis in German, it may be fun.

Slow German (feed)
At any stage of advancement in German learning, I would recommend Annik Rubens's podcast Slow German. Annik reads a complete text in a slightly slower and meticulously pronounced German as to make it easier to follow for non-native speakers. Even from a very low level starting point it makes sense to listen in. Even if you do not understand all, you will be able to tell the words apart and get a good feel of the pronunciation and free use of the language. Slow German will expose you to German and a regular listen will prove to be a tremendous support to all other efforts you put in German learning.

Many of these podcasts have additional learning materials, frequently at a premium. I would say you should use anything you can lay your hands on for free. After some time you will have figured out with which podcast you connect particularly well and then should consider spending some money to make the investment complete.

Of course, if Slow German or any of the other podcasts begin to get too slow for you, try some regular podcasts in German. There are a considerable number I have reviewed on my blog:
Skythen-Podcast (history)
Leben und Überleben mit 45+ (life after cancer)
Junggesellenblog (personal audioblog)
Meiky's Podcast Show (audioblog and audio plays)
Geschichtspodcast (history)
Volkis Stimme (satire)
Schlaflos in Muenchen (audioblog)
Ersatz TV (science)
Deutsche Klassiker (literature)
Omega Tau (science and technology)
Dichter und Denker (Culture and thought)
Wanhoff's Wunderbare Welt der Wissenschaft (science)
Fraunhofer (science and technology)
Ganz einfach leben (ecology and economics)
Der Sontagssoziologe (sociology)
Brieftour (audioblog)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Ossie twilight - New Books in History

On New Books in History Marshall Poe interviewed journalist Stevan Allen about the demise of the DDR, the German Democratic Republic or East-Germany as it is has mostly been referred to.

The DDR was never really an independent state. Between its establishment in 1949 and its merging into the Bundesrepublik, the Federal Republic of Germany, it had mostly been a satellite of the Soviet Union. However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there was a short period of a couple of months over which the DDR at least acted as an independent state. In a way it was suddenly dependent on West-Germany, but not all the way. It was almost certain it would rather soon than late merge into larger Germany. But for the time being, the DDR continued to live, if scrambling, in twilight. And this is where Allen took part.

It may be a generational thing. Marshall Poe, Stevan Allen and, yes, me too, observed these developments in awe, disbelief and fascinated dumbfoundedness. The citizens themselves, the Ossies, had a lot more to be confused and excited about themselves. Allen describes this in his book and on the show and I recognize it all. It makes for absolutely fascinating listening and I cannot imagine it to be otherwise for anybody else. However, if you haven't felt the Cold War from nearby, if you have known none other than one Germany, maybe it is less so. Or?

More NBIH:
The first day of LBJ,
Ayn Rand,
Atlantic History,
Political rationalizations in Nazi-Germany,
Whalen / Rohrbough.